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High Concept Movies

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 2:01 pm on October 17, 2011

For some screenwriters, penning an original high concept movie is the holy grail.  And that can be a good thing or a bad thing.  These days, the majority of Hollywood high concept movies seem to focus on the concept and leave out those little things like character development and basic storytelling.  I think the root cause of this boils down to the eternal struggle of many screenwriters which is whether to write for love or write for money.

If we’re fortunate enough to have a well-paid “day job” and this fulfills us then we probably aren’t worrying about paying the bills and so have the freedom to write movies that we want to see or simply embark on stories that we are interested in exploring, without the terms “marketable” or “box office success” influencing us.

But for the vast majority of writers, we do have to pay the bills and so there inevitably comes a time when somebody, perhaps a friend or agent says to us.. why not write something that is going to sell? And they have a point.  Sometimes you have to remember that screenwriting is a business as well as an art form and that people, including you, need to make money.  The problem is, if we set out to write a script purely to sell it, our heart and soul – two key prerequisites for any successful writing endeavor – may not be invested in the project one hundred percent and as such it may ultimately lack passion.

But you can still be interested in writing a commercial film and develop great characters and an original, engaging story without feeling like you have betrayed your artistic integrity.  Perhaps you really want to tell one story that is close to your heart and have shopped the idea around for a while but nobody seems interested.  It doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea or it won’t sell, but maybe you need to make your mark with another project first and then use the success of this to garner interest in your personal project.  It’s also about timing among a multitude of other factors.

The problem is, some writers never think about writing what they know and don’t want to tell personal stories, they just want to make money and become famous.  And most of these writers think that writing a high concept blockbuster is the solution.  Well, good luck to you.  Go for it!  It may work.  But I personally think you should strike a balance in your writing between commerciality and originality.  And when I say originality I don’t mean an original high concept movie I mean an original voice.

So the next time you think about the concept of your next screenplay, think about where you are in your writing career and what may help you get onto the next rung of the ladder. If a high concept movie is the answer then great, write one but approach the genre with respect and don’t just see it as a potential pay check.  The idea is to apply all of the tools of the trade to your high concept project so it includes in-depth character development, clever plot choices and original dialogue.

How’s that for a high concept

Mixed Genres Can Lead to a Confusing Script

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:59 pm on October 7, 2011

Writers get ideas for movies in various ways.  Sometimes it’s overhearing a conversation on the bus, other times it may be a dream that inspires you to write a great opening scene.  Wherever the inspiration comes from, it’s always a good idea to follow it through, even if you don’t end up visualizing the exact idea you originally conceived.  But the problem is, sometimes we are so focused on the creative writing process that we forget to double-check we are making the best creative choices.

This can frequently occur when we are inspired by particular movies and want to write our own script in our favorite genre.  An example would be that you just saw a great heist movie and embark on the first draft of your screenplay.  During the course of writing it, you see a teen comedy and without realizing it that film influences the writing of your heist movie.  Now, it could turn out to be a really entertaining original screenplay, but it may also lose focus due to the fact that you are trying to follow two sets of rules: the first set of rules that apply to heist movies and their structure and the second set that apply to teen comedies.

You then finally reach the end of your first draft, read it through and think, damn.. it’s not working.  But why?  You developed all of the character arcs, ensured that the scene to scene plot progression, revelation and twists makes sense and ensured that the event to event causality also strengthens your story.  You clarified the theme in your head and made sure that it was expressed cleverly through dialogue, subtext and visuals but still, something isn’t right.

If this sounds familiar then take a step back and look at the genre you are writing.  Have you made a mistake by trying to inadvertently mix two into one?  Chances are that if you have to describe the script you’re writing in more than one genre then you may need to go back to the drawing board because a story that includes too many genres sets up conflicting expectations in an audience and will work against you.

There are no hard and fast rules, and as such, there are always exceptions but if you pitch your movie as When Harry Met Sally meets Jaws then trying to satisfy an audience on both the romantic comedy level of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins back girl and at the same time on the horror thriller level of boy and girl trying to save the community of a small town holiday resort from a great white shark, well, you can see how the water muddies.

What do you want your audience to be feeling, romance or fear? The highs and lows of a complicated relationship or the shock of a blood-thirsty predator ripping a human being in two?  Who are we meant to be identifying with?  The boy?  The girl?  The tourists or the shark?  What about the climax?  Is it when the boy and girl finally get together or when they finally kill the shark?  Maybe you tried to combine the two into an amazing romantic scene where they pull the trigger together and then kiss as the shark explodes!  Okay, so I’m being facetious but you get the point!

Good Screenwriting Means Being Original

Filed under: Dan Bronzite's Script Tips by Dan @ 1:56 pm on September 27, 2011

Sometimes we, as people and writers, get lazy.  It’s only natural.  Life can be tough.  Writing scripts can be hard.  Please.. my heart bleeds.  It’s time to take responsibility for your creative choices or lack thereof.  This laziness normally comes hand in hand with familiarity.  As soon as we become comfortable with the creative writing process, our screenwriter’s voice and all of the tricks, devices and structural paradigms that are involved, we tend to stick to what we know and settle for the easy option.

The good thing about being an experienced writer is that you can normally write your scripts a lot faster than when you first started but both novice writers and pros still make the same mistake, for different reasons, by making obvious choices in their dialogue, characterization and plot construction.  And writing scripts quickly isn’t necessarily a positive thing. Sometimes it’s good to chew over your narrative and really think about what you’ve written.

So with that in mind, from now on, I want to make sure you force yourself to be innovative. Okay, so apparently every story has already been told but don’t let that stop you from trying to add something new to the mix.  When you reach the next major plot twist or turn take a moment to brainstorm as many alternatives as possible, however crazy they may sound.  Don’t settle for clichés or tried-and-tested solutions.  Turn your original idea for the beginning or ending of a scene 180 degrees just to see where it takes you.  It may lead you nowhere or it may give you a great idea for another scene.  The point is that you won’t know without trying.

And the same goes for character development, talking heads and choice of locations. Always go that extra mile by building unique characters that sparkle, situations and dialogue that engage us and worlds we would love to escape to.  Don’t always settle for choosing an obvious character flaw for your protagonist, dig deeper.  Don’t always settle for the first witty retort that pops into your head because there may be a better one.

I’m not saying analyze every single creative choice you make as you write because that would naturally stunt your creative flow but in the moments following your stream of consciousness onto the page or even the next day, re-read the previous day’s work and make sure you have pushed yourself as a writer. You won’t regret it.


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