Thursday, August 16, 2007

Film Chums

I had a couple of meetings today, and I might as well have combined them - they were the exact same meeting with different people. Both were people I’ve known for about a decade who have gone out on their own as producers - which makes them old film chums of mine. We've survived battles together.

Here’s what happened at one of the meetings - you can just re-read it and you’ll get the other meeting. I was doing a little work at Priscilla’s Coffee Shop in Toluca Lake before the meeting, closed up the laptop and walked down the street to their office. I needed the walk to get some blood flowing - this was probably going to be an “instant pitch” meeting.

After the offer of bottled water (I brought an iced coffee) and a couple minutes of waiting, my Film Chum comes out, shakes my hand, tells me how great it is to see me. Now, here’s the good part about meeting with people I know - I’m not the quivering mass of nerves that I am when I’m meeting some stranger who holds my career in their hands. I’m relaxed. I can small talk. One reason why it’s easy to small talk is that we have some history to talk about. We can either gossip about people we have both worked with (we talked about a couple of directors who have more ego than talent) or talk about past projects, or just bring each other up to speed on what we’ve been doing. So the small talk phase went well, and then we got down to business.

In both cases, the reason for these meetings was because I’m an idea guy. One meeting was about the studio sequel project - and the possibility of sequels to *another* studio’s library. The other was about a pair of cablenets that my Film Chum has made movies for in the past, that are looking for new projects. In both cases, the deal is exactly the same...

My job is to come up with a stack of spec one page synopsis (though the other guy only wants a few dozen single paragraphs). These are entirely spec - no payment involved. And they can’t control what I write (because it’s spec) - but they can tell me what *exactly* they are looking for. It’s like pre-notes. The good news is that it helps me focus my synopsis... the bad news is that it’s restrictive. It becomes kind of like a spec assignment. For the cablenet movies, there was more of an “instant pitch” thing - after my Chum explained what they were looking for, he asked if I had any ideas that fit the parameters... and I had to come up with something.

Give me a week and I’ll come up with a bunch of great ideas. Give me a day and I’ll come up some ideas, maybe a great one in the bunch. Give me a second? Well, you mostly get fumbling. The problem is, they aren’t going to ever cut a check for fumbling. Basically, you have to come up with enough good stuff that they don’t kick you out of the room. Both of these guys know *a lot* of writers. It’s kind of like auditions for American Idol - there are a hundred people waiting behind you for their chance, so you really have to make an impression. You have to be *the* performer that makes it to the finals from this city.

So I pitch a few ideas for one of the cable nets. One of the ways I get through these things is by having “deep pockets” - I have done so many that I can start with ideas I’ve pitched somewhere else... and use that time to think of new material that better fits what they are looking for. So I pitch a couple of old ideas - none of these fit. Then I do something strange - I pitch the spec I’m writing now, but change the genre and lead characters fo fit the cablenet. This becomes a completely different idea - I mean, it’s a different genre, a different lead character, and a different story... just the basic skeleton of the current spec exists - kind of the way SPEED was described as DIE HARD on a bus... but both of those are male lead action flicks. Change those elements, too and you have two completely different films.

And this idea connects. He has some pre-notes, which actually help story. And when he thinks one element of my concept won’t work, I show him how it will... and (oddly) this brings it back to the “skeleton” it shares with the spec I’m writing. So if I get this gig, some of the basic outlining and some of the basic character dynamics are already figured out. The characters and scenes will be entirely different, but the structure will be the same.

All of this is nice, but now I have to write up a bunch of one page synopsis for projects that might work for this cablenet and one pagers that might work for the other cablenet... at no pay. My Film Chum will then pitch these projects to the cablenets, and they will treat them the way the judges on American Idol treat all of those people auditioning. “Next!” “Next!” “Next!” They will wholesale reject most of the ideas... maybe even all of them.

Basically, this is fishing.

Sometimes when you go fishing you don’t catch anything. That’s still considered fishing.

All of this is just chumming for work - you throw enough bait in the water and hopefully that will attract a fish and that fish will bite and if you are lucky as hell you will reel it in and get it on the boat. A lot can go wrong in the process, and you won’t land the fish. Much of my job is fishing. You hope for a nibble. You hope to get something on the line. You pray the line doesn’t snag or break or the fish doesn’t swim away with your bait. And you just keep fishing, and keep chumming the water with concepts, until you reel one in.

So my mission now is to pound out a bunch of potential projects, knowing that most (and maybe even all) of this will be for nothing. This will side-track the spec for a while, but I need to have a sale on the horizon. I have to keep fishing until I catch something. Keep chumming the waters with cool concepts until I reel one of these things in. If I don’t catch anything, I don’t eat.

- Bill



IMPORTANT UPDATE:


Yesterday’s Lunch: Apple oatmeal.

MOVIES: Saw RUSH HOUR 3 and it was like warm leftovers. I thought the first movie was fun, did a tip on how the second movie disappointed me but was still fun, and now the third film is even weaker than the second... but still okay (but the worst of the #3s).

What is strange about these sequels is that the second film makes it's money on the quality of the first film. It used to be that the first film made the most money and then each subsequent film makes less, but now it's the *second* film that makes the most. People love the first film - whether they saw it in cinemas or on DVD - and can't wait to see the sequel. They want that same feeling the first film gave them. So the second film does great business on opening weekend. In the case of MATRIX 2, it actually makes more money than the first film within the first couple of weekends, even though most people don't like the movie. The third films tend to dip - people's expectations may not have been met by the second film, so they really aren't flocking to see the third film. Even if the third film is good, it may do less business based on expectations on the second film.

But even a bad third film does business - RUSH HOUR 3 was more of the same, luke warm, with less cool Jackie Chan fighting and more annoying Chris Tucker trying too hard to be funny... and a plot that makes no sense. But some of the stuff is funny, and the Eiffel Tower fight scene at the end looks damned good on film. You leave the cinema thinking it was okay... but I won't see #4 on opening weekend unless they do something radical as far as story is concerned. What #3 needed was a great high concept instead of just dropping the same exact story as the last two in France. And, since it was France, I would have rather had Luc Besson direct the film. And I wouldn't be opposed to pairing Jackie Chan with a local star instead of Tucker - someone with a different kind of humor to bounce jokes off so that we get a *variety* of humor instead of stale Tucker schtick. Something about the sequel needs to be *different* so that I have a good reason to pay to see this movie instead of just watch the DVd of the last one.

DVDs: Watched CASINO ROYALE - and that is one effed up structure for an action film. The first two thirds are okay, then the villain is killed (not by Bond) and the movie turns into a love story. What they needed to do was *integrate* the love story so that it's not a huge chunk that slows everything down. Main reason why I watched it again - the action scenes. Trying to get into the groove to write this big action scene today.

Pages: Only 2 pages, because I'm packing for vacation - a couple of weeks in Vegas. Usually I spend my birthday there, but this year London got in the way, so I had to change plans. I was going to spend the time in Vegas hammering out this spec, but now it looks like I'm doing synopsis. Should probably have a week on the spec, but that's not going to getit finished. *Today* I'm working on a *sweet* action scene on the spec, so maybe I'll make my quota *today*.

8 comments:

Erik said...

Can I ask the blatant question, Bill? How are you doing financially? With the exception of some money you were promised for Flight Of Fury, I haven't heard of any paying projects coming your way since I started reading your blog. I know that you're doing classes and blue books, and I know that screenwriters can float from unproduced project to unproduced project. Pardon me if it's an impolite question.

By the by, Film Chums. Love the pun.

crossword said...

Refreshingly honest as always. Thanks for keeping us all grounded, Bill.

wcmartell said...

Impolite, but what the hell?

Every time I sell one, or option one, a chunk of that money gets set aside. At this point in time, I'm good until sometime next year. But the clock is ticking right now.

That's not stopping me from taking a two week vacation in Vegas, where I will lose money playing poker and blackjack... and maybe watching Pam Anderson get cut in half. That's built into the budget.

Another thing that adds to the income is residuals - not a lot of money, but a week ago when I had films showing on Movies4Men in the UK, some money will trickle down to me about 6 months from now. You know, when the producers were saber rattling about talking away residuals a few weeks ago, that's a big thing - every time the company re-sells one of my movies, they make more money... and I want the pennies on the hundreds they make.

The real answer is - if you sell 3 scripts in one year (like I did for a while) you're better off spreading that money over 3 years than spending it all in one year on crap.

This is a business where there is no regular pay check. You can't wait for work to come to you, you have to go to work. Much of the job is just trying to *get* a job. Then you write the script, do a couple of rewrites, and you are unemployed again. You are *always* chumming, *always* fishing.

- Bill

Fun Joel said...

So, which meaning of "chum" do you think came first?

I once went fishing, and it was a very slow day in which we caught almost nothing. The boat's captain said something very wise: "There's a reason it's called 'fishing' and not called 'catching.'"

Here's to hoping you catch some this time!

Dante Kleinberg said...

I could never come up with that many ideas, even in twice as much time. I greatly admire the idea men because they fascinate me.

Christian M. Howell said...

Ideas I got. Film chums I need. Got any you don't need?

Just kidding. OK, maybe not. Great post, though. Makes me want to move to LA sooner than planned.

The Moviequill said...

I thought the very same thing during the villian death in Casino...after that ball whacking, how come they didn't let James get his revenge on him? A big mistake.

Laura Reyna said...

I find all this stuff fascinating*.

Thanks for sharing! :-)








*Except your lunch. I really don't find your food all that fascinating. Sorry. ;-)

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