Monthly Archives: April 2014

Are You Sure You’re Talking About Me?

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 attended university for some reason. While there I had a very strange experience. First semester, first week, a professor was doing attendance. That was strange enough at the university level, but what happened next was statistically nothing short of incredible.

I could feel the kid next to me turn and stare as my name was called. Then his name was called. And it was my turn to twist my neck and stare. We stared at each other in amazement. Wonder. Even the professor scratched his head.

But for a three letter suffix at the end of this complete stranger’s surname our names were identical. First and last.

Until that day we’d never met. Never uttered a word to one another. Seating in the classroom was at our discretion. Random. Somehow two people of the same age, enrolled in the same program, who shared 85% of the same name had plunked down next to one another.

I supposed having the exact same name would have been quite something. But my name isn’t Michael Smith or Mohamed Ahmed. It’s a bit off the beaten track. So the odds on an 85% match was remarkable.

Memorable to say the least.

The other day I got a call from a Hollywood producer. And not to abuse a term, this is a bona fide Hollywood money man who’s movies I did not have to dig up from the annals of the internet to watch. I’d seen them all. And liked them very much.

He’d come across some of my work. Not my screenwriting but my directing work. And that’s a pretty small body of work, I have to tell you. He was calling to tell me that he liked what he’d seen.

Now, when a guy who spends millions of dollars on motion pictures tells you he likes your motion pictures… Time sort of stops.

Often I mentally step out of a conversation. Sometimes even during very important conversations. I mentally step out and start analyzing the conversation itself. The interaction. Sometimes I just contemplate things like how telephones work. I try to control this habit as much as possible.

When bona fide Hollywood players call me up, however, I usually only mentally step out to wonder one thing: Are you sure you’ve got the right guy? I only think it. Bite my lip. Are you sure you’re talking about me?

I attended university for three years. At the end of that period I had a one on one pre-graduation interview with one of my professors. He began by telling me that I was a bit of an enigma to him. My work was often very good but then other times it was not very good at all. And my lack of attendance, he said, was rather unacceptable–

Hang on. You can bash my work. That’s fine. But my attendance is solid. He checks his notes. Furrows his brow. Wait– Aren’t you “Michael Smithson”?

No, damn it! I’m “Michael Smith”!

He’d confused me with my phonetic doppelgänger. And for how long, who knows. The entire three years? Had other professors done the same? I know that to the other students I’d become known as the other guy. So that wasn’t great. And who’s work was good vs who’s work was not very good at all is one for the ages. But I did graduate, that much I know.

Even after we hang up, the feeling stays with me. Every time. Every time I get off the phone after an incredible call. A call from someone who can truly help me realize what often times feel like impossible dreams. All I can do is wonder. Am I really the person they think I am? Did someone read the credits wrong? Is my doppelgänger still out there? Am I ever living off his thunder? Is he ever living off mine?

It’s not til the follow up email that I know for sure.

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I’m Still My Own Best Manager

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een almost a year now. A year since I first got the call that set me on this course. When Script #1 landed in Manager’s hands and he called me up. I haven’t sent another query letter since.

It’s been almost a year and a lot’s happened. Slightly less than Manager optimistically forecast would happen. But still quite a lot. In theory.

Until the option agreement for Script #1 is signed, this is all still just theory as far as I’m concerned. All of it.

What remains fact is that bit about me not having sent a query letter in almost a year.

We’ll handle that from now on, is what Manager told me.

At the time, I didn’t think to explore that process in more detail with him. I was just excited at the prospect.

A few weeks ago I found myself talking to a production company exec. Nothing to do with my writing. Until the subject came up. The subject of what kind of scripts they were looking for. Like reflex, I pitched her a script from my arsenal (Script #3).

She loved the pitch. Wanted to read it right away. Had an A-list actor she wanted to take it to.

Hm. Here’s a situation… I just a got read request from a prod co without Manager’s help. Yet, in theory, he is my Manager. Though in practice – in nearly a year – he has yet to have fulfilled much of this role. So… Do I notify him of the read request?

I decided I should. It seemed like the good-faith move. Not to say I didn’t weigh the pros and cons.

Operating under the assumption that the exec would love the script as much as the pitch, the reasoning was, Manager’s guidance would be of value to me if I was presented with an option deal on Script #3. Whereas all I had to gain by cutting him out was his 10% commission and a potentially touchy phone call to explain myself.

So before sending the script, I sent Manager an email about my exciting pitch to the production exec. Manager hadn’t even read Script #3 yet. Maybe there was a chance he could fit in a read over the weekend. Give me some quick feedback.

Waited a week.

Heard nothing.

Nothing. He acknowledged another portion of my email, so I know he got it, but nothing about my exciting read request.

Finally I couldn’t hold out on the exec any longer so I sent the script.

Same thing just happened again the other day. Different production company. Brand new script. Script #4. Excited production exec requesting a read.

Ask me if I even bothered letting Manager know.

Not this time.

It’s been almost a year since I first got the call. And a lot’s happened. Sort of. In theory.

What’s fact is that in that year I’ve written three new scripts. Manager’s done nothing to disseminate any of them. Has, in fact, only even read one.

And I get why. I hope that I get why. It’s because I’m still a nobody in this industry. Manager isn’t a mass emailing service. He’s not gonna just turn everything I write out to his Rolodex of Hollywood buddies. He’s gotta wait til I’m starting to look like a somebody. He’s gotta wait til Script #1 becomes Movie #1.

I get that.

That and that I’m barely even a blip on his radar. He’s got a dozen irons in the fire. I’ve just got this one.

Which is why it’s hard to put aside what I’ve spent years doing. Being my own manager. Seizing every opportunity.

I shouldn’t hold it against Manager. He’s playing the game he’s been taught. But if either of those execs comes back excited about either Script #3 or Script #4… Then that 10% commission is staying right with me for just a little bit longer.

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I Stopped Listening After “Unpaid”

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here it is. That side of Hollywood I’ve heard so much about. Somehow I’d avoided seeing it until now, but there it is.

A few weeks back I had my first call with the producer optioning my script. We talked notes on the script. Talked about the next steps. For me the next step would be a rewrite to implement said notes.

Little bit about an option agreement: The option agreement (if you’ve done it right) contains provisions for rewrites. Because rewrites are inevitable and as the author of the script you want to make sure you’re the one getting paid for as many as possible.

Logic would follow that the rewrite Producer and I discussed was the same rewrite outlined in the option agreement. The paid rewrite.

Logic, you’d think, would follow.

I’ve just been informed by Manager that I misunderstood. The rewrite we’ve been discussing – the first rewrite – is actually unpaid. It’s just a step toward getting the script ready for the town. A meeting of the creative minds.

… Sorry, I stopped listening after unpaid.

But there it is.

Remember all that conflict of interest I was concerned about a few months ago? Here it comes in full effect! My manager, who’s supposed to be looking out for my best interest is also a producer on the project. A producer currently asking me to write for free.

Remember to breathe.

The next rewrite will be the paid one, they assure me. Oh, sure, yeah, no problem. Can I pick up anybody’s dry cleaning on my way home?

On the moral scale, it’s total bullshit.

As far as the film industry is concerned… I’m guessing it’s par for the course.

It’s real tempting to get indignant, throw a tantrum and walk away. But that would be it. Back to square one. Conversely if I can massage some egos. Implement some little script fixes. Get this project out into the world. Then maybe there’s a future in it for me.

A future as what? A door mat? I guess we’ll have to see. Right now I’m their secret. But if this movie gets made then the secret’ll be out.

What really chaps my ass is if Manager had just been around enough to inform me that this is how things would roll out, I’d have been fine with it. Implementing these notes is nothing for me. It’s a weekend. What irks me is that I’m out here on my own again. Getting guidance from nobody.

I can take solace in one thing for the time being. That I’m still waiting on the option. It still hasn’t come in. Nearly five months now. Which means until it does – until that option check clears – this script is still all mine. And not one word of it is getting rewritten until that changes.

It’s not much. But that seems to be the way things go in this industry. You hold on to whatever semblance of power you can because at the end of the day, you don’t really have any.

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The Young Writer

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ust a polite nod. That was the extent of our meeting. So it’s not like I know the guy.

I was in the lobby of a ridiculously lavish hotel. It was packed with industry people, in town for the festival. The young writer and a couple friends stopped to say hi to Manager with whom I was chatting. They exchanged pleasantries. I smiled accommodatingly.

But my smile was nothing next to the grin on the young writer’s face. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word beaming in my own writing, but this kid was beaming.

Twenties, bearded, round, wearing brand new jeans and a clever t-shirt. The typical writer aesthetic. Except for that smile.

Like I said, it was a lavish lobby, but this guy was looking around like he’d just awakened in El Dorado.

They departed. Manager informed me that the young writer’s movie had just sold in a bidding war the night before. Millions more than it cost to make.

I envied that smile. That uncontrollable beaming.

I envied it for a while. Knew that soon it’d be me waking up in El Dorado.

Regrettably, I didn’t see the young writer’s movie while I was in town for the festival. I have seen it since however. It’s given me time to reflect.

The film will live on much longer than the smile.

I think about my own future. Where this is all headed.

I’m going to sound like an ungrateful prick right now, or someone who’s bitten off more than they can chew but I’m not sure I want anything more than that smile.

I’ve taught myself how to write screenplays. Knocked on doors for years. Finally landed incredible representation. An option on my script. With luck, it will become a film and play at a festival. And… I’m not sure I need the rest of it.

The film release six months later? The career? The politics that I’m already starting to see? The lack of creative control? The who-knows-what-else?

It’s something I’ve thought about recently. Maybe even shared here. I’ve begun to wonder whether or not “breaking in” was all this was ever about. The self satisfaction of knowing that I could do it and then on to other summits. Because I don’t hear a lot of stories about what a pleasant industry this is to work in. So is that something I even want?

Maybe the big beaming smile is the better note to go out on.

I often get ahead of myself.

Because that big smile is still a while off yet. I’ve got some time to decide. Decide whether or not to check this whole thing off my life’s to-do list and just retreat into my forest, where I’m always happy… Or to see if there’s more to El Dorado than just the lobby.

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