Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Writer's Life For Me.... July

Many other writing blogs have all of those neat project progress bars - I’m afraid to do that because some of the bars would show no progress at all... possibly for years. Others would show very little progress... and the suddenly be finished and disappear.

Over the Christmas Holidays I had planned on editing this stack of recordings from the second time I taught my 2 day class in London. I didn’t get around to doing that - I worked on a script instead. But after returning from London, I thought I should get around to finally editing them. I’m jet lagged and needed a "stupid job" to do after I catalogued the Indie Articles and realized that I would now need to go through each of those articles and compare it to the others to find the best version and the best pieces of each version. That’s just too much stupid work.

The big problem with these class recordings is that they were made back in 2001, a month after 9/11, after I had spent 2 weeks on the Raindance Film Fest jury. That’s 2 weeks of watching movies from 10am to 11pm... and if there was a midnight show, 2am. Oh, and parties and drinking was involved. One of the main cinemas had a bar, and I would often bump into someone and have a beer with them between movies. By the end of the festival I was exhausted and developed a chest cold... but there was a big closing night party on Friday, and I showed up to hang out with whatever other jury members showed up, plus film makers and actors. The next morning, I started my 2 day class at 9am... and that meant I was up at around 7 or 7:30am (to shower, coffee, and take that brisk walk across London to the venue). So much of my editing is removing big meaty coughs and places where I lost my train of thought and said "Um" about three times in a row. Much more editing than the pro recorded classes on CD now.

So I’m editing a section yesterday where I’d mentioned going on a series of studio meetings after a script went out wide, and someone asked me what you get paid for that. "Well, nothing."

A big portion of a writer’s job is looking for work. You have meetings with producers, and many either give you a book or magazine article to read and "pitch your take" on. You generate new material so that producers have something to read and have meetings with you about. You may have some producer who sends you out to watch a bunch of films in a studio’s library and come up with sequel ideas. At the end of the day, most of this stuff is pointless - a whole lotta work and not a dollar to show for it. In fact, you *spend money* doing this stuff - driving all over town with gas at close to $4 and parking in Century City for a meeting with some producer who doesn’t validate. You can go broke trying to make a buck in this town!

You don’t get paid for any of this, just as you don’t get paid for filling out job applications and going on job interviews. That’s what this is. But when you are a writer and you finally get a job? Well, don’t expect to spend 20 years working there and collect the pension and 401K... because within a few months you will be unemployed again and be out looking for another job. You will probably spend more time looking for work than actually working.

So here’s what I have going on right now:

1) The studio sequel project. Meeting with the producer on the horizon.
2) Sci-Fi script out to a producer who will spend under $10 million.
3) Another Sci-Fi script out to a producer who will spend half that.
4) A thriller out to a producer who plans on making a film in an exotic land.
5) A thriller I did a page one rewrite on so that a producer could read it... and that was a month ago.
6) I sent out an action script to another producer a couple of months ago I haven’t heard back from - my guess is that it’s dead.
7) A bunch of other scripts floating around that I have lost track of.
8) The guy blows up script out to a Manager - this is a guy I’ve been on panels with who has a pretty well known company. If he passes, well, I go out to everyone in the world. But this guy has first shot.
9) I also have a producer who likes my work trying to get a distrib to give him some money based on a fist full of loglines for existing scripts. - longshot city!
10) Before leaving for London I sent out 50 query letters - even more of a longshot. Most of those things get thrown in a dumpster unopened.

Now, that’s not much going on at all. That’s what’s going on when I’m not scrambling to find a job. Unless things go completely wrong, I should be able to last until the end of this year on what I have in the bank from previous script sales... And a large part of my plan right now is to snag an agent or manager and get something going before the end of October...

Because things can go wrong if there is a strike and everything closes down.

That’s one of the reasons I’m prepping new screenwriting books.

But if I don’t get an agent or manager for the "stockpile scripts" (new high concept material like the guy blows up script that no one has read - I have a half dozen right now) soon, I’m going into panic-sell-mode and set up a couple of deals in September and October with non-stockpile scripts. Producers will be in the same panic mode that I am in - they need scripts if there’s a strike. If that doesn’t work, "Would you like fries with your order?"

I’m also working on new material and rewriting many of my old scripts. By the end of August I should have a new action script - SLEEPER AGENTS - which began many years ago as one of those pointless pitches I made in the 90s that went nowhere. Then it was called HIT LIST. Same story - it has to do with deep cover terrorists living next door to you... Who can be activated with a cell phone call and blow up an airport, power plant, police station. At one point it was called SLEEPER CELL - but some danged TV show used that title. After the doctors car bomb plot, it seems really topical.

I’m also part way through a rewrite on a really old script called COWBOY NIGHTS which is kind of URBAN COWBOY meets BLOOD SIMPLE - a thriller that takes place in a New Mexico night club and has lots of plot twists.

And I’m outlining a new spec I’m calling the Moonspinner Project - it actually came from the same batch of pitches as SLEEPER AGENTS that I came up with for some long-forgotten producer almost a decade ago - about recent high school grads on summer holiday in Europe who become involved in international intrigue - sort of GOTCHA! for the new millennium. That’s for the stockpile.

I’ve realized, oddly enough, that I have a shortage of action scripts. Well, I have plenty of old ones that need a page one rewrite, but outside the stockpile scripts I have very few actions scripts that I could sell right now. Most of the non-sci-fi action scripts I’ve written since I became a pro screenwriter have been sold. So I need to write a few new non-stockpile action scripts (or rewrite some old ones) to sell while I’m waiting for one of the stockpile scripts to sell for a high six figures.

Plus, I’m tinkering around on a bunch of other old scripts, figuring out how I would rewrite them. And the usual tips and articles and other stuff that I have to do every day. It’s a never-ending cycle.

My plan is to do another post in the middle of next month to tell you what actually was written and how all of these potential projects crashed and burned and how others have taken their place. Because that’s really what the writers life is - you keep throwing stuff against the wall until something sticks. Then, you have a job... for a few months.

- Bill

PS: While writing this I made an executive decision about the class CDs. I’ve been editing them, trying to turn an out of control live recording into a controlled studio sounding recording. Ain’t gonna happen. So, I’ve decided to just keep the recordings as is - to release them in their raw form. A "live" recording is never going to sound as good as one done in a studio with a tech at a mixing board making sure the sound levels are perfect. Instead of editing the rest of the classes, I’m going to knock out one of those rewrites over the next week.


Yesterday’s Lunch: Oatmeal - apple & spice.
Movies: Finally saw 1408 on one of my jet-lag days. Pretty good, but seemed like it needed a rewrite. Seemed like a short story. I wanted this to me the big *emotional* event in John Cusack's character's life. In Matheson's HELL HOUSE, the reason for investigating the haunted house is the guy behind it has never believed in an afterlife... and now he is dying and wants to know whether he has a future besides having his body eaten by worms. This film needed something like that. Also, the post office scene probably looked good on paper, but took *forever* - would have been better if it had just been the postman is familiar... then *instantly* things happen. Make it a shock moment. Overall, a good return to classic horror movies that are more about scares and dread and less about powertools.
Pages: Finished editing one of the class CDs and decided that was it... then prepped COWBOY NIGHTS rewrite.


Jack said...

Will there be a new edition of Secrets of Action Screenwriting? Hope so. The ones I found on are going for $145 and up. I can't afford that no matter how much I want the book.

Anonymous said...

That is great news about the class CDs. The sound quality isn't important. Can't wait.

wcmartell said...

It's not really the sound quality, it's the amount of times I say "Ummmmm" or loudly turn pages in my notebook or someone asks a question we can barely hear, and I amswer (forcing you to figure out what the question might have been). But I realized that that was the class - and not much I could really do to change it.

This was the exact same thing that happened with my Tahoe class tapes - and I decided not to release them. I've realized I could go on *not* releasing CDs for years until I got some recordings I liked. That's just dumb.

- Bill

Mark said...

Great news, Bill. Roll them out and just tell everyone what they're getting. I loved all your other CDs and I can't wait to hear these.

Dante Kleinberg said...

Does it make you feel better or worse to think of how many people WISH they were in your situation?

Good luck with all that... I might be able to set you up in the call center at my office if you need a few bucks...

Laura Reyna said...

Great post, Bill.

Thanks for giving an update and details about your various projects. Wish more pro writers w/ blogs would give a bit more detail about their projects. I don't mean the plot specifics, or even the concepts... just the broad strokes (genre, general story elements, etc).

I can understand pro writers being a little cagey & playing it close to the vest, but they can talk a LITTLE about what they're working on...

and give the occassional progress report.

And same goes for talking about your career in general, & the day to day grind of being a pro writer. Very few pros give those behind-the-scenes details that you do.

So thanks! :-)

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