Monday, June 18, 2018

The young and the others



 There's been some interesting changes in the world of screenwriting. 

"According to the WGA's annual report writers ages 41 to 50 have replaced writers ages 31 to 40 as the group enjoying the largest share of employment in the movie business" LA TIMES.
 

 So what does that mean to anybody?
 
Well, probably the last days of us boomers but for awhile it means that the baby boomers are once again walking all over the younger writers.  The article also said that work for writers has gone down 24%. This is due to the fact that studios are cutting back on more screenplays of substance and more on the big box office hits that are often 4 or 5 times as expensive. 
 
It also means that studios are making international movies for everybody, meaning China for one reason. There's a lotta people over there who like American movies.
 
Ironically the "down home" movies like Annie Hall, Jerry Maguire or any movie with Jack Nicholson are history. There's no real answer why; unless it has to do with the current audience which sees the creature/superhero movies. The last thing they want is a human story about life.
 
My feeling is that they don't really want to face life because it doesn't look very good to them, fewer 20-somethings are looking for work, the others are going back home to mom and dad. Recently a 30-year old son sued his parents who wanted him out of their home and find a job.

And now, they're at the bottom of the list for writing gigs.
 
Where does that put me?
 
Definitely a boomer of course, at the far end, but still working mostly because, in Billy Joel's words; "Retire to what?" I couldn't imagine playing golf or going on vacations or any of that. 

I write. 
 
Another question though, is this; why are older writers getting more jobs than younger  writers?

Simple. Because they know more.
 
Does that mean they're better?
 
No, but they know more. They've done great work and bad work and they know the difference.
 
But mostly because they are more of a guarantee for a TV series or even movies. As the old saying goes; "They've been to the party before."
 
What about the hundreds of kids coming out of film school?
 
Good luck.
 
What they'll face is that the really good writers will get work, but with an emphasis "really good." I know about that; I taught classes at UCLA extension and after a few years came to realize the truth.
 
That not everyone is gifted.
 
In fact there are very few who are gifted.
 
I wasn't gifted, I just worked hard to learn how to write reasonably good screenplays, enough that I got 20 movies shot (although half were Page 1 rewrites of another writer's script but it still counts in credits).
 
And I was lucky as I got in before the whole country began having film courses.
 
But consider this;
 
You're not an actor... 
 

But that's another day...



Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Back to the valley

 
 

 


 I've been on the road as they say, spent some time in Sherman Oaks where I lived and hung around. Back home in a week. Sorry to get pushed back.

Got to see my favorite cafe, Crave, on Ventura and Van Nuys. They're the best. 


 


Will be back in a week.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Why me?

 
We've reached the point where those of you who know the business are saying, "ok, this is not very exciting at all, we think producer's lives are filled with parties at the Ivy and movie stars and expense accounts and cocaine".  And those of you who are not in the business are saying the same thing. 

This is the reality of producing a movie, if you've followed me since the beginning, you know what it really is like.  Boring as hell, phone calls unanswered, email forgotten, and cheap lunches at Chili John's or Carney's. Well, Chili John's is worth any lunch at the Ivy. Welcome to the life of a producer. Granted I'm not one of the big guys but you know what?

It's the same thing for him or her. 

You're trying to sell a dream to someone who doesn't want to dream, or to finance a dream. Unless it's a brand or a sequel or something based on Marvel comics.

One of my favorite stories is told by Paul Lynch, my director friend. He recounts going onto the set of the remake version of the classic film The Lost Horizon, the one where a lost explorer happens on Shangri-la, the perfect mountain paradise where nobody gets old. Ross Hunter was the producer of the remake in the 60's. He was known for the Doris Day/Rock Hudson romcoms (romantic comedies) and I'm sure I've lost at least half of you who don't know who I'm talking about. 

Regardless, Hunter was producing Lost Horizon.  Lynch had an invitation to come on set at the studio so he did and met the director and some actors.  As he stood around, someone suddenly appeared in front of him, Hunter.  This is something that happens on any film that you might drop into, the director or producer will suddenly appear in front of you.  I had this happen on a Robert Altman film once, a somewhat relaxed set with Cissy Spacek, and having directed, I know the feeling. You know immediately when someone new is on set and you feel obliged to find out who they are.  Altman liked me and I hung around drinking beer all day.

But Lynch was surprised to see the legendary Hollywood producer introduce himself. Lynch introduced himself, they exchanged "pleasantries" and Hunter learned Lynch was from Canada and said wonderful things about the country and then snapped his fingers and said "camera!" And immediately, a photographer appeared from out of nowhere and took 2 photos of Lynch and Hunter. Then Hunter was gone. Two weeks later Lynch received an 8x10 of him and Hunter with a signed autograph. 

So what's the  big deal? Those were the big producers, bigger than life. Everything was an event, it was magic, it was Hollywood. 

Those days are gone. Now it's just business. About as exciting as watching two bankers having lunch. There's no more romaticism, no excitement. Why? Because corporations have taken over the industry. Beancounters. The biggest excitement I get is taking my friend Shirley to lunch.  Everything else happens from my little home office with phone calls and email. Mostly email. And besides the fact that I am making no money, rather spending it, there's one thing that travels through my mind every day.

Most odds are against me.

A large portion of the Writer's Guild are against me. My own people.  Of 8000 members I have around 28 who drop by now and then to read. 

Why? 

Maybe they don't like me. But 95% don't even know me. 

The one thing I know is that many writers just hate it when someone else gets a job. Hell, I even hate it. And now I'm even trying to PRODUCE a movie. That's usually left for fast-talking carpet salesmen, not writers. After all we are pure and honorable. And everyone knows producers are conmen and thieves. We are an odd lot, miscreants no doubt, dreamers and hopefuls. I only have a handful of friends who are writers, and we are very supportive of each other. And I'm sure that's the case for many others.

But producing is not a stretch for writers. If you watch series TV like the CSI franchise and the NCIS franchise and Law and Order, and sitcoms like Two and a half Men, you will notice anywhere from 5 to 15 credits for producers at the beginning of the shows. These are not producers in the larger sense, they are writers.

Why writers?

Because in TV, writers learned early that in episodic, you need a new episode every week. And while a movie script can take years to develop to filming, TV episodes gotta be there every week. So in the 70's, writers figured out to ask for producer credit. It's not like what I'm doing, trying to find money for one movie, in fact most writer-producers know very little about producing. They just write and rewrite the episodes.  

There's usually one or two real producers but all the rest of those 10 or so producer credits are basically gifts to writers. And  it comes with having a say in most matters.

But movies are different, and I will be the producer as well as the writer, but will be joined by other producers mainly due to the fact that it's not my money that I'll be using, and other producers or agents who bring in money will be getting producer credit. Or Executive Producer, or maybe co-producer. 

But the only real producers who do budgets, hire crew and actors and work constantly on the film, will be myself and most likely the Manitoba producer who is the gateway to the tax credit and a sizeable part of the financing.

So as the week-end begins, I am only too glad to see a boring week go by and I focus on next week and the emails I know are lurking, waiting to send me good things.


At least the weather is nice.


Friday, June 1, 2018

Sorry






Sorry for being out of touch for a while. We can call it a little bit of a medical touch but by the end it was just fine. So... I'm back and running. Will start up tomorrow. 

And, as usual, it's not what it is.

But I'm finishing my simply wonderful story about love, lost love, no love, some love and love at any age.

I think there was a movie about a bunch of people who meet each other. But this one is different.

Okay, it's a little bit over the top. 

How do you act when you meet your ex.

Run, jump, fly, or just figure it out.

And no, I'm not sick. Just busy. Sort of.

Thanks for hanging around.  More next Monday as usual.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Scripts R Us.



 

I'm not sure, but I have about 38 screenplays "on the shelf" as they say. It's all about selling old or unwanted screenplays that I've written. Ironically I had an idea to sell some of my 37 screenplays that wait in the closet in my office. It was about 38 screenplays never made. Some were close to being made, as in Emperor of Mars, which has been optioned for at least eight production companies. Then a friend of mine suggested I put them out on the market.

My first thought was to call it "Scripts R Us."

But eventually I figured it would be too complicated and maybe nobody really wants them.

Of the screenplays I've written as specs, I think they're all marketable.  But that's not the problem.

The problem, as I've mentioned several times, is that you have to find that person who likes your screenplay. But there's more.

You also have to hope that just someone liking your screenplay and knows people who can finance it. I've had seven people who "almost" got one of my screenplays made. And as I write, I have someone else interested in one of my screenplays.

It's Ghostkeeper 2, for those who followed me from 2009, you already know the history of the sequel to Ghostkeeper. I'm determined to get the sequel made, mostly because I never really got to make the first one good.

I wrote and directed Ghostkeeper and the reviews were half and half, enough to encourage me to make #2.

And the other movie I want to make is Emperor of Mars, which not only is a screenplay, it's also a book. I wrote the book after the screenplay. But yeah, you've heard it all before.

Three of the stories are actually books; as you probably know. I've written a Y/A book meaning young readers up to 15 years old, called Emperor of Mars. It's a story about a 12-year old who believes a martian is coming to earth. Secondly is my book on screenwriting, called The Working Screenwriter. It's on Amazon if you care. And the last book is a couple of years ago.

It's a travel book called "How Not To Get Beat-Up In A Small-Town Bar".

And it's about memory and those things that bring back memories, preferably good memories. I travel a lot, at least half a million miles in the last 30-40 years, mostly west of the Mississippi and Canada. 

But I'm still considering Scripts R Us. 

In fact I might list all 37 scripts here to see what you guys think. 
 
Naw... wouldn't want you to hurt your eyes.


Monday, May 21, 2018

How good am I







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 4 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 2000 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.

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 writing a screenplay that is probably the most closest to my life that has ever been. And if you think it's easy, it's not. For one it comes from someone who knows me quite well. Also that person gave me the idea.

The problem is that I might write something too close or to far from the story. How does one write something that is your life (or at least sort of your life) and yet make it sound to a reader that it's not my life.  And that's hard to do, although if I didn't say it's my life, it would be way easier. 


One of my writer friends always says that "It's always your life no matter what you write."

(Sort of).

 

 

Friday, May 18, 2018

Who are you?






Yes, didn't come up with an idea good enough so I thought you'd see who you are. Look above on the world map.

Canada
United States
France
Germany
Russia
Taiwan
Kazakhstan
Netherlands
Portugal 

As well I get about fifty or more others who come in and out. It's mostly U.S. and Canada who rotate as well as France and Germany. Russia is interesting, they can post over 100 people and then way down to 4 or 5. Nobody emails me though, always wide open. 

It's quite interesting about this blog, most know it started 2009 and was to be a film make with a friend. But it didn't happen. However I managed to get a dozen features/MOW's. I didn't really know much about blogs, but I followed much of the online classes that I taught at UCLA, where I learned even more. I'm hoping to do more as well. 

And as for screenplays, I'm working on one, almost finished in 2 weeks hopefully and sneak out to San Clemente. My screenplay is taking place in a story about two people who were married long ago and divorced and now meet again single.



"The Old Days"