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PITCH WORKSHOP: Entry #7 Feedback

Hey, folks—

Today’s Pitch Workshop entry comes from Mary S., who sends in a logline for her feature romantic comedy. Take a look…

First of all—Mary, thank you so much for sending this in! Secondly, thanks to everyone who has already offered Mary their feedback and criticism… I hope it was helpful, Mary… and feel free to keep it coming!

And now, here’s Mary’s logline

"In the feature length romantic comedy, American Breakfast, a bi-cultural young Latino flees an unjust U.S. sentence and clears away the wreckage of his irresponsible past in a quirky coastal Mexican village where he finds love, acceptance and a new life."

And here are my thoughts…

WHAT I LIKE:

I think you’re starting from a great place, Mary, because your story has a wonderfully strong emotional arc. Stories about redemption can be incredibly powerful, and American Breakfast is very acutely about redemption. I think you’ve also done a nice job of setting up two different worlds to reflect your hero’s emotional journey; he travels from an unjust U.S. to an accepting Mexican village… just as he travels from irresponsibility to maturity—so some important touchstones of your story are already in place.

WHAT I’D WORK ON:
You’ve gotten some good feedback from readers so far… I think everyone’s dead-on when they say the logline needs more details. First of all, what’s the main character’s name? Giving him a name will help us humanize and relate to him. But even beyond that—it’d be nice to have some details to help illuminate the interesting parts of the logline. What was his unjust U.S. sentence (murder, robbery, terrorism, etc.)? Why was his past irresponsible… did he have a child out of wedlock? Leave his wife? Abandon his starving family? How does he flee the U.S.? Does he run away and escape? Does he serve his unjust sentence and bolt? Some fleshing out of these vague areas will help give the story the specificity it needs to come to life.

Having said that…

For me, there are two looming holes which beg the biggest questions…

HOLE #1: You say this is a romantic comedy, but—put most simply—WHERE'S THE ROMANCE?! Romantic comedies are never about just one person, they’re about a relationship… Harold and Maude’s May/December romance (Harold & Maude), Harry and Sally’s friendship (When Harry Met Sally), Ben and Alison’s fears and frustrations facing parenthood (Knocked Up). You wouldn’t pitch any of those movies by describing just one person… you’d illustrate each of those relationships, bringing it to life so your audience could understand it and—hopefully—see some reflection of their own life in it. So I’m not even sure it’s POSSIBLE to pitch a romantic comedy where the logline focuses on something other than the dynamic between two characters. Unfortunately, the American Breakfast logline doesn’t even MENTION another character—so I’m not sure how this is a romantic comedy at all. (That doesn’t mean it’s NOT a romantic comedy. Perhaps the logline needs to be revamped to focus on the romantic relationship at the core of the story, or perhaps it’s just mislabeled and it’s not a romantic comedy after all.)

Refocusing the logline on a relationship doesn’t mean you have to ditch the themes of redemption and justice you want to explore… it just means you need to study them through the lens of your story’s particular romance. Here, for instance, are a couple sample loglines that tell a similar story… but through a more romantic lens:

• When Mexican-American Carlos is framed for murder in Los Angeles, his only hope of escape is to entrust his life to an impulsive—and gorgeous—female bounty hunter who offers to return him to his Mexican village… as long as he will father her child.

• When Carlos, a petty pick-pocket, decides to hide out in a Mexican village to escape an unjust robbery sentence, he hopes to live under the radar forever… until Penelope, a headstrong political lobbyist, mistakes him for an old ‘60’s activist and convinces him to join her campaign.

I’m not saying either of those is good—or the story you want to tell—I’m just saying they each focus on a romance… you can see where the comedy will come from… and they don’t completely sacrifice the spirit or themes of the original.

(Having said that, maybe your script ISN’T ultimately meant to be a romantic-comedy—it’s just mislabeled—in which case I’d just remove the label.)

HOLE #2: I think the other big missing chunk here is… WE NEED TO MORE INFO ABOUT THE VILLAGE HE’S GOING TO. I know I say this a lot, but all stories—at their core—are about RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS… and if American Breakfast isn’t a traditional romantic comedy about a relationship between two people, it’s CERTAINLY about a relationship between your hero and this village.

For me, there are two ways to go with this, and while neither is better or worse, each path makes it a very different story. So is this village… A) your hero’s hometown, or is it B) a totally new place? Here’s the difference…

If the village is your hero’s hometown (like in Beautiful Girls or Ed), he’s returning to a place full of history and “ghosts,” where he already has relationships… and probably damaged relationships he never wanted to return to. American Breakfast then becomes a redemption story about a guy returning home to repair broken pieces of the life he’d left behind.

But if the village is a totally new place (like in Doc Hollywood, Northern Exposure, or Cars), it becomes a world that opens your hero’s eyes to new people, relationships, and opportunities. Only in this new land can he shed his “irresponsible” past and become the man he’s always wanted to be. In this case, American Breakfast becomes a redemption story about an outsider who—thanks to the magic of this special village—washes away the sins of his past to become a whole new person.

Neither of these story-paths is better than the other… but I think choosing one (or another one that I’m not thinking of right now) will help fill out your particular movie and help us understand your main character’s journey. (I’m also guessing you may know—somewhere in your head—exactly which village it is… it’s just not articulated in the logline. But if not… think about it; it’s an important question.)

Anyway, Mary—you’re off to a great start, and I hope this feedback is helpful!

Everyone else—if you have a logline or short synopsis you’d like to submit to the Script Notes Pitch Workshop, feel free to post it in any of the comments sections… or email it to WDScriptNotes@FWPubs.com. You ca
n also email me with thoughts, suggestions, or questions about writing, the industry, or anything else!

In the mean time, keep reading… we’ve got some cool stuff coming up: book reviews, movie reviews, reader questions, and more pitch submissions!

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