Friday, June 08, 2007

Question, Question who's got a Question?

So the offer I made Tuesday is under way.

And here's the first.

Roger needs a logline. Here's what he sent me:

Gangland Hollywood

In 1940s Los Angeles, mobster Mickey Cohen struggles to take over the Hollywood rackets and ignites a bloody -- and bizarre -- gang war with the Italian Mob.This is based on the true story of the Mickey Mouse Mafia and the Battle of the Sunset Strip.

Here's the basics:

Act I. Chicago, 1931. Mickey meets Al Capone and wants to be just like him (power and respect). Cut to Los Angeles, 1947. Bugsy Siegel is gunned down and right-hand man Mickey takes over and expands. This pisses off fellow mobsters Jack Dragna and Jimmy the Weasel Fratianno, who don't like Jews in the Mob. They plot to kill Mickey.

Act II. Mickey ingratiates himself in Hollywood by doing favors for Sinatra, Judy Garland, Martin and Lewis, and even a little old lady. Dragna and Fratianno try to kill Mickey six times, but he always survives due to dumb luck. Mickey doesn't retaliate much because at first he doesn't know who's trying to take him out, but also because he doesn't want to lose his standing in the Hollywood. Or the PR battle like Capone did.

Act III. Mickey battles the LAPD in court trial after court trial, with a few successes. But the FBI and the IRS want his head. Plus, the bodies keep piling up as Dragna and Fratianno take out Mickey's boys (and even his lawyer). Mickey ends up convicted of tax evasion, just like Capone.It's a fascinating story that would be unbelievable if it weren't true. Dragna's inability to kill Mickey earned the LA Mob the nickname "Mickey Mouse Mafia." Time-wise, this fits right between Bugsy and LA Confidential.

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Okay, the idea and the central character are there - Mickey seems like a "dumb luck" sort of gangster who is really charming and has a lot of famous friends. I see this as having elements of GET SHORTY and HUDSUCKER PROXY to it as well. What's the exact genre? I would almost say comedy because you use the Mickey Mouse element and Mickey the gangster seems like he succeeds in spite of himself.

But what is Mickey's weakness? What is his flaw that keeps him from succeeding?

Your outline above doesn't say this, but I would start the movie with the trial and Mickey testifying and the rest of the movie occurs in flashback.

What are the two movies that encapsulate the feel of this movie?

You start to answer these questions and you start to distill the elements that will make up a great logline for your story. You may actually have to go back and rewrite based on your new logline...

Answer these questions and I'll get back to you with a few ideas for loglines...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bill,

Long time lurker, first time poster. What do you think of this logline?

A loner hit man aboard a hijacked airplane finds that only by making alliances, both in the air and on the ground, can he use his skills to avert disaster.

Thanks!

Michael Wire

Bill Cunningham said...

I like the idea that he's a loner, but not so much a hitman. I think if you were to use the skills of a used car salesman to negotiate it might be fresher.

The hitman/hijacked plane aspect seems like too much that we've seen before... unless there's another aspect to it that you aren't telling me.

Example: When a hitman on the run boards a plane only to have it hijacked, he must use all his skills to return the plane to the airport even though to do so means he'll be killed.

(The rock and the hard place scenario)

Roger Alford said...

Thanks, Bill. You've already been a big help. You're definitely on the right track with your questions.

Exact genre is a gangster film/bio-pic. There is a fair amount of comedy, but none of it is invented. Everything in the script actually happened. There's a lot that you wouldn't believe if it weren't true. I modeled the structure on Scarface (1932), Bugsy, and Capote. For the bio-pic aspect, I focused on a four-year time span that covered one specific period (like Capote) -- Mickey's rise to power and his downfall.

Mickey's weakness is that he wants to be both a gangster and an all-around great guy. He lives to get his name in the paper, tips big at the famous Hollywood night spots, and loves to do favors for people. He doesn't see himself as a gangster and hates being called a "hoodlum." He wants to fit in with the Hollywood crowd and works to improve his speech and vocabulary. Ed Clark of Time called him a "celebrity gangster" (http://www.life.com/Life/lifebooks/mobsters/gallery2/), which is a great description. The event that leads to his downfall, and even exposes the rampant corruption in the Mayor's office and the LAPD, is helping a little old lady save her house from foreclosure. The whole story is a bizarre domino effect. His other flaw is just not recognizing that gangsters don't succeed, which is probably why he tries to convince himself that he isn't one.

Another major aspect of Mickey's personality is that he's a germophobe -- he's always washing his hands and takes four-hour showers. This actually saves his life on one hit attempt because he leaves to go wash his hands.

I tried to keep my little synopsis as brief as possible for your sake. The story is narrated by Florabel Muir, the grandmotherly columnist of Daily Variety and Mickey's confidante. Two other major players are Mickey wife, LaVonne, who he keeps in the dark (this helps her when they're both indicted for tax evasion) and his right-hand man Johnny Stompanato, who uses his position to date movie stars (Lana Turner comes later, though).

Movies that it's most like are Bugsy and Get Shorty. I'd say it's a pretty good cross between the two.

Bill Cunningham said...

Based on a true story:

When Mickey Cohen, 1940 Hollywood's "celebrity gangster" decides he no longer likes getting his "hands dirty," he helps a little old lady save her house from foreclosure, and sparks a bizarre gang war over control of what Variety called the "Mickey Mouse Mafia."

Roger Alford said...

I really like the first part. However, the gang war is sparked when Mickey extends his territory, which he assumed from Bugsy, into LA (Sunset Strip was in the county then) and Beverly Hills. The Italians (Dragna and Jimmy the Weasel) were already pissed that Mickey got Bugsy's territory because Dragna felt it was rightfully his and they don't like Jews in the Italian Mob. The mob war (repeated attempts to kill Mickey) has been going on for some time when Mickey helps the old lady.

Mickey's weakness (just realized another one) is that he doesn't recognize his true enemies -- he suspects Dragna, but doesn't think Dragna has the cajones to take him out, and doesn't suspect that his (Mickey's) pal Jimmy the Weasel is egging Dragna on to do just that.

Roger Alford said...

Another reference I used for the story (Act I anyway), is Julius Caesar. Only when Brutus and Mark Antony (Dragna and Jimmy the Weasel) try to kill him, they fail, so they keep on trying. And Caesar (Mickey) just keeps living it up and getting more respectable.

Bill Cunningham said...

Roger --

The term is "Based on a true story..."

NOT

"Just the facts, ma'am."

Mickey can be on-the-run or wary of a mob hit when he decides to help this lady out. He has to decide to change and he has to deal with the consequences of that.

Don't let the facts get in the way of a good story, young man...

Roger Alford said...

Gotcha. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Bill,

Back to the “A loner hit man aboard a hijacked airplane finds that only by making alliances, both in the air and on the ground, can he use his skills to avert disaster” log line for just a moment.

I appreciate your input. Getting real feed back is difficult here in the wilds of Indiana. I also understand that your initial impression will stand, no matter how brilliant my arguments, that this very log line should be the standard by which all other log lines be measured.

I do have a point here somewhere.

In an normal script, you are correct, that it’s far too easy for my protagonist (the hit man) to dispatch the terrorists aboard the aircraft. If he were an accountant or a used car salesman it might be more of a challenge for him and more interesting for the viewer. But what I’ve found when I describe the plot to friends and neighbors (a dangerous practice at best) is that they’re not so much interested in my dashing hero but in the bad guys getting their just desserts. They want to see a “Champion” take on the forces of evil. They don’t want to see an ordinary guy battle it out with malcontents. Only an icon of truth, justice and the American way will satisfy their need for revenge. It seems that in this post 9/11 world, a large part of the American public would really like to see some terrorists with their nuts in a vise.

By the way, isn’t John McClane of Die Hard fame cut from the same cloth as a hit man?

Anyway, what I’m saying is that this movie has some elements of a horror film (for those folks who wouldn’t be caught dead at a horror feature). They’re interested in the kills, not so much in the trials and tribulations of our stalwart hero.

My question is, could it be that the script is OK the way it is? Perhaps you don’t agree. But if so, how should the log line be constructed? From the hijackers point of view (even though the protagonist is in the scenes 80% or the time)?

"Terrorists have taken over the plane. They don’t realize that there’s an angry hit man on board."

Thanks for the consideration.

Michael Wire

Bill Cunningham said...

What you just did Michael was shift your story there...

You went from the focus of your hero to the terrorists -- my question is who are we supposed to root for?

Your first scenario (hitman) is basically DIE HARD ON A PLANE or SNAKES ON A PLANE.

The second is a horror movie. Someone or something is killing these guys who have hijacked the plane, right? That says horror movie or at best a mystery.

What if terrorists took over the plane and it's a mystery as to who the person is who is taking them out one by one?

All loglines are told from the hero's point of view. They are the focus of your script and your pitch. If you aren't focussed in your logline it indicates whether or not you are focussed in your script.

And don't pull the "I'm in Indiana" thing on me. I used to live in Mishawaka, then moved to SC.

You're on the web, that makes you connected to the whole of the world.

Bill Cunningham said...

Oh, and your first audience to try and sell this to are the readers at production co.s

Think about them. There's some great tips over at Complications Ensue in that regard.

Roger Alford said...

Bill, got something I'd actually like to see as a post. As you know, Star Wars just celebrated its 30th anniversary. When did you see Star Wars for the first time? In a theater? How old were you? When did you first hear about it? What affect did it have on you?