Larry Jordan: Well, we’ve seen that we want to not write too much, we want to have as close to an original idea as we can, or a unique spin on an existing idea. What else do we need to do to make our script successful? I know there are about 800 million scriptwriters in LA who are trying to figure out how to get their script to sell.
Pilar Alessandra: I would say be brave and commit. I think there is too much rule chasing. People dig into every book in the world and then they try and follow some kind of formula that that book lays out. I wrote my own book. I don’t want you to follow my formula. I want you to use it as a guide when you’re stuck, but you have to commit to your vision and your way of telling a story and not try and be a people pleaser on the page. That makes for really wishy-washy storytelling.
Larry Jordan: It sounds like you have to trust your own voice.
Pilar Alessandra: Absolutely.
Larry Jordan: So we now need to pitch our idea to somebody who’s not the reader. How do we pitch it to get their attention without hitting them in the head with a hammer?
Pilar Alessandra: This idea of a logline, it usually drives writers to drink, but basically it’s a one sentence depiction of your main idea, it’s one sentence. If you can start with that one sentence, if you’re getting the ‘about’ in one sentence – what is your script actually about? – and there’s some kind of hook within that sentence, you’ve done half your pitching job. Get a really strong logline out so the next time somebody says, “What’s your script about?” you can say, “It is about this,” with confidence and even that one line gets their attention.
Larry Jordan: Norman Holland, who teaches at the USC Film School, was the one who introduced me to the logline first when he and I were working on a series of programs about five years ago, and he said that it’s more than just the plot. He said it’s got to be both the plot and the emotional core of what your script is about. Would you agree?
Pilar Alessandra: Yes I would. If you were going to pitch a real hardcore comedy like Ted, you could just say it’s about a man and a talking teddy bear, but what’s really more important is that a man has trouble parting ways with his talking teddy bear. That’s the emotional core. So now you’ve got the hook – the teddy bear that talks – and the emotional core – has trouble parting ways.
Larry Jordan: A lot of what we’ve been talking about is writing scripts for fiction, feature films or episodic television. Is there a different way to write scripts or a different attitude you need to have if you’re writing for reality or documentaries or non-fiction? Or is the process the same?
Pilar Alessandra: The process isn’t necessarily the same but standing back and asking what the story is you’re trying to tell is equally important. But it’s reality, it’s not scripted. Well, you need a point of view going in, you need an angle going in, so what’s your thesis about this real world expressed in that logline and then can you find in your series of shots those shots that back up that thesis and tell that story?
Larry Jordan: Let’s see, we’ve got the pitch. What do we need to do to convince people to buy our script? It needs to be sellable, so what does it take?
Pilar Alessandra: I think sellable is often confused with very Hollywood and very slick. I would go back to this idea of something fresh, a fresh voice, a fresh take, a character we’ve never seen, location, a set piece, the idea that you’re having something really active and extraordinary and using the location in an interesting way. All of those things make people excited and when they’re excited they want to buy it. I would say something unique and fresh, that’s sellable.
Larry Jordan: Now let’s go back to the beginning of writing a script. Are we outlining everything first? Are we writing a key scene around which we’re going to build? How do you suggest people do the process of the first draft?
Pilar Alessandra: It’s funny that you said both of those things, because some people are outside in kind of people, they outline and then they add the scenes and the dialogue from that outline, they work that way. But some people are the other people that you just mentioned – they see scenes, they see dialogue first and they’re inside out kind of people.
Pilar Alessandra: I would say whatever way gets you through it, but I would say that it’s not a bad idea to think big picture about what your goals are for the story. By the end of the story, what needs to be accomplished in terms of where the character needs to end up, in terms of thematically what you want to hit, what are the relationships that need to have developed? Do a little working backwards to get the big picture. That can be your overall outline and then go in and do all the fun stuff.
Larry Jordan: I had a conversation with another script consultant on last week’s show and, as we were talking, I said, “When a script is bought, the script gets rewritten and then rewritten again and then rewritten probably a third and fourth time and then flogged to death.” How much time do we spend on this script that we’re going to be selling when we know it’s going to be rewritten by 17 different people other than us before it ever gets made into a film?
Pilar Alessandra: That’s why I’m not a big proponent of over writing your script, of over rewriting your script. I do believe that scripts need a rewrite and then they need another rewrite and you need to get to a place where you have met your own intentions when you started out. But once you get there and you feel confident about your script, by all means kick it out of the nest because of what you just said, there are going to be 17 rewrites by people who actually pay you to do it. So give it a little breathing room, don’t make it so perfect that you don’t have any room for change.
Larry Jordan: As I look at my notes, I realize that one of the ways you earn your living is as a script consultant. I happen to have this incredible script right here that I’m going to sell you. I want to hire you as a consultant.
Pilar Alessandra: Ok.
Larry Jordan: What do you need from me before you even start consulting? And what should I expect from you when you come on board to give me a hand?
Pilar Alessandra: I need a script where I feel like you have done everything that you can do, you’ve taken it as far as you can take it. When people give me scripts and they’re like, “Well, I planned on doing this and I wanted to do that, but I wasn’t sure,” then you’re wasting your money because I’m just telling you what you know. I need it to have been rewritten to the point where they really just need somebody to have that other eye.
Pilar Alessandra: Then what I do is a very thorough read, I’ll tell you what I think your intentions are and where I believe those intentions are being met or where you’re straying and then I’ll show you where those things are in the script and we’ll also work together to doctor those moments so that you’re actually making your script better in the process. I will give you suggestions as to how to fix things.
Larry Jordan: How do you set your fees?
Pilar Alessandra: It’s so funny, I set my fees on a gut level as to what I could afford and I feel is fair. I don’t believe in overcharging people and I think that’s why I have a pretty full calendar. If you do want to consult with me, I’m booked currently ’til January.
Larry Jordan: So my script has to wait?
Pilar Alessandra: But we can rush things and waiting lists and all kinds of stuff, plus I really like you, so maybe you’ll jump over the list a little.
Larry Jordan: How much time do you give me?
Pilar Alessandra: You mean as a consultant?
Larry Jordan: As a consultant.
Pilar Alessandra: It’s usually about 90 minutes. It’s on the phone or in person or by Skype, but it really depends on what a script needs.
Larry Jordan: So really you’re not helping me rewrite it. I think of you more as a critique. It’s an informed critique of what the script it.
Pilar Alessandra: It’s an informed critique, but I am bringing you to very specific places in the script so that I can show you where those things happen and also give you suggestions for rewriting. But if I actually went in and started rewriting with you, that’s where things get a little… because this has to be yours.
Larry Jordan: Would I then do a rewrite and bring you back in for another look at it?
Pilar Alessandra: It depends on whether you need it. I’m not into taking money when I don’t need to – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but sometimes people do. I do have a lot of repeat clients and they bring lots of scripts to me and what’s nice too is just watching them get better and better and better and better. That’s been fantastic over the years. Same thing with my students; and with my students, what’s so great is I get to watch that happen in the five minutes of time I’ve given them to just write something. That’s incredible.
Larry Jordan: In the little bit of time we’ve got left, what trends are you seeing in scripts that are becoming sold? What’s a hot genre?
Pilar Alessandra: It’s funny, the minute something’s hot and you chase it, by the time you get there it’s cold, and I’m not the person who’s buying it, but I will say just as somebody who watches a lot of TV and movies, I’m very excited about the fact that there seem to be female leads not only on the small screen – but TV’s been doing much better with that for a long time – but now on the big screen too. We’ve got Spy and Hunger Games and Gravity and Wild and suddenly Hollywood doesn’t seem to be scared of women any more, so that seems like a trend that I really hope sticks around and I think it’s going to make movies better.
Larry Jordan: When’s your next workshop?
Pilar Alessandra: My next workshop is actually this weekend, Saturday and Sunday. It is a two day rewrite intensive, but you can come even if you don’t have a first draft. It will give you techniques that will make your writing stronger overall, so you can come in at any stage in the process.
Larry Jordan: And where on the web can we learn more about you and sign up for a workshop?
Pilar Alessandra: It’s onthepage.tv.
Larry Jordan: That’s onthepage.tv and Pilar Alessandra is running ‘On the Page.’ Pilar, thanks for joining us today.
Pilar Alessandra: Thank you.