Monday, February 28, 2011

Oscar reflections

Well, the Oscars have come and gone, and with few surprises, the big one being that the Facebook movie was leading going in, expecting to take the top prizes with the exception of best actor. 

Going in, Social Network had won 10 awards out of 16 for best picture while King's Speech had 4 awards for Best Pic going in. But the Academy voters went to the underdog in a sense, awarding King's Speech Best Picture as well as writer and director and actor.

Social Network won writer, music and film editing. 

So why did everyone go for the King?

Well, this is my theory; 

David Fincher is a good director but has one characteristic that I felt was negative, his movies are very dark and without feeling. Not saying they're bad, but they are pretty cold and remorseless.

I liked Social Network but felt it was about greed and betrayal with no real caring for any of the characters who were calculating and greedy. The only element I found that balanced it was Sorkin's screenplay which began and ended with Zuckerberg alone after being rejected by two women.

It made me feel a little sorry for the character, after all money can't buy love.

But that was made up by Sorkin, who must have seen that otherwise nobody would care about anybody in the film. In fact, he did say at a screening I attended that he "borrowed" a lot of Citizen Kane. If you remember, Kane was an unlikeable character and the only thing that mattered at the end was  - "Rosebud", the sled he had in childhood.

And we all know what Rosebud really meant but it's not relative here.

Whereas, King's Speech was the classical struggle to overcome great odds and also being inspirational.

There you go - greed and betrayal vs overcoming great odds. I figured the younger Academy members would go for what some of their generation considers admirable in the way of values while the older members would go for the classic handicapped character overcoming obstacles.

Think My Left Food, Rainman, Beautiful Mind, Shine  and many others.

And basically, that's what happened. Sorkin won for best adapted screenplay and he deserved every bit, he is a great writer and one who values of the writing craft.  And David Seidler won for King's Speech.

Thirty-five years ago I had a brush with the Academy awards when my former partner, Phil Borsos and I made a short film called Cooperage, about a barrel factory. We came to Los Angeles with a 35mm print and got the Los Feliz theater in Silver Lake to screen it for a week.

That's what was necessary to qualify for the Academy Award nominations.

It's mostly a technicality; you really don't need an audience, you just have to have it screen at a legitimate movie theater in Los Angeles. How does that work with no audience?

Well, maybe a little audience. We got the projectionist to put up our short at the very end of the movie that was playing. So, as the audience were filing out, our short started. Some would turn around and watch the 15 minute film, while others left.

After each screening we would pick up the 35mm print and take it with us to the motel. We did this for one week and it qualified and was entered into the 1976 Academy Awards.

We made it as far as the final handful of shorts being considered and were in the finalists but never made it to the bigtime. Still, it was a lot of fun to even be considered, as they say.

That same year we won the Canadian equivalent of the Oscar, the Genie and won awards at Athens, Sydney, Chicago and New York. Also an award for Cinematography, for both myself and Tim Sale.

Phil made another short that was an Oscar finalist but sadly he passed away in 1995 at the age of 41.

And my chances at the Oscar are more remote than Charley Sheen's.

Ah, life...

(Thurs: Packaging Ghostkeeper)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is the Original Screenplay slowly dying

There was an interesting article in the LA Times this week, all about how things have changed in the writing industry, basically saying that the original screenplay is almost dead. I know this much, the industry is changing again, like it did when sound came in, and color and finally the Movie Brats of the late 60's, when Easy Rider appeared out of nowhere and changed the movie industry forever.

I guess we can all blame it on Steven Spielberg, after all it was Jaws that used the wide release strategy and thus created the "blockbuster", movies that earned lots of money on that first week-end.

And when Entertainment Tonight started, they were the first to actually tell the average person how much money a movie made that first week-end.

But Jaws really wasn't the first movie to use that strategy, there were the Italian gladiator movies and Hercules, all would open big and hope to make a quick profit before audiences found out they weren't very good.

George Lucas followed with Star Wars, and then the sequels were born again. Sequels were always made in Hollywood, even back to the silent era, Chaplin for one, did basically the same movie over and over.

But in the late 70's, something else happened. Guys like Shane Black who wrote Lethal Weapon, would write spec scripts. Scripts not ordered from a studio. And these spec scripts resulted in big successful movies that also created sequels.

And the word got around and pretty soon there was a frenzy of spec scripts being bought for lots of money. Joe Eszterhas got S4 million for an idea he wrote on a napkin (the movie was a failure).

And that's also when film schools really pushed the idea of making movies and pretty soon not only was everyone in Hollywood writing screenplays, everyone in America was writing screenplays.

All you needed was a typewriter and then in the late 80's, a computer and you were a writer. Simple, huh?

But the one thing that everyone forgets is this; spec original scripts were never at the head of the list, except for that short frenzy period in the late 80's and 90's. By the time the aspiring screenwriters started, the big money was gone.

And the reason was simple. A lot of those original scripts never made money.

When I taught at UCLA extension I always told aspiring writers this; there are 5 kinds of movies, always was, always will be. And they are, in order of priority:

Movies based on books.
True Stories.
Sequels & Remakes.
Original screenplays.

Just check your local paper and see how many movies are original. Not very many. So things really haven't changed. Sort of.

What's changed is the selling of spec screenplays. When I came here in 1990, you could find an agent ready to work with you to slowly get to meet producers. Sometimes it took 2 or more agents. I had a good screenplay, Emperor of Mars, that got me into every studio and network in the city.

And it got me a lot of work. You could pitch an idea or two, and if they liked it, they would hire you to write it, or give you an assignment they had already.

But much of that is gone now. All anyone wants is a 1-liner because as one company said, "if you can't tell the story in one line, it's not high concept". Try pitching Avatar on that, "guy becomes alien and falls in love with another alien".

Doesn't sound like a great idea, right?

What's changed is this and you're not gonna like it; there's too many people. Simple as that. And not just for screenwriters, for everybody. Carpenters, factory workers, you name it, competition is fierce.

I guess I was here for the last of the "golden era" of the Brat Pack years, when my generation changed the old studio methods with directors like Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola, De Palma, Scorceses and writers like Robert Town, Akiva Goldman, Joe Eszterhas and of course the guru of all William Goldman.

Because now, it seems like a free-for-all. But if you really think about it, nothing has changed that much and in the sage words of William Goldman, "nobody knows anything".

One of the guys who brought us 140 TV channels said that when they developed this idea to widen TV, they figured it would spawn great television with niche audiences getting original programming.

Well, what happened was repeats of old TV shows and reality TV and every conceivable angle on Hitler, over and over again. And the cable guy said that instead of great original programming they got mediocrity.

But then we had My Mother the Car in the 60's.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ideas and where they come from

The radar is on whether you know it or not. You cannot
switch it off.  You hear this piece of conversation  across
across the room. "I just can't stand you anymore". 
That's a song. It just flows in.
- Keith Richards

When I began writing screenplays I was often unsure of what to write. I had no real ideas that I thought were good enough to write. This was often proven by the fact that I could write 10 pages and realize there was nothing there.

And in a business where the first 3 pages count, I was dead meat.

Now, after 30 years of working in features, I have more ideas than I can handle.

So what's the reason?

Well, life for one. I was never one with the amazing talent that comes at birth, rather I was pretty ordinary at almost everything I did. Except for one; I watched television like an addict from the first time I saw it.

And the first time was way back in 1958 in a small town in Manitoba where a TV signal was relayed from a TV station 1oo miles away. I wish I could say I had to walk two miles to school but it was only a block away.

The first TV pictures were snowy, for those too young to know what that is, the screen picture was shared with hazy white dots and streaks, sometimes the image was so poor you could hardly make it out. Sort of like AM radio and static except with a picture.

If I was gifted with anything, it was the 17-inch black and white TV. I even remember the show that was on the time I turned the TV on. It was a western, Black Saddle, with Peter Breck who would later go onto the Big Valley.

Now before I lose most of you, I mention the above because for almost 50 years I have watched television. Counting movies it's even more.

And that, along with life, tutored me in drama. I don't envy those truly talented who write brilliant scripts in high school, mostly because I don't know what that's like. For me it was developed slowly, over time and miles and miles of traveling.

Someone once said that I'm happiest when I got a tank of gas and a new highway I've never been on and I admit they're right. Traveling gave me characters, so many that I sometimes get lost in their identities. An ex-student of mine from the UCLA screenwriting class suggested I have a radar for "characters" some of whom often turn into brilliant inspirations or crazy people.

I learned a lot from my stint at UCLA teaching extension screenwriting classes, both in the work and from the students. I would have a maximum of 15 students in online courses and from this I would have to write notes of anywhere from 5 to 15 pages on their work. And these notes would mostly be about how to change or edit or fix their screenplays to a level of acceptance.

You find a lot of ideas over 2 years, ideas from them and also from the remarkable ability to come up with notes for them. This was something I never expected; that after 3 decades of writing, I actually knew something about the subject!

And after writing probably well over a hundred screenplays, I find story ideas everywhere I go. Keith Richards talks about this in his new book, how after he began writing songs for the Rolling Stones, ideas began to come up from everywhere.

That radar as I have also often said, is always on.

The trouble is, that most of the ideas don't pan out to anything. But it's the ones that linger in your mind, the ones that trouble you, daring you to open them up to whatever might lurk within them. Those are the ones you battle with on the page.

Contradictions are everywhere in ideas, something I think is a fantastic idea today, may become cliched and weak tomorrow. But regardless they continue to flow and flow.

Many of my ideas come from newspapers or magazines, which are filled with stories that could work for movies, like a story about women in a small town in Chile who had a "night without men", wherein they banned men from the main street for one night and made it a ladies night". I still haven't worked on that one but it's always there.

There's also a book I want to option, about a flight attendant who experiences a traumatic reaction after a jetliner nearly crashed and the airline refused to help her. Or a guy whose dad give him $500 to cross the country by himself in order to give him a real life experience. 

There's always the crimes and larger-than-life stories but for some reason I tend to stay away from them. And I tend to read a lot of non-fiction books, anything from travel to quantum phsyics. 

And of course, the wealth of ideas from all those reality shows and history channel presentations which offer almost every known subject. And I still want to write either  a movie or TV series after I passed this little Private Detective storefront near me that seemed to beg a movie or series in the light of huge corporations. Somehow this guy managed to stay alive, sort of a Rockford Files kind of place.  I think about that one at least once a month.

And this relates to Ghostkeeper, wherein the re-release of the original 1980 Ghostkeeper, to happen later this summer, almost immediately set off a new idea; Ghostkeeper 2. And it took me maybe a week to fill out a good idea for it; that of a movie within a movie, with the original cast playing themselves in an almost-identical plotline. But this time they're not playing characters, they're playing themselves.

Ideas for writers are crucial, you don't have a future if you don't have them. But the best way to get them is actually quite simple. They come from everywhere, your town, your family (a favorite), newspapers, other movies, strangers, friends (although they usually want to "co-write a script, wherein I write and we both share the money (avoid these).

And one memory that always haunts me; I was in a truckstop in Idaho off I-15 and was enjoying the atmosphere of truck drivers, families on holiday and country girls giggling. Then I saw an old man tacking a poster on the crowded bulletin board; he looked sad in dirty coveralls and old cap and when he saw I was looking at him, he seemed to feel almost embarrassed, maybe awkeward, and he walked to his pick-up truck.

I went to the board and saw the poster, a sheet of white paper with a picture of a young girl, maybe 13. She was missing and it gave phone numbers to call if you saw her.

Life breaks your heart.

But you write. And write, and write and write.

And sometimes get the chance to put Keith Richards into your blog.

You can sometimes get what you want

(Thurs: Ghostkeeper goes on the road & The Christmas Train arrives)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lost time

Realized that I didn't post my usual Thursday blog,  first time ever I missed a blog. The reason?

I am/was rushing to finish the Ghostkeeper screenplay in order to begin passing it around to people that can help fund it. I actually finished it Tuesday but had some polishing to do and stretched it until today. Always like to end projects at the end of the week.

Besides that I'm traveling to Santa Barbara Saturday morning, taking the train rather than driving. It's a 2 hour trip, much the same as a drive but I get to sit back, have coffee, read more of Keith Richard's bio and relax.  Driving the 101 highway can be stressful if traffic is bad. 

I'm going to Santa Barbara to meet some people who want to option my Chaser screenplay, a story about memory and the idea that everytime you remember something, it changes a little until you're not sure what you think you know. All capsulized in one man's pursuit of a potential kidnapping victim.

There's another reason I'm taking the train, it's also a chance for me to experience a short dose of train travel for my next screenplay, The Christmas Train, which I haven't started yet.

A 2-hour trip isn't really a train trip, but it's a good start. Later this spring I am considering a train all the way to Seattle. 

Is all that necessary? Can't I just make it up?

I am one who needs to know everything I can about what I write, every possible little thing that can make it more real. And the only way I know how to do that is either read everything I can find - or - experience it.

I wrote a mountain climbing script after I took climbing lessons for 2 months and actually climbed a formidable 5000 ft mountain in the Rockies. Okay, it's not the Eiger but it was a 5 and a half hour climb on sheer cliffs as well as cracks and I did it.

And for Ghostkeeper, my mountain experiences in the Rockies, where I lived for 5 years helped greatly seeing that the story is set in an old hotel in the heart of the Rockies.

What I did need to learn was more about Native Indian mythology and I spent a good total of 2 weeks finding out as much as I could.

So today I send out my Ghostkeeper screenplay to several people, all by email attachments. Long gone are the days when I would actually print and bind a screenplay and mail it.

Everyone reads pdfs now, at most most of the people. Some still want a hard copy and I can do that if they request.

Then, I wait.

And hope they like it. At least a little.

Maybe even more.

(Mon: Status of Ghostkeeper 2)

Monday, February 14, 2011

So you don't write but want to make a movie

A friend of mine recently asked this question; he wanted to make a movie but isn't a screenwriter like I am, and thus, was unsure about how to go about finding a screenplay that might be suitable. I offered him my catalog of 35 spec screenplays of course, but he didn't want any of them.

I am an anomaly in terms of my screenwriter status. I have a long record of screenplays, both produced and unproduced however I am not your average writer. Not that it's a bad thing being an average writer. 

Among my abilities I am a cameraman having started out in TV news and even filmed an award winning short, I also worked as an editor in TV and still edit little documentaries  on Final Cut Pro, mostly things I film as well.

I've also produced films and work on Movie Magic Budgeting, the industry standard for making film budgets. Also work on MM Scheduling as well, making shooting schedules for my own films and sometimes for others.

And of course I have directed a few hundred commercials, albeit more than 30 years ago as well as 2 video features and of course, Ghostkeeper in 1980. So that makes me a hyphenate, as we call it. Someone with abilities in almost all the crafts of making film. I forgot, I also worked as a soundman for 2 years.

And I realized, that unlike my friend, I can make a movie all by myself, although I would be a lousy actor. But all of this was due to the fact I could never afford to hire someone in the beginning, so I just learned all of those jobs over the years and accumulated a hell of a lot of knowledge.

Why tell you all this now?

Because there might be readers out there who don't really have all those abilities. But the great thing here is this --

You don't need to be.

In fact you don't need to know very much about filmmaking. That's the beauty of this business. You just want to need to make a movie.

Going to film school is nice and you learn a lot of things but, as stated in a recent article in a film trade magazine called P3 Update, film school isn't all that helpful a lot of times.

To quote them "for the most part a degree in film doesn't mean much to most production companies and the cost of film school around $60,000 is more than most graduates will ever have a chance to make in the business."

How's that for all those parents out there who sent their kids to film schools? I actually met a woman who graduated from NYU and owed $125,000 in student and family loans for her education. And she was anxious to get hired as a director.

You know what her chances are?  I won't even mention it.

And I've said this often, I and my friend Phil both failed film school back in the 70's, not only that but the instructor took us aside to suggest we don't even try. Needless to say we did "try" and we were the only students from that class who ever had a career in film.

Because we  wanted to make films. And nobody was going to stop us.

And as for those hundreds, maybe thousands of film students, it would almost be worth it to go out and make a film for $60,000 or $125,000. You'll learn really quick how to make a movie and if you have the talent or even the ability to do it.

And I mean that.

Paranormal Activity was made in the area of $15,000 albeit by an experienced commercial director but his first feature, and it grossed over $100 million and an entry into Hollywood. There are a lot of examples of this and most of them not making a dime BUT getting an invitation into the industry.

A lot of the little indie films you see now are just that, people who somehow had to find a way to make a movie. Too many film students don't have that passion (I know, that word is so 10 minutes ago) and rather than focus on something, they wait to be discovered.

It's gonna be a long wait.

Okay, so you are focused and ready, you want to make a movie and you're ready to not make any money for one year, that's right, no jobs. Your job is to find a screenplay, find actors, find a director or maybe that's you. And you have to find a crew; that's pretty easy in LA, just post an ad in craigslist and you will be flooded with every type of crewperson and actor there is.

But the hardest one is a screenplay, but it's not what  you think. What I mean is finding a relatively good screenplay. One that works on good characters and a story that people will want to watch for 90 minutes or so. If you don't know what kind of script that is, look until you find something that you would really be proud of.

And that can be anything. Comedy, drama, mystery, whatever. It must be something you can put up with for a year or longer and never want to give up on.

Screenplays are the easiest thing to find; there are several websites that post screenplays from amateurs and pros. Take InkTip which is arguably the best in terms of that I know even experienced professionals lurk there with some of their unsold screenplays.

I've done that several times with people who don't have the ability to pay big money. Right now I am going to option a screenplay to a young company under the WGA low budget plan which basically means I'm giving them the script for a token option fee, nowhere near the real script fee. But if they sell it, then they have to pay me full WGA scale.

Making a movie is like that cliched snowball rolling down the hill, just get one thing first, the screenplay and then work like hell to get the rest.

(Thurs; Ghostkeeper progress)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Women's roles and writing them (if you're not a woman)

I get good response from women actors about my writing, especially when writing female characters. I've had women who said they didn't believe a man wrote women's voices so well, Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek stood up for me against producers who wanted to change a screenplay and many others.

And the best complement I think I ever had on writing was from a woman, who simply said of an episode of a series, "It's so Jim".

Okay, so I'm bragging a bit, because, like all writers (or at least most), I feel that I'm simply faking it and soon, they will discover that I have no ability whatsoever. And I think that comes from an insecurity that itself comes from my childhood.

I was watching Colin Firth yesterday talking about his life and career and he mentioned his parents moved around a lot and the consequences it had on him. I immediately identified as my father was nomadic, we moved at least 15 times before he actually settled into a home of his own.

And what happens with that, at least for me, was a feeling of insecurity as well as having to reinvent myself with every move. Sometimes I would enter a new school halfway through or even a few weeks later than start date. It also turned me into an outsider,  as I never knew how long it would be before we moved again so I rarely made friends.

But outsider is good for a writer. Because you spend half your life watching other people and using that craft to make your characters real.

But writing for women was often filled with cliches at the beginning of my career. In fact it stayed until after my Ghostkeeper film.

What's the thing about my writing, in the case of women characters.

They say the characters are often strong and self reliant, confident and focused. Really. And I suppose they are. But I have a secret, and I rarely tell them that because it might spoil their performances. And while I wish I could say it came from my own abilities and insight, I can't.

I learned it all from who else -- a woman.

It happened when I was trying to get an actor, Saul Rubinek, to be in a film I had written. I was at  his house as we discussed the story. His wife Kate Lynch, happened to sit in one day, she had read the screenplay and offered her thoughts. Kate is smart and insightful.

At one point, she said she would like to play the main character's friend, which had been written for a male supporting actor. She liked the dialog. I wasn't crazy about that for several reasons, the least of which meant rewriting it for a woman.

Kate said not to rewrite it, just leave the dialog as it is.

But I couldn't, after all it changes when you make a man's part a woman's. Kate suggested we read it, which we did. And surprisingly, it seemed fine. In fact it seemed better than I expected.

Up till then, whenever I wrote a woman's part I tried to imagine how women think and what they would say. Most of the times it was cliched and not really believable.

The lesson here was simple. Kate's role was stronger and more confident because she was reading a man's dialog. It worked for all three of us because it was real, because it was strong and firm and many of those stubborn male traits.

But it also made the woman's part stronger because I was essentially writing a man's part, only this time for a woman.

Ever since then, I wrote women's parts with the same attitude and strength and thus created strong female roles that still continue to get me attention.

Is this right, you might ask? Is this unfair, or taking advantage, or suggesting that women are meek and mild. Not at all, it's just how I write women's parts, and from the reactions, they like it. I've told some women about it and they mostly laugh, adding that it's time their dialog was beefed up.

And in the end, all that matters is to create believable parts for actors of both sexes and while it's not everybody's method, it works for me.

(Mon: Wrapping up Ghostkeeper)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Changes in attitude...

It normally takes me a few days to get into a screenplay, sort of like dating; some dancing around, some flirting, some insight and finally you dive in, damn the consequences, it totally inhales you.

I started writing last Monday, after looking for anything I could do instead of writing. As I've said before, rather than getting easy for me after 30 years of screenwriting (excluding the other years of writing commercials and documentaries) it gets harder.

Why? Because I'm competing with myself and also I know too much about the process (and thus know the shortcuts, the easy outs and the best way to avoid writing).

And a main problem of this screenplay is that I am writing the real actors rather than made-up characters.

A word on "made up characters" first.  When I began writing, way back in the early years,  I would fill out the script guru's requirements for a character, what's his name, how far did he go in school, what's his pet peeve and many more useless things. Those of you who write knew what this is.

But I found my characters lacked... well... character. They were one dimensional and each character spoke like the same person. There was no individual voice to the separate characters.

This thing took me a long time to figure out, at least 3 years to a point, but my best character driven script came almost 10 years after my first screenplay. And that was Emperor of Mars, arguably my best screenplay. And never made. Yet!

What I learned was to borrow characters; in other words use people I knew or people I've watched in cafes or parties or wherever. Like Sunday morning, riding on Venice Beach with my usual group of ex-pat Canadians, I passed a couple walking from a cafe and noticed the man mimicking a waiter inside, he made faces and spoke in what was the waiter's voice.

In that instant, and that's how long it took, my memory froze that image of the man and his imitation and  his wife's reaction. I could suddenly see a character based on what I witnessed for maybe 30-40 seconds.

It only took me 30 years to learn how to do this. 

Okay, less than that, but I always marvel at how I can be doing one thing and then something in my brain catches something else, a man or a woman or a child doing something unique. And it automatically files itself into my hard drive corner in my mind.

After Emperor I began using real people as a basis for characters, people like the development exec who was an alcoholic and swore like a sailor and whom I still respect in terms of her ability to come up with great notes. Based loosely on her and a woman who had a great first name, Kylie, and a bit of my ex, who was and is a terrific woman and the total opposite of Kylie, but my ex's upbringing in Oregon helped me with the feel of the town Kylie came from. I began to assemble a character that was real.

She was a bourbon-drinking ex druggie who burned out in L.A. and made her way back to the Pacific northwest to confront her father for screwing up her life. I still love the title; "Secrets of the Salmon" after an article I read about how salmon have a homing device, returning to where they were born. Anyone for metaphors?

So real that Jody Foster's company couldn't believe a man wrote it but also wanted to know who the woman was. I said she was "Kylie" and left it at that. I also have a great way to write women's parts so much that they really like them. More on that later.

And this method has worked for me since then. But Ghostkeeper was different.

Now I was writing actual living characters, in the sense that the actors from the original Ghostkeeper (1980) were playing themselves in the Ghostkeeper remake. So I was now faced with writing dialog not based on people, but the actual people.

And you know what? They all sounded the same. Why? Because I didn't want to insult, hurt or make fun of them, after all they are my friends and I was treating them like royalty, no swearing, no anger, no confusion... no conflict.

No conflict is death. Without conflict there is no story, no drama.

So I tried something else; I tried to use gossip instead, you know "That Murray, sometimes he's a real pain". Well, I made Murray be a real pain for a scene. And for someone else, "she tells her husband when to sit, where to sit and how to sit", and I used that attitude for another one of the actors.

And by Friday the characters had taken their own direction, becoming real fictional characters who were moving in the direction they wanted, not necessarily what I wanted. And when that happens to me, I know they are coming alive.

A lot of people don't understand that phenomenon whereby characters begin to leap off the page and become different things. It really does happen and after awhile I feel like I'm just the typist and they are telling me what to do.

And believe me, it doesn't always happen this easily. Of course the main advantage here is that I am writing the screenplay as a spec, sort of, and I don't have to listen to development execs give me notes every week for 6 weeks or longer.

I'll finish this first draft by the end of the week, I hope.

(Thurs: Reality vs Myth - the Windigo)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ghostkeeper 2011

"The difference between life and the movies is that a script 
has to make sense and life doesn't...."
                                                                          - unknown

Since last Wednesday I have produced 52 pages of screenplay, at this rate I should have a rough working draft by early next week, meaning I won't write on the week-end. After all, the week-end is made for rest - right?

Or is it an excuse not to write?

I'm going to let you in on the plot for the new screenplay, which I had called a sequel  but after speaking to some industry friends, I changed it to a "remake" as that's the hot word these days in Hollywood. 

And the philosophy behind that is this: A sequel is a whole new movie while a remake is the old movie done over. What that offers is security to the financing and distribution people considering that there exists an audience who has already seen it.

Kind of like making a movie from a book; you're guaranteed that some people will want to see it. The odds are slightly better than a sequel which usually is never as good as the original. See what I mean? There are people who dwell on this for 10 hours a day, going over research files and reviews of old movies and trying to find a movie that they can remake.

Like a new Superman movie. Just what we needed.

Does all this sound silly? Yes, but this whole business is silly. I'm writing a story that actors will pretend to be the characters in that story and an audience is going to watch it because they want to see what happens. I once told someone that my job as a writer is to give people happy endings because life rarely has them.

But that's in my cynical moments, or maybe after a few drinks.

So let's get back to the original Ghostkeeper. It tells the story of 3 young people who take their ski-doos into the great Canadian Rockies in wintertime. They find an old hotel after one of the party breaks her ski-doo and they're stranded. The find the hotel is heated and soon meet a spooky old lady who runs the joint even though nobody's checked in for 5 years.

Just when things seem okay, stuff happens, one of them gets drowned and killed and the other two face either the old lady and her monster son or the freezing cold outside. By the way, the Ghostkeeper term comes from a Native Indian legend in Canada that deals with a monstrous creature called Windigo, who eats human flesh.

Just for your info, there actually is a psychological term called "Windigo psychosis" in which someone goes a little mad and starts doing nasty things.

So that's Ghostkeeper 1980. Now I had to find an idea for number 2, uh, I mean "the remake."

When I came up with the sequel idea I wasn't really sure what the idea should be and it rolled around my head for a week or two until some friends connected some of the dots. I think I mentioned that the real hotel, the Deer Lodge in Lake Louise, Alberta, was having a reunion this summer and I suggested we have a cast reunion.

That suddenly became an interesting idea; what if the real cast comes to the hotel for a reunion only to become victims for a real Windigo. I would get the real cast, now in their 50's and 60's to appear playing themselves. Essentially a movie within a movie.

And then I'd introduce two newcomers, in their mid-20's, to basically carry the movie. This is a necessity if I want distribution, you gotta have some kids in it. But I knew I could make it work and I knew exactly who they would be.

I also took all the Ghostkeeper reviews from, the good and the bad (49.8 good and 50.2 bad) and read them again, finding out what they liked and what they didn't like.  After all, this movie is for them.

I knew this; the original script wasn't that good and the acting was okay, but could do better. All the reviews said that Georgie, the old woman, was terrific. What also did work was the atmosphere of the film, dark, cold and spooky as hell, that was part me and John the DP and Stan the editor, the other part was the hotel itself. We managed to capture the darkness of the place against the - 35F landscape outside.

So far I've contacted John the DP, Doug who was PM, Murray the actor and yesterday Riva, the lead. All are excited and ready to go. All I need is a screenplay. 

And the money, a sum still not discussed, but around $1 million or so since the original was made for $650,000 in 1980 money,  $1 million isn't asking too much?  And the two young leads but since the movie won't shoot till November, I have lots of time.

(Mon: More writing)