Tag Archives: writing

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 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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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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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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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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