Saturday, September 27, 2008

RIP Paul Newman

Woke up this morning and read the news.

WESTPORT, Conn., Sept 27, 2008 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- Remembering the life and legacy of Paul Newman, Newman's Own Foundation has issued a statement. The statement, from Vice-Chairman Robert Forrester, follows:

"Paul Newman's craft was acting. His passion was racing. His love was his family and friends. And his heart and soul were dedicated to helping make the world a better place for all.

"Paul had an abiding belief in the role that luck plays in one's life, and its randomness. He was quick to acknowledge the good fortune he had in his own life, beginning with being born in America, and was acutely aware of how unlucky so many others were. True to his character, he quietly devoted himself to helping offset this imbalance.
One of my favorite Newman movies is the infamous HUD. I'm going to do a Newman fest tonight. Cheers, Paul, for a life well lived!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Isaac Hayes has passed on...

Singer, songwriter Isaac Hayes dies at age 65 - Yahoo! News
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Isaac Hayes, the pioneering singer, songwriter and musician whose relentless "Theme From Shaft" won Academy and Grammy awards, died Sunday afternoon, the Shelby County Sheriff's Office said. He was 65.

A family member found him unresponsive near a treadmill and he was pronounced dead an hour later at Baptist East Hospital in Memphis, according to the sheriff's office. The cause of death was not immediately known.

I was also going to post a blog about the Mac Man, Bernie Mac, but this caught me off-guard. My condolences to both families.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Live From Abbey Road

Just checking in -- I promised I'd write more frequently, I didn't promise there'd be anything revelatory. :-)

I'm watching Live from Abbey Road with Def Leppard. Oh man, what a great Saturday. Reminds me of being a teenager.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Foreign Markets

I still haven't made it out to see DARK KNIGHT. I know, I suck. I'm probably going to go tomorrow morning or afternoon. I was in Tahoe last week with my writing group working on the novel. It's going pretty well, but there are still tons of things to do. Anyway, as I work on my pitch document for this remake idea, I've been thinking a lot about foreign market concerns.

The reality is that the movie business is 60-80% driven by foreign financiers who are purchasing rights for sale overseas. Movies that don't have a strong foreign appeal are far less likely to be purchased and greenlit. What are the elements for a globally-appealing film?

First and foremost, genre. Action films don't require very much by way of translation. Sub-genres like heist films, gangster movies, detective stories, thrillers or horror films are all solid bets. As an artist, it's important to keep these things in mind when deciding to spec out a story, since you're spending months at a time on something with no idea where the market will be once you complete it. Also a strong genre sample helps a baby writer to get re-write gigs.

Movie stars run a very close second to genre. Most films are marketed with pictures of the lead actors on the poster. These actors do not have to be stars in the US, in fact, when casting is done on films supporting roles are often re-written, or created with specific foreign stars in mind.

Budget -- the US is still the only country that creates mammoth spectaculars like DARK KNIGHT as a matter of course. Studios sell of pieces of films (usually as part of a slate) to foreign financiers, but very few foreign financiers venture into the blockbuster movie-making business themselves (and, yes, I know about CHRONICLES OF NARNIA and ERAGON, but those are specific cases that have strong US executive elements driving them). This means that another important element is understanding the budgeting process and what different talent elements will bring in terms of a market return.

All of which is way down the road for me and my little pitch document. I'm still doing competitive research reading and trying to decide if I'll bring in a writer or writer/director before I go back in to visit the studio.....

Friday, July 11, 2008

Howdy, Strangers!

I've been busy. Working. Writing. And vacationing.

The last few years I've been really focused on writing, and learning to write, and haven't really generated any producing projects to speak of -- other than the ones that have fallen into my lap I've mostly just been collecting ideas. Well, this fall I've decided I'll try my hand at setting up a few things and see how I feel about diving back into that end of the business. Baby steps.

My first effort is towards acquiring the rights to a film that was made about 30 years ago. I'll keep you posted if it works out. I've contacted the rights holder and am waiting to hear back if there's any interest. If there is I'll write up a sales document -- basically a 1-2 page story idea which details my "take" on the re-telling and see if that gets any traction. If it does then I'll find an "element" (writer, director, actor or, given the state of the business, a financier) and walk into one of these big friendly agencies (*snark*) and give up a few percentages of my speculatively nice fee to have a package put together.

I think I've written about packaging before, so I won't go into the details of it here, but suffice to say that it is the best and worst thing to happen to the producing side of things since the studios were all sold to conglomerates and greenlight decisions started being affected by stock prices.

I'm planning to do a few book and short story options as well. *Sigh* It sucks to be working alone, so I'm hoping to find someone to partner up with, either another "creative" type or someone who really is just trying to produce. That would be nice since I hate all the paper-pushing that goes along with the job.

OK, last part of the update (and I promise my next post will be a real post, not this information dump) I recently started meeting with a group of kick-ass screenwriters, all relative newbies, and it's been great. The pace is fast which is part of the reason I joined the group, and we turn in pages every week. Some of these guys are turning scripts around in 1-2 weeks which is intimidating since I'm an unrepentant chiseler-in-stone type of wordsmith, but I thought it would be a good idea to pick up on the habits of people who can pour the pages out. I've learned a tremendous amount just talking to these guys and I can feel the studio story-development plaque shaking free. :-)

I'm off to the gym, trying to get my sexy back (still) after a long, lazy winter. Or two. LOL.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Story Ideas

What the hell is going on in Germany? I just read an article about two soldiers who were caught soliciting the blood of their comrades for sausage making. The nutty part is that they were caught because the soldier they had solicited went to his CO not to complain or alert him, but to find out if it was against regulations. Umm, how about being against common standards of decency and good sense? Or hygiene? I had chicken sausage for lunch so this particular story has got my stomach roiling.

It's also one of those insane crazy, real-life-is-batshit-nuttier-than-fiction stories that can serve as a good springboard. I immediately started thinking what kind of movie/TV/novel/short fiction framework would this work in? How could you get around the farcical nature of the premise (soliciting blood from your friends to make sausage)? What kind of people would read a recipe that called for blood and assume it called for human blood? Who would get a request like this from a friend? Who would hear a request like this and not vomit in their mouth immediately? What was the reaction of the CO who heard the request? What about the others who HAD given blood? And those who had been asked and refused?

After a while, a little narrative builds up: THE POISONER'S HANDBOOK meets DUMB AND DUMBER or STRIPES meets TRAINSPOTTERS (because these guys had to be on some kind of hallucinogen, right?). I start thinking about who these two guys are, or maybe who the CO is, or the girlfriend of one of the guys who refused who's been looking for a way to off him and has found the perfect patsies. Then I start thinking about how the ending would work, what kind of set-up would it take to get there? Are there a couple of good twists that could make this ride worth taking?

Then, the market concerns -- how big a movie is it? Is anybody making off-beat character movies like this right now? If so, what kind? Are they star-driven projects or is the studio trying to get in them for low dollars and might be willing to buy a pitch or spec and then put it together.

Now I'm thinking about how I want to work on the project. Is it something I want to write myself? Is it something I think I can get a writer for? An established writer or a rookie? What agencies should I go to? Should I partner with a manager?

And the most important question: What rights do I need to pursue this? [There's a long post somewhere in here about story rights that's been covered more effectively on sites like FindLaw so I won't embarrass myself here (that's what the attorney earns that fee for, right?).]

Once you start the brainstorming process, you can find yourself far afield of the original story, so I don't worry about the rights until I get to the point where I'm selling. Most studios don't mind a little outlay for story rights. It's a place to "hang your hat" that protects the rights to a true-life story from someone coming in later and claiming they submitted a story that is exactly the same as yours. The flip side is you don't want to have a competing project based on your idea that either already has the rights to the underlying material or has been specced out when you're holding a pitch.

This has happened to me on at least one occasion -- I actually had someone hear I was pitching a story inspired by an article, this producer went out and optioned the article, brought in a writer who was on my short list to rough out a pitch, sold it to a studio I was meeting with later in the week, then turned around and offered to bring ME on as a producer. Uhmm, no thanks, but I appreciate all the hard work and remind me to never tease a pitch again.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Love You Jack!!

Normally I'd put this on my other blog, but I can't take it seriously enough to do that. Jack Nicholson is hysterical. And that last quote has to be one of the most sexist endorsements I've ever heard in my life. RFLMAO.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Craft of Development

I recently met with a friend of mine to discuss a script. One of the main issues I've encountered, and the reason my friend called me up to ask for a read, is that it is difficult to navigate the development process on your own. Most folks will read your script and give you their impressions and overall concerns about a script. Some hardy souls will sit down with you and talk story, maybe give you some craft concerns to follow-up on, but rare is the reader who will really hang in and get you through the development from concept to spec. So, my friend and I agreed that we would exchange material and put in our full professional rigor to one another's projects.

When I give notes, I like to go through the entire script once with a pen and mark up my first impressions, then I sit down and write a memo of my impressions and possibly suggestions for springboards, then I go back over the script and pull out my page notes, type those up, sort them into categories and see how they relate back to the notes I started. Finally, I put the whole thing aside for a couple of days (or hours as the case may be), re-read the script (a clean copy with no notes on it) and mark it up again, then I re-read my notes and see if my impressions or understanding have changed and I make adjustments accordingly.

For the most part, this system leads to a lengthy meeting in which I go through the script page by page with the writer, we talk about theme, motive and intentions, the original vision for the story, what worked and what didn't, we talk about writing exercises that might help to unearth new story or character understandings, then we go through the writing strategy for the next draft. Sometimes you can skip parts of this -- especially if the writer's concerns were specific and can be directly addressed -- but most often it seems like you can skip this part, but really you need to push through until you see the words THE END.

This is the craft of development. At some point, you'll sense that the work is best viewed through the eyes of an actor and that's when it's time to set up a reading. I have a few casting director friends and actor friends that I call when I need to do this and then I get a theater rehearsal space or a stage and have at it. I don't worry too much about how close to the character the actor is, but I do try to work with actors who have training and have done stage work -- I'm sure I've mentioned this before.

Anyway, I'm reworking a spec this month which I will turn over to my friend for his notes and I have to get back to work on this indie script I'm working on for a friend. And the book still refuses to write itself. Damn it. :-)

Two of the women in my novel writing group have either sold or are on the verge of selling their books, so, while I am immensely proud of them, I'm looking at my collection of pages and desperately urging them to breed. I missed our big reading in December because I was overseas on a gig, but I did get a nice set of stationary from the bookstore (mmm, fancy), and I think we'll probably do a reading down here. I haven't read any of my own work in so long I'm terrified of the idea, but I'm fully committed to the writing lifestyle and I know this is part of it.