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Mini Camp!

23 Jul

Its summer – so its only fitting that its time to go to camp!

Every season, the writers of Lost would get together at a secluded mountain hideaway and lay out the entire season longhand.  Each episode would be discussed and fought about – and then they would write out the story for each show on about 40 pages.  Once they returned to civilization – they would divide up the episodes, break the episodes and jump in.

In TV – its tricky – because there are very tight deadlines.  And there are budget restraints.  And there are problems you can’t foresee – like someone suddenly deciding that signing on for a multi-year deal is not what they had in mind and would you please write them out of the show now.  All of this takes long hours, flexibility and a lot of whiskey.

Since I am now neither a TV writer – or really much of a writer at all – I have the luxury of time.  And bad habits.  And excuses.  So what I do is write when I feel like it… until I get stuck.

So what I tend to do when that happens is play spider solitaire.

Which is really the most amazing game ever and I defy you to tell me otherwise.  It is so deceptively simple that it is easy to tell your brain – oh just one little game of two suited spider solitaire will shake off the mental cobwebs… and the next thing you know – three days have passed with the promise of “I’ll just try one more time… I’m sure I can win one….” and you have lost 15 pounds and have a giant hillbilly beard.  But it was worth it cause you finally won a game…

So it was with great joy and celebrating that my good friend Patrick suggested we meet in the middle of our two towns and have a bit of a writers Mini-Camp!

Writing is a long sad road filled with alcohol, bad skin and dark rooms.  It is lonely, disconnected, sad and boring.  Until its not and then its amazing, spectacular, other-worldly… and when that scene is done – back to lonely, disconnected… boring…. and spider solitaire…

It is good for the writer to have friends.  Even if they are strange.  Even if they are a bit creepy.  Even if they are the nerdiest of the nerds.  Even if they write script notes in Elvish.  When a true group of writers get together – its easy to recognize them.

Pale – as if they haven’t seen the sun.

Bandaged wrists from carpal tunnel.

Excited like elementary kids on a field trip – cause they don’t get out much.

So its nice to get together with a fellow writer or writers – cause we crave social interaction and we want feedback on our work:

As long as its good feedback.

And by that I don’t mean notes telling us how to get better.  Just feedback that says we’re good.  So good there is no notes because we are that good.

Ok.  I’m kind of kidding.  If the notes say we are pretty good, we like that one too.  Good – but there are a few notes… you probably won’t be invited back.

Ok.  I’m kidding.  We like notes.  Sort of.  No really… its fine.

So mini-camp!

Patrick and I met up in Dublin – halfway between SF and SJ – and went over each others stories.  I cobbled together the first part of mine and sent it off the night before in an act of defiance.  Patrick has 50 note cards full of story that he has been working on.  We are both blindly flailing forward – but I do it by writing myself into corners and then quitting halfway through – Patrick takes the easy way out and actually plans his script before starting.

Weak.

It is really awesome to get someone’s feedback on what you do.  Its really awesome to actually talk to another human being… so mini-camp is awesome!  We went over each others ideas and offered solutions in the form that they are best accepted:

Mockery.

While I wouldn’t say either of us came back with what we were looking for entirely – we both had important questions that needed answers that would help propel our stories forward.  And that is the point of mini-camp!  Which now much always be typed with an “!” because its that awesome.

Patrick is a great writer.  Our scripts couldn’t be more different – but he is really good and has great ideas.  I have such a great circle of people I can rely on to tell me what I need to do to my scripts before they go out into the world and make me look like more of a fool and loser than I am in real life.  Ryan – who writes like a maniac.  David – whose scripts make me cry they’re so good.  Blair – who doesn’t write – but knows how to make things better – and was the first of my friends to help me break story.

Every writer needs his team of Superfriends and if you don’t have them – you need to get with that.  They make all the difference.  No one wins when you write in a vaccuum.  You’ll end up like those crazy kids on the first week of American Idol auditions:

“all my life I’ve been a singer.  No one ever told me I can’t sing…”

(but if you had friends -they would have!)

So we did minicamp!  And we had notes.  And ideas.  And plans.  So its time to move forward.

This is my big note from yesterdays minicamp!:

You need to kill Megan.  Immediately.  The fact that she is 7 years old is besides the point.  Everything in your script now hinges in the death of this young lady – without which your hero cannot move forward and complete his goal.

And we can’t have that can we?

So now all I have to do is take her out.  Hmmm…. Inspiration…. where are you…..

I know what would cheer me up…. Spider!

Tomorrow:

State of the Union:  How to get rid of 40% of the junk in your house so you can move.

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Best Laid Plans

21 Jul

You know what’s better than getting fired?

Getting laid off.

Really.  It’s an amazing concept.  Instead of just saying –

“Hey.  Thanks for nothing.  Get the hell out.”

They say:

“Hey.  Thanks for nothing.  Get the hell out.  Oh – and take this lump sum of money with you.”

Yeah.  Think about that for a second.  They pay you to leave.  They send you on your way with money in your pocket – don’t let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

Really – it’s an amazing concept.

I have nothing but nice things to say about my old company.  There are amazing people there.  People I like.  People I love.  People I will miss.

And a couple I won’t.

But they took care of their employees.  And they sent me down the road with a little something something for the effort.

For all my professional life till now – I’ve been freelance or owned my own company.  This was my first “real” job at age 38 till now.  It was like being the first white guy in China hundreds of years ago.  Everything was new and different.  I got to work amongst the natives and observe them in their natural habitat.  And now I get to move on.

Amazingly – there has been a great show of support.  From people offering help, advice, a grip truck to move with… I feel blessed to have such great friends.

From the day I took this job – I would smile every day that they asked me back.  I couldn’t imagine making it in that environment.  And now – self fulling prophecy – I didn’t.  But I had a good run.  I put together some great shows and spots and now its time to move on.

When I came out here – we had just lived through two years of hard work putting a film together.  It was nice to have something that paid twice a month and paid well.  They paid to move me here to SF.  What better deal than that?  Now – even though they won’t be paying me anymore – they have given me the money to move down to LA.

21 year ago next month – as a small baby – I married the woman of my dreams.  We got married – and two weeks later, I started grad school for film.  When it was done – a lot of my friends left immediately for LA and jumped into the business at different levels.  I ended up getting work where we were.  Lots of work.  Really fun and good work.

The work was so good – I stayed a lot longer than I would have otherwise.  It took 10 years before I remembered I wanted to make movies.  So I finally left and went to make a movie.  That opened so many doors.  And then it crashed and burned – but those doors are still open and that movie is still trying to get made.  In the midst of that, I got this job.  Now that is over – and I am finally on  my way to LA.

I talked to a friend yesterday who went to film school with me.  I said – well, we’re finally on our way to LA.  It only took 15 years.  She said – what took you so long?  I said – I’m slow.

My son said to me when I came home the other day:

So Dad.  You got fired?

No, Son.  I got laid off.  It’s like getting paid to be fired.  Its way better.

Ok.  So I think you should just make that movie you’re always talking about.  It beats working at fast food.

(He really said this.  And if you’re working in fast food – take heart.  So did I.  It’s almost better training for the movie business than film school.  You learn how to work with idiots, how to multi-task, how to interact with crazy people, and how to make food.  Really there isn’t much more to it than that.)

So I think I’m gonna see what’s out there.  I hear LA is a really nice place for old men with families that are slow writers.

You know that cheesy old Footprints poster from the 70’s?  The one that shows the footprints in the sand – and the guy is talking with Jesus and there are two sets of footprints – and Jesus says that’s cause I walked along side you all the way in life’s journey.  Then suddenly there is one set and the guy is like – Hey Jesus, where’d you go?  And Jesus explains – well, that’s where I carried you.

In mine – there is also:  Hey Jesus, what is that big deep hole in the sand.  And Jesus is like – that where you dug a pit and hid out for a few years.  And I’m like – and then why is there only one set of footprints for like a half mile – and then a big indent in the sand where it looks like a body was laid out like a snow angel?  And Jesus is like:  That where I had to kick you in the ass to actually do something and you flew through the air for half a mile before you fell on your face.  Next time, maybe you can walk on your own.  Here, let me help you get that sand outta your eyes.

So here we go.

I have 30 some days to find a house, pack this house and get out. The adventure has truly begun.

And what better way for me to avoid writing for a whole month than to say I got laid off and have to pack my family up like Abraham and head into the desert?

PERFECT!  It’s like the excuses write themselves… 🙂

Be Careful What You Wish For

20 Jul

Cause you just might get it.

Hey!  How are you?  Been a while…  Strangely – I usually use this blog as an excuse not to write.  But amazingly – I’ve been writing.  Maybe I felt the fire under my tail and for whatever reason – I put my nose down and have been marginally successful at getting words to page.

I was feeling more focused because my “selling agreement” with my agency was coming to a close.  We had interest from two different mini-majors – but I think there was some argument about budget.  My attached star was thinking of a higher number than the studio and neither the twain shall meet.

So the deal died a nice death – and the property returns to me.

But- and its a big but – there is the possibility of my film fitting into a 3 picture slate with a large studio you would have heard of.  And there is also the possibility of me directing again.

So that’s good.  But it just means more waiting.  Which is typical.  Its been 6 years since I finished the script – 4 years since we were greenlit and fell apart – and it just keeps going.

Which brings me to this post:

You know how you always complain – Oh if only I had more time.  Then I could write.  If only I didn’t have this silly day job – then I could really bang out this script….

Be careful what you wish for…

I’ve been a freelance producer/director for 20 years.  Worked for some clients – like the Discovery Channel – for about 10 of those years off and on.  After the movie fell apart 4 years ago – I took my very first full-time job.  Salary and benefits and 401K.  Didn’t know anything about that world.  Suddenly – I was going to do what I’ve always done – produce and direct – but from a desk.

One that I would sit in everyday.

Really took some getting used to.  As a freelancer – you have two modes:  working and looking for work.  After a while, work finds you and so you work – and then play.  I like that life.  I was used to that life.

Life at a desk was different.

When we were shooting – and we shot a lot – it was awesome.  I spent a year shooting in China.  A bit more in Australia.  Even shot in London.  And then a ton in LA.  With minor celebrities.

But when we weren’t shooting… Ugh.  I think I’ve seen the internet in its entirety.  I seen every goofy cat video, blog, news site… and it was a new feeling to watch the second click by as the days got longer and longer.

I know most of you are used to this reality and I’m not knocking it – but it was a strange place to find myself at this stage of my life.  The idea that people paid you to do nothing between shoots was really weird to me.  But the company was good and the coworkers were incredible and the budgets were large and the benefits were nice and the salary kept going up and I finally had a bit of retirement….and it all got kinda comfortable.

And you know, thank God.  Cause during this economy – it sucks to be without work.  And to be able to feed and support my family – I am very very thankful and please don’t take my blithering for anything but that.

But all good things must come to an end.

And it is with great joy and anxiety that I once again leave the nest and move to greener (hotter) pastures.

The downturn in the economy hit my company later than most.  They had been doing blindingly well – and then in the last year or so – not as well.  As a result – I got laid off.

Have you ever been laid off?  If not, I highly recommend it.

I know that to some of you – this is not funny.  It’s very serious. And that losing your job sucks.  And believe me – I am not being flippant or glib.  But all of us – especially the older we get – gravitate towards comfort and being comfortable.  We like to be where we know what’s what.  It’s just easier.  And we mold ourselves to that situation.  And it in turn molds us back.

I liked my job here.  I loved my co-workers.  I shot a lot – all over the world.  I got experience working in an office and being management and working on some of the biggest budgets of my life.  I was treated well and nicely paid.

But its time to go.

I had a nice run here.  4 good years.  And now its time for the next stage.

Los Angeles.

I am entirely looking forward to avoiding writing in a new town.

So that just happened.

Half Analyst – Half Therapist: All analrapist

20 Jun

Have you ever been asked to do a take?

This is how you get to the table as a screenwriter.

You write. You write more.  You write even more.  You finally get someone to read what you write.  You rewrite what you wrote. Then you rewrite that.  Then an agent gets involved.  And your script goes out.  And now people want to meet you.

And after years of investment in getting better and finally getting somewhere –

You get to do a take.

A take is where a company likes you enough to have you come to their offices and tell you about a story they like.  And they want you to pitch your “take” on it.

Let’s look at it another way:

Imagine you are a cook.  You love food and you love to cook.  You spend years in the kitchen with your mom – and you grow up and go to cooking school.  There – you excel at cooking.  Everyone tells you you’re a good cook.  You might even get some restaurant work.  You might even have your own restaurant.

But one day – the big restaurants call.  They have a recipe they like.  Like – they might say – Hey!  I think we should have steak.  Anybody know anything about steak?  And they all gather together and they think about it – and they decide:  You know what’s a great idea?  Let’s have a bunch of cooks come in here and tell us how they’d make this steak.

So they call you.  They want to see what your steak looks like.

They want you to come in to their place.  And bring with you all the ingredients you would cook the steak with.  They want you to lay out your ingredients – and talk through exactly how you’re gonna cook it.  You spend time – thinking through every kind of steak you’ve ever had.  You cook hundreds of steaks over the next couple weeks – trying to come up with a amazingly original steak.  The best you could ever come up with.

Then – you go to their office and you talk up your steak.  You explain why this is the best steak ever.  Then – you leave the ingredients behind and they’ll decide if you’re the one they want to cook this steak or not.

Cause there are a lot of other cooks in the waiting room.  All with their own ingredients.  And the great thing is that – since its their steak – they can evaluate everyone’s ideas – and then pick the best of them – and hire a cook they’ve worked with before to combine the best of all the ingredients and ideas into a new recipe.

And it doesn’t cost them a thing.

And that, my friends, is a take.  Free steak.

Now – I don’t want to say that anyone tried to screw me or take my ideas or combine them with anyone elses.  Cause none of the things I came in on have ever made it to the screen.

As far as I know.

But after my script first made the rounds – I made the rounds.  I met with lots of people over a two-week period.  Two to three a day for two weeks.  And we made nice talk.  We shook hands.  And then I was given a few pitches.

So here’s where it gets interesting:

The first three ideas I was given to do a “take” on all had a moment in them that predominantly featured anal rape.

So there is a part of me that can understand this.  In advertising – a world I was partially a part of – you get pigeonholed immediately.  They want the “car” guy to do the car commercials.  They want the “TV” guy to do the “TV” spots.  I lost a job once because I didn’t have meat on my reel.  I had lots of things the client wanted to see – people in a store, people outside, kids playing – but no “meat.”  And everyone knows – you can’t just walk up and shoot meat.  It takes someone with the proper meat experience.  Meat is an unruly mistress that will not open up for just any director.  Only a proper meat director knows the secrets of the meat.  And I was not that guy.

But apparently – I open the floodgates on anal rape.

My script was a suspense/thriller.  It was dark.  It had bad guys in it.  But – and I wrote it and I should know – the one thing it did not have?

Anal rape.

I’d like to think I’m as open minded as the next guy – but at the same time I found this odd.  If one of the scripts had anal rape – that would be strange.  Two – and I might chuckle.  But three?  It was as if the universe was trying to tell me something.

Look – we’re all trying to break in.  Most of would do just about anything.  Judd Apatow has the corner on the gross out comedy with a heart.  J.J. Abrams gets to do the crazy action film with geek roots.  James Cameron – the most expensive films ever.

Me? Apparently –  I was the anal rape king of Hollywood.

Come on – everyone has a dream.  I can’t say this is what I asked for when I saw the shooting star – but you stick with the horse you ride in on.

The one concept that had the most buzz around it didn’t just give a passing glance to anal rape. It was a short story – written by one of my favorite authors – and  anal rape was featured as the climax of the story.  Everything ebbed and flowed from this glorious moment.  Building and lead up to it.  I read the short.  I read it again.  I rubbed my eyes in shock – washed my brain out with soap and read it again.

Yup.  No way around it.  This is about anal rape.

So I did the best I could.

They paired me with a really great producer.  An awesome guy who couldn’t be any more supportive – and since this happened – he has gone on to make bajillions for his studio – without me and – more importantly – without any … you know….

So I finally went in and met with the studio and did my pitch.

You know what they said?

Um… that part with the anal rape?  We don’t like that.  Can you get rid of that?  That would sort of stop the whole movie and everyone would walk out.

But the entire story is about anal rape.

Well… yeah.  But we thought you might come up with a take that takes place “in” that “world”  but didn’t actually go that far.

Ah.  My steak has a bit too much anal rape in it.

But how could I continue to hold on to the title of anal rape king of Hollywood if I was to give up all the anal rape?  I told them they were sacrificing the integrity of the project – and if they wanted to take out the anal rape – they would have to take me out as well.

So – they took me out.  Who knew?

I’m sorry.  Did I say I had integrity?  I think I did… but this was back when I was younger.  The old me would nod and smile and make a joke like – of course this movie would be so much better if we remove the cornerstone of why the story was written in the first place.  Lets go back to the drawing board.

Let’s make a different thing.  I know you gave me a steak – but let’s make a vegetarian lasagna instead.

And in the process – I learned the art of the big sell out.  The Oh silly me thinking that this is what you might want cause its so great – let me instead give you this thing over here that is so much worse.

I dishonored the title of anal rape king of Hollywood.  And the title was stripped from me.

I did takes right and left.  For Comedies.  For medical thrillers.  For Romantic Comedies about basketball.  For books written in Chinese.

Doing takes.  For free.  Free work….

One nice thing about doing takes is you get to see a lot of stories that the studios have bought or optioned. Things that others have sold. And you can compare them to what you’re working on. It’s never apples to apples. And that is a great thing about this business… Your script is not up against mine – there are a million people not sure what they are looking for – all trying to catch lightning in a bottle – and they hope that yours is the one that strikes for them.

I read these scripts, ideas, stories – and I usually feel the same way. 40 pages in – I think – wow… What could I do with this. Its great. I can’t write like that. They are so smart – witty – funny – scary… Whatever…

And then – I finish.

And I have the same feeling most movie goers have. Wow. That didn’t pay off. What did that have to do with anything? Why wasn’t that set up better… And you see what you can bring to the table. And you start to break it down to see how you would go about putting it back together again… And in my case – you go out and watch all the movies that did it better and try to find a way to make this one different and appealing. And find how to take that magic from the first 40 and sustain it.

You bring yourself to the process. Your life – your experiences – your “take.” Cause there is only one you. No matter how you try to hide from it, you are all you’ve got….Dig down and try to find the way that you can make this thing uniquely yours….

And… If you are me…

You find somehow, somewhere to squeeze in a little anal rape…

Cause everybody needs a calling card.

Pot of gold at the end of the rainbow

18 Jun

Have you ever climbed a mountain?

When I was growing up – I spent a lot of my high school years in the mountains.  Every vacation – a group of us would head up as high as we could go and try to cover as many of the 10k plus peaks as we could.

Here’s the thing about getting to the top:

It’s incredibly deceiving.

The typical way you get up a really tall mountain – if there are trails involved – is by making the climb via a series of switchbacks – that is, trails that go back and forth in like a long series of intestines.  You never go straight to the top – you keep climbing incrementally closer to the top by taking switchbacks.

This makes it incredibly hard to know when you will reach your destination.

You can see the top.  Everyone knows you’re almost there… but it’s always way longer than you thought.

You see where I’m going with this?

LET ME BREAK IT DOWN FOR YOU:

When you have a script that is getting some traction, don’t quit your day job.

I’ve told my story here before – but here is the quick version of how I got here:

Wrote a script.  Raised 1million dollars.  Went to LA to try to get more.  Got two big stars attached.  Got picked up by 3 different companies.  Got greenlit for a 10Million dollar film.  Had a start date.  Both stars leave for 150million dollar film.  Deal is over.  2 years of work = no pay.

Oh yeah.  Probably something no one ever told you:

If you’re out there with your first script – you are most likely going to get optioned.  And if you get optioned – it will be for a low amount against another amount – unless you start a bidding war – which is more and more uncommon.  So typically – you’ll get offered a couple thousand dollars (under 10) against WGA minimums (about 85K.)  Then they will tie up your script for at least a year.  They will also put development costs against it – so that at the end of that year – if they couldn’t get it together to make your film – you get it back – but also its saddled with lets say 200K of development costs.  So if anyone else wants it – they pay you – and the studio or company – their money back.

So even if you get optioned – there is still a long long road.

I’ve signed 4 or 5 options on my script.  Now I’m in a shopping agreement.  That agreement is about to run out – and I’ll still be going.

I feel like I’ve seen that mountain peak so many times – and I feel each time like I’m closer – and then it just keeps getting higher.  I can taste the pot of gold… but it never is in my hands.

If you read any books on writing by professionals – they will all tell you to keep going.  Keep writing. Don’t think about the deals.  Don’t think about the buzz going on around the script – just keep writing and you won’t be distracted.

But the deals are a pretty big freaking distraction.  Especially when you’re broke.  You’re like a greyhound at the race trying to get that metal rabbit.  And everyone is telling you to keep running – but you’re starving.

Here’s the truth as far as I can tell:

It takes time.  Even when people like you and your work.  You are building a brand – you – and 100 years ago, no one knew what McDonald’s was.  After one hamburger – they still didn’t know.  After 100 – someone had an idea and told others.  Now -everybody knows.

It always comes back to putting your head down and doing the work.  If one script is good enough to get you attention – the next script is going to be read by more people.  Two scripts out there is better than one.  And everyone know the real writing work in this town is rewriting and doing takes on concepts that studios are already looking to make.  So you just need to get in the door.  You need to move from the kids table to the adult table – and the only way to do that is to keep writing.

Give them a reason to invite you.

I’ve read stories of people who have been paid screenwriters for over 15 years and have only ever had 2 movies made.  But they’ve made a living for 15 years!

It is hard.  It is a grind.  It hurts… you’re ego, you’re mind and your bank account.

But no one said it would be easy.  I’m here to tell you its gonna be hard.

Did you ever see Grizzly man?  This was the Timothy Treadwell story.  The guy who moved up to Alaska and lived with the bears.   Treadwell believed humans and bears could live together in harmony.

Till they ate him.

I’ll always remember the Indian guy who worked at the park station who said that Treadwell is the worst thing to happen to bears.  He is basically training the bears that it is OK to be around humans.  That human have food and are nice and that they are approachable.  And that anyone can come up and touch them.

Till it all goes wrong.

Every time you read in the trades that there is a spec sale for 1 million dollars for a writer no one has ever heard of – we think we can live with bears.  It’s like watching lottery winners.  We get excited.  That can be me.

But the truth is – its hard work.  Writing. Doing it everyday.  Getting better.  That’s how it works.

My script is still out there.  With a star attached.  And two big companies with studio distribution excited about getting their hands on it.  We been rejected by many directors, and many other stars – but my agency feels we are about to sign another deal to finance the film and move forward.

Once again.

So the mountain keeps moving.  The pot of gold remains elusive.

But my job is to keep climbing.  (Sometimes, I hate my job.)

Coming next:

How, for a few shiny months, I was the reigning king of anal rape in Hollywood.

It’s not childbirth… but it must be close.

11 Jun

Are you a runner?

Probably not.  If you’re a writer – the cliche is that you’re not a runner.  If you’re a writer – you write.  You sit for hours on end in a chair and pour your soul out to your computer or pad.

I know a writer who bikes.  A lot.  And is pretty proficient at writing.  Also works as a development exec and has kids and a happy wife.  I hate that guy…. (and by hate – I mean love.  An insanely jealous love that one has for someone who is good at what they want to be good at and somehow still manages to balance his life, exercise, family, job and be a nice guy.  Wait… maybe I do mean I hate him.  Sorry David…)

If you run – then you know.

There are some crazy people who love to run.  I am not one of them – but I happen – at least when I was younger and still had my original ACL and a vestige of cartilage and meniscus left – to be pretty descent at running.  I lettered varsity track all four years in high school and made a career at finishing second in just about every race I did.

It was the 5000 meters – a long freaking race – and we ran it on the track.  When it would come to my race – which inevitably was the last race before they would announce the winner of the meet – everyone would go get lunch – cause they knew it was gonna be awhile.  It wasn’t that I was great – it was more that I was willing to endure the pain that running that long caused.

And also that no one else really was willing to go the distance.

My dad was a runner.  A really good runner.  And it was something we did together.  Sometimes twice a day.  We would talk and we would run.  I really liked the talking part.  Not so much the running.

But running is a lot like writing.

There is nothing I dislike more than the idea of running.  I will make excuses in the morning why I don’t wanna do it – and say I’ll go in the afternoon.  But suddenly – the afternoon is too hot and I don’t want to go.  My legs are sore.  My ipod isn’t charged.  Whatever.

I. don’t. want. to. run.period.

Sigh.

I was filming a commercial in Australia with a really nice girl who was a professional surfer.  She told me her dad got her into surfing because it was a good way to get out of school.  She went on – in a year – to be one of the top pro girl surfers in the world.  Billabong spotted her at a competition and asked her if she wanted to model.  She said sure – and ended up being a really high paid model.

But she wanted to leave all that behind so she could act.  So she was moving to NYC to pursue that from the bottom up.

Everyone wants something they don’t have – and I find the same thing.  I spent the last 20 years as a producer/director working my way to making movies – and all I can get an agent for is writing.  If I could find another way to get a great script other than writing it – I would do it.  Cause writing is to dang hard.

There is a reason why I’m the worst writer ever.  It’s cause I approach writing like running.  For some ungodly reason – I have had luck with writing – and I hate to actually sit down to write.  Its awful.  Like a chore.  Like fingernails on a chalkboard.  I can come up with a million reasons not to write – this blog being one of them.

Each time there is a new post – it is another brilliant excuse for not writing.  I am the Steven Speilburg of avoidance and procrastination.

I have never given birth – and every woman who reads this (both of you… 🙂 ) will wanna jackslap me for saying so – but I can imagine that as painful as bringing a child into the world – it is easier than writing. When I watched my own wife writhing and crying and screaming bloody murder on the table as my two kids dropped out – all I could think of was – Hey… its not that bad… at least you’re not writing….

Cause writing is hard.  It’s so hard, I’d almost rather go running than write – and I hate running.

But just like running – once you get warmed up and you’re going – something weird happens.

You start to feel good.  Your body loosens up.  You feel the street rolling under your feet as you move – heel toe heel toe… and as you sprint to the finish – you smile.  You did something good for yourself.

And writing works the same way.  It sucks to start… its hard to begin… but about a couple crappy pages in – something happens.  It starts to gel.  And work.  And suddenly – you’ve got a scene.  And you’re writing.

Or at least you’re writing a blog about writing – and avoiding your script.

Hey!  Its Friday night.  Give me a break.

Coming soon:  Interesting update on the feature.  The game is still afoot….

How to get an agent

31 May

Are you sitting there thinking:

You know what would really make a difference?  What would get me over the top?

It would be having an agent.  That guy/girl would change everything.  Tomorrow, the sun would come up and everyone would finally recognize my genius – because this guy/girl has put my script in just the right hands and now I sit back and collect the checks.

It’s a great dream.

I dreamed it.  I’m still dreaming it.  But as a great man once said – Wish in one hand, spit in the other and see what fills up first.

Let me put this out there right away:

An agent is great.  An agent is helpful.  But the biggest thing an agent does is help you once you have something going.

There are pages and pages devoted to query letters, conferences, blind script drops – anything to get yourself read.  Its so hard to make it in this business and we are always looking for the silver bullet.  We write for an industry that hates to read.  How crappy is that?  To get someone to read your script is only complicated by the fact that for every good script – there are a thousand awful ones.  No one sits down to read something thinking its gonna be good.  And to actually like something – you have to put yourself on the line – so its hard.  And we all think that the best way to navigate through this sh*t storm is to have an agent.

Yes and no.

Let me tell you how it worked for me.

I wrote a script.  I did it so I could direct it.  I raised a million dollars to do it.  I got it to a producer through a friend and he gave it to a second unit director.  The second unit director gave it to a BIG STAR.  BIG STAR said he’d do it, if second unit director became director on my script.

I said no.

Second unit director gives it OTHER STAR – who also wants to do it.  I agree to step down as director and stay on as writer/director.  Suddenly – the script is in play with major talent aboard.  I am getting all sorts of calls from all manner of bottom feeders and foreign investors who want to do crazy things with my script – like pay me $500,000 to take my name off it and put an Italian writers name on.

An assistant at Lion’s Gate reads the script and likes it.  He calls me and tells me so.  He asks me if I have an agent – I say no.  He recommends one to me.  They have me come to a meeting at the agency.  They tell me nice things.  They are nice guys.

I say yes.

I get an agent.

They send my script out – and it goes around the town.  I have no idea how many people actually read it or not – but I do get a lot of meetings.  Two weeks worth.  Two or three a day.  And I get some traction out of it.

So yes.  An agent is really worth it.  When you have something people want – or heck – if only one person wants, but its a person that people are listening to – you are a hot commodity.  And people want to see that.  And your agent can capitalize on that.

But when you’re not hot?  Not so much.

Eventually my film fell apart.  The BIG STAR and the OTHER STAR went and left the project together to go do a giant $150 million dollar film – and I was left at the altar.    And what have my agents done since then?

Not a hell of a lot.  But that’s not their fault.  Its mine.  That script was my first.  Since then – I’ve written 3 or 4 scripts – but not things that are super marketable.  I’ve only given them one script – and it never went out.

SIDE NOTE:

I have a good friend – let’s call him Ryan, cause his name is Ryan.  Ryan is a model of what a good writer should be.  He writes.  A lot.  It seems like he has a new script every couple of months.  He writes so much – even I have trouble keeping up with reading what he puts out.  And he is good.  Getting better each script.  After his second script – Ryan sent our query letters.  He had a short optioned on Ink Tip – and had the two scripts.  He got a couple of requests back for the script – and one of them turned into his agent.  Since then, he’s written 4-5 more scripts and his agent has sent them out.  He’s gotten meeting based on one of them – and he keeps going.  Just like a real writer should.  Follow his lead.  This is how it works.

In my 20 years at failing on the edges of this business – here’s what I’ve learned:

How to make it in the film business

1. Know somebody.

Have your dad be Spielberg.  Or Katzenberg.  Or Cameron or Ford… or somebody.  Or rich.  Or be best friends with someone who knows them.

Sad reality – even if you know them, and even if you could get a project in front of them – it has to be good.  Not just good – it needs to be great.  Or you won’t go anywhere.  But at least you get read.

2.  Get Lucky/Be a genius.

You could argue I got lucky with my script.  I would argue different – sitting here eating take out pizza instead of caviar.  But the people who cut through the noise and somehow write one script and now are hailed as brilliant are one of two things: lucky or geniuses.  Diablo Cody wrote a blog for years before she was tapped to write a script which won her an Oscar.  Her next film didn’t do well – but no one is arguing that she can or can’t write.  She can write.  There are plenty of others who write one script and disappear.  Just like in music.  One hit wonders.  There are those who can capture light in a bottle for whatever reason one time only and then go away.  They might get paid for more – but that was their shot.

I’d love to be a genius – but I’d settle for lucky….

3. Hard freaking work.

Day in day out.  Write write write.  If I had more than one project when I got my agents – I might not be the sad pathetic bitter man I am today.  With writing – each project is your first.  Your last increases or decreases your chances of being read again – but your present project is judged on its own merit each and every time.  You need to keep writing because – A. you get better each time and B. it increases your odds of making it.  And each day you wake up is a chance to do it again.  Day after day – wash rinse repeat.

And then an agent can help.  He can negotiate.  And get you more money.  Cause when others are interested in you – your agent loves you.  Nothing makes him happier that to not have to sell you – but instead make those who want to buy you fight it out.

Until then – it’s just work.

So how do you get an agent?

How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice.

And an Agent?  Writing.  Getting better.  Having more scripts to go out with.

And then do the other things.  Get  your friends to read your stuff.  Get a writers group.  Send query letters.  Try to find friends of friends in the industry.  Get them to read it.  Be a pest.  But not too much of a pest.  Enter contests.  Win contests.  And eventually – you’ll get your stuff to someone who knows someone – and if its good enough – an agent will come.

And then the world is still not your oyster.  It’s still the same.  You still write.  And wait.  And hope and pray.  And keep writing.

But you’re one step closer.

Now all you gotta do is keep climbing.