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“Go Into The Story: The Quest”: The producing component

First a quick update about “Go Into The Story: The Quest.” As of this moment, there have been 502 individuals who have submitted loglines, some with multiple stories. That is already more than I projected for a grand total and we’re less than 72 hours into the submission process. So safe to say the response has been phenomenal.

Reminder: You may submit loglines per these submission guidelines through Friday, June 8.

On another matter, I have heard from some of you there is a slight disturbance in the Force — that being the online screenwriting community — about one aspect of “Go Into The Story: The Quest”: The option I have to attach myself as a producer to any of the scripts that emerge from the workshop.

I can understand the concern, so I’d like to address the matter here. It’s a lengthy response. If you wish to read it, click continue.

Let me begin by reviewing some of the basics of the “Go Into The Story: The Quest” initiative.

Through my work at Screenwriting Master Class, I have created a unique 24-week online workshop I call The Quest:

Core [8 weeks]: Through a series of 48 lectures, weekly writing exercises, and teleconferences, participants explore a character-based approach to screenwriting based on eight principles about Plot, Concept, Character, Style, Dialogue, Scene, Theme, and Time.

Prep [6 weeks]: Through a series of six lectures and weekly writing assignments, participants break a story, taking it from concept to outline.

Pages [10 weeks]: Through a series of ten lectures and weekly writing goals [10-15 pages per week], participants start and complete a first draft of their original screenplay.

I offer The Quest through SMC as a private, one-on-one workshop in which I mentor a writer individually through the entire 24-week process.

Concurrently I have had two ongoing questions: (1) Could I come up with an alternate way for aspiring writers who are outsiders to break into Hollywood? (2) Is there sensible a way to open up some SMC courses to those writers who can’t afford them?

As I explained previously, I had a moment’s inspiration where I managed to put both of those questions together with this result: I would offer the opportunity for up to four writers to participate in The Quest for free. All the benefits of the 24-week workshop with me as their mentor and they don’t pay a dime.

Plus this: Everyone who applies for this initiative [what I am calling "Go Into The Story: The Quest"), even if they do not get selected as one of the possible four participants, gets a free 1-week Core or Craft course with me through Screenwriting Master Class.

What are the requirements for participants who might be selected? This from a previous post:

If you are selected as one of the four participants, you must be willing to do the following three things:

1. You have to commit yourself fully to the workshop. That means active participation in constructive criticism and feedback, all writing exercises and assignments, and most importantly pledge you will finish the first draft of your original screenplay.

2. You have to write a weekly journal entry about your experiences in the workshop. As part of “Go Into The Story: The Quest,” I will be doing something akin to reality programming in that each week, I will post something on GITS about the group’s progress including excerpts from your journals. This is a great way for the GITS community to track how you are doing, something of what you are learning, see the ups and downs of the writing process, and so on. I may augment those weekly GITS posts with audio excerpts from our weekly teleconferences.

3. If you write a script I believe has strong marketable potential, I am attached as a producer. At that point, I will take you on into rewrites and we will officially be in producer-to-writer mode. Once your script is finished, I will take the lead in getting it to managers and agents, and try to get the project set up and you established in Hollywood.

Let me parse this last point.

Why do I want to be a producer? There are many different types of movie producers and many different aspects of what producing entails. One area is working with writers to develop their stories. In effect, that is what I have been doing the last 10 years as I began to teach screenwriting. Over time, I have discovered I not only enjoy that process, I'm also good at it.

In addition, you and I complain a lot on this blog about the lack of quality movies being produced nowadays. I may not be able to do much and, indeed, perhaps in the end nothing, but if I don't at least try to find good stories, develop and promote them, then I'm not much more than a whiner. Thus in addition to my own efforts through screenwriting, I thought I could explore producing them.

Why do I deserve to be a producer? I have no credits. I'm not a schmoozer. At present I don't even live in Los Angeles. However here are some counter arguments.

(1) Because of the work I have done with this blog for the last four years, I have created a unique point of connection to thousands of writers who would not normally have access to Hollywood. Are there writers among you who have the story ideas and talent to craft a great script, and break into Hollywood? I'm betting there are.

(2) Because of this blog, I am more well-connected to Hollywood than I ever was when I lived in Los Angeles, and I will put those connections to use with "Quest" scripts I deem worthy of promoting.

(3) Any script that emerges from "The Quest" to which I would attach myself as a producer represents at least six months of my time, direct involvement in developing the story from concept through rewrites, mentoring the writer every step along the way.

(4) A key part of "The Quest" is each participant developing a set of writing practices that will prepare them to succeed as a Hollywood screenwriter. I was a total outsider who sold a spec script, so I am sensitive to the needs of first-timers. As a producer on their project, I would have come to know that writer through 6 months or more of intense work together, and I would also know what they may expect on the other side should buyers be interested in their script. So in effect, the mentor relationship could continue as part of my role as producer.

As I mentioned before, there is a saying in Hollywood that a producer is a dog with a script in its mouth. As you can see from what I have detailed above, what I am envisioning with "The Quest" is much more than that.

Let me add, as I was developing this initiative, I presented the idea to a number of people who work in Hollywood, and all of them not only loved the concept, they all signed off on the legitimacy of me being a producer on "Quest" projects.

So what are the concerns here?

That as an unproven producer, would I burden a project? While there are established producers who may have enough clout to push a project over the top, 9 times out of 10, it all comes down to what's on the page: Is it a great story the buyer feels is marketable or not? I doubt seriously if a buyer wanted to acquire a script to which I was attached as a producer, they would decline based on my presence, especially if I have been intimately involved in the script's development for 6-12 months.

Besides, all that is negotiable and if I need to get bumped down the masthead or agree only to receive minimal fees, especially on the first couple of producing projects, I'm willing to do that in order to facilitate a deal getting made. In other words, I would never cause a deal to go south by overreaching on my behalf.

Do I have good enough contacts in Hollywood? First off, the Hollywood script community [acquisitions and development] is not this huge amorphous entity but rather a pretty tight-knit community. If a great script makes its way into the loop, that script circulates shockingly fast from reader to reader, rep to rep, buyer to buyer, etc. So again, my bottom line is working with talented writers with strong story ideas to craft great scripts. As a top manager once told me, “If you write a great script, we will find you.” Second I have worked in the movie business for a quarter-century and as noted have quite a few contacts already, a number that continues to grow.

But perhaps all you really need to do is look at the upper right-hand corner of this page. There you will see a box and in it the words: “The Black List.” Since last September, Go Into The Story has been the official screenwriting blog of the Black List. While I can’t promise to get someone’s script on the Black List [I have nothing to do with that process], I have the next best thing: I can get any script I want into the hands of the guy who runs it and happens to survey over 500 execs a year on what scripts they like. And I can do that with a keystroke.

Finally let me say this: I know there are screenwriting ‘gurus’ hawking formulas, programs and systems with the implication they have the secrets to a million dollar spec script.

I’m not one of those guys. To my knowledge, I may be the only teacher or blogger around who publicly says these things and with frequency:

There is no right way to write. Every writer is different. Every story is different. Ultimately you have to find your way to write.

Read scripts. Watch movies. Write pages. If you are passionate and disciplined about learning the craft of screenwriting, you can learn it just by doing that.

In fact The Quest is not a program, but rather offers participants a different way of seeing story as well as a character-based process to craft a script. It is malleable and adaptable to the unique needs and talents of each writer. It’s not simple. It doesn’t offer any golden rules because I don’t believe there are any rules of screenwriting. Rather The Quest is structured to enable a writer to… are you ready… go into the story and find the animals.

Moreover anybody who reads this blog should know me by now. For four years, I have posted thousands of items, each of them free, each of them in the spirit of informing writers about what it takes to be a professional screenwriter, each of them in the spirit of inspiring them to pursue their creative aspirations. I would hope based on that daily presence alone, you would trust me when I say that with “Go Into The Story: The Quest,” I am trying to open up a new path into Hollywood.

Bottom line: Assuming there are four writers I select for this workshop, I am taking a risk and putting literally hundreds of man-hours on the line in the daily grind of helping stories come into being. As part of that risk, I think it is entirely legitimate and reasonable to, if I so choose, attach myself to projects as a producer.

If anyone has any further concerns re this issue, please by all means post in comments. Or email me directly.

Because of time constraints I don’t visit any screenwriting message boards, but if you do and you think what I’ve written here may help clarify things on other sites, please feel free to post a link or copy/paste the entire thing.

For more background and information about “Go Into The Story: The Quest,” you may go here.

For those who have asked: After aggregating everything, I will start reviewing the loglines this weekend. I look forward to seeing what ideas you have come up with!

I thank you for your participation. It takes courage to put your creativity out there. I commend you for making that jump!

Story Ideas: Halliwell’s Film Guide

Here’s a post that goes all the way back to November 2008. Some excerpts:

My big tip: Halliwell’s Film Guide. Here’s a description:

For those unfamiliar with the annual, Halliwell’s is a long running series often praised for being the biggest and best film guide and a must have for all silver screen buffs. This 30th Anniversary edition, with new editor David Gritten – head of the London Film Critics’ Circle – at the helm, is crammed with more entries than any other guide (over 24,000) and over one hundred years of cinema information.

24,000 movies. But more importantly 24,000 loglines. You can breeze through the book and read one logline after another — and in a ‘similar but different’ world like Hwood, what better way to generate ideas than spin pre-existing ones.

You can take a logline and gender-bend it (make the lead a woman instead of a man), age-bend it (make the lead a child instead of an adult), genre-bend it (turn a drama into a comedy, a comedy into a thriller), mix-and-match (take one set of story elements and crash them up against another set of story elements), and so on.

This goes on in Hwood, all the time. Take the case of a recent sale “Skyscraper”. Even the Daily Variety’s description says it in black-and-white:

The story, like that of “Towering Inferno,” is set in the world’s first mile-high skyscraper, fictionally built in Chicago, and centers on the Donald Trump-style developer as well as on the daring crew that rushes in to save the tower when it starts to falter.

It’s The Towering Inferno only with CGI. (Speaking of Inferno, check out the interview with the movie’s screenwriter Stirling Silliphant).

I’ve been through my 1987 version of Halliwell’s several times, rooting around for story ideas. Just flipping through it, my eyes stopped on a 1937 Columbia Pictures movie And So They Were Married. Here’s the logline:

A widow and a widower try to get married despite the ill-feeling of their children.

Sort of a reverse version of The Parent Trap (1998).

So Halliwell’s Film Guide. Great resource for movie loglines which you can spin into similar but different story ideas.

If the working ethos of Hollywood movie studios is ‘similar but different,’ then why not play their game? Go through Halliwell’s, review the loglines, see what inspiration hits.

Rod Serling: Does espousing a cause lose character credibility

GITS reader David A sent me a link to an amazing set of videos, a sit-down conversation with TV and screenwriter Rod Serling. Most well-known for the long-running TV anthology series “The Twilight Zone” (148 episodes, 1959-1964), has over 70 writing credits including the screenplays for movies such as Seven Days in May and the original Planet of the Apes.

This week and next, we’ll feature Serling’s thoughts on writing each day with short (1-2 minute) interview excerpts. Today Serling ruminates on the question: Does espousing a cause lose character credibility?

“Leave that soapbox behind. Carry it with you at all times, your sense of caring and concern. But put it into the mouths of flesh-and-blood people. If not, write tracts.”

Thanks to David for finding these videos!

NOTE: At 0:32 in this video, Serling mentions the phrase “plot point.” And here I thought that Syd Field created that idea. I don’t know when these Serling interviews were produced, but they were certainly before 1984, the year Field’s first book, “Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting” was first published. So perhaps time to revise screenplay history.

[Originally posted February 10, 2010]