The mad science laboratory of a screenwriter & consultant scroll down to read on...


The mad science laboratory
of a screenwriter & consultant



Sunday

Legwork 10 Step Checklist





On the back of the BFI's shocking stats last week, many investors and producers must be wondering what the point is of even trying to make money in the film industry at all. Granted; for some investors it is just a bit of fun, a way to be involved in the glamour of the film industry, but as one commentator shrewdly observed "there must be cheaper ways to meet Scarlett Johansson".

It is worth pointing out that the figures released in David Steele's speech include those for certain Film Council supported films which were never actually intended to make a profit. They exist for cultural purposes, or box-ticking purposes, and so really I'd like to see another set of stats for just the films that did actually intend to return their investors money.

Nevertheless it is no secret that film investment is inherently risky. What can producers do to maximise the chances of being among the top-performing film releases that do see profit?

One of the best ways is to make a film that appeals to audiences in multiple territories. More sales equals more income. Get a good home video and / or TV deal in multiple countries as well and you're well on your way to recouping a lower budgeted film. (It's partly for this reason that high-concept horror is widely seen as a safer bet than most, but I digress).

When an investor asks (my consulting company) Legwork to appraise a project we're essentially being asked to perform due diligence in advance of a very pricey business transaction. When a producer hires Legwork it's because they're cognisant of the importance of adding value to their investment offering, and making the investors pick them instead of all the other tasty investment opportunities out there.

For both cases we've developed the proprietary checklist below in order to formalise the process of building marketing into the project from concept to logline to script to trailer and beyond.

This is a series of questions intended to ensure the producer is making the best film possible, as measured against every important metric, and is not leaving any value on the table unnecessarily. All these conditions must be satisfied before we will sign off on a project.

1/ Are story, characters & dialogue at a stage where the script will attract a high enough calibre of film star to ensure international sales?
2/ Are the above-the-line talent (stars, director, etc) sufficiently attractive to international sales agents and distributors that they can envisage the film doubling its investors money?  
3/ Does everyone creatively involved in the making of this film have the same vision? Is everyone trying to make the same film? Are the huskies all pulling the sled in the same direction? 
4/ Is the budget right for the genre, the film’s elements and its likely income? Do sales estimates from reputable sales agents or pre-sales agreements confirm that this budget level is justified?  
5/ Is the genre one that is sought after by a large enough global market to garner sales capable of doubling the investors’ money? 
6/ Within an established set of genre expectations, is this story remarkable in its individuality in some way that will get significant numbers of people talking about it? Does the story or its elements innovate in a way that will differentiate it in a crowded marketplace and increase the number of territories sold, prices per sale and ancillaries within each of those territories? 
7/ Given the nature of modern, fragmented audiences, have we done all that we can to identify and allow for the engagement of possible “tribes” in the Seth Godin marketing use of the word; niches of communal interest, sizeable groups of people who can get behind the film and spread word-of-mouth? 
8/ Have we done all we can to explore additional revenue streams, such as sequels, spin-offs and merchandising (books, games, art, fan sites, fan art, apps) — within reasonable and tasteful bounds and with respect to the story and the filmmakers? Are there ways these might contribute to the depth of the central dramatic work to a consumer, rather than just as added revenue or mind-share? 
9/ Have we done all we can to identify all possible PR angles, in as many territories as possible, that will garner this film media attention in print, television and online, thus offering significant added value, and revenue, to that distributor? 
10/ How could we be collecting emails for permission-based marketing or otherwise maximising our customer’s awareness of this and similar future films?

Robin TJ Kershaw & Laia Enrich, 2013



Check out the Legwork 10 Step Checklist and download a pdf at www.legworkfilms.com/10steps.html


There is no more room in the middle





Most producers don’t submit their scripts to rigorous analysis... but then most producers don’t make successful films either. Every year thousands of naive newcomers think they can beat the system with nothing but their own intuition, and every year thousands of films worldwide end up unsold, undistributed and unprofitable. [Here's Stephen Follows with some UK stats].

The serious, well-balanced, producer knows that betting on a hunch will simply result in misery, and that the only real way to carve a lasting career and run a long-lasting production company is to exercise due diligence on behalf of the investor — and to give buyers something they actually want.

There are many tactics to maximise the value of a film investment and mitigate against a possible downside, but let’s be clear: the only serious ways for a producer to influence a film’s income are marketplace-aware script development and talent packaging. 

Quite simply the added value that your film derives from focusing on development and packaging is at least an order of magnitude greater than its cost to production, and very likely far more. The path to success is littered with the corpses of producers who thought they couldn’t afford development — whereas real producers know you can’t afford to skip it.

The distribution paradigm has changed radically and continues to do so as the competition for eyeball-hours heats up. Every minute of the day, 100 hours of new video is uploaded to YouTube*. This, and virtually the entire filmic output of the past 100 years of cinema coming online, is now your competition. There is no more room in the middle. High quality storytelling with high-calibre, internationally known actors is now the only market still available.

Not coincidentally, those are precisely the two areas where my consultancy firm Legwork has been actively developing its expertise — and continues to do so in an Executive Producer capacity on three very different upcoming projects. Also, since both our producer and investor clients need to keep costs down, our deferment model finally makes that expertise affordable to all. Just in time for the coming democratisation of content creation.

Will this change the way producers approach the marketplace? It already has for some. The people with the best end-to-end understanding of the value chain of the independent film industry really get this stuff. Those who know that the best way to sell to a sales agent is to give them something they can sell onwards to their guys. It’s astonishing how many producers still don’t think this way, but I honestly don’t think they’ll be able to get a foothold in the film industry of the future. They will flounder from failure to failure losing their investors’ money on unsold product no one wants to watch. They will not last long.

Sales agents that I speak to tell me that everything is about quality now. Without a world-class script you’re unlikely to attract the director and cast needed to sell your film, and you’ll be relegated to competing with skateboarding dogs on YouTube for audience share. If you’re serious about producing in the coming decade, you’ll be forced sooner or later to get serious about development, it really is as simple as that.

Thursday

49 Interesting Facts About the UK Film Industry


Producer Stephen Follows has been digging into some very interesting stats about the UK film industry...

http://stephenfollows.com/49-interesting-facts-about-uk-film-industry/




Saturday

16 Fancy Literary Techniques Explained By Disney

Source: Disney  /  via: disneyvillains.wikia.com



Tweeted recently by Writer.ly (@WriterlyTweets) this post by Adam Moerder on BuzzFeed is entertaining and enlightening in equal measure...

http://www.buzzfeed.com/moerder/fancy-literary-techniques-explained-by-disney

An excerpt:

14. Poetic Justice 
Definition: A device in which virtue is ultimately rewarded or vice punished, often by an ironic twist of fate intimately related to the character’s own conduct. 
Example: Jafar is so power hungry he fails to realize that becoming a genie will cost him his freedom.




Tuesday

Legwork Films






The biggest issue facing producers and therefore the film industry in general has hitherto been the costs associated with development. Putting together a world-class package that’s attractive to international buyers is usually incredibly time consuming. Finding a way to break the impasse is essential for us all.

Film producer Laia Enrich and I have spent the last six months devising a business model that we think offers the maximum bang for the buck to everyone — individuals and multi-million dollar companies alike. 

We realised that by combining under one roof a market-focused approach to script development and a fearless, straightforward attitude with talent agents and sales agents we could gain terrific leverage, and that providing these skills as a service to others could actually be a game-changer for the industry.

By helping multiple companies concurrently, and by deferring the most if not all of our fees to greenlight, we're able to keep those up-front development costs down, all the while adding significant value to the project's lifetime in the marketplace... and to financiers’ investments.

After a successful launch at this year's Cannes, our new company Legwork Films has already attracted an impressive roster of producers and the attention of some very big corporate investors... and Animal Electricity is now the official blog of Legwork Films.

The business model of Legwork is new, but very simple: I provide market-focused project feedback to your creative team, and Laia consults with genre-appropriate sales agents and buyers (your customers) and then we liaise with talent agents on your behalf to package-up your film with the highest-calibre international director and above-the-line cast possible.

Bringing these two roles under one roof means we work with writers to tailor material for the talent and for the marketplace simultaneously, thereby ensuring you have an attractive project to take to industry — and that means you can have numerous buyers lined up before you seek investment.

We'll also help you devise your marketing, distribution, and finance plans, and suggest suitable investors to speak with when the time is right and we're confident there'll be interest.

Pricing is negotiated on a per-project basis.

Development finance may be available for exceptional projects and teams.

Email me robin@legworkfilms.com to get a conversation started about your particular needs.


Robin





Monday

The Hero's Journey


Enough has been written elsewhere about the Hero's Journey, and I've touched on it here before, but Laia just passed me this and I think it's very well done.


Sunday

Synthesis...


I gather that the literary sense of the three Greek words Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis first appears in the 16th Century. They're not in Poetics by Aristotle, but I wonder if they really had earlier literary origins, because they're so fundamental, so useful. It's interesting to think about them when working out theme and structure, and in particular the need for the hero to change.

In one definition the Thesis is the core value held by the hero, the Antithesis is the core value held by the opponent, and the Synthesis is the writer's version of the world in which neither hero nor opponent wins fully, but equilibrium is nonetheless restored to the story universe through a form of compromise — possibly at a higher level than before.

Before a story gets going, the world is at equilibrium. Everyone might be unhappy but the situation is thus far unchanging, however volatile. Then the inciting incident occurs (caused by the opponent ideally) and the world is thrown into turmoil. How the pieces land and everything comes back together again is dependent upon how the characters in the world act upon the world and each other.

Conflict, verbal or physical, and all manner of Machiavellian machinations result in a new set of values becoming dominant and controlling the world of the story. Everything works itself out in the end and, if someone is still not happy to let this new equilibrium take hold, then it's not the end. Cue the sequel.

This definition of the conflict of the story being not just between two people, but between two people and what they believe in is very powerful. It allows you to know with some certainty how your characters are going to react when presented with situations that are anathema to their values.

And remember your hero isn't perfect, they have flaws. The best stories have heroes with flaws that are moral — they are hurting someone else or others through their actions (or inaction). The hero's values then are flawed, because something is holding them back from necessary change.

Whatever the desireline on the surface of the story, there is this unrecognised moral need that must be overcome in order for the hero to prevail in the surface story and achieve his desired result (except in tragedy of course). Often this transformation (Synthesis) will see the hero transcend their initial desire and now aim for something higher, and this expansion of consciousness is what allows them to defeat their opponent, and what the opponent believes in.

The other key thing that comes from thinking about Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis is that you the author undoubtedly have a position yourself. You have your own stance, a strongly-held set of values, you have your own politics, you know what you think.

So how do you set out your argument in dramatic form? Do you just have your character rant about what you believe and have people around them passionately agree? It's a risky strategy but it has been done. In Paddy Chayefsky's Network the main character rants (live on his evening news show) about the state of society and he says, in plain language, many things that are perfectly relatable (Thesis) ... but he'd never get away with it if it wasn't set against a backdrop of a cynical corporate culture obsessed solely with obtaining high ratings (Antithesis).

In an exaggerated world of disinterest, the "mad prophet of the airwaves" is an intriguing character who wouldn't work in many other films. And in the end (spoiler alert) the TV company has him killed on air in a way that boosts ratings for one of their other shows. That's Chayefsky's Synthesis — an ironic position that the corporate mentality will use you until you're no longer useful, and doesn't care a bit about morality. In this story universe equilibrium is restored (at a lower level) and a dangerous precedent has been set. The soulless corporate mentality of mass entertainment was a big theme in the 70s, with films like Rollerball and Deathrace 2000 both making similar points.

Generally though, you might want to go for a little less polemic yourself. And maybe you don't have a major political message to get across. Maybe you just have a conflict between Loki and Thor and it's a pure, flat-out, power struggle for leadership. One guy wants to be an evil dictator and one guy wants to be a benign dictator. Or something. (I haven't fully absorbed the politics of the Marvel universe yet).

The point is that by coming up with a world view that's very different, or even seemingly opposite, to your own you create balance to your writing and you get deep value-driven conflict (drama) and rich, passionate, characters for free. 

Whether your world view is the Thesis or the Synthesis (the writer's view of how a conflict should best be resolved) you'll have a conflicting opinion to give your work depth, and a lot of realism.


Saturday

Catch-22




Just saw this on Twitter from @chriswickett 

Jesus Unrelenting Christ. Joseph Heller's chart outline of Catch 22 - a matrix of characters vs chronology. Amazing
http://flavorwire.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/heller.jpg
And it is amazing.

If someone has the link to the source article let me know and I'll add it.



Wednesday

The Synopsis...


The synopsis, or what I generally call a two-pager, is a vital document for a writer because it's just about the most you can usually get anyone to read. This is fair — people are busy — and in fact more and more people (including myself) are now asking people to send a 20-30 word logline when they initially get in touch.

But a two-pager is a manageable length too, as long as there aren't too many to read in a day. Heck, even people who say they only read one-pagers can be convinced to trawl through a two-pager if you ask them nicely. (This doesn't apply to faceless online submissions of course. That would just make you appear difficult or borderline crazy.)

I like the two-page format as it not only allows for a lot more breathing room and nuance than a logline (obviously) but it allows the writer to communicate the structure. The best examples have around eight paragraphs to a side and those paragraphs correspond directly to the act breaks and midpoint.

Writers who spend a page and a half describing the first act and then rush (or omit entirely) the ending are holding up a red flag to a world-weary reader that their script's structure may not be as well-balanced as it needs to be, and you'd be wise to bear in mind that readers have probably seen every trick in the book and are looking for any excuse to not have to read your submission.

A question on the subject of synopses caught my eye in the Quora weekly email this morning, and the top-ranking answer is full of great advice, as are some of the others:—


It doesn't address film synopses specifically, but it's much the same, and the guy's style is entertaining even if he doesn't cover every base.

While you're there on the Quora website, click around some of the related questions in the top right — there's usually some good advice and lots of strongly-held opinions. Warning: as with TV Tropes this website is a time suck. Don't let it get in the way of your actual writing!


Friday

Children of Men


This is a real treat: this chap Larry Wright has put together a compilation, in chronological order, of every shot over 45 seconds duration in Children of Men.




It was recently revealed that Alfonso Cuaron's upcoming film, "Gravity", will not only have a 17+ minute opening long take, but also an ASL (average shot length) of 45 seconds. Having been a fan of his previous films, I revisited my favorite one to see just what that type of shot looked and felt like.
I had seen the film a few times before, and couldn't recall more than handful of shots that I thought would work. I was shocked to find there were 16 of them -- heck, there are 6 longer than 90 seconds! They are used in a variety of situations, and to great effect. It was easy to see how I could forget there were so many, as each one simply pulled you further into the story. It made me so excited for 'Gravity' that I felt I just had to share with anyone else who would be interested.

While not obviously a screenwriting issue, it's instructive to think about how one might construct scenes and sequences differently when working with a director such as Alfonso Cuaron.

And it's darned interesting to watch these scenes play out when you're analysing them as single shots.



Wednesday

Expansion


There's something I've only just noticed about my writing goals — and see if you share any of this — which is that I'm driven to a ridiculous extent to always expand my horizons, in terms of what I'm comfortable working on and developing.

For instance I've just come out of the third draft of an ambitious gothic horror feature that took me roughly 15 months almost full-time to write, the plotting of which nearly broke my brain permanently, and yet before I've even found representation for it, let-alone sold it or recovered from writing it, I'm already well into development on a sprawling and complex time-travel film which has already spawned (in my mind) an epic and potentially long-running TV series.

Sure part of me is focusing on other things and allowing this idea to simmer away quietly at the back of my mind, but it's surprising how often and loudly the pan-lid rattles when I sit down with a notebook and pen. Much more loudly than the projects I "should" be doing.

I've many other things to write — things which, with my producing partner, I have made my priorities for the year ahead — but I just can't help it; I'm inexorably drawn to the most complicated and brain-twisting writing projects on the roster.

Do you experience this? What's going on? Why do I want to leapfrog projects that I could write relatively easily (famous last words) and which could (it has been decreed!) generate an income relatively soon? Is it self-sabotage? Or is it just our natural human curiosity, the need to explore the unknown? I guess it's simply the notion of not being able to pass up a challenge.

So I'll let it simmer a while longer, maybe chuck in a few more ingredients and top up with stock now and again, because however loudly it rattles I know it can't possibly be ready yet, and there are several tasty things bubbling on the table in front of me now. Patience is a virtue, and the unconscious part of my mind can be getting on with this insanely grand endeavour while "I'm" focusing on making a living.

But by god it's going to taste good when it's ready.


Saturday

The Understory



This really impressed me today, from Steven Pressfield's blog:

http://www.stevenpressfield.com/2013/02/the-understory/
The first Hangover ... is another great understory story. When the buddy-characters ... wake up in their Vegas suite with no memory of the night before but with a live tiger in the house, Stu missing a front tooth, and their friend Doug ... missing entirely, we know that the whole movie will be about uncovering the understory. 


The concept of The Understory, as opposed to the Surface Story, won't be new to you, but the clarity with which he resolves it is excellent, and you won't forget how to mentally separate the two... probably ever.

(By the way if you haven't clicked the link because you're worried it's all writing tips about The Hangover, I can assure you it's not. Quite a lot of it's about Chinatown. So there.)

This Understory stuff is incredibly important because any time there's a process of discovery in a film you're writing, you'll be able to easily hold the two stories in separate parts of your mind simultaneously. You'll also be able to go through your mental database of stories and identify one with a close match for your Understory, which could be helpful in seeing how some master storytellers have dealt with your kind of story in the past.

(Working out the best use and integration of the Understory is really hard — so study the greats and let someone who came before you do all the heavy lifting.)

/

Incidentally if you don't recognise the name Steven Pressfield he's the author of two of my all-time favorite non-fiction books: The War of Art on overcoming resistance and its follow-up Turning Pro which applies the same ideas to helping you see yourself as a money-earning professional and lock that mindset in place once and for all. Links to both those are on the right of his blog.

He also wrote the novel The Legend of Bagger Vance which became a little-known movie directed by Robert Redford and starring Will Smith, Matt Damon and Charlize Theron. If you get a chance check it out, it really is quite something.

Happy writing, all. As usual comments very welcome.


Wednesday

Screenwriters Roundtable


There's this really excellent series of posts happening over at Go Into the Story right now:

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2013/02/screenwriters-roundtable-chris-borrelli-f-scott-frazier-chris-mccoy-justin-rhodes-greg-russo-john-swetnam.html


This week we were fortunate to feature a screenwriter’s roundtable I did with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Chris Borrelli, F. Scott Frazier, Chris McCoy, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, and John Swetnam. How good are they? Between them, they have sold more than a dozen spec scripts and have multiple original screenplays on the Black List. Here are links to all six installments of the interview

They're chatting about their process, how there's no one right way to write, and much more besides.

Very interesting.


Saturday

Your Life Plan...





I don't recall where I found this, so if it's yours contact me for attribution.