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Script Pipeline’s Chad Clough Interviewed with “Snow White” Scribe

By | Press, Slider

Script Pipeline CEO and producer Chad Clough alongside writer Evan Daugherty discuss how Script Pipeline helped launch Evan’s career, leading to the sale of Snow White & the Huntsman and Evan co-writing the 2014 hit films Divergent and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The two were interviewed by The Script Reporter’s Joshua Stecker.

Watch the full video here.

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Gone Girl – Screenplay

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

GoneGirl

One of the most debatable points in screenwriting: “The book was better. . . .”

Of course the book was better. The book is always (well, sometimes) better. Because it’s a book. There are few rules in novel writing as far as plot and structure. No length or budget restrictions. Characters are explored and detailed to exhaustion, and the audience–the reader–becomes more emotionally invested. It’s one thing to sit in front of a screen, it’s another to bear the imaginative burden of conjuring up images by yourself. The typical result is a deeper, satisfying experience. But it’s nearly impossible for films to stay entirely true to their literary counterparts (unless audiences are receptive to a seven-hour time commitment, and that sounds dreadful). So the screenwriter takes the source material and adapts–in every sense of the term.

It’s no terrible surprise, then, that adoring fans of Gone Girl the novel became ardent critics of Gone Girl the movie. A few characters not getting their due, the ending, particular “crucial” details left out. . . common book-to-film grievances. Faithfulness, however, is not the primary skill requirement in penning an adaptation. In fact, it’s not a requirement at all. What matters: grabbing the essence of the tone, the basics of the plot, and the core of what made the story so popular in the first place without straying too far. It also sort of helps when the original author writes the screenplay, as Gillian Flynn did under the guidance of David Fincher. While the film itself might leave readers of the novel feeling shortchanged, the structure of Gone Girl, the twist on a common concept, and a remarkable depiction of character add up to an experience equally as entrancing as the book. Debatable or not.

Read the Gone Girl Screenplay

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Debbie Lollie

By | Exclusive Interviews

– Debbie Lollie, writer of Help Me Out, aka The Ex-Man (2013 Script Pipeline First Look Project Winner)

You won the First Look Project with a romantic comedy revolving around what’s considered a “high-concept” premise. Was this a deliberate decision? To write something that might appeal to execs at the studio level?

The goal and hope with any screenplay is always that it will be made into a movie. Therefore, attracting the industry’s attention with a “high concept” project is a key objective, but that term is highly subjective and difficult to define. I think of it as being a gut instinct. Something about a story idea just hits you and provokes an emotional reaction. I think another aspect is that the project is commercial.

But a strong caveat here. I don’t think one can set out to write a “high-concept” script. That can’t be the primary driving force. Due to the subjective nature of the term, there aren’t any guarantees. My objective is to always craft the best screenplay I can based on a promising story idea. It is a very personal decision. I ask myself three questions. Is this idea a story worth telling? Will I stay in love with the story and characters so I won’t mind writing and re-writing? And will an audience want to see it, too?

My winning script was a comedy idea that friends and colleagues laughed at out loud when I told them the plot. That was a crucial element. If the premise isn’t funny, the script won’t be. And the men had a different reaction to the male protagonist than the women. So I realized I had a story which would appeal to both sexes and get them debating. That was particularly important because The Ex-Man explores an aspect of the tried and true premise of the “battle of the sexes.” The fact people laughed and in the same breath offered their “ideas” for scenes, and examples of bad break-ups, I knew I was on to something. They wanted to be part of the story. At that point, I had a gut level feeling I had happened upon a potentially high-concept and universally appealing idea.

I purposefully entered the First Look Project contest because it specifically identifies commercial scripts. I believed the contest would be a great testing ground.  When it won, that was thrilling. It corroborated what I thought and really raised my hopes about the screenplay’s future.

What are your thoughts on romantic comedies released over the past several years? Has the genre, in some respects, become too watered-down? Too predictable, even though it relies on its predictability to an extent? Is it possible for a writer to infuse a great deal of originality without reinventing the genre?

With any movie, it comes down to story and character and a well-written script. If a genre label is just slapped onto a movie and the traditional beats and elements are carelessly executed, it’s not likely to succeed. And the audience can instinctively tell the difference.

Romantic comedies do rely on predictability. The expected outcome is the two leads will end up together in the end. There are the additional elements of the “meet cute,” opposites attracting and the couple breaking up.

But the magic in a romantic comedy is executing those elements in a different and unexpected way. Yes, the audience knows the characters will wind up together. But the secret ingredient is to craft a story that has the audience desperately wanting the characters to be together because they’re perfect for each other.

The audience has to be tricked into believing the love interests have bungled the relationship so badly, there’s no chance they will ever be together again. And although the audience may be reassuring themselves it will be okay in the end, that momentary thought “will this one end differently?” is what sets the great romantic comedies apart. The characters have to have great rooting power individually and then as a couple in a situation that raises the stakes high.

I absolutely believe it’s possible for a writer to create an original story that maintains the classic elements of a romantic comedy. For instance, Romancing the Stone is a romantic comedy wrapped up in an action/adventure. Shakespeare In Love, historical romantic comedy. Crazy Stupid Love, romantic dramedy.  As long as boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy gets girl back, or vice versa, it’s a romantic comedy. For a writer to stretch and find an original plot and a fresh and creative way to package those elements, that’s an illustration of high-concept.

The script was optioned by a Script Pipeline partner several months after the contest ended, and it’s now being circulated to potential investors. Describe that process—rewriting or polishing the script, coming up with a plan on how best to market the material. . . all the details that come after someone has interest in the project. Was it what you expected? 

After The Ex-Man won, I had expert script consultations with Script Pipeline as one of the perks of winning the contest. These discussions were invaluable. I identified some elements I had taken out of the script for specific reasons beforehand but realized they should be placed back. I also needed to add a couple of scenes to increase the emotional impact. I did a re-write which addressed these issues, and that was the script that was marketed.

I was fortunate the script generated so much interest. But I went with the producer who really understood the story and was passionate about it. We were of the same mindset, share the same sense of humor, and our personalities blended well together. And these are key elements to having a successful working relationship.

The producer has a definite marketing plan in mind which suits the script well. Once I began working with him, we basically did a polish. It was targeted specifically for a particular marketing/investor angle. These elements were already in the script, but touches were added to enhance them. And we went through the script addressing the finest points, getting it to be the best screenplay possible.

We also changed the name. The Ex-Man fit the script, but even I was running into brand confusion when I pitched it. Of course, everyone immediately thought of that other franchise [X-men, of course]. So we brainstormed lots of names, tested a few, and selected Help Me Out, which we both agreed on and liked the most.

Working with the producer has really been a team effort. He has had a paramount interest in maintaining the integrity of the script as written and working with me as the writer. Once we locked the script, he created an amazing business plan. One of the best I’ve seen. Which was a really proud moment for me because it’s a vital marketing tool and really captures the script. The care he took just solidified his passion and commitment to getting the movie made.

Based on your experience thus far, what are the keys to successfully working with a producer?

I’ve learned it is essential to pair with a producer who understands the project and the writer’s vision. That the story as intended is the one the producer wants to make. I’m not advocating that rewrites aren’t necessary for a myriad of reasons during the development and pre-production stages. But there’s a significant difference between writing a story, for instance, about Dracula, and it morphs into being about Frankenstein.

For me, life’s too short for screaming matches. Having mutual respect for one another’s talents, expertise, and opinions makes compromising on issues easy. Since Ex-Man is a comedy, it was important we shared the same sense of humor and comic sensibilities. It’s also important the producer had a definite marketing plan in mind and was also eager to move with the script. That definitely cuts down on the “so, what’s happening with my script?” calls.

It’s so often said a producer needs to be “passionate about the project” that it seems like a cliché. But it’s the truth. Passion is what gets movies made because it’s incredibly hard work and an emotional journey. If a writer is fortunate enough to find a producer as passionate about the project as the writer, that’s truly special.

The burden isn’t only on the producer to have a successful relationship. The writer should be good to work with. She/he must also be realistic, willing to make changes, compromise, work hard, and meet deadlines.

In the end, the script is a commodity. It’s for sale. It’s likely revisions will be necessary at some point. However, if both the producer and writer want to execute the same vision, then protecting the integrity of that vision and taking the necessary steps to get the screenplay to the screen aren’t mutually exclusive objectives.

How long has your journey been, from the day you decided to write a screenplay to now? What are some of the most important things you learned along the way?

Sometimes the journey feels like it has taken forever. There are days I feel like I’ve taken five steps forward but then ten steps backwards. And then periods when everything goes well. After I graduated from UCLA film school, I felt I really had a much better understanding of the art and craft of screenwriting as well as learning the business of the business. So that was a real turning point for me, both in ability and attitude.

There are many lessons learned along the way. Very often the best-learned lessons came from painful mistakes.

I’ve learned the importance of seeking advice from the right people, but having the courage to follow your gut. Sometimes that’s really hard because your gut will be yelling one thing and your brain screaming another.

I believe it’s important to know what you’re willing to compromise about yourself and your principles to make it, and what you’re not willing to do. When I was in film school, one of my professors had us do an essay about what we would be willing to compromise about ourselves to make it it in this business. I still reflect on that all of the time. If you don’t set limitations, it’s very easy to lose yourself because it’s so competitive and decisions carry high prices. Having a strong sense of self and knowing your limitations goes a long way to staying sane and staying the course that allows you to look yourself in the mirror.

It is imperative to have genuine friends outside the industry. To know who your true friends are and that they can be trusted to be honest with you and keep you grounded. And who are also an amazing support system.

Develop a reliable “phony” detector. Know who are the legitimate, serious, and credible people in the industry. Research and ask around. If your script ends up in the wrong hands, or you’re in an untrustworthy working relationship, that could be a nightmare.

Always, always, always have a contract. That manages each party’s expectations and protects friendships and relationships.

Be social as well as a writer. Network. Meet people. It’s not enough to just sit at a computer. If a script never gets out of the writer’s workplace, it can’t be a movie regardless of its brilliance.

Always stretch as a writer. Try new things. Be passionate. Observe human nature. Keep up on the news and world events. That’s where the stories are. Truth truly is always stranger and more creative than fiction.

Most importantly, if writing movies is truly a talent, passion, and gives meaning to your life, do your best to stay strong and not let anyone take that dream away from you.

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Collateral – Screenplay

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

collateral-poster

In a way, one of the more underrated, or at least slightly-less-than-discussed, screenplays in the genre. Collateral encompasses most every element you need–er, prefer–in an action/thriller. A ticking clock, high stakes, an innocent protagonist we can pull for, a “heartless” and dangerous villain. . . . Screenwriting 101, right?

But Stuart Beattie’s script is a richly-layered psychological study of character (yes, really) as much as it is a popcorn crime tale. As the story behind the story goes, apparently Beattie came up with the idea, or at least the seeds of the idea, when he was 17. A classic “what if __?” scenario that developed into a treatment, followed by a script, and the final product, which apparently hardly resembles its original incarnation. A testament to the screenwriting process in itself, by the way–rare is it when a writer’s first draft, or initial concept, sees the light of a projector.

When reading this draft, ignore the camera specifics and director notes and zero in on the plot, the structure, and how each character is developed in the first act. What’s said and what’s not said in dialogue, and how a reliance on action, on what we see and hear, push the story forward. Top-tier example of writing overall, and a script that should be considered one of the great thrillers of the modern era.

Read the Collateral Screenplay

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October 2014 Script Sales

By | Script Sales

Rob ZombieBridget JonesLego Batman

Hollywood got into the Halloween spirit this month, with several horror and thriller projects moving forward. Rob Zombie will direct his own script 31, a Most Dangerous Game-esque story with murderous clowns hunting carnival workers (what, you expected something else?). Sam Raimi producing A Man in the Dark, written by Fede Alvarez and Rodo Sayagues, in which teen burglars break into a psychopath’s house. Comedian Jordan Peele sold Get Out, a horror script that focuses on the fears of being a modern black man, to Darko Entertainment. Radar Pictures picked up Travis Baker and Richard Tanne’s spec horror/thriller Midnight. Shawn Levi will produce Andrew Barrer and Gabe Ferrari’s spec Low Tide, and Original Film optioned Eric Heisserer’s pitch Exposure, a supernatural thriller in the vein of The Ring.

Other script sales include:

– Emma Thompson has been tapped to rewrite Bridget Jones’ Baby. Hopefully, things will work out better for Bridget than they did for Rosemary.

– Seth Grahame-Smith will write Lego Batman, a spinoff from The Lego Movie. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (the writer/directors of the first movie) will produce.

– Steve Pink and Jeff Morris sold their comedy pitch Cop Swap to MGM.

– Katie Dippold and Paul Feig to write the Ghostbusters remake/reboot.

– Peter Warren will write Thrill Ride, a horror-comedy based on an idea by Neighbors‘ Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien.

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“Recommend” Writer Eddie Mensore Developing Feature

By | Success Stories

Eddie Mensore

Script Pipeline “Recommend” screenplay Mine 9, a drama centered on a group of West Virginia miners trapped underground after a cave-in, is currently in the early stages of pre-production.

The project marks writer/director Eddie Mensore‘s second feature film undertaking. His first, The Deposition (2011), won a Grand Jury award at the Las Vegas International Film Festival. Script Pipeline linked Eddie with his current manager, Andrew Kersey (Kersey Management), and consulted on Mine 9 and other projects.

From Eddie: “Getting a Recommend through Script Pipeline is difficult. But when it does happen, great things can occur. That’s how I found representation, and now my project is in development.”

View Beneath Existence, the short film based on Mine 9.

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Modern Family – Pilot

By | Essential Reading - Screenplays and Pilots

ModernFamily

Stylistically, Modern Family seemed to catch the tail end of the declining “documentary-style” format. Creatively, it’s held its place as one of the best sitcoms on television.

One can accredit this rather noble network tenure to a variety of factors, not the least of which is a well-assembled cast flirting with television hall-of-fame status. But when you circle back to the core appeal of Modern Family and its glimpse into presumably typical American households, you’re left with the writing. Not necessarily bold, by definition, nor risqué. Nor generic or cliché. It’s merely “there.” Unapologetic and ordinary. Humor in the pilot episode feels seamless without falling into the trap of many network comedies inclined to spell everything out (“We’re being different! Look, look!”) or forcing one-liners without purpose.

Maybe it does go back to style, the idea that we’re casual observers into the daily conflicts of three different families united only by blood relation. Like most single-cam sitcoms, it’s inevitably different than a multi-cam as far as look and feel, even comic timing. That fly-on-the-wall approach helping achieve the goal of relevance and realism. Yet it’s a great model for aspiring writers crafting any type of comedy intended to span generations—and proof that writing always outweighs concept. Groundbreaking? No. Grounded? Yes.

Read the Modern Family Pilot

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September 2014 Script Sales

By | Script Sales

JawsAngelina JolieZacEfron

Female-driven stories made a good showing in September. Anthony Jaswinski sold two specs: May You Live in Interesting Times, an espionage action about a female assassin, based on a story by Jaswinski and Luke Goltz, and In the Deep, a suspense/thriller about a young woman stuck 20 yards offshore with a great white shark. Element Pictures optioned Laird Hunt’s novel Neverhome, a Mulan-esque story about a woman fighting for the Union, with Lenny Abrahamson attached to direct. The horror/thriller spec Scarecrow by Mike Scannell, in which a mother defends her daughters from a psychopath, is moving forward at Screen Gems and Unbroken Pictures. And finally, Mourning Glory has found Karen Leigh Hopkins (Because I Said So) to adapt Warren Adler’s black comedy about a single mother who attends funerals and hits on the rich, newly-widowed husbands.

Other script sales include:

– John Phillips’ Dirty Grandpa is moving forward with Zac Efron and Robert De Niro attached to star.

– Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code) has been brought on to Robert Ludlum’s The Janson Directive.

23 Jump Street, Top Gun 2, and CHiPs have all found new writers for the adaptations.

– The Salon.com article “The Craziest OkCupid Date Ever” to be adapted by Adam Brooks (Definitely, Maybe).

– Angelina Jolie producing/directing Africa by Eric Roth, a biopic about paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey.

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Marc Samson, Script Pipeline “Recommend,” Wraps Film

By | Success Stories

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Winner of the Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition, Marc Samson completed his micro-budget psychological thriller Where the Devil Dwells in 2014 (view trailer).

Marc is a two-time Script Pipeline “Recommend” writer with other horror and thriller screenplays. His crime/thriller I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, centered on a female heroine in search of revenge, was selected as a top-four winner in the 2011 Pipeline competition. He’s currently developing additional features and independent projects. Read Marc’s original 2011 interview here.

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Alex Ross

By | Exclusive Interviews

– Alex Ross, writer of Hexen (2014 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition Winner)

Hexen was your first script—but for a screenplay this well-written, one worthy enough to win the Script Pipeline Grand Prize, “first script” is a bit misleading. How much time and energy did you put into the project before submitting to the competition? What was the impetus behind writing this type of story?

I never considered myself to be a writer to be honest–not a good one, anyway. I’m mostly interested in exploring ideas and feelings through the image, not the word. I spent years looking for a project to direct, but nothing spoke to me, and it was frustrating. Then I heard Quentin Tarantino talk about how if his mother and father hadn’t gotten together, Reservoir Dogs would not exist today, and I took that as: we are all original, we all have things to say, we just have to find a way to get to that creative state.

Writing, for me anyway, requires a tremendous amount of thought, and deep thought requires time, and for most people, for whatever reason–family, work, money–time is limited, and to be able to sit under a tree for an entire afternoon and do nothing but think is a true luxury. And what do you do with all of those thoughts afterwards, are you just wasting your time? Talent obviously helps, but what is talent? Everyone has some kind of talent, the real question is, how can you get your talent out into the world and share it with others? Work ethic and persistence. Hard work can pay off. And if you have a dream, you owe it to yourself to at least try, I can’t imagine a greater regret in life. One of my favorite quotes: “Write what you know, but you don’t know what you know until you start writing.”

So I quit producing reality TV, moved to the desert, and tried to write. And once you take that leap, once you’re faced with nothing to blame, no distractions, when you get to have all the time in the world–that can be a very scary thing. Now you’re faced with yourself. Do you have what it takes? Is this really the life you want?

So yes, “first script” certainly is misleading. I could have written a bunch of scripts, but I chose to keep working on the same one instead, and for a while there, things got very rough, the writing was terrible, the same results, draft after draft. The true definition of madness was becoming a reality. And it took a few years, money ran out, bills weren’t being paid, and it was time to go get a job again. But I always believed. And my friends, my family, my fellow writers, they were all very supportive. They helped me every step of the way.

What made you decide to submit to the contest? Were there certain elements of the script you knew would likely garner the attention of judges?

I felt the script was ready. Friends and family can only take you so far. I needed objective feedback. Script Pipeline was the very first competition I entered. I think there was an hour left before the final deadline. There was a part of me that wondered if the script would even be read at all after page five–there’s no hook to speak of, few twists and turns, very little plot. It’s a slow burn, a single situation. Would anyone have the patience to keep reading? And our protagonists, their motives, their intentions. . . it’s all very ambiguous. I also wrote it with budget in mind, I was writing something out of necessity, a movie for myself  to make, so I followed all the requirements for a low budget: one main location, few characters, little action, etc.

But to answer the second part of your question, no, I had no idea what kind of reaction the script would get. I just tried to write the movie that I would want to see. And I can’t imagine writing something that’s not somehow personal to me. That’s a dangerous road to take, there needs to be passion behind the words. And there’s obviously a certain amount of luck involved, and luck is not just preparation meeting opportunity–sometimes it’s just luck. But to win the grand prize, for my work to go up with thousands of other talented, hard-working writers, it’s obviously tremendous validation. And when I got the phone call telling me I was a finalist, I was overwhelmed by a feeling: I am not alone, someone gets it. Suddenly all of those afternoons sitting under a tree weren’t a waste of time after all.

Modern horror/thrillers: some thoughts on the state of the genre? Hexen is almost a throwback to the moody, surreal thriller we don’t see as often anymore, a la Stanley Kubrick in a way. Why do you think that trend has generally declined? Marketability? Is it simply easier to draw an audience with easy scares or gore?

Horror has never been given much respect. And rightfully so. Most horror films, now more than ever, are dreadful, they insult our intelligence, and scares and gore just aren’t enough anymore. And what’s frustrating is that it’s never been easier to make a movie. The equipment, the costs, the things you can do. . . it’s pretty unreal. But at the same time, it’s never been harder because everything’s been done–the shark, the found footage, the creepy child, vampires and zombies, the chick in the tank-top, the CGI, every city on earth getting blown up. We’ve seen it all, and the image itself has lost its power as well. Does anyone really care about a 10-minute steadycam shot anymore? In other words, we have more tools than ever at our disposal, yet we don’t have much to say with them anymore.

There have obviously been filmmakers who took things to a different level. Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick. . . their work transcended the genre. Rosemary’s Baby remains a master class in filmmaking. But again, would that film work today? I’m not so sure. The world is way more cynical today. Some of the European artists from the past–Bergman, Antonioni, Bresson–I see moments of true horror in their work, I can’t imagine what they could have done if they’d tackled the genre more, maybe horror wouldn’t have such negative connotations.

Your overall intent with this project, a written breakdown of the themes and style you envisioned, caught our attention as well. What came first? The story, the theme, the look. . . ?

I feel that we, as artists, have a historical responsibility to know what’s come before us, otherwise we’re not really adding anything new to the conversation, and the work just ends up being disposable entertainment. So I specifically chose a genre that relies strictly on manipulation and spoon-feeding the audience. Because all of the techniques that have been mastered to lead an audience down a path–cinematography, music, sound design, CGI–have lost their power, they’ve become gimmicks, and they just end up canceling each other out. There’s no point of reference grounded in reality anymore, and as a result, we’re not truly moved or shocked by anything. We’re entertained perhaps, but are we effected at all? I see few filmmakers today who choose to reject that kind of manipulation. Michael Haneke is one of them. He just tries to present you with a situation as transparently as possible, then how you feel about it is up to you.

In terms of what came first, I can tell you, without a doubt, that the story came last. It was like a puzzle, how can I fit these pieces–the look, the feel, the theme–how can I fit them all together within a story? I guess I worked backwards. I would think story comes first for most writers, and then you work on everything else to  support your story. But for me, plot is secondary, things don’t have to be explained fully, let ambiguity linger, give viewers the opportunity to figure things out for themselves. But it’s not so much about understanding something on an intellectual level, it’s about feeling something. The feeling is everything. My theory is that film should be like good music, like a Radiohead song. I don’t fully get what they’re singing about, but for whatever reason, I’m touched by it.

Ideally, what are your near-term goals as a writer or writer/director?

There’s only one goal: to make Hexen. I was able to translate images and feelings in my head into words, and now I’ll have the opportunity to translate them back into images for others to see. But something else is happening–and it’s because of Script Pipeline. I’m starting to look forward to writing another script.

Submit to a Script Pipeline competition

Submit for notes and potential industry exposure