Friday, September 11, 2020

Where is Jim


Well, where is Jim?

For now, I'm slowly trying to get my stuff together as all of us have are having trouble. And one big "trouble" is the past. The past and the future and somewhere there in maybe we all will be able to find out what's going on for the past and the future.

So where I am, past, future, frozen and desperately trying to find out what is going to go on. There is one thing for some of you, that's the past and for most it's ten years of past with lots of reading by the beginning or no future or nothing at all. Bummer.

And I'm not sure I'll be able to get the future. But the past is still interesting and in fact, has what the past as already done.


And there is a future, at least I'm still alive, that old guy standing in the corner telling you how I and my partner copped a short Canadian film called Cooperage and we won over all the other Canadian short films that beat all of the others in the contest. But we also was in a bigger contest, the oscars. We didn't win but were in one in five.

1976 Canadian Film Awards and winning.

1976 Athens International Film Festival

1977 Sydney International Festival

1977 Yorkon International Film Festival

1976 Chicago International Film Festival

1976 Academy Awards 

1977 American Film Festival (New York)

So this is what we managed to do with our own money and lead us to both were able to write another few bunch short films... and each of use made our own movies, and we managed to keep going.

And yes, that short film, about making barrels for whiskey. It's called Cooperage.

So that's where it all started. Will try to find photo of Cooperage.

Monday, August 17, 2020


Sorry to be gone so long, not actually gone, just fixing up a lot of things within some new things to learn. I probably get it going next week. All this for all the damn stuff that's going on with our planet and other stuff to push things either in or out. 


Sorry to come back with all this mess, some more backworks and some help from other people to help. So after all the messing around with all the damn things in our world, I finally got to you guys below. They were the first sentences at 2009 from 2010 today.

To begin with, I was pretty apprehensive about starting a blog on how I plan to make a movie. Samuel French has dozens of books just on this subject (right next to the hundreds of books on screenwriting) and what could I possibly add.?

But I wanted to share the ups and downs of looking for money for a movie and figured that this might be the best place to do that. Some people might get a kick out of it, some might not care, others might find a little encouragement.I’m not an Academy winner or flavor of the month (although a short I filmed and co-produced made it to the Academy finalist list) rather, I’m a working writer, producer and director like so many others.

The blood of this industry.

The reason for this blog comes from several places and all are connected to one, the world of movie-making. I invite you to follow the process from screenplay to the development and funding and, hopefully, to the production itself. I wanted to call the blog Making Movies the Hard Way because, put simply, there is no easy way. Ever.

Along with the business, technical and artistic sides, I will also talk about the people; the talented, the untalented, the crazy ones and the rare angels and saints. And since I have been in this process more than once in my 30-plus years in the business, my friends assured me I could keep you entertained.

Easy to say for them, they get to watch me run and fall and get up and fall again in one of the worst recessions in a long time. I will post new blogs Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and anytime if something good comes up like someone writes me a check for $400,000, or maybe $50.

So hopefully you’ll stick with me until the end, wherein I actually get it made. If I get it made. And that’s a hell of a big “IF”.

You know the odds.
It all began in 2009 and I started to try to figure out something that could give someone some interest about my movie world. So pardon me, as I will probably steal some of my ideas and maybe some of you also remember. 

So... I'm still not finished.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Farm Boy


My previous blog (actually same one) has made some differences, actually almost the same. It will be cleaner and have a few others that will make me crazy. Also I'll read you better with my stories from my blog which, of course started in 2009. "all the way to today 2009, August 9".

I'll send some of my best work or some of the not great ones, but their all interesting about more of my land whatever keeps giving something about this great thing about writing and directing or anything still in my business.

My story began in a small town in Canada, a farm and I lived there until moving to the big city and even yet bigger city, Detroit, with family by sides.

I remember how my mother would read comic books to me, and I loved them. But the big thing was coming when my mom and dad took me to a movie in the 50's, I was about four. The movie was a Disney family movie and I was amazed. TV never came to my home until the end of the 60's. But it also scared me to hell when the giant screen showed a giant snake. Actually on the big screen of course.

I screemed and was not happy and my mom took me to the projector booth above and I sat there when I started to watch the man up there was winding the film and slowly I began to like the sound and the chatty whim of the projector. Somehow, I really think that's when I began to learn more about movies and how they brought them to me for 12 years, until we left to Ontario in Windsor, a small city based across the river from the biggest city I believed. I had cousins across the river which made it companions. From early. And my city had 5 movies. And it was heaven.

I'll let you know more about how I moved from my prairie friends and my favorite school teach and how I still know her and talk to her still.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Long not so lonely road...

Some time ago I was talking old TV shows from the 60's and the theme they all seemed to have as compared to the present. A lot of my friends in their 50's and 60's complain about how bad the shows are now and  in some ways, they are bad.

I seem to be in between in that discussion, there certainly were bad TV shows (My Mother the Car?) but there was a middle ground of discovery that seems to be lost now. Of course we didn't have dvds or internet where we could watch and rewatch and rewatch TV series or movies on out TV or iPhone.

For us every episode was a 1-of as they say in TV language, meaning that episode you would watch one night would be gone forever, it might replay once but that was it. That episode was gone.

But something else changed, not for the better particularly.

Most of the TV shows even up to the 70's had one story editor and a producer and most of the scripts were assigned to freelance writers, with exceptions like Rod Serling who wrote many Twilight Zone scripts  himself. Sterling Silliphant wrote a lot of Route 66 scripts as well. There were a few others also.

But it changed in the late 70's when writing staffs became more popular. There were writing staffs on sitcoms even in the 50's, but maybe two or three. Variety shows like Sid Caesar's Show of Shows had a bigger staff including Woody Allen and  Mel Brooks.  Those shows needed a lot of laughs and so had big staffs.

By the late 80's dramatic TV shows began to get larger staffs and today you can see head credits, wherein you see a dozen or more names with titles like producer, executive producer, co-executive producer, co-producer and a few more names.

But they're all writers, with the exception of a real producer, the guy who actually makes up a budget, hires crew and cast and worries about over-spending. Some drama shows have 10 to 15 writers.

So what's my problem?

I worked on several TV series where there were, at the most, 4 writers but the best show I worked on had 2 and 1/2. Let me explain, there was the showrunner, myself and an assistant director who was being tested as a potential writer. It was a good show because the show runner was good. I've been on series where the showrunner isn't good and it becomes a contest over who has power over who.

On that one show, we did 13 episodes, I had 2, the showrunner had 4 and 1 for the new guy. We also farmed out a handful of episodes to freelance writers. 

If you wonder what 3 writers, or for that matter 15 writers, do in the writing room? Mostly argue. But with 3 we settle it quickly, with 15 I can't imagine anything getting settled. It's like having 15 opinions on a movie, with lots of yelling. It isn't all yelling but there is a lot of ego, depending on who has more history and awards.

What often happens is that the loudest people get heard more, although the politics after the meetings can usurp previous agreements wherein the star actors can access the showrunner, who often is the creator of the show, to fix their lines of dialog without having to deal with other actors. And their egos are even bigger.

So you can have a dozen writers and a handful of actors who all think they're right. And the question is; is the show better for it?

I think no. One of the executives who helped create 100 TV channels (now more than 400) said that when they created all those channels they envisioned bold new dramas and other shows for every niche audience there is.

But he admitted, what they created was mediocrity.  

A few shows work with a large writing staff, shows like Breaking Bad, Madmen and a few others but today the Emmy Awards were announced and none of the major networks were up for best shows. Even with all those writers they have.

What's that old expression? Too many cooks spoil the soup? 

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Is my screenplay good?

I was going to write a blog about the fear that consumes writers when they face the rewrite but got distracted by something else.

I was persuaded some time ago to join Linkedin, which professes to be a networking website where you can interact with other professionals in the hopes of accomplishing your goals. Linkedin has many different forums for probably every business there is from flower shops to film, law, accounting and so on.

Having started way back in 1992 on the internet I became wary of forums for one major reason; I would end up arguing with some kid in Indiana about the movie business. I realized it was a waste of my time having to deal with someone who didn't know anything about the movie business but felt he/she was my peer.

Last week, someone on the Those in Film forum offered to read screenplays and offer his comments and advice. All for$150. The person said he worked for some major agencies and knows how to improve a screenplay to sell. All for $150.

Thus ensued a continuing discussion, sometimes heated, as to the value of these kind of "consultants".

My take is simple; if you gotta pay for someone to read your script you probably don't have a good script. And I know of what I speak; I taught screenwriting extension classes at UCLA for a little over 2 years and learned two things;

First, the university encourages the instructors to get students to take more semesters. My first class was writing the first draft screenplay; later the course was dissected into 3 courses, the first act, the second act and the third act.

Why? More money.

In this way, the student would complete a screenplay in 30 weeks. Over six months.

Now while some writers take years to write their screenplays, most first draft screenplays can be written in 4 to 6 weeks and maybe even 10 weeks (the length of the semester). By stretching it to six months you almost forget what you learned in the first semester.

I'm not considering the really talented writers;  they do what they do well and can take 1 week (Dalton Trumbo) or years (Terrence Malik) but they as F. Scott said, are not like you or I.

There are dozens of websites now offering to read your screenplay in exchange for money as well as screenplay sites like Ink-tip, who charge $60 for you to post your screenplay on their site for 6 months. Along with a few hundred of your fellow writers.

You have better chances winning the lottery.

Yet aspiring writers, many of whom feel that purchasing Screenwriter 6 or Final Draft means that yes, they are writers, will fill these websites with their screenplays. After all, anybody can write a screenplay if they have the software. Why it practically writes itself. I had Screenwriter because it is real, but FD is just a copy of "Word". 

Secondly the truth is this; very few of those aspiring writers are really good, in fact very few are real writers. Of the over 200 students I had, and I've mentioned this before, only 4 of my students could, if they really worked and made some important connections, were capable of writing a real screenplay.

Only 4.

And yes, that's my opinion, but again, not everyone is a brilliant painter, or actor or insurance salesman or whatever. The plain truth is that all of us are just mostly average. I claim no talent, even after writing and/or rewriting 18 feature length produced screenplays as well as at least 70 unproduced screenplays.

What I am is downright stubborn, it took me a long time to learn how to write well. And I even slip now and then.

The impact of all these people who want to write screenplays has encouraged new cottage industries including screenwriting gurus, almost 300 books on screenwriting (go to Amazon sometimes), screenwriting classes at almost every university, week-end workshops with failed actors who shout down at their audience, 3-day filmmaking classes, probably hundreds of websites with courses, software for screenwriting, production, budgets, storyboarding.

The list goes on and on and one is tempted to ask;

So where are all the great screenplays?

With all of these screenplay gurus soliciting and recommending screenplays, there are fewer good movies now than ever before in our history of film. With so much access to experts and so-called experts and books and movies, there just doesn't seem to be a whole bunch of great, memorable movies.

But for now, I have to deal with my own demons; the rewrite of Casualties Of Love, which I'm holding back, in typical writer procrastination, until the new year, and a "fresh look" at COL that I'm sure will result in a brilliant screenplay...

Well, maybe not brilliant, maybe it's gonna be even worse than the first draft.

I need to go shopping.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Who do you love?

I got a tombstone hand and a graveyard mind,

I lived long enough and I ain't scared of dying.
Who do you love...
                       - Bo Diddley

Relationships. What we all fall into at one time or another. It's what makes us and what breaks us. And in the film industry it's as essential as water is to earth. 

Simply put, you won't get anywhere in the film business without relationships, it just don't work that way. I have accumulated dozens of relationships, some of which last the duration of a movie shoot ("we must stay in touch"), some that lasted 35 years and some that dissipate when my services are no longer required. Meaning that either they've got a shooting script or I've been replaced by another writer eager to show how much better he or she is than I was.

I've been lucky, I've only been rewritten once by another writer. But on the other hand I've rewritten a half dozen or more scripts, called in by producers to polish or fix up or change a script that was written by someone else. Sometimes I got credit, sometimes I didn't. But it was always about a relationship.

In 1998 I wrote two screenplays that were produced by Paramount and rewritten 4 others, in most cases from Page 1, which essentially means a whole new script while keeping the story. If that sounds contradictory, it really isn't, keeping the story but changing 70% of the dialog or action is still possible.

And it all came about through relationships. It started with Steve White, a producer who read one screenplay of mine and wanted to do a movie with me. We got along well, he was accomplished enough that he didn't have any insecurities nor fears, and we got along just great.  I pitched an idea, a remake of a movie I did in Canada years ago but different enough that it didn't conflict and he gave me the go-ahead.

Then he and John Levoff weren't satisfied with a screenplay written by someone else on Roswell, the New Mexico town where aliens supposedly crashed in 1947. Well, it happened that I had been to Roswell with my brother and examined the alien mythology quite well.  So Steve asked me to write a completely new screenplay.


This led to meeting with Levoff, then head of drama for UPN network, a network arm of Paramount. That led to me going to Luxembourg to rewrite two screenplays of other writers in the dubious capacity of "creative consultant". But I was there for more than just writing. I've laid out this story in a previous blog but will repeat the basics; Levoff wanted me to be his eyes and ears to an extent as he was an ocean and continent away and knew he could trust me.

Once I finished the job, I returned to L.A. to find that Steve now had set up my two movies and another one in Winnipeg and I immediately went there to rewrite my own scripts and the other one.

Again, relationships. One thing leads to another. No stranger has ever hired me, only people who were introduced to me or knew me. Relationships lead to referrals and possible jobs. And on that note, relationships won't necessarily get you a job if for some reason nobody wants to hire you.

And there's usually two reasons for a writer, actor or director not getting work.

Either they're not very good or they're hard to work with.

Publicists come up with a lot of reasons when an actor or writer or director suddenly leaves the project, often before it starts. They will usually say "creative differences" which means that the two parties differ on some aspect of the movie, script, actor, etc.  How do they decide who leaves?

Simple, the one who has the best relationship with the studio or producer. They also call it clout, but it remains the same thing.

On a movie I rewrote called Lost in the Bermuda Triangle which was filmed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, I had a falling out with the director. To be honest, I do not suffer fools easily, I know what I can do and what I can't, or won't do.

The director, Mario from NYC told me to make some changes in the script that the producer and network had signed off on. The script was ready to shoot. I asked "what kind of changes"? His answer; "you know, changes".  No I didn't know, and I asked him to be more specific. His answer; "you're the writer, write anything". To which I answered that he was the director and if he wanted a change, he had to tell me what to change and why and to clear it with the producer.

It led to a shouting match and I left to go to the bar and find the dirtiest tequila they had. The director called the producer requesting I be fired, the producer said no. Jim stays.

Was that just because I was being bratty or high maintenance? No, the script was ready to go, sure there were minor dialog changes as he filmed, but otherwise, unless he came up with specific ideas, I wasn't going to do anything. But that's not why I wasn't fired.

Why? Because Bob, the producer, whom everybody on the crew hated (and I still think some of the Mexican drivers would easily have dropped him off in the jungle), liked me.  And I thought he was tough, but good and knew his job. I left before the film was finished, after nearly 6 months of travel I wanted to go home and they really didn't need me anymore. Last time I spoke to Bob which was about a year ago, he said Mario messed up the movie anyways.


Lesson here is if you work on a film crew, on any job, writer, grip, driver, anyone, make relationships. Most will fade 20 minutes after the wrap party, but at least for the filming schedule, you can be a little more secure in your job.

When I worked on a series in Vancouver, I made friends with the teamster drivers. I usually make friends with everyone I can, you get more rumors and gossip that way if they trust you. I had let it be known that I had difficulty finding a new fender for my 1977 Camaro. One day a slightly used fender showed up in the parking lot. 

The driver walked by and said simply, "Hey Jim, someone left that for you." No questions asked.