Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hook, Line and Sinker

More on the elements of commercial ideas...

I have worked on some high-grossing, very commercial films in my career. They were fun. It's great to sit down with your first preview audience and hear them roar to life over an idea you pitched during a story meeting. Very gratifying. That said, there are certainly sources out there (John August, Josh Friedman, Kung Fu Monkey's John Rogers come to mind instantly) who can, and have, pounded out the elements from a writer's perspective. I'm trying to bridge the creative/executive divide here a bit.

Clear Concept

The main thing is to make your idea "pitchable". There's a lot to be said for going up to random strangers and pitching your idea: I'm writing a script about a little boy who meets an alien left behind by his scouting party. Sounds cheesy, but, a lot of ideas won't pass this initial test and audiences want to understand WHY they are in the theater. Now, an exception (and there are always exceptions) would be almost any independent film, but, and here's the catch, even those films (which tend to be structured as minimalist, 2-acts), fit into a container -- USUAL SUSPECTS, a heist film with a twist, ROMEO IS BLEEDING, a great female assassin film from the mid-90's.

Random aside: I recently had occasion to pitch a story I'm working on to someone who can help me gain access to a "secret world". In this particular case, security protocols make it difficult to get secondary research material. I've been working out the story for quite some time now, so when I got my big shot with the Man-In-Charge, I was able to pitch my heart out and tell him in a basic one-liner what my story is, and convince him that his help would put "flesh on the bones". Result: I'm going to see some secret stuff and get to write about it. Pitches aren't just for studio execs....

Part of the reason genre films (e.g. action-adventures, rom coms) are so successful is the interplay between the audience and the film. The expectation and fulfillment cycle is powerful, and when it's powered by fresh insight into the questions that these genres pose (Will I survive? Will anyone ever love me?), it can speak deeply to people. Be original within a genre using it to provide the structure and the "clear concept" elements will save you and give you the basis for a truly commercial film. If there's interest, I can expand this section. It's simple, powerful, and difficult as hell to get right.

1 comment:

writergurl said...

Ok, so you've set the hook... I want more! Please?