Welcome to Savage Media. Here I will shine a spotlight on the properties being developed through my company, SAVAGEFILMS.

Saturday, October 12, 2013


     I don’t have as much experience pitching as I’d like.  Having said that, I have more than those who’ve never done it before, and I’m a quick learner.

     This week I pitched a horror film script of mine to three Hollywood studio professionals.  I learned a lot, and it reinforced some of the things I’ve learned about pitching.  I thought this would be a good time to put those ideas down, and share them with you if you are thinking about pitching something.

Rule #1 - It’s Not About You!
     When it’s your job to listen to ideas all day long and decide if what you are hearing is something your company wants to invest a LOT of money creating, and most of what you hear is bad, you’ll want to be engaged within ten seconds or you’ll have a desperate urge to go on to the next person.
     What you are selling is the idea, not yourself.  So don’t go talking about your experience, and what your credentials are.  No studio is going to option your idea because you’re this awesome person.  If they want to know about you, they’ll ask!  They’re looking for an idea, not a person, so give them what they want.

Rule #2 - Formatting
     I found that the most successful pitch format I’ve come up with, so far, and it follows this format (These are my terms):

     Always start off with the Title.  A good title can pique the interest of the listener immediately.

The Hook
     The Hook starts with your once sentence description of your story, and then describes aspects of your story that don’t get conveyed solely by the plot.  What makes this story unique?

The Plot
     Don’t be stingy, the listener wants to hear how the story begins all the way to the end, but for the love of Zeus be brief!  Just talk about the major events without getting bogged down in details.

A Summary
     Finally summarize why you think this idea is something that will connect with your audience, and what makes it so special.

Rule #3 - The Hook
     The importance of the Hook can’t be overstated.  It’s an elusive thing that can be very difficult to come up with.  It’s hard to use the right words that describe your idea when it’s obvious in your head.  Talk about the genre, if it’s different from the usual, state why?  What other films is it like?  What does your main character need, and what do they achieve by the end?  What is this story trying to say?  Asking these questions will help you figure out what to say with your Hook.  It’s a good idea to practice by saying your pitch to people who haven’t heard of your idea.  Listen to the consistency of the misconceptions you will hear.  It’s a great way to realize stuff you left out.

Rule #4 - Length
     You may have as little as 30 seconds to 10 minutes of time with the person you’re pitching to, so be prepared to vary the lengths of your pitch.  In the case of a 10 minute pitch, I usually write one and a half pages of text as my base.  At that length, depending on how quickly you speak, you’ll run about 5 to 6 minutes.  I’m not convinced any pitch needs to be 10 minutes in length.  You should be able to give the listener the gist of the idea in 5-6 minutes, and if you have time left over, they can ask questions.  Trust me, they will appreciate your briefness if the pitch is accurate and professional, especially if it’s something they want to pass on.

Rule #5 - Don’t Read
     You can’t engage your listener if you’re constantly looking down at your papers.  You want to know your pitch by heart, and practice saying it to an audience.

Rule #6 - Listen and Know How To Listen

     Most people will give you solid, extremely useful advice on your pitch that you NEED to listen to, but it’s also important to remember that everyone is different, and no one interprets words as they are written in the dictionary.  All people bring their own baggage to what they hear, and it’s important to see that this will affect how your pitch is interpreted.  This is probably the hardest thing to navigate, because sometimes the words you use will have a negative impact on the listener that you can’t avoid.  The trick is to listen to the responses and find the right words that have the best CHANCE to elicit the idea you need to get across.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Character, and Realistic Action...

Halloween is over, and in the past month I’ve seen more than my fair share of horror films to suit the season.  As the minutes passed, turning my eyes into crusty orbs of slime, I kept jerking my head back in annoyance, muttering, “Oh come on!”  Never have I seen such vapid and ridiculous characters running about doing things that, more often than not, encourage their own destruction.  Why have so few filmmakers attempted to match the raw power and excellence of films like the Exorcist, The Omen, or Halloween?

What am I talking about?  I’m talking about the idiot who goes off alone into the woods to check out a noise AFTER they’ve found out there’s a monster lurking about killing people.  The soldier who loses his cool and threatens everyone after the zombie outbreak, even though soldiers are trained to handle stress while we civilians aren’t.  The fact that everyone always turns their backs on a killer/zombie/monster once they think they’ve killed it, so that they don’t see the thing get up again to attack them.  I’m talking about realistic character action.

It may look like I’m picking on horror movies unfairly, and this is true, because you can see signs of this kind of bad writing in every genre, except drama.  In a drama, you don’t often have car chases, explosions, people dying violent deaths, or monsters to heighten the story.  In drama, all you have is character, and it seems to me that writers who are interested in stories that don’t contain larger than life plots take character much more seriously than genre filmmakers do.  There are always exceptions, but for some reason, genre film is where writing is at it’s worst.

I think there are a lot of reasons for this problem, because of overproduction, people who shouldn’t be writing are.  Production costs are going up and there’s less time to work the kinks out of a story before going into production.  The world has become such a complicated a place, I’m not sure writers have the knowledge they need to write believable characters.  But the real reason is that I’m older and less patient with bad writing than I used to be.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people say, “Hey, what do you want?  It’s a zombie/monster/action movie!”  I don’t think genres should take their characters any less seriously than drama does.  Sadly there’s a whole generation that has never seen a film before Michael Bay hit the scene, and they don’t expect more.  To many, a film is nothing more than an amusement park ride - it’s an experience.  One need only look at the success of films like Paranormal Activity, where their idea of suspense is the long wait between ‘jump’ scenes.  Getting your audience to ‘jump’ doesn’t take skill, real suspense does, and it’s more effective.  Seen Kubrick’s The Shining?  

If a film is intended for a human audience, then the characters must be relatable to a human audience.  If a character in your outline does something that is clearly against their best interests (like going upstairs, alone in the dark knowing the killer is probably up there), don’t force it.  These turning points are among the most interesting challenges a writer faces.  Sometimes you devise creative roadblocks that realistically forces them to do what they normally wouldn’t.  If you can’t come up with an appropriate roadblock, let the character make their own decision.  It often takes the plot in a more creative, interesting direction.  The control must always be a balance between the writer and the character.

A good example is this summer’s Predators.  Clearly they didn’t have a big budget, and one thing that can save an underfunded action movie is an engaging script, but alas they failed.  In one scene a character recounts a tale she heard about her countrymen facing a Predator, and that they were able to avoid detection by smearing mud on their skin (an obvious reference to the original Predator film).  So what do the characters do?  They wait until everyone is dead, except for two people, before they use the mud.  I’m sorry but that’s just plain bad writing.  What they could have done was gone with the mud right after it’s mentioned.  They start getting an upper hand in battling the alien threat, but then the Predators would quickly react, “Crap, they’re using the mud against us!”  Then the predators would find a way around this problem.  This way you have a constant battling of tactics that ups the game and dramatics, without upping the budget.

Another thing I need to single out, is the military.  When writing these characters, for God’s sake do some research.  It looks really bad when soldiers don’t use the most basic of tactics.  Soldiers and Police have ways of advancing and clearing rooms safely, but you’d be hard pressed to see them do that in most films.  It makes my eyes and head loll back when the soldiers start to die because they don’t use these tactics.  I’m not in the military, but with all the zombie movies I’ve seen in the past month I thought I’d get whiplash from how many times I rolled my head muttering, “Oh come on!”  Soldiers and police are often portrayed ignorantly, but no one is more stupid than a soldier in a zombie movie.  Zombie film writers must really hate soldiers?!

If your characters are smart, then you need even smarter villains.  If you can’t get smarter villains (as in the case of zombies), then you need to add conditions that give the threat the upper hand, but something believable and not arbitrary.  Having smart characters is a good thing.  It keeps the audience guessing.  It engages the viewer’s mind.  It’s as important to get them by the brains as it is to get them by the heart.  It all comes down to suspension of disbelief.  If the characters aren’t believable, how can I be expected to take the monster/killer/zombie seriously?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Narrative Monkey Bars

As I finish the rough outline of my script, I thought it wise to comment on my process, which is not unlike that of an architect. I like to write down all my random thoughts over time. Sometimes I struggle with ideas, and I go for a walk listening to music that seems appropriate for what I’m writing, in this case, spy movie scores. As the ideas come out, I write the random jumble of story events down. Normally I have a clearly structured beginning and end, but a muddled center to the story. When I feel I have enough, I print the ideas out on recipe cards.

The recipe cards are like the pieces to a puzzle that doesn’t yet have a picture. Like I said, I had the beginning and the end, so I literally laid them out on the floor and started jumbling the events, trying to find a picture. Which should happen first, and what flows best. Some of the cards never fit, and were cast aside, while other ideas needed new cards made to bridge the gaps in between.

This is what I mean by writing like an architect. I like to have my blueprints done. Does the structure work? Do the character arcs pan out or do they seem jilted and forced. You can see all this when you do a proper outline. Armed with this planned structure, I can feel free to run wild in the actual writing process, confidently knowing that I did my groundwork. It free’s me up to risk, kind-of like playing on the monkey bars knowing that the engineer built the apparatus well enough to support your weight.

I’m a big fan of this type of writing process. I know some don’t feel they are being spontaneous if they outline their stories before hand, but more often than not, the story ends up feeling made up on the spot. The character arcs don’t get fulfilled, dialogue doesn’t have a guided purpose, and pacing is muddled. This all combines to confuse the narrative. If you’re trying to say something to your audience, you need to figure out what that is before you start writing. It’s no different from opening your mouth without knowing what you plan to say. You can get away with this in daily conversation, but if you want to make a living as a writer, you can’t afford to.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Seeing the Forest From the Trees

I have made no secret of my desire to be hired as a scriptwriter. To be paid for my ideas, rather than my ability to draw nicer versions of other people’s ideas is very attractive to me. But you can’t get writing work without having a portfolio, and that’s what I’ve been working on building lately.

It’s been a difficult process, because my first step was to begin writing spec scripts for TV. A spec script is a story not normally intended for production, but is an example of your writing skills, and is based off a show or movie that is similar, but not the same as the show you are applying to get. I had one problem, I don’t really watch much TV. So trying to find a show that engaged me enough to want to write a 22 or 44 page script was getting me nowhere. So I’ve all but given up on that direction and decided to do what I do best.

It’s the riskier option, but also the one that garners the greatest benefits if successful. I decided to write my own story. I’m good at it, and it is what I really want to do anyway. With my mounting collection of properties, not developing them further would be a waste of time. With this in mind, I had to pick a project, and I grabbed hold of a spy-adventure series of mine. After years of working on my Fantasy Adventure novel, playing in a very different world was due.

Then I hit another roadblock. The outline. I’ve always been good at beginnings. I could write the first half hour of the 120 minute film already, but what happens after those initial minutes I was struggling with. I had a bunch of good random ideas, but nothing was gelling. Every day I’d come up with new characters, plot devices and events, but instinctively they felt random and unrelated. I felt like I was forcing the story along, and it would end up disjointed and contrived.

When you get to these moments, it’s best to take as step back and see the forest from the trees. Outlining a commercial screenplay isn’t really that difficult. If you want to increase the likelihood of a sale, keep it in the traditional three act structure. You introduce the characters and set up the conflict in the first act. Second act, you have your roller-coaster, as each stakeholder in the story struggles to get the upper hand. In the third act you have your final confrontation between protagonist and antagonist, with one of them winning. To a lot of people this is an overly simplistic approach to storytelling. But in the hands of a gifted writer you can tell the most complex and thought provoking stories in this way. It’s really best thought of a guide for timing. When is the stuff you want to happen going to happen?

Let’s say your story is about a man wakes to a home invasion, where he is beaten, tied, but his wife is killed, and the assailant gets away. The man is tormented by the police not able to find his wife’s killer, and decides to go on a hunt of his own. This is your set-up, your first act. The second act is following our hero running down leads to find the man responsible. In the third act, he will obviously find this killer and confront him. With this structure, it’s easy to put all your pieces on the board. You have the hero hunting the killer, the police trying to do the same and not liking the hero in the way, and finally you need your villain. Any of your ideas and characters developed in your brainstorming sessions that don’t fit with that structure can be cast aside.

That’s what I’ve managed to do. By taking a step back and re-examining my outline, I’ve been able to whittle the story down to it’s basics, and now things are starting to move along nicely. Some ideas I’ve chucked, some have come together and led to better ones.

So if you find yourself getting stuck, take a step back and see if you’ve properly decided on an outline. If you can’t define your story in one simple sentence, than it’s probably too complicated, muddy, and may not work. A movie is usually 90 minutes to 2 hours long. You don’t have a lot of time like you do with a book. You need to get your characters and conflict across to your audience extremely fast. The traditional outline process can help that. The signs of the three act structure can be seen in even the greatest films. Don’t ignore it’s uses.

Friday, June 25, 2010

No Is Not An Answer...

So you want to get creative, and you’re searching for an idea. Try as you might, you pop your head off, give it a furious shake, but nothing comes out. You put your head back on and try a new locale. You move from room to room, and when that doesn’t work, you go on a vacation. “Yes!” you think. “That will do it!” And then it doesn’t.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time telling you how to find an idea, because if I knew that, I’d be richer than Bill Gates. No, you either have an idea, or you don’t, though you just may have an idea without even realizing it. You see the key to developing creative ideas is passion. If you don’t have it, you won’t be able to do the things required to not only complete your work, but to see it published/televised/projected.
So what am I getting at? Well, the next time you find yourself in a creative funk, don’t go for the traditional modes of changing the location. Keep this nugget in the back of your mind, next time you’re at a party. Pay close attention to what you talk about to others. Is there a topic you steer the direction to? Is there any one subject you can stay on for an hour or more? If you’re passionate about something enough to talk about it for nearly an hour, most likely this is the subject you should be writing about.
The next step is to research this field as much as possible, though if you’re interested in it, you probably already have. Mine this area for as many ideas as you can. And now this brings me to my point, and the reason for the title of this posting. Once you’ve set on something, you may be temped to doubt your baby, and dismiss it as a stupid idea. Or you may have others tell you it’s a bad idea. They may be right, or it might not be to their taste. The point is, you will have a lot of opposition to face. A lot of people will be saying no to your idea, and you need to get used to that. Keep that passion you have alive, and never doubt it, even if it is a bad idea. Michael Bay and Uwe Boll have made very successful careers off of bad ideas.
You see there is no correlation between the quality of a story or script and with what gets published or produced. It all comes down to the Executive Producer, or Editor who looks at it and says, ‘Yeah, I like it!” So what you need to do is find that one person who likes it. It may take years, and will surely try your patience, but remember, “No is not an answer.”

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Doing the Development Limbo...

Over the years I have seen many people create their own projects in many types of media, and the one immutable fact I’ve learned is that creating the idea is the easy part. The hard part is getting someone to pay you for it, so that your project ends up on screen, in print, or on television.

I am by no means a master at this, I like many, am still learning. I do however know some things, and continue to learn other techniques to success. What I hope to do is share some of these secrets as I travel on this journey through the murky, unpredictable world of development limbo.

Over time I hope to have a useful resource that anyone can use to develop a project and get it produced or published.