December 2012 Spec Market Roundup
source: Scroggins Report
#screenwriting #business #film
As you’ll see from this week’s Scoggins Report, the Black List Effect had less of an impact on December 2012′s spec market numbers than years past. It really didn’t matter, though — December’s total was very strong, pushing 2012′s record-setting numbers even further beyond 2011′s. And we can expect to see sales of 2012 Black List scripts sprinkled throughout January and February 2013′s numbers.
We’ll have a full-blown 2012 year-end spec market wrap-up in a couple of weeks. For now, click through this link to download the PDF of the December 2012 Spec Market Roundup…
Screenplay Study: Win Win, by Tom McCarthy
by Indigo Wilmann
Win Win is a dark comedy about Mike Flaherty, a struggling lawyer and part-time high school wrestling coach who takes on the guardianship for one of his semi-senile clients without intending to earn the monthly stipend. When his ward’s troubled grandson shows up and turns out to be a star wrestler, he thinks most of his problems are solved…until the boy’s junkie mother arrives wanting a piece of the old-man’s pie and forcing Mike to learn what’s really worth fighting for.
The basic question, or premise, that is set-up in Act 1 is will Mike be able to support his family?
Act 1: Set-Up
First Image (pg 1): Mike jogs alone in the woods.
The description immediately sets the tone:
It’s a bitter cold January morning. The woods are quiet. Desolate. In the far off distance a man is jogging. He banks around the end of a small pond and runs right at us. This is MIKE Flaherty, 42. He is running hard. Or at least as hard as he can.
Suddenly TWO JOGGERS blow past him.
Words like “bitter” and “desolate” combined with the description of Mike running solo until the joggers who blow right by him, help to immediately set the tone of this dark comedy.
Set-Up (pgs 1 – 10): We’re introduced to Mike’s family and financial situation.
(pg 1) We’re introduced to Mike’s 6 year old daughter, Abby, as she sees a stained glass angel fall down and break.
Her response, “Shit” is in perfect harmony with the tone of the movie and gives us another moment to chuckle less than 2 minutes into the film.
(pg 4) First sign of trouble: the dead tree in the yard.
It’s a nice visual metaphor for what’s going on with his business and how it is affecting his family. Having Mike, who’s just admonished his wife for cursing, utter “shit” here also adds a nice bit of ironic humor as well.
(pgs 5 – 7) The sign on the front lawn tells us Mike is a lawyer and he shares his building with Vig, a CPA. This is a quick, visual way to provide exposition.
Neither of their businesses is doing very well, so they choose to pretty much ignore the bad boiler in the basement.
(pg 8) Mike’s assistant, Shelly, informs him the toilets are messed up again, and he tells her not to hire a plumber, he’ll fix it himself. Very soon after that, we see him backing down from his fee and willing to take less.
All of these scenes reinforce the issue – Mike has money problems that could come crushing down on his home like a dead tree or drown his office like a broken boiler.
(pgs 9 – 10) Finally we meet Leo, whose personal situation is crucial to the plot.
(pg 11) Shelly informs Mike that Leo’s guardianship pays $1,500 a month.
This is a “planting the seed” beat. It creates desire in the hero. Mike’s desperate financial situation has been repeatedly illustrated, so when Shelly mentions the guardianship the same thought that goes through Mike’s head, goes through ours. It’s the perfect set-up for allowing the character to do something smarmy, while allowing him to retain the audiences’ sympathy.
Catalyst (pg 21): Mike becomes Leo’s guardian.
This is an interesting catalyst because it serves two purposes. On the surface, it provides a vehicle for Mike to deal with his growing money problems. Yet, its more important function is to inextricably link Mike with Leo – and later, Leo’s family which is essential to the plot.
Plot Point 1 (pg 36): Kyle moves in with Mike and Jackie.
Plot point comes just a touch late in the act. Part of the reason is that the script could be a little tighter. For instance, there’s a short scene at the end of page 4 that takes place in Dunkin’ Donuts when a group of old men waves Mike over and he chats with them for a second. This scene serves no real purpose. It doesn’t push the plot forward, reveal any new information, or pay off later. Perhaps the writer intended it as a “see what a nice guy, pillar of the community Mike is,” but we already have enough information on that front so it just becomes a distraction and throws off both the momentum and the pace.
Regardless of its less than perfect 25% placement, this plot point certainly spins the story in a new direction and provides all the action / reaction of Act 2.
Act 2A: Progress
(pg 38) Shelly locates Kyle’s mom.
While Jackie is fully on-board with Kyle living with them, Mike isn’t yet. This scene introduces a potential way to get rid of Kyle and also introduces a threat to the guardianship. It works really well to punctuate how this story intertwines plot and subplot. The plot is all about finding the money to take care of his family, and the subplot is really about what makes a family. Ultimately, the subplot is the richer of the stories and really what this script is about. I found that to be the case with my screenplay study of The Help as well. I think I’m on to something!
(pgs 45 – 46) Mike discovers what an amazing wrestler Kyle is and laments to Terry that he’d love to have even one kid on his team like that. Terry convinces Mike that he already does and urges Mike to enroll Kyle.
You’ll note that Mike has been reacting thus far. Becoming Leo’s guard is a last minute reaction as is enrolling Kyle. He hasn’t yet stepped up to the plate, which is perfect behavior for Act 2A.
Midpoint (pgs 66 – 67): Mike lies to Kyle about Leo; Cindy calls Mike.
This midpoint is done as a one-two punch. Mike is taken aback when Kyle asks him point blank if the judge made Leo move to Oak Knoll. He lies to Kyle and is ironically saved by a phone call from Cindy.
Like many midpoint scenes, this scene provides new information we didn’t have before – that Cindy is now in contact with Mike – while it also has Mike fully committing `to the lie he’s told. This scene will be turned on its head in the climax, but for now Mike seems to have chosen a path and is fully walking down it.
Act 2B: Raising the Stakes
The second part of act 2 is slightly unusual as it illustrates bonding between Kyle and Mike and Kyle and Mike’s family instead of the typical formula of having what Blake Snyder would call the “Bad Guys Close In” segment here where obstacles and complications grow progressively more challenging for the hero and the pace at which these challenges come accelerates at every beat.
(pgs 67-68) Cindy wants Kyle to stay with Mike and Jackie until she gets out of rehab despite the fact that she doesn’t know them.
(pg 70) Kyle wins a match while his temporary family watches on. Later Jackie shows him that the baby has learned to say his name.
(pg79) Because of Kyle’s influence Stemler wrestles and the team wins the match; Mike tells Kyle he’s proud of him.
It works fine in this script, even if it throws the structure off a bit. I believe this is because Kyle’s character doesn’t show up until late in the first act, so we still need more bonding time between him and the family so that it is believable and packs an emotional punch when their relationship is upended by the truth.
That’s not to say it doesn’t lose any momentum, because it does. Scenes of Jackie and Kyle bonding (pgs 72–73) directly followed by Kyle noticing Jackie and the kids cheering in the stands (pg 73) followed directly by Kyle and Jackie walking Leo in the park (pg 73) have a clichéd montage happy feeling that tap us over the head and give the script that afterschool special feel. The film would have been more dynamic had it had a tighter structure.
Yet it still works. Why? Because Mike’s character arc is beautifully written, and a well written character arc becomes part of the structure so that it helps compensate when other structural elements are weak.
Let’s also not forget the crucial rule that at the end of the day, the audience/reader wants to feel something. As Michael Hauge says, illicitting emotion is the screenwriters #1 job, and Flaherty has created extraordinary characters who provide us with that emotional experience we go to the movies or keep turning pages for.
Also, Flaherty doesn’t get too carried away with it. He gets back to pushing the story forward pretty quickly.
(pg 81) Cindy surprises Kyle by showing up at Leo’s.
(pgs 84–85) Kyle escapes out the window when Cindy comes to visit him. Mike asks Cindy to stay in town for 3 more weeks so Kyle can continue wrestling; Cindy agrees if she can stay at her father’s house.
(pgs 88 – 89) Cindy surprises Mike by hiring a lawyer and announcing that she wants to take care of Leo.
While Win Win doesn’t follow Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat template, this scene certainly fits the All Is Lost beat and is a reversal of the midpoint where he was in control and committed to the path he’d chosen. Now he knows he doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
Plot Point II (pg 98): Mike offers to give up the commission, take care of Leo, and take care of Kyle.
With this plot point, Mike’s priorities and intentions take a 180. Thus far, it’s really been about Mike’s life – his family, his team. But this journey has changed Mike and he realizes it when he sees himself in Cindy.
MIKE: And that’s why you’re doing all this? For fifteen hundred dollars a month?
CINDY: Isn’t that why you did it?
This stops Mike in his tracks.
MIKE: Alright, I’ll tell you what. You want the commission? You can have it. And you don’t even have to take Leo. I’ll take care of him for free and I’ll send you the check every month. On one condition.
The condition of course is that she leaves Kyle with them until he finishes high school. She refuses and he is willing to fight her, even though he is certain he will lose.
In this one beat, Mike does something he hasn’t done before: he fights for something (in this case someone - Kyle), with no benefit to himself. He does it because, as Jackie says later, they love Kyle, and he knows it is the best thing for Kyle.
Climax (pgs 108 – 111): Kyle confronts Mike about Leo’s guardianship; Jackie learns the truth.
This is a great climax scene because it manages to fully expose Mike to Kyle and Jackie simultaneously, which is horribly painful to witness, while also ratcheting up the dark comedy tone by providing a wrestling match with Terry as commentator.
(pgs 113-114) Mike tells Jackie he’s going to try to right his wrong and Jackie worries that he’ll lose his practice and destroy their family.
(pgs 114-115) Mike apologizes to Kyle and asks him for another chance. Jackie tells Kyle they love him.
Resolution (pgs 117 – 120): Cindy agrees to let Kyle stay with Mike and Jackie as long as she gets Leo’s commission checks.
This is a particularly satisfying resolution; the good guys get better and the bad guys get gone. Having the answer to his problems come in the form of penance and sacrifice only makes us root for Mike even more and provides us with that quality movie afterglow that only comes from rich conflict doled out to even richer characters.
Final Image (pg 120): Mike works as a bartender.
While structure might not be Win Win’s strongest suit, characterization certainly is. With this final image, we have a model for the perfect character arc. Mike has journeyed from this desperate, egotistical man into a relaxed, humble person. The irony of course is that the thing he did not want to do the most – bartend – is the thing that brings him the peace and security he was seeking.
Indigo Wilmann is the founder and owner of Visual Yarn, a screenwriting workshop that focuses on writers who are struggling to create a consistent writing practice. Her goal is to transform writers who are entrenched in fear, excuses, and doubt, into writers who are living with passion, consistent creative expression, and joy. When she’s not writing, walking their Chihuahua, or watching a Game of Thrones episode for the 6th time with her fiance, she’s editing her latest short film, Casting Gate.
Creating An Unforgettable Screenplay, Part 1: Making Minor Characters Count
by Christine Autrand Mitchell
As a screenwriter, we long to see our words translated to the screen, to be that first cog in the wheel to turn an idea into something spectacular. An unforgettable screenplay is an indispensable part of that equation.
There are innumerable approaches to telling a story in script format, just remember this is for a visual medium that requires the script to be distinct and succinct - especially in action. Whether plot or characters are born first, we cannot make a film without characters. For the sake of this article, we’ll concentrate on spec scripts.
We know that the protagonist, antagonist and contagonist are important; they’re the story, especially if you write character driven scripts - where plot is moved forward by characters. But do not ignore your secondary characters.
Some write characters as archetypes (i.e. hero, sidekick, sage) while others write organically, where the story comes to life as the words are written, and others outline. If a character doesn’t serve a purpose, however minor, do not include them. It wastes valuable space in an industry that looks at page numbers first.
You may shout, “We are rule-breakers! We don’t believe in the predictability of the three-act screenplay! We are more clever than blatantly assigning archetypes!” Be that as it may, make your minor characters count and your script will be stronger for it and more memorable for the reader who can stamp “recommend” on it and the audience who will them pay to watch it.
A simple tool to impart important information is to create a minor character to deliver it when it can’t be conveyed visually, for example. What fun is that for the audience and, moreover, for the actor portraying the role? If an actor enjoys his part, he will surely be more memorable on screen. That’s what you want.
Make your minor characters as interesting as your main characters - no matter their reason for existence. Here are some examples:
• Make him as complex as any other, with flaws and goals. Even if you do this only in your mind, it will come through on paper.
• Give her a quirk, whether in wardrobe or action.
• Give her a minor storyline that complicates the main story arc or impedes the journey of a main character. It doesn’t have to be an entire subplot, but something minor will entertain your audience much more - and keep your director and actors happy.
• Have her recur - especially in smaller budget films where the screenwriter must be miserly with additional bodies on set.
• Have him parallel a major character as a way of reinforcing an important nuance. Or, have multiple characters that play directly off the various struggles, internal or external, but limit them to those only.
It’s important to remember that screenplays are a visual medium created to entertain an audience! Make it as memorable as you can. It will not only inspire you, but it will encourage your reader, please your actors and delight your audience. I speak from experience.
Christine Autrand Mitchell was raised across four countries and splits her time between writing and filmmaking. She writes screenplays, fiction, non-fiction and plays, and is an editor and script analyst. She has credits as a Producer, Director and Casting Director, and heads Entandem Productions.
13 Secrets to Building a Great Character
by David Santo
Join me now as we travel to a public library in Michigan, where an angry woman types on a computer then bangs on the screen when she sees her words. She’s writing her screenplay 30 minutes at a time because that’s all she’s allotted on the official library computer and she’s really frustrated because the computer is slow. She knows I’m a writer and when she spots me, she smiles, peels off her wrap around sunglasses and pins them onto her right thigh – each tattooed calf on display below her jorts. One tattoo is Urkel. The other Jim Rome.
Her current script is pure genius and I know this because she tells me. It’s about castrating male cats and is a metaphor for what she believes should happen to all men. So to be clear, she thinks chopping off my bitty parts will somehow end war, heal the sick, and advance our exploration of space. She’s making a pretty good case until her anger grows more out of control and triggers a weird quirk - every new sentence she speaks starts with her chirping in a high falsetto…
Dep. Dep. Purple!
I ask her why she’s so convinced her script is blockbuster material and she reveals her secret…
Dep. Dep. Purple! It’s filled with amazing characters - like the fine folks she calls her friends that get drunk and accidentally brush their teeth with scar removal cream then choke to death when their tongue swells up.
I tell her, I like amazing characters, too, and that’s what she is to me, but I don’t think she understands. I lean over and peek at the screen to catch a glimpse of her literary genius but she’s concerned I might steal her ideas so she maximizes another window and up pops a load of porn. At first, I’m embarrassed, but when I realize she’s not, I ask her if these are friends of hers. She chuckles…
Dep. Dep. Purple! I wish.
Then she finally tells me what’s really making her mad. As great as her characters are her script is running out of steam around page 40. I tell her that sounds like an outline problem but she assures me she has a good one. So I ask her to tell me more about these fascinating characters and she runs out of backstory after one idea. I probe deeper and ask her if she has a character checklist to help create depth and arc and by the rage my query encounters, I assume the answer’s no.
Dep. Dep. Purple! What, you want a freaking list?
MY HERO IS A BANANA
I tell her a list is exactly what I want. And it really comes in handy when you’re building a character. For instance…
Bo Banana is the star of my 3D animated script entitled FRUIT. Bo is the rootin’ tootin’ line dancing sheriff of Canino’s Fruit Market in Houston, Texas, and he’s facing the biggest problem fruits everywhere must deal with…
People like to eat you.
So he invents the “Fruit Replicator”, a machine that will manufacture real fruit in every way except one – it’s not alive. Humans will get to enjoy this tasty new fruit and leave Bo and his friends to enjoy life.
But when the evil tomato in charge cuts the power, Bo must move his machine across the fruit market to the main cooler that has a backup generator so they can make replacement fruit before the big produce sale in the morning.
Now when you read this it sounds like I’m describing a plot. And I am. But upon closer examination everything is happening because of my hero and my villain and who they are. So in a sense, it all starts with character. And I’m not interested in getting into some silly debate about which comes first or is more important – plot or character – Lajos Egri vs. Aristotle; they arise simultaneously and interdependently - like 2 different sides of the same coin. Just know this for sure: you’re gonna need great characters and also the knowledge on how to build them if your script is going to work. And if you answer the following questions your characters will spring to life in ways you never imagined.
13 STEPS TO CREATING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS
1. Has this person been successful in past relationships? Why?
2. What is their relationship to their co-workers like? Why?
3. What are the jobs they’ve held in the past? Why?
4. What kind of friend are they? Why?
5. Whom do they trust? Why?
6. What is their secret? Why?
7. What is their fear? Why?
8. What promise did they make to themselves or someone else?
9. Do they keep it?
10. What does this person want more than anything?
11. What is the physical object (twitch) that represents their internal struggle?
12. What is the big choice they have to make that illustrates their character arc?
13. The secret ingredient…
SECRET INGREDIENT #13
It’s all so easy when you first start writing screenplays. You write script number one on the guts and glory of your life, the people and places you know, vibrant, palpable, and the feeling is electric! You mine the crazy scene makers, shape shifters and carnival barkers in your life.
Then you write your second script in similar fashion. But soon, you realize, around your third or fourth or fifth, you’re rewriting the same exciting people and places you already wrote about. You need fresh blood – character blood - which leads me to secret ingredient #13.
Passion. The passion your character has to pursue something they desperately want more than anything and your personal passion as a writer to tell their story. Nothing else can replace this. No seminar or book will do.
So now you can whip out your checklist and write a character outline that will knock your socks off and right into the dryer because that’s what people want. Scripts full of great characters with passion.
You can catch up with David Santo and receive a free pdf. copy of his new eBook entitled “Screenwriting: a practical guide for writing a film” by going to…
Click on “Book”.
Writing Pictures- The Classic Screenwriters: Richard Maibaum
by Robin Bailes
There are two reasons why now is an opportune time to look at the remarkable writing career of Richard Maibaum; firstly, because James Bond celebrates his 50th cinematic anniversary this year, and from Dr. No to Licence to Kill, Maibaum wrote or co-wrote an astonishing 13 of them, missing out on only three (all the more remarkable since his career began in 1936, he was 80 when Licence to Kill came out). The second reason is related; with superhero movies the flavour of the month there are worse things for an aspiring writer to do than look at how mass entertainment can also be intelligent- this is what separates Spiderman from Fantastic Four, Batman from The Incredible Hulk, or X-Men from X-Men The Last Stand.
Believe it or not, the man who crafted Bond’s innuendos and killer one liners was an experimental playwright heavily influenced by German Expressionism and known for his socially conscious drama. But Maibaum never felt that he had sold out; another great influence on him were the novels of Alexandre Dumas and it was to these swashbuckling tales that Maibaum turned for inspiration when he began writing Bond. His biggest screenwriting influence meanwhile was Cyril Hume, with whom he was paired at MGM. Hume was a successful and serious novelist who also wrote the Tarzan films. His secret was the same one Maibaum would apply to the Bond films; you can know that the story is silly, but you can never let the audience know; treat the situation as serious and the audience will do the same. In an interview with Patrick McGilligan Maibaum described this as a ‘pretense of seriousness’ and what it amounts to is- the audience is willing to believe a single man in a tuxedo is saving the world as long as you, the writer, take it seriously, you can make jokes but if you make one about that then the illusion is shattered and the film is dead.
This obviously applies equally to superhero films, which require an even greater suspension of disbelief. If anyone in X-Men made a joke about the fact that genetic mutation seems oddly pre-disposed to really convenient (and really cool) mutations, then the whole film suffers. These films exist within their own world, treat that world as real and the audience will follow. And it’s not just a joke that can blow it; Maibaum was one of the many, many writers who worked on Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondant and the director gave him some more advice that would be useful for Bond; ‘I’m not interested in logic. I’m interested in effect. If the audience thinks about logic it’s on their way home after the show…’. If the film is good, if it’s carrying the audience with it, not everything has to make sense. Nobody who watched The Phantom Menace was any the happier for having the Force explained to them; by trying to make it seem scientifically plausible, George Lucas broke the suspension of disbelief and made it seem ludicrous. Fatal. That said, your film has to be absolutely compelling to begin with, or the audience may start to think for themselves.
Maibaum’s may seem like an odd career, taking in The Great Gatsby, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and everything in between (there can’t be many men who’ve written for both Wallace Beery and Timothy Dalton), but he used all his years of experience to make his Bond movies more than straight action films. He tried to make sure that Bond spoke with an elegance appropriate to the character. He detailed changes of scene in far more detail than most writers meaning that something like Octopussy had over a thousand scenes. He tailored his work to his star, a technique he had learnt during his MGM apprenticeship. He structured the films so well that his template is still being followed today. More than anything else, he managed to make the ridiculous believable and compelling, and for that reason he should be required reading for any aspiring blockbuster writer.
Robin Bailes is a freelance writer with various credits on stage, page, screen and radio. He has 4 published stage shows, has written for 6 BBC radio shows, was a winner in the BBC’s Last Laugh sitcom writing competition and has a feature film in development with Andris Films. He is writer and presenter of the web-series ‘Dark Corners (of this sick world)’ and has written short stories for various publications both print and online. Robin is a passionate devotee of silent cinema has written a book on the subject called ‘Just As Good But Quieter’, for which he is currently seeking a publisher. Robin is currently available for paid writing work.