Monday, November 30, 2009

Running out of time

December puts me into panic-mode. It's probably the end of year thing, there's a finality to it. We haven't found all the money that we need and the year is rushing towards the finish line. Well, not really, we decided a few months ago that February-March would be much more realistic and given that it's a winter shoot, I'm not worried that the Manitoba winter will suddenly turn into San Diego weather. We could probably shoot winter well into April.

But there is a stronger sense of urgency, compounded by the beginning of a new year. In a way, it has the potential of a new beginning and investors are likely to look at our project with fresh eyes.Then there's Dane, the Manitoba partner who's bringing in the tax credits and some equity. I will be traveling to Winnipeg December 11 to meet with him as well as Rachel, the Eh Channel executive and some other companies as well.

The trip also allows me to visit my 86-year old mother who lives in the town I was born in many decades ago. It will be a white Christmas most certainly for me, and a rush of nostalgia from my childhood which continues to inspire and motivate me, nearly 2000 miles away in California.

They say that the person you are at seven is the person you become. At seven, I was going to movies with my parents as often as I could. Not that there was much of a choice, we had one movie theater in town, a rebuilt church hall. By 8 I was going alone. So I am the person I was at seven and I think that's a good thing.

But what about Travel Day?

While it was Black Friday for America last week, the whole week was pretty bleak for me. The Thanksgiving holiday really started the week-end before and it was pretty much impossible to talk to anyone about our movie. Even the Europeans I had pitched didn't reply and, apart from friends, I had literally no contact with the movie industry.

Christmas is the same, it begins here around December 15 and doesn't start up until the 2nd week of January.

This week I have a few calls to make and at least one meeting and possibly more. The major event of the month will be my meeting with Dane in Winnipeg as this is where we  outline our separate entities, meaning what each of us brings to the table. The contradiction there is that Dane will bring the tax credits and a letter from a bank that indicates they will be able to advance us a loan of perhaps 90% of around $300,000 of tax credits on Manitoba labor. This money is in effect, first in, as they say.

By doing this, other investors get a stronger sense of security in Travel Day. Investors notoriously dislike being the first one in and this money even comes from a major bank so it's even more solid than the investors themselves.

My duty is to offer what I can in the way of confidence by having several elements in place at roughly the same time, these being;

  • A "star" name actor
  • At least half my side of the budget (around $200k)
  • Names of several of key creative crew (DP, Editor)
  • Distributor Interest

All of these will help, but the name actor and distributor are the hardest to get. I have my work cut out. It's times like this I wonder why the hell am I even trying, now being 8 months without any pay whatsover, spending my money and time, and Shirley offering her expertise in graphics, art, conversation and just being there.

But then, what else is there to do?

After all, I missed Stoogefest this week-end, I've attended for the last 5 years and this time didn't have the time to do my annual 3 Stooges festival with my friends. It's times like these I take comfort in a pie in the face or a poke in the eye.

Don't try this at home and wish me luck.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Writers & Actors who break the rules.

As expected, this week is a complete loss in terms of contacting anyone. Thursday, the LA freeways were empty, like a movie about the end of the world. My dinner for friends worked well, turkey, drink, football, obligatory naps, more turkey and that was it. Since there's nothing really to report on Travel Day, I thought I'd let you in on an industry secret. Not really a secret but something few people know about.

I'll start with a story about Jon Voight, the actor made famous in Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman.  A few years ago, Voight was asked by a friend to be in his low budget movie. So low that it was non-union. Voight belongs to the Screen Actor's Guild, known as SAG. As with all unions, including my own WGA and WGC (Canada) they're pretty tough on producers with good reason.

Actors and writers regularly get screwed. 

Back to Voight. He agreed to be in his friends movie as a favor. However, when SAG found out they went wild. They told Voight he could not do it, or they would kick him out of the union. This wasn't some new actor or some unknown actor, it was an Academy-nominated famous actor. But SAG was not bending.  Now, you have an Oscar winner and about 40 other nominations who has been told he cannot help his friend. It left Voight with one choice.

Financial Core.

Financial Core is a little-known and infrequently used and what it does is allow a union member, any union, SAG or UAW or United Steelworkers, any union, to take a non-union job and still retain his union status to a point.

It's a very odd law that was started by an individual in a union in the mid-west who protested against his union deductions going to support a political candidate he didn't support. Basically he wanted his share of the money going back to him and whichever candidate he wanted to donate to. In short, as long as he pays his dues and fees, he is allowed to stay in the union without having all the rules apply to him.

How did actors and writers get into it?

Somehow, it translates to SAG, WGA and even DGA in that the member who chooses Financial Core can work on non-union productions and still retain his/her membership in that guild. But they lose the right to vote and the monthly magazine and the wrath of other members who can shun him. They can't vote nor go to the parties and miss out on other neat stuff.

But they remain in the union nontheless.

And the guilds hate it. As a matter of fact, they won't even talk about it and sometimes deny it exists. And it's not just about the person who chooses to go "core". If one does it, others will do it and the union will lose money they collect from the producer and actor.

Back to John Voight. He did go Financial Core and did start his friend's movie, but it was closed down after union protesters shut it down. All was relatively quiet until 2005, when Voight was nominated for Best Actor in a TV movie by SAG voters.

But that's not the best part.

SAG refused to allow him to go to the ceremonies. This wasn't the Academy Awards, just the SAG membership who vote for whom they think had exceptional performances that year for movies and TV. And Voight wasn't allowed in. And just because he had won an Oscar and had been nominated four other times as well as a few dozen other awards, they were going to show him that he would be sorry.

No tux, no limo, no meeting his peers at the ceremony. And no after awards dinner either.

The same applies to the WGA, during the strike some writers continued to work under the table while others chose Financial Core. It's hard to pay your bills sometimes and since WGA would not even consider any breaks. After the strike, the union leaders wanted revenge on those who either lied or went core, but very little came of it except for hard feelings.

Were the writers wrong, should they be punished? It's a tough decision, and you need to realize that the writers themselves have conflicts as well. There are roughly 8000 members of WGA, and of these there are less than 2000 who are working, although it's almost impossible to get the guild administration to give an accurate number.

That's an unemployment rate of 80%. The U.S. rate of unemployment is 10% (although realistically it's more like 15-20%). The guild has writers who make $2-4 million a year and the majority wait for residual checks while earning nothing.

I know unions very well, having grown up in Windsor, Ontario, across from Motor City itself. I worked on the line at Chrysler and later covered the UAW beat both in Windsor and Detroit. I also belonged to a television union, NABET. Unions are essential, otherwise the owners would completely take advantage of employees. Can you say Walmart?

To it's credit, WGA has a low budget deal in which the writer is paid a small amount of the minimum scale rate and then, when the film is sold, the writer gets full payment.  The minimum scale is around $42,000 for a budget under $2 million and it has to be guild sanctioned. Non-union work is a no-no.

What happens if you do a non-union job?

You can get thrown out of the guild, you can get fined the full amount you earned or you can get slapped on the wrist and told not to do that.

Read Voight's letter at:

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, the lost week & Ghostkeeper

Well, forget any business this week, it's only one day till Thanksgiving and you can't get anyone even on a twitter as Americans race to the supermarkets and shopping malls for deals. The day after Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday", in which the retail businesses throw out every discount and sale they can think of. It's known as the biggest shopping day of the year. And it's also the premonition of Christmas sales. Needless to say the last few years were dismal but it's expected this year will actually go up by 16%.

So nothing is really going to happen this week for Travel Day except that I contacted a few producers who might be able to bring some needed investors. The only bright spot was a British distributor who wants to re-issue my Ghostkeeper movie in Great Britain as well as a potential sale to Netflix, the rental-by-mail DVD giant. The movie is nearly 30 years old and somehow has gotten a cult following up to the extent that a British web reviewer called me on the phone to interview me about the 29-year old movie.

It just goes to show that it's really true that if you wait long enough, someone will say something nice about you.

But my head isn't spinning too much, frankly it's not that great of a movie, we had budget problems and couldn't shoot the second half as I had written and it barely got finished. I had a great DP, John Holbrook and a legendary editor Stan Cole, both of whom made magic with it somehow.  Here's the good reviews:

  • Ghostkeeper is a pretty creepy and atmospheric horror film which will keep you guessing until the end. The acting is solid and the atmosphere of fear and total isolation is well-captured.
  • Ghostkeeper is one of those unknown horror gems that are hard to come by, but rewarding when discovered.
  • There's a very odd eeriness here that keeps it worthwhile and better production values than most other films of it's calibre makes it a film I recommend to true horror films.
  • An underrated horror gem and one of the better early 80's horrors.
  • A remarkably eerie and very atmospheric horror film... a pretty top notch 80's horror flick. 

Well, those reviews made me feel almost ready for a Manhattan on the rocks. But I'm not accepting the award yet... 

  •  "The Shining" for dummies. 
  • Ghostkeeper is not as good as others would have you believe. 
  • I simply don't know what this movie is about because there is hardly any story in this film, even at the very end you don't have a single clue to what was going on. 
  • Dull, derivative and unmemorable.

Well, you can't win everyone.

You can read these and more on  and just enter Ghostkeeper in the Search box and scroll down.

Given that most of these people saw a badly aged video with poor color and, to my taste,  barely watchable. I figured the least I could do is give them a decent copy of the movie, even to the ones who steal it. More on this as it happens.

So to my American relative and friends, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, I plan to indulge in as much food as I possibly can with my friends with a promised warm 82F day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What a producer needs to know.

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.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What a producer needs and what they should know

I've dealt with this a little bit in previous blogs but I realized I should lay out what I think a producer needs in order to produce. Besides the money. That is something you're reading about every week and this part is more what you should have before you try it on your own. For some of you this will be quite familiar, but for others it might be interesting. Let's have a look. 

A Screenplay
This is definitely the first thing you should have. How do you get it? You can write it like I did, but if you don't write and don't even want to, then find a script.

  • Ask your writer friends if you have any, they will be happy to show you their scripts.
  • If you don't know any writer friends there are dozens of websites that have hundreds and thousands of screenplays from wannabe writers and real ones.
  • Put an ad in Craigslist under the writer's category or go to which is for more professional and serious writers.  You will get dozens of them. Study the websites first and see how the ads are usually done. If you haven't read the funny ones I listed last week, you definitely should look at them, but don't copy their desperation.
Luckily, you won't need screenwriting programs like Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft (the best one is Screenwriter in my experience) as scripts are usually sent in pdf format. You should insist on pdf format as otherwise you won't be able to read the screenplays from Screenwriter or Final Draft. There are other screenwriter softwares out there but don't even bother with them.

Or you can even ask for them to mail a "hard copy". Remember that. I still get producers who want me to mail 50 pages of paper (I print double-sided screenplays, an easy function your printer has, and saves on paper. And in spite of what anyone else says, the industry does use double-sided scripts for reading. Once you're in production the actors and creative people will use single-sided so they can make notes. 


You'll need some specific software for producing, some of which is quite expensive as in $600 for budget programs like Movie Magic Budgeting and Scheduling. But if you can't afford them there are others, basically spreadsheets. Or you can pay a Production Manager to make them for you, although they can charge $1000 or more to do one.

Or find a film school student who has access to these programs for free.

An Office

This, of course can be ritzy office in Beverly Hills or a spare bedroom in Spokane or even a 1996 Ford Explorer. With cell phones, you don't need to worry about phone service. But if you have a spare room, use it. Have a door so you can close it and nobody can bother you.

You should have a computer with email capability and high speed broadband as dial-up isn't going to work great with the big files you'll get. Get a desk at Ikea, producers gotta have a desk after all, to put your stuff on. And a lamp for when you're working at night. Faxes are okay but I rarely use a fax anymore, even had my second phone line taken out as I used the fax maybe 2 times a year. You should get a texting/email type of cellphone, although it's not really necessary if you check emails a few times a day.

You don't have to worry about meetings at your office, be it humble or grandiose, because most meetings independent producers take are usually at Starbucks or your favorite lunch place. I always like to meet people at my places, not theirs mostly because I don't have to drive. LA is a big town.

Meeting a writer or actor or director? Buy them a coffee. You don't want them to know where you live in case you don't end up hiring them. And it's not because you're afraid, it's more likely their home is bigger and better than yours. I love my little home here, but I hate it when the cameraman has a mansion in Beverly Hills.

So that's what you need, more or less. A producer's office can be a huge suite at Paramount, or a table at Norm's cafe, these days it doesn't matter all that much. 

Monday's blog will address the question of what you should know, and believe me, it's not all that hard.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Help us find an actor

This week I am blasting (in Shirley's expressions) to at least 50 distributors and producers as a Hail Mary play (my old football expression) to convince them that Travel Day is indeed worth it. I'm also updating the handful of potential investors we've had for the last 3 months.

We also are looking for your help.

We've added one new element this week, a famous actress who we're hoping to interest in playing the lead role. As I've mentioned in the past, lead roles for women over 40 and who aren't offered mother or grandmother roles are few and far between. Even Winona Ryder is playing a mother these days.

We think we have a great role for a woman leaning towards 60. If you can't think of any actress in the 50's - 60-ish  range, how about these:

Diane Keaton
Faye Dunaway
Jane Fonda
Jacqueline Bisset
Meryl Streep 
Susan Sarandon
Glenn Close
Sally Field
Jessica Lange
Catherine Deneuve
Helen Mirren
Lauren Hutton
Sophia Loren

and of course...Cher.

Which one would you pick?

This is where you come in. I want you to choose one of the above, or even a new choice not on the boards yet.  Why? Because you're the audience and we want to know who you'd prefer. You can leave your suggestion(s) in a comment or email me directly by going to  my "About me" profile, my email is right there.

One thing that was spelled out numerous times at AFM was this; there is a shortage of good films and whatever you make, it will need a "name actor" that is recognizable not only in U.S. and Canada, but world-wide. So this probably eliminates most of the younger TV actors.

What or who is a "name actor".

After excluding anyone younger than 40, you have quite an impressive list. Matt Damon is 39, Will Smith is 41, Johnny Depp is 49. Same goes for women as noted above. They are all considered name actors in that their movies are seen all over the world. Michael Madsen, on the other hand, is not a name actor due to the fact he's been in too many bad movies that were distributed mostly outside of the USA, and he has been overexposed.

The trick is to get to the actors you want. We tried it before with Faye Dunaway through someone who "knew Faye quite well". That is until that "close friend", Casandra, stopped emailing me for some unknown reason.

Shirley has been thinking more about other actors as have I and I, being the producer, has the job of trying to connect with one or more of the above. The problem is this: If we go through an agent,  he/she will ask 2 simple questions:

  • Is the movie fully funded? They don't want to waste their time, nor their client's time if we're still looking for money. Which we are. Because we need a name to get the rest of the money. Catch 22. This business is full of Catch 22's.

  • Is this a valid offer? Same as above, are we actually offering the part to this actress? Well, not really, we're "considering" her which again is something an agent doesn't like.  But we're not sure our choice will be the distributor's choice or the investor's choice. Another catch.

  • "Our client gets $300,000 for her role." Assuming we make an offer, I have to remember one thing, the agent's job is to get the best price they can. How do you figure that one out. 
Well, fortunately the standard practicefor the last one  is to go by the last job that actor had. The trick is to find out what they really made as agents lie through their teeth. We had one very famous actress whose last job on a TV show paid her $875 a day for 3 days. That's SAG minimum scale, the fee starting actors get. But a job is a job. Yet the agent would probably ask for $300,000 or more.

I mentioned distributors above. Why are their choices considered? Because they know who will sell in foreign territories and who is this year's flavor.  Cher is always hot, Glenn Close necessarily isn't. There's actually a star value system that is done by Hollywood Reporter and goes by movie grosses and matches them with particular stars. Hollywood Reporter is one of the 2 big industry daily magazines, the other being Variety.

The "Star Chart" is purchased for around $20 or so and used to be included in the weekly edition but not any more. The trouble with it is that, by the time the chart has been completed, it's out of date. All it needs too change the hottest #1 actor, is that his or her last movie flopped.
Remember that old saying, "why do you think they call it show business. 

Now you know why.

So it's gonna be a big week of work. And I have to hurry because Thanksgiving is approaching fast and after that Christmas. Meaning all the big guys are once again...

... off to Aspen.

Don't forget to email or leave a comment on your choice of actresses. 

Saturday, November 14, 2009

King of the Gypsies

Beware of anyone calling himself the King of the Gypsies who phones you and says he's decided you will write his true story and "Not that bullshit story that Peter Maas wrote". You will write the true story of Steve Bimbo Tene, whose life was first translated into a book by author Peter Maas and later made into a feature film with Eric Roberts and Susan Sarandon.

I knew about as much of gypsies as any average person, that they wear bandanas and tell fortunes but Steve would change all of that.

It seems a lawyer suggested me to him and he decided I would be the one to tell the real story of his quite incredible life. And that as a consequence, Steve would drop in and out of my life for at least ten years. The book, based loosely on his life but with added drama and fiction by Maas told the story of an American King of the Gypsies back in the 70's and was a best seller. Maas also wrote Serpico, later a movie with Al Pacino and Valachi Papers, a Mafia expose that also was a best seller and movie.

I agreed to meet Steve in a public place as I had no real idea who or what he was, or for that matter, if he was the real Steve Tene. I had seen the movie but that was my experience with gypsies. He showed up, as he always did later, with his "peeps", usually a nephew and a tall, gaunt man named Richard. After seeing stacks of articles and letters he carried in an office box, I realized he was the real thing.

I spend 6 weeks taping Steve as he told me his life story, which seemed to change significantly depending on the mood he was in. It paralleled the book but the book took more dramatic twists, in it Steve fought and killed his father for the throne.  In reality there was no real King of the Gypsies, at least in America and his father was very much alive. There were a few in Europe who claimed it, but author Maas felt that if there wasn't one in America there should be. Yet, what fascinated me was this enigma of Gypsies, of which little is known.

The book and the movie became a curse to Steve, sort of like being the fasted gun in town, other gypsies were usually gunning for him. Needless to say this was not a comforting thought to me. But there was a fascination with this character who, when he needed money, would go to Vegas for a few days, tell some fortunes in bars, and come back with cold hard cash.

I wrote an article for a local magazine and Steve disappeared soon after that. But he would return, calling me from Palm Springs or Riverside or Orange County and ask me to visit and consider writing a screenplay or a musical play. Or maybe lending him some money.

His life was always turbulent, someone was always out to get him, his sister was trying to send him to jail and he was always near death. At least that's what he said. But, as I learned, he was a Gypsy, and I learned not to trust them too much, they are amazingly like they are portrayed.  Steve said the Gypsies had a curse put on them because they made the nails that were used in the crucifixion of Jesus. But that God had also given them the gift of scamming so that they could earn a living.

Steve also taught me a lot about Gypsy culture, that they originally came from India, and settled in eastern Europe where they managed to make a living by working metal into swords as well as their well-known fortune telling which continues to this day. Even now, I can usually spot Gypsies in every venue from classic fortune telling to repairing driveways and hundreds of other scams.

Interestingly enough, Steve was illiterate, he said Gypsies never sent their kids to schools because they didn't want to be known about, they preferred to roam the country without social security numbers or addresses. It has changed a little now, with internet and cell phones, but they still manage to keep hidden.

It is estimated that there are 2 million of them in the U.S. and the amazing part is that they exist without most of us "Gadji's" (a Gypsy name for everyone else) even realizing it. Honor and revenge play a big part in their lives, even as their young attempt to break away from centuries of hidden existence. I remember once when Steve had a dog training business (shortly before the Palm Springs cafe business) I had arrived and told him there was a Ford F150 driving by. He glanced at a man who clearly was there to protect him, who reached in his jacket for a gun, walked outside, and came back to say it wasn't Steve's nephew who had sworn to kill him.

I kept thinking that nobody wanted to kill the writer, they just wanted him to write a story.

When he wasn't dying or being targeted or lied to or threatened, he was planning a big musical and I was to write it, in spite of the fact I've never written one before... nor aspired to. Steve was full of ideas and for a man who couldn't read or write, managed to survive amazingly well. He remembered house addresses from the 1960's, his music teacher's phone number when he was 16. I began to realize his life was full of inaccuracies and contradictions. Some stories had different endings, others were changed completely to suit his mood.

And he had moods. Steve was a tragic figure, and I guess, as a writer, I was fascinated with it, wondering where it would lead to. Then there were the late night calls when he yelled and cried and wondered why his life was so full of hell, and sometimes I just hung up because I was not of his world and somehow, the only one he could trust.

I asked him once what he would like on his grave, and he said he would like to be compared to Mighty Joe Young, a giant gorilla in a 50's movie by the same name, and a copy of King Kong. That he gave life his best.

In a way, I compared Steve and his people to the wild horses I filmed a few years ago in the remote deserts of Nevada, both lived their lives by their own rules, asking no one to feed or help them. And somehow both man and horse managed to survive by their own rules and once you see that, you somehow feel an appreciation and admiration for them as they fight a losing battle. Because eventually, society will swallow them up and we'll lose another independent species, man and horse.

I never did write "the true story" as Steve had always wanted. One of the problems was that he changed his story now and then.  But he also did have real interest in it, as I had met two credible literary agents who were offering a good amount of money for Steve's story. But whenever a deal was offered, Steve always turned it down.  And after awhile, the offers stopped coming.

It's been 2 years since I got a call from Steve, the last one was to tell me his Gypsy food cafe folded, he lost his condo in Palm Springs, but that he had a new idea for the play.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Back to the money.

Well, after some distractions, I'm back to the money search.  After AFM, I sat down with a stack of magazines and directories I got from AFM and began my search for two things;

A foreign sales agent.

And a domestic distributor.

Up to now, I hadn't contacted either, as the general philosophy is that both of the above want finished films and, mostly, that's true. But our deal on Travel Day is pretty good, in that Canada will bring in at least 40% of the $900k budget and possibly more. That means that whomever comes in for the balance will essentially get a $1.1 million dollar movie for their $450k.

In other words the US investor, be they private funders or a distributor gets a movie to sell for half price.  Kind of like buying a car for $20,000 and the government pays for half.You see the tax credits aren't really repayable, it is sort of a grant given to movie producers for bringing business to the particular province. There's even a federal tax credit that returns up to 15% of certain elements of the budget.

And I always have to remind Americans that these tax credits are readily available to any producer.

What's the catch?

Well, there really isn't one. The Canadian company has to own the copyright and the production company but that's not an issue. Profits are distributed fairly in whatever format is agreed on.

The one little catch is this;

The American producer cannot take sole producer credit. In some circumstances they have to take an Executive Producer credit, but again that's not a deterrent. And it doesn't limit the power of the American producer. I did 3 movies in Winnipeg in 1998 with Steve White, an American producer. Not only did he share the producing chores, he was basically in charge even though he wasn't on paper.  All for an executive producer credit.

Now back to the AFM. I compiled a list of distributors and sales agents, about 50 of them. Oddly enough many of the American distributors seem to have offices within a few blocks of my home to maybe 2 or 3 miles away. I always thought they were in Hollywood, but I can walk to at least four of the companies.Now and for the next 4 days (including working over the week-end) I am emailing proposals and current updates to the project.Thanks to the power of email, I don't have to spend money on mail and it should be relatively easy.

Then I sit and wait.

For one week.

Well, not really. I will keep after my current potential investors as well as look for new ones. There are internet sites with investors but I have found that there's usually a catch or their budgets are minimums of $5 million, or they are ex-hedge-fund stragglers looking to make a score on filmmakers.  Also, any site on the internet is most likely crawling with other filmmakers, mostly with less than I have already. 

And what these other filmmakers often don't understand because they're mostly novices is this:

What are investors looking for?

We have a fair amount of work already done on Travel Day, notably the Manitoba connection and the intent of two current investors. Other things they would like to see, but might work around are the following:
  • Do we have name actors? (2 interested, 3 we haven't contacted yet)
  • Do we have all the money? (No, that's why we're asking them)
  • Who would go see it (our audience will be people who like road movies, women-driven stories, comedy and drama mixed and interesting characters) 

And finally, the hardest question?

Why would anyone care if this movie is made or not?

This is the hardest to answer, as our film will not appeal to the Transformers crowd, nor the Saw horror audiences. But we feel our story offers the potential for compelling characters and original situations that we feel will spark an audience weary of effects-laden movies and sadistic horror films. We feel there's room for all of us on the movie screens.

And it's funny.

Not in a slapstick way, nor is it Borat, but rather a collection of characters who would normally never be stuck together in a 15-passenger van set in some of the most spectacular landscape audiences have seen. And that doesn't cost us a dime.

And we have a great team, a writer/producer (me) with over 30 years of experience and a talented director with focus and determination, as well as a creative crew of Director of Photography, editor and production designer as well as sound, all of whom will have considerable years and experience in feature films.

We're not kidding around, we know what we're doing.

So for the next four weeks I will be pushing like hell to get the final funding as we look forward to beginning production in February of 2010.

And the one thing you can be sure of in this business.

There's no guarantee.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Expert amateurs

Sex. You can imagine what it's like, talk about what you think it's like, even write about it. But until you've done it, you really don't know what it truly is like. 

Got your attention?

Where is this going?

Where it's going is here. And it started with the Internet and now, with blogging and millions of other information sources on the old world-wide web. When I hooked up to the Internet on Compuserve, wayback in 1991, I didn't know anyone else who had it except my brother Dave, who told me to sign on. There were different forums for different topics, and I ended up mostly on the film forum.

It was there where I discovered a curious thing.  People would argue with each other about films and screenwriting. Someone would post their idea of how screenplays are written and not long after, someone else would challenge them. Often these discussions turned to full-blown name-calling.

Then I noticed something else.

There was a common factor in who or whom were the biggest voices. It was something that was far older than the internet and forums. In fact it went back to the Greeks over 2000 years ago, and probably back to the time we lived in caves and discovered fire. The loudest voices, the ones who could trample on other voices with rage and energy were always the winners.

And that reminded me of any organization I ever belonged to. The biggest mouths were the ones who ruled the crowd. You can see this especially now in America with right-wing politics. But there's no politics in being a bully. Just go to a school meeting and listen to left-wing entitled parents. Same thing. And the majority of the room is usually quiet, not because they don't have anything to say, it's because the loud ones take over the room, and the rest of us are usually reluctant to make our point and either be shouted down or just embarrassed for saying something stupid.

There's one more interesting point in this.

More often than not, the loudest ones are the ones who know the least about what they're talking about. A woman named Amy Wallace wrote an article about how panicked parents skipping vaccinations for young children is endangering all of us. Her article was carefully researched and had major expert opinions contrary to the urban myth that autistic children are caused because of vaccinations. This included 12 major studies that could not find any co-relation to vaccinations and autism. Even the Center for Disease Control experts agreed.

Within days the woman got savage reaction from parents armed with anecdotal stories and straight-forward misinformation, attacking her and doctors and the government. The majority of readers however, supported her.

What this is about is "The Cult of the Amateur", a recent book on the subject.

How is this connected to the movie business?

Well, we have more reviewers of movies than ever. Anyone who can figure out a blog or website is telling us their opinion. Are they qualified because they watch a movie? Are you qualified to know how a lawnmower is built if you use it? Sometimes. Can you build an iPhone because you have one?

Can you write a screenplay because you have the software?

Members of the WGA have an alternate site where we can rag on producers or complain about guild practices. I used to go there a lot but have decreased my attendance mostly for one thing; the loudest voices there are more often than not, writers who either have written very little, or nothing at all.

One writer has 25,000 posts! In comparison, I've had about 255 posts in 4 years. Does this person have a life? When can they write scripts if all they do is post his opinions. Based on what? There are others also, who can tell you what's wrong with your script even though they've never sold one or had one made.

A year ago I put two screenplays on Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street website which opens up a world of wannabe screenwriters who read and rate each other's script. I signed on without giving any credits, I really wanted to see what these people thought of  my screenplays without knowing I was a produced writer. Both scripts leaped to the top 10 within a week, with great remarks and with some notes.

Then I blew it when I got into an argument with a wannabe and frankly told him what I thought of him, his script and his chances at selling it (none!).  I became persona non grata instantly, and was found out to be a produced writer and then had attacks on some of my movies. But I was not to be run out of town. A local group in the forum was having a dinner at a local pub on Sunset Blvd.

I decided to attend. To my surprise they were all very nice to me and it became clear that I was the only real writer there. But what I was seeing was very Twilight Zone-ish. They were all acting like they were real produced screenwriters. They shared stories of their new screenplays, repeated the mantras of screenwriting gurus and spend an evening pretending they were in the movie business. It took me a good 5 years to learn how to write well and they were expecting that all they needed was the software and a week-end with Robert McKee.

In spite of their ripping me on the website, in person they were mostly all anxious to be BFF's. Several of them asked me to read their screenplays and at least 2 asked for an agent referral. On the whole, they were all nice people, working day jobs in offices or stores and they shared a dream of selling their screenplay for at least $500,000 against points.

In the end, I realized I should just leave them to their dream world and avoid any contact because I couldn't lie to them. It's the reason I stopped teaching extension classes at UCLA years before. I couldn't lie to them that they have any kind of a chance selling their screenplay, because they really weren't writers.

So rather than disappoint, I just avoided them. And maybe a few might even get a pitch meeting or get someone who's a friend of a friend who works as a secretary at an agency to read their script.  But mostly they will go back to their jobs after a year or two, and tell friends how they were, for one glorious moment, a screenwriter.

An unproduced one.

But maybe that's better than never being one at all.

For some people.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Act Two - Heartbreak Hill.

Today we continue Act Two of our little movie venture. 

Wait! What was Act One? 

Alfred Hitchcock,  when asked what makes up a good story said, "It has a beginning and a middle and an end." Now, in an era where there are at least two hundred books on screenwriting including a dog's version, is Mr. Hitchcock simplifying it too much?  Don't we need the plot points or the inciting incident, or my favorite "the character arc". Don't we need to take expensive courses from teachers who more often than not have EVER SOLD A SCREENPLAY!

Because I think Mr. Hitchcock knew more about story and structure than any of those self-appointed experts, I used his simple formula when I taught extension classes in screenwriting at UCLA. 

Act One is where you set up the story. You introduce the main characters and the situation and some obstacles in their way.  This was back in August, when I introduced Shirley and myself to all of you, then began to explain the situation; we are going to try to make a movie and we're going to let you see exactly how we do it.

Then I introduced the obstacle. In Die Hard, Bruce Willis suddenly faced terrorists who held his wife and her whole office hostage. In Juno, she discovered she was pregnant. In Star Wars, Darth Vader was introduced.

For me it was... the Budget.

I don't have $900,000 US in my bank.  I don't know anyone who has $900,000 in their bank either. In fact all of my friends put together don't have $900,000 in their banks, mattresses or socks. Maybe I need new friends.

There you have it -- Act One.

Act Two, the middle, in writing, is always the hardest act to write. Because somewhere around Page 50-60, you reach the Heartbreak Hill of screenwriting. Act One is easy, Act Three is just resolving what you set up in Act One.

But Act Two is a mother... because you can't keep the same idea and hold an audience as no idea is that good. Well, maybe now and then, but very rare. And that's where you've been for the last five months. Shirley and I produced the proposal and I began sending it around by email and postage as well as emailing and calling everyone on my list to help me find money.

We had a good start with a strong indication of at least $400,000 based on the premise I find the first $500,000. Very few producers get that kind of commitment from the get-go. But now it seems to be unsteady.

I have continued to contact people and court the ones who have an interest and look for references to other potential money. Some weeks were good, some were just downright bleak. It was up and down and sometimes more down, until we finally reached Heartbreak Hill, that place in marathon runners' minds when many simply give up.

But I had been prepared for Heartbreak Hill.

Part 2 of Act Two came in the form of the American Film Market.  AFM.

Because I was waiting for it to come along to give us the momentum to continue after Heartbreak Hill. And it did. Now I can introduce TD to at least 50 potential investors and or distributors and even maybe even presales. It's not easy, but it sure hasn't been easy up to now, and it's never easy.

Take into consideration that many producers look for money for years, my own Emperor of Mars project has been around for 20 years!  Dustin Hoffman's D-boy told me Hoffman had a project that he wanted to do for 15 years and it still hasn't been made. Juno was around for a couple of years before someone made it. There are countless stories of projects taking years at every level of this business, from A-List to Z-List.

We went this far in 6 months.

Not that I'm bragging. Anything but bragging. It was a combination of luck, timing, 2 Academy nominated actresses and meeting Shirley.  All three of these women wanted to make my screenplay. This is a package. Much better than me running around with a script in my hand and nothing else. You need validation and I sure the hell had it. Enough to encourage me to go ahead.

So now we crest on the hill, and look ahead to where another hill looms. But we have help. The Manitoba producer Dane is beginning to bring his participation in, another money source has appeared, and we move ahead again towards Act Three. Then we have that Christmas thing where everyone goes to Aspen.

Well, some of them go to Aspen.

I go to Swan River, Manitoba. Who needs Aspen when there's a Tim Horton's less than a block away from my mom's house.  And I'm stopping by in Winnipeg to see the Manitoba guy, Dane, and Rachel, the Eh Channel exec.  I get back in early January as does Shirley from NYC (which has considerably more stoplights than Swan River's 5) and we start looking at preproduction if all works out.

And moving towards a February 2010 start date for filming.

God willing and the river don't rise.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Looking for a writing job?

From time to time, I collect odd, weird, crazy and just sometimes pathetic Craigslist listings from people who want writers. Note that spelling is exactly as the original postings. While some of Craigslist ads are from real producers, these are from people who seem to expect the writer to work for free or almost free.

These are all real. 

Date: 2007-10-20, 10:39AM PDT
A four plot film story. I need opposing points of view to assist in the process of making the pieces of the puzzle fit. Please respond as if you are applying for a real job...otherwise this is a waste of both of our time. I would ask to know about a paragraph worth of story about you as a person, what your experience as a writer is, and what you hope to get out of this. I am interviewing today in Hollywood at a Hollywood, right?
When you meet me, you will be delighted as to how down to earth I am as well as creative and driven. Thank you so much!

Date: 2007-10-23, 10:21AM PDT
I work from home a lot and I would love the company of someone else. Just having someone working from their computer or reading would help me a lot. I use the phone for my work but otherwise it is a quiet environment. I am a nice, fun ,outgoing girl, and always looking to explore new things. I live in West Hollywood. Please let me know if this sounds like something you would be interested in. Location: LA

Date: 2007-10-26, 9.13 PDT
BOOM! Drop me right into the conflict, let's get this baby going on rails! We're looking for a snarky, dark comedy with a unique twist on every day life. Accessible and with a warm message, yet a thoroughly entertaining escape from the audience's 9-5.
Hold the blood, bombs and bravado and instead give me clever characters and witty dialog. No fantasy dreamscapes and extended montages that don't advance the damn story; as an alternative, think coffeshops and dry cleaners.
-- Approx. $200K production see the "No blood, bombs or bravado" part,
-- Non-union feature,
-- Submit first five (5) pages in an open format, e.g. pdf, txt,
-- Append an overall story synopsis, and finally
-- Your estimated price or rate.

Date: 2007-10-26, 12:01AM PDT
Hi, I would like to hire a somewhat accomplished Comedy Writer to help me finish a somewhat goofy Christmas Who-Done-It Comedy that I have been sitting on for more than 10 years. What I have at the moment is about a 27 page Outline with a fair amount of Dialog intermixed. What I am looking for is someone to help me turn it into the next Christmas Classic.

I know you might think I am getting over dramatic here, but after all this time, I still think it could make a very funny and enjoyable movie. Think of it as a mix between Miracle on 34th street, ELF and Clue, with a little dash of other Christmas Stories and a little Song and Dance. Sounds a little goofy and fun, I hope so.

My basic requirements are to find someone who has good Comedic timing, can handle slapstick or goofy Physical Comedy, who’s a sucker for Christmas Stories (like me) and knows there way around a Scripts’ Structure, Plotline and Character Arch. So it wouldn’t get blown out of the water immediately because of glaring Structural flaws.

I am open to anyone who wants to let loose and have some fun with it, so long as it conforms to normal Script Structure.

I am willing to pay $1,000.00 dollars ($500.00 to start and $500.00 upon completion), plus 30% of what ever I would get for the script if I were to finish it on my own. The reason I say it that way is because once a Studio gets involved, who knows what they might require like a Rewrite or different Writer, who knows!! So, all I can offer is a percentage of what I would get if I were to complete the Script on my own, because that is something I have control over.

If you are interested, please respond via email and I will get back to you. At some point during the process I will want to see a Writing sample.

Date: 2007-10-26, 5:09PM PDT
Seeking a professional editor who has experience in editing screenplay. I have a script, that's 120 pages that needs a quick read-through to fix my grammatical and stucture errors.
The script will be on final draft. Fix as you read along, shouldn't take that long and turn around time is extremely important. Please email if interested

Date: 2007-10-26, 6:09PM PDT
$15 per page for a 120 page script that includes concepts and starts of pieces I have written. You will be paid at the end of each week up to 120 pages = $1800.

Date: 2007-10-27, 9:01AM PDT
Hello Everyone, we are looking for a ghoswriter that will assist us
in writing a sci-fi film. You will be paid a small fee for your time. You
will not get credit for the writing, however we do not require that
you have experience in scriptwriting - we only care about the
quality of your writing.
What's in it for you? Aside for a fee which we will discuss later on,
it will be a great opportunity for you if you are in the business.
Your work will be looked over, reviewed, critiqued and fine tuned by
an established major film screenwriter that has written for some of
the major studios in Hollywood. You have seen many of his work in
Blockbuster Films with some of the Top A Celebrities.

We will draw up a contract and we may need for you to sign a
confidentiality agreement. You will first have a meeting with me and
my partner and perhaps a third person so that we are all on the
same page. We will go over what we want and and if you are the
'right' one then we will go over your contract.

Please email me if you're interested.

If you have some sample writings, please email them to
our Assistant


Date: 2007-10-17, 6:10PM PDT
Looking for a writer for a creative collaboration. I am going to start working on a student film project. It will be episodic and I am looking for someone to help me develop story ideas, plots, and explore different themes. The project is fantasy action. I'm looking for SERIOUS writers who are looking to use creativity and dedication. I am planning of filming these in the summer so I need some one as soon as possible to get the ball rolling. Screenplay writing exeperience perferred but not necessary. Thank you, look foward to hearing from you .

Date: 2007-10-15, 12:57PM PDT
I wrote a treatment for a tv series. I need someone to look at it, edit it and add to it. Your pay would be a percentage of it if it was ever picked up. Thanks!

Date: 2007-10-29, 9:12AM PDT
I have the concept and outline of a funny, off-beat comedy/ sort of defies description. I am not a writer, but have a great start on something amazing. I need the help of a professional to make it work. I have no idea how this is supposed to take place, so please forgive my ignorance up front. Email me for more info. Thanks!

Date: 2007-10-31, 8:35PM PDT
I have a book, printed and ready. I have many other spin offs from this book.  I need an agent and a lawyer.  Help me change my life.

Reply to:
Date: 2007-11-03, 9:50PM PDT
that's right, i have a multi BILLIONAIRE idea for a childrens t.v. show. i just need a 22 minute pilot. no spec script needed. i have a huge company out their with the money to fund this project, i just need a script. serious writers only, who want to quit the rat race.
818 392 0243

Date: 2007-11-26, 5:39AM PST
we are presently seeking scripts for hollywood productions. if you have a hit please contact

Date: 2007-12-06, 9:07PM PST
Do you have what it takes as a screenwriter to get your script shot and produced? We are a new production company looking for GREAT, and I mean GREAT screewriters with AWESOME scripts that can be shot, produced and submitted to Film Festivals or pitched to networks. Here are the rules:

YOU the writer, choose the genre and length. It can be a feature, short film or pilot series but make sure it is AWESOME and UNIQUE. It can be something new or something you wrote already but it must be GREAT! We will review scripts and let you know if we will move foward with producing your script and making it a reality.

Reply to:
Date: 2007-12-11, 7:15AM PST
I have perhaps the greatest script ready to be made into a series. It is registered with the union and at this point I'm looking for some investors for a pilot and to pitch it to the studios. It's unique and would cause quite a stir. Please email me asap so that we can get started.

Date: 2007-12-13, 5:33AM PST
I am trying this out before I go to more traditional routes.
I am looking for a writer consultant I am writing various books but I am terrible. I need someone to take my ideas and make them look great for publishing.
First time author ... willing to pay send resume or bio... whatever the norm is.
Thanks, Mike

What if I had a great tv show concept...would you write it for us? If you like modern sci-fi, suspense, action, and the supernatural then I am confident you won't disagree with this concept. And you should have an appreciation for television shows like 24 and Heroes.
I have written 3 screenplays (unproduced), but never a television show.I haven't registered the concept/summary yet, to be honest.I just want producer credit, story concept by credit.

And of course help you develop the characters and plot, as it thickens each episode.Please email me if you are interested, and maybe if you have any contacts in Hollywood that could at least get the pilot made.Thanks and take care.

Date: 2009-01-17, 8:32PM PST
kari bian just finished 3 projects; time to start the next feature movie: I need a sophisticated brilliant intelligent writer with a big imagination, Not nassasery to explain who you are do-not send resume, i two lines just tell me why you deserve to get this job. compensation $5000 plus 2 points.

Date: 2009-08-31, 11:48AM PDT
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?

Dear Hollywood Insider,
I’ll get straight to the point: I have a number of extraordinary screenplays just crying out to be made into movies, but I can’t do it without your help. My screenplays perfectly walk the line between art and high concept —think Steven Spielberg crossed with vintage Woody Allen. All feature the kinds of juicy, multi-faceted characters Hollywood’s A-listers would sell their souls to play. There’s a ton of money to be made, millions of hearts to touch, and gazillions of Oscars to be won.

Your job? Simply get my screenplays under the eyeballs of some of Hollywood’s “influencers.”

What’s in it for you? Here’s my humble proposal: When my first screenplay sells I’ll immediately give you 50% of the paycheck . Think about that. If my first script sells for $500,000, you’ll immediately snare $250,000. I’m willing to make this lunatic offer because, frankly, I know if I can just get my foot in the door, my screenwriting career is set. I also have an unfortunate history of skin cancer, so if I contract a terminal case tomorrow, I’ll never forgive myself for not having written this letter.

If this strikes a chord somewhere inside you, please contact me at your earliest convenience. I know I wasn’t put on this planet to be a cubicle monkey, and perhaps you’d like to send some positive karma into the universe while helping a struggling artist at the same time.

I've been badly burned by phony literary agents in the past, so please tell me a little about yourself and why you think we’d make a truly dynamic duo.

I sincerely look forward to forming a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship with you.