Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Adam Levenberg’

“This may shock you, but most beginners fail at the concept. It’s the single most common problem I’ve found with scripts. Concept is the core of the script.”
Karl Iglesias
Writing for Emotional Impact

“The other overwhelming weakness with these ninety-out-of-a-hundred rejected screenplays is with initial concept.”
Michael Hauge
Writing Screenplays that Sell
(Formatting being the other weakness according to Hauge)

How do you test your story concept? What filter system do you have in place that tells you, “This concept is worth investing my time and talent to write into a feature screenplay.” Despite knowing the best time to test your concept is before you write your screenplay—many writers ignore any warning signs and the concept flaw is not fully revealed until after their script is completed.

But what if your concept sucks?

If the concept is weak all that’s left is, as the saying goes, “polishing brass on a sinking ship.”

“One lesson I’ve learned in Hollywood is that right out of the gate a screenplay will be judged solely on its concept or premise.”
Chandus King
Now Write! Screenwriting

Last week I did a one-hour concept consultation with Adam Levenberg and time will tell what fruit that conversation will bear, but I will say that I’m more jazzed about my latest concept and coming at the story with a clearer focus than I’ve had in the past.  I walked away with seven specific ways to turn the concept into a solid (and castable) screenplay. Adam also sent me two scripts that were similar but different to my concept. But perhaps most importantly is our one-hour conversation convinced me that this is the script I should be writing. I was prepared to move down the concept list if Adam didn’t think my #1 concept had legs.

I’m a fan of Adam’s work because of his development background, his Official Screenwriting podcast, and the fact that last year I spent three hours on the phone going over my last script Shadows in the Dark.  I wrote in the post Script Consultant Adam Levenberg that it was the most detailed feedback I’d ever gotten on a script I’d written. We went over characters, plot, structure, the ending—pretty much everything. I walked away with many pages of notes—on top of the notes he sent me— on how to make it better.  And the only way he could have that three-hour conversation about my script is that he spent at least a day–maybe two–dissecting my script before we had our conversation.

But Adam was also honest in saying he didn’t think the basic concept could get traction in Hollywood. And he told me why. And that began my conversion from structure, structure, structure to concept, concept, concept. Both are important, but I think concept trumps structure. Which is why you’ll hear stories of scripts being sold solely on concept.

I know there are plenty of naysayers about paying anything to anybody in regards to furthering your career. Ironically, one of the biggest voices against paying a consultant has what today amounts to $400,000 in college education. I’m certainly not against going to college (have a film school degree myself) but I also think Adam’s $99 concept consulting fee can be a better investment in your screenwriting career than 20 hours of a free screenwriting podcasts and blogs—even the best ones.  (Came up with 20 hours because that’s about what it would take to pay $99 making minimum wage minus taxes and such. )

“What you choose to write is far more important than any decision you make about how to write it.”
John Truby
The Anatomy of Story

A few years ago, before online training took off, I was looking at attending an all day Final Cut Pro seminar in Chicago. The class promised an 8-hour day with a Final Cut guru. I lived about five hours from Chicago at the time and figured by the time I added in costs of  the hotel, food, gas and the seminar itself the hard cost to me were going to be over $600.

Being self-employed I had to look at other  variables. Five hours driving each way and the seminar itself would cost me two days of down time. Two days where nothing was billed meaning the real cost where much more than $600. Sure I’d learn a few cost saving tips from the guru, might even make some interesting connections, but in the end I found a solution that worked better for me—I found DVD tutorials that included 47 hours of training for $300.

If you aren’t doing it already, start thinking of yourself as a small business owner. Sure you’re a creative person who writers screenplays, but don’t forget the business side. One of the key principles of any business is to make every purchase an investment. When I had a corporate video producing gig I looked forward to attending seminars in Seattle, Washington and Rockport, Maine. Learned a lot, too. But these days I take advantage of lynda.com for $25 a month and the free seminars produced by creativeLIVE. (Less fresh king crab and lobster, but you have to make sacrifices in life.)

Keep in mind that all those free screenwriting blogs and podcasts cost you something—time. The books and seminars cost you time and money. Undergraduate and graduate degrees can take a lot of time and a lot of money. None of use will make great decisions 100% of the time.  But crunch the numbers, asks questions, and move forward.

“Repeatedly, after reading a screenplay, I asked myself in amazement how the author could possibly think that the story idea would be of interest to anyone besides him and maybe his mom. Had the writer even chosen a concept that had the slightest degree of interest, uniqueness, or artistic and commercial potential, he would have already elevated his screenplay into the top 10 percent.”
Michael Hauge
Writing Screenplays That Sell
(Chapter 2 on Story Concept)

If you’re like many writers you have a computer list or shoebox full of story ideas and concepts. One option is to jealously guard that concept until you send the script out, another is talking to the one or two friends whose opinions you cherish (if one of your friends is Steven Spielberg that’s a bonus) , and another option now is using Adam Levenberg’s concept consultation.

P.S. Years ago I shopped a coming of age story—my Stand By Me-type script—and one production company fellow was kind enough to tell me I had made a big mistake. I didn’t have a single castable adult character of any weight. He went on to explain how a strong adult lead was needed to get funding and hope to attract  people to the movie. I went back and watched Stand By Me and sure enough there was the Richard Dreyfuss and Kiefer Sutherland roles.  I went back and watched The Sandlot and sure enough there was the James Earl Jones character. That’s the kind of stuff that you gotta know at the concept stage.

Related Post:
Screenwriting Books (Touches on Adam’s book The Starter Screenplay.)
Investing in Screenwriting
Screenwriting is Expensive

Related Links: Think Hallewood  “Why do most concepts suck?—Christopher Lockhart

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“A logline conveys the dramatic story of a screenplay in the most abbreviated manner possible.”
Christopher Lockhart
The Construction of a Logline (Get this free PDF.)

“A good logline usually covers three bases. It gives us the main character, the main character’s goal, and the central conflict in the story (what’s preventing them from getting that goal).”
ScriptShadow Special – How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

Recently I was listening to Adam Levenberg’s podcast Official Screenwriting and he hit on the ever popular topic of writing loglines. Levenberg is the author of The Starter Screenplay and in the communications I’ve had with him he’s always come across as a guy who understands what makes movies and screenplays work. I recommend you give his podcast a listen.

“I really like this [logline] for JAWS:

‘A police chief, with a phobia for open water, battles a gigantic shark with an appetite for swimmers and boat captains, in spite of a greedy town council who demands that the beach stay open .’

I think this is the perfect logline, but it’s also for a nearly perfect movie. Look at how it does these things; A police chief, so we have our hero, we know whose eyes we’re seeing the movie from. And I think that’s key. You want to identify who’s our hero and tell the logline from their point of view just like you’re telling the movie from their point of view….The second thing, ‘with a phobia for open water.’ That’s great because we’re going to be putting him in the water. Why? Because he’s battling a gigantic shark….I like the way it identifies the goal—which is to stop the shark—it identifies the problem which is the shark. It identifies the opponent which is the shark. And it identifies the life and death stakes.”
Adam Levenberg
Podcast Writing Great Loglines (Check out the full podcast as Levenberg goes on to talk about the importance of turning the main character’s world upside down.)

Levenberg goes on to quote Jeffrey Schechter (My Story Can Beat Up Your Story) who passes on four key questions he learned from Michael Roberts when he tried to pitch an idea to the Disney Executive:

Who is your main character?

What are they trying to accomplish?

Who is trying to stop them?

What happens if they fail?

Levenberg doesn’t mention where he found that JAWS logline, but when I Googled it took me to the blog post Writing Good Log Lines written by Stanley D. Williams. (That article also references Schechter.) Williams is the author of the excellent book The Moral Premise.

One additional thing that the above JAWS logline has is irony. A police chief with a phobia for open water must go into the water to do battle.

“The loglines that read the best are the ones with some sort of irony in them, where the character and the situation are at odds with one another. A lawyer who can’t lie (Liar Liar). A king who can’t speak to his people (The King’s Speech). A Detroit cop investigating a case in Beverly Hills (Beverly Hills Cop). A time manager stuck on an island with all the time in the world (Cast Away). An alcoholic superhero (Hancock). These loglines will always catch a reader’s attention, so you’ll have a huge advantage if your concept contains irony.”
ScriptShadow Special —How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

A final tip on writing loglines comes from a post by Don Bledsoe on Script Nurse  stating that the Three C’s of loglines are “Clear, Concise & Conflict.”

“Most story ideas fail at the level of concept. Sad, but true. I’ve learned this the hard way.”
Producer/Writer Erik Bork
Loglines and SAVE THE CAT

These days I’m a big fan of nailing down your concept and logline (they’re related, but not the same) before you invest six months, a year, two years or more writing your script. Before you jump into your next script read Article-GSU! by Carson Reeves (on the importance of goal, stakes, urgency), It’s the Concept, Stupid by Max Adams, and Christopher Lockhart’s I Wrote a 120 Page Script But Can’t Write a Logline: The Construction of a Logline.

Related Posts:
Christopher Lockhart Q&A (Part 1)
“The Inside Pitch”
Script Consultant Adam Levenberg
What’s at Stake?

Related Link:
The “A” List  (Advice from someone who’s read 30,000 scripts. Yes, 30,000.)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

“With a screenplay you’re creating a world; consider everything, every character, every room, every juxtaposition, every increment of time as an embodiment of that world. Look at all of this through that filter and make sure it is all consistent.”
Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman

“No hero is ever ready for the journey.”
Adam Levenberg

Yesterday I had the single best script critique I’ve ever had. It was also the longest phone conversation I’ve ever had.

My 2 hours and 54 minute conversation with Adam Levenberg was longer than the movie Gone with the Wind. Not that my script is as epic, but Adam wanted to show me what he does as a script consultant. I was impressed and will talk about the experience more in detail in January. But if you’re looking for a gift for that screenwriter in your life who has everything but a produced script—or you want to indulge yourself as a writer—contact Adam.

And while the service was offered free to me, I will warn you that his fee is in the iPad range.  Seriously, writing this blog has brought me into contact with some interesting producers, directors, and screenwriters in Los Angeles and talking with Adam yesterday was a great way to round out the year.

Adam doesn’t guarantee that your script will get made, sell, or that you’ll even get an agent— his goal is to make you a better writer. Over the years I’ve taken plenty of screenwriting classes and workeshops, but having Adam go through my entire script and question choices I made was a whole different level of understanding that you can’t get in a class. You can’t hide. (For instance, while my hero’s backstory was in my head—Adam pointed out that it wasn’t in the script.)

Earlier this year I finished the script Shadows in the Dark (with Scott Cawelti) which while my first collaboration, was actually my ninth feature script completed. (In a conversation with My Cousin Vinny screenwriter Dale Launer this year he told me I had one more script to write before I sold one because it took him ten scripts before his first sale.) Anyway, I was fortunate to have several writer friends around the country read my script and offer lengthy and detail notes on various versions of the script.

So the script that Adam read was probably the sixth draft and he still had enough notes for an almost 3 hour conversation. (Actually, it was probably a solid 2 hours of notes because he let me ramble on talking about movies and such.)

I know there is a mini—debate surrounding script consultants, but I was impressed with Adam’s knowledge and thoroughness. And he’s just a heck of a lot fun to talk to on the phone. Adam’s background includes a degree from USC School of Cinematic Arts and time as a development executive at One Race Films—Vin Diesel’s company. And he’s been featured as a guest blogger on WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart’s blog.

We all have knowledge gaps and have much to learn, which is why even Oscar-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) says he’s still a student. If you’re a working writer in Hollywood you have plenty of working relationships to hone your skills. Diablo Cody recently said she sent the first draft of Young Adult to Jason Reitman and he said it wasn’t quite there and kept sending her notes until it eventually became the movie Young Adult. (And even after all of that talent, when I saw Young Adult in the theater just as the credits began to roll a lady behind me said out loud, “That’s it?”)

Most of us can’t slide Jason Reitman a script and expect him to give us notes. So if you’re in say, Iowa—or some other unlikely place in the world to be writing screenplays–you have to be resourceful.  As a small business owner (River Run Productions) I’m all for the entrepreneurial spirit and free market enterprise. So if you have the funds and what to be a better writer I’m all for any classes, workshops, books, and scripts consultants you can afford within your budget to accomplish your goal. But remember the basic solid economic principle— “Make every purchase and investment.”

I do believe that in many cases that experienced script readers, producers, and studio executives can give better script notes than working screenwriters. For instance, you’ll learn more from Carson Reeves’ Script Shadow blog than you will from most blogs by working screenwriters.

I’m sure that there are script consultant scams out there so be careful.  While I don’t really know Adam, I will say that my experience with him was positive. The only way Adam could have given me as detailed notes is spending time going over my script. He typically invests at least two days going through a script.  His notes went quite in depth and covered some key flaws. I know I’ve never able to give as detailed notes to friends scripts I’ve covered, because I simply can’t spend that much time on it. Plus it’s not something I enjoy doing.

Will Adam’s notes get my script sold or produced?  Again, no one’s making that claim. (And if anyone guarantees they’ll get your script sold or even get you an agent is a good sign to run.) But I do believe Adam’s notes will make my Shadows in the Dark script better as well as overall making me a better writer. If you’d like a lower budget version of Adam’s film industry knowledge check out his book The Starter Screenplay.

You can also check out his website HireAHollywoodExec.com and judge for yourself.

P.S. And I offer as a totally free gift to you this Holiday Season, a link to quite an interesting talk Charlie Kaufman gave earlier this year for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).  (A link I first found at the always informative Go Into the Story blog where Scott Myers has posted transcripts of that talk as an eight part series.)

Read Full Post »

“Movies are about heroes trapped in extreme situations. They are forced to do outrageous things and overcome impossible odds to achieve a specific goal. It’s much easier to create ideas of value by appealing to the audience’s desire to revel in the sensational.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

Related posts:
Writing “Black Hawk Down”

Filmmaking Quote #12 (Hitchcock) 
Writing “A Beautiful Mind” (Extreme situations don’t have to be action-adventures)

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

We can learn a lot by setting two things alongside one another. It’s even better if we have a reason to do so.”
David Bordwell

“Can we really discuss 13 Going on 30 without mentioning Big?
Adam Levenberg

Big (1988): When a boy wishes to be big at a magic wish machine, he wakes up the next morning and finds himself in an adult body literally overnight.

13 Going on 30 (2004): A 13 year old girl plays a game on her 13th birthday and wakes up the next day as a 30 year old woman.

There are many words and phrases to explain why some films appear to be very similar to other films: Remake, update, homage, rip-off, mash-up, inspired by, parallels, movie mapping, story patterns, story echo, influences, and good old-fashioned plagiarism.

Sea of Love= Basic Instinct
A Stranger Among Us= Witness
Double Indemnity=Body Heat
Indecent Proposal=Honeymoon in Vegas
Clueless=Emma
Westworld=Jurassic Park
A Christmas Carol= Scrooged
Cyrano de Bergerc=Roxanne
Hardcore=The Searchers
First Blood= The Sheepman
Yojimbo=A Fistful of Dollars
Dreamscape=Inception
Doc Hollywood=Cars
City on Fire= Reservoir Dogs
(This one even gets a video Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?)

Fatal Attraction=Unfaithful

“We could hold a Fatal Attraction film festival, screening the teen version Swimfan, the African American comedy version The Thin Line Between Love and Hate, the parody superhero hybrid My Super Ex-Girlfriend, the recent hit Obsessed.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

Of course, before Fatal Attraction there was Play Misty for Me. The 1971 film was the directorial debut of  Clint Eastwood, who would later say that the film was “The original Fatal Attraction.” Play Misty for Me was written by Jo Heims and Dean Riesner. Even if you haven’t seen that film, see if the IMDB description doesn’t sound familiar:

“A brief fling between a male disc jockey and an obsessed female fan takes a frightening, and perhaps even deadly turn when another woman enters the picture.”

There is a long standing debate on just how much the work of Christopher Marlowe shaped the works of William Shakespeare. But the cycle never really stops as Shakespeare has been accused of stealing from the Roman writer Plautus and Plautus adapted many a Greek playwright.

There are plenty of books and articles as critics discuss the similarities of such and such a film. Tomorrow well look at what some filmmakers and screenwriters have to say about the topic.

Scott W. Smith



Read Full Post »

“There’s no such thing as a totally new concept, just reworking old ones to make them current and fresh.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

We’ll start the new year by looking at an old trend in the movie business—Similiarities between films.

It’s not hard to look at Roger Corman’s Piranha (1978) and see how it was influenced by JAWS (1975). But it’s also not hard to see how JAWS was influenced by the classic 1954 film Creature from the Black Lagoon. I’d like to think that a then eight year old Steven Spielberg saw Creature from the Black Lagoon when it first came out and thought, “Gee, when I grow up I think it would be fun to work at Universal Studios.”

—The creature and the shark both kill people
—The creature and the shark strand a boat that threatens all aboard
—Both stories have an element of greed on the part of the humans
—Both have quirky boat captains
—Both have scientists
—Similar music to announce impending danger of creature/shark (Da-Dum)
—Both are Universal Pictures
—The creature and the shark are killed at the end

I’m sure there are a few other similarities. Just as there are similarities between Creature and King Kong (1933), Beauty and the Beast (1946), Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). Of course Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein was published in 1818. And if we went back in time we have tales of creatures by the Greeks and Romans, and even in the Garden of Eden we have the serpent to tempt Adam and Eve.

To use Blake Snyder’s phrase, “monster in the house” stories have been with us a long time. (Even if the house is technically a lagoon or a small beach town.) Overall I think we put too much emphasis on the similarities of film instead of their differences. Earlier this week I watched Creature from the Black Lagoon and JAWS and found they each stand on their own.

I once had a teacher say that if you gave ten writers the basic concept of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and had them write a script you would have ten original stories. Heck, Scorsese has made a career out of lifting chunks of 1930s gangster films and giving them his own imprint.

So don’t be discouraged when people read your script and say, “Oh, it’s just like….” They’re just seeing patterns that are in every film. Last week I saw The Black Swan and I thought, “Oh, it’s The Wrestler meets The Fight Club.” Then I saw Mark Walhberg in The Fighter and even though it’s based on a true story, I still thought, “It’s part Rocky (1976) and part Fat City (1972).” Your originality will come from your own unique background.

And speaking of  Creature from the Black Lagoon, I saw where screenwriter Gary Ross (Seabiscuit) is remaking the film. Turns out that Ross’ father, Arthur A. Ross, was one of the screenwriters on the original film. The elder Ross was nominated for an Oscar for the 1980 film Brubaker which was just eight years before Gary received his first Oscar nomination for Big—shared with co-writer Anne Spielberg, who happens to be Steven’s sister. (One big happy family, right?)

And lastly, I can’t help but point out that the actress (Julie Adams) who the creature from the Black Lagoon was attracted to, in real life was born in Waterloo, Iowa. (Just a few miles from where I type this post in Cedar Falls, Iowa.)



P.S. If you’re a filmmaker near the Florida panhandle, the exterior shots for Creature from the Black Lagoon were shot in Wakulla Springs State Park. I’m not sure what the requirements are to shoot there, but it’s as untouched today as it was when then filmed Creature. Crystal clear water and beautiful natural light.

© 2011 Scott W. Smith


Read Full Post »

“I grew up watching John Hughes’ movies. I loved Clueless and Mean Girls. I like a good teen movie. They’re few and far between though.”
Screenwriter Bert V. Royal (Easy A)

“Remember, any high school movie needs to feature heroes who are intelligent, speak like adults, and are in the 11th or 12th grade.”
Adam Levenberg
The Starter Screenplay

I’m not sure how many screenplays 33-year-old Bert Royal has written, but his first produced script Easy A is getting A’s from critics (87% on Rotten Tomatoes) and A’s from audiences ($56 million in its first two weeks). That kind of success is hard to find for any writer. It’s a well written script* and entertaining movie, but I do wonder if he’s sent roses to Diablo Cody yet because it has Juno fingerprints all over it. (Of course, I hope Cody sent roses to John Hughes before he died in 2009.)

Royal dropped out of the Florida School of the Arts because he said he was the least talented one in the school. He moved to New York and landed some casting gigs. As far as I could find, Royal’s success as a writer began with the off-Broadway play Dog Sees God: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead. That landed him an agent and some writing assignments at CBS. According to an interview he did on Jeff Goldsmith’s Podcast, Royal wrote Easy A as a spec script without any kind of outline, but rather as a “character journey.” The script went out in May of ’08 and sold within days. The $8 million film hit theaters in September 2010.

Royal grew up in Green Cove Springs, Florida (outside of Jacksonville) where interestingly enough he didn’t even attend a high school but was home schooled. (Ever since I produced a TV program on home schooling in 2002 I’ve been telling people that home schoolers are a growing force.)

If Royal’s recent success isn’t enough to make other screenwriters envious, wait until they read this quote:

“I wrote Easy A in five or six days. Once I got on a roll, I wrote this very, very quickly— so I got to about a 110 pages in five or six days and then came back after two weeks and wrote the last nine or 10 pages. I didn’t chain myself to the desk. I’m very loose about that. I sit down when I can make the script better. You know, my father says that I write best when I’m depressed, and I think he might be right. Having written this after the writers strike, that’s probably the most panicked I’ve ever been. I was just sitting in bed with a bottle of wine watching Law & Order: SVU – that was my dark place. So when I was able to finally pry myself up, for whatever reason I was really able to get into the script.”
Bert V. Royal
WGA Interview

If you drive through Green Cove Springs, Florida (pop. around 6,000) there is not much there to make you think “Hollywood”—but that’s Royal’s screenwriting roots, once again proving that talent comes from unusual places.

*The version of the script I read has revisions by the director Will Gluck. Though not officially credited as writer, Royal credits Gluck with bringing a lot to the script.

Scott W. Smith

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: