Friday, June 06, 2008

Bill Gets A Deal (part 3)

At the end of the third week of writing this script I have not been paid for, I get a phone call from another producer who wants to work with me. We have a meeting, and this ends up being the Hawaii project. It’s a great meeting, and I want to do that script. We discuss terms, and come to a basic agreement. I tell them that I’m working on this other project, but when I finish it I want to write the Hawaii script. I would sure like to get a contract and check from the facilities deal producer, so that I know I’m not wasting my time.

I send another e-mail about the contract to the director, and he asks how I’m coming along with the script... and can I send him pages? I make a PDF of the first half of the script and send it. Sure, they can crack a PDF and rip me off. They can hire someone to finish the script, too. But I tell the director I have more pages, this is just a sample. I mention that I’m getting kind of concerned about the check - I understand that the contract might be held up by lawyers going over wording and terms - that’s what they do. But I’m sending half of the screenplay - it would be nice to get that initial check for doing this work. Hey, maybe this half of the script is exactly what is needed to get that check and contract to me? Maybe this is “good faith” to the producer?

A couple of days later I get a contract and a check in the mail... for the Hawaii script. Okay, the Hawaii producer’s office is about the same as this other guy’s - neither owns a building, neither has an army of employees... but I’m still waiting on one contract and the other is in my hand almost instantly. Everything discussed in our meeting is in the contract. I’m happy with it. The check clears the bank. I’m now feeling guilty for giving the other script another week, because the Hawaii guy is “the better customer”. I feel like I owe the guy who does everything right a little priority.

But I do a fourth week on the script - which is now closing in on the end of act 2 - and when I get no contract and no check at the end of that week... I switch over to the producer who has actually paid me, figuring that when I get the contract and check I’ll take a week and finish the script. I write the first few scenes on the Hawaii script when I get an e-mail from the director...

With notes attached from the producer...

Now, many people over the years have given me notes. I have horror stories about notes... in fact, one of those is coming up. But usually the problem with the notes is that they are stupid and will ruin the script. In this case, they were mean. Insulting. Nasty. But I could deal with that. I mean, usually everyone tries to be tolerable until they have the completed first draft, that way you don’t quit on them. And even if people are difficult to work with, they all wear that fake smile (the one I wore at the meeting) until they get what they want from you. That fake smile is especially broad if they owe you money. It’s just bad business to be an asshole to someone you don’t have under contract, yet.

The big problem with the notes? “Where the hell are we going to get the money to film in Rome?” “How the fuck do you expect us to send a crew to Paris?” Stock footage. This guy didn’t understand stock footage! I actually found that difficult to believe. How can you be a film producer and not have the basic imagination required to understand that some static shot of Rome that doesn’t include any characters, just a skyline, is probably going to be stock footage. If his note had been, “Hey, where do you plan on getting this shot of Rome and how much will it be costing me?” that would be different. That is a reasonable question. And I actually had an answer to that.

The director’s e-mail said I should ignore the Producer’s profanity, that’s just the way he is... and the director thought the script was coming along great - very exciting - and he pointed out some of the scenes that I really liked writing. The director said he would be the one making it, so his response was more important than the producer’s. So, when would I have the script finished? When could he start rounding up talent?

I have to admit, I was pissed off and didn’t respond. I figured now that the producer had read *half* the script, he’d get his rear in gear and get me a contract and a check. You know, there was a time on this deal where, if the producer had plead temporary poverty and wanted to give me half the initial money up front and half when I handed in the completed script, I would have worked with him. But now? I want all my money. And when he didn’t get any more script pages from me, and asked the director what was up, the director would probably mention that I didn’t have a contract or check, yet. Then I’d get my damned contract and check, and send them the 20 or so pages I had yet to send them as a stall while I finished up the script.

So I went back to work on the Hawaii script. Finished it. Handed in the first draft... got a check! Like immediately! Had a meeting on the Hawaii script, got some really good story notes - this is like a dream job, because we’re mostly on the same page. The places where we’re apart on the Hawaii script are a few little things that will work out. Actually, one of the initial notes I thought would create a larger problem than it solved, so I explained my position, and they agreed with me. I found a different (better) solution and we are all happy. My job is to make the script the very best that it can be - and sometimes that means the script will change to become the movie the producers want to make. I need to make sure the changes work, even when I may not agree with them. Once they pay you, it’s *their* script. A good producer has some sort of vision for the script, and it may not be the exact same vision as you have... but if it is a good vision, your job is to help them make that movie.

Anyway, the Hawaii project is somewhere in its second draft, and I keep getting e-mails from the director of the facilities project asking if the script is finished. I ignore them. More e-mails. I ignore them. Phone calls... I screen them. But nothing, *nothing*, from the Producer. It as if he doesn’t care about this project at all...

And then it all becomes clear to me. You probably already figured it out. The producer doesn’t want to work with me, my director friend just wants to work. I am the bait... I am the director’s “facility deal”. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that this whole deal is being manufactured by the director. I’m not even sure this producer wants to make a movie. My director friend has discovered that this producer has a facilities deal, likes action movies, and has used *me* to get his foot in the door. Now he’s trying to use me to set up a deal with this producer, who doesn’t seem too interested.

There is nothing wrong with a director using one of my scripts as “bait” for a producer - that is one of the ways I sell scripts without an agent or manager. Sometimes I don’t even know the director - someone likes one of my scripts, hands it to some director I don’t know, and that director takes it to their best contact. I’m okay with this... but that’s not what happened here, because I had to write the damned script. Work was involved. If some director loves one of my *completed* scripts, no work is involved on my side. I want to find good homes for all of my scripts, and if that can also help a director or production manager or actor who has access to a producer I don’t know - great! But I suspect in this case, the verbally abusive producer was finding clever ways to say “no” and my friend the director was trying to convert that no into a yes. So my action scripts that were not a perfect fit to his facilities deal - no. My director friend probably said, “Bill can write something that will be perfect for you!” Thinking we still both end up with deals. He’s helping me make some money. But the producer keeps finding ways to kill this deal - and probably some of his bad attitude was part of this. If he’s a real prick, I won’t want to work for him, end of deal. But, stupid me, I don’t take the hint. Part of that is that I’m mostly dealing with me director friend... and part is that I do need a deal.

But not anymore. The Hawaii project is coming along great.

I eventually call the director and tell him my entire position on this thing... I’m dreading this phone call, but this guy is my friend. After I say my piece, he apologizes. He thought this would be a good fit for all three of us, but it seems like the producer wasn’t really as interested in making a film as we were. Maybe we can work on something in the future... with some other producer. I think that’s great - and tell him he if he finds a producer, I’ll let him take in one of my scripts. Everything ends up cool...

And now I have most of a script designed around a specific facilities deal that I do not have access to. Maybe I can find a way to change it a bit and make it easier to shoot anywhere. Welcome to Hollywood.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Symbolic Characters and HIGH FIDELITY.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Patty Melt at Paty's in Toluca Lake.
DVDs: FRONTIER (S) - from the 8 Films To Die For people... the 9th film. It's from France, starring French people, but other than that, it's basically just TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE with Nazis. After some government melt-down in France, a bunch of politically active 20 somethings on the run from the evil police state cops head to the outlands... the "frontier"... and hide out in an out of the way bed & breakfast run by some cannibal Nazis... and get chased and eaten one-by-one. Sure, there are meat hook scenes, and some tunnels that make you wonder if the writer really loved THE DESCENT, too, but mostly it's recycled. By the end of the film, I swear we have a CARRIE homage. You know, writing a commercial movie is difficult. People think it's easy. The problem is, you need to write something that satisfies the audience, but is still something they haven't seen before. Here we have something that they've seen before - with nothing to really make it unique. Nothing *creative*. From the country that brought us Jules Verne... we get this. I know there are talented and creative French writers and filmmakers out there. Why pick this for US distribution?

Bicycle: Okay, I'm not riding as much as I planned on. I ride every Thursday, because of the Thursday Night Drinking Group. We used to meet in the bar across the street from me (Residuals) but moved a while back after, well, an incident. For a while they were way down at the other end of the Valley, and the idea of driving back at 2am after drinking made me miss many a Thursday night. They moved again, to another bar... closer, yet still too far away to walk. So I showed up less frequently - not wanting to get popped bythe police driving home at 2am after a night of drinking. But with the bike? Perfect! Thursday becomes my prime bicycle day, and I ride all over... eventually finding my way to the undisclosed drinking location (the person involved in the incident is still trying to find the new location). So I get in a good bike ride on Thusdays... and usually ride on Tuesdays, and do short rides on Saturday... and sometimes Sunday. Problem with Sunday is that it's usually a movie day, and I'm just not ready to ride to the AMC in Burbank, yet. My legs just aren't ready for that. So Sundays I often go to Burbank, then walk around once I'm there. There is a Starbucks on San Fernando by the movie theaters, but it's filled with homeless people... so I walk a couple of miles to one of the two nearby Starbucks to work a little before going to the movies. I wish I were riding every day... but not yet.

- Bill


James said...

I wish intelligence was a higher sought commodity than brash ruthlessnes in Hollywood.

Alas, I can dream.

MacDaffy said...

Congratulations on the Hawaii script, Bill!

Your experience with the producer and director have saved me an enormous amount of grief. I have a completed script that's as tight as a drum and ready to go. Thanks to you, there's no way anyone sees the whole thing until there's some commitment.

I live on the Big Island of Hawaii, so I'm especially interested in how things are going. Please keep us apprised. BTW, I also enjoyed your YouTube interview with the BBC on screenwriting. Highly recommended.


Morgan McKinnon said...

"I wish intelligence was a higher sought commodity than brash ruthlessness in Hollywood."

I would imagine that, like us women need to tell an abusive partner where to go (like to Hell)...and then find someone who is deserving of us...

us writers should stand toe to toe with Mr. Brash & Ruthless.

People treat you as you allow them to treat you.

Why/how do you allow someone (who doesn't even know what stock footage is) to cause you such grief.

I mean come on. I EVEN KNOW WHAT STOCK FOOTAGE IS...and unlike macdaffy, I don't even have a script ready that is as "tight as a drum."

I'll go now. Great blog Bill. The very best to you.


Jonas Ussing said...

Lol, Morgan - you were actually right in your previous post - it was just act III, and everything worked out in the end. Almost deus ex machina though, except the other deal had been set up in the beginning....

Martin_B said...

Phew! I'm glad it worked out for you in the end. I'd hate to think of you burning your old scripts to keep warm.

BTW, the copyright notice at the bottom of the page needs a space and updating: "copyright 2007 byWilliam C. Martell" [/nitpick]

wcmartell said...

I am living in the past.

- Bill

Team Brindle said...

Bill, I took up cycling a few yrs ago, mainly to lose some weight. Had a tough time getting started with it. Most days i just didn't feel like doing it and had DRAAAAG my ass out there.

What really helped me was just making my mind up to do it every day at the same time. I got up, had a bite, got my gear, went out on the bike trail.

But life gets in the way sometimes and I didn't make it out every single day. Sometimes I only managed 3 or 4 days a week.

But i made sure i didn't berate myself for missing those other days. I took the attitude that 3 days a week is better than zero days.

But cycling 3 or 4 days a week for some 6 miles, for 6 months, is pretty good. You get results like that. I lost the weight and got in shape.

But I kept in mind that this was a DAILY thing, like writing is a daily thing. Missing a day was the exception, not the rule.

It's tough at first, but it gets easier the longer you keep at it.

wcmartell said...

My problem is that only a few years ago I was in great shape and rode my bike everywhere. So I keep thinking it will be easy - and I'm *way* out of shape! Kind of depressing. I just wish I was making better progress.

- Bill

Oasis said...

Based on a blog post here, it looks like you've had your bike for about a month.

You should start to see the results from the past month's riding...soon.

TIP: Stretch before, and especially after riding.

Also, could you explain in more detail just what a "facilities deal" is?

We can handle it!

Leif Smart said...

How do you think the situation would have played out if you had an agent or manager? Would they have been able to work out the situation sooner? Would they have not cared but stopped you from writing until you got paid? Would you have listened to them or would have thought they were not looking after your best, long term interests?

wcmartell said...

One of the things I tried to do with these entries is give a little info - on Facilities Deals and on Stock Footage... So tell me what more you want to know about them and I'll fill in the details.

Bike - it's already getting easier. Today I did a ride that would have killed me when I first got the bike, and I'm not feeling it at all. The first week was hell.

Agent or Manager - would have killed the deal the minute the producer didn't hand over a check (or maybe pushed the producer to hand over a check). Basically, it would have gone one way or the other much sooner.

- Bill

Anonymous said...

your problem with finding bike motivation is the goal. forget Starbucks and find a strip bar 5 miles away ha -- hit the Starbucks on the way home -- just kidding, good for you... personally I walk every morning and work out scenes, dialogue etc. now if I could just get a dictaphone maybe I'd remember the awesome monologue I came up with on the first part of the walk

Emily Blake said...

You end up dealing with a lot of assholes. Is that normal? Do you just have bad luck with people, or is it part of the B movie industry, or is this normal Hollywood behavior?

How common is this kind of thing?

Oasis said...

*I have a spec that kind of fits, but they shoot that down due to a specific need they have for the project (a location where the producer has a facilities deal).

Anyway, meeting ends, we all go to our separate lunches, and I have to come up with 5 action movie ideas that fit his facilities deal.

A facilities deal is a studio that will give you equipment, studio space, standing sets, and often crew in exchange for a cut of the film. Most of these deals are outside the USA, many in ex-Soviet countries (including Russia) and places like the Philippines and Mexico. Anywhere where the film biz was booming at one time and now it is not. I worked with a producer once who wanted the script to change every time he found a better facilities deal.*

This ^ is the information that I pulled from your blog.

Now. Based on this information…I can’t understand why *everyone* doesn’t produce.

Maybe I don’t have enough information, but I would guess that there are a number of folks out there with *facilities* (but can’t write a complete thought) who would love a “cut of the film.” (I know a few in my city).

No? Do I need more information?

wcmartell said...

FAC DEALS: When the Soviet Union fell, there were studios in Russia that no longer had government funding. Talented crew members were basically starving... so these guys bought a truckload of sacks of flour, drove them into Russia, and traded the flour to make the film MUTE WITNESS. They had to buy the truckload of flour, and they had to pay for the star they imported for *one* quick scene and for the film. Everything else was covered. Sort of a Work For Food situation in reverse.

But that was then. Now, even theough the facility may give you crew and equipment and sets, you still need to pay for film and cast - and cast is often the most expensive element of any film. Around 50% of a low budget film's budget is cast. So a facilities deal is a great way to make $1 million look like a $5+ million movie. Many of the Sci Fi Channel films are shot in places like Romania because they can stretch their budget. Problem is ex-communist crews work slow... and that raises your cast budget (becaue they are there longer). I know of a low budget horror film that shot India for USA because it was less expensive in the long run. Weird.

ASSHOLES - have you heard Kevin Smith's rant about working on SUPERMAN?

- Bill

wcmartell said...

PS: FAC DEALS... before you go out and buy a truckload of flour, the days of flour sack movies are over. Now there are so many producers using facility deals, and economies in these countries aren't as bad as they once were, that you usually have to pay crews - though living standards make these deals a bargain.

When my friend Jim and I were trying to put together our Russian film, we were working with MosFilm - and $1 got at least $10 worth of crew/materials/etc. Plus, there are things like standing sets and cheap locations that make your money go even further. Our project was a huge action flick like LETHAL WEAPON... and we planned on spending $1.2 million. For that we were exploding buildings (for real) doing helicopter chases and all kinds of other things that were on the list of studio assets. "Hey, look! They own a tank! How can I write that in?"

- Bill

Oasis said...

1.2 million?

Surely there are ways to make a movie great...with less expense? Yes?

Team Brindle said...

I can't stand his movies but he's a hilarious speaker.

Kevin Smith on working with Jon Peters on SUPERMAN:

Unknown said...

Judging by your Blog you really do have the talent and what it takes to be a winner.

wcmartell said...

$1.2 million - once you subtract the star's salary for the long shoot in Russia - there's not much left. Cast eats a huge chunk of budget.

- Bill

Oasis said...

Speaking of "stars' salaries",
can you give me an idea of what those salaries are?

Let's say for an actor like
Eric Roberts.
Also, say a DP like Charles Mills.

Is there some place I can research this info on my own?

One last question...

Would it be safe to think that there are DPs out there who are looking for a great script to shoot?

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