Monday, October 22, 2018

A Stooge week-end --

A few years ago, I made it to the 18th 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.  Three friends also came along and call themselves, Stooge-i- files. Anyone who grew up in early 60's knew every aspect of the Stooges. 

The Three Stooges were clowns of sorts, not fancy but each short of about 15 minutes told you all about the rich and the poor and how they fight each other, if you want to think that's my take. They were everyman in sorts, the guys who don't get the girls and usually have to work hard. Moe, Larry and Curly. They were always looking for jobs and losing them and always trying.

They were clowns to us, but heart to them.  Moe was the leader, Larry was the one who kept the ideas to a fine pin. And Curly was the lost fool but you got to love him.

Now, it's been completely redone in it's original style and looks great.Now the Stooges aren't really cool to the millennials as they didn't have the Stooges playing on every TV station in early morning TV for the most. My brother claims that he learned all you need by watching the Stooges.

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.

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.

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.


 Larry, Curly and Moe. "soitenly"

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Leaving Phoenix...

One day behind my usual post,  I was returning from Phoenix where I met up with an old high school buddy.

Anyways, I have to finish the screenplay I'm writing for the actor and the director. I'm almost finished, the story ends in one particular place, that being a deserted jail in the middle of Los Angeles.

I first encountered the jail when a director was filming one of my screenplays back around 2005, I think (don't want to check the exact date). The screenplay was about two snipers stalking each other in Central Park.

I mention this project a few years ago (this blog is nearing it's 10th year!!), how a producer called me asking for a sci-fi screenplay and I had none, so I pushed the sniper screenplay at him. Over the week-end, he optioned it.

But then economics happened; they were going to shoot it in Hong Kong with financing from there, around $5 million budget. So I got tour books out and found a park in Hong Kong and rewrote it primarily for locations. Dialog was the same. It's not really hard to do that for an action film.

Then it switched to Puerto Rico, so I got tour books from there and rewrote it again.

Then they changed their minds and it was all gone.

Then a director friend of mine managed to get around $650,000 or so and we shot it at McArthur Park in downtown LA and in a few other parks. Several scenes were shot in the abandoned jail when we scouted interesting locations. 

So I rewrote it again. 

The film didn't turn out too well, it had Stephen Baldwin who was nice enough, not like his brothers who fight all the time. But the camerawork wasn't very good and that reflected on the director who wasn't in top form.

But, it was made.

So now, that jail is a central character in the actor's screenplay I'm writing. At least for now and just in case -- I'm taking out my Puerto Rico and Hong Kong tour books.

And maybe Central Park?

You can see the Baldwin movie though. One of the crew walked up to me in the shooting and said "they" were making a not very good movie, how do I feel?

At this point, I just said "I'm getting WGA scale". 

And that's another story...

Monday, October 15, 2018

Guest blog

I remember offering anyone who wanted to do a blog. Anybody is welcome.

Here's the one I found... way back. By the way, my blog is now ten years OLD!! Anyway
here's the Guest blog.

The Everyday Adventures of Lane and Russell is a short comedy film about two odd friends, a borderline sociopath and his goodhearted, socially-inept friend.  Lane is selfish and egotistical fellow who constantly abuses his kind-hearted friend, Russell. 
 Ironically, he does not even know how to drive.  He needs Russell to drive him to work!  On the other hand, Russell is an adorable idiot.  Despite his obvious lack of social skills, he gets along well with everybody because he does not have a mean bone in his body. 
Despite the huge difference in their personality, these two have been friends since grade school.  But what if life as they know it changes?  How will they deal with it?  Will their friendship survive?
People who have seen the trailer tell me that this movie reminds them of several movies.  The hilarity of this film can be likened to that of Napoleon Dynamite.  Good-hearted Russell can be compared to Forrest Gump and the humorous absurdity of the film is comparable to Dumb and Dumber.  Of course, Lane will likely disagree.  He’d definitely take offense with this description.

So, how did we come up with this film?
The characters Lane and Russell came out of nowhere.  We didn’t really give them much thought.  In fact, they were created out of sheer impulse.  It was way back in 2000 when my friend / co-creator Chris Stephens and I goofed around in front of the camera, doing some improvisation.  Out of nowhere, we came up with Lane and Russell.  He played the perfect Russell to my Lane.  We had a friend film us while we did the improv.  Later on, we were stunned by how great the characters were.
  Over the years, we have been playing Lane and Russell for people for kicks.  We’d be attending parties and we’d have people asking us to do a skit and we’d never fail to deliver.  Hilarity ensues once we start playing the odd couple.   

One day, we realized that the characters have been fully developed.  We just needed to create their world and this was when we said, “Okay, let’s do it.  Let’s shoot the film.”  This was four years ago.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish the film.  We’ve only shoot about 30 percent of it, so now we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the funds we need to finish the film.
Check out the Kickstarter video to see what the movie is all about:
Check out our site and social media as well:

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Image result for pro's vs amateur screenwriters pics

The amateur and the pro -- part 2

So why do studios and networks and small prodco's even entertain the thought of working with amateurs rather than pros?

Well, first of all, most studios don't even consider aspiring screenwriters, they spend too much money to take a chance on untested talent. True, some new writers with screenwriting awards from major competitions like the Nichols competition and fellowship and a few others but the few dozen or so other competitions are mostly scams wherein aspiring writers pay $50 or more to enter. There are thousands of these aspiring writers so at $50 a pop, a competition in some little city can make some money for the sponsors.

A little history here now; why and when did all these aspiring screenwriters come from? It probably started back in the 1980's when new writers like Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas  sold spec screenplays for half a million and more. This was new to Hollywood, experienced screenwriters who did specs for big action thrillers like Lethal Weapon and others.

Suddenly specs got heat, as they say and every writer who could write a spec did one. It lasted into the early 90's and slowly disappeared after a number of specs were bought for huge amounts. Eszterhas supposedly was paid $4 million for a story he wrote on a napkin! The movie that was made from that spec died at the box office.

So studios returned to the old ways, taking time to figure out if a screenplay was do-able.

But it became a gold rush for Generation X, many of whom went to film school or took a few classes. Specs became the new gold.

But it was already too late as studios and networks settled in with writers they knew and trusted.

But then the mini-studio happened. Small companies who did movies for around $2 - $5 million and made primarily for international sales and dvds. They were looking for anything they could find at a price that was affordable.

How affordable? Some of them were asking writers to work for free, suggesting their script would get them attention. This happens often today. Others would pay a little bit of money and of course this includes WGA members who are not allowed to work for non-signatories.

But some of them did; one has to pay the rent and face the wrath of the WGA.

Then something else started.

Web sites that actually featured producers and companies looking for scripts. This time they upped the stakes by encouraging WGA writers as well as non-WGA writers. Websites like InkTip which charges $60 a year to receive the weekly handful of producers looking for screenplays.

The problem, often, was that they were asking for very specific screenplays like "smart sci-fi stories", or faith-based scripts, contained scripts (very few locations and actors), humans hunting humans scripts, Persian comedies, etc. etc.

Somehow the demand changed from writers writing specs to producers looking for very specific genres and even narrower subject matter.  And rules happened, you could not contact the companies by any method, only the website could contact them beyond your official reply.

But writers go to these sites, as agencies have merged with agencies thus leaving few agents to solicit for new writers, it has become a race for who can deliver a script for "fairy tale adaptations featuring dogs" (that was a a real request).

So where does it go?

One thing I've always said is that I'm glad I had my hat in the ring from 1990 to 2005 where several parties were held yearly at the Roosevelt Hotel bemoaning the "end of the TV Movie". With it came the end of an era when there was a fair amount of work for a lot of writers.

It's now become a "who gets there first" mentality for the b-movie writers (and directors), many of whom could make a fair amount of money doing episodic and dvd movies. The big guys, Paramount, Universal and the others have reduced their product to blockbusters that cost $150 million or more and writers in television make a great living.

But for most of us, it's more bleak than encouraging as different medias begin to take over and a new generation watches bits of movies on their iPhones. Consider that the WGA has an 85% unemployment ratio as compared to America's unemployment figures at around 8-15%.

Where does it go considering the odds of selling a screenplay?

I met a woman who had just graduated from NYU in writing and directing and owed $85,000 in student loans. She is starting out looking for a job in an industry that doesn't know what new media is going to hit it with a generation that likes things for free.

Ah, but is it all gone? No, reinvention is the key word. 

Got a female marital arts script?

Monday, October 8, 2018


The Amateur and the Pro


When I came to LA in 1990 there was a very specific method of getting a job. First you had to find an agent, which back then wasn't really very hard. I actually had an agent before I came here but that was after I had made my Ghostkeeper movie.

Still I was nobody as far as Hollywood was concerned.

And even though I had an agent, he never really found me any work. After 2 years, which was what our contract stated, I left for another agent who didn't find me work either. Both agents just weren't in the big leagues. It took me a few until I found one who was young, eager and he liked me.

As far as the getting attention, I had a screenplay, Emperor of Mars, which I talk about frequently in this blog. Turned out that it opened doors for me, a lot of doors, studios, networks and production companies. Almost all of them from Amblin to Zucker Brothers.

But nobody wanted to make it. They wanted to either see what else I had or if I would take an assignment job. Which I did with pleasure. Ironically I got most jobs from Canada, where I had been, where I couldn't get a job anywhere.

But now that I was in LA the feeling was that I must be good. The fact is that I was the same writer but I guess, everyone looks to the other side of the hill.

Getting meetings and jobs always began by a "Meet 'n Greet", wherein you meet the development executive or sometimes the boss. It was all very orderly.

Then, around 2005 or so things changed. The tv movie was dying and now only 3 players. Suddenly a whole market almost disappeared. And jobs disappeared also. This was now the era of reality TV and big budget movies.

Then something else happened.

Film schools. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. There always were film schools, but not many, the big guys UCLA, USC, AFI, NYU and a dozen others. But now universities and colleges saw money in teaching film.

Which produced hundreds of new screenwriters.

While that was somewhat of a nuisance, after all we pros don't really want competition from the new writers, it's bad enough that most of us in WGA are unemployed anyways. One obstacle was that they had to get into WGA, which requires that you get a WGA signatory company. It isn't as easy as it sounds.

Then something else happened. Film schools began having screenplay contests. In short time other organizations also began to have screenwriting contests. They hired a few "Pro" writers to judge, made some money from the entries and paid the winner a few bucks and planned the next one.

Then other markets began to spring up, craigslist, Mandy and a dozen others of which most didn't last long. Even actors got into the act, Kevin Spacey had a website where you could post your script and read others. Well, Kevin has his problems for now. But his readers were still good. Even now.

Very soon there was a lot of "aspiring" writers, some of whom even called themselves writers. (I don't consider someone being a writer until they sell something, a receipe, an articlem a short story or a script, old school maybe  but I'm not alone).

And it became wide open, a war between seasoned writers with experience and amateurs of all ages who maybe took a course like the one I taught at UCLA or bought one of the many screenwriting books or even took a course with McKee.

After all that's all you really need to write your first screenplay? That and the software.

Almost overnight, competition began fiercely between the real writers and the aspiring writers. I know from my own course that less than 5 people in my total classes which amounted to around 250, were able to write something that was good, not to mention having a bit of talent and a lot of stories.

And while some WGA members worked, there was also a pool of non-WGA writers that always had found jobs. WGA has allegedly anywhere from 7000 members to 10,000. Truth is nobody knows for sure. One thing for sure is that the majority of WGA writers are not working.

While studios and networks still worked with reliable writers with considerable experience, some companies were sneaking looks at the aspiring talent pool.

But why, would you ask, would production companies even consider writers who may have won a contest or taken a single course at UCLA or USC or wherever? And what kind of production companies.

More Wednesday

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Working with actors

I've had many opportunities to work with actors, mostly on episodic TV and on a few movies. They come in all shapes and sizes and attitudes.  Some are nice, some aren't and some are just hard to get along with.

I always thought that of all the jobs in film, actors have it the hardest. They get picked for a variety of reasons, they're good, they're pretty, they're not pretty and a whole lot more things that directors and producers are looking for.

And when they're working, sparks can fly and not the romantic ones. Rather it becomes a game of topping the other one. I watched two comedians on a show I wrote going at each other, trying to be funnier. It was funny for awhile and then it changed into something really dark as they hammered at each other with lines that cut harder and harder.

Working on a series brings a writer into the world of politics and power. I worked on a series about a waitress who helps a private detective (remember that genre?) in her off time. The role of the detective was played by a well-known character actor. It was evident from the beginning that the character actor was a far better actor than the star.

The star became "difficult" to us, which really was her way of getting attention. In table readings, the character actor was really good and the star attempted to do what he did but it didn't really work at all.

Not all actors can act well and character actors are a saving grace for writers because they not only can act, they can help you write better. Table readings happen when you get the entire cast together to read a new script around a table. There's usually questions and discussions.,

It became apparent that the character actor was liked by all the actors, especially the ones who were there for just one show. What happens in these readings can really be difficult when one actor says his line doesn't work. Immediately the other actors feel they also have to question the screenplay.  This can become a battle.

The character actor was smart, since everyone looked up to him, he'd say he was fine with the script and leave it at that. That way competition for attention didn't really occur. But afterwards the character actor would see the writers in their office and offer his notes.  It's a little sneaky, but saves discussing dialog for hours with every cast member.

Working on a series gives a writer an idea of which actor is better, which one they can count on and which one to avoid. You learn who can handle the dialog better and you tend to write for them more. Competition among actors is brutal sometimes.

On the other hand, actors can save a writer. It happened to me on a movie we filmed in Europe with an actress who played captain in a Star Trek series. I had seen her in the hotel restaurant and introduced myself and she asked me to join her. She was smart and good and she knew the business and didn't have to prove anything.

Later in the movie, I wrote a big dialog scene for her and with her, it was around 7 pages which is a lot for an actor to learn. Most scenes are half a page or a page or two. We worked on it for a few days and then it was ready to shoot.

However the executive producer thought it was too long and told me to edit it. I said it wasn't and that she and the network were fine. This became a disagreement with him and I. I would not change it.  To spell it out more, I was working for the network not him.

When the day came to shoot the scene I was in the hotel lobby when the actress saw me and approached. She asked why I changed the scene. Someone had rewritten the scene from 7 pages to 2 pages. She was furious. It didn't take me long to figure out it was the exec producer who actually had his secretary write the new scene and place it with the 1st assistant director who handles the scenes.

The assistant director then called me and asked why I changed it. I told him I didn't. Now they were almost ready to shoot and didn't know what to do, obey their boss or me and the woman.

There's something I left out about the actress. She was the star, and she was also the lead in a Star Trek series. What this means is she has power. 

She showed up on set with my original pages and said those were the pages we would film. Needless to say the director listened to her.  I burned a bridge with that executive producer and to this day,  I was never sorry. 

There are a lot of egos in this business on all sides and it all comes down to one thing; we're all chasing that dream and when you consider that the "dream" is something you can't touch or see or feel until it becomes real.

Kind of silly, really, we're just a bunch of kids who never grew up.  But without us, it would be a boring world.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Hollywood hurts

There's often big articles in LA Times and the trade magazine about that more TV series were filmed outside of Hollywood, which in turn means that a lot of local California technical people are out of work and some are losing their homes.

Ever since Canada began to offer tax credits and incentives to get American productions up there, a lot of states began to see the light and they started. Two of the biggest ones are Louisiana and New Mexico, both of whom offer incentives as good as Canada. And since the Canadian dollar is at par more or less, Canada has been losing business it had when it was 69 cents.

American productions still come to Canada but not as much and the big centers are Toronto and Vancouver, while the rest of the provinces get a movie or two. Alberta has an AMC series but Saskatchewan has dropped it's incentives.

These incentives are basically money given back after the production is finished. It's a little more complicated than the American states who give incentives. In Canada, a certain amount of people need to be Canadian citizens and in some cases residents of that particular province. 

The Federal program offers money back also but has a 6 point demand on the top jobs; writer, producer, director, actor, editor and DP and sometimes production designer. In order to get money back 6 of 10 points needs to be Canadian talent. And the production company has to be registered in Canada.

The U.S. system is a little different, residency doesn't always have to be from that particular state.

So what's the rebates or incentives worth? Well, most credits (incentive, rebate and credits are basically the same thing - money paid back to the production after an audit) pay anywhere from 10 to 35%, meaning that a $10 million movie could theoretically get $3.5 million paid back to the producers. Each state and province has their own limits but you can see the advantage.

Back in the USA, there are 23 new 1-hour dramas starting to film and only 2 are being filmed in Hollywood. Considering that a 22 episode 1-hour drama series has a budget of around $60 million it translates to 840 jobs, according to the LA Times.

Also consider that in 2005 80% of the drama series were done here, but now it's more like 10%.  Unions claim that there is a 30% unemployment in the movie town, which is three times as much as the national unemployment numbers.

Of course the Writer's Guild has around an 80% unemployment rate so they don't have much on us.

But unemployment is real and people are losing their homes. Some move to New Mexico or Louisiana which as I mentioned seemed the hottest. New York is doing well, having 4 times the amount of filming as compared to Hollywood.

But don't cry for Hollywood yet. Almost all the sitcoms are still made here.