Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ugly Betty

Halfway through the show and I already love it. I was ready to hate it, but I think they got this one exactly right. I almost fell out when they played the blurry vision POV after she hit the glass like a damn country pigeon in the Big City. Still thinking about how I can use that one.... The guy she's working for isn't enough 0f a bad guy to justify this emotional arc with her, but still, really love it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Rules

The last few days have been pretty busy. In addition to preparing my book for the next 100 pages of writing (e.g. re-reading the 100 pages I have, outlining, journaling, setting up a writing schedule, repeating affirmations to myself that I don't suck and I don't need to get another development job), a producer friend called me about an indie rewrite job. Originally, this was supposed to come together at the end of August, when I had no pressure for my book pages, but, of course, being indie filmmakers they didn't have the money.

This time I held out for a couple grand because I knew it was taking me away from working on the book and finishing my tv samples (I'm waiting for feedback on the pilot and working on outlines for RESCUE ME and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA to see which one works best), so I thought I'd leave it up to the fates to determine if I should put that aside.

Aside from the validation I feel cashing a check that says "for screenwriting services" in the memo line, I have set up some criteria for how I price my services and the reasons I'll take a non-union, indie job.

The number one rule is: Who is making the film? Obviously I don't expect Stephen Spielberg to call me up and ask me to do some work on a "little experimental thing he and the Toms (Cruise and Hanks, 'natch)" are brewing up. However, I do like to feel like the folks I'm working with are actually going to make the movie. Afterall, a writer is just a dreamer until somebody actually produces the work.

Rule number 2 is: How much turnaround time do I have? I prefer to work under tight turnarounds. It sounds nutty, but in my spec work I'm taking my time, making sure that I get things right, but I'm used to the pace of major feature film production where the only obstacle to getting something done is money. I've worked on films where the pages were being printed in a trailer on set and photocopied in small batches to make sure the critical folks got it in time for shooting. There's something about sitting with professionals who are there to make it work, people, and actually making it work. Also, there are fewer politics (usually) simply because there's no time for manuvering.

Rule number 3: How much work do I have to do? Now this isn't about the number pages that need to be re-written, this is more about how clear are the filmmakers about what they want to have done. Do they have specific scenes that need to be adjusted? Do they know how those adjustments will go? Are they adding or omitting specific elements? Or, is it one of those general pleas to "make it better," and off you go. Having worked as a development exec, I don't do development work for free. There's a fine line on a rewrite job between work a writer ought to be doing, and work that ought to be done in order to hire a writer. Of course I'm capable of figuring out what's wrong with a script, writing that up, then deconstructing it into a writing plan for myself and then actually executing the work, but that's a helluva lot of work for one person. I make it clear that I will be charging more for that work because I am meticulous and detail-oriented and persistent.

Rule number 4: Will I get credit? On non-WGA films, this is entirely negotiable. I'm sure it would suck if I had a film I'd originated and someone else ended up with a writing credit, but I also know that if I put time into it, my deal would reflect that. I definitely protect my writing services much better than I do my producing ones! If it's not possible for me to get a credit, I take whatever figure I'd had in my head after sorting through the above and add about 25%.

Rule number 5: Can I actually deliver? Now, you'll notice this is the last rule here. My philosophy is that it's hard as shit to get work in this town (even indie work), so I'd rather kick the tires and start the engine before deciding to back out of a deal than pass because I couldn't handle it. I do believe that if you are a solid craftsman (nothing to do with art, at this point), you can analyze the style of a screenplay or genre and figure out the basic tick-tock that makes it work -- that doesn't mean you'll make it a work of art, but at the indie level any film looking for a new writer just needs some basic mechanical work.

In truth, each of these is a weighted rule and that weight is constantly changing (in this case, when I said I'd do the job I had more time, now that I'm pressed for time I wish I'd asked for more $$ and more specific notes). Still, a deal is a deal and the check did clear....

Anyway, I'm hoping to post more regularly now. I feel like I was supposed to post something I wrote a while ago and have forgotten about.... I'll have to look around the old hard drive and see what's gathering dust.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Read-Thrus Rock!

Last night went much much better than I thought it would. It also ran over by about 2 hours, and if one of my actors hadn't had a 5 AM call we'd still be there fighting over the beat work right now. To every single one of them I have to give a big hats off. They all had sharp eyes, good instincts, and real committment to helping me get the work on its feet.

I have no idea when this piece is going to be shot. The director has up and moved across the country, the boat is sitting in the harbor just waiting, and the weather is a few weeks away from turning. But, for my purposes, I'm tightening up the turn at the bottom of the script, then passing the script off to the producer and moving on to greener passengers. My goal is to let things settle a bit before I start polishing. I came home last night and spent about an hour typing up my notes, writing thank you notes, and reviewing parts of the tape. I'm going to bed early, and when I get up tomorrow I'll pound out the revisions.

What I'd been hoping for is a little back and forth with the actors, an opportunity to find out where they were going emotionally to get to the place that I wanted them to end up, the good underbelly of filmmaking that as a writer you only experience by yourself. What I ended up with was far more than that. To anyone out there staging your own reading, I highly recommend you find actors who have done extensive stage work, who've done vocal training, movement training, and scene analysis workshops -- it makes everything so much easier. If you can also take at least one workshop/class in each of these subjects you'll be ahead of the curve.

We spent the majority of our time talking about the characters, their backstory, the beats that the actors felt didn't have enough underpining for them to build on top of, I found three missing beats, and a few beats that were out of order. I think the best thing that came out of the evening was a big shot to my confidence. Oh yeah, Diva rocks! Now if I can just get my feature to this place I might finally make this into a paying gig! LOL. Hopefully things will settle down enough for me to do that -- I hope all of you are doing well out there.

BIANCA: The book's subject isn't top-secret, I'm just not coherent enough about it to really lay the plot out. Basically, it's about a young woman coming to terms with her childhood. The particulars involve a beat-to-hell Volkswagon Fox, a bunch of baby dolls and a Korean hooker. That's all I can say for certain. Ask me again in December (my self-imposed deadline to get the first draft completed).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Get Geeked

I'm working on my sides for the read-thru but thought I'd post this link for all you 007 fans out there. I've been reserving judgment about Daniel Craig as Bond because I do think he's hot (in a blue-collar, dirty kind of way) and my favorite Bond films were the ones with Sean Connery and lots of ass-kicking. I think they nailed it.

CASINO ROYALE -- let me know what you think.

P.S. There is no legitimate reason my prep work would take me to the internet. Again, this is exactly why I normally work at Starbucks!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hey There, Stranger....

I'm still alive. Congrats to Will for the gig. Think of me when you're toiling away and now I'm green with envy!

I'm gathering all of my bits and pieces for Sunday. I had a couple of actors flake and had my lead actor go all crazy with me yesterday:

Me: So, I'm calling to confirm the reading on Sunday at 8:30p

Actor: Is that when it is? (beat) I've been waiting for you to call and give me a date. For a week.

Me: Can you not do it?

Actor: Oh, no, I'm free, but you said you were going to call me, and then I didn't hear from you....

Me: Well, if you remember, about a week and a half ago I told you we were definitely doing it on Sunday the 17th probably at 7p, but that I had to confirm with another actor and the theater before I could confirm with you. (beat) So, this is me confirming.
Head 'em off at the pass I always say. This guy was already complaining to the producer that I hadn't told him every little detail about the read-thru, so I knew he was waiting with some kind of scolding. Meanwhile, he's been promising me actors and that he'd help find the stage, etc., only to turn around once I've secured things to say "Oh, well, I would've done it but since you have something for certain...." I hate when people do that.

Anywho, for anyone who's never done one of these, I'll lay out my plans for the next few days. I'm happy to break the entire process down and provide examples of some of the materials below if anybody needs a flashlight through the woods.

So far, I've pulled together maps and directions, assembled my cast, secured the theater we'll be using, picked up a tripod and photocopied a stack of scripts. I emailed out an agenda with a map, the script, an agenda and my "hopes and dreams" idea of how the read-thru will run.

Today I'll place a personal call to everyone involved in the reading, pick up the the video camera and tape so that I can do a dry run of the recording and see if I need to beg, borrow or steal a microphone(s).

Then tomorrow I'll break the script down in pieces and put together my binder for the run-thru (phone numbers of everyone involved in case anyone is running late, extra copies of the scenes separated into different "sides", blank paper, tape flags, pens, pencils and a couple of colored pens and highlighters in different colors).

On Sunday, I'll get cash (in case someone needs to get bailed out of jail, (and I'm only partially kidding here)), buy some soda (coke/diet coke/sprite), bottled water, ice, grapes, pretzels and some cookies, meet up with my friend early to set up the read-thru area and a "holding" area for folks who aren't doing scenework, then settle in and wait for people to show up.

The read-thru itself is going to (hopefully) run like this:

8:15p-8:30p -- ARRIVALS
8:30p -- Cold read-thru
8:45-9:15p -- Scenework: Scenes 1-3
9:15-9:30p -- Scenework: Scenes 4-9
9:30p-9:45p -- Scenework: Scenes 9-11
9:45p-10:00 -- final read-thru
The piece is actually only 9 pages, so I think it will take about an hour, but with the crazy lead actor, and another actor I've never even met (who is used to doing stage work), I'm anticipating any kind of craziness if these two don't like one another.

I made sure everyone knows the session is being taped for my personal use so no one is shocked by the camcorder, and now, all I can do is work my plan and watch things unfold.

Last weekend, I went up to the Bay Area for my novel writing group and had a great time. Everyone is so on point in terms of just getting the pages out there. It's really inspiring, and the books were good too. I'm due to turn in 100 pages in November, so I'm sweating every night. I'd put the book aside to get my samples finished and since I'm still working in rough, I'm having nightmares about ex-boyfriends showing up recently divorced, giant bbq's at which I'm cooking everyone's food using my pages for fuel (they impart such a nice smoky mesquite flavor to the ribs...), and my dog growing a beard and sitting in a rocker waiting for me to finish something.

Anyway, back to the salt mines. This week I rewrote one chapter of my book (the dreaded Chapter 5 which has been kicking my ass since I started it). Came up with an act-break fix for my tv spec pilot, wrote a partial treatment for an indie film idea I've been kicking around for a while, and read a book (LICK CREEK by Brad Kessler which I can neither recommend nor trash, just wish I had back the 8 hours I put in). What have you guys been up to? :-)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Not to Keep a Job

Hey you guys, I'm bearing down on my read-thru, tightening up the script, casting the actors (really just passing the script out to friends and saying "Gotcha!"), and putting together logistical details like maps and ice chests. Posting will be exceptionally light for the next week as I try not to fall out from stress.

Anecdotally, I spoke with a friend of mine who had to fire her director today. She is shooting a short film and he wasn't stepping up to the plate. The director provides leadership through the production phase of shooting. Not bringing story boards, not actively pursuing your crew (especially the department heads), running late for meetings -- all of this is rock star behaviour which typically doesn't mesh well with low budget/no budget indie films and it sucks for everybody who is working their fingers to the bone.

And completely randomly: there are now officially 4-digit hits per month! I'm almost done with the two projects I'm writing (TV spec pilot and a feature spec) and when I'm done I'm going to finish the re-do on the template. I want to put up some blog links to those of you who frequent the blog, so please let me know if you want me to link you up!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

There Can Be Only One

If you've been following the corporate struggles over at Viacom (and I know you have, right?), this morning's news was a long an area of speculation.

Tom Freston is OUT at Viacom. Leaving Les Moonves as the head of CBS and Paramount. Talk about evil plans coming true! Now we'll see some Executive Deathmatch as Brad Grey, Gail Berman (mostly on the outs according to to scuttlebut), and whoever the hell else is still alive over there, scramble to prove that the movies they've released, purchased and packaged over the last two-three years are going to start raking in the loot for the studio. With their share price hovering in the mid-30's they've got to pull up on the yoke before they crash and burn. Media moguls care about two things: prestige and money. That means Oscars, Globes and Box Office, none of which have been Paramount's strong suits in the last few years.

I predict there will be sharp turn into genre films: think horror, romantic comedies, movies geared at tweens, action films (like FAST AND THE FURIOUS), and big fat comedies (like 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN), and definitely definitely definitely tentpoles franchise films. That means middle of the market dramas (like COACH CARTER) probably won't be made there for a while. If you write genre films this is the time to put it in high-gear and get ready to pound the pavement to find an agent with an in over on Melrose....

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Il-LUSION-ist

I went to the Arclight this evening and saw Ed Norton's new movie, THE ILLUSIONIST. I was entertained. But, I can't say it was the best movie I've seen this year. The character work was interesting, the set design was amazing, Jessica Biels looked hot (not enough for me, but I'm sure there are those of you out there who will gladly pay $14.50 to see her), and Ed Norton had some crazy facial hair all down his neck.

The most annoying thing for me were the visual affectations used throughout the film. Dick Pope shot the film (and I've enjoyed other films he's shot) and it uses this "irising" effect that's meant to emulate early hand-cranked cinematography. They also introduced a flicker, and some soft focus on the edges. I got a raging headache about 20 minutes into the film, but I'm interested to hear what other folks experienced. I might have thought the film was better if I could've tolerated the viz fx.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

One of the Reasons I Got Out

I recently came across a very angry filmmaker I never worked with when I was a producer and an executive. He's doing much better for himself than he was when I was passing on his scripts, turning down his dinner invitations, and in general avoiding him. He's not rich, but he got his movie made, he got distribution, and hopefully, someday soon, he'll realize that this is all that matters. In the meantime, I'm avoiding his angry little behind like the Plague.

A lot of people take their rejections personally. And it's hard not to take rejection personally when someone is telling you that your dreams aren't what they are looking for, not good enough, or not commercial. This is one of the reasons why I got out. I hate being the bearer of bad news. Not just because it's emotionally painful to tell someone you can't help make their dreams come true, but also because I'd rather just get it out of the way and leave no room for backpedaling -- which can seem impersonal to some people. Well, guess what? A "good" pass is impersonal. It has nothing to do with you, who you are, or, hopefully, your future potential submissions to the person who passed.

When you are a female executive, male filmmakers (and agents, directors, actors, etc.) think they can hustle you by showering you with attention, flattery and a little romance. It works pretty frequently because, as an executive, you're typically working 80 hours a week and you never get to leave town. Whenever you see a crappy movie that should've died at birth, there's a romance somewhere in the background. I'm not one of those folks. I rarely work, or even really discuss work, with the guys that I date. I might have a general discussion about movies, or story, but I've never been one of those people who fantasize about being part of a "Hollywood Power Couple." Consequently, the men I dated who did work in the industry were not folks I ever planned to work with -- occasionally to their consternation.

I guess the point of this post is that if you discover that you are one of the folks I never worked with when I was at The Studio, YOU are one of the reasons I got out. Kindly cross to the other side of the street and carry on.

Mystery Solved

Today when I signed onto Blogger I bothered to read the log-in page. Apparently, in my rush to be ahead of the tech-curve (damn me for being an early early adopter!), I didn't realize I would lose all ability to comment on non-beta blogs and to mobile blog. The only good thing I can say about this development is that it's kept me off the internet long enough to get through two books and a couple of scripts over the last week. Now I remember what I did before I got dsl.


One of my short films is inching closer to production. I'm staging a read-thru in three weeks or so (still waiting for word on the theatre and actors), but I heard from the director today and he is ready to go! I've been racking my imagination for a way to include the Shark Sub in my story, but, I only have 2 days of shooting and the story has absolutely NOTHING to do with submarines (not even through every stretch of my insane imagination). Oh well, I'm going to put in a dialogue reference and see if we can't do something about that on the day we shoot just in case a couple of hours free themselves up....

P.S. This is from one of my favorite goof off sites.