Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Film Chums

From 11 Years Ago...

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 offices on the Warners lot. 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.
2018 Note: Just announced they are making #4.

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*.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Lancelot Link Monday: $400 Million Domestic In One Week!

Lancelot Link Monday! BLACK PANTHER broke box officer records last weekend, and this weekend as well - becoming on ly the fourth film to make over $100m in its second weekend. So if you thought it exhausted its audience with last weekend's largest President's Day Weekend Ever with $242,155,680 and largest February Opening Weekend (F,S,S) with $202,003,951 or Largest Winter Opening Weekend or Largest Monday... well, you ain't seen nothing yet! Over $400 million domestic after its second weekend... and $304 million overseas. That's a total of $704 million worldwide since opening. Um, it's in profit. And doesn't seem to be slowing down. My capsule review is: If Shakespeare wrote a James Bond movie. Though lots of people are saying between this film and WONDER WOMAN, there *is* an audience for female and minority superheroes, I think it's more about having two good movies. Though I had some problems with the action scenes in BLACK PANTHER, I forgive them because the rest was fun and emotional and had the best villain so far in a Marvel movie. As someone said online - the villain was *right* and by the end the hero realizes this (with a different solution to the problem). Good stuff. What will the Asylum rip off be? While you're thinking about that, here are 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Panther ....................... $108,046,000
2 Game ........................... $16,600,000
3 Peter........................... $12,545,000
4 Annihilation ................... $11,000,000
5 50 .............................. $6,915,000
6 Jumanji ......................... $5,640,000
7 15:17 ........................... $3,600,000
8 Showman ......................... $3,400,000
9 Every Day ....................... $3,104,000
10 Early .......,................... $1,700,000




2) Most Anticipated Horror Movies Of 2018.

3) Terrible Tropes! Does Your Script Do This?

4) Welcome To Silent Films - Stunts Without Special Effects.

5) Oscar Nominated Writers Round Table.

6) Film Dumping In February.

7) Hitchcock's VERTIGO, why we love it.

8) Writing The Superhero Film That Should Win The Oscar.

9) The Original Atomic Blonde.

10) One Of My Favorite Directors: Ida Lupino.

11) 150 Scripts To Read!

12) Slumdog Bond?

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



From the UK TV series VILLAINS.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Special Guest: Harry Connolly on Studying Screenwritng

From 2015...

My friend Harry Connolly has been writing guest blogs to promote his new (awesome) GREAT WAY Trilogy, and knocking it out of the park with each one. All kinds of amazing insight and information on writing that applies to novels, short stories, and screenplays. He should write a book! So my blog is privileged to host this guest blog...



INT. BOOKSTORE - DAY: How Studying Screenwriting Made Me a Better Novelist (Mostly)

Way back in the misty dawn of the 1990s, I was a noob author on the internet, looking for advice.

Boy, did I find it.

One of the earliest places I went searching was from pro novelists. Nice people, but none of the advice they gave me seemed all that helpful. I wanted to know how to put together a really great book, and the responses were, essentially: "Try not to be boring."

Now, this is the ultimate advice. Really, there is no better advice than this. "Be interesting" is the only rule of writing. Everything a writer learns about their craft brings them toward this goal.

But I wasn't looking for that. I wanted to talk dialog. I wanted tips on creating characters and conflict. I wanted concrete rules. That's when I found screenwriting.

Now, this was back in the days of Syd Field, who specified actual page numbers where people should put act breaks. It was very, very rigid. Too much so, honestly.

Not that I knew about Field at first. I was just this guy writing terrible fiction. Some actor friends told me to write a script so they could be in it, and gave it a try. Had I ever seen an actual film script before? Nope. Lots of plays (I studied Modernist Drama in college, mainly because plays are so short) but no screenplays. You can imagine how good they weren't.

Then, while bumping around from one message board to another, I discovered Wordplay.

I think just about every person who goes online is searching for a peer group, even if they don't realize it. They seek out a circle of friendly voices who share their interests, enthusiasms, and ambitions. Someone to cheer them on or buck them up. Someone willing to tell them they're full of shit.

Just as important are contrasts. The horror writer has a lot to learn from the kitchen sink drama writer, and vice versa. The woman who wants her name on big budget summer tentpole movies has a lot to learn from the woman writing arch indies. They define themselves and their work by their differences. And they can argue.

God, how we argued. Antagonists, flashbacks, outlining: it was an endless competition of ideas, and while I argued passionately, I was wrong as often as I was right.

But what did I learn in all that back and forthing that I'm still using today?

1) The elegant flourish. There's an early scene in Budd Schulberg's What Makes Sammy Run where a movie producer complains about an Ivy League playwright he's hired. The script he turned in had a 20 page scene where a husband and wife argued, bickered, and fought, and the playwright insisted every line of dialog was necessary to establish the man's contempt and the dismal state of their marriage. The producer brought on another writer, a guy with barely a high school education. New guy throws out the argument entirely and writes a new scene: The husband and wife are on an elevator. A pretty young woman gets on, and the man takes off his hat.

That was it, a single moment that encapsulated the situation perfectly. Short, simple, telling. I've been searching for ways to do that in my own writing ever since.

2) Hurry up! One of the first things screenwriters at the time were told was that any dialog over three lines was too long. (And script formatting is really narrow for dialog.) Get to the point without being on the nose, then get out.

The same was true for scenes. Start late and end early. Get to the conflict, then the next, then the next. Anything that didn't move the story forward had to be cut.

Novels can be a digressive form, with characters telling little stories about their lives, or doing the dishes, or stopping for coffee with an old friend. That's not a bad thing, and I certainly don't mind reading digressive books. I don't like writing them, though. I try to keep the story moving, and I inevitably get editorial notes asking me to slow things up and take a little more down time.

3) Be the expert. This was a hard one, because it doesn't mean what a novelist would assume it means. It's not an injunction to study sword-fighting before writing a duel, or to interview a bunch of cops before writing a procedural. That advice ought to be so obvious that nobody should need it. This means to be an expert in your own storyΓÇöto know it inside and out.

In fact, this came from the Wordplay column called You're The Expert; the reason screenwriters are supposed to be experts is to effectively respond to studio notes. That's not an issue for my type of writing, but when I'm stuck on a scene, or unsure what direction the plot should go, I ask myself what a really great would do. How would [extraordinary author] write this scene?

It's a surprisingly effective way to break through a block, and research has confirmed that people are more creative when they imagine themselves to be someone else. Research requires actual expertise, but creatively it helps to have the pretend kind.

What about that "Mostly?" There's one aspect of novel writing that studying scripts didn't prepare me for, and it wasn't what I expected. If you watch the opening of The Godfather, you see an amazing outdoor wedding partyΓÇöthe people, the decorations, the food, all of it. In a script, that's covered by the words EXT. WEDDING PARTY - DAY or whatever. A novelist has to do the work of the art department, the wardrobe department, casting, and all the rest.

But I expected that. What I didn't expect was the profound difference in the way prose text operated. In a script, the text doesn't have a lot of flow because so much of it is instruction. Scene headers, dialog names and parentheticals, "legends", all of them break the flow of the narrative and dialog.

Prose has none of that. Not only is the text very linear, it comes in a flow that's largely unbroken (with the exception of chapter headers or asterisks scene breaks). That task of stringing words together into sentences, then tying sentences together into paragraphs, then arranging paragraphs properly, it a lot like beadwork, and it was the biggest hurdle I faced. While revising first drafts, I found sentences in the wrong order, paragraphs that repeated exposition, unnecessary prepositional phrases, and worse.

Learning to control the flow of text and the transitions between sentences over page after page of prose, instead of in small bursts of narration, was the skill that elevated my game to earn a publishing contract and a career.

Obviously, it isn't absolutely necessary for novelists to study screenwriting; plenty of pros have done well without it. One of the strengths of the novel format is the extraordinary variety of styles and subject matters. Nothing really matters except that one rule I mentioned at the top.

But I'll always be wedded to the stripped-down, full-speed-ahead aesthetic of the script, and I'll always be grateful to the screenwriters (including my host here) who taught me what I needed to know to become a pro novelist.

Now watch me gently segue into a note about my latest, blurbed "Epic Fantasy that reads like a Thriller" by Greywalker author Kat Richardson.

The Way Into Chaos Cover

Have I mentioned that it received a starred review in Publishers Weekly? Bill wrote a review of the entire trilogy. You can also find out more about that first book on my website.

If you want to see the fast-paced style I've been talking about, you can read the sample chapters I've posted on my blog.

Thanks for reading.

BIO: Harry Connolly's debut novel, Child Of Fire, was named to Publishers Weekly's Best 100 Novels of 2009. For his epic fantasy series The Great Way, he turned to Kickstarter; at the time this was written, it's the ninth-most-funded Fiction campaign ever. Book one of The Great Way, The Way Into Chaos was published in December, 2014. Book two, The Way Into Magic, was published in January, 2015. The third and final book, The Way Into Darkness, was released on February 3rd, 2015. Harry lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

In case you missed any of Harry's other guest blogs...

My Favorite Bit.

Why Talent Is Evil.

My Superpower As A Writer.

It's Dangerous To Go Alone.

Failing On Your Own Terms.

The Most Difficult Part To Write.

Experts Vs. Bumpkins.

Always Blame Yourself!

And the books:

Click covers for more info!

Chaos Magic Darkness











PS: Lancelot Links will be on *Tuesday* this week!

Bill

Monday, February 05, 2018

Lancelot Link Monday: Jimmy Dean Sausage Is Made Of Ground Hogs!

Lancelot Link Monday! I have no idea what the percentages are, but many people who watched the Superbowl yesterday were only interested in the movie trailers, and many people were only interested in the adverts. Is there any other sporting event that attracts people who don't really care about watching the game? While you're thinking about that, here are 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 a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Jumanji ....................... $11,000,000
2 Maze Runner .................... $10,200,000
3 Winchester ...................... $9,250,000
4 Showman ......................... $7,800,000
5 Hostiles ........................ $5,523,000
6 Post ............................ $5,200,000
7 12 Strong ....................... $4,710,000
8 Den Of Thieves .................. $4,687,000
9 Shape Of Water .................. $4,300,000
10 Paddington ...................... $3,110,000


Note: GREATEST SHOWMAN was considered dead on arrival... but has managed to stick around in the Top 5 long enough to become a sleeper hit with $137.5 million and the lowest drop from last week in the Top 10. Instead of playing out, it is still finding an audience every week.

2) Marvel's BLACK PANTHER... starring Wesley Snipes?

3) Audiences Burned Out On Superhero Movies!

4) SOLO Trailer - a whole film about those red disposable kegger cups?



5) MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: FALLOUT trailer... dang! I should have had the book finished *today*!



6) DGA Award Winners.

7) PASSION OF THE CHRIST PART 2: THE REVENGE?

8) SKYSCRAPER Trailer... it's DIE HARD in a very tall building!



9) Writing THE SHINING by Diane Johnson.

10) 2017 Spec Script Sales List.

11) Film Dumping Is Alive And Well.

12 JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM trailer...


13) 28 Films For Black History Month. I hope SOUNDER is on there!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:





Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:
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