InkTip Loglines

August 13, 2012

My favorite loglines from this month’s issue of InkTip magazine:

  • Coal for Christmas (Family feature by Lois Wickstrom and Jean Lorrah) – A young boy fears his baby sister will die of pneumonia in their freezing home, so he tries to be bad enough to force Santa to bring him whole load of coal for Christmas.
  • Dead Again (1/2 hour comedy pilot by Agata Darlasi and Angelo Kyritsis) – An arrogant executive is cursed to die every day at 10:47 pm in ridiculous ways.
  • Military Disco (Comedy feature by Patrick Connelly) – Two privates try to get themselves kicked out of the Army by pretending they’re gay and starting a dance club, but their plan backfires when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and the military leadership sees it as an opportunity to bolster recruitment.
  • Repatriation (Drama by Janelle Dessaint Kimura) – An American photographer in Tokyo is forced to leave her Japanese husband behind when world governments methodically join together to repatriate all citizens to their country of racial origin, creating an artificial “post racial” world. She risks everything to circumvent the new world order to raise her children in a diverse, secure location.
  • In Search of Cyndi (Romantic Comedy by Ben Espin) – On a frigid beach, two wayward teenagers discover a severed, frozen foot wearing a gold anklet with “Cyndi” engraved on it. The boys embark on a comical but heartfelt search to match this unusual “glass slipper” with its Cinderella. Happily ever after has never been so – awkward.
  • The Zamboni Driver (Comedy by Scott Teel) – Sick of watching losing sports stars earn outrageous salaries, a fed-up, underpaid NHL Zamboni driver requests a $5 million contract. He loses his job, but not before he becomes a media sensation, inspiration to the home team’s players, and hero to millions in the working class.
  • The Sleep Traveller (Sci-Fi feature by Faye Stergioula) – In an attempt to find out who ran him over, a cripple resorts to hypnosis. When the amateur hypnotist asks him to avoid the car, he does it – and wakes up able-bodied!
  • Charisma (Suspense feature by Sean Lisik, and not the same as the script by the same name I wrote several years ago) – Ninety-nine percent of the world’s serial killers are male. “Charisma,” displays the manipulative, seductive differences of the exception.
  • The Healing Gland (Suspense feature by George Gaio Mano) – An accident reveals that a man carries a cure for cancer in his body. Unfortunately, removing the cure from his body will kill him, and that is what everybody wants to do.

This, of course, doesn’t include the logline for Postville, which also happens to appear in this month’s issue. 🙂


Screenplay Competition Tips for Success

September 11, 2011
In honor of finishing reading scripts for the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Contest:
  1. Pick the right genre. Seriously, it seems like at least half the scripts I see are period dramas. Looking back and counting, I realize it’s not even close to half, but stories that take place in the past are difficult to sell, because only a certain type of person is really interested in that story. The chances are low that your reader will be a fan of period dramas, so you could be hurting yourself a whole lot with that.
  2. Lose the stop signs at the beginning of the script. If the first two pages of your script are less than 50% dialogue, rewrite it. Scene description is much harder to follow, and it’s less interesting to the reader. While stylized silence may be great at the start of a movie, at the start of a screenplay, it’s just annoying.
  3. Pick a great title. It’s amazing how many titles give you no indication of what the film is about. But when I see a title like, for example, “Lucy Goes Ballistic” or “No One Gets Out of Here Alive,” I’m immediately intrigued. Definitely something to elevate.
  4. Put the logline on your title page. I actually don’t know if you’re even “allowed” to do this. I know a lot of contests have really strict rules about what goes on the title page. All I know is that when I’m fishing around for scripts to read, when I see one with the logline on the cover, I read the logline, and if it interests me, I pick it up, and if not, I don’t. Logically, the person who reads your script, therefore, is much more likely to already be interested in it when they start.
  5. The bookends are the most important part. The first 15 pages are the most important of your script. Make sure those are amazing. The last 30 pages are the second most important. Make sure those are amazing, too. That way, even if your second act is a little weaker, you’ll at least be setting a good tone to start, and finishing on a strong note.

Effective Flashbacks RESPONSE from Michael Hauge

March 31, 2010

A few days ago I posted a response to Michael Hauge’s article on flashbacks. I also e-mailed him that post and invited him to respond, and he was kind enough to do so. Here is his answer:

I appreciate David’s kind words about my article on using flashbacks in your screenplay. But since he challenged some of my statements, I thought I’d better clarify what I said.

My intent with the article was to identify the various forms flashbacks can take, in order to give writers a better understanding of this device, and when it might be appropriate. When, at the conclusion of the article, I advise writers not to use flashbacks, I perhaps should have worded it differently and said use flashbacks only as a last resort. My goal was (and remains) to discourage writers from automatically creating a flashback as soon as they want to reveal something from the past.

The “bad” examples of flashbacks David would like to see occur mostly in screenplays that never got produced, or in early drafts of scripts written before I began coaching the writers. The good examples are from films where the screenwriters clearly pondered many other ways of revealing the past, and wisely concluded that some form of flashback worked best.

I also should perhaps have omitted the Prologue from the list, since technically it doesn’t flash “back” from anything; it’s the opening sequence of the script. But since it occurs in the past, prior to the main body of the story, and since it serves many of the same functions (anticipation, curiosity, foreshadowing, echoing and exposition), I included it.

But my point remains: flashbacks are overused devices in the majority of scripts I read (not in the majority of produced films). I looked at the top 25 box office hits of all time listed on www.boxofficemojo.com. Of those 20, I couldn’t identify a single one that used a simple flashback. Finding Nemo has a prologue, Titanic tells two parallel stories, and Iron Man has a big action teaser (all of these are explained in the article). But unless I’ve forgotten something about the others, none of them contains any form of flashback. And three out of twenty-five hardly indicates a commonly used device.

Even referring to the IMDb movie list David cites, I don’t recall a flashback of any kind in The Godfather, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Schindler’s List, 12 Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight – and only the Parallel Story device in The Godfather Part II and Pulp Fiction – leaving only The Shawshank Redemption, which opens with a combination Prologue and Single Past Incident. Again, three out of their top ten films hardly indicates frequent usage.

As for contradicting that old maxim “show, don’t tell,” I wanted to point out that once in awhile the most powerful way of eliciting emotion is through a character telling us something from their past, and allowing the audience’s own imagination to create the images – especially when the past event is particularly painful. This is how we learn of the death of Neytiri’s sister in Avatar, for example – and seems to me a far more moving revelation than if we had to flash back to actually see her slaughtered by mercenaries.

I hope that clarifies any confusion about my article – or at least stimulates more discussion, and makes you think twice before resorting to a flashback in your own screenplay.

– Michael Hauge

Thanks, Michael, for your response to a humble peon like myself. I agree that the prologue was an odd inclusion, but didn’t challenge that, for the same reasons you cited. And having been a reader for Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition, I certainly agree that flashbacks are often used poorly in bad scripts – but then again, so are dialogue, exposition, and chase scenes. I can’t tell you how many awful chase scenes I’ve read. Certainly, though, the simple flashback is a dull device that should be used sparingly, although I don’t remember the scene you’re referring to in Avatar, so it obviously didn’t make much of an impression on me. Far more effective for me was V for Vendetta, which I remember being incredibly moving, as he told the story while we watched it on screen also something that needs to be done well or not at all).

I’d still like to think of some examples of poor flashback use in well-known movies. Enough bad movies have been made over the years, there’s gotta be something.

As far as the IMDb list, you’re right on. I was counting 12 Angry Men as having a prologue, though perhaps I shouldn’t have under the terms of this discussion, since it happens immediately before the story, and not significantly beforehand. It is, in the classical sense, a prologue, though, which is why I counted it. Schindler’s List, was my mistake – I was thinking of the epilogue, which takes place in present day, and The Dark Knight and The Godfather I was confusing with their prequel and sequel, respectively, both of which do employ flashbacks.

It bears pointing out, though, that The Shawshank Redemption, in addition to the Prologue, also contains a Single Past Incident flashback to Tommy’s former cellmate, as well as The Explanation at the end.

So at least I can claim the best movie of all time.

I appreciate David’s kind words about my article on using flashbacks in your screenplay. But since he challenged some of my statements, I thought I’d better clarify what I said.

My intent with the article was to identify the various forms flashbacks can take, in order to give writers a better understanding of this device, and when it might be appropriate. When, at the conclusion of the article, I advise writers not to use flashbacks, I perhaps should have worded it differently and said use flashbacks only as a last resort. My goal was (and remains) to discourage writers from automatically creating a flashback as soon as they want to reveal something from the past.

The “bad” examples of flashbacks David would like to see occur mostly in screenplays that never got produced, or in early drafts of scripts written before I began coaching the writers. The good examples are from films where the screenwriters clearly pondered many other ways of revealing the past, and wisely concluded that some form of flashback worked best.

I also should perhaps have omitted the Prologue from the list, since technically it doesn’t flash “back” from anything; it’s the opening sequence of the script. But since it occurs in the past, prior to the main body of the story, and since it serves many of the same functions (anticipation, curiosity, foreshadowing, echoing and exposition), I included it.

But my point remains: flashbacks are overused devices in the majority of scripts I read (not in the majority of produced films). I looked at the top 25 box office hits of all time listed on www.boxofficemojo.com. Of those 20, I couldn’t identify a single one that used a simple flashback. Finding Nemo has a prologue, Titanic tells two parallel stories, and Iron Man has a big action teaser (all of these are explained in the article). But unless I’ve forgotten something about the others, none of them contains any form of flashback. And three out of twenty-five hardly indicates a commonly used device.

Even referring to the IMDb movie list David cites, I don’t recall a flashback of any kind in The Godfather, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Schindler’s List, 12 Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight – and only the Parallel Story device in The Godfather Part II and Pulp Fiction – leaving only The Shawshank Redemption, which opens with a combination Prologue and Single Past Incident. Again, three out of their top ten films hardly indicates frequent usage.

As for contradicting that old maxim “show, don’t tell,” I wanted to point out that once in awhile the most powerful way of eliciting emotion is through a character telling us something from their past, and allowing the audience’s own imagination to create the images – especially when the past event is particularly painful. This is how we learn of the death of Neytiri’s sister in Avatar, for example – and seems to me a far more moving revelation than if we had to flash back to actually see her slaughtered by mercenaries.

I hope that clarifies any confusion about my article – or at least stimulates more discussion, and makes you think twice before resorting to a flashback in your own screenplay.

– Michael Hauge


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