Monday, February 18, 2019

Boys & Girls



 




I've had different producers, both male and female. Some are great to work with and others aren't. I do know that women have a harder time, but from my point of view I've seen a lot of waste. I've never really put anybody down, male or female. I don't like writers who want to make it a contest nor do I not like drinkers. Yeah, you see them now and then. Mostly because of pressure although that's mostly that they're not that good.

On one series, I was fired before I was to join. It was with 2 male writers from Toronto and one of them had never written. How did that happen? He talked himself into being a producer-writer. Never had written anything!

The other one was a man who drank a lot on the job. They both didn't like me. I packed my bags and was ready to go. Next morning they "decided" to keep me for a while. I unpacked and stayed for about four months. I found out that the head producer in Toronto wanted me.

It was a hell of a job as the three of us were not fun. The head writer and I had to rewrite every page. And then the bad one would tell everyone he had written it.

There's probably a lot more women working in the film industry, line producers, A.D.'s and others. And again, they seem to become stronger just through practice.

I've never written movies or TV with women as far as I know, but I had one story that might be of interest. I was working in Vancouver on a action TV series with 3 male writer/producers (basically fake credits).  The network wanted me in for a 2-story episode. I had done more work on two episodes than they did.

I had been given a small office, enough for me to work in. The other three were working in "the big room" while I worked in my little office. I knew one writer, and h wasn't really very good but managed to keep working. The other two were people I didn't know.

There was also a young woman there and she seemed to get coffee and do errands for the other three. She passed me a couple of times, said "hi". I finally asked her what she did. She said she was a writer-in-training.

I asked her why she wasn't doing anything except coffee and lunch and anything they wanted.  She said that's all they tell me to do. It wasn't very long for me to work with her, she didn't have to bring coffee, rather she watched me write and what I wrote. We did this until I had to leave and she thanked me. 

It was a long time before I saw her on another Vancouver series when I was visiting a friend of mine, also writing. Then a voice came and I turned to see her. She was now writing and was also a writer producer. She even told the others that I helped her.

So that's basically how it can work, not always, sometimes never, but this time it did.

On the other hand I was working for a woman producer who didn't like anyone, not writers or anyone. She would be playing some kind of digital games all day long. We got into an argument over a scene that I had to fix but she didn't think it had to fix, I said yes, the actors had it down and a director, but she kept at me until I really got mad and finally hurled the phone book (which was handy) past her. This show had a lot of arguments in the "writer's department", which consisted of a large bedroom fixed up with a few desks. 

The odd thing was that I was the only one working in the room. The "writer" who didn't know anything was also being a producer. He and the woman producer were always arguing.  The head writer was rarely seen until someone brought me his writing. He'd show up at the bar.

I had one woman who was 2nd in costumes and other areas with a man as head. I found out the hard way when I heard 2nd was going to take over the 1st. I mentioned that the 1st head let her do the work.

She glared at me and wanted to know if she was good enough.

I had mentioned that she was taking over for a while - that I wondered if she could handle it. But I said that it was great she can do it. Not "you can't do it", but "you can do it." She managed a smile.

From what I see now on TV is a lot of women writing in both countries. But I also saw women head writers really feel pressure but that goes to men writers as much as to younger men writers. There are more women writers now, certainly in Canada and I've watched their shows and they're not bad. Never hired me though.

By the way, the woman I helped didn't hire me!

One last story. I was working in Luxembourg re-writing three screenplays. It was a great gig, working close to France and Belgium and Germany. These screenplays were originally written by other writers. It's quite common. I had a car and an office in a studio and life was great. 

Then a producer with very little experience but somehow managed getting a gig. I had met him in L.A. and a few people told me he's more trouble then help. He came around the last month and found a young guy to be his helper. He was instantly trying to change the script but I managed to keep it going. I also had the help of the director and actors.

Then one morning I saw the lead actress coming up to me and asking me why the script was changed. I didn't know, but knew who it was. She and I had worked about 6 pages for her to read.  I realized it was the producer, using his kid to help. He cut the words down to a page and a half.

I couldn't do anything but I had one thing that would change it.

The lead actress was called Kate Mulgrew. You might know of her - Kathryn Janeway. Yes. Kate was the first woman Captain on Star Trek. And she was still working and found some time to get a gig for a character story between series.

You know what happens. Kate (I had a few dinners with her) was furious. That one thing is this -- you don't tell the lead actor in a huge TV series. So she and I brought the script back again. Maybe a few changes of his... but completely what it was before.  

She even took my original script and walked out on set and told everybody what scene we are going to use, Jim's script.  Ouch.

Producer did not like it. But I managed to stay but I had two screenplays that I had written back in L.A. I decided to go back because they were going to shoot my first film in Winnipeg and I think I did some fixing up on another script there. 

By accident both of my scripts where filmed about a hundred miles away from where I grew up and lived up to twelve years before going to Ontario. 

Funny how movies pop up and down. I did the Belgium movies, two movies of mine in Canada and one in Mexico. One year.




Okay, maybe we're a little bit older.


Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Best Time









So I landed back in Toronto. I got another cheap movie for Lionel and looked for something bigger and real. I had written a few scripts, some people looked at it but nothing big. Always felt that Toronto was there to kill me. 

I met Phil again, at the Toronto Film Festival. He had two movies already and we talked about some of the scripts I wrote and that he would pass them around. He also liked one in particular. I didn't mention it before, but Phil shot his film about the same time as mine. However his was a classic western and was a big movie. It was good to see him again and we spent the evening talking scripts. He had someone who wanted a hockey movie, based on a true story about hockey in 1911. I would write it.

Then, I met someone else who changed my life that same night. I had a friend in Vancouver who was also Phil's writer's friend. Phil mentioned that I was a good writer. So I met a few more people at the festival and one of them introduced himself, saying that we both had mutual friends. His name was Paul Lynch, an English director who was raised in Canada. 

Paul had just finished a horror film also, Prom Night, which was a hit. I lamented about my not finding any work as usual in Toronto and that even agents here didn't want me. Paul said that wouldn't be a problem. He had an agent already. In L.A. He would send me to L.A. to meet him. All I had to do is get there.

This time I drove across Canada again and stayed with some friends in Vancouver before the big leap. Finally I drove down I-95 hoping for the agent.

I arrived in L.A. and stayed with my Ghostkeeper distributor and his wife, who was the lead in Ghostkeeper. But Ghostkeeper wasn't big enough. Still, a start. I called the agent, Barry, and ask to meet. He said "my friend is your friend", or something Hollywood-ish.

I met Barry and figured that I will be rolling in money. But as the days went back and the months I began to realize that Paul's agent wasn't that good. I would meet two gangster producers who lived in a house with only one sofa and a few chairs.  I was realizing that Paul's agent wouldn't help me much.

By now I learned that I was "working up" as they say in that I dropped Barry to another agency and started to meet real producers. That lasted for about a year with no meetings. 
Then I got a good agent, or at least he thought he was. He did get meetings for me, but he thought he was the best agent ever. But, like I said, he did intro me to people who liked me and who would get recalls.  Then I got a young agent who liked me and was going to land in a mid-size agency. He called me and said he would want to take me with him.

It began again, and I was getting closer to big agencies. But not yet. I began to get jobs in both U.S. and Canada and also fixing screenplays for movies to shoot. They were mostly TV but also a few features. I was making money. I flew to Luxembourg to rewrite three screenplays and one in Mexico and even wrote two Paramount movies and rewrote two movies in Canada. This was mid-90's.

I still got rewrites from producers which was a lot of fun and I liked doing rewrites. When 2000 came I had continued with TV movies and a few features. Then my agent left his mid-size agency and brought me along. I was now with Paradigm, one of the biggest. But 2000 was going to drown me and to anyone who was in the same case as me. 

It was a little TV show called Survivor. A dozen young people trying to survive with cameras all around them. It took off like a rocket and everyone was watching it. Everyone.

And this was the beginning of what we called "the end of TV movies". I had a few theatricals but mostly TV. As belonging to WGA, we had a party at the Roosevelt Hotel across from the Chinese Theatre to watch our industry change. 

Around 2002 I also taught screenwriting at UCLA online and really enjoyed it. I taught four years and am considering teaching again. I also wrote a book on screenwriting, you can see it on Amazon.
  
Who would have killed TV movies by a bunch of young people on an island trying to beat the other young people. 

There were DVDs but you had to go to them in your car or bike or whatever.

It was pretty slack after that. But it always comes back.

Netflix.

It began with a guy who figured out that if he could slip a DVD into an envelope, well, maybe a lot of people might. And that started it all over again. And now, new fresh movies are being shown by so many companies I can't keep who's who?

So TV movies are still there, new and fresh every week. 

And for me, I have two features hanging on and a new one.

Just gotta clean them up and they just might get sold.  

I've finished my latest screenplay, inspired by my ex who suggested the idea as a road trip for us. We both agreed that a roadtrip we took in 1971 was probably the best time we ever had. So of course I sat down last November and wrote it. 


I also wrote two other books; Emperor of Mars and How To Not Get Beat Up In A Small Town Bar. All three are on Amazon. 

Emperor of Mars features a 12-year old boy in a small town who believes that a Martian is coming to Earth and he has to save the world and his new hot teacher and close his friends. It's based, of course, from my life in a small town. The book has been optioned 8 times and still hasn't been made. The last option had me directing. Still waiting. 

The other book is basically what I love secondly. The highways. It's a collection of real stories that I came upon including road trips to every part of the American west and most of Canada. The title came from a small town in western North Dakota where I got into trouble in a local bar where the town and barely made it out. There's stories about Roswell, small towns, animals, palaces, and movie stories.  

But, basically we can still write stories from a crayon or pen or scratched on a building, they were always done with someone who had an idea. Go out there. 







Monday, February 11, 2019

My First Hollywood Sale







Okay, let's begin again. I have to start over again after a little bit. You've wondering about my ex, we decided to end our marriage. It was quiet and we went our ways. I've left behind almost everything I have but I felt good, moving across America.

There's another part of what I'm doing and why I write,

I don't know if any of you have read Jack Kerouac. If you haven't, you should. His book turned me around as to what I want in life. Jack was part of what was a group of authors whose work and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. The most of their work was published and popularized. 

The Beat Generation was a literary movement started by a group of authors whose work explored and influenced American culture and politics in the post-war era. The bulk of their work was published and popularized throughout the 1950s. Along with that it was called The Beat Generation as well as San Francisco Renaissance.

I found a copy of the biggest book that ever came from them. It was called The Beat Generation. And Kerouac was their leader among others. The book took cross-country drives across America in the early 50's in crazy, mad places and the beginning of what would change writing differently. Buy one.

It slammed into me like a rock. I loved travel since I could remember. Mostly where of my father, whose gift of driving eight hours a day and then find a cheap motel for them, my younger brother and me. I had the sickness that Kerouac had, and I think I knew so was my farther.

And if you really want to see how bad I had to write about it, have a look at my book "How To Not Get Beat Up In Small Town Bar." My newest car today is a 1996 Ford Explorer with over 277,000 miles. And she looks beautiful. I now had the Camaro. Good shape.   cs

Okay, I leave Ontario where my parents and x live. I was going to Hollywood, or L.A. Most people wouldn't enjoy long rides but I love it. I even have a map of dozens of freeways, small roads, anything I could look at. 

I had driven a car from a Detroit sale and gave me 4 days to reach Seattle, bouncing up to Vancouver. But now I was going to L.A. with hopes of writing other screenplays besides Blood Games. I drove the roads that Kerouac drove with his crazy friends. I stopped outside of Amarillo I took some time to see Cadillac Ranch, a bunch of old Cadillac nose up in a field. And on the same day I stopped in "Winslow Arizona" where the Eagles rockers created the song.

So I arrived in L.A. having some Canadian friends who owned a condo. With room for me. I stayed with them for a few weeks after exploring the town and settled with an American friend in a nice area of west LA. I was there.

I had written a screenplay that was running around my head, what with now two women behind me. It's not an easy thing, but I had to have a chance to sell it. Naive as hell. I also had two friends from Canada also and I spent a lot of time with Leo. Thru the weeks I looked for an agent, having no real idea of what I need to do and why.

This was so different than Canada, it was warm for one thing, but also it was "so American". It didn't take long to tell me that I'm not going to get anywhere. I talked to some weird agents and my money was getting low. 

Then I found a woman who had an agency on Hollywood Boulevard, she was nice, friendly and smart. She liked me and I liked her and then I showed her my screenplay. It was a very odd story for me but it was something I wanted to get off.

The story was about a girl's baseball team that go into the redneck territory and when someone gets hurt, the girl's team tries to get out of town. I don't know why or how I wrote it but I thought it was something interesting because the women fought back with the rednecks and in the end... they win (the girls).

My agent liked it, sold it for about $2000 which at that time was non-guild and you take what you get. I was still realizing I had to go back because I couldn't work here and I needed some of Lionel's cheap video movies to make.

While I was hoping to sell the girls script I was more interested in Hollywood. I moved around with other Canadians but I began to realize that I needed a better script than the girls, actually I didn't even want my name on it.

So, after about eight months, I departed with the Camaro. I had car problems in New Mexico and my dad had to pay the repairs over the phone.

I still had the $2000 mostly and managed to see a lot of Kerouac country and hoped one day to write a screenplay like what Kerouac wrote. Small towns, cafes, strange parks, everything I could consume. Some day.

Finally I returned safe and sound. But the movie took a long time and there were changes by a bunch of cheap producers and a fairly good cast for that type of movie. I suppose that became Blood Games and the ballgirls win, although lots of violence. They used what they had and knew it well. I had a really good title but can't remember it.

You can see it on youtube. It's awful. The "other writers" basically made it even worse than I might have done over.

See my Christmas film. I've gotten better.





"It's a girl my lord, in a flat bed Ford..."

Winslow, Arizona




Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Ghostkeeper








I realized that I was getting closer to Vancouver and closer to a lot of my film friends who were all making short films or working on American films. I even thought that I would stay in Calgary for a year maybe, or less. That is, if I get hired. Regina gave me the rules of film and I was ready. Even though I was writing commercials and wheat documentaries, I was learning. But I never really wrote any screenplays yet.

Calgary was bigger than Regina and the Rocky Mountains were about 30 miles away and can be seen from the city.And skiing. Once again,, I was a writer producer and I was doing the same thing as Regina. It wasn't movies but it was work. Calgary had a little bit of movies as a few Hollywood features were shot there. But Vancouver was bigger. Maybe I might make it to Vancouver yet.

But it changed drastically. I met a woman, Carole, with three kids and for four years we all lived happily. I was doing the same thing, car salesmen, some documentaries and a lot of fun there. Then one of the "writer-producer" friend decided to go off the station and look for work on movies. I thought a lot about it, there were movies being made but again, not like Vancouver.

My friend Harry had a screenplay he wrote and production was happening. Then he told me to join him as a co-producer. We were going to make a movie. And I was finally in the business that was real. Movies. I quit tv commercials.

Until we couldn't find enough money. 




Then I met another producer who worked with educational documentaries. I had started to write screenplays and made a rough version on paper. Doug knew someone who owned the 
hotel near Lake Louise. And we decided to make our movie. A horror movie. Ghostkeeper. It came by the fact that Doug had a friend who's father owned an old hotel in the middle and near giant Lake Louise hotel. All we wanted was the old hotel and it was closed for winter.

Doug and I couldn't really raise money very well. I realized this earlier as I was and still is not a guy who could raise money. So did Doug.

Harry came around and said he could finance it. And he did. There was one point left -- we had to shoot the film before January 1st. This was a government thing to help finance Canadian producers and writers. It was now December. Harry was the kind of guy who can raise money. He didn't get enough for his movie but he had enough for my movie.

Somehow it all started to be together. Our budget was $750,000. Harry knew oil men and other business men who were looking to cut something to cut their riches because they could do this. In fact, they actually could lose their money perfectly that way.

And since it was my script I was the director and writer, although Doug had a credit for producing also.  Harry knew a lot of rich oilmen and he found the money. 

I was going to make a movie. We managed to get the money spent before the end of the year and were sure we could do it. All the pieces seem to fit. We began shooting Ghostkeeper with enough time to make it.


 


I was excited as hell, finally making a movie. It wasn't great but it worked out. The actors were local except for the lead woman who came from Montreal. But the gold in the movie was Georgie, an older actress who was brilliant and saved our movie.

I brought another Vancouver friend, John, who was and still is a hell of a cameraman. I was totally taken with his work, he lit scenes with beauty and it made the movie look better.  



I was feeling good, it was all working, my real 35mm feature film

We finished on time and did post in Toronto, where Harry's brother was an editor and quite a good editor. He and I had arguments but he was smarter than me and I was okay with that.  I wouldn't know that this 1980 movie will come back to me 35 years later when it had begun to find

So I was a writer-director. No more car salesmen and Colonel Chicken.

But I didn't get a lot of money, in fact barely any. Harry took a lot and the money was gone. And so was Harry. He moved to Vancouver where he started a movie but it was never finished. I actually rewrote a lot of it for Harry. And this time he did pay me for the rewrites.

But I was broke. And being broke was not great for five people,, three of them kids. Carole and I decided to go their own way. We were always friends from there and still are. Ironically a few years before my ex and I divorced.

It didn't take long to look for work in Calgary but nobody really had anything going, except working on American TV and features shot here.

So what did I do? Go back home. Windsor/Detroit.

I stayed there for a month or two and decided to find money in Toronto. I also began to get financing from Canadian funding as much as $1500 -$5000 and more. I immediately saw that writing screenplays are a lot easier than trying to write and direct a movie. I think I got around $ $20 thousand dollars. And without having to return any of it. I loved Canada for keeping me alive over two years.

Then a savior of sorts had work - feature movies made for TV for budgets of about $180,000 each. Not great but I was working. Writing movies that went to other countries as well as here as well as directing. The owner, Lionel,  was cheap but he paid me well from those 3 movies he produced and he sent them all over the world along with twenty or so others.

Lionel shot in video and used the local TV station's equipment. Not the best but I was writing and directing three movies. I also had a good screenplay that a young producer wanted. He wanted some different ideas but it was all okay to me. I rewrote my script in two weeks and then handed it over. It actually was a good movie, about teenagers being used as pawns for older men. I still think it was one of my best and it sold to Lifetime Channel.

And then I decided to go to Los Angeles. My Camaro was in good shape and I had wanted to go to Hollywood like everybody else does. It was more than that, I really never worked in Toronto, except for the news camera job a few years back. And the 3 cheap movies from Lionel. My joke was that our cameraman, who worked for hockey games should have a hockey pock on his forehead. Nasty, I know, but they were not fun.
 

L.A. would be my friend.