Issue Forty Three
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In Hollywood pro writing society if you pitch an idea and want to get them to pay you to write the script, the first thing they’ll demand (if they green light you) is the story. Getting to actually write your own script in this typical type of arrangement will depend on how the story goes. This is actually a good thing since it inevitably addresses all the issues, and provides a terrific sense of checks and balances. It’s also a great way for all writers to approach their material, whether it’s contractually dictated or not. As an example of how this is done, here’s just the first act of a motion picture. We were permitted to show you via the generosity of a producer with whom we had worked who has actually finished making a version of this film. If you think act one is long, you should see the whole enchilada! The point is that it takes a well developed story to get to the next step in this process, which is actually getting the job of writing the script itself. and also getting it right.
Dark Streets Treatment
(note: most treatments don’t include dialogue and other script-like factors, but some do like this one.
AS DARK WAS THE NIGHT PLAYS
We zero in on the tough, worn face of ED A.K.A. The LIEUT, staring out pensively onto a dark American city street, circa 1930. He surveys the grim urban environment, noting a lit church with disdain and apprehension as he scans the all but empty street. Save for a blind sidewalk guitarist who’s paused to have a beer and the huddled bodies of a young couple waiting quietly at a bus stop next to the church, he is very much alone.
And he looks it.
His eyes move to the red light of a Kit Kat Klub across the street, his expression full of trepidation and buried pain, as if therein lies his greatest weakness, the most difficult thing he’ll ever face. He focuses on the barely lit door, steadying himself and sallies forward, his step heavy with conjured courage.
As the Lieut disappears into the seedy venue, JOHNNY slithers out from a shadowy alleyway and gives a wicked grin heading for his prey: the waiting couple.
Inside the run down Klub we see the Lieut scan the room with subtle fervor until he seizes on the beautiful young woman (MADDY). She is politely listening as a drunken male customer talks her ear off, remaining composed despite the profound sadness in her remote expression. The Lieut watches, disturbed and disgusted by the lusty smirk of the man’s mouth as he rambles on. When the drunk leans in to cop a feel of her velvet cheek, the Lieut lurches forward but is stopped by the sudden embrace of EVANGELINE, elated to see him.
Outside, Johnny chats up the fearful, coiling couple, his right hand jammed down the front of his pants, gripping a bulge. He
toys with the girl, “Are you a virgin?” his hand moving up, down, up, down then OUT as the couple’s faces contort at his gun!
Same time in the Klub, Evangeline guides the now calmer Lieut toward the bar. The beautiful girl (Maddy’s) eyes blaze with suspicion as they lock with his – the Lieut’s face awash with heartbreaking tenderness. She dissects him in an instant, then turns back to the drunk as…
Outside, Johnny drags the woman from her now dead fiancé into the shadows, shoving her against the dark walls of the alleyway and raping her while the blind man resumes his guitar strum seemingly hearing nothing.
Next day and the Lieut is shivering, as he patiently trails MR. BIG through rows of frozen beef, pig and lamb carcasses. They are in a large meat freezer and BIG barks out orders for an upcoming feast he’ll be hosting as a spindly, nervous butcher takes copious notes on the specific cuts. As Big selects his choice of prime rib and filet minion, he lays out a list of jobs for the Lieut:
First, put drug dealer DUTCH on notice as his numbers are down, and have Dutch send over booze and girls to go with all the fine meat he’s ordering. The Lieut sneers, “No problem”.
Next, Big presses - while ridiculously squeezing frozen cow posteriors and examining the color of pork bellies then giving the cue for the butcher to start slicing – Big wants control of an abandoned Power Plant. His dubious reasons aren’t given but Big explains the space is divided between county and city. He can secure the city half and a corrupt Judge will guarantee the county share, soon as the straight-laced county Sheriff, BULL TAGGERT is out of his way.
Big sniffs at a rack of lamb, unimpressed, and turns to the shuddering Lieut, who futilely blows warm air into his freezing hands. He needs the Lieut to:
Kill the county Sheriff (who Big warns, ain’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier but can be cunning in his own hound like way) and in doing so, clear the decks for Big to bribe the Judge.
Insure that the scapegoat / fall guy Big’s targeted is properly trapped.
At this moment the MAYOR shuttles out from the thicket of frozen carnage, a bit disorientated by the location but seemingly used to such inconveniences when it comes to Big. He’s in short sleeves and immediately begins to shiver, ears and nose brightening red as Big points out the gorgeous cuts of sirloin the butcher is hastily carving before their eyes.
Big continues as if they were sipping Mai Tais in the Bahamas and explains to the Lieut that a straight shooting government worker named FRANK BARNES will be promoted by the Mayor to front the “Committee for Restoration and Redevelopment” (the vehicle through which they intend to wrest control of the derelict power plant). They need the Lieut to set a trap for Mr. Barnes once he’s been promoted that will corrupt Barnes and insure that if anything goes wrong he’s their out.
The obliging Lieut, though visibly full of revolt for Mr. Big and his opulent gloat of power and money, makes a good show of gratefully nodding to the requests and snickers when through chattering teeth the Mayor starts to chime in and Big shuts him down, making clear that the Lieut is his right hand guy on this one.
“My hands are full these days, Lieut,” sighs Big leading them back toward the freezer door. They are clearly relieved, spirits lifted as they near it, but then Big remembers one last cut he spotted next to the entrails.
As all painfully turn to head back in, Big whispers to the Lieut, “I’m trusting you to drive full tank on this one”. We can sense that everyone, but especially the Lieut, is on thin ice with Mr. Big. There is a tacit test being laid here and driving it home, Big wiggles his thick, hairy digits before the Lieut’s ice rimmed nose adding, “No extra Big fingers here, pal. It’s all you.”
“Right Boss,” assures Lieut, his hands shoved deep in his pockets and eyes warily trained on the gaping mouth of a calf hung upside down from a hook before him.
BIG TIME OPERATOR plays as we see the Lieut on his way out of the Kit Kat Klub, check his gun, visibly aggravated to find his triggers gone loose. He hurries on to…
DUTCH’s place, where Dutch and junkie prostitute ROSE are closing a sweaty drugs for sex deal. The Lieut has let himself in and with an angry, “Hurry it up in there!” resolves to wait as the two finish their noisy business. We see he’s getting “too old for this” racket.
Quickly done, Dutch and Rose greet the Lieut with deference. Dutch offers the Lieut water as he “knows the Lieut don’t drink” but the Lieut says no, then relates Big’s needs, grimacing as Dutch cleans toys used on Rose. Rose takes her time dressing before the lusty glances of the men, then announces she’s off to the new City Club.
The Lieut’s eyes spark!
He now gets the lowdown on the place: Bought by Charles (Chaz) Davenport, who ain’t much of a businessman- “too busy with the ladies”- claims he wants to keep the joint clean. The three share
a hearty, cynical laugh and the Lieut (wheels turning) spits he’ll let this “patsy” know who’s boss.
The Lieut escorts Rose to the door, leans in and pressing cash into her hand commands, “I need you to get Sherrif Taggert to the Power Plant a week from now, 10pm - no questions asked. Just make it happen.” She says sure thing and leaves as the Lieut turns to Dutch, “Send one of your boys to that new Club -– someone used up - throw a scare in that pansy owner.” We see that this is a job “on the side” and Dutch gets it.
“Sure thing, Boss,” sneers Dutch.
Moving down his “to do” list, the Lieut now drops by the local prison where he’s cozy with the warden. He puts the man on notice that he’ll be making some adjustments to a certain sentencing – has a heavy gig to arm up with players as he fingers an unaware, sexy blonde named SHIRLEY, seen holding court before a gaggle of female prisoners behind glass. She’s got a diabolic look about her, as if she could be a viper or the girl next door in the flicker of an eye. By the looks of it, the girls are swapping sex secrets.
When the warden fishes for “why, what’s up?” the Lieut gives his face a friendly slap and smiles, “You know me and questions ain’t kosher.”
The Lieut now strides past the blind guitarist, throwing a cocky wink at the church as if he’s back from the grave and finally outsmarting the Devil. He sweeps into the Kit Kat Klub where…
With cautious elation he shares his good news with Evangeline over “a drink” – he has water, she has a cocktail - in one of the shabby booths. The stooped backs of several bar flies surround them as the Lieut relates that not only has he got a good job with Mr. Big but he also put a hot stoke in the new fire that is the City
Club. “We’ll skim well off that fat!” he brags, “I’ll even squeeze the Mayor if need be - get the most outta that joint!” Evangeline is ecstatic with relief, her nerves frayed and worry tangible as she urgently insists the Lieut make sure he succeeds “this time”, as she and their grown daughter, MADDY cannot stomach this situation any longer. The Lieut is very affected by her pleas, clearly pained at having to watch her and Maddy get pawed and hassled on a daily basis. Though we can see his former confidence waning by the seconds under her worried pressure, the Lieut promises he’ll do right by them, will get them a better existence once and for all.
Days later, a sweaty FRANK BARNES disposes the toothpick he’s been working nervously about his teeth and checks his suit as he’s lead, all smiles, by a slick secretary into the Mayor’s office. Glad-handling Frank, the Mayor shares a conspiratorial smirk with the girl before closing the door on his lamb …
Same time, back at the prison, Shirley’s now dazzling a table full of hard women as she talks shit about the myth of Pandora while dealing them cards. She’s carrying on theatrically about men’s fear of women and inability to get things right, how the true Pandora was the earth goddess Rhea, the “all giver” but like all men, Hesiod fucked the story up, changed it over to blame war, death, disease and all man’s misery “on us!” “Can you blame him?” teases one of the girls, as Shirley snorts, “….Even her damn box wasn’t a box! It was a honey vase! But screw up number two, Erasmus, mistranslated! It wasn’t “pyxis” it was “PITHOS” for fucks sake! Those idiots made her honey vase that was full of BLESSINGS a damn box full of CURSES no less!” “Ain’t that the bottom line with most fellows!” one of the women laughs and a stream of harsh jokes continue with the game while…
We see the Lieut lay down cash for a new heater and fresh slugs, rubbing his brow, as if his nerves are raw and he’s burnt out on this line of work. He then makes his way toward the prison, picking up a pack of Lucky Strikes (exist in 1930’s?) from a street
vendor who knows him. “Didn’t know you smoked, Lieut” says the man. “I don’t. They’re for a lucky friend,” grins the Lieut.
Frank, all smiles, vigorously thanks the Mayor for the promotion as the Mayor, now thumbing a brochure as he walks Frank out, pauses to enjoy “measuring” Frank. Sighing that his favorite cousin, Harry just died and he’s been saddled with the burial, the Mayor slips the brochure under Frank’s nose, pointing out a satin lined coffin, asking the earnest Frank what he thinks. Frank blanches slightly then studies the page with undivided attention as the Mayor looks on with beastly amusement.
Same time back at the prison, Shirley now turns from her card game to greet the Lieut. He tosses her the pack of smokes saying “Hurry it up, we’re leaving!” and she catches the Lucky’s with a sneer, “Aw…you remembered”, then slams them by an upturned Ace of Spades, “Well I quit. And I’m not done with my game.” The girls howl as the Lieut orders he expects her out and on his watch by five and “by the way, here’s the deal…” And out of earshot of the girls he explains he’ll be using her to set up the new Head of Redevelopment. “Seduce him, become his girlfriend and get him to spend as much government money as you can.” When she questions, “what’s the catch” he simply seethes, “That’s the job. Be out by five.”
“MINNIE THE MOOCHER” BEGINS as
We watch Shirley straddle her chair with vengeance, making a crude joke about the eminent downfall of “useless men” and striking a match.
We see killer/ rapist, Johnny slithering through city alleys and shadows as…
The Mayor rings Mr. Big at home, but Big’s busy in bed with junkie, prostitute Rose, who’s clearly doped up. As Big pumps her between the sheets, he pumps her for street gossip and particularly about “the Lieut”.
Nearing the City Hall the Lieut finds Frank Barnes, still all aglow. Sickened and somehow envious of Frank’s joyfulness and innocence, the Lieut congratulates him on the new job, then invites him to an upcoming party at the Kit Kat Klub. Frank gratefully accepts to the Lieut’s sneer as…
END, MID ACT ONE (p. 15 or so)
WHEW, THAT WAS LONG! BUT THAT’S THE WAY IT IS —AND THIS WAS ONLY TILL MID ACT ONE!!! THIS DEMONSTRATES THE KIND OF PREP THAT’S REQUIRED IN HOLLYWOOD! AND IT PAYS OFF BECAUSE THINGS ARE FULLY VETTED ETC BY THE TIME YOU GET TO THE ACTUAL WRITING ITSLF.
THANX SO MUCH PENELOPE
Craig Kellem is a barometer that tells you how an audience is likely to react to your script. What could be more valuable than an expert opinion of an agent’s or producer’s reaction to your work? Craig Kellem is a an acknowledged success in the industry. He knows how it works. He thinks like a writer. He cares about writers. He won’t let you settle for less than your best. His patience is remarkable. He sees what you don’t. Every time I am on the phone with Craig there is an “Oh My Golly” moment when something he points out to me becomes so obvious. Craig is there for you whenever and however you need him. Whatever your writing problem, he will work with you as long as it takes to solve it. And you’ll have fun doing it. Working with Craig is an adventure. No matter how talented you are you need a script consultant. Craig Kellem is simply the best.
HEY CHECK THIS OUT!
*It can feel like a novel stuck in a screenplay. It’s too long, tries to cover too much territory at times, often disproportionate, montages way too long etc etc. Needs better organizational strategies.
*In a way the script feels like an abundant, sprawling first draft, written “to get it all down” without much worry about making it viable...yet. So, as I suggested on the phone, now would be the time to do a comprehensive INVENTORY of what you actually have so that you can see what’s what and what you need to do, especially in the all important (and often elusive) area of storytelling.
*It might be helpful a couple of times throughout the script to create what I call a “summary.” This will help us stay better abreast of what's what. A “summary” is a device when you find a way for a character to kind of summarize where we are, how we got here, and where we're going, without being too obviously expositional. (ie: "OK. Let's see what we're looking at here guys")
* I think you need a solid plan of action before the new effort on the revision commences, and I would like to mentor you in that regard, including tracking stories on the phone, discussing the various strategies and moves that are needed, and then reading, say every 30 pages or so as you commence with the rewrite, giving you notes along the way to help you stay on track. This type of assistance is very common in Hollywood and can be valuable especially when writing something this complex! If you’re interested, please check out my “Works in Progress” option on the site.
*Too many scenes are simply in need of more oomph. Every scene needs its own brand of magic! Please peruse the article “Scenes as Concepts” on my site and I suggest you check out “Garden State” and “Lost in Translation” as examples of films that buy into this winning principle.
*The backstory etc, as presented in the first 60 pages or so can feel too ordinary. And one of the consequences of this is that it doesn’t seem to fit with what’s coming later, which you “tease” and then fully introduce later on. Feels like a mismatched hybrid! But if the relationship between father and son is more intense, visceral, real, fresh and dramatic and is spiked with uncertainty, conflict, jeopardy and angst, and because of this things feel more tentative, explosive, dysfunctional and even scary in their own way, it will all blend together much better. We need to feel tense, expectant and wonderfully “uncomfortable” during the entire read!!!
*The script feels as if it takes off way too quickly and never looks back, without providing the reader with ENOUGH information in the area of history, origins, genesis, who’s who, what’s what etc, etc. After all, this was a very complicated situation involving many factions and tangents. I’m certain that if you went out and did a “man on the street” type interview re general knowledge in this arena, most folks would only have a passing grasp of the complex geopolitics involved. Thus I found myself disoriented at times, trying to figure out the landscape I was in and scrambling to keep a reasonable sense of it all…We need things such as stronger context, perspective, grounding, in order to better appreciate this material. Currently we experience it in kind of a vacuum. Lots marked on the script in this regard.
*I remember seeing a film called “Apollo 13” years ago and admiring how cleverly they setup the backstory and origins of the space program, and also the culture of it as well, across the board, BEFORE bringing you and evolving deeply into the situation at hand. Thus when you “finally” get into the meat of it, you feel properly acquainted and oriented. All this is very much needed herein.
*Instead of really telling stories, we are experiencing “episodic” experiences, almost diary-like in a way. This is not the same as STORY-TELLING!
*Need more flow of early exposition nuggets along the way. If I hadn’t read the synopsis I would have had real difficulty understanding what was happening during much of the first act. Protecting a surprise is OK, but it has to be reasonably lucid at the same time
*This is a character piece at heart and the stories simply don’t feel full enough. Can seem too simplistic. Need to work on this via sandboxing (articles on our site, #‘s 35-and 36) and arcing. Characters need to feel more inspired and SOUND very DIFFERENT from each other. Vanessa can’t be so extreme as to be unlikable. So this is a task involving strengthening both characterization and story.
*Too much sizzle, not enough substance. It’s full of hot stuff but on other levels, simply under-endowed. Need more depth, breadth, backstory etc. Need more about how we got here; background on our players.
*Swimming though the complexities of this script can be very difficult and, in my view, somewhat counter productive. This needs a disciplined top down approach to handling it all. Locking in adjustments to the concept, organizing and synchronizing subplots, losing fat by keen overview and better planning etc, this is surely the way to go. (This is analogous to deft outlining which should occur BEFORE the writing but, in this case, should definitely precede the revision).
*Good economy in word usage, stage directions and layering are musts. This script needs to be lean and mean, believable, and professionally organized. This, I promise you, will make it so much better.
*We need to believe it!! You need to create a more “reasonable reality” and avoid the tendency (common to all comedy writers) of exaggerating characters and situations in order to be funny. Need a reasonable proportionality between funny, and everything else!!! The best comedy is rooted in reality my friend. This is a very important thing to know.
*Without more discernible story currency, any ensemble piece can become too anecdotal, slice of life-ish, amorphous etc. With better story synergies, a good balance and proportionality can be achieved.
*Movies are cinematic. Things need to move. You need to SHOW when you can, rather than TELL, and use more active venues, layer and employ key stage directions (SD’S). Please read articles #’s 9, 16, 22, in regard to these things.
I started out as a playwright, being produced in New York, Los Angeles and Seattle, but the money received was far less encouraging than the reviews. I soon began writing novels, and my very first was published in Paris.
But turning to screenwriting never occurred to me until a French filmmaker exhibited interest in making a movie of my novel. So I said to myself: “Why don’t I do the adaptation? After all, a screenplay resembles more or less a play in a funny format.”
I took the novel and chopped it up (how it hurt!) and the end result was indeed a play in screenwriting format. I had a feeling that something wasn’t right, so I decided to contact an expert.
Surfing the net, I stumbled upon Hollywoodscript.com, and I was instantly seduced by the wealth of information and insightful heartfelt comments given to wannabe screenwriters by Craig and Judy Kellem. So I sent my script to Craig, and two weeks later I was in for a big surprise.
Screen-wise, my script was null. “What’s wrong with Hollywood?” I almost said to Craig. Is it run by halfwits with the attention span of a Joe-six-pack? Can’t they figure out from the dialog what’s going on, what my characters’ motivations are? Do I have to spell it out for them?
Of course, I was terribly wrong. Screenwriting is an entirely different beast than playwriting or fiction writing. It has to grab the moviegoer in a snap, make her giggle and swallow a lump or two, give her something to talk about—the whole nine yards (Craig’s favorite expression).
I never give up when it comes to writing, and Craig patiently guided me to the finish line. The end result was a professional script with a richer and more dramatic story.
A month went by, and my hope of winning Hollywoodscript.com contest evaporated, despite the fact that Craig gave me a wonderful recommendation. I went ahead and advertised my script to the filmmaking world, using the services of Scriptblaster and Inktip. Craig’s recommendation brought me five requests, including one from the UK.
One of the requests demanded an agent’s submission. Since I had no agent, I informed Craig about my ‘catch-22’ predicament. In no time, he contacted his illustrious Hollywood-agent brother, Jim Kellem, who agreed to submit my script.
Then, by the end of the summer, Craig announced to me that I’d won the contest. As he says in his most recent newsletter, not everyone wins at the moment they most want it to happen for a variety of reasons.
It didn’t matter to me. I was very happy that a respectable script consultant with a solid Hollywood background had chosen my script, which brought me additional requests from well-established companies.
“Recrossing the Danube,” which is based on my dramatic Romanian past, may not become a movie (these things are beyond my control), but I can safely say that I have now truly become a screenwriter. I graduated from Craig and Judy’s school magna cum laude.
In the meantime I have written a second script, and since it is written from a woman’s point of view, I asked Judy to be my consultant. I was impressed by her flawless comments etc pointing out the weak passages in my script and I am currently revising the script, based on her pertinent suggestions.
To all you wannabe screenwriters out there, you can’t go wrong with Craig and Judy. They nourish your talent with passion and devotion for a modest fee. So give them a try. They are not going to steal your ideas.They will help you make them blossom in something that might whet the industry’s jaded appetite. If you succeed, they succeed. Your success story is their success story.
PS "Recrossing the Danube" is now a Fade In semi-finalist!!!