The Blacklist

The Blacklist came out this week and is, as always, an interesting read.  If you really want to have your finger on the pulse of what “they” are reading, liking, and ultimately producing, then the Blacklist is the ultimate read for any film industry professional.

What I am most happy to see on the list is not one, or two, but THREE zombie related flicks. “Maggie” is zombie movie about a girl coming to terms with her eventual zombification. “Bethlehem” is about human survivors that seek protection from vampires in a zombie infested world, and “Subject Zero” puts a new spin on a Frankenstein-like tale with a grieving father and his quest to bring his dead son back to life.

Not only am I excited to see each of these movies, when they are finally completed,  but I’m also excited because this news bodes well for me: the gatekeepers have not yet rolled up the drawbridge on this genre.

Another thing that shines a light in my direction is that two of the three seemed to be (at least from their loglines) character-driven scripts that deal with larger issues non-zombie issues.  Since THE ELEVENTH PLAGUE is most defiantly character-driven (but still action packed!) and delves into much darker places then a simple zombie apocalypse, I think the chances are good for me that someone will like my script… if I can get them to read it.

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The Query Letter Burden

Writing a query letter can be a daunting task.  One that I don’t relish one bit.  After all of the blood sweat and tears that have gone into the writing of my scripts you would think that a 3-4 paragraph letter would be a piece of cake; but I often find the query harder then the scripts themselves.

For me writing a script is an enjoyable outlet, a creative process funnelled into a structure.  I feel like the architect of a great skyscraper when working on a script.  When working on my query letter, I feel like the contractor hired to paint the offices in the skyscraper, after it has been built.  No offence to these hardworking contractors, but a great architect is not necessarily a great painter.

Writing a query letter encompasses a completely different set of skills then writing a script. Unless you have written many before (and had success) it can be down right impossible to know how to craft a coherent, to the point, and interest grabbing letter.  I personally never know exactly what information to include or what information to exclude.  Sure there are countless numbers of websites offering help, much of it contradicting, and almost all of it focused on format.

So how do I jump this query letter hurdle?  Why, a query letter service of course!  I have found a trusted source that will craft a custom query letter for me.  What a life saver!   There is nothing like the feeling of the query letter burden being lifted from my shoulders.  For a fee, I receive back a letter written by someone immersed in the industry, that has seen hundreds if not thousands of query letters themselves and written numbers as well.

Of course I would never just send out a query letter crafted by someone else because as talented as that person may be, they still have never met me, and quite possibly never read my scripts either.  I am however, able to use this letter as the foundation of the house I am about to renovate.


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Delving into Character Development (Part 4)

(Continued from Delving into Character Development – Part 3)

A big theme in the movie is that those chosen to be Green Lanterns must be without fear. When Hal is chosen by the ring it is because he has no fear, or so we assume, but at no point do we think that maybe he is truly afraid. Hal continues to act exactly the same, even when he is kidnapped by the ring and brought to another planet to meet aliens and learn about his powers.

After a brief training session where other characters complain that Hal is a human we reach that weak plot point where Hal gives up. After a short and not particularly powerful speech by a monster of some sort about Hal not having enough will,SS Hal agrees. What the hell? There has been no buildup and this really comes out of nowhere. Next Hal does not even bother to hide his secret he blurts out that he is afraid but continues to act exactly the same. I can’t tell a difference, can you? I’m sure you can’t, because this movie really sucks (but don’t worry, if you’re confused the other characters will tell you that he is different now).

Fast-forward to the end (don’t worry you’re not missing anything) and good old Hal must save the world (because we all secretly knew he was stronger then the rest of the well trained 3,000 or so other Green Lanterns) from the biggest enemy the universe has ever faced. Oh yes, and somewhere in there is the weakest love storyline I’ve seen in a long time, but I digress. Hal soldiers exactly on the same as before and saves the world (and the girl). While other characters remark that Hal “has changed” I can’t see it. He seems to me to be exactly the same boring character that we stared with. I will never get the time back in my life that I spent watching this stupid movie. Arg.

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Delving into Character Development (Part 3)

(Continued from Delving into Character Development – Part 3)

The Green Lantern is a great example of how to not develop your character (among it’s many other flaws). This movie is also that quintessential warning about too many cooks. Here we have 4 writers and zero substance. There is so little character development in fact that it is hard to care at all about the characters.

Hal Jordan is the hero of our story. An adrenaline junky with a chip on his shoulder; he is a hard living, irresponsible, fighter jet pilot working for a company that is contracted by the government. What should have been an exciting ride delving into the deep seated insecurities of Hal (much like Magneto of X-Men his parent was killed in front of him) and the paralyzing fear he hides with bravado we are instead faced with a boring family vacation in a car with no air-conditioning.

To start with, the way we learn about the death of Hal’s father is Hal’s freak-out while flying his plane that almost kills him and destroys the multimillion-dollar machine. My question while watching this scene is why is he freaking out all of a sudden? Is this a normal occurrence while he flies? Given this mans personality, and his nearly fatal car ride to work a few minutes earlier I can only assume that Hal is the type of guy with a death wish. Therefore I proposition that his plane tumbling groundwards is not only a regular occurrence, but nothing that should bring about the buried memories about his fathers tragic, plane related death. This is just a small example of how the rest of the movie will go. Oh boy.

Now even student screenwriters can tell you one of the cardinal rules of character development is to show, not tell. Show your audience that your character is secretly shaking in his boots and don’t tell us. Green Lantern does a good job at telling us everything. While in the beginning they did a good job at showing us that Hal is irresponsible and does not value his own life (and possibly the lives of those around him) they only tell us that this is because he is secretly afraid, and this comes out during as a weak plot point just thrown in there to push the story along.

(on to part 4)

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Delving into Character Development (Part 2)

CONTINUED FROM (Delving into character development – part 1)

Magneto grows from a loner of hardened emotions and deeply seated hurt to a man of responsibility with friends that he cares about. With the help of his best friend, Charles Xavier, he is even able to access some of the happy memories of his childhood and begin to heal the wounds of his past. Of course, what always makes a character like this is the fact that he is so like us, and just like us, although life is getting better, he can’t fully let go of his past and be happy. Magneto feels he must still avenge his mother’s death and despite it being a danger to his life, and the lives of those around him, he pursues this goal.

What I find most fun about the character arc of Magneto is the unexpected twist in the end (forget you read the comic books as a kid and just pretend you’re surprised like I did!) When if comes to the final showdown between Magneto and his arch nemesis you would expect Magneto to ultimately vanquish his foe and a happy ending should ensue. Instead, Magneto physically vanquishes his foe, but not before that very foe slashes wide open all of the old wounds that had just started to heal. This is just too much for Magneto and he falls over the ledge into the dark side. What’s even more fun about this is that this fall was foreshadowed throughout movie as discussion between Magneto and other characters grazed Magneto’s feelings about humans and their dangers to mutants.

In a final blow to Magneto we learn the truth behind the reason that Professor X is in a wheelchair. There we have it, the fully formed character of the very dangerous arch villain Magneto. What a great character. Although I have not given the movie justice, you get the idea. Of course there we other just as well developed characters in this movie, and the overall storyline was wonderful, but we only have time here to discuss one character from each movie. On to the (ack, barf, barf gag) Green Lantern.

(on to part 3!)

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Delving into Character Development (Part 1)

The other day I was flipping channels and came across X-Men Origins: Wolverine, released in 2009. It got me thinking about the most recent X-Men movie; X-Men: First Class and the topic of character development.

Today I would like to write a bit about character development in movies and use X-Men: First Class as an example of good character development. I will juxtaposition this example with a movie that came out around the same time, a movie that was awful all around, including the character development department: Green Lantern.

I must warn you SPOLIER ALERT, if you have not seen these movies don’t read any further.

Now also, a fair warning, this is a subject that gets me fired up and I go into detail to support my argument here, so this post will actually span several posts, just to keep the reading manageable. I will try to break up the posts at the most organic breaking points, but no promises.

Let us continue:

To me character development is one of my favorite things about movies. When it is done well it can make a mediocre story line better and a good storyline great. On the other side of the coin weak or badly done character development can ruin even the greatest story line. In X-Men: First class I found the character development that I so crave. In the Green Lantern I found character development so abysmal that a friend sitting next to me fell asleep in the theatre. Lets delve into both.

First, X-Men: First Class. I was worried going into this movie, given the history of X-Men movies and the fact there are 4 writers credited on this movie in addition to 2 people credited with story. This, I thought, would be the classic “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario that so often happens with studio movies. How wrong I was. I was plesently surprised and find myself looking forward to the next X-Men.

My favorite character in X-Men: First Class was Magneto. This character is the shining example of how to craft a character arc. Right off the bat the writer ensures that we are emotionally invested to the character. We see a young Magneto ripped away from his family during the horrors of World War Two. Trapped in a concentration camp, his mother is murdered in front of him so that his mutant powers can be harnessed and used as a weapon. When we see Magneto again as an adult we understand his mission in life (to kill the man that killed his mother) and we empathize with this situation.

(more to come!)

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