Saturday, December 22, 2007

Home for the Holidays

I made it back from my freelance gig alive. It will have to suffice to say I worked literally around the clock for 7 days straight, and now it is over. I had to buy a new computer because my old laptop -- despite sending out under the warranty twice -- finally stopped working. It was a Compaq which I got a great deal on, spent a couple hundred extra on the warranty and then had the whole thing fall to pieces within a 2 month period. I got about 36 months out of it, so I guess you get what you pay for, I just wish the ending hadn't been so spectacularly ill-timed.

I decided to take the plunge and shift to Mac. My printer is on its last legs and I have to replace almost all of my other office equipment within the next year anyway, so it seems like I might as well join 99% of the creative community. So far, I'm completely in love. I do not like the wonky sound my sleek new black MacBook makes whenever I put a DVD in the drive, but everything else is beautiful. And the keyboard is wonderful. After pounding away on that Compaq for 2 years I feel like a drunken sailor abusing this beautiful little thing. And I can see everything I type on the display. Marvelous. I just uploaded some pictures, no video yet, probably wait to do that until I set up the external hard drive and the extra monitor, but I'm eager to play with all the new toys on here. I feel like I already got my money's worth when I was traveling and someone tripped on my power cord on the plane and it just broke away from the computer instead of sending the whole thing crashing to the floor. Me and my seat-mate (another new Mac convert) just grinned at each other, shook our heads and said, "Now that's worth 2G's right there." Yes, I'm a big gadget nerd. I'll admit it. :-)

I'm going to go back to posting about production related issues in the new year. I've spent a lot of the last few months doing very low-budget indie work, and no-budget cable television stuff, so I'd like to get into that a bit and pick everyone's brains, and I'm starting to get inquiries and interest in doing webisode/mobile phone work from a few corporations that specialize in media. I recently pitched some work for mobile content to a company that has a lot of media content and they had some interesting things to say about rights clearances, etc. that hadn't come up in any of my creative discussions with folks, so I'm wondering if its because they are relatively new to internet media, or if this is an area of litigation and liability that is just catching up to the big media companies. Anyone who has insight, please feel free to post or email me.

Anyway, my writing group put on a reading last week which I wasn't able to attend. It went very well, I'm waiting for my tape, but I think we may do a few more in other cities. That's way more exciting to me than the prospect of another one of these freelance gigs -- I'm my own boss, I answer to no one and people listen to my suggestions and advice. :-) It's hard to be a Diva in today's world. All this free will nonsense going around.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Long Time, No Post

Hey guys,

I've officially past the halfway point in the novel! Yay! This was only accomplished by cutting myself off from reality for the last three weeks and now I'm craving human contact. The strike sucks, and I think will continue to do so for at least a few more weeks before it even starts to look better, and anyone who wants to maintain his or her sanity is focusing on "outside interests". Better blogs than this one have taken on this topical issue, so I'll just stick to the production and development stuff.

On that note, I'm currently heading overseas to produce and "direct" a little documentary. It's been a whirlwind three days which started on Saturday when I checked my voicemail for the first time in days. A friend of mine called to offer me a budgeting gig with a client, one thing led to another, and now I'm sitting here in a hotel room, bleary eyed, hacking away on my dying laptop. You gotta love your friends -- when I called her today to let her know the status, she started laughing when she realized the guys had actually contracted me for the work. This is one of those crazy jobs they make you sign an NDA for, nothing X-rated, but one which may die a quiet death in obscurity. I hope not, I really like the guys I'm working with, it's giving me a chance to employ some of my favorite people in a time when most folks aren't working, and I get per diem. Heh, heh, heh.

Anyway, unlike productions past I won't be able to share any details at all. If that changes I'll post some photos. In the meantime, some of my favorite advice with plenty of Tom Swifties thrown in: stay cool, especially when you're hot.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Incredible Ron Rifkin

Via the HuffPo blog of Jon Robin Baitz:

At one PM, Ron Rifkin and I walk away, and have some lunch. But not before
he explains to a French journalist, in perfect French, that he is here "because without the word, what is there?...There is nothing..." It is capped by a perfect Gallic shrug, as good as any Parisian who knows the truth is the truth is the truth. C'est la guerre.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

WGA STRIKES!

Jim Henshaw has an excellent post which I think should be given consideration by everyone who cares a whit about the film business. I’m going to post it in it’s entirety here, and if Jim wants it down, please let me know and I’ll just excerpt it.

I think we’re still in early days with this. Folks have a vague notion of how their lives will be affected by the strike, but they haven’t really hunkered down inside it and had to make tough choices – rent or car note? Birthday gifts or gas money? Those days are coming. The only way for writers to come out ahead in this is to immediately effect the economics of the studios and networks. That only happens by galvanizing your base: viewers and fans. Since it’s clear that the AMPTP isn’t planning to go back to the table (and, yes, I’ve heard all these rumors of back-channel talks, and all I can say is if they aren’t above board, there’s something shady going down), writers need to immediately impact the jobs and economic security of the people on the other side. Fear runs both ways.

I also think it’s well past time to ally with the other unions in the country and get them on board with signs of support. Stickers, bracelets, you name it, it should be out there so that the strike calls attention to Corporate Greed versus Labor unions. Teachers, nurses, firefighters, cops, teamsters, they’re organized and should be called up and asked to show solidarity. I’ve heard directly from insiders that the studio executives believe the writers are foolish, na├»ve and short-sighted for striking. These guys don’t think there will be any progress made, and that if there is any concession, it will be nominal, meant to keep the WGA leadership from losing face.

I’m a military brat, so, to me, those are fighting words.

Anyway, here’s Jim’s excellent post:

Half of me is on strike and half isn't. Half goes to work every day and half doesn't. I'm a multi-hyphenate writer member of the WGA and the Writers Guild of Canada, producer and of late director. Explaining how I fragmented so much is far too complicated. To be honest, I don't fully understand it myself.

With the WGA on strike, my business in that realm is at a standstill. On the plus side, the long distance phone bill this month promises to be a little more manageable. On the WGC half, I can write for Canadian companies working in Canada and I'm fielding calls from Canadian producers trying to figure out how to profit from the current labor disruption and hoping I'll get aboard that train.

Not a chance.

There's much at stake in this WGA/AMPTP dispute and no matter how you frame it, doing anything but fully supporting the WGA is tantamount to helping the American media conglomerates gut our fellow writers -- and do the same to directors, actors and anybody else who works in film and television as soon as they finish with the scribes.

Big Media is in trouble. Oh, they've put a rosy face on things. All those recent acquisitions and mergers have allowed them to appear fat and happy at the bottom line. But the risk averse nature of the new corporate owners has gradually led to their TV audience dwindling. Repetitive styles and sequels do not make for a reliable source of steady cash at the box office. DVD sales have peaked. The Music business is in freefall and everybody seems to be going to the internet.

The internet is where the money and the future lies.

Only the corporations don't own or control the internet.

Yet.

Under the current system, the movie business is financed primarily by DVDs, followed by the box office and then sales to television and other distribution systems. Problem is that because of their own risk aversion and mismanagement, that money
isn't going to the studios that make the movies anymore. Global Media Intelligence in association with Merrill Lynch, just published a report concluding that much of the studio income (current and future) has already been alotted to the top stars, directors and producers in the form of participation deals. That's a share of the gross revenue, not just the profits, of a movie.

Major studios are now giving away as much as 25 percent of a film's receipts under these agreements. Some stars even get a share of the sales of popcorn and milk duds.

Industry-wide, the payout was $3 billion last year alone, with many of these players still making fortunes even when the films themselves lose money. It's a system that closely replicates the corporate structure of the companies controlling today's media; where obscene sums are paid to a few but at the expense of everyone else involved and imperiling the very business that could easily sustain them all.

In TV, the economic climate is just as bad because of the same level of greed and mismanagement. Last year, a relatively good one by all forms of measurement, the major networks still had to give back $200 Million to their advertisers in the form of "make goods"; meaning free commercial time to make good on promises of audience numbers that weren't delivered.

One week into the strike, late night ratings were down 30% and numbers in all time slots are expected to decline precipitously once current shows run out of original material.

The question is not only how much the nets will have to "make good" this season, but how much their advertising clients will be willing to offer up front in June to finance next year's pilots and series. The prevailing wisdom is -- a whole lot less than they did this year.

This mess is the result of stupidity. The whole system could easily be run better, creating a positive financial outcome for all concerned. But then all those concerned might leverage some creative control or ask for a share of income that better reflects their contribution and that just isn't allowed.

So Big Media's only hope to regain and retain the profit margins they've enjoyed to date is to break the unions and control content on the internet. But building the same stranglehold on creativity and distribution they've enjoyed up to now requires complete and absolute control of every penny flowing through that new media conduit.

If they break the writers, they'll move on to break SAG whose membership has both a shorter average professional career and a lower median income, making it harder for most SAG members to sustain any long term resistance. Directors, the smallest guild, would inevitably follow and that will be that.

The thin gruel that makes up the bulk of what's on television and available at the multiplex would now come to you online as well.

This isn't a battle between Big Media masquerading as Producers and a bunch of guys who write scripts. It's the opening salvo of a war over who can have a place in the media of tomorrow, It's also a reflection of the desperation of conglomerates whose only hope of creating shareholder value is through the complete elimination of all shared revenue streams and the subjugation of their workers.

So what can you do?

Being a thousand miles from the nearest picket line, I asked myself the same question and came up with a list. Here are 10 things you can do to support the striking writers of the WGA, their fellow artists and the countless others who provide you with your entertainment options.

1. STOP WATCHING AMERICAN TELEVISION. I'm not saying kick the TV habit. just stop watching anything created or broadcast by any of the BIG 6, Newscorp, Time Warner, GE, Viacom, Sony and MGM. That may mean watching CBC in Canada or a lot of tele-novellas stateside, but you'll survive and you might even find something you like. If you must watch "House" and "CSI" until they're out of original episodes, so be it. But please don't watch the reruns or what replaces them. And if the Neilsen people call before then, tell them you're not watching anything and tell them why.

2. STOP BUYING AND RENTING DVDS. Writers get virtually nothing from their sale, either to you or the rental place. Tell the kid at Blockbuster why you're not renting from him. He's a film geek and doesn't like studio product for more reasons than you'll ever understand and will therefore appreciate your "stickin' it to the man". Once this is over, he'll happily have a free bag of M&M's and a big Coke waiting to greet your return.

3. STOP DOWNLOADING from iTunes or any other pay site for media. Writers get nothing from those purchases. Yes, downloading from pirate sites is stealing. But paying for downloads when the revenue is not shared with the creators is corporate theft. Is stealing from thieves a crime? I'll let your own moral compass be your guide on that one. Watch what you already own. Swap with friends. Just don't put another dollar in the hands of the WGA's persecutors until this is over.

4. STOP GOING TO MOVIES. Again, I'm not asking you to give up date night or Sunday afternoon with the kids. Just don't go to see anything made by the BIG 6. Their names are plastered all over the ads, so the marks of the beasts are quite visible.

There's a ton of indy features you can go to see instead, along with art films, documentaries and foreign films. And those foreign flicks are not all in French, Swedish or Italian. Remember: Canadians, Australians and the British all speak English and also make some damn good movies. Try breaking down other cultural barriers you might have too because there's great stuff made by the Chinese, the Japanese and at least a million different guys in Bollywood.

5. STOP BUYING PRODUCTS from the multi-nationals who own the networks and studios. A comprehensive list of their holdings can be found here. Your Mom or your girlfriend/boyfriend does not need a GE hair dryer or a Westinghouse toaster oven for Christmas. Buy jewelry instead. At least then you're only supporting local warlords and slave traders, in some cases, a moral step up from the average Multinational CEO.

There's also a lot of guys who aren't named Sony making Plasma TVs. Get your news and sports information online instead of buying Time or Sports Illustrated. The information you get will also be less than a week old. And understand that people write good books that aren't published by Simon & Shuster (another Viacom company).

Y'know it's appalling how much these people own and yet they still can't seem to make ends meet without screwing writers. I think their shareholders should be asking who's in charge.

6. BECOME A SHAREHOLDER. Buy one share of one or all of the BIG SIX. Given what's going on, you might want to make that purchase on margin and short the stock. Then start phoning management to complain about how things are being run. Be a pest. You're a shareholder. It's your money they're throwing around on private jets and gourmet lunches while box office and ratings are suffering. Ask a lot of questions about those movie participation deals. How come the shareholders weren't told a quarter of the cash flow was going to that Spielberg guy and Tom Cruise? Why should your dividends end up financing E-meters?

Hound them about the accuracy of their books too. Do you think these people would only cheat writers?

7. THE SAME GOES FOR TV SPONSORS. Find out who buys ads on your favorite show and phone them up. Tell the guys at Ford that you want 24 episodes of "24" or you're going across the street to the Dodge dealership. You might also ask what kind of message they're sending by having a guy who's going to jail for DUI as their product spokesman while you're at it.

Overall, let any sponsor know that you're not very happy with them using their ad dollars to support businesses like TV networks who don't treat their employees fairly. Suggest that you won't be buying their product until they pull their ads. If enough people call, that strategy works. I know, I've been on the wrong side of it. Even if it doesn't work, you'll get a nice letter with some coupons.

8. COMPLAIN TO YOUR ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES. There's an election coming up in the USA. Call your local candidates and anybody running for President and ask where they stand -- on the side of greedy, faceless corporations or ordinary people who can outvote them on a scale of about 10,000 to one? When they patronize you with the obvious answer, demand to see some tangible proof. There are photo-ops aplenty for any politician who walks a WGA picket and a lot of questions that need to be asked of those not brave enough to show up.

In Canada, this political objective can be accomplished by asking your MP how come
the CRTC allows Canadian networks to buy so much programming from people who don't want writers to earn residuals which could support their families in a land without universal health care, subsidized theatre and guaranteed maternity leave.

9. PHONE PETER CHERNIN AND LESLIE MOONVES. These two network CEOs told WGA negotiators a deal could be made if DVD payments were taken off the table and then reneged on that promise when the Guild complied. If I was on the negotiating committee, I'd be raising that DVD payment 1% a day from now until a deal is finally reached. You can't allow this kind of duplicity to go unpunished.

There's no way to end any labor dispute until a level of trust between the parties is achieved and these two men all but eliminated that possibility. They both need to be called to account.

You can reach Mr. Chernin at 310-369-1000 and Mr. Moonves at 323-575-2345. Don't let the nice lady on the switchboard deter you, the boys are somewhere in the building and you will be forwarded. Studio policy requires that all phone calls placed between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm be voice answered and logged, making the staff less
available to assist these two reprehensible CEOs in putting their plans for world domination into action.

10. SUPPORT INDEPENDENT PRODUCT ONLINE. Writers and other creatives are already offering new media forms of entertainment online and it's not hard to find. Just Google what whets your appetite and a thousand options will present themselves. It's just as easy to crack a beer and flop in front of your computer as it is using a couch and a television. And it's going to get a lot easier real soon. There are entire networks here that you've never heard of, original webisodes and alternate universes and graphic novels and real people you can interact with while being entertained.

There are opinions expressed here that are not diluted or spun to serve the self interests of mega-corporations as well as products and services that will never carry an "As seen on TV" sticker. It's a brave new world that isn't owned and controlled by six companies. A place where artists and audiences can engage without a grasping middleman and where the future can be shared equitably.

Sharing equitably is what this strike is about.

Thanks for doing whatever you can in helping us all get there

Amen, Mr. Henshaw!

And here’s a link to John August’s ABC’s of residuals.

And to the United Hollywood WGA strike blog.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Little Update

So, the last few weeks have been hectic. The show is in post, on the East Coast, and I'm trying to settle back into my writing routine. That includes more regular posting. I promise.

There are a few things percolating that I will blog about if they get a little less ephemeral. I've pitched a couple ideas recently, but with the strike coming up, it's hard to tell if the interest (and the exec) will still be around once things get back to business. In the meantime, I'm keen to polish up the feature drafts I finished last spring and to get another current TV spec together.

I'm trying to get my samples in a good place for after the strike so I can go out and set up a few producing gigs and writing projects. The actor who was involved in my TV gig is interested in something I pitched to him, so now I have to circle back around and find out if I can get any traction on the idea (with him, his reps, and the network/cable outlets I think would want the project). And I have to decide if this is the best use of my time. It's easy to get your head turned by projects that seem like they will fast-track themselves (because an executive has expressed interest in the idea, because there seems to be talent circling the project, because a financier has contacted you asking for material), but frequently it's best to hedge a bit and not go completely off your own game plan.

When you are established, i.e. people know you can deliver on what you are pitching and that what you deliver is commercial and/or has artistic merit this part of the process isn't as painful. You aren't fighting for credibility, just for a place at the table. If I were to go back into the industry as a development executive, or start producing mid-range urban films (under $15-20 million pix) I'd have an easier time of it, but showing and proving as a writer is an entirely different struggle. It's a lot more emotionally difficult because I actually care about the material that I'm pitching, I've lived with it, fought with myself over it, built up a lot of investment in it, and then here comes the d-girl side of me telling myself everything that's not working or needs to be changed in order to get it through the right doors.

Ugh.

Anyway, "Pity Party, your table for one is ready." Back to the grind, people. And it's not all bad. I'll let you know some of the good stuff once this dark bit has passed. :-)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

No Good Deed....

I'm "segment producing" for a friend of mine for this little show that will air this fall. Nothing exciting (including my paycheck), but it has got me on the run. It started out as a 2-day favor that has morphed into me negotiating rights deals, booking crews and trying to get network exex to close talent deals. Ugh. This. Is. Why. I. Write. I miss my little dog. I miss my quiet little armchair. I miss my afternoons curled up at Starbucks, tapping away at my little scribblings.

Anyway, back to the grind. I'll keep you posted. Novel is/was going well. Trying to get some pages together for a reading in the Bay Area at the end of the year. The novel-writing group is getting some national coverage which is very gratifying. If only my book were finished, perhaps it would help me move ahead.... :-)

Keep on trucking, people.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Many New Developments

I hope things are going well for all of you out there. Hollywood is dead as a doornail right now since it is the last days of August. I just came back from the Bay Area and I'm trying to get it together to leave town again next week. I trust you have your vacations well in hand, are not stressing out about the strike (since a work slowdown/stoppage is sort of a given at this point as a result of the accelerated spending), and are polishing up those specs.

I'm burnt out and this heat has made me a little nuts. I had a massive computer problem last week -- my hard drive overheated and I thought it had melted. Luckily, it was just a burnt out fan, but let me tell you, I was sweating it! So, the laptop is down which means I'm forced to write on my desktop in the overheated cottage. Poor me. :-)~ I'm just glad I got the "backup" machine. And my friends thought it was overkill. Ha! I'm also splurging on an external hard drive (my car has an oil leak, but the hard drive felt like more a of a priority. I still have my bike!) and I urge all of you to BACK UP YOUR HARD DRIVES. I try to do it every week, and thank God for that, because I had literally just backed it up when the machine froze up and stopped responding to me. I'm buying a Seagate 320Gb drive through buy.com. It should get here any day. Can't wait. I almost got the 500gb because it's not that much more expensive, but I really only keep music and pix on it other than my FINAL DRAFT files, so that seemed like an indulgence.

OK, I know I'm boring you all to tears. Have a great end of summer. I may not post until after Labor Day -- I have some book-related stuff going on that's taking up a lot of my time.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

MAX ROACH IS GONE

RIP. Man, I love Max Roach. First Mr. Batiste and now Max. I hope you all get a chance to spin a few for a great jazz man.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Again with the Random Musings...

I've spent the last week or so figuring out what I'm going to do with myself if there is a strike. I have a few ideas for reality shows so I'm developing those and will see where that takes me if and when the time comes to put that iron in the fire. From what I understand networks will have banked enough episodes of things to get them through November sweeps, then it's winter hiatus, then back with some mid-season replacement stuff that is shooting as you read this and if there is no strike, back to business as usual, but if there is a strike it will be wall-to-wall reality. I think anyone working at those big reality production houses has their fingers crossed right now. I know most studios learned from their mistakes last time around (2001) and have plenty of options in case things get nuclear around here. Including putting executives on leave and not renewing contracts. I had a clause like that in my deal, but, fortunately, it never came to that.

Last time around, just like this time, agencies took advantage of the strike to trim their client lists and cut loose anyone who was under-performing or just plain troublesome. I had a few friends who were "fired" by their agencies and it has been a long road back. First the year of depression and humiliation, then the year of spec writing and humiliation and depression, then the year of the comeback, and bitterness and depression.... :-) Anyway, I credit that last major trimming with consolidating the position and power of managers in this town. There were tons of very talented people suddenly at loose ends, desperate to get back in the game, willing to write on spec who were accessible, some for probably the first time in a very long time.

I'm also developing a series of webisodes that a couple of girlfriends of mine and I have been kicking around since May. One of my friends recently landed at a new internet entertainment site and they are desperate for content. She is lucky enough to be hooked up at a place that is the daughter of a highly trafficked site so they need content more than anything right now. I doubt it would cover more than the cost of producing the actual work, but considering that we were going to do it all for free, this seems like a good way for me to get a little directing under my belt before I attack my short film.

If any of you (Will?) have suggestions for the approach one should use when shooting for the itty bitty screen I'd love to hear them. I read a post over at Complications Ensue about Mobisodes that really started me thinking about how to do this. We don't really envision this thing ever getting off the internet and onto a phone screen, but I am really concerned about the screen ratio of that YouTube box. I've shot some stuff for TV before (just news footage when I was a wee-little Diva still delusionally thinking I wanted to be a hard-hitting journo) and it seems to me that the "readable" portion of the screen is the same -- meaning lots of close-ups and medium shots. I actually like movies that take advantage of depth of field (I'm thinking about TOKYO STORY here), so I'm wondering if anyone has thoughts about that, specifically. I haven't seen too much stuff produced for the web that uses depth of field in any meaningful way and I'm not sure if that's the constraints of the medium (resolution and bandwidth interrupting the impact of long shots that rack focus and/or feature fore, mid and background action) or just that the medium hasn't matured enough for folks to be exploiting it that way yet.

Anyway, back to the reality stuff. I have a close friend who I kick ideas around with, talk story, gossip, etc. She and I have been trying to find a way to spend all of 2008 out of the country. Preferably not working, but we will take what we can get. I'll keep you posted. I still have to get to my cheese tour of England and France....

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

STRIKE! STRIKE! STRIKE!!

I'm not advocating that there be a strike or that there not be, but from everything I gather it really won't matter by the middle of September, most of the studios will have effectively committed all their development funds. This means: no spec sales unless you are A++ talent and ready to hit the set with the hot little pages in your hand; no work done on existing projects unless your executive is sleeping with the head of accounting, there will be no checks cut on steps not already commenced; no greenlights on anything not already greenlit; no new executive hires, but possibly some folks will get let go during this time (only if the strike actually starts though).

The town is on fire with folks working around-the-clock. LAT had an article about the number of permits FilmLA has issued in the last couple of months -- which doesn't even begin to guesstimate the amount of work going on out of town. My friends who work at agencies are telling me it is a frantic scramble to get clients on to jobs before there aren't any and my writer friends are telling me they are being told by their studio bosses that if the projects they turn in aren't greenlight-able there probably won't be another step for a while, if ever.

This is a good time to work on your spec material, save your money, and get ready for the post-strike glut when the studios have to prove to top talent that they have money -- the last time there was a near-miss, in 2001, the months preceding and immediately after the strike were ripe for spec writers. A lot of pitches were sold as well, but studios were eager to show that they had budgeted well and were still in business.

Anyway, it's also a good time to take that long vacation in the Andes you've always wanted, but couldn't ever find the time for. You've got about 8 weeks to plan it. :-)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Adaptation

A friend of mine is adapting a short story of hers into a movie for a well-known indie filmmaker. She's never done this sort of thing before and has put in a lot of time over the last few months struggling with film structure. As a short story writer, plot isn't necessarily an important part of the work -- not to the extent that it is in most films, anyway. I think she's doing an admirable job wrestling the thing into something workable, but she asked me a question the other day that made me realize how artificial the writing advice for film is.

When writing the first draft, DO NOT WORRY ABOUT STRUCTURE. There are people out there throwing up their hands and proclaiming that's bs. Don't listen to them. If you are an absolute beginning screenwriter, someone who is still learning, there is absolutely no reason to beat yourself about the head and neck with 3, 5, 7 or 9-act structure talk, let alone the 8 sequence or reel method that you find bandied about the internet unless you know your story cold.

I know there are people out there who work from character charts, outlines, and arcane algorithms of their own devising. I'm not talking to the 2% of you who do that. You probably go around figuring tip in your spare time or adding things up for fun. God bless you. No, I'm talking to the rest of us who need a flashlight to see in the dark and who double the tax and add a couple bucks when the check comes.

The chances that you are going to sit down and on your first pass pound out a structurally balanced film are pretty doggone slim. No matter how many notecards you go through. I've seen enough failed screenplays and met with many aspiring writers who crashed and burned and went back to their day jobs to know this. No, for the vast majority of newbie writers, the best method to write a screenplay is 1) learn how to write a short story; 2) learn how to write a scene and then 3) write a first draft of your short story as a screenplay without stopping to think about structure.

I'm not pulling this out of my you-know-where.

By their very nature short stories contain around about the amount of story information you need for a screenplay. They have the added advantage of being a story-form that most people (or rather, most of those who went to highschool in the U.S.) have had the (mis)fortune of having to attempt at least at the 9th grade level. No need to learn anything new in order to get out the most important thing for any movie -- the story itself. In film this would be called a treatment. But don't think of it that way, close your eyes, take yourself back to the raging hormones of your early teen years and the smell of chalk and sweaty sneakers, and pound out a short story version of the movie you want to make.

Got that done? OK, now, go through the short story and pick out the scenes: flashbacks, plot-related scenes, characterization scenes, all of them. A scene is a unit of action within a film/play/book that typically takes place in one location (although you could argue that a character moving from the living room to the kitchen is one scene, or conversely, that a movement from dressing table to the bed would constitute a new scene, for my purposes here we're gonna go with the broad definition above). At this point, it may make sense to you to outline. I say may, not that you absolutely have to outline. I mean that. You are trying to stay focused on the story not the container you are going to pour it into. Check over the scenes and make sure there is a narrative flow, that things make sense to you.

Finally, crack open your screenwriting software/template/notepad and have at it. Write all the way through to the end. Do not stop. Do not think about act breaks, just follow the story you have assembled thus far. Done? Good. Make a clean printout/copy. Put it away for a few days.

NOW, get out a chart with the acts broken down by structural element. Not with your story content, but with whatever method you are trying to use. 3-act, 5-act, 7-act, 9-act, 8-sequence, reels (I have no idea how this works, sorry Chris Soth, I haven't bought your book yet, shame on me, I'm sure it's fabulous). Fill it out as best you can based on what you remember. Do not reference your first draft. Don't do it. If you can't remember, fake it.

Pull out that first draft. Read all the way through to the end. Mark-up anything that feels like it doesn't belong with a giant red 'X'. Mark up anything you want to keep. NOW pull out the structure outline you made, and start your second draft outline combining the two. I like to use QUICKPLOT because it lets you see the structural element next to the actual scene work, but use notecards and lined paper if that works best for you. You are on your way to a complete story that is also structurally balanced.

There's nothing worse than leaving money on the table. I'm sure we've all seen movies and felt that nagging suspicion that something could have been better explored, better exploited. by using this method you can really get "underneath" your characters in a way that won't distract you from your real purpose -- storytelling. As you become more adept at screenwriting, you can let go of the short story "crutch" and start leaning on the outline method more, and learn how to incorporate the structural elements into your process sooner. Some very talented filmmakers work this way.

Some of these structures are foreign to the way that people actually tell stories. Listen to any of your friends telling a story and you'll find digressions, tangents, false climaxes that have nothing to do with the story, etc. Even in someone who is a great oral story teller. Don't beat yourself up wondering why your first draft (or any subsequent ones, for that matter) aren't structured like a Frank Lloyd Wright house. The truth is that in the filmmaking process, structure takes a beating. Half of the executives and filmmakers you'll come across don't know anything about it. They can tell when something's off (if they've ever made a hit, that is, and let me tell you, that list is pretty damn short), but most of the time, they just have a hunger for something, and they'll know if your story is feeding it.

Because screenplay writing methods are such religiously held beliefs, I'm sure there are folks out there with a burning desire to prove me wrong. Go for it. Feel free to leave questions, comments, hate mail and death threats. But if you brick me on your blog I want a shout-out. I love it when people brick me. No such thing as bad publicity. :-)

Friday, July 20, 2007

RANDOM MUSINGS

It's too hot in my little cottage to do much thinking and I refuse to abandon the dog and head to Starbucks. Last summer we only had about 10 days of really heinous weather, but this entire month has been on-again/off-again heatwave after heatwave. Not to mention the single-digit humidity that's making my eyes dry out and th dog's fur feel like straw. Poor puppy. I rearranged the house a few weeks ago and he refused to sleep in the room where I moved his bed to. He went back in the other room, curled up under the furniture that was now occupying where his bed used to be, and stayed there until I finally gave in, moved the cabinets back where they were, put the old carpet back down and put his bed back on top of it. Stubborn dog....

***************

The director just emailed me to let me know he's picture-locked and is sending the film off for scoring and a sound mix. He's calling in all his big favors for this, so I think there may be a sound stage visit at some point. If there is any interest I could blog about that at some point.

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For me, I'm working on my book (more these last few weeks, sorry for the no posting), finishing up that outline I started so many weeks ago, and tweaking my spec pilot. One of my friends was staffed on a show that is new this fall, very exciting. She's been telling me all the good stuff about how the writers' room works on her show, and her boss loved 2 of her pitches, so she's probably going to get something aired this season. She rocks.

I've got some major stuff brewing, but it's slow-boil stuff, so no big announcements yet, if the attorneys get involved I'll share. It's book-related not screenplay or TV stuff, but still very exciting for me. I have a few minor things published, but I'd love to have a big fat unapologetic credit on my resume. When I started the novel, I was looked at it as a creative outlet. I can't imagine it will sell a million copies and by my dream house, but if I sell it and get enough to buy a writing shack in the forest somewhere that would be amazing. Fingers crossed that the slow-barge to publication doesn't get hung up on a sandbar (and, no, the metaphors in my book are not this bad).

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With this writers' strike looking more and more real, deal-making around town is stutter-stepping. It's business as usual, except it really isn't since writers are paranoid there won't be work at the end of the year, and studios and networks aren't buying at the same pace. Not to mention all the agency blood-letting going on. Feels like it's almost time for a game of musical chairs. All it takes is the strike, a few bad movies, and a couple of moguls on the loose to upset the applecart.

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I was reading all of Nikki Finke's coverage of the Ed Limato madness over at ICM, and I can't help but feel like she's being spoonfed her coverage (big surprise). I remember a few months back reading about another (much more junior) agent's job-hopping and it read like a press release. Note to tipsters: when calling in favors to spin your firing, do not include personal details that only you would tell someone else, but that no one would ever gossip about. First sign of an amateur, and a surefire way to mark you as a big-mouthed narc to friends and foes alike. Just saying.

Anyway, back to the Limato-nightmare. Hollywood is the kind of town that you can except to get jacked in at any time. Especially when you get old. There aren't too many old guys who are sacrosanct around here, and the few who are still know how to administer a beat-down. I don't know Mr. Limato, or the other gentlemen involved personally, so I can't comment on that situation, but the rule of thumb around here is keep attacking. Especially if they don't know you are. Unless they can strip him of his clients, the only thing they can hope to do is keep "servicing" them until one of them decides to defect. I can't see that happening since his clients are known for how loyal they are and Ed's swung for the fences for them for, literally, decades. And those guys still work. I hope he ends up someplace he's respected, with great directors and a solid drama writing list. I hate to see folks disrespect their elders.

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OK, I'm going to workout, then I have to meet a friend for dinner. Have a great weekend. Requests, comments and tips are always welcome. But no spam. Unless it's fried.

Friday, July 13, 2007

TALK TO ME

Don Cheadle stars in this film, TALK TO ME, directed by Kasi Lemmons. Here is a great review of this film at EW. I saw this on Wednesday with a friend of mine and we both had a great time. It's funny funny funny, Cheadle's performance is amazing (I wouldn't go so far as to say Oscar-caliber because the screenplay never allows us to find out what demons are really chasing him, or see him in the community which it keeps telling us he embodies), Ejiofor does his best to be a street ni**a from the 'hood, (a tall order when you can hear his mouth searching for those b-more/dc vowels) and the music is great.

I wouldn't say rush out to see it tonight, but if you are in blockbuster-burnout like myself, this is definitely a solid way to counter-program your brain.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

PSYCH!!

I'm such a sucker for this show. I think the writing is hysterical, but what makes it really work is the chemistry between the two leads. This is the latest promo, and if you don't follow the show, I hope you still enjoy it.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=8KBNWsxOcTA

Friday, July 06, 2007

California Dreamin'....

In LA, the Al Gore III DUI/drug bust isn't a story about privilege, wealth and the intersection of celebrity and drug use. No, the story here is about the car. Or, more specifically, how fast the car can go. Today's LAT has a front-page (bottom of the fold, at least) story about how Gore III's reckless driving bust shows that the Prius isn't for whimps.

This may also explain why Transformers did so well this week. Fast cars, drugs and loose women. The New American Dream.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tetris Japanese Style

Via CUTEOVERLOAD (one of my favorite sources), here's a youtube clip of a Japanese version of Tetris. I'm waiting for this to make it to the US. Unfortunately the embed code on the clip is no good so you have to click through to see it, but trust me, this one is well worth it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bK63uSTTNs

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Book Trailers

Perusing the Galley Cat blog this morning and I came across a post for a new graphic novel called THE BLACK DIAMOND DETECTIVE AGENCY. I wish they had an embeddable link so I could post it here, but it's worth clicking through to see. Basically the author took a screenplay, made it into a graphic novel, then made a trailer of the graphic novel. The literary critic in me is in a tizzy right now.

Anyway, given how stiff the competition is for eyeballs these days, this seems like an interesting little off-shoot for book marketing. I hope more authors/publishers get into the act -- I love books, but aren't they better when you don't have to read them? :-)

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Parkour, anyone?

I randomly came across this on YouTube and thought I'd share. I love watching these videos but they make my shins ache....

Friday, June 08, 2007

First Cut

I'm going to see the first cut of the short film I worked on last month. The director wants to cut about 10 minutes. Before I see a first cut, I'm always hoping the film will be close to being finished. Like, if you know you want to cut 10 minutes, cut 10 minutes then invite me to see it. :-) Seriously, for a filmmaker, the process of going through successive cuts can be overwhelming. You're watching the film everyday, you've already lived with the script and the actors for months and months (in this case way too many months) and now you've got to find cuts you didn't know existed.

I both love and hate this process. It's hard to watch the film and decide what you don't need, especially when you are seeing it with someone who has watched it for hours and hours before you got there. My favorite method is to watch it all the way through, make notes at the end, then re-watch it with a notepad, compare the two sets of notes and then watch it a third time with that compiled set of notes in hand to see if I agree or disagree. This way I have a couple of impressions: the average viewer impression -- I have ADD so that more than makes up for any "expertise" I might bring to my first viewing :-)~ -- the critical observer impression and, most important, the informed critique impression. Every cut is different, so from that point on it sort of tailors itself to the situation. I have a lot of experience with editing myself, so I really enjoy this process. It's not as frantic as production, and there's plenty of time for rational discussion.

The light posting is going to continue while I finish this freelance gig. I love to get paid, but then you have to do the work!!! Aargh!! I want to finish my spec!! OK, enough of the complaints. Suck it up and get back to work, lady!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

MANAGER-AGENT ARTICLE

The WGA website has a great, lengthy article on the agent-manager thing. I recommend it for anyone trying to wrap their brains around the byzantine layers of representation in Hollywood. It's at least as good as the one I wrote way back when *snark*, but not as entertaining as John Rogers'.

Sorry I've been out of pocket. I took on a freelance gig and have to finish up the rewrite in the next week. I have a couple of posts I've been dawdling over that I hope to get out this week. One is about film commissions (and a belated h/t to Jim Henshaw for this information he gave me which I do not know how to post... maybe I'll ask Unk if he can host some pages for me?), and the other is about post-production since I'm due to see the second cut of the short film at some point this week. I'm really keen on empowering as many people to make their own films as possible -- that's the keystone of my evil plan -- so, I hope you all are being productive!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Buzzell's Men In Black

About 3 years ago, I read part of a milblog by a guy named Colby Buzzell called MY WAR. Apparently the guy was later censored and pulled down all his posts, wrote a book and just won an award from NPR for it. This is a PBS recreation of one of his posts. I'm a fan of war movies, some of my best childhood memories are sitting on the couch watching them with my father. While polished up from his original post (which I can't find, but if I do I'll update this post with it), this still has the raw bewilderment of a young man caught in a fucked up situation.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

**UPDATED*** KID NATION LINK

I'm now officially obsessed with KID NATION. Let me know what you think of the teaser.

***UDATE***

I'm putting in the youtube link which is sized for the blog. Those CBS guys must be new to this whole weblogging thing... :-)

KID NATION and The Network Upfronts

First, thanks to Monstroso for tipping me (and all of you) to the active page for Disney's writing fellowship. This program is widely acknowledged as the best one in the business, and the only one that pays a living wage. I highly recommend that folks apply for it. I did a few years ago, didn't get the fellowship, but I'll probably try again this year, but on the feature side.

This week is UPFRONTS week. All of the networks travel to New York and announce their fall line-ups. I've been burning the midnight oil following developments and viewing whichever pilots I can get my hands on and I think this year's crop is going to be very interesting. ABC is going whole hog on the magical realism stuff, Fox is doing it's character-driven best, NBC is going big with lots of adventure and sci fi (yay!) and the CW is staying young at heart with shows all geared to teenagers and fanboys. I thought REAPER was a good pick up but have not heard anything about GOSSIP GIRL except it's probably like the OC does Manhattan.

And then I heard about this show from CBS, KID NATION.

A new reality show, "Kid Nation," will take 40 children and set them up in an
abandoned New Mexico town. Cameras will follow them as they try to set up
their own society without adult supervision.

Anyone who has kids or has supervised them is cringing in horror at the thought they will be a) separated from their parents; b) allowed to run their own town; c) given attention through cameras while they are unsupervised. This reminds me of a sci fi short I read when I was in highschool. If I can find the title I'll post it. It just sounds nutty.

Friday, May 04, 2007

PILOT VIEWING SEASON HAS BEGUN

Right now, in TV rooms all over Hollywood, network executives are watching pilots and deciding the fate of next year's schedule. I'm weasling my way into as many of those living rooms as I can. I have a pretty good line on seeing some of the basic cable shows this weekend, so if I see anything good I'll let you all know.

I met with a director friend of mine this week. He shot a pilot for LOGO which they didn't pick up, so he was bummed, but he's got a crack new agent who promises to help him put together the financing for his indie film, so at least there's some glimmer of hope there. We talked about a few of these festival deadlines that are coming up. I hope all of you out there submitted to Sundance. It's a great workshop environment, you do come out of it a stronger writer, and that's one of the few festivals that mean something in town. The Nicholl Fellowship also closed on May 1, and that one actually pays money. So, the next two up are Disney Fellowship (usually the end of June, but they haven't posted their 2007 application yet), Film Independent's workshop (due today, but they have a late fee you can pay and turn in your script 5/28/07) and Warner Brothers writing workshop, which technically costs money, but is such a good hook-up it's worth it, and the CBS Diversity Fellowship, which is invaluable for people who do not have any industry experience.

I'm off to take my Grip/Electric guys out to drinks. The gaffer and a production associate are joining me and another producer at this little bar in Hollywood.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

DAYS THREE, FOUR AND FIVE IN THE... CARD

This weekend we finished shooting the film. Since we shot on HD we actually recorded to a digital card. I was so nervous watching the digital transfer guy walk back and forth when he switched the flash cards out, I kept yelling for folks to clear the way for him like he was carrying a transplant organ.

I'd forgotten what it was like to produce something this size. I had a blast. Because our crew was so small I got to drive the police cruiser and hit the "take down" lights, and the firetruck guys let me sit inside and touch the switches. They were going to let me drive it, but after the owner told me it was worth $350,000 I passed. :-)

I'm beat to hell and I still have to finish up the budgeting stuff, so I'll try to write more later. I hope everyone is doing well. I'm way behind on my blog-reading because the DSL at my house is impossible, but hope to catch up this weekend.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Day One

We wrapped our first day of shooting early. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it means the director's not getting enough coverage. Today it was a good thing. We had a great crew, including some college-age volunteers who showed up for four-hour shifts and ended up staying for the entire day. The worst thing was that we couldn't book any walkies for the weekend, so the ADs were miffed and had to use their outside voices inside (not that ADs have inside voices, really).

We had a smoke effect guy for today and he was awesome, helped with the load-in, blew some incredible dense smoke, dealt with the b.s. of having to shout through a door over a loud fan because of the no walkies situation, and the footage looked really scary. I'm happy. The only thing that went over was craft service. :-) My DP was happy, the Gaffer looked a little peeved because we had a problem with one of the lights. It actually shorted out all over the floor. Scared the heck out of me, but, of course, the guys just kicked the sparks out of the way and started hacking away at the light with little metal screwdrivers....

This Thursday we're shooting the stuff in the moving car, then Friday, Saturday, Sunday we are back in the location we used tonight. I'm trying to rest up for Sunday which is the day we have the firetruck, ambulance and cop car and shoot until 3am. I'm going to bed now. I've been up since 4AM, not counting all the startles I had making sure we didn't forget anything major. I'm crashing now, so I'll write more later this week.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I See Kinos...

Went to pick up the equipment today, very exciting. I'm off to buy expendables tomorrow and to strong arm some volunteers. In order to get a break on our location fee, we agreed to split the shoot into two pieces. We shoot one day on Sunday which requires a full load-in and load-out of all the equipment and props, then we are off for four days, we shoot the interior of a moving vehicle, then we're back in the location for three days. The last day we are doing a small "company move" from interior to exterior.

The "company move" for folks who haven't worked in production is exactly what it sounds -- the entire production from craft services (food) to video village (director's chair, video playback monitors) moves to a new location. In our case we will be moving from the nice cozy inside of a loft to the parking lot below. To save money on the shoot, we agreed to vacate the interior by a certain time (not that the owner could rent it out anyway, but he's a skinflint with high hopes).

OK, I've got stuff screaming to be done (namely the dog needs a walk). Ciao.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Diva and the 3-Ton Truck

We start shooting on Sunday. Today I finished putting in our equipment order. The woman who runs the equipment house has been an angel and gave us everything we wanted on a 1-week rental (even though it is technically a 10-day period) for 40% off and then rented us a 3-ton truck for cost. This is why movie-making in Hollywood got me so excited when I first moved here. Below-the-line folks are very work-product oriented. Sharp contrast to executive types who are much more concerned with prestige and having a nice trailer. And that's no exaggeration. I once worked with a producer who told me he considered "set work" to be blue collar and that the real work of producing happened "in town" putting the films together.

I can't deny that there is a lot of work you must do before you get to set, but, for me, the work of making a movie is in... the work of making a movie. Picking your crew, pulling together insurance, making deals for the location, chatting up the guy who owns the firetruck so he'll throw in extra axes and gear.... I do miss blowing up helicopters though, but some day I'll make another film that costs more than my car. :-)

The reason we were able to get such a great deal is that our DP had a great relationship with a Gaffer who knew a Best Boy (Girl? She's a woman) who had opened a rental house. He treated her well, we treated him well, and, through the transitive property of Hollywood friendships, we get to enjoy her largess. Oh, yeah, one catch. This is a short film, so, no teamsters. I'm breaking out my trucker cap and getting ready to haul ass across town. If you knew me better you'd realize how truly frightening this is... for other drivers. Just a little warning if you find yourself in front of a 3-ton being driven by a gal with a cell phone plugged into her head.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

No Gaffer? No problem!!



We are five days out from our first day of production. I've been nailing down disparate details left and right. Yesterday I booked a firetruck that comes with three firemen, and tomorrow I'm getting an ambulance and a police car. My brain is mush, so I won't embarrass myself by trying form any coherent thoughts here. My newest headache is that the DP emailed me to say the gaffer bailed. Oh well, at least I've got my firemen to console me. :-)

UPDATED: OK, I was a little slap-happy last night, I did NOT mean to post that pic twice (although it was nice to see....)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Tiny Bubbles


NPR : Hawaiian Entertainer Don Ho Dies at 76

My family is from Hawaii, so I grew up listening to Don Ho, watching specials featuring him, and singing along with him. Aloha Don.

In short film news, we are closing our location agreement today. There was a lot of back and forth to get the rate down (and I still think we should scrap it and go low-tech), but we're finally about to close. We have insurance, I'm renting a fire truck that comes with four outfitted firemen, I have an ambulance and a cop car on standby, and a nice stretch limo with tinted windows. Hmmm.... Now I have to deal with catering, the electrician, set decorating, getting a fire marshall and lining up some dang PAs. I have a pickup truck which I can't drive because it's a manual transmission, so every time I need it I have to find someone who can drive for me. Seems like it would be simpler to just learn how to get out of first on a hill, right? Maybe next year.

Anyway, the shooting schedule is done, I'm updating the budget and I have to talk to the sound guy to make sure he has every thing he needs. The problem with short films is that if you offer folks some help, they ask for things that cost money. I better get some good payback for this one.

For my own short film, the one I'm planning to direct, I found a really great community-based theater with some incredibly well-trained actors to help me stage a reading next month. I randomly went to drinks with a friend from film school and mentioned the topic of my short and he offered to grandfather me into the group that he works with. I'm excited to be getting back into it.

My pilot is almost ready for public consumption. I received excellent notes from the indie director I worked with last summer. He finished shooting a TV pilot last month and was out here for another TV thing, so we talked on the phone about the script, I turned around the notes he gave me and he re-read the draft, gave me some adjustments and when I finish those I'm going out to managers and agents. I have a few people on the line from the last few months, so we'll see. I'm totally out of season on this and probably will end up not getting read until summer, but a few folks have said they will call in favors on my behalf. It's funny for me to be both producing and sending my spec out into the world. On the one hand, I'm telling middle-aged men to calm down and let me handle things, and on the other, I'm having crazy stress dreams about being asked to leave cruise ships because I booked my tickets too late....

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Some Changes Around Here

I'm sitting here surrounded by paper, covered in paper cuts, watching a crappy movie that is being remade for waaaay too much money. I took a freelance gig with this director to pay back some of my Hawaii debt. So, instead of doing my work I'm blogging. Figures.

I finally went through and added links to some folks who link to me, put up some of the resources I refer folks to and that I use myself. I hope you all like them. Feel free to drop a comment in the box if you have a question, objection, etc.. I will link to folks who link to me, I just may not be entirely aware of who you are, so please give a shout out. I've been thinking about changing the look of the blog and going with something more like kottke.org.

The short film just got a kick in the pants. We are scheduled to start shooting in the next month because the location we want to use has an opening. They are raping us on the location fee, but because it's full service we decided the better part of valor was to lay back and think of England. At this point, we are having our first full production meeting on Friday. All the department heads are set, most of them are pros/semi-pros (meaning they've worked on a few projects, but may not have actually run a department). I'm left with some crappy work -- like getting the catering together, finding out how much this is actually costing us (I've got ten thousand emails that have to be added up and stuffed into an excel spreadsheet), and then herding all the cats into the center of the room for the next three weeks.

We've gone over the shooting schedule ad nauseum. The director is doing a production rewrite in preparation for the shooting script. The biggest issue is that we have to hurry up all of the equipment rentals and gathering of the free props and set dressing items. Details, details, details!!! Production marches forward on deadlines and details. And I haven't even gotten into the smoke effect we are planning to use on the set.... Ugh, did you know fire marshalls in LA get paid $120 per hour and you have to hire them for an eight-hour minimum!!!

I like to break down my production work in sections. Right now I'm trying to finish everything that requires expenditures of money. That means I have to finish up the budget, make the calls about the catering, and figure out how the heck I'm going to smoke up this hallway and then later have a firetruck, an ambulance and a cop car with full lights strobing at night without having to hire a cop to babysit the set. These things can take on a life of their own, and I don't want them to take over the show since, rightfully, they are there to set the stage and to allow the director to have a piece that has high production values.

Enough stalling. I have to get back to stripping off pieces of my soul so I can make my rent at the end of the month....

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Agency Pitches

I'm back in Los Angeles after two weeks in Hawaii. I had a great time, got some writing done, browned a bit, ate a ton of tropical fruit, and started planning for my next big trip sometime this summer. Don't know where it will be, probably Italy since I haven't been there yet. ANYWAY....
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and she mentioned attending an agency pitch session. Agency pitches are meetings in which executives and agents play speed dating with writer/director/actor careers. Basically, the agency comes over en masse to meet with all the executives at a network/studio and they "pitch" clients for various open assignments. These meetings typically take place monthly for film studios, and roughly quarterly for television.

In the case of a film studio (although it works exactly the same in television), the head of the studio and the head of the agency talk in advance about what projects are a priority. Then, the agents all come to the lot, sit down and pitch their clients. If an agency doesn't have a strong client list, then the meetings are icily polite. For the A-list agencies, the biggest agents don't typically show up with all the minnows, but they will send a number of senior level agents over to play footsie. When the agents come, they bring some kind of resume book with each client's credits and sometimes a short bio (especially for less established talent).

That part is pretty dry, but the real purpose of these meetings is to get good gossip: Who is dating whom, who just got divorced, which writers/directors/actors are recovering from drug addictions. Assignments do get filled this way, an executive makes a comment, an agent remembers a client's words in passing about a love of ballooning, or time spent as an arctic explorer and the next thing you know... summer home in Crete! A girl can dream....

Sorry for the sparse posting. I got back from Maui and have been immersed in putting together information for the short film I'm producing which is finally SHOOTING in two weeks. I can't wait!!! I'll blog about the process this month starting later today!

First post: herding cats aka how to get disparate folks on the same page during production. Mmm, producer fun.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Maui-tude

I'm in Kaneohe Bay, O'ahu right now. Tomorrow I head to Maui for my annual writing retreat with my novel-writing group. I'm very excited. I finished the latest draft of my pilot on Friday and am waiting for feedback so I can polish it up before sending it out into the wild. For the next two weeks, though, I'm working on my tan, my book, and my sanity (in that order).

I'd much rather blog about how great it is out here -- my family grows a little coffee and I'm looking forward to getting my hands on some fresh beans -- but I'll try to focus and blog about business-type things. I'm actually watching clouds roll down a volcanic ridge as I type this, so please excuse any randomness which results.

When I get back to LA I'll do a post about agency pitches. Until then, Aloha!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It's Pilot Season!!!!!

I'm putting something up to let you all know that I'm still alive. Still pounding the pavement out here in LA. It's pilot season which means it's almost time to PUT YOUR PENCILS DOWN and TURN IN YOUR EXAMS! That's right, staffing season is starting up in a matter of weeks. Some shows are already lining up their senior writers, but for us baby writers trying to break in, this is our chance to polish things up one last time and hit the party circuit to get our little faces out there for jobs.

I've been reading every drama pilot I can get my hands on, and there are tons out there. I think I've read about 20 so far, and the competition is pretty stiff for shows this spring. Lots of good stuff, plenty of procedural-esque shows, but many many more soap opera type shows set against various backdrops. I'll check with my suppliers to see which scripts it is okay for me to talk about (i.e. the drafts aren't under wraps on pain of someone's death) and I'll blog an update. I'm happy to say I've read a bunch of shows I liked, last season I wasn't as impressed -- the writing was almost universally solid, but the show ideas were... eh. This year, I feel like the show concepts were interesting (minus the soap operas which aren't really my thing), but I'm withholding judgment on most of them until I see the casting choices because they could go either way.

There are a couple of very interesting sci fi/fantasy-type shows that I'm excited about, so I'm going to see if I can write about those first. I'm happy to say that no one has written anything even close to the spec pilot I'm polishing, I've still got two more networks worth of stuff to get through, but, so far, all clear. :-)

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Thank You, Mr. Whitaker!!

Congratulations Forest Whitaker! I don't normally cry at the speeches, but he had me in tears. He's such a beautiful soul.

Reno 911: MIAMI and HOT FUZZ


Just came back from the movies. I saw Reno 911 with a friend of mine and laughed my ass off. This movie has so many great moments in terms of the comedy, the use of the medium, and the aesthetic of the genre -- the Robert Altman-esque motel sequence with the upstairs-downstairs floating camera was freaking brilliant, funny and was set to orchestral music with a music-visual pun that as awesome. Go see this movie. It's based on a Comedy Central series that I enjoy.

Also, I'd been meaning to link to this movie, HOT FUZZ, by the makers of another film I've seen at least 10 times, SHAUN OF THE DEAD. I love these guys so much. They are hysterical. The trailer looks really funny and there are so many great British comedians in it to enjoy. Can't wait for it. It comes out April 13.

Being There with the Christian Right


Reading the news online and came across this New York Times article about the Christian Right and their search for an '08 candidate.

"A group of influential Christian conservatives and their allies emerged from a private meeting at a Florida resort this month dissatisfied with the Republican presidential field and uncertain where to turn. The event was a meeting of the Council for National Policy, a secretive club whose few hundred members include Dr. James C. Dobson of Focus on the Family, the Rev. Jerry Falwell of Liberty University and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Although little known outside the conservative movement, the council has become a pivotal stop for Republican presidential primary hopefuls, including George W. Bush on the eve of his 1999 primary campaign. But in a stark shift from the group’s influence under President Bush, the group risks relegation to the margins. Many of the conservatives who attended the event, held at the beginning of the month at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, Fla., said they were dismayed at the absence of a champion to carry their banner in the next election."

It reminded me of that Hal Ashby film BEING THERE. If you haven't had a chance to check it out, put it in your netflix. It's adapted from a Jersy Kosinski book (he also wrote the controversial novel THE PAINTED BIRD, a precursor to the James Frey scandal).

I love Peter Sellers in this movie. It's dated now, but still very funny.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Funny Funny Funny

Randomly on the internet and found this Jimmy Kimmel skit by George Takai in response to Tim Hardaway's asinine homophobic admission. H/t to Da Blog and Editthis. Enjoy people.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

LAT: Server Unavailable

Los Angeles Times : Server Unavailable

Is this a sign of the apocalypse? What gives? Anyway, I got great notes back from a TV director-type friend of mine on the one hour drama spec pilot. I have to do a pretty major restructuring to the teaser, but otherwise just character adjustments to smooth it out for the next big submission which will be to a friend of mine who works for one of the networks (she works in Current, not Development, darn it). Wish me luck. This week should be absolutely nutty.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Daybreak Online!!


For those of you who were fans of DAYBREAK, ABC finally has the other episodes up online. I'm going to catch up on my HEROES right now and then dive right it.

This one is just for you, Will!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Richard Abate Is at Endeavor

For some reason over the last week 80% of the searches have been for a post I wrote months ago about Richard Abate. I've never met Mr. Abate, but he does represent two good novelist friends of mine, and, apparently, this last week he has changed agencies. Starting this week he is now a proud member of the Endeavor family having ditched ICM. In the interests of those of you looking for dirt on Richard's move, here is a little link courtesy of Media Bistro.

Please remember, I have no feelings about this one or the other. Do not shoot the messenger. :-)

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fund Your Film: Grant Money

Just skimming my emails quickly and I came across one from the IFP New York. I don't have any idea who is where in the funding process, but if you are shooting at least 60% NYC, IFP has a grant to pay for a newbie. Up to 10K, I think, to hire a crewmember who has never served in a particular job-title before. For example, a grant like this could be used if you have an art director stepping up to Prod designer or a PA stepping up to AD, etc.

The film's budget has to be under $3 Million.

This may be worthy of a post on its own, but independent film financing can come from any combination of sources. Financiers who specialize in it like Newmarket Capital or Deutsche Bank, "angel" investors who are typically individuals or groups of individuals, loans, self-financing, and whenever you can dig one up, grants. I think New York is smart to put these kind of film dollars on the table because it increases local production which spreads loot all over town, and it also could potentially help to build up local talent. I hope some other film commissions pick up on this idea or similar ones. Reminds me of that Canadian Content tax break (is that even still available?) which made it mandatory for productions to hire Canadian nationals in above-the-line positions in order to get money from the film commission. The details escape me, but as I remember it the money came in the form of a tax "rebate" which essentially added 10-30% of the budget back into your film. All those movies shot in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal took advantage of this -- which explains why New York and Detroit look so much cleaner in movies. :-)

When you are putting together your film, assuming it isn't something that is locale specific (e.g. MY SUMMER AT GRAND CANYON probably can't be shot in Minnesota), the process benefits from a producer with her/his eye on tax breaks, grants and incentives all over the world. Some of these are publicized, some can only be found through word of mouth. A solid working line producer is worth his/her weight in gold when you are rooting around for this information.

I'm always encouraging folks to get out there and put those words you type up on the screen. The best way to learn how to make movies is by making one. So, here's some loot. No more excuses. And then drop a note by the old bloghouse so I know what happened. Good luck.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

What About the Writers????

I read an article in the New York Times this morning that made me want to scream. Yet another non-filmmaking journalist whose closest brush with cinema was at a Blockbuster video store has written an article about what's wrong with Hollywood. I guess if I stop reading them maybe they'll stop writing them....

Anyway, the thesis of the article is that because studios indulge talented directors rather than challenge them, there has been a decline in said directors output and, subsequently, in quality films. As if the answer is stop blowing the director. How about the fact that flash and dash writing has been on the rise since the (not so coincidental) rise in the spec market??? Or the fact that it's easier to get a promotion as an exec if you have the "right" relationships because your boss has less taste than tepid water? Or that agents care more about perk packages than they do about the quality of the material they put their clients in, or.... well, I'm sure you can see where this ends up.

Anyway, it always and in all ways goes back to story. And to telling a good one, well.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Another Heroes Post (UPDATED)

I'm a big fan of directors. I spent the first part of my time in Hollywood working for a seven-figure earner, chatting up the A-list DPs he wrangled into working for him, and in general, geeking out over every aspect of the craft. So, a little shoptalk from Mr. Beeman's excellent HEROES blog. *****SPOILERS******* below. Nothing major, but if you are a diehard maybe read this one after the show.

****UPDATE**** and these guys would be: Greg Beeman, and Jeannot Scwarcz, director.

GB: How does your personal visual style mesh with the HEROES style?

JS: Well, I’d like to think it does very much so. I prefer bold angles. Not boring, tepid over-the-shoulders. I hate to be at eye level.. Nate (the director of photography) said I fit in perfectly..


GB: Let’s talk about the Japanese sequence, with Hiro and his father. It fits into the HEROES “look” very well, yet it is also different.

JS: Nate, the D.P. is a real film buff, as am I. We had a lot of conversations about taking that sequence into a Kurasowa style. Meaning that we played with depth and composition. Besides being spoken in Japanese, the scenes had a very Japanese content and conflict. They were formal in nature with lots of changes in the power dynamics between characters. So, beyond the dialogue, Nate and I said, “let’s do a Kurasowa style.” A very full frame. Not much camera movement. Instead the characters walk into their close ups. People move within the frame as the power dynamics change. Whoever has the power in the scene in any moment is also the largest in the frame. As the dynamic switches the composition switches. Also we used a lot of negative space, meaning the space between the characters and to the left and right of the characters. Nate and I were both very versed in this film language. We discussed it in prep, and we had shorthand about it on the set. At the end of the day, I think the sequences work well because they are supported by the very Japanese theme.

GB: Very much so.
I'm still busting my tail on these scripts, but I will eventually start posting on the regular again. I promise.

Another Heroes Post

I'm a big fan of directors. I spent the first part of my time in Hollywood working for a seven-figure earner, chatting up the A-list DPs he wrangled into working for him, and in general, geeking out over every aspect of the craft. So, a little shoptalk from Mr. Beeman's excellent HEROES blog. *****SPOILERS******* below. Nothing major, but if you are a diehard maybe read this one after the show.

GB: How does your personal visual style mesh with the HEROES style?

JS: Well, I’d like to think it does very much so. I prefer bold angles. Not boring, tepid over-the-shoulders. I hate to be at eye level.. Nate (the director of photography) said I fit in perfectly..


GB: Let’s talk about the Japanese sequence, with Hiro and his father. It fits into the HEROES “look” very well, yet it is also different.

JS: Nate, the D.P. is a real film buff, as am I. We had a lot of conversations about taking that sequence into a Kurasowa style. Meaning that we played with depth and composition. Besides being spoken in Japanese, the scenes had a very Japanese content and conflict. They were formal in nature with lots of changes in the power dynamics between characters. So, beyond the dialogue, Nate and I said, “let’s do a Kurasowa style.” A very full frame. Not much camera movement. Instead the characters walk into their close ups. People move within the frame as the power dynamics change. Whoever has the power in the scene in any moment is also the largest in the frame. As the dynamic switches the composition switches. Also we used a lot of negative space, meaning the space between the characters and to the left and right of the characters. Nate and I were both very versed in this film language. We discussed it in prep, and we had shorthand about it on the set. At the end of the day, I think the sequences work well because they are supported by the very Japanese theme.

GB: Very much so.
I'm still busting my tail on these scripts, but I will eventually start posting on the regular again. I promise.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Executive Death Match

It's rare that so much corporate business ends up in the papers. But, once again, we find ourselves privy to all the dirty little secrets over at Par.

As I speculated in an earlier post, Gail Berman is getting back into television, pulling together financing and turning her frown upside down by leveraging her resume and that of her friend Lloyd Braun. Now is the time when you call in all your favors and get a nice fat baby from the dear showrunner friends and acting talent you coddled and favored when you were on the other side of the fence. Expect Gail to keep making announcements about how great she's doing and how hot she is: you gotta beat back the vultures with sunshine in this town. Good on her. Come out swinging. She definitely didn't waste any time. Probably doesn't want to miss pilot season. She'll probably offer to co-finance something the network or some other production company can't quite pull together. A new shop forming up is great news for anyone with a spec pilot (anyone with a track record and an agent, that is). If you count yourself among those folks put your ear to the ground and find out what type of material she's looking for and then fling it into the open maw. If it's any good it might hit the ground running.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, everyone's winding themselves up for some slow-singin' and flower bringin' (to quote Biggie Smalls, my favorite rapper). It's never a good sign to get this much negative ink. Ever.

And in happier news, the Death Star showed ominous signs of creating an event horizon in the middle of Century City.

I'm glad I work at home....

Monday, January 29, 2007

Production

I started out my career working physical production. I like telling people what to do and how to do it, what can I say? :-)

Anyway, there aren't any blogs out there covering the logistics of making entertainment. The headaches, the joys, the way stuff can go right and the way it can go terribly, horribly, embarrassingly wrong, and then how you can pull it together anyway. Greg Beeman has a great one that covers the logistics of putting HEROES together. I've been reading it and having production flashbacks. In a good way. Most of the time.

I highly recommend it. It's a great read, very informative, it does have spoilers, but nothing too outrageous. If you haven't actually produced anything you are working on, or had your work produced, then think of this as a virtual reality machine. And then get out there and make it happen.

Battles To Be Fought

LAT had an article today about the battle for control over at Paramount. Interesting stuff. Keep your eyes peeled, anytime things get put in the paper, an announcement is not far off....

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Hugh Laurie

I love Hugh Laurie. When I was in England last month I had a chance to watch some episodes of A Bit of Fry and Laurie and came to a new appreciation of him. In honor of his Golden Globe victory, here's a little snippet from the show.

Bon Mots

I'm still working on my screenplay, keeping my ear to the ground for dirt from the Globes and barricading myself from all the Sundancing coming up, so I'll not be posting too much.

I'm working on building some additional conflict into my lead character's relationship with his parents, so I find myself sucked into every psychodrama taking place within 100 miles. Here's a little gem I found via kottke. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bill Burr



I came across this a few months ago and fell out. Then, I read the blog entry he wrote about it and almost lost my mind. I loved his HBO standup special, but have never seen him perform in person.

As far as sheer guts I give him a hats off -- this rant came three hours into a show in front of 10,000 people in which every comedian had been merciless booed from the first comedian up. Here's the top of his blog entry:

City of Brotherly Love

Over the past two months I..ve gotten about 5 thousand e mails asking me ..What the fuck happened in Philly?.. ..Why were those people booing?.. ..Did you just come out on stage like that, or did they fuck with your first?.. So I..ve decided to answer every fucking question with the longest blog in my space history.

To be honest, I don..t really remember much of the set. All I know, is that when it was over, I had a headache, and I felt like I had just gotten into an argument with a relative.

The weirdest thing about that whole episode, was that my brain got locked in ..Go Fuck Yourself.. mode. I couldn..t shut it off.
For the next three days, I was walking around New York, muttering insulting shit about Philadelphia, as if I was still on stage..

..RON JAWORSKI, THAT STUPID FAT-FACED POLACK. HOW MANY TIMES ARE YOU GOING TO THROW IT TO ROD MARTIN BEFORE YOU REALIZE HE..S ON THE OTHER TEAM? ..HEY COACH, HE KEEPS RUNNING THE WRONG WAY......

THREE DAYS I walked around New York doing that. I really felt like I was going crazy. I was still pissed at that fuckin.. crowd and I couldn..t stop arguing with them in my head. I was telling a friend of mine that I felt like I needed some sort of comedy healing. That if I could go on stage in front of 12 old people, with some easy listening music in the background, maybe I could get my brain to stop envisioning caning an entire amphitheater with a mic stand. I literally wanted to saw down the roof of that fuckin.. place and have it land on the crowd.

I love comedians. I've had the pleasure of befriending a few of the funniest folks in the business and the war stories I've heard always have me on the ground. This, however, is definitely one of the funniest. It would be funny just to read the blog entry and hear the retelling, but to actually witness him lose his mind and go apeshit on the crowd took me right over the side.

I'll go back to more coherent posting in the next couple of days. Right now I'm in draft hell and can't be held responsible for my ramblings.... :-)~

"Experience Strategies"


Cruising around the internet today and I came across a great post at adaptive path blog about how companies like Google and Flickr are using "experience strategies" to define their mission statements.


Experience strategies are clearly articulated touchstones to guide product teams in all the decisions they make about technology and features. An experience strategy defines a product requirement from the perspective of the user, and what they want to accomplish, achieve, do.

The post goes on with an example from Flickr's About Us page:


1. We want to help people make their photos available to the people who matter to them.

2 . We want to enable new ways of organizing photos.
A related post about the success of the Google Calendar (which I use and love love love) goes on to say:

Here’s a product whose very definition was predicated on empathy for true customer needs.
There's also a great excerpt from the Google presentation about the development of the Calendar code which I think can be reverse engineered for folks who come at filmmaking from other fields. (I couldn't figure out how to get the picture in the middle of the layout, so it's up top, sorry.)

This is very similar to the way that commercial films are put together. Genres are the "handles" we use to shortcut the "experience strategy" we have planned for the audience: horror (we want the audience to be scared), romance (we want the audience to experience love and heartbreak) and so on. Some people call this the "ride" a film offers its viewers. Films that effectively deliver on a genre promise are rewarded with viewers (and sometimes awards, but that's a different post).

In creating commercial films, we also frequently talk about the audience's "buy" or the "gimme" i.e. the logic gaps that sometimes are necessary evils when creating spectacle. Examples of this abound, especially in most popular sci fi films (a recent one is DEJA VU, which readers here will know I really dug, but had a ton of questions about in terms of logic and science paradoxes). Spoof films like SCREAM, and the spoof of the spoof take-off on the idea, SCARY MOVIE, have made a genre out of winking at the audience and playing up these gimmes, making them the "experience."

Film is a temporal art, much more akin to music than literature, and the human brain has a limited attention span. Take advantage of this by making it a part of your strategy (i.e. "to deliver a non-stop emotional journey"), shore up the gimmes in your script by wrapping them in novel/ dramatic/ funny/ scary moments. Most audiences will forgive you -- look at the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN or any other Bruckheimer/ Bay-type movie. They'll even recommend the film to their friends. And that word of mouth is gold.