Monday, December 29, 2014

Almost over - the movies I liked

Another year gone, another shot at making a movie. Hopefully. Whatever.

I've seen most of the films that are up there for awards, except for The Theory of Everything, which I hope to get this week. The only movie I saw at a theater was Nightcrawlers, which I liked a lot. 

Here's a few words about the films that will be in the game without the critics who really don't know much about anything, as far as I'm concerned. There's two kinds of people in the film business, those who make the films and those who criticize. 

And those who criticize often don't know what they're talking about. And besides, except for the Golden Globes where foreign critics suck up to studios and producers, the voting is done by "peers" as they say, and those are the true judges. 

I'm sure you know which group I belong to so here goes;

Birdman - is okay, I don't particularly like Ed Norton and to be honest ejected the dvd about thirty minutes in. Yes, it's a fancy looking movie and the cuts were hard to find but I just can't handle actors pushing over the top with "it's all about me."

Boyhood - is like watching paint dry. Boring at almost three hours. The hook is that the director filmed sequences of the movie over 12 years so you see the kid grow from the age of 7 and lasts until he's 18. American critics are really excited by this, but the British version of this called 7-UP over a period of 60 plus years is way better. The Brit version started a real life group of English kids at age 7 and interviewed them every 7 years.

Selma - is another movie about the black and white conflicts within America. Supposedly done on a low budget.

The Imitation Game - Another good Brit movie about a real-life character. I liked the movie a lot and the actor is great, but it's also more like a TV movie on HBO. Also, the movie Theory of Everything, based on Stephen Hawking are both similar life stories and this might cut them out from receiving an oscar.  

Nightcrawlers - isn't going to win but I predict that Jake Gyllenhaal might get a nomination for his portrayal of a sociopathic newscameraman. I really liked the movie and so did a lot of my filmmaker friends. It's a solid story with incredible tension at the end. 

And then there's Unbroken.

I have to say that I didn't read the book based on Lewis Zamporini and apparently there's a lot of the readers who objected to the "rest of the story." It seems that the second half of his life after the war was pretty difficult for him as well. However, I did like the movie and I think Angelina did a good job. It's the closest to good movies that I remember, not quite as good as Bridge On The River Kwai, but close in today's sensibilities.

What's missing?

Sniper - It's a Clint Eastwood movie and not bad, it's just that the story has been told too many times and Clint leaves out some of the bad parts about this true-life character who wasn't always a nice guy. It ends with what most people remember, the character takes a fellow military guy to a shooting range and gets shot and killed by that guy. 

So that's it for '14 and we can look ahead for whatever horror awaits for us ahead...

And maybe something good.

Remember this; writers outlive producers and actors in this business. 

We can still write but "they" are over once they're kicked out.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Yes, Christmas movies...

* Beware

I'm going to say something very scary... Christmas!! Those of you who can't handle it might as well leave now. Because I like Christmas and always will.

So what's the problem?

I got a "card" from some friends that read:

"Good wishes for a holiday and year filled with happiness." 

So what's the beef? 

A "holiday?" Any holiday? Have a great Veteran's Day or how about Arbour Day or Groundhog Day?"

But apparently some people are upset about Christmas Day, after all that's what the day is, Christmas Day. But some people don't like it.

You can say Hanukkah or kwanzaa.

Well, Christmas is for those two billion of us who call it Christmas. And we allow anyone to celebrate their religion or any religion.

Because we have the best movies. And everybody likes to watch them.

My favorites are:

White Christmas (1954) I grew up on this movie and will watch it again. Yes, its old and
corny (an expression from the 1960's) and very innocent, no curses or maniacs, except one movie whose title I forgot. And it's got Bing Crosby, who was a big deal in his day. 

A Christmas Story (1983) is another good movie and it plays on TBS TV 24 hours on Christmas Day (I think). It's a classic of it's own, you have to watch this.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946) I watched this a few times but prefer the above two instead. Still a classic Christmas story.

Black Christmas (1974 original) For the horror fans, this is much better than a 2006 remake, this horror movie is pretty good. Might be hard to find it but it must be somewhere around. 

The Polar Express (2004) is an animated version of the popular children's book and is always a good evening watch with really good animation including a Tom Hanks character.

Another oldie is Miracle on 34th Street (1947) wherein a guy says he's Santa Claus but nobody believes him and it goes to court. One of the features is a young Natalie Wood, who would later become a big star in the 50's and 60's.

Okay, I'm sorry but I had to add my own Christmas movie, written by yours truly. After all it is my blog.

There's a lot more Christmas movies and it all goes back to the classic Christmas Carole from Charles Dickens, of which there were at least a dozen versions. Still the best Christmas movie ever.

 Enough for now, I'll have a few more blogs before the end of the year. And be careful if you see me, I might say Merry Christmas!!!!


Friday, December 12, 2014

Golden Globes & Generations

The Golden Globes have made their choices. This organization is basically what's known as the Hollywood Foreign Press. In other words it's a bunch of people  from other countries who suck up to Hollywood.

Nobody really cared about them in the past but when they put Tina Fey and Amy Poehler showed up with some great hostess bits, the foreign critics got some notice. The awards don't really signify the Oscars nor the actors, writers and directors guilds, but the Globes will influence some of the people, mostly the ones who don't see all the movies.

Screeners (dvds) are usually sent out to actors, directors and writers although they don't send dvds to all the actors which number in the thousands. And the final awards at the Oscars are voted on only by those privileged actors, writers and directors and producers as well as a handful of camerapersons etc.

This year is the first one that I didn't really care for any of the movies. 

It's also a year with directors nobody's ever heard of. One could consider that the old Hollywood boys like Spielberg, Lucas, Coppola and others aren't in the mix anymore. Lucas even sold his Star Wars franchise to J.J. Abrams, who can do a suitable remake quite well, only by copying every frame.

I guess this is the beginning of the end of my generation's hold on movies, a lot of the big movies studios make are from people you really don't know. And those movies tend to be the likes of Spiderman 1, 2 and 3 and all those other superhero movies that seem to look all the same.

We (being my boomer generation) had directors and actors and writers who separated our generation from our parents by making distinctive movies specifically for us. Now that we're getting older, the new generation seems more intent on making remakes of our movies.

What's left is a group of Gen-X people who simply copy what we did. Most of their movies end up nowhere because they really don't have a history of anything except watching VHS and DVD copies of movies.

A better generation was probably the World War 11 soldiers, many of whom were actors, writers and directors. They came from a horrible war and having seen it close up, made movies that really stood up for something more than popcorn entertainment. People like Clint Eastwood, Sam Peckinpah, John Ford, William Wyler and dozens of others who told stories often based on their war experiences.

But getting back to the Globes. Here's some of the potential winners/losers:

Birdman - seems to be picking up a few awards already.
Boyhood - a movie very few people saw because it's quite long.
The Imitation Game - great acting but more of a TV movie.
Gone Girl - One award but nothing for Ben Affleck whom I don't like anyways.
Grand Budapest Hotel - A Wes Anderson film, I've never really liked his films.
Selma - Story based on Martin Luther King.
Theory of Everything - seems to be getting some good reviews.
Big Eyes - not out yet but in the running due to director Tim Burton.
St. Vincent - one of several Bill Murray movies out lately. 

Okay, now what about one of the biggest movies of the year?

Ever hear of Unbroken?

It's probably one of the biggest movies of the year, directed by Angelina Jolie.

Yes, that Angelina Jolie. 

Unbroken hasn't gotten one single vote from the foreign press and nobody knows why? Is it because she directed it, or because Brad's movie Fury, flopped? Who knows but there's been some emails around town that Angelina isn't all that talented as a director and that she gets whatever she wants. 

And some people don't like that.

But because the foreign press wants to be liked by the studios so they can go to press parties and hang around studio bosses. 

There's also a new version of Annie (which was a play and a musical movie before) and Into the Woods, also a musical play.

And then there's Jennifer Aniston in her continued effort to show us how brilliant she really is in Cake. Really?Look at those tears? Who knew she could cry?

Next are the Actors awards, the Writers awards, the Camera men/women awards and numerous other awards that the public really doesn't know exists. Things like casting awards, which are the jobs to find actors for movies. This group has been trying to get into the Oscars for a long time but haven't succeeded.

The problem is that the title for these people is "casting director". So what's the problem?

Well, directors don't like to think that the casting agents are responsible for casting the movie. And they have a point, casting directors "suggest" a lot of actors but the director casts only one for each role.

So there we are for now.

My choice is Angelina, I think she made a hell of a movie. So there. 

Okay, maybe I shouldn't be so hard on multi-millionaire Jennifer Aniston. What's that Beatle's song "Money can't buy you love?"

Right now the rain has stopped and blue sky suddenly is appearing at least for the moment. 


Monday, December 8, 2014

Christmas Stuff

Now that the Christmas stuff is starting off, it's almost impossible to get anyone to do anything so I'm just doing one more pass of the new book I wrote. This will be my third book,
the first one was Emperor of Mars, which is based on a true-life event set in my childhood in a small town in Canada.

The screenplay was written in 1989 and has been optioned six times and never made. It came the closest in 2011 with me attached as directed. But the financing fell through because one investor wanted a bigger return than anyone else. 

So, two years ago I wrote a novel based on the screenplay and it had a favorable response in Canada and is still selling a few books now and then.

The second book was The Working Writer's Screenplay, which is a beginner's guide to
screenwriting and based on my UCLA extension screenwriting classes. It does reasonably well on Amazon.

And finally the new book, to be published in 2015, and called How To Not Get Beat-Up In A Small-Town Bar. The title refers to one story in this collection of twenty short stories based on my travels in the western part of the U.S. and Canada.

And then there's the screenplays out there.

One producer is looking at a Christmas screenplay called Christmas Carole and another screenplay of mine called Chase, and which will be made in France in 2015.

Another deal of sorts is with a producer I've known for a long time and he asked for a handful of ideas for Hallmark who produce Christmas movies but now are branching out to other genres.

And of course, it can all fall through. I don't count a screenplay is made when I get the check and it passes at the bank.

I'm planning on writing at least two screenplays in 2015 and a series pilot about two women who inherited a failing private-eye business run by the husband of both, at different times.

So life goes on and who knows what 2015 will bring, besides climate change. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When Hollywood closes...

Well, not exactly closing, but it's almost impossible to get calls returned unless you really know the person. And the only people worth calling are probably planning their holidays. 

It used to be that the "holidays" were a day or two but now it's a week on either side. Even after January 1, 2015, nobody really does business until after January 5th, whatever that is.

I'm slowing down myself, trying to come up with five good ideas for Hallmark, of which they might pass on all five. But at least it isn't a whole screenplay, just a page. And then I can turn it over to Lifetime, I've done one movie with Lifetime and they were very nice.

2015 has some promise, but as a writer, I never really expect anything. My usual possibilities come around the end of January and stretch till March, then drop dead. But this time I do have the French version of one of my screenplays, and that has a good chance of being filmed in 2015. It's translated into French, of which I know enough not to get into trouble.

So, what to do for the next month?

For me, the five Hallmark ideas to be done at year's end. Nothing will happen with them until the end of the first week of January.

I'm also hoping to publish another book, this one a collection of stories about the road, the people I've met on my travels in the western parts of USA and Canada.

So it's gonna be a slow month for the blog, I'll still blog every week but hopefully have something better than this sorry bit of blogging. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Oscar talk

Just a short piece today. Looks like the Turing movie, The Imitation Game, odd title but it refers to code-breaking during WW11 and The Theory of Everything, about Stephen Hawking, whose brilliance in science is legendary, are two definite Oscar contenders.

But each might cancel the other one out, leaving the best movie to another one.

Michael Keaton's Birdman might get in if just for how it was filmed, one single shot (not really one shot but filmed to think it is, pretty clever.

I think the Bill Murray movie, St. Vincent will disappear as will Reese Witherspoon's Wild.

Boyhood seems to be getting attention here in LA but it hasn't been seen by very many people.

I'm hoping for The Homesman, a western with Tommy Lee Jones and Hillary Swank (winner of 2 oscars already). But it's a western and nobody wants to see them anymore. But I will, just as soon as the theaters let us see it for free with guild cards (WGA, SAG, DGA etc).

But there's still a few more coming up, and one that could be a winner, and that's Angelina Joli's movie  Unbroken (she directed) about a WW11 Olympic athlete who was captured by the Japanese. There's a lot of "buzz" about this movie. Interestingly enough, there will be two WW11 movies at the oscars for sure. Friends who have seen it say it's an incredible movie.

So, that's where I sit for now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Screenplay vs synopsis vs logline

There was a world a long, long time ago when screenwriters would write a spec screenplay and the agent would call the producer on Friday and tell the producer the writer has a new "spec" screenplay. Then the agent would courier the screenplay to the producer who would read the screenplay over the week-end.

Then on Monday the agent would get calls from the producer, or producers, to tell him the screenplay was a pass or an option.


The idea of spec screenplays came about the late 70's and really into the 80's. Spec screenplays were being sold for up to $4 million. You read right, $4 million to Joe Eszterhas and it wasn't even a screenplay yet, just a few notes on a napkin.

The point here is that producers used to read screenplays, and if they didn't one of their lower end interns would read it.

But as the years went by, and more screenwriters appeared, coming from film schools who saw a way to make money from all these wannabees by offering classes in screenwriting. Of course there were some good writers, but most of the schooled writers would never really sell a script.

And with this growth, producers began to get lazy and would ask for a 1-page synopsis. And this is where the problem began and still remains.

They would now read the synopsis, one single page that would tell them how great the screenplay would be.

The problem with this was that the 1 page synopsis gave the reader a very limited view of what the story was. And the problem with this is that the screenplay could be completely different.

One thing I noticed is that those who could write "dynamite" 1-pagers often didn't write good screenplays. As for myself, I despise 1-pagers, it's sort of like when your friend tells someone your story in front of a stranger, he may give some highlights, but not the feeling that you did when you said it.

But just to make it even worse, something else came to be.

The "Logline."

This is the single line that explains the entire movie. It comes from TV and newspapers, wherein they give the title of a TV show and a little piece of information as in:"

State of Affairs: A CIA operative who's aboard a Russian submarine is Charlie's best hope of recovering a wealth of stolen U.S. information.

That is a logline. A real one from the LA Times on last Monday.

And now, producers just want a logline to get them excited about your 100-page screenplay. In other words you have to create a fantastic idea in one page.

Not a hell of a lot room there to tell you 100 pages, at this point, the 1-pager is almost a novel compared to the logline.

And that's where we are today.

So what's next?  Two words to describe your 100-page screenplay?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Why you need a partner

While writing my book on screenwriting last year I came upon the realization that it "wasn't about me." What I mean is that I didn't get this far by myself. And yes, that's my book cover above, call me shameless. And no, you don't have to buy one. But I got a deal for you.

But back to what I started to talk about. 

First of all, writing can be a damn lonely job, sitting over a laptop or whatever you use, a friend of mine still writes longhand and has someone type it for him. And secondly, writers aren't always best friends for obvious reasons; you might get their job.

As I wrote my book I discovered how I went from a TV station mailroom to a reasonably successful TV movie writer as well as having done episodic TV as well. Not as well as Aaron Sorkin or David Chase but still get people calling me.

My first job in TV was in the mailroom. From there I jumped across the country working at different TV stations. It was where I became a producer of sorts, for local TV commercials. But after three years of that I began to want to make movies. But I have one liability; I couldn't raise a dollar if I tried.
And that's when Harry Cole entered my life, both of us were making commercials for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Bill's Cadillac dealerships. Harry left to work in the commercial world outside and I remained there until I finally got tired and left.

But neither Harry nor I could make it work. That is until I said I wrote a screenplay called Ghostkeeper. Then something else happened. The federal government was giving investors a 100% tax write-offs on movies. This was meant to stimulate movie-making in Canada.

Then we realized we were living in an oil-rich province and oilmen love investing in movies so they could walk on set and take a selfie with a reasonably famous actor.

And then it came down to "how to get the money". As I said, I couldn't raise a dime, but Harry was a born salesman. So between my script and his sales expertise we raised around $650,000 (about $1.6 million today).

But then we split up and no more movies.

But then I forgot to mention I did a short film with another friend some time before. He was really talented, while I was more stubborn and able to write and shoot film. Together we were a great team. So good that our short film was a finalist in the 1976 Academy Awards. You know -- the Oscars.

Again, my life changed. That little 13-minute film changed our lives. And again because of a partner who wasn't like me, and it worked well. But eventually it didn't last. However that short film got me some great jobs.

Then, after not being able to make another feature, I ran into Paul Lynch at a party. Paul is one of Canada's more successful directors, he did the original Prom Night and hundreds of American TV series and movies.

A friend of his told him about me and within a week or so, Paul got me his agent in Los Angeles.

Again, someone was partially responsible for another move up. We were a team and even to today.

And then, someone else entered my life; I left Paul's agent because he never did anything for me and I jumped around several agencies and at one, met Frank Balkin. Frank and I got along just perfectly and I followed him to Paradigm, one of the big talent agencies in LA.

And once again, with the help of someone completely different from me.

So my lesson here is, don't try to do it yourself, find someone else who will push and prod you to keep going. Nobody makes it to a reasonable position in life without help. Even Spielberg had a person who "championed" him, of course that was the head of the studio.

But look around, find someone who's the opposite of you and someone more talented. It's okay to do that. 

Okay -- my book. If anyone wants a copy of my book, I will do this; it costs me $5 a copy and with media rate in the U.S. around $3, that's $8 for a $13 book. I even carry it to the post office for free. 


Friday, November 14, 2014

Let the awards begin...

Well, it's time for the pre-pre-pre film awards and it's called The Hollywood Film Awards. It started with a guy named Carlos de Abreu. In case you don't know who he is (I didn't), he's married to Janice Pennington. 

And if you don't know her, she was one of those models on The Price Is Right. She was "let go" for younger girls and filed a lawsuit. 

Anyways, they had the Hollywood Film Awards in a hall for awhile but this year, they gained some recognition because CBS is showing their awards show tonight, Friday, November 14. And it's also called "The Official Launch of the Awards Season".

In other words, we're going to see the Golden Globes (foreign entertainment reporters) and the actors guild (SAG), the writer's Guild (WGA) and numerous other little parties with awards leading up to the Oscars next February.

In fact, this year some of the Oscars were already given. They're the ones that get awards for camera mounts or special achievements.  You know, the ones where every TV viewer uses to go to the bathroom. 

According to the LA Times, the awards selection committee remains confidential. Awards consultants fiture it's Abreu and maybe his wife, Janice.  One interesting moment was an award for Quentin Tarentino's Django, which wasn't even released for several weeks.

But most of the actors in movies that might be oscar contenders are going to show up 
 anyways. As my director friend says of himself, "I'll show up for a supermarket opening".

So give it a watch, nothing else on and you'll get to see the stars wrestle for interviews.

Monday, November 10, 2014

AFM and more oscar contenders

I dropped by the AFM, aka American Film Market and the first thing I noticed in it's banners is that they've added a few new words. It is now the American Film "and Television" market.

This is a big thing, TV was the poor cousin to AFM, like I said in the last blog, AFM was a big deal where Americans could sell their product to almost every country in the world. 

But things changed, as you all know. Netflix, for example, is changing the film and TV market in a huge way. The Writer's Guild of America says now that TV writers now make more money than feature film writers.

I think that it's due to the fact that there are now two different types of films; one is big blockbusters that cost anywhere from $150 million to $300 million, and the other is mostly small independent films that play for a week so that the producers can say it had a "theatrical run." Most of these are either financed by family or friends and are usually about going back home to see that girl/guy you remember.

And the movies in between are a few romcoms that don't last long in theatrical either. There are exceptions like the two "Taken" films with Liam Neeson, you know, the movies where his daughter is taken in one, and he's taken in the other. And they're pretty good movies.

It's clear to see that TV is the big elephant in the room now, although it is just beginning to change with Netflix and Hulu and all the others. 

But besides that there isn't much... except -

The Academy award movies that are starting to show their faces finally. I mentioned a few blogs ago Jake Gyllenhaal is getting attention with Nightcrawler, and it seems to be growing. 

Besides Jake, there are the obligatory Brit movies, one with Benedict Cumberbatch who should get an award just to say his name. He's doing The Imitation Game (a bad title?) based on a brilliant British code breaker during WW2, Allan Turing, who broke the German Enigma code machine and eventually committed suicide.

And of course, I should mention Reese Witherspoon who is fighting for an Oscar with a movie about a woman who hiked a thousand miles after re-hab. She's putting Legally Blonde behind and going for a second Oscar in which she uses drugs and love scenes.

But let's see how this name game goes until I can come up with something more interesting.

We have now;

Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler)
Benedict Cumberbatch
Reese Witherspoon (Wild)
Michael Keaton (Birdman)

Friday, November 7, 2014

American Film Market

This is the week of the American Film Market, which is a huge event held in Santa Monica at a huge hotel, Loews Santa Monica Beach hotel wherein buyers and sellers meet to buy and sell movies. But there's one difference between the product.

For the most part, the big studio movies don't really come here, they use film festivals for that, places like Toronto, Sundance and of course, Cannes.

For the most part, AFM is about movies you've never heard of, most with actors that you've forgotten. Eric Roberts, Tom Sizemore and others. And also a lot of foreign movies from Southeast Asia as well as a lot of movies filmed in eastern Europe.

In other words, the meat and potatoes movies.

I usually take a walk through the lobby of the hotel where anyone can walk in and look

around at the buyers and sellers, both of whom pay a lot of money for a hotel room where they put up posters. A lot of these movies go to places like Netflix and other similar buyers but a lot of them never get sold.

In fact, the market is getting more expensive and fewer movies are being bought. I know of two distributors who don't rent out a hotel room because it's too damn expensive. 

The lobby is where people can meet and not have to pay, although apparently the pool area now is only for those who pay to go to the pool area. Up until this year, the pool area was open for anyone too make deals or to hang around.

But there's still pretty girls and muscle guys walking around the lobby.

But basically, it's a pretty unlikeable market where you really see what the business part is and it's much the same as a meat market. It's pretty sleezy, actually, at least for those of us who make the movies.

And, like the meat market, it's going through a rough time basically because these second rate movies are really bad. And you have to wonder how long AFM is going to continue. I was at an early AFM way back in 1981 with my little horror film Ghostkeeper. It was a lot of fun then, much smaller and less expensive. 

But now it's just a bunch of foreign distributors who are trying to sell films with actors like the above who, like most of us, take any job we can get.

I'll have a little more Monday.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Money, money

 This last week was a big one for me, first getting a nice fat residual check from that great big bear called Gentle Ben, whose DVD and showings continue to give me a nice little present in the $1000-plus range. Love those residuals.

Just for those who aren't quite sure how residuals (or royalties, same thing) work. This happens only in US, Canada has a different system. What it is, in the US system is a percentage of income that the producer has to pay on a regular schedule. I've outlined this before but there are new people, so you others can ignore the blog.

These royalties can be as low as 0.00 and upwards of thousands of dollars for big movies that make a lot of money. I'm at that lower level, almost all TV movies and they pay enough if they're shown. In Gentle Ben, there's two sources, showings and sales and I've had a nice flow since 2005.

Eventually, the amounts get smaller, I have royalties of .83 cents on other shows. In Canada the producer has to pay a reasonable amount right at the time the movie is made rather than waiting for sales and showings.

But so much for that.

I also have interest in a couple of producers who are considering a screenplay or idea. I never say they're buying it until the money is in the bank and the check has cleared. Here's the potential;

One producer wants several ideas for Hallmark movies. Sounds great but I have to find something that they feel they can sell. And that's almost impossible for one big reason: Famous screenwriter William Goldman's classic saying about Hollywood is: "Nobody knows anything."

And believe me, it's proved true more often than not.

Another producer has some money but not all of it, and this is for a written screenplay that has been optioned a few times but never made.

Another producer is trying to get interest in some producers who have money.

And yet another wants one of my best screenplays, although he doesn't want to pay for it until he has money.

And then a few other people who are considering talking to me.

And of course, because I write all this, all of the above will be gone by Friday. Lost and forgotten.

Ah, the life of a screenwriter. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oscar hopefuls?

 A bunch of us were talking about Oscar hopefuls and the fact that none of us have really seen anything worthy of it. By this time last year I was already excited about Nebraska and the Cohen Brothers Inside LLewyn Davis and American Hustle.

There was some murmurs about Dallas Buyers Club and Philomena.

And so far this year -- nothing yet.

Okay, there's Birdman with Michael Keaton's return and maybe Dear White People. There's a few weak maybe's like St. Vincent with Bill Murray doing the same thing he does in every movie he makes.  And if Gone Girl is nominated for anything, I quit.

There is one movie however that I am looking forward to, enough to actually pay to see it on the big screen rather than at a studio screening which is filled with film people.

That movie is The Imitation Game, a rather bad title but a good movie. It's based on Alan Turing, a mathematical genius who was able to crack the German war machine's code machine. Experts say that his discovering how the Germans send codes probably made the war two years shorter.

Turing actually created what would be one of the first "computers". However the story gets a little darker...

Turing, it turned out, was gay, and banned from any more work with computers and anything else in the same type of work. He was pretty much finished and died by eating an apple dipped in cyanide.

Sounds like an Oscar nomination to me.

But let's wait and see what happens. 

Friday, October 24, 2014


Someone asked me what it takes to write a screenplay. Is it the idea, is it a concept, is it something magical?

This goes back to my classes at ULCA, which I did for almost three years. Most of the students took classes to see what this screenwriting thing is about, since film schools suddenly popped up everywhere, inquiring minds wanted to know.

The truth is that most of them never came back mostly because it was a lot harder than they thought. And no, it's not my fault, I can show you my evaluations. And the ones that are left will most likely give it a try, I'd say out of 15 students, probably two or three would give it a try. Some keep trying and trying.

One of the problems I noticed was this; most of the students were writing and writing and ended up with nothing in the way of a story. They were more into technique rather than story.

In short, most students didn't have a story.

There's a difference between technique and story. Technique is about how you write it, story is what you write. And most of the students had no real story in their hearts. Just technique, making sure you separate the first act from the second or use the right button  for the scene.

So who does have stories?

You all must know one person who's always telling you about where they went, what they saw and maybe even give you some anecdotal insights.

Those are usually the story-tellers.

Take my example; I just finished a new book in which I tell stories I remembered on all my road trips, about half a million miles worth. I also have a very good memory of all of them, including the motels and hotels and truckstops and more. Actually I have a perfect memory of them.

And I always told stories as long as I remember. 

Some are good, some aren't, but I always notice something worthwhile. Like sitting in an empty cafe in a Montana town with a waitress and I noticed a sign beside the cash register (the register was 1050's vintage). As the waitress was telling me about how she changed her life by coming to Forsyth (the town) I noticed a hand-written sign on the wall. 

It read; "When Mary B. comes in for breakfast make sure she pays before she eats".

It caught my attention immediately.  Who was Mary B. and why does she have to pay first?

I asked the waitress and she said that Mary B was a local who drank a lot overnight and would appear at the cafe for breakfast and then forgets to pay before she leaves. 

A simple story. But my mind began to create stories about Mary B. I even wanted to wait and see if she showed up. But she didn't.

Most of my friends are always surprised at the things I notice, but that's why I'm a writer.

And that's why most screenwriter students, or even just people who buy the software and hope it creates magic for them, most of them never make it. 

Because they're not looking around.

There are exceptions, those people you see in coffee houses, but I think most of it is what a lot of us refer to as "performance art". Pretending to be a writer.

I can't work in public, there's too much to see all around me and there's a story with anything.

So what do you look for?

Look for a Mary B. Or the girl next to you at Starbucks talking on the phone to someone and who's mad. Why are they mad?

It all sounds kind of child-like, but that's where the best stories come from. 

It took my a few years to figure this out; I was writing screenplays but they were just imitations of movies I saw. They weren't real, just bland copies.

It wasn't until I started using real people in my screenplays that my work got better.  Because I wasn't making it up. It was real.

So what do I mean by that?

I use pieces of real people.  One screenplay that got me a lot of attention and was optioned was about a drug recovering female studio executive.

"She" was made up of an alcoholic female exec I knew, but there were other pieces of people I used, one was me and my father another was a woman I know who lived in the Pacific Northwest, another character came from a high school buddy.

All of these formed one person. 

Try it sometime and you'll have a good story. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Passion and awesome

One of the most used words these days is "passion". The Webster dictionary offer these choices:

- any compelling emotion
- strong amorous feeling
- a strong fondness

I hear this word often from actors and actresses and writers and directors. They all have passion for their work or at least think they have. 

I really don't think I have passion. I like what I do but I don't go overboard.

After all, it's only a movie.

I do like traveling the highways of Canada and USA, but I'm not crazy about it, I just enjoy the solitude of travel and seeing how other people live, what they do, what they talk about. I like that. 

I also like In 'n Out hamburgers (#3 with grilled onions) but I'm not passionate about it. And
I don't think it's awesome either.

People tell me I must have passion to enter a world of writing words that will translate to movies. But I really don't. I like it and sometimes I hate it when I have to write something for a producer that doesn't know very much.

My biggest problem is that I never really wanted to do anything, I hardly ever lasted at any kind of normal job and was thinking I might be a psychologist. I even majored in Psych for two years before I got a summer job at a TV station.

One word I could use for my so-called career is "luck."

If anything I had a combination of luck and knowing someone else who had talent. That's the best way to get into this business and without it, you're dead.

My first piece of luck was getting the job at a TV station and that took me across the country, I worked in five different TV stations over a period of fifteen years and then won a lottery to the U.S. That was luck. And I almost lost it because I moved and a friend found the letter that admitted me to the U.S.

Another piece of luck was knowing my friend Phil, we met at a film school where both of us failed. But he had talent and I knew how to shoot film and we did a short film that ended up
as a finalist in the 1976 Academy Awards.  Phil's the one on the right with brief case, I'm the geeky one. 1975.

See what I mean. Luck and knowing someone who was talented.  Phil was passionate about filmmaking, he lived it and fought to get movies made and finally burned out at age 41 leaving a wife and two great boys. Phil was the only person I know who was truly passionate, so much that it destroyed him.

But all these actors who say they're passionate doing a remake of some zombie movie or any movie with Jeniffer Aniston aren't really passionate, it's just a word they heard somewhere and it sounds cool.

Passion is dangerous, and that's probably why I wasn't passionate. I never took it seriously anymore than I took Catholic religion. 

Awesome, on the other hand, is true when it appears, and it's not a hamburger or a new iPad, it's something that makes you lessor than it is, like a rainbow over the Grand Canyon or looking at Earth from the international space station.

That's awesome.