THE ART OF WRITING THE LOG LINE
A first time screenwriter sent me a synopsis he planned to show studios to get them to read his love story gone wrong. His own life, actually, His marriage to a Russian girl from Hell.
"SHE WAS A RUSSIAN WOMAN --Based on a true story --is the story of a man who meets and marries a woman from the Ukraine, only to find that she suffers from a severe mental disorder."
My dear G. (I wrote him.) I don't feel that's a very good title for your script, or a very showable logline for your film's synopsis. Lose it. SHE WAS A RUSSIAN WOMAN? It's what a three year old would write in kindergarten or what a county intake worker would write on a note pad at a welfare qualification interview. Or in view of 9-11, it's what an INS employee would write on the entrance petition of a Russian una-bomber terrorist.
And I also do not feel that paragraph up there is an acceptable synopsis as you are fairly intuitive, educated -- (I knew this guy a little; I knew that he'd read Karen HORNEY cover to cover. This synopsis makes you look as if you weren't. Give even the synopsis your full shoulder. Give it your best, ladle the drama on thickly in a synopsis, no matter that it's brief. Pull out all the biggest story points, show the color of the yarn. Show how literary you are. This is a tiny sample and it can't be a bare thread or two. A square inch of intricate brocade, yes! The colors blinding. YES!
Try an evocative word for the title. GREEN CARD BRIDE or TATIANA the TERRIBLE! Then In the description. Meat on every bone, not just one flake of flesh and no juice. Fergawd's sake. You're a merchant showing your wares! Try to think how STEPHEN KING would write it..... Try: "People in Plainfield Mass have never seen a Russian before as tourism never came to this remote, rustic, corner of Massachusetts but when a beautiful exotic Russian girl, Tatiana, carefully visits every store, every cafe, every bar in the town and settles on JOHN, a simple farmer and claims to be taken with him and in love, John's friends suspect a green card marriage. On that basis they warn the trusting, warm lonely man. But Tatiana turns out to be much more than a dishful of INS fraud; she is the very devil herself. "
See? HIGH DRAMA! A real slab of your QUICHE loaded onto a plate. The red peppers contrasting with the white cheese, all of it dripping FAT. GLORIOUS FAT! SUCCULENT, SEXY EVOCATIVE!
You gotta suck those boys into paying a reader some huge amount to 'cover' your script. So honey? 'She was a Russian' ? It just doesn't cut it. Or, imagine how JD SALINGER WOULD WRITE it. "John loved to help people. Frail Tatiana's life was a mess. The INS was looking for her, she was troubled and often would lie in his arms weeping. John married a needy immigrant but woke up lying alongside a poisonous spider who threatened to kill him if he didn't serve her every psychotic need."
Or, try SIDNEY SHELDON mixed with Harold Robbins: "Tatiana was blonder than any woman John had ever seen in his rural hick New England town, her voice a cat-like purr with a Russshan HISS! She looked pure angel and needy and it made his blood hot. But Tatiana didn't need a man; she needed a green card. When John marries her, the gratitude switches overnight into a terrible craziness. Soon John was running for his life."
HIGH DRA-ma! You don't sell rubies and call them 'red rocks'. YOU SELL RED ROCKS and call them RUBIES! GET IT?
SELL, hustle, create interest, pitch, heat them up. Make the producers' wheels turn!
He wrote me back that I was right and he'd change it. Then he sent me the script. It was two full fat scripts, actually, two separately bound. PART ONE and PART II with each script so thick, I'm guessing 500 pages each maybe a thousand all tolled. I was absolutely startled. They were perfectly typed, but the misspellings were everywhere. So I got that this man was persistent, self involved, low IQ, even stupid, and very longwinded. And indulgent. I wrote him back that not since STORY OF A MARRIAGE a ten hour film which Ingmar Bergman had done, about his own marriage, had any artist anywhere dared to chronicle every second of a ten year relationship! In Bergman's case, it sort of worked as a film, but after all, that is a man who's labored in theatre all his life, as had his ancestors and frankly even the Great Ingmar was downright BORING with this universal theme of a man and woman falling in love then over nine hours, out of love. ZZZZZZZZZzzz.
This young writer had taken years to write his script, years paying detectives and lawyers. Years to live it. I was not able to tell him any of this. He said he was looking for producers on his own. I left it there. So OK. I'm saving this for you. The best part. How to Be Charles Dickens
I taught screenwriting here in LA. L.A. Free Screenwriters' Co-op. When spending so many hours a day became hazardous to my tenancy in a house, evictions et al., slowing down became necessary in order to make hours turn into dollars I stopped. In retrospect, I am not certain if it's necessary to study film to write them. Because everybody alive has seen a shitload of films. The form is under our fingernails. Probably one would have to study the realities of the novel, and then the COMMERCIAL novel to sell one of those. But I feel ordinary people can participate in the 'people's art,' FLICKS. I am interested in what you think on the subject. As for TV WRITING. Because of the many technical bases one must hit one would probably have to study TV writing, no? What do you feel? But it isn't necessary to study much to write good films. I used to tell these kids "HAVING SEEN films, with your 'writer's mind, and inspirations and aspirations, you are qualified to start DOING IT. Your unconscious knows how to do it and much more. It has absorbed huge amts of knowledge, keen sensibilities in its years of watching flicks. Just do it. Yes read all the books on the subject that you can find. But trust the inner author. He's a Pulitzer/ Nobel Prize, Oscar guy, that person within. TRUST HIM. He is not derivative, he is not up in the head. HE is grander than any teacher can make your brain by filling pidgeon holes with information.
Try the CHANNELING screenplay method. I never heard of anyone else doing it, the writing is not done by the brain or with the rules. It is done from the inner eye. The dream center. Only you're awake --so it's controlled dreaming with prods from the rational left brain to the RIGHT brain to keep the motor churning up pictures, flooding the inner eye with a changing panorama. The flow is automatic and easy once someone starts prodding. Do you control your dreams? Somebody supplies infinite movies within and it is automatic, without volition, without memory, or remembering rules you heard. The flow is Mississippi wide, too, not a trickle. Well, you can write films in your waking consciousness by letting just a trickle come along that conduit. That channel deepens with use, too. I love teaching. Keep an eye open for teaching jobs at any classroom. The fact that I don't know it all and didn't finish or graduate UCLA Theatre Arts (I started there) was what I capitalized on at the L.A. Free Screenwriters' Co-op. I let everybody know I was a dope and add what they knew. They taught. We taught each other. Very vigorous classroom technique, too. Remember how in good acting classes, we were encouraged to critique improvs we all did. After a few years of acting classes, one developed a viewpoint.
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