Whether you're pitching your latest script via email, at a screenwriters workshop, or in a live meeting with a prospective producer, many similarities can be drawn to the 1990's matchmaking invention of speed-dating. Credited to an L.A. rabbi who wanted to provide a social forum for Jewish singles to get acquainted, the concept of investing as little time as possible scoping out a potential mate isn't unlike the playing field of agents and producers who competitively seek out new eye-candy they could be proud to be attached to.
Just as the demands of their time dictate that a plot that takes more than 10 pages to warm up to probably doesn't warrant a look at page 11, they also know there are enough other prospects wandering around that it's inefficient to linger on those that don't arouse sufficient enthusiasm to pursue a deeper relationship.
Want to make your script a hot "catch" in today's warp-speed movie market? By observing some simple rules of attraction, you can turn a few minutes of flirting into an invitation they can't walk away from.
LIVING UP TO YOUR TEASER
Will the magic that ignited over Caribbean music, soft lights and rum drinks be sustained after you learn your paramour's golden tan is fake, he lives with his mom in a trailer park, and he hasn't held a job in two years? Probably not. Likewise, a come-hither script that makes bold promises it can't live up to is going to be found out fairly quickly and discarded. In my years as a script consultant, I've encountered many a writer who frontloads his/her script with gadgets, gimmickry and jokes to get my attention and then has no material left to parse out over the duration. In the vernacular of the dating scene, it's clearly a case of "flashy suit, empty head."
MORE THAN WE WANTED TO KNOW
Have you ever met someone new who felt compelled to tell you their entire life story on a first date? Makes your head hurt, doesn't it? Not to mention there's an implied expectation of your remembering all these details later on. Authors often make the mistake in pitch sessions of spending way too much time explaining how they came to write the script (i.e., "my third grade teacher always said I had talent") or embedding so much back-story in the script itself that it impedes any forward momentum of the plot. In fiction - as in life - people are not born interesting; they become interesting as a result of inciting incidents that transformed them. Cut to the chase of why we should care about them - and about you.
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET, MAYBE
A friend of mine from the South ascribes to the philosophy, "Whatever it takes to get a man (or a woman) is what you have to keep doing in order to hang on to them." If money was the bait, you need to keep spending. If power was the attraction, you need to keep doing powerful things. If steamy sex was the lure - well, you get the picture. Novice screenwriters often genre-hop once the story is underway because they haven't really defined what their film's genre is to begin with. If your opening pages promise comedy, your audience will expect it to remain a comedy throughout. Compare this to a relationship that starts out with ground rules regarding expectations (i.e., "I want you to bear my children") but then devolves into something else (i.e., "I'd rather just be friends"). What if that individual returns at a later date and wants to pick up where he left off? Are you likely to trust him if the first time left you feeling cheated and confused?
LAST CHANCE CHARLIE
"Everyone else has hated my script," a woman once told me, "but I just feel a real connection to you and know that you're going to be different." Nope. I hated her script, too, and that was before I even read it. People can smell desperation and, more often than not, scamper away from it as fast as they can.
IMITATION MAY BE FLATTERY BUT...
Have you noticed how wannabee singers in karaoke bars try to mimic the voice and mannerisms of whoever made their chosen song popular? Unfortunately, most of us are not only aware of who's being impersonated but also can't help making comparisons, usually negative. Aspiring screenwriters who have yet to discover their own "voice" frequently pattern their plots after films that were blockbusters or else try to tap the public's mood-du-jour for action, patriotism or slapstick silliness. While it's hard to find a song or pen a theme that's never been done, there's nevertheless plenty of room for alternative versions. Let them see from the opening notes that you know how to put an original spin on whatever rendition preceded you in the spotlight.
THE FOREPLAY OF FORESHADOWING
For a movie to be successful, it must seduce at all levels, stirring the viewers' senses and anticipation to the point they just can't wait to see more. Like flirtation, however, film foreplay can't be rushed or come on too strong. It is instead an artfully crafted path of foreshadowing that spritzes just enough perfume and shows just enough skin to turn the pursued into the pursuer without the former even realizing their roles have been reversed. Clues that may not be obvious at the start take on new significance as the relationship - and the story - advances, allowing the quarry to appreciate the clever manner in which they became inextricably hooked.
"Are these shoes okay?" "How about my hair?" "What should I do if...?" If you (and your script) want to make a great impression that translates to connectivity, it's important to orchestrate a trial run before you sail out the door on a blind date. Put your first 10 pages to the speed-dating test of an objective review by individuals who are neither familiar with your story nor conditioned to respond with automatic glee to everything you do. Practice your pitch, observe them as they read, and make note of their facial expressions and reactions. If you're successful at persuading them to ask for more, you've accomplished the first major step toward success: distinguishing yourself and your work from the competition and inviting a longer look.