TITLE: Blond Ambition
Written by: Elyse Hollander
Length: 119 pages
Top of the 2016 Blacklist with 48 votes.
Rep: John Zaoirny - Bellevue Productions
Logline: Chronicles Madonna in the 1980s New York as she struggles to get her first album released while navigating fame, romance, and an industry that views women as disposable.
The logline really sums it up - We start with Madonna at the start of her booming career in 1984. Her first album has dropped and it's an uber success. Everyone wants her and things couldn't look better.
We then jump back one year earlier. Madonna doesn't have half the recognition she has in the opening scene. But she doesn't have no success. She is in a successful band called the Emmy's, and they're signed to Sire records, one of the big four record companies.
But things aren't going their way. Her A&R rep only wants to have sex with her, and her agent at Sire won't even try to convince his boss to release their record they've recorded.
Madonna is frustrated. Her band-mates seem more interested in getting drunk and being cool than actually striving for success.
The problem is the production of their album. Whoever produced it, did a really bad job. All the mixes are waaaaay off. Madonna knows that their only chance of success is to get a really good producer onboard. She tries to get the producer who did David Bowie's last album, but she can't even get an interview with him, she's that off his radar.
Everything seems to be lost - until - a Latin DJ by the name of Jellybean enters her life.
Jellybean is the most sort after remixer in all of New York. He's also impossible to get a meeting with. But that doesn't stop Madonna. As Jellybean is DJing at the coolest club in NY, a dance-off begins on the dance floor. Madonna cuts in on the dance off - and whips her opponent's ass.
Jellybean sees this and is intrigued.
Their relationship develops from there. After much coercing, Jellybean eventually agrees to produce Madonna's album.
History tells us just how successful that first album was - so that's not where the intrigue of the story is. What keeps you hooked is watching just how determined Madonna is and seeing what she will do to achieve her goal - world domination.
Very often I'll read a screenplay that's at the top of the blacklist and have almost no idea WHY it received that many votes. But not this year - at least not with Blond Ambition.
This script is solid from start to finish. It's great even if you're not a Madonna fan. I'm apathetic about Madonna - I can appreciate and respect when a singer-song-writer is as successful as she is, but my iTunes has none of her songs in it. This script is so well executed, a love for her music is not necessary.
You know what makes this script successful? It's all about a woman's drive to succeed. There's a lesson in that for screenwriters. People love to watch stories about underdogs succeeding - but they love to see the underdog EARN their win.
If the road to success is too easy, the opposite happens - viewers will get annoyed with your hero, they'll start to hate them because they had their success handed to them.
BIOPICS are always in demand. Why? Because people LOVE true stories. Even when we know how the story ends - we love to see the journey and the fight that these people went through to achieve their goals.
A biopic about Madonna is sure to make money. She is one of the most successful female music artists in the world. Arguably THE most successful in the modern era.
There is one downside to writing a biopic about a famous musician - the film will only work if the rights to the music can be bought. And that can send the budget up into the stratosphere.
I highly recommend writing biopics - and if you want to see a guide on how to do it well... read this script.
This would be the 'worst' part of this screenplay. It is densely written. But when I say 'worst', please note that I write it in quotation marks for a reason - the writing here is stellar.
I only skim read the descriptions - as they were waaaaaay over written. But there are two ways to read a script. 1) Speed mode. Where you skim read, or 2) Normal mode - where you take in every line.
Most people skim read to get a feel for a script - if you can read 120 pages in 60 minutes and still understand the story - then that - in itself - is testimony to the writing ability of the writer.
If I were a producer with an eye to making this film - then I'd sit down, take my time with the script and savor every word and every scene.
So as a writer, you have to try to find a balance.
You want to write a lean script so readers who are skim-reading can zap through your story and still understand it. But you also want there to be substance to your tale.
This script, I feel, is over written by about 20% - but it's still a damn fine read.
Biopics are funny when it comes to structure. If you're telling a true story - you are bound by the facts that happened in real life.
But here's where good writing comes into.
You can have the EXTERNAL EVENTS play out as they did in real life - but you - as the writer - control what goes on INSIDE your hero.
So to that end, you can create a more traditional structure while still staying true to real life events.
It's interesting to note that MADONNA'S FLAW is NOT resolved by the end of the script.
Madonna's flaw is that she uses people to get what she wants - the sacrifices are her personal relationships.
With that in mind, this story is actually a tragedy.
A tragedy is when a hero learns of their flaw - but even though they know about it - they choose to KEEP their flaw - and ultimately their life is doomed.
A great tragedy is Leaving Las Vegas. If you haven't seen it, or read it - it's a great film and book.
But the thing about M's flaw is that it drives her to succeed. It's very interesting in that regard - the one thing that destroys her personal relationships is the one thing that allows her to excel far beyond all her contemporaries.
CHARACTERS AND DIALOGUE
Both executed incredibly well.
The way to tell if a writer has really put time and effort into their characters - is to judge them by how well they write their smaller characters. Even the bit players here shine.
Here's a tip - try to name every single one of your characters in a script. When a character is named - RECEPTIONIST or NURSE #4 - that character suddenly doesn't feel real. Give them a name and they suddenly feel real.
Dialogue is well done here also. Each character has their own voice and way of speaking. It's a great example of how to do dialogue well.
The strength of your VOICE comes down to how easy it is to read your sentences.
Sometimes I'll open a screenplay and it will take me three reads of the first paragraph to understand what happened. That's bad writing. That's poor sentence structure.
Then, other times I'll open a script such as this one and the first paragraph is so easy to read your eyes slide across the page with ease.
Here's a tip - try to write the way you talk. For some reason, writers often assume a different voice when they write. They feel there is a certain style they have to adhere to.
There really isn't.
Writing is simply conveying a story. The easier it is to understand the story the better.
This film is period. Being set in the eighties means it's almost as expensive as setting it in the 1900's.
Also, the cost of licensing the music would be uber expensive. We're talking millions - just for the rights for the music.
Also, it's about Madonna - so all the big name actresses would want in on this role - so - again, you're looking at a lot of money for the leading role.
I'd say this film couldn't be done on much less than 20 million. That's the absolute lower end.
Realistically I can see this film being made on or around the 40-million-dollar mark.
But if it were well executed - it would stand to make a good return.
Which, really - is what the film BUSINESS is all about.