Monday, June 11, 2007

There Is Progess To Report

One of the problems with the never ending to do list is that it just never ends. As soon as I finish something, something else pops up. And most of the time I feel like I spend more time running from one project to the other than actually working on projects. So part of my thing is going to be an attempt at focus - even though real life doesn’t seem to give me one thing at a time. But even with all that running around, I managed to complete some things.

I had a producer who picked a script from the bottom of my list to read - a script that was 20 years old and needed a page one rewrite before I showed it to anyone. So I did a page one on that script and managed to write some good new scenes and threw enough putty and paint on the old scenes to make it work. That was delivered... and I suspect it’s sitting on some huge stack on the producer’s desk and he’ll read it some time before the end of the year... and hate it.

I also did a page one rewrite on my Guy Blows Up script. I’d written that script without an outline - and as I wrote it I learned why I always use outlines. Halfway through the first draft I scrapped almost everything and started again... and it still didn’t work! I put it away and worked on some other stuff, came back and reread it... and thought I had the answer. The main reason why I looked at it - I mentioned the concept to a manager a couple of months ago and he was interested in reading it. I needed to do the rewrite before I showed it to him. For the new version, I created a whole new secondary character and about 30% of the script became new scenes for this character (a cop chasing our hero). That meant 30% of the old scenes had to go. Well, how do you cut almost a third of your script? I cut whole sections from the script to make room for the new stuff... and in some cases it was easy because the new material covered some of the same story stuff as the old material.

I got to the end - a new first draft - and couldn’t print the sucker because my toner cartridge was at UPS due to some delivery screw up. Then they returned it to the sender after they told me they were holding it 5 days for me to pick it up. UPS fault, but that doesn’t help me print the script. So I created a PDF of the new first draft and sent it to some writer friends for notes... and *seconds* before sending it I made a major change to the end. A change that required some set up that didn’t exist. Oh, and *after* everyone got the script I realized that one of my new scenes contained the exact same info as one of the existing old scenes, creating that sledgehammer effect (Okay, I get it already!). But it’s a rough draft and I just want to make sure the new 30% works in the story and doesn’t seem like something added later (which it was). So far - all of the problems I knew about have been pointed out and people say the 30% new material is their favorite part of the script (even though they had no idea it was new). So this script is now going through one more draft... in my spare time. I hope the manager is still waiting.

In the middle of all this - I had to write an article for a European film magazine. If you think I get rich on stuff other than screenwriting, you are soooooo wrong! Script Magazine, where I am the West Coast Editor and have a column in every issue, pays me $600 a year. You read that right. This European magazine doesn’t even pay me pizza and beer money - it’s just pizza money... and one topping pizza money... with a coupon. I’ve paid more to park my car in Century City than I make from these guys. Anyway, I’d already turned in my article and crossed that off the to do list when I got an e-mail from the editor: Due to some rights problem they couldn’t get the art work for that article, could I write another? Before the magazine goes to press in a couple of days? Sure! Not a problem. Back on the to do list. So I wrote that article and got it to them by press time. Back off the list.

The biggest thing that got crossed off the to do list was this possible waste of time Sequel Project. This producer who loves my work (but has never bought anything) has a connection with the home video division of a major studio. Now, in case you haven’t noticed, DVD is the new mother lode. DVDs make something like 3 times theatrical. Studios are rethinking the idea of direct to video - now, that’s the best thing that can happen with a movie - video is where the money is. So studios have started direct to video divisions - name the studio, they are ramping up production of movies that will probably never see the big screen - yet make more money than that big summer blockbuster you just wasted $10 on. So look for many more slices of AMERICAN PIE on your video shelves.

Anyway, studios are going to producers they have deals with to make these films, and this producer who loves my work (yet hasn’t bought any of it) asked me to find movies from the studio he has a deal with that might look good with a number after the title. My (unpaid) job was to make a list of films the studio had made that could spawn a sequel, then come up with the idea for that sequel and pitch them to the producer. That’s kind of 3 parts to this (unpaid) job. Adding to the difficulty was that other producers were doing the exact same thing - looking for films to sequel in this studio’s library. And, for all I know, my producer has sent every writer he knows out to do this. So, I figured if I was going to turn this unpaid job into a paid job, I’d needed to find the films that no one else knew about or find sequels to movies that could never have a sequel.

So step 1 - finding the movies in the studio’s library - was more time consuming than I planned on it being. The first thing I did was look at my DVD shelf, find the movies from this studio, then find the ones that I thought no one else knew about. Oddly, some of my favorite films from this studio were somewhat obscure. Next, I walked the aisles at Blockbuster and did kind of the same thing - and I found some films that I’m sure no one could think of a sequel to. A couple of major flops from the studio that I thought no one would suggest - even though sequels were possible. My theory is that an interesting direct to video film might create some interest in a theatrical flop. Yes, that’s a long shot. But this whole thing is a long shot.

Anyway, that list was in my computer bag for a couple of months - I would scribble sequel ideas in my spare time. Finally, I realized I needed to just set aside a couple of days to focus on this and get it done.

Step 2 - coming up with the sequel ideas and writing them up... I realized that it would be good strategy to focus on movies that could spawn more than one sequel. That would be attractive to the producer - he would probably be in charge of making all of the other sequels if he made the first one. Also attractive to *me* because I might write the other sequels. So I wasn’t only going to focus on the films that would spawn more than one sequel, I was going to come up with at least 2 high concept sequels for each existing film. Some of the films ended up with 4 high concept sequel ideas.

So I did some triage - and focused on the 20 movies that I thought were the best shot...
Yes, that’s somewhere around 50 high concept ideas.

Many of these ideas are stand alones - if nothing happens at the studio, I can probably write them up or pitch them as *non-sequels* somewhere else. The high concept that I came up with usually is better than the original theatrical film’s idea.

The stand alone possibility is stronger in the movies that don’t seem to have a sequel in them - one of the things I did there is identify a character or aspect of the original film that could be used for the sequel. For instance, I’d spin off the *antagonist* or a henchman when the original movie was all about the protagonist. In one case, a film had a secondary character with an interesting job... and my sequel will be the continuing adventures of the secondary character (instead of the hero or the antagonist or anything that happened in the first film). These story ideas can completely stand on their own two feet without the original film. If this producer or the studio isn’t interested, I’ve still got these ideas to sell elsewhere.

Part 3 ended up being writing up all of the ideas, sending a copy to WGA registration, and now I’m waiting on the Producer.... and I’ll bet that all of this work was for nothing. But you never know. Part of being a screenwriter is creating your own work - as in creating your own jobs. There are no "Help Wanted" signs on the studio gates. If you want a job, you have to create your own position. In this case, it’s kind of chumming the waters and hoping that the fish start biting afterwards.

One of the other projects I’m poking around with is my Rewrite Project. This came from that 20 year old script I did the page one on. I have a bunch of old scripts - some that just need rewrites because I’m a better writer now, some have great concepts but poor execution and need page ones, some have great characters in the wrong story, some great stories with the wrong character. So I’ve started a notebook with a bunch of pages for each old script, and started jotting notes on what each script needs and how I might fix it. Some are just a couple of notes, on others my brain just opened up and I came up with some pretty good rewrite ideas. My plan is to come up with as many ideas for each that I have the blue print for the rewrite in the event some producer picks the logline I’ve buried at the bottom of the list...or in case I get some spare time (yeah, right) and I’ll have all of the material for the rewrite ready. So many of these scripts actually have something - I should really fix them and make them presentable.

So, I have made some progress... but that list still goes on forever!


Yesterday's lunch: Breakfast at DuPar's Studio City - scrambled eggs and ham.
Movies: I was at a video FX expo and skipped 2001 with Doug Trumbell speaking afterwards because I was tired (and had seen 2001 with the cameraman only a couple of months ago). Did see Cronenberg’s THE BROOD on DVD - his dialogue is awful and he seems unable to deal with actors... but the ideas and filmmaking make up for it. A creepy tale of a shrink who can make your inner demons into outer demons... who then go on a killing rampage.
Pages: None yesterday.

- Bill


Steve Peterson said...

Coming up with sequel ideas for un-sequeled movies sounds like a lot of fun! I bet you could really get your imagination revving with that.

Best of luck!

Schmucks with Underwoods said...

Enjoyed your post Bill. Love your honesty. LOL! I like the unpretentious lunch - eggs and ham. Made me laugh! No obscure, highly expensive Japanse delicacy for you then, ey?

Roger Alford said...

I'd love to do the sequel project, too, just for the sheer fun of it.

steverino said...

You mentioned that you wrote up the ideas and had them registered with the WGA.

I wasn't aware that ideas can be registered. Am I dim or what? Cause I got all these screenplay ideas...about cattle-human zombies (yeah!)...who rise up from the charnal of slaughter houses (in Texas, yeah!)...and skewer meateaters with their horns to beget more zombies, and more zombies...and more zombie movies: Zombull, Zombull Indigestion, Zombull Weekend and of course Zombullshit;)

wcmartell said...

You can't copyright an idea - but the *expression* of that idea. The more expression, the better your chances of winning in court. You can register a synopsis with the WGA - and that's what I did.

- Bill

steverino said...

Thanks for the info, Bill. I wish some of those high concepts turn into high figures for you, and I hope none of them have to do with zombulls, or zomostriches, or....

Laura Reyna said...

Nice post!

Great example of the kind creativity we need to have as pro writers.

If you're forced to come up with a bunch of movie ideas, for whatever reason, your time is never wasted.

A certain percentage of those will be keepers. You'll always have them, & can tweak them for your own purposes later on.

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