Announcing The 2015 ScreenCraft Action & Thriller Screenplay Contest!
Writing and making great action movies and thrillers is a noble calling, offering unparalleled opportunity to inspire and connect with cross-cultural audiences via dramatizing universal conflicts and explorations of the quintessential human experience: to survive and fight for what's right.
Needless to say, action is a genre we love at ScreenCraft, and no matter how the industry ebbs and flows and no matter what trends are in vogue, there's always a huge demand for action movies. That has never been truer than it is right now given that international box office is now the biggest piece of the financial pie, and given that action movies translate more seamlessly than any other genre.
With all of that in mind, we're beyond excited to announce that we're locked and loaded and opening the 2015 cycle of the ScreenCraft Action & Thriller Contest! If you have a project ready to go, take action (cheap pun intended) and please submit it to us now! Need a little more inspiration? Read on.
ACTIONS. SPEAK. LOUDER.
It has long been said that actions speak louder than words, and if that's true, then it's easy to reason that action is the quintessential film genre. Film is a visual medium, and great action movies and thrillers exploit that notion to mesmerizing effect. Emotional stakes are inherently higher in action than in any other genre, because the protagonists therein are fighting for their very survival. It's that basic, and there is no second chance. It's good versus evil. Win or lose. Live or die.
The great action and suspense narratives understand that the experience is all about making us care about the heroes and then torturing us via torturing them. There isn't a more simple or potent recipe for engaging an audience than that. Great action movies make our chests tighten and our hearts race. They engage us visually, aurally and emotionally. They make us grab the arm rest and lean forward. I'll never forget the image of my father doing just that when we first watched the climactic gun fight in Open Range. That sequence had a physiological effect on him, and I immediately realized that not only was I watching a terrific movie, but I was seeing evidence that movies can indeed be magical.
Action movies and thrillers...narratives in which the protagonists face elemental conflict and are placed in ultra-heightened physical and psychological jeopardy...fulfill an important emotional function for us: they tap into the universal need for hero worship. Instead of Greek gods, now we have Batman. Iron Man. Katniss Everdeen. Sara Connor. Indiana Jones. The Cooler King. Rocky and Rambo. Dirty Harry Callahan. John McClane. Rick Blaine. Ellen Ripley. We crave aspirational icons and wish fulfillment narratives in which the world makes sense, good triumphs over evil, and courage and perseverance are rewarded.
It's too bad that we see and experience that greatness all too rarely. Now don't get me wrong. Once upon a time…a much, much happier time, before virtually every other pro wrestler became a movie star and studios tried to peddle the likes of Shia Labeouf, Kellan Lutz and Jai Courtney as the next generation of action stars...we used to get great action movies and thrillers on a regular basis.
I’m talking about movies like Heat, L.A. Confidential, Lethal Weapon, The Wild Bunch, First Blood, Die Hard, The Silence of the Lambs, In The Line of Fire, Rio Bravo, North By Northwest, The Magnificent Seven, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Vertigo, Key Largo, High Noon, Thief, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, The Getaway, High Sierra, Insomnia, Bullitt, Hard Boiled, Marathon Man, White Heat, Open Range and The Conversation. We didn’t know how lucky we were.
Instead of dreck like Hollywood Homicide, From Paris With Love, Half Past Dead, Stolen, Prince of Persia, Perfect Stranger, 12 Rounds, S.W.A.T., Cradle 2 The Grave, Speed 2: Cruise Control, The Legend of Hercules 3-D and virtually anything starring Martin Lawrence, Vin Diesel, Gerard Butler, Jai Courtney, Cuba Gooding Jr., Taylor Lautner or Mark Wahlberg (minor apologies to any of those hardcore fans of Max Payne, Planet of the Apes, Four Brothers, The Corrupter or Transformers: Age of Extinction), we used to get fun and occasionally even brainy blockbusters like Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Cliffhanger, Aliens, The Hunt For Red October, Enemy of the State, Goldfinger, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Face/Off, Ronin, The Rock, Three Kings, and The Fugitive.
Sure, it’s easy to look back at film history with rose-colored glasses and focus on the gems and gloss over the turds. After all, there have always been bad movies and even more bad action movies and thrillers. Plus, recently we have gotten some bright spots. The Equalizer, Mad Max: Fury Road, Skyfall, The Raid: Redemption, The Dark Knight trilogy, The Bourne Ultimatum, The Avengers, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Captain Phillips come to mind. I even have a genuine affection for several recent minor (and many would argue flawed) actioners and thrillers like Jack Reacher, 16 Blocks, The Lookout, Escape Plan, The Next Three Days, Bullet to the Head, The Book of Eli, Drive and Hanna.
But ultimately, I think the genre has forgotten its roots, transmogrified into a soulless, cynical monstrosity and sunk to an all-time low. My gloominess can be partially attributed to the trauma I’m still suffering from more than a year after seeing A Good Day To Die Hard (I called in sick to my job at the time to attend the all-day screening of the entire franchise only to slink out of the theater praying to get beaten and mugged in an alley on the way home to distract from the heartbreak).
The Expendables, a franchise I’ve wanted to love so desperately but have been burned on more severely than Joan of Arc at the stake. (A raw and lengthy account of my utter disappointment in the first movie can be found here.) This is a series that on paper reads like the giddy wet dream of anyone who grew up on men-on-a-mission testosterone-fests like The Dirty Dozen and The Wild Bunch and the action classics of the '80s and early '90s, and I am most assuredly one of those people. It's the brainchild of a quintessential action hero who created not one but two iconic characters that went on to last decades and become ingrained in the collective mythic consciousness of the entire world. And yet the films are at best disappointing and at worst soul-crushing.
The first film suffered from stilted dialogue, an almost total lack of character exposition, and some baffling oh-let's-just-do-this-for-the-sake-of-the-inevitable-sequel creative choices, not to mention some of the worst CGI and digital blood effects in movie history. (Seriously, the subpar quality of some of the aesthetics was enough to resurrect Helen Keller and make her grimace).
The second film improved greatly in terms of core storyline, group dynamic and aesthetics only to take a wild tonal shift halfway through and descend into the throes of wink-wink parody. For a while it seemed like the third time would be the charm in terms of tone, character work and set pieces. Instead, the forces behind The Expendables III decided that it would be wise to alienate the franchise's core fan base before even entering theaters by neutering the cut down to a bloodless and overstuffed (in more ways than one) PG-13 affair.
No matter how any of the powers that be try to spin that decision, it's one motivated by money and a vain and transparent quest to become accessible and relevant to the coveted under 25 demographic. That need also explains the choice to hand over an incredible chunk of screen time to unproven young bucks at the expense of sidelining the veteran stars who were already cannibalizing each other's screen time in the previous entries. To me that makes about as much sense as telling Scooby-Doo and Shaggy to go away so that Scrappy-Doo...the little turd that he is...can have the spotlight.
Studios don't seem to grasp that you can't release a toned down sequel to a franchise that has built its identity on an R-rating and expect anything less than a vicious backlash from the fans who are responsible for making the property a franchise in the first place. Is there anyone that holds Speed 2: Cruise Control, Live Free Or Die Hard, or A Good Day To Die Hard (which was clearly shot as a PG-13 outing and then forced into an R with some bad blood effects and random swearing in an attempt to hoodwink audiences still livid over Live Free's betrayal) close to their heart?
Even if going PG-13 enhances domestic box office...which is debatable...is it really worth doing so if you alienate the audience? Films should be made for audiences and bottom lines, not the latter at the expense of the former. No one wants diet soda if they're expecting a regular Coke. Releasing a PG-13 Expendables film...in which old-school mercenaries talk in dulcet tones and in which people don't bleed when they get shot or maimed...is as looney and offensive to me as it would be to release a Muppets movie where Kermit leads the gang in becoming raging cokeheads who get their kicks and giggles hunting stray puppies and hurling defenseless children into fields of glass.
I love that we're in the golden age of comic book movies and four-quadrant tent poles, but damn it do I miss the days when studios made action movies and thrillers for adults. Not every movie has to be appropriate for little Timmy and Grandma Marjorie, or didn't you know? That virulent misconception is one of the key factors that is poisoning the genre today. The other reasons are an emphasis on bigger and bigger scale and spectacle at the expense of any real world grounding and credibility and an almost total lack of engrossing character work and thematic potency.
We don't need to be going bigger any more. After dinosaurs, superheroes and giant destructive robots, there's nowhere left to go in terms of scale. We need to go smaller. We need to be character-driven. We need to have believable worlds and stakes and relatable themes. And for god's sake, we need to go back to fleshy, earthy aesthetics instead of sterile blue/green/yellow puke color filters. (Thank god for George Miller and his camera team on Mad Max: Fury Road).
I don't want to sound dire, but the genre is in really big trouble. Just how big? The other night I was watching Eraser on television and found myself cheering and moved almost to the point of tears. When Eraser comes off as a classic and you don't find yourself questioning a sequence in which Arnold Schwarzenegger can leap out of a giant jet without a parachute, not get sucked into the engines, don a chute at the last possible second and crash land on a truck without even breaking a nail...that's when you know something really wrong is going on.
The only way to reverse the tsunami of crap is to take a stand and flood the marketplace with fresh and creatively pure action and thriller scripts that are full of plausible premises, believable and exciting action sequences, and characters we truly care about. Great action movies aren't dependent on the pyrotechnics; they'd still be great movies even if you took all of the action out of them. Action sequences should be little bonuses in a movie that you already like and are invested in on a human level. So in celebration of the opening of the 2015 ScreenCraft Action/Thriller Script Contest, please send us your action specs. We need them. Hollywood needs them. The world needs them. Die Hard is ruined. The Expendables aren't getting it done. And Transformers just won't go away. Don't doubt it for a second: this is a call to action.
Below is a random sampling of terrific action sequences for inspiration: