Genre: Biopic/True Story
Premise: The story of a, then, upstart Donald Trump’s first real estate project, the renovation of the Commodore Hotel.
About: This script made the low end of last year’s Black List. It’s Tom Cartier’s breakthrough script. He doesn’t have any listed work before it.
Writer: Tom Cartier
Details: 111 pages
It’s genius in a way.
Write a script about the most talked about man in the world. At the very least, people are going to read your screenplay. They may not like it. But they’ll read it.
And I like the approach Cartier took here. You could’ve chosen the obvious route and made this another butt-of-the-joke Trump piece. But then you’d be doing exactly what everyone else was doing. One of the easiest ways to make your story stand out is to go against expectation. And that’s what Cartier did. “Builder” is the first thing I’ve read in ages that takes Trump seriously.
However, all that does is assures me this is going to be different. It doesn’t assure me that it’s going to be good. So let’s find out if Builder was any good.
We join Donald Trump in 1977 when he was 25 years old. Donald’s father, Fred Sr., used to be a real estate developer but got blacklisted for some shady accounting practices. This means that Donald, who is already obsessed with real estate, is fighting an uphill from the second he hits the pavement.
Donald has two brothers, one younger (Robert) and one older (Freddy). It’s Freddy we focus on, though. Eight years Donald’s senior, Freddy is a classic underachiever who can’t live up to his father’s wildly lofty expectations. As such, he’s taken his struggles to the bottle.
Donald wants to make a splash in real estate as quickly as possible so he targets a crumbling hotel in Midtown called the Commodore as his first renovation project. Donald hires political kingmaker Janice Brightly to advise him, and she basically tells him that there’s no way they’re going to entrust a hundred million dollar renovation to a 25 year old. Yeah, Donald says, but I’m Donald Trump.
The story then follows Donald as he works all the major people in the way of his project. There’s his evil nemesis and current real estate king, Richard Ravitch. There’s Michael DePhillips, who he’ll use to plant positive stories in the press. And there’s Jay Pritzker, whose Hyatt Hotel affiliation Trump needs to add legitimacy to the project.
And then there’s Trump’s ace in the hole – his revolutionary new financing idea. He’s going to buy the building, sell it back to the city, and rent it from them on a hundred year lease, allowing him to avoid paying any taxes. He’s effectively getting the building for free. But when Trump’s rival, Ravitch, finds this out, he vows to do everything in his power to stop Trump from getting the Commodore. There’s only one problem. Ravitch has never gone up against someone as ruthless as Donald Trump.
I really wanted to like this. I was hoping it was going to give me some new insight into Trump. To me, that’s the only reason to write about someone, is to reveal things about them that we don’t already know. I particularly saw the brother relationship as an opportunity to see the softer side of Trump. Unfortunately, that relationship is shoddily handled, and the prevailing theme at the end of the script is one I didn’t need to spend 2 hours of my life to find out, since I already knew it – Trump is ruthless.
The plotting here is very “And then this happened.” This is the “inevitability” plot approach that I warn against because it’s too predictable. When you’re predictable, your reader gets ahead of you. And if they get too far ahead of you, they get impatient. They’re now waiting for YOU to catch up when you’re the one who should be waiting for THEM to catch up.
For example, we’re told early on the 5 people Trump will have to win over to get the Commodore. We then go through the painstaking process of Trump meeting each of those people over the next 20 pages. So I’m sitting there checking my watch going, “Okay, which person is he on? How many more of these guys do we have to get through until we’re on to the next section?” This kind of writing almost always leads to boredom.
So how do you prevent it? The solution can be found back in my “In and Out” article. We needed a big “IN” plot moment. Something to be thrown at our protagonist that, in turn, threw the story for a loop, setting our main character on a different path. But we never got it.
And it’s unfortunate we couldn’t get more into this Trump brother relationship because it had a lot of potential. The mistake that was made was a common screenwriting error. The relationship was all TELL and no SHOW. It was the brother telling anyone who would listen, “I’m trying hard but it’s tough to be successful in real estate,” and Trump telling associates, “My brother has so much potential. But my dad is so hard on him!”
That’s not how you explore a relationship. You explore a relationship through action. For example, you establish that Freddy has a drinking problem. Then you establish that Trump is stretched thin with all his Commodore meetings and needs help. So he decides to entrust his brother to go one of these meetings (an important one, of course). And the prevailing sentiment is, “I’m taking a chance on you. Don’t fuck this up.” And, of course, Freddy gets drunk before the meeting and he blows the meeting, setting Trump back to square one.
Now, you have an argument between the brothers about how Freddy screwed up the meeting, with the subtext being, “Your whole life is a fuckup. You’re a failure. And this proves it.” You’re using plot points to create actionable scenes, as opposed to characters saying on-the-nose lines like, “There’s so much pressure to live up to my dad.”
The final nail in the coffin was that the script didn’t do a good job explaining, in laymen’s terms, how Trump’s innovative financing worked. To my knowledge, this is what made Trump’s career, is his innovation in the way he put deals together. So it’s really important that we understand what Trump’s doing. But the script’s explanation of this process is buried under strange terms (what’s an arrearment?) and a complicated rule-pyramid that’s almost unintelligible.
And before you say, “Well, it’s not easy to explain complicated real estate financing to an average person,” I’d argue that The Big Short figured out a way to do it. Look, guys. You don’t get excuses as screenwriters. You don’t get to say, “Well, I didn’t do that because it was too hard.” Your job is to make it work. That’s why people will pay you millions of dollars to write. Because you’re the guy who figures it out. Nobody wants to hear excuses.
But the biggest thing this script needed was the emotional core – that relationship between Trump and Freddy. Because people don’t see Donald Trump as a human being. And if you could’ve explored that relationship, you would’ve been able to move past that issue.
I’m a little terrified about what the comments are going to look like so let’s try to keep the conversation on topic and if you do bring up politics in relation to the script, do so respectfully. If I see attacking, bullying, or name-calling, it’s likely those comments will be deleted, no matter how many “But they started it” e-mails I get.
And with that, discuss!
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: There are things in every script that you really want to get across. Many times they’re the reason you wanted to write the script in the first place. The problem with these things is that they will become primary candidates to be used as on-the-nose dialogue. And it’s not even your fault. You can’t help it. You HAVE to let the reader know that THIS IS WHY YOU FUCKING WROTE THIS SCRIPT! So it feels so damn good to write those lines. But guess what? Those lines are always the worst lines in your script. Because they’re so damn on-the-nose! You have to resist writing them and, instead, look for actionable ways (show don’t tell) to include them instead. So here, one of the key things Cartier is exploring is the fact that Freddy is 8 whole years older than Donald and a fraction of the businessman Donald is. We get a line in the script where Freddy actually says, “I’m 8 years older than you.” You don’t want to write this. You want to find ways to imply it instead. Is it easy? No. But writing isn’t easy. So I’ll kick it down to you guys. How would you SHOW and not TELL that Freddy is 8 years older than Donald and a fraction of the businessman?
5 scripts. You vote for the winner! Champion gets a review next Friday!
Okay guys, you’re now armed with a better understanding of what makes a good movie idea. First and foremost, read as many of this weekend’s scripts as you can and vote for your favorite in the comments section. However, I also want you to evaluate today’s loglines with your newfound knowledge and give the writers constructive criticism. If you don’t like an idea or a logline, tell the writer why. Help them get better. And every time you evaluate someone’s logline, you get a little better at writing them yourself. So help away!
If you’d like to submit your own script to compete on Amateur Offerings, send a PDF of your script to firstname.lastname@example.org with the title, genre, logline, and why you think your script should get a shot. We’re all looking for that next great screenplay so don’t be shy!
Title: The Rescue
Genre: Action Comedy
Logline: After an American is wrongfully accused of murder in a South American country with no diplomatic relations with the US, his brother and two childhood best friends reunite to undergo a rescue mission, for which they are totally unequipped for, before an American hating dictator can put their friend to death.
Why You Should Read: I’ve been a daily reader of your website for six years. LA resident for 10. I wrote three features this past year, this being my favorite. The idea is compelling to me because it has the strongest “what would you do?” element. What if my brother was being put to death in a foreign country, for something I was pretty sure he was innocent of, and the US government said they weren’t doing anything? How could I just let it happen? Yes, I’m just a bartender, but somehow, someway, I’d try to sneak into that country and get him out! It’s THE HANGOVER meets MIDNIGHT EXPRESS.
Title: The Co-ed Butcher
Genre: Thriller/True crime
Logline: Based on the true story of Edmund Kemper. After the death of his abusive mother, a repentant serial-killer struggles between surrendering to the authorities and continuing his murderous spree.
Why You Should Read: As a horror fan, I can’t stand how serial killers are portrayed in media nowadays. And on top of that, I can’t think of a good script where the protagonist is the serial killer. I’ve tried to change that. Think of this as Zodiac meets Crime and Punishment.
Genre: Science Fiction
Logline: Fleeing a violent past, a mechanic relocates to the anarchic edge of civilization to build a new life, and a new body, for her teenage son.
Why You Should Read: I’m a longtime reader, first-time submitter to your site, currently living in Vancouver and working hard on breaking into the industry. I’ve won a few national awards for my stage plays and now I’m finally at the point where I’m feeling confident enough in my screenwriting work to start submitting to competitions.Transference is my latest feature-length screenplay, which my table-reading group said has some strong Mad-Max-meets-Westworld vibes, and I wanted to throw this into the mix with the other Amateur Offerings to see how it stacks up in comparison.
Title: Fate Magnetic
Logline: When Greek god Apollo, living anonymously in contemporary London, is murdered, his sister Artemis must reunite her estranged family to find his killer.
Why You Should Read: This is the mash up of Greek gods living in modern day London, martial arts fight scenes and murder-mystery that you didn’t know you wanted. With a female protagonist, franchise potential and a fast read at just 95 pages this script doesn’t hang about. A producer, after reading this, once told me that this script will never sell because there are no female stars to headline a project like this and audiences don’t want films like these starring women. Well, let’s see if he’s right.
Title: The Answer
Genre: Supernatural Drama
Logline: An already fractured family struggles to find normalcy after the exorcism of the youngest child goes horribly wrong leaving the mother dead.
Why you should read: I’ve always been fascinated with exorcisms especially what happens after the exorcism is over. How do families carry on after that? What happens if somebody dies during the exorcism? Who do you blame? The exorcist? The possessed person? The demon??? These are the questions that are posed in THE ANSWER and hopefully we will get the answers.
So here’s a question for you.
Is the new Star Wars trilogy doomed?
That question is being asked by a lot of people today as Colin Trevorrow’s new film, “Book of Henry,” hits theaters, and is being massacred by every critic with access to wifi (the film is currently at 24% on Rotten Tomatoes).
Trevorrow hit a streak of luck like none other when he was awarded a Jurassic Park sequel after the debut of his first film, “Safety Not Guaranteed.” Despite the film barely grossing 4 million dollars, the people over at Universal felt like Trevorrow was a talent with mega-potential, and hired him to direct Jurassic World.
That movie shocked the industry, becoming one of the biggest box office hits of all time. Trevorrow parlayed that into getting the grandest gig of them all, Star Wars Episode 9.
Trevorrow admits to all of this being a bit fast, and wanted to get at least one more movie under his belt before, what will be, the movie that defines his career.
Which leads us to the quirky nature in which Hollywood constructs its projects, a system, it can be argued, built around a single question: “Who’s hot right now?”
Which begs another question. Was Colin Trevorrow right for Episode 9? Or was he simply hot at the right moment? Was Safety Not Guaranteed really that much better than the 10 other indies that broke out in 2012? How much of Jurassic World’s success can be attributed to Trevorrow and how much was just, “People really wanted to see dinosaurs that summer?” And how confident can anyone be in someone who read Book of Henry and thought, “This is perfect?”
Ironically, this takes us right back to yesterday and the question of, “What’s a good idea?” Cause Book of Henry wasn’t a good idea at all (the biggest tip it violated was number 3, Clarity – “A good idea is one where all the elements come together clearly and harmoniously. The idea is simple to understand and you’re able to imagine the movie immediately.”). Book of Henry was three ideas. Maybe four. Possibly five.
Had Colin just read my review, he could’ve addressed this! But therein lies the singular truth about making films. Ultimately, it’s up to one person on whether they believe an idea is good or not, even if everyone else tells him it isn’t. Let me put it this way: If movies couldn’t be made until everyone agreed that the idea was good, no movie would ever get made. At a certain point, someone has to come forward and say, “I believe in this.”
But, clearly, Book of Henry should not have been believed in. And that leads us back to the question of, “Is Star Wars screwed?” Did we give Trevorrow something he is in no way, shape, or form, ready to tackle?
My answer to that question is two-fold. We did. However, Star Wars is not screwed. Unlike on Book of Henry, where Trevorrow had total creative control, he will not have anything approaching that control on Star Wars. They’re going to tell him if the script sucks and they’re going to make him change things that need changing. The people at Disney are some of the best in the world at story. And you better believe that after this weekend, they’ll all be reading the Episode 9 script again and looking to give notes.
My original Book of Henry script review was a hastily written mess (I was embarrassed while reading it). So here’s the same review, but cleaned up. Keep in mind that the review was written a couple of years ago.
Premise: (from IMDB): A single mother discovers a scheme in her son’s book to rescue a young girl from the hands of her abusive stepfather and sets out to execute the plan at any cost.
About: As recently as last month, this was listed as Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow’s next movie. He’s openly talked about how the script blew him away. I had some of my trusted readers check it out and the score is 3-2 in favor of “awesome.” The problem is, the two who didn’t like it REALLY didn’t like it. This seems to be one of those scripts that divide people. The screenplay is an original story by novelist Gregg Hurwitz, who has 14 novels to his name.
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz
Details: 118 pages
It can’t be an easy transition, going from unknown commodity to the hottest director in Hollywood in a span of two years, although I can imagine worse issues to have.
Trevorrow has repeatedly stated he was resistant to taking the Jurassic World job because he didn’t think he was ready. He had only directed one film. He still needed to perfect his craft. Put plainly, he needed practice.
So even as hype for Jurassic World built, he stated his excitement to get back to small movies, particularly this one, which would be his follow-up to Dino Destruction. The script has been around for awhile, but as far as I know hasn’t been on anyone’s radar. So could this really be that rare diamond in the rough that everyone in the industry missed? Or might it be a piece of coal that has finally found someone to fool?
“The Book of Henry” follows Susan, a single mother to her two sons: her prodigy 12 year-old boy, Henry, and Henry’s younger brother, Peter.
The family doesn’t have much but they get along extremely well, a lot of that due to the precocious Henry playing the role of surrogate father. Henry is the one who keeps this clan clicking.
Henry spends his free time doting over his next-door neighbor, Christina, who happens to be the daughter of the Police Chief, Neil. When Henry finds out that Neil is molesting Christina, he starts concocting a plan to murder Neil.
However, Henry’s plan goes awry when he learns he has a brain tumor. And not just any brain tumor – a really fast-acting brain tumor. Within a couple of weeks, Henry is dead. Talk about a plot twist. Luckily, Henry wills his murder book to his younger brother Peter, and his dying wish is for him and mom to take up where he left off.
So the final third of the movie is Susan and Peter putting together a plan to execute Police Chief Neil, then gaming the system so they can adopt Christina and make her a part of their family. Yes, this plan has multiple layers! But Susan and Peter aren’t geniuses like Henry, leaving the audience to wonder if they’re capable of pulling this super-plan off.
As much as I’d like to, I can’t get behind this screenplay. With that said, as a screenwriting discussion piece? This script is the Ark of the Covenant.
There is so much going on here, I don’t know where to start.
Our main character is killed off midway through the story!
These guys went full Psycho on us!
Except the wimps in Psycho only killed off an adult. Book of Henry kills off a child.
Then there’s the script’s structure, which is less one continuous flowing story than a series of story reboots. The first movie is about a single mom raising a child genius, a la Bobby Fischer. The second movie is a family grieving the death of their child, some “Ordinary People,” if you must. And the last movie is a mother and son – I can’t believe I’m writing this – planning to murder their neighbor. So it turns into “In the Bedroom.”
The tone of the script often plays opposite the subject matter. So in the aforementioned “In The Bedroom,” when the parents decide to kill their son’s killer, the tone’s very dark and intense. Here, you could almost call the tone light-hearted, with mother and son cracking jokes while preparing to murder their prey.
The script is so unlike anything you’ve ever read that you almost have to give credit to the writer for that achievement alone. But as hard as I tried, I couldn’t get on board. And it’s for one of the oldest reasons in the Book of Screenwriting – suspension of disbelief.
I never believed that this mother and son would team up to kill a man. I just couldn’t. In what world does a mother teach her ten year old son to murder? That’s not reality. That’s movie logic. Try to think of any scenario in the real world where this might happen. You can’t. And once you’re introducing human behavior that’s never been seen before, you’re squarely in movie logic world.
I wasn’t surprised to find out this was written by a novelist either. The two readers who didn’t like “Henry” told me they were bored to tears 30 pages in. Indeed, nothing happens in those first 30 pages. It’s pure character set-up. And while that’s fine for a novel, everything needs to move quickly in a screenplay.
The moment I first got hooked in “Henry” was when I discovered Henry might be planning to murder Neil. That came at around page 35. We could’ve gotten to that point 20 pages sooner.
Once you tell the audience that one of your characters is going to do something horrible, you’ve bought yourself some time. We’re going to want to stick around to see that horrible act occur. But if you take too long to introduce that suspense ticker in the first place, you risk losing the audience before you’ve even gotten to that storyline. And that’s what happened here.
And actually, I thought that’s the direction Book of Henry was going. I thought Henry was going to kill Neil, and the second half of the screenplay would be about the family dealing with the aftermath. Not only would that have been a smoother and easier-to-buy-into story, but a compelling drama to boot. Killing Henry off and passing that plan on to mom and bro? It’s just such a bizarre choice.
This is a not an easy screenplay to judge because I admire Hurwitz for trying something different. But being different doesn’t mean being good. Hurwitz asks so much from the reader that, at a certain point, you throw up your hands and go, “Come on, man. That is too far.”
For that reason, this wasn’t for me. With that said, I give credit to Hurwitz and Trevorrow for taking a dinosaur-sized chance. In this industry, you have to stand by your convictions. If you love something despite its warts and warnings, take a shot at it. It’s resulted in great movies before so it will certainly result in great movies again. Just not this one.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: For the love of all that is holy, when you have heat on you, STRIKE! Because heat is rare. And when it’s gone, it’s hard to get back. Look at the difference between Colin Trevorrow’s and Shane Carruth’s careers. Both of them wrote and directed small sci-fi films that became critical darlings (“Primer” and “Safety Guaranteed”). Both were offered big projects. Trevorrow decided to take one, and he can now direct any freaking movie he wants to. Caruth, on the other hand, became indecisive when he was hot and faded back into obscurity, not to be heard from again for another 10 years, where he directed a quickly forgotten movie about psychic pigs. I have personally witnessed writers allow other people with ulterior motives to slow them down and not capitalize on their heat, only to lose that heat, along with the interest of half the town. Opportunities are rare in Hollywood. When they come, you must take advantage of them.
The biggest mistake screenwriters make in screenwriting is starting with a bad idea. Actually, “bad” isn’t the right word. Another ‘b’ word is more appropriate. “Benign.” There’s nothing to the idea. It’s empty, uninspired, boring. And yet, 90% of the submissions I get continue to be lame and lifeless. What sucks about this is your script is doomed before you’ve even written word. And I’ve watched that play out too many times, with writers rearranging words, scenes, sentences, sequences, characters, loglines, all in the hope that their “idea” will all of a sudden work.
So what is a good idea? Well, there’s some subjectivity involved, of course. But generally speaking, people know when they’ve been pitched a good idea. Good ideas feels inspired, original, and bursting with potential. On the flip side, bad ideas feel cliched, uninspired, and half-baked. That isn’t a lot to go on as those descriptors are fairly nebulous. But don’t worry, cause I’m going to give you ten tips you can use to finally start coming up with good movie ideas. Are you ready? Let’s get started.
1) Try – This may sound like stupid advice. It isn’t. I’d say that half the ideas I’m pitched are bad simply because the writer isn’t trying. You can tell they came up with the idea quickly and haven’t thought it through. An idea has to be battle-tested. It should be pitted against at least ten other ideas you’ve been working through and emerge as the clear winner. Every time you come up with an idea, ask yourself, is this an inspired idea or is it similar to other ideas out there? Movie idea generation is the most competitive arena there is. EVERYBODY thinks they have a great movie idea, which means you’re competing against billions (with a ‘b’) of ideas. If you’re not trying your hardest, I guarantee you your idea’s bad. Here’s an example of a really well thought-out idea.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – After their relationship fails, a couple undergoes a procedure to have the memories of each other erased, only to realize halfway through that they made a mistake. They then must race through every memory in their relationship to avoid losing each other forever.
2) A fresh angle/take – One of the easiest ways for me to identify a seasoned screenwriter over a newbie is a fresh take on an old premise. Newbies are still in that mindset where they’re re-writing the movies they grew up on. Veterans realize that to make an impression, they must find a new way into the movies they grew up on. One of the best examples of this is Memento, which took the old noir investigative thriller and turned it on its head.
Memento – A man with short-term memory loss utilizes a system of tattooing the clues of his wife’s murder on his body to find the man who killed her.
3) Clarity – A good idea is one where all the elements come together clearly and harmoniously. The idea is simple to understand and you’re able to imagine the movie immediately. I read a lot of ideas where the writer is throwing numerous pieces of the puzzle at us, but the pieces don’t fit together. I’ll give you two romantic comedy ideas to explain what I mean, one with a clear and powerful idea, the other with a murky and cluttered one.
Pretty Woman – A buttoned-up businessman in town for the biggest deal of his life hires an unrefined prostitute to pose as his girlfriend for the week, sparking an unexpected romance.
Aloha – An Air Force pilot returns to Hawaii to oversee the launch of a top secret military satellite while attempting to reconnect with his newly engaged ex-girlfriend as well as exploring a romance with the company woman who’s been assigned to keep tabs on him.
4) A complex/interesting main character – “I’m not interested in super hero movies or high concept stuff, Carson. Does that mean I’m screwed?” No. You’re not screwed. But, if you don’t have a highly marketable idea, you better have a compelling complex-as-shit main or key supporting character. That’s because your character will now become your pitch. Therefore, if they don’t sound interesting, that means you’re not giving us a great idea or a great character. What else is left? Are you going to wow us with your deft ability to hide exposition? Nightcrawler is a good example of this.
Nightcrawler – Louis Bloom, an unpleasant sociopathic loner with a gift for salesmanship, revolutionizes the practice of nightcrawling – taping violent accidents and selling them to news shows – by risking death every night to be the best in the field.
5) Irony – Another way for you guys who hate Hollywood movies to come up with a great idea is to utilize irony. The most basic form of movie irony is to make your hero the exact opposite of what’s required of him. So you wouldn’t write a story about an atheist who starts his own atheism support group. You’d write a story about an atheist who takes a job as a Christian preacher to make ends meet. Because irony is such a powerful element in making ideas pop, it’s another easy way to separate seasoned writers from newbies.
The Social Network – An antisocial Harvard freshman with no friends ends up creating the single largest friend network in the history of the world.
6) Strange Attractor – One of you had the perfect reaction to a recent Amateur Offerings idea. The commenter, assessing an idea that sounded like every action movie ever, said that the logline was the equivalent of “beige wallpaper.” And I thought that was perfect. You want to avoid the “beige wallpaper” version of movie ideas. One way to do this is to include a “strange attractor,” which is a unique element that stands out like a red rose in a desert. Even if your idea isn’t perfect, the strange attractor will get a reader’s attention. Say you want to write a survival movie. You can write about a man stuck on a life raft after his boat sinks, which has no strange attractor. Or you can go with something like this…
Life of Pie – When a ship transferring zoo animals to a new country sinks, a young boy is stuck on a lifeboat with a dangerous tiger.
7) Ill-equipped main character – One of the easiest ways to make your idea more interesting is to include a main character who is extremely ill-equipped for the mission at hand. This will make the character an UNDERDOG, which is one of the most salable elements in idea creation. And really, this gets to the heart of what makes any story good, which is that the journey must be difficult. What better way to make the journey difficult than to make the main character as ill-equipped for that journey as possible?
The King’s Speech – The King of England, a rampant stutterer, must overcome his speech impediment to give the most important speech in history, one that inspires the world to stop Adolf Hitler.
8) A Primary Source of Conflict – Remember guys, that a screenplay is broken down into three acts. Act 1 is SETUP. Act 3 is RESOLUTION. That leaves us with one act left. Which act is that? It’s the act of CONFLICT. A movie idea without conflict isn’t a movie idea. It’s the beginning of a movie idea. One of the reasons Hancock was so forgettable was because it only ever figured out the beginning of its idea – a drunk superhero. It needed a strong conflict to turn it into a fully-fleshed out idea.
Murder on the Orient Express – When a murder occurs on an extended lavish train ride, a detective must find the killer amongst 13 suspects before the murderer strikes again. (the conflict is the detective’s investigation – that’s what will take up the second act).
9) Genre-Mixing – This is one of the oldest tricks in coming up with fresh ideas. You simply take one genre and mix it up with another one. Since most writers tend to stay in one genre lane, the Frankensteinien results of genre mixing give way to some interesting ideas. Some of the more common genres that are mixed are horror and sci-fi, comedy and sci-fi, thrillers and horror. But don’t stop there. Get weird if you want. Mix a musical with a western. Mix adventure and film noir. At the very least, you’ll have an idea that stands apart from all that cliche garbage everyone else is coming up with. And here’s a bonus tip: The less the two genres go together, the more unique the idea will be. Mixing the romance and serial killer genres, for example.
Westworld (combines Western and Science-Fiction genre) – A robot malfunction creates havoc at a futuristic amusement park that allows its participants to live in an artificially constructed Old West.
10) Relatively High Stakes – There’s a reason I used the word “relatively” here. That’s because not every movie is about saving the universe, nor should it be. However, the importance of your hero’s journey must contain consequences relative to that journey. Otherwise your idea sounds unimportant. One of the reasons the movie “Wild” didn’t catch on was because there were no clear stakes. A girl hikes a trail to find herself. What happens if she doesn’t find herself? Err… she’s upset? The relative stakes in that movie are non-existent. The Sweet Hereafter, another character-driven indie film, was dripping in stakes.
The Sweet Hereafter – A teenage girl who survived the most horrific school bus crash in history is the key witness in a class action suit against the state, but isn’t sure she wants to tell the truth about what happened that day.
There you have it, guys! The road map to all your future movie ideas. I encourage you to practice these tips and share the results in the comments section. The readers of this site are good at explaining why loglines or concepts aren’t working. So this is as good of an opportunity as you’re going to get at practicing idea generation and receiving valuable feedback.
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Premise: (from Black List) A mistreated elderly Inuit (Eskimo) woman is forced out of her village to survive alone on the savage arctic tundra.
About: This script finished with 9 votes on the 2015 Black List. This is a huge accomplishment when you consider the writer didn’t even have an agent. The Black List is dominated almost exclusively by writers repped at WME, CAA, and UTA because those scripts get sent out the most. Any script not from one of those companies has had maybe a fifth of the exposure. So for those scripts to get enough votes to make the vaunted list is an enormous accomplishment.
Writer: Michael Lee Barlin
Details: 97 pages
So I picked today’s script for a specific reason.
I was reading through loglines for potential scripts to review and I came across this one and I thought: That has to be the single most boring-sounding idea for a movie I’ve ever read. Therefore, if the writer can make THIS script good, that’s going to make me reevaluate how every writer should approach concept creation.
Truth be told, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changing landscape of concepts. It used to be “high concept high concept high concept.” But since all the “high concept” slots have been taken up by franchise films, it’s sorta forced spec writers in the other direction – to come up with a good dramatic idea with some meat to it. The plan, then, is to get on the Black List and get noticed that way.
But man, I don’t know. If THIS idea turns out to be great, it will probably be the most surprised I’ll have ever been reading a script. I don’t see how an idea this benign can be good. But you never know until you read. So let’s read!
Final Journey introduces us to 86 year-old Isha. Isha lives in a tribe of eskimos who aren’t exactly sentimental. That’s because when you get so old you can’t sew blankets, they tell you to walk out into the arctic tundra until you die of cold or starvation.
And I always thought killing baby seals were the eskimos best quality.
So this cold-ass eskimo tribe deems Isha unworthy of hanging around, and have a fake “We loved ya why u were around” ceremony, kicking Isha out of town, not sticking around long enough to see her past the horizon, since, you know, it’s fucking cold out and they need to get back to their igloos to warm up!
Isha is ready for death, even though the people she spent the last 86 years of her life with and who she loved more than anything just told her she was useless and to scram.
However, before nature can take its course, Isha runs into 14 year old Tato. Tato’s a cool little teenager who’s been sent out by his own tribe. Except at least he gets to come back home. IF he kills a polar bear that is. Which will officially make him a man.
At first, Tato’s annoyed by Isha. But when Isha starts stitching his clothes back together and giving him moral support, he starts to like her.
While the two speak different dialects and therefore can’t understand one another, they’re able to draw images to each other in the snow, and this rudimentary form of pictionary allows them to communicate.
When the polar bear finally comes around, Tato goes out to perform his duty. But things don’t go as planned, with Tato nearly getting ripped to shreds. It will be up to Isha to save Tato and get him home. But that job is a double-edged spear. If she gets her new friend home, it will mean completing her own mission, that being dying of starvation like her tribe so lovingly ordered her to do. That is unless Tato’s people find value in Isha in a way her tribe never could.
I’m going to start by saying the first words that came to mind after reading this.
Seriously. If this is what they do or ever did – they are some terrible people. Who the heck came up with this “tradition” anyway, the eskimo version of L. Ron Hubbard?
Getting back to the script, I’ll say this. This is the best execution you could’ve possibly pulled off for a movie about a woman who walks into the arctic tundra to die.
We’ve got a buddy-movie on display. Isha and Tato may not be Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. But they’re still pretty fun to watch. And unpredictable! I bet you didn’t see an 86 year old woman jacking off a 14 year old boy, did you? Yup, well, we get that scene in Final Journey.
We’ve also got a GOAL driving the story – something you might not expect to find in an artsy drama about eskimos. Tato needs to kill the polar bear (goal) before he can come home. And that goal gets us through the rest of the narrative, which covers the growing friendship between Isha and Tato.
And the script is pretty clever as well. At the beginning, we’re informed that even though the characters will be speaking throughout the film, that there will be NO subtitles. So how do you convey what the characters are saying to each other without subtitles?
Well, what Barlin did was he had Isha and Tato speak different dialects. So they couldn’t understand each other. This forced them to draw pictures in the snow to communicate. And because the audience can also see those pictures, THAT’S how we understood what they were saying to each other.
A lesser writer may have made the dialects the same and therefore missed out on this opportunity.
But let’s be honest here. How does a movie like this get made? I mean… it’s different, that’s for sure. So it’s going to look unique. It’s going to take us to a place we’ve never been before. But our leads are an 86 year old woman and a 14 year old boy. Both of these demos are squarely outside the studio friendly 18-34 year old white male.
With that said, this story does hit you on an emotional level. Especially the ending (spoiler), where Isha is welcomed into Tato’s tribe with loving arms, but she chooses to complete her mission anyway, only this time with the support and love of people who care about her instead of those who cast her off like a loaf of moldy bread.
I have to give it to the writer. He went against every rule in the book in writing this, found a way to keep us interested, and made the Black List. Even if the film doesn’t get made, that feat alone is worth a read.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re going to write something really artsy? At the very least, make the situation life-or-death. Because if it’s just characters waltzing around doing shit with no consequences, those are the scripts that are truly the most boring. This script may have been about a grandma eskimo, but the stakes were life and death for both our main characters, and that provided the script with the weight it needed for us to care about the characters’ journey.
Scriptshadow Reader Question of the Day: What is the most unmarketable idea you’ve ever written? And where does that screenplay rank in your slate of finished screenplays?