BIZ TIP TUESDAY:

SYNOPSIS


Last month at this time I was at the American Film Market - you probably read my series or reports from 2010 on my blog. One of the standard elements of AFM are "flaps" - a page with the movie's poster on one side and a one page synopsis on the other side, Every movie has one... *needs* one in order to sell to all of the foreign territories. If *you* don't write the synopsis on the back of the flap, some salesman for the company will write it... do you really want some sales dude to write the synopsis for your film?

So, writing a one page synopsis is part of the screenwriter's job - I don't love it or hate it, I just do it.

I frequently use treatments and loglines as part of my writing process. By putting the story down on paper I can find out if I REALLY know what the story is about before I start writing 110 pages. It's a way to identify the important scenes, and make sure they connect. Sometimes things that seem to make complete sense in my mind make no sense at all on the page. It's the difference between the connections between characters and scenes and story that work in my imagination and what works in the more linear real world. If I don't know the essence of the story to write a logline, I'm not ready to write to do the 110 page version...

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But one pagers are a sales tool *for the screenplay*. They aren't something I write to get a better handle on the story so that I can go to script, they're something I write after I've finished the script in order to sell it. Ink Tip always wants a one page synopsis of your script, and so do many of the producers I query. Instead of giving away the plot beat-by-beat, I think of the synopsis as the back of a paperback book. It's the big story hook, the character and his or her main conflict, and a couple of really cool story highlights. I end on a cliff hanger (that big act 3 problem). It's designed to make the reader want to grab my script and start reading, NOT to give them all of the story beats so they can "pass" without reading it. Once you read the back of the paperback, you shell out the money to buy the book and find out WHAT HAPPENS.

My one pagers are usually used by the production company for the back of their sales "flaps" (8.5 x 11 cards with the poster on the front and the synopsis on the back, given to foreign distributors in hopes they'll buy the rights to the film), and have also ended up as the back of the DVD packaging! Basically the synopsis BECOMES the back of the paperback book - used to entice customers to rent my video instead of any of the others.

Think of the synopsis as a sales tool. It's purpose isn't to tell the story, it's to SELL the story. Look at paperback books. Don't worry about beginning, middle and end: they'll have to read the script for the details. Write a 250 word pitch for your script. One kick-ass page designed to hook the reader and make them beg for the script. That means we aren't giving away the ending, and we're using as many cliff-hanger questions as we can to make them wonder how your protagonist is ever going to get out of this mess.

* * *

"GATORBABY"

When pretty college student Maggie Shanner receives and invitation to her great grand-father "Big Daddy" Wingfield's 104th birthday celebration, it's a chance for her to get out from under her mother's thumb for an entire week. Her over-protective mother, Catherine, wants her to dump her boyfriend and live at home until she meets Mr. Right and gets married... and stay away from her crazy great-grandfather. Big Daddy Wingfield is a patent medicine millionaire who lives alone on private island off the coast of Florida. No one has seen him for decades. Catherine hints that he's a recluse because of some strange dark incident in his past. A sinister family secret.

Maggie and her abrasive opportunist boyfriend Stanley join the other great grandchildren for a week on the private island paradise: failed ex-quarterback Brick and his trailer-trash wife Charlotte, plus aggressive lesbian poet Blanche. Why would Big Daddy invite only the great grand kids... unless he's thinking of revising his will to include some of them? All five begin plotting against each other to gain "first position" in Big Daddy's will, with Stanley pulling every dirty trick in the book to come out on top.

But once they arrive on the spooky private island, the fight to be included in the will becomes a fight for survival... because something lurks in the swamps surrounding Big Daddy's mansion. Something that feeds at night...

A frightening genetic mutation: half-man, half-alligator. A ferocious freak that hides in the tall grass, lurks in the shadows, and attacks when you least expect it. Tearing off limbs with its razor-sharp teeth. Chomping a human torso in half with its powerful jaws. The result of one of Big Daddy's experiments gone wrong?

With no way off the island, Maggie and the others must stay alive long enough to discover the family secret behind the half-man, half alligator freak. The secret to why Big Daddy may be 104 years old, but only looks 50. The secret to why Catherine waited until she was in her late 30s before giving birth to Maggie.

Because these five aren't in competition for a place in the will, Big Daddy is really trying to find the best experiment subject (with his DNA) so that he can create a new half-man, half-gator to regenerate internal organs so that he can stay forever young. He's found the fountain of youth in Florida... and it's gators! That creature who stalks the swamps at night, feeding on human flesh... is Maggie's half-brother!

GATORBABY is a tale that blends the terror of JAWS with the Southern Gothic sensibilities of CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. One horror-filled week trapped on an island with a monster... and no way to escape it's powerful jaws.

Every family has its secrets, but this one has teeth!

* * *

The idea is to give the reader the basic story. Though I've left my contact information off this example (I don't want all of you to call me a 3am), you need to have a phone number and e-mail address on your synopsis so that they can get in touch with you if they want to read your script. Here's another example...

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* * *

"SPLICERS"

FACT: Right before the war in Afghanistan the National Security Administration ramped up their gene splicing experiments, combining genetic material from the super-intelligent German Shepard search & rescue dog created for the Army's 41st Scout Dog Division (Rover-7) with genetic materials from desert dwelling scorpions to create the ultimate tunnel dog designed to search the caves of Afghanistan for Osama Bin Laden and the Al Quaida terrorists. The genetic mutations, know as "splicers" in the scientific community, were never deployed. Al Quaeda and Osama became old news and we refocused on Iraq and Saddam. Who cares if Osama is still hiding in some tunnel in Afghanistan? The half dog, half scorpion "splicers" continue to be bread in a Los Angeles area laboratory for possible use in some other war.

FICTION: When a rolling black out interrupts power to the electronic cages, several of the beasts escape... all but one was recovered. Unfortunately, that one was pregnant. The biotech scientist in charge of the program, Franklin Murnau, believes the splicer went into the subway tunnels to give birth to its litter. Subway passengers are beginning to disappear - eaten by the splicers - and ridership is down. After the 100th passenger is eaten, the Mayor closes the subway for 48 hours to allow a Special Forces team to eradicate the beasts.

To find the beasts in the miles of subway tunnels and sewers that stretch under the city of Los Angeles, General Matheson wants the super-intelligent Rover-7 search and rescue dog (Sevi) from Fort Benning. Sevi has a genius IQ and has been fitted with a communications device which translates the dog's brainwaves into English so that a human handler with a special headset can understand him. (Timmy doesn't need to interpret Lassie's barks to know there's trouble at the old mill, he can hear his thoughts.) Matheson doesn't want Sevi's handler, burned out Army Sgt. Paul Johnson, but the dog insists... the two are a team. Sevi doesn't care that Paul blew a mission during Desert Storm because he became paralyzed by fear... the two are best friends.

In the maze of tunnels under the city the Special Forces team (five men and two women), General Matheson, splicer creator Murnau, Sevi and Paul search the shadows for the escaped creatures. The splicers have the advantage - they were designed to hunt in tunnels. Springing from the darkness, scorpion tail piercing the body armor of Special Forces soldiers; soon it becomes the ultimate battle between man and beast... with Sevi somewhere in between. These splicers were created with his genetic material - they are like his children. All bad seeds.

After being attacked by a pack of splicers, half of the Special Forces team are killed and Paul and Sevi become separated in the labyrinth of tunnels. Can Paul survive without his best friend? Will Sevi help the humans, or run with the pack? Will the splicers continue to multiply and take over LA - feasting on humans?

SPLICERS is a sci-fi action script in the tradition of "A Boy And His Dog", "Aliens" and the classic "Them" about the ultimate battle between man and beast.

* * *
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This page is also a sample of your writing, so if your script is a comedy the reader should laugh outloud a couple of times, be left in suspense if it's a thriller, cry if it's a drama. The tone of the synopsis is connected to the genre of your script. A gritty and realistic synopsis for a light comedy isn't going to work!

By the way, lately I've been putting my synopsis on the back of mock-up posters. My theory is that it makes the script seem more like a film... more real. Also, it shows the producer how the finished film might be sold.


* * *

"ALTITUDE"

A 737 on the Chicago to DC shuttle run has been hijacked.

Onboard the plane: 5 hijackers with a bomb wired to explode if the plane ventures below 20,000 feet. Their demands: Freedom for a dozen comrades picked up in the post-9-11 sweeps... Strange - because the hijackers are American.

Also onboard: Burned out bodyguard Jackson Bolt, on his way to DC for a Congressional hearing concerning the whistle blower assassinated while under his protection. With no way to get an anti-terrorist team onto the plane, it's up to Bolt to save the passengers... Without repeating his past mistakes.

As the 737 enters the holding pattern for Washington National Airport, another scenario presents itself: What if the bomb is nuclear, and the hijacker's REAL plan is to destroy Washington DC, and throw the United States government into chaos? Is this the second wave of terrorism?

Or could it be a group of clever thieves cashing in on post-9-11 paranoia to ransom a plane full of passengers for millions? Or is there something valuable on the plane? Is this a mid-air heist? Disguised to look like an act of terrorism?

Bolt, armed only with a cell phone and a Samsonite suitcase, must play a deadly game of cat and mouse with the thieves... While convincing a trigger happy Homeland Security Agent *not* to blast them from the sky. With no where to run, and very few places to hide, he must secretly organize his fellow passengers against the thieves. But time and airplane fuel are running out...

One of the passengers is working for the thieves. Providing them with inside information about him. Is it the single mom? The quiet businessman? The sexy business woman? The father returned from his son's funeral? Or the stewardess Bolt has been flirting with? Who can he trust? Who will betray him?

"ALTITUDE" is a non-stop thrill ride in the tradition of "Die Hard", "Speed", and "The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3". This is one plane you don't want to miss!

* * *

If you've pitched your script to the producer, you've probably given them 250 word already! The producer has enough info to decide if they're going to read it or not. The synopsis is just a reminder of what you've said. I frequently send one pagers to producers - it's more than a logline but less than a treatment. They can get a good idea of who the protagonist is, the concept, and how the conflict escalates... but only have to read a single page. If the producer reads my synopsis and requests a script, I always send a synopsis for ANOTHER script with the requested script. That way I always have a chance. Part of this job is just keeping your scripts in circulation until the right script hits the right producer and BINGO!

You've just made a sale.



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