Monday, January 30, 2017

Is this any good?

Every writer, pro or amateur asks their selves one thing. Is this any good? Is that first five pages you're looking at good enough to carry a hundred pages or so?

Or the first ten, or the first fifty pages?

Or even the finished product?

Having written 38 spec screenplays in about 20 years or so, I think that probably, I have written maybe a dozen good scripts. Okay, maybe half that.

What were they about? What was the story?

How about a Christmas story, I did good with The Town Christmas Forgot, which I wrote as a spec and sold to Hallmark in 2010. This unsold one, called Christmas Carole (aka The California Christmas) was based on a movie with Debbie Reynolds which I always liked on Turner.
Then there's a true story, based on the mysterious murder of a young Scottish girl in a wealthy home which eventually led to drug smuggling in Vancouver. I really liked this script so much I went to the grave of the girl and sat down, asking her to tell me who killed her. Nobody ever knew. I would do that movie for nothing. It's very similar to Chinatown.

Then there's another favorite about a president of the U.S. has to get a new heart. I liked this story because I discovered that hearts aren't necessarily laying in ice, rather they can attach connections to the heart and keep it alive. Here's a reader's report:

“The premise of a presidential heart transplant is strong and commercial. It takes a personal need with a ticking clock, and transforms into a global crisis with a journey at its center. It's a smart base for an affordable political thriller which still has worldwide stakes. Making the protagonist a doctor was an intelligent decision, and introduces a fish out of water element that always plays well in a thriller. The setting - a chase from Paris to Luxembourg - is perfectly commercial.”

Then there's another; Secrets of the Salmon, a story about a woman returning back to her Washington state after twenty years to confront her father over a past sin. This one was actually optioned at ABC and had good comments by Jody Foster's company.

How about a 1950's gang story wherein an Italian hitman goes to Niagara Falls to kill a union organizer but accidentally saves the organizer and meets two women very much attached to themselves.Title is Side By Side which fits the last scene. Good reviews from Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street website.

“This thing is quite good”, “Reminded me a lot of Chinatown with it’s film noir slant and grotesque bizarre edge”, This script is great, the story is great”, The concept is original and although it made me a little uncomfortable at the beginning, the human aspect of it won me over,” “You’ve created the perfect film noir world, your penchant for character, mood and atmosphere became a very enjoyable experience,”I read this story with the girl upstairs, we started reading yesterday and she came home and demanded we finish - the story had so captivated her imagination.” “The progress of the story became a very enjoyable experience” – Trigger Street.

  Then there's Travel Day, a road picture where a once famous actress and a young male actor are driven to a distant location. One of the best scenes in it would have been great, wherein a chicken plays basketball. Sort of. Two Oscar nominated women wanted to play it but the money fell through.

 The story came from a friend of mine who worked with me on a series. He was driven to a film location with a pretty famous actress of the 60's, both of them with a 70-year old location driver. The heart of the story was how the three of them handled each other on a winter day.

And finally, and of course, the favorite one is Emperor of Mars. And it's because it is the closest story to me even though I have used my life and friends lives and anyone else I notice who would be generous enough to let me use them. I wrote EOM way back in 1989 and most of you have probably heard a half dozen producers who tried to get it made. So I wrote the book. You can see the reviews of the book at the EOM card at the top.

Next will be the "B" movies, the ones that aren't quite as good as the ones above. And why they aren't.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How I started writing screenplays

First of all, I wrote a story in high school but it wasn't very good.  I decided to go to college in Dearborn, Michigan and one summer I needed a job and saw an ad for someone to work in a mailroom at a local TV station. 

I interviewed and intended to leave at the end of summer but something happened.

I like working at the station. After a few months I got to edit commercials to play on TV. After that it was all over. I then went into TV news as a soundman and learned how to shoot film.

I loved working in this business and still do.

I stayed there for 3 yrs and then quit and jumped across Canada working at any TV station I could get a job at. And it was easy those days, much harder if not impossible now.

I quit the TV station I worked at and began writing. But I didn't really know how to do it. And that's when a friend of mine showed me a screenplay. But it wasn't any old screenplay.

It was The Deerhunter.

I had seen the movie twice but now I actually had a real screenplay in my hands. So I decided I would rewrite the screenplay. Not the real screenplay, but I would copy the script to paper by typing the whole story. I would copy a handful of pages every day.

Funny thing was that at I began to think I was writing The Deerhunter. Sure, it was out already as a movie. But I felt I was writing it for myself. Sounds weird but I really began to know how a story went.

And that was my lesson in screenwriting. I still have the original screenplay in the stack.

With that, I wrote and directed a suspense thriller called Ghostkeeper. You've probably seen it within the blog and can catch it on imdb and a few other places. Not a great movie, but I made it. It's going to Blu-ray this year.

That was my only education.

Then, after writing and directing Ghostkeeper I wrote a handful of scripts and got better each time. And I kept referring to The Deerhunter script. I finally wrote something that someone might like and met a producer who wanted a story fast.

The story I wrote was about a religious man accused of accosting a 16-year old girl and laid the blame on her. I had heard it on the radio and thought it could work. But it had to be ready in 2 weeks.  And it had to change a lot. Now it was a religious minister who sent young men and women under his care to service old guys.

I have no idea why I wrote it, I had no experiences of any of that. But I had a job so I settled into a hotel in Toronto and wrote with the producer coming around every day. I finished the first draft and then realized that we had to shoot 3 days away.

I went over it on the week-end and handed it to the 1st AD and they began shooting on Monday.

From there I was now a real writer. And a first draft. I was lucky.

Then I got into TV in Canada, working on a series in Vancouver which led to meeting a director who had heard of me from a mutual friend. The director asked to read a script or two and said he could get an agent for me, his agent in L.A.

This turned into something good as I had written Emperor of Mars, a story about a 12-year old kid who falls in love with his 20-year old teacher. But something else was coming, a voice that said the Emperor of Mars is coming to earth. 

This was my story of course, I was that boy and the teacher, whom I still talk toAnd the idea of a Martian coming to earth actually was supposed to happen as I have newspaper articles from the 1950's talking about someone who was saying he was from Mars.

This was were I learned that I couldn't just write a story and a kid who's in love with his teacher, and that's where the "Emperor" came from.

But something else happened.

I changed agents because I felt I needed someone who will push my work better. And that happened. Very soon I was going to "meets" everywhere, from studios to networks to producers. Everyone loved EOM.

But nobody wanted to make it. 

And it still hasn't been made. In fact I wrote a book based on EOM and had some sales.

And then something else happened. I got into the U.S. through a Permanent Resident Alien card. Then, around 1990 I began to write scripts. A lot of them, two or three a year. I also began to do rewrites on other writers scripts.

All was well until 2008. Or as we writers called "The Death of The TV Movies". And what was that about?

Well, a TV show called Survival, where people are sent to an island and had to survive. That one thing changed TV forever.  It was cheaper too make. We reacted by a strike and had two "Death of the TV Movie" parties at the Rosovelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. 

I didn't get a movie again until 2010, something for Hallmark. 

And I am still writing, I have a screenplay with a French company and now have two scripts with a producer in L.A. and one, EOM, with another. 

A friend of mine wondered if I would retire. I told him I would drop dead on my laptop first. And then I said I wanted to take the laptop with me. He asked why? 

I said I might get a good idea!



And yes, I still take out a screenplay now and then to get some inspiration.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Alan Surgal

 Another writer, Alan Surgal, died today. He wrote one really great movie with Warren Beatty and director Arthur Penn. He was 100 years old.

"Surgal intended Mickey One as a stage play, but revised it into a film script after consulting Penn. With its surrealism (and Stan Getz improvisations), cinematic experimentation and moody existentialism, the film has developed a strong following over the decades. Released during a newspaper strike in New York, it initially flopped. A restoration by the UCLA Film & Television Archive was conducted under the supervision of Martin Scorsese"

Unclaimed Dead

As I mentioned, this blog began in August 2009 and is now in 2017, eight years later. Amazing and with over one thousand readers.  And I'm wondering how much longer.

I've told you about the distributor who's going to make Ghostkeeper into Blu-ray in the next month or two, not a big deal really. There is the idea of streaming, but we lose even more money. 

And if you look back to 2009 and follow it upwards, I get something going and then it dies and then again and again.

You must wonder how I survive, sometimes I also do. There's an old joke about dying in the movie business. A normal guy with a job retiring asks his screenwriter friend when he'll retire. Friend says "When my head falls on my laptop". He waits a beat then says "And I want my laptop with me in my grave". Friend asks why? "Writer says "Maybe I'll get a good idea."

I still have ideas, every day, most die by the end of the day or next morning, but ideas always come. I had an idea last week based on an article I read in LA Times (you can get great ideas from newspapers). 

How's this for a title:

Unclaimed Dead.

Actually it's about all those people who die with no name or no family nor friends. Homeless ones are the obvious, but there are a lot of people who die with no family or anyone close to them.

There's a cemetery near downtown L.A. where the lost people end up in. It's not just for them and it goes back to the 1800's. That alone should get some of you getting ideas. When there's enough John Doe's and Jane Doe's, say a hundred or so, they are cremated and all put in nice packets and go into a big grave.

So I had the page for about 4 years and last week I had a brainstorm.  A good idea for that story. It felt just perfect. I told my friends, they all said it was a great idea. So I started clipping articles about the cemetery.

The idea was that two or three people decide to try to find the families or friends of some of the lost people. 

Sounds great.

I even wrote a few script pages. It felt good.

My theme was that these three people, similar to any of the CW shows, would find families whose member was lost. And there would be a happy ending, or not a happy ending. Some families don't want their long lost member.

And that's what killed it. The idea.

I got stopped. It wasn't good. 

Who wants to find packets of dust and take them back to their families. Not a good idea at all.
 So it's gone to the "dead file" :)

You want it? It's yours.

I'm not finished. My mistake is that I couldn't figure out how to do it as a series. For now, I don't know. Maybe one of you might?

Or it could be a movie. I actually have a movie script about a dead killer comes back to get even with the people who put him away.

So, instead I'm pushing around some of my best unsold screenplays until I get a new idea that I think can make it work.

Who knows? 

Maybe I'll do that lost dog story instead. Everyone loves dog stories.