FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:
HIGH CONCEPT / MEDIUM BUDGET
After getting a bunch of studio meetings by accident, a few years ago I signed with a
manager who promised me a bunch of studio meetings on purpose. My cable films have all been
affordable high concept stuff - so I thought I would have a very easy transition to studio
sales... Except the manager had something to prove and wanted me to focus on very
high budget scripts. A high concept chase thriller became bloated with big action set
pieces. The thrillers I had planned to write were set aside so that I could write a trio of
massive action scripts. The manager sent the scripts out and they did get me tons of
studio meetings... where they told me how much they loved my scripts but they just
couldn't afford to produce them. DARK SALVAGE takes place either on the water or
underwater - the two most expensive places to film! I think each of the close to 50
producers I met with mentioned WATERWORLD and how unpredictable shooting on
water can be. No one bought it.
Though studios seem to be making more and more event films every year, they also do not like
expensive gambles. What everyone told me - Why not write something like
KNOCKED UP or or DISTURBIA or THE SIXTH SENSE that can be made on a medium budget
but can still become a huge hit? Well, those were the scripts that I set aside in order to
write these big, expensive blockbusters! I wished I had written something like SOURCE CODE!
The key to success is to write a script that no one can say "no" to - and my script was
all yeses until it came to budget. Hey, if I could get a high powered director like Michael
Bay or James Cameron attached that "no" would become a "yes" - but what are the
odds of that happening? You want your script to be a "no brainer yes" - something with
the potential to make a lot of money... but if it ends up opening the same weekend as
TRANSFORMERS or the next HARRY POTTER film and flops it won't sink the
studio. What we're looking for is a big, exciting idea... that can be made on a medium
budget. The story is a "yes" and the budget is a "yes" - no reason to say "no"!
Here are some examples:
SPEED - there's a bomb on a bus that will explode if the bus goes below 55mph... and
rush hour has just begun.
TERMINATOR - a killing machine from the future comes back to kill the woman who will
give birth to the man who will save the world.
DEVIL'S ADVOCATE - hot young lawyer discovers the big law firm that hired him is run
by, perhaps, Satan?
GROUNDHOG DAY - a self centered TV Weatherman is trapped living February 2nd over and over again.
WESTWORLD - android amusement park shorts out, sending cowboy robot after three
ROSEMARY'S BABY - nice young New York couple is having Satan's spawn.
50 FIRST DATES - a love 'em & leave 'em stud meets a woman with memory problems who can't
remember anything that happened the day before... making every date the first date, and she doesn't sleep with guys on the first date.
STEPFORD WIVES - the perfect small town, the perfect passive wives... hey, they're
androids like those Terminator & Westworld fellas!
THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL - remember that Hitler guy? They cloned a half dozen of
him, and an aging Nazi hunter has to find those kids and kill 'em.
THE OMEN - You know the guy that killed all of those boys from Brazil? His adopted
son is Satan's spawn... and everyone who tries to stop the brat gets killed in a freak
On an idea level, compare SPEED to SPEED 2 and you'll see what I'm talking about.
The first film was made on a medium budget (a bus driving on the freeway, hitting an
occasional car or barricade barrel of water), the second film was frequently mentioned
right after WATERWORLD as a reason why they weren't going to buy my DARK
SALVAGE script (we have a cruise ship filled with people out of control in the ocean....
eventually destroying an entire town). SPEED 2 was an expensive flop - no studio
wants to make another film like that.
Or compare THE MATRIX to either of the sequels... or BRUCE ALMIGHTY to EVAN ALMIGHTY. The first films have great *ideas* that work on their own without big special effects or casts of thousands or giant sets. The sequels all try to out-do the first, not by coming up with a great new *idea*, but by throwing money at a second rate idea. Instead of being clever, they added more explosions and bigger explosions.
Anything involving time travel to the present is cheap - TERMINATOR isn't about going
to the future, it's about bringing the future to present day Los Angeles. That's not only a
less expensive idea - it's a BETTER idea! None of us have ever been to the future so
the story isn't as easy to identify with. But it's easy to identify with Sara Conners -
working a cruddy job, living with a room mate, trying to find love - that could be our life!
We know exactly what it's like to be Sara, so it's easier to imagine those things
happening to us. The same is true with KATE & LEOPOLD - where a man from the past
ends up in present day New York. We understand Kate's world better than we
understand Leopold's. So having the story take place in the inexpensive present is
actually better from a STORY standpoint. If 95% of the script takes place in the present,
the 5% that takes place in the past or the future doesn't seem like much of a problem.
Usually, the higher the concept - the more simple and imaginative the idea - the less FX
required. THE SIXTH DAY (not a good movie - but a kick ass high concept - you need both a great concept *and* great execution) has a
military guy coming home to find his wife in the arms of another man... his clone! That's
about as high concept as you can get - and it's just the same actor playing two roles.
It's when the concept isn't so high, like "The Alamo on an aircraft carrier", that you get in
trouble. That's an expensive film, because it isn't the IDEA that's cool, it's all of the
battle stuff you need to make the idea work. Unfortunately, I also wrote that script, too. Got
me lots of meetings were they told me it was too expensive. They would have to stage
World War 3 to make the film... which is why I'm back writing really high concept
scripts where the idea is the star - wrote one about reincarnation, one shadow-people, one about a bomb planted inside some poor dude, and I have one coming up about a secret society with magical powers - the ideas are the stars, not the FX or the set or the hardware or
massive explosions. If a character says they are the reincarnation of someone else, it's
still just an actor. The idea supplies the cool stuff.
All of the scripts I set aside to write those big budget monsters the manager wanted?
That's what I writing this year. Script with amazing ideas... and no reason to say "no".
High concept scripts that can be made on a medium budget.
What you want is a script with a box office value that is much higher than the cost to produce.
Usually that begins with an amazing high concept idea - something that blows people away when they hear
*the idea*. Then, that idea must be not insanely expensive to make. Here are four more examples: SOURCE CODE, THE SIXTH SENSE, GHOST, and THE MATRIX.
SOURCE CODE - Soldier is sent back in time for 8 minutes again and again onto a commuter train just before it explodes, to identify the bomber... because he has threatened to strike again and take down a whole city. The time travel is just the actor waking up on the train! And the film takes place at basically three locations: The train, The time travel capsule, Mission control. Oh, and has only a hand full of characters: the people on the train (limited suspects), our time traveler, two scientists at Mission Control. The train explosion is the only real special effect.
THE SIXTH SENSE - boy sees dead people in Philly. All locations are easy to get (more or less), those dead people the boy sees? Just actors.
GHOST - dead guy tries to save woman he loves. All of the locations are easy to get (more or less), the ghost is just an actor. A couple of special effects here and there, but 95% of the time just an actor. By the way, this is one of the most popular films of all time.
THE MATRIX - guy discovers the real world isn't real at all. Script was written to be shot in Chicago - basic city locations. There are some special effects - the "real world" where a small portion of the film takes place is a hovercraft set and some CGI stuff, plus we get that bullet-time stuff (that's cheaper than you think). The big action scenes cost money - but the film would have worked without them. Shot in Australia to save money and because it's close to all of those kung fu folks in Hong Kong.
With a spec (for sale) screenplay what you want is the most amazing and exciting screenplay possible - but you want to use common sense and make sure that the film can be made for a reasonable amount of money. Best thing is if you have a great idea where the *idea* is what is cool, not all of the crap they need to make that idea work.
If you can come up with an amazing idea like "the world we think is real is not real" so that they can shoot the movie for the same cost as some disposable action film with a "cops chase bank robbers" plot or something, you have just opened the doors for a sale. If they have the choice between making two films - one is a standard action film and one is a wild story - and both cost the same, guess which one they pick?
The great thing about a movie like SOURCE CODE is that it can be made by an indie producer (Summit) for a reasonable cost ($32m - including all star salaries) and have the same look and feel as a big studio blockbuster.
Watch a bunch of episodes of TWILIGHT ZONE or OUTER LIMITS - both shows made on very limited budgets, but with big ideas that we still talk about today. It's a cook book!
A cool idea is better than an idea that requires a lot of cool stuff to work.
Can You Make It bigger?
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OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC!
OUTLINES & THE THEMATIC Blue Book.
ARE YOUR SCENES IN THE RIGHT ORDER?
AND ARE THEY THE RIGHT SCENES?
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DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book!
DESCRIPTION & VOICE Blue Book.
IS HALF OF YOUR STORY IN TROUBLE?
Most screenplays are about a 50/50 split between dialogue and description - which means your description is just as important as your dialogue. It just gets less press because the audience never sees it, the same reason why screenwriters get less press than movie stars. But your story will never get to the audience until readers and development executives read your script... so it is a very important factor. Until the movie is made the screenplay is the movie and must be just as exciting as the movie. So how do you make your screenplay exciting to read? Description is important in a novel as well, and the “audience” does read it... how do we write riveting description?
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THE BOOK THAT STARTED IT ALL!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
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MOVIES ARE CHARACTERS!
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Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! A step-by-step guide to creating "take charge" protagonists. Screenplays are about characters in conflict... characters in emotional turmoil... Strong three dimensional protagonists who can find solutions to their problems in 110 pages. But how do you create characters like this? How do you turn words into flesh and blood? Character issues, Knowing Who Is The Boss, Tapping into YOUR fears, The Naked Character, Pulp Friction, Man With A Plan, Character Arcs, Avoiding Cliche People, Deep Characterization, Problem Protagonists, 12 Ways To Create Likable Protagonists (even if they are criminals), Active vs. Reactive, The Third Dimension In Character, Relationships, Ensemble Scripts, and much, much more. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 205 pages!
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I WRITE PICTURES!
*** VISUAL STORYTELLING *** - For Kindle! (exclusive)
Show Don't Tell - but *how* do you do that? Here are techniques to tell stories visually! Using Oscar Winning Films and Oscar Nominated Films as our primary examples: from the first Best Picture Winner "Sunrise" (1927) to the Oscar Nominated "The Artist" (which takes place in 1927) with stops along the way Pixar's "Up" and Best Original Screenplay Winner "Breaking Away" (a small indie style drama - told visually) as well as "Witness" and other Oscar Winners as examples... plus RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 200 pages!
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*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!
*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Your screenplay is going to begin with an idea. There are good ideas and bad ideas and commercial ideas and personal ideas. But where do you find ideas in the first place? This handbook explores different methods for finding or generating ideas, and combining those ideas into concepts that sell. The Idea Bank, Fifteen Places To Find Ideas, Good Ideas And Bad Ideas, Ideas From Locations And Elements, Keeping Track Of Your Ideas, Idea Theft - What Can You Do? Weird Ways To Connect Ideas, Combing Ideas To Create Concepts, High Concepts - What Are They? Creating The Killer Concept, Substitution - Lion Tamers & Hitmen, Creating Blockbuster Concepts, Magnification And The Matrix, Conflict Within Concept, Concepts With Visual Conflict, Avoiding Episodic Concepts, much more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
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*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!
*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook!
Expanded version with more ways to create interesting dialogue! How to remove bad dialogue (and what *is* bad dialogue), First Hand Dialogue, Awful Exposition, Realism, 50 Professional Dialogue Techniques you can use *today*, Subtext, Subtitles, Humor, Sizzling Banter, *Anti-Dialogue*, Speeches, and more. Tools you can use to make your dialogue sizzle! Special sections that use dialogue examples from movies as diverse as "Bringing Up Baby", "Psycho", "Double Indemnity", "Notorious", the Oscar nominated "You Can Count On Me", "His Girl Friday", and many more! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is over 175 pages!
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E BOOKS PAGE
E BOOKS: New Blue Books and Novelettes!
I am expanding all of the Blue Books from around 44 pages of
text to around 200 pages! Some are over 250 pages! See what is availabale and what is coming soon!Also, I've been writing Novelletes and there
will soon be novels.
E BOOKS: BLUE BOOKS & NOVELLETES
MY OTHER SITES
B MOVIE WORLD
Cult Films, Exploitation, Bikers & Women In Prison, Monster Movies.
FIRST STRIKE PRODUCTIONS
Producing my own scripts, investment possibilities, pipe dreams.
NAKED SCREENWRITING MP3s
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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!
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