Tag Archives: film

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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Conversation With Literary Manager

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hen I started this blog my situation was pretty clear cut. I liked that. It was easy to post about. I was a flyover writer who’d just found an LA manager. My action thriller script was about to be optioned and things were becoming very exciting.

Nearly a year later all that is still ongoing. But there’s so much more in the mix now too. It’s gotten tougher to blog about without getting bogged down in uninteresting details.

Boggy blog. Not good reading.

So I’m trying to untangle the what’s-interesting-to-me from the what’s-interesting-to-yous of it.

This week I had a conversation with Manager. The kind of conversation I was hoping this relationship would be all about from the beginning. Instead – over the weeks and months – I got a lot of dead air. Unanswered emails. The feeling that I didn’t exactly have a Manager at all.

I’m hoping that’s in the past now.

Manager had a lot going on. A lot of it tied to my script and the producer optioning it. The creation of a new production company. A whole lot of stuff that’s only going to knock me off track if I try to fit it into this post.

So we had a conversation. And it was good. It wasn’t about Script #1. Not at all. No one cracking a whip over my head about an unpaid rewrite. No news from the Lawyers. Nothing about Script #1 except to say that everything is still on track.

The conversation was about a new script Manager’s finally had a chance to read. Script #3. And we talked about it in depth. About where to take it in the second draft. It was great.

What’s more is prior to speaking, I emailed Manager a few new ideas for what will eventually become Script #5. Asked for his favourite one. Then we talked in depth about that too.

Good talk. More than just story and characters. I got a chance to ask him about the marketability of the idea. Industry stuff. The kind of questions I’ve wanted to ask a Manager about for years.

It was a good. Helpful. Encouraging.

How soon will it happen again? Who knows. But you take the wins when you can. Even the very small and polite ones.

Script #5 is still only the kernel of an idea. Scripts 2 and 3 still need massive overhauls. And who knows if Script #4 will ever see the light of day. But for a moment here I get to feel like they’re all relevant. That they’ll all get their due consideration. They’ll all get a chance. Which is nice.

It’s a lot more than I could have expected at this time last year.

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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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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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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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Light at the End of the Tunnel Vision

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hen your body faces extreme fatigue or duress you can experience tunnel vision. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Yet still rather surprising to experience. Well, surprising for me. Having never been inebriated myself, abnormal physiological occurrences are something of a novel phenomenon for me.

Anyway, when you experience actual tunnel vision it’s sort of like a cheesy video editing filter. There’s a clear spot directly before you and everything else is smeared into dark, blurry obscurity. Like everything is at the end of a long tunnel.

For weeks I’ve been–

You’re still thinking about the “never been inebriated myself” thing aren’t you? It’s okay. It’s fair. Some find it strange. Especially given the writer thing. It’s not a political, religious or medical thing. It’s just never come up. I don’t drink alcohol and thus I’ve never been drunk.

So, for weeks I’ve been dealing with the mental equivalent of tunnel vision. I can only see one thing before me. And it’s taking forever to get there.

I have a literary manager. He’s also going to be a producer on my first (mini major) motion picture. So while our option agreement is in negotiation, he’s stepped aside so as not to create a conflict of interest.

Meanwhile things on the option negotiation front have gone oddly quiet. Whereas I thought we’d reached an agreement, there’s been no word for my lawyer for some time.

Here’s where the fatigue and duress come in. I’m a rookie in the US motion picture industry. Less than a rookie, a complete newb. But I’m used to working hard to get noticed. So what’s fatiguing me isn’t vying for attention is holding myself back from vying for attention. It’s staying patient. Not pestering anyone. It’s exhausting. And the duress just stems from there.

Months ago Manager first called me, interested in my script. We began talking about what this would mean. Several phone calls. Within those first couple weeks I got another call, from a second production company interested in optioning the script. That day I had a meeting scheduled with Manager. His assistant emailed me to postpone. I replied saying that I’d just gotten a second offer.

I swear before you, I clicked send and no more than ten seconds later the phone rang.

Now that was a response.

I haven’t heart from that same manager in two months. Again, option negotiation, see above, there’s a reason for it, but none the less… It’s left me in this tunnel. Incommunicado. Unable to pursue anything. Waiting.

Until now.

A light at the end of my tunnel vision. I heard from Lawyer. We finally heard back from the Producers. Everything is squared away, just paperwork now. The actual option agreement should be on the way anytime now!

Heard from Manager right after that. We’ve scheduled a call with the optioning Producers.

Finally. Finally movement toward the next steps. Toward wherever this will all take me.

Much like actual tunnel vision, there’s nothing you can do in some situations but wait it out. You just have to try to stay on your feet. Focus your breathing. Regain your composure. Hang in there.

Easier said than done.

I just hope that once I emerge I’m on a locomotive and not pumping a handcar.

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