Friday, April 23, 2010

Notes From A (Non) High Concept Guy

I'm not High Concept, and that's okay.

A few years ago, along with an agent I had at the time, I was supposed to write a high concept comedy. The agent was a pretty slick dude, more slick than I probably deserved, he even had an umlaut in his name, which I've always wanted, but he knew his shit and was ready to lob me into the Hollywood scene like a grenade. I had plenty of ideas/barely started screenplays to pick from, and he had his umlaut. We settled on The Stand-In, a high concept comedy.

It had a great hook, a damn good concept, most of which actually came from my brother-in-law from many years ago. Although the finished screenplay had some genuinely funny moments and a couple of great sequences, I couldn't make it work, and there were two reasons for that, methinks.

1. At the time, personally I wasn't doing well, lotta shit going on, going through and especially going down, so writing a romantic comedy probably wasn't the best plan, you know, at all, especially a high concept one.

2. I'm not a 3 joke per page kinda guy.

My then-agent realized this, at least reason #2 - I hadn't really informed him about #1 - so he dropped like I was hot. I was peeved at the time, but I moved on pretty quickly from him (shuffled back to my other agent, still with him today). And I was free of the high concept chain around my neck, so in the end, I felt a lot better.

Because at the end of the day, you have to love what you're writing. If not, you're wasting your time, as well as the time of some reader at a production company/studio who may eventually get his/her hands on your phoned-in script and toss it after 10 uninspired pages, if they even get to page 10.

So, I'm not a straight-up comedy guy. I think I've written some funny scripts, but it's tough to stick to the typical comedy format, for me at least. I usually end up with some type of comedy/drama hybrid that a Wes Anderson more than excels at. And maybe that's why I've only had Options in my screenwriting career but have never sold a screenplay, because I'm just not the high concept type.

I don't think that's a bad thing though, I just need to get one of these gems into the right hands, which is always our goal as screenwriters (obviously) anyway. But I hate even calling them comedy/dramas, to me they're just about real shit going on. Life ain't always The Hangover or Forgetting Sarah Marshall, hell, it hardly ever is. And I have yet to come across a hot tub time machine, but if I did, I'ma cannonball right up in that.

To me, life is Cricket Hill, a pretty edgy script I wrote in 2003 about a family at Christmas, dealing with a multitude of issues. Then there's Union, written in 2008, about a father finding out some pretty surprising things about his kids. Surviving Edwards Avenue (2004) is a story about divorce and how one family deals with it.

Those are some of my favorite scripts, a trilogy of family dysfunction at its best, and some of my most accomplished work. And throughout each of them is a bit of comedy, a bit of drama, and a bit of shit hitting the fan. Because, to me, that's real - heart-breaking, inspiring, life-changing. At one moment life is amazing and you're untouchable, and at the next moment the other shoe drops, and you knew it was gonna drop, but you just wished it had waited a little while more before it hit the floor. That's what I write.

And when I'm inspired, and on my game, comedy/drama hybrid label be damned, I think they're the best damn stories I can tell.

It's funny, too, the different type of scripts I write now as opposed to 5, 10 years ago. At first, I had more than a few screenplays about typical college-age dudes or guys in their late 20s searching for themselves, blah, blah, blah. Now, I cringe at those stories, but at the time, I was just writing what I knew. And now I know more (I hope anyway). Now I write about fathers and mothers and love and marriage and disappointment and things coming to an end, or things just beginning. Kisses that become routine, or kisses that amaze. Children and love and despair. Loose teeth and mortgages. Finding passion. White picket fences. Falling out of love. Soccer games. Careers. Making sure your family is okay, and if they're not, making damn sure they will be.

That's what I think about now, and I hope it translates into a decent script or two. I actually had just started a new script this very week. It's about a man at a crossroads. As always, I've had dozens upon dozens of ideas already started, but I can't go back to them now, this one felt right, it feels like it's ready, and when it's ready, it can almost write itself. It's called Square One.


E.C. Henry said...

Bravo, sir! This is your best post EVER, Patrick. Very Real.

Sorry your slick agent with a umlaut in his name wasn't able to land you a sale. At least you wrote a script that got some buz.

You're a very presistant guy, Patrick. Glad to hear you're sticking to it, and are keeping at it. IF you haven't already seen it you should rent the Coen brothers, "A Serious Man." Major family dysfunction movie. Personally I didn't like it, BUT there were a few things in it that made me think and are influencing what I'm writing now...

Coming to terms with your strenghs and weaknesses is a sign of maturity, and a sign of inner fortitude. Though I can't attest to being your mother or father, as a fellow writer I do say, "I very proud of you."

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

Patrick J. Rodio said...

Thanks, EC.

I haven't seen A Serious Man yet, but plan on it.

Script Demon said...

Hiya Patrick. I'm "kinda" back. Hope you're doing good. If you and your readers are interested in hearing about the latest on the plight of English screenwriters in Canada/Quebec (the banana republic of Canadian provinces), please visit my blog to read a letter just published in our local newspaper.

Michael J. Farrand said...

It might be time to get your script looked at by an expert, one who might just get it into the right hands for production.

M9 Review said...

Bravo! excellent writing..... I loved your post!

manoj said...

Hi, Patrick J.rodio. I think you are good can written good scripts regarding to the comedy sceens. You have given your best.

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