Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Selling Across The Border

From early 2008, some answers to screenwriting questions...

More answers to questions...

Question: Is there a demand for screenwriters in other markets such as New York and Vancouver? What kind of hassles are involved with selling screenplays to foreign productions?

Answer: I honestly don't know about NY and Vancouver - I can only go by the movies that come out of those places and make a guess. The *business* is in LA, so NY ends up being primarily indie stuff - and most of those seem to be written-directed-produced by the same person (Spike Lee, I guess not Woody any more - he's in London, Kevin Smith, etc).

Vancouver makes Canadian movies, so if you're Canadian, you may have a chance, there. Many American movies are made in Vancouver because the costs are lower (well, were lower - now the US$ vs. CAN$ may not make Vancouver the best place to shoot), but those are movies generated in Hollywood like the X-MEN films.

For *Canadian films*, Canada has a points system for funding and tax credits - with each major job on the film given a point, adding up to 10 points. Except the *writer* is worth 2 points - one for the story and one for the screenplay itself. This makes an American writer in Canada a *liability* - we take away 2 points from the mix! You can hire an American movie star and it only “costs” one point.

My film HARD EVIDENCE was made for a US company by a Canadian production company, to qualify as Canadian Content and get the tax credits. This sort of subterfuge happens a lot in TV and cable films as a way to cut costs. So it was "officially" a Canadian film, even though it was funded by a US company. The first thing the producers said was that I would have to give up my credit. This was a spec script, I loved this script, and didn't want to give up my credit. They said they'd give me a Story By credit and give some Canadian the Screenplay By credit. I said no. They told me I had to give up my credit... I said that was a deal breaker. I kept my credit, they hired Canadian stars. You know, there are lots of Canadian actors who you don't even know are Canadians. Shatner is Canadian.

I don't like the practice of a foreign company buying a screenplay by a US writer and slapping a local's name on it for tax credits or government funding. The reason why these countries have funding or tax credits for screenplays from their countries is to *promote the work of their country’s writers*. Buying a US writer’s script and slapping some local’s name on it defeats the purpose - and screws both writers. If they can’t find local writers with the type of scripts or quality of scripts they need - these countries should create classes to train and educate their writers. The governments should spend some of that Arts Fund cash on training their writers to write the types of scripts needed by their producers... and then crack down on the abuses of these programs.

A few years ago I worked with a Canadian producer who had seen a film written by a Canadian writer that he thought was particularly well written... so he hired that writer to script a project. Only to discover that the Canadian writer didn’t write that clever film he’d seen - he just had his name slapped on as a credit. The script was really written by some US writer. So this Canadian producer, trying to do the right thing and hire a Canadian writer, go stuck with some guy who couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag... who had all kinds of credits. So this practice hurts *producers* as well as writers. Time to put an end to it!

So I don’t think moving to Canada or targeting Canadian companies is a good plan. Most foreign countries need to buy scripts written by people from their country - because funding comes from arts funds or lottery funds that are set up to promote local film talent.

The *other* kind of foreign companies make mainstream commercial films that may not rely on tax credits or Arts Funding - and it's the same as anything else. They probably favor writers from their own country, though, just because they are close enough to meet with regularly. The foreign companies with offices in Los Angeles may be more likely to hire writers from LA, though.

So the best advice to anyone is to write for the country you live in, and target producers in that country. You speak the same language, they probably get tax credits for hiring you, and you don't have to worry about that clever line you created getting completely lost in translation.

If you live in the USA - it may be more difficult to sell from somewhere outside Los Angeles, but possible. Some people suggest getting an LA mailing address and a mobile phone with an LA area code, but I don't think that's a very good idea. Two weeks ago I got a call from a producer on a project - he asked if we could meet that afternoon or the next because he was flying to New York... I met him that afternoon.

I understand the idea behind the LA PO box and LA cell phone number, but I'm not sure it really makes sense in the long run. The reason why some producer might prefer a writer in LA is that they can do that meeting this afternoon... or tomorrow. They are local. So there is a reason for an LA address that the PO box and cell phone number don't resolve. You might fool 'em when they read the script, but after that you're in trouble.

Now, you might be able to say, "Hey, I'm out of town right now - visiting my parents in my home town. I can fly back in a couple of days and we can meet then." or something, and make it work...

But I sold my first script from out of town, with my hometown address and phone number on the title page. And this toolbooth guy in NJ just sold a script from the Garden State. So I don't think the non-LA address is a deal breaker. Might make it more difficult, but it can still be done. The important thing is what's on the page *after* your address and phone number - the actual screenplay. If it's a great script, they don't care where you live.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Love racks and Rom-coms
Yesterday’s Dinner: Falafel pita at Falagel King in Westwood... love that food royalty!

Movies: ZOMBIE STRIPPERS - Imagine Eugene Ionesco’s stage comedy about conformity RHINOCEROS, where people turn into rhinos... and those who don’t secretly wish that they had, but with zombies instead of rhinos... Oh, and not just any undead - these undead were strippers. Okay, now imagine two strippers having a serious discussion of conformity and society, the sort of discussion two college girls might have in a coffee shop. Heck, these strippers may have started out working their way through college. That may seem as absurd as people turning into rhinos, but that’s what’s at the core of ZOMBIE STRIPPERS - a real discussion about individuality and herd mentality in society during the Bush administration... in the case of this film the 4th George W. Bush administration - he had the Constitution amended so that he could stay in office in time of war, and we’re fighting just about everyone now - Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and even Alaska. Why Alaska decided to break away from the union isn’t explained, but does it really have to be?

The big problem is finding soldiers to fight all of these wars, and some evil scientists in a top secret lab in Sartre, Nebraska come up with a solution - the ultimate Stop Loss - a zombie disease. Now, when soldiers are killed on the battlefield, they just get up and keep fighting! Great plan... but the disease gets out of control at the lab, infecting almost everybody, and they have to send in Special Forces. In a really cool ALIENS-like sequence, the Special Forces (including a hot blonde soldier who loses her top and fights in her bra... this movie *is* called ZOMBIE STRIPPERS) they clean up all of the infected in the lab. Lots of smoke machine stuff, some great gore stuff (seriously top of the line kills) and you’d think the story is over... but one of the soldiers was bitten. He ends up in a strip club... the Rhino Club run by a guy named Ian Eskko (Robert England) where star stripper Kat (Jenna Jameson) reads Neitzsche between dances and squabbles with the other pole kittens. When the soldier dies, comes back as the undead, and bites Kat, you’d think things would go wrong... But being a zombie - not caring, being part of the herd - turns Kat into the perfect stripper. One by one the other strippers (and several customers) join the ranks of the undead and uncaring. Englund realizes the zombie strippers are a hot attraction - and they work without breaks. Soon the club is packed, and the non-dead strippers are no longer needed or wanted.

Which leads to several philosophical discussions amongst gals wearing very few clothes. Some long to be part of the herd - and *try* to get bitten. Others think this is just plain crazy - and want to escape becoming one of them. If being a zombie means more men are attracted to you, this turns becoming a zombie into a type of cosmetic surgery - and some of the strippers want to become zombies to be beautiful - and the pressure to be beautiful is debated by strippers. I don’t think I’ve seen a fiction film that debated different issues this much since the film version of RHINOCEROS with Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. Yet, this is a movie called ZOMBIE STRIPPERS, so there is plenty of nudity and lots of great zombie action - as the ratio of zombies to paying customers changes, we end up with a STRIP CLUB OF THE LIVING DEAD scenario. But Englund is an NRA member - and has a pile of guns, and the Special Forces crew tracks down their missing soldier and finds the crowded strip club full of zombies. Name the strangest way a zombie can be killed, and it’s in this film - with *great* effects!

A million jokes, a million breasts, a million zombies get blown away... and a serious discussion about conformity and not speaking up when things are really wrong in this world... by strippers!

Billy Bob says Check It Out! (20 cities in the USA)

Pages: I have this really old cop script that I've been wanting to rewrite for a while, and last night I wrote 3 new pages on it... even though that rewrite isn't even scheduled. I saw the mess that is STREET KINGS and was inspired to do something on my old cop script.


Richard McNally said...

Encouraging to hear that "If it's a great script, they don't care where you live." Fun Joel had posted with emphasis that it was absolutely necessary to live in LA, but I doubted that, and now I discard the idea completely. Thank you again.

wcmartell said...

I think if you want a career, you'll have to live here. But to *start* the career, you can live anywhere.

Eventually it comes down to that endless round of meetings - and you'll be living here for that whether you pack up everything or not.

- Bill

Nathan said...

I live in Utah. If my career ever takes off, I'm thinking I could plan to hop a commuter flight to LA whenever I've got a meeting and STILL save money over living there. (Plus my wife doesn't want to live in LA, and divorces are an added expense...)

Jessica said...

Question: I'm Canadian, living in Canada, and I'd like to try selling my screenplay to an American company, but from the sounds of it, it might not be possible. Is that true? Or is it just very, very difficult?

Does the tax credit system in the States work the same way with foreigners as the Canadian system?

Is it still worth a shot?

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