Friday, August 31, 2018

Crooks and Angels 

This blog goes back a little on a re-release of Ghostkeeper on DVD and now has gone to Blu-Ray. The distributor has acquired 2 35mm prints that were in storage somewhere in NYC for probably almost 30 years. He has screened them and apart from some scratches at head and tail, which is pretty normal, they are both good.

What happened next was that he transfer the 35mm film to digi-beta, which is the standard intermediate these days, and costly. But so far he's paying the bill. Naturally he'll get his money back before I see my share but this is also normal.

Distributors usually share income with producers, or in this case, me. But the key is that well-known game called "expenses". Something that the producer can rarely pin down. A receipt for $250 for a dinner could be for a potential sale -- or a great dinner for the distrib and his/her spouse. 

And it does happen.

The word on my distrib is that he's pretty honest, this coming from some people I know who have dealt with him. And he keeps in touch with me regularly which is also a good sign.

 But for many distribs, stealing is just "doing business". And it's been going on since movies began. There are probably a dozen cases each year in which a producer has to sue the studio or network or other distributors for money owed.

Director and producer Peter Jackson sued New Line saying he was underpaid by at least $100 million. Their usual claim is that the movie isn't in profit. Considering that Lord of the Rings has made at least nearly $1 billion, it seems unlikely that it's not in profit.

And that's where the fun begins as the studio lays out such a complicated structure of who gets what and how much that it takes years to figure it out, if ever. So it becomes a game of who can last longer. 

I did not see a penny from Ghostkeeper 1980, the investors got a mild return and the distributor died after a few years. But I learned my lesson and this time, will have a better deal. 

For what that's worth.

And then there's angels. 

The term comes from businessmen or "money" as they're often referred to (as in "he's the money") who appear at the last moment, just as a film seems to be faltering in raising the needed funds.

So there, like an angel, he/she appears not with glimmering sunlight, but with a briefcase full of money. And it happens more often than you think. 

But there's also a catch; these angels aren't always doing it for love of the movies; they're doing it because they can negotiate a deal in which they get paid even before the other investors.

As the old saying goes "why do you think they call it show business?" 

I'm still not at that point, all I've done is an "exploratory" as political candidates call it. But next week I begin to hold my hat out and hope that someone takes the first step. I do have  almost the rest of the year to raise the almost $1.2 million.

One of the ironies is that it's harder to raise $1.2 million than $100 million. This is because with a $1.2 million budget you're not going to get big stars (there is an exception which I'll tell you about), or big special effects or a comic book rip-off. What you get are actors nobody's heard of, or some 2nd or 3rd level actors, a short schedule and basically a drama, and dramas don't sell well. 

With $70 million you can get Dustin Hoffman or Robert DeNiro or the latest hot guy Bradley Coopper or maybe even Ryan Reynolds (whose appeal continues to defy logic). And the producers can make more money. And not with special effects.

The exception to the b-actor movie is that now alot of movie stars are turning to low budget films, and not for the craft or the love of it; no, they have realized that one can be nominated for an Oscar in a good story made cheaply.

Take Nicole Kidman this year, and Annette Bening, both who did low budget character-driven stories. Michelle Williams, who has done big movies, did Wendy and Lucy, made for under $500k. 

But for now, I'm happy the 35mm print of Ghostkeeper will be released on dvd and Blu-ray and other markets by late summer. And it's one step closer to shooting Ghostkeeper 2.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Indie or Not?

The subject of whether a film is an indie or a studio picture often arises. For example, take the science fiction film District 9, made for $30 million dollars. Some would consider this an "indie"as it was made without a studio or distributor. Of course, movies now can be made for 150 million dollars.

In theory, this action-filled movie with CGI-created aliens should be that.

But I go back to the real intent of independent movies and that is certain filmmakers who choose to write something very personal to them, more often something that will rarely make back it's money. John Casavettes led the way when he made his initial two films for budgets that were less than what District 9 spend on craft services.

These are the movies that, if you live in a major urban center, would play for two weeks at the local arthouse theater. Movies made from the need of some filmmakers to "tell their story". Some of them are not very good, production values, at least up till digital video, were often terrible. But others manage to surpass their technical flaws by having a good story.

I checked the LA Times this morning as there's always a handful of indies playing at the Laemmle theater chain. This week they have the following movies, Holy Rollers, The Secret In Their Eyes, City Island, Mother and Child and a re-issue of the classic French movie, Breathless. 

Ever hear of these movies? 

Apart from City Island, a labor of love from actor Andy Garcia who struggles to get offbeat movies made while maintaining a career in studio pictures. He's arguably close to Casavette's methods of financing movies. Which is anyway you can.

These kinds of movies are the real indies, people who have a story to tell. They don't care about car chases or CGI monsters or tentpoles or sequels. Many of them make one movie and are never heard of again. 

So what's a typical real indie film? 

I once saw a film called Signal 7, made in San Francisco by Rob Nilsson. It's a movie about two would-be actors who, on the way to Hollywood, ended up as taxi drivers in SF and ended up staying there, working as taxi drivers. It's a study of failure and coping with it as these middle-aged men attempt to make something of their lives.

Signal 7 refers to a code among taxi drivers and warns them there's been a robbery or shooting involving a taxi. Ironically we hear about a "Signal 7", we  never really see it. Rather we become involved in these two sad yet noble men, making sense of their lives.

Technically, it was awful, having been filmed on 3/4 inch video which, when blown up to 35mm for theaters, looked like hell. But the amazing thing was this; after about 15 minutes, you get used to the low quality of the image and you know why?

Because you get involved in the story. It's that good.

But not all indie filmmakers disappear. For some, it's the start of a career. John Sayles began his career with The Return of the Secaucus Seven, Spike Lee hustled money to make She's Gotta Have It and Stephen Soderbergh did Sex, Lies and Videotape. All are still making films, albeit for more money and even for studios.

For awhile and maybe even today, many of these filmmakers used credit cards, people like Robert Townsend who made Hollywood Shuffle allegedly on credit cards.

For many years, the goal of all these filmmakers (and I use that term as most were writer/directors) was Sundance, Robert Redford's mountain hideaway where young independent writers and directors could learn from the masters for a few months each year.

There still is an air of independence at the Sundance Film Festival, but it's changed over the years, more movie stars walk down Main street than before, many of them now taking roles in lower budget "indie" films as their chances of nominations increase. But to his credit, Redford attempts to draw out the real indies and to keep the festival about emerging filmmakers who don't have the advantage of Hollywood agents and contacts.

So what about District 9?

It was done by an emerging Indie director, but the definition blurs.

Because, even though it is considered an indie film with no studio or distributor backing it, it was financed through Peter Jackson who made the Lord of the Rings films and who has more influence and money than all the independent filmmakers who ever came out of Sundance.

It's not hard getting money and distribution when you have the 900 pound gorilla standing behind you. But it's a far cry from maxing your credit cards to finish your little movie.

And even though it can be defined as an indie, it really isn't to me. It's future was decided before it started filming. And opening in hundreds of theaters the same day isn't the norm for the real indie filmmakers who are lucky to get 2 weeks in one theater in hopes of a better DVD deal.

Am I right? To a lot of indie filmmakers I am. To some others I'm not. But that's the great thing about movies, you don't have to like what I like. 

One good thing for these movies is netflex and other distributors.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Re-inventing boomers

Or like anyone under 30 needs to hear this

Some time ago I dropped by a restaurant here in Sherman Oaks called Corky's. It's one of those classic 60's places like Norm's, huge meals for decent prices and photos of the valley on the wall going back to the 1930's.

I was there to hear a friend of mine sing in the bar which itself was classic. There were a handful of people there, a guy at the bar and definitely a 60's or 70's feel to it. You'd almost expect Jim Garner as Rockford enter to get info from a con man.

My friend was also the lead actress in Ghostkeeper way back in 1980. She never really sang until last year, never even imagined singing. Even her ex-husband was surprised. Like most of us she had her ups and downs and managed to raise her daughter and send her through school after the divorce. She also teaches yoga.

In her late 50's, she would qualify for that almost new word reinvention that's being used more and more as boomers age. Just to qualify it, boomers are that age group born from 1946 to 1964, meaning the oldest ones are 65 and the youngest are around 47.

So what about writers? 

I posted this question on the WGA writer's website, not the official one, but a separate website only accessed if you're WGA. I got 3 replies.

Out of at least several hundred writers. 


Does that mean 99% of WGA writers are under 46? No, it means either they don't care or they don't want to bring it up. More writers than you think have short careers, some with one screenplay to their credit. How does one reinvent themselves when all they do is write.

I've often said that much of my survival in this business was due to the fact I was experienced in making films, filming, editing, sound and other aspects. I'm still doing this and at present have a pilot for a half-hour travel series unlike anything out there so far.

I did the pilot myself, along with a friend, filming in Nevada and then editing it. You've probably seen the 5 minute trailer for it, it's on the list on the left side of this blog. I've also just finished the novelization of Emperor of Mars and hope to have it on Amazon in the next few weeks.

And I decided to write a book on screenwriting. Isn't that what you do when you don't have a real job? Like we need another book on screenwriting?

Why not?

Mine is based on my UCLA lectures as well as probably some of this blog that deals with writers and writing. And it wasn't my idea, okay, so don't start on the ego thing, this is more the practical thing.


Nobody's buying my screenplays right now, although I have two companies looking at two of my scripts. Other than that I'm holding for miracles until probably next year as 3 companies say they want to make it, the trouble is that Hallmark has it's quota of Christmas scripts this year with deal from Larry Levinson, who brings movies in cheaper than anyone else.

The only other markets have specific topics; Lifetime only wants true woman-in-jeopardy stories, ABC Family wants family stories.

But it gets better and worse. Better for boomers and worse for under 30's. Several studies show that a significant amount of under 30's are found to be unreliable and not much interested in jobs. Not all of them, okay, but a significant amount.

As a young comedian said on Letterman when he found difficulty in finding a job, "it was obvious that my parents hadn't told the world how brilliant I was".

Bummer, huh?

I remember my grandfather, who at 67 spent his days staring out the window until he finally died. Boomers seem to want to hang onto youth no matter what it takes. Employers find they can use retired boomers for less money and can count on them doing the job.

And then there's Kirk Douglas is 100 and wasn't stopping writing, just quitting the show.

So I guess I'm still a bit away from being a Walmart greeter, but I'm practicing the smile just in case.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A Martian wouldn't say that 



For those of you who have been around since I started back in August 2009 and for anyone new you've probably noticed how often I focus on incompetent executives or directors and producers. There are a lot of them, to be sure.

But I also mention the good ones, which, unfortunately are fewer than the others. More often than not, those who are not particularly welcomed are the ones who know it all. They know all about filmmaking, distributing and generally anything else.

Some years ago I submitted a screenplay to a producer. I hadn't heard from him for months until I saw him at a party. I asked if he had read the screenplay, he said yes and then mentioned it was a lot like the French film Alphaville.

That seemed odd as it was nothing like Alphaville, an offbeat futuristic movie. So I asked him if he had ever seen Alphaville. His answer was; "no but a friend told me about it."

So how would you rate that comment on your script? Or your pasta?

So I decided to share other writer experiences with studio and network executives and let you be the judge.

These come from a book called "A Martian Wouldn't Say That", mostly a collection of memos from TV execs. The title refers to a note given to a writer on My Favorite Martian, a sitcom of the 60's,  and referred to dialog written for the actor playing the Martian.  Of course the logical comment would be "how would you know that?"

Here's several real notes from execs:

"We cast a black actor as our lead but the way you've written the dialog, we can't tell that."
  That's what we intended.
"Then how will the audience know he's black?" 

"Considering today's sensibilities, when you discuss euthanasia, be sure you do so in a positive light".

"We have run the sequence of the barmaid serving drinks over and over. There is too much cleavage."

"Please consider eliminating the child abuse and homosexual references, they are no longer popular with audiences." 

"In this script, Beverly is described as "on top of everything". Please define "everything."

"This is the best script of Addams Family we've read in a year. Attached are the notes for the rewrite".

"I think you're making a mistake having so many French involved in the production of Les Miserables." 

"In response to your list of suggested writers for your upcoming pilot; who is Truman Capote?"

Sent to Joseph Wambaugh, ex LAPD officer & screenwriter: "Regarding scene on page 38, we don't think cops really talk that way. Please correct. 

"I'm really excited by your new script, those who read it tell me it's exceptionally good."

And this is what we deal with at least half the time, sometimes more. Who was it who said movies are high school with money.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Annie's Calendars 


I've often been asked how I came about writing as a viable career and my easiest answer was always the movies. Since I can remember I loved the movies, I even remember the first movie I ever saw, Disney's documentary The Living Desert, and how a scene of a rattlesnake scared the hell out of me.

After all, it was on a screen 20 feet wide and 12 feet high.

After that I was addicted to the movies and soon knew the names of actors and directors and writers. I knew that after the director's credit, the movie would start.

Since then I have written a pile of movies but I also worked as a news cameraman, soundman and almost every other job on a film, as well as directing 3 movies and scores of commercials.

But it always came back to the writing.

Just before my mother passed away she kept telling me to "keep the calendars". I knew she would write little notes on calendars, appointments, things like that. But it wasn't until after she passed away that I discovered the entire stash of calendars stuffed into a corner of her closet.

And they dated back to 1971.

On January 1976, she received a call from my brother Dave, in Hong Kong, on that same day she called me in Vancouver and added, on the same day that there was snow and cold. She would also note the hours she worked.

Annie worked mostly in cafes, the kind that you rarely see now, where a hot hamburger sandwich was more common than a flambe. She was the youngest of six and when her mother died, her father took another woman and sent Annie away, at the age of 15. She had barely an 8th grade education.

Her calendars started around 1971, but some may have been lost in the many moves we made.  Mostly they were like this:

On March 1973 she wrote "sick, one half day worked, $21.20."
On June 1973, "Dave got hurt in school, went to hospital".
May 1999, "found 15 morel mushrooms and went to breakfast to Roman Catholic church".
July 1975, "exchanged camera, bought better camera".
Dec 1979, "boys phoned, first snow storm and cold".
Nov 1981, "James came home".

I started reading the calendars a few weeks ago, having stashed them after her funeral and I began to see what she was protecting, even after she was gone.

They were her life, her diary. Very basic yet revealing the life of a family for almost 40 years. They were simple entries but yet very clear to me, even if the squares of the calendars were only large enough to write 3 or 4 words. So many of the entries bring back a memory to me, things I had forgotten.

And I realized that maybe, just maybe this was why I write. And oddly enough the same goes for my brother Dave, who also writes and works for a newspaper in Calgary as a writer and desk editor.

My mother was not formally educated, rather she was educated in hard work and sacrifice like most of her family and most people back in the 1950's. She didn't believe in credit cards nor in incurring debt, which would make her a rare commodity these days.

She also had a box of letters that date back to 1937 and lists of money spent every day, 5 cents for ice-cream, 35 cents for lunch, new scarf $1.75.

Her last entry though, was written by me, as I sat with her in the hospital. She wasn't able to write at this point, her anemia making her so weak she could barely lift her hand. Yet she insisted that I write in the calendar that she had another transfusion. I told her she had the transfusion weeks ago, but she insisted that I write down "Another transfusion".

So I did. Twelve hours later she passed away.

I always thought it was my dad who had the talent in the family, for a garage mechanic, he played the violin incredibly well, winning contest after contest even into his late 70's. And both Dave and I inherited a little bit of his musical talents.

But it wasn't until now that I realized that the writing part came from Annie, with a strong dose of Hollywood movies. So this is my plan;

I want to read all of her calendars and see if there could be a book in it, a diary of a woman but not your average diary. I have mentioned this to friends and many of them say their mothers wrote their version of a diary in calendars so maybe it just might be worth it.

Lesson learned; don't throw away your mother's calendars.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

So if you're dreaming about California
It don't matter at all where you played before
California's a brand new game
                    -Gatlin Brothers

It seems that most movies about Hollywood tend to show the down side of the movie business. You've got A Star Is Born (1937, 1954 & 1976) about a famous actor who mentors a rising star only to see her eclipse his fame, or Sunset Boulevard (1950 ) about a screenwriter who becomes a "companion" to a faded silent movie star and pays the ultimate price. There even was a movie called "The Oscar" and a dozen more, including the Robert Altman film, The Player, about a producer who kills a screenwriter.

Ironically, the best book and movie on the business to my liking was Nathaniel West's classic Day of the Locust (1979), a brilliant study of those who come seeking fame who end up with nothing. While the book was written in 1939 the only difference between then and 2010 is that the cars are better and we have iPhones.
My "crowd" is mixed, a few wildly successful people, some successful, some less so and some at the bottom of the ladder. Then there's those who border on complete delusion as a means to validate that they too are successful. Needless to say those categories above don't always end up at the same table. It's almost as though success fears failure in others as it might be catching like a virus.

Something else that hasn't changed is the amount of people who still come to Hollywood to become stars. While in the 20's to the 70's, it was mostly actors and singers, now it includes screenwriters and directors. And they all are still consumed by the knowledge that they have what it takes.
Take the blonde girl, mid 20's who looked across the room at the party, it was still early and guests were just arriving. Then she spotted two older men standing near the bar talking. It took her a second to decide to move and she approached them, smiling.
"Hi, I'm Serena".
The two men were myself and my director friend Paul. It didn't take much to figure out why she selected us. The other guests were either around her age so early in the evening or were couples talking to each other. Serena was an actress, and that was not really her name.
The party was a party  given by a studio owner whom I had known since my Calgary days. His Hollywood Hills home, "just a short drive from Jack Nicholson's place", overlooked the entire valley and as I stood at a glass bar the size of my kitchen, a bartender poured drinks as we watched the fires in the San Bernadino mountains 20 miles away. For a moment, I felt guilty, knowing that not far away firefighters were desperately trying to save hillsides.
"Beautiful house, isn't it," she said.
Whatever Serena didn't have, she did have confidence, the kind that always amazes me as I never really had that when I began. I probably still don't have it that much. I see that confidence so often with the young actors and writers and directors but also know that confidence in itself isn't all that important.
Actors are the biggest casualties in this city of dreams. There are more of them for one, approximately 200,000 according to SAG, and they're not counting the actors who still haven't gained admission to the powerful union.  The WGA has about 8000 writers and at any given time, less than 2000 are working.  DGA has around 2500 - 3000 directors, most of whom are not working.
So you can see the odds against even getting a job let alone hanging onto it.
Think of it this way, every day I look for a new job. Same for the actors and directors and crew. Those on a series have a little job security... at least until the show is cancelled. And some shows get canceled after the 2nd episode is aired. Job security is a word we've never considered. 
And when we find a potential job, 90% of the time we get rejected.

Why do some people win and the majority lose? Hard question to answer. There is the talent factor, no doubt a leading contender for the big time. But as the studio exec told me, craft and discipline are more important. And then there's the main two reasons why someone doesn't work.
Either they're not very good or they're hard to work with.
Who loses? Everybody else. 
But it's how you lose that counts. 
A lot of them give it a good shot and if, after a few years it doesn't work out, they drop out and find a regular job and forget about it. While a steady working actor can earn up to $50,000 a year, the majority make around $8000. A year.
Higher up in the food chain, you have the character actors who, with a hit series and maybe a movie or two a year enjoy a somewhat full career and they can even buy a home. And of course, we can't forget the stars who make as much as $20 million a picture. Like Sandra Bullock.
Sandra recently dropped her fee to $10 million to show how much she loved the script to The Blind Side. Now that's showing real bravado.  And it will end up getting her an Oscar nomination and I predict, a win. Meryl Street is nominated twice and that will cancel her out. Besides she has enough Oscars.

But there are those others; the desperate ones who don't know when to give up. And they tend to be those who really aren't that good at what they do. Not that you have to be good; look at the cast of Friends, not particularly talented, except maybe for Courtney Cox, and look at them -- a hit series and they're millionaires.
But they won the lottery in the same sense that you or I would if we bought a ticket. Really. For some reason they had "chemistry" as they say, something worked, their chemistry, the world was just ready for that show, and it was well crafted by the writers and directors.
But that's lightning in a bottle, as executives like to say. It rarely happens twice.
But back to Serena. After 10 minutes of the usual party talk she looked at us in the eye and said, "so what do you do?" We told her. She moved closer. She also focused more on Paul than me; writers don't hire actors, directors do. I saw my host and excused myself as Paul listened to her story about the last movie she was in.
After all, writers don't hire actors. Writers don't hire anybody and nobody even sees them sometimes, our work is done before the crew and actors are hired. And I've learned not to bring business cards anywhere because I have the bad habit of handing them out. 
And those people do call you.
After 28 years I have met many Serenas at parties or functions or even in coffee houses and once crossing a street. As I crossed a young woman was crossing beside me and when a car screeched she commented on the crazy drivers. I agreed, told her to watch all around. It took her almost at the curb when she said; "so, are you in the business"?
The thing of it is that yes, it is flattering to have a good-looking woman talk to me and sometimes it's quite sincere and I have been known to help writers who are starting out. But after many years I have learned to stick to writers whom I may be able to help or at least read their work.
But my best story about meeting on a street was when I took a bad fall on my mountain bike  at an intersection and several people came to help. My wrist was totally broken, in an "S" shape. Two people helped me, the girl taking her leather jacket off so I could lay my head on it. The other person was an older man, maybe 70's and he asked my name and what I did as a job to see if I was fully conscious. I told him I was a writer. He smiled and said so was he. And the girl said she was a special effects person for the movies.
I take a spill on my bike on Ventura Boulevard and the two people who come to help me are in the film industry. Small world.
And the old guy? He was Marty Krofft, who created a ton of kid series for CBS in the 1960s and 70's. Anyone over 40 would know his name.
He gave me his card and said, "call me when you're better".
I did call him months later. He never returned the call.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Film School and reality

I've been asked often
about the difference between film school and reality. UCLA is one of the top 4 film study programs in the U.S graduating Francis Coppola., the others are University of Southern California (USC), of famous for George Lucas, American Film Institute AFI), a highly regarded private school that turns out some great people and New York University (NYU) famous for Martin Scorceses. So I was pretty excited about actually teaching screenwriting at one of the big 4. In my case it was UCLA.

Especially since I dropped out of Henry Ford College in Detroit after two years, preferring a job in a TV station mailroom. But UCLA hires working screenwriters for their extension classes and degrees don't matter.

I taught every semester spring, summer, fall, winter. And the best part was that it was online. Not a classroom situation which meant I could (and did) teach at home or even on t he road, so it didn't interfere with regular work. I had a class, 15 students, mostly adults taking an extension course or two. And there were grad students who were taking the course for credit.

I got the hang of the software easily and began the class. I installed forums for discussion, a Chat Room where once a week they could all ask questions, and a program for whatever the course was that semester. There were courses in writing a full screenplay, writing the first act, writing good characters, and many more.

I had always wanted to help writing students if I ever got to a point of reasonable success, which I did at that time. Ironically this was because nobody ever really helped me that much, I really  had to work for whatever opportunities I got.

After several semesters I began to notice that for the most part, people were taking classes for entertainment, housewives in Ohio or factory workers and just ordinary people. There were maybe 40% of them who wanted careers, but for the rest, they were being entertained by a real, live screenwriter in Hollywood. Many would take a course of two then never come back. And for one reason.

The hardest part of writing... is writing.

And it became clear that the University wanted me to encourage them to take more courses and it finally reached a point where I became disillusioned, realizing that 95% of them would never be writers. I got tired of lying to them. Out of the 250 students, I think there were 4 who might... with a lot of luck and hard work and moving to Los Angeles might... just might get a career going. I finally left teaching and returned to the rejection of the real screenwriting world.

I also failed in the minor film school encounters I had myself. An instructor told me and my friend Phil Borsos, that we shouldn't even attempt a career in this industry. Needless to say, Phil and I were the only two of the two schools we attended... who ever went on to a career in this business. And a short film that went to the Academy Awards in 1976 as a finalist.

Film schools are incredibly expensive, it can cost well over $100,000 to get a degree in film. As far as I'm concerned someone could take that money and actually make a movie and learn how to do it. Interestingly enough, a degree still doesn't really count in this business, talent, craft and discipline are more valuable than a piece of paper.

At least on the creative side.

If you want to be on the business side, lawyers, accountants, CEO's, etc, then a degree is important. There still are many students who get a degree and go on to a good career, but these also are the good ones and my feeling is that they would have made it with or without film school.

Since Movie Brats Lucas and Coppola and the others, who were the first film students to succeed in the real world, the number of film schools have multiplied by the hundreds. Before that it was people who had no film schools to attend. They worked at any jobs, fought the Great War, and were accomplished authors and writers.

What disturbs me is that all these film schools, and there are hundreds, are graduating students into a work situation that has few opportunities. You've probably read about the amount of WGA writers unemployed and directors and actors. And crews. Lots of grips and gaffers and make-up people and more are unemployed.

Yet universities and private schools churn out thousands of students each year.

How can you succeed in the light of these odds? 

You have to want it.

You have to want it badly enough that you will sell your soul to the God of Film. The one who teases you with success and just as quickly snaps it away just as you reach it. Of course it doesn't happen to all of us, just most.

So to go or not to go to film school is a difficult choice, what it does is allow you to learn and make films, but on the other hand you could spend that tuition on just making a film by yourself and making mistakes and learning right there.

One of the best schools in some ways is by a guy called Dov Simens, who teaches 2-day classes for a few hundred bucks. He has compressed his course to give you basically a 4-yr college education in 3 days. If you don't believe me, check his website. I don't even know the guy but everyone in Hollywood knows about Dov, and he has a real good list of successful students. Although I'm not sure he's still doing it.

And you or your kids can save $100,000.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Things I shouldn't have done



In response to a comment on relationships in the film business, someone asked about my burning bridges with good companies, rather than the less respectable parties I mention in that blog.

Generally I try to not burn bridges with companies who are fair and treat me well, but sometimes my ego can get in the way, as with these examples.

I did 2 movies for Granada, a major British production company, the second of which I supplied the story and screenplay, while the first was only for the screenplay. I was owed payment for the story and they refused to pay, so I sent the WGA on them. With pressure on them, they paid and then turned around and hired another writer to rewrite the screenplay.

They never used me again, but I was owed the money, so this example is a conflicted one; should I have not asked for what I was owed and maybe get a job, or should I get paid for what I did.

Writers are always asked to write or rewrite for free, always. They'll pay for the script but then discretely ask for polishes and rewrites, all of which have to be paid for as per their being signatory to WGA guidelines. But that doesn't stop them from asking. And if you refuse to work for free, they just might hire another writer, probably a friend of the producer, to do the rewrites for money. And you lose the money and probably more work up the road.

Who said producers had to be fair?

Then there was a Universal TV series I was up for, it was a "re-imagination" of the Three Musketeers. I love that term re-imagination, obviously created by a board meeting of executives.  I arrived at the studio, having read the script, which was, to my feeling, not very good

But a job is a job.

I met the 2 writers and it was almost immediate dislike on both sides. They weren't very good writers and I wondered how they got this series. They began by saying they didn't really like my writing sample, Emperor of Mars, which got me more work than any other script I wrote.

Okay, I can deal with that. They don't have to like one particular script of mine, I have 20 others on the shelf. But the meeting was going downhill, whatever I tried to come up with, they didn't like and I knew then that even if I got the job, it would be hell because we were simply not on the same level. I learned long ago that if you work with people not as good as you, you will be sorry.

Then one of the pair asked if I liked the rapping. 

The rapping?

He then went on to explain how one of the Musketeers "rapped" his dialog rather than speak normally.  Like P-Diddy and 50 Cent and all those other guys. These 17th Century Musketeers were hip and cool apparently.

I was speechless. It was at that moment I realized this was going nowhere for me and them. I just stood up, thanked them for the meeting and walked out. I wasn't hired and they did 7 episodes and it went off the air in 2 episodes. And I never got a call from that department of Universal again. I lost out on money but also the stress and frustration.

But the biggest one was one I truly regretted. It was with Amblin' Entertainment. You might know it's boss -- Steven Spielberg.

I had written a screenplay called Rage, about road rage when it was in the news every other day and featured a male cop and a female traffic helicopter reporter. My agent Frank set up the meeting saying they liked it. Amblin' then was on the lot at Universal and was a rambling Spanish-style hacienda on a chunk of land near the studios. I always liked going there, it had a good feeling, the people seemed reasonably happy and it reflected the informal ambience of it's boss.

I met with two people, can't remember their names but we sat down and they talked about how they liked the script. I felt pretty good, already seeing the movie being made and meeting Steven himself maybe. 

Then they asked about one of the characters and suggested he be dropped.

 I said he should stay there, he was vital to the story. They didn't think so. I was quite adamant about it. Then they said they'd like more of a Men In Black feel to the story and wondered if I'd like to rework it.

I still can't believe what I said.

I said I didn't really like Men In Black, and that my story was very different and couldn't imagine how I could possibly change it.

Once again, they suggested I might want to try.

I said I wasn't sure. We chatted a little more, exchanged some jokes, I finished my coffee and they looked at each other, the meeting was over.  I left thinking this deal would be already happening with my agent. When  I got home I called Frank, ready to hear the great things they had to say about my work.

Frank said they decided to pass. Because they thought it would be too difficult to work with me on the script. I didn't believe it, how could I have misunderstood them. Then I replayed the meeting by stepping outside of myself.

And I realized how I must have sounded.  Contrary, argumentative and difficult. Much of that arrogance came from the response to Emperor of Mars, the screenplay that every exec in town had at one time,  and the complements heaped on it, Steve Tisch, producer of Forest Gump, said it was one of his favorite scripts. I got meetings with Paramount, Universal, Warner's, with Ridley Scott's company, Dustin Hoffman's, and virtually every name that was anybody.  No wonder I felt so good about myself.

And then I remembered that saying; there are two reasons people don't work in this town... either they aren't very good (I was reasonably good, they did like the script) or they are difficult to work with.

Difficult to work with. That was me.

I learned the lesson that day, and still haven't had a meeting at Amblin or Dreamworks yet. But ultimately it really doesn't matter if you burn bridges as most development executives one meets usually are gone with 2 years and replaced by new ones who don't know you.

That's the great strength for writers and directors; you last longer than the d-girls and boys who turn you down. Of course the ones who buy your scripts are gone too.