Thursday, July 7, 2011

Loglines, synopsis & screenplays

About ten years ago, I asked my then agent to read a screenplay from a friend. I rarely do this as most of the screenplays I get from friends are not really very good. I'm not talking about professional writer friends, of which I have very few, but of friends who aspire to write.

This particular friend had written a very good screenplay and I wanted to pass it along to my agent for possible representation. My agent said these following words, which tells you two things;  how the business was handled 10 years ago and how it's handled now.

He said this; "I know how hard it is for a writer to write a full screenplay, so the least I could do is read the first 3 pages."

The first 3 pages?

A few weeks ago I saw a listing on InkTip where a production company was looking for a screenplay that explained everything one needs to know about a blockbuster script. All in one sentence.

And if  you couldn't describe the actors, storyline, arc, genre, action beats and a few more things, then don't bother sending anything.

First of all, this indicates the type of producer you're dealing with, someone who thinks he/she will find the new William Goldman within that wide sea of wannabe writers. And there are a lot of them on InkTip. And judging from my own experience at UCLA for 2 and a  half years, 90% of them are lacking any ability whatsoever.

But the interesting part is this;  a long time ago in a place called Hollywood, it worked like this;  A new writer would have a good screenplay that he could show around to any agent or producer who would listen. If it was good writing, the writer would probably get an agent.

The agent in turn would say to the writer that it might take 6 months to a year to get the writer known in town. Then the agent would pass the writer's screenplay to a handful of producers who would give him honest opinions without prejudice, meaning it wouldn't harm the agent's street creds if they didn't like the screenplay.

If producers liked the script, they'd set up a meet 'n greet wherein the writer gets to go on the studio lot and talk with the development executive. Sometimes the top dog of that studio or company might "conveniently" drop by to say hi.

In that meeting, the writer would get his chance to pitch ideas. Sometimes they worked, sometimes not. Sometimes, like in my case, they got writing assignments.

But the point here is this; the executives read the full screenplay. Not a logline or synopsis. The entire 100 plus pages.

The most recent screenplay I wrote was finished two months ago and I thought it was pretty good. I've mentioned it, Christmas Carole, and I showed it to the agent who read the full screenplay and said he loved it. He really loved it.

In that same week, he passed the screenplay along to two major players in town. They read the screenplay within a day and said they loved it too. But as you may remember, they didn't like the cat.

No loglines or synopsis.

They read it.

What's the difference? Well, from past experience, I've learned that writers aren't always good at everything about writing. Some write great pitches but their screenplays aren't always good. Other writers, like me, are awful at pitches, but our writing is almost always good. A rare few can do both well.

Since then, two other producers have read the Christmas screenplay... without a logline or synopsis. Then, a new producer asked for a 1 pg synopsis.

I said read the script.

He said he didn't have time.

I said to call when he did have time.

Okay, you're saying that Jim is an arrogant jerk. I'm not. What I've learned through the years and have reflected on this blog is this; if someone isn't going to take the time to read your screenplay, they probably aren't going to like it.

In other words your 1 pg synopsis is more of a reason to turn you down. And I write awful synopsis' because it isn't writing, it's explaining what you wrote. I wish I was as good as those writers who do both, but I'm not.

And what these producers are saying is that I'm only as good as the worst writer they've ever encountered. I'm being relegated to the masses, all those wannabes out there are on the same level of playing field as me.

Which means 30 years of writing doesn't mean a thing.

But I don't really give a damn. Because the good producers, the ones who are sincere (or as sincere as a producer can be) will read my screenplays.

So there.