Monday, December 30, 2013

Year's end

Another year has passed and with it the usual promises and hopes that either didn't happen or didn't even have a chance of happening. But a few things did happen in my little world that made it all worth it.

Screenwriters live a different life than most people, even actors and directors and crews aren't the same as us. For one reason that I often quote to aspiring writers and to anyone else who will listen is that we are the only ones in the film business that don't have to have a job in order to write. You might include producers but let's not.

What I mean is this; we have the chance of getting hired by a producer to write a completely new screenplay or get hired to do rewrites on someone else's screenplay. 

But there's another shot at getting a movie made.

And it's free.

Writers are the only ones who can write a "spec" screenplay (or script, same thing) on their own. Why write something without getting paid? Well, half of my original screenplays that were produced were spec scripts. In other words I wrote them by myself without getting a penny for them but then managed to sell them and get made. A few were bought but never made however.

I've got a stack of these specs that I wrote that number around 30 and I know very few other writers who have that many. There are probably more, but I don't know them. 

Why do I take that chance of writing a script that maybe nobody will want?

For one thing I get to write it exactly how I want without a producer poking their nose into my story and telling me too change something on this page or that page. Of course when they buy it they will tell me to change stuff but at least that first draft is mine.

You never know.

And besides, what else should I be doing when I'm waiting for someone to buy another one of my scripts? One of my past agents said that he loved telling producers that "Jim is one of the few writers who likes to write."

I'm not exactly sure that I like to write, but more like I have to write. The alternative is to sit and wait for the phone to ring or watch a lot of Netflix movies that someone else wrote.

I do other things than write, however, I'm working on that doc you probably read a few months ago, the 90-year old pilot from WW11 in the Pacific campaign. My experience with cameras and editing also allows me to do shorts as well as around 40 youtube videos. Not to mention a few hundred commercials I wrote, produced and directed. And three movies I wrote and directed.

In that sense, I'm more a filmmaker than a screenwriter.

Then there's credits.

Probably all of you know about, the British service that has become the equal of the NSA in that they know way too much about all of us writers and actors and directors.  Over a period of ten years or so imdb has become the source to find out about anything in the film business.  And that includes your age, which, if you're over 40 (some say 30) you stand a chance to lose a job.

And one thing in particular that can praise you or kill you.

And that is credits. Credits are gold. They can get you a job or lose it.

For those few who don't know what credits are, it's simple; Your name on a movie or TV show and how new it is or how old it is.

My example; my last credit was 2010 for The Town That Christmas Forgot. Now, nearly 2014, I am just at the end of my shot as a working writer unless I get a new credit. Fast. Credits are God, the more the better and the more recent the better. 

And if you haven't had any in 3 or 4 years, everyone is going to think you're finished. Even if you have a few screenplays optioned as I have. And all they have to do is go to imdb and check on me. 

Imdb has made a few mistakes in my credits and I have attempted several times to have it corrected but they're like Google, they don't bother. Ever try to get an answer from them?

So, what's left is the fact that we still can work, even if nobody's hired us. I converted my Emperor of Mars screenplay into a book and finished a book on screenwriting this year, while finishing a screenplay for an actor and director.

So I'm not complaining.

But a lot of other people are; and that's the thousands of film crews who are losing jobs to tax credits given out by other states and Canada. But that's another blog.

For now, let's hope we all get our wishes for the new year.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Free money for writers -- sort of...

The photo above is one page of 8 more pages which indicate foreign viewing among a few dozen countries. And I just received a nice little check for foreign use of several of my movies and TV series.  The statements above are for a specific period of time, usually one year. This comes from foreign countries who get money from their various media, in this case those same movies and TV shows.

The foreign countries call it levies, while the U.S. counts it as residuals. Basically it's the same thing and I get these checks regularly throughout the year, some as low as 84 cents and others a lot more. If you click the photo you can see that some payments are 1 cent for Heathcliff (a cartoon series), another is $91.00 for a movie called Rough Air. Both of these are at least 10 years old.

I like to call it "free money".

Why? Because I really didn't do anything for it. I was paid my script fees before the movie or tv production started. Residuals come from usage of the products, something that began in the late 1930's when radio actors would do two performances on the radio for different time zones. This also happened in the 1950's with some TV programs that originated in New York would later be broadcast on the west coast time zone. Remember this was before satellites.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) fought for residuals for movies shown on TV and in 1960 won that right. Movies produced before 1960 weren't eligible. Eventually this was followed by WGA, the Writers Guild of America.

So, okay, we writers get checks for showing our product. I mentioned my Gentle Ben movie that was made in 2002 and still continues to send me residuals as well as several others. This certainly indicates that my movies and tv series episodes are running somewhere in the world.

But it's not actually all mine.

That's where greed takes over. When I sell a movie I don't get all of what's due to me. That's because the production company takes my copyright to a particular screenplay and keeps it for themselves.

Copyright is the issue, almost every civilized country says that copyright goes to the creator who in this case is me - and thousands of other writers. But not in the U.S. The big guys want to own it for themselves. And if you want to see your screenplay sold, you have to give up your rights to the buyer.

Thus, the foreign levies I mention above are for my copyright payments, which are sort of residuals but based on the fact I own it. 

Canada has another way of payment, rather than pay residuals after the product has been shown, the producers pay ahead. The Writers Guild of Canada has a "Production Fee", which is basically residuals but they are paid upon completion of the movie rather than years later as the U.S. system and foreign levies do.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter that much. And as for "free money", it really is as nobody else except writers, actors and directors get this money after the product has been shown. And why is it free -- at least to me?

Because I didn't do a single thing to get it. Your plumber doesn't get residuals on his work, nor your mechanic or the customer service person at your bank. Do they get payments at the end of each day or month?

I'm certainly not going to give my residuals away, but at the same time realize that it is free money that I really didn't earn. Most writers will probably argue this, but that's my take on it.

And if you happen to be in town sometime and I get a residual check, there is a regular practice among my friends and I to take you out for lunch.  

For free.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas movies forever...

By now you have probably been swamped by Christmas movies, mostly from Hallmark who have at least a hundred Christmas movies to show each year. And too make sure there's room for all of them they have three different channels.

There's the original Hallmark Hall of Fame channel, which usually is a major network like CBS. Then there's the Hallmark Channel which they own and which carries regular episodic TV series as well as Christmas movies in the evening. They also have other family and holiday movies during the rest of the year.  And now they have the Hallmark Movie Channel also.

How many Christmas movies do we need?

Well, more. 

Lifetime Channel has a few Christmas movies as does ABC Disney and I'm sure there are other movies about Christmas for the other 500 channels.

And then there's all the Christmas movies that go back to the1940's, movies like Miracle on 34th Street (1947( and of course It's a Wonderful Life (1946). And you can't forget the annual marathon for A Christmas Story (1983) that plays for 24 hours on TBS, beginning Christmas Eve.

Where does it say that man and woman should have so many Christmas movies?

Christmas, or at least what we call Christmas is a mix of Christian, pre-Christian and secular holidays, including honoring the southern solstice and is celebrated by a few billion people.

And I had my little piece of Christmas also. If you follow this blog you'll remember when my movie, The Town That Christmas Forgot, played it's first run in 2010. After that it continues to play at Christmas time along with all the others.

I also have a connection to Christmas Story, mentioned above, as the editor, Stan Cole, edited my first feature, Ghostkeeper. Needless to say the only comparison to my movie was the presence of a lot of snow. Tons of it.

My personal favorites (besides mine, of course) are 3 those mentioned above as well as White Christmas. I'll have watched all 4 sometimes in the next two days. My Christmas movie, like other Hallmark movies, played and replayed as early as November but I like to wait till today. After all there's only so much Christmas viewing.

My story was actually based on three separate events in my life, two of which had to do with Christmas. Ironically the screenplay turned out to be 3 consecutive acts of the classic 3-Act story.

The first act involved a family whose car breaks down, leading to spending 2 days in a small town in Oregon. This actually happened. 

In the second act the family becomes involved with townspeople in a dying coal mining town. That also happened when I was filming a documentary in the Canadian Rockies and spent a few evenings in the town's bar.

 And the 3rd act revolved around a Christmas Pageant which was based on the Christmas Pageants we had in my little village in Canada.

Screenplays usually don't all into place as easily as this one did, and none of it was "created", it was based on real people and real places. And it's pretty rare to find that.

Then there's  1974's Black Christmas.

Arguably the best suspense-horror film was another Canadian film that "celebrated" Christmas. The storyline was about a maniac killer (who else?) comes back to a private school and begins killing the pretty teen-age girls.

And guess what? Stan Cole also edited that movie. 

It was made again a few years ago and there are some other horror/suspense movies out there also, but not as good as Black Christmas.

And there's one more movie that inspired me to write a Christmas story and that was Susan Slept Here (1954). Never heard of it? Probably not.

I first saw it around the late 50's as a kid, and never forgot it, nor the theater I saw it in. I just loved it. A troubled teenage girl is handed over to a Hollywood screenwriter for the Christmas holidays and of course he doesn't want to be her guardian. Great movie.

It actually inspired me to write a spec screenplay which might just get made next year.

Hallmark movies tend to be family-friendly, in other words anyone should be able to enter the room and watch a movie and not feel awkward or uncomfortable. Black Christmas obviously doesn't fit, but who knows?  

There are a lot of sad Christmas movies, I remember a TV movie with Lloyd Bridges (Jeff's dad for those of you who don't know who he is). It was about two lonely people who meet at a hotel and find some friendship. It was appropriately called Silent Night, Lonely Night (1969). Great title!!

Then there's Home Alone (1980) and Polar Express (2004) and if you really get into it 1938's A Christmas Carole, still one of the best ever. And for action fan's Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988) and Lethal Weapon (1987) with Mel.

As far as my movie, it's not as great as the classic ones mentioned here, but it did have some feeling that came close. 

So have a great Christmas and try to catch some of the more obscure Christmas movies, especially on TCM which brings me a piece of nostalgia and finding movies I had never heard of before.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Leaving Phoenix...

One day behind my usual post,  I was returning from Phoenix where I met up with an old high school buddy.

Anyways, I have to finish the screenplay I'm writing for the actor and the director. I'm almost finished, the story ends in one particular place, that being a deserted jail in the middle of Los Angeles.

I first encountered the jail when a director was filming one of my screenplays back around 2005, I think (don't want to check the exact date). The screenplay was about two snipers stalking each other in Central Park.

I mention this project a few years ago (this blog is nearing it's 5th year!!), how a producer called me asking for a sci-fi screenplay and I had none, so I pushed the sniper screenplay at him. Over the week-end, he optioned it.

But then economics happened; they were going to shoot it in Hong Kong with financing from there, around $5 million budget. So I got tour books out and found a park in Hong Kong and rewrote it primarily for locations. Dialog was the same. It's not really hard to do that for an action film.

Then it switched to Puerto Rico, so I got tour books from there and rewrote it again.

Then they changed their minds and it was all gone.

Then a director friend of mine managed to get around $650,000 or so and we shot it at McArthur Park in downtown LA and in a few other parks. Several scenes were shot in the abandoned jail when we scouted interesting locations. 

So I rewrote it again. 

The film didn't turn out too well, it had Stephen Baldwin who was nice enough, not like his brothers who fight all the time. But the camerawork wasn't very good and that reflected on the director who wasn't in top form.

But, it was made.

So now, that jail is a central character in the actor's screenplay I'm writing. At least for now and just in case -- I'm taking out my Puerto Rico and Hong Kong tour books.

And maybe Central Park?

Monday, December 9, 2013

WGA party

Last night I attended the annual Writer's Guild Christmas party which, for the second year was at a toney and high end restaurant called Beso, of which at least one celebrity whose name is attached to it, that being Eva Langoria, the actress from nowhere who became big with a little TV show that caught attention.

And of course, that show was Desperate Housewives.

And I have to admit, I watched every season. I liked it, I liked the writing and the characters were all cast pretty well. I was never a fan of the "star", Teri Hatcher, for some reason going back to stories about her on the Lois and Clark series, based on the Superman comics.

There are a lot of stories about a lot of actors and their behavior, Kate Jackson of the 70's show Charley's Angels was next to Satan some might say. An actor friend who worked with her on a TV movie had a lot of stories.

I don't really know the ratio of tempermental actors, men to women, but the stories I've heard are usually about women. 

I had my own experience with a hard to work with actress on a feature I wrote and directed. She was hired at the last minute by my producer and I didn't even see her until she showed up on location. 

From the very beginning she was demanding and asking for things and saying things like "I can't do that". Not a great start.

As we began filming she quickly alienated almost everyone on the crew, from the makeup person to the rest of the crew. My job in a case like this was to be nice and understanding too her.


Because we had 15 days to shoot this movie and there was no chance of getting someone else as we were filming in the Rockies, far from any major city. I was determined to make it work.

Finally, over dinner one night, it came crashing down.

There were four of us, the actress, the cameraman, the soundman and me, having dinner in the most expensive restaurant in town, actually a 4-star legendary restaurant set high up in the mountains.

Cameraman was teasing actress and actress was getting mad, lifted up her glass of wine and suggested she was going to throw it at him - but she threw it at me!

I threw a glass of wine at her and things got rowdy and we got kicked out.

So we walked back to our motel and suddenly she ran at me, cursing. I had to subdue her, she landed in a snowbank, and kept getting up until I told her that it would really be easier to not keep trying to hit me...

She got up and ran back to the motel.

I figured the movie was over.

An hour later, she appeared at my door and... apologized. 

It was then I realized I was the only one she could throw the wine at. Why? Because I was the only one who would care. Everyone else hated her so I was the only "safe" target. I needed to finish the film and if it meant I had to be nice to her, I would do that, not for her nor me, but the movie.

She did quiet down a little and her performance actually got better, mostly because of playing opposite a real pro actor who helped her.

That's my bad actress story.

And back to the WGA party; it was the same faces, a lot of wives and husbands, I met two really pretty women, sisters, who were working on a sitcom pilot. In fact, I met several women who were "working on a sit-com pilot". Seems sit-com pilots are the words you use when you don't have a job. 

Sort of like me when I'm writing a new spec.

Or writing this screenplay I am now writing for the actor, which I mentioned a few blogs ago.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Stooge week-end --

Well, I made it to the 16th Annual Stoogefest again and had a nice evening at a great old theater filled with 3 Stooges fans of every shape, color and age group. The "Alex" was built in 1925 and played vaudeville acts as well as silent films. 

Now, it's been completely redone in it's original style and looks great.

The Stooge event begins with a host to talks about the Stooges and later, introduces several family members including Moe's daughter. Moe was the one with the crewcut for those of you who aren't stooge fans.

This year held a surprise when they announced that someone found a print of a Stooge film in Australia that had never been seen since a big fire at MGM years ago. It seemed that someone in Australia had kept a copy in his basement and finally decided to see if anyone wanted the print. It's biggest feature was that it was shot in color way back in 1933 and now, the only print of that era.

When it came to the audience, as I mentioned, every kind of person and almost every age group. There are the hardline Stooge fans who call themselves Stooge-files and there's the "Knuckleheads", who belong to the Knucklehead club of course.

There were five shots played as usual and with some comments beforehand as sometimes the shorts had what we could call "insensitive" to certain groups.

And as for me, I'm just one of the many people who like to drop by now and then to bring back memories of the little movie theater I would go to in my small town of 539 people. Our theater was a revised church hall that became my lifeline living in a small town with very little to do.

From the movies, I learned about the world and also learned about who made the movies. I would always watch the titles and credits and began to remember names of people who wrote the movies, directed the movies and everyone else whose name was on the screen from casting to make-up and everything in between...

Here's my rag-tag movie theater now gone forever as it was torn down in 1988.

As you can see, the Alex is a little more flamboyant than my old theater. But it still gave me movies to watch and with them, the 3 Stooges.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Stooges and me...

 It's that time of the year again and hundreds of people are preparing for Saturday, November 30th. I and some friends will be gathering at the Alex theater for none other than the 16th "Three Stooges Big Screen Event".

We're not talking about Lady Gaga (whose costumes often feel inspired by the Stooges) nor bad comedians like Dane Clark... nor Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

 We're talking about the real 3 Stooges.

I haven't attended each event but at least half of them and always enjoyed it. So what happens at the 16th annual Stooge event?

First of all, the event draws fans from everywhere and even women show up, more each
year. There's an issue about women here; it's mostly accepted that the Stooges are for men while women shake their heads and wonder what the attraction is.

I've always said that there are two things women dislike; air conditioning in a car and the 3 Stooges. Their quota of eye gouges and banging heads together just isn't their piece of pie. BUT in recent years women began showing up in larger numbers and when the host asks for the traditional "Woo, woo, woo" (a Curly expression), the women's side is often louder than the men as they proudly shout out.

It all began the the Stooges black & white short films that played in my hometown when Ii was about 8. These were mostly with Shemp rather than Curly. Curly, the bald one, is everyone's favorite (audiences felt for him as he was always the one picked on and the one who was more innocent). Believe me, there is a lot of psychology to what the Stooges did.

Later when I moved to the city I saw Curly for the first time and he was my favorite. Living across the river from Detroit, I watched Stooges three times a day and even my younger brother became a fan.

The Stooges were the remnants of the vaudeville entertainers who worked the circuits of theaters across America, this was mostly before movies but even after movies began there was always the vaudeville entertainers.

The entertainment was always pretty raw, pretty girls, jokes and slapstick which included slapping, tripping and anything else that looked dangerous.

The Stooges were also considered not as artistic as Chaplin or Buster Keaton who were truly experimenting in film. But the Stooges managed to keep going year after year and produced hundreds of short films that were shown before the movie in theaters everywhere.

Then, around the late 1950's, they resurfaced as TV began to show the Stooges among a dozen or so other forgotten vaudeville entertainers. And that's where a new fan base occured - us baby boomers.

I have gone to all four graves of the 3 Stooges here in LA. They were Moe, who had the moptop haircut, Larry, with long curly hair and then Curly and Shemp, who were brothers. Shemp replaced Curly after he passed away early in life.

My brother always said that everything you needed to know about life, you could find in a 3
stooges short film. They were always looking for a job and they made fun of the rich. They even mocked Hitler in one of their shorts.

It was a rite of passage for most of my friends, we all loved the Stooges because in some ways, they expressed a lot of what real life would become for us, looking for work, making mistakes, trying our hardest and just finding a place for our world. 

The Stooges continue to entertain people in 2013 and all over the world. I know a woman from Guatamala who watched the Stooges in her country, not needed to understand the language, the Stooges visual language was and still is universal. She said her mother used to call her Larry, after her own curly hair.

And here's
a photo here where my brother and I duplicated a scene from a Stooge film in which Larry carries up an ice block up a long stairway. We discovered the real stairway and it looked pretty much the same as back in the 1940's.

So, I'm looking forward to another shot of my childhood that stayed with me. I'm a true "knucklehead" as we're known.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Where was I?

I'm going off the track today as far as the movie business. 50 years ago today in 1963, President John Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. As with most of the world, I remember where I was. 

For me, I was in high school, Grade 9 I think, and we were just finishing a boy's gym class when someone came in and told our gym teacher, Mr. Riberdy something. He then proceeded to tell us that the President was dead.

I have to point out that I lived in Canada, but across the River lay Detroit, you know, the Motor City. And being so close to America, we felt it just as strong. But later I would discover that the whole world felt it, all the way from a Texas city called Dallas.

I entered the 1960's with hope and excitement, having moved in 1959 to Windsor, Ontario, which sat ironically south of Detroit. It was piece of Canada that was actually south of the United States.

My gym teacher also said that JFK was shot because he was Catholic. Remember this was 1963 and JFK was the first Catholic president ever and there was a lot of flack from the Christians who were afraid of having a president who would have to listen to the Pope. Naturally this was ridiculous but in those days... it wasn't. And since I was Catholic and attended Catholic schools, it was particularly close.

I remember being in a fog for the next few days and when he was buried, my local grocery store put black paper over it's windows. Canada was just as affected, being that it was and still is, the closest country to the U.S.A, both in location and in our hearts.

It took a long time to figure out what happened that day, it was a shooting, but it was so much more. JFK promised a bright future for America and the world, he started the Peace Corp and didn't go to war with Russia.

What happened was a loss of innocence. The 1950's were, at least to me as a kid, the best time. We were the baby boomers, born between 1946 to 1964. Our generation had it easier than any other proceeding us.  We grew up on TV and movies and went to school (unlike a lot of our parents), we had homes, schools, families and everything else and nothing seemed to worry us. 

But after JFK the world changed. Vietnam came and 50,000 Americans died. Four students at Kent State University in Ohio were shot dead by National Guardsmen and others wounded while protesting the war. There were marches on Washington to stop the war, with the largest being around 2 million people from all walks of life. 2,000,000 people.

Then I got involved in politics when I joined Students For a Democratic Society, or SDS as it was often called and was quite involved with stopping the war.   In 1968 I went to Indianapolis to work for Bobby Kennedy in his quest to become President. I ended up in a bad area near downtown where I went from house to house getting African Americans to register to vote.

I was amazed at the reception I got, me with a sportcoat and tie and very Canadian... they treated me incredibly well and they truly had a love for RFK. And I saw the American political machine at work, which impressed me big time. And yes, I shook his hand, even with Colonel Sander's chicken on it. Bobby was shot in L.A. a month or so after I worked with so many others only to see another death.

Then Martin Luther King was shot and killed and in some odd coincidence, a rock concert at Altamont near San Francisco with the Rolling Stones ended when a concert-goer was killed by Hell's Angels. I say coincidence because Altamont finished the 60's with a bang.

After that I joined the Trudeau campaign in Canada, for Pierre Trudeau, a colorful and masterful politican who had the youth vote and was, to my mind, the best leader of our country that we ever had.

So the 1960's started with a boom but ended with a darkness that still haunts this country. The 70's brought us disco, which seemed more like an apology to Americans but turned out to be a fad.

So today, I'll take a moment to remember that day in my high school gym and try to balance all the hours that will contain tons of words about that day and about what it meant. 

For me, it was my first acknowledgement of adult life and what it could take from me and how it still weighs in my heart and what could have been.


Monday, November 18, 2013

Maybe a sale... or not?

I had a message left on my phone Friday,  posted around 1pm but never noticed it until around 4pm. Message was simple enough, someone wanted to "talk" to me about my script. He gave a name and a company.

Those are the kind of calls a writer likes to hear. 

Someone wants to talk about my script. At first it sounds great. "Talk" is akin to buy? For a moment, I went back to my Christmas movie in 2010 wherein a woman left a message for me and actually saying; "we'd like to make a deal, who do we talk to".

That was plain and clear and within a few days the contract was signed. And the movie was made 4 months later. I actually have kept that message on my answering machine and now and then press it again "we'd like to make a deal..."

So why shouldn't I be happy about this new one? Because they "want to talk with me" about the script. Not buy -- talk. 

Now my friends say that no company is going to call me to say they don't want the script. So why am I expecting the worst.

Well, for one, I don't know which script they mean; I have a half-dozen circulating around town. But that'll be easy to know once I call back today.

And for another reason to be uncertain can be told in 3 words. Emperor of Mars. The screenplay I wrote in 1989 and was "almost made" 4 or 5 times. And each time it started with "we'd like to talk to you about your script".

So, now you understand? 

Talking and buying are two different things.

I know, I know, some of you out there would be happy to have someone call who wants to talk to you, or take you to lunch or have you wash their car.

That's the problem with experience. You get dropped too many times and after a while you begin to be more suspicious than ever. Being dropped 2 or 3 times is hurtful but how about a hundred times, or two hundred times.

So what else would they want, if not an outright sale? How about these possibilities?
- What else do you have?
- Can you do a free rewrite?
- We don't have a lot of money, can we have it for free?
- Can you change it to Romania?
- We have someone else in mind to rewrite it.
- Can we put another name on it as well as yours?

That's the insecurity of being around as long as I have.

After all, after around 50 or so screenplays I've written and dozens of others that I never finished, I begin to think I really don't deserve it.

Actors are the only others in this business who go through the insecurity thing;  writers and actors are always judged on what they bring to the table, actors bring their face, writers bring their 100 pages of story.

So here I am, Monday, wondering exactly what time I should call back. I checked the producer and he is valid but I'm not sure what his company was as it was a little blurred in the message.

So there I am... I figure 10am is a good time. Or does that suggest I'm too anxious? Maybe 10:30.

Stay tuned....

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Envelope... and money

Last week the LA Times started it's oscar race by putting out their own special addition to their paper called The Envelope. As in the Academy Award.

It's all about who's gonna win, who might, why they win, how they win and most importantly how many ads will actors, writers, directors, studios and anybody else with a horse in the race spend money.

And as usual; it's all about the actors.

Today's cover features Michael McConaughey once again with his movie Dallas Buyers Clubs. It also has the "Buzzmeter"which gives us some insight into who's being talked about in the circles that count. There's "the odds", for gamblers, what are the odds against who might win or lose.

There's articles about who's hot and who's not, who's out of rehab, who's in rehab, how actors lives are changed and how great Hollywood is. 

But there any articles on writers? 

I've never seen one but then I rarely read it. After all most people think actors make up their dialog. Really.

Yesterday I went to see Robert Redford's movie, All Is Lost, and got in for free with my WGA card. This is also the time that 20 or 30 movies want your vote and thus members of WGA, DGA and SAG get to see them for free.

But since I'm a nice guy and they're letting me in for free, I buy popcorn and a coffee or that rare soft drink (Dr. Pepper if available).

While WGA is for anyone in WGA, the studios do control the numbers of SAG (actors union) which has thousands of members. Only voting committee SAG members and only directors in DGA (this excludes assistant directors and other below the line members).

WGA members also get free DVDS delivered to our door as do DGA directors. The DVD comes with warnings that if you give the DVD to anyone, your wife or dad or dog... you will be destroyed. WGA is less paranoid.

To be honest, I rarely open the weekly Envelope, mostly because it's all about ads and stories about actors I really don't care for. Also it's information that's pretty much been passed around since January 2013.

They're even advertising movies that haven't opened yet, like Tom Hank's Saving Mr. Banks, about how Walt Disney saved Mary Poppins. It'll open soon as well as several movies that won't be in big release until January.  This is so they can qualify for Academy Awards which requires they be shown in at least one theater for one week before the end of the year.

I had my own experience with this when my old friend Phil Borsos and I took our little barrel-making short to L.A. in 1976 and had a theater play it for one week to qualify. It's not really difficult, for our short was played at the end of the last movie playing at the Los Feliz theater. We'd wait till the projectionist played it and rewound it and we'd take it back to the motel. It eventually was a finalist.

So the season begins, not Christmas, the money-spending ads that the studios will pay to win that golden statue.  "And the award goes to..."  $$$$$$.

Merry Christmas

Monday, November 11, 2013

Everything old is new again again.

Lately I've been watching ME-TV, a local L.A. channel that broadcasts old TV shows from the late 1950's to the late 1960's. Shows like Ironsides, Rockford Files, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and lots of others. These were the shows the boomer generation watched as kids. Boomers, for those who don't know were born from 1946 to 1964 and represented the "baby boom" after WW11 when the soldiers came home.

A lot of my generation always talked about the great old TV series we had then and great ideas and stars.

But watching lots of these old shows, I have to admit some of them weren't very good at all. And I find it hard to watch the hour-long shows of the good series. After a while, I watch only a handful and even there just one or two.

And it also came to me that our generation has watched more movies and TV shows than any other generation in history. Of course we started watching TV in the mid 50's for most of the country (U.S. and Canada). We also watched old movies a lot, in fact my little town theater played movies that were made 20 years before I started to see movies.

Still, there were a lot of plotlines and ideas that spilled out and by now, we've seen almost every idea there ever was. The studios are even making remakes and sequels for the new generation of movies and TV shows we watched as kids.

And they now are coming back -- for the newer generations.

Lately there was an Ironsides sequel but was cancelled and Law & Order is a remake of an old series called Arrest & Trial. And when it comes to movies, how about remakes and sequels from Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, Batman and on and on...

That's why many of my generation will say that most of the new stuff is crap. I don't think it's crap, they're made much better in terms of production values although you can't beat a good black & white movie from the 1940's. Casablanca anyone?

But there is a lot of "crap" out there now, but there always was a lot of "crap" back in the late 50's onwards. 

We had a new wave of filmmakers that came up from film schools in the late 60's, Coppola and Lucas and Spielberg and Scorceses and Milius and a lot of others. And a lot of them are still working.

So what about the latest generation; the millennials.

They certainly aren't as great as that film school group, in fact barely even able to make anything new. Their stories seem to revolve around going back to that home town to find that girl/guy who dumped them. You should watch Scorcese's Mean Streets to see a great "first film". 

He did one previous but Mean Streets is his best. He had DeNiro and Keitel and a couple other great actors.

And that's also where millennials fail... their cast. Millennial actors just don't seem to have that presence of form that the previous generations seemed to have. It just isn't there. Maybe it was because the 50's movies were written by people who experienced World War 11 and boomers dealing with assassinations of great men and Vietnam.

Maybe the millennials never experienced anything else than iPhones and texting instead of talking. 

And they rarely, if ever, watch old movies the way we did. Maybe because it was new to us and they grow up with 500 channels. 

A good example of bad and good is a series on Me-TV is "Wanted: Dead or Alive" about a western bounty hunter (bounty hunters would hunt down criminals; they still do now). It was a typical TV western, shot on a studio lot and most of the stories weren't very good but it had Steve McQueen (not the director now) and McQueen had something that millennial actors don't seem to have. And he could carry the show.

Carrying the show means simply, that with his presence people would watch. The boomer actors seemed to have much more presence, and it makes up for a bad script or a poor movie.  Notice CSI has a boomer lead actor, there's also Tom Selleck in another TV show. In fact you'll see a boomer lead in most TV shows except for CW stuff.

They're there for the boomer audience of course, but they're also there because they can carry the show.  Except for CW whose ratings are always at the bottom even though it's made for millennials.

Go figure.

Anyways, just a piece of history for around 40% of you who regularly read this blog.

And don't feel bad, because we boomers had lots of bad movies.


Friday, November 8, 2013

The week-end... writing.

There was one good thing about this week; I began writing the screenplay my director friend and the actor who suggested it. I held off for a long time, several weeks, not sure of exactly how to write it.

Stories I write for myself are generally easier to write then having to write for someone else. I think that most of the produced screenplays I've written were assignments. The catch there is that I'm writing with a specific goal and story.

Sometimes I don't like the story.

And that's when it comes to two things; do I write anything and take the money or do I try to find something in the story given to me that I can catch onto, something that appeals to at least one aspect of the story.

It all sounds easy to non-writers, ya write down words and get paid for it, what's the problem?

The problem is that some writers, like me, really want to find the "truth" in a screenplay, something to hold onto in order to create a reasonably coherent story. 

And that's where this new story enters; it's based on an idea the actor has and it took me a good three weeks to find something to hang onto it. And during that time, I was not a pleasant person to hang around with...

Because it nags at you, sort of like you forgot to turn the TV off when you go out of town. And then there's the avoiding the computer. I sometimes just to to my iMac and begin doing some video editing on a project that's been stalled for at least 5 years.

Then Wednesday, I got up and wrote on my PC laptop. 4 pages. A weak start and an uncertain one. Then I put it away. Later in the day I forced myself to look at the four pages and figured it's not too bad. I would write more Thursday.

Thursday came and I wrote more. And it began to have something to it. Not great, not yet, but it could work.

So today, after emails and phone calls, I am going to try a few more pages. The week-end is not for work so I'll have two days to mull it over. And Monday is a new start.

I hope.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Meryl, Julia and the beards and Ben...

A few blogs ago I mentioned my oscar contenders, both men and women. There were enough men but only two possible female contenders; Bullock for Gravity and Kate Blanchette for Jasmine.

But as of today, a whole slew arose, and in one movie; The movie is August: Osage County.
And battling it out will be Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts. Should be interesting. But that's only four women. Maybe Mary Steenburgen for the routine comedy Last Vegas but maybe someone else in the fall.

Then there are the beards;

I didn't really catch on to the male beard thing; was it Ben Afflec in Argo? All of a sudden a lot of young male actors have sported beards. Even my friend's son attempted to create a beard and since he's a millennial, I realized this must be "trending". I even noticed it today when I took my car in for an oil change and walked home. A millennial passed me on his trendy bike and he too had a beard.

Everything old is new again goes the saying.

Nobody seems to know where that saying came from, there are a few possibilities but nobody in particular except for Peter Allen, who was a famous Australian song writer back in the 80's.

So what's so new about beards?

It was a big thing back in the hairy 70's and even had me with a beard when I was working on a TV news film crew. Hard to believe I had that much hair. I don't really remember why I grew a beard, I think it was simply because I didn't want to shave and the TV station allowed me to grow one. Even my then-wife Brenda didn't mind it, calling me "Beardsley".

It once got me past some security people who were handling Jane Fonda who refused to
have an interview or photos from the media. It was mostly because I looked like most of the guys in her entourage.  And here's one of about 90 pics I took of her in appropriate anti-establishment clothes and that great hair from Klute. She was quite cooperative and very nice as they say. 

Another aspect of beards was skiing which offered the "frozen beard" which, at the top of the mountain was soft but by the bottom it was a forest of icicles and it burned against the skin.

So, beards are back. Although since I noticed it, the trenders are off to another trend by now.

Now that I've said a Monday blog, I can get to work. All of this was the final stalling before I start that screenplay.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The black and white of it all...

Lefty who I mentioned last week and who always has 6 screenplays "ready to go" asked me to make some changes in Deadhead, my story about an aging jetliner that gets possessed by a ghost with 8 actors in the story. The jetliner is "deadheading" back to the place jetliners retire to and there's only the eight passengers, all employees.

Things turn bad when something hits the jetliner and causes it to create its own course and heads out into the darkness of the Pacific Ocean. So top that with a creature on the airplane and you got a neat little thriller.

Okay, so Lefty told me he's meeting with an African-American producer  who wants to make movies with blacks. Then Lefty said this;

"Can you write in the pilot as a black person?"

First of all, I remind some of you that I am Canadian and we never had the "issue" that America had. In fact, before and during the Civil War, a lot of African Americans came to Canada where there was no slavery.

Secondly, growing up in the middle of nowhere in Manitoba (it's above Minnesota) in a town of 539 or so, we never saw any minority. In fact we (the Ukrainians) were the minority that was treated badly, as well as Jews. But never to the extent of slavery. I remember seeing a black conductor on a train and looked in awe like I was looking at a celebrity.

Then there were the movies; they did not give me a nice feeling to the American south. Seeing To Kill A Mocking Bird and then Sidney Portier in In The Heat of The Night. To this day I have never gone to the south, but there is a curiosity there... maybe one day.

But getting back to Lefty.

And changing the line of a character like this;  "Sally Jackson, apprehensive"  to  "Sally Jackson, African-American, apprehensive."

Sounds easy enough. Takes maybe 10 seconds to make the change.

But I had another thought. Why bother at all with ethnicity. Why not leave it to the producer, in this instance, an African-American himself. Lefty didn't like that, felt it "had to be on the page".

I said that I felt like I was being condescending and maybe insulting. After all the role could be white, black, Asian or anything else. And since the African-American producer has said he's making films with black people Let the producer pick whom he wants without making it a race issue. I don't need to spell it out for him. He's making movies for a black audience and frankly everyone on the jetliner can be black, or whatever he wants. It's his movie. I don't need to tell him what color his actors are, it doesn't matter.

I told Lefty I'll leave the description as Sally Jackson, apprehensive, just as it is. It can be anybody and any color. Putting a specific racial tone to it isn't needed. He might even want to change it to be a man. That has happened to one of my screenplays. After awhile, Lefty conceded that maybe I'm right. 

But I don't think I'm right, I think it's really a non-issue. Once I turn over a screenplay to a producer, it's his or her baby. And I don't need to tell him what color he chooses.

Friday, October 25, 2013

You never know...

The hardest thing sometimes, is to want to write. Everybody else on a movie has to be hired and then paid but writers don't always have that luxury. For example, I wrote The President's Heart screenplay last June after stalling for nearly 8 months. Finally I had time and no excuse and I wrote it in 3 weeks.

Of course, I didn't make any money on it as nobody's bought it yet. There's another stall that happens here... I don't show it to anyone. 


Because they might not like it. 

As dumb as that may sound, a lot of writers, me included, don't want to get rejected. The only other people in a movie who get rejected are actors, and at least for writers it's their work, while actors are rejected because of how they look.

Yeah, I know, there's other reasons, not that good or hard to work with, but generally it falls back if the producer thinks an audience is there for them. Like Lindsay Lohan. And 20 years ago it was Shannon Doherty... remember her?

But back to writing... if I stall any longer I might not write anymore.

So what am I getting at?

I didn't write anything this week, rather I wrote some emails and sent a 1-page story to one of my producer friends, whom I'll call "Lefty". Lefty always has a "6-pic-package", meaning of course that he has six movies in the mix. 

But none of them ever come to life. 

So why show a script to Lefty?

Because you never know.

There is a possibility for a rewrite of a screenplay, but having said that I probably lost it. And of course the actor screenplay which I started but held back because I have to get the Tokyo Trolley project ready for crowdfunding.

So this week was about possibilities, which is what writers deal with every day, almost like waiting for the lottery, someone always wins. Same goes for that writing gig I mentioned above, by this time not only did I not get the job, I'll never get another one.

And I can start the week over again next Monday.

Because you never know.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Early Oscar contenders?

Not much going on so far this week. A few of my friends have started an Oscar pool. Here's what they come up with so far.

Best Actor

- Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips
- Robert Redford for All Is Lost
- Bruce Dern for Nebraska (not out yet) 
- Chiwetal Ejiofor for 12 Years A Slave
- To add later.

Best Actress

- Kate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine
- Sandra Bullock for... what else... Gravity.

Hard to figure out the women's year so far. Maybe Jane Fonda for playing Nancy Reagan in "The Butler" (which would drive Republicans crazy). Other than that it's anybody's guess.

Best movies:

Captain Phillips
12 Years A Slave
Jasmine (maybe, if they still like Woody)
Gravity (they gave awards to huge movies like Titanic and Avatar?)
Inside Llewyn Davis (Upcoming Coen Brothers movie about folk music in NY in the 60's.)

Apart from that, there's still a lot of the oscar-type movies coming up.

Stay tuned.