“Bulletproof” Tips for Writing and Selling Great Screenplays

Interview with the authors of “Bulletproof: Writing Scripts That Don’t Get Shot Down”

by Carole Dean

The partnership of the authors of Bulletproof: Writing Scripts That Don’t Get Shot Down is rooted in a 30-year friendship that dates back to their Philadelphia high school days. David Diamond and David Weissman sold their first spec script, The Whiz Kid to 20th Century Fox in 1994 and have enjoyed a very successful screenwriting career.  Together they have conceived and contributed to over a dozen movies with a combined box office growth of over a billion dollars worldwide.

screenplay

“Do not give your script to anybody in the business, any of your professional contacts, until you’re absolutely certain that you’ve done the very best that you can do on a script.”

I was lucky enough to have them as guests on my The Art of Film Funding Podcast. They shared with me some of their brilliant advice for new screenwriters for selling their screenplays in the age of streaming, getting inspired, and getting past the gatekeepers.

Selling to Streaming Services

Carole: I want to know is the pitching and the script submission the same to the new streaming services, as it was to the Hollywood studios?

David and David: Pitching is much more difficult now. In the last really 10, 15 years, development has kind of fallen on the shoulders of writers and producers without studio participation. The streamers have definitely hired a large number of executives from the feature world, to sort of run their feature department.  There’ll be a lot of continuity in selling to them.

What that means though, in practical terms for a lot of people, is that if you’re a writer and you want to sell, whether it’s to traditional studio or to one of the streaming services, you’re probably going to have to write your script.

You should not rely on pitching unless you know you’re coming in with an A list star, and an A list director. Unless you can package your movie as a pitch, you’re going to have to write that script.

The Three C’s of Script Writing

Carole: Let’s get into your brilliant book Bulletproof. One of the first things you share at the beginning of Bulletproof is the three C’s necessary for a great screenplay.  Tell us what they are and why they are so important.

David and David: The three C’s are the fundamental ingredients of an idea for a movie. And those are a character and a concept and a context.

You can’t really start writing a screenplay until you understand what the idea for your screenplay is. And that is a mistake, as hard as it may be to believe, that a lot of writers make.  They’re full of inspiration and they’re eager to get going and they start writing and they really don’t know what the full idea for their movie is.

We put out there right at the very beginning (Of Bulletproof) how important this is and what we think goes into an idea. And that is a specific person in a specific situation under very specific circumstances. And that’s really what you need to know even before you get started doing anything else.

You need to know who this character is, what is somehow broken or incomplete with this person, and what the challenge is that this person is going to be facing and the world that this challenge exists in. What is the world of your movie? You need to know.

The third C, contacts, is also sort of a question of tone and what kind of movie this is.  Because you can have a character and a concept and for instance, the idea for Groundhog Day, that same basic idea was done as a horror film. It was called Happy Death Day.  So that third element which is the genre, the tone, what kind of movie it is, is, crucial as well. 

It’s not enough just to say I’m writing a movie about a character who is living the same day over-and-over again. That can be a lot of different movies depending on context.

 

 

Know Who is Reading Your Script

Carole:  What advice do you have for writers on submitting their projects?

David and David: We have a whole chapter at the end of the book on submissions. Like what do you do when you’re done? One of the points in that chapter is you do not give your script to anybody in the business, any of your professional contacts, until you’re absolutely certain that you’ve done the very best that you can do on a script.

A big part of the perspective of the book is not just how to get a writer through the process of writing a script, which is critically important, but it’s also having in mind as you’re going through that process, who’s reading this script and what are they looking for?

And how is my script going to benefit the person who’s reading it? Because that’s how things progress to production. So, it’s not just about what you feel like doing and what’s in it for you, which is certainly important.

It’s also about the opportunities that you create for the people who are reading your script. And if you’re not creating an opportunity for the person reading your script, it’s not going to go anywhere.”  Yes, you need to know, ‘What are the benefits of the film for the reader? What opportunity is in the script for the reader?’

Where to Find Inspiration

Carole: Well, I love the book Bulletproof. And in there, you suggest writers find inspiration and information in those who have come before. Please tell us how you would do that and how it assists the writer.

David and David: That’s the best part of the whole process, Carole. One of our principal things that we do when we’re preparing to write something is, we try to take inspiration and lessons from movies that have come before that we love or admire or has something really in particular to say about either the vision or the kind of idea we’re writing.

We’ve always done that. And it can be very helpful sometimes. Really, it’s purely for inspirational purposes. You might go back and watch one of your favorite movies of all time, just to inspire you to what got you into doing this. Other times it’s really important just to see what the models are for the kind of movie that you want to write. Hollywood has inherited wisdom and knowledge from a hundred years of, cinematic history. And we take that very seriously,

This is also a literacy issue. You know, you may have in mind that you’re going to write something that’s really genre busting. If you’re not familiar with the movies in that genre, you really can’t subvert the conventions of that genre.  And, and even if you’re interested in honoring, you know, the genre and its conventions, you must know the movies.

If you are going write a romance novel, you wouldn’t set out and write a romance novel without ever having read a romance novel. But I think that that movies are the same way. You really need to know, if you’re going to contribute to the conversation, the ongoing conversation that’s taking place in the movies at all times, you need to know what’s come before you.

Getting Past the Gatekeepers!

Carole: Many producers tell me that not everyone reads a script, but everyone does read the one-page synopsis. And to me that’s the most important part of closing the money man and closing grantors.

David and David: The idea is there are really two purposes for being able to encapsulate the main points of your story in a single page. And the first one is for the benefit of the writer to have a roadmap to follow that it can keep you focused as you’re writing your screenplay.

But the other advantage of being able to reduce your story to key points on a single page is that, at some point in this process, somebody is going to have to walk into their boss’s office and say, you know, I just read something and this is what it is. And they’re going to have to be able to encapsulate that in a brief period of time.  And the more that you can exert some control or influence over what they say in that conversation, the better off you are.

So the idea is to be able to create a page that basically sums up the essential ingredients of your story,  that can be then used in situations just like the one you’re describing when people are thinking about financing something, buying something, so they know what it is even before they’ve read it. Eventually someone’s going to read the screenplay.

Certainly, in the in the studio world, movies don’t get made without the people who are buying them, reading the scripts.

But it does take surviving this process of script readers and assistants and development executives being able to describe what a screenplay is about before it ends up being read by someone who actually has the authority to spend the money to buy it. 

 

Carole Dean is president and founder of From the Heart Productions; a 501(c)3 non-The Art of Film Funding Podcastprofit that offers the Roy W. Dean Film Grants and fiscal sponsorship for independent filmmakers. She hosts the weekly podcastThe Art of Film Fundinginterviewing those involved in all aspects of indie film productionShe is also the author of  The Art of Film Funding, 2nd Edition: Alternative Financing Concepts.  See IMDB for producing credits.

Creating a Logline

courtesy of Kathie Fong Yoneda

author of THE SCRIPT-SELLING GAME (2nd edition)

When queried by an editor, agent, producer, novelist  or exec, the experienced writer can usually summarize his/her project in just one or two sentences.  Encapsulating the essence of your story is creating a logline, a fast, effective, attention-getting selling tool for your book, movie, tv or web series project.

The easiest and most successful method I’ve used with my clients to create a logline is by starting off with a short simple sentence, then having them building upon it.

Here is an example using the film AVATAR:

Marine gets new assignment.— We know the main character is a Marine

Paraplegic Marine is sent to foreign moon on assignment. — We now know the Marine is a paraplegic and that the story takes place on a foreign moon.

Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body is sent to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens. — We learn that he’ll be encountering alien life and to he will be using an Avatar body to accomplish his mission, but we need to know what that mission is.

Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body  is sent to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens who pose a threat to Earth. — This version now tells us that the aliens could be a threat to Earth.

Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body is sent to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens who pose a threat to Earth, but eventually questions his mission. — The additional wording lets us know that our hero faces a moral challenge and that there is more to his assignment than initially realized. We just need to know why he questions his assignment and what will be at stake.

LOGLINE:  Paraplegic Marine in an Avatar body is dispatched to a foreign moon to infiltrate a colony of aliens who pose a threat to Earth, only to question his mission when he realizes he is being used to extract a valuable energy source  which will result in destroying the aliens and their peaceful world. — In this final version, we now have a compelling story as the hero realizes his initial assignment is bogus and that he will ultimately need to make a difficult decision as he faces a crucial crisis of consciousness by story’s end.

You will note that each successive version gains more importance and gives us:

*         a better understanding of the character,

*         knowledge about his goal

*         what challenges he will face.

From a simple sentence, use colorful, descriptive adjectives, active verbs and creative restructuring of the logline to obtain more flow, intensity and interest which will hook and entice the person hearing or reading your project.

If your project is a TV or web series, here is an example of the “simple sentence” approach for the TV show, THE MENTALIST:

Former psychic gets job at investigative bureau.

Fraudulent psychic helps the California Investigative Bureau to solve crimes.

Fraudulent psychic helps the California Investigative Bureau to help solve crimes, but has a hidden agenda of his own.

LOGLINE:  In this investigative drama series, an admittedly fraudulent psychic joins the California Investigative Bureau, using his keen observation skills and deep insights into human behavior to help the bureau solve crimes — hoping one day to ultimately solve the murders of his late wife and daughter, victims of a serial killer.

Here are three other popular film examples in different genres which started out with a simple sentence and became the following loglines:

MAMMA MIA Hotel owner prepares for daughter’s wedding

LOGLINE: In this musical-comedy, the owner of a small hotel on a Greek isle prepares for her daughter’s wedding, unaware that her daughter has invited three men from her mother’s past, hoping that one of them is her father and will walk her down the aisle.

THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL Retirees go to India

LOGLINE:  A group of British retirees are lured to India to live in what they believe is a newly restored hotel, only to discover it is far less luxurious than they thought. But as they are forced to settle in, they slowly allow the Marigold Hotel, its staff and the culture of India to charm them in the most unexpected ways.

THE KING’S SPEECH Prince is forced to become king

LOGLINE: Following the death of his father and the scandalous abdication of his brother Edward, Prince George VI, who suffers from a debilitating speech impediment, is forced to overcome his handicap to become King with the help of his wife and an unorthodox speech therapist.

Kathie can be reached at: kathie@kathiefongyoneda.com. Copies of THE SCRIPT-SELLING GAME can be purchased at a 25% discount at:  mwp.com
Kathie-Fong-Yoneda-500pxKathie Fong Yoneda is a consultant specializing in development and marketing of live action and animated film, television, literary, and web projects. A former exec at Disney, Island Pictures, and Disney TV Animation, she has taught workshops worldwide. A partial list of clientele includes Singapore Media Academy, RAI-TV Roma, National Film School of Denmark, Women in Film/Television Atlanta, University of Hawaii, Romance Writers of America, Smithsonian Institute, Scriptfest, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Digital Media Academy Jakarta, and the Marseille, Melbourne, Roma and LA web festivals as well as several award-winning writers. Kathie is a popular jurist and panelist for many film festivals and screenwriting competitions and serves on the boards of Imago and the LAWEBFEST. She is the author of The Script-Selling Game and co-exec produced the series Beyond The Break.