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01/26/2002 - Less Is More

Used to hearing that, aren't you? Perhaps even tired of hearing it? You'll be happy to know that I'm not talking about your screenplay. Let's say you've written it and now are sending it off to production companies, working your way through The Hollywood Creative Directory, HCD online and the many production company directories now available through the internet.

You have the product. You have the potential customer (at least their address). Now you need the hook. Your logline is your hook, the snare that will pique someone's interest and get your script read. When making cold calls and blind inquiries, your logline can make or break your chance with a development contact.

Now that my company is listed in some online databases with other production companies, inquiry letters and calls are coming in. I'm happy to say that most of the writers are calm, pleasant and efficient at presenting themselves and their material. The next step is taking a look at their screenplay loglines and deciding whether or not to request the script.

If all the resources in the world were at my disposal, I'd have everything sent in. Why not? With infinite readers and infinite time, I'd never risk missing a bright writer or winning script. However, there's only so much time and staff, so decisions must be made.

Gut instinct often leads the way. If a thriller sounds unoriginal, and the logline contains several exclamation points, well, best to say no. Not that the piece isn't ok, but mainstream it's-been-done thrillers aren't on my company's fetch list. A few words about exclamation points: use them sparingly! Just like in employment ads and junk mail, a logline with too many exclamation points sounds like you're working a scam.

You get a sense of a bad script (or just maybe a mediocre one) in strange ways. Maybe the concept is a little dated, the writer tries to be chatty or sarcastic in the letter, the lead character sounds like a stereotypical cop-on-the-verge-of-retirement...whatever. It's a sense you get after reading big, big piles of unproduceable material, and you have to trust it.

If you are too nice and agree to read everything, then you spend your boss's deal money doing, for all practical purposes, nothing. Development people have to produce. They have to find stuff their bosses like. Or they're gone. That's where the abrupt decisions come from.

By the way, If a logline declares that it's funny without laying out a funny premise, it also risks getting turned down. If your premise doesn't sound funny but you've written a funny script, call it a comedy. Don't say "hilarious". Don't say "funny comedy". Just communicate that there's a comedic tone.

In other words, don't try too hard to sell your concept. Communicate with just a little bit of detachment. Less salesmanship = more professionalism. There are some P.T. Barnums in the pitching world, but they are verbal pitchers. The written pitch must let the premise sell itself.

This makes you sound discriminating, as though you've done your share of scriptreading and development notes. Development people like it when someone understands their job; when someone knows what the standard is for concepts.

If your premise doesn't sell itself, you've got a situation to face. Try to identify what about your screenplay is original. What particular spin does your script put on an established genre? If there's nothing original but it's a damn good thriller / comedy / romance, you can always rely on the old standby adjective, "classic".

One of the best things you can do is keep reading the daily spec announcements on this very site. That plus reading the entertainment trades (and the back of movie rental boxes) will sharpen your understanding of the economy of Hollywood expression. Try to write the logline of your favorite movies and see which words convey the electricity of a concept. It's not easy, but once you do you may realize an element of your script's premise that you are leaving out of your written pitch.

Make your logline dynamic and you've given your inquiry letter the best chance it has to hook someone in. I guarantee you that we want to be hooked.


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