Friday, December 18, 2009

2009 - a wacky kind of year

Since my last post, 100 work weeks on Avatar have ended, Tintin work has started, I have drifted roles again, from Matte Painter to production in costumes (I know??!!), and the one-hour TV show that I've been writing with Producer Joe (prolific Hollywood producer who's been the first big fish to put faith in me) has blossomed into writing a spec pilot for a possible series that none other than James Manos is now consulting on. Imagine my thrill and surprise.

It's been a hellova year.

As of yesterday at 5pm, I am officially on holiday. Work has shut it's doors and asked us not to come in for the holidays, which gives some sad insight into the workaholics that are abound in this industry. Of course, I don't feel I am one of them, despite what people say. Workaholic comes with more negative connotations than alcoholics. Like I can't find a real life, so I depend on my job to fill the emptiness inside. Let it be known, I am not empty. I am happy. I have a life. I just seem to work a lot. It's different. So there. And I am relieved and overjoyed to be off work for 3 weeks. I only plan to go into work once, maybe twice while on holiday.

Year One of trying to sell something I've written has been a bumpy, exhilarating, deflating ride. But I feel that I actually got somewhere in the end tally. I'm happy with the progress of Year One. I am excited to see what happens in Year Two. Excited and terrified. Mostly excited.

Some things I've learned... for this was the original point of my blog... to share things I've learned along the way, and hopefully get back tips from other writers as well. Which I have. And I thank you.

Right, what I've learned....

Right Attitude:
In order to stay sane in a world of make believe, superstars and the one minute pitch, I found a fine concoction of determination, good humour, common sence and a dose of whimsy works well. It's the business of entertainment. An oxymoron from the get go. Oscar Wilde said Life is too important to be taken seriously. So is the movie business.

Don't be Desperate:
I'm happy I kept my day job. Don't get me wrong, I want to write for a living. Obviously. But I also want to eat. In nice places. With nice wine. I don't want to resent writing if I couldn't afford to do those things because of it. So, I've made nice with my job. I've stopped saying how much I have to get out and do what I really want. I've come to realize that I'm already doing it.

Don't Piss Anyone Off:
Hollywood is all about connections. If someone is being a dick, and all you want to do is tell them to piss off, don't. Seriously. Take the hit. Do the time. Work hard with your head low and bum up. Treat everyone like they could be the one to help you land a deal. Because they could be. Bad reputations are death.

Get Support:
I love being around my writing friends. They all have war stories. They all have interesting perspectives. Writing might be a solitary act, but it's like falling down the stairs. It's only funny if someone sees it.

I've read a ton of books this year. And I've gotten heaps of info and insipration and reality checks from all of them. There are so many awesome books out there. So much help available. One of my favorite quotes is from "Breakfast with Sharks" (of course, now i can't find the damn quote to confirm this, but what the hell, correct me of it I'm wrong). Micheal Lent said that no one ever fails in Hollywood, they just give up. Which brings me to...

Don't Give Up:
I now look at this endeavour like a marathon with lots of breaks, not a sprint. It's a process of connections, rejections, advice seeking, following leads, and waiting. Pushing, and knowing when not to push in order to save a relationship is important. But above all, not giving up. It's all part of the process. Every rejection goes into the pile of necessary rejections. Every bit of priase and encouragement pushes the door open just a bit further. No one phone call, or email is going to end with a million dollar check. It takes perseverence, a thick skin, and unshakable hope.

Writing Gets Good In The Rewrites:
Learn as you go. Be open to self critisism, but don't let it cripple you. Kill your darlings, as McKee says. Be brilliant, but don't stall if you're not. That's what rewrites are for. And always, no matter what, be willing to improve your script. Even if it means putting it away for a while. Don't settle. Be happy with what you've done. Because if you're not, if you get an incling that something isn't working, then I'd bet my bottom dollar, you'd be right. Ask for help. Join a writing group. Pay for a critique. Read a book called "Rewrite". Polish the f*ck out of it until it sparkles. I have found that the rewrites are my favorite part.

And lastly... above all else...

Have Something to Say:
It goes without saying that writing is a lot of work. It's frustrating, and makes your head hurt. My all-knowing new mentor has told me, you have to love what you're writing about. You have to have something to say. Otherwise, what's the point? 10% of the 10,000 writers in the WGA are making a living writing. That tells you how hard it is to do. Manos told me something, and he told me to remember it, and I will. He said that "No one cares about your words. They care about how you see the world." What a trip, huh?

So, my cheriched blog pals, I hope you all have a wonderful holiday. Thanks for playing with me this year. See you in 2010!


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NaNoWriMo - WTF?

I hadn't heard of it either, until yesterday. But something led me to it. Like the fate of the cows to the slaughter. I have been thinking that perhaps a wee break from screenwriting wouldn't be a bad idea. I've been wanting to write a book for a decade now. But it's daunting for a screenwriter. Where's the structure? Where's the snappy dialogue and the craft of minimal phrasing with maximum punch. There's the fear that I would ramble endless given the freedom, and at some point forget what I was even talking about.

What was I talking about? Oh ya... writing a book. SO a friend told me that November is "write a book in a month" month. I googled, and found this NaNoWriMo site. There all these people all over the world who are peeking with excitement, forming community groups in their regions (yes, there are over 900 New Zealanders on the band wagon!) and preparing to write a book in 30 days, along with over a hundred thousand other international writers. Woowza.

I was intrigued. I read a bit more... and then in a rush of reckless abandon, I signed up and have commited to writing a 175 page (50,000 word) novel in 30 days. I don't have a story. The book I want to write (eventually) is not one that can be rushed. Obviously, as it's taken me a decade to work out the story. It's an epic sci fi, and one that's near and dear to my heart, so 30 days is not going to do it justice. So what to write about for the next month? What to write. What.

My coworkers suggested various forms of stories about working in the visual effects business. It's something I know. Of course, it will have to be completely made up, and have no resemblance to any person, living or pixel, as I am not quite ready to retire (ie get fired). But it's given me some ideas, and this is where I'm leaning. I have 2.5 days to figure it out.

And then the madness begins.

Interested? Wanna take the plunge? It's just for a laugh. Like a fun run for cancer, but you're running for yourself, so that in the end, you have a book. It's basically a kick up the ass. No one even has to read it. It doesn't have to be good. In fact, from all I've read, it's supposed to be utter shite. A first draft. You win just by pouring the words into the word counter on the site. If you reach 50,000, you win! Along with everyone else who makes it. All cheering each other on. Good times. You know you want to.

If you do have a moment of madness and sign up, make me your buddy. I need all the encouragement I can get! And I'll do the same for you. My username is lysebeck.

On your mark...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Feeling like a Cliche

Today's a blue day. I'll warn you right now, my disposition is not sunny. It's raining, I'm tired, I have ground hog day syndrome, and yet, there's a burning fire of discontentment inside me that won't let me rest. I hate that. I want it to piss off and let me be content to try to live a mediocre, less than average life. But no. I have bought into all the crap that says "Live today as if it's your last." "Live a life of meaning." "Do something that scares you every day." "Shoot for the stars and land on the moon." "If you're going to try, go all the way." "Rejoice in the road less traveled."

Well f*ck yous.

Today is a day like many others. A day that will be forgotten amongst the endless forgettable days I have lived. It is not an extraordinary life I lead today. I have done nothing I'm proud of, or scared of, except maybe drink some iffy milk past it's expiry date. There are no stars to shoot for, on account of the gray overcast sky. And screw that road less traveled. No one's on it for a reason. It sucks.

I warned you. I get like this sometimes. You know, the whole, "What's the point?" argument.

The good news is that this too, as everything, shall pass. I will forget this forgettable day. I will laugh at something ridiculous, I will cry at something happy, and I will feel the wonderful amazement in all that is possible from one little life. I will be so bloody full of good cheer and giggles that you, and I, may wonder who the hell it was that posted this miserable drivel.

But not today. Today I feel the need to shit on optimism. I am enjoying pissing downstream (I'm blue, not stupid) in the winds of hope. Screw ambition. Ya, baby, feels good to be a lazy bad ass no-goonick sometimes. Where's that drink?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

stay loose and write fast

About 10 days ago (Damn, feels A LOT longer!?), I answered a post on Inktip for a Canadian writer, and sent in my script as a writing sample, and got a contract (thanks Steven at the guild for all the great advice!) to write a one hour action movie for TV. It still makes me giggle, as A) I've never written for TV before B) the audience is all male, blue collar, beer drinking, fight loving, sports lovers. C) They start shooting in Nov. Which is when we deliver the effects for Avatar, and I'm already working 70 hour weeks without the writing gig. But when it rains...

And what the hell, you can sleep when you're dead, which, at this rate, might come sooner than I think.

But I'm having a blast. Despite the fact that I'm writing this on spec and as a writer for hire (read free till they use it, and I own nothing) this has been an invaluable experience for me as a writer. Quick story changes, working with notes from the producer/network, trying to write what they want to see, in a style in which they want to have it in.

And for the first time, I'm working with a "consultant" (not exactly writing partner, as I still write everything, and the producer has said there is no credit available for him, but of course, i'll split my dosh with him if we get paid) to help me out. He's a marial arts expert and a fight correographer. As well as an ex-prison guard and ex-cop. ha! How awesome this that?! So, he's agreed to help me, and it's been awesome to work with him, bounce ideas around and get some cool action scenes from him. I think knowing exactly what our arrangement was from the get-go, and who was doing what, playing on each other strengths, has really made this work. We're both having a laugh.

And I love action movies. Seriously, I will nearly every time, pick an action movie over any others to go see. And I love writing action. You can let your imagination run so crazy, and do lots of dumb ass sh*t. It's fun. And my producer has told me that there can't be enough action. Our audience doesn't want a lot of chit chat or any of that drama nonscence. Fair enough.

But the story isn't quite locked down, although I have complete the first 45 page draft. We're not quite sure exactly how to play our main character. It reminds me of many Fox movies I've worked on. It's not decided until it's done. And it's not done until we run out of time. That's cool. I can stay open. And write like the ever changing wind.

I'm planning some time off when it's all over (Dec??) to calmly work in my garden.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Belated report on an awesome day

I have lost all sense of time. I think the workshop was last week... no wait... the week before. Nevermind, it was awesome. The NZWG put this workshop together (many thanks Steven, Sean and Benedict!). And here's how it went...

First up was Linda Niccol, co-writer for "Second Hand Wedding". If you've never seen it, you should. It's adorable. Linda gave us some gems for writing for low budget. I was pretty engrosed in what she was saying at the time, so didn't make many notes. But a few tips stood out to me...

1) It's easier to get investors to come on board if there's nothing too controversial in the story, and no sex, no drugs, no swearing. (Shit. I love swearing.) No big sets, no special set dressing, no special effects, limited characters and limited extras.

2) Write to location. It's easier to write scenes for low budget if you have a particular, feasible location in mind.

3) Make the story character based. Make memorable characters. Add drama and conflict, with backstories, and lots of layering for the characters.

4) A good logline, synopsis and treatment are escential for marketing and getting financing. Be creative with your marketing. Put yourself and the project out there. Note: Linda took an add out (she's in advertising) and that's how they got an investor. haha!! Cool.

Linda was charming and funny, and a pleasure to listen to. She answered questions with an openess and honesty that was much appreciated.

Next up was Steven, our fearless leader of the NZWG talking about contracts and dispute resolution. He made this potentially dry section of the day full of laughs and valuable info, that even the most un-business-minded writer would have to stop and take notice. Steven mentioned a few things that I'd never even heard of, like "moral rights" of the writer. Which apparently, is one of the first things you have to give up, but hey, good to know what it is you're giving up. Basically what I got from the contracts section was IF I ever get to that point, I should send my contract to Steven for him to check before signing anything. Awesome.

Then came the conflict resolution tips. And I liked them so much, as I think they are good rules for life, I wrote them down, and will include them all. (the stuff in parenthasis are my little additions. I couldn't help myself.)

1) Be calm and assertive. (a powerfully rare combo.)
2) Have all the facts at hand, in writing. Keep coorespondance and timelines. Be organized. Ducks in a row.
3) Secure an agreement that there is a problem to be resolved. (God, how horrible it would be to be the one in angst, and no one cares!)
4) Work towards a resolution (not just looking for an ear to moan to)
5) Never underestimate the power of shutting up. (I bloody love this point! Must try to take this one on board more.)
6) Know what you want. Know what matters the most short term and long term. (seems obvious, and yet...)
7) Know what comprimises you're willing to make. (ah, yes... comprimises. Everyone's got to give a little bit.)
8) Seek mediation sooner than later. (don't let things fester. It will get infected, and then you'll just need a bigger needle.)
9) Approach the mediations proffessionally. (don't be a drama queen, or a pathetic bitter person)
10) Set a time frame to meet. Be realistic and fair to both parties. (Don't make the date on your mortal enemies wedding day.)
11) Agree to disagree on stuff. And then LET IT GO. (No one likes a vengeful, bitter whiner. And it's not good for your insides. Live and learn.)
12) The solution must be acceptable to both parties. (fighting is a two way street. Know that the situation didn't blossom into this mess without some help from you.)

Then we chowed down on pizza (thanks Steven) while chatting with enthusiasm. There was lots of great energy in the room at this point. I was feeling buzzy myself.

Next up was Graeme Tetley. After hearing this man talk, and enjoying his energy, I have become a most enthusiastic fan. I am late to this party, joining his many long standing fans. He has had 7 films made, and more are under his bed. I wrote very litte in my notebook while Graeme was talking. I was too engrossed. But I did scrawl a few things quickly...

Often the contradictions that you find in research are as interesting as the commonalities. (Here he was talking of the interviews and accounts that he gathered when researching for "Out of the Blue". I thought this idea was facinating.)

Graeme likes using music in scripts. (I'd never really thought of that.)

And when being asked to do some revision which you think is a load of shite, the best thing do to is "smile and nod". Awesome.

Graeme had much more to say, stories were told, and advise was given. But I was caught up in the moment, and as I have such a poor memory, this is all I can recount.

Our last session was on pitching, with Jane Wrightson (a big cheese at NZ On Air) and Paul Swadel (a new big cheese at the FIlm Commission). You could feel the power emulating...

I took the most notes here, not because it was any less interesting. But there was a lot of practical advice and lists given that were easy to write down. Valuable as.

Paul gave me my latest moto... "RTFO" which is Refuse to fuck off. I like it.

Paul gave these pointers on pitching...

1) Know who you're pitching to
2) Why are you there? (not sure how you wouldn't know this... to get your film made, no?)
3) Give the person you're pitching to the tools to take the pitch to the next level (their boss)
4) Say your name and the name of your project often.
5) Slow down and punctuate.
6) Take notes.
7) Pleasentries are important. (I tried that once, and mentioned how much I enjoyed his previous movie to a producer, but turned out he hated it! oops.)
8) Show your credentials, don't undersell yourself, but stay humble. (ah... credentials...if only I had some to show.)
9) Tell the story. Say the genre, the hook, the main characters, what happens, the conflicts and what's at stake.
10) Good to get them asking questions. Get them engaged.
11) Get a commitment for when they'll read/call.

A few other pointers that came up in the discussion...

Structure of the script is important (ha! I say.)

Know why is your idea different. Know what the idea is. What your story is about. (you know, I thought I knew... and then when I tried to tell someone, I floundered. I think this is a really important point. try to tell someone, anyone, a random person on the street is ok, what your story is about. See how you do. In fact, several books I've read on screenwriting, and selling it, tell you do to this. I see why. It will show a multitude of sins.)

Don't bash other projects. (doh!)

Write what you love, and let that love and enthusiasm come across in the pitch. (not just your shaking hands and bundle of nerves. Focus on the story, and not the importance of your presentation of the story. I tell myself...)

Know the audience for the film your writing. (I can't believe how often this question has been asked of me. I always think... it's it obvious?! But I guess they want to hear it from you...)

Loglines are crucial. Make sure the logline matches the script. This will tell if you really know what your story is about.

A synopsis should say who, what they want, and how do they get it in 4 paragraphs.
1) 1st act.
2) 2nd act, beginning
3) 2nd act, end
4) the end

(which I hate to admitt this, but it goes to prove Malcolm's theory that the 3 act structure is in fact, a 4 act structure. OK, Malcolm, but it's still a structure!!)

12 points to tentpole moments. (OK, I don't really know what this means, but I wrote it down, so it must have seemed important. Can anyone shed some light please?)

It's important to appear proffessional, and confident that you can pull off the idea.

The Film Commission looks for writers notes which are 2-6 pages of the writer talking about where the story comes from, and what was the passion for telling this story. It should be written by the writer, and can include notes from feedback sessions, etc. (I think this is brilliant!! You get to straight talk all the morality and preachiness that you so pain stakingly had to leave out of the script, and just infer and hope that someone got it. You get to talk of the reason that you wanted to write this script, and what gave you the idea. I never thought anyone would actually give a crap about this. It never seems to come up, ever. And I always wonder why. I love to hear this stuff. What the motivation was for the script in the first place. And low and behold... the Film Commission wants to hear your inner workings. Awesome!!)

Some things that the writer's notes could include are:

1) character and structure
2) Script assessment and what the writer will do about it.
3) the forward plan
4) outline the problems with the script, and if there's any ideas on how to fix these problems (I don't know about this one... both Jane and Paul were quite enthusiastic about this point. But I think why would a writer submit something that they thought still had problems. Wouldn't you want to re-write and try to work all that out before you shot one of your silver arrows?)

More tips included:

- It's good to know what the budget is for the film. Perhaps in a cover letter from the producer.

- Make the inciting incident happen early.

- Make sure your protagonist is active an on a journey. No passive protags.

- Go to events held for producers or directors, like Spada confrences. You'll be the only writer there. (the trick is to be able to talk to them and not stand in the corner as some writers tend to do...)

Some advice for low budget (under $200K)
- no night shoots (I hadn't thought of that one)
- limited chars
- no special effects
- 1-2 locations. (wow, that's sparce!)

Then there was some chat about why the Film Commission needs a producer attached to a project before they'll look at it, and it all kind of went a bit strange and then quiet. My guess is so that they can weed out the crap scripts, as a producer won't want to support one of those either. Otherwise, think of all the drivel that they'd have to read... Unpopular to say, but I can't say that I blame them really. Doh!

And that was the day. It was great. I was buzzing from the energy of it all. A few of us went for a drink after, and buzzed some more. I was inspired. I am thinking of tackling a NZ story next. I say thinking and tackling, because I'm Canadian. I feel cheeky writing a NZ story. But I am thinking of writing about a Canadian living in NZ. A low budget film. Seems to be the call of the day.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ready for the next wave...

It occurred to me today, that now that my re-write is done, I suddenly have spare time! I slept in until 6:15am today. Luxury. I had an invigorating run (read: struggle up the hill) with the dogs. I made breakfast. And what I wasn't doing, was working on my script. I wasn't reading it for the 100th time. Making notes, tweaking dialogue. I didn't turn on my computer. I didn't even go into the office. It felt strange.

So now... I plot. And send. And wait. And hope. And plot some more. And send some more.

I have some friends who are helping me plot and send. Bless their cotton pickins.

And here's the kicker. I think that the film making industry is ready to look at specs again. At original ideas. In case you've forgotten, "original" means something that hasn't been done before, new ideas, not a rehash of a comic book, a bad tv series from the 80's or a toy franchise. New heroes. New concepts. Out-on-a-limb, taking a chance, no merchandising made yet, stories. Ones that make us feel something more than motion sickness. Ones that (god forbid!) encourage us to think. Ones that the studios can't predict how much money they will make on the opening weekend.

I say that the time has come because there's been talk. Noise is being made about how we, the movie going public, and we, the ones involved in film making, have had enough of this regurgitated drivel. It was fun, it served it's purpose in a financially scared market, but it's time is up. We need to move on. We're starved for something original. Our juices are flowing. A new day is rising. Film critics, renown directors, and certainly writers are all ready for the next wave. Not to mention the public with their ticket purchasing power. And where there's a demand, there is product.

The question is will the studios change with the times and return to a more risky, but innovative approach? Or is there a bigger change a-foot in movie making in general? Will movie makers forge on ahead, as some have been doing recently, and make movies their own way? Without the studios. Here's two examples of two such director/producers. My humble hat off to both for their passion and their drive to give us something wonderful and original.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What happened to Wed, Thurs and Friday???

The days are starting to blend. I have to focus really hard to remember what month we're in. I'm gaining weight. It must be deadline time. Working 60-70 hrs/week now in my paying job. Feeling the pressure sinking in behind my eyes. 16 more weeks of this. Now, I'm not complaining... much. This is the wave in vfx. You ride it or get off. But I am having trouble finding the energy to finish the next draft of my script. That said, motivation is high. Aug 1st is the Page Awards next announcement for the semi-finals. Now, I've not got much hope for moving into that, BUT if I did, then I can submit a new draft, so being a good boy scout, I'm planning on being prepared. Plus, for extra motivation, my friend and producer is pushing me to get her the next draft, so she can push it. There's real motivation for you. So I plan to get my ass out of work at a decent hour today (yes, it's Saturday) and sit down at my desk, and lock myself away until the thing's "done" like dinner. The good news is, after an incredibly beneficial feedback session with my writing group pals, I have a very clear idea of what needs to be addressed. Gratitude abound. And the changes, if I can pull them off, will finally make me happy with the story I'm trying to tell. Good as gold.

Monday, July 6, 2009


What's your take on contests? Are they worth it? Do they work? How high do you have to place in order for anyone to notice?

I got my name on a contest website. Quarter finals. Top 10%. 4400-ish enteries. If I go any further, then I can submit my shiny new draft. If I don't, then I'm happy that it made it as far as it has. I guess. Well, not really. That's kinda bull shit. I want to win. God, I've entered a slew of contests this year, spent a small fortune, and I'm really not sure yet if it was a smart investment.

I believe that we are entering contest announcement season.

It has me checking my emails like a Russian mail order bride.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How far do you need to go to be good?

Writing a screenplay is damn complicated. No revelation there. But just how complicated does it have to get to be good? I don't mean the obvious things, the 3 acts, the inciting incident, the turning point, blah blah. That's the skeleton. I'm talking about the subtleties, the layers of juicy meat. The stuff that makes a story go from good to can’t-put-it-down-except-to-grab-a-tissue great.

I find the more I learn about screen writing, the more impossible it seems to be able to pull it off. There's so much to orchestrate. At times I feel like a tone deaf composer of a symphony orchestra hoping my music won’t make ears bleed. Each time I think I’ve got something that works, I realize I haven’t done as much as I could or should.

So what do I always do when I'm overwhelmed? I make a list.

Here's my new list of 10 things a screenplay must do if it’s to have a chance at being great. It's a compilation of tips I’ve gotten from various books, blogs, sites and feedback over the past six months, when I actually started to try to sell a script. I realize that this is when I started to learn the finer points of screenwriting, and just how far you need to go to be good.

1) Write a good logline, preferably before you write your script. If the logline isn’t clear and compelling, chances are the script won't be either. Irony and opposing forces are key to a good logline, and a good story.

2) Make sure the story tells the hero's story. The hero must ultimately resolve the conflict. The hero must have a flaw(s) that prevents him from getting what he wants. The hero should be far from perfect, but incredibly engaging/endearing.

3) Do a Beat Sheet. It will show a multitude of sins. There are a lot of templates out there. Any one will do. It’s a tedious task, but well worth the pain.

4) Make sure the supporting characters have interesting, full stories with conflicts of their own. Intertwine these with the hero's story as much as possible.

5)Each character must have a unique voice. If the character’s names can be swapped for another with the same dialogue, it’s not unique.

6) No cookie cutter bad guys. Make them interesting (even likeable, or sympathetic?). Make them evoke emotions. (Side note: I recently saw a movie where the antagonist was more likeable than the protagonist! He was in the wrong, but he was very endearing!)

7) The subplots (gotta have em!) should have the same story structure as the main plot. Beginning, middle and end with all the bells and whistles in between.

8) Build the conflict over the course of the story. Chart a graph of the conflict level of each scene (I discovered colour coded scene tags in Final Draft 8!). It should be a steady rise with several big peeks. Make the audience care enough to hold their breath. Every scene must have conflict or at least move the story forward with something not seen before. If not, get rid of it. There's no story without drama, and no drama without conflict.*

9) Write one line of dialogue for the hero that shows who they are; sums them up.* (Famous one liners from movies are often this line of dialogue! Eg. “I’ll be back.”; “Make my day.”; “Yippie Kayay Mother-F***er”.)

10) Cut, cut and then cut some more. It’s amazing how much useless, self-indulgent drivel can creep into a good story. This means reading your script many, many times.

And if that’s not enough… just when you think "Right, I’ve got it. I’m good." check out this “reader’s checklist” written by Terry Rossio. Brace yourself. It's long.

I might always feel that I could do more fine-tuning, but at some point, I’ll have to feel I’ve gone far enough to be able to move onto the next one, taking all my hard earned experience with me. Hopefully I’ll do a lot less learning from my mistakes. One thing’s for sure, the first draft is allowed to be total crap. In fact, it’s supposed to be. It’s in the re-writes that a story truly comes together. That’s when the double trouble fun really begins.

Obviously, none of these concepts are actually mine, so I felt the need to note the more recent references for my list. Some things I've adopted for my list almost verbatim from "rewrite", indicated with a *.

“rewrite” by Paul Chitlik (it's a bit campy, but man, it's worth the read, and doing the exercises.)
“Breakfast with Sharks” by Michael Lent (about selling a script, but it's so much more.)
“Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder (my current enjoyable bedtime reading. Got the irony note about loglines from this book.) (just for his general awesomeness! Nothing here was actually from his site, but his site is an inspiration and a wealth of insights.) (because it’s so damn funny!)

And all the ever so appreciated feedback I’ve gotten from writers, producers and directors. They shall remain nameless to protect the innocent (me!).

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

should you write what you're passionate about, or what will sell?

I guess first off, it's good to know if you care if what you write will sell. If not, then off you go, write about the migratory patterns of butterflies all you like. Why their wings are spotted. How far they have to go. Someone might be interested. I won't be. But you'll be happy. And that's big.

But if you do want to sell something, then I don't see what's wrong with checking what the movie-buying people are interested in spending their money on. Less and less movies are being made right now. The recession is in full force in Hollywood. Big budget summer tentpole movies are not getting green-lit like they have been in the past. Studios are more cautious, going for the sequels, and the romantic comedies. Sure things or low budget. Feel good flicks in times when people need their spirits lifted.

I'm not saying that if you have desire to write about a man who losses his job, finds his wife in bed with his best friend, and he can't find a reaosn to live, then gets cancer, only to discover he doesn't want to die, and then dies... that you shouldn't write it. But I'm not sure it'll be very popular. Even if it's brilliant. Not in today's climate.

But I do think it's possible to take something that you're passionate about, and weave a tale around that, which will give people hope, and perhaps get you a lovely sale.

Take that damn migratory pattern. Make the main character a cute little monarch who can't make it the whole way in time, gets lost, has adventures to show him the value of tradition and the independance courage brings, and finally finds his way with the help of a dolphin and a crusty old seagul to the big ass once a year migration party in the amazon (or wherever the hell it is)... you've writen about your passion, given people what they want, and disney just might be interested.

I think the joy in telling a well crafted story can take many forms. Why not stear it in the direction of what people want to hear?

Are we running away or towards? And does it really matter?

I've become facinated with the WoW phenomenon. In case you have been stuck under a rock in the gaming world, that's "World of Warcraft", and it's apparently more addictive than cocaine. It's a MMORPG which is a 'massively multiplayer online role-playing game'. No joke. It's huger than huge. I've heard tales of it ruining people's lives, causing divorce, careers sufferning, and health problems all because of this addiction. It's certainly changing people's lives, and our society. For better or for worse. Here's how it works: You subscribe to the game, you don't buy it. You can choose which kind of gameplay you want, which society you belong to, and what class you will be. Right there, it's better than life. In life, you're born into these things, and changing your lot in life takes a huge effort. In WoW, you just pay a fee if you want to try something new. There is a whole world in there. Your character can gain knowledge, skills, talents, and become more developed. You go on quests. You can trade things. You can make money. And to get the more complicated gameplay, you can team up with a group, and everyone's class works together to achieve a goal. It's brilliant. It's progressive and it's rewarding. Unlike life a lot of the time. I can see why this has become such an international craze. China seems to be the most addicted, as a nation. I'm sure that says something about the quality of life in WoW, vs the quality of life in China. And people are making money for real, in the real world, by being good in the game, or at least playing it so much, that they can't help but get things that other people want. Desperately. Or so I've heard.

Then I read a quote from a comment on John August's site, who btw, has a post that had me in stitches, but was quite illuminating, as he's known to do. "Seven things I learned from World of Warcraft. The quote was from Sean William Menzies and he said "We live in a society so rich that grown men can afford to stay boys much longer than they should."

Now I don't know about you, but all this kind of saddens me in a way. Should grown men not be allowed to stay boys if they can? I supposed if they have responsibilities that they're shirking, like children or dogs, then sure. But I was all for Peter Pan never growing up. He had a lovely life, flying around and fighting with pirates. Is society as we know it, stifling our playful side? The mundane must do's, the people pleasing and the struggle to carve out a niche for yourself, one that most people aren't satisfied with, can get a bit tedious after a while. Is this why so many people have become addicted to a world where you can actually be someone you want to be, and get someplace you want to go while having fun doing it? Are we that unsatisfied with our real lives? And if we are, then why do so few people do anything about changing it? Why can we put massive efforts into our avatar's lives, but not our own? It is because we don't have to actually get our asses off a chair in WoW? Is it because we don't actually have to really learn how to do things? It's certainly a quicker route to success. Have we really become the instant-satisfaction-pill-poppers that don't need the satisfaction of true knowledge, or true discovery, or real experiences? Are the rewards no longer sufficient for the effort required? Are we burned out on trying so damn hard and not getting anywhere? Have our expectations for what we think we should be getting out of life, exceeded what's realistic and available, and so we seek it in a place where there's an unlimited supply of potential success, even if it's just a game? Have our real lives become that unsatisfying?

BUT the need for escapism hasn't changed. People have always loved books, movies, and soap operas. We all escape from our lives in different ways. Perhaps writing is a way as well. I escape into worlds I've created, with people that I love, but aren't real. Is that so different? I don't think so.

So, what's changed? Technology. And this is just the beginning of what will become available. With the wild success of WoW, and technology racing into the future faster than we can keep up, what is around the corner to take us away from it all? Will our world become fragmented into two places? The real world, and the virtual world. Escapism will be taken to new highs. Which do you think will be a better place to live?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

my new bible.

I just finished reading "Breakfast with Sharks". (A Screenwriter's Guide to Getting the Meeting, Nailing the Pitch, Signing the Deal, and Navigating the Murky Waters of Hollywood) by Michael Lent.


It answered questions I never even knew I had. It prepared me for some inevitable tests of patience, and just when I start to think I am better off trying to fly to the moon than sell a script, he pulls me back in to thinking I can do it. It talks about how to make your script stand out, how to survive pitch meetings, agents, managers, studios, the readers, contracts, writing groups, indies and much, much more. I feel wiser, better armed and equip and encouraged after reading it. I find that I'm quoting him now, with lines like "It takes 5 years for an overnight success, and 10 years for a career in screenwriting." (although to be fair, I think he was quoting someone else who gave him that advise) and my other favorite is that people don't fail in screenwriting, they just give up. I love that because I'm no quitter.

I'm going to go through the book again, and highlight all the points that I need to keep in mind. Like how NOT to submit a query letter. Damn! I just hope that the ones I already sent prior to reading the bible are as forgettable as they are wrong. So very wrong. What Mr. Lent says makes perfect sense. But without experience or success, I doubt I would have ever figured it out on my own.

Maybe it's a personal thing. Maybe I really needed to hear what he had to say. But it's an easy read, and full of practical, useful info for trying to sell a script. Not just for Hollywood (although that's the focus for sure) but for trying to get a career in screenwriting. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

a grand new perspective

Elizabeth Gilbert is my new heroine.

I was visiting John August's site ( to have a poke around as you do, and he posted this:

saying this:
Terrific talk by Elizabeth Gilbert from the TED series. Nineteen minutes well spent.

So I spent it. I got so much more than I bargained for.

I think when the full weight of this talk sinks in, I will view it as the best 19 minutes I've spent on my writing or any creative endeavor I've undertaken. Or perhaps it's that I've been the subject of the undertaking. I don't only relate to what she said, I feel lifted from intense burden and have been given the freedom to view the creative process in a magical new light. Ole, Elizabeth Gilbert. You bloody rock.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Write Help

I love the internet. I may have mentioned this before.

I recently took an online course on how to write a treatment from the Writer's University. The course was good, but the best part was that I "met" some writers who are incredibly supportive, and were a tremendous source of great feedback. We've decided to start up a group to keep in touch and continue to help each other in our writing endeavors. Wicked.

I checked out google's groups, and they couldn't make it any easier. I have started a group called "The Write Help" for writers, where only the members of the group can see the posts. It's specifically set up to get and give help to and from writers. Feedback on loglines, synopsis, treatments, outlines, or even scripts. There are no rules for the group. Other than you must be supportive in your feedback (no obnoxiousness). Hopefully there will be enough people who want to join the group that when a writer needs help there will be someone available to give it.

There is nothing like getting feedback on your writing from other writers. And giving feedback as well. It can help you see the forest from the trees, know if you're being funny or just not, and identify if certain subtlties work or are just mirages in the desert that only you can see. And all the while, share a basic understand of the painful need to tell a good story. If you have such a group, they will even clap at your successes, and frown at your rejections. That's gold right there.

Not to mention (as I procede to do just that), it's a great intrem step for sending out your material to the cold, harsh world. Where they will not sympathise with or support your efforts. They will happily rip your script shreds, or simply not give a shit after the first 10 pages, and use it to fill their bin.

Unless you're ready. Unless, with the suggestions from your writer's group, you've honed your plot, given your characters even more heart, and you've writen the greatest story of all time. Who will you thank at the oscars? That's right. Your writing group. ;)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lesson #548 - A Good Editor is Crucial

I've heard this countless times. Every book I've read on how to sell your script, they say "make sure there are no typos". Every contest that I've entered, they say "make sure there are no typos".

I was convinced that I was typo-free. I had several people check it, and I fixed all that they reported. In fact, I was so confident that I was good to go, that I've been sending and entering this script all over the place. Then a friend, who turns out to be an amazing editor, read it. And he found a shameful number of typos. And phrase repetition. And characters who were not CAP'ed when first introduced. And more that I'm just too embarrased to share.

After a huge dose of gratitude to him, I realized that a good editor is gold. Not everyone is going to spot these indescresions. In fact, I venture to say, the average person reading a script won't catch much. Or they will notice, but not take the time and effort (and it is time consuming, and a huge effort) to make a note, and pass it on.

I shudder to think that there are professionals out there (hopefully) reading my script as it is now. I wish I could swap them all out for my shiney new clean-as-a-whistle version. But I've misplaced my magic wand. Obviously.

Many of these mistakes I could have tried to catch myself, if I re-read my script (for the bloody hundreth time) as an editor, instead of a writer. And now that I have discovered my friend is a brilliant editor, I shall abuse him as much as he will allow. It might mean the difference between looking professinal, and looking like a total country bumbkin.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A break from life

Yesterday was my birthday. I tell you this as a way of explaining myself. Let me back track a little.

I have a dear friend who is getting an undeserved beating from life right now. My mother's house was just robbed, her passport stolen just before we fly to my sister's wedding. Another close friend is struggling with nastiness all around her, to the extreme where she's decided to move countries. I could go on. But it's too depressing. I tell them to be good to themselves. To be generous and kind towards themselves, and give themselves lots of slack.

So, back to my birthday. I thought it was a good time to take a page from my own book of advise and take a day just for myself. A completely selfish day. Here's how it went...

It was Thursday. I took the day off work. Lovely walk in the park with the dogs, then I sat on my computer for a few hours, doddling through various sites and emails. Birthday cards and wishes. Finding info for my mom on getting a new passport. Printing a friend's script, etc. Then I hopped in my car, and went to town. I don't go to town often. Certainly for no reason, with no goal. It was a goergous sunny day. I went to my favorite shoe shop on Courtney Place. (yes, I am a girl!) and bought the perfect pair of boots. I wish I could explain to you men what that feels like. It's like the heavens just opened up, and sprinkled happy dust all over you, while playing harps that would make your heart burst. Wearing my new boots of joy out of the store, I walked all the way down Lampton Quay, get some more lovely birthday texts, poking in and out of here and there, book shops, the chocolate shop (where the wonderful chocolate lady gave me free chocolates on account of my birthday!!) all the way to NZ immigration. I had to get my residence sticker transfered to my new passport. I waited, and waited, but happily read my friend's script while waiting for number 8 to be called. Once that was acheived, I read some more while I waited for number 107 to be called. To be honest, not long enough for more than about 10 pages. Not bad. When I get to the desk, the lovely INZ lady tells me that my 2 year visa has expired (it's been 2 years!! Crickey!), so she can't give me a new one. I felt sick. I am traveling in less than a month (sister's wedding). She smiled and said I'll just have to give you your permanent reisdence visa. I couldn't believe my ears. "Can you do that?" She grinned. "Oh ya. We can do that." And she did. In no time at all, I became a full indefinate resident of New Zealand. Wicked cool! I went on my very merry way. Down to one of my favorite cafes, and had a big latte and a bowl of fries for lunch. Not my usual lunch, but today, all bets were off! I sat in the sun, dipping salty fries into aole dip, and read my friend's script. I felt fine. Once I'd had my fill of coffee and grease, I packed up and walked back towards the car, pitstopping into more shops and buying a few more wonderful treats, including a fantastic picture book on NZ history, (which will serve me tremendously for my next script!). I make it back to the Reading Cinemas just in time to catch "The Watchmen" at 4pm. Which I did. I was one of 5 people in the audience. God I love that. After the show, I go home, quickly change, and Pete whisks me off to our favorite restaurant for an incredible dinner. I go to bed completely stuffed and content.

I know that there is a lot of shit in the world. Life can be so unfair, and create such heartache. We live in chaos without things making much sence, we are programmed to persevere, but not necessarily to the ends of being happy. But every now and then, you have to just say to hell with it all, and have yourself a most awesome day. A day that you do whatever you want, not what you should. That you act like a tourist in your own city, that you take a long drive without a destination, that you do whatever you feel like, with a completey self serving frame of mind. These rare sort of days remind us why we struggle so hard. They remind us that life can be grand. That change is inevitable. Anything is possible. You can decide to take this day just for you. Take a break from life. It helps to feel possibilities and refresh your perspective.

I hightly recommend it.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pitch Night - Totally Anti-Climactic!

OH. MY. GOD. What a panic. So, here's how it worked... in a private back room of the Southern Cross (bar and restuarant) three tables were set up in a semi-circle at one end of the room, with the Pitchees sitting at each one. At the other end of the room were all the pitchers. Chatting nervously, trying to remain calm. Or maybe that was just me. I had downed a half a bottle of rescue remedy on the way, which actually did help. I could feel my insides trying to panic, but were just not able to muster enough energy. The rules were given... each pitch got three minutes. Then you switched. The three minutes would be strictly enforced. And the first up were two names I didn't know, and me. Oh shit! Which is actually what slipped out for all to hear. Ops. But come on! I'd never done this before, and was hoping that I could watch at least one round so I could better prepare myself! No such luck. Evil people prepared that list. I quickly took off my coat, and tried to gather my visual aids, but that apparetnly was eating into my first 3 minutes. I sat down, and managed to get out my TV series pitch notes, and luckily for me, the guy I was pitching to (which was a last minute replacement that I had no idea who he was!) was really nice!! I somehow got through my pitch. Sean, the stopwatch keeper announced 30 seconds remaining, which was great, and I hurried up the last bit of my pitch, to get it all out just in time. The lovely man asked me a hurried question, I gave a hurried reply, and then I stuffed all my visual aids into my bag and moved onto my right - which bloody way was right? I saw the only desk left available and figured that was it.) The Film guy. He'd done a lot of films, and I was nervous as hell to pitch my script to him. I told him I loved "River Queen" and he rolled his eyes, saying that was a whole other conversation. HAHA! Right. Pressing on, I had a logline typed out on a card to give him at the end of my pitch, but without thinking, I shoved it in his face, and he was forced to read it! Nice start to a "pitch". Make him read something. DOH! I found my pitch notes, and was off to a bumpy start, but managed to get it all in. Poor guy. I'm sure he felt like he was watching a huricane. I don't know if I even made sense. He seemed to nod a few times, so I'm guessing I might have. Then ops! 30 seconds, and I hadn't come to the end of my story... I rushed along, and blurted out the end, before time was out. I offered for him to keep the card, which somehow I felt was presumptuous, but he kept it anyway, and I was off to the next table, back to my TV series. At this point, I'm thinking this is stupidly funny. It all felt quite riduculous actually. I greeted the last group with a cheeky grin. I pulled out my TV series props and notes. I was off and running again. I got through the pitch, and they were both lovely. Smiling and nodding. The lady asked me a good question. I left them a post card with my info and a brief blurb about the show. AND I WAS DONE. 9 minutes. Here's your coat, what's your hurry? Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. I had forgotten to give the first TV guy his post card. I didn't even get to give them the whole package I'd carefully prepared. In a nice plastic folder. They were still sitting in my briefcase, untouched. I had no idea what just happened. I felt the need to run away. Which I did. All I could think about was a much deserved glass of wine. As I was driving away, it occured to me, I'd just let a bar! I could have gotten a drink, and then gone back in and watched how other people pitched! What an idiot!! But by then, I was half way home, and it felt just too silly to turn around. Crap! I was spent. I felt somehow ripped off. I'd prepared hard for this night for a week. And it was over all said and done in a half an hour. Litereally. I checked. I felt like it was a blind date gone bad. And I had to find the door myself, without even a kiss good night. I have no idea if my pitches were good or if they stank. I guess if I hear nothing from any of them, then I have my answer. But that's like sitting by the phone waiting to see if the bad date calls me. I'll take it as the learning experience it was, and move on. Well, like my friend Charlotte said, it helped me hone my story down to one page. Now if anyone asks me what my story is about, I can quickly tell them with confidence. And she's right. I also got a good logline out of it. That will serve me well. Will I do another pitch night? Like a glutton for punishment, damn straight I will.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Pitch Day

I think I'm as ready as I'll ever be for my first pitch session. A few practice runs at lunch with Pete and Charlotte and bob's your uncle. Good to go. To be honest, I'm just looking forward to it being over now. It's completely distracted me all week, to the point of missing a meeting I really shouldn't have missed. Damn.

In a companion article on Pitching by Christopher Lockhart (again thanks Julian for sending me the link!) he had many words of wisdom that I shall try to follow tonight. Here are my crib notes from the article: "The Construction of a Pitch"

  • Be Organized.
  • hit the most crucial aspects of the story.
  • Blossom from rudimentary to more complex.
  • Avoid the desire to tell too much.
  • Use visual aids to provide greater comprehension.
  • Don't express the theme of the piece.
  • "Less is More"

And here's his recommended Pitch Order:

- Present the Genre (very important)
- Open with a question or an "imagine" scenario to engage them.
- Present the rudimentary storyline - the logline.
- Introduce the Protagonist. Can include the fundamentals of the protag's arc
- Then go into a more detailed account of the story throughline.
  • Take the simple route.
  • Convey the major conflicts
  • take the story to the conclusion
- AFTER the beg/middle/end, then you can add some details.

There seem to be as many rules to selling a script as there are to writing one. I guess it's like learning new terminology at a new job. Once you know how it works, it becomes second nature, and you forget about all the restrictions, and get on with the task at hand.

Still, does sort of make me want to work on my novel instead. ;P

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the elusive log line

Exercise 2 of my online class... write a log line for your story.

Thanks to Julian, and Christopher Lockhart, I knew a lot more about log lines than I had before, which was nothing. I made a few notes from Mr. Lockhart's article called "I wrote a 120 page script but I can't write a logline: The Construction of a Logline".

Logline must have three main things.
Who is the story about (the protaganist)
What he strives for (his goal)
What stands in his way (Antagonistic force)

Who: DO NOT use character names. (Doh! The first thing I changed in my logline after reading this article!) Use well chosen adjectives for the character.
Goal: find the ONE major goal. This is triggered by the inciting incident, or the turning point.
Conflict: what prevents the protag from reaching his goal.

Some tips:
Use visual/external aesthetics
Makes ure the Protag initiates the essential action of the story
For an ensemble, better to focus on one protag, or central character than the ensemble.
Physical goals ("Hero Archetypes") are prefered in Hollywood over psychological goals.

Sounds easy enough, ya? NO! It's still really hard. But thanks to this and my online class, I have a much improved log line now.

The Tea Group:
A shy bookstore owner has quietly conducted hypnotic readings for years, but when one of the ladies dies, leaving him a fortune, an investigation into his troubled past leaves him struggling to find the courage to face the woman he loves.

Of course, if you have any suggestions, I'm all ears, and grateful for the help!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Social Writer

So since I decided three (??!!) months ago to really try to sell something I've written, I've joined, subscribed, blogged, and entered more than I ever imagined was even available.

I entered the Scriptapaloza Contest, and the Page Awards Contest. I've subscribed to InkTip's magazine, and have been put in their magazine that goes to producers, and listed both scripts on their site, (which I compulsively check to see who's reading my loglines), I joined an online course for how to write treatments, which has become it's own little world unto itself, I joined the New Zealand Writers Guild, and I get The Write Stuff, I love the forum, and have sinced also met with a cool writer's group in Wellington, and will even do a pitch night, I've started this blog, and Karen (friend in LA) and I have started Shrinking Violet Films, I get Storylink, and Final Draft's newletter, and I now have a list of blogs that I just gotta read.

Christ!!! It's wicked cool. Who knew that a writer could so easily become... social!? And the more I find, the more I find, if you know what I mean. People are passing on incredibly usefull info, and I now have more reading material than I know what to do with!

Which makes me wonder... how am I going to find time to actually be reclusive and write!!? I have a new story idea that I'm very excited about. Weekends were the usual time for me to write, and last weekend was completely taken up with the above. Plus, preparing for pitch night.

Next weekend I'll turn off the internet and put all the books away, and say hi to my characters, and close the door on the real world. At least for a day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Log lines, sysnopsis, and treatments.

I've been so focused on learning how to write the actual screenplay, that I've given no thought to log lines, synopsis, or treatments. Turns out they are all crucial to the process of selling a script, they must be highly crafted, and are excruciatingly more difficult than I originally thought they'd be!

Log lines aren't quite as hard. I've done a few versions now, and I think I might be getting the hang of it. Keep it short (1-2 lines), simple, to the point, and leaving them hanging on something they need to know the answer to.

Synopsis are not so easy to grasp. I found some great tips on's site. Here was what they said on one particular synopsis that worked...

1) There is always an interest in a script that can result in many more films, based upon the same premise and characters with a different situation (franchise potential - like the Bond, Mission Impossible, Die Hard, Superman movies, etc).
2) It told the basic idea of the story in a page or less. (The industry standard for a synopsis is usually one page.)
3) Even an idiot could read it and know what the story was about.
4) The development person or producer could easily pitch the story to others (such as: an American James Bond).
5) It did not contain specific details which would factually require further explanation, causing the synopsis to be longer than it should be. Nor did it leave the reader wondering what the writer meant by a particular paragraph or sentence.
6) It did not unnecessarily complicate the explanation of the story by including every important character or detail in the script.

Keep it simple stupid. The KISS principle. BUT... make it intriguing, emotional, commercial, and have that "I gotta read this" quality about it.


Treatments have whole books written on them. I've started reading up on it, but as well, I've signed up for an online course with the Writer's University, which I found through The Writer's Store on Writing the Screenplay Treatment.
It's just started, and so far, so good. There are a dozen or so of us "in" the class, and a mix from everywhere, doing everything. We got our first assignment...

Week One: Exercise 1

Write a brief (1 page) description of the project you’ll be working on for this class. Describe the genre, plot and characters, and discuss the theme – what is this movie about? Write it as if you were telling a friend about your upcoming project – answer the question: “So, what are you writing next?”

I'm late already... I will submit mine at the last minute. Thank God NZ is a day ahead.

The idea is that we'll start with something really crap, and then end up with a brilliant, script-selling treatment. wicked. Bring it on!!

Any tips/thoughts are most welcome on this elusive and tricky writing art form.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

to pitch or not to pitch...

So, there's this pitch meeting next week. I've never done a pitch, but I have pitches, I'm sure of it. I have two completed scripts, and one outline for a TV show, and I'm working on an outline for another script. Or two. I have stuff. I've read up on pitching, I went to a very informative meeting of writers who have pitched. They lived. They even enjoyed it. I know it's a good skill to acquire. I know I should go for the practice. And who the hell knows, right?

Wrong. I keep finding reasons not to go. I know nothing about TV other than the fact that I watch it. I don't know the New Zealand scene of producers/tv folk. I'm a writer damn it, not a shmoozer. I hate shmoozing. I hate selling. Read the damn thing. It will sell itself. Or it won't. But I won't be tourtured by my pounding heart and stammering words, and blank stares from across the table, stifled yawns. Oh god, my worst nightmare.

Which makes me wonder, where the hell did my balls go? I think they up and trotted off without a sound, as I don't remember the exact time I became shit scared of my own shadow. I used to go for it. I used to throw caution to the wind. Ah, screw it. I shall go and pitch my little pounding heart out. Maybe I'll find my missing balls in the process.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

WOWING THE BUYERS: Positioning films in a competitive marketplace

Held at The Film Archive on Taranaki Street in Wellington. It was... enlightening.

"Chaired by NZFC's Tim O'Brien this lunchtime panel discussion will include the following guest speakers: James Brown from UK distribution company Metrodome; Carl Hampe an independent producer and film consultant from LA, formerly Director of Acquisitions at Warner Independent, and Ray Strache, also from Los Angeles, Vice President of Acquisitions at Twentieth Century Fox."

Big Cheeses all of them. Very exciting. As I have such an incredibly appauling memory, I always take notes. If I ever have to remember more than three things, I need a list. That's the rule.

So, here are my crib notes (all VERY Paraphrased! And just the bits I caught or found particualrly interesting) from the panel discussion yesterday. It was an eye opener for me!

Tim: How do you deal with the volume of films that you guys get?

James: I watch everything I get sent. I have no life other than movies.

Ray: We use a lot of filters. People we trust, film festivals... Just to get an idea of the volume, out of 428 films, we bought 4. (I forget the context of this, if it was from a film festival or something else. ops. Told you I had a horrible memory.)

Carl: It's important to raise the profile of your film, so it doesn't get lost in the volume.

Tim: Not lost in the shuffle.

Ray: It's Art vs commerce. There are aprox 600 films at Cannes. We try to think of how much money can this film make?

Tim: What kind of films are you looking for?

James: Our company takes on anything that will make them money. I have a lot of leway, but I can't pick up anything that will loose money. There was a film I loved. A spanish, 2.5 hour film about a little girl who dies of cancer. I loved it, but it won't sell. So I can't buy it.

Ray: There are two kind of releases in the US. A wide release, or a platform release. Platform releases are work of mouth films. Napoleon Dynamite was a platform relelase. Now there were 540 free screenings of that movie to generate word of mouth. We look at a film and say, can I do something with this? Expose it to critiques.

Tim: What about critiques?

Carl: Get your film into festivals. Get critiques to see your movie. He mentioned press kits that he got at festivals to entise him to go see movies. Press kits that included one liners of people who's seen the film and loved it. People who are known in the business. Get a publicist. Get people talking.

James: that doesn't work for us. We are a small company. We need to get films before they reach the critiques and get good reviews, or else we won't be able to afford them. I have to watch a film, and know within a half hour if we should buy it. That way we can get them cheaper, and we're not competing with the bigger distributors.

NOTE TO SELF: Maybe wait for reviews before selling. Don't jump on the first offer. yikes!

(my notes jump a bit here, seems like a segway, but it's just a gap in my notes. But I think the topic turned to what kind of movie are they looking for?)

Ray: People want to be entertained. Times are tough. People want to have fun! Dramas are hard to make work. Comedies are easy to make work, but hard to make! Movies are not for everyone. If someone comes into my office and I ask them who is their target audience and they say everyone, I tell them to get out. You need to get specific with your target market analysis. And you need to make the audience CARE - focus on what you want to make the audience take away with them. Make them "in it" from beginning to end.

Carl: Well, Fox Searchlight focuses on the "Populace" movies. Warners were kind of like the drunken sailors. When they read "Slumdog" it made you feel a little smarter at the end of reading it. Originaly SDM was not happy in the end. He either got the $ or the girl, not both. They made it more "populace" (I think that was the word he was using?)

Ray: ya, it was a hard sell. It was foreign looking (even though it was english) and expensive, so we passed on it.

Carl: We were the drunken sailors and loved it so we made it. We focused on supporting filmmakers.

Ray: We also focus on relationships with filmakers, but it was in the high teens to pick up. As much as we love Danny Boyle.

Carl/Ray: It was in the high teen Millions to pick up. Like closer to 20 Million.

Ray: We like to keep a family of directors. Move them along in their career.

Tim: From a script level, not a finished film. How do small distributors get involved vs studio involvement?

Jamie: We look at anything that comes in. We have only just gotten into pre-bought films. But it's better to go to them when already in production, with a star. It makes it less expensive to buy, as there's already money being used to make it. They don't have to fund the whole thing.

Carl: Hopefully, there will be a new wave of distributors over the next year.

NOTE TO SELF: Christ! Wouldn't that be nice!!

Carl: Meddling comes from trying to make the movie work. Smaller distributors can't afford to re-do movies.

Ray: Well, Fox meddles.

(here I almost fall off my chair from laugher!!! No shit!!)

Ray: But they do it because they want to make the film work better. They do it based on feedback from previews and screenings. They don't do it because they want to be the creative guy. They are too busy. And I think (pauses) that we've never cut out the opinion of the creative people, the director, etc. We have to ask, when suggesting a change, is the change a big enough deal that it is worth doing. Will it make up the $ spent on it.

(At this point I stopped writing. I've worked on too many Fox shows I guess. )

Ray: Big placed don't really pre-buy.

Tim: What about digital Projection?

Carl: Film now is problematic. It's $2000/print. It's expensive. If festivals are digital, that saves a lot of $. And there's more choises available with digital.

At this point there were questions from the audience.

Q: (sorry, didn't really hear this one, but it was about the govenrment supported film industry I think, maybe?)

Jamie: I was a filmmaker in Australia before becoming a distributor. In Australia, the government film world, and the real film industry are very seperate. My advise is to be in an international head space.

(He talked more about how Aussie films funded by the government don't really get exposure, no one sees them. At least this was my take on what he said.)

Q: was something about "Waitress" being a soft movie... was good, but surprising that it got picked up.

Ray: Waitress was a soft movie. But it had a target audience, one that they could tap into for marketing. They found an angle that worked. Find a way in. Get your target market interested. Who's the movie for? Figure this out.

Jamie: But DO NOT send me your marketing material. Don't tell me how to market your film. It's insulting.

Ray: Absolutely! It should be obvious that you've thought about who your target market is by the material.

Q: What do you think of the internet for marketing?

Ray: Focus on proper marketing. The internet is very tricky. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. But only put clips on there, not the whole movie.

James: DO NOT put the whole movie in it's entirety on the internet, or it won't get picked up.

Carl: Everything is shifting. The internet is untapped. Distribution won't touch you if you put the whole movie on there, but there are other places, Magnolia, IFC, that are starting to experiment. At this point, it's an unknown.

And that concluded a facinating hour.

If you were there, and I've gotten things horribly wrong, PLEASE correct me. I did have one question that I'd hoped they would touch on... perhaps you lot can help me...

Q: I keep hearing about "front end" vs "back end" and that low budget filmmakers don't make their money on the front end, they make it all in the back end. Do distributors really give out percentages of the profit? Or is it usually a one shot deal? Do they arrange different deals with different players (ie, writers, producers, directors) or is it a group deal, sort it out for yourselves?


Why Blog?

Wikipedia says:
Blog: A blog (a contraction of the term weblog) is a website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order.

Web Log. Right. Got it.

So, why blog?

Because we sit behind our little desks in our own little world, slowly retreating, comfy in our comfort zones, not mingling, not sharing ideas, not meeting new people. We are becoming the cliche sci fi society. Big heads with long fingers, and fat round little bodies that can't move anymore. So, blogging is a way to reach out without actually getting off our asses.

And what the hell... Blogging's fun.

I am going to blog about all the crazy things I'm learning as I ride the rollecoaster of trying to sell a script. I've been asked to share some of my notes from seminars, meetings, etc. Once is an email, twice is a blog. I'll include some things that I've been doing that work, or haven't, or I'm holding out hope for. Hopefully, you'll do the same.

And I have questions. So many questions. So, please, great bloggers, I hope you will humour me and enlighten me.

Blog on!