And That Was That

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t was a brief encounter. The first time I sat down with my literary manager. It’s also been the only time we’ve ever met face to face.

It was at a film festival. An opulent hotel lobby. A bustling hotel lobby. His hotel. I was couch surfing my stay.

We spoke for no more than twenty minutes. As we did I noticed Manager’s propensity to not make a lot of direct eye contact. I didn’t mind. In fact I quietly sympathized. I have this very affliction myself. I think it’s a vaguely autistic tendency.

That was over a year ago.

More recently, the last time I saw Manager he was on TV.

I’ve made the decision not to accept the requested “rewrite” from the producer who’s optioned my screenplay. “Rewrite,” in this case, being an underhanded way of asking for a brand new script. I’ve decided it’s against my best interest.

Not so long ago I landed a three month freelance contract. That’d be my freelance illustration career. Storyboarding a feature film as it were. The kind of contract you don’t say no to. The kind that takes care of next year’s mortgage.

If I accept to write a brand new script for Producer it means turning down any further freelance contracts for a period of time. Turning down real work for a really raw deal.

Can’t do it.

Despite having lost complete faith in Producer, I none the less offered to do the new script as long as I had unlimited time to complete it. Just in case another actual paying gig comes along. Spending weeks writing Producer’s ideas into a new script – unfortunately – isn’t gonna keep my lights on. Bright ideas as he may think they are.

Producer declined to give me leeway.

Refused, yet again, to grant me something while asking for everything.

And here I was told only months ago by Co-Manager what a team we all were. That’s why I did their unpaid rewrite after all. To be a team player. Nice to know what that’s worth.

So I bowed out.

Wished them all the best. Sincerely. After all, there really is no loss for me here. They’ll take on a new writer. If she can give them what they want for a pittance then they’ll exercise the option, make the movie and I’ll have sold my script (even though they’re not going to use it) for a fortune. And if they don’t manage to make their movie, they let the option lapse and I get my script back.

Remember, at one time this script had two offers on it. If I get it back, it’ll go right back out there and I’ll find someone else to produce it.

Can you believe I’ve been told that I’m a pessimist?

So after consulting with Lawyer, I’ve walked away. At least that’s what I tell people. Truth is I was forced out, but hey, see above.

The only real loss I’ve been feeling is that I’m pretty sure this will spell the end to my relationship with Manager. Pretty sure it’ll be the end of the representation I’ve toiled so hard, for so many years to attain. As he’s also a producer on the project, I imagine this will muck up his shit a little too. Though who’s to say for sure? I haven’t heard from the guy since Co-Manager became my primary handler. I imagine that’s over too.

But on reflection I suspect that the idea that I ever really had a manager was pretty deluded.

That day in the opulent hotel lobby? Manager wasn’t not making eye contact. He wasn’t a socially-awkward kindred spirit…

He wasn’t looking me in the eye because he was looking over my shoulder. At the bustling lobby full of show business professionals in town for the festival. He was looking for someone more important to talk to.

The last time I saw Manager he was on TV. Completely out of left field, I was just shuffling the dial. He was on TV with his star client. The writer to whom he owes his career. As I sat watching – my own project in shambles, hoping to hear from him – the truth was as clear as the high definition screen.

You can’t lose what you never had.

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Do You Even Want To Be a Screenwriter? (part 2/2)

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y professional life has gotten a bit complex over the past year.

Over a year ago I actually gave up trying to make a go of screenwriting. For a couple years prior, it was all I did however. That and querying the scripts I’d written. But by the end of 2013 I’d vowed to end my effort at screenwriting for Hollywood.

(Continued from part 1 of 2)

This wasn’t the same as giving up on a dream. My dream was never to be a Hollywood screenwriter. My dream – to call it that – is to make movies for a living. I’ve gone about doing that many different ways. Making short films. Making no-budget feature films. Animated films. Live action films. Films for myself. Films for other people. But making a bona fide, long lasting career of this endeavour has eluded me.

When I set my sight on Hollywood – to call it that – I believed screenwriting was my way in. Mostly for the low overhead in relation to building a portfolio and a network of contacts.

By the end of 2013 however, I simply couldn’t keep trying at it full time. So I gave it up.

Then lo and behold, few months later, a call from a Hollywood manager and we’re off to the races.

During those few months of moving on however, I’d begun a new career. Freelancing another completely different skill set while still within the domain of screen production:

Illustration.

From an early age I’ve honed a natural ability to sketch. I always knew that if all else failed I could fall back on this talent.

And all else had finally failed.

So I sharpened some pencils and started turning my writing contacts into illustration contacts. From storyboards to concept design, illustration is still used a lot in film – and as I soon found out – advertising.

I’m not a gambler. I live by logic and rationale. Even though I had a Hollywood manager and was developing new scripts, I quietly kept building my illustration career. I soon saw that not only was this talent my fall back plan but it was also opening a lot of doors. Door so interesting and unexpected places. Doors toward my original goal of making movies for a living. And faster than the writing ever did… Not to mention it was paying the bills.

So when Co-Manager asked when I’d have an outline ready for this massive rebirthing of Script #1 I told him: I’m not sure I want to do that.

He didn’t see any way around it. Explained (again) that this kind of thing happens all the time. Page-one rewrites. You just gotta do what they ask.

Yeah, I don’t think I’m gonna do that. And (I reminded him) please stop calling this brand new script request a rewrite.

Still a lack of comprehension on the line. A re-explaining. A re-lamenting that things could have gone better…

What happens exactly if I just walk away at this point?

There was a chortle of disbelief. Then came a near guffaw of sarcasm:

Do you even want to be a screenwriter?

I wish I could be as composed in the moment as I am in retrospect. I wish the words do you even want to continue to be my manager? could have made their way to my lips. Instead I just chuckled nervously. Reassure Co-Manager that I did in fact want to be a screenwriter.

I explained to him that the problem is this: I’ve got a really good illustration career building here. I mean really good. And though I can work on an actual rewrite between contracts, I can’t honestly promise Producer a brand new 90 pages in the alloted timeframe. It’s too much work for less than a fifth of what a writer should get paid for a commissioned script – which is what this actually is.

In other words, I can’t turn down real work at the moment for this producer’s wildly exploitative renege.

Co-Manager was not pleased.

After our meeting that snarky question kept bouncing around in my head. Not because it clearly betrayed that Co-Manager was placing his own best interest over my own. But because it was a question I’d asked myself more than once over the past year.

Do I even want to be a screenwriter? Is this the best path I could have selected to reach my goal?

And the answer – the answer I couldn’t give Co-Manager – is no. No, not if it means being treated like this… Not when – by my own efforts – I’ve worked with some of the most friendly, talented and ambitious people in the past year as an illustrator. Not when that illustration work has led to work writing and directing projects for people with just as impressive a resumé as Manager and Producer–

And where is Manager these days by the way? Even though it’s clear I’ve been punted to Co-Manager, it’s gotta say something that as his client is about to bail on the multi-million dollar project that he’s co-producing he hasn’t so much as sent me an email…

It’s also gotta say something that I don’t really care anymore that he hasn’t…

Do I even want to be a screenwriter?

I already am a screenwriter. But that’s not all I am.

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Do You Even Want To Be a Screenwriter? (part 1/2)

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roan…

I’m behind on reporting what’s been going on with Script #1. Gonna try to make up for that right now. But it’s gonna be in two parts. And not for brevity’s sake. But because I’m just swamped right now. And I want to be a semi-reliable blogger.

In fact the reason I’m behind on blogging is fast becoming much more interesting than the story of my option. It’s actually turned the volume way down on all this option / rewrite business.

I’ll come back to that.

The other week, Co-Manager set a meeting for Producer and myself. Told me only that Producer really wanted to explain his new vision of Script #1. Told me that it’s a very compelling vision. He’s confident Producer and I will find common ground. That what’s become a point of contention will soon be behind us.

If I just meet and listen.

Alright. Let’s do it. No reps this time. Just Producer convincing me that there is a way to write Jaws without the shark. I’ll bring my open mind. Seriously, I will. Remember, I can gripe about this here, but I want this film to get made. It would be incredible. Even if it turns into a giant piece of digitized shit, I still stand to make more money than I’ve made in a decade.

So, my mind? — Open.

Come meeting time: Hey, how’s it going… Yada yada… So, Co-Manager said you wanted to explain your vision to me so that we can move forward on this rewrite.

Imagine the phone call equivalent of a blank stare.

Me explain my vision? Co-Manager told me you wanted to get on the phone to pitch an outline of the page-one rewrite we’ve asked for.

Imagine me snapping a pencil in my fist.

What was this? Some kind of ambush?

Producer had zero to say. No vision. No compromise. Just the same cataclysmic Note dangling in the wind.

Well… We we’re here. So I guess I could plead my case for reason again.

Which I did.

And then we were done. Hung up the phone and waited for treacherous Co-Manager to call.

Call he did. To vaguely apologize for the misunderstanding as to the premise of the meeting. And to say that Producer still isn’t budging.

I don’t really think Co-Manager was been deceitful; what would that achieve? I think it was just good old negligence.

I suspect managers are people who are always hedging their bets. They’ve got a bunch of clients. Clients have a bunch of projects. The manager’s only gonna focus on the hottest irons in the fire. These are business people. You can’t take their flattery personally, you’re just a meal ticket to them… Or in the case of this metaphor a hasty blacksmith of some sort.

So the post-meeting situation was status quo. Worse perhaps, as – like a crab in mud – Producer was digging in deep on his suddenly monumentally precious Note.

Leaving me with the legal responsibility to respond to a request for a brand new script for a fraction of the price of a rewrite. And what I’ve come to realize is even more important than that: A new brand new script in the time it would take to do a rewrite. A deadline mandated in the option agreement. And it’s a point I hadn’t even considered yet. And as it turns out, it’s the straw that’s about to break this writer’s back.

Here’s where all the other stuff I never talk about here bleeds into the picture…

(To be continued in part 2 of 2)

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The Talking Cat

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eah, I knew that good feeling wouldn’t last.

Not a day had gone by after delivering my emphatic refute of one of Producer’s notes that Co-Manager returned their decision. Of over 99% of their (mostly unfortunate) suggestions, I open-heartedly declared I would make it work. It was just this one note, I explained, that would topple everything like a house of cards. One note – like removing the shark from Jaws – that would undo everything but the names of the cast of characters. An utterly bizarre note, founded it seemed, on nothing more than the whim of Producer’s new executive Producer Jr..

Their decision was that they couldn’t live without that note.

Nearly a year ago now, I met my lawyer. After reading my script he’d come on to negotiate the option-to-purchase agreement with Producer. One of the first questions Lawyer asked me was; do you and the Producer agree on the direction of the project?

I confessed that I hadn’t yet met Producer. My brand new manager (himself responsible for finding Producer) had recommended I put off meeting Producer until after the option had been signed. His reasoning seemed sound; this way, Producer couldn’t coax me into doing any unpaid rewrites before the option. If you’ve been following this blog, you know how that turned out.

So without having met the future owner of my script, I had only Manager’s word. And what I wanted to know was: What kind of notes are these guys going to give me about any future rewrites. Manager told me what they’d told him: That there were some character ideas, a little bit of backstory stuff but no surprises. As he put it: No talking cat.

With that, Lawyer and I negotiated the option agreement. And a whopping seven months later it was signed.

Here we are a couple months after that, this one note wedged between us like a… A wall of talking cats!

I don’t know where this note came from? There wasn’t even a hint of it in the notes Producer gave me for the unpaid rewrite. Despite how that rewrite turned out, Producer and I certainly seemed to be on the same page over all.

It’s crazy. And I’m not exactly sure what to do about it.

Our agreement states (and this is quite normal) that I am mandated to do one obligatory rewrite. A paid rewrite. A much lower paid rewrite than what I’d be getting if I were a Writers Guild of America member, but that was part of my negotiation strategy. Go after a better purchase price and take a hit on the rewrite fees. Because I can do rewrites in my sleep. And I’m in this for the long game.

Trouble is: This one Note (again, only a 1% share of all their notes as a whole) takes what they’re asking from a rewrite to a completely new script. Co-Manager agreed, it’s what’s called a page one rewrite.

I know how this might sound: Relatively novice writer scared by big rewrite. But I assure you, I’m nothing if not reasonable and pragmatic. Hard as it may be to believe, this Note really does destroy the motivation and story arc of every single character in the script. Not to mention the story’s “world”. It really and truly is, taking the shark out of Jaws. And not replacing it with anything else either. Just saying, we like the beachKeep the beach and just go from there. We don’t want to tell you what to write. You’re the writer and you’re great. Just lose the shark, keep the beach and go from there. You can do that, right? 

I shit you not.

A brand new script.

Flat out.

So I’ve decided we’re not going to call this a rewrite anymore. Page one or otherwise. We’re going to call it a new script. Co-Manager assured me that this happens all the time, that page one rewrites aren’t uncommon–

Bup-bup… New script. Not rewrite. New. Script.

We’re outside the WGA. There’re no union rules here. You can’t talk to me about how things go traditionally in this business. Until five years ago the movie industry relied on film. Now everything is digital. Don’t tell me about how things are and have always been done. Fuck that. This is an industry in flux. Upheaval.

You can’t pick and choose the old ways that fit your cause and ignore common sense. I mean, you can. But I’m not going to.

I’ve already been ambushed once with an unpaid rewrite. Now a new script over one Note? Can I knit you a fucking sweater in my free time as well?

How many outlines will I have to write to even come close to what Producer wants now? Impossible to know, because Producer himself doesn’t know what he wants. He thought knew when he optioned my script. But something changed. How many more changes will he go through during the process of writing a brand new concept, story, characters– All from scratch. There are no boundaries. Nothing to contain the madness.

For one of very few times in my life, I don’t know the next move here.

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The Literary Manager Finally Shows Up

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here is so much going on right now that it’s turned me into a terrible blogger. Gonna do my best to keep up with updates but if they lack a little finesse, I apologize.

The great majority of what’s going on actually has very little to do with my screenwriting career. It’s all kinds of other stuff. Good stuff actually.

See, when I set my sight on Hollywood I chose screenwriting as the tool that would get me in the door. But I never saw myself solely as a screenwriter. I love writing, directing right through to editing. Anyone who’s done all of them will tell you they’re all very much the same thing and yet entirely different. They’re all three ways of telling and re-telling the same story.

Anyway, screenwriting was it. It’s inexpensive to pursue and is the creative root of the industry. I didn’t know what to expect from a literary manager I just knew that I needed to go after one. Of the holy trinity of people to query with my scripts – producers, agents and managers – lit managers seemed like the most approachable. At the very least, I wanted a guide who could help me navigate these uncharted waters.

When I found Manager I was excited. When Manager told me I’d never have to send out another query letter (he’d handle that from now on), I was ecstatic.

Then things kind of fizzled.

My interactions with Manager were few and far between. Early on – a year ago now – he’d often ask me what I was working on. I’d put new scripts into his hands as often as possible. But not so often as to overwhelm or to ask too much. I know my place in the pecking order.

Then things got complicated.

Manager is a producer on the script he helped me option. That’s complicated enough. But things got doubly complicated once the rewriting process on that script began. Because the focus was on this one optioned project, attention fell away from all of my newer scripts. Manager hasn’t asked what I’m working on in six months.

None of my new scripts have been sent out to new producers in over a year. Not since I stopped querying them myself.

But I get it: Get this one successful project off the ground, and we won’t have to query. Producers and agents will be coming to us. I get it…

… It just feels like my place in the pecking order is really being underscored a little too strongly.

I’m a patient man, but I’ve never been one to wait.

In the past few weeks things have not been going well with the optioned script. The Producer has made demands that equate to a page one rewrite. Which – I know – happens. But with investors lined up to get involved in this project it’s truly a bizarre turn of events.

I’d love to ask Manager about it. But it’s become increasingly clear that I’ve been punted to Co-Manager, Manager’s junior partner.

Or so I thought.

I went into the latest conference call with the optioning Producer feeling pretty isolated. With Manager, Co-Manager, Producer and Producer Jr. all on one side of the table, I was alone again. Square one. Where was my guide? Who had my back?

I pled my case. Gave them the best arguments I could for why – even while implementing their notes – most of the script’s structure could be salvaged if they were just willing to flex on one critical note. This one note that was threatening to undo everything we had.

I knew I had logic on my side but in a (virtual) room full of producers what good would that do me?

That’s why I was stunned to hear Manager chime in and agree with me. Back my case. Then came Co-Manager. Both of them stepping up – out of nowhere – and brainstorming ideas that would facilitate a new draft of the script rather than hinder it.

We tag-teamed the shit out of that meeting. I felt like a million bucks hanging up that phone.

Finally: Representation.

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Going To War

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ew years back I teamed up with another writer on a screenplay. (My policy is try anything once). Together we wrote a treatment. We submitted it to one of the Canadian government film financing agencies.

Per the bleak and ineffectual bureaucratic mandate of the agency, what came next was a conference call. On the call were; me and my buddy (the writers), an evaluator working for the agency and our would-be producer.

It should be said at this point that this evaluator is there to (you guessed it) evaluate our project then bring it before a panel of other evaluators. In this closed door meeting these evaluators are supposed to “fight” for the projects they’ve been given to fight for.

It’s worth noting that these evaluators are also usually out of work filmmakers on contract with the agency. In fact Canadian film agencies are generally populated with failed filmmakers. Arguably failed filmmaker smart enough to give up while still young in favour of real jobs.

So, the conference call. The conference call comes after our evaluator has read the treatment and before he’s due to fight for our project. An opportunity for him to ask questions. Make sure we’re on point. The objective being to strengthen the project.

My writing partner, our producer and I have a pre-meeting before the call. Ducks in a row. And the first thing this producer says to me is Are you ready to go to war!?

… Huh?

Isn’t this guy our guy? Isn’t he the guy going in to fight for our project?

So… Why exactly are we going to war against him?

If it was just this one crackpot producer I probably would’ve forgotten about it. But I’d seen this attitude before and since. It’s a systemic attitude of adversarialism. The filmmakers still in the trenches resent those who quit and got jobs in the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats resent the filmmakers who are still out there in the trenches.

That was years ago now.

And these days I’m frolicking in the harmonious world of Hollywood. Where things are obviously much different.

As you’ll recall, last week I got new notes from the producers who’ve optioned my script. Their notes took the project to the worst place that it could have gone.

So at Manager’s instructions I was told to prepare my thoughts on their notes. On this new (impossible) direction for the story. That we’d conference and I would be given a chance to explain why this is the worst idea anyone’s ever come up with in the history of the universe.

I made a list. In fact, I wrote comments for each of their notes. Many of those comments, I should say, were to agree with the note. To built on that particular idea. As I’ve said before, I’ll gladly sell out over the stuff that makes sense. I’m not hear to write my story, I’m here to write the one that facilitates the making of a film.

What I had to argue against was this one fundamental change that they seem hellbent on implementing that completely destroys the story itself. A wildly bizarre request that seems to have come out of nowhere.

As I told Wife, I’m amassing my arsenal. Storing up arguments like ammunition. And then, before I knew I’d said it, there it was:

I’m preparing to go to war.

The same adversarial words as that idiot producer years back.

I want to do the right thing. I’m trying really hard. But man, show business is like a sociopath who knows just what buttons to push.

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The Worst Place This Could Have Gone

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et’s recap: I optioned a script to a producer. My manager will also be a producer on the project. I was asked to do a small unpaid rewrite to bring the script up to where the producer thought it ought to be in order to court a director or a star (the second step in finding money for any film project).

The results are in on my little unpaid rewrite.

And they’re not good. Beyond not good, the rewrite seems to have triggered a tidal shift in how Producer is now looking at the project.

You hear about this sort of thing. You see it parodied in television shows about Hollywood. The absolutely insane notes that producers give writers. Is it complete and total lack of understanding for how a story can be told? A juvenile terror over suddenly realizing that you’ve put money into optioning a script and you’re worried what all those stars and directors you want to send it to will think?

What ever it is, it’s remarkably… Sad.

We conferenced.

I listened.

They sent their new notes.

I read them.

I laughed and all but cried.

It seems Producer Jr. (the fledgling hire at Producer’s newly established production company) is all about #trends. At least that’s what these new notes indicate. And the goal appears to be rewrite the script with as many buzzwords and sexy characters as possible.

And that’s fine. When it comes to selling out I’m the first to buy in. This is a Hollywood action movie not art. I want it to get made so that I can get paid.

So you want trendy tripe? Let’s get t’werk.

Here’s the tragedy though… The complete and total lack of understanding for story. The changes they’re proposing – adamant about implementing – would fundamentally alter the core story and characters. It’s such an overhaul that they didn’t even dare ask for another unpaid rewrite. This one would indeed be the paid rewrite agreed to in my option agreement. A rewrite I was told earlier would be saved until they’d found their director and received his/her notes.

The domino effect their changes would effect upon the script is tricky to explain without detailing the entire story. But it would be the equivalent of say… Asking to rewrite Jaws without a shark. And a protagonist obsessed with a shark. Or obsessed with anything at all. In fact, do we really need to set this by the ocean?

I know that sounds like a glib simplification. But that’s what this boils down to.

And they don’t see it. They don’t understand why what they’re asking intrinsically crumbles the entire structure of the story.

In a word: Sad.

This turn leaves me extremely disappointed. Yet not at all surprised. It’s everything that you’ve ever heard about how backwards Hollywood is and yet here I am trying my hardest to be a part of it.

Which may make the situation sad and the producers ridiculous, but it makes me the most pathetic one of all.

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