You’re About to Get “Kasdaned!”

Lawrence Kasdan signing autographs at Austin Film Festival Conference 2011

Tonight is the second to the last night of The Austin Film Festival. The conference portion ran from Thursday through Sunday in the meeting rooms of the stunning Driskell Hotel, and the films are still playing.

I attended these seven panels:

  1. How to Work the Film Festival for Filmmakers
  2. Sustaining a Writing Career Outside of L.A.
  3. The Creative Career: What You Need to Know
  4. Agents and Managers
  5. The Heroine’s Journey: Writing and Selling the Female-Driven Screenplay
  6. On the Level (TV Writer Staffing)
  7. Producing Outside the Norm: A Conversation with Elizabeth Avellan
What a great experience. I took copious notes, and I plan to write them up here as much for myself as for others who want to imbibe some of the conference information and inspiration. Now that I blog, I can’t not take notes. I know when I get home and write about my experiences I’m going to wish I had direct quotes, and there were some GREAT ones. I’m going to want that list of comments that inspired me to take my next steps as a writer.
I was most excited to see and listen to Lawrence Kasdan. Take a gander at only his writing credits from imdb.com:
2003Dreamcatcher (screenplay)
1999Mumford (written by)
1996Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire (Video Game) (story)
1994Wyatt Earp (written by)
1992The Bodyguard (written by)
1991Grand Canyon (written by)
1988The Accidental Tourist (screenplay)
1985Silverado (written by)
1983The Big Chill (written by)
1981Continental Divide (written by)
1981Body Heat (written by)
1981Raiders of the Lost Ark (screenplay)
Kasdan was on the panel, “The Creative Career: What You Need to Know,” along with Craig Mazin (SCARY MOVIE 3 & 4, THE HANGOEVR 2), Daniel Petrie, Jr. (THE BIG EASY, BEVERLY HILLS COP, SHOOT TO KILL, TURNER & HOOCH, TOY SOLDIERS, & others), Rhett Reese (EARTH VS. MOON, ZOMBIELAND 2, MONSTERS, INC.), and the moderator, Howard A. Rodman (screenwriter, novelist, educator, former WGAW VP), all delightful in distinctive ways.
They inspired me by giving examples from their own lives with energy, compassion, enthusiasm. They broke my heart with how much they love screenwriting and how much they want to help us folks hanging on their every word, leaning forward in the rows and rows of yellow chairs in the Driskell Hotel meeting rooms. It makes a difference to be there, to see them, hear their voices, see how damn smart they are, how funny, kind, loving.
Kasdan hijacked a question by the excellent and funny moderator, Howard A. Rodman, who spoke in so many metaphors, I’m still communicating with him telephathically. Rodman was doing a fine job asking our panelists about pitfalls in the business, as the program announced he would. Yet, Kasdan began an introduction to the reason why he was not going to answer the question. Craig Mazin piped up in sheer glee warning Rodman, “You’re getting Kasdaned right now!” Graciously, authentically, Kasdan explained he did not want to answer a question about how to deal with negative notes from studio executives, deeming it not relevant to the folks in the audience. He said we had different pitfalls than those of the panel, being at vastly different stages. Not missing a beat, Rodman said, “Good note,” then rephrased the question exactly as Kasdan suggested, using most of the same words. Kasdan said, “I’m glad you asked.” And on and on like that, witty, gracious, helpful, inspiring. All of them.
Someone asked a question about script consultants. “Who’s reputable? How much should one spend on it?” Mazin jumped at the chance to say, “Not one cent! And here’s why. It’s baloney. Screenwriting is free. Every single movie ever made has been disagreed about.” The same questioner obviously wanted someone to direct her to reputable script consultants and tried again. “Does anyone else on the panel have a different opinion?” Mazin replied, “They do not.” Everyone laughed. Perfect comic timing. And the truth is, no one else on the panel voiced a different opinion. We just moved on.
Someone wanted to know how long it takes the panel members to write a single script. They gave literal answers about their own process and others they’ve heard about. I always love those kind of answers for comparing. But I really loved what Lawrence Kasdan said:  “It takes as long as it takes to get to the end, and you can let someone read it without you being embarrassed. Could be a month or two years.”
Another audience member asked the question, “How do the panelists divide their time between the creative and the business sides of writing?” Hey, I thought it was interesting, and I definitely wanted to know how many hours a day Kasdan writes and how many hours he tweets and calls his agent (as if his world after so many years of success would resemble mine in any way). He sidestepped it, ever the one to keep the panel talking about things that can actually help us. I love what he said. “There’s very little work. There are very few meetings. There is very little cashing of checks. Concentrate on the creative, and all the business will present itself in a pleasing way.”
I think I just got Kasdaned!
In the next day or two in another post, I’m going to list a bunch of quotes from the panel that were particularly helpful to me. These will include quotes by Reese and Petrie, as well. What advice have you gotten that helped you take your next step?

Logline – The Shortest Pitch

Cover of "Selling Your Story in 60 Second...
Cover via Amazon

In screenwriting a “logline” or the “one-line” is the one- or two-line synopsis of your story. It’s the shortest pitch you use to try to get someone to read your script. It’s your hook.

Alex Epstein says in his book, Crafty Screewriting: Writing Movies That Get Made, “Think of it as the sentence that would describe it in The TV Guide.”

Culling from books and articles, I’ve learned the logline should tell WHO the story is about (by describing not naming him/her, unless he/she is famous), what TROUBLE this character gets into, and it should indicate (not give away) the outcome, ie, the TRANSFORMATION of the main character.

Example of a great logline in Michael Hauge‘s book, Selling Your Story in 60 Secondsfrom Julianne Friedman, a literary agent and editor for Scriptwriter Magazine:

“A mother realizes that her teenage son has probably killed someone.”

This one’s great because it tells WHO and what TROUBLE. It may not say exactly what CHANGES happen, but those are inherent. We simply know this mother’s world will change.

Click here to find more examples in this article by Jonathan Treisman on the Writers Store website. You’ll see Treisman has no qualms about giving away the ending in the logline. Folks in the know have differing views on this. Obviously, TV Guide wouldn’t give away the ending, but if you feel you need to give it away to sell your script, then some folks say go ahead. Others say no way; indicate but don’t reveal the ending. It makes your listener want to read your script.

I’m about to head to The Austin Film Festival this month. I have a screenplay, a drama, I’d love to pitch and sell there if all the planets align just so! I’d love your feedback. Here are possible loglines. Which one do you like best? Which one makes you want to see the movie?

  1. A What if/And then Logline: “What if a birth mother and the daughter she gave up become co-workers? And the adoptive parents thwart the budding relationship – again?”
  2. A Setting & Tone Logline: “A struggling isolated prep cook in a marina restaurant gets a second chance to mother the daughter she left in infancy, until the adoptive parents interfere, opening old wounds.”
  3. A Logline Indicating Plot Twists: “A birth mother and the daughter she gave up become co-workers, friends, and rivals. What happens when the details of their history unravel?”
Which title makes you want to see the movie?
  1. Departure Point, Texas
  2. Come Back Blues
  3. Little Pink Cap
What logline or movie poster hook got you to go to a movie?
If you’re so inclined, put your own script, novel, or short story logline in the comments section for feedback from readers of this blog.

Divining The Real Deal From Henry James

Portrait of Henry James, the novelist
Image via Wikipedia

“…the figures in any picture, the agents in any drama, are interesting only in proportion as they feel their respective situations…” – Henry James

Before writing in the morning, sometimes I read a short story for inspiration. Today I chose Henry James’The Real Thing.” I’m rewriting a script today, not a short story, but short stories inspire me no matter what I’m writing. It works for me like divination, as someone who picks passages from the Bible or any inspiring written work, and reads them as if they’re messages from God or the muses.

In “The Real Thing,” an illustrator finds a married couple at his door looking for work as models. They have fallen from a higher class and operate not only as a team to find work, but to hide their state from their friends and even from themselves. We watch them through the eyes of the illustrator. They’re “the real thing” in that they really are the upper class people the illustrator is commissioned to render. Furthermore, “the real thing” refers ironically to the shifting nature of identity when human beings are forced to confront their nature and essence. The married couple cling to their past identity in the new situation. It seems to work, much as any big fish in a small pond. Maintaining their posture, literally and figuratively, gets them work. However, they have no sense they may need to adapt to the actual world they now inhabit, the world of art, in order to thrive or even survive. In this world, an immigrant servant who doesn’t speak the language emerges as the best model. Modeling is artistic in itself and requires an openness and malleability of expression. That talent can arise in anyone, thus dismantling the influence of the class system in the couple’s new world.

In a companion piece, “The Mirror of Consciousness,” included by Gioia & Gwynn in their book, The Art of the Short Story,  James writes about the need to tell the stories through a consciousness that feels what is happening. He says the story is weak if it merely recounts facts and is strong when those facts and events filter through the mind of someone who feels them fully. In “The Real Thing” the illustrator is deeply affected by the actions of the married couple over time. At first it helps his work and later hurts it. Through the lens of the illustrator’s struggles and his own feelings for all his models, I was moved by the plight of the fallen couple, rather than merely irritated by their obstinance and classism.

The takeaway for me today:  my main character serves well as the consciousness through which I show the plight of her struggling friends and neighbors, the web of characters around her. And, I meant to underscore her own troubles by doing this. But since the story is about her, I see that I need to make her more alive, more malleable, more feeling. I need to show her struggle more clearly in the beginning, so the changes near the end have more impact. She must feel the full extent of the situation I’ve put her in, or else my audience won’t. It won’t matter how many rewrites I do if I don’t do that.

How do you get inspiration? Who’s your favorite character in books or on screen?