Navigating Hollywood, strategies from Christopher Lockhart

Christopher Lockhart is a story editor, filmmaker, and educator at William Morris Endeavor (WME), the largest talent agency in Tinseltown. He has an active blog-site and runs a Facebook community called The Inside Pitch for a community of budding screenwriters.  Having read more than 30,000 screenplays, he essentially looks for scripts for actors.  His client list includes Denzel Washington, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck. At the Storyworld Conference in Hollywood, he shared some strategies for selling your script in Hollywood.

  • Externalize the internal: character’s development as he/she struggles through insurmountable obstacles, psychological growth, and emotionality needs to be externalized. Apply the Aristotelian arc of dramatic structure to the plot, extrapolating from the characters’ change process.

  • Develop strong villains: Villains need to be as strong as protagonists
  • Have lots of conflict: If your scripts lack conflict, you’re in the wrong business. “Go write poetry!”
  • Pitches start with simplicity… like a log line. Pitching anything in Hollywood is like a game of telephone – you get passed from Person 1 to Person 2 to Person 3. Therefore, simplicity is important. In Hollywood, meetings don’t last longer than 5 minutes. Prepare your log line and your pitch very well so that you don’t end up throwing up all over the person you’re talking to.
  • Have no mysteries in a log line: Of half the loglines sent to him, he understands the movie, but misses the conflict.
    • What is the movie about?
    • The log line is not a tagline. It is very specific.
    • Who is the protagonist?
    • What does he/she want?
    • What is in his/her way?
    • Phrase a log line so that the protagonist sounds active.
  • How to get a pitch in the door:
    • A pitch is never in the door (Do you realize just how many people want to write in Hollywood?)
    • You can differentiate yourself by being Top 10 on the Nicholl Fellowship for Screenwriters
    • Go for managers, write to them. Your job is to get at least 5 managers interested
    • With Hollywood script agents, 50% is about who you know and interrelationships…
    • Hollywood makes two to 300 movies a year. The sheer supply of scripts far outstrips demand
  • Understand structure
    • Trust the folks in Hollywood to know what works and what doesn’t work. A playwright is like a shipwright. A screenplay has architecture (like a ship, or a house).
    • You have to understand the structure of a screenplay, the juxtaposition of one scene to another, the ebb and flow of drama, and conflict.
    • A lot of novelists just don’t get the concept: you need to have setup and payoff down.
  • Bullet points:
    • Winnow all the details out and have bullet points in your pitch
    • What is the through-line that we can film?
    • What is going on in this movie?
  • The Exec has to want to read the script. You’re in the movie business, so pitch with Fade in and Fade out. Show them that you understand all about movie-making.
  • The Concept is your Angelina Jolie
    • It makes you stand out in the room
    • Your concept must be Cinematic
    • Dramatic
    • and Particularly interesting
    • (Movie-making is very expensive)
  • Actors are always looking for romantic comedies
  • Brand yourself, write in a genre you love
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