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The Next Thing I Write
Posted 08 January 2020 - 06:46 PM
So I am back at work-- not on the script I started pages back, but on the pitch for Ouija. For legal reasons I can't document anything I am doing here, I probably shouldn't have even let the cat out of the bag when I don't even have the job yet.
While I can't post my actual work, I can talk about my process on pitches.
Pitches are both the bane of my existence, and at the same time the most important part of what I do. Technically, I can write whatever the hell I want. But we live in a world where even a small movie could cost millions of dollars unless you're going 100% indy. Shadowdog isn't around here anymore to talk about the indy side-- but here's the basic pro/con of indie vs. Hollywood.
With Indie films you can do whatever you want to some extent. But you need money. If you're not working with unions you can pay people in cupcakes. You can house your crew at your grandma's place. It's the wild west. Things cost considerably less... BUT they still cost. I have tons of friends making indie films that look great. They found money (somehow) and just went out and MADE them. That's not as easy as it sounds, and the less you spend, the more it shows. The big downside is once you finish it, it is insanely hard to get the movie seen/distributed, and making a profit is nigh impossible.
With Hollywood movies, you have more assurances-- the unions make sure everyone is paid what they deserve to be paid, and the quality goes up considerably... but that of course means the cost swells to very high dollar amounts. And with big money, comes less freedom. Whomever is paying is the boss. There's maybe 5 guys in Hollywood who can do what they want-- Speilberg, Tarrantino, Nolan, Tyler Perry, and Woody Allen. Of those 5, only Speilberg and Nolan work with traditional studios. Tarrantino, Allen, and Perry are basically mega independent filmmakers. They do their specific thing, and it never fails to make money, so studios give them carte blanche. I've talked about this before and I used to put Abrams on this list-- but after seeing TROS, that's clearly no longer true. Hell, even Scorsese and David Lynch have to fight to get their things made.
ANYWAY, point is-- while I can sit here and write whatever I want, if I want to make money, I have to take writing assignments. Most screenwriters work via three different job types-- you sell specs, you take writing assignments, you staff on a TV show. Obviously, there's various iterations of these three job types, but selling specs is hard, TV jobs are very competitive, and writing assignments are both... yet it's also the form most opportunity comes in.
OWAs (open writing assignments) are projects that studios and/or production companies are developing that need writers. I may have said this before, but the days of producers needing scripts/ideas to come their way is long over. Most film projects are based on acquired IP, internally developed concepts, or pitches from other writers that were bought, but for whatever reason, those writers were not hired to write them.
Basically, when a studio has an OWA, they go out to somewhere between 6-12 writers and ask for a take. As in, "what's your take on this material?" The potential writer is given whatever existing material there is, and there's usually a call or meeting where they tell you the background and what they are NOT looking for.
Then it's a bake-off, with each writer cooking up their take on the project and going in to pitch it to whatever development VPs is in charge. The pitch is just that-- the writer goes in and tells them what they want to write.
That simple act can be done a million different ways. Some writers will write treatments and go in and read them. Some will just come up with the sign posts, and go in with a full tilt happy-rant like a used car salesman. The WGA, and most reps, don't want you doing too much work ahead of time. The WGA feels especially strong about actually making any sort of document. If you do, they definitely don't want you leaving it behind. But the thing is-- the person who gets the job is going to be the one who has not just the best take, but also shows the most confidence in their take... and like any other job interview, it's a crazy test to make sure they want to work with you. Point being-- how much work to do, and how much of said work you want to show off in the meeting is something no one agrees on.
I personally HATE the idea of going in and reading off a piece of paper. I know people who do it, and some of them have gotten jobs, but I think it is WAY better if you don't. When I go in, I have my pitch memorized. I also crank my extrovert settings to max and I look people in the eye (ugh) and I try to be funny, animated, and personable.
As for the amount of work-- it varies on the project. If I am pitching an original TV show, I do everything ahead of time-- bible, mood boards, outlines, plot synopses... I go in able to tell them a season's worth of TV. For an original feature, I most likely have already written it, so I can just talk through it.
For a feature OWA I basically work up a light treatment. Basically-- if you looked back at the first few pages of this thread you can see how I just sat down and started listing out ideas and images and concepts that I came up, and slowly put them in the shape of a basic 3 act structure with the usual movie beats. With that one, being an original project, I was just pulling ideas out of my ass and applying them to a concept I felt worked.
In this case, I don't have much in the way of marching orders other than "don't do what the other movies did." I know what has to be at the center of it (the Oujia board obv), but story wise it's wide open. My one other prompt, I can't really say, but it was what got my foot in the door to begin with in the kick off call. I threw out a "what if" that they really responded too. So now I have to make that what if happen.
One other detail-- the studio thinks there needs to be a villain to make an icon out of. It's a little odd in that the Oujia board itself is a brand-- but turns out when you base movies on board games, they don't quite have a life of their own. They want a Freddy or Jason. My first task has been coming up with THAT figure. My second task is figuring out how to marry that character to the board with it seeming extraneous. It's a little tricky. It's like saying you want a haunted house movie, but a slasher lives in the haunted house.
Where I am at the moment is refining that monster, deciding how it ties to the board, and brainstorming moments and scary beats in that scenario and just making my document o' ideas.
Next step is to try and order those ideas and connect them. Once I have my basic one-sheet that I like to do, I will flesh it out just enough so that if I were to talk somebody through it, it would take about 25 minutes and they will be excited at the end.
- Jacen123 +1 this