Monthly Archives: March 2014

Tailoring The Script To The Reader

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nce I read an interesting concept. That a screenwriter should write different versions of their script depending on their intended audience.

This is to say that if you’re sending your script to an actor you’re trying to attach, make sure character is focus. If it’s going to an agency, concentrate on sellability. A director, tone down your action lines and make sure your story is on point.

I thought it was a great suggestion. Incredibly impractical and nearly impossible to implement – but still a good suggestion. In an ideal world.

A pretty common Hollywood understanding is that as soon as you find a producer for your script that producer rewrites your script. Not himself. And if you’re lucky, you’re involved. But the thing gets hacked up. Or so I’ve heard.

My conclusion about this was that the producer – being the least creative partners in any production – has something to prove. Their trumped up egos demanded they put their mark on their new acquisition. For better or worse. They just needed to make it theirs. Changes things just to change things.

As a writer – the foundation of the creative process – I knew that moving forward into this industry this truth was going to be a bitter pill to swallow.

But that’s the industry. So be it. You’ve got to accept it. You go about your end of it and hope to get a producer who isn’t a totally illiterate fuckwad.

I recently got producer’s notes on Script #1 – the script I’m optioning. And as I braced for a wretched ego-jacking I was pleasantly relieved.

Sure, there were changes. But they weren’t changes just for the sake of changes. There was a method to the notes beyond Producer’s mere preference.

The producer’s notes were taking a page out of the playbook I’d once read about writing for the intended audience.

I’d evidently nailed writing a script that would attract a producer. Now that producer needed a script that would attract a director. Following which, I’d be asked to do another rewrite to attract a star.

Modifications to speak to that reader. Strategy. And I love a good strategy.

And as long as I’m getting paid for the rewrites and it’s not affecting the core story, it’s a better deal than having a bunch of alternate drafts of a spec script floating around.

The lasting reminder for me is, until it’s actually a film, it’s just reading material. And nobody really likes to read. Not when you’re being asked to do it. So every step you can take to tailor that script to your reader, you take it.

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Thank Goodness for Geeks in Suits

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emember the Star Wars Kid? The overweight, French Canadian kid who’s life was ruined when some highschool classmates put this selfie video (below) of his on the internet? And we all had a laugh. And he went into extensive therapy.

The thing about that video was – and I’m sure I’m not the first to say it – we all saw ourselves in 14 year old Ghyslain Raza aka the Star Wars Kid.

I don’t care if you’re the jockiest jock who throws invisible footballs in your bedroom or the prissiest meangirl who jerks her hand away laughing like Pretty Woman in her mirror, you saw yourself in Ghyslain Raza.

Some of us were confident enough to admit it. While many more would sooner die than invite the comparison.

Ghyslain Raza was geeking on Star Wars. He had been so moved by a fictitious world that his fantasy took on a physical exhibition. But it wasn’t his fictitious world. He didn’t dream it up. George Lucas did.

I’ve been reviewing script notes from the producer who’s optioning my screenplay.

Here’s something I didn’t know about myself until recently: I write techno-thrillers. My manager said so in passing a while back in reference to my script. I didn’t even know that was a genre. I’d never even heard the term.

I played it caj.

Sure… Techno-thrillers. That’s my jam.

Techno-thrillers are apparently thrillers within the spy, action and war genres that have an emphasis on emerging technology. Who knew.

So reading through Producer’s notes I was a little tickled (badass techno-thriller writer tickled) to see him using the jargon I’d created. Like, really getting into it.

Now, I’ve been creating new media entertainment for years. I’ve received plenty of geeky fanmails wherein viewers spin their wheels about what my characters should do next. Or whether something in my movie would actually work like that. Or that I made some continuity error and so on– Super fans doing what super fans do.

What was different this time was that this was a producer. A producer who is gathering millions of dollars to turn my techno-thriller script into a movie.

Millions of dollars.

And he’s asking me if the widget I invented in the second act could be weaponized by act three.

He’s geeking on my fiction.

And it occurs to me that once upon a time in a galaxy far far away, George Lucas didn’t just create a world that would be so engaging as to one day destroy 14 year old Ghyslain Raza’s social life. He first created a world that had to have made guys in suits geek out on that very same fantasy.

We all saw ourselves in the Star Wars Kid.

Thank goodness Hollywood suits have the confidence to admit it.

 

… And did I just compare myself to George Lucas? Never you mind. Never you mind.

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Music To My Ears Of Corn

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 buddy and I used to joke that we’d get a lot more work done if we set up IV drips beside our desks. If we didn’t have to stop to do things like eat.

Work is what I love. And I love doing what I love. Daily chores, not so much.

I found myself in the big city today. When you live in the woods, the suburbs are the big city. Daily chores. Grocery shopping at one of these giant hangars they stock with irradiated food and call a supermarket. Not my usual joint.

When you walk into a supermarket you’re always greeted with the fresh produce section. This is designed to excite your senses. Make you hungry before you’re funneled toward the processed food sections. Everything in franchise stores is psychology. Deciphering retail ploys is how I amuse myself while doing chores.

I expected the tomatoes, bananas and berries. I did not expect the baby grand piano.

I’ve got a plastic basket on my arm and here’s this guy between the rows of fruit – in a tux – playing piano. Belting out opera with abandon.

Like I said, not my joint. Is this a regular thing? Is this what grocery shopping means now? Live entertainment? If I fill up my tank later does that include a show?

Head down, I move past him and get down to the business at hand.

Wife and I circulate. Divide and conquer our list.

When I join her again I shake my head and remark on the piano man. What a pitiful schlep. A grown man, obviously schooled in his craft, plunking and wailing away in a supermarket on a Sunday afternoon. An organ grinder’s monkey. Humiliated for our delight.

Teenagers working the deli counter comment all too loud that they wish he had a volume knob.

Only a pair of bluehairs stand by the piano. Watch and listen.

By the time I’m on the other end of the hangar, the piano man’s voice has all but faded away. It now mingles with the muzak playing on the PA. I’m looking for canned bamboo shoots when I realized what an idiot I am.

Who the hell am I to judge this guy? I’m out doing chores. On my weekend. The piano man’s playing music. And well. An enviable skill regardless of where or when he’s playing. He’s doing something he clearly loves doing– And hired to do so! The more I think about it, this pitiful schlep has it made!

How can you fault someone who’s found a way – any way – to do what they love?

If even for a minute. If even surrounded by ingrates like me.

Stupid supermarket with its stupid consumer psychology and stupid life lessons…

Good for you supermarket piano man! Play on!

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Housekeeping notice: Just added a new category to this blog. The Misadventures category will now house anecdotes and lesson-learned pearls of wisdom more random in their chronology. The The Journey category will continue to focus more on the matter of fact day by day events of what will hopefully at some point start to look like a Hollywood film career.

And unless you follow via RSS feed or are as particular about organization as I am, all of this probably falls into your personal Who Gives a Shit category.

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Meet The Producer

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onference calls are the worst. Can I get an amen?

I don’t know why, with the Dick Tracy style video telecommunications we have at our disposal, we still resort to crappy cellphone feeds and try to “conference” with one another.

What’s more, is my conference call with the producer optioning my screenplay meant a transoceanic call. Which meant a slight time delay.

Okay. Sitting back, I just realized that I’m finding fault in speaking to someone real-time who’s literally on the other side of the planet. Which is actually incredible. So… With my new found perspective on high technology I’ll continue by saying…

My first conference call with Producer went great!

That is to say, my manager didn’t have to take me aside afterward and say why on Earth did you say that to him? And by my standard for inter-human communication, that’s pretty great.

This was a meet and greet call. But also my first chance to hear from the horse’s mouth Producer’s notes.

This is also a call that could have – arguably should have – happened months ago. It was Manager who suggested we wait until the option was on the table. I was dubious at first. I am, after all, signing the rights to my script over to these guys. I wanted to make sure that they didn’t have any weird plans to for the customary rewrite. Plans like… I don’t know…

“Adding a talking cat?” asked Manager.

Exactly.

But Manager assured me back then that he’d heard their notes and that there was no talking cat. The reason Manager wanted to hold back our introduction until after the negotiation was so that Producer couldn’t persuade me to do any free rewrites. Good looking out, Manager.

So I met the Producer.

We had a good, choppy, compressed-audio talk. He gave me his notes and as promised, there was no talking cat. No shocking demands that would ruin my precious work. And he seemed as nice as anybody can seem during a half hour chat.

And that was it. I await his detailed notes via email. What was particularly optimistic was how many of the notes were questions about what could happen next. Does this character have to die? How would this action effect the future of the storyline? Questions you’d only be asking if you were hoping to turn the film into a franchise.

So yeah, I like this producer just fine.

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Just Don’t Be a Jerk

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creenwriters look out for each other. Or so I’ve noticed.

It always seemed unlikely to me given the competitiveness of the entertainment industry. It wasn’t until I got a little wiser that I realized that most of that competition is with yourself not your writing buddies.

I don’t mean that philosophically. I mean that I rarely find myself vying for the same goal as another writer. There’s always enough difference in either genre or platform or just where you are in your career that you’re rarely after the same job as someone else. The challenge is always just getting your own writing as sharp as it can be.

So writers look out for each other. Share info on potential gigs. Help introduce each other around. There’s only one rule.

You can’t be a jerk.

I’ve got a writing buddy who’s husband decided to go back to school to become a photographer. A professional photographer.

Let’s pause for a moment and appreciate that. Someone – in the 21st century, when cameras are more ubiquitous than hand soap – decided they wanted to make photography their profession. I suppose newspaper publisher and woolly mammoth herder were too easy a pursuit?

Needless to say, my buddy and husband were fairly strapped for cash pursuant to this decision. Her husband was taking odd jobs where he could find them.

Knowing this, my wife offered him her job during her holiday break a couple years back. He’d already filled in for her once so he knew the drill. Naturally he readily accepted. My writing buddy thanked me. They needed this.

No problem; writers look out for each other.

Trouble is… Apparently adult students studying dying professions don’t appreciate that kind of mutual respect.

My buddy’s husband called three days before Wife’s holiday to say he was bailing. He’d gotten an offer in his prospective field that would overlap his commitment to my wife. He was out. Sorry ’bout that. You understand, right?

After many words cussed to herself in anger, Wife managed to find another replacement. She had to rush to train the new recruit and her holiday was spent fielding calls from a novice, but it wasn’t the end of the world.

The sour taste left in both our mouths however, didn’t quickly fade.

In fact, it flared up with surprising acridity when Wife recently received a call from my buddy’s husband. Seems he was responding to job posting: Her company was on the lookout for a professional event photographer.

I’ll be damned, so that really is still a profession? Fascinating…

He was calling hoping that Wife’d put in a good word for him.

No mention of leaving her in the lurch a couple years back. No apology. Nothing.

Yeah, I think they filled that position. Sorry, she told him.

That’s not sour grapes. Let’s be clear. Because that was my initial reaction. They’re still living hand to mouth– I mean, a writer and a photographer, c’mon. So I felt bad for my buddy. Still wanted to help them out by doing anything I could to help her foolish jerk of a husband.

But here’s why Wife was right to shut it down: It wasn’t for fear of being screwed over again, it was to protect her reputation within her company. This guy’s already proved to be selfish and unreliable. She didn’t need any better reason than that to say no.

The phone rang yesterday. It was for me. A production company responsible for dozens of films. This place just churns out material. The producer on the line was calling because they were in need of action writers. From their track record, a writer could easily find steady work with these guys.

And they were calling me.

I’d been referred to them by another writer. Another buddy altogether who – no slouch himself in the action genre – just didn’t have room for any new work.

Now, I’ve never been a superior human. I’m not terribly thoughtful. Nor well spoken. I’m not great in many, many ways. But I work hard, am reliable and respect my friends.

I’m not a jerk.

Sometimes that’s all it takes.

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Kwality Writing

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thnic grocery stores are hit and miss. Asian supermarkets, whatever you call them. Those specialty food stores in the neighbourhoods suburban white people don’t usually slow down in. They don’t exactly cater to the mainstream. Or follow the same refrigeration maintenance regulations as your local mega mart.

I know all the ethnic grocery stores in my city. Because I buy a lot of weird shit. And you have to experience each one to sort out the good from the sketch.

At the good specialty store– I’m gonna switch to specialty store; the ethnic thing is starting to make me uncomfortable. At the good specialty store you find amazing culinary surprises that you’d never in a million years find in even the most well stocked specialty section of your local franchise supermarket.

At the last bad specialty store I was in, I found maggots. They were writhing around in the packaged nuts. What’s that old joke: What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? Finding half a worm. Cut your losses. Put down basket. Walk calmly out of store. Never return. Count yourself lucky it was before checkout.

It was at a place called “Kwality Market”. The place has been there for as long as I can remember. Somehow it does business. Enough people are okay with maggoty nuts for this place to remain open. You’d think that after so many years, the place would have to be quality; with a Q!

Now when Wife and I refer to something that should be good but is of inferior quality we refer to it as “Kwality with a K”.

“I thought this rocking chair was going to be great but it collapsed as soon as I sat down. That shit was kwality with a “k”.”

Periodically I receive query letters. Because I produced many of my own projects in the past, it seems my contact information has gotten onto some lists. Lists of producers or production companies that writers (not unlike myself) use to query their scripts.

A couple years ago, while still querying on a daily basis myself, I received my first script query from this writer we’ll call Scotty. Scotty had accomplished a lot. According to IMDB he already had a couple scripts produced. He’d won awards. His query letter, however, was the exact opposite of what I’d argue is the effective way to query.

The subject line was a mess. The email itself was extremely long winded. As was his logline. What’s more is his script sounded just terrible; some hackey cheerleader slasher thing. And he was clearly using an impersonal mailing list spammer. With a half-assed list, no less.

But he’d been produced… I couldn’t fault that. He was obviously unrepresented. Maybe he’d just fallen through the cracks. Who knows. I moved on and forgot about him.

… Until he queried me again. And again. Every six months or so. The latest hit my inbox just this week. The same rambling query letters. And his beyond the pale story ideas.

But this time I noticed something. Scotty’s list of accomplishments just gets long and longer. In this latest letter the script he was pitching last time and the time before that have both been optioned. Somebody had apparently optioned that hackey cheerleader slasher thing.

Now an option can mean a few things. Many options are what are called dollar options. Agreements signed for the token sum of $1 to see if the project can get off the ground. Mostly they don’t.

I wouldn’t want to assume anything about Scotty. Not saying his options weren’t legit. But he’s still querying like crazy which would suggest his phone isn’t exactly ringing off the hook.

The whole thing got me intrigued. I researched the producers responsible for these options. Found a whole world of B-movie producers with dozens of credits. It really seems like people are in fact responding to Scotty’s query letters. This doesn’t tell me if Scotty’s on his way or not, but he’s obviously getting reads.

Consistently.

For years.

Off these really terrible, kwality with a “k” ideas.

Scotty’s the old specialty market that’s been there forever. Everything about it seems wrong. There doesn’t seem to be any way this place can still be open after all these years – maggots, I’m telling you – and yet there it is.

Kwality Market.

It’s not for me, but to hell with my opinion: Somebody’s buying.

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