Friday, December 11, 2009

What do you do when you're waiting? And waiting?

Shirley brought up something the other day that warrants mentioning. What exactly do we do while we wait for answers from the investors, potential investors and everybody else I have contacted who take their time getting back to me.

It's an awkward time as some days, in fact most, I really don't have much to do as there's only so much to do at this stage. My investors are waiting to see who puts first money in, and that seems to be coming from the Canadian side with tax credits discounted at a major Canadian bank.

This is one of the most important lessons I've learned in the film business and it's simply this:

Don't ever count on one thing.

You're always waiting in this business, and the more you need it, the longer it seems to take. You wait for someone to read your screenplay, you wait for the notes, you wait for the contract and you wait for the money.

So what do I do?

For one thing I have at 4 other projects with serious interest. They are:

  • Emperor of Mars which I've told you about often and is with Nomadic Entertainment, a production company in Calgary.
  • Ghosts of Odessa is a submarine action-suspense screenplay optioned by Groundstar Entertainment with David Winning as director.
  • Chaser is another project with Shirley as director and we hope to get this going in 2010. To begin this, we plan to film a 4 minute short to send to potential investors in January.
  • Beacon is a screenplay I wrote and will direct with a former UCLA student who will direct his feature back-to-back with me in an experimental situation whereby we both use the same crew and sets.
 And I still have at least 20 screenplays I wrote that remain on my shelf, unproduced, waiting for someone. 

Sounds like a lot, right? Some writers I know, even experienced ones have one screenplay. And they are totally depending on that one script to make them a career.

It could happen. Maybe.

But the one consistent lesson I learned is to never count on just one thing.  Because sure as hell, your project is going to fall through and there you are... lost and adrift. There's nothing worse than pinning your hopes on that one big thing and then it falls through.

This has happened to me more than I care to remember, probably 75% of the time. I've done 16 movies but have seen at least 50 projects fall through in the last 30 years, probably more. Everything from small no-budget movies to bigger ones and TV series and documentaries. And as my friend Paul Lynch says, I'm in the top 10% of writers who have had projects made. Some get lucky with one movie and then struggle to get another one and never get another shot.

So even as I work on Travel Day, I have a handful of other projects that I show around, like the four I mentioned above and a few others. Shirley just finished a film that she's entering in festivals and has offers to direct other movies, pending the financing. I also have that distributor interested in my Ghostkeeper film, made in 1980 and now somewhat of a European cult film.

I guess if you wait long enough, someone will say something nice about you.

A lot of writers don't have an interest in every element of filmmaking, they're happy with writing the script and taking the money and leave. I started in TV news and went on to work in every aspect of the business and thus often surprise myself at what I know.

And of course at what I don't know.

In spite of what anyone might think, the business hasn't changed that much since it started way back in the 1900's. Kids still come to Hollywood to be stars, dreams are realized and dreams are lost. There hasn't been a year that's gone by when someone hasn't said  "this is the worst year ever".

And while I have several projects turning around in mid-air I realize the difference between writers and everyone else.

They all have to wait to get a job.

I don't. 

Why? Because I can always write a screenplay.  In fact well over 50 if you count the TV pilots and animation and episodic shows.  Everyone else, actors, directors, crew, caterers, teamsters, everyone has to be hired before they can work.

And that's the beauty of writing. Writers can produce a product without anyone else helping, there's no factory, no tools to buy (well, a computer but everyone has that), no licences, no displays.  No employees. Not even travel time to work. It takes me a dozen steps to go to work.

But not all writers are like that.

A lot of them couldn't write a spec screenplay without being hired. Mostly TV writers, but some feature writers also. I was always surprised by this, but alot of them have to wait with the other crew to be hired.

What's the difference?

Motivation. Some writers are motivated more than others. That goes for everyone, not just film people. I'm motivated most of the time,  I get at least 2 or 3 ideas a day, ideas that usually fade by evening. Some of them stick around.

So now I'm being a producer for Travel Day, also have some notes for script changes, and doing a trailer script for Shirley and I to film in early 2010 as mentioned above, and also pitching a few ideas for TV series.

So what's the catch? 

I haven't made a dollar from any of the above.

So I can write, but I might not sell my idea or script. In fact I can almost guarantee I won't sell it. But someone might just get interested. It happened with Travel Day, it can happen with something else.

Today, I'm off to Canada, going to Calgary for a few days to see my brother who's an editor at the newspaper and talk to Nomadic Entertainment about the new possibilities for Emperor of Mars. Then off to Winnipeg to see Dane and the progress he's making on Travel Day.

Then to a small town 300 miles north of Winnipeg where I will spend Christmas.

And maybe good news for New Year's.

(next post from the snow and ice of northern Manitoba)

1 comment:

  1. Great post! 50 damn screenplays...? holy **it! That blows me away when I hear it. Cuz I know it's not like you've been at it since the age of 21 and I for one, don't think they're that easy to write. Great motivator too (and very humbling). Thanks. Drive safely - see you in the 'Peg!