Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Lesson in...Screenplays

Okay, right off the bat, what is a screenplay? It's a movie in written form. Everything is different when writing a screenplay versus writing a novel: format, description, narration, action, number of pages. Unlike a novel, where words flow down the pages in paragraph form, a screenplay is tight writing with the dialogue down the center of the page posted under the character speaking. Small scene set ups (descriptions) are written to tell the reader where the action is taking place. In my research, I found out that a minute on the screen equals about one page of text. So, for that two-hour movie, the screenwriter had to come up with a 120-page script. You can find all you need to know on the Internet or in books, except of course for the words. You'll have to come up with those. They even sell screenplays on online auction sites if you'd like to see what a professional one looks like.

Now that you've written that next masterpiece, you know the one where you receive the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, what do you do with it? How does it go from the page to the movie screen? Not that I'm a professional, but I can tell you the path I've followed.

First, you have to draft a pitch. This is comparable to a novel pitch, where you have one page to catch the producer's/agent's/manager's attention. In this pitch you have to contain a lot of information in a short space. For example, the title of your story, what it is comparable to in films, and the meat and potatoes (main character, conflict, the goal of the main character, and how he/she will get to the goal, plus who the story would appeal to (the audience). I've pitched to producers many times. Although most have passed on my story, with some giving me great feedback, others have requested the screenplay -which still hasn't gone anywhere but that just makes me work harder. After the pitch hooks the reader, he or she may instead request a treatment. A treatment is more thorough and contains more information than you can put on one page. Again, you can research on the Internet about treatments.

Why am I telling you this? Because I've written four screenplays (with two in progress), haven't bought the fancy script-writing software that is available since I can type it all out in Word, and have pitched to producers on my own. It all started years ago by watching stupid, boring, lame, (and any other derogatory adjective you want to use) movies. I told my husband, "I can write a better story than that," after watching something so stupid we eventually turned it off and I don't even remember the name of it. Yet, Hollywood continues to roll out lame blockbusters which makes you question the entire process. (Is it really who you know?) Perhaps I'm trying too hard, at least that's what my husband says. But, I believe in my heart one day my story will end up on the screen, probably jumbled into the same category I just ranted about above. Yet, if other idiot writers can do it - so can I because I'm NOT an idiot writer. (Yes, I'm jealous can't you tell.)

To help you better visualize a pitch, I'm including an actual pitch below. This was sent to a Paramount Producer about a month or so ago. For confidentiality, I will not list his name. It's not perfect, but at least I had to courage to send it. Who knows what lights the fire under these people, but you never know until you try. If you were a movie producer, what would you think about this? The format may be lost in copying and pasting, but I think you'll get the idea. Oh, and I'm not worried about someone stealing my idea. We all have ideas. When we convert our ideas to a tangible written form is when it's protected. All of my screenplays have been registered. Research copyright and registration on the Library of Congress website.

Intentionally stripped of job, home, friends, and money, can Ellis survive homelessness and receive his inheritance or will he fail and lose it all?
My name is Sherry Perkins and I've written a character-driven spec titled "Finding Ellis" that I'd like to send you. It is comparable to Trading Places meets The Pursuit of Happyness.

After his mother’s death, Ellis Vandabright lacks discipline, leadership, and compassion. He shirks work responsibilities and has grown into an adult spoiled brat despite his father’s guidance. Desperate for Ellis to change, Ellington presents a proposition. To receive his inheritance, Ellis must prove himself worthy by living homeless for two years. If he breaks any rules of no coming home, no asking friends for help, and no going to the bank, he loses it all.

On the streets with no friends, money, or resources of his own, Ellis is completely lost. He gets arrested for disturbing the peace on his first visit to a soup kitchen for a meal. Later, he finds shelter in an abandoned building and is even mugged and beaten up.

When he befriends a waitress his heart softens. Knowing he has the power to help the unfortunate, if he can make it to the end, he forms a plan. With a transformed soul and renewed spirit, he dreams of building a place for the homeless. Yet without resources, how can his dream materialize? If he approaches the bank for money all bets are off. With only ninety days left on the streets, does he turn his back on the desperate when both their time and his time are running out? When faced with the choice of forfeiting his millions to help them before his deadline or turning his back on them to help himself, what will Ellis do?

Audiences love to see rich spoiled brats get what they deserve; which is what happens in the beginning. Yet, audiences will ultimately root for Ellis in this “riches to rags to riches” story. This socially relevant and uplifting drama about touch love, humility, and homelessness would appeal to a broad audience. Thank you for your time and consideration. 

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