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Pitch, Treatment or Script?

August 13th, 2010 No comments

 

At first the question sounds like a philosophical enigma. And, in a way, it is.

If you have a GREAT MOVIE IDEA, and want to share it with the world, how should you present it? As a ‘pitch,’ which usually involves a verbal presentation to a studio ‘creative executive,’ (meaning someone who got to the job fair a half-hour ahead of you… Although, to be sincere, some creative executives know what they are talking about – I met one. Once. To his credit, he’d actually seen some of the same movies I had.) In any case, your ‘pitch’ involves describing your GREAT IDEA using theatrics, rhetorical devices and basic drama. At the end, you’ll usually hear “We’ll get back to you,” but anything short of “Get out of my office!” should be taken as a good sign. Rumor has it that the most successful, shortest pitch ever was Tom Mankiewiecz’s “Dum de Dum Dum” reciting to get the 1987 “Dragnet” greenlit. Too bad… a little longer and the creative exec might’ve decided more wisely…

A treatment for a film usually covers 10 or so double-spaced typed pages. It is ordinarily a combination of characters, plot description and key dialogue, and imparts the general idea of the film’s structure and plot points with the pacing and tone included. I’ve read 10-page treatments that essentially spelled out the entire film (Think “John Carpenter’s ‘Ghosts of Mars,'”) or treatments which merely touched on the subject at hand. One of the more memorable treatments I read dealt with a novel-in-progress about organized crime involved during the rebuilding and reunification of Germany (along the lines of “Eastern Promises”). By the time the script actually appeared (a couple of years after the novel’s publication), the story was dated and diluted. It was disappointing, because the novel-in-progress (and its associated treatment) had a ‘Sopranos’-like appeal – which only faded as time intruded.

And the last choice is the ‘gold standard’: a script. They’re the hardest to complete (well), but they are what studio executives will ask for most (and usually first – “Do you have a finished script? – Or a writing sample?”) A finished – and bulletproof! – script is really the best way to go with anyone who is serious about producing (or investing in) your project. Your writing needs to be ready-for-production in a manner that won’t allow anyone to question its practicalities, characters, plot loopholes or other logic gaps so that you can lead with your very best. If your ideas can be called into question by a single query, does it make any difference what form it’s in?

Pitch, Treatment or Script? Do it the way you want to – but do it! And – this is important – if you’re submitting it for consideration, your work had bettter be the best it can. Otherwise the decision of ‘Pitch, Treatment or Script?’ won’t be important. At that point, the only important answer you’ll need is “Which way’s the door?”

Running Hot or Cold…

July 8th, 2010 No comments

 

My relatives on the east coast currently sweltering in the midst of a monstrous heat wave probably won’t appreciate hearing that it’s been cool and cloudy with what we call “the marine layer’ in otherwise usually-sunny Los Angeles. So as my family cooks, I throw on another layer and muse about the movies I’d watch in the midst of a heat wave… Would I ‘go with the flow’ and watch movies with heat-related subjects? Or would I rather forget my troubles with a movie about the cold?

 

With that in mind, I offer some hot-and-cold running fare that will hopefully take your mind off the fact that your grass just went up in flames… (Or, if you’re in Hollywood, it’ll help you blot-out the ‘marine layer’ that’s blotting-out the sun…)

It’s Too Darn Hot…

  1. “Body Heat”   Apart from being set in the midst of a Florida heat wave, this modernization of “Double Indemnity” has a lot going for it: it’s Lawrence Kasdan’s first directorial effort, it’s an evocative modern film noir with a surprisingly good supporting actor star turn by an unknown Mickey Rourke, and its sexy co-stars throw off an awful lot of heat of their own.
  2. “Falling Down”  Another film set amidst crushing heat (L.A. this time), the appeal of “Falling Down” comes from Michael Douglas‘ portrayal of an unemployed defense worker who descends into a psychopathic rage as he perceives the social injustices before him. Although far from a laugh riot, this dark drama has its share of humor – and pathos.
  3. “The Bridge on the River Kwai”  David Lean’s classic war drama of British prisoners ordered to build a railway bridge in the hellish jungles of Burma. Famous for its train crash sequence, this war film practically radiates heat as its prisoners are made to stand at attention in the searing sun under the eyes of their sadistic captors.
  4. “Do the Right Thing”  Spike Lee’s meditation on race relations in Brooklyn in the midst of a heat wave is anything but calming. With a ‘Greek chorus’ led by Ossie Davis, this breakout hit details the tensions between African Americans and their white neighbors on the hottest day of the year. Spike Lee is a standout as Mookie, the pizza delivery-boy-cum-provocateur.

Baby, it’s cold outside…

  1. “The Thing” (1982)  John Carpenter’s remake of the 1951 sci-fi classic retains its red-scare subtext while amping-up the environmental hazards contained in this story about a constantly-mutating alien who alternately inhabits bodies before moving on to its next prey. The polar station setting is effective, especially in the film’s final moments, which are pure Carpenter.
  2. “Cold Mountain”  The title pretty much says it all. This is one cold mountain. A Civil War Confederate soldier does his best to make it home to his beloved, but a harsh winter and other adversities thwart him continually. The war scenes are gruesome – and compelling. (And the film was shot in Romania during one of its harshest winters on record.)
  3. “Jeremiah Johnson”  Another tale of mountains, but in this case the Rockies. Robert Redford stars in this 19th century mountain-man tale in which he fights a years-long vendetta with a Native American over his family’s death. Despite its ‘Hollywooden’ plot, the film offers a great sense of the majesty of the Colorado and Utah wilderness.
  4. “The Abyss”  While not technically set in a snowy place (or an above-water place, for that matter), James Cameron’s 1989 deepwater rig film is in a cold, cold place, and that’s made abundantly clear when Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s character must make a difficult choice as her two-person rescue sub fills with water – and there’s only one diving suit available.

“And then there’s that lesser-known third category…”

         “The Day After Tomorrow”  This film has it all: tropical heat, instant cold… Wolves in Manhattan! And let’s not forget the instantly-freezing helicopter pilots, the best-insulated public library reading room in the northern hemisphere… I could go on. But the point is – if it’s too hot outside, lose yourself in a movie! Just don’t think TOO hard about ‘Day After Tomorrow.’ THAT would probably give you an ice-cream headache!