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PITCH WORKSHOP: Entry #2

Hey, screenwriters—

Thought we’d take another look at one of the entries in the SCRIPT NOTES ONLINE PITCH WORKSHOP. Thanks to all of you who have submitted… and please—keep ‘em coming. I’m happy to hold off on moving to Phase 2 (paragraph descriptions) if more people want to post stuff.

Also, do me a favor—part of the workshop being a success is gaining feedback from readers. So please… check out the four loglines that have been posted, and give some feedback. Especially if you’ve posted an idea—take a few moments and help out your fellow writers!

In the mean time, here’s a quick look at Phillip Sevy’s movie pitch…

“A God-Fearing Man, a feature-length drama, follows Elijah and Karen, a middle-aged married couple, as they struggle to find meaning in their lives after a tragic small-town shooting forces them to question everything they know.”

WHAT I LIKE:
• It reads smoothly… we immediately know what it is (a movie), the title, and the names of the main characters… giving us simple, accessible touchstones to wrap our heads around.

• It’s rooted in a hugely relate-able (and timely) event… a shooting, death, personal loss. In other words, it’s ripe with pathos and humanity.

WHAT I’D WORK ON A BIT:
• Quite simply, I’m not sure what the story is. Elijah and Karen are clearly in a highly-charged emotional situation, but a story isn’t merely people emoting, it’s people wanting something tangible and taking solid actions to achieve it. And with Karen and Elijah, I’m not sure of either of those things. Here’s what I think it needs, Phillip…

A) I think we need to know a bit more about the shooting and how it affects Elijah and Karen personally and directly. Was their daughter killed in the shooting? Was their son the gunman? Did it happen at Karen’s office? Were they witnesses? A small-town shooting affects everyone, sure, but the more direct you can make this event to your main characters’ lives, the better. I won’t care as much about random citizens who live in the town as I will about the family or friends of those directly involved.

B) What do Elijah and Karen want? I know they want to “find meaning,” but this is pretty nebulous and intangible. Truthfully, everyone wants to find meaning in their lives; in a way, that’s what every story is about. As I talked about with E. Daniels’ pitch, these characters need "tangible wants"… specific, tangible things they’re working toward… that also reflect the emotional journey this tragedy has sent them on. Perhaps one of their children was killed in the shooting, so they set out on a road trip to reconnect with their other child. Perhaps their son has been wrongly accused of the shooting… and they want to prove his innocence. Maybe they somehow feel responsible for the shooting (perhaps they run a store that sold the murderer his weapon), so they want to make reparations to the families of everyone killed.

I usually think that every character has two simultaneous, compatible wants—the “tangible want,” or the physical thing they’re striving for, and the “emotional want,” which lies beneath and fuels the tangible want. For instance, in Almost Famous, young Will wants only one thing… TO PUBLISH AN ARTICLE IN ROLLING STONE. This is his tangible want; it’s physical, solid, attainable… he (and the audience) will know precisely when he accomplishes it. And it fuels everything he does. Every action Will takes is a step toward getting his article in Rolling Stone. BUT…

Beneath that want is his “emotional want,” which explains the tangible want. Emotional wants can be up for interpretation, but—in Almost Famous—I think Will wants to be taken seriously as a writer and an adult. And he believes that publishing a story in Rolling Stone will validate him as a grown-up. Of course, his journey teaches him that there’s more to being an adult than simply publishing magazine articles, but it’s these two hand-in-hand desires that drive the story.

You’ve given Elijah and Karen their emotional wants (although I think you can define them a bit more than just “finding meaning”… and this will come as you figure out who they were connected to the shooting), but giving them tangible wants will be a huge help.

C) Let us know what obstacles stand in the path of Elijah and Karen’s tangible wants… and what actions they must take to surmount them. For instance, maybe—like I suggested above—their son was killed in the shooting, so they now want to reconnect with their other child… but she’s been estranged for ten years… and lives across the country. So to reconnect with her, Karen and Elijah must road-trip from California to Florida to find their daughter and mend the relationship. Or maybe Karen and Elijah feel responsible for the shooting because they sold the gunman his rifle… so they want to throw a fundraiser for families of the victims. But Karen and Elijah have been the town misanthropes for years; no on likes them and no one wants their fundraiser, so Elijah and Karen must learn to become social, compassionate people… and go person-by-person, making amends to all the people they’ve hurt over the years.

So putting all this together—and this is not me rewriting your pitch, just creating examples—I’d love to see your logline look something like this…

“A God-Fearing Man, a feature-length drama, follows Elijah and Karen, a middle-aged married couple who has just lost their son in a shooting, as they journey cross-country to surprise their daughter… who’s been estranged for the last ten years.”

OR…

“A God-Fearing Man, a feature-length drama, follows a middle-aged married couple, Elijah and Karen, as they struggle to clear their son of shooting charges… and find he’s not the man they believed he was.”

Anyway, I hope that helps, Phillip. Thanks for posting… and please—everyone!—post some thoughts and comments to all the people who have been putting their ideas out there!

Chad

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