Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Film Courage Plus: Take This Job And Shove It!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Take This Job And Shove It:

What’s interesting to me about this clip is that the first question is about when you should quit your day job, but evolved into a story about my early career... and the troubled path TREACHEROUS took to get to the screen. What do they have in common? I had no idea at the time of the interview, but looking back on it I’ve realized that the TREACHEROUS story is a perfect example of how being a professional screenwriter is often not a dependable source of income. That’s one of the problems with any creative occupation - no regular paychecks.

Screenwriting is freelance - which means that you are the boss. Which means that you pay yourself. Which means that you need to find the jobs so that you can pay yourself. You will be an independent businessperson. Though you may fantasize about an Agent or Manager handling the business side, that is only a fantasy. Most of the deals you get will come from your hard work... and they will get their 10%. You are the only one who cares about your career, so you will need to get out there and find jobs.

One of the questions that new writers frequently ask is: when should I move to Los Angeles?

I thought for the longest time that I wouldn’t have to move to Los Angeles at all. My first script deal, back when I was 21 years old, was writing a comedy martial arts film NINJA BUSTERS for a guy from my hometown community college and it was made in Oakland, CA - the nearest big city to where I grew up - and even starred the World Champion Oakland Raiders. Cool! I believed that I could have a career in my hometown, and NINJA BUSTERS was the first in a three script deal with the guy who produced and directed it, Paul Kyriazi. Paul had made a few successful kung fu movies for the drive in circuit and set up a company that would make more drive in films. After writing NINJA BUSTERS I wrote the next two scripts... and then NINJA BUSTERS hit some financial snags and there would not be two more films. The weird part was that there was enough publicity surrounding the film that I found a couple more local jobs - one of the producers on NINJA BUSTERS had an idea for a movie, and a real estate guy my girlfriend at the time new had a bunch of vacant properties he thought we could use as film locations. So even after NINJA BUSTERS hit a snag, there were two more deals to be had in the Oakland area. And then there was nothing. I was the big fish in the small pond and had eaten up all of the fish food. I spent ten years working in a warehouse...

And during that time I optioned a script to a company in Beverly Hills and eventually sold another script to a company at Paramount... and that is when I moved.

Looking back on it: I wish I had moved right after NINJA BUSTERS hit the snag, because I could have forklift jousted in Los Angeles as easily as I did in my home town. I was working for Safeway Grocery, and they had stores and warehouses in Los Angeles. Could have easily moved here much earlier instead of driving down once a year for American Film Market. One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that you bump into people in line at the grocery store and can easily go to a bunch of meetings. I had an agent for a while still living in my home town and had no idea how terrible he was until I optioned that script to the producer in Beverly Hills and saw his 8x8 windowless office above a motorcycle repair shop in the slums. I would have been a lot more proactive had I known that he was doing nothing for me. I was probably the oldest dude to sell a script to Roger Corman - and had I moved to Los Angeles earlier I probably would have written a stack of scripts for him in my 20s!

WHEN TO MOVE?

One of the questions people often ask is when they should move to Los Angeles - before they make their first sale or after? That’s a very good question and everything depends on what you have established where you live now. I moved after my first sale and once I got here wished I had moved earlier - all of those Corman scripts I could have written. All of those connections I could have made. And I probably never would have signed with that terrible agent!

But it is likely that you will move here at some point.

Los Angeles is where the business is located. All of the studios are here, all of the production companies are here, all of those meetings you will need to go to are here. Though there are other places in the USA where films are frequently produced and you can make connections there, those films are made by companies in Los Angeles. New York doesn’t seem to be doing much these days - Miramax is closed and most of the New York City companies dried up when the indie film business evolved into guys and gals in their backyards with digital cameras a decade ago.

I have friends who live out of town and come here a couple of times a year for a couple of weeks to do wall-to-wall meetings so that they can maintain their career out of town. The rest they do by phone or Skype. That is a possibility, especially if you have a family and a house and a life set up elsewhere.

If you are single? Why not be single here? Yeah, it’s so expensive you’ll probably be living in some terrible apartment with room mates, but when you are single and young it’s an adventure! And there are places you can live within driving distance of Los Angeles that are affordable if you are looking for a house and no roommates.

If you have a good job in your hometown, that can be an issue... but do they have a branch office or store or whatever in Los Angeles? Can you transfer? Keep the good job, just do it in Los Angeles? If not, then you might want to keep the good job. One of the problems with trying to re-establish yourself in a new city is that all of the “ground work” takes time. I got my job at Safeway Grocery because I bumped into a store manager at a business we both frequented, and his son knew my brother. That sort of thing is a lot more difficult when your brother lives in your hometown and that store manager’s son lives in Los Angeles. So if you have a good job, you may want to move after the sale... or not at all.

You don’t want to get into a position where you are stressed about money and can’t write. That defeats the purpose!

WHEN I QUIT MY JOB

After selling COURTING DEATH - a series of flights to Los Angeles - I put in my 2 weeks notice, and I think I ended up working even longer. I was a good employee. And that’s a factor that some people miss - if you are a crappy employee at your day job, how do you think you’ll do when you are the boss of your own one person company and have to make deadlines and show up to meetings on time and all of the other things you may have hated about the day job? I was always a hard working employee, always the guy who would take an extra shift if need be, always the guy that the other employees got along with. Always on time. All of the things that make you a good employee at your day job are the same factors that will make you successful as a screenwriter. If you are not the very best employee at your day job, the person they can trust to show up on time and get the work done without mistakes, you will never be ready to quit your day job and write full time... because how will you (as boss) get you (as employee) to do better? You have already proven yourself a terrible employee - why would you hire yourself? I was the great employee then, and a pretty good employee now. So when I quit my day job, they threw a big party for me.

I moved to Los Angeles to begin this adventure in screenwriting... which is still going! I haven't had to fire myself yet!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



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