Wednesday, August 08, 2007

ScriptShark Coverage Faux Pas


Hey guys,

Today, just a quick interruption of our exposition study to share a review I posted last night of Ger's hilarious script,
Journey to the Island of Killer Dinosuars!, which was the latest Screenplay of the Month nominee on TriggerStreet. Although his script did not win (lost to Stephen Garvey's hilarious The Ten-Timer), Ger garnered some praise and generally high marks from ScriptShark including an "Excellent" rating for his dialogue.

Yet, there were some fairly thoughtless comments and "Needs Work" ratings in their their coverage that just... really irked me.

Hope you enjoy it.

-MM

-----------------------------------------

Let's Spank the Shark

FAUX PAS #1

"The screenwriting mechanics could use a bit of a polish. The sluglines on page 1 are in the correct format (i.e. EXT. OXFORD UNIVERSITY – DAY) but then are truncated so they only read 'CORRIDOR' or 'PRENDERGHAST’S OFFICE.' The correct formatting pops in every time the script moves to a new location, suggesting that the author merely doesn’t know that the full slugline needs to be used for every scene, regardless if several successive scenes are taking place in the same building. Other than that, the rest of the script seems to conform to industry standards."

Bwaaah ha ha ha ha ha ha WOO ha ha ha ha ha...

Are you kidding me?

Please, God, tell me that you guys ARE JUST KIDDING. Right?

First, let us assume that you already know quite well (and that I only have to write this for the sake of newbies on TriggerStreet) that the most accessible and widely-followed format book in the industry is Dave Trottier's Screenwriter's Bible (the newer 4th edition). Right? Because you reviewers, of all people, should know exactly what Ger was doing on page 1. With "CORRIDOR" and "PRENDERGHAST'S OFFICE," Ger's using a perfectly acceptable industry standard technique that we in the biz call "secondary slugs," a.k.a, "SECONDARY HEADINGS," which Trottier explains IN GREAT DETAIL. Go buy the book. You'll love it. Thus, if you have scenes taking place in the same building or the same general location, writers are quite FREE to use Secondary Headings as much as they like. Not only that, writers can use Secondary Headings for scenes taking place inside and outside that same building, too. Because if Trottier says it can be done, well, it CAN be done. Period.

Let me ask you - how would you handle multiple conversations taking place in different locations at the same party? Like, for example, the wedding reception at the beginning of The Godfather? Secondary Headings - BY THE BUFFET TABLE, ON THE STAGE, IN THE PARKING LOT, etc. How would you handle long tracking shots like the great ones we’ve seen in Stanley Kubrick’s films? Secondary Headings. (I love long tracking shots. There was always a point to Kubrick’s tracking shots, too, you know. Kubrick was, in essence, marrying his characters to their environment and saying, “Hey, look, these characters are products of their environment” or “They are being horribly affected by this environment.”) How would you handle the third act dogfight sequence in Top Gun? Start with EXT. BLUE SKY – DAY and then fill it with Secondary Headings - INSIDE MAVERICK'S TOMCAT, ABOVE THE SEA, INSIDE MIG TWO, etc.


Secondary Headings have had a long and treasured history in cinematic storytelling. There was Lawrence Kasdan with Raiders (I'll never forget those Secondary Headings in that famous opening sequence like "HALL OF SHADOWS" and "CHAMBER OF LIGHT" and "THE SANCTUARY" - didn't know those rooms had names, did you?). Spielberg also used them prolifically in Close Encounters. And there was Ted Tally with Silence of the Lambs (probably the most famous and chilling Secondary Heading in screenwriting history - "DR. LECTER'S CELL"). There was William Goldman with All the President's Men, and John Milius with Apocalypse Now, and Robert Towne with Chinatown, and Paul Schrader with Taxi Driver, and Randall Wallace with Braveheart, and Scott Frank with every script he's ever written but lately Minority Report and The Lookout, and of course, a classic - Herman J. Mankiewicz & Orson Welles with Citizen Kane.

Do I really need to go on?

And you probably knew this, too:

Secondary Headings are so popular right now amongst the pros that some ONLY write Secondary Headings and NO Master Scene Headings AT ALL. Like the Coen brothers. Fargo is one that comes to mind. Or take, for example, their latest script - No Country for Old Men. It's so downright minimalist without any primary slugs at all that it's just plain weird-looking. (I can't say I approve of this, but hey, they're writing for themselves nowadays.) I recently did a review of a Billy Mernit screenplay. (And you guys KNOW who Billy Mernit is, right? He's a published writer and pro reader at Universal.) I didn't mention this in the review, but he didn't use ANY primary slugs either. This is the trend. (Of course, this means nothing to us. We have to continue to follow industry standard format as outlined in Trottier's "Bible" and prove to all those intelligent industry people how well we understand how a screenplay FUNCTIONS. Once we become "established," THEN we can take a left turn at Albuquerque and do crazy things like not write any Master Scene Headings.)

But you guys already knew this because you're not out of touch with current trends, nor ignorant about format or the history of our craft.

Right?


FAUX PAS #2

It is high time someone with a wealth of script knowledge sat down to teach you reviewers when to use the "N/A" slot for a wide variety of subjects in that stupid chart at the top of your coverage, because it is beyond absurd that you would apply the same narrow principles to every story in every genre.

Why?

BECAUSE THOSE RULES DO NOT APPLY TO EVERY STORY!

Since when did protagonists have character arcs in slapstick comedies? Since when did Monty Python characters have arcs? How about Inspector Clouseau? The Marx Brothers? Abbott and Costello? Martin and Lewis? Chaplin?

The most you can hope for in slapstick comedies are characters who have “blind obsessions,” individuals who fail to see their own flaws or the dangers of their own ridiculous fixations. Got that? Blind obsessions. Ridiculous fixations. Moliere’s life-long career in the theatre was built on that one fundamental, lampooning the ridiculous fixations of the social elite. (And the actors would always play those characters seriously, as if they had no clue they were being ridiculous, and that had us rolling in the aisles.)

Consider the comedy-gold combination of the money-fixated Max Bialystock and the producer-fixated Leopold Bloom. Or Oscar Madison living with the germ-obsessed Felix Ungar. Or the war-fixated General “Buck” Turgidson in Dr. Strangelove. Or the sex-obsessed teens in countless movies. Or any of a number of Woody Allen characters. And Inspector Clouseau was obsessed about being the greatest detective in the world but it never occurred to him that he was always the dumbest man in the room. He fumbled his way into foiling the plans of countless bad guys without ever realizing what actually happened. Then he’d get decorated with honors for his brilliance, and that, my friends, was the big cosmic joke. The moment truth gets revealed, the moment Clouseau realizes he has flaws in his personality and that he needs to change (thereby giving his character an “arc”) will be the very same moment the comedy will die.

And thus, in the latest Steve Martin / Pink Panther incarnation, we had a failure of colossal proportions, because Inspector Clouseau gets outed in the media as the bumbling idiot he always was, he actually REALIZES that he IS a bumbling idiot, he APOLOGIZES to different people if he made them look silly, and then he SOLVES the big case thereby proving to the world that he is, in fact, a brilliant detective.

Blasphemous.

Question - can protags in slapstick comedies have arcs? Yes. Is it essential that every protag in every comedy has an arc? ABSOLUTELY NOT. And that's ESPECIALLY true if those comedies are within a franchise, which is exactly what Ger is writing.

The point is this - many of these kids work long and hard (sometimes years) studying their genres and getting their scripts right and there is no excuse for being ignorant about their genres in your coverage. At all. And there is absolutely no excuse for being wrong about format when you could easily look it up. You owe it to them to give them the kind of thoughtful analysis they really deserve.

25 comments:

Joshua James said...

Just totally frackin' awesome, this whole post.

Really.

Mystery Man said...

Thanks, man. People seem to like it when I get pissed.

-MM

Mim said...

We can't speak freely on the message boards because Dana has gone to great lengths so that we can have access to free professional coverage. But many of us have questioned why the readers at Script Shark would make some of the comments they do.

On the one hand, Dana has done us a great favor to get the coverage, but on the other, some of us can't use the coverage because the readers seem to miss the point of the script.

Do you think the coverage truly is a reflection of experience and that some of our scripts just won't appeal to enough people? Or are the readers in HW so out of touch with what audiences do want that they're trying to find "the same old stuff?"

There are some very popular scripts on TS that didn't do so well with the Script Shark readers. Is it because the TS writers represent a very different cross-section of the typical American audience? Or is it because HW just doesn't recognize that these could be truly remarkable movies?

The Moviequill said...

That sure showed that "reader's" lack of real world education and someone stuck in the age old beginner instructional writing books.

SIDEBAR

Can I use that awesome photo of the scripts as my new posting icon?

Mystery Man said...

Todd - What's mine is yours, man.

Mim - The thing is, in HW like everywhere else in the world, it all depends upon who you're dealing with and how smart they are. At the same time, you have to get accustomed to the fact that, as a screenwriter, you'll have to do a lot of explaining to people who may not be as knowledged as you about a particular genre, and there's nothing wrong with that. Concurrently, I think there ARE some really smart readers at ScriptShark who have been spot on in their coverage, but who will hold the readers accountable when they're so grossly off base? They're cocooned in their own environment thinking that everything they write and think is correct, which isn't always the case. The entire process is wrong.

crossword said...

Ggggrrrr... I'm finding more & more that I have to bite my tongue whenever reading AM's coverage on SS.

To paraphrase what Mim said, it doesn't pay to say anything on the MB because it may not be seen in the spirit to which it was intended.

But if I were paying to hear that, I'd be fricking livid. And I know SS allows you to get a group analysis (to even things out) but that costs extra $$$...

But in any event. All great points MM.

Joshua James said...

to which, I'd have to ask, why even post a script on Script Shark and / or Trigger?

I know one can get good feedback, but I also know some producers are very skittish about how many people have seen a script, etc . . .

Other than feedback, what's a good reason to share a script on a public site?

Mystery Man said...

Hey, you might get a review from ME!

Hehehe...

Lots of free feedback from other devoted students of the craft. You really learn where your weaknesses lie. So long as you have your work copyrighted, you're okay. Hey, Mickey Lee will print up your script, write corrections all over it, scan it, and email it back to you!

-MM

Mickey Lee said...

Couple of possibilities....

1) AM (she's a woman, right? I heard she had taken maternity leave at some point) is another jaded reader who's looking for reasons to torpedo a script. It just seems unlikely that in the two or so years they've been doing this service, they haven't found ONE idea worth passing along to the powers-that-be;

2) AM is the low person on the totem pole at SS. This seems logical. Considering that SS charges big bucks for coverage, it only makes sense they'd give the freebies to the intern/ part-timer/ whatever; or

3) Not everyone aspires to screenwriting excellence like we, the standard-bearers of the Screenwriting Revolution! We must pity these Antoinettes, really. They'll never see it coming!

Let them eat Secondary Headings.

Joshua James said...

MM, I'd be secure to show you work, work in progress or even work already optioned or bought . . .

And I think it's very important to get feedback, especially informed feedback . . .

But don't you run into the exposure thing? I hear about that all the time . . . the current project I'm on, I'm not allowed to show ANYONE, lest it leak out . . .

Producers are very leery of stuff that too many folks have seen, I've been told . . .

Listen, it's just what I've heard . . . I'm definitely open to other views . . . I've long considered logging a script or two on, just to see what happens . . .

Whatta think?

Anonymous said...

I have to say I was very happy with the Scriptshark coverage. The comment about secondary slugs was baffling, as was the generally negative coverage of my fellow SOMminee "Checking Out Nana", which I considered to be far superior; but the written comments about the third acts' problems (abrupt ending etc) rang true to me. I am rewriting the script accordingly and am very pleased with the results.

The crosses in the "Needs work" part of the grid I took with a pinch of salt. The written comments didn't criticise the characters (for example) so I assume it was the absence of a N/A box that got the "character has an arc" a "Needs work."

Maybe Goldman is right, nobody knows anything, and it all comes down to luck.

Ger

bob said...

Well I was generally happy with my scriptshark coverage for fr. max. The technical issues were mostly right ( I think I had already covered them thanks to MM's help). The only comment I found somewhat frustrating was the blanket statement that period pieced aren't selling and that's why it cant be considered.

I tell you though, I'd pay for MM to cover one of my scripts before SS, just cuz he's damn good. (you didn't see that MM!!!) I'm just thrilled he offers his help to us folks trying to learn the craft and art of scriptwriting.

Mim said...

Joshua, you've been working in the world of plays, and getting paid for it.

First, we're not working on assignment. We're trying to get people to look at our stuff. If you get an assignment and the producer specifically tells you not to consult with outside sources, well, you have a paycheck riding on that. Unfortunately for us, we're not getting paid, or asked to write.

Second, I've heard several times of the little screenplay that could. HW is full of stories about the script that everybody read and either couldn't find the time, the money, or the inclination to make until somebody finally worked it into a project and then into a major blockbuster. Unless the script has been commissioned and, again, there's a no-speak clause in the contract, it usually doesn't matter if every other producer in town has looked at a script. In HW, if it's a spec script (non-commissioned), you can pretty much bet that everybody has seen it. Whether or not they've deigned to read it is another story.

Can you give me an amen to this, MM?

Joshua James said...

Fair enough, mim, tho' I'd add I'm really a complete wet-behind the ears rookie when it comes to screenplays . . . I've written ten or twelve, at least six or so I wouldn't be ashamed to show . . . and a couple I don't even own anymore . . .

I mention that aside simply because it is what I've heard . . . who's seen this, how exposed is it, not simply from producer-types, but from agent-types . . . I'm not pretendin' to know everything, which is why I ask, ya know?

I am frankly really into the unknown territory when it comes to script shark and / or trigger . . . and I ask regarding the public thing simply 'cause it seems to be an issue for them . . .

Me, I'm up for it, I'll put my game up for scrutiny . . .

Joshua James said...

Oops, I met to say I'm NOT a complete wet-behind the ears rook . . . of course, by dint of that typo, I demonstrated I still pretty damn close to being one - LOL!

James said...

I've been living in a cave for the past two months. Glad to come back to a post like this.

Thomas Mankiewicz was a mentor of mine. He used to say:

"When a man gives you a busines card that says he is a plumber, you know you can count on him to fix your pipes. When a man gives you his WGA card, you don't know what the fuck you are going to get."

I added the colorful language. Tom is more of a gentleman than I.

This was something his father told him over 1/2 a century ago. I think it has actually gotten worse.

Self proclaimed critics and screenwriting gurus that are basing their experience on one of the many screenwriting books they have read ... rather than practical actual ability, talent and experience.

The heirarchy of Hollywood reinforces this. The most important opinion is that first reader. Ironically the person who is the least talented, with the least amount of experience, getting paid the least amount of money.

And you wonder why so much crap makes it to the big screen...

The first row of defense reads too many books on screenwriting and do not understand the innate nature of story.

David said...

[quote]Maybe Goldman is right, nobody knows anything[/quote]

Actually, Ger, Goldman said nobody knows NOTHING. Thereby proving the old adage "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing."

Joshua James said...

And if Nobody knows nothin', why are we even listening to Goldman - LOL!

Mystery Man said...

Well, let me say that there ARE some truly talented readers. In fact, I plan to pay for Billy Mernit's consultation services (he won't know it's me, though) just because he really knows his stuff.

ScriptShark's given many TS writers some (not perfect but) truly great coverage over the years. It just depends upon the reader and how skilled that reader is. Same goes for readers at prod co's and studio's. Everything all depends upon the individual. Like they say, it's a big numbers game.

With respect to Joshua's question, I'll give Mim a big "amen." There may be some who want to keep certain productions a secret (I've never seen it) but it's really impossible keeping productions secret in HW. Scripts always get passed around from place to place (even with famous writers) and sales get published in a variety of places. Now keeping details about a script secret, well, that's crucial.

Hope that helps,
-MM

Mim said...

As far as Script Shark and Triggerstreet, they are two completely different things.

Dana set up Triggerstreet as a forum where hopeful film-makers and screenwriters could get together, critique each other's work, and hopefully make industry contacts.

We earn points by doing reviews and then use those points to get reviews of our own work. During the process, we share tips about the mechanics of writing and also information about what's going on in the industry. Since there are some members who are very active in HW and/or have sold work, there is a lot of good information on the site.

Script Shark is a reading service that charges for its services. It's industry-based and all the readers work for hire. They do not give out tips and hints. They don't help.

Triggerstreet is a community. Script Shark is a service.

Anonymous said...

Hey!...

There was a N/A section!!

Gerrrrrr

Joshua James said...

See, this is why I ask questions!

That's what I want to know re the two things.

I mean, my ex-agent always went on and on about exposure, but she was wrong about other things, too. Why I left her, heh.

I don't really pay for coverage, not unless I know the person and trust their viewpoint (as per MM's point about Billy) . . . I've done so once, paid for feedback, and while I got some good feedback, it wasn't more or less than what I've gotten for free from people I know in the biz . . .

So I wished to post a script on Trigger, I have to first agree to review a couple of other people's scripts, is that how it works?

I might give that a shot -

Have either Trigger or SS led to a script getting made?

Mystery Man said...

Hey, don't post that script yet! I'm almost done with my review. (SO sorry for the delay!)

The thing with TS (for me) is more about personal growth as a writer (and help with revisions) than exposure. A writer needs good writer friends who can provide objective feedback and that's what the community is about. It gets you ready for future exposure. And a review from me just isn't enough. I would prefer to have reviews from a wide variety of people including Mim, Mickey Lee, David, Bob, and quite a few others. They're really insightful and they think of things even I don't think of. Given enough time and enough reviews, you'll know exactly where your weaknesses lie.

With respect to your question, Ger got discovered through TS. ScriptShark has embraced a few SOMs and send them onto to industry people. I know a guy who got an offer from a Bollywood producer. Hehehe... That still makes me laugh.

I don't know. Hope that helps.

-MM

Joshua James said...

Absolutely, information is always golden . . .

Mystery Man said...

By the way, here's the 3-act structure for a slapstick comedy:

Funny
Funnier
Funniest

Period. There's little room for arcs in protags when you're shooting for the moon in laughter.

Just had to share that.

Thanks.

-MM