Friday, August 30, 2013

The Week-ender... Where are the heroes?

Unless you lived in a cave you must have noticed who were the leads in this summer's action movies, at least the leads that made money in the last few years.

Stallone, Willis, Harrison Ford, Arnold, Malkovich, Mel Gibson and a dozen more actors not only over the age of 50, but also 70 (Ford is 71). 

So where's the young heroes?

Ryan Reynolds movie R.I.P.D died, Tatum Chatham's White House Down bombed. Anyone remember John Carter? And how about the biggest bomb -- The Lone Ranger with Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger. Depp is 50 so he's in the ambiguous zone.

So where's the young heroes?

You can consider this summer's Star Trek but it had a big cast and Chris Pine looks like he watched William Shatner scenes so that he could copy it exactly to the smile.

A feminist once referred to this new crop of male actors like Gosling, Norton, Reynolds and others as "little lesbians". It's not hard to see that everyone big action movies are looking for strong male figures they usually go to Australia (Hugh Jackman) or Brits who at least have acting skills.

Stallone is on his 3rd Expendables movie for next year and Willis is once again doing a new Die Hard. And the list goes on.

But what will happen when they get too old? Well, Clint Eastwood is currently filming the broadway hit Jersey Boys. And what about the Spanish director Manoel de Oliviera who is 101 and starting a new movie.

But here's another thought... what if there's been too many action movies, with either old or young guys?  Maybe it's time for something new, and that's definitely connected to technology that we are stumbling into now.

So what's the new movie going to be about? Any ideas?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Ben or not Ben...

By now most of you have heard or read or watched the announcement of the new Batman movie. Well, actually Batman and Superman. 

With Batman being played by non other than Ben Affleck.

And while some of Hollywood cheered (they always love the come-back kids) the real audience are the Batman/Superman fans and they are not happy. Ben as Batman? Is he better than Christian Bale who played the last few Batman movies?

Before answering that, you have to know what I think of Ben Affleck. He's considered by most in the industry as lightweight as possible. In other words he can't really carry an entire movie for one reason.

He's not a good actor. In fact really not good.

Yes, he won the oscar last winter and he acted in it too. Ben is okay when there are other actors on the screen but he's shown over and over again that he can't carry a movie. Argo had a lot of good character actors like Alan Arkin and John Goodman and Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston. Put those guys around Ben and he manages to almost hold up his end.

In other words, Matt Damon is the talented one.

Ben has played the main character in a few movies though. He played Jack Ryan in a Tom Clancy movie, The Sum Of All Fears and it didn't do well. There was Gigli, which was a real bomb and was a sign of his future. And then Daredevil, a big action movie like Batman that bombed even worse.

So what happens to actors who don't bring in the bucks for a studio? 

Well, having Harvey Weinstein as a friend is a good thing.  Weinstein and his brother made Good Will Hunting, which was written by Ben and Matt. Of course nobody mentions that a few of the best screenwriters in Hollywood reworked the original screenplay.

But Harvey is a good friend and that's how Ben began to direct. This is quite common among actors who realize that their acting days are usually numbered. So when they're hot, many always try to get directing gigs. Even Bryan Cranston has directed Breaking Bad, when you're hot you're hot.

And so Ben directed a few movies and then found Argo. As a Canadian I was a little upset that most of the movie was made up and that the participation of the Canadian ambassador was put way in the background. In fact if the Canadian embassy didn't do what they did the consequences would have been worse.

And to thank the Ambassador for his dangerous plan, Ben didn't invite him to the screening of the movie at the Toronto Film Festival. 

So that's one reason I don't like Ben. Unless he buys one of my screenplays and then he's my best pal and most talented actor around.

Yes, we are a shallow lot, ready to sell out to the devil.

But back to Batman. What's going to happen now?

Well, for one thing the studio, Warner's, is going to introduce the actor to play Lex Luther. Remember Gene Hackman? He was great. Well, who do you think they're getting. Or do you know already?

Bryan Cranston.

But the comic book fans, and there are millions of them, are not happy with Ben for all the reasons I gave and many more. And it doesn't help that the last Superman movie wasn't that great either.

So right now you have two actors, Ben and Brandon Routh. Remember him? No? 

Then how would you like to spend $200 million dollars on both of those guys being the lead heroes?

And a fan base that already doesn't like them.

And finally, another reason I don't like Ben is that he's married to Jennifer Garner.

Monday, August 19, 2013

You've just sold a screenplay -- now wait.

One of the great misconceptions about selling screenplays is that everyone asks you when it'll be filmed... a week, a month?

The truth is it can be years. 

What happens first is an option; a fee paid to the writer from the producer or production company of approximately 10% of the total price. Taking Writer's Guild minimums that would be 10% of $42,000 for a movie that will cost under $3 million, and $72,000 for bigger budgets.

A lot of new writers hear about hundreds of thousands of dollars for screenplays, even millions of dollars. That does happen, but just to a handful of writers. For the rest of us, it's basic scale, as mentioned above.

So how soon does your movie film so you can get the 90% owed to you. Well, my Christmas screenplay that Hallmark had read and liked took nearly 6 years. And this was a script that they liked! It sat around their offices for about 3 years and before that I was sending it around to companies who liked it but weren't sure if it could get made.

Hallmark held it for the last three years, not paying me anything, because they were still "looking at it". And then at the end of 6 years from the date I wrote it as a spec, I got a call from a woman who worked for a Canadian production company. They wanted to make it for Hallmark. And more importantly Hallmark wanted them to make the film.

In only 6 years.

But wait.

Emperor of Mars was my first really good screenplay and I wrote it in 1989. Since then it's been optioned at least 7 times and actually almost made around 4 or 5 times. I never remember how many times exactly.

That's 24 years.

But wait longer;

I've heard of screenplays that have been hanging around even longer.

Last September, 2012, I optioned a screenplay called Chaser to a French film company in Paris. As of now, they might be making it next spring.  But I'm not holding my breath.

And unfortunately, this is more common than not. So what's the reason? What's always the reason. No money. That was certainly the case in the 5 times Emperor was almost made. The deals fell through.

And there's another reason; the producers might want to work on it somemore. Or maybe they can't find the right director, or the network or studio wants someone else to rewrite it. And then the director doesn't like it and leaves. Or the lead actor has a better offer on another movie.

So selling a screenplay isn't exactly like selling your car; it's only the beginning of something that might not even sell. I've had a dozen options on a dozen screenplays that eventually just went away.

So why do I continue to stay in this crazy business.

Because it can and has happened to me at least 10 times.

And also because nobody told me that I should do something else with my life.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The good and the bad...

Last night I watched the first episode of the final season for Breaking Bad, the tremendously successful series on cable's AMC (American Movie Classics) about a chemisttry teacher who, learning he has cancer, decides to brew up meth to make money for his family after he's gone.

But, as they say in movies, it's only the beginning.

This is the 7th and final season of Breaking Bad (a southern expression for someone who turns bad) and it's about the closest to The Sopranos as anyone can get. The Sopranos was judged the best TV series of all time (well, since TV started). And this too was about a very bad guy who kills people.

So why are both shows so popular. And why does the audience like Tony Soprano and "Mr. White"? Both have killed people, both are in the business of selling lethal drugs and both have conflicts within their families.

There are a lot of theories about this odd pair, why do we like them?

My theory is this; the American Dream and great actors.

The American Dream is always a subject of debate and my take on it, shared by most, is that it is the ability for anyone (and they mean "anyone") can come to America or be born in America and can find happiness and prosperity. Like the old saying; a husband and a wife and two kids and a home.

And it doesn't really exclude the bad guys.

Tony Soprano, on one level, is simply chasing the American dream although it's certainly not being a teacher or a factory worker. No, he stands over two families, his wife and kids, and the "other family", his mobster crew. And each family makes him happy or crazy.

Just like any normal family.

But why do we like Tony?

Well, for me, it was James Gandolfini, who was a very likeable character. The term with writers is that "you'd want to go out and have a beer with him". Sure, he bashes someone's head in, but "the guy had it coming" and we forgive him. Because he's likeable. 

It's a very delicate situation and few actors can bring that to the table. And it's not really learned, it just is. But it's a long way from Father Knows Best or the Cosby show.

With Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad, you have the same thing. He makes meth that destroys lives of thousands of people but you like him, maybe because you could put yourself in his position. Those stacks of money would sure be fun to have. And besides, we don't see the meth users themselves and that helps us like him.

Both Gandolfini and Cranston have that "likeability" presence and that's what makes it work. Steve Buscemi also is a lead in his series Boardwalk Empire but I don't like him. Not like Gandolfini and Cranston. 

Someone else has that likeablity presence, Mark Harmon on his series NCIS. 

But in the end, it's still all about chasing the American Dream of success. With a little twist here and there.


Friday, August 9, 2013

Ghostkeeper 2 ready to look for money

I'm 95% finished with the website for Ghostkeeper 2 after working on it for two weeks. This is the website that offers to find funding for anything from movies to start-up companies to singers, actors, restaurant start-ups, in short if you need money to start a business of some kind, Kickstarter is it.

I've mentioned it before a few times, it's a way of financing the above by donations from friends and strangers. Movies were a natural as they're always looking for money. Some movies raised up to $5 million dollars while others failed.

It's all about donations, there are no investors but in exchange the project (film, cafe, software, etc) has to offer "rewards". For films it's anything from t-shirts to a small part in the movie.

Ghostkeeper 2 will go public in a week or so as it has to go through numerous checkpoints to make sure it's legal and real. The money is kept by Kickstarter until the time is up, usually 30 days.

There are a lot of new websites also, a secondary one is and many more. 

Once our Kickstarter website opens, I'll give you links to it.

Otherwise, have a nice week-end.


Monday, August 5, 2013

People who don't like you... for no real reason

I've always felt I never really accomplished much, even though I think I've exceeded every expectation of me. But that wasn't very much to begin with, one of my high school teachers said I'd probably end up working at Chrysler's assembly plant putting cars together. 

Not that it's a bad job.

I did work at Chrylser one summer, on the line and found it somewhat comforting and secure. You knew people will always want cars and that the union would protect you. At least for my generation.

I've met people who don't like me, but not many and not really a bother to worry about. I even managed to have a career in screenwriting for a lot of years. I had some fights with producers over some screenplays and either won or lost them. 

One producer failed to pay me the proper amount of money for a screenplay. It was an easy issue to solve as the Writer's Guild had to clarify his error, which dealt with a spec screenplay I wrote and they bought. When that happens, the producer pays a full fee. What happened was that they had hired me previously to write a screenplay from a story they had.

Writing rules are complicated but what he didn't understand was this; I was paid for their previous script only for writing the script, not the idea. But my spec script was both my idea and my screenplay. Simple.

The producer paid the full amount but added to my agent; "Well, this will leave a sour taste for Jim in future jobs". My agent replied with "I'll be sure to tell him". In other words, pay the money. Did it hurt me?

One year later, I unexpectedly met the producer at a party, I didn't recognize him but he approached me and started telling me how great the movie was (the spec) and it was mostly because of my writing, etc., etc, blah, blah. I reminded him of the fact that someone else did rewrites on it, but he insisted my version was the winner. He suggested we meet again.

So much for sour tastes. 

But with the digital age and anonymity, things change. When I started this blog it went well until an anonymous reader began to challenge me on my words. That person said I didn't really know anything about the business.  This, in spite of all the TV movies and a features and episodic TV, "I didn't know anything".

My first response was to argue that, but it just feeds the anonymous people lurking out there. I wondered what they got from publicly attacking me. I found this also on the private Writer's Guild members website where they beef about everything as well as have different forums.

Again I noticed how people attacked each other, one woman left the website in tears, others were banned, and these were real names. There seem to always be a clique of bullies who seem to bond together and attack others. 

The question is; would they argue in public and alone? 

Most of them probably not, and in my blog, I can't even respond to whomever attacks me although I have a hacker friend who can and has uncovered two of the ones who feel they have to show me I'm not as great as I think I am. But I decided not to go at them... it's just not that important. Someone said the best answer is silence.

After all, I'm the high school kid whom Sister Anna Katherine said, "you'll never become anything".