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December 2015 Script Sales

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Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions picked up Claire, a thriller spec by Brad Ingelsby. Claire follows a mother who protects her daughter after she falls in with the wrong crowd. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire will produce Wayne Lemon’s spec The Havana Affair, a true-story thriller about the CIA’s Operation Mongoose. Amazon Studios is moving forward with Max Hurwitz’s Black List spec Forgive Me, a biopic about 60 Minutes’  Mike Wallace and his struggles with depression. Finally, Jason Bateman will produce Jesse Zwick, Allan Haldeman, Emerson Davis, and Michael Weintraub’s untitled crime script based on Operation Pandora’s Box, a sting operation that resulted in Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca’s resignation in 2014.

Other script sales include:

– Christopher Nolan to write/direct Dunkirk for Warner Bros. The film will be set during WWII and is based on a true story.

– David Koepp has signed on to script a Bride of Frankenstein remake/reboot for Universal.

– Evan Spiliotopoulos will write the Charlie’s Angels reboot for Sony.

– Apex Entertainment to produce Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan’s script Chappaquidick, based on Ted Kennedy’s infamous car accident. Sam Taylor-Johnson in talks to direct.

– New Line won out in a bidding war for Dave Callaham’s untitled throwback buddy action comedy.

Another Top 10 Films You’ll Never See on a Top 10 List

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SneakersSneakers (1992)

See that poster? The list of names? If you’re over 25 years old, you might recognize all of them because they’re all legendary.

One of the finest casts ever assembled. Superbly written and directed. Vastly underrated. Unless I missed something in the past decade or so, I don’t think Hollywood makes movies like this anymore. There would be a perceived lack of box office draw, as it doesn’t fit neatly in a particular genre and it’s not based on an existing property, albeit it was helmed by the already established Phil Alden Robinson (Field of Dreams), Walter F. Parkes (WarGames), and Lawrence Lasker (also WarGames). This is no Ocean’s Eleven, or cookie-cutter crime/dramedy ensemble. It doesn’t resort to big action pieces, evil villains, or contrived twists, which conceptually it could have very easily gotten away with. Sneakers is what I would refer to as a “low-key thriller,” although even that moniker isn’t quite accurate. Watch it yourself, then try to label it. A thriller with hints of comedy? A spy drama?

And you know what the best part is: the “Item” the heroes are trying to recover? We never know what exactly made It in such high demand (the Item is a spy device code breaker. . . thing). It doesn’t matter. By the time we get to the end, it’s all about the characters and the heist, and the payoff is that they stopped the bad guys from doing bad things. Too often studio films place so much emphasis on the stakes that the “what” inevitably outweighs everything else way more interesting–the “how,” the “who,” and the “why.”

. . . did I mention the cast? That they’re legendary? Because they are.

LivingWakeThe Living Wake (2007)

A smidgen biased, as this was the first produced film from Script Pipeline’s Chad Clough,  but I had nothing to do with its production, development, or marketing. So we’re good. Fan of Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, American Ultra)? Don’t let this one slip by your radar. Also features notable appearances by comedian Jim Gaffigan, Eddie Pepitone (The Bitter Buddha), and Ann Dowd (The Leftovers). The film has a bevvy of memorable one-liners only a burgeoning classic can provide.

I’ve seen The Living Wake called “absurdist” by critics, including the inference of such made by Variety, but by definition, and perhaps contrary to Mike O’Connell and Sol Tryon’s intent, I don’t think absurdist cinema entirely applies. It’s a hyperbole, an exaggeration, a heightened experience for the dramedy genre. . . . But with a purpose. In the end. And through its musical numbers (not a typo), silly tangents, and a cast more suited for a John Kennedy Toole novel, it’s one of the most nonchalantly poignant indies you’ll ever see, realized only in the final sequences. A commentary on life and death impossible to comprehend without examining the sum of all its preposterous parts.

TheBurbsThe ‘Burbs (1989)

This point is arguable, but in retrospect, I feel like The ‘Burbs entirely sums up 80s comedies, which would make sense, since it caught the tail end of the decade. A chronicle of suburbia and the burgeoning middle-class like no other.

The premise is actually really grounded, yet wonderfully stupid: a working-class father begins to believe his new neighbors murdered his previous neighbors, and he and his dumb friends conspire to break in to their house when they’re away and find the damning evidence. Which they do. Makes perfect, crazy sense. Honestly, the plot has less holes and believability issues than most recent comedies.

Not even the most causal of Tom Hanks fans are familiar with The ‘Burbs. Hanks, by the way, is marvelous in his role as white-collar-guy-on-vacation Ray Peterson. I’m not saying he’s better here than in Saving Private Ryan or Philadelphia. I’m saying he’s better here than both combined.

But the minor moments in The ‘Burbs solidify its place in the annals of comedy lore, like a vintage episode of Seinfeld. So many quotable pieces of dialogue that will go forever unquoted unless everyone bands together to make this a true cult film. Together, we can make it happen. Go forth to social media. #TheBurbs

TheMoneyPitThe Money Pit (1986)

I know I picked two Tom Hanks films, but I could have easily had three (Big–obviously–part of the trinity of stellar Hanks dramedy roles). I opted instead for this gem of the 80s, the perfect companion to Top 10 List #1 80s romcom Romancing the Stone.

You could equate The Money Pit to another movie on this list, The Long Long Trailer, in that both showcase an object as a representation of a couples’ relationship. Here, it’s the crumbling house Hanks and Shelley Long buy from Maureen Stapleton because who wouldn’t trust Maureen Stapleton? The more it gets remodeled, the more their marriage begins to deteriorate, due in part to the jealously of Hanks over the dashing flaxen-haired Alexander Godunov. One of the last lines sums up the point of everything, as Hanks and Long stand apart in their new home, a huge space between them: “But the foundation was good. . . and if that’s okay, everything else can be fixed.” On-the-nose, maybe, but bringing depth and purpose to a comedy is a prerequisite, and The Money Pit nailed it like few others.

Like The ‘Burbs, doesn’t have much of a cult following, to my knowledge. Go forth again to social media, and don’t forget to tag @tomhanks on Twitter (like he’ll ever retweet you, but doesn’t hurt to try). #TheMoneyPit

BenHurBen-Hur (1959)

The 21st century obsession with the “Spectacle” of big-budget filmmaking aside, only a handful of films have combined such a rich, exhaustive character study with the glory of a biblical (sorta literally) epic as William Wyler’s Ben-Hur. Based on the novel by Lew Wallace, Charlton Heston, I would say, is in his marquee role. His magnum opus, really. Planet of the Apes: too one-dimensional. The Ten Commandments: too much about the Spectacle. So what’s left? Soylent GreenEl Cid? I only know those exist because I had to IMDB them, no offense if you’re a fan.

Cliff notes summary: Ben-Hur is accused of murdering a Roman general, and he’s sent away to the BC equivalent of a traveling prison after an apparent betrayal by a friend, meets Jesus a couple times, rescues a big-wig Roman during an ocean battle (“We’re going to be rammed!”), is granted a position with the Roman government, finds out his mother and sister are lepers, and wins a chariot race against the so-called friend, who’s trampled over and dies. Then sees Jesus again. To paraphrase.

How they found a way to make the dialogue sound authentic without coming off as stiff is worth noting for period/historical screenwriters.

Watch it for the chariot race scene alone.

TheOneILoveThe One I Love (2014)

A relationship micro-saga with Elizabeth Moss and a Duplass brother, heir-apparents of low-budget character indies? Tolerable. Only because Mark Duplass makes things tolerable with continuously excellent character work as an actor (see: Togetherness). And Elizabeth Moss is Elizabeth Moss–one of the best actresses of the past 10 years. Though director Charlie McDowell and writer Justin Lader are, or were, relative unknowns, they combine here to form a small masterpiece. Trust the cast to deliver on a stereotypical rom-dramedy.

Only it’s not a stereotypical rom-dramedy–15 or 20 minutes in, we’re thrown such a ridiculous curveball, you’re either going along for the ride, or turning it off, deeming it too contrived. Get past that, and we’re presented with a gift-wrapped twist on the relationship-on-the-brink premise, with a sci-fi/fantasy bow stuck on top. Halfway through, we get the gist, the point the film is trying to make, but by then we’re so invested in Moss and Duplass’ characters, our immersion in their story wholly outweighs our interest in how it (the movie itself) is going to end, good or bad or indifferent. Instead, you’ll merely seek closure. Like any good or bad or indifferent relationship. I don’t know if that was intended by the filmmakers. Let’s pretend it was.

The world could use more outside-the-box writers like Justin Lader to resuscitate “dying” genres, yet cling to universal themes that allow us–encourage us–to suspend our beliefs for a second and discover the latent, underlying message. Preachy? Yes. But without the choir.

LongTrailerThe Long Long Trailer (1953)

Not to be confused with a preview of a James Cameron film, the Desi Arnaz / Lucille Ball team-up was their first film together, never to be surpassed in quality. Probably. Who would want to watch another after this one? Though I have and can confirm Trailer is the best of the bunch.

On the surface, it’s what you would expect–almost like a 2-hour I Love Lucy special minus the Mertzes, which would normally be cause for concern (William Frawley was that whole show). But the silliness and physical humor peppered throughout belies how deep the commentary runs on marriage and relationships, shockingly far more introspective than most modern rom-coms. All of which is exemplified through the rather long yellow trailer. The trailer is kind of representative of any marriage: it’s a huge commitment, needs a tune-up once in a while, is a pain in the ass to park in a small driveway, and if you don’t steer it the right way, it’ll fall off a cliff and blow up.

Yeah. Marinate on that a while.

YTuMamaY Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

I first saw it in Santa Monica in 2001. I was on a date or something, and on the drive back to her campus dorm, the girl kept saying how much she didn’t like it and how nothing made sense and how the actors were terrible and she hated reading subtitles.

I dropped her off on the street and never talked to her again. I think her name was Brenda. Or Bailey. . . or something. Bella? Either way, I’d imagine she’s living a soulless, art-deprived life as a factory worker somewhere in Manitoba.

Y Tu Mama Tambien transcended every foreign film, every drama, I had seen up to that point. I’ve only seen it four or five times total, beginning to end, in the last 15 years, but remember each scene like it’s Return of the Jedi (I’m at 83,000 viewings and counting there, FYI). Credit the acting from Maribel Verdú, Diego Luna, and Gael Garcia Bernal, and without question, the writing/directing from Alfonso Cuarón, who paints a true intimate portrait of a dying woman recapturing the joyous impulsiveness of youth, only we have no clue that’s what we witnessed until the last two minutes. Cuaron illustrates the story with a rough grace that sticks with you for years.

Like it was this morning, I remember saying to myself as I left the theater, “This dude Cuaron is gonna be huge.” At times, in the middle of the night, I imagine myself in the car with these three, magnetized to the visually eloquent backdrops of the Mexico countryside.

But more often, I wonder if Brenda ever saw Gravity. It hits the mainstream crowd. Some big explosions. George Clooney, Sandra Bullock. No subtitles. She probably enjoyed it, right. . . ?

BackFuture2Back to the Future II (1989)

When Bob Gale wrote the scene at the end, that moment Western Union delivers the letter (“It’s from the Doc!“) to Marty McFly, did he stop typing, gaze out the window, and think to himself, “This is it–I’ll never write a cooler ending to a sequel.”

And, um, he actually never did. But in is defense, no one has since.

The reason BTTF2 is so lauded by fans stems from an affinity to the characters, of course, but the plot has such a great motor after Marty makes the mistake of buying the almanac, and the script keeps its foot on the gas from start to finish. The paradigm of a “fun” popcorn move. Exploring the idea of alternate timelines and integrating real science (okay fine–“pseudo-science”) within the context of the plot is seamless. For the most part. I mean, what are the odds Marty Jr. will look exactly like Marty Sr.? And they left Jennifer, an impressionable teenage girl, on a sketchy porch swing in a very violent 1985, but she wakes up in the revised 1985 in the same spot? Questionable.

You could–and should–make a case for The Godfather II and The Dark Knight, even Terminator 2: Judgment Day. But for the genre, it is, without reservation, a most tremendous sequel.

TheGruffaloThe Gruffalo (2009)  

I know. It’s not a feature, it’s a short. Plus, it’s based on a children’s book, so adaptation, as far as the writing, is easy.

No. Of course it’s not easy. It’s extremely difficult. Don’t ever think shorter = easier, or family audience + animation > broad audience + live-action.

As entertaining as they come, and worthy of multiple viewings, The Gruffalo achieves brilliance as a creative whole–writing, production value, musical score, and casting. The poignancy of the tale, too, lies in the intricate simplicity of its plot structure, highlighting a perfect bookend to the mouse’s journey through the “dark, dark wood” complemented by valuable lessons about perception vs. reality and might vs. mind.

And I still don’t know what it is about British actors making everything seem so lovely and colourful. Helena Bonham Carter: she should be the voice-over of all our lives.

*if I missed something here you thought should be included, feel free to tell me on Twitter, in all caps

tumblr_inline_muzhwvm2Pa1r56z3wFor 13 years, Matt Misetich has worked in development as a script analyst and story consultant for production companies, managers, top writing competitions, and filmmakers. He has been a core executive at Script Pipeline since 2008 and helped a number of writers break into the industry, including contest-winners Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the HuntsmanDivergent) and Tripper Clancy (The AmbassadorsStranded). Besides instinctively quoting The Simpsons in everyday conversation, he’s writing literary fiction and developing feature and TV content that will probably not win many awards. 

Stop Trying to Win An Oscar

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Many years ago, in the quasi-rebellious suburbs of Los Angeles, I read somewhere that the first thing you should do before starting a screenplay is write your Oscar acceptance speech. It was the opening paragraph in one of the six billion books on screenwriting. I figured it had to be good advice.

And you know what? I did it. I wrote my Oscar speech, I wrote the script, and would later win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Twice.

. . . please. I thought that recommendation was just as ridiculous when I was 17 as I do now.

HITB

Inevitably, the cat will slip and fall. All that matters is how he (or she) lands.

The intent is genuine, though. By many counts admirable. The point, of course, is to motivate you to keep writing, to have something bigger to aim for. To not give up. Like that lame cat poster: if you “hang in there,” great things will happen. And it’s more or less true. But the problem isn’t that writing an Oscar speech sets an unattainable goal, it’s that it sets a goal entirely dependent on the extremely subjective opinions of other people. This means you could write an incredible script for a $2 billion critically acclaimed masterpiece, but if it falls short in the Oscars, you are, based on the standards you’ve set, a “failure.” Because that little speech you taped to your Packard Bell monitor in 1998 will go unread.

See that? How deranged that sounds?

Even creating an objective consisting of quantitative, math-based criteria can cause long-term frustration. Example: let’s say you’re a baseball player (I know, it’s a baseball reference, but it’s the only one I’ll make). Before the season, you set the specific goal of winning a batting title and end the year with an absurd .475 average, destroying records. And then another schlub bats .479. Heartbreak city. While you would no doubt take pride in the rather historic feat, the fact you missed your initial goal will inevitably leave you incomplete. Probably how Sammy Sosa felt from 1998-1999. Probably how he still feels.

Or if you’re a screenwriter, and your goal is to get your film produced. You write a fantastic script, it gets sold, financed, things sort of fall apart in pre-production, six months later a similar film is released, and you’re sunk. Or the extraordinary teacher who dreams of becoming a university professor, never gets a chance, and hates his life because he’s “stuck” at a high school; a profitable restaurateur who can’t expand her unique restaurant idea into a chain because some other chain beat her to it. . . .

In any of those scenarios, you haven’t failed at anything–and in actuality may have accomplished far more than you realize–but you’ll feel like a failure regardless if your goals are set too high. No matter how good you are at something, or how great your product, be it a restaurant or a film, you’ll have to rely on external factors outside your control. It’s the same in sports and business as it is in the entertainment industry. Perhaps especially in the entertainment industry, since trends so often change. And if you fail, then what? Well, you. . . “hang in there,” actually (stupid antiquated posters always right about stuff). Patience and “maintenance” in the face of failure is infinitely more important than the ambiguity of changing what might already be working, knowing full well you can only control the process. Not the results.

Here’s the solution, a piece of brutally candid advice no one will ever tell you because they want to sell more books:

Aim low.

Really low. As low as you can without delving into minutiae. Think big long-term–think small short-term. No businessperson (or not the industrious ones I know) started their career with the one and only goal of retiring as a billionaire, banking on the idea that it would “just happen” eventually. They’re focused on the steps they must take to become successful, a single objective at a time. Goal one, come up with a great idea for a company; goal two, execute that idea in the most cost-effective way possible; goal three, establish a foundation before expanding. . . . You get the gist. In the end, if they make it halfway and eek out a net worth of $500 million, I wouldn’t consider it settling for second best.

So for screenwriting, maybe your initial goal is to finish a draft of your script–something you can control without necessarily relying on others. Next step could be professional feedback and revising the script to the best of your ability so you have a chance in the spec market, or against other scripts in competitions. Also within your control, albeit at the expense of time and money. If you land a manager right away, or win or place in a prestigious contest, great, that’s a huge step forward. But it’s icing. Consider those side-effects of methodical planning, a commitment to continual education and a sustainable sense of self-determination. I’ve seen tremendous writers rejected by managers and production companies for years, but because they had already reached their goal of compiling a well-written project, and usually several worthwhile scripts, they didn’t let that discourage them, and it paid off. An Oscar or subjective award, a manufactured conversation piece for when you retire, is left beyond the radar as an “icing effect,” nothing more than a potential bonus for achievement.

In the last 15 years, the six billion books on screenwriting has since doubled to roughly 12-14 billion, so there’s a lot of opinionated noise out there. I’m not saying they dole out poor guidance (most of them, anyway). Quite the contrary. Go ahead and read as much as you can, or want, and decide what makes the most sense to you. But don’t lean on some writing guru, some blurb in a self-help book, to tell you how to get motivated and where you should target your intentions. Motivation and goal-setting are the two most personal, most particular, components of any career, and while it’s important to see how others succeeded in whatever they were trying to accomplish, there is no single road to take, nor a single mode of transportation. Stop shooting for home run titles, start thinking about how to get on base.

I know. . . I lied about not using another baseball reference. I feel pretty damn rebellious about it.

tumblr_inline_muzhwvm2Pa1r56z3wFor 13 years, Matt Misetich has worked in development as a script analyst and story consultant for production companies, managers, top writing competitions, and filmmakers. He has been a core executive at Script Pipeline since 2008 and helped a number of writers break into the industry, including contest-winners Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the HuntsmanDivergent) and Tripper Clancy (Stranded, Hacker Camp, The Ambassadors). Besides instinctively quoting The Simpsons in everyday conversation and posting generic observations on Twitter, he’s writing literary fiction and developing feature and TV content that will probably not win many awards. 

The Top 10 Films You’ll Never See on a Top 10 List

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You know, there comes a time when we have to search far beyond the limits of our conscious mind and determine who we are. Our identity as writers and filmmakers, in the hopes of discovering our creative selves. Where we fit in the cinematic landscape.

And I’m sorry, but you have to stop saying The Shawshank Redemption is your favorite movie. All of you.Shawshank

According to studies, 35% of “frequent to highly frequent” movie-goers side with The Shawshank Redemption as their default motion picture darling. Over 20% pick The Godfather or a Woody Allen movie, while the remainder select films in AFI’s best movie list or smaller but highly popular cult favorites.

Sure. These are all excellent movies.

Without a doubt, there are actual Shawshank fans out there.

And yes, the aforementioned statistics may be nothing more than my educated guess based on IMDB’s rankings and have no scientific basis whatsoever (like I have time to do research on “what’s your favorite movie” responses, although I did come across this Vanity Fair article, which explains a lot).

The point is, many of you are boldfaced liars when asked this question. It’s okay. We all are. Because we want to sound professional and qualified and worldly and other synonyms for those three things.

I tell people my favorite film is American Beauty, since the underlying commentary on society juxtaposed against late 20th century suburbia creates a blah blah blah Kevin Spacey is brilliant and you gotta see House of Cards. . . is how the conversation usually ends.

It’s a sad state of affairs. But while I would rank American Beauty high, is it my go-to movie on a Thursday night? I come across that and City Slickers II on TV, guess which one I’m sacrificing outdoor time for. I don’t care what the competition is, Jon Lovitz wins always. At the end of the day, great movies live only in the eye of the viewer.

The biggest rule to follow if you’re a screenwriter or filmmaker: be honest with yourself. Be honest with your style, your tastes, your voice. Everything. Honesty often-times starts with admitting your artistic preferences, no matter how ludicrous they come across. Professionalism be damned.

I therefore encourage you to publicly announce your personal top films and shamelessly declare them as outstanding. It’d be like your own personal Shawshank Redemption. Or something. I don’t really get the story. I mean, wasn’t Andy Dufresne going to kill his wife anyway?

So here are my top 10, based on the quality of writing, acting, and universal movieness. It’s a personal list, therefore these selections are extremely sort of subjective. . . .

*I fully realize there are a lot of films from the 1980s here. But it was a great decade for movies. Especially 1989. Seriously, look it up.

BeneathThePlanetOfTheApesBeneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Fans of post-apocalyptic landscapes, rejoice. It doesn’t get more unearthly than this (insert “but it was Earth!” joke).

Charlton Heston and Linda Harrison, followed by James Franciscus on a mission to recover the original astronaut team, traverse the underground ruins of New York City until coming across the last surviving humans on the planet, these bald, disease-ridden people. The victims of atomic fallout.

And they have a bomb, and–spoiler alert–blow it up in the end when the apes find their location. One of the most depressing endings to a sequel in history. But this makes the list for four reasons: a unique imagination of the future, the directing, the boldness of the writing (arguably better than the first installment), and every scene with Linda Harrison.

ReturnOzReturn to Oz (1985)

I’m consistently shocked by how many people age 25-40 have never seen this sequel to The Wizard of Oz. But then I write “sequel to The Wizard of Oz,” and it’s pretty clear. A little hesitant to dive into Sequels that Shouldn’t Exist territory? More sympathetic I cannot be.

But this is different. It should exist, and it does exist.

In the vein of The Dark Crystal, or The Neverending Story, Return to Oz has a certain hyper-real fantasy charm only the 80s could supply. There are no Judy Garland solos, cartoonish painted backdrops, or delightfully macabre flying monkeys. You’ll notice about 15 or 20 minutes in, when Dorothy is taken to a turn-of-the-century doctor for experimental electroshock therapy before escaping with another girl, only to awaken in a much-changed, remarkably surreal Oz destroyed by the Nome King.

And there are “wheelers.” And an evil queen who collects heads. And a flying moose sofa. And a desert that turns living things to sand. And a talking rooster!

And it’s all very cool. Go Netflix it. Or you can borrow my VHS copy.

CocoonCocoon (1985)

A bunch of old actors–and Steve Guttenberg–in a studio sci-fi/fantasy drama set in a Florida retirement community.

Best of luck pitching that in 2015.

Ironically, it’s a fantastic commercial premise. Or it was at the time. At its core, a modern day fountain of youth story. Simple and universal. We might never see another film like it: who’s writing a hazy genre taking shape as an alien movie with relevant cross-generational commentaries on death, aging, and, stating the obvious, the meaning of life itself? Not exactly in line with current audience expectations.

Yet I still tell writers, “Write the next Cocoon, and you’ll do fine.” To which they reply, “What’s Cocoon?” But what I’m really saying is “Write something thematically relevant with wonderful characters wrapped in a unique concept that challenges the mainstream.”

Then get Ron Howard to direct it. Aside from one of the best scripts you’ll ever read, Cocoon marks Howard’s prodigious artistry as a director on display for the first time. Unless you count Splash. I’m not counting Splash. My condolences to fans of Splash.

EyesWideShutEyes Wide Shut (1999)

I first saw this largely forgotten Kubrick-helmed drama on cable a year or so after its release, figuring I’d watch the first five minutes and switch to something else, as it received such mediocre reviews.

Like Tommy Lee Jones at the end of No Country for Old Men: “And then I woke up. . . .”

While it’s understandable why critics panned the movie–the plot doesn’t gel, and this was around the time it become “cool” to hate on Tom Cruise–it’s such an immersive, vivid experience, like every other Kubrick film, we can gloss over the imperfections.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say the directing is an underrated, unacknowledged masterpiece. While perhaps not Kubrick’s magnum opus, Eyes Wide Shut serves as a suitable bookend to a remarkable career. And Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise had chemistry. So that’s something.

TheWizardThe Wizard (1989)

My God, this movie.

The casting, the plot, the soundtrack. The works. Possibly the best video game-related film of all time, and possibly the first video game film of all time, but who’s keeping track?

The Wizard was huge deal when it came out in theaters. Now you won’t find it airing anywhere, cable or network. A valid assumption: the content is far too dated to draw an audience. No one knows what a power glove is, so it gets the ax. Fair enough.

A trio comprised of Luke Edwards, Fred Savage and hitchhiking ginger Jenny Lewis travel to California on the advice of Savage to put the gamerly-gifted Edwards in a Nintendo competition–where they get to play the new Super Mario Bros. 3!–but all the kid wants to do is resolve some feelings about his dead sister. In a nutshell.

The acting and writing come together, minus a few corny scenes, but it’s excusable in the family drama territory. After renting it from The Warehouse so many times, I would get stuck in the pre-teen fantasy of kissing Jenny Lewis on top of a trailer in the desert like Savage’s character. . . . Off-topic, but still worth mentioning.

FollowBirdSesame Street Presents: Follow That Bird (1985)

Also referred to as “Street FTB,” if you’re in the know.

The concept of Follow that Bird is utterly ridiculous. And terrifying. A mean old finch, appropriately named Ms. Finch, says Big Bird should be living with a bird family, so she relocates him, without any resistance, to live with The Dodos. However, Big Bird deems them insane and runs away, it makes huge news, he’s declared missing, and the good people of Sesame Street try to track him down before Ms. Finch.

Look past the absurdity, and Street FTB is awash in classic one-liners and banter most kids aren’t going to get. True to Muppet tradition (they’re all technically from the Muppet genus), it’s an adult comedy packaged as a kid’s movie.

RomancingRomancing the Stone (1984)

Once in a while I’ll meet someone named Joan, and I’ll say “Joan Wile-dare? The Joan Wile-dare?” in a Colombian accent. Their confused, quasi-annoyed look makes me nostalgic for a simpler time when studios made adventure/rom-coms.

Joan Wilder, played by the inimitable Kathleen Turner, has a meet-cute-plus-gunplay encounter with Jack T. Colton. What’s the “T” stand for? We never find out. Because the Doobie Brothers broke up. Long story. So he helps her get to Cartagena, finds out about the treasure map, they get that phat emerald, dodge the bad guys, and the boat never comes back for Danny DeVito.

Romancing the Stone is the epitome of a flawless blend of genres. A romantic comedy that’s entirely believable and an adventure with serious high stakes and conflict. Credit fantastic character development on the part of screenwriter Diane Thomas, who died in a car accident shortly after the movie’s release with no one to carry the torch for films like this.

Yeah, yeah. “There have been plenty other A-level rom-com hybrids.” Not really. Not with a protagonist like Joan Wilder, the novelist, who has a fan base in Colombia pre-social media. That’s boss.

LittleChildrenLittle Children (2006)

The poster, which is also spectacular, hangs neatly framed above the desk in my office. So we have kind of a daily intimate connection, me and this movie.

As many terribly fascinating, poignantly written dramatic films occupied the early 2000s–we can make a long list of those alone–Little Children stands out as an all-star. While the unprecedented casting and the impressive direction by Todd Field make the film what it is, due credit must be given to the screenplay, adapted from the Tom Perrotta novel of the same name. Adaptations can be tricky, even for basic dramas. Nay, especially for basic dramas. If you read the book, you’ll notice much was retained in the final version, including the superbly delineated characters, but the film offers a plot structure (again, credit ought to go to Field) that draws us in to a haunting story of suburbia gone bad. Or gone good, depending on your perspective.

After a handful of Golden Globe and Oscar noms, everyone seemed to move on to bigger and better and darker dramedies. As expected. But history will look kindly upon this gem of an indie.

PointBreakPoint Break (1991)

I hate to understate things, but it’s one of the greatest movies in the history of cinema and theatre, too. At least post-Renaissance.

Having seen Point Break approximately 763 times in the 90s alone, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the paradigm for all action movies of its kind. Proof that you don’t need a huge budget, a bunch of CGI, explosions, or blatant nudity (except for one flash of the kick-ass shower girl) to sustain a crime movie. A couple on-the-nose pieces of dialogue, but whatever. It shows us a world where: Keanu Reeves plays, um, Keanu Reeves, I believe; a normal Gary Busey; a leading lady challenging the female stereotypes from the era; and Patrick Swayze with long hair. Which was a big deal back then.

I’m only ranking Point Break runner-up because there can be no ties when it comes to underrated movies. And the top slot is a no-brainer–

WeekendBerniesWeekend at Bernie’s (1989)

I don’t know what to tell you. It’s the perfect comedy. Plot, structure, character, dialogue. . . . Flawless.

Naturally, I can’t argue the fact it’s 10x more asinine than anything else on this list, but think about it for a second–it’s not that illogical. Their boss sets them up to get killed, he gets murdered in the process, and they pretend he’s dead to get off the the island alive. I challenge any of you to come up with a better plan in that situation, in an era where wackiness was a proven method of getting out of jams. Isn’t that how the Cold War ended?

Plus, it’s not like we’re without a voice of reason. Jonathan Silverman makes one hell of a protest to Andrew McCarthy. But then Catherine Stewart shows up to Bernie’s beach house during the party, and she’s totally 80s rad, so he changes his mind briefly, then comes to his wits the next day, and frankly, I’d hate to spoil it if you haven’t seen it.

Best consumed with a strawberry daiquiri while wearing short shorts or one of those neon, high-waisted one-piece bikinis that makes your lower body look awkward.

tumblr_inline_muzhwvm2Pa1r56z3wFor 12 years, Matt Misetich has worked in development as a script analyst and story consultant for production companies, managers, top writing competitions, and filmmakers. He has been a core executive at Script Pipeline since 2008 and helped a number of writers break into the industry, including contest-winners Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the HuntsmanDivergent) and Tripper Clancy (The AmbassadorsStranded). Besides instinctively quoting The Simpsons in everyday conversation, he’s writing literary fiction and developing feature and TV content that will probably not win many awards. 

 

When Is Your Screenplay Finished?

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Rather than spur a micro-analyzed philosophical debate impossible to win, allow me to first clarify: the process of writing a screenplay does end.

Because it has to.

A protege of Mario Puzo isn’t locked up in some Bronx basement still writing The Godfather in an eternal, Sisyphean loop of infinite futility. It was written, it was produced, and it was released. Script done. The End. Or “fin,” if you’re into that sorta thing.

This whole “you’re never done writing a screenplay!” nonsense is nothing more than buzzy seminar filler and pseudo-screenwriting advice to arouse, I guess, comradery amongst writers. But it’s easy for some to take this claim literally and sit stoic on the fallacy that no matter what they do, they haven’t “finished” their script. It’s one of the easiest ways to spoil a sense of accomplishment.

So they edit, rewrite, tweak, polish. . . usually without professional guidance, erroneously making an educated guess at what needs work, and sometimes executing so many revisions they end up with nary a semblance of what was probably a pretty decent script to begin with. And the rewrites continue.  They become Sisyphus–with a Final Draft file instead of a boulder.Sisyphus

Eventually, the absurdity ends. They give up. It’s a sad state of affairs, and I’ve seen it happen so much, I’m convinced some writer in Ohio is sitting on the next Back to the Future but won’t send it to anyone because he heard once that “scripts are never finished.”

The reality is. . . part of this statement is true. It is, like many screenwriting topics, kind of a grey area.

Writing for film and TV (and theater, sure) is unique in that you’re drawing up a blueprint of what will, or can maybe-possibly, become a finished product: a motion picture or television series. When you finish a novel, you finish a novel. It doesn’t have to be published to be considered “complete.” A painting is finished when the artist decides it’s finished, independent of it hung on a wall or displayed in a gallery.

With screenwriting, we don’t have that luxury. The goal of screenwriting is to get your script produced, and along the way, it’ll be optioned, sold, and almost certainly go through several rounds of development. Scripts have been rewritten on the fly, during production, in post-production, even. The writers on Friends, for example, and several other sitcoms I’m sure, would rewrite a line of dialogue or a scene if it didn’t spark a big enough laugh. By that definition, no, scripts are not “finished.” You just run out of time. You’ve heard that phrase before, and it’s true when it comes to filmmaking as a whole.

As is the case with all up-and-coming writers, few of you have reached your ceiling of talent, which can take years. Or decades. You know when you go back and re-read something you wrote years ago and think, “Wow, I allowed human beings read this?” It’s humiliating, and we all do it (I’ll probably revisit this article weeks later and be like, “eh”). Your writing itself is a process. You improve with every script, with every scene you write, and learn from every mediocre line of dialogue and cliche plot twist. So that old script you finished in college isn’t actually finished because you didn’t really know what the hell you were doing back then. And trust me, you’ll think the same thing five years from where you are now because creative people always see room for growth.

There’s good news / bad news here. And they’re both the same: it’s out of your control.

Say you finish your script, and it gets picked up by a producer. They may very well hire another writer, or writers, to fix certain areas they believe need fixing. Pieces of the screenplay outside of your comfort zone, or level of expertise. This happens more often than not, and unless your agreement gives you control, you have to roll with it. Or find another producer. If you’re a writer/director/producer with a rainy day fund, congratulations. Get some script notes, tighten things up, finance it yourself, and film your way to festivals (how’s that for a buzzy seminar one-liner?).

A good consultant or manager should advise a writer to work on a script until they’re simply unable to upgrade the draft–that magical point where you’ve fully realized their personal creative potential on that story–and then circulate your project. See how it fares to best gauge your skills, while working on new and better stuff. In this scenario, a script is finished when you have taken it as far as you can.

Dr. Bob Rotella, one of the preeminent sports psychologists and someone I’d recommend highly to writer/athletes, advocates the very zen philosophy of “giving up control to gain control.” Writers would benefit tremendously from this theory.

At some point, you have to let go of a script, accept that it best personifies your current abilities, and send it out–to a professional reader or consultant who can help you take it to the next level, a potential manager or agent, a competition, or a production company searching for new material. You’re not giving up, of course. You’re merely pushing your script to the top of the hill.

*See that? How I tied everything up with the rock analogy, as anticipated? The last paragraph took five drafts, but I finally had to stop because it wasn’t getting any better. Practice what you preach.

tumblr_inline_muzhwvm2Pa1r56z3wFor 12 years, Matt Misetich has worked in development as a script analyst and story consultant for production companies, managers, top writing competitions, and filmmakers. He has been a core executive at Script Pipeline since 2008 and helped a number of writers break into the industry, including contest-winners Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the HuntsmanDivergent) and Tripper Clancy (The AmbassadorsStranded). Besides instinctively quoting The Simpsons in everyday conversation, he’s writing literary fiction and developing feature and TV content that will probably not win many awards.