Monthly Archives: September 2014

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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