Friday, August 2, 2013

Star Wars Screen Crawl as a Query Letter?

Opinion of original series is undaunted as one of the best sci-fi trilogies made to date.  It was such a significant contributor the genre and film making in general that it was one of the first movies the United States Congress decided to preserve in their Congressional National Film Registry.  This trilogy is particularly important when realizing the technology of the day compared to how well they (Lucas, et al) pulled it off; even today the special effects largely hold up to modern day expectations.  The only exception I could think to include would be all those additional, extra scenes that Lucas added, as well as most of the ‘enhancements’ add years later.  Many current sci-fi movies suffer from an over-reliance on CGI, to the point where it seems the story revolves around what a computer programmer could accomplish, the script written thereafter to include said scene.  I personally believe that Lucas drank a little too much of the Kool-Aid and became a victim of his own success.  The prequel trilogy (shudders) would be an ideal example of this problem, my opinion on those films clearly demonstrated here.
The key thing I noted was how the opening paragraphs (screen crawl) seemed to equate the elements of a great query letter:
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….
Originally a six paragraph text, Brian de Palma helped edit it down to the current, concise introduction.  As a query letter, it would fall extremely short on length (only 83 words), yet it answers the three basic elements:  What does the protagonist want?  What must they do to accomplish it?  What happens should they fail?
It serves as a great introduction to the film.  In this case, viewers already paid their tickets, so there was no purchase-wall to break through.  Query letters must gain the attention of the agent or publisher to continue into the opening scene, or request that partial.  Without knowing much about the plot, the screen crawl sets up one of the best opening scenes in cinematic history, patrons immediately drawn into the conflict.
Albeit a different craft altogether, that of writing and movie making, the concept of targeting emotional investment is identical. As the screen crawl skims down to a shot of the orbit around the planet of Tatooine, we suddenly have a space craft fly over, followed by a sudden flurry of laser bolts and an even bigger ship chasing them.  We are thereafter just launched into the story that the screen crawl developed.  Princess Leia is fleeing, in a much smaller ship, while the weighty bulk of the Empire chases her down.  We know that Princess Leia has the stolen plans and is fleeing the Empire’s agents, her goal nothing short of the galaxy’s freedom (I’m sure some would call this overly ambitious). She must return with the plans, the fate of worlds (literally) at stake should she fail.
In what is ultimately an ensemble cast, it struck me that the opening teaser and what I am essentially equating to a query letter should center on Leia.  Knowing the way the film works out, from a query letter perspective it would almost seem to make more sense targeting Luke’s point-of-view.  From what I’ve been gathering from various sources and websites, that may not be the case, particularly given the way the film starts; the opening chapter is of Leia’s flight from the Empire.  We don’t even see Luke until perhaps 30 minutes into the film!
When I compare my epic fantasy manuscript to the Star Wars screen crawl and the opening scene (Chapter 1, so to speak), I’m left with likely the same problem Lucas had before Brian de Palma came in and tightened the text.  My query letter currently centers on the two primary characters, each with an equal weight in space and impact on the overall plot; there are several reasons for this, centered on future events I hope I’m able to get to.  I’m still curious whether this is an obstacle with agents and/or publishers.  The temptation is to reduce the query letter to one central character, be it Soki and her issues at the Imperial Courts through to her escape of a coup and the aftermath, or Tagaretsu who must escape from the goblin invasion and grasp at even the possibility of an item that may save the empire from complete collapse.
At this point, the efforts are centered on the second book.  Is my query letter polished enough to go out?  Maybe.  It’s had a go through the AbsoluteWrite forums before, with varying degrees of response (and success depending on who you listen to).

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