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.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Heaven's Gate... 33 years later.

For those of you who've never heard of this movie, this might be interesting. Heaven's Gate was written and directed by Michael Cimino who had just won Best Picture and director for The Deerhunter, his 2nd movie. It was doomed from the beginning as Cimino had a budget of $11 million, a lot of money in that time. However, the budget began to get larger as Cimino spent huge amounts of money leading to a final budget of around $44 million.

Word got out about his excesses and critics were all too happy to trash Cimino and the movie. Word spread everywhere and when it finally came out it bombed, called the worst movie ever made. It destroyed Cimino's career and was the joke of every studio exec in town.

But I liked it.

In fact I really liked it, even the short version. It was a good movie that was killed by critics and some of the audience. That's why I found the 2012 version shown in the Venice Film festival on the MGM channel. In the past few years critics changed their minds about the movie and called it a "modern masterpiece" and "one of the greatest injustices of cinematic history."

The new version is almost 4 hours long and takes some endurance to watch, I took two separate evenings to see it. And it still holds up as a great movie. 

Heaven's Gate (the name of a saloon in the movie) was based on a true story in Wyoming around 1892 where rich ranchers decided to make a list of rustlers and anyone else who were in their way. The list gave names that were to be shot or hung.

One of the greatest assets of the movie was Vilmos Zsigmond, one of a handful of European cameramen who came to Hollywood in the mid 70's. His filming was quite incredible and gave the movie a classic feel. 

Another thing I noticed was that there wasn't any special effects, no CGI. The magnificent mountains around Glacier National Park were real and the battles were real. That realness seems to be lost now with movies where actors go into a room and make space movies (I did like Gravity, by the way) but the earth in the movie wasn't real.

There's something about reality, it feels different, it looks different and sadly it's being substituted for 1's and O's (what digital images are for those who don't know).

The film, ultimately, is relative to today, the big guys walking over the small guys. It's certainly the theme of many westerns with Shane being the best one. And the theme seems to resonate to 2013, having witnessed the recent politics going on.

Anyways, have a look at Heaven's Gate, it takes a little more time than a Youtube video but is far more rewarding. You can probably find it on the MGM channel or netflix.

And as for Cimino, well, I hear he hangs around Duke's on Sunset in the morning. 


Monday, October 14, 2013

A job??

Telling anyone that you might have a writing job is risky. 

But I'm close to it.

And no, it's not a huge studio offering me millions of dollars. 

It's almost a freebie.

A popular actor with lots of credits has a story and another friend of mine who's a director got all three of us together. So there you go.

As far as money, it's going under what's called the Writer's Guild "low budget" contract which basically means writers get paid a very basic amount, actually whatever the budget can sustain which usually is around 3% of the total budget.

Thus a $50,000 movie will pay the writer $1500. A $100k movie will pay $3000.  And our budget which is yet to be done, is around $500k, which means $15,000. But there's a bonus here with my beloved WGA.

The catch is this; once the film is made and sold --- the producer(s) have to pay me the full amount. In this instance the script fee is around $36,000 and subtracting the initial $15k, they still owe me $21,000.

The big word here is "Sale".

I would say that roughly 80% of these "indie" films made never get sold. And if they do, it's for very little. There's always the breakout movie; something that takes off and makes back its money and some for everyone else.

But the odds are against you from the beginning. But there are other ways to make money. And that's the variety of markets out there for movies, you know Netflix and Hulu and a dozen others but more and more are coming up. The trick is that you need to know the markets.

Do I want to have a successful screenplay. Of course I do. And I will try my hardest and we'll see what happens. 

In the meantime I'm going to indiegogo (yes, again) to raise some small funding of around $2500 to help edit and publish a short book as well as maybe a bit of a documentary. 

And of course now, it will be jinxed and I'll end up with nothing. Maybe.


Friday, October 11, 2013

So many movies... where do they go?

Friday is the big day for new movies as you probably know. That's when a whole new pack of movies begins to play in theaters in Los Angeles. And none of them has Justin Timberlake or Ben Affleck in them.

And most of them you'll never see again.

The big opener this week is Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips, the true story about an attempt by Somali pirates of a cargo ship. This movie, of course, it the big dog and it will probably be the box office winner over the week-end. Maybe. I'm not sure how the audience will take this movie, it's well made but the story (set in 2009) is still recent in our memories. It's also a test for Hank's popularity.

But look at what else is opening, primarily in Los Angeles and maybe New York;

A Touch of Sin - dealing with corrupt Chinese businessmen.

Romeo & Juliet - Yes, one more version of the Shakespeare play.

Muscle Shoals - a documentary about the famous music studio where artists like Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Bono and a ton of others recorded their music.

AKA Doc Pomus - Another documentary on a little-known songwriter/singer with polio and who wrote Viva Las Vegas, Save the Last Dance for Me and a lot of others.

Concussion - which has no information.

Escape from Tomorrow - a controversial film made by filmmakers using small cameras in Disneyland without permission.

Ghost Team 1 - A white man who is possessed by the spirit of an Asian hooker. You figure this one out.

All The Boys Love Mandy Lane - A thriller where someone starts killing off a bunch of teens.

Sweetwater - An ex-prostitute now married has to deal with a power hungry religious nut.

Okay, enough already.

There are 5 more movies but I think by now, you get the picture. The story "behind the story" is that most of these movies are playing for 1 to 2 weeks to qualify as a "theatrical film"rather than made-for-TV. They usually end up on Netflix or weird cable channels or Redbox. And most of the time nobody shows up to see them. The docs usually go to PBS or other channels who broadcast that kind of programming. I'm looking forward to seeing Muscle Shoals but will wait till it's on Netflix.

And apart from Tom Hank's movie, let me know if you've seen any of them.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

And more Justin...

It wasn't my idea.

Yes, I went on about Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake, I even suggested that his career might be shortened (Justin's). Well, today in the industry magazine Variety... 

They suggest Justin quit the movies.

Just so you know, it had nothing to do with moi.

Check it out by copying this link:

Or you can also go to Variety at  (as I can't figure out how to get you there directly!!

Monday, October 7, 2013

More Ben...

Well, Ben's new movie Runner, Runner made a whopping $7 million as compared to Gravity which made $55 million. Of course you have to take in the fact that Gravity was a "big" movie, special effects and all while Ben's movie was... uh... well I don't know.

US magazine says "it's a clunker of a script and a star with little gravitas and charm" (referring to Justin Timberlake).

Most reviews criticize the screenplay but I always felt neither of the two leads, Ben or Justin, have much presence.
What's presence?

It's that factor that you really can't understand. It's why Cher is much more watchable than Miley. It's why Montgomery Clift is more watchable than Ryan Gosling. And it's why Matt Damon is more watchable than Ben.

Presence is hard to understand but it's definitely there. We all have friends that, when they walk into a room, everyone turns their eyes to them. It's that "something" as someone once said about movie stars. You can't explain it but you can see it.

Johnny Depp has it in The Lone Ranger while Armie Hammer hasn't. 

And then there's Meryl Streep who has more of it than anyone should be allowed. I remember when she finished a very dark movie, Sophie's Choice and went right into Silkwood, which revolved around a white trash woman who discovered a problem with a nuclear power site. 

She, and others, can hide themselves in their roles until you forget they are there, only the character is present. Timberlake can't do it, Ben tries hard.

But anyways, I'm anxious to see Gravity as I'm a big science fiction fan. Although I don't think I'll go to see Ben as Batman. 

And I wonder what Warner's is thinking now, that their choice for Batman has made a clunker, as they say in this town. And what that represents to the Batman franchise.

But there's more important things to think about for now...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Weekender... "Our new Batman?"

Okay, so some of you know I'm not a Ben Affleck fan and have wonder the hows and whys of his choice as the new  Batman. For my money, Christian Bale was great. 

So, today in the LA Times, all of the movies opening this week-end have critics talking about them. The big one is Gravity, which looks like a big opening. The second biggest review is a movie called Runner, Runner, and it stars --- our Ben.

And just to make it even better for you -- it also stars Justin Timberlake.

Now there's two names. Right? Oscar winner and grammy winner. Blockbuster written all over it.

Except for one thing;

There's no ad in the Calendar section of the Times. 

Every other new movie listed has an ad, maybe small but an ad. Everyone except our Ben's movie. So what does that mean?

Someone forgot?


Maybe it's not very good?

Closer. When a movie carries no advertising in the LA Times, it's either a flop or just a bad movie.  Interestingly enough the last movie that opened without an ad starred Justin Timberlake.

This doesn't build confidence for us Batman fans... and as far as Justin, I fear his movie career is soon over. At least as a star. He was okay in Social Network, but that was a secondary role.

But the big story here is this; why didn't the studio back this film by at least buying a half page ad? My feeling is that they'd rather this movie go away. Studios still do testing and by the time a movie is ready to open they pretty much know if it'll make money or die. 

But the worst thing is what if Ben is awful in it. He's not exactly a great actor, his buddy Matt Damon got all the talent. And Ben has a habit of killing franchise, as in Sum of All Fears and Daredevil. Actually the review is not bad but the testing must have shown it's dead in the water.

Sometimes it's best to let the movie slip away quietly. After all they're going to invest around $200 million for the Batman/Superman movie despite the Batman fans who do not want Ben as Batman.

Ben's even got 3rd billing under some actress I don't know.

But at least he's got Jennifer Garner...