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 Kickstarter.com 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.




Monday, November 12, 2018

You never know...







The hardest thing sometimes, is to want to write. Everybody else on a movie has to be hired and then paid but writers don't always have that luxury. For Example I wrote "The President's Heart screenplay a couple of years ago, waiting for eight months. Finally I had time and no excuse and I wrote it in 3 weeks.
Why?

Because they might not like it. 

As dumb as that may sound, a lot of writers, me included, don't want to get rejected. The only other people in a movie who get rejected are actors, and at least for writers it's their work, while actors are rejected because of how they look.

Yeah, I know, there's other reasons, not that good or hard to work with, but generally it falls back if the producer thinks an audience is there for them. Like Lindsay Lohan. And 20 years ago it was Shannon Doherty... remember her?

But back to writing... if I stall any longer I might not write anymore.

So what am I getting at?

I didn't write anything this week, rather I wrote some emails and sent a 1-page story to one of my producer friends, whom I'll call "Lefty". Lefty always has a "6-pic-package", meaning of course that he has six movies in the mix. 

But none of them ever come to life. 

So why show a script to Lefty?

Because you never know.

There is a possibility for a rewrite of a screenplay, but having said that I probably lost it. And of course the actor screenplay which I started but held back because I have to get the Tokyo Trolley project ready for crowdfunding. That's a book I wrote for a 92-year old WW2 pilot. A great guy and I really like him.

So this week was about possibilities, which is what writers deal with every day, almost like waiting for the lottery, someone always wins. Same goes for that writing gig I mentioned above, by this time not only did I not get the job, I'll never get another one.


I have another idea that came from someone. Actually my ex-wife. We are friends.

And I can start the week over again next Monday.

Because you never know.



Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Reader







There is, in this business of writing, one thing that makes writers shudder.  For that one thing, it is a single person, male or female who, in their world have little or no power, but for writers, they are either saviors and monsters.

These are the "readers". And they can sometimes make or break you.

 Readers have always been around, I'm sure Homer had a reader or two on his plays more than 2000 years ago. And so did Shakespeare. And Stephen King too. We all meet the reader when we choose to write words.

The readers I am talking about are the ones that read our screenplays to see if they are good, bad or great. There are more readers now than ever, because I suppose, the executives are too busy too read screenplays.

It wasn't always that way.

Even back as close as 2005, an agent could call a studio exec and suggest he/she read a new "hot" script. A runner would bring the script over on a Friday and the exec would read it over the week-end.  This was before we could email screenplays. There was a time when there was no internet.

Now, with so much information on the internet, screenplays can be sent faster and easier and with more screenplays tumbling in, they need more readers.

Now the question you might be asking is this; who are these guys and why does anyone listen to them?  Remember that famous quote from that famous screenwriter, William Goldman who did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among many others. He said this;

Nobody knows anything.

And he's right. Readers are hired to read screenplays to find the next hit, and it's not a job that writers could call honorable. Most of the readers are secretaries or interns or friends. You can get anywhere from nothing to $100 a read.

So why, you ask, do the people on the lowest rung of the Hollywood ladder be given so much responsibility.

Nobody knows anything.

A reader and hand in a hot script and the exec pitches it to his upper management. If they hate it, guess who takes the blame.

I've had fights with readers on those rare occasions we've met, and I don't generally like them. They've said good and bad things about my work and mostly they were wrong although they were also sometimes good and gave me ideas.  The power that they have is not really anything, but a good review can push a screenplay further up and a bad one can kill it.

So... on my new screenplay The President's Heart, the reader gave me some initial great remarks. But then the reader launched into an area where politics come into the story, and 
said that a lot of what I wrote couldn't happen. In fact he said it is implausible.

"Implausible - causing disbelief." Websters

What the reader is saying about the politics scene I wrote is that it causes disbelief. You mean like a guy who flies in the air or space aliens attack earth, or Bruce Willis races a car through the streets of Moscow at high speed? Or how about Jim Carrey being God for the day in Almighty Me.

Are those plausible?

In fact, everything in a movie is implausible, it's not real, it's actors walking around talking perfectly and being heroes and murderers.

For your consideration; I know politics. I worked for Bobby Kennedy in 1968 and Trudeau in 1969 and read tons of books on politics and continue to be absorbed by all those pundit TV shows. 

But that comment remains on that reader's report and for that one time, he/she is king. And a lot of them know it. And ultimately it isn't usually good because it is subjective, I liked Lone Ranger, my friend Barry hated it. Who's right?

But finally, my last resort is this; when I taught UCLA screenwriting back in 2003, I had my students read each other's work and then comment. But I added one thing; if they criticized any other student's screenplay, they had to offer an alternative.

Now only if I could tell my writer he/she doesn't know what he/she is talking about. 

And finally here's the "revue" of a script I sent to The Black List and the one above. These guys are real. But I still haven't sold it yet. Life is like it. What do you think?

 

“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.” The Black List  reader report.



Comments?


Monday, November 5, 2018



People who don't like you... for no real reason


I've always felt I never really accomplished much, even though I think I've exceeded every expectation of me. But that wasn't very much to begin with, one of my high school teachers said I'd probably end up working at Chrysler's assembly plant putting cars together. 

Not that it's a bad job.

I did work at Chrylser one summer, on the line and found it somewhat comforting and secure. You knew people will always want cars and that the union would protect you. At least for my generation.

I've met people who don't like me, but not many and not really a bother to worry about. I even managed to have a career in screenwriting for a lot of years. I had some fights with producers over some screenplays and either won or lost them. 

One producer failed to pay me the proper amount of money for a screenplay. It was an easy issue to solve as the Writer's Guild had to clarify his error, which dealt with a spec screenplay I wrote and they bought. When that happens, the producer pays a full fee. What happened was that they had hired me previously to write a screenplay from a story they had.

Writing rules are complicated but what he didn't understand was this; I was paid for their previous script only for writing the script, not the idea. But my spec script was both my idea and my screenplay. Simple.

The producer paid the full amount but added to my agent; "Well, this will leave a sour taste for Jim in future jobs". My agent replied with "I'll be sure to tell him". In other words, pay the money. Did it hurt me?

One year later, I unexpectedly met the producer at a party, I didn't recognize him but he approached me and started telling me how great the movie was (the spec) and it was mostly because of my writing, etc., etc, blah, blah. I reminded him of the fact that someone else did rewrites on it, but he insisted my version was the winner. He suggested we meet again.

So much for sour tastes. 

But with the digital age and anonymity, things change. When I started this blog it went well until an anonymous reader began to challenge me on my words. That person said I didn't really know anything about the business.  This, in spite of all the TV movies and a features and episodic TV, "I didn't know anything".

My first response was to argue that, but it just feeds the anonymous people lurking out there. I wondered what they got from publicly attacking me. I found this also on the private Writer's Guild members website where they beef about everything as well as have different forums.

Again I noticed how people attacked each other, one woman left the website in tears, others were banned, and these were real names. There seem to always be a clique of bullies who seem to bond together and attack others. 

The question is; would they argue in public and alone? 

Most of them probably not, and in my blog, I can't even respond to whomever attacks me although I have a hacker friend who can and has uncovered two of the ones who feel they have to show me I'm not as great as I think I am. But I decided not to go at them... it's just not that important. Someone said the best answer is silence.

After all, I'm the high school kid whom Sister Anna Katherine said, "you'll never become anything".

Wednesday, October 31, 2018




Everything old is new again again.


Lately I've been watching ME-TV, a local L.A. channel that broadcasts old TV shows from the late 1950's to the late 1960's. Shows like Rockford Files, Gunsmoke, Rawhide and lots of others. These were the shows the boomer generation watched as kids. Boomers, for those who don't know were born from 1946 to 1964 and represented the "baby boom" after WW11 when the soldiers came home.

A lot of my generation always talked about the great old TV series we had then and great ideas and stars.

But watching lots of these old shows, I have to admit some of them weren't very good at all. And I find it hard to watch the hour-long shows of the good series. After a while, I watch only a handful and even there just one or two.

And it also came to me that our generation has watched more movies and TV shows than any other generation in history. Of course we started watching TV in the mid 50's for most of the country (U.S. and Canada). We also watched old movies a lot, in fact my little town theater played movies that were made 20 years before I started to see movies.

Still, there were a lot of plotlines and ideas that spilled out and by now, we've seen almost every idea there ever was. The studios are even making remakes and sequels for the new generation of movies and TV shows we watched as kids.

And they now are coming back -- for the newer generations.

Lately there was an Ironsides sequel but was cancelled and Law & Order is a remake of an old series called

Arrest & Trial. And when it comes to movies, how about remakes and sequels from Star Wars, Star Trek, Superman, Batman and on and on...

That's why many of my generation will say that most of the new stuff is crap. I don't think it's crap, they're made much better in terms of production values although you can't beat a good black & white movie from the 1940's. Casablanca anyone?

But there is a lot of "crap" out there now, but there always was a lot of "crap" back in the late 50's onwards. 

We had a new wave of filmmakers that came up from film schools in the late 60's, Coppola and Lucas and Spielberg and Scorceses and Milius and a lot of others. And a lot of them are still working.

So what about the latest generation; the millennials.

They certainly aren't as great as that film school group, in fact barely even able to make anything new. Their stories seem to revolve around going back to that home town to find that girl/guy who dumped them. You should watch Scorcese's Mean Streets to see a great "first film". 

He did one previous but Mean Streets is his best. He had DeNiro and Keitel and a couple other great actors.

And that's also where millennials fail... their cast. Millennial actors just don't seem to have that presence of form that the previous generations seemed to have. It just isn't there. Maybe it was because the 50's movies were written by people who experienced World War 11 and boomers dealing with assassinations of great men and Vietnam.

Maybe the millennials never experienced anything else than iPhones and texting instead of talking. 

And they rarely, if ever, watch old movies the way we did. Maybe because it was new to us and they grow up with 500 channels. 

A good example of bad and good is a series called is "Wanted: Dead or Alive" about a western bounty hunter (bounty hunters would hunt down criminals; they still do now). It was a typical TV western, shot on a studio lot and most of the stories weren't very good but it had Steve McQueen (not the director now) and McQueen had something that millennial actors don't seem to have. And he could carry the show.

Carrying the show means simply, that with his presence people would watch. The boomer actors seemed to have much more presence, and it makes up for a bad script or a poor movie.  Notice CSI has a boomer lead actor, there's also Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.   And compare it to the new version which only has explosions and shooting. His is way better than a guy with no character. Try it.  Tom's on the right, the other guy has no character at all.




They're there for the boomer audience of course, but they're also there because they can carry the show.  Except for CW whose ratings are always at the bottom even though it's made for millennials.

Go figure.

Anyways, just a piece of history for around 40% of you who regularly read this blog.

And don't feel bad, because we boomers had lots of bad movies.


Here's one of the best with Steve McQueen in Bullit. Must-see.
 


 
And I had a my own 1968 Ford Mustang 3.02 engine.

Monday, October 29, 2018

 

You've just sold a screenplay -- now wait.


One of the great misconceptions about selling screenplays is that everyone asks you when it'll be filmed... a week, a month?

The truth is it can be years. 

What happens first is an option; a fee paid to the writer from the producer or production company of approximately 10% of the total price. Taking Writer's Guild minimums that would be 10% of $42,000 for a movie that will cost under $3 million, and $72,000 for bigger budgets.

A lot of new writers hear about hundreds of thousands of dollars for screenplays, even millions of dollars. That does happen, but just to a handful of writers. For the rest of us, it's basic scale, as mentioned above.

So how soon does your movie film so you can get the 90% owed to you. Well, my Christmas screenplay that Hallmark had read and liked took nearly 6 years. And this was a script that they liked! It sat around their offices for about 3 years and before that I was sending it around to companies who liked it but weren't sure if it could get made.




Hallmark held it for the last three years, not paying me anything, because they were still "looking at it". And then at the end of 6 years from the date I wrote it as a spec, I got a call from a woman who worked for a Canadian production company. They wanted to make it for Hallmark. And more importantly Hallmark wanted them to make the film.

In only 6 years.

But wait.

Emperor of Mars was my first really good screenplay and I wrote it in 1989. Since then it's been optioned at least 7 times and actually almost made around 4 or 5 times. I never remember how many times exactly.

That's 24 years.

But wait longer;

I've heard of screenplays that have been hanging around even longer.

In September, 2012, I optioned a screenplay called Chaser to a French film company in Paris. As of now, they might be making it next spring.  But I'm not holding my breath. I've optioned it again with them and now it's in limbo, as they say.

And unfortunately, this is more common than not. So what's the reason? What's always the reason. No money. That was certainly the case in the 5 times Emperor was almost made. The deals fell through.

And there's another reason; the producers might want to work on it some more. Or maybe they can't find the right director, or the network or studio wants someone else to rewrite it. And then the director doesn't like it and leaves. Or the lead actor has a better offer on another movie.

So selling a screenplay isn't exactly like selling your car; it's only the beginning of something that might not even sell. I've had a dozen options on a dozen screenplays that eventually just went away.

So why do I continue to stay in this crazy business.

Because it can and has happened to me at least 10 times.

And also because nobody told me that I should do something else with my life.

I also got a script back which now becomes free to anyone who wants it. 

Any one...
Any one..
 


Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Character actors


On top of that I didn't feel like writing a blog today because it's a boring day.

But one of you posted a question about character actors. She said I often speak of character actors,  it's interesting that she said that as I never really thought of it. But I guess I do, so for those who don't quite know about character actors, here's a bit more information on these people. The actor above is Elisha Cook Jr.  and was in countless western movies. The best way to describe character actors are those actors in movies that you always recognize but never know their names.

Basically character actors are the other actors in a movie whose job is to support the stars. Take The Dark Night Rises,  Batman's the star but there's several actors around him, Gary Oldman for example who played the police chief. Oldman isn't a leading man anymore as he gets older but he is an excellent example of a character actor. Watch him as  Churchill.

Character actors are the backbone of movies, John Goodman is a character actor, he usually plays big, over the top characters somehow connected to the star, an example is The Big Lebowski, where Jeff Bridges is the star. 

Character actors usually have a specialty and play that role in different movies. Steve Buscemi is a character actor also, often playing a weasely kind of character like he did in Fargo. In fact Fargo had a lot of character actors.

They're not restricted to men, there are probably just as many women who are character actors also, often as they get older. Both men and women who are character actors are not really able to "carry" a movie, meaning that they don't have that extra star quality that makes them a total star.

 Kathryn Joosten is a really good  character actress who was a neighbor in Desperate Housewives. She can count on working forever because she's good and she basically plays the same part over again... usually a snoopy neighbor.

One of the best things about being a character actor is that they are almost always working as there are a lot of character roles in a movie, but only one or two stars. Sometimes character actors get big starring roles, but not often. There's a movie out now, The Bourne Legacy, starring Jeremy Render who came to attention in the Iraq war movie, The Hurt Locker.

To understand what I mean all you have to do is look at him, he's a good actor, but he's not Matt Damon.  I predict he will eventually become a character actor, and actually probably will work even more. Character actors also tend to be better actors than stars.

I watched a movie called Man On A Ledge with the actor from Avatar, Sam Worthington. He stands on a hotel ledge while a police suicide specialist tries to talk him inside.  The cop is played by Elizabeth Banks who is good in romantic comedies with a big cast around her. However she can't really handle a serious role and you can see this between her and Sam, who has a good presence.

Character actors like Jane Lynch bring a comfort zone to the stars, they are funny or scary or unusual in some way and they are essentially the foundation of every movie. They are the workers and the stars are the CEO's.

There is a lack of real stars now, they seem to have disappeared. We still have Tom Cruise and George Clooney but the star system which began in the 1920's ended around the mid 1960's. It created stars like Bogart, Cagney, Hepburn, John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman and hundreds more.

Now we have few real stars that an audience would go to see even if the movie is bad. While character actors don't get the big star treatment, they fill in every movie with their particular look and attitudes. Movies wouldn't be very good without them. 

My good friend actor Chris Sullivan can probably add even more .

 And this guy.












Monday, October 22, 2018


A Stooge week-end --



A few years ago, I made it to the 18th Annual Stoogefest again and had a nice evening at a great old theater filled with 3 Stooges fans of every shape, color and age group. The "Alex" was built in 1925 and played vaudeville acts as well as silent films.  Three friends also came along and call themselves, Stooge-i- files. Anyone who grew up in early 60's knew every aspect of the Stooges. 

The Three Stooges were clowns of sorts, not fancy but each short of about 15 minutes told you all about the rich and the poor and how they fight each other, if you want to think that's my take. They were everyman in sorts, the guys who don't get the girls and usually have to work hard. Moe, Larry and Curly. They were always looking for jobs and losing them and always trying.

They were clowns to us, but heart to them.  Moe was the leader, Larry was the one who kept the ideas to a fine pin. And Curly was the lost fool but you got to love him.




Now, it's been completely redone in it's original style and looks great.Now the Stooges aren't really cool to the millennials as they didn't have the Stooges playing on every TV station in early morning TV for the most. My brother claims that he learned all you need by watching the Stooges.

The Stooge event begins with a host to talks about the Stooges and later, introduces several family members including Moe's daughter. Moe was the one with the crewcut for those of you who aren't stooge fans.

This year held a surprise when they announced that someone found a print of a Stooge film in Australia that had never been seen since a big fire at MGM years ago. It seemed that someone in Australia had kept a copy in his basement and finally decided to see if anyone wanted the print. It's biggest feature was that it was shot in color way back in 1933 and now, the only print of that era.

When it came to the audience, as I mentioned, every kind of person and almost every age group. There are the hardline Stooge fans who call themselves Stooge-files and there's the "Knuckleheads", who belong to the Knucklehead club of course.

There were five shots played as usual and with some comments beforehand as sometimes the shorts had what we could call "insensitive" to certain groups.

And as for me, I'm just one of the many people who like to drop by now and then to bring back memories of the little movie theater I would go to in my small town of 539 people. Our theater was a revised church hall that became my lifeline living in a small town with very little to do.

From the movies, I learned about the world and also learned about who made the movies. 


I would always watch the titles and credits and began to remember names of people who wrote the movies, directed the movies and everyone else whose name was on the screen from casting to make-up and everything in between...

Here's my rag-tag movie theater now gone forever as it was torn down in 1988.



As you can see, the Alex is a little more flamboyant than my old theater. But it still gave me movies to watch and with them, the 3 Stooges.


 




 Larry, Curly and Moe. "soitenly"


Thursday, October 18, 2018

Leaving Phoenix...





One day behind my usual post,  I was returning from Phoenix where I met up with an old high school buddy.

Anyways, I have to finish the screenplay I'm writing for the actor and the director. I'm almost finished, the story ends in one particular place, that being a deserted jail in the middle of Los Angeles.

I first encountered the jail when a director was filming one of my screenplays back around 2005, I think (don't want to check the exact date). The screenplay was about two snipers stalking each other in Central Park.

I mention this project a few years ago (this blog is nearing it's 10th year!!), how a producer called me asking for a sci-fi screenplay and I had none, so I pushed the sniper screenplay at him. Over the week-end, he optioned it.

But then economics happened; they were going to shoot it in Hong Kong with financing from there, around $5 million budget. So I got tour books out and found a park in Hong Kong and rewrote it primarily for locations. Dialog was the same. It's not really hard to do that for an action film.

Then it switched to Puerto Rico, so I got tour books from there and rewrote it again.

Then they changed their minds and it was all gone.

Then a director friend of mine managed to get around $650,000 or so and we shot it at McArthur Park in downtown LA and in a few other parks. Several scenes were shot in the abandoned jail when we scouted interesting locations. 

So I rewrote it again. 

The film didn't turn out too well, it had Stephen Baldwin who was nice enough, not like his brothers who fight all the time. But the camerawork wasn't very good and that reflected on the director who wasn't in top form.

But, it was made.

So now, that jail is a central character in the actor's screenplay I'm writing. At least for now and just in case -- I'm taking out my Puerto Rico and Hong Kong tour books.

And maybe Central Park?


You can see the Baldwin movie though. One of the crew walked up to me in the shooting and said "they" were making a not very good movie, how do I feel?

At this point, I just said "I'm getting WGA scale". 

And that's another story...


Monday, October 15, 2018




Guest blog

I remember offering anyone who wanted to do a blog. Anybody is welcome.

Here's the one I found... way back. By the way, my blog is now ten years OLD!! Anyway
here's the Guest blog.

The Everyday Adventures of Lane and Russell is a short comedy film about two odd friends, a borderline sociopath and his goodhearted, socially-inept friend.  Lane is selfish and egotistical fellow who constantly abuses his kind-hearted friend, Russell. 
 Ironically, he does not even know how to drive.  He needs Russell to drive him to work!  On the other hand, Russell is an adorable idiot.  Despite his obvious lack of social skills, he gets along well with everybody because he does not have a mean bone in his body. 
Despite the huge difference in their personality, these two have been friends since grade school.  But what if life as they know it changes?  How will they deal with it?  Will their friendship survive?
People who have seen the trailer tell me that this movie reminds them of several movies.  The hilarity of this film can be likened to that of Napoleon Dynamite.  Good-hearted Russell can be compared to Forrest Gump and the humorous absurdity of the film is comparable to Dumb and Dumber.  Of course, Lane will likely disagree.  He’d definitely take offense with this description.

So, how did we come up with this film?
 
The characters Lane and Russell came out of nowhere.  We didn’t really give them much thought.  In fact, they were created out of sheer impulse.  It was way back in 2000 when my friend / co-creator Chris Stephens and I goofed around in front of the camera, doing some improvisation.  Out of nowhere, we came up with Lane and Russell.  He played the perfect Russell to my Lane.  We had a friend film us while we did the improv.  Later on, we were stunned by how great the characters were.
  Over the years, we have been playing Lane and Russell for people for kicks.  We’d be attending parties and we’d have people asking us to do a skit and we’d never fail to deliver.  Hilarity ensues once we start playing the odd couple.   

One day, we realized that the characters have been fully developed.  We just needed to create their world and this was when we said, “Okay, let’s do it.  Let’s shoot the film.”  This was four years ago.  Unfortunately, we weren’t able to finish the film.  We’ve only shoot about 30 percent of it, so now we’ve launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise the funds we need to finish the film.
Check out the Kickstarter video to see what the movie is all about:
http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jasonstogsdill/the-everyday-adventures-of-lane-and-russell
Check out our site and social media as well:
Website:  www.laneandrussell.com
Twitter:  http://twitter.com/#!/laneandrussell
Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/laneandrussell/119752214721670
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/chiggerstv
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/channels/389424

Wednesday, October 10, 2018



Image result for pro's vs amateur screenwriters pics

The amateur and the pro -- part 2


So why do studios and networks and small prodco's even entertain the thought of working with amateurs rather than pros?

Well, first of all, most studios don't even consider aspiring screenwriters, they spend too much money to take a chance on untested talent. True, some new writers with screenwriting awards from major competitions like the Nichols competition and fellowship and a few others but the few dozen or so other competitions are mostly scams wherein aspiring writers pay $50 or more to enter. There are thousands of these aspiring writers so at $50 a pop, a competition in some little city can make some money for the sponsors.

A little history here now; why and when did all these aspiring screenwriters come from? It probably started back in the 1980's when new writers like Shane Black and Joe Eszterhas  sold spec screenplays for half a million and more. This was new to Hollywood, experienced screenwriters who did specs for big action thrillers like Lethal Weapon and others.

Suddenly specs got heat, as they say and every writer who could write a spec did one. It lasted into the early 90's and slowly disappeared after a number of specs were bought for huge amounts. Eszterhas supposedly was paid $4 million for a story he wrote on a napkin! The movie that was made from that spec died at the box office.

So studios returned to the old ways, taking time to figure out if a screenplay was do-able.

But it became a gold rush for Generation X, many of whom went to film school or took a few classes. Specs became the new gold.

But it was already too late as studios and networks settled in with writers they knew and trusted.

But then the mini-studio happened. Small companies who did movies for around $2 - $5 million and made primarily for international sales and dvds. They were looking for anything they could find at a price that was affordable.

How affordable? Some of them were asking writers to work for free, suggesting their script would get them attention. This happens often today. Others would pay a little bit of money and of course this includes WGA members who are not allowed to work for non-signatories.

But some of them did; one has to pay the rent and face the wrath of the WGA.

Then something else started.

Web sites that actually featured producers and companies looking for scripts. This time they upped the stakes by encouraging WGA writers as well as non-WGA writers. Websites like InkTip which charges $60 a year to receive the weekly handful of producers looking for screenplays.

The problem, often, was that they were asking for very specific screenplays like "smart sci-fi stories", or faith-based scripts, contained scripts (very few locations and actors), humans hunting humans scripts, Persian comedies, etc. etc.

Somehow the demand changed from writers writing specs to producers looking for very specific genres and even narrower subject matter.  And rules happened, you could not contact the companies by any method, only the website could contact them beyond your official reply.

But writers go to these sites, as agencies have merged with agencies thus leaving few agents to solicit for new writers, it has become a race for who can deliver a script for "fairy tale adaptations featuring dogs" (that was a a real request).

So where does it go?

One thing I've always said is that I'm glad I had my hat in the ring from 1990 to 2005 where several parties were held yearly at the Roosevelt Hotel bemoaning the "end of the TV Movie". With it came the end of an era when there was a fair amount of work for a lot of writers.

It's now become a "who gets there first" mentality for the b-movie writers (and directors), many of whom could make a fair amount of money doing episodic and dvd movies. The big guys, Paramount, Universal and the others have reduced their product to blockbusters that cost $150 million or more and writers in television make a great living.

But for most of us, it's more bleak than encouraging as different medias begin to take over and a new generation watches bits of movies on their iPhones. Consider that the WGA has an 85% unemployment ratio as compared to America's unemployment figures at around 8-15%.

Where does it go considering the odds of selling a screenplay?

I met a woman who had just graduated from NYU in writing and directing and owed $85,000 in student loans. She is starting out looking for a job in an industry that doesn't know what new media is going to hit it with a generation that likes things for free.


Ah, but is it all gone? No, reinvention is the key word. 

Got a female marital arts script?


Monday, October 8, 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. Well, Kevin has his problems for now. But his readers were still good. Even now.

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 articlem 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 Wednesday