Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Screenwriting with Pat Higgins

On June 4th 2016, there’s another chance to spend the day doing screenwriting development exercises with Pat Higgins. At a yet-to-be-disclosed location in central Southend on Sea (sounds very mysterious!) this is a rare opportunity to work in a small group to hone your screenwriting skills in a fun and supportive environment. Click the image for more information, and be sure to act quickly to take advantage of our ridiculously discounted Early Bird specials. Less than an hour from London on the train; why not spend a lovely day at the seaside with likeminded folks and kick your screenwriting career into gear?

If you want to write movies, this is the one for you.

 

Screenwriters get introduced to the idea of the ‘elevator pitch’ with the following scenario:

Imagine that you found yourself in a lift with a Hollywood power-player, and you only had that 60 seconds or so to sell them on the idea of your movie. 60 seconds to convince them that the idea might be worth further investigation. 60 seconds to make them care.

This scenario works quite well as a means of making people think about the hook of their story. Amazingly gifted screenwriters can still be amazingly poor orators, and those words that flow so beautifully on paper can often dry up to a series of splutters and false starts when someone asks what their brilliant movie is actually about. Focusing on communicating the essence of a proposed movie in an incredibly short space of time can be a really useful exercise, but the idea of actually pitching in a lift is largely meant to be a metaphor.

Nonetheless, last year I accidentally found myself pitching in a lift to Joel Schumacher. And, hey, I was a teenager when The Lost Boys came out. It’s one of those movies that made me who I am; everything I’ve ever written has contained elements of both comedy and horror. There’s strands of Lost Boys DNA running through every screenplay to leave my office. I owe Joel Schumacher a lot, and I finally got to repay him by babbling for around a minute about a screenplay that I’m extremely proud of called Your Lying Eyes.

Let me back up a bit. First of all, I’m not one to engineer meetings with people whose work I admire. I feel much happier watching and listening to such people rather than speaking to them. There’s a speech about never meeting your heroes in my script for The Devil’s Music which sums up largely how I feel about it. There’s simply too much riding on it for it to be any fun. Look, I’m a massive Springsteen fan, but if you gave me the chance to sit and have a drink with the guy I’d probably run a mile. Not because I’d be intimidated (people are just people, after all), but what if it went badly? What if we simply didn’t get on? Would I still feel the same way about Thunder Road, or would there be a nagging ‘but…’ in the back of my head every time I listened to it?

So, in the interests of never getting a nagging ‘but…’ every time I watched Falling Down, I probably wouldn’t have engineered a situation where I got to pitch a movie to Joel Schumacher in a lift. But the London Screenwriters Festival had other plans.

If you haven’t heard of the festival, it’s now the largest screenwriting festival in the world. 800-odd screenwriters and speakers, plus a fair few producers and agents knocking about. Lots of people drinking coffee and talking about movies, lots of interesting events and cool stuff. On the Sunday of the festival, I had a meeting about Your Lying Eyes lined up which I was excited but mildly stressed about. It’s a really good script, probably the best thing I’ve ever written, and for this particular meeting I was determined to bring my A-game.

My mate Jim Eaves and I grabbed coffee, and we ended up in a queue for The Elevator Pitch. This was a thing set up by the festival where screenwriters could do the elevator pitch thing for real, usually to somebody connected with the UK industry. I figured it might be a nice little dry-run prior to my meeting. I figured it might be with someone I’d spoken to previously (either at the festival or in the world at large).

It wasn’t, of course. It was Joel Schumacher.

Joel Schumacher in a lift getting babbled at

I think it’s safe to say that my tight-as-a-drum pitch got punctured somewhere on its way out of my mouth and emerged as a bundle of jumbled character motivation and messy beats. Seriously, though, what do you want from me? Dude directed The Lost Boys, for chrissakes.

So elevator pitches are sometimes very real. And not just at orchestrated events at screenwriting festivals. My mate Jim I mentioned? On another occasion, he ended up randomly in a lift with a certain notorious Hollywood mega producer. But that’s his story to tell, not mine.

What floor do you want?

The Seed of an Idea

Posted: January 5, 2015 in TrashHouse, Writing
Tags: ,

There’s a cliche that every creative in any industry will be constantly asked where they get their ideas from. I’ve heard a bunch of great responses, from specific store names to outright abuse, but I guess the reason that the question keeps getting asked is because the answer is never fully satisfying.

Anywhere.

Everywhere.

I had the idea for TrashHouse (or, at least, the idea of a chainsaw-weilding heroine who happened to be styled like a 50s soda-pop girl), whilst wandering around an outdoor museum in the States. They had a recreation of a 50s living room which I walked into whilst absent-mindedly pondering zombies and, boom, Lucy Sweet was born somewhere in my brain. Why, yes, of course you can watch her in action. Here’s our short from last year.

.

I had the acorn that would eventually grow into the idea for Strippers vs Werewolves after labelling a Sky Movies VHS recording (which probably contained Kandyland and Stripped to Kill, or at very least two movies that were so similar to them as to require DNA testing to tell whether they were actually those films or not) as ‘Strippers vs Nutters’, which then became a running joke for years (as I detailed in this blog entry over on the Huffington Post)

Strippers vs Nutters

Ideas can come from anywhere. And, of course, sometimes they don’t come at all. What can you do? What can you do if you need an idea, and nothing is forthcoming? Well, there are a bunch of things that I can recommend if you are trying to get your poor, long-suffering brain to crap out that acorn of potential.

There are several great idea generation exercises in Blake Snyder’s brilliant Save The Cat (which is still flat-out best book on screenwriting I’ve ever read) and some of them can be found at this link over here.

I also recommend grabbing yourself a nice bunch of random words, writing them down and playing with them in any way you see fit. Sometimes just jogging your creative instincts out of their usual patterns can be really productive, and throwing in something random can be a great way of doing that.

Here’s something a bit more unusual. Try drawing a schematic map of a building that you’ve visited in real life (overhead view, nothing fancy, don’t worry if you can’t draw because no bugger is ever going to see it but you). Once you’ve finished, take a look at the layout and see what genre and plots the location would be most suited to.

Just to try an example, here’s my off-the-top-of-my-head sketch of a flat I lived in around 2001.

pat_flat.jpeg

There are a number of things that immediately come to mind looking at this image. The first one is that my own rule about not worrying how awful the drawing is because no bugger will ever see it has clearly led me into a false sense of security in this case, particularly as some bugger (specifically YOU, you bugger) is now looking at it. Try and put this, and my lack of any drawing ability, from your mind.

I’d forgotten a lot of details until I drew this image. The blind on the front window only covers the middle pane of glass, thus allowing a partial view into the lounge from the street. This immediately gives me ideas for plot and incident, most of which would be best suited to a thriller. The guy who worked in the shop opposite used to watch the going on in our flat with interest, and relay my life back to me with an alarming amount of detail whenever I popped in for cigarettes. Maybe he could be a witness to something?

Back to the flat. Next up; the only way to the toilet is through the main bedroom. There’s some vague idea here for either a scatological comedy (perhaps of the unwanted houseguest subgenre) or, again, a thriller. Probably dependent if the character was trying to get into the toilet or out of it.The whole place could be a fucking nightmare in a case of fire, or course. So many places to get trapped. Or to hide.

Yeah, I reckon a domestic thriller would be the way to go with this location. If I had the little map sitting next to me while I wrote, I’d have so many ideas for little bits of business which simply wouldn’t cross my mind (in terms of how characters could get from room to room, or what they could or couldn’t do) without a strong sense of the layout of the location. If you know of a location that you might be able to use for an indie shoot, why not try the exercise with that?

Once the idea is in place, of course, the real fun begins..

This next thing follows this previous thing. Read the previous thing first.

I’m not a guy who tends to approach the big subjects in life. I’m a guy who makes horror films. I have no background in investigative journalism, beyond that my uncle used to do restaurant reviews for the local paper. I didn’t set out with any sort of agenda or gameplan. I didn’t even necessarily set out to make a documentary, let alone go on to write a book about it. This wasn’t the way that I expected 2008 and 2009 to pan out. In fact, in the summer of 2008 I was meant to be directing a fun little b-movie called [TITLE REDACTED] and instead I found myself coping with the fallout of having spent the previous year digging around the story of Erika Spawn. I’ve fended off everyone from fanboys to religious fanatics, all of whom have been convinced that I’ve been doing something very very wrong, even if they’ve had wildly differing ideas as to exactly what.

Erika Spawn - Goat Shoot

 

When the final phase of Erika’s story broke, in late summer 2007, I was dealing with making the delivery list for KillerKiller. When an independent film gets picked up by a distributor, that distributor sends you a delivery list, detailing all the weird and wonderful things that you’ll have to supply them with along with the master of the movie that they’ve just bought from you. KillerKiller’s delivery list to York Entertainment over in the US was fairly straightforward, and thankfully devoid of items such as the dreaded ‘Aeroplane Version’, where the producer has to deliver a cut of the movie that has no nudity, sex, violence or bad language yet somehow has the same running time, presumably via extended cutaways of bunnies hopping through fields. The job of making the delivery list had been made rather easier because Pip had joined the company full time a few weeks previously. Oh, and I should probably point out at this stage that Pip = Pippa Higgins, who not only produces all my flicks nowadays but is also my wife. She rocks my world on a daily basis, and also stops me doing incredibly stupid things without really thinking them through. She’s amazingly funny, astonishingly well organised and the most fundamentally interesting and brilliant person I’ve ever met. But when I say things like ‘I should phone Eddie Meachum’ when I’ve only got two days left before the deadline on a delivery list, she tends to call me on it.

‘You mean Erika Spawn’s manager? Why do you want to call him?’

‘To see how he’s doing.’

‘You’ve never given a shit how he was doing before. Why do you suddenly care now?’

‘He was a nice guy. Now he’s all over the papers and they’re tearing him to bits.’

‘You should delete the number. You don’t even know him.’

‘I liked him.’

‘Are we going to have to have another number deleting session?’

I winced. I didn’t like number-deleting sessions.

I have a habit of accruing numbers in my phone at a fairly rapid rate, often of people that I’m only very tenuously associated with. Years before I got into the movie-making business, I was involved with stand-up comedy. Involved in the sense that I ran a monthly comedy night over a pub, and I performed it fairly badly as a hobby. As a result, an awful lot of comedian’s numbers found their way into my phone and, over the years, some of them became famous. Funnily enough, when they became famous I didn’t want to delete their numbers ‘in case I needed them one day’. As a result, my phone was cluttered with numbers for people like Russell Brand and Alex Zane, most of which had probably stopped working years ago and I never actually intended to phone anyway, but somehow having them in my phone made me feel slightly higher up the ladder than I actually was. Once in a while, Pip would grab my phone and ruthlessly cull numbers. Allegedly this was to save space on the phone, but I think there was a very useful side effect of keeping me vaguely tethered to reality.

‘Even if we have a number-deleting session, his one stays. Because I want to phone him. Maybe I’ll wait till all this blows over, though.’

‘What’s this got to do with the delivery list?’

And then, without even really thinking about it, I blurted out;

‘We need a new project.’

‘We’ve already talked about this. There’s not enough cash in the company account to shoot another feature.’

This was true. The previous summer we’d shot KillerKiller back-to-back with another straight to DVD flick called Hellbride. Both were now complete, but at this stage we hadn’t seen a penny back from either of them. The cupboards were very much bare as far as funding a narrative feature went.

‘Maybe not a narrative, no’ I said, still not really thinking about what I was saying and really just looking for an excuse to ring the guy who was all over the papers and whose number I had in my phone. ‘But what about a documentary? Maybe just an interview or something?’

I hadn’t thought it through even slightly, but I was warming to my theme even as I spoke. Pip looked like she was biting her tongue, but appeared to be hearing me out.

‘Look, the Erika Spawn story is the hottest news story in the country right now. We’ve got an office full of HD filming equipment and a phone full of numbers of people connected to the story. If we can’t find a way to turn this into something financially rewarding we don’t deserve to be called filmmakers’

Pip thought long and hard before responding.

‘What do you mean a phone full of numbers?’

‘We’ve got Eddie’s’

‘We’ve got Eddie’s from two years ago. And that’s it? That’s not exactly a phone full of numbers. That’s one number. That almost definitely won’t work.’

‘Course it’ll work. I’ve had the same mobile number for 12 years.’

‘That’s because you’re not all over the papers. He’ll have changed it.’

‘Bet he hasn’t.’

‘Look, I don’t even want to talk about this. Have you burnt that DVD of photos yet, or do I have to..’

‘It’s ringing.’

Pip shot me a look and exhaled very slowly and carefully. I sat and watched the little readout on my phone, with the animated full stops after ‘Calling Eddie Meachum…’ dancing their path across the screen. It rang, and rang, and went to voicemail.

‘He’s screening. Hang it up,’ Pip said.

The voicemail message sounded incongruously upbeat, considering that the man in question was being called ‘The Shadowy Figure behind Evil Erika’ by the tabloids.

‘Hiya, this is Eddie. I’m out and about at the moment, but I’ll get back to you. Cheers.’

I cleared my throat, unsure as to what I was going to say. Pip made a ‘put the phone down right now’ gesture, and without getting the okay from my brain, my mouth apparently started speaking.

‘Hi, uh, Eddie? I don’t know if you remember me. My name’s Pat Higgins, I directed Erika’s video for Needles. I imagine that everything’s pretty insane at the moment, but I wanted to say that if you want to have a chat it’d be good to speak to you. Y’know, maybe if you wanted to give your side of the story or whatever. Give me a call, anyway. Cheers.’

There was a silence in the room as I hung up. My conscience had kicked in.

‘Did that sound a bit ambulance-chasey?’ I asked Pip.

‘Of course not’ she said, irritated. ‘You just phoned up a guy who’s all over the tabloids and offered to let him tell “his side of the story”. Just like every media outlet in the world is probably doing right now. Difference is, they can all offer him vast amounts of money. What can you offer him? A bit part in [TITLE REDACTED]? It makes us look unprofessional.’

I looked around our office. Just to shatter the illusions of anyone out there who thinks that making straight-to-DVD splatter movies is glamorous and well-paying, I’ll describe the office to you. It’s the room next to our bedroom in our semi-detached suburban house. It has one wall painted vivid green so that we can shoot green screen pick-up shots of zombies or whatever without having to hire studio space. It contains two computers; a massively out-of-date PC, on which I cut TrashHouse back in 2005, and a massively overpowered Mac which I use for everything nowadays. There’s a framed poster of Gremlins on the back wall and there are usually coffee cups everywhere. Prior to February 2005 the entire room was full of overflowing ashtrays which I could never be bothered to empty, nowadays it’s just covered in empty wrappers from sweets or gum. Pip tries her hardest to keep it clean, but I can be a one man mess-machine when I put my mind to it.

God forbid we should ever look unprofessional.

‘Doesn’t matter. We gave it a shot.’

‘Did you really mean that about shooting a documentary?’ she asked.

I grinned sheepishly.

‘Not really my area. I was just looking for excuses not to blat the number.’

And then the phone starting ringing, the vibrate function making it dance and clatter on the plastic IKEA stool where I’d absent-mindedly dumped it. I looked at the readout.

Eddie Meachum.

‘He’s phoning back,’ I said to Pip, eyes probably showing a slight edge of panic. ‘Do you want to answer it?’
Her look told me no. Really rather definitely no.

I answered it.

‘Hi Eddie.’

‘Hey Pat. Sorry I missed your call. I was having a shit. Got a fucking headache like you wouldn’t believe. Haven’t heard the voicemail, just thought I’d phone straight back. You’re the guy from Warners, yeah?’

‘Ah, no. I’m Pat Higgins. We shot a music video for Needles with you a couple of years back.’

‘It came up Pat on the phone. I’m sure that’s the name of the guy from Warners.’

‘Different Pat?’

‘Yeah, must be. So, how can I help you Pat?’

‘I’ve been reading the papers.’

‘Yeah, hasn’t everyone,’ he said, ending the sentence as a statement rather than a question. Suddenly, he brightened. ‘You’re the tall guy, right? Dice earring? We shot that video chopping up that blonde chick on the hospital trolley?’

Thank fuck. He remembered.

‘That’s me.’

‘Sorry about my manners. Been a hell of a week.’

‘I guess so,’ I said. I decided to go for broke. ‘Look, if you want to talk about it..’

I heard him take a deep breath on the other end of the line. I imagined that he was massaging his eyes with his fingers, willing his headache to fade. He spoke carefully but firmly.

‘Ah, look Pat. I’m just gonna sit tight and wait for Erika to turn up. Don’t really want to talk to anyone. This’ll all blow over. Thanks for phoning and everything, though.’

And he hung up.

I relayed the conversation to Pip. She chewed a pen thoughtfully, and ventured;

‘He’d have been happy to talk to Warners, though, wouldn’t he?’

I had to concede that it sounded rather like he would.

The first time I met Erika Spawn on the hottest day of the year in the summer of 2005. We were scheduled to shoot a video for her track Needles, which was third single from her second album, in a tiny green screen studio in the shittiest part of West London. Granted, Erika wasn’t a star by then, but I was still somewhat stunned that her label wouldn’t spring for a more expensive studio or, to be frank, a higher profile director than me. Over the next few years, I’d go on to make a handful of cult movies which would at least establish me as a safe pair of hands. At this point, however, all I’d shot was my debut flick, Trashhouse, and that hadn’t even been released on DVD yet. When I was offered the gig for the Needles shoot, I was just told that Erika had seen the TrashHouse trailer online and had thought it was funny. I wasn’t going to turn down any paying gig whatsoever at that point, so I didn’t ask any questions. I just showed up.

Well, at least, I just tried to. The studio was the hardest place to fucking find that I’ve ever been late getting to in my life. Pip was behind the wheel, turning corner after corner cursing my navigational skills as I led her from dead end road to one-way street. By the time we finally got there we were both frazzled and spent, convince that we’d walk in to find a pissed-off production team and an Erika at the end of her tether. We thought we’d probably get fired. We made our way across the baking forecourt, the sun bleaching our hair and reddening our skin with every second that we exposed ourselves to it. As it turned out, we were the first ones there.

Erika finally turned up four hours later. In a full length fur coat.

The shoot’s nominal producer was Eddie Meachum, Erika’s manager. Quite how he considered that being her manager meant that he was going to be a competent producer for a music video shoot I have absolutely no idea. Pip (who was officially only there as my ‘assistant’ on this case) ended up pulling so much of Eddie’s slack that when she actually came to produce a music video herself a couple of years later (the Rocky-themed video for Jim Bob’s Battling the Bottle) she’d already had all the practice that she needed and could probably have done the whole thing with her eyes shut. That’s no offence to Eddie there; he’d tell you the same thing himself. I liked the guy then, and still do actually. There aren’t all that many people that I met in the course of this story that I’d actively choose to stay in touch with, but Eddie’s one of them. Doesn’t change the fact that the guy couldn’t produce worth shit, and I was a first time director as far as music videos were concerned. So neither of us were particularly able to rein Erika in. She’s very much the unstoppable force, and neither of us were an immovable object.

The video ended up more unpleasant than it was intended to be, which made things even more difficult when it came to getting it played. I was going to stick an embed of it on here, but it looks like they’ve all been blitzed off the ‘net, so you’ll have to content yourselves with a fan-made Dying Bride video up at the top of the page. If you’re still massively curious about the Needles video, there’s an extract from it in the final cut of The Devil’s Music. Oh, and here is the only photo in existence (as far as I know) of me and Erika Spawn in the same room. Snapped on the very day I’ve been talking about.

Pat Higgins and Erika Spawn

We’d always planned the rubber lingerie and the surgeon tools, but the original concept was for the whole video to be POV from the patient’s viewpoint. Here’s the rough breakdown from the storyboards I’d been emailed.

1. POV from patient’s perspective strapped to trolley. Empty room.
2. POV of Erika entering room. She’s wearing a rubber outfit with stockings and suspenders and a spiked collar.
3. POV as Erika sings to patient (ie. Straight to camera)
4. POV as Erika produces tray of vicious-looking surgical equipment.
5. POV surgery – Erika pulls entrails and organs out of the unseen patient.
6. POV slow, slow fade to black.

The idea was that the video would feel horrible, but that we wouldn’t actually need to show any of the graphic stuff (scalpels cutting flesh, and so on) by sticking firmly to the POV, so we’d get away with post-watershed on the only music channels that would actually be interested in showing us anyway. By the time Erika arrived, got done with hair and makeup and turned up on our tiny little stage in her rubber outfit, it would ordinarily have been about time to break for lunch. Pip made murmurs in this direction, which Erika firmly cast aside with an ‘I already ate. Let’s shoot this thing’.

So, we shot. For about an hour. After which time, Erika was starting to get into it. She was stalking around the stage, growling the lyrics straight into the camera in time to the guide track which was booming around the little studio. I was just about to call for another take when she brightly asked;

‘So, where’s the chick?’
‘What chick?’
‘The chick I’m cutting?’
‘Oh, we’re sticking to the Point of View shot, so you’re never gonna need to see them.’
‘No, no, no. I mean, the chick I’m cutting up.’
‘I thought we were going to..’

She smiled abruptly and turned to Eddie.

‘Eddie, get us a girl down here. This guy hasn’t got us someone for me to cut. Not Carol, someone different, maybe a blonde. You know the score.’

Eddie gave a quick salute, and within an hour we had a wriggling glamour model strapped to the operating table. I filmed her in decidedly non-POV shots, as Erika prodded at her with a rubber scalpel and the fake blood flowed. As you’ll know if you’ve seen the video, the POV stuff kind of goes out the window after the first minute. It’s cheerfully horrible, but not exactly psychological horror.

Erika Spawn - Needles

And that was pretty much it as far as drama went. It was a cheap, two day shoot that ended up rather bloodier than expected. It was a fun little side project which was barely seen by anybody until two years later, when anything remotely connected to Erika immediately became hot property. The YouTube hits for it are pushing three million now. Erika and I didn’t argue, didn’t have some blow-up. I was a rookie director who needed the money, why the hell would I argue with the star of the show?

The last time I met Erika Spawn was at the first showing of the completed video, which took place in a small room in the offices of her record label about six weeks later. We watched the completed video, gave each other a hug and promised to work again together in the future. Standard Operational Bullshit, obviously never see each other again.

I should probably mention Erika’s accent. As you probably know from footage that you may have seen of her, it ping-pongs around all over the place. People’s take on this seems to differ depending on how benignly they look upon Erika. Fans claim that she’d lived in so many places throughout her life that she’d picked up different inflections on the road, and that her accent was a kind of cultural gumbo reflecting a varied upbringing. Her critics claimed that the thing was an affectation that she never quite mastered, like she was shooting for a broad New York accent but fucked up and always had to live with her mistake when in public or be exposed as a fraud. Personally, I believe that Erika spent her whole life pretending to be different things to different people. In researching her life, I found that she did indeed spend time in a fair few places growing up, but I don’t believe that she picked up those inflections naturally. I think she’d fake it wherever she was. In London, she’d fake RP. If she was in Australia, she’d affect an Aussie drawl. And the whole lot just bled together. I’m not sure there was ever actually an accent that was hers to begin with, just the residue of a whole bunch of different fake voices that she’d put on. So many different fake voices that the genuine voice never had a chance to properly develop.

Erika loved fake stuff, and I think she would have genuinely regarded that as a triumph rather than a tragedy. Fake voices, fake nails, but, above all, fake bloodshed. Even in the two days that I spent in her company, it was obvious that Erika had not only a deep love of, but also a borderline compulsion towards, any kind of make-believe horror or gore. This was matched only by a mirroring sense of revulsion towards any kind of real-life brutality. She would be repelled by images of war or violence in the papers, yet would think nothing of pretending to gut and dissect a struggling glamour model in one of her music videos. It was pantomime, and she loved it for that reason.

This is why, when the violence and the bloodshed turned very, very real in the summer of 2007, I simply couldn’t get Erika Spawn out of my head. I couldn’t reconcile the images that the papers were reprinting day after day with the woman I’d seen recoiling from a tabloid because it contained a photo of an old lady bruised from a mugging. I simply couldn’t understand how Erika could get from the messy Grand-Guignol ridiculousness of the Needles promo to that notorious eight minutes of shaky video referred to by baying red-tops as ‘The Torture Footage’ in just two years.

The Erika Spawn phenomenon went from being a fun little goth metal band with some killer tunes and gross-out stage show, to being one of the darkest news stories of the decade with a genuine body count.

And I decided, rather foolishly, that I was going to find out why.

PS. I might continue telling this tale. I might not. It’s not something I talk about much, and the only reason that it’s back on my mind is because I’ve been asked to look back at The Devil’s Music ahead of the upcoming re-release via Cine du Monde. It’s weird thinking about it all again. For more information about my movies, why not check out the live show “Werewolves, Cheerleaders & Chainsaws” embedded at the bottom of this blog entry? It hasn’t got much about Erika, but it’s got blood, boobs and bad language so I’m sure she’d approve. Wherever she is.

The Elevator Pitch

Posted: February 8, 2013 in Industry, Writing

My good friend Jim Eaves, (head honcho of Amber Pictures and one of my co-conspirators on the Death Tales movies), once got in a lift with Harvey Weinstein. It’s not something that happens particularly often to low-budget horror filmmakers in the UK. There isn’t a photo of Jim in a lift with Harvey Weinstein, so here’s a photo of him with George Lucas instead. It’s one of my favourite photos in the world.

eaves_lucas

So, if you’re in a lift with one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, that’s when you need an elevator pitch. And balls the size of Kong, naturally. It’s the time when you’ll need a concise, punchy and above all interesting way of getting your project across in as short a time as possible.

Chainsaw_Fairytale

Here’s the original elevator pitch for Chainsaw Fairytale. Nobody outside the Jinx offices has ever seen this; I’m only releasing it into the wild because the project has taken a slight backseat lately due to… Well, due to the announcement we’ll be making on Feb 22nd. This was my attempt to crunch the narrative down into an attention-grabbing one-minute pitch, for if I were ever in that fabled lift.

Chainsaw Fairytale Elevator Pitch

Frankly, it’s not great. It’s a work in progress, written at a point when the screenplay was still foremost in my mind and before I’d had the necessary cooling off period to get a bit of perspective on the thing and work out what was truly interesting about the screenplay. Of course, following the elevator pitch cliche that you only have one chance to make a first impression, I’m being a complete idiot letting you guys have a look at it as it stands. It’s not ready.

But, of course, sod it.
The first thing I’ll do when I rewrite this is try and give readers a more immediate impression of who Amy is and why they should care about her; I like the flippant ‘didn’t get the memo’ bit but it could certainly turn a lot of people off.

(Sidenote: I’m forever dropping out of the dispassionate authorial voice at innappropriate times. I had an actor last year quite rightly query why my action directions in a shooting script referred to a character as a ‘bastard’ when they should really be staying a bit more detached from proceedings)

I remember pitching at one of Raindance‘s Live Ammunition events in the mid 90s. I’m pretty sure the panel had Irvin Kirshner on it, but if it’s my memory playing tricks then please forgive me. I pitched a script called ‘Gatecrashers’ which I’d written with an old friend from University. The two of us perfected our patter, pitching back-and-forth in a rat-a-tat fashion to try and get across exactly why our movie would stand out from all the other Tarantino wannabe scripts being written by guys coming out of university around that time. I thought it went well. After we’d finished, someone on the panel (Kirshner? God knows) finally spoke;

“You guys are a hell of a double act. I was so busy being entertained by you that I forgot to listen to what your movie was about”

That wasn’t the response we were hoping for, and Gatecrashers eventually fizzled and died. Weirdly enough, though, I had a telephone call from a lawyer a couple of years ago. He’d found a copy of the screenplay for Gatecrashers in a vault in his law firm; put there by a partner in the firm who had since died, at the request of my old uni mate who I’d long since lost touch with. He posted it to me, and this long-forgotten piece of my movie history now sits on a shelf in my office. The Tarantino-esque high-concept movie (a gang of beautifully dressed gangsters robbing the parties of the rich and shameless) with the elevator pitch which was just too goddamn entertaining.

If you want to take the elevator pitch down to just a few words, I recommend the Turbo Charged Logline approach as pioneered by the much-missed Blake Snyder in his book Save the Cat!: The Only Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, which remains the single best book about commercial screenwriting that I’ve ever read.

WCLCS_logo

We’re into the final week before Werewolves Cheerleaders and Chainsaws at the Horror-on-Sea festival. As I write these words there are still a handful of tickets left, which can be snatched up by just clicking the logo above. It’s a 90 min live event about low budget horror filmmaking, including all sorts of clips, anecdotes and advice. Should be a hell of a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to it; hope to see you there!