Monday, November 26, 2012
Having written for around 40 years or so (who counts after that many years?) I seem to be getting more ideas than ever for a screenplay. My latest one came when I watched consumers storming big box stores and malls for Black Friday sales. I had to return a suitcase to Macy's and thought I'd drive by the Fashion Square Mall near me to return it.
But it was not to be, the streets were blocked off as though a hurricane was coming and traffic cops were everywhere. And it was all for the mall traffic. Needless to say I turned around and went home.
But on the way back, I started thinking about Black Friday. I'm always looking for a holiday movie for Hallmark or Lifetime, and I thought that maybe a movie called Black Friday could work. It would be about four or five people who have adventures in a shopping mall on that big day.
But then Black Friday was a great title for a horror movie too. Maybe even better than a family movie for Hallmark.
I thought it over for the rest of the day, bouncing each idea around and trying to imagine what kind of story I could write, and for which idea.
By Saturday, I was focused on the mall idea, and with green screen and CGI, it could be made for those mini-budgets that Hallmark deals with. You wouldn't need a thousand extras, you could create them on computers.
But the dark side of me was also pushing the horror film. My first movie, Ghostkeeper, was a horror movie, although it could be labeled as a "supernatural thriller". There wasn't really a lot of horror in it because I'm not the kind of person who wants to see people being cut up.
And that brought me back to the nice Black Friday. A friend suggested I see that Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Jingle All The Way (remember that one?) where Arnold fights for a special toy for his son. Maybe I could still make the family version.
But by Sunday both ideas started to look lame, the horror movie definitely not what I wanted to write and the family one was too much about money and buying stuff, and I didn't think that was particularly inspiring either.
By the end of the day I dropped both ideas and this morning put them into my files for projects that might be resurrected, or maybe not.
But then there was that mall cop movie with Kevin James, but it didn't do much business.
But then I remembered a screenplay I read that was written by Sam Peckinpah, the great screenwriter and director whose movie The Wild Bunch, is a classic. He had written a screenplay about someone locked in a department store all night and was being terrorized by an unknown presence that seemed to be hunting him.
Well, that's not a horror film completely, it's more "Hitchcockian" as they say. Suspense. I could write a suspense movie.
I'll see how I feel Tuesday.
Friday, November 23, 2012
So much for Thanksgiving, now I can get back to editing my book on screenwriting. I'll work on it today, Friday, but week-ends are not for writing and the weather in Southern California is just fantastic, so lots of bike-riding coming up.
LA Times didn't care for the Hitchcock movie with Anthony Perkins, which opens today. I saw it at a screening with my director friend, David Winning and both of us felt the same way about 10 minutes into the movie; all I could see of Hitchcock was Perkins impersonating him, and try as he could, he never resurrected the spirit of "Hitch".
I think the appeal of this movie won't move the audiences to see it, and young generation has no idea who he is or was. Best performance was Helen Mirren, who always works well. Some comments suggested she was far more attractive and interesting than Alma, Hitch's actual wife.
The girls (Jessica and Scarlett) work fine but in general the movie is more like a TV movie on Lifetime.
So much for reviews, more interesting stuff Monday.
Monday, November 19, 2012
About two weeks ago I received one of those green envelopes from the Writer's Guild of America. It's the envelope every writer loves to see because of it's contents.
Commonly called "Residuals", it comes down to this; money we get for not doing anything.
A lot of writers at this point will say "No, Jim, we've earned that money."
But a lot of others will say "it's free money." Even my director friends, who also receive residuals agree. It's kind of like you're walking down the street and someone hands you $100 or $2000 just like that.
What are residuals? It's a payment for every time one of my shows, either feature film or TV series, is played somewhere in the U.S. and Canada and all over the world, sort of. I'll explain the world later.
These residuals usually add up in formulas I never quite understand, sometimes annually and sometimes bi-annually. The amounts vary from $2000 to as low as $1. An actor friend of mine actually received a residual for $00.00. It cost 47 cents to mail it.
And the bear?
Well, that's Gentle Ben, a movie I wrote in 2000 and that plays or sells dvds all over the world. The residual check I got recently was for $2000 so that bear is working for me. I get a complicated list of where it played and how much it earned but the bottom line is that it's essentially "free money."
Why do I say that? Well, I was paid Writer's Guild Minimum for writing the screenplay. They paid me when I handed the screenplay over. Done. The cameraman gets paid and they're done. The editor is paid and they're done. The lighting person is paid and they're done.
Only writers and actors and directors get residuals. But there is a catch with writers, naturally, in which we lose a little of that free money. And this ties in with foreign "royalities" ( another word for residuals).
It goes back to copyrights. When I write a screenplay I own the copyright in much the same as someone can copyright an invention. It belongs to them no matter what and forever.
Except in America.
Studios, notorious for cooking their books (aka stealing from us) learned long ago to "buy the rights". But how can they when international law says the copyright stays with the writer? Well, they figured out that if they hire the writer under the category "Work For Hire". What this means is that they have bought the copyright and you don't own it anymore. Regardless of international law. And guess who shares your residuals?
Yes, once again the big guys figure out how to get back some of that money they paid you.
However, Europe and Canada and other countries collect and pay writers a royalty (also called a "foreign levy) that is based on usage, how often the program/movie is played. And the writer gets all of this money. So even if Gentle Ben is paying US residuals I also get the foreign money once a year and it's for several of my movies and totals around $2000 a year.
So that's why I see it as free money. I didn't work for it, I didn't write a word or even ask them for money, they just send it to me. And the bear has been feeding me for 12 years so far.
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I have had 5 computer/software problems for last week and this week even though it's only Tuesday. I started on computers way back in 1986 at the dawn of the PC world with an Atari. I was also one of the first of my friends to buy a laptop. It was a Zenith (remember them?) and weighed about 15 pounds, of which the battery was 10 pounds.
After my Panasonic VCR/DVD recorder finally quit and I was unable to get to the interior of the unit, I was never able to find a unit that would connect to DirecTV satellite. Others were doing it but I could simply not get there.
It took 2 DVD recorders to realize that the problem was still there, even with support and DirecTV techs who were at my home.
Then I bought a new Canon printer that prints DVDs and yes, it would but the templates had different styles of use, I wanted plain white writeable DVDs but they could not handle that. When I went to Canon Support I got a scam company, iYogi who said they had to clean my computer for $158 first. I returned the Canon.
Then I bought a new LED flatscreen and had some installation problems but I finally got that done. This was followed by an Epson printer similar to my old one that packed it in and wouldn't print dvds anymore. And of course the dvd came out blurred. I realized that my friend had given me some smooth DVDs meant only to write with a sharpie and I spend another 2 hours on the phone with Epson in Philippines, of which two techies were not able to fix it.
But I used the right DVDs and after printing several, the blurred ink went away. So far.
Next I had purchased a software called DVD-Cloner so I could make copies of Ghostkeeper and my other movies. Well, some were copied some did not register. So I am now asking for my money back.
So finally I am back to work on my book, should be finished in a few weeks as well as still working on Ghostkeeper with Joe and some positive contacts. Also might be doing a rewrite on another screenplay a friend of mine is producing.
Can't wait for Christmas... maybe my movie will be on again. The Town that Christmas Forgot.
I'll calm down by Wednesday