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Movies (not) by the numbers…

June 4th, 2011 No comments

 

OK, let’s face it: unless you’re a fan of: A). Gross-out comedies; B). Superhero/Robot/Alien action films; C). Sequels, or D). All of the above, there’s not a lot to see at the movies this summer. Rarely have there been so few ‘original’ films in the marketplace. Despite this, there are films for people who have never cracked a graphic novel in their life, aren’t into anthropomorphic machines or don’t care for numerical film titles. (And, for good measure, we’ve added a trio of ‘guilty pleasures’ that straddle the line between originality and nostalgia.)

Rare, Crafted Original

How do you like your original movies? Arty? Packed with A-list talent? How about an examination of the origins of the cosmos? Well, in Terrence Malick’s demanding “The Tree of Life,” alternately an epic tale of a Texas family and a tone poem about the creation of the universe, you get all three. Brad Pitt and Sean Penn play father and son roles alongside relative newcomer Jessica Chastain; the film opened last week in only 4 theaters and grossed $631,000. Undoubtedly Malick’s reputation as a perfectionist (he reportedly spent 3 years laboriously completing the film) has brought in Malick enthusiasts (he has only directed 5 features in 38 years, with another on the way – if you believe Malick), but the overall box office prospects of “The Tree of Life” aren’t such a sure bet. However, if you like your films evocative and discussion-worthy (not to mention hand-crafted), give Malick’s latest a try – just don’t complain that it made you think too much…

Lasting Impressions

Director Mike Mills doesn’t make movies that are easy to logline. His last feature, 2005’s “Thumbsucker,” was a film festival darling, nominated at the Berlin Film Festival, The Independent Spirit Awards and the Sundance Film Festival. At all three, Mike Mills didn’t win – but his lead actor, Lou Taylor Pucci, took home the Silver Bear in Berlin and a Special Jury Prize at Sundance. Now Mills’ second feature, “Beginners,” starring Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor, opens this weekend and is equally difficult to describe: an aimless son contends with his 75 year old dad’s announcement that he is gay, as the film touches on issues of acceptance, death and responsibility for one’s life. Mills based the film on his own life experiences, and early critical response suggests McGregor and Plummer both turn in award-worthy performances.

Old Fashioned Romance

Coming closest to a ‘tentpole’ picture as any on this alternative list, director Tom Hanks’ second theatrical feature (although he has logged serious directing time on his production company’s several HBO mini-series, including “Band of Brothers” and “The Pacific”) “Larry Crowne” stars Hanks and Julia Roberts as a downsized worker and local college professor, respectively. In an attempt to reinvent himself, Hanks attends college and reignites the passion Roberts had lost for teaching (and for love, apparently). The script is co-written by Hanks and Nia Vardalos, whose surprise hit “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” was produced by Hanks’ Playtone. Don’t expect much beyond ‘boy meets girl, etc…’ from “Larry Crowne.” But if you liked the easy chemistry between Hanks and Roberts in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” expect much more of that here…

Love in a Day? Crazy Life?

Two very different films open on July 29: “Life in a Day,” from National Geographic Films, edits together footage from thousands of contributors to tell the story of life on earth in 24 hours; and “Crazy, Stupid Love,” starring Steve Carell as a suddenly-single man accepting romantic advice from playboy pal Ryan Gosling. The ‘Life’ project has been seen on YouTube (which co-produced), but makes its big-screen debut domestically. Carell’s film is a big investment by Warner Brothers in Dan Fogelman’s script ($2.5 million), but the studio apparently has great plans for the writer, having recently bought Fogelman’s pitch for a Tom Cruise vehicle for $2 million (with an additional $3 million due at completion). Either 7/29 film should prove a cure to the sequel-mania sweeping cinemas by this time of the summer. And – an added plus – neither film is in 3-D!

Everything Old is New Again! – Guilty Pleasures…

Of course, one does not live by original films alone – commercial films can be enjoyed like a palate cleanser between original movies. But they’re only necessary in small doses – the following films emulate the current trend towards remakes and sequels, but still offer something new.

Reel Suspense

Looking an awful lot like an early Steven Spielberg film (in more ways than one), J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” is a coming-of-age tale whose plot is still shrouded in secrecy, although the film opens in one week. But Abrams is open about the effect his film’s co-producer has had on him, citing Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “Jaws,” and “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” as primary influences. Given Abrams’ film’s youthful cast, suspenseful action and government conspiracy overtones, “Super 8” looks to have the potential to be a breakout hit worthy of early Spielberg – depending on what is on that crashed train…

Naughty Cameron?

Just when you were beginning to think you imagined “There’s Something About Mary,” Cameron Diaz returns in the R-rated comedy “Bad Teacher,” in which she plays a foul-mouthed junior high school teacher who, after being dumped by a sugar daddy, proceeds to pit two colleagues against one another in her effort to pay for breast implants. Co-starring Justin Timberlake and Jason Segel and directed by Jake Kasdan, this dark comedy offers a real alternative to robot movies.

Hey, it’s the last one…

On the rare chance you’ve been out of touch for the last 13 years, there’s been a phenomenon called ‘Harry Potter,’ first in the publishing world, and soon after in the movies. Now, after 10 years, and 8 movies from 7 books, the series is coming to a finale with “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2” in 3-D, on July 15th, 2011. It will be the first ‘Potter’ feature in 3-D ( last year’s ‘Hallows Part 1’ simply didn’t have time for the complicated 3-D re-tooling process and make its preset distribution date); as a result, expect enormous numbers for the final Harry Potter film. That is, unless series creator J.K. Rowling decides to pull another wizard out of a hat, so to speak…

So there is hope for fans of original cinema this summer. Just remember – diamonds are hard to find, too.  And, as with any good movie, they’re always formed under pressure…

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?”