Tag Archives: producer’s notes

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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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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