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What's New, BlueCat?                                          
The Official Newsletter of the

Bluecat Screenplay Competition   

December 27th, 2011

May All Acquaintance Be Forgot...

2012 is so close you can almost taste it - here's hoping all those Mayan doomsday predictions are bunk! If not, then that leaves you with less than a year to finish and sell your screenplay, achieve fame and fortune, and then accomplish whatever else you'd had planned for your life. (You should probably return those library books ASAP. Or don't. If the world ends, it probably won't matter that much.)

More likely, though, 2012 is going to be just another year - which means the announcement of the winners of the 2011 competition, another set of BlueCat Workshops (see below) and, of course, the 2012 BlueCat Screenplay Competition! It's a year of new opportunities and new chances for success. So why bother to wait for January first? Get a head start on what you want to accomplish next year while you've still got this year's vacation time to burn! Maybe you should pretend the world is ending in 2012 - if nothing else, it's a great excuse to knuckle down and get writing...

-The Bluecat Team 

Ask A Reader: Derivative Works
Is Imitation REALLY The Sincerest Form Of Flattery?    

As a reader, what do you do when you read a script that clearly borrows elements from or is in some way derivative of another film? Many scriptwriters advocate for utilizing elements from other films - and, indeed, writers like Quentin Tarantino have almost made a career of it - but at what point has a writer gone too far and begun to plagiarize, and how do you react?


Originality is always the best option. But after more than a century of filmmaking, it is sometimes difficult to find ideas that haven't already been used. So it is completely fine for new writers to borrow elements from other writer's work, as long as they find a way to add a unique twist. It is pretty obvious when a writer is blatantly ripping off or copying another writer's work, whereas when the writer finds a new way of using the same device it stands out as unique and innovative.

I haven't read any scripts that were clearly plagiarizing from other movies or TV shows, but I have read at least one script where the overall storyline, or specific plot elements, were very similar to another movie. In that case, I just made a note saying that the story was very similar to the movie I was thinking of. As a reader, all I really can do is just point it out to the writer, because I don't know if the similarities were intentional, or coincidental. Even if I read something that was clearly ripping off another movie or show, I'd still point it out, and advise the writer to make some original changes to the story. There's no point in taking an accusatory tone as a reader.

How do I know if the writer is paying homage, or just plagiarizing? Generally, paying homage means putting a different, original slant on the borrowed story element. Think of all the Simpsons episodes that have scenes paying homage - cinematically or based on story - to films like Citizen Kane, Psycho, The Graduate, and so on. Those scenes mimic the classic scenes from the original films, but use the Simpsons characters and characterizations instead of merely reenacting the scenes, and as a result usually end up creating scenes that have a different context than the original scene they are mimicking.

Does that mean you're plagiarizing if you aren't putting an original slant on a classic scene? Not necessarily, but it's certainly harder to argue that you're paying homage if all you're doing is taking a scene or an entire story into your script and simply changing character names. To put it another way, if you read something and end up thinking, "Wow, that's a lot like this one scene from (inert movie name here)" or "This is just like (insert movie name here), but with slightly different characters", then it's bordering on plagiarism, in my opinion. Or, it could simply be the writer not being original with an idea, despite their best intentions.

If a story has similarities to another story, I don't assume the writer has "borrowed the idea". I assume that the idea is new to them, even though it's something I might have seen before.  Stories that are reminiscent of other films and characters can feel contrived and cliched, and that can definitely work against a writer.

I do believe it is in a writer's best interest to use basic story structure used in most films and recommended by screenwriting books. Though it can be formulaic, it can be the writer's best shot at keeping the audience engaged, which is why formulaic story structure is used so frequently.

It's hard to write a "meet cute," bank heist, or slasher murder that doesn't beg, borrow or steal some level of raw material from other movies. The key is to try to approach it in a fresh way. A writer is like a chef -- blending familiar ingredients into their own original recipes. Tarantino could have written Jackie Brown as a sassy, gun-toting, blaxploitation cliche, but he didn't. Though he borrows from low-budget exploitation pictures of the seventies, he also blends in his wry perspective on the culture of the South Bay of Los Angeles. His juxtaposition of the the black, crack-riddled streets of Compton and the white, stoned shores of Hermosa Beach is something unique to his voice. So if the elements are familiar, but the recipe is original, then I don't see it as plagiarism.


When I see that a screenplay is too derivative, I encourage the writer to consider what it is that sets their screenplay apart. It may be anything from a particular tone they've created to their characterization to a super suspenseful climax. These points of differentiation are potential points of expansion. It's not a sin to steal! But if you do choose to steal, the important thing is to make sure that your own voice still comes through.

I'm not entirely sure where the line between borrowing and plagiarism is when it comes to film. I have yet to come across a screenplay that is a blatant copy of another, but if I should in the future my obligation is to alert the writer, theirs is to make changes should they see fit to. The only thing that I can really do as a reader is alert the writer that their screenplay strongly reminds me of another film.


Thanks to our readers for their input! See below if you've got a burning question you'd like to ask our readers. 
Submit Your Questions For Ask A Reader!

Got questions for our readers? Don't be shy; ask! Submit your questions for our Ask A Reader feature - we'll pick one and send it out to our readers, and then post their responses here so you can get a glimpse into the heads of the people reading your work.
Gordy Video: Montage
BlueCat founder Gordy Hoffman talks to us about that film staple, the montage. How long should your montage be? What should it include? Should you even be using montages at all? Watch and see Gordy's verdict!

"It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does."
William Faulkner (Author, screenwriter, The Big Sleep)

"The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He's entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you're in violation."
Larry Niven (Author, Ringworld)
Selected Script: The Hudsucker Proxy
And A Happy New Year
One of the Coen Brothers' underrated gems, The Hudsucker Proxy performed poorly at the box office and received mixed reviews, perhaps because its whimsical-yet-cynical take on corporate America was a little bit ahead of its time. We picked this script because it uses New Year's Eve as a framing device - not only is the film's action bookended by New Year's, but the notion of a changing year and a fresh start aligns with the film's themes of corporate regime change and the importance of fresh new ideas. Take a look and see if you think the critics were on point or not.   
Upcoming BlueCat Workshops!
Meet Writers! Improve Your Script!
Los Angeles
Full Script Workshop (Limit 7 writers)
Saturday, March 10th, 9:00AM-6:00PM
Hollywood Production Center
1149 N. Gower St.
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Full Registration $175
Audit $45

New York City
Full Script Workshop (Limit 7 writers)
Sunday, May 6th, 9:00AM-6:00PM
Space on White
81 White Street
New York, NY 10013
Full Registration $245
Audit $60

New Orleans
Full Script Workshop (Limit 7 Writers)
Saturday, March 31st, 9:00AM-6:00PM
1914 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA  70130
Full Registration $225
Audit $45 
Food For Plot: The Thirty Six Dramatic Situations
A Little Story Theory Never Hurt Anybody
Some interesting information from our friends over at writers' Wiki Gordian Plot - it's a list of the thirty six types of dramatic situations that can occur in fiction, as outlined by Georges Polti in the early 20th century. To compile his list, Polti analyzed Classical Greek dramas as well as the works of more contemporary authors. Since its completion, authors have used the list to identify the types of conflict present in their stories, and also as a guide of sorts on how to continue their work when they run into a rough patch. Take a look for yourself and see which of the situations best describes your script and decide if it lines up with the sort of story you'd thought you were telling. 
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