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.

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