FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

HIGH CONCEPT VAMPIRES


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And the new BLADE is... Mahershala Ali!

At every pitch clinic or pitch panel I've ever done, there are a handful of stories about vampires. And they're all made out of ticky-tacky and they all sound just the same. Not much originality or creativity.

That's because most of the vampire scripts out there are the same stuff we've seen before. There are probably two types of people who write vampire scripts - people who are rabid fans of the vampire sub-genre, and people who are trying to spice up their stories by adding vampires. Both types of writers are in the same boat - vampires have been overdone. We've seen it all before.... vampires have been part of cinema since the silent era and NOSFERATU. When Universal make DRACULA back in 1931, they actually made two versions at the same time - one in English and one in Spanish. The way, the Spanish version is my favorite, even though it doesn't star Legosi. There have been so many vampire movies made you really need a completely new spin on the story. Something with vampires that we haven't seen before.

But if you just have another story about vampires the way we've seen them a million times before, why bother?

The same is true with Cop movies and FBI movies and Werewolf movies and any other type of story we've seen a million times before. Basically, Vampires are just a type of character. They aren't a high concept. Just like any other character, you still need a story to go with the character. A cool story. A story with an idea that is interesting on it's own. ANYTHING that we've seen a hundred times before isn't going to sell (or get anyone interested in reading it). You need a brand new spin - you need to find a wild, weird, interesting new idea for vampires.

Vampires are not high concept.

If you take DIRTY HARRY and make the villain a Vampire, it's still the same basic story. You've just changed one of the characters. If you made Harry a vampire, it's still the same story. The characters have changed a little, and that might make them more interesting... but it doesn't really change the *concept*. It's a cosmetic change as far as the story is concerned.

HIGH CONCEPT BLOODSUCKERS

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It all goes back to your *concept* - you need something unique. The *main idea* of your script needs to de different. So how is the main idea in your vampire story so completely different than any other vampire story ever told that it will stand out? Space Vampires and Cowboy Vampires have been done - so time period is probably not going to be the original element. That's another cosmetic change. You need to find the core concept that is unique.

There was a cool vampire flick from the late 70s or early 80s about a fangless vampire - you see, vampires have evolved to look and act just like the rest of us (natural selection) and now this kid Martin claims he's a vampire... but he uses a razor blade because he has no fangs. Is he crazy? Or is he really a vampire? That's what the film MARTIN is all about - the idea that people may fantasize about something so much that it becomes true to them... but is it true to everyone else?

Guess what? That one's taken, too.

30 DAYS OF NIGHT is a unique vampire story. Something we haven't seen before. Instead of a typical vampire movie where night is just a few hours of vampire danger, in Point Barrow, Alaska night lasts for an entire month. That town becomes the land of always night - and vampires have the advantage. This is a concept that is different than other vampire stories but doesn't mess with the vampire rules. It's not vampires in daylight, it's not vampires who can fly like Superman, it's not about vampires who order garlic pizzas. The vampire lore is the same, but the writers have found the concept within the lore that has never been done before.

That's what you need to find if you're writing a vampire script. The concept we haven't seen before. You need something completely different, or your script will be stuck in the extreme low budget genre category aimed at those folks who are vampire film addicts. That's a very small segment of the audience. You want a concept that crosses over to mainstream horror fans... and mainstream filmgoers.

VAMPIRE FANS

If you're passionate about vampires, that's just surface story. The clothes, rather than what's wearing them. Vampires are a metaphor for *something* and that something is what you're passionate about. Dig deeper - figure out *why* the heck your story is about vampires, then figure out how you can tell a story with different clothes but the same story underneath. A vampire story about some other kind of creature or character. There are hundreds of mythical creatures that have never been on film... and you can also make up your own.

In fact, every danged story isn't real (or it'd be boring) so all that stuff is metaphor - code for whatever you are really trying to talk about. Last year I finished a script about reincarnation (finally) and it's really about how we can get trapped in our pasts and not get on with our lives. The reincarnated character is dealing with issues from her past life... she refuses to let go of all that baggage. Okay, if reincarnation were dead as a genre, I'd find some other metaphor (some other code) for holding on to your past instead of getting on with your life. The *real story* is about people getting on with their lives, not reincarnation... that's just the clothes.

So dig in and figure out what the real story is. Not the surface, the stuff underneath. That's the only part that's important. Your script isn't about Vampires, it's about humans. All stories are about humans.

MY VAMPIRE MOVIE

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A dozen years ago I wrote a vampire movie called NIGHT HUNTER.

The script was about the last of the vampire hunters - a sword wielding, shotgun totting, motorcycle riding, badass who must kill a bunch of vampires before they multiply (during a total solar eclipse - kind of a second high concept - when day becomes night). No one had really done a vampire hunter story (Van Helsing is a great character in Dracula - imagine his biker great grandson), so that was my angle. The script was based on an old treatment I wrote about a decade earlier titled Van Helsing. This is a lesson on how to guide a story meeting - the producer was looking for a different kind of action movie. While brainstorming, he mentioned vampires... because he had been pitched a vampire script previously. Hmmm, I had an action treatment about a vampire hunter.... so my goal was to inch the story in the room to what I already had (and make it seem like it was the producer's idea). The producer wanted to do something like HIGHLANDER, with an immortal vampire hunter. I mentioned that would remove the danger from the action scenes... but what if the vampire hunters were a dynasty? What if vampire hunting was something passed down from generation to generation? So, instead of being immortal, the hunters pass down information. They even have an ancient book that lists all of the vampire families and all of the information about vampires collected for generations. Hey, and that immortal thing? What if one of the things passed down was that vampire plasma can rapidly heal wounds? That way, our vampire hunter could not only be kind of a superhero, he can also have a finite amount of plasma... so when he runs out he's vulnerable.

The producer liked how I used his immortal idea.

Some of the other ideas I came up with:

1) Vampire families are all over the world, and every race. When they meet, it's like the mafia's Appalachian Conference in the 50s - a meeting of the heads of families from different territories, and they may not agree with each other. I put them in a boardroom, and had a big conflict between the old timers who want to keep the peace and the young family heads (who came to power as a direct result of our vampire hunter hero and his family) who want to come out of the shadows and rule the world.

2) The solar eclipse thing. I know that once Dracula puts the bite on you, you've his bitch for eternity. Once you stake Dracula, all of his "slave vampires" either die or turn back into humans (depending on how often they've been bitten). But how does one become a Dracula? How does one become a *master* vampire? No answer to that one... so I looked at rare experiences where vampires might bite you, and solar eclipse topped the list. So, much like 30 DAYS OF NIGHT used the land of always night, I used the time when day turns to night momentarily.

3) I gave my vampire hunter all kinds of cool things, passed down from his father. A sawed off shotgun that shoots wooden stakes (when they missed they bounced off the walls like champagne corks). I kind of came up with a Batman utility belt for him - all kinds of gadgets that he could use fighting vampires.

The project was originally set up at Orion Pictures (I have a full page ad from Hollywood Reporter announcing it), but Orion went bankrupt and the project was set up (at a much lower budget) with a company called Moonstone as a Cinemax Premiere Movie. We went from a theatrical budget (and star) to a made for cable budget (and star). And there were additional story meetings to tailor the script to the star... who didn't want to make a vampire movie. The vampire elements were toned down, the action elements ramped up, the movie changed.

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In the original script, you had to remove the head from the body... and this was turned into breaking their backs. There was also a chase in a hall of mirrors where the vampires didn't show, but the hero did. A rooftop chase where the vampires *flew* from roof to roof and the hero had to jump. The scene that everybody loved - where the vampire hunter loses all of his equipment and McGuyvers new weapons out of garbage his finds in a dumpster. All kinds of cool stuff in the original script that's not in the movie. Add to that - the director (who is a nice guy) didn't want to shoot an entire film at night... so there are vampires strolling down the street in broad daylight (but wearing sunglasses). He also came up with the idea of shaking the camera like crazy during action scenes (a decade before Paul Greengrass did it in the BOURNE movies).

Three years after the movie premiered on CineMax, BLADE came out with just about the same story and several of the same scenes (boardroom of vampires, rave, etc).

I pitched a sequel when we wrapped, where San Francisco has been taken over by vampires, quarantined... but the President's daughter (Stanford student) ends up behind enemy lines, so they spring Jack Cutter from prison (he's a serial killer, afterall) and send him in to get her... or kill her (if she's changed over). They decided not to do a sequel... so my white picket fence kills a dozen vampires scene is still on the shelf. Maybe I'll write it as a non-sequel someday.

When it comes to movies with vampires or cops or FBI agents or werewolves or any other type of character that has been done to death, you need to do what 30 DAYS OF NIGHT did - find a high concept. A wild, weird idea that we haven't seen before. Something that fits the rules of vampires, but hasn't been used before. Just being about vampires or zombies isn't high concept - in fact, you really have to work twice as hard to have a unique idea if you're using something like vampires or zombies or serial killers that we've seen a million times before. High concept is something unique, different, interesting, and cool. An idea that's interesting on its own.

A version of this tip is in the Ideas Blue Book.


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***

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Available Scripts

CLASSES ON MP3

Class MP3s CLASSES ON MP3! Take a class on MP3! GUERRILLA MARKETING - NO AGENT? NO PROBLEM! and WRITING THRILLERS (2 Full length classes on MP3). Now Available: IDEAS & CREATIVITY, WRITING HORROR, WRITING INDIE FILMS, more!
Take classes on MP3!