Monday, March 20, 2017

Changes and lattitude





Here I am again. My Lifetime interest seems to have gone with the wind. But I have a producer working very hard (and that's not often) to get my S.O.B. pilot going. Which is good. And for what I lost the last two weeks, I've gained this week for "Ideas" meaning that all the possible stories they didn't like, I can take somewhere else.

And this leads to Part 2 of my previous blog. Netflix.

Netflix changed everything when you could get a DVD straight to your home. And then Netflix began streaming to make it even easier for those of us who like to watch TV when we want to, not when the networks want us to.

And finally, Netflix broke through.

They made their own movies. And pilots. And that's when it all exploded.

Remember "The End of TV Movies".

It's baa....ck.

Today you have a ton of TV movies coming back, Hallmark of course is the king (Or Queen) of TV movies, always was. But Lifetime was still going too, I was involved in that, actually still involved with Lifetime. My first sold screenplay was for Lifetime way back in 1989.

So there.

Right now we have mini-series (which was the word for TV movies like Rich Man Poor Man) and then "Roots", which was a huge mini-series. 

So they came back, TV movies and what we called mini-series, but now you can watch them all in one night. Most of them anyways.  

Today I can watch Sun Records, Bette and Joan and at least a dozen or so this week. 

And this also gives writers more jobs and is almost as good as the old days of 1980's. 

Why?

Because I was making around $38,000 for every movie I wrote. Rate is more now of course. But there's also Lifetime who gets production companies to get writers for $1500 a script. 

Yes. $1500.

So there you go, more movies, less money. I'm still in WGA and WGC (Canada) but a lot of writers often write a movie or two just for food. We have around 12,000 writers in WGA and consider that around 1500 - 2,500. Nobody really knows except WGA honkies.

And now with a lot of film students filing out of way too many film courses, it's easy to find kids for $1500. Maybe even less.

Gotta say it's still good to be a boomer baby.

Oh, yeah... That camera and projector at the top are mine, and I film with 8mm film (yes, it still is around) and the projector works too. The light comes from the early morning sun.

And neither of them need batteries!!

And drop by my FB too.

 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Sorry Jim... maybe.


Well, my shot at a Lifetime movie from producer "A" looks dead.

I wrote a few ideas into half pages and got reasonable comments but at the last ideas, no answers were returned. Now maybe they lost my ideas or passed them on to someone else.

This isn't really that bad as I can send my ideas around to other producers, as far as I know, probably a dozen more who want to do Lifetime movies for incredibly cheap costs. I've heard some of them are made for $350,000. 

Not WGA wages.

I've even heard a script can be sold for $1500. 

Really.

So where am I?

I'm not really sure if I'm out, but at any rate I can't wait to see my last ideas read. But that's a whole other story. This goes back to 2008 where those of us who made TV movies to anywhere from $3 million up to $8-10 million. 

Those were the days.

But it all crashed in 2008 when Survivor appeared a few years before and showed that networks could make TV shows for far less cost than having to get actors who eventually become very expensive. 

And writers got around $38,000 or so in those hefty days. Even more if they were showrunners.

All of this was thrown into the garbage and we even had two celebrations at the Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd and where the first Academy Awards occured.

But this time it was known as "the death of the TV movie". 

But thanks to Hallmark and Lifetime.

My last TV movie (to date) was in 2010 and to Hallmark and since then a lot of options from producers who were also trying to get money for anything. 

That "anything" turned out to be digital products and where film finally died (except to Martin Scorcese and a few others). Digital production was and is faster and for that period from 2008 up to 2010 the only TV movies came from Hallmark and Lifetime.

BTW my first script sale was to Lifetime in 1989. It was made in a rush in two weeks, shot in Toronto for scale WGC rates, around $28,000 or so.

But then came Netflix.

But that's a whole other story.
 
 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sort of a job...




Sorry to not post last week, I was having my niece from Canada and a lot of running around with other stuff of which some is actually a possible deal.

A friend of mine passed me over to a production company who does really low budget movies for Lifetime that he's done a few. So I started a story but unfortunately, one of their movies had pretty much the same plot line.

However, I worked on a "similar" idea which I wrote over the weekend. I'm talking 1 page. I also started a spec screenplay at the same time. It was an idea for a producer who worked with a studio but they passed last year.

I think.

Why do I feel uncertain?

Well, it could be that studio didn't like my script. Or they didn't like the producer.
Or both.

It happens. 

So I changed a few little things in the original 1-page. Actually it's more like a half page. That's not being quite a full page or a stretched out logline. At any rate all anyone wants to see is more than one paragraph and less than three.

So today, I am trying to figure out an idea that isn't quite like the producer's idea but yet is close to the producer's idea.

Fun, huh...

Anyways, I gotta start now. More later.

Yeah, that's me at 5 I think. Always loved them cowboys.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Maybe... a job




This is my brain when I start a script. I like the yellow tablets, gives me some color besides just plain white. 

As you know I don't like saying I might be writing a screenplay for TV. Not gonna say which one but and not a bad one. I haven't really started writing and got bad marks for some things. Those are usually due to how a producer or exec reads the story. Everyone is different.

Are they all right. No. Nor are they all wrong. Just hope you get someone who really knows how to read what's up there in yellow. At least a few pages anyway. Every reader is different.

I've already torn up a few white pages before I go to yellow, but white is so... well, so white. With yellow you already are putting some color into your story. Really.

I also have the perpetual "hot script" going around to a "hot" actor and also two people are trying to get my S.O.B. pilot to read. And as you know all too well, nothing happens.

I'm also going to gather up my blogs and put them into a book for anyone who cares to read the blogs starting from 2008 up to now. Really a lot of stuff. I used to do 3 blogs every week. 

Three blogs a week.

I still think the best was the 4 months in Jasper Alberta on a series that was truly not very good but I had a great time in the magnificent Canadian Rocky Mountains. Truly.

So now what?

Here's another page of circles. I like circles, they seem to promote moving, as in action. Put circles on yellow paper and there it is. The beginning of something.

Sorry for the long wait.

Pray for me.

Or, at least a residual in the mail.


 
 

Monday, February 6, 2017

So here's a few "b" scripts





One of my first b script is one of the oldest, it goes way back to 1985 and it's called Burger Zombies. It's pretty much similar to one of the first movies Steve McQueen made and while it sounds similar, it's a little different. This cover was fishing around for money for Badland and Affinity, a company owned by a friend of mine.

It also was optioned a few times but never made. And it was way before the zombie craze, this one came from another planet. I wrote it several ways, one was more adult and another one was teens and a sarcastic lead girl named Darby.

 Logline: Teenagers must save their town from alien bugs raining down from space and taking control of the local burger joint.


It began with the dark objects raining down on a small mid-western town in the American heartland. Nobody takes much notice of whatever fell from the night sky, not that most townspeople even cared. For almost 14-year old finian, it was just another quiet night at the aging burger stand where his dream girl, 17-year old darby, worked slinging burgers. Not that she noticed him all that much, being older and more worldly. Still he hoped.


But something else prowls the empty streets of the little town, something that affects teenagers in a most violent way. It erupts the next day at school when a teen, Glenda, literally turns into a grotesque caricature of herself, a monster who attacks a teacher. Darby barely escapes with the help of Finian.


Finian and Darby are both curious and together begin a dangerous quest to learn more about the strange alien visitors who are taking the town over by possessing the bodies of local teens at an alarming rate. Gathering clues, they’re joined by the last survivors of the town; rudy, the gung-ho 12-year old and clara, nick-named Seer, barely 12 years old but with wisdom beyond her years. That and an uncanny ability to see otherworldly things that nobody else can. And finally wanamaker, an outcast whose strange immunity to the alien creatures will offer vital clues to the alien’s vulnerability.


As darkness falls, more attacks occur and it soon becomes clear to Darby and Finian that something strange is happening to the teens of the small town and that something even more deadly is revealing itself, creatures from another planet intent on taking over the bodies of unknowingly willing teens and the entire planet. With nowhere to escape and nobody to help, Finian, Darby and their  scruffy army of two kids and a man with a secret past, face the horrific fate of Burger Zombies to save their little town.

This was more or less the story and was optioned a few times and now lays resting somewhere in my office. I still get a phone call or two a year or a email asking about Burger Zombies.

Another action script is Deadhead, a story that uses a passenger jetliner with eight people flying in it when the jetliner suddenly turns into the northern Pacific Ocean and the pilot can't turn it back. And to ante up the action, there's a creature from space who hitchhiked onto the jetliner.  I wrote this from the experience I had with Rough Air (not my title btw). My brother who used to fly guided me through the script. It was done in 2001.

I've gone through a lot of genres; 

Beneath - a Russian submarine sinks mysteriously in the middle of the Pacific and a U.S. ship attempts to bring it up without the Russians knowing.

Beacon - A truckstop in nowhere where a girl arrives from running away from home and meets a handful of characters waiting for a break.

Casualties of Love is almost a play, in fact it still might be. It's about three late 30's friends who were a rock band in their younger days and decide to kidnap an older rocker in order for him not to sell out his music. But they weren't expecting a girl hiding out from something that is unsure. Their band, of course, was called The Casualties of Love.

Mojave us a cheapie, five menennials go out into the Mojave Desert for a memorium of their dead friend. However a mysterious strange begins to track them down, one by one.

Snowman is what it is, the Abominable Snowman of the Himalyas, a movie I had nightmares on when I was 12 years old. I started a book on it but never finished.

I do like Random Act, in which a farmer from South Dakota comes to Washington to claim the body of his daughter and suddenly gets into trouble with a cynical female detective until both of them become targets in the city.

Then I have a trio of stories dealing with my friends in various times of their lives. First up is The Silver Harleys, teenagers forming a band way back in 1970's. The next script was Casualties of Love, now in their 30's and finally Salad Days, same characters but 50-ish. I didn't realize I wrote these three stories to be connected and actually up to a few weeks ago, realized all three are the same stories, just the age is different.

These are the screenplays besides the big three I wrote and whom still have shots at being made. 

Well, at least I have a lot of work to do before I decide to quit, of course, you know I'll never quit. 

What's left?

There are lesser stories ones I did for money, or hopefully for money. But it never works. Well, maybe sometimes it does. I did write and directed 3 movies and 9 more directed by others.

Now about Burger Zombies...
  


Monday, January 30, 2017

Is this any good?


Every writer, pro or amateur asks their selves one thing. Is this any good? Is that first five pages you're looking at good enough to carry a hundred pages or so?

Or the first ten, or the first fifty pages?

Or even the finished product?

Having written 38 spec screenplays in about 20 years or so, I think that probably, I have written maybe a dozen good scripts. Okay, maybe half that.

What were they about? What was the story?

How about a Christmas story, I did good with The Town Christmas Forgot, which I wrote as a spec and sold to Hallmark in 2010. This unsold one, called Christmas Carole (aka The California Christmas) was based on a movie with Debbie Reynolds which I always liked on Turner.
 
Then there's a true story, based on the mysterious murder of a young Scottish girl in a wealthy home which eventually led to drug smuggling in Vancouver. I really liked this script so much I went to the grave of the girl and sat down, asking her to tell me who killed her. Nobody ever knew. I would do that movie for nothing. It's very similar to Chinatown.

Then there's another favorite about a president of the U.S. has to get a new heart. I liked this story because I discovered that hearts aren't necessarily laying in ice, rather they can attach connections to the heart and keep it alive. Here's a reader's report:


“The premise of a presidential heart transplant is strong and commercial. It takes a personal need with a ticking clock, and transforms into a global crisis with a journey at its center. It's a smart base for an affordable political thriller which still has worldwide stakes. Making the protagonist a doctor was an intelligent decision, and introduces a fish out of water element that always plays well in a thriller. The setting - a chase from Paris to Luxembourg - is perfectly commercial.”




Then there's another; Secrets of the Salmon, a story about a woman returning back to her Washington state after twenty years to confront her father over a past sin. This one was actually optioned at ABC and had good comments by Jody Foster's company.

How about a 1950's gang story wherein an Italian hitman goes to Niagara Falls to kill a union organizer but accidentally saves the organizer and meets two women very much attached to themselves.Title is Side By Side which fits the last scene. Good reviews from Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street website.


“This thing is quite good”, “Reminded me a lot of Chinatown with it’s film noir slant and grotesque bizarre edge”, This script is great, the story is great”, The concept is original and although it made me a little uncomfortable at the beginning, the human aspect of it won me over,” “You’ve created the perfect film noir world, your penchant for character, mood and atmosphere became a very enjoyable experience,”I read this story with the girl upstairs, we started reading yesterday and she came home and demanded we finish - the story had so captivated her imagination.” “The progress of the story became a very enjoyable experience” – Trigger Street.

  Then there's Travel Day, a road picture where a once famous actress and a young male actor are driven to a distant location. One of the best scenes in it would have been great, wherein a chicken plays basketball. Sort of. Two Oscar nominated women wanted to play it but the money fell through.



 The story came from a friend of mine who worked with me on a series. He was driven to a film location with a pretty famous actress of the 60's, both of them with a 70-year old location driver. The heart of the story was how the three of them handled each other on a winter day.


And finally, and of course, the favorite one is Emperor of Mars. And it's because it is the closest story to me even though I have used my life and friends lives and anyone else I notice who would be generous enough to let me use them. I wrote EOM way back in 1989 and most of you have probably heard a half dozen producers who tried to get it made. So I wrote the book. You can see the reviews of the book at the EOM card at the top.






Next will be the "B" movies, the ones that aren't quite as good as the ones above. And why they aren't.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How I started writing screenplays




First of all, I wrote a story in high school but it wasn't very good.  I decided to go to college in Dearborn, Michigan and one summer I needed a job and saw an ad for someone to work in a mailroom at a local TV station. 

I interviewed and intended to leave at the end of summer but something happened.

I like working at the station. After a few months I got to edit commercials to play on TV. After that it was all over. I then went into TV news as a soundman and learned how to shoot film.

I loved working in this business and still do.

I stayed there for 3 yrs and then quit and jumped across Canada working at any TV station I could get a job at. And it was easy those days, much harder if not impossible now.

I quit the TV station I worked at and began writing. But I didn't really know how to do it. And that's when a friend of mine showed me a screenplay. But it wasn't any old screenplay.

It was The Deerhunter.

I had seen the movie twice but now I actually had a real screenplay in my hands. So I decided I would rewrite the screenplay. Not the real screenplay, but I would copy the script to paper by typing the whole story. I would copy a handful of pages every day.

Funny thing was that at I began to think I was writing The Deerhunter. Sure, it was out already as a movie. But I felt I was writing it for myself. Sounds weird but I really began to know how a story went.

And that was my lesson in screenwriting. I still have the original screenplay in the stack.

With that, I wrote and directed a suspense thriller called Ghostkeeper. You've probably seen it within the blog and can catch it on imdb and a few other places. Not a great movie, but I made it. It's going to Blu-ray this year.

That was my only education.

Then, after writing and directing Ghostkeeper I wrote a handful of scripts and got better each time. And I kept referring to The Deerhunter script. I finally wrote something that someone might like and met a producer who wanted a story fast.

The story I wrote was about a religious man accused of accosting a 16-year old girl and laid the blame on her. I had heard it on the radio and thought it could work. But it had to be ready in 2 weeks.  And it had to change a lot. Now it was a religious minister who sent young men and women under his care to service old guys.

I have no idea why I wrote it, I had no experiences of any of that. But I had a job so I settled into a hotel in Toronto and wrote with the producer coming around every day. I finished the first draft and then realized that we had to shoot 3 days away.

I went over it on the week-end and handed it to the 1st AD and they began shooting on Monday.

From there I was now a real writer. And a first draft. I was lucky.

Then I got into TV in Canada, working on a series in Vancouver which led to meeting a director who had heard of me from a mutual friend. The director asked to read a script or two and said he could get an agent for me, his agent in L.A.

This turned into something good as I had written Emperor of Mars, a story about a 12-year old kid who falls in love with his 20-year old teacher. But something else was coming, a voice that said the Emperor of Mars is coming to earth. 

This was my story of course, I was that boy and the teacher, whom I still talk toAnd the idea of a Martian coming to earth actually was supposed to happen as I have newspaper articles from the 1950's talking about someone who was saying he was from Mars.

This was were I learned that I couldn't just write a story and a kid who's in love with his teacher, and that's where the "Emperor" came from.

But something else happened.

I changed agents because I felt I needed someone who will push my work better. And that happened. Very soon I was going to "meets" everywhere, from studios to networks to producers. Everyone loved EOM.

But nobody wanted to make it. 

And it still hasn't been made. In fact I wrote a book based on EOM and had some sales.

And then something else happened. I got into the U.S. through a Permanent Resident Alien card. Then, around 1990 I began to write scripts. A lot of them, two or three a year. I also began to do rewrites on other writers scripts.

All was well until 2008. Or as we writers called "The Death of The TV Movies". And what was that about?

Well, a TV show called Survival, where people are sent to an island and had to survive. That one thing changed TV forever.  It was cheaper too make. We reacted by a strike and had two "Death of the TV Movie" parties at the Rosovelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. 

I didn't get a movie again until 2010, something for Hallmark. 

And I am still writing, I have a screenplay with a French company and now have two scripts with a producer in L.A. and one, EOM, with another. 

A friend of mine wondered if I would retire. I told him I would drop dead on my laptop first. And then I said I wanted to take the laptop with me. He asked why? 

I said I might get a good idea!


 

Maybe?

And yes, I still take out a screenplay now and then to get some inspiration.