Saturday, January 26, 2008

Characterisitics of a Bad Screenplay

The following is an article written by my story editor. Yes, this blog is so popular that I now have guest contributors. He is not as entertaining of a writer as I am, but he is still interesting.

Enjoy...


(There are certain writing characteristics that will almost certainly get your screenplay an automatic toss into the trash bin. You may disagree with this article, but these are my opinions. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules).

Trick Endings That Do Not Work

Twist endings rarely work.

I know The Sixth Sense had a twist ending that worked to perfection. It’s a great movie, but The Sixth Sense is the exception to the rule. For every Sixth Sense, there are 100 twist endings that fail horribly (The Village). A script can still work if it contains a bad character or a bad scene. If the script contains a bad twist ending, the entire movie falls apart. It’s annoying when a writer puts in a twist ending just so that the screenplay will contain a twist ending. A twist ending should be necessary to the story.

If you have a twist ending in your script, ask yourself the following question.

Question: Why does my movie have a trick ending?

Possible Answer:

“I want the viewer to know how smart I am.”

“I love the Sixth Sense and I want to copy it.”

“I have a twist ending because it is necessary to effectively tell my story.”

If you answered ‘A’ or’ B,’ then you should rethink your twist ending. However if you answered ‘C,’ then it might work.

I recently read a script about a southern debutante that murders all her friends. In the last ten pages, it is revealed that the murderer has imagined everything. She is really an editor at a book publishing firm and only imagined that she was a southern debutante. The twist ending was not set up and made no sense. When a twist ending does not work it is insulting to the reader. It’s like the author wants to say, “Hey stupid, I tricked you.”


Not Properly Introducing Characters

Use proper formatting when introducing characters. At the very least, tell us their name (in capitals) and their age range. If their name is androgynous name, then tell us the sex of the character.

I recommend that you give us a visual that sheds insight into the character. What does the character look like? Are they fashionable, sloppily dressed, or clean cut. It is much easier to remember the character if we have a visual in our head.

Examples:

“JANE sits down.”

This is the worst kind of intro. It tells me nothing about the character. I can assume that Jane is a girl, but that’s about it.

“JANE is a plain girl.”

This gives me info about the character but there is not a specific visual. “Plain” is an abstraction and cannot be filmed. We need a specific image.

“JANE wears blue jeans and no make up. She is pretty, but not pretty enough to get asked out by the football players.”

The visual gives us the opportunity to picture the character. We can then carry that visual throughout the movie. It is subtle, yet very important.


Introducing Many Characters On The Same Page

Example:

INT. CLASSROOM

JANE sits at her desk. Across the room is RONNIE, a large football player. Ronnie throws a football to JANICE, a blonde that sits in the front of the class.

MRS. HENNIE trots in wearing a cordury skirt. She takes a pen from LEN. The bell rings.

This is a crude example but you get the idea. Even if the reader has the greatest memory on earth, he/she will never be able to remember all of the characters. This may seem obvious, but this happens in many scripts.


Putting Your Personal Politics in a Script

(except if your script is a political film)

You hate the Bush administration. Great. Write an essay. Do not try to sneak political sentiments into your love story. If your script is a teenage sex comedy, then it should not have lines like “this stupid war is about oil.” If you are making a political film, then go for it. Political films are great. Write one. However, I can’t tell you how many times I read contrived political speeches in scripts that have nothing to do with politics.

This rule does have exceptions. If you character has strong political beliefs then it would make sense for them to mouth political statements. Implanting politics in a script is like bringing up politics with a group of friends. Some people will cringe and feel uncomfortable.

Political films rarely work. It is very hard to push political ideas in a film and keep the film entertaining. Aaron Sorkin person is the only writer that does it well. It’s hard to make a political film without making people feel like they are being preached to.


The Script is Longer than it Should Be

All readers do the same thing when they first get a script. They turn to the last page to see how many pages the script is. I know this is unfair but it’s the reality.

Typically, a script should be 90-120. This rule has many exceptions (American Gangster and Pulp Fiction were 150 pages).

Some scripts need to be over 120 pages in order to effectively tell the story. However, the vast majority of scripts over 120 pages do not need to be 120 pages. They are often bloated with unnecessary scenes and need a trim. A script that is too long can kill the pacing and cause the reader to fall asleep.

Also, it is industry standard for a script to be 90-120 pages. If you are a new writer trying to get work and your script is 150 pages, then an agent or producer may think you don’t know what you are doing.

Lengthy Description

I read one screenplay recently that filled up an entire page with description. An entire page! For a moment I thought someone accidentally slipped me a novel transcript.

Description should be necessary and precise. Only describe things that are filmable.

Description should flow as quickly as the dialogue does. Describe only as much as you need to tell the story and set the mood.

I do not care what color the leaves are or how the wind feels against the heroine’s skin. I love well written description in a book, but not in a screenplay. A movie is two hours. It should only take two hours to read the screenplay.


Characters are One-Dimensional Cliches

It is amazing at how many “big” films break this rule.

Minor characters do not need to have full character arcs (although it is nice if they do), but they should not be clich├ęs. Every person on earth is different. Each character in a script should have unique character traits. It makes them feel real.


Dialogue with an Accent

It is fine to have a character that speaks with an accent or slang.

When you first introduced the character, let the reader know that they “speak with a strong southern accent.” However, do not write the dialogue with the accent.

Here is an example. Let’s pretend we are writing a story about an uneducated, runaway slave in the pre-civil war South. We want the Runaway Slave to greet another person he meets. In reality, the dialogue would sound like this.

“Hows ya doin’ toda suh?”

However, you should never write the dialogue like that. Instead, introduce the character and tell us that the “runaway slave speaks with a strong southern accent.” Then write the line without the accent.

“How are you doing today sir?”

The actor and dialect teacher will create the accent. It is very difficult to read a script where dialogue is written with an accent. It breaks the flow of the script. The reader will imagine the southern dialect.

Mark Twain is an exception to this rule. However, he wrote novels, not screen plays.


Ultra Specific Writing

I recently read a horrible script about the Iraq War. Here is an example of the writing (it’s not verbatim from the script, but close).

EXT. FALLUJAH

An RPG rocket is fired from a marine with blonde hair. The rocket fires precisely as U2’s “beautiful day” crescendos. The bomb explodes at the exact moment that Bono sings “beautiful.”

LOW ANGLE SHOT- The rockets hits a group of Iraqis, causing one arm, two legs, and a dog to fly in the air above a tan shop containing novelty gifts.

LONG SHOT - Of the red explosion against the blueish-grey sky.

OH my god, are you serious? I think the example speaks for itself. The writing is too specific.

Unless you are an established Writer/Director, then keep the “shots” and “angles” to a minimum. In fact, you probably shouldn’t have any. Let the director direct the movie. He’ll choose some really good angles and shots, I promise.

Incorrect Format

The script about the Iraqi war was 300 pages and not formatted correctly. I read about ten pages of it. Every screen play should be formatted properly. If you want to become a serious write then by the Screenwriter’s Bible and make sure you adhere to all the proper formatting.


Made Up Tech Jargon

“Oh My God, hurry up and turn the rigidity device to full pulse before the expots retreat.”

It’s ok to have made up tech jargon in a science fiction story that takes on Mars in the year 4060. However, if your script is based in modern day reality, the technology better be realistic.

Die Hard 4 is a good example of this. I was taken out of the movie by the fake technology. Do I believe a computer hacker can open up a freeway tunnel in ten seconds using a lap top? No. Do I believe a hacking protocol known as “fire sale” is common knowledge among hackers. No. Do I believe a computer nerd can access 3D renderings of ultra secret government information from his grandma’s basement? No. (even if it is Kevin Smith).

It’s as if the writer thinks they can make up some technological jargon and the audience will think it’s some ultra new technology. It’s insulting to the audience to expect them to believe the made up technology.

Anyone see Hackers (1995)? I’m still waiting for the wrist watch that can turn stoplights on and off. Or the Virtual Reality video game that they play in the underground club.


Gimmicky Writing

I read a screenplay where all the screen direction rhymed. I swear to god. It rhymed, like a bad rap song. That is not only pointless, but annoying. Screen direction does not appear in the final movies therefore does not need to rhyme.

Don’t reference things that no one knows about. Example, “He was standing like a rock star god (NIN Coechella 2005 concert)”.


Lastly, don’t infuse your script with anything ridiculous

(i know this is vague)

This is dialogue from a screenplay that was sold.


Example 1:

WOMAN: Do we have the damn interview or don’t we?

MAN: We’re cunt hair close.


Example 2:

MAN: That proposal was approved by a cock solid 68% of American population.


What? I’m not even going to comment on this. Once again, these are my opinions. Take them or leave them.



Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Hate/Hate Relationship

I got an e-mail from saying that I was too “harsh” to Walter. Although I would disagree with the reader’s use of the word “slave,” I did take his letter in consideration. To those that say I am cruel to my assistants, let me share a story about the VP of Talent and his Assistant.

Yesterday we got new Macs in the office. I hate macs. What’s next for our office? Mandatory tye-dye suits and reefer hour? Should I get a lava lamp to make my new MAC feel more at home. MACs belong in avante-garde art studio, not an agency.

I hate those really pretentious commercials with Justin Long as MAC and that nerdy looking guy as PC. Here is my proposal script for their next commercial.

PC: Hey Mac, why are your computers so expensive?

Mac: So pretentious douche bags can can pay twice as much to feel “arty” while using an operating system that is minimally different from Windows.

PC: Oh.


Back to the story...

Our VP of Talent is an older gentlemen and is not computer savvy. Here is a recount of yesterday.

9:30 AM:

We walk into the office and see our shiny white MACs have replaced out black Dell PCs. I was a much bigger fan of the sinister black, but I’ll get by.

10:00 AM:

The VP yells that his computer is “broken.” He must have confused the word “broken” with the words, “I don’t know how to use my new computer.”

11:09 AM:

The VP demands that his Assistant retrieve his old PC.

The Assistant retorts, “I’ll go see if I can find it.”

“You might want to check the trash bins,” grunts the VP.

11:48 AM:

The assistant says that the PCs have been taken away. The VP is annoyed that no one asked him if he wanted a “god damn hippy computer.” He throws his toy football at his Assistant. The Assistant has become slightly aggravated. He reminds the VP that it is against company policy to throw objects at employees.

11:55 AM:

A smile creeps over the VPs face. He begins throwing objects at the wall right next to his Assistant; a stapler, TV remote, keyboard, his new MAC. The clever VP found a loop hole, “I didn’t throw anything AT you! I threw it NEXT to you! hahahah.” The Assistant did not share in his boss’ laughter. Instead, he showed he was not committed to his job, and took a 30 minute lunch break.

1:28 PM:

Still unable to get his MAC to work, the VP decides to take matters into his own hands. He marches down to the IT Department. I followed. I love a good fight.

The VP slams both fists on the IT guys’ desk while screaming, “can someone get my fucking computer to work. I haven’t been able to get a god damn thing done all day and I’m fucking pissed. I want my old computer back now!” Then he flings all the papers off of the IT guy’s desk.

The IT guy explains that the PCs “were given to a low income elementary school this morning.”

3:17 PM:

The VP throws a map of Compton at his Assistant. The Assistant gets the clue and drives off in his 1992 Civic.

4:40 PM:

The Assistant returns. His clothes are dishevelled and his tie is missing, but he carries the VPs old PC. It has a “Reading is Fundamental” sticker on the back of it.

5:03 PM:

The VP now has his old PC on his desk. One poor Compton kid has been deprived of their opportunity to learn how to use a computer.

5:50 PM:

The VP is pissed at his Assistant because his Assistant filed a “violence complaint” with HR. The VP tells his Assistant, “since it’s been a hard day, I’m going to let you off off early. Hell, I’ll even do you one better, you’ll never have to come here again. How does that sound?”

6:00 PM:

The Assistant leaves in disgrace. He takes his Dartmouth flag with him.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Urban" movies


Walter is an idiot. Let me rephrase that. My Assistant is an idiot.

This morning he applied to become the assistant to another agent. First of all, did he think I wouldn’t find out? There is not a damn thing he knows about that I haven’t already herd. Second of all, I am hurt! We had a rapport going. He got my coffee. I learned his name. I never learned an assistant’s name before him. He was my first. Now he is trying to leave me after everything we have been through together. As punishment, I sent him to starbucks, then when he got there, I called him and said I no longer wanted anything. Then I made him read the new WB pilots, even though we are in the midst of a writer’s strike.

The agent he applied to work for specializes in “urban” movies. Walter is from a farm in Utah. Ok, he’s actually from suburban San Francisco, but that’s basically the same thing. He should know that an agent who specializes in “urban” movies would probably want a “diversity” assistant. Walter is white. He would definitely be considered for the position but it’s always a plus when the agency can add “diversity” to it’s stafff. Especially when dealing with “urban” movies. “Diversity” does not mean people that are not white. That is a misconception. A “diversity applicant” can be anyone.

Diversity Applicant: Someone from a background different than most of the other employees that work at the agency.

I’ll let you use your imagination.

Let me take a moment to shed some Hollywood insight. We’ll specifically talk about “urban” movies. The “Urban” market is one of the most consistant and bankable markets. As a white person, it feels good when I can do my part to help an African-American actress get a part in an “urban” movie. It is not like the old days. Now there are tons of roles for African-Americans. They can play gangsters, athletes, drug addicts, hookers, single moms, and not too mention all the dancing roles in hip-hop videos.

“Urban” movies are excellent too. Have you seen a Tyler Perry movie? Wow. What a talent! That Mad Black Woman is hilarious. Now he has that great TV show too, “House of Payne.” I must admit, I can’t stop watching. It has been “season passed” on my tivo. Watching the show makes me feel like I am partaking in the “urban” experience. Tyler Perry’s movies make a ton of money too, proving their artistic significance.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The WGA Strike


(originally posted in early 2008)

As we all know, the center of the universe (Hollywood), has a strike brewing. In public I must feign I’m a liberal that supports the strike.

However, the writers will lose the strike. Why? Because they have no power. How hard is it to fill up a few pages with words? Answer: Not very.

My agency is talking about cutting assistants. God knows how I’ll react if I have to get my own coffee and answer my own phone. I will march down to the WGA and punch the strikers in the face. How selfish can these people be? I must get my own food and drink simply so they can make more money? I only take 10% of my client’s pay and my job is at least twice as hard as theirs. Honestly, dialogue is overrated.

Yesterday I had a meeting at Paramount Studios. I saw the picket line as I approached the studio. I know they are writers, but for god’s sake, they should join a gym or at least get a better wardrobe. They were trying to be intimidating but let’s be honest. Writers are not scary. They look like they just came from a World of Warcraft convention.

I tried to drive onto the lot, but one pudgy writer would not move out of my way. I politely honked for 30 seconds, but the fat writer turned to me and started chanting. His chant was lame, “What do we want? When do we want it?.” You’re a writer! Think of something funny to chant. I prefer to be entertained when being subjected to a strike.

I gently nudged my car into the writer’s legs. He transformed from an unattractive writer to unattractive MAD writer. He moved out of the way. As I sped off he threw his sign at my BMW 740i. The sign grazed my car, causing an insane amount of damage. A small scratch on my car! I was already late for my meeting or else I would have gone after him. Or at least sent Walter after him. The scratch on my BMW is evidence that it is not only the writers that are paying the price for the strike. I hope the writers resolve the situation soon because we are all paying the price for the strike.

On a side note, the owner of our agency cut the health insurance for all our assistants. They should feel lucky. Many assistants are being laid off. At least they got to keep their jobs.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Why I Write


Walter asked me why I run this blog. I yelled at Walter for questioning me. Then I realized it was a a question. Of course I didn’t tell him that.

Why do I blog? The answer: To enligthen, inform, and shed a little insight into this business of show. Being a top agent at one of the big agencies, I am an insider of insiders, an elitist of the elite. I have radically altered the history of show business. I would love to give you examples, but that would compramise my identity.

As someone with such incredible insight, I have a responsibility. A responsibility to educate.

So dear reader, I write this blog? For you. I hope you learn just a shred of what I know. If you aspire to work in the entertainment agency, consider this blog a second film school. Or more like an MBA and Film School wrapped in one. If you are reading this blog simply to see a “slice of life” of the industry, you shall find it enlightening and even life changing.

To all my readers I have but one thing to say... You’re welcome.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fulfilling Dreams


As an agent it is my duty to find new talent that I can develop into the next big Hollywood star.

I recently got a head shot of a local model and thought she might have what it takes to make it in this rough and tumble business. I checked out her myspace and deduced that she had the body of a talented actress.

She came in for a reading yesterday. I had Walter record it. Yes, look at that, I’m using my assistant’s name. I feel like the new Mother Theresa except I’m much more attractive.

After watching her audition tape on mute, I realized I needed a more in depth interview. At dinner she told me about all of her goals… you know, to do a “important film that will open people’s eyes to the tragedies of blah blah blah.” Anyways, I told her I was deeply moved and considering signing her. I told her I was still unsure of her acting ability.

I had an epiphany after we woke up the next morning. We got dressed and I told her I decided to take her on as a client. She started to cry. Who wouldn’t? When I sign someone it basically ensures that they will become wealthy and at least make it to the C-List.

I worked a miracle and got her a job after only one day of agenting. My new client has a strong role in “Undercover Sorority.” It’s a character study of a woman living a double life as a promiscuous college student and FBI agent. It will take some real courage for her to tackle those tough sex scenes. She’s up to it.

I love when I can make dreams come true. I hate to get cheesy or sentimental, but it’s why I was drawn to this business. You’re welcome, new client.

Friday, January 4, 2008

My Assistant


Agent Rule #1: Never learn your assistant’s name.

Using their name gives them power. It makes them feel like more than a number. Then they start voicing their opinion. After that, they start taking on more responsibility. It’s a dangerous snowball effect.

However, I am feeling especially compassionate today. I asked my assistant what his name was. He looked at me like a deer in headlights and quivered the words, “Walter.”

Walter’s Strengths:

He can make it from here to Starbucks in under 10 minutes. It’s great, because the Vanilla Mocha that our office Starbucks machine makes is the exact same as the Vanilla Mocha that comes from the actual Starbucks coffee shop. But our office does not have the official Starbucks cups. I NEED to drink my Vanilla Mocha out of an official Starbucks cup. It’s for status. When other agents come in my office and see my official Starbucks cup, they know I made my assistant walk to an actual Starbucks. It shows I can force my will onto other people and am therefore important because I can force my assistant to do extremely menial and unneccessary tasks.

“Walter” never questions what I say. I hate when I get an assistant with “aspirations.” They are always trying to give ideas or take on more responsibility faster than I can say “fired.”

Walter’s Weaknesses:

He never has any good ideas or suggestions. Honestly, if you want to move up in this agency you need to show me that you are smart and understand the business.

He has a face pimple that doesn’t go away. It’s right under his left cheek. It makes him look like a teenager. It’s not fair that I have to see the pimple while the agent next door gets to look at the ass of a girl that works out six times a week. I should write a letter to HR or at least make Walter write a letter to HR and I’ll sign it.

To be blunt, Walter isn’t attractive. Something about the formation of his face. Hopefully he was given intelligience to make up for his physical awkwardness. So far though, that assumption has not proven true.

Ok Walter, you can stop taking dictation now.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Who I Am

Who am I?


Great question, but obviously you did not see the title of the blog. Or you are just dumb.

I realize that some of my readers may be from rural America and therefore do not understand the rather obvious title of this blog. Let me explain what a “Big Time Hollywood Agent” does.

I am a talent agent at a well known Entertainment Agency in Los Angeles. I have chosen to remain anonymous to protect myself and my clients. I have chosen a fictional name because I do not want this blog to appear in the front page of Variety.

My readers may call me Maximus.

Please do not inundate Maximus with solicitations asking for representation. However, I do look at head shots of aspiring actresses. But for god sakes, do not send me any resumes or screen plays. I hate reading.

I was recently promoted from assistant to agent. As an assistant I was degraded and forced to trek to Starbucks everyday to get mochas for my boss. Starbucks is two blocks away! At least now I can truly say I have walked in the shoes of a slave. I finally made it to agent and I have my own assistant but I might fire him. He has gotten my Starbucks order wrong too many times.

I digress. For those readers who do not understand “the business,” let me explain how it works. A movie is made by a bunch of people; producers, directors, actors, screen writers, and some other other people whose roles are not really important. These people are mostly loners and therefore do not have the social skills necessary to find their own work. That is where I come in.

I find the writer and hook them up with a producer and director. Then the film crew is selected, given a script, and told where to show up to make the movie. Someone must assume the “god like” responsibility of putting these people together so that a crappy script may become a great movie. Who is the magic man that puts these people together and therefore makes the movie happen? Well, it’s the agent (me). That’s what I do. I work magic.

Believe it or not, an agent does all that for a tiny 10% of a workers’ compensation. This means that if I get an actor a job that pays him $1 million, my agency takes $100,000 of that $1 million. It may seem like we take a lot of money, but if you compare it to the monumental task we have set before us, it is actually a small fraction of what we deserve.

To put it simply. Without agents, movies would not happen. In my book we should get at least 50% compensation. We are the driving force that gets a movie made. I’ll settle for 10% and consider my job a gift to the world.