Sunday, June 01, 2008

Why Can't I Accept A Free Book?

I'm dead tired today because I spent the weekend (starting Friday morning) at the Book Expo America at the Los Angeles Convention Center - trying to find a new publisher for Secrets Of Action Screenwriting and the *8* books worth of material I have on my computer, waiting to be edited into books.

This whole thing began on Thursday. I was supposed to have a meeting with the director of film #20 to go over the new draft of the script. But Wednesday I had a door tag for the business cards I’d ordered, so I had to zip over to the other end of the valley early in the morning and pick them up. They looked pretty good. I had some other errands to do closer to home, and did those on the bicycle... waiting for the director to call me and set meeting details. Ended up at my local Starbucks, where I wrote up 4 book synopsis and a quick bio on a single page for the Expo. I actually wrote up 6 book synopsis - but they wouldn’t all fit on one piece of paper. I also put all of the frame-grabs of E-bay and Amazon and other places that have sold my book for up to $750 on a single sheet. Hmmm, still no call from the director. I e-mailed him... and by the end of the day, no response. I went home, printed up my proposals and the sheet with e-bay screen grabs, packed the last good copies of my book in a messenger bag along with some crappy copies (just in case), plus I throw in all of my script materials in case the producer calls and I have to cut my day short for a meeting. Then I set the alarm and went to sleep.

Okay, those of you with day jobs will think I’m a complete whiner, but I hate mornings. I worked swing shift most of my life, and worked graveyards at Safeway for a while, and am just not a morning person. The great thing about being a writer is that I can sleep until 10am... and sometimes until noon. Getting up early isn’t something I enjoy.

Alarm goes off Friday morning, I shower, grab my *heavy* bag of books, and take Los Angeles’ tinker-toy subway to the Convention Center... except it doesn’t go all the way there. It stops several blocks short, and you have to get on the “Blue Line” train and get off at the first stop. I knew I was in trouble when this guy gets on the subway in Hollywood with his sleeping bag and guitar and starts playing “for our enjoyment”. Except he’s awful. Then, he *insists* that we pay him for the entertainment. He’s aggressive, combative, he’s played - now we need to pay. I give him nothing. His music was awful, but I didn’t have to buy $4.15 gas or pay $15 for parking.

I have no idea how big this event will be, and the answer is *huge*. The whole Convention Center. Every publisher in the USA, plus printing companies, plus paper companies, plus shipping companies, plus distribs, plus... well - anyone that has anything to do with publishing books is there. I pick one of the halls and start walking. The aisles are packed with people. Everyone wants to hand me a book or book catalogue. Hell, my bag is heavy enough already.

The strangest thing - you’re walking down an aisle and... that’s Dr. Ruth! Hey! And over there, that guy looks kind of familiar... oh, it’s Dean Koontz! I talk to a couple of publishers of film books who might be interested (one seems very interested in not just the Action Book but all of my other books). I give away a few of the books in my bag, but there are still a bunch of crappy copies and a handful of good sample copies weighing me down. Oh, and the huge book that lists all of the attendees, and the map of the convention, and... well, heck, my shoulder hurts like hell from the bag strap.

By the end of the day, my legs hurt from walking... and the subway is *packed* with commuters, so I have to stand with the heavy bag on my shoulder. When I get home, I check my e-mail... nothing from the director.

I start to watch Jimmy Kimmel - but it’s a rerun (no FCC clips) and watch some Monty Python instead.... The alarm goes off.

I’ve slept more than the night before, still not enough. Grab coffee at Starbucks and go to the subway station. Oh, I’ve changed bags to my rolling bag. Easier on the shoulder. I’m also taking my laptop, because I want to check my e-mail mid-day, see if the director gets back to me. And I dumped all of the crappy copies of my book - I have enough good ones for anyone left, I think. No guitar guy on the subway today.

The other hall - just as many exhibitors. By the end of my day of walking up and down aisles - no publishers as promising as yesterday... but I also have a slightly different mission plan for the day... Hey! There’s Dr. Ruth again! She’s everywhere! That’s Stephen Baldwin - does he have a book? Oh, yeah - part of the plan today is to actually take some of the books they try to hand me. But only the ones I really want. I also want to grab some of the gimme-bags - most of them are canvas, and I can use them for shopping and other stuff.

Now, here’s the problem - I’m not good at free stuff. If someone tries to give me something for free, my natural reaction is to turn it down. I don’t know why this is, but I suspect because I don’t come from a rich family. You know how they have those swag bags at the Oscars? When you’re a struggling, starving actor nobody gives you anything. Once you’re a big star making millions, they give you bags of expensive stuff. Makes no sense to me... but that’s kind of how the world works. If you’re broke, no one gives you anything... unless there is either a string attached, or it’s charity (and there’s a stigma attached to charity instead of a string). When you’re poor, you still don’t want to seem so poor that you need to take a hand out. If you have money, no stigma in accepting a gift... in fact, I think famous folks *expect* to get things for free.

So I’m terrible at accepting free things. I was speaking at an event once, and they had a swag room where you filled your own bag. There was a table of electronics, and I stood in line with my bag. The company representative offered the guy in front of me portable DVD players and digital recorders and a video camera and all kinds of other stuff. He took it all. I took a wind-up emergency flashlight, because I might need it if we had another earthquake. I *wanted* the other stuff, but I had no actual need for it, so I turned it down. I didn’t feel comfortable taking it.

So, I felt like I was stealing something when I took the free canvas bags. I went to a couple of different publishers, grabbed a bag, hid it in my rolling bag, then sped away before the police tackled me. One of the bags I decided to use for books. I could have left the event with 200-300 books... and many people did. There were people with huge duffle bags on wheels filled with books. People with rolling carts. People who took a load of books home with them every day for 3 days.

My first book was the new Quarry novel from Max Alan Collins (ROAD TO PERDITION). He was there autographing books. When the very first book in the series came out, I was a kid... and I bought it. Since then I have bought all of them. And here was the writer! I talked with him for a while, he signed the book and I put it in my stolen canvas bag. A couple of rows over was the Mystery Writers Of America booth - with 4 writers autographing books. I love mystery novels... but I wasn’t familiar with any of the 4 writers, so I didn’t feel right taking free books from them. I didn’t have a use for those books (even though I may have read them and loved them and bought every book they wrote from that point on - which was the purpose of the give aways). Another of my favorite writers, Thomas Perry (BUTCHER’S BOY) was signing his new novel. Again, I hung around and talked to him. There was a line, but many people were just getting as many autographed books as they could sell on e-bay later. I could stand at the corner of the table and talk while he was signing. Cool. All of these people love their readers. And even though I had no actual need for James Patterson’s new novel, he’s the biggest name novelist in the USA, and he was at a table signing a million books... so I got in the line. He must have signed a million books that day, and was kind and treated everyone in line as if they were friends... and in a way, they were. You know, without readers a writer would go broke. Without an audience, a movie star is out of work. Without the audience, *we* (screenwriters) are working at McDonalds. We’re all dependant on each other. We all need the other to exist.

Anyway, I grabbed that book and a few others - only books that I had a use for. And turned down hundreds of others...

Then I bumped into a writer I know who was there with his 6th book. I knew this guy when he had zero books. He told me he was trying to find another publisher, and had meetings later in the day with several publishers. Trying to find a better deal.

And I realized that I was probably doing this whole publishing thing wrong. As usual, I was trying to do it all myself. One of my faults-that-I-think-is-a-strength is not asking for help or even looking for help. If I try to do something that normal way, and that fails, I try to find some other way to do it... instead of asking for help. So I end up being the screenwriter with a bunch of produced scripts... but no agent. And the guy with a screenwriting book that was #11 on the Amazon screenwriting charts and #1 seller at Sam French Bookstores... without a publisher. Without a book agent. The problem when you do it yourself is that you only have yourself. No one else has a stake in your success. No one else is there to help you. You end up alone against the world.

I was at a writing event once and had dinner with a bunch of speakers including a book agent. Somewhere, I have his e-mail address. He would remember me (or, at least, pretend that he did). I’m going to track him down and see if he reps non-fiction - specifically screenwriting books. Even though I think I have a publisher who is very interested, what if this book agent can find me a better deal? What if he can just guide me through this deal I may have set up?

Strange as it may seem, I’m going to try to be *less* independent.

So, for all of you folks that want to know when the new version of SECRETS OF ACTION is coming out - I’m planning on having a new publisher soon, along with a deadline for the revisions (which will force me to stop playing around with old scripts and new specs and just get ‘er done), and eventually a street date,

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Know When To Hold "em.
Yesterday’s Dinner: BBQ chicken at Century City Mall food court.

Movies: STUCK - Remember that news story about the Texas woman who hit the pedestrian, and the guy got stuck in her car window and took *days* to die in her garage? Well, Stuart Gordon has done a fictionalized version of that story, with Mena Suvari as a rest home nurse who runs into recently downsized and evicted Stephen Rea in her car. Afraid that this will ruin her impending promotion, she parks the car and Rea in her garage and waits for him to die... and this begins a face off between the two, as he does everything he can to escape the window or signal for help, and she hits him with a board and does other nasty things to stop him. The story has some twists and turns, some extreme violence and gore, but keeps reminding you of better movies. It’s crude, squanders its chances for suspense through inelegant direction, and works primarily due to the performances of its two leads.

Rea just won’t die, and that reminds you of BLOOD SIMPLE, which takes the same situation and does it a million times better - the reveal of the empty back seat where the dead guy was, the suspense of trying to get him before he’s seen by any other cars... and a truck is coming down the street! The sound of the shovel on pavement. Grabbing the guy just as the truck zooms past - almost hitting them! All of the suspense and surprises (the gun in Hedaya’s pocket) and gritty stuff of killing and burying a man in BLOOD SIMPLE is a real nail biter - and juts keeps building until you can take no more. In STUCK, there’s a scene where Rea escapes from the car window, and it’s just kind of bland. Where is he? Oh, there on the floor. No surprise, no suspense, no style.

While Rea is in the garage, there are several scenes where he tries to get help. One, with a just out of reach cell phone, reminds you of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN... except that film did it a million times better, and was *filmed* for suspense. Here we get one shot instead of using different shots edited together to build a rhythm and suspense. This also reminded me of a Hitchcock directed TV episode called FOUR O’CLOCK based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. In that story a man is tied up in his basement with a bomb ticking away, and a kid’s ball rolls up to the basement window. When the boy goes to fetch his ball, will he see the tied up man? When he sees the tied up man, will the man be able to get across that he’s in trouble and not playing some sort of game? Will the boy be able to convince his parents that there is a man that needs help? All of those things were big suspense elements in the Hitchcock TV episode, in STUCK we get a similar event... that has no real suspense. It just happens. No build. No small set backs. No little twists. Stuff just happens. When the boy goes back to tell his parents about the man stuck in the car window, it reminded me of another movie based on a Woolrich story, THE WINDOW, about a boy who witnesses his neighbors kill someone and has some problems convincing his parents that it happened. The great scene in that film that could have been in STUCK is when the parents take the boy to the killer’s house so that he can apologize to them... and now the killers know the kid saw them, and the killers are after the kid. Great suspense and great twist. Here - nada. Since I’m on a Woolrich roll, another Hitchcock Presents episode based on a Woolrich story - BOY WITH BODY about transporting a dead body in a car.... early in the film Mena Suvai has to get her car home with a dead guy stuck in the window... but the TV episode is unbearable suspense. Here - we get a quick scene where she drives past some policemen, but there is no build, no almost seeing her, nothing. It’s just flat.

So STUCK is just kind of there. A real waste of a potentially suspenseful story. And it seems like this film gets so close to many of these things that I wonder if they were all in the screenplay... but never made it to screen.

- Bill


ObiDonWan said...

Bill, did you see Scott Adams (the "Dilbert" guy) at BEA?
Good for you for deciding to change your MOA, and get help to publish and sell.

wcmartell said...

He may have been autographing in one hall while I was walking around in the other. There were thousands and thousands of people there, and a bunch of people signing.

- Bill

Anonymous said...

it will be nice to replace my dogeared, coffee stained, pencil marked, licked, and what the hell is that stain, copy of Secrets if only to get your autograph to ME on the front page instead of my wife's haha (I used her Paypal to pay for it) but your sentiment inside is what counts -- as does the content

Oasis said...

Great blog Bill. Excellent!
I’ve piddled around with research RE “publishing”.
One thing I learned during my piddling...


Not trying to advise you Bill. I mean, you are the man.
Just passing along something that I heard.

And since you are going ahead with that...I look forward to a copy fresh off the presses. I just love that smell.

Best wishes!

Cunningham said...

Bill -

I would take this opportunity to really make this an incredibly new edition:

1. Stills from the movies you've written in storyboard format alongside the script page describing the action.

2. Excerpts from your scripts that you feel best exemplify the "secret" you are discussing.

3. Quotes from your "pals." Here's mine:

Bill Martell is the Walter Paisley of screenwriting. You never know when or where that character is going to show up - cable, DVD, online or even at the theater - but when he does, you sit back and smile knowing that no matter what happens you're going to be entertained.

4. An Amazon author page (when the book is published) linking your book to all of your movies sold on Amazon.

Oasis said...

I totally agree with Mr. Cunningham.
I would also like to add…
make your cover sell that book like a poster sells that movie.

Also, I’m working fast and furiously to get noticed as
A “professional writer”…I would be honored to tell the world that before I didn’t know squat about the art of screenwriting.

But now after hanging out with Bill Martell,

I know squat…and more!

best wishes bill!

James said...

Here's my quote:

"I'd buy your book, if they ever get around to publishing it."

That's a ringing endorsement, right?

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