Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On the Lot


On Tuesday May 22 Fox presented the first hour of a new reality contest, "On the Lot." This one in movie making, a kind of “director’s contest” like that of Project Greenlight, or “48 Hour Film Project”. Here, Dreamworks has accepted 12000 short film submissions and picked 50 finalists to go through an “Apprentice” like elimination (or ten-week job interview) for one position as a director of a major film.

The first week was pitch week. The contestants drew one of five loglines out of a hat, and had to pitch the film they would make to a panel of three judges. Since the show has aired, I guess it’s OK to say what the loglines are. Roughly, they are (1) a slacker applies to the CIA as a joke and is taken seriously (2) A Catholic seminarian meets the girl (or perhaps man) of his dreams before his ordination as a celibate Priest (3) A mouse becomes a lab rat (4) A man sees himself as most wanted or as a missing person on TV (5) someone receives a mysterious and menacing package from the government, and believes it a mistake.

A lot of the pitches were bad. One man forgot his pitch and had to ad lib. Another over-acted it. But a couple are good, including one about the mouse. (The proposal reminds one of an existing 1997 Dreamworks film Mousehunt, dir. Gore Verbinski, complete with string cheese).

The parameters of the contest are clear. They want to see who can tell a good story with a concept that is assigned and developed by the beancounters. The situations tend to demand “the perfect storm” – a contradiction, creating a crisis that the storyteller has to resolve with the three-part structure. Of course, some situations are just story-provokers and do not really matter enough to really sustain a lot of interest.

The last situation, which one contestant bungled, is something similar to something that happens in my (still on my harddrive, not yet shown) novel. In my scenario, a man with a rental car breaks down when visiting an abandoned nuclear test site in Nevada. When the help arrives (he has broken the terms of his rental agreement), he is given a small packet that he must deliver. You know what they say, never accept anything from a stranger at the airport. What about out in the desert? Maybe you would take it if you have ridden down your own “Seraphim Falls”.

The most-wanted situation is interesting because one possibility is that one could have committed a crime and not even know that he had committed it. (Think about some intriguing ways that can happen – they are all disturbing.)

The lab rat scenario is interesting, because the UPN David Greenwalt show “Jake 2.0” in 2003 was essentially a forced human lab rat situation. That’s more interesting to me as a possibility than the animated feature that the contest probably wanted (for Dreamworks Animation).

The show itself was quite gaudy, with set tours and scenes at the legendary Biltmore Hotel in LA.

The “elimination room” here has the phrase “Please step forward” instead of “You’re fired!” or “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” About fifteen of the contestants got their pink slips in the first round.

In round two, the contestants are assembled into teams to make a short film on the concept "Out of time" with assigned locations and props.

I may be pitching my own material later, and the pitching contest (pun) certainly gives me some parameters as to how to make my own. You have to know the rules before breaking them.

Actually, most pitches are done by aspiring screenwriters or people with scripts to sell. Typically, one must go through a "third party" (for legal reasons) in order to be presented to an investor or (executive) producer.

Earlier posting (Sept 13) about Sunsetscript conference in here.

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