Monday, October 23, 2006

Screenwriter's Expo A Go-Go!

I just spent a couple of weeks at a film festival, a day flying home, I’m jet-lagged beyond belief, I spent yesterday doing laundry... what I really *need* to do today is sleep...

But it’s the first day of the Screenwriter’s Expo in Los Angeles.

Since the very beginning, the Expo has been held at the LA Convention Center downtown. *Thousands* of screenwriters from all over the world pack the place for three days of wall-to-wall screenwriting classes and panels and lectures by people like William Goldman. The problem with downtown is that it’s bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way, and you wouldn’t want to park your car there... plus lot parking can be expensive. There are also few places to eat, and you need sterling credit to afford a convention center hot dog.

I live a block away from the Universal City subway station... oh, you didn’t know Los Angeles even had subway? Well, after having so much smog that the EPA could literally shut down the city, they decided to appease them with some mass transit. Every other city has mass transit, why not LA? Of course, LA is the pork-belly politics capitol of the world, so instead of a less expensive elevated rail system, they decided to have a classy subway. Sure it would cost billions and screw up traffic for years... but the subway would make Los Angeles a world class city like London....

Having just come from London, where I walked across the street from where I was staying and entered a subway station, then took the subway to the airport - there are *two* subway stations right inside Heathrow! ... I can tell you that the Los Angeles subway system is a huge joke. Due to all of the politics, it doesn’t go anywhere you would want to go. It sure as hell doesn’t get anywhere near the airport. It *does* go to MacArthur Park, where the heroin addicts hang out. It also goes to the Amtrak station. Of course, it had to stop at downtown Hollywood... where the hookers and cross-dressing hookers hang out. And there are no tickets or turnstiles, it’s all on the honor system... so the heroin addicts can hop a train and go someplace else.

But the one good thing about the subway - it *almost* goes to the Convention Center. Due to some stupid planning, it doesn’t quite make it, but you can connect to another silly toy train that takes you the dozen blocks to... well, still two blocks away from the Convention Center. Still, since I live a block from the subway station, it’s a million times faster than stop-and-go rush hour traffic. So, once a year I ride the subway... to Expo.

Except this year they’ve moved the Expo to a couple of airport hotels. The only traffic worse than going downtown is going to the airport. I once drove my friend Bob to the airport at 4am... and we were in stop-and-go traffic. Where are people going at 4am?

My Expo classes began this year at 10am and 8am and 10am... It would take me half the day to get there in rush hour traffic! And I mentioned the subway gets nowhere near the airport, right? So, while I’m waiting for my flight to London 2 weeks ago, I book a room in the hotel *between* the two hotels where they are holding the Expo. I can roll out of bed and go right to my 8am class! I check in on Thursday, and bump into someone who knows me from the website - I tell them I just got back from London and they say that it takes a full day for every hour in the air to get over jet-lag. I was in the air 10-11 hours... so is that just any day, or a day where you get 8 hours sleep?

I really need to sleep, but instead I go to the opening night party.


Expo used to be in mid-November, which gave me some time to recover from Raindance... but this year I have that one day (when I do laundry). I don’t know why they changed the dates... but now Expo happens at the exact same time as the Austin Film Festival. Coincidence? I was invited back to Austin, but had to decline due to Expo. Next year I may skip Expo and go to Austin.

The good news about Expo being at the airport hotels: Lots of places to go to lunch or dinner... and you can walk down the street without being involved in a drive by shooting. All of the hotels have restaurants and bars, and there’s a Burger King just across the street. Plus, a Denny’s if you want to walk a few blocks. This may not sound like much, but every year at Expo there was no place to go for a meal (except Original Pantry) after the Convention Center café closed. Also, no place to drink - and every party had to be catered at huge expense. Also, you *can* literally roll out of bed and go to class... which I did almost every morning. I really needed sleep, but I had a class to teach at 8am!

I end up in the hotel *between* both event hotels, which is convenient. Half my classes are at one hotel and the other half... well, I seem to never have two classes in a row at the same hotel. I’ll be doing a lot of walking... and some running. When you have a half hour between classes and you tend to run over and students tend to want to hang around afterwards and gab... you find yourself running to the next class. There’s a shuttle bus, but my timing seemed to always be off. All of the running around didn’t help the “tired factor”.

The biggest problem seemed to be very small rooms. There were big rooms... and some rooms (the California Suites) that where so small you couldn’t fit a class in them. One of my classes was in this shoe box with a Max Op of 30... and we had something like 40 people ten minutes before the class started. I was claustrophobic. Just beyond the doorway I could see the hotel’s pool and a covered area with lots of lounge chairs. I told the volunteer at the door that I was going to teach the class over there. The volunteer told me we’d need permission for that, and I replied that she could get the permission, while I took the class out to the pool. The volunteer went beyond the call of duty and actually got permission... and I had a group of people at poolside for a class! One woman rolled up her pants and put her feet in the pool. That’s California, baby!

Another problem was other events at the hotel. There was a 50th Class Reunion going on at the same time, and one night the lower lobby was packed with drunk old folks. Impossible to get around them to the up escalator - so you were trapped until they got too drunk to stand. There were also some panels on some other floor - I wanted to sit in on one, but by the time I figured out how to get there the thing was half over.

Another class was in some shoe box at the other hotel, and once we packed the room with about twice as many people as the fire marshal would allow, the place got really hot. Not enough AC for the crowd. We suffered through it... but it was not pleasant. People crowded *on the floor* with no AC. The heat was making me sleepy... I really need to get some sleep. My eyes are bloodshot, so I use those fancy designer sunglasses from the Raindance goody bag... then put them I my back pocket when I go to teach a class. Later that day I sit down... and break them. I think I wore them for half an hour.

After my last class on Sunday I wander into the Dealer Room... which seemed much smaller than the one at the Convention Center. Also, fewer dealers. The Expo sent me a bunch of letters about buying a table in the dealer room... and I tossed them. Usually I set up in the Script Magazine booth... often because Script wants me to run the danged booth for them. The first couple of years I ran the Script booth *and* taught classes. I closed the booth when I had a class. After complaining that I was the only writer for the magazine at the booth, they began scheduling others... who often didn’t show or didn’t stick around, so I ran the booth anyway. I finally said “No more!” and last year other people actually manned the booth. This year, Script wasn’t even there. They have their own event, now, and don’t need to go to Expo. Leaving me nowhere to sell my bag of CDs. I kept forgetting to mention the CDs and the website at my classes. I’m lousy at the business end of this thing - more interested in writing than money.

I really need to get some sleep... but there’s a party tonight.


Good thing about having the event at the hotel was they could have real parties - all of them were poolside. The Thursday night party had three bars (with lines) and crackers and cheese. I was standing in the long drink line, talking to one of my stalkers, Matt, and trying to stay awake... when I noticed the two hot women in really short white shorts.

Okay, all of us here are screenwriters. And I think very few of us would ever be confused with fashion models. If I ever did a Calvin Klein underwear ad, it would be banned by every civilized country... or shown to prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison as an interrogation technique they use after the waterboard fails. Screenwriters are not known for being “really hot”. If we were, we wouldn’t want to sit alone in a room for a living.

So when I saw these two really hot women, they seemed out of place. They were dressed to be noticed - and *everyone* noticed them. The woman in the drink line in front of me noticed them. They were the center of attention.

After paying a “hotel rate” for a beer, I watched the women stand in line for the cheese - there was a wheel of brie under a heat lamp that was the centerpiece of the spread. One of the hot women did something with the cheese knife that managed to *launch* the plate of brie across the poolside area, where it missed all of the screenwriters but managed to hit the walkway - shattering the plate into a zillion pieces and sending the brie wheel on a short roll that ended when the cheese wheel hit the eaten portion - kind of a flat tire. The two hot women took turns bowing - the center of attention! Then they *didn't* want to be the center of attention and zoomed to the back of the crowd... where my friend Rob latched onto them. Rob is a writer-producer who took my 2 day class once. He was laughing with them the rest of the night.

I had a couple more “hotel rate” beers, tried not to step in the brie, and retired to my room. I needed to get some sleep before my morning class.

There were parties every night, some with actual food. Pretty good food. Free food. I think that was the best thing about having the event at the hotels - free food.


My picture is up there, and everyone know what I look like... so people are constantly stopping me in the halls and talking with me. Some of these people I know, some I can’t remember, others are people I have never met... but I keep thinking I’ve forgotten them from some other event. Maybe it’s the lack of sleep? I really need to sleep...

Matt, my stalker, was in the very first class I ever spoke to at Art Center Pasadena. He usually takes all my classes at Expo... following me from room to room. Since he’s this tall, long haired guy wearing what he describes as “bondage pants”, this can be kind of creepy. He has an interesting day job, selling search & rescue equipment - so he’s done all kind of search & rescue training. Matt will be spending more time pitching than following me from room to room this year.

I see these two guys who look familiar, and they “Hey Bill!” me... they were in the Arizona 2 day class. We have a couple of beers together at one of the parties.

A cute British gal introduces herself to me - she took my 2 day class at Raindance a couple of years ago. I tell her I just came from there - haven’t gotten over the jet lag, yet. In fact, have been so busy that I haven’t had any jet lag yet. I really need to sleep right now... but I probably won’t get to really sleep until this whole thing is over.

My friend Paul from NYC is there - I’ve known Paul online for over decade. He was one of the original Compuserve Screenwriting forum members. We have lunch one of the days... and I end up spilling mashed potatoes on my jeans... realizing this about halfway through my class when I look down for some reason. Swell.

I also meet Emily (White Board Markers blog) for 3 seconds. I’m standing in the never-ending-Starbucks-line and see this familiar face, but have no idea where I know her from. Since I see so many people at these events that I’ve seen from previous events, I often have that “I know you from somewhere” feeling. She’s working as a volunteer, trying to solve about a million problems at once, but races over for a second to say hello. Cool.

I meet a bunch of other people I know from online, which is always cool. As strange as this may sound, some of you folks are like family I’ve never met. Some of you folks I know from message boards and others from my site - and when I see your names on a CD order or something I “recognize” you. Always cool to meet you in person and put a face to the name.

Also in my classes are the Daws brothers (they won the contest and ended up with a Script Secrets messenger bag)... and Chris Billet, who has a brand new horror movie *UNREST* showing in Cinemas - you should all go! Here’s a website link: UNREST!


Last day of the Expo, and people are coming up to me in the halls and complimenting me on my classes. Most are telling me that mine were the best classes they took, and last year the student feedback put me in the “Gold Circle” or whatever they call it. This is kind of strange, because I’m so danged exhausted and in need of sleep that I think all of my classes have been challenges to stay awake. When people tell me they liked my classes, I ask “Why?” and the answers are kind of interesting. Seems that other teachers aren’t giving any actual information. Some are just plugging their classes or books for 2 hours (I keep forgetting to mention my free website, and I’m taking 98% of the CDs I brought from London to sell at Expo back home with me). Also, people are saying that I’m passionate and animated (I’m half asleep!). I think this is my most low energy Expo... so I wonder what the other guys are like. And how do you talk for 2 hours about *nothing*? That seems more difficult to me than talking about practical techniques you can use today. Easier to describe a hammer than describe a cloud.

Also, my theory is that a good class is the best plug for whatever I’m selling. If you get a lot of information out of the class, you’ll be more likely to buy a $5 Blue Book (it may have a lot of info, too). Of course, I forgot to plug my Blue Books and CDs and classes most of the time.

After Expo was over FunJoel had his annual bloggers party at the hotel’s sports bar. Though everyone in the world was invited, only a handful of folks showed up. We talked about everything under the sun. It was cool to meet people who write some of the other blogs I read. If you’ve got a blog, you need to show up next year!

After a few beers it was time for me to head home.... and finally get some sleep.

Well, not really... because Americn Film Market begins in just over a week and Thursday is the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Awards party...

Was that 10-11 days to get over jet lag or 10-11 days with 8 hours sleep to get over jet lag?

- Bill

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Bill In London - Raindance Wrap Up (rest of the fest)

A film festival isn't just movies... it's an adventure!


One of the fun things about Raindance is that I see the same people every time I’m at the festival. Some I have a nodding relationship with, others - like Janet - I hang out with. Janet is a regular on my website, and comes to Raindance every year. She told me that her boss automatically schedules her for half days during the festival. She sees a zillion movies over the two weeks, then goes back to her normal life for another year. We’ve bumped into each other at several screenings, and I’ve also bumped into Phil - a distrib from Spain who is a Raindance regular.

I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get into the closing night screening, because everything has been sold out (and opening and closing nights have stars in attendance - and they announce the winners). There’s a ticket shortage... and I’m hoping my badge will get me in. I walk with Janet and some other folks from the Troc Cinema to the huge cinema at Haymarket where they have the closing night movie. No one in the group has an extra ticket. At the Cinema, I look around for Elliot... limos are pulling up with actual stars. Not Ewan McGregor, but many of the other folks from SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE. I ask a couple of Raindance folks if they have a ticket or have seen Elliot... nope.

I also bump into Oscar who used to be with the festival and Oli who left the festival to become a film distributor... he released MAN PUSH CART. I talk with Jamie (Mr. Raindance Shorts) about the TALES OF TIMES SQUARE movie, and how much it resembles DEAD PEOPLE from 2 years ago.... Still no Elliot.

Then, moments before they wave the crowd in, Elliot shows with a ticket for me. I end up sitting next to Janet in the balcony - miles away from the screen. There’s a goody bag... I end up getting a nice woman’s watch, a woman's designer coin purse, a pair of fancy diamond studded *men’s* sunglasses (something I can use!), and a three pack of condoms. I later find out that there were men’s watches and wallets and the people in front got all kinds of other stuff like huge chocolate bars and CDs and gift cards and... well, you get screwed sitting in back.

After the movie, there’s a big party in some danged night club. Another walk... this time, imagine hundreds of people from a movie *all* walking down the same street to the same club... then trying to get past the door guys. Basically, hundreds of people crowding a street as they are let in one by one.

We get in, and it’s the normal film fest party. So, you have these intelligent people who love discussing movies, and you give them free booze, and then you crank up the disco music to levels that have been banned by the Geneva Convention. My ears are about to start bleeding when this attractive blonde woman from Idaho (or someplace) comes up to talk with me. She’s a film maker, recently divorced... and we have to move our faces *really* close to hear what each other are saying. She smells good... probably much better than I smell, since I was up early to teach my class. Some disco dan guy walks past, giving her the eye... and she moves even closer to me (if that’s even possible). I’m thinking about two things: the condoms in my goody bag and that f***ing sofa in the production office. I ask where she’s staying (hoping she has a bed) and she tells me she’s sharing a room with some other female film makers. “You know, in the old days they used to edit on tables big enough to sleep on, now it’s all done on computers.” Did I say that out loud? Yikes! She replies that she edited her short on computer. The disco dan comes by again... and she moves close to me. Within kissing distance. But I’m shy and wonder how awful my breath is after a day of mochas and Chinese food and free beer. I almost go for it, but when the disco dan guy moves away, so does she...

She tells me that she’s trying to avoid that guy. She went out to dinner with him during the festival, and he got the wrong idea (the same idea that I have) and I realize that *I’m* the condom. I’m protecting her from this disco dan guy. Swell... Bill the nice guy strikes again. She looked at me and just knew I was nice... I give off that non-threatening vibe. Just once I want to give off the dangerous bad boy vibe and maybe use the condoms in the goody bag... even if the sofa killed me in the process.

Free beers. After a couple I was really feeling it - which is strange. I'm a big guy and not a lightweight. Last year at this time I was in Austin (another fest) and we often began drinking early in the day - I have no idea how many drinks I'd have in a day, there - but *many*. So two or three beers shouldn't have had me wobbly. That's when I realized I hadn't eaten at all that day... and hadn't had much to eat the day before.

Lots of free beer (and other drinks) but trying to talk over the torture-loud disco music has made my throat raw... and I have to teach a class tomorrow. The hot divorcee asks me if I’ll walk her to the tube station - it closes in ten minutes. She’s afraid disco dan will follow her back to her hotel. Sure. We walk through the romantic London streets to the tube station, carrying our goody bags. Catch the last train. Her stop is Russell Square, like mine. We exit the tube station and nothing in the goody bag gets used that night...

Though I would have to use the sunglasses the next morning.

I entered the production office, racing to the alarm key pad and praying I could punch in the numbers before the police cars showed up, and tried to find a comfortable position on the sofa... not easy when you’re over 6 foot tall.


The Mystery Class. I don’t even know where it is. I have no e-mail on subjects, so I’ve brought along my ideas class. It’s a good general purpose class. I walk to the Raindance office, grabbing a Café Nero along the way (my 5th stamp - halfway to a free mocha!). Elliot walks me to the venue - a private club with a meeting room and a dining room. This is group of writers, directors, producers, and agents who have all been assigned a mentor... and are meeting for the first time. Before I do my talk, Elliot does a ten minute commercial for Raindance. Swell. I do my class, and it goes well. It’s interesting that the country responsible for some of the greatest sci-fi and some of the greatest crime films... not to mention Hitchcock... has so many creative folks who seem *amazed* by the very concept of using your imagination when coming up with stories or scenes or characters. It’s like the “brain drain” from IPCRESS FILE was administered to the entire population. These folks need an imagination kick start! They've been watching too many remakes of Jane Austen novels. Folks, you have imaginations... it's okay to use them!

A good talk... and again I forget to mention my CDs. I’m going to end up taking the whole damned bag home with me to LA.

After my class, they serve lunch. Would I care to stay? Free meal? Sure? Elliot splits. The tables are set up by occupation - which makes no sense to me. So all of the screenwriters are sitting together and all of the producers are sitting on the opposite side of the room. No interaction! One of the writers at my table is an ex journalist... who interviewed me almost a decade ago! After eating a little, I realize how dog-tired and hung over I am... and try to stay awake long for the rest of the lunch.

I wander through Leicester Square later that night, looking for a movie... but all of the show times are off. I either just missed them or they don’t start for over an hour. I end up catching a late show of some American movie I’ve already seen on Tottencourt Road and fight to stay away. I walk back to the production office, the heavenly smell of grilled onions and sausages from the carts making me hungry. At night, all of these carts pop up - catering to the drunks staggering out of the pubs. I’ve never had one of the sausages, even though I’ve been one of those drunks.

Back at the production office, I fumble with the keys and then have to race to punch in the alarm code... making it with only couple of seconds to spare.


The film festival is over and it's the first day I didn't have to get up early and be someplace at a certain time to teach a class or attend a screening.

For some reason, the lack of sleep decided to catch up with me today - and I'm a zombie. That sucks, because I'm meeting some fellow screenwriters for a few pints tonight. I know a bunch of people from my website and various message boards, and when I show up in their country I always drink with them. Tonight is the Done Deal group - I’ve drank with them every year I’ve come to London. It’s a great group, and I have many fond memories of staggering through London with English Dave and EJ and Wolfy trying to find Dave’s private club after all of the pubs closed. By the time we got there, it was very late... and the guy at the door informed us that there was a dress code that Dave didn’t meet. (He was wearing shorts and Hawaiian shirt.) Anyway, word is out on message boards that if you show up at the Holbourn tube station at 7:30, you can drink with us. Anyone can.

I make an appearance at the Raindance office, then grab some lunch. I need to eat enough to absorb a whole bunch of alcohol.

Before leaving for London I made vow to eat vegetarian while I’m here. I’ve been eating all kinds of really fatty food, and I’m not getting any thinner doing that. London is filled with veggie restaurants - if you go into McDonalds they have vegetarian meals! - and there are many many Indian vegetarian restaurants. The food is good, and usually it’s a buffet. So it should be easy to go veggie for a couple of weeks, right?

Well, so far I’ve failed. The festival is close to Chinatown, and once again I’ve been mostly eating Chinese. There’s this cruddy chain of Chinese buffets called Mr. Wu’s. All you can eat for L5. But the food is kind of junky, and not much selection. The first time I went to London, I did a blog entry (on my website) about getting completely lost because I used Mr. Wu’s as a landmark... not realizing that there are a million of them in London and they all look the same. This place doesn’t look like a chain, it looks like a hole in the wall that’s about to be closed by the health department. I’ve also learned my lesson about the buffets in Chinatown that offer 17 dishes for L6 and have barkers at the doors... you end up going up stairs to some really grungy place right out of HOSTEL where they serve you things that were probably scraped from the plates in other restaurants. So, I see a buffet for around L10 with some pretty good food and very nice tables, and go in. The food is pretty good - but lots of deep fried stuff and wonton and stuff... plus some good entrees with lots of meat. I stuff myself. When the bill comes, it’s Mr. Wu’s... the upscale location! Twice the price, but much much better food. So I eat there regularly during the festival and a few times afterwards. I also eat at a sit down, waiters and waitresses Pizza Hut once. But only eat vegetarian twice - on the days I teach my two day class. I swear, I return from London fatter than I left.

I walk to the Holbourn tube station, getting slightly lost along the way due to a curved street. I ask a police officer at a *crime scene* for directions, and he points me to the tube station. I meet up with the group, we head to a pub, and serious drinking begins. Dave has great stories about a TV show he’s working on that has more drama behind the scenes than on screen, and Wolfy talks about his scripts. We all drink and drink and drink some more. And laugh. A lot. Later, Dave does a blog entry about how he’s not funny enough to write comedies - but I have to tell you, he’s funny-as-hell in real life. When they get ready to close the pub, we leave... I’m staggering. Really wobbly. I manage to make it to the tube station *seconds* before they close the gate. That’s a good thing, because I’m having trouble standing... let alone walking. I get on a packed subway car, ride it to my stop, stagger up the stairs and then have to face the frigging door and alarm system race against time.

I’ve learned a trick - the key that starts the alarm clock needs to go first. This lock is more difficult, but once it’s unlocked, the others are a breeze and the door opens. Unfortunately, this means I have less time with the alarm key pad. I take a deep breath, and start inserting and turning keys. I get the door open, stumble in, and then search my pockets for the danged alarm code - should have had that out before I started unlocking the door. Is that it? No, it’s a cinema ticket stub. How about that? Nope, blonde divorcee’s business card. How about that? Nope, Café Nero coffee card... 8 stamps (three to go!). How about that? Right... now I just have to punch in the numbers. Just like in a James Bond movie, I get the alarm de-activated with a second to spare.


Whenever I’m in London I always have dinner with my friend Iain. I know him from the Wordplay boards. Iain is now a professional comic book writer - check out Event Horizon #2 - as well as a screenwriter. Raindance gives me some expense money for meals, and because I’m low maintenance, I never spend all of it. So I always buy Iain a dinner (on Raindance) - it’s tradition. One year, we went to some fancy Chinese place and I decided to order enough food so that Iain could take home a bunch of stuff and eat off Raindance for about a week. Great plan... but they don’t “doggie bag” in England. What you don’t eat gets scraped into the trash... and probably ends up at that awful upstairs buffet on tomorrow’s menu... the barker describing it as fresh and delicious.

We meet at the British Museum (mummyland) and walk across town to this Italian restaurant Iain wants to try in Covent Garden (where Hitchcock’s FRENZY takes place). A small, family restaurant. We get there just before the dinner hour, and the place is almost empty - the wait-staff is actually having dinner at a table together. I tell Iain he can order anything - Raindance is paying. I also order anything - who cares about the price? I order a couple of beers and some garlic cheese bread as an appetizer. Our waiter brings us bread and a plate of olives and pickles. Delicious. The garlic cheese bread arrives... and it’s a pizza. Like a medium cheese pizza with garlic. Um, okay. I have a slice or two. The waiter takes away the olives and real bread... too bad, because those olives were tasty. Our entrees come, and the waiter takes away the pizza. The food is great - more meat and vegetables than pasta (though there is pasta). The waiter keeps trying to take away our plates while we’re eating... he’s hovering. Iain tells me about his new comic book - his creation. Sounds cool. It’s great when people I know have success - and Iain deserves it. He works hard.

The waiter hangs around, waiting for either of us to put down our forks so that he can steal our plates like he stole the pizza and olives. When we finally finish he takes the plates... and then disappears. When we’re ready to leave, we have to bill to pay. No sign of our waiter. Eventually (maybe a half hour later!) he surfaces and brings the bill. Over $100!!!!! There was a charge for the olives, and a charge just for sitting down (glass of water). Hey, that’s not a lot of money for a meal, but this was kind of a small family restaurant... not some fancy place. Doesn’t really matter - it was on Raindance.

(The stranger thing about this is that I've dropped $200 on DVDs without thinking. So maybe this is about being responsible with other people's money? I guarentee, no one else Raindance brings over thinks twice before dropping $200 on dinner.)


I have a meeting with a couple of screenwriters who took my class a few years ago. We’re going to have coffee and discuss their new project. We meet in a movie theater bar (yes, you can do shooters of tequila, then see a movie in London) and talk about their script and scripts in general. I get my 9th punch on my Café Nero card on the way to the meeting - just one more coffee and I get a free large mocha absolutely free!

Tomorrow I have to teach my big 2 day class. Even with the crappy publicity, there are a bunch of sign ups. This is the first time I’ve ever done the Character First version in London, and I’ve tried to use as many British films s examples as possible. HISTORY BOYS just opened, so I’ve decided to see it - maybe there will be some good class examples. I go to a cinema in Leicester Square, where the ticket costs me L13... which is about $26 American. I also buy a soft drink and some sweet popcorn... almost $20! That great Italian meal from last night is seeming a lot less expensive.

I walk home after the movie and prepare for my class... two days of non-stop talking.


Walking from the production office to the class venue I pass no Café Neros. None. There’s a little coffee and sandwich shop that provides me with the drugs I need to get through the day. The class goes well, one of the students who signed up after one of my Film Fest classes is the son of the editor of the first 3 STAR WARS movies (cool) and asks all kinds of great questions. He knows about movies. He even corrects me once when I use a British example and get something wrong (haven’t seen that movie in decades - not available on DVD in the USA, but easy to find here). I break my rule and have lunch with him and some other students at a vegetarian Indian place. I try *not* to have lunch with students because I’ll just talk the whole time and I need to save my voice for the class.

Sunday, the coffee and sandwich shop is closed... I end up drinking McDonald’s coffee. Still one stamp short of a free coffee at Café Nero. Class goes well, with one exception - the DVD player is Region 2, and I have a US DVD that won’t play in it. My clips DVD is Region 0 - so that isn’t a problem, but I have a cool new class thing where we read a scene from a script, then see what it looks like in the film. Except, we can’t see what it looks like in the film. Oops.

I eat lunch alone in another Indian veggie place - my voice is really raw.

That night I see DEPARTED and hit the sofa. Next morning I get my 10th stamp at Café Nero... my next coffee (any size, any type) is free. I head to the Raindance office to collect my check... but there’s a snafu and they’ll have to mail me the check. Crap. The good news is - Raindance is good about actually paying me. But it’s always nice to have that check in my pocket when I leave.

My flight is Tuesday... and to get to Heathrow 4 hours early (international) and allow for the tube ride and waking up and... well, I’m going to have to leave early. No time to stop by Café Nero to get my free coffee. I fly home with the card with all 10 stamps in my pocket. Maybe next time...

Because we’re following the sun, it’s a really long Tuesday. I arrive at LAX, have some issues with the FlyAway airport bus that will eventually pop up in an earlier blog entry, and get home early Wednesday morning. On Thursday, I’m at the Screenwriter’s Expo back at LAX and I don’t have any clean clothes.... but I have a full bag of CDs to sell.

- Bill

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Bill In London - Raindance Wrap Up (movies)

By the time I get to Raindance, the festival is almost over. I have missed most of the films. The original plan, hatched over a year ago, was that I would come to the festival and probably be on the jury and teach my class a week after the fest. During the fest, I would do three two hour classes.... when I was on the jury in 2004, I did a couple of 2 hour classes during the festival that were sold out - standing room only. These classes were cheap (L10) but still managed to make enough money for the festival to cover the bulk (if not *all*) of my expenses...

And in 2004 I was probably pretty expensive. The festival had a deal with the Lancaster Hotel near Russell Square, and I ended up in a huge suite (more on that in the next post). They had several rooms at the hotel and were rotating guests through them - so a director might be there for 2 days while his film was screening, and then the star of another film might show up to take that room for a couple of days while their film was screening. I even did a room shift in 2004, from a standard room up to the big suite. Some huge name star had been there before me.

The three classes this year would probably completely cover the cost of flying me in and putting me up for the entire festival...

But somewhere along the way, things changed. I would only be teaching two short classes and they could only put me up for the tail end of the fest. I would arrive the final Thursday, and be there for the last weekend of the festival (including closing night). I didn’t know if I would be on the jury or not at this point - most jurors watched the films on DVD anyway... I was the only guy who ever saw every single film on the big screen.

I show up and I'm *not* on the jury - but I get to see movies with no responsibility at all... and no chance that Saffron Burrows will try to throw me out a 2nd storey window again (jury duty in 2001).

Less than four days of the festival... and jet lag. How many movies could I see?

After my nap on Thursday, I managed to make one of the special programs. Raindance was doing a special tribute to Stanley Kubrick - showing two of his films with special guests afterwards plus a documentary on the director. Kubrick is kind of an interesting director - sort of a lightning rod. You can love him *and* hate him. I do. He’s made some great films and some frustrating films. But, like Hitchcock, every one of his films has *something* in it - maybe only one great moment, but that moment may be worth the ticket price. I own some Kubrick films on DVD. My favorite Kubrick films are PATHS OF GLORY and THE KILLING (both written by Jim Thompson). The two films Raindance was screening: 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. Not too shabby.

I’d missed CLOCKWORK and the doc, but 2001 was screening Thursday night, followed by Q&A with the camera operator, Kelvin Pike (also DR. STRANGELOVE and THE SHINING). I managed to use my all access pass to snag one of the last tickets and squeezed into the sold out cinema...


I actually saw this film when it was first released... I was a kid. It was playing at the Century 21 Dome in Pleasant Hill, CA (a theater I would later be a projectionist at... and eventually become acting manager of). As a kid I was impressed by the special effects and the cold, frightening idea that a computer could turn against us. I didn’t understand the end at all - and later in life I was told that if you’re stoned or have just dropped acid, the whole thing makes sense.

Seeing it again, almost 40 years later (I *am* old), the ending still doesn’t make any sense. Sure, everyone has a theory about it - death and rebirth and all that - but no one is really 100% sure of their theory. It’s not like some movies that have an ambiguous end that has you debating the film with others afterwards, 2001 leaves you confused and trying to understand the end afterwards. Kubrick thought the confusing end was a great idea, leaving mystery... I think it’s the part of the film that you *must* be stoned to understand, making it more light show than story. Hey, that’s okay.... but I’m the guy who likes story. The most amazing thing about seeing it again on the big screen - those special effects are still the best I’ve ever seen. A million times better than the current crop of digital effects. You see one of the new STAR WARS movies and it’s obvious that those are effects of some sort... but 2001 is *real*. Those space ships are the real thing, not some effect. And that’s something missing in today’s CGI heavy films - the look of reality. The film is slow, “deliberately paced” as they say, but that works. It makes it seem real. By the time we get to the HAL9000 going haywire, the deliberate pacing makes the death of one crew member seem like just another event on HAL’s big checklist. Frightening because it’s so low key.

Mr. Pike spoke afterwards, and told the usual tales of Kubrick’s never-ending takes (usually with little or no difference between the first and last take) and creating everything in England. There were takes of Dr. STRANGELOVE and THE SHINING, too... but I don’t remember any actual stories (I was still zonked from over 24 hours of travel). One thing he talked about is the problem with effects back then - because they were done using combined elements of film, it was impossible to know how anything was going to turn out until *months* after you’ve shot the footage. Other things mentioned were the practical effects - the weightlessness was a challenge in a world before wire removal.


One major problem for me this year was that the festival was crowded again. When I first attended the festival, you could easily find an empty seat for any film before 7pm - most of them were empty! A couple of years ago, they moved to a new cinema and began selling out showings... even daytime shows. I was surprised to be in a crowded cinema at 2 in the afternoon to see a prison film from Poland. This year they are still at the Trocadero Cinemas, and still selling out.

But even when shows have a few available seats, the way cinemas are designed in the UK makes it impossible to get to those seats.

In the USA fire regulations requires that auditoriums are built with exits at the 4 corners and a wide aisle intersecting the room. If there's a fire, there are 4 ways out and you don't have to climb over every seat to get to an exit - you just have to get to the wide aisle. This makes it easy to get to almost any seat in the house - there are usually two entrances and an aisle that cuts across the back of the house and one in the middle.

The Troc cinemas all have *one* entry and exit and no aisle at all. So if that entry is on the right side of the house, all of the seats are packed on the right side and the empty seats will be on the left side... but there's no way to get to them (other than doing the "excuse-me, pardon-me" down a row of seats... and the seats are so close together that it's almost impossible). Once the film has begun, you're screwed. You may be able to see an empty seat on the other side of the cinema, but you can't get there. So a few times when I was a minute late due to some other screening or getting grabbed in the lobby by someone who wanted to talk, I missed a movie. Just no way to get to the seat.

Anyway - a bunch of movies I wanted to see - some I even had tickets for - I didn’t get a chance to see. Here’s what I did see....


The best feature I saw at Raindance this year was a really twisted black comedy from Macedonia, BAL-CAN-CAN, written and directed by Darko Mitrevski; about a draft dodger, his wife and mother-in-law trying to escape the country (and the civil war). When the mother-in-law is shot in the cross-fire and dies, the only way to smuggle her body across the border is to wrap her in a rug. But when the rug is stolen by black marketeers, our hero must become a man of action and find his mother-in-law’s corpse so that she can be properly buried. He calls his father’s best friend’s son, a slick Italian minor-mobster, to help him out. The two are opposites - and working together creates some funny situations.

To give you an idea of the tone of this film, there’s a scene where the husband and wife have the mother-in-law’s body in a tub full of ice, trying to figure out what to do with it. The husband reaches into the tub... and pulls out a beer! The wife grabs a beer from the tub, too, and they come up with the carpet scheme.

Another scene has two factions of the civil war in close quarters fight... but when our hero and his Italian “blood brother” show up, they stop the war for dinner. Both sides sit at the same table and eat... until someone says the wrong thing and they begin shooting each other. Everybody is killed... except our pair. The film is often too dark for its own good - but when people go through hell and make you laugh about it, that’s a skill. It’s kind of Coen Brothers with a lot more blood.


Marco Martins’ film about a father’s obsessive search for his missing little girl. In the heartbreaking film from Portugal, the protagonist’s four year old daughter disappears from her day care, and he spends every waking hour searching for her. He places dozens of video cameras on rooftops overlooking the streets of Lisbon and collects the tapes every day. Watches hours of security camera videos... looking for some sign of his child. At one point he thinks he my have spotted her... but the missing girl is never found. By the end of the film he gives up his search... Accepting that he will never find her. Ultimately unsatisfying - the film just ends. I also had some questions about how one loses a four year old - someone should have been watching this kid!


A Bollywood film... but, as the director and producer pointed out to me - the *new* socially conscious Bollywood. Gritty. Realistic. With only couple of musical numbers... and only two and a half hours long! The story of a woman executive climbing the corporate ladder who thinks nothing of using anyone to get what she wants. Lots of company politics, lots of war between major soft drink corporations. When corporate espionage exposes that a rival soft drink company is about to market a *mint* flavored soft drink, our “hero company” scrambles to get their mint soft drink released first... even if it means using contaminated water and bribing a bunch of government officials. We see all kinds of back stabbing behind the scenes, and at the center of the film there’s this love story between our climbing female executive and the brother-in-law of her boss (who has the most soulful eyes of any actor I’ve ever seen... so it’s no surprise when he gets back-stabbed in the deal and spends the last half of the film crying or trying not to cry). When the secret of the contaminated water gets out, heads roll, sticks fall, and mean American investors scream into their phones.

The film was shown *without* subtitles... and it surprised me how much I could figure out without dialogue... to the point of two labor characters introduced who I knew would be comic relief... and the (mostly Indian) audience laughed at everything they said. Though it’s nice that they made a Bollywood movie that isn’t just another three-plus hour all-singing, all-dancing heroic action movie, the end result was kind of unemotional (despite the crying dude) and bland. Shot “flat” and boring. Characters we didn’t care much about. Concept that’s kind of boring. Afterwards the writer-director talked about his brilliant ability to find great concepts... but his next film is about beggers at a major intersection called TRAFFIC LIGHT. Would you pay $10 to see that?


Closing night film was an all star cast movie about seven couples in the same London park on the same day, all dealing with relationship issues. Ewan McGregor, Gina McKee (yum), Adrian Lester (HUSTLE), Sophie Okonedo, etc. The director won the Raindance pitchfest 2 years ago... when I was one of the judges. The film? Well, it’s all *scenes* - as in, sketches. And the “sexual nature”? Well, the closest we get is a long shot of a young woman’s underpants. The rest is just talk.

The big problem with the film is that after it’s over we have no greater understanding of relationships. The scenes don’t really connect... and none of them are resolved. The best of the lot is an older couple reluctantly sharing a park bench who, in the course of conversation, discover that they were once lovers. That’s such a great moment - so powerful and amazing - that the rest of the film suffers from blandness. And they aren’t even smart enough to end this scene with the big moment... it drags on for the rest of the film, even though there really is nothing that can top that moment. The other scenes (intercut throughout the movie) are either too short or too long - nothing is just right. Ewan McGregor is a gay guy who wants to have kids, but his boyfriend isn’t interested. They keep cutting back to their bickering, but no progress is ever made and we really don’t learn anything about the characters (other than surface stuff) even though this section goes on *forever*. Meanwhile, a husband is caught looking at that young woman’s underpants by his wife... who (after a very funny scene where she forces her husband to apologize for peeping) storms off. The husband chases after her and... we never find out what happens. I wanted *more* of this sequence. Gina McKee (CROUPIER) plays a woman on a blind date who admits to a ticking biological clock and thinks she blows the date... so she storms off. Again, not enough material here to learn anything about the characters (other than the surface) and the conflict is never resolved (or purposely unresolved) - the scene just ends. Another sketch has Adrian Lester and his wife and daughter taking a stroll as they discuss their divorce. This one was pretty good - but needed a stronger end... it just kind of meanders off. A sketch about a businessman who just *talks* to a call girl - they have a relationship that has never entered the bedroom - goes on too long then ends abruptly. It seems like the script was rough first draft that needed some serious rewriting... and didn’t get it.


I only saw one program of shorts this year - I usually see all of them. This selection was called Urban Scapes and was much weaker than past shorts programs. Two years ago, even the stranger selections were mostly solid little films. The worst of the lot was a thing called LIAR that was an actor saying he was a liar over-and-over again in different costumes, until you wanted to find out where this actor lived and go strangle him. 10 minutes, but seemed like hours.

The very best was TALES OF TIME SQUARE, also 10 minutes... but it just breezed by. This was a doc about a guy who lived and worked in the pre-Disney Times Square in NY. His rise and fall. The love of his life... murdered. His descent into drugs and homelessness. A quick lesson on how to find a place to sleep for the night. And the eventual death of our protagonist. Heartbreaking. And the guy is so witty and interesting - the perfect interview subject. You really get to know this guy in 10 minutes - know him better than any of the characters in SCENES OF A SEXUAL NATURE. It reminded me of a film I saw at Raindance 2 years ago (DEAD PEOPLE - about an old man who tells great stories), and I talked to Jamie (Mr. Raindance Shorts) at the closing night screening about it - but we couldn’t remember if it was the same director or not. Seems it wasn’t - Paul Stone directed TIMES and Roger Deutsch directed DEAD PEOPLE. Both have the same amazing ability to take a normal guy and get the most mazing stories out of him.

Another pretty good short was GAS - about a woman being chased by guys with *huge* Busey-like teeth. Had a funny punchline. Also, ATTACK was a good one - a MEMENTO style backwards story that completely changes our perception of the situation with every segment. Story starts out with some nice black guys fighting a skin head. By the time we get all the way back, we find out this guy *isn’t* a skin head... and everything has been the result of a misunderstanding. Great little film that makes you realize how quick we are to judge any situation (because *we* jump to conclusions again and again).

Too long at 10 minutes, but still fun was SHANTELL TOWN, and I met the writer-director Paulette James before the screening. The story of a non-fashionable black girl who gets teased by the other girls and ends up showing her inner-style and finding love... and it’s a *musical*. Would have been better at half the length, but the film is clever and has regular laughs (even if it’s just a funny hair style).

BUSKER was somewhere in the middle - but starred Dominique Pinon from DELICATESSEN as a mime who is losing business due to a guitar player... so he grabs his air guitar and wows the crowd. Only 6 minutes long... but could have been cut in half and been much better. Also somewhere between good and bad was CUBS about gang kids who go fox hunting... and our hero-kid’s first kill. There was symbolism at work, here, but the film went on too long (at 10 minutes).

On the worst list is MEAT, a film that manages to not tell a story. The story is there, the film just can’t figure out how to get the info to the audience. So you spend 13 *looooong* minutes completely confused, and eventually figure out what the movie was trying to say. PROVIDENCE was another movie that had no idea how to tell its story - you end up scratching your head. This one was about a father with a dead daughter, or maybe a daughter with a dead father. Worst of all - because it not only didn’t communicate its story, after it was over I still had no idea what the danged story even *was* was this movie about a train conductor vs. soccer hooligans. Don’t know the title, it was a replacement film for something else that didn’t show. Here’s the thing - you have a movie with all kinds of *trains* and a *train station* and lots of other expenseive stuff... and the story is so incompetent I still don’t know what it was about.


After the fest I saw a few movies, including some American films I’m not going to mention, plus this film which had great reviews and was written by Alan Bennet. If you don’t know who that is, he’s probably to blame for Monty Python. Bennet was a member of the comedy group known as Beyond The Fringe which kind of set the stage for the Pythons a few years later. When I was a drama-geek in high school, I did a few of Bennet’s sketches - one became my audition piece. So I had some pretty high expectations...

Which were not met. The film is the story of a group of high school kids who have good enough grades to *maybe* get into Oxford/Cambridge on history scholarships. One major problem is - they don’t care about Oxford as much as their Principal does. He thinks it would be great for the school if these kids all got in. Then we get a scattershot plot - because the whole Oxford thing gets sidetracked by a new teacher story - and the crush one of the boys has on the teacher. Oh, and then *that* story gets sidetracked by the old teacher story - Richard Griffiths (the Muggle Uncle in the Harry Potter films) plays a teacher with unorthodox methods who is being squeezed out of the system... who then touches one of the boys inappropriately... leading to him getting fired... leading to him eventually getting killed in a motorcycle wreck... leading to a big funeral where everyone wishes they would have appreciated his unique teaching style more. Actually, that may be the real pot of the story - hard to tell *what* is. There’s also this major major subplot comparing the teaching theories of the new teacher and the old teacher - and *that* may be the real plot, too. I’m leaving out a bunch of major plot threads - and that’s the problem with this film: no focus. The kids don’t care if they go to Oxford, so we really don’t care if they pass the interviews or not.. And we don’t even get to see those interviews! We getkind of a montage - but considering this thing starts out being about how hard it is to get through that interview, they spend almost no time on it. The best part of the film - Bennet is still funny as hell. The story may be all over the place, but the dialogue was funny. These kids had an arsenal of zingers.


Another post-fest film I saw was MAN PUSH CART written and directed by Ramin Bahrani. It was distributed by ex-Raindance guy Oliver, whose company DogWoof specializes in indie films. The film is about a Pakistani immigrant in New York City who is very close to paying off his breakfast service cart. It's a large cart, and he serves coffee and food items from *inside* the cart. This is not a motorized “roach coach”, it has a trailer hitch and is designed to be pulled behind a truck.

Except our protagonist doesn't own a truck.

Every morning he gets up at 3am, goes to the garage and pulls his cart by hand across Manhattan to his corner. The street is uneven, bad pavement. There are taxis and buses and cars honking at him the entire way. The cart is very heavy. At one point, he trips, the cart goes out of control, and he has to chase it down and catch it before it crashes. This is a huge cart - not designed for a man to pull by hand.

Once he gets the cart to his corner, he sets up shop and his work day begins. He works all day... then drags the cart back to the garage at night, fighting auto traffic and pot holes the entire way. After he puts his cart to bed in the garage, he's still carrying around the propane tank that keeps the stove going. Propane is expensive and he can't just leave the tank in the garage. So he carries it home with him on the bus every night.

The film is a real heart-breaker, and manages to keep giving us more and more information about our hero - making his story even more tragic. His wife has died. And once he pays off his cart, he can start putting away money so that he can move into a larger apartment and send for his son. Then there’s this great twist where a wealthy businessman who stops by his cart recognizes him from the old country... where he was a famous rock star who moved to America to find fame and fortune. There’s a newspaper stand girl from Spain who provides the romantic interest... but this film is ultimately very sad. You see the world through different eyes after this film.

Those were the films I saw this year (with the exception of a couple of American films) - next up - what happened at the festival.

Here’s my Raindance Diary from 2004:
Raindance 2004

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bill In London - Film Festivals Are A Scam

Yes, even Sundance.

You probably think of film festivals as some sort of important institution - a cultural event designed to select the very best motion pictures and give them the rewards they so rightly deserve. A place where commerce doesn't matter, and artistic expression is worshiped. A place where people only care about the quality of the film, and only the best films are screened.


Film festivals are about money and fame. The idea that it's all about the art is as much of a scam as the idea that the Best Picture Oscar always goes to the very best picture... and trade adverts or backroom deals or DVDs sent to every member of the Academy have nothing to do with what film wins.

Since I'm here at a film festival, let me take you behind the scenes at some of the film festivals I've attended and show you how they really work.

I used to attend the San Francisco Film Fest every year. Because I had a car that worked and had 4 doors, I usually taxiied a carload of film fans from the East Bay to the Palace Of Fine Arts in San Fran where they held the festival. One of the regulars was Craig Maderno who would later interview Speilberg for Penthouse about this little movie he was making called CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND. In those days, the only time I got to see anything behind the scenes was when I snuck backstage to talk to Jack Nicholson. I was still an outsider.

Even when I did some classes at the Sacramento Film Fest, I was still an outsider. I still thought Film Festivals were these cultural events designed to show only the best movies and reward them with trophies afterwards. The first time I realized that film festivals were scams was when I went to the Ft. Lauderdale Film Fest.


The first thing you need to know about film festivals is that they are not *institutions* - they are usually just one person. I've been calling Elliot "Mr. Raindance", and that's exactly who he is. Elliot is a film lover in London who decided 14 years ago to start a film festival. There were other festivals, but none of them were *his*. So he found some volunteers and some movies and a screen and had a film festival. After a while, the festival grows and becomes respected and people forget that one person started it. In it’s 14th year, Raindance has all kinds of sponsors like Delta Airlines, shows movies from all around the world to sell out crowds, and is a big deal. It's a great festival. Raindance also holds the British Independent Film Awards every year - the BIFAs - which are very much like the Independent Spirit Awards in the USA. The year I attended, Harvey Weinstein showed up to collect an award. Remember - all of this started with one person who wanted to start their own film festival.

Every film festival in the world probably began the exact same way. Every film festival I've attended always has one person behind it, not an institution. Who's behind Sundance?

Once you realize it's one person, and that they just kind of made up the festival... you start to look at the *why*. Behind every film festival is a motive that has nothing to do with selecting great films and rewarding them.


Ft. Lauderdale has a huge festival... and lots of red carpets.

After a few days I realized that the audience was made up of wealthy Ft. Lauderdale folks, not film fans. Sure, they might have liked films, but they weren't *addicts* like me. They were attending the festival because it was a cultural event. It could have been a gallery opening...

Except the gallery opening wouldn't have movie stars. It seemed like the majority of the films at Ft Lauderdale starred famous people, and those famous people were at the screenings and the parties afterwards. The opening film was directed by Richard Attenborough, and he was on hand to introduce the film, the leading lady, and then talk to all of the wealthy film festival attendees at the party afterwards. Every movie had stars in attendance and there always seemed to be a party afterwards where the wealthy residents of Ft. Lauderdale had a chance to talk to the stars. My personal highlight of the Ft. Lauderdale Fulm Fest (aside from talking with Richard Attenborough for about half an hour, then having him recognize me on the hotel elevator for a between floors conversation) was that found myself in a much better hotel room than Tim Daly (WINGS) who was staying on the same floor. I was in a corner suite, and one of the guests of honor was staying in a non-corner room.

Though I noted the star gazing at Ft. Lauderdale, it wasn't until I went to the Temecula CA film festival that it all made sense. Temecula is this wide spot in the road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. I'm sure at one time it was farm country, but now it's *ranch* country. Wealthy people with horses live there. Those wealthy people would love to meet Hollywood stars... so they put on a film festival. On awards night they give out some lifetime achievement awards to the biggest stars they can find. They year I was there, one of the stars accepted his award... then got in his car and drove off while they were giving out the other awards. He'd realized this whole thing wasn't about rewarding his body of work, but making him available to rich folks in Temecula so that they could hang all over him.

On the other hand, Patty Duke also received a lifetime achievement award, but couldn’t attend because she broke her leg a couple of days before... so her son, Sean Astin (from LORD OF THE RINGS) showed up to talk about his mom. While the other star was making his getaway, Sean was signing autographs and posing for pictures and talking with festival goers... but he made a special point to seek out the film makers on hand and hang out with them. They hadn’t begun shooting the LORD OF THE RINGS movies, yet, so he was booked for 3 big movies... and here he was talking to people who had made short films instead of the wealthy folks. A very nice guy.

One of the problems with the Temecula Festival was that the parties where you rubbed shoulders with celebrities were better organized than the festival itself. The festival had a glossy program... that neglected to list the starting times of any of the films. If you wanted to read bios of all the celebs in attendance - it was in the program. If you wanted to know what time a movie started, you were SOL. They had a chalkboard in the lobby with *today’s* showtimes. You had to show up before the first screening to see what the first screening was - and if there weren’t any movies you wanted to see in the first bunch, you left the hotel for no reason. It was a film festival that wasn’t designed for watching movies!

Someone in Temecula had said "I'd like to meet movie stars, let's start a film festival!"

Probably a third of the film festivals in the world are about bringing in stars... the rest or are about money.


While the prestigious Cannes Film Festival is going on... there’s a film market selling foreign rights happening simultaneously. Cannes is famous for sales stunts that include topless starlets on the beach and the Troma parade of freak-heroes. The film festival is the front for the real Cannes - a kind of K-Mart for movies. The stars who show up for the red carpet screenings are also at some party on some yacht where they shake hands and pose for pictures with distribs who may buy the film. The festival is the tool they use to sell the films.

Film makers might like to win an award at Sundance or Toronto Film Festival, but the main reason for entering a festival is the chance that a distributor at the festival might buy your film. Festivals may seem to be about showing quality films, but they often design their schedules to make it easier for distribs to see (and buy) films. If a bunch of films are picked up at Sundance, it gives the festival publicity. People who enter the festivals also want to sell their films - everybody wins.

Selling films at a Festival isn’t the only place to make money - the festival itself can be a money maker. Many of those individuals who start film festivals are in it for the money. Let’s say you love watching movies but don’t have the talent or skills to make them. You still don’t want to work some day job and just be a movie fan... you want to find some way to watch movies and get paid for it and share the best films you see with others. Why not be a festival director? I believe that Elliot at Raindance falls into this category. He created a film festival so that he could watch movies for a living. He works all year long finding films and when October rolls around he has a couple of weeks of movies showing at the festival. He gets a salary for all of his work... and avoids having to work some day job. On one hand, the festival probably exists so that he can get paid for watching movies, on the other hand it’s a good festival that really shows some interesting movies. A couple of years ago the winner of Raindance went on to win Best Foreign Film Oscar. Every time I’m here for the festival, I see a bunch of interesting films and even a couple of absolutely great ones. Without that one man - Elliot - that wouldn't be possible.


But there’s another festival I attended that was *all* about making money for the festival director. I’m not going to mention names, but some of you may figure out which festival it is.... Takes place in Colorado - there’s a major clue. They asked me if I’d like to attend the festival and teach some classes and be on some panels. I’d get an all-access pass to the festival (the best bait for me - if you want me to come to your festival, offer me hundreds of free movies), and a room. I don’t think they paid for airfare and they weren’t paying me to teach the classes. At the time, I had ANDROID ARMY set up with a producer and we’d just hired a director and I’d just gotten my first batch of director notes and the time spent teaching the classes would be better spent working on the rewrite... but the festival director told me there would be a special event where I could autograph and sell my book. There were 300 people coming to the film festival - they’d all be at the book signing. So, I’d get to see a bunch of movies *and* sell a bunch of books. (And avoid working on a rewrite.) The clincher was Oprah - she was a film festival sponsor. Wow - I could meet Oprah!

This festival also had a screenwriting contest - and seemed to focus on the writing. This was another good reason to go - the films would probably be well written.

So I bought my ticket and packed 60 books (20% of the crowd, even though I’d probably just sell to 10%) and hopped a plane to Colorado.

When I arrived, it was raining harder than it was here in London two days ago. They picked me up at the airport, drove me to the event location... which was not a hotel near a cinema, it was a *park* with *cabins*. Not exactly what I expected. Because it was raining so hard, someone drove me to my cabin, and when I unlocked the door... someone else’s luggage was on the floor. They must have given me the wrong cabin number! I walked back to the office in the pouring rain and explained that there was luggage in the cabin they’d given me, what cabin was *I* staying in? “That’s your room mate’s luggage. We’re doubling folks up, hope you don’t mind. It’ll be three people in your case, because he brought his wife.” Had it not been raining so hard, I might have just gone back to the airport right then. But I was exhausted and drenched. So I walked back to the cabin through the pouring rain to meet my roommate and his wife.

Now, I’m a person who doesn’t like having roommates - I like to be alone. I’m private. Two guys sharing a cabin isn’t comfortable, but it’s possible. On the Yosemite movie I was sharing a room with the stunt guy and the FX make up guy. I knew I’d be sharing a room before I ever got in the car and drive to Yosemite. But we were all guys and it was okay. We snored, we farted, we left whiskers in the sink. None of us cared. I can’t imagine being roommates with a woman - too many minefields and even if there’s no sexual tension at all, women have different standards than men. The whiskers in the sink probably wouldn’t be accepted. I really couldn’t imagine sharing a cabin with a *couple* - all of the issues of sharing a cabin with a woman, plus *their* romantic issues taking place and all kinds of other things. There’s a furniture store advert in Los Angeles that has an amorous older couple doing some heavy making out in a bed... then we pan over to see a young couple in the same bed looking *very* uncomfortable. The tag line is: If you bought your bed at our store you could have afforded a guest bed for when your parents visit. I would be sharing a cabin with a married couple - who thought this was a good idea?

(The couple was just as freaked out as I was about the living arrangements, and had no intention of making out while I was around.)

It stops raining the next morning and the festival begins with afternoon classes and panels. The director asks if I will do a couple of extra classes on different subjects, because some of the folks didn’t show... and two of them arrived last night, looked at the conditions, and split. Extra classes? Sure, I’m easy. I get to see hundreds of films for free!


Except we’re in a *park* with *cabins* so there is no one to attend the screenings (held in a barn converted to a cinema by adding a projector and screen and seats). The only people at the film festival are the film makers (needless to say Oprah was a no show).

And there aren’t really any screenings - they are showing the finalist shorts before the awards ceremony - but not any of the other entries. This may be because the place really isn’t set up for screening movies (kind of a setback when you’re having a film festival) or because screening the movies isn’t that important at this festival.

There *are* parties and banquets and events. My all access pass gets me in to all of them... but there aren’t very many people at the festival itself, let alone the opening night cocktail party at the picnic tables outside the barn. I think there were as many guest speakers like me as there were festival attendees!

My special autograph session was opposite someone else’s class (and their special autograph session was opposite my class) so I ended up taking about 58 books home with me. After doing my classes and panels for the day, I hung out with a group of film makers and got their side of the festival.

They had all been lured in by the Oprah thing, and paid the entry fees thinking that Oprah would probably be at the fest to see their movies. Their films were finalists for some award - and there were *dozens* of awards at this festival (the more awards you have, the less any award means). Because they were finalists, they were offered a package deal - festival pass and lodging for one price. But all of the events were an additional fee. Want to go to the opening night cocktail party? That’s extra. Want to go to this lecture or that lecture? Extra. Want to go to the pre-awards banquet? Extra. Want to go to the awards screening? Extra. Want to go to the awards show itself and see of your film won or lost and accept the award of you won? $75. Want to go to the party after the awards? $75. So after these film makers who were finalists arrived in Colorado and met their roommates, they had to pay to do everything else. I think there was one free party - but I may be mistaken. That may have just been a bunch of us raiding the leftovers from a paid party we hadn’t attended.

Two people I hung out with were an Australian writer who had a script in the screenwriting contest and a lesbian woman from the Bay Area who had a film in competition. Neither paid the $75 to find out if they won. These are bright people who were not happy with all of the upcharges.

Another thing that didn’t make them happy - no one saw their movies or read their scripts. You see, unlike every other film festival in the world that has judges from the industry, this one had only one judge: the festival director. The most important thing a film maker can get from a festival is exposure - an audience sees their movie and the industry judges see their movie. The judges end up a connection in the business. On this year’s Raindance jury you have Dame Judy Dench (the Bond films and many others), Parminder Nagra (ER and BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM), Matthew Libatique (the DP of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM) and some distributors and producers and celebrities. If your film was in competition at Raindance, these stars and producers and celebrities would have seen your movie! They might be the connection that gets you into the business. I exec produced a short film many many years ago that won a competition and one of the festival judges - a big Hollywood producer - gave the director a feature film! (I got squat.) So the festival jury is very important to the film makers....

And this festival had a jury of one - the director.

And the screenwriting competition had a jury of one - the director.


I asked the director why there were no judges, and she told me it was her festival and she was the best judge of the material. I may be wrong on this, but all of those $75 up charges lead me to believe that the festival director was the only judge so that she could keep all of the money and didn’t have to fly in some industry folks first class and put them up in hotels instead of shared cabins. This really seemed like a money making event for the festival director that gave nothing back to the film makers.

Though it sounds like this festival was hello-on-earth, I actually enjoyed myself and made some good friends there. Probably the sort of strong friendships that come out of surviving a violent battle in a war. The film makers and screenwriters and those of who were talked into doing classes for that all access pass would meet at one of the lodges and drink leftover booze from the parties we couldn’t afford to attend and talk about what a scam it all was.

So, before you enter a screenwriting contest or film festival, you should look at what’s in it for *you*. Are there industry judges who can help your career? Will your film be seen by people who can help you? Will the festival get enough press that your name or film might pop up in a print article or on TV coverage? Will you meet people at the event that might help you? Is the event important enough that just having your film screened there means something?

Just because all film festivals are scams (even Sundance) doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing - they may show a bunch of great films and create buzz for your film and allow your film to be screened in the very place buyers are looking for films to acquire. Sure, Robert Redford may gain fame and fortune from the event... but it also benefits the rest of us. Without all of those film festivals, we’d be stuck with nothing but disaster movie remakes and sequels at the cinema.

- Bill

There’s going to be a Part 2 of this entry that will focus on the Judges and the Films at festivals... and how they are part of the scam. But that will come a little later.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Bill In London - Arrival At Raindance


The last time I saw London... they tried to blow me up.

The terrorists.

The first time I attended the Raindance film festival was in 2001... I flew to London in a plane filled with jet fuel on October 11, 2001. The day before, some crazy guy had been arrested for threatening to blow up the very flight I was on!

The last time I was in London, I arrived on 7/7/2005... the day of the London bombings. I arrived just as they were closing down the tube (subway) - and they wouldn’t tell me why. The tube station they had blown up was in Russell Square - where my hotel was. The double decker bus they blew up was a block away from my hotel....

This time - no terrorist activities. I arrived exhausted, as usual. I got up early so that I could make it to LAX 4 hours early, so they could examine my shoes, then flew for something like 10 or 11 hours (I can’t sleep on planes), then waited for my luggage, then dragged my luggage to the tube station, then tool the tube to Picadilly Circus Station. Raindance hadn’t told me which hotel I’d be in, but I guessed the same one as last time - near Russell Square. I could have taken the tube there - it’s a few stops farther - but nobody told me which hotel, so I’d have to go to the office. It was also early in the morning, so the hotel check in time was probably a few hours away. If I was lucky, the last fest guest had moved out of that luxury suite I had 2 years ago, leaving it to me. I’d gladly wait until 11am for that suite!

I always manage to pick the wrong stairs to drag my luggage up at Picadilly... and then get a little lost. I know where I’m going - but I end up taking the longest possible route (with my luggage). Same thing this time. Eventually I get on track, passing the big theatres where Guilgud and Olivier worked (one is named after Guilgud) and the strip clubs and sex shows, then to the outdoor market... then to the Raindance office. I buzz the door, climb down the treacherous staircase, and collapse on a chair. Where I get the odd news.

I won’t be staying in that luxurious suite at the Lancaster.
I won’t be staying in the nice room I stayed in before getting bumped up last time.
I won’t be staying in some other hotel.
Elliot (Mr. Raindance) tried to convince me that in the middle of rainy October, every hotel room in central London is booked. I’m skeptical.

But they have a lovely production office with a comfortable sofa for me.

FIRST MAJOR CRISIS: I have joked in the past that I would sleep on a cot in the office - I’m very low maintenance. But I never expected to actually sleep on a cot. Elliot tells me that they can buy me a mattress if I need one. This isn’t sounding good. Also - they don’t have the keys to the production office, but they’re going to send a runner as soon as one becomes available. Would I mind just hanging around the office for a while?

Well, the film fest is in full swing, so most of the runners are... running. They’re running prints that just arrived from Croatia to cinemas where the movie will screen in less than an hour, they’re running DVDs to jury members, they’re running...

And I’m waiting. Exhausted. Smelly - when was the last time I showered? And my clothes seem itchy - how long have I been wearing this shirt?

Eventually we get the keys, and Elliot walks me to the production office... at Russell Square. The owner (Sean) is actually there - great, because there’s a massive complicated alarm system to keep their editing equipment safe - and you have to type in the lengthy code number within a few seconds or all of Scotland Yard will come crashing down on you. Sean shows me around - full bathroom & tub... kitchen... but it’s still a sofa and not a hotel room. Plus, Sean will be there working for a few days before he has to go away on business for about a week. While he’s gone, the place is 100% mine, but until then, it’s like having a roommate you don’t know *plus* sleeping in someone’s office.

I later find out that the festival no longer has their deal with the Lancaster, and my guess is that so much money is tied up in the festival itself that they can’t really afford to put me in a hotel until after they count the festival earnings... and by then I’ll be on a plane home. So I’ll just have to rough it. This is the problem with being low maintenance - you’re the guy they sick on the sofa. If you’re a pain the ass, they put you in the suite.


SECOND MAJOR CRISIS: I sent my list of 2 hour classes to Elliot (Mr. Raindance) months ago, and he was going to select 2 that I would do during the festival. I always put at least one or two new classes on the list. So Elliot selects - the 2 new classes. I have nothing on them - no notes, just an idea. That means the classes must be created. Swell. The problem is, with jet lag and alcohol and midnight shows - I need to have the class written out word-for-word in the event I am brain dead the day I have to teach it. The more awake I am, the more I can go "off book".

So I write up one of the new classes, then something goes weird with my computer while I'm writing the second class and the keyboard stops working. Actually, it works sporadically - I can type about 5 sentences, then it just shuts down and I have to reboot to type 5 more sentences. So - with the clock ticking - I don't get the class finished. I'll have to wing it.

The larger problem with this class is that it's *fluff*. It's style over substance. I can talk about substance, but it's hard to wing something that's mostly just ideas.

Elliot (Mr. Raindance) *loves* style type stuff. He loves the flash. I *knew* he was going to select the 2 new classes, because they were both more style than substance. I can talk about Theme... but that's rather boring, isn't it? Wouldn't you rather hear about writing sex scenes? Two years ago I was on a panel that was called Hollywood Sucks - not much substance there. No effort was made to discuss how to make Holywood stop sucking, or how to deal with the sucking... it just sucks. End of panel.

So, today I'm long-handing notes on tomorrow's class. I hope I'm not too brain dead... but I didn't sleep well last night, so I may go into one of those exhaustion comas tonight where you just conk and wake up 12 hours later groggy and end up completely screwed up tomorrow morning.


Saturday morning, I walk down to the cinemas... grabbing a coffee from Café Nero along the way. I love walking in London - everyone walks. The streets are filled with people. And those people know how to walk. In America, nobody knows how to walk. They stop for no reason on the sidewalk. They walk three abreast - blocking the walk completely. They can’t gauge speed and “holes” in the crowd and walk right into you. In London, people walk in perfect sync with everyone else. It’s an art... and I love walking there. I could have just hopped on the tube at Russell Square, and a half dozen stops later got off at Picadilly, but I’d rather take the long walk. Gets my blood circulating, and I can grab a coffee along the way.

The great thing about Café Nero is that they have a buy 10 get one free card. I’ve always ended up with 9 stamps at the end of my stay, and never got a free coffee... but I’m here for a couple weeks, shouldn’t have any problem getting a free large mocha this time around.

I get to the Cinema early, jot some notes, and then grab a coffee at a nearby Starbucks (there are three times as many as there were last year). The class is SRO - people literally standing along the walls! I’m a little nervous - jotted notes instead of everything spelled out, what happens if I go brain dead? I start off, and almost two hours later I’m getting the wrap-it-up signal from Elliot. Everything went fine... except I brought a big (slightly heavy) bag of CDs and forgot to mention them. So, Raindance made a bundle off the standing room only crowd, and I make zilch.


Sunday, exactly the same drill - up early, walk, Café Nero, standing room only, class goes well. Again I forget to mention my CDs. Just doing some quick math, I think Raindance has covered *all* my expenses (including the hotel room I’m *not* staying in) just on these two short classes. The next time I have to teach is next Saturday... my big 2 day class. Except... Elliot asks if I would mind doing a 2 hour class for some other film group on Monday. Um, sure, why not? It’ll help drum up students for the weekend, and I need to get the word out because the festival has managed to take up most of the Raindance publicity focus - they’ve done almost no publicity for my class. What subject am I supposed to do the class on? Elliot doesn’t know, but lets me talk to the woman holding the class. I give her my e-mail address and ask her to e-mail me a subject from the list on my website. After handing the phone back to Elliot I ask who these people are... he tells me just some other group. No details. This is going to be interesting - I’m teaching a class about some unknown subject to some unknown group... tomorrow morning!

But this is the last day of the festival, and tonight is the closing night film and the big closing night party...

- Bill

PS: Thought I'd mention the couple of folks who asked me if Seagal was remaking BLACK THUNDER - it played on satellite TV here a few weeks ago, and folks noticed the same plotline and character names and everything else as the Seagal film. Problem is - same exact audience. Of course, for legal reasons I told them I did not have sex with that woman... and did not write that script. But no one seems convinced. Seagal is in an ad playing before every danged movie, here - an action story on a golf course (a golf cart chase ends in a huge fireball explosion).
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