Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Problems and ideas and superstitions.

Seems my screenwriting book is in limbo for a while as the text was improperly done with different shades of black, one dark on the left page and one lighter on the right page. This was sent to createspace last Wednesday.

So I called them today, Tuesday May 30 only to find out that nobody had transferred it to the techs! With a lot of accented apologies given me I said I didn't want apologies I wanted someone to fix it.

This book has been one hell of a time, it has now taken up time for around 8 months. Some of it is due to my procrastination and the other part was having to get some editors to do their work which is time consuming.

And it's taking me away from writing my new screenplay based on a presidential thriller. I can work on one screenplay at a time and it consumes most of my days and I really am trying to start it soon.

The thing is, many writers, me included, have very specific working hours. I'm an early riser and can start writing around 8am maybe up to 11 am. I usually go for 5 pages a day but sometimes, if it's working smoothly, I can do more.  I have a few habits that I'll share, but each writer has their own little habits.

I have to start a new screenplay on Mondays, it's the beginning of the work week and it's the beginning of a new story. Mornings are the best, I take lunch at exactly the same time, 12 noon, and then a nap and the rest of the afternoon is for reading or taking notes or shopping or sometimes, lunch dates. I do no writing at all after 5pm, which is my cut-off time.

Since I work alone in my home office I need to make a work-office schedule otherwise I would be all over the place wearing old t-shirts or pyjamas. It is a strict routine but I can change if I have to.

Evenings are for free time, watching a movie usually or going out. Saturdays and Sundays are off-days, I hang around and sometimes don't do a damn thing

I don't have any specific superstition, just a routine I guess, that allows me to write as much as I can. 

But right now I can't start my new screenplay because I have to deal with the damn screenwriter's book as well as a few other things that people have asked me to do, including a pilot for a TV series and a pitch for another TV series. And while that sounds great, all it means is working for free until the money rolls in. If it ever does. A lot of what I do is for no money, mostly a page or two of a story I have, so it isn't a big deal. But everyone always asks for free rewrites.

So much for that, should have a better blog later this week.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Falling into place

After a week of complications with Createspace, who prints the screenwriting book over some margins. It seemed that our margins weren't correct even though the first proof of the book looked perfectly fine.  After some phone calls and arguments they finally approved my book and are sending a second proof to check out before it goes on Amazon.

I'm also finishing a pitch TV series called Likely Scenario, which is about a movie writer who joins a CIA-like agency to find bad guys of any kind. And before you think it's a silly idea the US govt actually did solicit help from writers after 9/11. 

What they wanted is for writers to create worst-case scenarios, in other words, what's the worst thing terrorists could possibly come up with. So who are the best people to come up with wacky ideas?  

Screenwriters, of course. And novel writers also.

I hope to finish my pilot this week and hand it over to a company who will then maybe take it to a network. Lots of maybe's here. It all depends if they like it and nobody ever knows what "they" like.

And once that is over I will then start pushing my book both thru Amazon and Barnes & Nobel as well as a few bookstores in Canada and several film-related bookstores in the Los Angeles area who have expressed interest.

And a week from now I should be able to begin to write a new screenplay, the first one in a year and I'm sure anxious to start. It's about "a female U.S. President" and that's about as far as I go as ideas tend to be spread around and the idea I have has never really been done before.

Although I'm probably wrong as I've always told my students and my friends that whenever I get a great idea for a movie I automatically assume five other writers have that same idea. There are 2 who are thinking about writing it, one who has started, one who has finished and one coming out next week.

So as you see, ideas aren't that hard to find, rather making the idea a little better. 

Also had a surprise Sunday when we were riding the bikepath at Venice Beach and I was looking ahead and suddenly saw a man with white hair standing there looking at us. It was our friend Chris Sullivan, who has his own blog and you can find it here. He flew in from London and surprised us totally. So this means chili at Chili John's in Burbank, the best chili I've ever had, and run by a great family.

Anyways, back to work.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bad Monday

Not in a good mood, my book has to be re-done to fit margins correctly, meaning another delay. I was hoping to have it done by January past, but waited too long for some of the elements - my fault.

Also the WGA forgot to send me a nice fat residual check and I had to remind them.  The check is for foreign levies, which I've dealt with before but for anyone new here, it's money that's collected in Europe primarily for any time my movies or TV shows are shown there. It's based on copyright which, as an "artiste" I own. 

Not so in the U.S., as the producers buy my copyright because they're greedy and found a loophole called "Work for Hire" in which they buy my script with copyright and I am simply an employee. Nice guys, eh?

Regardless, I am not complaining as writers get money from heaven in sort of a way, checks arrive from movies or tv shows I've forgotten about. Of course some of them can be for 78 cents so don't get too excited.

Next my gas heat went off and I have to wait till Friday for a gas-person to fix it. It's not a big deal as this is southern California and cold for us is 65F. Actually I turn off my heat for the summer as it isn't needed until October or so when the temps plunge to 65F.

Also having problems with my TV procedural pilot script by running into corners, or as some might say "writer's block". I prefer the term GDSOB, coined by my brother who abbreviated our dad's two favorite curse words.  I get testy when I'm stuck in a corner and usually have to just get outta the place and hit Chili John's or the Farmer's Market for lunch. 

Tomorrow will be a better day.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Weekender: 2 Movies 2 see

As I rarely go to a movie theater to see movies, mostly because I get screeners at home which save me driving somewhere and spending $12 for a ticket. But this week I actually saw two movies that really worked for me (as in I liked them).

Both, oddly enough, were very similar in many ways.

"The Sapphires"  is a true story about four Australian aboriginal girls who form a group based on Motown and the Supremes as well as Aretha Franklin. How's that for a movie idea.  The story is set in late 1960's as a loser and drunk manager sees the girls sing in a tiny town in Australia and decides they  have talent. This leads to them learning Motown songs in hopes of getting work entertaining U.S. troops in Viet Nam.

Their act works and they travel to the warzones entertaining troops and falling in and out of love and the movie works very nicely, going for comedy to drama and heartfelt moments. It's very corny in some ways but it really brings you into the struggles and successes of a group hindered by racism and yet coming out better. My director friend, who hates almost every movie out, saw it and loved it. 

Try to find it, it's on Netlfix, I think, and it should be out on dvd somewhere. You won't regret it.

Then there's Starbuck.  

The moment I read the logline to this I wish I would have found it first.

It's about a guy who donates sperm to a sperm bank and through some accident, has fathered 543 kids.

How's that for a storyline. And, like the Sapphires, it's a TRUE STORIE!! 

Starbuck is the code name the donator uses to remain anonymous and after learning of the mistake by the clinic, he is shocked. And it gets better. There are 142 people who want to meet their birth-father.

This is one of the best movie ideas I've ever seen. The potential is huge. But let's hear more.

The donor, named David Waznicki decides to spy on one of "his children", who's a soccer player in Montreal. The film is Canadian by the way and made in Quebec. It is all in French with sub-titles.  The "children" are of various ages, mostly early 20's by now.

David visits another of his children, a girl who overdoses on heroin. He realizes then that spying on his children might not be a good idea. But he can't help it, he wants to see more of them without revealing himself. The movie is essentially a comedy but with drama as he finds another of his "children" autistic and unable to function by himself. Those moments are tear-jerking.

It, like the Sapphires, depends on the actors and in both movies, the lead actors are all great, people you've never seen or heard of and that makes the movies better. They play like movies made in the 70's with feeling and heart and sadness making for a full experience.

Starbuck has already been remade in America with Vince Vaughn and should be out later this summer. But try to see the original one first.

Have a great spring week-end, eh?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Likely Scenario

While I was hoping to start my Heart screenplay I got some attention to another project I played with last year. I wrote a 3-page outline for a series about a Hollywood screenwriter who gets hired by Homeland Security to offer the wildest ideas that he could come up with to show what terrorists could possibly do.

While it sounds a little crazy, I read an article that said exactly that and it wouldn't be a surprise nor would it be the first time writers were asked to write crazy ideas.

I had forgotten about the project for the time being until someone emailed me and asked to see a script. Sometimes I say script, other times screenplay, script suggests TV series and screenplay suggests movies on the "big screen".  But sometimes the screenplay is referred to as "the script". So go figure.


The problem is that I don't have a script for the idea. Just 3 pages. So last week I watched a bunch of "procedurals" and a couple of scripts I got from the internet. FYI the word procedural refers to, among other things, a TV show in which the content is mostly a procedure.

This would include Law & Order, NCIS, CSI and any others in which the story is told by stages, ie, person murdered/NCIS get clues/technology appears, etc. That's it.

So I banged out a 4 page "beat sheet" with ideas and today I begin to write the damn thing. Should take a week but it might be longer. This always happens when I think I get a great idea and then other stuff, as in $$, gets in the way of the great idea, for which I don't get money unless someone buys it.

So that's my week. And of course, hopefully, the book will go back to Amazon and they send me another proof and it's perfect and then it will go up for sale.

Unless there's another flaw in the book. Like a typo. Makes me crazy.

But work is work and there are a lot of writers out of work.

But that's another blog.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Weekender: "That'll Be The Day".

Just a few more notes on The Searchers movie I rave about. There is a line in the movie that John Wayne repeats several times during the movie. That single line was used by another movie maker, an English rock band and Buddy Holly. And it happens when Jeffrey Hunter and Wayne come back to the ranch after searching for his niece for several years.

As they approach at night, it seems a party is going on ahead of them, people gathered. Hunter asks Wayne what's going on, "are they having a party for us, Uncle Ethan" he says. Wayne answers in only four words;

"That'll be the day".

He says it another few times in the movie. It was sort of an early version of Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry when he says, "Go ahead, make my day".

The movie was seen by 50's iconic rocker Buddy Holly who wrote a song with that title. The song was one of his biggest hits before he died in an airplane crash.


And there were a couple other aspiring rockers who also heard the song and sang it on one of their first albums. A little group called The Beatles.

   It also inspired another British rock group who actually changed their name to... "The Searchers". 

And it became a movie in 1973 with British rocker David Essex (Rock On) . The movie was called "That'll Be the Day". Movie also starred Ringo Starr.

All from four words said by John Wayne. 


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Where's the jobs

I'm one of those older guys who really got into computers, was the first one I knew of who bought a computer way back in 1986, an Atari. I was one of the first to buy a Hi-8 camcorder and later a DV camcorder. I learned how to edit on Final Cut Pro and made DVDS with color labels. Right now I have 5 computers, 3 laptops and 2 desktops.

I use a 6-year old XP and have a 13-inch Dell laptop for traveling, the other laptop has a black screen and I rarely use it. I have two Mac's, an old G4 and a new iMac.

What this leads to is this; I have shot and edited several short documentaries, adding music I created in Garageband and sold DVD's I made. But there was something I forgot to think about until my non-digital friend reminded me.

He told me that, in doing what I described above, I was taking away the jobs of at least 5 people; editors, camerapersons, musicians and a few others. I laughed but then thought about it, he was right.

Some time ago I needed to get a PAL dvd which plays in Europe and I called my usual dubbing studio who make dvds in different formats. PAL dvds can't play in North America and I had to get a copy of a trailer I made to send to Italy for a festival.

My usual company had 3 offices, Burbank, Hollywood and Santa Monica. When I called I discovered that Burbank and Santa Monica offices were closed, and only Hollywood remained. Why? Not enough business.

Go back to what my friend said, I was killing the industry. Okay, not just me. Imagine 1000 of me, or even better, 100,000 of me, each filming, editing, creating music and titles and generally everything we need to make a film... all by ourselves.

Today the LA Times ran an article titled, "Dreary picture of TV, film job sector".

In the article they describe the loss of jobs by almost 8%, the lowest since 2001. At the same time normal jobs rose 1.8%.

The problem is that it's not only technology that's killing jobs, it's tax incentives. Canada started with the tax incentives by giving production companies up to 35% tax credits for coming to Canada. Basically it means that for every million dollars spent, a Canadian province would give back $350,000. It's a bit more complicated but that's the general idea.

So Hollywood began to lose business and then several states like Louisiana and New Mexico began offering their tax credits and it became a race between Canada and US as to who gave the most or the best.

Which leaves Hollywood in the lurch. 

And this means less TV shows (although that might not be bad :), but the future doesn't look bright as technology kills jobs, not only in the film business but every business. 

And how's this for a real problem, there is about an 85% unemployment within the Writer's Guild of America. That means that only 15% of us are working. Our membership is anywhere from a few thousand up to 10 thousand guild writers. Nobody really knows how much as the guild keeps this a secret.

But it's always been that way for writers so we learn to take it in stride.

Like my book, which is now finished and will be out in 2 weeks.  It ain't a movie but it's  writing.

And I'm already working on a new 30 minute doc that I can sell on Amazon and iTunes.