Monday, October 26, 2009

What they want.

To begin with, Paranormal Activity, that no-budget ghost movie I told you about last week, opened wide this week and now has made $62 million and on it's way to $100 million. The horror sequel Saw 6 made $14 million, an indication audiences are getting tired of the torture horror genre.

Back to TD (we love initials rather than whole words, began with T2 (Terminator 2) or thereabouts.  Andway we've been at this now for just about six months, considering we really didn't get going until August and I feel we've gone pretty far in the last 3 months, while the first 3 were more organizing than soliciting. At this point, we've had a lot of rejections, some possibilities and some actual commitments. 

But it's still a long way to the finish line, and anything can go wrong, or right at a minute's notice. There remains a strong possibility that one of our biggest funders will drop out for reasons that don't really involve us, rather the general investment tone going on in the country and perhaps some losses he didn't expect. 

My meeting with the presales person went very well with some potential in the future. He has a smart business plan in which he finances his movies by preselling the rights to Lifetime, Italy and France and finally Canada.  But his presales also dictate a certain kind of story, that being the classic women in jeopardy thriller genre, for Lifetime TV.

I feel as he that Travel Day could be the right movie for Lifetime, but difficult to sell as it's not really what their mandate dictates.  But I have always believed that "they" whomever it is, Lifetime or CBS, or Paramount or any buyer, really doesn't know for sure what they want. To quote famous screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man, All the President's Men), "nobody knows anything."

Take for example, this lesson I learned years ago.  I had done a page 1 rewrite (meaning basically rewriting the entire script page by page) on a script called Greenmail for David Bixler who worked for a company called Promark, now out of business.  In the credits I am given an "and" between my name and the previous writers.  Because they worked together on the script their credit came first and also had "&" rather than the full word. This is standard credit positions as per WGA.

I enjoyed a good relationship with the owner of the company as well as a producer named David Bixler, who now works for major studio 20th Century Fox. David was one of those producers who really understood what he was doing and he was great to work with, allowing me a lot of leeway in the rewrites and backing whatever I did.

Late afternoon 0ne Friday, David called and asked if I had any "reality-based" science fiction screenplays. This meant sci-fi stories that didn't have huge special effects. Meaning more like Twilight Zone than Star Wars. I didn't have anything close in my shelf of about 20 screenplays that I had written that never sold.

We talked for a while and suddenly I remembered that I had just finished a screenplay called Field of Fire, about two snipers stalking each other in Central Park in NYC. The title comes from a sniper term used to describe where they are targeting a kill. It was a straight ahead action story, not anything close to science fiction.

I decided to tell him about it. What did I have to lose?

A moment passed, David thought about it then said "sounds interesting, why don't you email a copy".  Just like that.  After hanging up I emailed the script.  It was Friday afternoon.

Monday morning he called and optioned it.

The film was eventually made under the title Target, with Stephen Baldwin (that's another story) and I was sole writer and co-producer on it. Unfortunately David left Promark and another company made it, not really well done as I would have liked to see.

Regardless, my lesson here was simply this; he had called for a sci-fi script, I sold him a completely different genre, action film. If I hadn't mentioned it, it would never have been made.  So now, anytime anyone tells me that a company is looking for a very specific film, and if I don't have what they want, I will pitch them at least 2 or 3 other ideas. 

That's the beauty of this business.

You never know. 


  1. good lesson - will keep that mind when pitching my book ideas around. i'm assuming it applies to everything.

  2. I think it does, movie business doesn't have a monopoly on people who don't know what they want. What's that overused saying, "nothing ventured, nothing gained". Sounds like my life...