script

“Soldiers of Fortune” – Final Logline

Greetings, Movie Buffs!

The other day I mentioned how a formula from a contact helped me put a logline into working order. With that out of the way, I can move forward with the project. This is the logline that I will be referring to throughout the writing process of the second draft. So without further ado…

“Soldiers of Fortune” | Action/Adventure
When a politician goes missing overseas, a bounty hunter has three days to retrieve him, or risk starting a war.

How does that sound to you?

The formula REALLY helped. Before, I was just trying to throw in all the crazy elements into the logline to try and grab people. It didn’t really work. Gone are the mentions of unnatural phenomenons, senators, pirates, smugglers/treasure hunters, and ships falling from the sky. Sounds crazy out of context doesn’t it?

Probably my favorite part of the logline (besides the positive reception) is that it’s only 20 words long. I’ve heard that a logline should be between 25-30 words, or no more than two sentences. I love thinking about them as the TV Guide description. As brief a summation as possible.

In a few words, the setting is described (overseas — globetrotting), the main character is named, as is the goal and the stakes. The stakes were the biggest change from the first draft. It was concocted to fix the problem with the logline, and it can still work 100% for the original story. Not just that, but now there’s a bit of dramatic irony at play: an ex-soldier has to prevent a war!

Anyway, below I’ve listed some of the previous incarnations of the logline so you can get a feel for how it evolved over time. These start with the most recent, going backwards.

  • When a politician goes missing overseas, a bounty hunter has three days to retrieve him, or risk ruining his reputation.
  • When a politician goes missing overseas, a bounty hunter has three days to retrieve him, or risk everything.
  • When a politician goes missing overseas, a bounty hunter must retrieve him in three days, or be disgraced.
  • A bounty hunter has three days to find a politician who went missing overseas, while investigating an unnatural phenomenon.
  • After his protege fails, a high-level Bounty Hunter has just three days to recover a missing Senator, last seen near a pirate ship that fell from the sky.
  • The government’s go-to Bounty Hunter has three days to find the missing Senator who’s been taken captive by smugglers.

You can read even more of the older loglines here.

As you can see, there’s been a large amount of rewriting JUST THE LOGLINE to get this project into a workable shape. Now is when the REAL work happens. It’s time to start on the character biographies.

I hope you guys found some of this information useful. If you did gain something from this or any of my other posts, please remember to LIKE my Facebook page if you haven’t already.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

Character Building – The Tier Method

Greetings, Movie Buffs!

So one thing has finally happened for me: A few months back, I sent out a small mass email to a few contacts to get feedback on a project I’m working on. I’m talking about “Soldiers of Fortune” here. I had sent out the logline at the time with a couple questions about how intriguing it was, and how interested they’d be as John/Joan Q. Moviegoer to see it. And the response was underwhelming to say the least.

I really didn’t know what to do. I had spent weeks, even months toiling away at it, trying to make it sound the best it could.. What wound up happening was that I was too close to it. I knew the story, and I kept wanting to insert all the really cool elements from it and put them into the logline to hopefully gain attention. Unfortunately, they raised more questions that were hard as hell to explain.

So then the task at hand became to write a logline that concisely summed up the plot, while trying not to make it sound too generic. I tried. I really did. And I failed. Several times. It was a disaster.

Then, one day, as luck would have it, I stumbled across an old document on the subject of loglines; hopeful for any help, I opened it. It turned out to have been some copied content from the Write 2 Reel forums. This from the always on-point Lobo Tommy, who shared this observation about loglines:

This is the collected wisdom I’ve gathered on loglines:

With the caveat that formulaic is usually bad, the most elegant formula for creating a great logline that I’ve seen is:

‘When [INCITING INCIDENT], a [SPECIFIC PROTAGONIST] must [OBJECTIVE], or else [STAKES].’

Insert your script’s particulars with “extreme brevity” at the brackets.”

After re-reading this, I realized that I was out of options, so I decided to try out that formula. And by gum, it worked! Well, sort of. See, it helped put the story in a much clearer light. Once completed, I sent it to a most generous contact who’d been putting up with my persistent self for longer than most would, and I thank him for his patience every time. He liked it, except for the stakes. The stakes were not big enough.

Slightly dejected, I spent the next couple days figuring out how to heighten the stakes. And in not a whole lot of time, I figured out how to do it. I sent my contact the new logline, and I received his best response about it. I had a solid logline.

Now, it’s time to rewrite the damn thing! I know the story pretty well, considering it’s been over a year and a half since writing the first draft. There will be some slight shifts in the plot, characters, and events, but the story will be fairly close to the original one. It’ll just be told 1000x better. A ton of the knowledge of how to accomplish this comes from the Scriptshadow site. Again, if you’ve never checked it out, do so immediately.

Anyway, one of the things that was really hammered home to me on the site was that I should Know My Fucking Characters. Inside and out. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard that I should write up biographies for my characters. There was a whole section of it in Syd Fields’ “Screenplay.” I’d always thought that I knew my characters well enough, that it was unnecessary. But awhile back, I’d decided to actually put screenwriting teachers’ advice to the test.

I like the idea of actually delving into their complete history to see what all helped form them into the people they are at the start of the script. So the question I asked myself was “How much do I write? Several pages for ALL my characters? There are at least a dozen speaking parts. I work really long hours, I don’t have time for all that; I want to write my damn screenplay.

So tonight, I decided I’d force myself to think up a solution. And I think I’ve come up with one. I’m calling it the Tier Method.

In the current incarnation of the Tier Method, there are three tiers: Tier 1 is the lead characters. The ones that appear the most in your script. They’ll be the ones doing the most in your story. They’ll also have the most lines. Because these are your main characters, I would think anywhere from a 1-5 page write-up would do the job. This is a great article on building characters. It also contains a link to a fantastic character questionnaire. I’ve come up with a few of my own questions about the characters that, for me, really help get a glimpse of a character’s past.

Tier 2 is comprised of supporting characters. People that are present for a great many scenes. A couple of them might even have significance on the plot. You might consider thinking up a bit more for these characters than usual, as they are the ones that typically appear in sequels. For these people, I would say around ½ to a full page is sufficient enough for each of them.

Tier 3 is comprised of additional characters. People that show up for a scene or three. These may most likely be prime for cameos if your film gets made. For these types of characters, you may not necessarily need to figure out what state they were born in. It can be just a description of what they were doing directly before the events of your story. Side Note: These characters can easily get lost in the mix. To help them stand out, it helps if each of these characters are working towards something in their own right. By that I mean, what are they trying to achieve in their lives which are coinciding with this particular story? Generally for these characters, a couple sentences to a couple paragraphs are sufficient.

Another note: When I say write-up, I don’t mean just quickly jotting down the first five things you decide about them and call it done. Really use the aforementioned resources to get to know your characters. Get a history together for them, then decide which points are the most important ones that you’ll be showing (not telling) in your story.

For instance, if an additional character was bitten by a dog when he was a child, it wouldn’t make sense for him to just blurt it out when he’s driving down the road with some other characters. If he raises a gun at a barking dog of a friend, and the friend goes mental on him (as he should), that’s when it would be a relevant place in your story to reveal that bit of background information.

I hope this information has been helpful. As always, until next time, Movie Buffs!

10 Screenwriting Tips from “The Silence of the Lambs”

These tips are not concrete in any fashion. They are merely suggestions based upon a closer look at various films and examining why they do or don’t work. So there’s no confusion, I include myself in the audience these tips are compiled for. Let’s see what today’s title has to offer us…

I’ve owned this on DVD for a few years now, but it was just a regular DVD, and I decided to rent the library’s Special Edition. This was a two disc set, with the second one PACKED with bonus features. Also, it makes me really want to check out that TV show “Page to Screen” hosted by Peter Gallagher. There was an episode of it on the “Get Shorty” Special Edition as well, and I really enjoyed both episodes.

Anyway, what I gathered most from those bonus features were little touches that I’d missed on my earlier viewings. It’s with these in mind that I thought I’d dissect this chilling classic.

BEWARE: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!!!

  1. An At-Odds Hero. This was done intentionally in the film, and the makers discussed this at length. Jodie Foster is right around five feet tall, and the filmmakers wanted her to seem less capable to the audience. They did this by having as many actors tower over her, and look down on her. This can be a great effect for your hero, giving the viewer a great deal of satisfaction if and when your hero overcomes these extra adversities.Silence of the Lambs 01

  2. Discomfort. You’d be surprised just how much this can give off a great effect. When you see the FBI Headquarters in Quantico, the classrooms and offices look very cold and sterile. The best example is Jack Crawford’s office. It was small, with no windows, very cold, complete with an inescapable wall of serial killer victims on one wall. It’s equaled by Crawford’s cold demeanor towards Starling. Describing a room like this along with a conversation of this nature can make for a bone-chilling atmosphere.Silence of the Lambs 02

  3. Active Cast of Characters. This was something I hadn’t noticed before, but damn near every character was working towards one thing or another. The only exceptions that come to mind are Starling’s friend at the academy and the orderly at the asylum. Even a side character like Dr. Chilton was after something. He wanted to crack Hannibal’s psyche. I’ll admit, I’d forgotten about how he screwed over the FBI’s investigation just for the credit.

    Look at him, taking all that credit for himself.

    Look at him, taking all that credit for himself.

  4. Solid Scenes. This and the above tip go hand in hand. Because every character is active in the story, there are no unnecessary scenes. If there’s one that doesn’t advance the plot, it most definitely reveals character. I had initially thought of these as ones at Buffalo Bill’s lair, but then I realized two things: they were showing some form of motive (he wants his woman suit), and they show that the catalyst for this story (the Senator’s daughter) is still alive and she is eventually active towards the end (never seen a captive use a captor’s pet against them). This is a big reason the movie never felt slow. Every scene had a purpose, and therefor, there was nothing tedious about them.

  5. Make It MORE Difficult. Starling has been ordered to get Hannibal to take some psychiatric evaluation tests and he doesn’t want to unless she tells him about herself. Exactly what her superior had said NOT to do. So now her obstacle in getting Lecter to take the test has just gotten bigger. Can she do her job with him inside her head? This happens several times in the film. She wants information on Buffalo Bill, but he wants to play his little mind games. She asks a question, he asks a question. All the while, a life is in danger. No one has time to play these games. Except Hannibal. All he’s got is time.

    All good things to those who wait.

    All good things to those who wait.

    The game of question asking has been used since, most notably in “The Sixth Sense” in Malcolm’s initial meeting with Cole. The main difference being that they weren’t really pressed for time.

  6. Memorable Villain. You knew this was coming. Hannibal Lecter is a fantastic villain, but what exactly makes him that way? Starting with the fact that he’s talked about up until the minute we meet him, we expect a disfigured monster or something, but we are met with a prim and proper gentleman-type. Even so, the great thing about his reveal is him standing in the middle of his cell, standing straight as an arrow.

    For me, this is completely normal.

    For me, this is completely normal.

    The big tip here is to always have your villain be the opposite of what people expect. You can write up a description of yours, and have people describe what he or she may look like, then take that information and make a polar opposite of that. The polite serial killer is always more interesting than the constantly screaming one.

  7. Villain Speak. A while back, I was discussing how Mr. Blonde never raised his voice, and how doing so made him even more effective as a bad guy. Hannibal only raised his voice once as I recall, but it was just him calling after Starling once she’d left, so that’s a moot point.

    A great thing Hannibal does is after a few minutes of speaking with Starling, mimics her accent and uses it to insult her person. She has no choice but to take it, since this is her first big assignment.Silence of the Lambs 09
    Any time you can make a character HAVE to be in a position they’re not going to like, always heap the discomfort on them in droves. There’s a danger to doing this excess, though, “Monk” being the obvious example of this. Why this works is that Hannibal uses it as a means to get into Starling’s head. It wasn’t meant to be humorous, but off-putting. That’s why he only did it the first time, and not constantly. (At least not as thick as he did the first time)

  8. Suspense Via Crosscutting. Admittedly, this was done in post, but this should still be strived for in the scripting stage. The example from the film where the action cuts between Buffalo Bill in his basement, being alerted to someone outside and the FBI getting ready to raid a house. The crosscutting was greatly effective, building tension up for a conclusion to the already tension-filled story. Even during my latest viewing, I was still sucked into believing that they were actually going to capture Bill.

  9. Don’t Go In There. This is what’s referred to as Dramatic Irony. The audience knows about the danger lurking behind a door, but the hero is oblivious to it. We scream at the screen: “Don’t Go In There!” This was how the audience felt when Starling went into Buffalo Bill’s house. She just thought he was a random neighbor of a victim, but we knew differently.Silence of the Lambs 07
    Now, Dramatic Irony doesn’t need to be thought of as JUST this kind of scenario. Alfred Hitchcock famously illustrated the use of suspense in thrillers as: “There’s two people having breakfast and there’s a bomb under the table. If it explodes, that’s a surprise. But if it doesn’t…”

    A related idea might be a kid who has snuck a puppy home. His parents have said he can’t have one, but he’s disregarded them. Now he has the puppy in his room, but he hears his mom coming down the hall, so he hides the puppy in the closet. Now, when his mom comes in, there’s nothing but tension, because any sound the puppy emits gives it away, so the kid is going to try and get his mom out as fast as possible without letting her pick up on something being off about his behavior.

  10. Stakes. An extension of the above point. Dramatic Irony is only as good as the stakes of the situation at hand. In the film, if Starling realizes the guy she’s talking to is Buffalo Bill, she can arrest him and he can’t kill anymore. But if she doesn’t, not only does he kill his captive below, but his killing spree can continue.

    Those are pretty high stakes, plus, we’ve spent the last ninety minutes getting acquainted with these characters, so the outcome of the encounter has a huge impact one way or another.

    Now in the example with the puppy, the stakes aren’t necessarily that high. That is to say, the fate of the family doesn’t hang in the balance. This is a scenario found mostly in family films, but nonetheless, there are still stakes. If the puppy is quiet and not uncovered by the mom, the kid gets to enjoy the puppy a little while longer at least. If the mom finds the puppy, she could very well take it away, and the kid would be sad.

What I Gained: If a scene feels tedious, double check to make sure that it is contributes towards the plot. Make sure most of, if not all your characters are after a goal of some sort, and aren’t just sitting around, waiting for things to happen.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!

Script Link: SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, THE by Ted Tally (1990.01.15)