Monday, April 28, 2014
The photo above was taken on Highway 50 in Nevada and is one of many photos that I'm using to write my travel book now, putting aside the Travel Day contract as the producers are looking for money to make it and am still waiting for some more funding for the actor's screenplay that I finished in January. And I've heard from the French producers who hope to make Chase this fall.
This is how writers spend time when somone's interested in a screenplay; you wait till they come up with a deal which, if it's an indie movie, could be forever. When a network or a production company or studio options your screenplay, you'll probably wait and wait more and they might even drop the option. Here's the body count:
Emperor of Mars has the most optioned at least 6 times and one was pretty close and another one was almost there until disputes spoiled the game. This was mostly because some producers tend to be too greedy and don't want to share. When a project has two or more producers it gets more political and if you've noticed, some movies can have up to 18 or more producers.
Now that's a meeting I'd like to watch.
Secrets of The Salmon was a drama that got really good response and had interest from Jody Foster's company but was optioned by ABC who was then taken over by Disney. Unfortunately the exec who optioned it was let go and so the project ended. It was the only Disney contract I ever had and included an odd clause that read they (Disney) reserves all rights "in perpetuity throughout the universe." I told my agent that I wanted to keep Saturn and he almost believed me.
The Town Christmas Forgot (originally called Christmas in Nowhere) was around Hallmark for three years and then one day in June 2010 I got a call from a woman that she read it and wants to make it and asked "who do I call for the deal". I expected this to disappear but didn't expect that they would make a winter movie set in the mountains in August, two months later. That wasn't the fastest turnaround though.
The fastest turn around was when I wrote Betrayal of Silence, another title changed from the original that I don't remember. I had an idea and an outline and a producer who needed to make a movie fast. I wrote the screenplay in a hotel in Toronto in 14 days and handed it to the Assistant Director on Friday and started shooting Monday. Ironically, it's still one of my favorite screenplays.
There were probably thirty or so options on other screenplays but never got to the funding stages. There's on producer who wants a screenplay of mine but writes a deal in that if he doesn't find the money to make it and I happen to find it, then I have to include him in the new deal.
Does that sound good?
No, of course not. I said this; he can have a free option for 6 months. This means he can shop it around at no cost. Doesn't that sound grand of me, he doesn't have to pay a penny. But no, he returned my contract and added that clause again, that if ever I get to make it with anyone else, he has to be part of it.
Without contributing anything.
He calls me at least four times a year for the last three years and he offers his same deal and I give him my deal and so on and so on.
And what about Travel Day? Well, the deal was made, I took a deferment, which means I would get some money back from the profits. But if you've read that deal in a previous blog, there's no chance in hell of getting that money back. But I'm still getting a considerable amount under WGA so it's not too bad.
They optioned the screenplay a month or so ago for $10, as a token gesture.
They still haven't paid me the $10.
Friday, April 25, 2014
"The reason why directors don't like writers on the set is
because the writers know the director is faking it."
I really don't know who said that but I've heard it often enough to have my take on it. I have a friend who makes short films and who wants to make feature films and when we first met she asked me if "the writer" is allowed on set.
My answer was that, for her, it was pretty obvious that "the writer" wasn't allowed.
There is some truth to it but my own experiences relate to this; the more confident the director is, the more they use the writer as much as needed; the less confident the director is, the less they want to see the writer on set.
The other expression about these two people is that; in film, the director is king and on TV the writer is king.
The easy answer is that a movie is a one-of, a single movie although sequels might happen. But in TV episodic, every episode is written by writers and the director comes in after the screenplay is finished for most of the time. Directors are known to be "hired hands", they come in a few days before their show, they direct it and they leave. They can get a "first look" at the final edit and maybe ask for some changes.
But it's the writers who control the show totally, in fact all those credits that you see at the beginning of a series episode, and whom are called producers, are writers. And the reason they rule is because they have to turn out a new screenplay every week.
But what about movies;
I've done a bunch of TV movies and except for a handful, I was on set for all the others of which some were done in Canada, some in Luxembourg and one in Mexico and except for the Mexico job, I worked with the director.
In Mexico I worked with a director who really didn't know what he was doing and fought me almost every day until I finally decided to leave. But I did have the producer on my side and he managed to mediate the two of us until we came out with a compromise.
For a dozen of those movies I was rewriting other writers work but even if it was originally someone else's writing, I fought to keep the other writer's work. When it came to mine, I fought harder.
So what does "fight" mean?
It means that the director or producer or executive producer wants changes in the screenplay. If you're working for a good director, chances are they will be minimal, but if you're working with a "hack" as the term is used, they are going to try to show they have power over you for no other reason but insecurity.
If you really want to see how writers and directors fight on a TV series I did then go back to March 2010 by clicking on the tabs on March 2010 called Heaven & Hell.
Other than that, have a good week-end.
Monday, April 21, 2014
Well, it's more like "California cold" which means mid to low 50's.
This is where we met Jule, the 90-year old former World War 11 pilot who flew in the Pacific campaign in 1944-45. As I've mentioned Jule wanted to write a book on his time in the Pacific and asked me to help. To date, we're pretty close to finish and Jule, at 90, is as energetic as anyone I know. He's sharp, rides a bike and continues to serve on several committees in Santa Monica.
There was also a couple who were in that age range and they would often sit near us and sometimes have a comment or two on politics or arts. Eventually we would also become friends. He was Alexander Eliot, sporting a very long grey beard and his wife, Jane, was a Canadian so that bonded us.
A few years ago we noticed Alex alone and, at that age, we knew Jane was gone. Alex retreated to inside the restaurant and found a place in a corner, out of anyone's way. I would always step inside and tell me about my two books and screenplays and he would always enjoy my stories of writing for the movies.
But he rarely talked about himself.
Then, a few weeks ago, when I dropped inside to say hi, he was with a woman who told me that his "memoirs" had become a book. I was happy to hear it but I realized I knew little about him. The woman said to go to a website his children set up for him.
That day I went to to his website and also to Wikipedia. And I couldn't believe what he had accomplished and whom he knew in his almost 100 years.
Alex came from Cambridge in a family of knowledge to say the least. He was the art editor
for Time Magazine from 1945 to 1960 and he wrote numerous books, mostly on mythical subjects as seen from a practical view, one book was called "The Timeless Myths: How Anicent Legends Influence the Modern World."
Needless to say his work was way over my pay scale as they say. He produced a film called "The Secret of Michelangelo" for ABC. Alex won a Guggenheim Fellowship and moved with his wife to Spain, then moved to Greece and Japan (told in a book called "Around The World By Mistake"). He studied Zen Buddhism then moved to Rome and England.
Alex came into contact with Matisse, Picasso and a good friend, Salvator Dali.
He published 18 books and hundreds of essays and once said "Life is a fatal adventure. It can only have one end. So why not make it as far-ranging and free as possible."
Yesterday I saw him again and told him I was writing about my travels across the U.S. and Canada, far from all the trips and voyages he did. Alex laughed when I told him the title of my book was "How To Not Get Beat-Up In A Small-Town Bar"
and he laughed and said he liked it.
It all makes me wonder about the people I may have missed by maybe not saying hello or listening to someone I didn't know. I know that one day Alex won't be in his corner spot and so I will pay more attention to him each time I hit the beach.
Friday, April 18, 2014
In much the same way as my friends and UCLA classes suggested I write a book on screenwriting, more of my friends suggested another book. Just when you thought Jimmer was finished, I decided to write on something I really know...
And it's called "How To Not Get Beat Up In A Small-Town Bar."
Title too long? It will probably take the whole cover. I've registered the title also, just in case.
For those who have followed me from August 2009, you will remember my road trip across
western Canada in the middle of winter. I think I mentioned the idea of a book on not only that subject, but also adding a lot of adventures along the highways of western Canada and the U.S. Roughly it adds up to about 5-6 hundred thousand miles.
In simple words; half a million miles.
There are a lot of drivers who have gone way past that, one man on the east coast has driven two million miles in the same car. But up to now he's never written a book about what he saw besides freeways.
The title comes from an actual incident in a tiny town in North Dakota in a bar when a drunk local wanted to pick a fight with me. I had stopped into the town to grab some dinner and tried to be oblivious, except for this person. It didn't last long because he tripped and fell and passed out.
I began to get my "big map" out; it's a map of Canada and the U.S. and I used a green highlighter to track my trips. I also put yellow tacks in towns that I stayed over in. You can see that map above.
While my main work is screenwriting and trying to put movies together, this book was a pleasant diversion. If I weren't writing scripts, I would be happy driving along the old highways of both countries, maybe to the south, where I've never been. I always think of "In The Heat Of The Night" when I think of the south. Maybe sometime.
What I like is that I won't really have to deal with a producer or director or actor, I can write what I want how I want. The book should be ready in a few months as I'm still working on Emperor of Mars and a resurgence of Ghostkeeper 2, which we're gonna try one more time.
Persistence is the thing you need if you're writing screenplays, someone could option your screenplay but never make it or nobody likes it. It's not often that having an option means that "they" are going to make it. I've had maybe fifty options that never came through.
On the other hand, I had the Christmas movie optioned in June 2010 and it was made in September 2010. That's almost the fastest if I don't include Betrayal of Silence, which I wrote in 2 weeks and it began shooting on the 3rd week.
But, back to the highways.
A friend once said that all I need in life is a full tank of gas and an open highway, and he was right. I'm not talking about driving in cities but rather in the quickly disappearing small highways and small towns. One of my most used highways is Interstate 15 which runs from San Diego to Alberta Canada. I have used it to take me to lonely two-lane highways and even grasslands.
Anyways, the pics above are a preview.
Monday, April 14, 2014
Well, finally after telling you about my projects and hoping they get picked up, I finalized a deal last Thursday for Travel Day, a screenplay that was "in development" for several years until someone picked it up and read it and wanted to make it.
That's how it goes sometimes. It only took 8 years.
But it's not going "to camera" just yet.
I've talked about how long it could take a screenplay to get made, even after it's been optioned. An option for those who aren't familiar is this; a producer pays around 10% of the script fee in which producer gets to have an "exclusive" on that script, which is often called "the property".
What do I mean by "around 10%"?
Producers don't want to pay anything for an option, and I've probably had maybe 100 or more producers who wanted to own the script for free. Writer's Guild members get at least 10%, but producers will still try to talk you down. I've had options for $1 now and then but also knowing that the movie wouldn't get made because the producer didn't have the money or the clout.
That 10% means that the producer has an "exclusive", meaning that only he can show the screenplay around in the hopes of getting interest from the money people. They can be a studio, a network, independent producers who have money or someone who already has the financing.
My last produced movie, Town That Christmas Forgot, waited for almost 6 years to get made and when it was optioned, they began filming within 3 months. That wasn't the fastest either.
The fastest script going to production was a Lifetime movie I wrote in 2 weeks. That's right, 2 weeks. When I finished it on a Friday I handed it to an Assistant Director and on Monday they were shooting. They cast it during the two weeks I wrote it.
How could I do it that fast?
I was always fast as a writer, even in grade school, mostly because I just wanted to get it over with. And I did have an idea for this story which was eventually called Betrayal of Silence. I got the idea while crossing Colorado years ago and heard a news radio broadcast about the head a church who was accused by a young girl to have raped her. But nobody believed the girl.
Having been raised Catholic, I was curious about the story and it stayed with me. The first draft that I wrote was the draft they filmed. And the irony is that I watched it a few months ago and it still holds up. 2 weeks work.
There's another story on how long it takes to make a movie which is the opposite of 2 weeks. It's one I rewrote from another writer and it took about 15 rewrites. But that's another story.
Travel Day is based on a true story. It's about three people driving from the city into the country. Exciting, huh?
Well, what if the three people are traveling to a distant location where they will be working on a movie.
Still not excited?
What if one of them is a famous actress who is getting old. And another is a young actor just beginning his career. And the other man is a driver taking the other two to the film location.
There's a little setup there. But there's more --
What if they see a young girl who looks helpless and who they realize is running away from home.
A little more interesting, maybe?
And throw all of these people into a passenger van and see what happens.
And I won't even tell you about the basketball playing chicken. Or maybe I might.
(* used my 35mm Ricoh film camera to take the photo above)
Monday, April 7, 2014
An article in the LA Times today brought back some memories as well as some contemporary views on Hollywood.
The article was about interns, those young kids who get to work in a studio or for a network or a producer or anybody in Hollywood who needs help... without having to pay them.
The aim of interns is that if you get in with a producer, that could be your break into Hollywood so it's worth it to work for free. Even if the work you do doesn't have anything to do with making movies.
Instead it's about getting coffee, picking up dry cleaning, driving the producer's friend to a restaurant, cleaning the office and generally anything that the producer or the secretary or the writers of a TV show (more on that below). Or anything that anybody else in the office wants to do.
And you're working for free. No wages, no benefits, you pay for your own gas and buy your own lunch.
Sounds great, eh?
I worked in TV and a writer, producer and director. I did tons of commercials, a lot of them after I left TV news until finally I got tired of "selling toilet paper" as a friend used to refer to commercials. Suddenly I was without a job.
But my goal was to make movies and since I didn't know anyone in my city who made movies my only choice was to work on a movie as a Production Assistant or P.A. This is the lowest job on a movie set. I went from being one of the top commercial guys in town to the equivalent of a new kid.
There was one difference between an intern though. I was paid a basic salary that wouldn't really carry me through the week. I picked up beer bottles and cleaned up after the crew as well as a lot of jobs like getting a special kind of chocolate for an actress and getting fresh fruits for an actor that had to be fresh that day and a whole lot of things.
And I was 34.
But, I was doing something else. I copied the script and copied any memo or piece of paper that I saw because it was all about the movie and I learned a lot just listening and reading all the copies I made.
Later that year, I made my first feature film, Ghostkeeper.
But that PA job was paid. Very different than an intern.
Interns are used a lot in lots of businesses but I know no other job where a person can be treated like dirt. Not everyone to be fair, but some of these agencies are tough as nails. You can see this in that movie Swimming With Sharks with Kevin Spacey as a sociopathic agent. Agents seem to be the worst people in Hollywood.
Some time ago I flew to Vancouver to work on a special episode of an action TV series. There were three writers there, all male, and a woman intern. From the moment I got there I could see that her job was getting coffee and sandwiches and run errands.
It didn't take me long to take her aside and tell her to tell them to get their own coffee. She wasn't sure but I said I'd take the blame. I was in a good position there and knew the other guys wouldn't give me trouble.
So slowly, she weened them off her services and began to spend a lot of time with me watching and learning how I wrote scripts. I gave her assignments and also included her in our meetings. After a few weeks she was really learning and doing it.
After I left I hadn't seen her for years but then I was in Vancouver and visited a friend of mine who had a series going. Suddenly I heard someone call my name and turned to see her. She was a story editor and writer on the series. We caught up with all the news and she told me that I had given her a lot of help and that she really appreciated it.
A recent case could prove interesting as one of these interns filed a lawsuit in that using interns as they do, the producers or studios or agencies are violating the Fair Labor Standards Act which rules that unpaid internships should benefit the intern, not the employers.
The judge stated that "the company received the benefits of the interns unpaid work which otherwise would have required paid employees".
This is scary stuff for the producers, studios, etc...
They might have to pay interns.
The other argument is, of course, that this is the best way to get into the business, starting at the bottom.
But the argument is how much should they do if they don't get paid.
Rebuttal is that they know it coming in.
The trouble is that interns can work for people who just exploit a lot of interns and almost threaten them to not challenge the system.
I know this; whenever I work on something where I can use some free help, I will always pay them something for a day, even if it's $50 or so and I also give them a lot of experience in the business, not in making coffee, so it works out for both of us. Some interns I met still call me now and then for advice and/or help.
The company above appealed on the basis that interns learn alot that they wouldn't learn in school.
That may be right to some extent, but still, that kid has to drive across town to get to work, or take a bus or subway and still has to eat so why not give them a few bucks. At least cover their travel and meals.