Every writer should get started in Hollywood. If you want to write a bestseller, go to Hollywood and pitch it to 90 agents at the Storyworld Conference at the Kodak Theatre. It’s the annual conference of the who’s who up and down the supply chain (from content producers to marketing agents and distributors) for Hollywood’s biggest storytelling industries: Books, Film, Television, Games, and Advertising.
They’ve been figuring out story worlds for almost a century. Scott Trowbridge, the Vice President of Walt Disney’s Imagineering, will tell you all about how Disney has had a private think tank since 1952 that does nothing but test stories on audiences to come up with great stories, bring characters to life, create places where audiences can live right next to characters, and create new ways of engaging the audience. Today, they have massive theme parks where they beta test stories by having unsuspecting visitors participate in role-playing games. They have massive computers that are programmed to write every possible permutation of story-plots and run statistics figuring out which ones will be the biggest hits. And they have all the resources in the world to scale up once they hit the jackpot. And by that, I’m sure you know, I mean take something and run it through every platform available.. the merchandise, theme park, publishing, online gaming, etc machines.
To figure out your story, you have to do it backwards, because the writing part is a given. If you can’t figure out a log line that works, and pitch it past a screaming Christopher Lockhart, who has read more than 30,000 screenplays and casts top billed actors from the biggest talent management agency in Hollywood (and is therefore very impatient), then you haven’t got a story to write. Of course, you’ll need some characters. And lots of conflict. “What do you mean you don’t have conflict? Get out of Hollywood! Go write poetry!”
Storytelling is serious business for the screenwriter’s guild in Hollywood. If anyone has plotting, dialogue, scenes, characters, when to put bombs into a movie, down to a scientific formula, it’s those guys. And guess what? it works. Writing a screenplay to them is no different from an architect designing the construction of a house. Plot devices literally provide all the structure they need to fill in and carry the story arc. With all the cogs and screws in place, they are very well-oiled machines. No wonder James Cameron wrote Avatar in 2 weeks flat.
If you’re into character driven plots, ask Karl Iglesias, UCLA Prof, who adapted Einstein’s e=mc2 formula into something much more to explain how Pixar creates characters we all love. He can take two movies, like Finding Nemo, and Shark Tale, and reverse engineer the first five minutes for you to explain why one cartoon hooks you in but the other does not. He points out that when John Lasseter talks about the emotional core,he’s coming from USD 7B at the box office, 13 movies, 26 Oscars, 6 Best Animated Features. Given the investment that goes into each movie, Pixar spends 12 years developing its story-reel of characters!!!
Plot points in a screenplay have to be achieved in a discrete amount of time. It is so much more efficient to think of your book as a future screenplay and figure out scenes you really need to get your story across. Syd Field wrote THE bible — “Screenplay”. He’s THE screenwriting guru everyone in Hollywood is acquainted with; his textbook has become mandatory course reading for budding screenwriters at UCLA and USC film schools (et.al.). He advises people to reverse engineer scripts they like; identify 15 beats to every script. In the Hunger Games, every scene unfolds in a straight line…
I mean, wouldn’t it be cool to make storyboards of your entire novel, covering major plot points in key scenes, BEFORE writing out the entire novel?! You could technically take those storyboards and turn them into comic books too! Modularize and commercialize the book idea in a different platform. (Screenplay + comic book for kids + book = 3 marketable platforms!) Hollywood has several advanced software for this: Dramatica, Final Draft, Movie Magic, etc…
Authenticity is key to your story. And authenticity sells. Michael Hague, who sits on the Board of Directors of the American Screenwriter’s Association, works with Hollywood executives, producers, agents and managers to achieve commercially successful screenplays. He’s also the author of “Writing Screenplays That Sell”. He can literally sift through an impossible mess in a 30 minute conversation and guide you to the powerful, authentic material that drives the plot. “The hook is the dilemma at the end of the pitch that the character faces that seems impossible.”
Yes, the sheer amount of resources for writers in Hollywood is just phenomenal. Jeff Gomez, at Starlight Runner Entertainment (no intro needed), can take you through the 10 Commandments of 21st Century Blockbuster Franchise Production. Creating storyworlds for him is like branding a franchise… and this coming from the man who’s creating the nation’s first transmedia incubator… he believes that this know-how should be open-source (read, free!)…. what a guy!
Hollywood takes storytelling seriously because they have serious clients. Pamela Jaye-Smith founded Mythworks, a company that helps organizations by “applying mythology for a more powerful reality”. She trademarked the term “Warrior Archetype” and advises the FBI and the US Army. Her production company wrote and designed the Command Briefing CD for the U.S. Army Signal Command.
[The Writer’s Guild Foundation library is located on 7000 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles –> go there, the librarian on duty is a walking encyclopedia…pick up a real screenplay in your hands, and read it. It took me 30 minutes to get through most of Witness, winner in 1984]