Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Living in Heaven, Working in Hell.

This blog is based on a TV series I worked on a bunch of years back and from which I kept a journal of the goings-on. After showing it to several friends they thought it would be interesting to almost anyone who ever watches television. As with my blog I treat it as honest and real, even to my own ego and mess-ups. It was on an early version in 2010. 

My original title was "Living in Heaven", Working in Hell". 

The first part of the title refers to the fact that the series was being shot in the heart of the magnificent Rocky Mountains as in the photo above, which I took. The second part refers to the people I worked for and with. It's where I learned that working with someone not as good as you usually ends up in conflicts and frustration.

Now, I'm not the best writer around, some studio execs and producers have called me an "A-List" writer, meaning that I'm in the same league as the big guys, of course others say I'm anything from an average "hack" to just ordinary. 

I like to think I'm a craftsman, someone who took a long time to learn how to write well. Well, some of the time.

Does that mean everything I write is great? 

No. Sometimes I write for the money, sometimes I write for myself. Sometimes I'm good, sometimes not so good. For example, I can't write sitcoms, just don't know how. Wish I could, but it just isn't there. And I can't write sex scenes; maybe it's my Catholic upbringing or maybe just because I wouldn't want my mom to see them.

My journal begins at the beginning of course, and follows my adventures in the Rocky Mountains, Vancouver and Los Angeles over the course of 6 months. I've changed all the names, including the series name for obvious reasons as you'll see. And it's almost impossible to see the series as it disappeared as fast as it came out. 

Which is part of the reason I kept a journal. 

Heartbreak Pass was a great example of good intent coupled with inept producers and a handful of writers who were either inexperienced or incapable of carrying the pressures of series writers.

I was hired as a Senior Story Editor, a position afforded me due to working as a writer/story editor on a few other series before this one. My job had two functions; first I would be the one who rewrites all the scripts that came from other writers for 13 episodes. Of those 13, I would get 2 scripts of my own to write.

There would be a "Show Runner" above me, sort of a Head Writer one step over me and almost a producer him/herself. Also called an Executive Story Editor. And in this instance, one of  the producers would also write a screenplay. A producer who had never produced anything of note except a music video and whose writing was so bad that even the network ripped it apart.

The crew was fine, all mostly between the ages of 25-45, they carried out their duties as well as they could. The crew and the rest of us writers, producers and directors would be living in the tourist town I'll call Jackson for 6 full months. Half of a year spent from January to June. In a town with a population of around 4000.

Ironically I was almost fired before the series got underway.

It began when I flew east to meet with showrunner Jonathan, a pale and gaunt man who reminded me of a burned-out teacher in his 50's. Later I would find out why. For the moment though we shared battle stories of past series over glasses of draft beer. He, along with a producer I hadn't met yet, were the creators of the series.

There would be many more "creators" as I was to find out later.

One of the producers, Dan Kaplan, Jonathan told me, was a real talker, who talked his way into the job without any credits in series TV, or for that matter in anything. He was a fast talker, Worthing said. He even had written a script and, according to Jonathan, the script was awful.

The TV business can be quite small, and I had done homework on Jonathan. Apparently he was known for losing it on a series years before. There can be a lot of pressure in series work and he had snapped one day on that show and had to be "restrained", carried out by paramedics in a straitjacket.

As we drank more, I could see this in his eyes, he had the look of one whose days were sometimes tortuous battles with staying sober.

But right now I was thinking of the money I would be making, which is always a nice thing, and the fact that I would be spending 6 months in paradise, I loved the Rockies, went to film school there (which I failed) and skied and hiked all over them.

But my dream was cut short when, two weeks later, Jonathan and Kaplan said I was fired off the show. And it hadn't even started.

(Friday): "We just don't think your work is very good, Jim")

Monday, May 29, 2017

Nobody will steal it.

One of the most asked questions I get from younger writers or wannabe writers who think that they have to protect their great stories from people who are waiting to steal them. I'm not sure where this started but to be honest, chances are pretty much on your side that nobody's gonna steal it.

Take me. I've been writing almost 30 years and have had someone never steal my ideas. I do register my scripts, but that only costs $10 for WGA and I think $20 for others. I even have some scripts that aren't registered.

How's that for bold??

My idea about this is this; When you get a really great idea that is sure to be a hit, you must understand this:

1. Someone else has the same idea. There's only so many stories.
2. Someone else is considering writing an idea similar to yours.
3. Someone has finished a script remarkably like yours.
4. Someone has sold a script remarkably like yours.
5 And someone has sold their script like yours and it being shot as I talk.

As you know I have around 35 or so screenplays I feel that the WGA registration is just fine. It expires eventually but it still sort of keeps you safe.

There are unique screenplays but eventually they all fall into one or another type of story. 

Romeo and Juliet is made almost every year if you look around. 

And besides, once you sell a script to a studio or anyone, they're going to buy off your screenplay register anyway.

Nobody's told you that, right? 

Well, almost all countries let the authors keep their registered script but the only ones who demand your registered scripts for themselves.


As how health care in America works.


So the American producers want ALL the rights.

Canada does the right thing, so do the European countries. I get around $1500 in residuals from foreign countries.

But not America. The producers get it.

So when you think of it, you really do get something stolen. And it's all legal.

More this week - Wednesday -

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bond... James Bond.

It's been a hell of a week, or shall we say weeks. Lots of changes in my life but now back to what I was good at. Sorry to have left you guys. I'll do my first blog either today or tomorrow.

And I'll bring back the TV series wherein I was fired before the show started.  I'm going for Monday, May 29. 

Also, more information on Virtual Pitch/Fest which has some interesting things you might like.

Watched Jeremiah Johnson last night on TCM, with Robert Redford. It as made in 1972 and still stands up greatly. Redford isn't the best actor but his face just shines like hell and you take it all up. 

I was sitting at Crave and reading a script of mine (which I rarely do but it was going to see a producer) and I noticed that a couple of GenX'ers talked about who was the best James Bond. 

For me, a boomer, it was obviously Sean Connery, the original James Bond for the movies. They liked the late Roger Moore. I decided that my Bond was the best because it was the first (excluding some British TV series) and theirs was more closer to Moore. Ultimately both are right I guess.

The others were okay, I always thought the recent Bond, Daniel Craig runs funny, and he also looks shorter than both Connery and Moore. And don't forget George Lazenby who lasted for only one movie. I felt sorry for him because he never really made it.

For my Gen, we were witness to the first feature length James Bond and that shot where Bond watches Ursula Andress rise from the Caribbean waters in that great Bikini and a knife on her waist.

We were sold.

Back again


Yes, I am not dead. Very sorry, it's been a bad week of sorts so I hope to catch up really quick. I'm attempting to get some of my screenplays (aka scripts/whatever) on my new friend/buddy, being Virtual Pitch Fest.

It's an interesting idea in a way. Basically it cuts out the agent who in the past, would represent writers. How does it work?

What I did is get the best 16 of scripts I haven't sold. I have around 38 scripts going back to the middle ages. Some go back to ScripThing which was a version of Screenwriter, my favorite software. This became Movie Magic Screenwriter.

I never liked Final Draft for a few reasons being that the company felt it was the only screenwriting software. It wasn't. I go back to 1983 where we had a rough version of Screenwriter, I don't even recall it's name. 

But it was the only one around. And to us, it was great. FD came along later and to me it's just a Microsoft clone. Not a true screenwriter software. I remember when I taught extension classes at UCLA, the FD guys would tell screenwriters that they are the "only real screenplay software". 

Which by then there was a handful of softwares.

When I told my students to get Screenwriter, the not very friendly screenwriters shop were told to tell anyone that FD is the professional. I told them to stop playing favorite and they don't like me.

Which of course, as you have heard, it's not the only screenwriting software. 

But back to Virtual Pitchfest.

So now, you can send your script onto a Hollywood company, there's even NBC on the site and others too. Real production companies.

I mentioned that you wouldn't really need an agent but it would still be usable. However if you're new, no decent agent would take you.

And that's where Virtual Pitchfest comes in. I had no sides, just you and your script.

I had a "hit" on my first try, a company liked my script and asked for one, which I emailed. But I haven't heard from them yet so it's a "wait and see" moment. 

So I have 16 scripts to sell but it's not as easy either. Maybe more of a shot at it, but it's the same old thing. Pitching.

So have a look at it, I'm not getting anything for it, but since I haven't made a sale yet, I'll wait and see.

But one thing that is certain; it's not like "the old times", in which an agent would send a writer to a producer who would look at what you've written IN PERSON. 

Yes, producers actually would meet you.

Now it's all thru web stuff and nobody meets anyone anymore. 

It's a lot harder for the perennials, I don't envy you at all.    

More Movies on Monday... 

Friday, May 12, 2017

Back again

Sorry about not getting back, I was trapped in trying to put three screenplays together. Sounds great but very volatile in terms of what's gonna happen.

Basically I have a shot at three screenplays of mine are being considered. Of course the Killer of Spec Scripts is lurking around.

I hate this thing.

For instance, one of the scripts would be probably with a director friend. However, that director might not be wanted by the money people who probably have their own director. If that happens, my buddy will be mad. 

Because I'm dropping him.

It's tough. Friendships have been dissolved with this stuff. I'm not going to tell the producers I won't sell the script unless "Harry" directs.

Different people would say it a different way.

I'm going to work over all of these items on the week-end and see if anything changes. 

I'm also going to talk more about Virtual Pitchfest. It's pretty interesting and has to do with two of the screenplays above.

Also, next week, I want to talk about actors and directors now and then. How good are they now as in 2017 and how good they were in 1969.

We'll go back to the "Days of Wine and Roses."

And more of my Rocky Mountain TV gig.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Way behind...

Sorry to slow down, had some work to do over the week-end, had some old friends in town and took them to the best, smallest cemetery amongst the sky scrapers. You oughta give it a look. One of my friends found Frank Zappa's gravestone, sort of. More later.


Friday, May 5, 2017

A whole new thing

Sorry for taking so long, this week has been full of surprises.

First of all, the writer's strike didn't happen even up to early Tuesday morning and partially solved by the networks. Everyone is happy. Mostly.

But something else took a lot of my time on a different angle.

I have three screenplays being looked at for possible sales. As in $$ or was that $$$?

The first project is called Side By Side and is a dark story about bad people in the 1950's. It's got a lot of good comments and now hoping to connect with three parties in order to put it all together.

Of course it can fall apart at any time.

Secondly I discovered an interesting website that requires that you "pitch" your screenplay to a production company. This is sort of a parallel to those pitch fests where you pay $50 or so in order to have a person from a real production company who tells you your story isn't any good.

Okay, so I'm bitter. But I've always been a bad pitcher. The rule usually is that great pitchers often are bad writers and bad pitchers are good writers.

At least I think that. 

But this new deal gives you a pitch to the company of your choice.

It's sort of the same thing except that you email your pitch to that particular company.

What's the difference?

Well, you don't have to go to someplace in L.A. or anywhere where there are pitches being done. Sure, you get to see the real person you're pitching, but it all ends up the same way anyways.

For instance, I pitched 8 scripts in 3 weeks and 2 were selected to be read. I haven't received any more news for now but no news is good news.

Of course, I have around 30 screenplays on my "shelf" so I have a head start. But anyone can still try to find the right production company for their interest. The companies are real, some of them I've never heard of, but there are major studios and networks amongst them.

So what that means is that you could keep looking for that right company as there's around 200 or so companies. That can mean you can keep looking till you find one.

Of course you have to pay for each one. 

So give it a look. It's called Virtual Pitch Fest or something like that. 

So what are the other two screenplays?

Well, one of them is an international political thriller and the other is a Christmas movie. I'm going to pitch a sequel to my Ghostkeeper movie, Ghostkeeper 2 eh? I figure that I can keep pitching Ghostkeeper for the whole year.

I know most of you have maybe one script or more, but it's worth a shot. It could cost $15 or something like that but it's the easiest way to pitch.

And no, I'm not part of the company. I pay just like everybody else, although WGA writers get a bigger break, mostly because we do have stacks of screenplays that nobody wanted.

So here's what readers of Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street Website:

Reviews: “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”, “the progress of the story became a very enjoyable experience”, “this story and the author’s screenwriting technique are excellent”, “the story captivated my imagination”.

Monday, May 1, 2017

No word on strike

Only thing I heard was that they, the writers and the producers, all in a group, might be getting close. Right now us writers are waiting to hear what happens. Eh?

I'm going to post several posts next on a TV series I did some years ago. Some of you might have read it but for those who jumped into the blog recently, it's a good lesson on writing with other people who don't like you.

Or something like that.

I'll start maybe Wednesday