Wednesday, April 25, 2018

About producers

Years ago, a real estate salesman met me at a party and asked me this; what does it take to be a movie producer? Turns out he had always wanted to be a producer but didn't quite know how to go about it as he lived in a small eastern city. My answer was simple. It's easy.

Find me $2 million dollars and you automatically become a producer.

He laughed and said it couldn't be that easy. But I wasn't joking. All you really need to know to become a producer, is how to find money. Everything else you need to know you'll find out soon enough as the money comes in... or it doesn't. 

There's contracts, and budgets and schedules and casting sessions, but all of that can be learned as you go, really. A producer's prime talent is the ability to raise money and that means someone who could sell swampland to anyone. You need to be able to convince people to give you money. 

Does that sound too much like a used car salesman? Or a new car salesman?

Sure does. And yes, there are a lot of those kinds of producers around. Not as much as there used to be, but enough. Because you have to sell a product that hasn't been made yet. It's like you paying for a house that hasn't been built or a car that has only been designed on paper. And the worst part of a movie is that it might turn out bad. And you lose all your money. At least a house being built will still be a house when it's done, flaws and all. But a bad movie goes to bad movie heaven and is never seen again.

I've had my share of those kind of producers, some raised money for me, some didn't. One quality many of them had was that they were charmers.  But that doesn't necessarily mean they're the only ones. 

There's another kind of producer, someone like me. We aren't especially charmers and we hate asking for money because we're way too honest to say that our movie will be the greatest ever. These are the passionate ones. That's a word I don't always like to use because it's become a common term for producers to use. And it has become a cliche you hear on late-night talk shows. 

What it really means is that we care. We care about our story, about our cast, our crew, and especially about our investors. And that gives us a slight disadvantage over the used car salesmen. We are brutally honest. And in spite of that we still get movies made.

Some years ago, an accountant approached me and proudly stated he had taken a career test that determined what kind of job he should have. It cost $300 for him to find out that he was qualified to be a movie producer. Now he was waiting for someone to hire him. 

Hire him? 

I told him he's hired. Now go find me $2 million. 

He didn't understand, where was his huge salary and the girls and the private jet? I suggested if he find me the $2 million, I would give him a rental car for 6 months. Subcompact. Needless to say, I explained what a producer's job is, that he finds the money, not me.  He wasn't so sure about that, he'd never asked anyone for money, he assumed it just came from somewhere.

He then asked me if I'd ever taken a career test to find out what I was qualified for. I replied that the last thing I wanted to know was the job I was qualified for.  Most likely a Walmart greeter.

So you see, it's not really hard to be a producer. Sure, I joke about it, but it really is that simple. If you can sell a newspaper subscription to a mall shopper then you can find money for a movie. You can start with your own bank account, then go to your friends, your neighbors and then strangers and in a few weeks have enough to make a movie. Granted, it'll probably be a small movie. 

Like Paranormal Activities. Made for $15,000 and it has now grossed over $100 million. After watching it, I wondered where he spend the money on; it's essentially 2 actors in the director's house for nearly 2 hours. Must have had great catering.

And one more thing you need if you're the used car salesman type or the passionate type. 


You never give up. Never.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Catching up...

Sorry to get behind, I'm beginning to create an online screenwriter course which is quite similar as my UCLA courses. It's going to be a little different but I look forward to be able to actually have contact with my students.

My blog will remain, as most of you know, it started in 2009 and the start date was November 25, 2009. I'll put the first blog tomorrow, 2018.  The pic above could look at a screenwriting course or a pack of writers for a TV series.

I'll post the first blog tomorrow.  And back to business.


Friday, April 20, 2018

Guess who's teaching

Guess who's going to teach screenwriting?

And how about one of my favorite movies with Gable and Doris Day. I used to carry a photo of her in my wallet (a kid's wallet). Got into a fight with another kid in school when he grabbed my photo of her. My favorite teacher pulled us apart. Don't nobody rag on my Doris.

And yes, I will be teaching 2018-19 I think. 

The movie had Doris Day teaching newspaper work and Gable sneaked in to see what she was about. 

 Also is one of the best "buddy" character actor Gig Young, who made a lifetime playing the lead actor's buddy. Nobody was as good as Gig. 

By the way the movie was in black and white.  1958

I'll be teaching "on-line".

 And my Doris is still alive, living in Caramel CA!

And yes, I tried to find her too.

No luck

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Lost in Space 1965 vs Lost in Space 2018

Just caught a few episodes of Lost In Space 2018 on netflix. It's pretty good, although I have a few things that don't seem to work that well. The photo above is the 1965 version of the same characters. The first season was black and white as not everybody had a color TV.

Yes, there were still lots of people who had black and white TV's, my family did. But we laughed at sitcoms and dramas and cops and everything you see now, only with different faces. Well, actually the same faces. Seems they hire actors to look like other actors.

The 1965 Robinson family above was the entire crew. And as then, there were no other colors on series TV. The series was one of a batch of was supposed to set off on a five-year mission to explore a distant planet, but an act of sabotage by the scheming Dr. Zachary Smith -- who managed to get himself trapped aboard the spaceship -- leaves them adrift in space for three years. 

The Robinsons, pilot Don West, Dr. Smith and their trusty robot move from planet to planet, always searching for a way to return to Earth. This is the 1965 version

The new version is actually pretty much the same, but with special effects that surpassed anything that the old series did. Special effects were not even close to what's now.

Here's the new 2018 version

I watched the new version; well, 3 episodes on how to get out of a cave.  I have to say the old show had a better idea, basically because there's too much tech and not much for humans. 

And darker.

Oh, and of course, the wife is considering divorce. How many times have we heard that. And a new person, an African american young girl who replaces the second girl of the family. And these young kids seem to have superpowers and know more than the average

But the biggest part is Parker Posey, a favorite b-movie actress. She is the most interesting person in the series, older than the kids of course - and replaces the male actor Johnathan Harris, a slimy secretive person who wonder is here for. Parker takes Harris's part and makes it good. Or is that bad?

You can catch some of the 1965 shows on youtube.

Monday, April 16, 2018

A Different life

Screenwriters live a different life than most people, even actors and directors and crews aren't the same as us. For one reason that I often quote to aspiring writers and to anyone else who will listen is that we are the only ones in the film business that don't have to have a job in order to write. You might include producers but let's not.

What I mean is this; we have the chance of getting hired by a producer to write a completely new screenplay or get hired to do rewrites on someone else's screenplay. 

But there's another shot at getting a movie made.

And it's free.

Yes, that book cover is my book on screenwriting. I didn't mention the back cover. Didn't want to put too much of me in it.

Writers are the only ones who can write a "spec" screenplay (or script, same thing) on their own. Why write something without getting paid? Well, half of my original screenplays that were produced were spec scripts. In other words I wrote them by myself without getting a penny for them but then managed to sell them and get made. A dozen or so were bought but never made however.

Yeah, that happens. Usually all you get is a small amount, since it didn't get made so you get anything from $500 to scale around $5000.

I've got a stack of these specs that I wrote that number around 30 and I know very few other writers who have that many. There are probably more, but I don't know them. 

Why do I take that chance of writing a script that maybe nobody will want?

For one thing I get to write it exactly how I want without a producer poking their nose into my story and telling me too change something on this page or that page. Of course when they buy it they will tell me to change stuff but at least that first draft is mine.

You never know.

And besides, what else should I be doing when I'm waiting for someone to buy another one of my scripts? One of my past agents said that he loved telling producers that "Jim is one of the few writers who likes to write."

I'm not exactly sure that I like to write, but more like I have to write. The alternative is to sit and wait for the phone to ring or watch a lot of Netflix movies that someone else wrote.

I do other things than write, however, I'm working on that doc you probably read a few months ago, the 90-year old pilot from WW11 in the Pacific campaign. My experience with cameras and editing also allows me to do shorts as well as around 40 youtube videos. Not to mention a few hundred commercials I wrote, produced and directed. And three movies I wrote and directed.

In that sense, I'm more a filmmaker than a screenwriter.

Then there's credits.

Probably all of you know about, the British service that has become the equal of the NSA in that they know way too much about all of us writers and actors and directors.  Over a period of ten years or so imdb has become the source to find out about anything in the film business.  And that includes your age, which, if you're over 40 (some say 30) you stand a chance to lose a job.

And one thing in particular that can praise you or kill you.

And that is credits. Credits are gold. They can get you a job or lose it.

For those few who don't know what credits are, it's simple; Your name on a movie or TV show and how new it is or how old it is.

My example; my last credit was for The Town That Christmas Forgot. Now I am just at the end of my shot as a working writer unless I get a new credit. Fast. Credits are God, the more the better and the more recent the better. On this one, I discovered another name on my script. 

It was someone on the crew who wrote a few scenes. I called Writer's Guild and his name disappeared.

And if you haven't had any in 3 or 4 years, everyone is going to think you're finished. Even if you have a few screenplays optioned as I have. And all they have to do is go to imdb and check on me. 

Imdb has made a few mistakes in my credits and I have attempted several times to have it corrected but they're like Google, they don't bother. Ever try to get an answer from them?

So, what's left is the fact that we still can work, even if nobody's hired us. I converted my Emperor of Mars screenplay into a book and finished a book on screenwriting this year, while finishing a screenplay for an actor and director.

So I'm not complaining.

But a lot of other people are; and that's the thousands of film crews who are losing jobs to tax credits given out by other states and Canada. But that's another blog.

And that guy with white hair is my English buddy and he also writes and acts. 


Friday, April 13, 2018

Everything Old is new

I've been watching ME-TV, a local L.A. channel that broadcasts old TV shows from the late 1950's to the late 1960's. Shows like Ironsides, Rockford Files, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and lots of others. These were the shows the boomer generation watched as kids. Boomers, for those who don't know were born from 1946 to 1964 and represented the "baby boom" after WW11 when the soldiers came home.

A lot of my generation always talked about the great old TV series we had then and great ideas and stars.

But watching lots of these old shows, I have to admit some of them weren't very good at all. And I find it hard to watch the hour-long shows of the good series. After a while, I watch only a handful and even there just one or two.

And it also came to me that our generation has watched more movies and TV shows than any other generation in history. Of course we started watching TV in the mid 50's for most of the country (U.S. and Canada). We also watched old movies a lot, in fact my little town theater played movies that were made 20 years before I started to see movies.

Still, there were a lot of plotlines and ideas that spilled out and by now, we've seen almost every idea there ever was. The studios are even making remakes and sequels for the new generation of movies and TV shows we watched as kids.

And they now are coming back -- for the newer generations.

Lately there was an Ironsides sequel but was cancelled and Law & Order is a remake of an old series called Arrest & Trial. And when it comes to movies, how about remakes and sequels from Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, Batman and on and on...

That's why many of my generation will say that most of the new stuff is the same over again. I don't think it's crap, they're made much better in terms of production values although you can't beat a good black & white movie from the 1940's. Casablanca anyone?

But there is a lot of "crap" out there now, but there always was a lot of "crap" way back to silent movies. 

We had a new wave of filmmakers that came up from film schools in the late 60's, Coppola and Lucas and Spielberg and Scorceses and Milius and a lot of others. And a lot of them are still working.

So what about the latest generation; the millennials.

They certainly aren't as great as that film school group, in fact barely even able to make anything new. Their stories seem to revolve around going back to that home town to find that girl/guy who dumped them. You should watch Scorcese's Mean Streets to see a great "first film". 

He did one previous but Mean Streets is his best. He had DeNiro and Keitel and a couple other great actors.

And that's also where millennials fail... their cast. Millennial actors just don't seem to have that presence of form that the previous generations seemed to have. It just isn't there. Maybe it was because the 50's movies were written by people who experienced World War 11 and boomers dealing with assassinations of great men and Vietnam.

Maybe the millennials never experienced anything else than iPhones and texting instead of talking. 

And they rarely, if ever, watch old movies the way we did. Maybe because it was new to us and they grow up with 500 channels. 

A good example of bad and good is a series on Me-TV is "Wanted: Dead or Alive" about a western bounty hunter (bounty hunters would hunt down criminals; they still do now). It was a typical TV western, shot on a studio lot and most of the stories weren't very good but it had Steve McQueen (not the director now) and McQueen had something that millennial actors don't seem to have. And he could carry the show.

Carrying the show means simply, that with his presence people would watch. The boomer actors seemed to have much more presence, and it makes up for a bad script or a poor movie.  Notice CSI has a boomer lead actor, there's also Tom Selleck in another TV show. In fact you'll see a boomer lead in most TV shows except for CW stuff.

They're there for the boomer audience of course, but they're also there because they can carry the show.  Except for CW whose ratings are always at the bottom even though it's made for millennials.

Go figure.

Anyways, just a piece of history for around 40% of you who regularly read this blog.

And don't feel bad, because we boomers had lots of bad movies.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A Stooge Week-end

Well, I made it to the Annual Stoogefest again and had a nice evening at a great old theater filled with 3 Stooges fans of every shape, color and age group. The "Alex" was built in 1925 and played vaudeville acts as well as silent films. 

Now, it's been completely redone in it's original style and looks great.

The Stooge event begins with a host to talks about the Stooges and later, introduces several family members including Moe's daughter. Moe was the one with the crewcut for those of you who aren't stooge fans.

This year held a surprise when they announced that someone found a print of a Stooge film in Australia that had never been seen since a big fire at MGM years ago. It seemed that someone in Australia had kept a copy in his basement and finally decided to see if anyone wanted the print. It's biggest feature was that it was shot in color way back in 1933 and now, the only print of that era. Here's my friend Tom in front and my brother Dave on the famous steps.

When it came to the audience, as I mentioned, every kind of person and almost every age group. There are the hardline Stooge fans who call themselves Stooge-files and there's the "Knuckleheads", who belong to the Knucklehead club of course.

There were five shots played as usual and with some comments beforehand as sometimes the shorts had what we could call "insensitive" to certain groups.

And as for me, I'm just one of the many people who like to drop by now and then to bring back memories of the little movie theater I would go to in my small town of 539 people. Our theater was a revised church hall that became my lifeline living in a small town with very little to do. My brother says that all he learned in life was from the Stooges.

From the movies, I learned about the world and also learned about who made the movies. I would always watch the titles and credits and began to remember names of people who wrote the movies, directed the movies and everyone else whose name was on the screen from casting to make-up and everything in between...

Here's my rag-tag movie theater now gone forever as it was torn down in 1988.

As you can see, the Alex is a little more flamboyant than my old theater. But it still gave me movies to watch and with them, the 3 Stooges.