Thursday, May 25, 2006

My Short Film

Sorry I've been out of pocket the last week. Inspired by my friend's short film, I'm writing one of my own. I have this really great character-driven idea, set in one location (with a cast of thousands at this point, but once I see the sticker price, I'm sure I'll kill many of them off), set during one day, with some great live music by a friend (little does he know, heh, heh, heh).

Last night, I met with an old college friend who is now an award-winning producer (I love being her cheerleader!) who encouraged me to keep it character-driven and not turn it into a little genre movie. Our talk made me think more clearly about my motivations for writing the short film in the first place: I want to direct a feature.

I'm following my own advice on this one. I'm writing a short film in a genre I want to work in, building in some dramatic moments, some comedic moments, a fight sequence (to show I can handle action), and I have some strong ideas for the visual design (who can resist the Downtown LA skyline against sunset??), and cinema verité-esque montages. I'm planning to shoot in a variety of media (dv, S-16, S-8, B/W reversal and color reversal) and my lead has strongly conflicted motivations for what happens to him in the film. And there's a great twist.

Of course this is only the first draft and I haven't released it into the wild yet. We'll see what the feedback is. If it's bad I'll bitch about it here and hopefully one of you will cheer me up? :-)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Scary Big Numbers Today

I occasionally check in on the number of page loads and visitors to the blog -- it keeps my spirits up and keeps me writing. Today (a TUESDAY, for Heaven's sake!) the numbers were like, triple what they normally are. Now, I'm getting that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach -- expectation. I hope that as you all read the blog you find the information useful, my comments not to bossy or bitchy, and most of all that they inspire you to screw it and go out there and make movies (not deals, or friends, but actual filmed entertainment (digitally or otherwise)).

At the end of the day, the game is and always will be defined by the last great movie out there.

P.S. The short is motoring along. We found an excellent associate producer (because I can't keep giving up 20-30 hours week from my writing) who is funny, sassy and WROTE DOWN EVERYTHING WE TALKED ABOUT AT THE MEETING!! I love it. BTW, if you are an aspiring producer and ever meet with anyone, take notes. It honestly doesn't matter what they say (but if the other person can see your notepad make sure it's not "this is dumb, this is dumb" over and over again). Seriously, folks who keep track of the details, thus freeing me up to think, are near and dear to my heart. And they always end up getting work.

Friday, May 12, 2006


Just a quick post about this before I get back to my own little writing project.

Personally, I do not think professional writers or readers give the best notes. Not the kind that you can take and execute as a writer. Writers will tend to give you notes that emphasize a specific "take" or direction, one that reflects their own personal view of how screenplays ought to be written. Readers, on the other hand, will give you notes based on market conditions, what they believe is selling in the marketplace. While each of these viewpoints can be instructive, it's sometimes difficult to tell the difference, especially to someone unfamiliar with the Hollywood aesthetic. As well, neither of these folks actually has had to deal with the practical production and political issues in getting a movie made.

I recommend that you look for someone who knows story (eg can talk to you "like a writer"), whose only agenda is making your script the best expression of your idea, not something that fits in with some preconceived notion of what is "selling", someone who has made a film and understands the layers of drafting it takes to get to production and can help you identify what issues need to be addressed at what draft stage, and someone who has a experience actually developing ideas from concept to screen. You want someone who is capable of articulating their notes in executable form so that you aren't sitting at home wondering what the hell "raising the stakes" means in your coming-of-age story, instead you are searching for story beats that illustrate specifically how Allison's desire to leave the pig farm for the big city will result in the bank's foreclosure.

In short, a really solid development executive or producer is worth their weight in gold. If you can't find that, you have to ask yourself if it's worth it to pay someone for their (hopefully educated) opinions about your work. You wouldn't pay someone to fix your toilet just because they'd used one, so don't be satisfied getting notes from someone who has never brought an idea to the screen based on their notes. Pay a professional.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Weekend Read

For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, I thought I'd throw up a post.

Weekend Read is exactly that -- what executives, agents, producers and their support personnel plan to read over the weekend. In the case of a senior executive, the weekend read mostly consists of movies that are going into production, projects that you already have in development, sample screenplays of writers who are up for jobs on projects that are "open" and projects that are being greenlit by your competitors. The more junior an executive, the more likely that person is to have spec scripts to read. Folks also put director reels on weekend read.

The average executive has about 15-30 projects to get through per weekend. This is only accomplished by the liberal use of coverage and the help of juniors (the assistants, creative executives, development associates, VPs, and other forms of development executive). This is how it works -- you send your spec out on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, aiming for an "overnight" read by a very low level assistant or executive. By Thursday afternoon, Friday morning you will find out whose weekend read you are on. Every studio has some type of meeting or round up late in the week to discuss who is reading what over the weekend. Some executives are more secretive than others, but for the most part, it only helps an exec's cause to look busy and like they might have something hot. Also, a smart exec wants to keep their boss abreast of what's happening in case something really is good, or it fits in with a packaging opportunity.

Obviously, the more senior an exec you can get to read your material (especially before that critical 24-72 hour coverage window closes) the better your chances are of creating momentum or "heat" around the script and getting it purchased. A good agent can insure that the script gets into the hands of the most appropriate (and excitable) person at the studio/production company, and will formulate a plan to generate good buzz and get you in the running for one of those outrageous paydays that leads to rewrite work (a.k.a. "open assignments") and selling more ideas.

The moral of the story is: write your fingers to the bone/direct your ass off, and make sure you've got a good agent. It's easy to get lost in the slush pile of weekend read at a studio, less so at production companies and agencies. A well-crafted script (even one that doesn't have the most commercial hook) will get you a phone call back, especially after a weekend spent slogging through 50 lbs of worthless paper.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Biting the Bullet

A while back I blogged about making sure you have friends in this business. Then, of course, I promptly spent four weeks buried under a pile of crap trying to get my act together alone. Big mistake. And, as it turns out, completely unnecessary.

Yesterday, I went to coffee with a producer I haven't spoken to since the birth of his second baby (funny how friends drop away when the kids come, isn't it?). Anyway, we were talking about our projects, and he mentioned a way for me to save my almost-jettisoned book project! Ha!

Now I feel all better. If anything comes of it I'll let you all know immediately. But it is a nice way to go into the weekend. The key in a book adaptation, from a seller's standpoint (read: producer) is to find the talent element that makes it an irresistible purchase for a studio exec. This means a director or piece of talent (read: actor) who you know the studio wants to be in business with -- sometimes this means a writer they care about, more often than not it really means a star. The low-budget/old-fashioned way (i.e. the way I was doing it) is to come up with a "take" or approach to the material, either write the treatment or hire a writer to rough it out and then shop it. This is why books are usually not the best source material from a producer's standpoint because the amount of time you have to invest before you actually have something to produce is pretty long. We talked about different ways the project could come together and he mentioned a few folks I didn't have on my radar at all.

It's nice to have friends.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


I spoke with a friend of mine who works as a talent agent at one of the Big Three agencies. The agent has a client who is in negotiations for a movie. My friend has read the script and the head of the studio has made assurances that the movie will be green-lit once the star's deal is done. The agent, however, wants to have the co-lead role firmed up before finallizing things. We spent a good 15 minutes talking about what the poster would look like and how it would position the client for future movies. This is aside from the actual quality of the script (which my friend enjoyed and thought was well-written).

I hate that things come down to a poster, but the truth is, it does. Audiences make their choices based on some pretty shallow criteria, and as filmmakers we have to keep these things in mind. I touched on this in the Hook, Line and Sinker post. Anyway, just a little tid bit that I thought you all would get a kick out of.

BTW, just found some money and free sh*t for the short film that I'm producing. Hee hee! I love free sh*t! Now if I can get some other stuff comped we will be locking down a street in the near future...and then setting that b*tch on fire!


I'm reading through blogs and come across one kept by Paul Zadie from Florida. This is a great post for beginning filmmakers and I encourage anyone trying to make a short film to read, digest and repeat on this guy. Link here.


I'm having a few problems with my schedule these days. Basically, I'm overbooked. The hardest thing for me to do is turn down work. Let me tell you. Especially as an independent producer type. Now, at this point all of this work is on spec (yes, sadly, producers always work on spec), so it's not like I'm turning down paying gigs (then I'd been an executive), but still, I have a really great book project that I'd love to dig into, but unfortunately the amount of time it would take little ole me, by myself, to pull it together is more than I can afford, given that it will probably be at least 2-5 years before I earn any real lucre from it.

My little side-ventures are also taking up a lot of time, so I have to balance the payoff from those (much more immediate) with my own strong feelings about the material that I have to turn away....

Anyhow, this all made me think about doing a little mini-series about independent financing. It's sort of off-topic in terms of the Hollywood industry business itself, and I've noticed that more folks visit the craft and networking posts than any other ones.... So, I'm offering it up. If anyone is interested let me know and I'll dig into the bag of tricks.

BTW, we are up in the triple digits now -- whoowee!! For anyone who referred a friend who referred a friend -- THANKS!! (Big cheesy grin on my face)