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Posts Tagged ‘UCLA extension’

Tom Lazarus (Stigmata) is not only a produced screenwriter, but a longtime instructor at the UCLA Extension program.  Earlier this week I thumbed through a book of his I bought over a decade ago and found this little gem:

The best log line I’ve ever read was for an episode of the old TV show Father Knows Best. It was: Billy loses his house key. That’s what the episode was about. That, and nothing more.

The log line is the simple, one- or two-sentence, description of a movie that appears in TV Guide.

…Log lines are vital in my process of film writing because they force me to distill my idea for the screenplay down to its essence. The log line is what I judge what I’m writing against. The log line forces me to be absolutely clear about what I’m writing.
Tom Lazarus
Secrets of Film Writing 

We could go back and forth over the difference between a logline for a movie and one for a TV program–or if the logline for a Father Knows Best episode is better than, say, the logline for JAWS. But it’s a good to think about as you develop your own stories. And while “Billy loses his house key” may seem a little simplistic, check out the insight in the post (David Wain) What’s at Stake?:

“Any screenplay can be about any stakes. It can be tiny like trying to get a piece of gum off your shoe or saving the world–it’s irrelevant. The point is the stakes are important to the character and that you care as the audience about what the character cares about.”
Screenwriter David Wain

That usually means there is the potential for something meaningful to be lost. Wally on Leave it to Beaver losing his baseball glove and fears his father’s anger, Tony Soprano fears losing his mind, Bruce Willis in Die Hard fears losing his wife, Marlin fears losing his only son in Finding Nemo. 

Here’s another thought I read this week that seems fitting to toss into the mix:

“I received an exorbitant amount of query letters this week. After all these years, I’m still amazed at how many bad ideas inspire screenwriters. Many new writers make a fatal era at the start: Choosing an idea that is neither cinematic nor dramatic. Or an idea that is limited in its appeal. Is the concept best suited for a screenplay? Is it an externalized story best told with moving pictures and through conflict? Is it a story that will attract enough of an audience to warrant its budget in the millions? Many writers will defend themselves with: ‘I’m an artist and must write what’s personal and important to me. I can’t think about those other things.’ That’s fine — but don’t query me. Make your own movie. Not all stories make for good screenplays, by the way. And that’s okay. The story might be a better novel or poem or play. It’s the writer’s job to make that determination. And it’s better to do it at the beginning – before writing the script.”
WME Story Editor Christopher Lockhart on The Inside Pitch/Facebook group
And he linked to his 2006 blog post Think “Hallewood” on how to improve the stories you set out to write

P.S. I’ve actually never seen an episode of Father Knows Best, and couldn’t find the “lost key” episode online, but I did find one from the first season written by Phil Davis that has the logline, “Jim has only two tickets to a football game and must decide whom to take with him.” Jim (the father played by Robert Young) decides to have a contest with his three children to see which one will be chosen to go with him to— “the most important football game of the year.”

And while that concept of that 60-year-old program seems dated, the dramatic material between sibling rivalries is deep. Not only to mention the timeless question kids ask their parents, “Which child is your favorite?” And how many billions of dollars have been spent on counseling people with mother/father—son/daughter issues?

“I was very angry with him. It cost me ten thousand dollars in therapy to say that sentence: ‘I was very angry him.’ I do it very well, don’t I? I’ll say it again: I was very angry with him. ‘Hello, my name is Mr. Lewis, I am very angry with my father.'”
Edward (Richard Gere) in Pretty Women

Related links.

The Perfect Logline
Star Wars—The Logline
Juno—The Logline

Links to others who have written about longlines.

The Construction of a Logline (Get this free PDF.)
ScriptShadow Special – How To Craft A Damn Good Logline

Scott W. Smith

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Kevin Williamson failed. But at least he failed to the tune of $103 million at the box office when his script Scream became his first screenwriting credit in 1996. And that launched a career for the New Bern, North Carolina native who studied film and theater at East Carolina University. A career that includes being the creator of the Tv show Dawson’s Creek.

But once upon a time after acting gigs in New York didn’t pan out he moved to L.A. and took a screenwriting class at UCLA extension and began writing his first script. That script got optioned and paid enough to quit his day job. But the film never got made and he found himself unemployed and low on cash. He found inspiration for a new script in one of his favorite films, Halloween, and set out to to write a scary movie (which happened to be the original title). 

“I wanted to have a kick-ass opening, because I wanted to write one of the scariest movies ever. And then I thought, ‘Well, you know what? I may not be able to do that, but I may be able to write one scary scene.’ So I set out to write the opening telephone scene with the Drew Barrymore character. I knew that if I could capture just the terror of that situation—in an empty house with windows, a girl on the phone—right away you have the necessary ingredients. And then when I added the horror movie quiz game game on top of it, that brought the fun into it….But it’s a simple three act structure. The lead character is in peril. At the end of act one, she meets her attacker, who is trying to kill her; she barley escapes with her life, and then you’re thrust into the second act. It’s by-the-book, really. The only thing I did differently was I disclosed the conventions of the horror genre while doing it, and I let the breaking of the rules tell the story.”
                                                   Kevin Williamson
                                                   Creative Screenwriting magazine 
                                                   An Interview with: Kevin Williamson
                                                   by Laura Schiff 

So Williamson failed to write the scariest movie ever, but I think he wrote the funniest scary movie ever. By the way, that little twist Williamson gave the horror genre is called originality. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just tweak it a little and make it yours. Or as Blake Snyder likes to say that what Hollywood is looking for is — “The same thing, only different.”

 

Scott W. Smith

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