THE SCREENWRITER’S LOOKBOOK
The key word in “lookbook” is “look.” For an artist (“artist” means you, writers) that means something someone may look at that conveys a sense of the film. Imagery, tone, big story moments that will be powerful on a screen — the entire purpose of a lookbook is to show someone what that movie will “look” like. What the movie will feel like. To demonstrate tone, genre, imagery, action — impressions watching the movie on a screen.
I think there is a lot of bad information about lookbooks on the internet. (Okay, I don’t think, I know. I’ve seen what’s out there.) Lots of sites telling writers to put together, essentially, a production packet. Yipes. Who is circulating this sash? It is sure getting parroted a lot. And. It. Is. Wrong
A production packet is a folder of material that talks about casts, about budgets, about locations, that outlines a story (in text, usually intended for someone who hasn’t or may never read the actual script, the money people often don’t), says something about players already attached to material if someone is attached. Or players who might attach. That hopefully contains some solid photos. But that also contains a lot of text and a lot of dry production details that are all about the “project,” not the film.
That’s not a writer’s lookbook. That’s a production packet.
When a writer puts together a lookbook for a script, the goal is to represent, in an easy to just “look” through, layout that shows someone the movie. The “film.” The visuals, the action, the exciting bits, the tone, what’s hot on the screen, what the movie will “look” like. What the movie will feel like. What someone will experience watching the movie.
Not to explain story. They can get story reading the script. Not to designate cast or budgets or projections. That’s not the creator’s job. That’s the producer’s job.
To SHOW someone the movie.
I see a lot of lookbook attempts. Writers I’m working with on scripts often send a lookbook along with. Most of them are not good. It’s not the writer’s fault. There’s a lot of bad information on the internet about what a “lookbook” is supposed to be. Or a pitch deck. Or whatever they are calling it today in hot buzz word jargon.
Whatever they call it, it’s definitely not what a lookbook representing a script coming from an artist representing the film is supposed to be.
A lookbook I got recently was 20 plus pages, mostly text, and it was page 18 before I saw any hot photos that looked like the film. And they were small. Three photos all crowded onto one page together.
That’s not right.
Don’t make someone slog through 18 pages of prose text and thumbnails to even get to an image that looks like the movie.
Sometimes I try to explain what’s going off about a lookbook I get but that is rarely as effective as showing someone. (Irony, doing exactly what I’m telling someone the “look” book is supposed to do.) That’s what I did this last time. I put together a mock lookbook to show the writer what a lookbook is supposed to do: “show” someone the movie:
That’s a short mock up design for a lookbook for Despina Moraitou’s feature fantasy script The Kiss of the Gorgon. It’s a hot script. It’s got beautiful fantasy imagery and action and big high points. It would be a kick ass film on a screen.
Does the mock lookbook tell you the story?
No. It doesn’t have to. The script will do that.
Does it show you what the movie will look like, will feel like, what’s big and beautiful about it, does it give you a sense of the tone and feel and look and what someone will experience watching the film on a screen?
That’s how you show someone the movie.
Stop putting together production packets. That’s not your job.
You are an artist. You are world building. Show someone that world.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Max Adams is an author and award winning screenwriter. She has written for Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures, Tri-Star Pictures, Hollywood Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Universal Pictures – and a couple others to remain unnamed because no one around here wants to get black listed. Max is a former volunteer AFI Alumni reader and WGAw online mentor, has appeared as a speaker at AMPAS, USC, and Film Arts Foundation, is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at University of Utah, is the author of The Screenwriter’s Survival Guide AND The New Screenwriter’s Survival Guide, is the founder of two international online screenwriting workshops, and has the dubious distinction of having been dubbed “Red Hot Adams” by Daily Variety for selling three pitches over a holiday weekend – which made her agents cry. [In a good way.] She answers now to both “Max” and “Red Hot” in crowds and dog parks.
Max Adams has been a keen mentor, champion and cheerleader. Her online classes have provided me with very specific and important screenwriting tools. My short script, Minerva’s War, was a 2014 Finalist at the Lady Filmmakers Film Festival in Beverly Hills as a direct result of learning and applying these techniques.