Thursday, May 31, 2012

Lancelot Link:s

Lancelot Link Thursday! This week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...



Here are five cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Famous notebooks of Famous Writers.

2) SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN - writer interview!

3) Aaron Sorkin on Steve Jobs bio-pic.

4) PIRANHA 3DD - director and writers explain the Academy Award Issues.

5) Writer Roundtable - Getting Notes.

And the car chase of the week...



From THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO (a Quinn-Martin Production) - tonight's Guest Star - Leslie Nielsen. This was TV in the 70s... lots of stunts!

- Bill




bluebook


FINALLY!

*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!
*** THE SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook!

Why pay $510 for a used version of the 240 page 2000 version that used to retail for $21.95? (check it out!) when you can get the NEW EXPANDED VERSION - over 500 pages - for just $9.99? New chapters, New examples, New techniques!

"SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING is the best book on the practical nuts-and-bolts mechanics of writing a screenplay I've ever read." - Ted Elliott, co-writer of MASK OF ZORRO, SHREK, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN and the sequels (with Terry Rossio).(ie; 4 of the top 20 Box Office Hits Of ALL TIME.)


Only $9.99 - and no postage!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Report:
Bottom Deal

So, I’ve read a pile of books since the last report, but never got around to typing them up. For some reason I have never read Lawrence Block’s Hit Man series - though I’ve read almost everything else he’s written. So, I finally got around to that - and the first book HIT MAN is interesting, so I’ll have an entry on that soon, but first...

BOTTOM DEAL by Robert Gregory Browne.




I don’t know if I’ve ever met Robert in person, because there were some group meet ups ages ago where I met a few dozen people I knew from online all at the same time, but I’ve known him from online for a couple of *decades*. He was probably one of the first people to buy the action book, long ago. He’s a Nicholl Award Winning screenwriter and novelist and a year ago one of his books was made into a TV series pilot for CBS ... which didn’t seem to get picked up. That’s a shame, because the book kicked ass. I’ll talk about it later, but first this novelette (or novella - I really don’t know where the cut off is).

BOTTOM DEAL is about gambling addict ex-Las Vegas Homicide Detective Nick Jennings who has drifted to the wrong side of the law... and gets a call from a woman from his past, Holly. An ex-hooker who pulled a PRETTY WOMAN and married a rich client, got out of the business and lived happily ever after. But now she’s in trouble and says people are trying to kill her. Exaggeration or a serious problem? By the time Jennings finds her, she’s been killed with *his* gun at *his* apartment - and he seems to be the prime suspect. Now he has to find the killer before they get enough evidence to arrest him... but he just keeps finding more damned dead people!

The story is some great hardboiled writing that reminded me of pre-Marlowe Chandler stuff. I read a bunch of crime stuff, but the thing that I miss are those long short stories that are halfway between novel and short. Not a quicky, but also not a novel. There’s almost a movie’s worth of plot - or at least an hour of TV’s worth. This story is also testosterone tough guy stuff - with that great smart ass attitude and banter between the detective hero and the cops who want to arrest him (one is his ex-wife... and her partner who wants to get Jennings to throw a punch so that he can beat the crap out of him and then arrest him for hitting an officer). The story takes us on a tour of Vegas we don’t normally see - the crappy casinos and fleatrap apartment buildings that don’t make the TV commercials. Hey, it’s 99 cents for Kindle and nook - and a fun read.

For more info on: BOTTOM DEAL - on Amazon.

KISS HER GOODBYE by Robert Gregory Browne.




Robert’s novel that was almost a TV series - KISS HER GOODBYE - is about an AFT Agent chasing a Manson-like cult leader who can get so deep into your mind that he haunts your dreams... and maybe controls you. When the AFT Agent’s estranged teenaged daughter gets kidnaped by the cult leader and *buried alive*, he now has the ultimate ticking clock to arrest the cult leader and get him to tell the location of his daughter... but *nothing* goes as planned. The story takes place is Chicago - and like BOTTOM DEAL, Robert shows us places that usually don’t pop up on the average movie or TV show. This book is a real page turner, and the mind control aspects of the cult leader are trippy and take the book into an almost supernatural realm. I read this in paperback when it came out, but now you can get it on Kindle for $3.99 - the pacing is relentless and every time you think you know what is going to happen, something far worse happens. There’s a scene halfway through that is like nothing I have ever read in a thriller before - a “You can’t do that!” moment, because it is so savage. If you think that might be a spoiler about the daughter - boy are you wrong! This story is completely unpredictable! It out TAKENs TAKEN!

For more info on: KISS HER GOODBYE on Amazon.

TRIAL JUNKIES by Robert Gregory Browne.




Robert’s *new* book is TRIAL JUNKIES, which I just bought (for Kindle) but haven’t started reading, yet. It’s currently the #2 Legal Thriller on Amazon... and #81 in *all fiction*. That puts him in the top 100 with all of the best selling writers. He was #1 in Legal Thrillers for a while - which put him *ahead* of the new John Grisham novel! I believe it’s an e-book original - another example of a professional writer going to where the market is. The book is also at $3.99 for Kindle.

Because I have yet to read it, here’s the official Amazon description:

THE #1 HOT NEW RELEASE AND #2 BEST SELLING LEGAL THRILLER ON AMAZON U.S.!

The first book in a new series from ITW Thriller Award nominee, Robert Gregory Browne:

"A MYSTERY I DARE YOU SOLVE"

Ethan "Hutch" Hutchinson hasn't seen his old college pals in nearly ten years. Now fate has brought them together again as one of the gang is put on trial for a brutal, senseless murder.

The Chicago police and prosecutor think they have their perp, but Hutch isn't about to sit silently in a courtroom as someone he cares about is wrongfully convicted.

"CATCH-YOUR-BREATH PLOT TWISTS"

When Hutch and his friends join forces to search for the real killer, what they find shatters every notion they have about friendship, loss and redemption... and may very well cost Hutch--and the woman he loves--their lives.


For more info on: TRIAL JUNKIES on Amazon.

After I read this, I hope to find time to do a book report on it... though I’m way behind on those as it stands... and by then Robert will probably have a couple books in this series!

- Bill

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Lancelot Link: Risk Addiction!

Lancelot Link Thursday! This week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...



Here are seven cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) EVERY line Rihanna says in the movie BATTLESHIP.

2) THE WIRE's Bible.

3) PROMETHEUS writer Jon Spaihts on creating a great space movie.

4) Ken Burns on Storytelling - is it *all* manipulation?

5) Stephen King's 20 Writing Tips.

6) TV Writer Round Table

7) They are closing post offices... but issuing these cool new stamps!

And the Car Chase Of The Week!



From DRIVE...

- Bill

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hacked!

So, a friend of mine's FB account got hacked on Friday and ran *shoe adverts* all day long - click to buy expensive sports shoes. It reminded me of the time my FB account got hacked over the holidays a couple of years ago, so instead of writing a new blog entry, here's a link to that old one...

http://sex-in-a-sub.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-script-tips.html

The strange part of this is how some stranger can suddenly take over our lives and do all kinds of crazy things we would never do (pimp sports shoes), and then leave *us* holding the bag. There's some thriller or mystery script in here somewhere (though it would have to be nothing like SHATTERDAY because that Ellison dude sues). When I was hacked two years ago, they posted messages on my friends walls from me saying all kinds of weird crap. Actually ruined a few friendships. What makes it worse is that a couple of those people have since passed away, and some crazy hacker's weird message is probably the last thing they read "from me".

Anyway - I'm sure there's a thriller story in here somewhere... except it would be a lot of looking at computer screens. If you ever see me on FB trying to sell you shoes - ignore it. Why the heck would I post about shoes?

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Balance - and TERMINATOR 5!
Dinner: Subway BBQ Chicken sandwich.
Pages: I'm almost done with this script... almost.
Bicycle: Short bike ride today, tomorrow they try to figure out how to tape the lot pass on the handle bars - I have a meeting.

SKYFALL...

Because this is a teaser it's short on details, long on mood... but part of this reminds me of the opening of the *novel* MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN where Bond becomes a Manchurian Candidate who can be triggered by a code word... to kill M!



One of the things that this new go-round of films might consider is taking the plots from the novels, many of which have completely different stories than the films which share their titles. They did that with CASINO - which is very much like the novel, down to Bond getting his testicles whipped.


I hope this film is better than the last one - with that henchman who rivals Odd Job named Bowl Cut (or something) and that plot to do whatever it was they were doing. It seemed like the idea of hiring Marc Forster completely backfired and they ended up with the KITE RUNNER version of Bond. I think this concept of finding art house directors is just a mistake - and when you look at the directors who made the Bond films that brought the series back from failure, we're talking about... Martin Campbell (GOLDENEYE and CASINO). The other directors who have made big money Bond films tend to be action guys. The art house director experiment often fails - and I wonder whether AMAZING SPIDER-MAN will work. It's as if Hollywood is unable to figure out who actually has the skills to pull off a movie, so they make what they think is a creative decision to hire the *least likely* director to make this kind of film and hope that director who has maybe done some art house dramas can pull off a big action-based franchise film. See, that doesn't even make sense when you type it.

I think the reason why SKYFALL *may* have a chance at working is that Sam Mendes has done REVOLUTIONARY ROAD... but also ROAD TO PERDITION (arty - but with action scenes). But he's still not even on the list of directors I would ever consider to make a Bond film. An action film is all about the action - the story is *told* through the action. So you can't just hand that stuff off to some second unit guy - the DIRECTOR needs to understand action scenes. Someone like Roger Spottiswood or Martin Campbell know action, but Marc Forster didn't seem to have a clue.

Remember how we got Indiana Jones? Spielberg wanted to direct a Bond film... he was the hottest director in town, and they turned him down. When he told Lucas about this, Lucas came up with a project for Spielberg to direct that would be "better than Bond". Imagine the Spielberg Bond film!

- Bill

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lancelot Link: US Monkeys

Lancelot Link Thursday! This week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...



Here are nine cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) HULK on Mark Ruffalo's portrayal. One of the best pieces of film crit and screenwriting advice I have ever read from a huge green mutant dude.

2 *Every* screenwriter gets notes.

3) The Amazing Doc Series 7 UP.

4) Periodic Table Of Storytelling.

5) A Letter From Hitchcock To Children.

6) James Bond Girls Today!

7) An Interview With John Hughes.

8) MULHOLLAND DRIVE - the movie Vs. the TV pilot.

9) How A Book is Born.

And... the car chase of the week!



Okay, if I say that's my favorite part of THE OTHER GUYS, does that make it sound like I don't like Will Ferrell's Gator character? Because I hate that character.

- Bill

Monday, May 14, 2012

All Work And No Pay...

A while back the WGA sent out a survey on whether producers had asked for that extra (unpaid) rewrite or “sweepstakes development” or a producer asking for the writer to spec a script for the producer (often for a sequel or remake or adaptation - what would normally be a paid assignment) - which seems to indicate that these practices are on the rise.

Though I have always been against working for free on someone else’s script (why not work for free on *my* script?) I have written that free extra rewrite on occasion to fix some development mistake or keep them from going to some other writer who will just screw up my script. And my policy has always been that I’d rather write another 15 page treatment than have to do a major rewrite that throws 110 pages away to start from scratch. And part of this business is endless meetings where I pitch my take or pitch some stories - and am sometimes asked to have a one page leave behind in the event they like my pitch and want to “send it upstairs” to some network or studio or the guy I probably should have been meeting with in the first place.

But you know what? That business-as-usual free stuff can easily be abused.

Here’s the thing - I get miffed when some script *I was paid to write* doesn’t get made. That gets depressing after a while. You feel like you are doing a lot of work for nothing - and when you write a scene or character or bit or dialogue that you really love and are proud of... no one will ever see it. If a tree falls in the forest...?

SCHRODINGER’S SCREENPLAY

Last year looked like it was off to a great start: I had a bunch of potential deals circling, including some where deal points were being negotiated. I have a script that keeps almost selling and getting me meetings every once in a while at studios – and someone wanted to buy it! That someone was the co-producer of an Oscar winning film! Plus, I had one of the stars of a big theatrical action flick who was interested in a screenplay (well, the producer on the project was interested – the star seemed uninterested in anything). And the producer of a new film from the director of a big Bruce Willis film you have seen was also interested in a screenplay. Things were *happening*! Then, one by one, all of these deals fell apart. And so did *everything* that was going to happen last year.

My Big Theatrical Remake Project seemed to be officially declared dead (or at least dead to me) last year. That was a project where I did several extensive treatments (free) before we went to screenplay, and I really thought we had a great script. There were studios who were interested in the project... but somehow decisions were made not to go with any of them. There was a better deal over the horizon somewhere. One of the things that is “business as usual” in this town is the page one rewrite on an “old” screenplay that everyone loved just to make it “new” and “fresh” so that it can be resubmitted to the same people who loved the old version. This seems completely backwards to me, since you risk making changes that will turn off the people who loved the first version. But this is a common way of reviving a stalled screenplay - and films like SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE which began as a big budget Julia Roberts movie at Universal get a rewrite by another writer when it stalled out in order to become a modest budget Miramax film with Gwyneth Paltrow. When a project dies - no matter what the reason - they rewrite the script. On my project, the rewrite notes sounded like they were taking the script in the wrong direction and I bailed rather than have a really bad version of the script exist with my name on it. Yeah, the producer will just hire someone else - and have to pay them... but maybe that makes them think twice about those notes?

On TREACHEROUS I did a strange version of this a few times - a free rewrite every time we approached a new star. In the Mickey Rourke draft he was a boxer. In the Rutger Hauer draft he was a soccer player. Each time I personalized the script for the star the producer was going after... and all of the old versions were garbage. I suspect at this time, if my script on the Big Theatrical Remake Project isn’t completely dead by this point in time, *my* script is garbage and they actually have hired some other writer to “take it in a new direction”... which will be farther away from what made the original film great and farther away from the version a handful of places seemed eager to make... but much closer to never being made. So, does that screenplay exist in the box or not?

Another recent Genre Assignment that was supposed to shoot crashed and burned – which I had seen coming from a mile away. It was a weird situation from the start. I don’t really think the producer wanted to make it, it seemed like the *investors* wanted to make it. This is a problem in the indie world – a producer wants to make something that has little chance of making a profit so no one will give him or her money for that project... but some genre film that will make money is easy to get funding for. So the producer starts to make the genre film (hires a writer) but their heart isn't in it, and they don't push it hard enough. They lose interest... because they really want to make whatever their passion project is... one time it was a serious drama about astronomy. I think I may have been partially at fault in these cases – I always try to make the genre story into something better than the title and logline given to me and this often makes the producer think the genre script maybe could be changed into the more artistic project they wanted to make... and it just can't be that. For that astronomy producer I actually included astronomy as part of the genre story - which may have actually caused more problems than it solved. Instead of simply making the great version of some silly genre film, they want to make something the project can never be... and ended up making nothing. Another script that may or may not exist in the box. Dead or alive?

So last year had some assignments I got paid for that just stalled out, and some spec sales that just stalled out, and that’s frustrating. I’m in the business to *tell stories* and that means the scripts have to go all the way to screen. I know the odds of that happening even once money has changed hands are about 1 in 10... but I still *try* to target companies that actually make movies rather than develop projects that are either alive or dead - we have to open the box and look inside to be sure.

FIELD OF DREAMERS

Add to that a number of projects that were “If you write this, they will come!” and then nothing came. These are kind of the sneaky Write On Spec deals because it’s *my* script. I’m just writing my own script on spec... because someone says they will buy it. If they *don’t* buy it, I have just written a screenplay I was going to write anyway. Sounds good to me... and I’ve done this several times. Weird problem - I don’t think a single one of those deals came through. I still own every single script I’ve written on spec because someone is interested.

The ultimate version of this was a meeting I had ages ago on a sequel in a popular horror series. The first couple of films had been theatrical, but now they were being funded by the home video department of the studio. I pitched my sequel idea and the producer loved it, but... It would be much easier for *him* to pitch to the studio if there was a treatment - something fleshed out. Hey, I’ll write treatments for free - so I wrote up the treatment for him. He read it, gave me some notes, I rewrote the treatment... We worked on this for months - back and forth, fine tuning that treatment until it was amazing. And then he submitted it to the studio. The studio decided *not* to make another film in the series, and I was stuck with the treatment. Later I wondered if the producer *knew* they didn’t want to make another film in the series and my treatment might have been his way to get them to change their mind. Nice if I had known that ahead of time.

Years later, I had a producer looking for horror projects, and I pitched that same idea as a stand alone non-sequel (a couple of changes and a slightly different killer) and he loved it and wanted to read the treatment. So I did a rewrite on the treatment to remove the series elements (and improved the heck out of it) and let him read the new treatment - and he loved that, too. But... See, he couldn’t afford to develop the script, but he needed a completed script to get the funding (might have even been the same studio home video division as before) so - could I write the screenplay for my idea for free? Sure. Oh, and because of a financing window closing soon - could I have it finished in 3 weeks? Sure. So I worked my butt off and delivered a shootable first draft in 3 weeks that would knock the socks off the funding source...

And what I did not realize is that there was a bit of “sweepstakes” writing going on here, and he had several writers specing their ideas for him... and he submitted a half dozen scripts and let them pick and they picked someone else’s. Though I still own that screenplay and it almost gets made every once in a while - the producers who told me if I wrote it they would buy it? Did not buy it.

There’s a treatment somewhere on my website called THE GHOST which began with a producer who claimed he owned the rights to a comic book series, and he wanted me to write a treatment (free) to securing financing so that they could pay me to write the screenplay. This was a slam dunk deal, I was told. I wrote the treatment, did some free revisions... and somewhere in there the producer dropped the bomb that he did not actually own the comic book rights, and my treatment was to get his financiers to pony up the money for the comic book rights. Great! I do work so that someone else can get paid! Except (as usual) it didn’t work out - some other company had already bought the rights to the comic book. The lesson I learned here was - make sure the producer ACTUALLY owns the rights before you do any work. So that lesson was applied to both the NYT Best Seller I adapted (they owned the rights) and ANGELS & DEMONS (they owned the rights). But the comic book thing? I ended up making some major changes to my treatment so that it could be a stand-alone story that maybe I could sell to someone else. So far, no luck.

WIMPY’S BURGERS

Last year I had a similar situation - a treatment that everyone loved... but in this economy producers are not developing things like they used to. If there was a script, there was a sale. Now, you might think by now I would have learned this lesson - but since this was *my story* and the treatment was always popular, when they told me they would buy a completed script (but not pay me to write it) I wrote the script. If nothing else, situations like this get me off my lazy butt and cranking out pages. I think when I look at my emotional conflict that the “We’ll Gladly Pay You Tuesday For A Screenplay Today” physical conflict brings to the surface, it’s that I am a lazy person who is motivated by *hope* that some damned script will sell and get made into a film. Without the *hope* I get burned out and do less work...

And that is the big problem, here - the giant asteroid headed towards Earth.

If I begin to believe I’m writing for the trash can with no *hope* of having the script made, I lose my motivation for writing, and begin that downward spiral. I think we all feel this way. We hit that point where we wonder if writing screenplays is pointless. If we seem to always get the stick and never get the carrot, we lose our enthusiasm for writing. And it seems to be one damned stick after another. The tough part of this job is to self motivate - to keep plugging away even after you feel that it may end up a waste of time. Part of that is actually *enjoying* the writing process - and that’s usually what keeps me going. Though it may end up that not a single living person ever reads this screenplay, that line on page 27 is something I’m proud of, and the characters and story were fun to write. Though sometimes writing can be torture, I guess I’m a masochist.

But last year I wrote another screenplay because someone said they’d buy it... and nothing happened. Though they didn't buy it, I still own the script and have since had another producer interested in it as a much bigger film... but then not go forward because they were really looking for something in another genre but really liked my script. I'm sure that script will sell eventually, but it didn't sell last year... and it didn’t sell to the people who got me to write it. Is it alive in the box or dead... and why the hell did I spend my time (time is money) on that script instead of some other script? The problem with these Wimpy Deals is that they trade on hope - they *abuse* my hope.

Someday has to be Tuesday, right?

STRAWS AND CAMELS

But here’s the thing about all of these free spec things - even if it’s my treatment and I planned on writing it eventually, I did it *now* as a favor to the producer. Every free rewrite is a favor to the producer. Those free treatments that radically change the story every time - a favor to the producer. And just like any favor (helping you move, taking you to the airport) eventually there needs to be reciprocation. Now, here’s the thing - I owe lots of people favors and will eventually pay them off. I do lots of favors for people, and if they pay it forward or thank me, we’re even. I don’t tally favors I’ve done for people (but am aware of favors others have done for me - weird, huh?). But there comes this point where I realize I am doing all of the favors and getting nada. Not even a “Thank you”. The favors become *expected*. And that’s when I start to feel like maybe I’m owed something.

There is a company I've pitched to every year for probably a decade – but has yet to buy anything. What pisses me off the most about this company is that every year some script of mine gets me a meeting where they want me to pitch ideas for their current specific needs... and then they pick about 3 or 4 of those ideas and ask if I would type up a page or three on each because it will make it easier for them to pitch to the studio... so I do this, and then nothing happens. Sure, I’ll do free treatments and free synopsis... but these are *favors*.

This has been going on for *a decade* with these guys. I have typed *hundreds of pages* of treatments and synopsis. There were times when they were looking for projects in 3 different genres, so I would come in with a bunch of ideas in each genre, they would like 3 or 4 in each and I would type up a short treatment on each, and then nada. Zip.

All work and no pay, makes Bill an angry boy.

Last year I pitched one they really liked – which had franchise possibilities – and they wanted me to type up a treatment for free so that they could go to the studio... and I did that... and then nothing happened. That ended up being the last straw with those guys, because I had typed hundreds of pages for projects that never happened and I could have just as easily written a few screenplays. Oh, and these are always hurry up we need them tomorrow morning at 9am things.

I am never going to pitch to them or write them anything again.

Screw them.

The next time someone passes them one of my scripts and it gets great coverage and they go, “Hey, that’s Bill! We love Bill! Let’s get him in here!” and they call me, I’m going to tell them to go eff themselves. They will probably be confused by that response, but they have had ten years to find some project to actually pay me for - and haven’t done that yet. And they have had open assignments that they filled with other writers. Writers with agents or managers who closed the deal - or who had other clients they wanted to work with. The worst part of this is that some of these films have sucked big time.

But I wonder if the writers on those open assignments wrote the scripts on spec? That may be why they didn’t “throw me that bone” - they know I won’t spec a whole screenplay for them. Which means that “bone” does not exist. For all I know they end up with the bad scripts because they *still* don’t spend any development money even once they have gone to script. Maybe I am *lucky* they never hired me when they needed a screenplay written? But if that’s the case - it’s worse than I thought... everyone was doing work for free. Those deals may have been like the scripts of my own I speced for people that I’m still stuck with. Dead in the box or alive? DEAD.

THE BUCK STOPS WHERE?

The problem is money... and it seems like over the past few years things have gotten worse. There isn’t the development funding there used to be - so producers either need to find that *perfect* script that they can just shoot tomorrow, or find writers who will work for free. When the producer is looking for something specific, they would rather have it written on spec to their specs than spend the time searching for one that already exists. The producer can’t afford to pay for the treatments or rewrites or whatever - and so that *cost* is passed on to the writer. And it *is* a cost. Time is money. The time I spend writing a bunch of free treatments could easily be used to write some script that *I* want to write, and that I think will have a better chance of selling. The time I spend doing that free rewrite that screws up the script because the producer “isn’t quite sure what’s wrong with the story so let’s make them cowboys and see if that works?” is wasting **my** time on a draft that doesn’t have a chance in hell... But no matter how much I discuss the reasons for the odd changes with the producer - he can not articulate why he’s *sure* the cowboy draft will be the one that gets the financing or that he can take into the studio. But it’s just a waste of my time, and I know it.

Part of the job is pitching your take on projects - and that burns up a ton of time for the writer. You have to read the material (book, comic book, watch the original film, etc) and then formulate the new version of the story - and that really means write a beat-by-beat treatment or outline and figure out the characters and find a bunch of great scene ideas - just so you can go in and pitch... and you are one of a couple dozen writers who do this. All so that the producer can hear a bunch of different takes and decide on one. Hey, wasn’t there a time when a writing assignment was just *assigned* to some writer after reading their material? The producer finds the writer they believe fits the material and hires them. Now, instead of the *producer* making that decision it gets passed down to the writers - a bunch of us basically write different versions of the same movie and then the producer picks the one they like. So they hear 24 pitches and pick one and the other 23 writers go home empty handed after reading a 478 page book and figuring out how to turn it into a 110 page script.

It's "auditioning" for a job - an actor doesn't get paid to audition, do they?

That would make sense if I could do an audition or two every day to try to land a job... but these things take *weeks* to put together. And after a good actor that everyone loves who keeps getting call backs auditions over and over again, the casting director tends to go out of their way to find them a role on something. They get thrown a bone.

Look - if the producer is the one who can’t pay me, the producer needs to GET THEIR SHIT TOGETHER and figure out *exactly* what needs to be done in the free rewrite to trigger the money flowing to *me*. No experiments. No whims. No giving me notes without *thinking* first. No asking me to write some treatment that has ZERO chance, or is the producer trying to get a door open using *my* work. The producer needs to be responsible. If you ask a writer to do a treatment or synopsis or - heaven forbid - a screenplay for FREE, you’d better be damned sure that it has a 80% chance of turning into money so that you can pay the writer. Asking writers to do a bunch of work you’re going to just throw against a wall to see what sticks is having the writer finance your incompetence.

For me the biggest issue is - no Thank You. No acknowledgment that I have done this production company that loves my work a bunch of major favors for the past decade. I have done a pile of unpaid labor for them, but they have done nothing for me. And I am not the only one. I’m sure there are other writers who have written a stack of free treatments and pitched takes on projects where they had to read some 478 page novel for them and never even got a thank you for it. The reason anyone does free work is to eventually get paid, and if that eventually never happens - well, you feel used and screwed over. I know I do.

Now, this is coming from a guy who is constantly saying that’s just the way the business works. No one in Hollywood has time to be polite. I’m not some new guy who gets miffed when some script that has traveled all the way up stream to the top gets a pass and no one tells me. No one owes me a rejection note or phone call. I’ve been doing this for 22 years, now - I know how the business works. But the unacknowledged favors seems to be getting worse.

That is the real problem. The WGA survey shows that this is not an isolated thing. *Many* producers seem to be asking for favors without reciprocating. As writers, we think “Hey, this might be the way in!” and it’s only writing a few pages, right? But that survey means writers have been complaining. They have reached the point where they are getting angry about the free work without even being thrown a bone. No eventual pay for all of the work - and that leads to complaints to the union... or at least whispers loud enough that the union is sure to overhear. Other writers may have already given that “Go eff yourself” response - or be one free treatment or one pitch or take away from it.

The solution is actually simple - when a producer asks a favor of a writer, and the writer delivers... the producer needs to realize that they now *owe* that writer a favor.

Or at least a Thank You.

When the producer is deep in “favor debt” to a writer? Time to pay them with real money. Hey, I know that your budgets have been cut and things are worse now than they were a few years ago... but they are worse for *all of us*. There seems to have been more abuse in the past few years than ever before... and it's time for that to stop.

Know when it’s time to throw the writer a bone... and if you owe too many writers too many bones? That’s a serious problem - what are you going to do about it?

What the hell did Harlan Ellison say?

- Bill (probably burning a bridge or two)


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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lancelot Link: Monkeys Never Sleep

Lancelot Link Thursday! This week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...



Here are five cool links plus this week's car chase...

1) Summer Blockbusters... re-imagined as Indies.

2) Failed HBO Shows.

3) Interview With AVENGERS Screenwriter!

4) Final Shots Of Great Films - what was that last image?

5) Best Pilot Scripts - coming soon to a TV near you.

6) LANCELOT LINK is now on DVD!

And the Car Chase Of The Week...



- Bill

PS: This is the greatest season of CASTLE, with no shortage of GREAT episodes, but Monday night was amazing. Yeah, it's a crime show, yeah it's a rom-com, yeah it's fun... but this is the greatest drama on TV. This season has been all about characters - and Monday gave us so many amazing scenes that push the characters up against a wall and force them to make tough decisions and deal with tough emotions.
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