Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sample Screenplays

When I first started out in the business I worked as an intern. Mostly I just filed things for other people and answered the phones with a sunny little Texas accent (went over real well with those hardened New Yorkers and jaded Angelenos, let me tell you), but my abiding joy was reading the spec scripts when they came in. I'm dating myself here, but one of my all time favorite scripts, the one that just completely blew me away and made me absotively sure I had to move to Hollywood was Andrew Kevin Walker's SEVEN script. Dark, moody, angry and ultimately about the triumph of evil over good, it was stunning in it's completeness. The day the spec hit the street, it was like an evil pleasure, an insider's read and a measure of how much a part of the game you were if you read it. Like AMERICAN BEAUTY, THE SIXTH SENSE, TRAINING DAY, that script made a mark on the game. When it came out a few years later, the film altered the landscape.

A really great spec can do that.

The above films are each great examples of genre films that have been so completely reimagined they feel like new subgenres in and of themselves. They aren't though, within their genres they utilize key features and turn them on their ears. In SEVEN, Walker's script took the thriller and combined it with the buddy movie. It introduced us to a retiring cop and his go-get 'em young partner, created a great puzzle with excellent stakes and clearly defined rules (the heart of every thriller), then wound us up about the hunt for the serial killer, the love story between Brad Pitt and Gywneth Paltrow, and then SLAMMED those two storylines together in a brilliant ending. The original spec was centered much more closely on the Morgan Freeman character, Mills, and I found it fascinating that the focus for the film version was more clearly split between the two detectives. It definitely made the death of Mills' wife more impactful.

Finding a great story to tell is difficult, but that's the writer's job. It's worth it, though. I'm working with a writer now who wrote a redemption tale set in New York. It's a great little story about father and son which has real resonance. Everyone I've pitched the story to tears up a little when they hear the particulars, and I can't wait to read the next draft of it. It's something that's almost strong enough to get him a rewrite gig. We'll do a little more work, focus the story a little better, and then do "polish" work making sure that his scene work is strong, sharpening up dialogue and going through each character's motivation moment by moment to insure that the entire film sings. I love this part of the work, in up to my elbows, using craft to fight my way to the finish. The writer I'm working with has excellent instincts and really understands his characters. It will be an excellent sample for him to use in the future.

If any of you have questions about a sample script (spec), let me know and I'll do my best to answer them. Best of luck to all of you. I'm headed to a secluded cabin on Thursday to work on the book, catch up on my reading and finish a spec I'm writing myself. I've had great feedback on the treatment, but there's a long road between treatment and spec, so I got to get to steppin'.

4 comments:

Mark said...

Well...since you asked...I actually do have a question about a spec I am considering writing. The story is about an a-level movie star who is confronted with some major life choices, including falling back in love with his high-school sweetheart (who is not famous and still living in his home-town). So my question is, would a real movie star ever play a movie star? Particularly when shown with warts and all? I'd rather not write the spec if in the end no-one would ever be in the film. (I am also debating whether to write this movie as a mockumentary, and wondering what impact this would have, if any).

Mark said...

Well...since you asked...I actually do have a question about a spec I am considering writing. The story is about an a-level movie star who is confronted with some major life choices, including falling back in love with his high-school sweetheart (who is not famous and still living in his home-town). So my question is, would a real movie star ever play a movie star? Particularly when shown with warts and all? I'd rather not write the spec if in the end no-one would ever be in the film. (I am also debating whether to write this movie as a mockumentary, and wondering what impact this would have, if any).

The Film Diva said...

"Real" movie stars play movie stars all the time -- look at NOTTINGHILL or the extremely snarky self-referential turn in OCEAN'S 12 where Julia Roberts plays a woman who poses as...JULIA ROBERTS. The truth is that your script has to be good. A solid piece of writing with finely etched emotional arcs and it has to fufill genre expectations. If you do that, it won't matter "warts and all". A great spec is a great spec. That said, the chances your script will actually get purchased and produced are slim. Aim for getting representation (I'm assuming you don't have any) and exposure. Exposure may lead to a job, and that's the first thing that counts.

Mark said...

Thanks very much for your insights, and yes I am both unrepresented and unexposed. I think I'll give the story a try while keeping in mind that the script, well written, might help me get representation and/or exposure, and worrying about getting the script made into a movie should not be a stumbling block at this stage.

(Sorry for the double posting of my question)