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Script Pipeline

Gravity – Screenplay

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

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Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is a big movie–breathtaking in its scope and impressive in its vision. Most of the praise Gravity received upon its release focused on its visual effects and cinematography. (All of which undeniably deserved. . . the amount of work put into bringing Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón’s script to life is a feat unto itself.) The technical complexity overshadowed the screenplay, which is much simpler in comparison, but nevertheless an excellent example of suspenseful, cinematic writing.

The Cuaróns’ story is stripped down to its essential elements: three named characters, not too many more speaking roles, a 70-page script turned into a 90-minute movie. Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock at her best), an astronaut who gets stranded in space after the Explorer shuttle is unintentionally destroyed, just wants to survive and make it back to Earth alive. The narrative is broken up into smaller goals: get to a nearby space station, reestablish communication with Earth, and make it to the International Space Station, to name a few. Like most survival narratives, it’s easy to root for a Dr. Stone and hope she makes it to safety, and even without the visuals, the script works remarkably well–in fact, the words by themselves almost help the story feel even more claustrophobic.

At the very least, Gravity is one of the greatest visual spectacles ever made. But along the way, Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón created a decidedly human story with an unassuming but nevertheless impressive narrative.

Read the Gravity Script

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – Screenplay

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

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One of the highest paid screenwriters of all time, Shane Black burst onto the scene in 1987 with the quintessential buddy cop movie Lethal Weapon and went on to write The Long Kiss Goodnight, Iron Man 3, and the underrated Last Action Hero. However, his greatest success thus far is his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (although based on its trailers, spiritual sequel The Nice Guys could certainly usurp that position).

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is a self-aware satire of noir and crime movies, and it’s easy to understand how Black grew to justify his paycheck. The script is filled with witty, fast-paced dialogue, a fourth wall–shattering narrator, and entertaining action sequences and suspense, and it somehow maintains and ratchets the suspense and tension while remaining hilarious throughout. The script itself is an entertaining read that embraces all of Black’s narrative quirks. Take, for example, the bottom of page 54:

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Excerpt

In another script, that could prove distracting, but it fits perfectly with the world and tone Black has established.

The story, partially based on Brett Halliday’s novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them, follows Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey, Jr.), a petty thief who stumbles into a movie audition to escape police and finds himself as a potential lead in a Hollywood film. The producers hire private detective Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) to give him real-life experience for the role, and the pair quickly finds themselves investigating a series of seemingly disparate criminal plots that, as the hardboiled detective genre mandates, are related in a complex manner. It’s a script that relies on coincidence, but the script’s many twists and turns help elevate it above its pulp novel influences. Ultimately, Black’s voice and a trio of spot-on performances from Downey, Kilmer, and Michelle Monaghan as Harry’s love interest make Kiss Kiss Bang Bang a wildly entertaining ride and required viewing.

Read the Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Script

April 2016 Script Sales

By | Script Sales

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Twentieth Century Fox picked up Stuber, a comedy spec from Script Pipeline Screenwriting Contest Winner Tripper Clancy for mid-six figures. Jonathan M. Goldstein and John Francis Daley (Horrible Bosses, Spider-Man: Homecoming) will produce. Two biopic specs are moving forward: Cliff Hollingsworth’s Done It All, based on the life of Merle Haggard, at GMH Productions, and Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi’s Exposure, centering on Rosalind Franklin whose contributions to the discovery of DNA went uncredited before her death, at Entertainment One Films International. Lionsgate acquired Joshua Friedlander’s dramedy spec Couple Up, which centers on an unhappily married couple who see what life would be like if they had never met. Finally, Benderspink and Fox will produce Joe Greenberg’s elevated sci-fi spec Man Alive.

Other script sales include:

– Ben Jacoby to write The First Omen, prequel to The Omen, for Fox. David Goyer to produce.

– Sam Esmail’s 2008 Blacklist script Sequels, Remakes and Adaptations has found a home at STX Entertainment and Anonymous Content.

– Stacey Menear to write the Dennis the Menace adaptation for Warner Bros.

– Darren Lemke to write the sequel to 2015’s Goosebumps for Sony.

– Sean Anders and John Morris to write the sequel to the Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy Daddy’s Home. Anders to also direct.

American Crime Story – Pilot

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

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Pretty much everyone knows the O.J. Simpson story, and even those who don’t probably have an opinion. As one character says later in the series, “You couldn’t get away with this plot twist in an airport paperback,” and that line serves as a perfect encapsulation of the spectacle as a whole. From the Bronco chase to the fame-hungry witnesses, a racist LAPD officer, and Johnny Cochran’s infamous “if it doesn’t fit” line, the O.J. Simpson case had so many twists and turns that it might as well have been a soap opera. And for most, it was. The media coverage of the trial was unprecedented, with the Bronco chase and the verdict receiving huge television ratings (at least 95 million people watched each), and the trial all but created reality shows. But in the frenzy surrounding the case, people forgot why there was a case in the first place: O.J. Simpson in all likelihood murdered his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. And he got away with it.

So how exactly can someone respectfully tell this story without sensationalizing it, especially when everybody already knows how it ends?

Producer Ryan Murphy conceived of the show as a companion series to his American Horror Story, with Crime Story following a different true-crime story each season. For its freshman year, he took a backseat on the writing and enlisted Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, writers of other excellent biopics including Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, and Man on the Moon. Instead of just wringing entertainment from the soapier aspects, Alexander and Karaszewski focused on theme and chose to set the stage with a different, but nonetheless impactful, moment in L.A. history: the Rodney King riots. The archive footage reminds the viewer of the systematic racism undeniably displayed by the LAPD and L.A. justice system just years before these murders took place, and the riots cast a shadow over the entire miniseries, all the way through the verdict and its aftermath.

The pilot introduces many of the trial’s principle players, particularly Marcia Clark, Robert Kardashian, Christopher Darden, Johnny Cochran, Mark Fuhrman, and, of course, O.J. himself, and Alexander and Karaszewski start slowly building the themes the show will inspect, including race and racism, fame and celebrity, the ethics of media coverage, double standards in media coverage, justice, and sexism and misogyny. In particular, Sarah Paulson’s sympathetic portrayal of Marcia Clark is a standout and, along with David Schwimmer’s Robert Kardashian, becomes the show’s moral center—she’s a single mother going through a divorce while experiencing undue, unfair, and unrelenting media attention (ranging from jokes about her hair to a National Enquirer article that represents the nadir of tabloid “journalism”). The show as a whole succeeds in respectfully bringing the events to life and serves as a timely commentary on many issues that are sadly still relevant today, and that along with the focus on the behind-the-scenes lives of these now famous and/or infamous individuals breathes life into the series. But even with the exceptional social commentary, Alexander, Karaszewski, and Murphy (who also directs four episodes) still remember who this story is really about: Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, who became secondary players in their own murder trial.

Read the American Crime Story Pilot

March 2016 Script Sales

By | Script Sales

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Many high-profile projects were acquired in March. Dan Harmon will produce Isaac Adamson’s Black List script Bubbles, a Michael Jackson biopic told from the point-of-view of his chimp Bubbles. It will be a stop-motion animation film. A pair of specs from Max Landis (Chronicle) were picked up in March: Deeper, a mystery/thriller about a disgraced astronaut, by Phantom Four Films and Addictive Pictures, and Bright, a fantasy centering on orcs, fairies, and police officers, by Netflix. The latter sold for $3 million. Paramount is moving forward with BenDavid Grabinski’s Bravado, about a former soldier who takes a job as a police officer. Anonymous Content picked up the drama spec Letters From Rosemary, written by Nick Yarborough and based on Rosemary Kennedy and the lobotomy that left her permanently incapacitated. Emma Stone set to star.

Other script sales include:

– Disney gave Script Pipeline winner Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the HuntsmanDivergent) the go-ahead on developing Rose Red, based on an original script by Justin Merz and a pitch by Evan.

– David Wain to direct a star-studded cast in A Futile and Stupid Gesture, based on the early history of National Lampoon and written by Michael Colton and John Aboud.

– A24 and Scott Rudin Productions have acquired Jonah Hill’s coming-of-age spec Mid ’90s. Hill to also direct.

– Delia Ephron to adapt her novel Siracusa for Working Title Films. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon to direct.

– Sofia Coppola to write/direct a remake of The Beguiled for American Zoetrope. Elle Fanning, Nicole Kidman, and Kirsten Dunst to star.

– EFO Films and Film 44 are teaming to produce Taylor Kitsch’s drama/thriller script Pieces. Kitsch to also direct.

– Fox Searchlight to produce writer/director Guillermo del Toro’s untitled Cold War romance/drama. Octavia Spencer to potentially star.

Inside Out – Screenplay

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

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Pixar is synonymous with imagination and ingenuity. Each of their (so far) 16 feature films and numerous shorts depict wildly inventive worlds with well-defined, lived-in characters that rival most live-action characters.

It’s easy to imagine a blander version of Inside Out, one in which Riley’s emotions simply provide a running commentary on the her interactions. However, that’s not how Pixar operates, and the creative team (which includes Pete Docter, Ronnie Del Carmen, Meg LeFauve, and Josh Cooley) has included many elements that writers everywhere which they had thought of first. Inside Riley’s head, we see a literal Train of Conscience, a building of Abstract Thought, and the prison-like Subconscious, among other clever flourishes.

However, the world would be nothing without the characters. In the world of Inside Out, five emotions (Joy, Fear, Disgust, Anger, and Sadness) control everything creature on Earth, from humans down to cats and dogs. The movie focuses on the emotions inside Riley’s head, but specifically Joy and Sadness, portrayed by Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith, respectively, in two of 2015’s best performances of any genre, live-action or animated. Other writers could have easily distilled each of the emotions to the simplest of traits, making each one-dimensional characters with nothing to offer besides the emotion they’re named after. But in Inside Out, even the emotions have emotions, and each has a rich inner life. And thematically, Inside Out is Pixar’s richest film yet–maybe their best ever. Without giving too much away, Sadness originally irritates Joy, but Joy learns that sometimes it’s good to be sad, a message we’re pretty sure no other children’s movie has included to date.

If nothing else, Inside Out continues Pixar’s legacy of creating films that children and adults can enjoy and love equally.

Read the Inside Out Script

 

February 2016 Script Sales

By | Script Sales

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Treehouse Pictures acquired Katie Silberman’s romantic comedy spec Set It Up about two assistants who try to get their nasty bosses out of their hair. Emilia Clarke attached to star. Bold Films is moving forward with the superhero drama spec Samaritan written by Bragi Schut. The film centers around a young boy and a mysterious old man twenty years after a superhero defeats a supervillain and has gone missing. Tyler Marceca’s thriller specs Burnt Offering and Malpractice have found homes at Armory Films and Endurance Media, respectively. Burnt Offering is described as being Prisoners meets Silence of the Lambs while Malpractice centers around a disgraced surgeon who becomes involved in a terrorism plot. Finally, FilmNation Entertainment has acquired Oliver Kramer’s legal thriller spec Leverage, a murder mystery centered on Wall Street.

Other script sales include:

– Tim Rasmussen and Vince Di Meglio to write It’s a Small World for Disney, to be based on the ride.

– Disney has also tapped Sebastian Gutierrez to write 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: Captain Nemo, to be based on Jules Verne’s novel and James Mangold to direct.

– Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman to adapt Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark for CBS Films.

– H2O Motion Pictures has acquired the comedy Stiff, written by Dan Mazer and directed/produced by Michael Dowse.

– Universal Pictures won out in a bidding war for Gillian Flynn’s short story “The Grownup,” a supernatural thriller to be adapted by Natalie Krinsky.

January 2016 Script Sales

By | Script Sales

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January was a slower month for script sales. Elston Films optioned Justin Kremer’s 2013 Black List spec Bury the Lead. Independent Pictures is moving forward with Delia Ephron’s The Book. Meg Ryan will direct. Skydance Productions and Mockingbird Pictures will co-produce Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese’s Life, in which astronauts discover traces of life on Mars that may be more intelligent than they expected. Jared and Jarusha Hess to write NickToons for Nickelodeon. The movie will be based on various Nickelodeon cartoon characters, and Jared Hess will also direct.

Other script sales include:

– Drive‘s Nicolas Winding Refn is teaming with Spectre writers Neil Purvis and Robert Wade for an as-of-now untitled action/thriller with an Asian setting.

– Screenwriter Mark Boal and director Kathryn Bigelow are reteeming for an untitled film set during the 1967 Detroit riot.

– Fox 2000 has picked up Melisa Wallack’s pitch for The Fixer, which is based on the life of Denise White, a former Miss USA contestant who represents high-profile sports stars. Jennifer Aniston to produce and star.

– Nicole Perlman has signed on to the Labyrith remake/reboot. Lisa Henson and The Jim Henson Company will produce.

– Netflix picked up a few thrillers, including Tony Elliot’s Arq and Alistair Legrand and Luke Harvis’s Clinical. Both will be distributed on their site.

– Twentieth Century Fox purchased the horror/comedy Dead Mall, based on a pitch by Nat Faxon and Jim Rash. Faxon and Rash will also direct.

Casual – Pilot

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

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The downside to this Golden Age of TV is that almost every television channel, streaming service, and website that has even a tangential connection to the film industry produces original, scripted content, and the majority of those series are quite good. In fact, the vast quantity of quality shows has caused the more cynical, DVR-half-empty viewers to dub this “Peak TV,” as if the television market is a bubble on the verge of bursting. But if Casual, which just completed its freshman season, is a omen of television to come, the Golden Age still has many years left of quality programming to come.

Casual, created by Zander Lehmann and produced by Jason Reitman, centers on newly-divorced Valerie, her brother, and her sixteen-year-old daughter, all living in the same house and all pursuing “casual” relationships. Each character has their own (plural) issues, and each is played to perfection by an amazing cast. Michaela Watkins (EnlightenedThey Came Together) as Valerie is great as usual, and relative newcomers Tommy Dewey (as brother Alex) and Tara Lynne Barr (as daughter Laura) equally impress. But the standout talent is creator Zander Lehmann, which is especially notable since Casual is his first produced writing credit. As Reitman put it, “We were just looking for a voice. And that’s what kind of jumped off the page more than anything. When you read a pilot … you’re just getting a taste, so you need to know that his voice is going to translate over the course of years.”

(Please don’t continue reading until you copy, paste, write down, print out that quote. Or as our Director of Development Matt Misetich succinctly said, “Writers: this.”)

What helps Lehmann’s voice standout is that each line is packed with subtext. Subtext is when a character says one thing but hints at numerous other emotions left unsaid. It’s what your high school literature teacher was getting at when she said, “Unpack Lady Macbeth’s line in Act V, Scene 1.” Take this scene from Casual as an example. Lehmann and Dewey crammed in more subtext (resentment, regret, irritation, self-loathing, and many other emotions) into one simple “Oh” than most other shows are able to in an entire half-hour. (The subtext being, “Oh my god, we just sat down, this date is already going terribly, and I hate her.”) That goes for most of Alex’s dialogue: Many lines hint at his depression but barely reveal all the information, particularly his buried emotions. It also helps that the characters, despite being so well-defined, are all broken. Lehmann hardly gets into all their issues in the pilot but leaves enough clues in the dialogue to give each line depth.

To put it simply: If you aren’t watching Casual, you’re missing out on one of the best-written character-driven shows out there today.

Read the Casual Pilot