Sunday, December 30, 2018

End of the year and hope for you making your movie

So, I have finished my new screenplay based on my ex's idea to go to a place that we enjoyed way long ago, like 1972! And also, I have someone looking at another screenplay that''s been running around for about 10 years. I've taken a few calls on it but I don't want to think anything will really happen.

That's my way of being excited! 

Haven't really written one since S.O.B., the pilot that's running around looking for a home. 

In case you forgot, it's about two women who had married the same man, not at the same time. One was in her 50's, the other was 22. And they have inherited their ex husband's a falling apart Private Investigation company. Actually a store-front on Ventura Boulevard.

 And the S.O.B. isn't what you think. Rather it is a real estate term referring to homes being on the south side of Ventura Boulevard have more esteem than the south side.  

Thus S.O.B. South of the Boulevard.  

I'm looking forward though I probably look like it's the end of the world. Well maybe almost the end.  But I think my new one, the one my ex suggested, can work. If you have netflx you can see what I'm working at.

Older people. Catch the one with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Am I stealing some ideas? Well, everybody steals ideas, they're out there for us. Nobody really originates a new fresh script, they use pieces from way back. Redford and Fonda are in their early 80's -- and there is an audience.  And actually I'm not really copying them, just getting some ideas of my own. And I get ideas every day, most not great but some not bad.

I'm just starting to play with the story, using my favorite software, Power Structure. No sales here, I just like it.And finally, I'm going to show you a script that has been hanging along since 1985.

 Before  Strange Things. 

Before Walking Dead. 

Two words: Burger Zombies.



Thursday, December 27, 2018

Blog off a few days

I'm letting it go for a few days, should get back again Monday.

Happy New Year and hope you get a screenplay started or finished or even sold!!

Or even better --- being filmed!! 

This little theater in a little town was where I saw my first movie at around my age of 4 or 5. I got scared of the big screen and my mom carried me upstairs to the warm projector room and where I watched the film clicking while the project man changed reels.

I knew then, I saw what I wanted to do with my life.

Happy New Year

And thanks for your reads

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Yeah, my Christmas Movie.

First of all, this blog comes from a longer one and thus a little bit older. But it still works.

By now you have probably been swamped by Christmas movies, mostly from Hallmark who have at least a hundred Christmas movies to show each year. And too make sure there's room for all of them they have three different channels.

There's the original Hallmark Hall of Fame channel, which usually is a major network like CBS. Then there's the Hallmark Channel which they own and which carries regular episodic TV series as well as Christmas movies in the evening. They also have other family and holiday movies during the rest of the year.  And now they have the Hallmark Movie Channel also.

How many Christmas movies do we need?

Well, more. 

Lifetime Channel has a few Christmas movies as does ABC Disney and I'm sure there are other movies about Christmas for the other 500 channels.

And then there's all the Christmas movies that go back to the1940's, movies like Miracle on 34th Street (1947( and of course It's a Wonderful Life (1946). And you can't forget the annual marathon for A Christmas Story (1983) that plays for 24 hours on TBS, beginning Christmas Eve.

Where does it say that man and woman should have so many Christmas movies?

Christmas, or at least what we call Christmas is a mix of Christian, pre-Christian and secular holidays, including honoring the southern solstice and is celebrated by a few billion people.

And I had my little piece of Christmas also. If you follow this blog you'll remember when my movie, The Town That Christmas Forgot, played it's first run in 2010. After that it continues to play at Christmas time along with all the others.

I also have a connection to Christmas Story, mentioned above, as the editor, Stan Cole, edited my first feature, Ghostkeeper. Needless to say the only comparison to my movie was the presence of a lot of snow. Tons of it.

My personal favorites (besides mine, of course) are 3 those mentioned above as well as White Christmas. I'll have watched all 4 sometimes in the next two days. My Christmas movie, like other Hallmark movies, played and replayed as early as November but I like to wait till today. After all there's only so much Christmas viewing.

My story was actually based on three separate events in my life, two of which had to do with Christmas. Ironically the screenplay turned out to be 3 consecutive acts of the classic 3-Act story.

The first act involved a family whose car breaks down, leading to spending 2 days in a small town in Oregon. This actually happened. 

In the second act the family becomes involved with townspeople in a dying coal mining town. That also happened when I was filming a documentary in the Canadian Rockies and spent a few evenings in the town's bar.

 And the 3rd act revolved around a Christmas Pageant which was based on the Christmas Pageants we had in my little village in Canada.

Screenplays usually don't all into place as easily as this one did, and none of it was "created", it was based on real people and real places. And it's pretty rare to find that.

Then there's  1974's Black Christmas.

Arguably the best suspense-horror film was another Canadian film that "celebrated" Christmas. The storyline was about a maniac killer (who else?) comes back to a private school and begins killing the pretty teen-age girls.

And guess what? Stan Cole also edited that movie. 

It was made again a few years ago and there are some other horror/suspense movies out there also, but not as good as Black Christmas.

And there's one more movie that inspired me to write a Christmas story and that was Susan Slept Here (1954). Never heard of it? Probably not.

I first saw it around the late 50's as a kid, and never forgot it, nor the theater I saw it in. I just loved it. A troubled teenage girl is handed over to a Hollywood screenwriter for the Christmas holidays and of course he doesn't want to be her guardian. Great movie.

It actually inspired me to write a spec screenplay which might just get made next year.

Hallmark movies tend to be family-friendly, in other words anyone should be able to enter the room and watch a movie and not feel awkward or uncomfortable. Black Christmas obviously doesn't fit, but who knows?  

There are a lot of sad Christmas movies, I remember a TV movie with Lloyd Bridges (Jeff's dad for those of you who don't know who he is). It was about two lonely people who meet at a hotel and find some friendship. It was appropriately called Silent Night, Lonely Night (1969). Great title!!

Then there's Home Alone (1980) and Polar Express (2004) and if you really get into it 1938's A Christmas Carole, still one of the best ever. And for action fan's Bruce Willis in Die Hard (1988) and Lethal Weapon (1987) with Mel.

As far as my movie, it's not as great as the classic ones mentioned here, but it did have some feeling that came close. 

So have a great Christmas and try to catch some of the more obscure Christmas movies, especially on TCM which brings me a piece of nostalgia and finding movies I had never heard of before.  

And this time, a short story that will be very interesting for all of you. All about the Christmas story I wrote. The one you can see if you go to youtube and then spell out The Town Christmas Forgot. Free! 

The best way to see it is when it's about 85 minutes or so. There's a bunch of clips that show moments only. But go for the 85 minutes in English of course.

Have a good Christmas and whomever wants to be part of it. Any way you want.

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and everyone who cares to partake.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The amateur and the pro

When I came to LA in 1990 there was a very specific method of getting a job. First you had to find an agent, which back then wasn't really very hard. I actually had an agent before I came here but that was after I had made my Ghostkeeper movie.

Still I was nobody as far as Hollywood was concerned.

And even though I had an agent, he never really found me any work. After 2 years, which was what our contract stated, I left for another agent who didn't find me work either. Both agents just weren't in the big leagues. It took me a few until I found one who was young, eager and he liked me.

As far as the getting attention, I had a screenplay, Emperor of Mars, which I talk about frequently in this blog. Turned out that it opened doors for me, a lot of doors, studios, networks and production companies. Almost all of them from Amblin to Zucker Brothers.

But nobody wanted to make it. They wanted to either see what else I had or if I would take an assignment job. Which I did with pleasure. Ironically I got most jobs from Canada, where I had been, where I couldn't get a job anywhere.

But now that I was in LA the feeling was that I must be good. The fact is that I was the same writer but I guess, everyone looks to the other side of the hill.

Getting meetings and jobs always began by a "Meet 'n Greet", wherein you meet the development executive or sometimes the boss. It was all very orderly.

Then, around 2005 or so things changed. The tv movie was dying and now only 3 players. Suddenly a whole market almost disappeared. And jobs disappeared also. This was now the era of reality TV and big budget movies.

Then something else happened.

Film schools. Dozens of them. Maybe hundreds. There always were film schools, but not many, the big guys UCLA, USC, AFI, NYU and a dozen others. But now universities and colleges saw money in teaching film.

Which produced hundreds of new screenwriters.

While that was somewhat of a nuisance, after all we pros don't really want competition from the new writers, it's bad enough that most of us in WGA are unemployed anyways. One obstacle was that they had to get into WGA, which requires that you get a WGA signatory company. It isn't as easy as it sounds.

Then something else happened. Film schools began having screenplay contests. In short time other organizations also began to have screenwriting contests. They hired a few "Pro" writers to judge, made some money from the entries and paid the winner a few bucks and planned the next one.

Then other markets began to spring up, craigslist, Mandy and a dozen others of which most didn't last long. Even actors got into the act, Kevin Spacey had a website where you could post your script and read others.

Very soon there was a lot of "aspiring" writers, some of whom even called themselves writers. (I don't consider someone being a writer until they sell something, a receipe, an article, a short story or a script, old school maybe  but I'm not alone).

And it became wide open, a war between seasoned writers with experience and amateurs of all ages who maybe took a course like the one I taught at UCLA or bought one of the many screenwriting books or even took a course with McKee.

After all that's all you really need to write your first screenplay? That and the software.

Almost overnight, competition began fiercely between the real writers and the aspiring writers. I know from my own course that less than 5 people in my total classes which amounted to around 250, were able to write something that was good, not to mention having a bit of talent and a lot of stories.

And while some WGA members worked, there was also a pool of non-WGA writers that always had found jobs. WGA has allegedly anywhere from 7000 members to 10,000. Truth is nobody knows for sure. One thing for sure is that the majority of WGA writers are not working.

While studios and networks still worked with reliable writers with considerable experience, some companies were sneaking looks at the aspiring talent pool.

But why, would you ask, would production companies even consider writers who may have won a contest or taken a single course at UCLA or USC or wherever? And what kind of production companies.

( more on this to follow)

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What makes a writer

My director friend Paul Lynch suggested that I do a post on what makes a writer. Easy enough to say, but I'm not sure there is anything that separates us from the others. And I'm sure other writers will say that my take on it is wrong. 

So here goes.

I really believe that writers are born, at least some of them. I wasn't so much a writer as a kid, but I read comics all the time and I went to see every movie I could in a little village in northern Manitoba. I've talked about the town in past blogs so I won't bore you with that.

There's an English saying that suggests the person at 7 is the person he/she will be. It's actually not hard to prove that; there is a documentary series made in Britain which follows a group of English people from every life style, poor to filthy rich over their lifetime.

It began with 7 Up, the name of the first doc. Each subsequent documentary caught up with them every 7 years. Thus the second doc was 14 UP. I think they're now in their late 50's. It's a really great series of docs that aired in England but you can find them on Netflix I would think.

And it proved, for the most part, that the people they interviewed at 7 were amazingly similar to what they were at their 40's (the last one I saw).  The rich ones quit the series halfway thru while the lower classes remained. 

So... how does that fit me?

What was the last movie I wrote?

The Town that Christmas Forgot.

It's a story about a city family whose car breakdown causes them to be stranded in a small remote town.

Sounds familar, right? There's also my best screenplay, Emperor of Mars, which is unabashedly my life at 12, which I recently turned into a novel. 

There are other scripts I wrote, but if you look at them, many are set in small towns or rural areas. And I never really knew it until someone pointed it out.

So how come I write city stories too?

I moved at 12 to the Windsor/Detroit area, coming from a village of 500 people to a city across the river of 5 million. And I absorbed every bit of it.

I believe writers reflect their upbringing, whatever happens to to them, good or bad, will reflect in what they right. I lived a perfectly normal life as a kid, lower middle class slightly and relatively satisfied. I did have tons of comic books and I did go see every movie I could but my ideas began to form in high school.

I was never really good at composition, and never won a writing contest. Rather it took me a long time to learn how to write something good, and that was a personal story, Emperor of Mars. For once, I had the story which included a true story about a radio broadcast where a supposed Martian was going to come to earth.

It only took me 8 years to figure out how to write something that was both entertaining and well written. Up to then, I was copying scripts I had read.

The Emperor script was followed by another script that got made, Betrayal of Silence, which was a drama about teen abuse in a Catholic foster  home. I still think it was one of my best scripts. A bit of trivia about it -- they filmed the first draft, no rewrites. That's rare.  And I knew the Catholic world, having attended Catholic school, although mine was with nuns and lay teachers.

Betrayal of Silence still holds up today, although it's impossible to find. All I have is a VHS copy.

The old saying, "write what you know" is true, at least for me. I wrote one supernatural suspense film, and until now, never considered writing another.  But with the cult fanbase out there, I at least owe them one more shot at Ghostkeeper. And Ghostkeeper, not a great movie, has now gone into horror culture since it was made in 1980.

Lessons here are this; if you're going to write, write what is familiar. That doesn't mean that you can't write anything you want, but be true to yourself and your history, that's where the real good stuff comes from.

Finally, I remember what happened when I tried to write out of my world, I wrote a big action piece and the response was "that's not Jim". What? I didn't know what they meant. What they meant was that the action piece didn't have my heart and soul into it. And they could tell.

I wish I could conceal that more, but I am what I am. And they know it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Hollywood hurts

There as a big article in LA Times this week about the fact that more TV series were filmed outside of Hollywood, which in turn means that a lot of technical people are out of work and some are losing their homes.

Ever since Canada began to offer tax credits and incentives to get American productions up there, a lot of states began to see the light and they started. Two of the biggest ones are Louisiana and New Mexico, both of whom offer incentives as good as Canada. And since the Canadian dollar is at par more or less, Canada has been losing business it had when it was 69 cents.

American productions still come to Canada but not as much and the big centers are Toronto and Vancouver, while the rest of the provinces get a movie or two. Alberta has series but Saskatchewan has dropped it's incentives.

These incentives are basically money given back after the production is finished. It's a little more complicated than the American states who give incentives. In Canada, a certain amount of people need to be Canadian citizens and in some cases residents of that particular province. 

The Federal program offers money back also but has a 6 point demand on the top jobs; writer, producer, director, actor, editor and DP and sometimes production designer. In order to get money back 6 of 10 points needs to be Canadian talent. And the production company has to be registered in Canada.

The U.S. system is a little different, residency doesn't always have to be from that particular state.

So what's the rebates or incentives worth? Well, most credits (incentive, rebate and credits are basically the same thing - money paid back to the production after an audit) pay anywhere from 10 to 35%, meaning that a $10 million movie could theoretically get $3.5 million paid back to the producers. Each state and province has their own limits but you can see the advantage.

Back in the USA, there are 23 new 1-hour dramas starting to film and only 2 are being filmed in Hollywood. Considering that a 22 episode 1-hour drama series has a budget of around $60 million it translates to 840 jobs, according to the LA Times.

Also consider that in 2005 80% of the drama series were done here, but now it's more like 10%.  Unions claim that there is a 30% unemployment in the movie town, which is three times as much as the national unemployment numbers.

Of course the Writer's Guild has around an 80% unemployment rate so they don't have much on us.

But unemployment is real and people are losing their homes. Some move to New Mexico or Louisiana which as I mentioned seemed the hottest. New York is doing well, having 4 times the amount of filming as compared to Hollywood.

But don't cry for Hollywood yet. Almost all the sitcoms are still made here.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Do you believe the image?

Martin Scorceses said of the young people now that, "they don't believe the image".

This was in relation to how young people watch movies and the fact that they don't really believe the image the way our boomer generation and the generation before us viewed movies.

By young people, I would actually go back to GenX who were caught between my generation and not the new generation, with X meaning more or less a confused generation. They are essentially not old enough and not young enough.

It was a GenX'er who caught my curiousity as he described movies he saw as jokes or stupid or uncool. I was interested in how that attitude came about, it seemed that to like movies was uncool. By the way "cool" and "uncool" go back to the 1940's, and it's interesting that the expression is still with us.

Movies for us boomers were major entertainment in the 60's and through the 90's when we began to stop going to the theaters and rather would buy or rent VHS and DVD videos. One of the reasons was that during our 60 years of watching movies we had seen every kind of plot and storyline there is.

Enter the "Millennials"who were born with iPods in their hands and parents who wanted them to be famous. 

And they see movies as only one aspect of entertainment. They can watch a movie on their iPhone and stop to text and then actually take a live call. They call it multi-tasking. However multi-tasking really isn't doing two or three things at the same time, despite what people think.

A few weeks ago I was doing several things at the same time; burning a DVD on my iMac, finalizing another DVD from my TiVo, printing labels on DVD's on my laptop and using my other laptop to answer emails.

At the same time. 

Well, really not at the same time. Very few people can do two things at the same time. What I was doing was compartmentalizing everything, check the TiVo, walk over to the iMac then go back to my laptop to  insert a new DVD to be printed. It really isn't doing 4 things at the same time, it's 4 things in sequence.

The only difference is that kids now can do it faster. In fact they want to get things done as fast as they can.

So what about believing the images.

Sadly, at least to boomers, the kids are missing out on stories and characters because you can't enjoy a movie and text at the same time. I sometimes have my laptop as I watch a movie on TV and realize that I'm often missing some of the story. 

But the story isn't really important now either. Movies were magic to our parents and to us and we would enter a theater to be taken away to another world for two hours. That's what it was about.

Movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Searchers and so many others gave us legendary characters that we would hope to be or at least partially be like them.

Since DVDs began to be sold in supermarkets it was the beginning of the end of the magic, they became just another product and in order to impress anybody they had to be big. Very big.

Avatar big. 

But even big doesn't work for the audience that much.

One interesting thing about Millennials is that they rarely watch the movies of the 1930's to 1950's, which boomers did, even though those movies were made years before they were born. There's still something about Bogart in black & white and Cagney on "top of the world" that make us believe.

So to Millennials, try to believe again, although I also realize that they are facing a world unlike ours, our generation only feared nuclear war, they fear they might miss out on the next generation of iPhones.

And a world of uncertainty.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Jinx

Beginning of a new year brings the apprehension of many writers. What's gonna happen this year, will I work, will I end up on the street and a hundred other things that can happen to those who don't have a regular job. I look for work every day, that's the difference between me and the people who drive to work every day.

And then there's the jinx, or bad luck.

It's bad luck to count on projects that might never happen. A lot of writers won't even tell you they might have a job for fear of it going away. But it seems they go away anyways. So I'm going to tell you what is lurking out there for me.

Putting aside my screenwriting book which will be published in a few weeks and continuing to fund Ghostkeeper 2, there were three different projects that might be good.

First, someone is reading my submarine screenplay. It's been optioned a few times but never made. Secondly there's the potential of a sequel to my Christmas movie which I felt was always there. And thirdly there is a strong chance that my lost airplane screenplay might get made.When I say, maybe, might, could etc, it means someone at this very moment is reading and/or deciding if they can make the movie.  Soon!!

As I mentioned at the beginning, many writers won't say what they're doing, nor that they have people looking at their material. I have a habit of openly answering that question if anyone asks.

In September of 2016, I signed a contract for Chaser, the movie that was optioned by a French company and whom will make the film hopefully. Not bad for an old guy.

As far as the potential for the other three screenplays, nobody knows. I often start off with a handful of projects that slip away by June.

How does anyone manage to live with those odds, mostly against me? 

It's freelancing. Never a guarantee that anything of mine will be sold let alone read and optioned.

I worked in an office once and lasted less than 3 weeks. 

But I'm not entirely alone on these projects I mention; in fact each of them came from a producer who would like to see the movie get made mostly because they also need a job. Like my friend says, what you need in this business is a guy with quarters and a rolodex. This is the old style of agents as well as writers who keep looking for that "someone" will say they want to see you work.

True, that's analog thinking, but substitute the quarters for a smartphone which also now doubles as a rolodex and voila... someone as hungry or hungrier than me.

So don't worry about me, I'm not alone in my quest to sell my screenplays. I have around 39 screenplays on the shelf (or is it the "hard drive).

And the rest of the year to sell at least one. Or two. Or maybe even three. I have a director trying to get producers to make another screenplay. He's been after it for at least 8 years. 
And nothing is happening.
And I finished my new script, which I think is not bad. 

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

And I'd like to thank...

 Another "aren't we wonderful" awards show is over and only the big one left on Sunday, February 24th. I dvr'd it so I could catch the awards I wanted to see, mainly best actor, best supporting actors (male and female) as they like to say. Goes back to Shakespeare's day when all actors were male.

With all the thanking going on it made me think about me. Well, actually me as in "writer".  We're a little more different than any other person in the movie business.

We work alone. 

Nobody to cheer us on, no group hugs, no nothing. Just a white screen in front of us waiting for our brilliant (or not so brilliant) words to be invented. I always thought that if I ever win anything I would simply say this:

"I'd like to thank somebody but actually I did it all by myself"

And writers do it by themselves. Sure, we might have a producer harassing us, or the occasional actor asking for more great lines, but generally we are alone in a room. Not counting those who "write" at Starbucks, we call that performance art.

So what happens when writers win. They thank their producer, not for his help but rather to have hired us. And we thank the actors of course, for not screwing it up too  much, and finally we thank our spouses and families and hope they won't complain if our next five screenplays don't sell.

But you can bet at the bottom of all this, we know that nobody would have had a job if it weren't for us. You can't make a movie without a story. So how do we have awards shows. Well, it's usually in a tent or hall somewhere and not covered by TV cameras because, after all, we're just the writers.

We're not like those scam Golden Globes which consist of around 75 foreign critics who sell their words to studios who give them freebies and trips. And we're not actors who get to dress up pretty and think the world revolves around them.

Am I bitter? Naw... here's why. I get to make the movie first.

About fifteen years ago I was working on a TV series in Vancouver as a writer/senior story editor. I had written an episode that started like this; 


Neon lights reflect on the wet dark streets of Chinatown as a soft rain mists across the steam rising from sidewalk grates. A man steps into streetlight, lost and disheveled… a desperate character.

Okay, so that’s the first scene in the screenplay I wrote. As I stood there I watched a crew of about forty people working in the rain, setting up lights, moving cars, putting up traffic signs, raising rain tents. Gaffers ran past me and actors were led to their trailers. Then an A.D. I knew walked up and looked at the street with all the busy crewmembers and then turned to me and grinned;

 “It’s all for you Jim.”

At that moment, he said what I already knew, all I did was write a handful of words and now a made-up shining city was coming to life and getting ready to make my dream come true.
Nobody can take that away from me.

Monday, November 26, 2018

The Writer's Guild Christmas Party

The Writer's Guild of America, West holds a Christmas party where a few hundred writers and guests take over an upscale restaurant. Nobody really knows how many WGA writers there are, estimates go from a few thousand to 10,000 members. The west coast WGA is the largest.

Last one I was at was held at Beso, a restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard and co-owned by Eva Longaria of Desperate Housewives fame. Eva also brought pizzas to the writers' strike a few years ago. And while her restaurant is way too upscale for the likes of me and other writers, we get a chance to hang out where wine bottles rest in a huge glass wall for all to see.

The event is free and we all get one ticket for a drink. Last year, after I used my ticket I bought a Manhattan and it cost $16 so you know that was my last drink.

Writer's come in all shapes and colors but mostly are middle-aged men with jeans and occasional sport coat or sweater. Mostly we look like we look at home or work. There were a few suits and some glitter costumes but ordinary is the look of the evening rather than the hipsters who regularly come to Beso.

It's a big restaurant with an upstairs private room and actor/waiters moving through the crowd with trays of beef tacos and thin pizzas. Tables were removed to accommodate  the crowd of loud writers and guests.

What's interesting is that I've discovered there are a lot of writers who work on various other things than movies and TV. I met a writer whose job it is is to create questions for Jeopardy, another writes a reality show where he figures out ideas for one of those housewives-of shows. I even met a radio news writer who was in WGA thru a separate guild in New York.

As I mentioned, men are in the majority here and women writers are fewer and minorities even fewer. It's changing a little, but not much. 

Talking to writers is never easy as many prefer not to really talk to anyone but their friends. Since both I and my guest Mary are pretty good talkers and we managed to talk to a lot of the crowd. Mary introduced me to Tom Schulman, an Academy Award winner who seemed quite friendly and not aloof at all. 

Of course there's nothing like success to make a person humble and there were some of those. I had my deal with the French company that had some good reaction but again the worst thing a writer likes is another writer who's working. Not always of course, but often.

In some ways, the party has the feeling like the employees broke into the owners mansion and are taking advantage of everything. A lot of the discussions I had were from unhappy writers and the lack of work or the lack of respect that writers get. 

I've never bothered with that, I always felt that I respected myself and didn't really care what my bosses thought of me and as long as I delivered, that's all that really counts. The truth is that most of the WGA members are out of work, I read a statistic that suggested around 85% of WGA members are not working. That beats the national unemployment rate for any other job, except for actors maybe.

But we choose what we wanted to do and that's how it goes; some of us are talented, others like me are lucky, and still others aren't sure why they became writers. I spoke to one of the actor/waiters who wanted to make some contacts with a writer who could connect him to a producer and I didn't want to tell him the odds of that happening as writers are the last people to be able to help anyone.

There's an old offensive joke wherein a young not very smart starlet anxious to get herself into movies sleeps with the writer.  Nobody cares about the writer.

That's the joke.     

But she isn't.

She also brought pizza.


Thursday, November 22, 2018



                                          To both of us


Monday, November 19, 2018

My 45th

Finally I finished my newest screenplay which took me a fair amount of work, not to say that it's also personal to a great amount. Most of the time, I usually use people I know in my screenplays, being either close friends or strangers I've seen on the street. This time I have to write something that is very close to me.  Me!

Me and her -- our time in the Rockies. 1971.

Here's the point.

Sometime ago I received an email from a girl on Facebook who asked me if I had married her aunt.  Well, guess what? I did marry her aunt. How about that? We were married for about six years and eventually went different ways. No anger or anything like that, we just separated.

So I called my ex, not sure to expect Brenda, above photo and we had a good talk and eventually started to talk more and I eventually went to see her a few times. We had a good time and she remembered the great time we had in the Rocky Mountains near Calgary. We spent three months at an arts school there when we were together. Both of us agreed it was one of the best times ever.

I took a class in film even though I was already working in television and she took a writing course. It also had courses in music, theater and more. I remembered hearing students practicing instruments among the incredible mountains.

But then, my ex came up with a really good idea?

Why not go back there for our 45th Anniversary? Both of us laughed.

And then she said that I would probably write a screenplay about it.

So I did. 

But I wasn't sure how to write it. It definitely had to be different than us, that would be too awkward. So I created two characters similar to us and to pieces of people that would work in the story without us having to be too far apart from the present. Different names, of courses.

I also needed to change the location for one reason.

It had to be in the U.S. Mostly because I felt the story had a lot of the U.S. that we drove many times. Also it would work better than have a story in Canada. Because there are very few good movies from Canada. I hate to say that but it's true. I've always felt that Canadian films seem to be a combination of British and U.S.

However, the French in Quebec make wonderful movies and I always felt they had their own country within Canada and know that they lived in Canada before the English took it over.

Then I stole a few ideas from my book "How To Not Get Beat Up In A Small Town Bar". It's a book I published about a lot of driving in the U.S. and Europe and of course, Canada. You can see those pieces in my book.

And so I wrote.  And it took me almost two months, with some stopping now and then. It seemed to work well but I went back to the start and changed a couple of things. Endings are always a problem and I am still unsure.

Then I sent a copy to two friends of mine, both good on screenwriting. One a woman and another a man. Paul has directed more movies and tv than I ever knew. And Mary has good sense and ideas.

Then there's the ending. I had a dozen ways but didn't get one I liked. I left it for a week and then came back. I went thru a few more and then just realized it was right there all the time.

Simply "My 45fth."

And no, it's not mine, it's my ex, she had it right from the start. It can be used for both I suppose but I think that each of us probably think it was ours.

But I know that it wasn't, even though they are rough on first drafts.  So I went through the screenplay again, slower, finding errors that they and I missed. Simple things, changing names often or sentences and realism.

Here's me. 1971 with Brenda above. These two b&w photos show our 1968 Mustang, loved that car. We were waiting for it to be fixed and in the meantime we were thrown out of a nearby cafe because we were "hippies".  We were far from that. 

Funny thing... I was already shooting film for a TV network and knew more than the teacher. But he gave me and another student bad marks. That other student and I started a small company in Vancouver and had a short film in 1976 at the Academy Awards! He passed away a long time ago and I miss him.  And my long hair and beard.  I was mad because the cafe tossed us out.

Far out!

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The projector - or How I Got The Movie Bug

A few years ago the major movie studios announced that they are not going to make and deliver 35mm prints of their movies to theaters in the U.S. and Canada. Instead movies now will be sent via digital means and eventually will come from "the cloud". The projectors above were similar to those used in my home town. 

There are two of them because a feature-length film of around 100 minutes wasn't one single reel. Often it took 6 reels or more, depending on the length. Each reel weighed maybe around 10 lbs.  Running was basically simple, reel 1 and reel 2 were loaded on their projector. Then when reel 1 was ending reel 2 was ready to take over . That's when the projectionist would have to shut off projector one and turn on projector two.

The trick was to never see the screen go black for even a second and thus it took a steady hand and a lot of practice. Projectors were used from the very start of the movie business and lasted just around 100 years. A pair of these projectors and a projectionist were, to my thinking, the inspiration to my love of movies. And it began with me screaming.

I was about 4 or 5 when my parents took me to see a movie, apparently because they couldn't find a babysitter. The movie was "The Living Desert", a Disney documentary about the desert.

All went well until a rattlesnake appeared on the screen, magnified to the size of a house. It seemed to leap out at me and I yelled like hell. I wanted out. My mom immediately took me out to the lobby and calmed me down. But I was not going back. No way.

Then she took me upstairs to the projection room. Since my town was pretty small, everyone knew everyone else and the projectionist, Leonard Kaminski, sat me down near the projectors and my mom went back to sit with dad. I remember some theaters used to have a room at the back of the theater with windows so moms with babies could watch a movie without having to annoy the audience. But ours didn't have that feature. 

It was wintertime and the projection room was warm and cozy and I soon became relaxed. I watched Leonard expertly switch the projectors then take the used reel of film and rewind it. It became hypnotic to me. There was the warmth from the projectors and something else.

The click-clack sound of the film going through the projector.

It was soothing and I  had the feeling that I was safe. The sound was much like the sound of a train clicking along the tracks. And I was totally mesmerized by this new world that seemed to protect me.  It was the beginning of a long friendship with those projectors and it led to a life in the movies. 

Ironically I had the chance to meet Leonard several years ago before he passed away and he remembered me just like I remembered him. I told him what I did for a living and he said he figured I would because he noticed how I studied every aspect of what he and the projectors did. Once in a while and as I was older, Leonard would let me sneak in and sit with him, with me watching the screen through a small window.

But now, the projectors are gone and many of the older theaters in small towns are having to close down due to the costs of buying digital projectors. Some small towns have used to solicit funds from the locals and many now have digital. Yet I'm sure that many don't.

And what about my theater back in northern Manitoba?

I have been assured that they have installed brand new digital projectors ready for the next kid who falls under the lure of movies. And I think Leonard, somewhere in projectionist heaven, also agrees.   


 Before it was a church and then turned into the movie theater that I learned from by watching almost every movie I could see. Sometimes I would listen at the back door if the movies were "Adult". 

The cross is just a telephone pole.