Friday, September 8, 2017

Still finishing moving


So it's still about storage and moving and all that stuff that I hate. But I am going to a new place and look forward to it.

Until then I am heading towards the new place and hopefully get back to work by the end of next week.

Hang on to How to Make a movie a cult following. 

 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Moving





Sorry for the delay, I'm in the middle of moving, or as I see it, "Hell!!" It is not fun, trying to sell off some stuff and just trying to not go crazy. I should be wrapped up, traveling and hopefully settled. Sorry for the wait, I'll drop lines now and then.

This is what it started like.... 

 

Monday, August 21, 2017

More


Okay, end of the Heaven and Hell story. I'm actually going back there in the next month to visit and hang out with some of the friends I made on the show. I'm also working on some of my book on screenwriting as I will be working online for another gig. 

Thanks for reading the blog, it's actually now nearing 10 years of my blog, amazing! I'm considering my own online screenwriting instruction. As some of you know I have taught screenwriting way back at the University of Los Angeles, (UCLA) one of the best screenwriting teaching courses in the world. 

Should have a new story asap.

Hang on.

Friday, August 18, 2017

H&H Part 23 - the end is near



 
They are well into the filming of my episode. The director meets me and says he's filming the scene as I had originally written it rather than the Kaplan/Mahon version. What's interesting here is that a director rarely goes over the heads of the producers but in this instance he did.

He also had the 1st AD talk to Mahon to keep her away from the actors and the scene itself. As the AD talks to her, she notices me but doesn't say anything. I figure I won't either. Let it go. The scene is finished and Mahon approaches the director and asks how it's going. He replies simply, "good." She leaves and he gives me a nod.

You would rarely see this on a series, I've seen it a couple of times on other shows. And while it shows the director's confidence as well as the actor's, it's also because they have spent time on the script with me or the other writers, including Rino and Jonathan who have experienced similar moments.

Believe it or not.




And my time is almost over. They are filming my first script and the second one will be filmed in September for which I probably won't be asked back since I had done all the necessary rewrites for it.

I decide to leave a week early as all the scripts are pretty much done and there's nothing left to do. Rino also is leaving at the end of the week. In 2 weeks, everyone will be gone and Jackson will be a tourist town again.

I take a day or two to say goodbye to the locals, Louise and the Greeks and even the stalker whom I meet one day on the street. He didn't seem to know who I was. I also visit the set and see the crew who worked tirelessly on this show and had some idea of the infighting between the writers and producers, but never really bothered us. Erica is there and says she'll see me at the bar and gives me a hug. Hugs are big on film crews.

I wasn't sure how I'd spend my last evening and figured it would end at the bar with the above-the-line crew as we all did for the last several months. But when I get to my hotel there's a message.

An invitation to dinner with three, count them, three of the most interesting women on the show. The two sisters, Marilyn and Lauren and Carrie, who scanned her face on paper and gave me a copy. What more could any guy ask for?

Naturally I figure someone else must have turned them down but I don't hesitate in answering YES!!

I rush through the bar, saying goodbyes. Karen the accountant says she'd miss my jokes, and we all promise to keep in touch even though most of the time it never happens. But in this case, I still do keep in touch with many of them. I see Jorn and ask him to come with me, he doesn't have to think twice.

Upon arriving at the restaurant just outside of town limits, I am in for another surprise. There, in the dim light and flickering candles, I realize there's something different about these three women,

No hiking boots and parkas and down vests.

Instead, they're all wearing light summer-type dresses, with hair done up and looking like three amazing Eliza Doolittles. The rest of the dinner is a soft blur, the five of us talk initially about the show, but then about things everybody talks about, life, hope, future. It's one of those moments you want to go on forever.

But like moments, they are soon gone as Marilyn's smiling candle-lit face dissolves into raindrops hitting against my windshield as I drive down the main street in early morning. The street is empty, I pass by the bars and cafes and shops that were part of my life for the last several months, snow had come and gone, leaves were on the trees and a few deer families took shelter under them. Resting in the cupholder is my last hot coffee from Louise, the coffee shop owner who said goodbye to me minutes ago.

I think of how small things can change a mood, a dinner, a sunny day, even rain falling. And it's then that a moment happens, one of those moments where you feel so good that even if you had to die that moment, you would still be happy. That moment came to me now.

It was not an easy show, I'd like to think that it was an anomoly, an abberation of how TV series should work. But I hear war stories from others in the following years that suggests it can  happen again.

When movies began in the late 1800's, a French theater critic was known to have said of them, "now there is an art form for the masses." Up till then art was for the wealthy and the aristocracy but movies, for a few pennies, gave ordinary people a glance into life they never had before.

I like writing stories and continue to do so and feel lucky I still can. As I write this my attorney is negotiating a sale for a Christmas screenplay. It's called The Town That Forgot Christmas. It's bad luck to go this far in mentioning a script sale, but if it doesn't there will be others.


 
And what was that moment I described earlier?

A black bear stood at the edge of the highway as I approached in my SUV. This was just outside the town limits. He was on two legs, sniffing and watching and at the last moment, darted off into the trees.

I stopped and reached for my camera. He stood within the tall pines for another moment and watched me. Then with a seemingly bored look, he dropped to all fours and slowly waddled off into the deep forest.

Probably thinking; "some writer, he never even considered a bear episode".

Epilogue: I still keep in contact with Karen the accountant, Jorn the Cameraman, Dan the Production Designer, Ray the locations person, and a few others. I still talk to Marilyn whenever we're in the same place, and Lauren just a month ago. All are doing well. Rino has passed away.


Only the deer send me off this morning. And yes, I did see Erica before I left.



 

Monday, August 14, 2017

H&H Part 22 - My show



 
 One of the actors playing a Park Ranger, nice guy and easy to work with. The old guy is me.

The time has finally come when my first episode will be shot. It's one of the two scripts I was given to write besides all the rewrite work on other people's scripts. The second of my scripts will be written later.

Kaplan offers some notes of which some are good. After he leaves, the director of this episode drops by to discuss his notes. He has several comments, all of which are not difficult to make. Many directors, especially TV directors don't like to have writers around as the old joke suggests "because we're the only ones who know they're faking it."

At the very basic level, every script belongs to the writer. In fact European countries only accept the writer as the owner of the story and script. Sure, the director brings it to life, but a script can stand on it's own as reading material, regardless if it's made or not.

But this director is very generous and ready to work with me. He has read the first draft and asks why a new scene was added, a "drug deal" with the dying man and his partner. He asks why I changed it to something stereotypical and not as good as my original script.

I tell him in two words:  Kaplan and Mahon, the producers. They thought it would add some edge to the story, I said it made no sense. Why did I change it?

You have a lot to take into consideration when making changes; a responsibility to the show and the actors. On the other hand, if you cross the producers (in this case, Kaplan and Mahon), you can get a bad rap for being "difficult to work with" throughout the industry.

And there's usually two reasons why someone can't get work in this business; either they're not very good or they're hard to work with.

And after a week of them keeping after me to make the changes, I did. But I also knew that the director, if he was good, would notice the changes and I know the actors would immediately.

This director said he would try to get the original script back. But I doubted it would happen.

Next came the actors.

They dropped by separately, as is the custom, nobody wants to share the script with another actor. Gunther, who was saved with me by Erica at the bar, complains about the "drug deal" scene in the new script. I tell him why I changed it and he shakes his head and says "they don't know shit."

After him, Franz, the actor playing opposite him comes in and says "I  noticed some changes". I tell him about Kaplan and Mahon's dumb ideas and he sides with me, the director and Gunther. So far 4 against 2.

Finally Erica comes into the office, grabs me by the  hand and takes me out onto the little ground-level balcony our office has. She says her character should have some faults and not be so perfect. Exactly the opposite of what her German producer wanted, which was having characters with no problems and riding horses in the mountains.

By now you must be getting an idea of the frustration of working with not very smart producers. Neither Kaplan or Mahon were "smarties" as Mel Brooks would say, instead they did more to harm the writing on the show than help it

Actors, especially star actors, like "the big speech". This is where they get to show how dramatic they can be. Think of Al Pacino in Scene of a Lady, or Denzel Washington in Training Day. Those scenes that win awards for actors.

I had written a scene like that for an episode, but it wasn't for Erica, it was for the supporting actor. The scene was about a wife's reaction to her husband's death was not sorrow but anger at him for betraying her. It was a good scene because it did the opposite of what the audience expected. Writers love to write this kind of scene but don't always have the right story. 

Erica wanted a scene like that. 

And since she wasn't in the new "drug scene", she really didn't care about it. This was all about her. It wasn't a hard thing to change so I said I would do it.

That evening the film crew had a baseball game with the rangers and local police and they beat us by ten runs. It was a relaxing moment, even with Kaplan there. Everyone was enjoying themselves, Lauren was adapting well to her new position as Art Director, Jorn the cameraman was looking forward to returning to his family after the show wrapped. And I attempted again to talk to Marilyn but stumbled on every sentence.

As I drive a police officer home he suggests we "buzz" a fellow officer who's on radar patrol but I decline, not wanting to get a speeding ticket as well as the impact of a few beers I had at the bbq after the game.

The next day they began filming my episode and I come to the set and meet the director, who's decided to shoot my original version " F..k them", he adds.

I can't really disagre






(Fri:  Mahon & I face off)


Friday, August 11, 2017

H&H Part 21: Hollywood Donuts


As usual, I end up at a farewell party at the bar for Dan Cooper, the production designer who's off to do two western movies, and he's not all that unhappy to be leaving our troubled show. He leaves Lauren in charge and when I act surprised she glares at me, I realize that the  woman doing a man's job issue has been misunderstood and I attempt an awkward back step. I've never thought that and have always respected women filmmakers and in some instances mentored them.

But later, Lauren and her sister Marilyn pass me little notes, letters from Finbar the stalker that they've written, laughing as I read them. They sit across from each other between men who do their best to impress the two sisters. For awhile I watch the dance that occurs between them and the men, and I realize I'm in writer mode now, studying people and what they do. They laugh at jokes, smile, nod and generally capture the hearts.

For me it's welcomed, not having to deal with Kaplan and Jonathan and Mahon and Hilda the German money.

Erica is there, getting attention from the men that are too far from the sisters. Raoul, one of the actors shouts at me to write a scene for him so I grab crayon and paper on the table and write a simple first-grade level page of a screenplay.

Someone jokes that it's a Kaplan script who left early after giving a farewell speech to Dan's leaving. I think Kaplan knows how much he's disliked. The crayon script makes its rounds, everybody adding a line and I can't help notice how good everybody feels, made better by knowing that the show is rolling towards the last episodes and soon it will be over.

Then Erica grabs my arm and says she wants to look at the moon over the river. Now you have to remember Erica was one of my fantasy loves as a teenager and now she asks me to go and look at the moon.

Do I need to say how I feel?

Died and gone to heaven.

The moon is indeed over the valley and it's almost like a Hollywood scene. We sit on a bench and talk; the show, the mountains, Germany, the Rocky Mountains, I learn more about her life, how she as a young girl remembered powdered milk after the war ended in Germany and how some Hollywood types referred to her as a Nazi. It was a long hard road to her success and I realize she has earned it.

Then I pitch her my plan. It had come up weeks before and lurked in my mind for days now. I had the perfect business plan.

Hollywood Donuts. 

I had noticed that there were no donut shops in Jackson. There was HavaJava but that was closed early. And a donut shop is different anyway. There were truckers passing through the town all night, heading for distant cities.

Erica didn't know what a donut was but influenced by the drinks she had, she came up with a name. 

Hollywood Donuts.

And our slogan would be "Hollywood Donuts Are Forever".

I didn't know what it meant, but it sounded good. We now knew enough locals to be able to finance Hollywood Donuts and it would feature the Erica combo, coffee and Black Forest Cake. Not officially a donut but it would be the signature treat.

But the night is just beginning.

At 11:30 Erica wants to dance so we leave the movie scene I created in my mind and head tot the often wild hotel bar downtown. There she succeeds in dragging me onto the dance floor and proceeds to show her stuff. For me, it's totally embarrassing and I do everything I try to get off the floor. She ends the dance by jumping on me and the crowd roars.

What happens next that is both scary and amazing.

I join Gunther, a German actor who was flown here to play the part of the dying man in the script I wrote. Gunther and I get along well and he says, of Erica; "she has a lot of energy".

Then I notice that three mountain types approach us. One is bearded, heavy set, no necks and obviously tough. His two buddies are pretty much the same, less the beards. Beard stands about a foot in front of me and says...

"So that's the movie star."

I nod. Then he throws his cigarette, it hits my chest and bounces off. Gunther steps closer to me. Beard then says "you movie people, you really think you're something". I say "not really". He stares blankly at me.

"They don't like Germans", Gunther says and I add, "And they don't like me." I lean into Gunther and say that if they swing at us we have to hit the one closest to us and then head for the door. It's suddenly become a western cowboy showdown. And Gunther and I are really not fighters.

The big guys move in and just as they step ahead... Erica literally flows in between us and the mountain men and says something that sounds like "you look very strong" at Beard who stops, momentarily dazed. They are completely stunned, and I'm not sure if it was her sudden appearance, or them realizing they are looking face-to-face with a real movie star, but she has them in her hands...

... at least for a few more seconds.

In which she grabs my hand, twirls like a ballerina and drags Gunther and I away as smooth as a good bourbon. The next thing we know, we're outside. Once we get into my SUV and drive away, all three of us laugh. Safe and sound, thanks to a movie star.

Erica nods, says "sometimes it works, sometime it doesn't".


(Wed: My episode is filmed)

Monday, August 7, 2017

H&H Part 20: Secret Lives of townspeople






Okay, so I'm being a little dramatic but nothing much in the writing and fighting department so I'm going to catch up on the local gossip in Jackson. The pic is at a really hotel where secrets often are shared. I shared some.

I've mentioned Louise, the coffee house owner previously. Louise had invited me to a house party, one of 2 of our film crew to be invited, so I felt it would be to go. She has one of those houses built in the 1940's and now made more open and modern. The crowd is locals, mostly store owners like her and a few others.

Louise slides through the large living room, making sure everyone is happy. I sit at a wet bar across from a man who is mostly silent. Louise hugs me, gives me a drink and the man glares at me. Ray, the location manager of the series and the other one invited, tells me that the staring man is Louise's ex-husband, another Greek restaurant owner.

It turns out this is/was his house and Louise got it as a settlement. And to make it more interesting, Ray thinks Louise is flirting with me to push her ex's buttons. Not really what I need at this point, being worried enough about my stalker and even my job.

Ray adds that Louise has had plenty of affairs in town, which she later confirms, saying "yeah, they like to talk about me in town". I stay for another hour and then leave, walking back to my hotel. Spring is here now and the evenings are cool but bearable without a parka.

At the hotel the night clerk talks to me a little and I mention Ari the Greek. The night clerk is a tall, gangly man who has dark eyes that seem to be watching you. He says he knows lots about Ari and the other Greeks in town and tells me that Ari's restaurants have burned down three times under mysterious circumstances and that everyone in town knows and someday the "authorities" will know.

I see myself entering conspiracy world so I attempt to leave when night clerk asks if I'd like to see the video tapes he has of the fires. I politely decline, and go to my room. I hear the night clerk laughing and talking to himself. I make sure my door is double locked.

A few days later I learn that the night clerk was fired from Ari's restaurant and ordered by the court to keep away from the place. I also learn that Ari beat his wife some time ago and spent some time in jail.

Then we learn that Ari recently fired a waitress we all liked because she refused to serve liquor to customers after hours, which would be illegal. The TV crew is quite upset and draft a letter to Ari saying we won't frequent his place unless she's hired back.

The town is full of characters; one of them, Big Ed writes the horoscope for a local free paper and admits he makes them up. He says he even created a new sign, Saturn, whose predictions are always good. "Makes people happier," he adds.

Many of us find a new bar after the waitress firing incident and Ari's place is less busy, although now more tourists are beginning to come back to Jackson after the long, hard winter.


(Wed: The first completed episode is awful)