You Had Me at Page Four

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It doesn’t require a Masters in Creative Writing to know that you have to grab your audience’s attention in the very beginning. When people flip through the books at Barnes & Noble, they don’t say, “The first page is boring, but I think I’ll spend $19.95 on this thing anyway because maybe, hopefully, the other 99.5% of the book doesn’t suck too.”

And in movies, the opening scene has to be, well, awesome, or what’s the point? If you can’t make the first four pages great, what does that say about the rest of the film?

Last night, my husband and I went out to the movies for his birthday. There wasn’t anything playing that we really wanted to see, so we went to 21 and Over, a comedy about college kids and a┬ádebauchery-packed night of drinking. The critics’ reviews were terrible, but the fan reviews were pretty good, so we gave it a shot.

It turns out, all the fans who reviewed it were 14 year old kids who think anything with people getting drunk and the word “fuck” in it is a stellar movie.

We did something I haven’t done in years: we walked out. At page 4. The opening was so poorly written that we figured the rest of the movie didn’t have much of a chance. We snuck into Identity Thief, which was just starting in the other theater (also not an award-winner, but it wasn’t total garbage.)

As written by Michael Hauge in his explanation of Story Mastery, “The opening 10% of your screenplay must draw the reader, and the audience, into the initial setting of the story, must reveal the everyday life your hero has been living, and must establish identification with your hero by making her sympathetic, threatened, likable, funny and/or powerful.”

Here are examples of some movies have opened:

Varsity Blues: We learn about Mox and the football culture of the town

Four Weddings and a Funeral: We learn about Charles and all the weddings he has to go to

Never Been Kissed: We learn about Josie and how she’s never been kissed

Heartbreak Kid: We learn that Eddie wants a woman.

13 Going on 30: We learn that Jenna isn’t happy with who she is

Bridesmaids: We learn that Annie wants to feel good about herself, but keeps putting herself into situations that get her the same bad results.

An example of a great opening (in my humble opinion).

American Psycho:

This opening not only illustrates almost exactly who this character is, but it sets the tone of the whole movie and its bizarre humor amidst creepy character details.

Considering all of the above, I wonder if my opening to my new script is as good as it should be. This script has three main characters, so I’m using the first 12 pages or so to spell out the situation each one of them is in. While the beauty of American Psycho’s opening is in the words, the beauty in Office Space‘s opening is in the visual:

I think I frequently rely too much on the words for description. This subject really should be its own separate blog post. Food for thought. Back to work.


-77 days: Babyland

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77 days since Phoebe was born, and you know what? I’m still not Joel OR Ethan Coen. However, I’m closer than ever before.

11 weeks old and all grown up

That awesome, so awesome, script I finished in the beginning of July is still awesome. In fact, I made some changes that made it even more awesome. I spoke to my manager on the phone yesterday, and he really liked it. Sure, I have some changes to make, but he liked it. And in my opinion, that’s the most important thing. Cuz if the script doesn’t make any money, he doesn’t make any money. So, this means that he believes in it enough to spend his valuable time on it.

I’m prepping to start the changes today and he and I will work on it together in the next day, or two.

Do I want to be a super celebrity screenwriter? Sure. Do I want to take my family on five huge vacations a year? Yes. Do I want to send both my little girls to the private school I went to, which starts at $34K for kindergarten (yeah, per kid)? Totally.

It was $15K for 12th grade in 1996. Yeah. Inflation much?

Would I just like to be able to buy my family Christmas presents this year and feel like I’m going somewhere with my writing career? Abso-tootin’-lutely.

Day 218 – You WANT to make my movie… YOU want to make my movie… You want to MAKE my movie…

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The script is done. Oh yes. It’s done. And it’s the best screenplay I’ve ever written.

I finally have a script I feel confidently happy with. I’ve had doubts about every script I’ve ever finished. All I’ve wanted was one script that I felt really good about sending out- one I felt I could safely and assuredly use to get an agent. And now I have it. How is it that this is finally that script I’ve been hoping to write? I don’t know if it’s because of impending baby #2 (4 weeks left today), or my work with The Artist’s Way, or just that it took me a few years to really get a grasp on how to write the right script. I’m happy.

So now what? How do you get from awesome words on a page to the film on a screen and money in your pocket?

My husband (who is a DP, cameraman, and video editor) wants to find someone with a lot of extra cash, so we can make the movie ourselves. This idea has certainly worked for a few successful people (including our friend who made the movie Grace.) But honestly, I don’t know if I’m up to that. However, my script is not exactly Transformers or Titanic. It takes place in NYC (where I live) and has regular humans doing regular human things, so it’s definitely feasible that we do it ourselves.

But I’m about to bring an infant into this world to add to our little family, plus we’re broke, so I don’t think it’s the right time to take on a project of this magnitude.

How else do you get a movie made? You get someone else to make it for you.┬áThat is, you get a studio to buy it and make it themselves. This is my method of attack today. Studios aren’t interested in 8-month-pregnant-me waddling into their executive offices with 110 pages asking them to make my movie.

But a respected agent calling them on the phone? That’s better.

So I’m going through my teeny tiny list of contacts and asking them to either read my script or give me suggestions on where to go next with it. But one thing I do is make sure I’m being authentic with them, so I don’t finish my day feeling like a career climbing phony (thank you, Holden Caulfield). I try not to be sneaky, or fake. Because at the end of the day, my script doesn’t matter, but my integrity does.

I’m even contacting a couple of people I feel incredibly uncomfortable contacting, as I haven’t spoken to them in years and it’ll be an obvious “Hi… how are you… long time… hope you’re well… please help me?” It’s a sucky feeling, but sometimes it’s what you have to do. These people may end up thinking you’re using them and resent you for it, or they may look at you as lame and desperate… but people do help people and that’s how people get ahead.

So… call them, email them, or Facebook them, and suck it up.

Day 212 – Go Get the Fork Cuz it’s Almost Done!

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I was a lucky, lucky writer last Saturday and had 6 friends (including my recovering-actor husband) come over to read my script aloud and give me their notes. I have a few small changes to make and then it’s done. Done. D-d-d-d-DUN. But more importantly… it’s good.

I love having readings. Not only are they a fun opportunity to get friends together, but it can be really helpful to (1) hear your script read be people other than yourself; and (2) get their opinions on the intricate details to the big picture.

Google doesn’t have any funny images about LIKING people’s opinions, so I’m using this one instead.

If there’s one thing I learned from directing my own plays a few years back it’s that you need outsiders’ opinions. It’s not the same thing in your head as it is out in the world.

The plan now? Finish the script today or tomorrow. Then send it out to the world (or at least the few contacts I have and haven’t burned bridges from giving them mediocre scripts in the past.)