FRIDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

HOLLYWOOD RECYCLING


Now that you've seen THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, I know what you are all wondering... Is this a remake of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN? And was that a remake (credited) of THE SEVEN SAMURAI? And what about John Sayles' BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS?

If you're one of those people who still has a leisure suit from the 1970s sitting in your closet because you are sure it will come back into style again - this tip's for you. In Hollywood, everything old will be new again. They love recycling! If something worked in the past, it will probably work again - just slap a fresh coat of paint on it! There's nothing new under the sun - if you think you have an original idea it's probably because you didn't see the film that did that one before. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH is about really getting into a movie star's head... and in the equally weird 60s movie HEAD that star is Victor Mature. If an idea hasn't been done before, there's probably something wrong with it. That's what Hollywood will think. "If no one's ever done this before, how can we sell it?" So let's look at splashing a fresh coat of paint on an old idea.

Most Hollywood recycling just involves adding a new cast - A few years ago several studios announced remakes of classic and not so classic films: John Travolta in a new version of HARVEY, a remake of THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY, a new version of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, plus casting for a new version of I MARRIED A WITCH. That kind of recycling is off limits to us - the studios own those films and THEY decide to do a remake. Our spec scripts have to be completely recycled - made of 100% post recycled product. We have to grind it up - take it back to it's elements - then spit it out as a whole new product. We aren't refilling a sterilyzed glass Coke bottle, we're melting it down and reforming it as a brand new bottle.


NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN?

Just as BEING JOHN MALKOVICH can easily be traced back to HEAD, pretty much any film you think is completely original has probably been done before. If you haven't seen the earlier film, or read the book, or seen the cave painting; that doesn't mean it does not exist. George Polti has an old book lists all of the 36 Plots, and it covers everything that has been done before and anything you can think of. Just as Hollywood recycles stories, so do we... we just may not be aware of it. Even if Christopher Nolan had never even heard of DREAMSCAPE before he wrote INCEPTION, there are a limited number of ways that a story can work so you are likely to come up with the same story that someone else has previously come up with. No need to buy a tinfoil hat, it's *synchronicity*... even if there isn't any "chron" involved. Everyone has similar basic experiences and if you use your dream experiences... someone else in the world has also dreamed and might use theirs to write a screenplay, too.

Heck, *I* have a script project that takes place in the world of dreams and was partially inspired by DREAMSCAPE... but I went in an entirely different direction with it - marrying it with a Cold War spy plot.

The key to adding that fresh coat of paint is make sure it is a *very* different color. The more you can make your story from those that have come before the better!

Part of that requires knowing what has come before. Not everyone has seen a million movies and knows that the different tint thing that Soderbergh did in TRAFFIC was actually done by Fritz Lang in SPIES in 1928 (I did not have to look up that date!)... oh, and Soderbergh also used it in his film THE UNDERNEATH... so if you haven't seen every movie ever made, your best bet is to make sure your story is personal to *you*. That it is also your story, as well as that 1940s film with William Bendix that you've never seen. Even then, you may end up with something similar... but that's why there is no sequel to Polti's 36 Plots called EIGHT MORE PLOTS I MANAGED TO MISS IN THE FIRST BOOK. There really is nothing new under the sun!

When AVATAR came out, people were saying the plot was stolen from... well, the problem was there were about six films and if you thought it was DANCES WITH WOLVES you thought the FERN GULLEY people and the ALIENS and MATRIX people were wrong. I think you are all wrong, and it is a rip off of THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS - both films even feature Michelle Rodriguez!

But wait, THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is a rip off of POINT BREAK which was a rip off of NO MAN'S LAND which was a rip off of HOUSE OF BAMBOO with was a rip off of STREET OF NO NAME which was a rip off of...

CARS is often pointed to as a ripoff of DOC HOLLYWOOD, but when DOC HOLLYWOOD came out many of the reviews said it was a good version of a cliche story. Hey, that means this story has been told *many* times before. The most famous version of that DOC HOLLYWOOD story is BRIGADOON, a hit Broadway musical tuned into a hit movie back in 1954... about two hunters who get stuck in some danged small town off the beaten path that is filled with quirky characters and just want to get the hell out of there, until one of them meets a woman and falls in love and decides maybe sticking around wouldn't be so bad after all. So, if we trace CARS all the way back, is that where it ends? Of course not! There are plenty of earlier films that have the same story... and BRIGADOON was based on an old German legend that had been used as the basis for novels and stories - including one from the 1800s about an artist on his way to a big city who gets stuck in a small town and yada-yada-yada. The core idea of any story you come up with is one of the 36 Plots and has been used before in some other movie. What we bring is our own experiences and imagination. We want to make sure *the details* of our story are different than what has come before. So it's not an artist who gets stuck in the small town that seems as if it has not changed as the world around it has changed, it's a hunter or a doctor or a race car.

So, you might take a story of an amusement park filled Androids, and the Androids escape and terrorize the guests, like WESTWORLD... and substitute Dinosaurs for Androids and end up with JURASSIC PARK where it's an amusement park filled with Dinosaurs, and the Dinosaurs escape and terrorize the guests. Both written by Michael Crichton! But almost nobody calls JURASSIC PARK a rip off, because the details are different. The more something is the same, the more you need to make it different.


SUBSTITUTION

One of the things I do in my Script Secrets Class is demonstrate how you can take a story we all know and change an element (like arena) to make a whole new story. THE MECHANIC is just ALL ABOUT EVE with hitmen.

Aging star and ambitious understudy....
Just add a different occupation.

Let's do that now: Make a list of TEN unusual and interesting occupations.
Okay, now put the occupation in the story of an aging star who worries their protege may be trying to push them out of the spotlight and take over (which is ALL ABOUT EVE).

Of course, once we change the story from Broadway Star to Hitman, everything else changes. There will be no actresses and agents and producers - those things change to fit our new story and become gangsters and contract killers and international arms dealers. And even if the new story takes place in New York City, it will be a completely different NYC than ALL ABOUT EVE's. The hitmen won't all meet at Sardi's after a hit to read about it in the papers. When you change one thing it starts a chain reaction of changes that changes everything else.

So, for each of your brainstormed ideas - where do they take place? How has changing the occupation of the lead character changed all of the other elements?

In my Story Blue Book I identify the 10 basic elements of a story - and you can probably change any one of them to create a new story. ALL ABOUT EVE takes place on Broadway in New York... but the book it comes from took place in Hollywood. The now-cult-movie SHOWGIRLS tried to do the same story in Las Vegas. That's the element of location rather than arena. There are 8 other elements in ALL ABOUT EVE that can be changed to create a new story... the more imagination you add when making your changes the better! What if a cartoon character felt threatened by a new cartoon character who was introduced on the show?

The Ten Elements:
1) Concept.
2) Character.
3) Conflict.
4) Location.
5) Plot.
6) Time Period.
7) Tone.
8) Genre.
9) Arena.
10) Theme.

Take any story and change one of the major elements...

Let's start with a movie, just pick one. Okay, now make a list of 5 genres that your movie does not belong in... and then rethink your movie in each of those 5 different genres. Remember, when you change something as basic as genre, other elements will change as well. Okay, pitch each of those 5 different stories.

Okay, now take that same movie and change the location to something completely different... and pitch the new version.

Okay, now let's take that same movie and change the time period... and remember that might change core elements of the story. Now pitch the new version.

I get most of my best ideas when someone says "You can't come up with an original Buddy Cop story!" or "I never want to read another DIE HARD in a ______ script!" That challenges me to find the one that no one has ever thought of before - usually by opening my mind to unusual possibilities.

Rom-Coms are based on a pair who SHOULD be together having to overcome a conflict / obstacle that keeps them apart. What if the thing that comes between the lovers in a rom-com is TIME PERIOD? Or sexual orientation? Or age? Or species? Or physical handicap? Or it's SHOP AROUND THE CORNER meets the SETI program? Or it's a rom-com based on Oedipus Rex? Or the love interest is really a dream? What if your rival for her affections was the new improved clone of you? What if she only loved you while under hypnosis? What if you both died on the Titanic - and were reincarnated on opposite ends of the Earth? There are zillions of ways to take a basic story and make it something new.

Take an old idea and find a way to make it new again.

Make it unique - like no other film that has come before... yet universal enough for the audience to understand.


FLIPPING IT

Another method for creating story ideas we explore in the Script Secrets class is flipping an idea - take the story and do the opposite. Though use some really creative examples in the class, here's a rom-com idea off the top of my head: Start with Cyrano and flip it. Our hero is intelligent and witty like Cyrano - but not good with women. So he hires a slick pretty boy romeo (like Christian) to coach him through an earpiece. Now he has all of the smooth lines that catch women... but the problem is he's not being himself with them. He's a sincere person acting slick and romantic. When he meets the perfect woman (Roxane) she falls in love with him... but really she has fallen for Christian's slick patter. Will he have to act like a phoney forever to keep Roxanne interested? Does he ditch the earpiece and risk alienating the woman who loves... Losing her to the slick romeo coach? Or will she like the real version of our hero? Take the idea we've heard before and do the exact opposite... creating a new idea! You're recycling!

The better example of flipping is actor-pretends-to-be-mobster flipped to mobster-pretends-to-be-actor that I use in my classes... I'd use it here, but I have to save *something* for the live class!

INCEPTION and THE CELL and DREAMSCAPE and ALTERED STATES and THE 13th FLOOR and WHAT DREAMS MAY COME and TOTAL RECALL and... well, the list goes on!

No matter how you repaint those old ideas, here's one basic piece of advice to keep in mind - Use your imagination. If your star crossed lovers are from rival families, we've seen that before... but if they are from rival planets or rival species or rival time periods or rival dimensions? That's a wild idea! Hollywood may like recycling - but they want the post-recycled product to fresh and clean and new looking. You don't re-fill a plastic soda bottle, you wash it and melt it down and form it into a new container... then fill the new container with soda. New but made with recycled materials... that's the kind of green Hollywood loves!


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***

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copyright 2020 by William C. Martell


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