PITCH WORKSHOP: ENTRY 4

Hey, everyone—

Today’s submission to the Script Notes Pitch Workshop comes from Scott, who submits loglines for two feature ideas.  So before we dive in… Scott—thank you so much for sending these!  The Pitch Workshop is one of my favorite parts of doing this blog, and I always wish people would use it more.  So A) I really appreciate you submitting, and B) I hope this feedback—and the feedback you get from other readers—is helpful as you develop these ideas!

Having said that, let’s get started!  Here are Scott’s loglines…

1) THE SPITCHCOCKS, a feature comedy, is about four friends who form a famous rock band who implode in the most spectacular way. Now they must reunite for the biggest gig of their life.

2) THE DEVIL’S MONEY, a feature crime drama, is about corrupt Mexican police forces who battle during the search for a kidnapped teenager.

Now, normally, I like to look at different ideas separately, but today I want to look at these together, because I think they both have very similar strengths and weaknesses.

STRENGTHS:
One of the best things about both ideas is their strong sense of the “kind of movie” they want to be.  While each is just a logline with few details, I get a definite feel for each film… it’s like I can see snippets of each movie or their trailers… and I also get the sense that Scott, the writer, see much more of the canvas on which these stories are painted.  And that’s a great place for Scott to start from.

WEAKNESSES:
Firstly, Scott– while both these ideas have great “backdrops,” I’m not sure what the actual STORIES are.  Story comes from a main character (or characters) having an incredibly strong WANT that forces him to take ACTION… and that action places him in conflict with OBSTACLES he must conquer or navigate.  And unfortunately, neither logline details a main character(s), what he/she wants, specific courses of action, or any tangible obstacles the hero might encounter.

Secondly—or maybe hand in hand—the loglines—while good at conveying a “sense of spirit”—are written in such broad generics (“the most spectacular way,” “the biggest gig of their life”) that while I believe YOU have a strong sense of these worlds, it’s tough for me to share in it.  I see MY version of “most spectacular way” and “biggest gig of their life,” but I’m not really sure if my own imagination’s versions are accurate to your vision and story.  And your job, as a writer, is to communicate your own specific vision, not necessarily entice me with what MY vision could be.

So…

SUGGESTIONS TO STRENGTHEN THESE:

1)  IDENTIFY YOUR MAIN CHARACTERS.  Does The Spitchcocks revolve around Larry, the band’s former lead singer, who wants to help his bandmates heal their animosity so they can reunite for one last enormous gig?  Is it about the drummer, Razor, who wants the band to play a charity concert to raise money for his baby’s life-saving surgery?  Or is it a straight-up ensemble piece… in which you identify the main characters as a unit?  For instance, are they now mid-forties, middle class suburban parents who must suddenly juggle day-jobs and parenting as they attempt to get in shape for a new tour?  Or are they poor late-twenties singles who broke up after a violent falling out?  Are they Midwestern bumpkins who somehow succeeded as a rap band—The Tractor Pulls—in the big city?  Or are they former hair metal rockers now out of place in a hip-hop world?  

Paint a picture of these guys so we can not only see them visually, but we “see” them emotionally and understand how the world looks to them.

The same goes for The Devil’s Money.  Does this story follow one particular cop, like Eric, a righteous cop trying to find a missing child amidst a city run by corruption?  Does it follow Charlie, the kidnapped kid’s father, desperately trying to work with corrupt officials to rescue his son?  Or is it an ensemble piece about District Battalion 89, the most corrupt police force in Mexico City, that must pull together to save this one particular kid?

Whether the story follows one person or a group, giving them a name and a few words of description will help us connect to them.

2)  WHAT DOES THIS MAIN CHARACTER WANT?  I hinted at this above—and specifying his want will also help flesh out your main character—but let us know exactly what your protagonist wants… both “tangibly” and “emotionally.”  Perhaps Norman, your main character in The Spitchcocks, wants to reunite his band so he can win the heart of his true love… a girl who used to be the world’s biggest Spitchcocks fan.  That may not be the story you want to tell, but it DOES give a sense of what Norman wants “tangibly”—A) a girl, and B) to reunite the band—and it lets us know what he wants “emotionally”… true love.  We understand how this onjective will drive Norman to action… and, because it has an emotional engine (we all understand the desire for true love), it allows us to invest emotionally in Norman’s quest.

Similarly, in The Devil’s Money, does your main character simply want to find the missing kid?  Or is your main character Carlos, a police chief who wants to rid his force of corruption… and their newest case—the missing kid—is the one he’s determined to use to rid his force of evil?  Or is your main character Jules, the kid who’s been kidnapped, and he desperately wants to be rescued… but learns the corrupt police force itself is behind his capture?

Whatever you decide for each story, knowing—and articulating—your characters’ wants is the engine that drives the narrative.  Put it up front, big and bold, in both your logline and your actual script.  Without it, the rest of your script is much less effective; but let your audience understand and relate to your hero’s want, and you’ve already taken a huge step toward constructing a successful story.

3)  SPECIFY THE EXACT ACTIONS YOUR MAIN CHARACTER(S) MUST TAKE TO ACCOMPLISH HIS/HER WANT.  The Spitchcocks, for instance, is about a band reuniting… so what tangible actions must be taken for this to succeed?  Do the band members live in different countries, so Hank, the frontman, but physically travel the globe in order to gather them all?  Is the lead singer in jail for pot possession… so your lead character—Toby, the bassist—must break him out and get him to the gig before he’s re-arrested?

In The Devil’s Money, you mention that corrupt cops are searching for a kidnapped kid… and there’s also a war between cops.  While I’m not sure which is your “A-story,” I think this will clear up when you pinpoint your main character’s want.  If the objective is to find the kid, what actions does this entail?  Do they have five internal suspects the main cop, Pepe, must interview, opening a world of corruption and scandal in Pepe’s own department?  Or must Pepe and his partner, Ricky, search for the missing child in Mexico’s dangerous and seedy underworld, which is more (or less) corrupt than the police force itself?

4)  WHAT IS YOUR HERO’S MAIN OBSTACLE?  Like identifying your characters’ wants and actions, we also need to know exactly what is preventing your main character(s) fro
m succeeding.  Why can’t The Spitchcocks simply reunite?  Even if they now live on different continents, why can’t they just hop on a plane and get back together?  What is preventing their actions from accomplishing their goal?  Did the Spitchcocks break up over soapy and unresolved sexual/romantic tensions?  Do they have different artistic visions that constantly cause them to fight?  Does one of them have amnesia that has wiped his memory of all the songs?  

Likewise, how does a battle between corrupt cops interfere with them finding a missing kid?  Are the cops lazy and refuse to work?  Is this the child of an enemy faction’s chief, so the other cops refuse to look for him/her?  Do they not want to find this child because he possesses valuable information that could reveal and punish certain corrupt cops?

Whatever you decide, your obstacle needs to be large and dramatic enough that we immediately understand how it will impede our hero’s journey.  Like your character’s want, the best obstacles aren’t just “tangible” obstacles, they’re also are also “emotional” obstacles, forcing the character to confront something in his/her relationships with other people.  

For example, the reuniting Spitchcocks could be faced with the obstacle that they all live on different continents.  This is, obviously, a huge challenge to their reunion.  But it’s a STRONGER challenge if they live on those different continents because ten years ago, when they were together as a band, the lead singer, Jorge, married the drummer, Carrie, and had an affair with the bassist, Vince.

Lastly, Scott…

5)  AVOID WRITING IN GENERICS LIKE “MOST SPECTACULAR WAY” AND “BIGGEST GIG OF THEIR LIFE.”  Although loglines must use words sparingly, they must also be the right words to communicate your story accurately and with detail.  “Biggest gig of their life” may mean one thing to one reader… and an entirely different thing to another reader.  And what’s most important is that your reader understands what those moments mean to YOU.

Having said that, it doesn’t matter exactly what the Spitchcocks’ “biggest gig” is… or how “spectacularly” the Spitchcocks implode… as long as it’s the biggest “EMOTIONAL” gig of their life and the most “EMOTIONALLY” spectacular implosion they could have.  

For example, you could argue that the “biggest gig of their life” is that they’ve been invited to open for U2 for ONE NIGHT ONLY (the normal opener is out sick), and if it goes well, it could re-launch their career.  This could obviously be “the biggest gig of their life.”  

OR… “the biggest gig of their life” could be this: the lead singer Barry’s daughter is dying, and Barry doesn’t have the money for her surgery… so he reunites the band for a charity concert to raise $500,000 and save his child’s life.  This could also be the “biggest gig of his life.”  And—frankly—it may even be “bigger,” because the stakes are higher.

OR… perhaps The Spitchcocks is a wonky sci-fi comedy, and the band has been kidnapped by an alien race that tells them: “You have 24 hours to put together a concert of entirely new material… or we’ll destroy the planet Earth.”  Silly, I know—but with the right tone it could work… and THAT is certainly the “biggest gig of their life.”

What this basically boils down to, Scott, is your story’s STAKES (what your characters stand to lose if they fail in their quests)… and deciding/understanding what they are.  Once you know that, those are the specifics to plug into the vague holes left by “most spectacular way” and “biggest gig of their life.”

Anyway, Scott, I hope this is helpful!  Feel free to play, shape, mold, rework, tweak, polish… and resubmit.  

In the mean time, if other readers have loglines or summaries for the Script Notes Pitch Workshop, feel free to post them here, or shoot me an email at WDScriptNotes@FWPubs.com.

In the mean time, keep reading… we have some great posts coming up.  We’ll have more Pitch Workshop submissions… we’ll talk about how to protect your work… we’ll help the American Idol writers earn fair pay, residuals, and health benefits… we’ll have book reviews… and much, much more!

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2 thoughts on “PITCH WORKSHOP: ENTRY 4

  1. Tanya

    You must have re-trained my brain already Chad because before I even read your response, I thought the loglines had awesome ideas, but I kept thinking, "but what’s it really about?" 😀

    Anyway, Scott – I love both of the ideas you communicate in your loglines. I can picture each playing out on the screen, and I really get a feel for the genres (a comedy like that has the potential to be really funny). Though I do agree that you should weave more of the story into the loglines so we get a feel for the characters as well as the settings. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint everything to include in a logline – it shouldn’t be so jam-packed with information that the reader gets lost, but it should give the reader as clear an idea as possible of the movie’s intentions. I also have trouble sometimes with what to include (I tend to over-write myself), but I guess the key is to just find a happy medium. 🙂

  2. Scott

    Wow, thank you so much for all your help. You are completely right, I know what the story is about but I have not explained that. I think i just found it so hard to distill my ideas into one or two sentences that I end up just writing generic lines.

    Should I expand them a bit beyond two sentences? Or should I focus more on keeping it short but packing more information in? I could write a paragraph which would be a lot simpler and easier to read, but I dont want to write too much.

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