Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Deal Or No Deal? (part 2)

After the meeting from hell, I look the producer up on IMDB (something I should have done before the meeting, but my director friend being involved and the producer’s office address told me that this guy wasn’t a wannabe) - and found out that this guy *worked* on all of those big Hollywood films on his office walls. He didn’t produce them, he was a crew member. So he has been in the business. As a producer he made that Gary Busey film and the other low-end stuff. Which makes him difficult to judge - is he the guy with his name on huge summer tentpole movies... or the guy who made that Busey film?

Either way - I need this gig.

I e-mail him a pdf of one of my produced scripts that matches the genre we’re talking about and a note saying I’d be happy to send him a copy of the DVD of the film, too.

I get no response at all. It’s as if I sent the e-mail into that pit in LORD OF THE RINGS that they toss the ring into at the end.

But here’s where things get strange, because that same afternoon I get a phone call from another producer about another script, and he wants a one pager... which I don’t seem to have. Then, *another* producer calls on a really old script, so I have to do a quick rewrite before sending it to him. And the 5 ideas get pushed aside for a few days.

Now, there are a couple of reasons why they get pushed aside. The biggest one is that this guy didn’t respond to my e-mail. That makes me wonder how interested he is in this project. I have to tell you, at the meeting he didn’t act interested at all. Maybe he was just trying to keep it cool, maybe this is all just a job to him. And the other reason is a bird in hand thing - these other two producers were interested in spec scripts of mine that were already written - scripts that I couldn’t wait to be paid to write, I had to just sit down and write them. Passion projects (even though both are genre stuff that you artsie types might find too commercial to be passionate about) - personal stories. When someone wants to make one of those, I do whatever I can to make that happen.

But, just as a woman who pays no attention to you is the one you most want to impress, when I do get around to putting together the 5 synopsis, I work my butt off to impress this guy. He may be insulting and abusive and doesn’t seem to give a damn... but I want to give him the 5 best synopsis he’s ever read. I want him to think these ideas are better than the big Hollywood films that he’s crewed on. I fine tune my 5 ideas until they are something that would sell to a major studio...

A week after the meeting I e-mail the 5 ideas to the producer and director... and get an *immediate* call from the director. Can I do a meeting with the producer later today? What time? Well, he’d have to call the producer and set it up. But if not today, tomorrow morning? Sure, get back to me...

My first thought is - how could the producer have even had time to read the 5 ideas and give them any thought so that we’d have something to discuss at the meeting. Is this just going to be a time killer meeting? Often, when producers are businessmen instead of creative types, they like to have meetings just to have meetings. Shows they are doing their job. I’ve had all kinds of development meetings where it was all about a “progress report” that could have easily been done by e-mail or phone and would have saved me driving all the way down to Culver City which would have allowed me to make more progress on the script. I thought our first meeting was kind of a time waster, but it was a meet & greet and the main purpose of meetings like that is to put a face to the other person and make sure they aren’t a crazed axe murderer or something.

My second thought is - wait, the producer didn’t call about the meeting, he has no idea there is going to be a meeting at this point. My director friend is the one who wants the meeting. He’s the one who seems most interested in working with me on this... He hasn’t insulted me or...

My third thought is - I need this gig. It will cover the year’s expenses, and *something* has to cover those expenses. Sometimes you take the bad job because it will fund the time to write some great specs. So a few months of dealing with this producer and I’ll have the time and money to work on a couple of passion projects and poke around on my big rewrite project. The sooner I have a contract and a check, the sooner I can relax.

The next morning I get a call from the director... he has the producer on the line, do I have time to talk? Sure! The producer says he read over the 5 ideas, and likes this one... but he doesn’t sound very enthusiastic and manages to sneak in an insult. Does this guy have Tourettes or something? He says he could probably shoot it mid-year. The director says that to shoot mid-year he’s like to have the script ASAP. When could I have it finished? Well, I say I can get him a first draft in about a month... but what about the check and contract? The producer tells me to send him something and he’ll look it over. Huh? You know, I’ve done dozens of deals and never once provided my own contract. Usually the producer has a legal department (I’m used to working with *companies*) and my lawyer and their lawyer battle it out in a a steel cage or something, and eventually come up with a contract. Often, the script has gone through a couple of drafts by the time the contract is hammered out. But I tell the producer I probably have a contract somewhere and I’ll get it to him. He clicks off, and the director and I keep talking for a while. He assures me that this producer is hyped about making this movie with me and I shouldn’t have any worries. The sooner he can get the script, the better... It will give him more time to find a great cast. You know, I want a great cast for this the better... It will give him more time to find a great cast. You know, I want a great cast for this project. A great cast elevates the film... and if this is going to be a facilities deal, finding actors willing to live in some Eastern European studio hotel may be a challenge. One of the issues with facility deals is that foreign crews often work much much slower than American crews, so your cast has to commit to a longer schedule. Often you can find actors who are interested in the experience more than the money. Sometimes European actors - the kind of people you normally see in art house films that may be nominated for Best picture - are more willing to work on films like this. So I want to get that script to the director ASAP...

After the call I start poking around for an electronic copy of some old contract that I can clean up and send this producer. I can’t find anything on my current computer, but I have a couple of old desk tops and laptops that may have contracts on them. I’ll search later, for now I’m going to figure out the script. The director has e-mailed me a list of all of the things available at the facility - including standing sets and props and photos. I do an outline, make some character notes, and pull some DVDs to watch for potential stock footage. One of the issues with any facility deal is that to best use what they have, you need to stretch it. Just like any other backlot, they may have some street sets and some buildings, and then all kinds of cool standing sets on the soundstages. But you need that bit of stock footage of New York to sell that New York Street Set. You need some Paris stock footage to sell the European Street Set. And if you do a little bit of re-dressing and use a piece of Rome stock footage, your story can do a little globe trotting without any real cost. So my plan is to open this story up and make it look like a huge budget film... using what is available at the facility.

When I told a friend of mine about this, the first thing he asked is how do you even know where to look for stock footage? Well, that’s part of my job. When you are writing scripts on a budget, you start to look for things that can stretch that budget - so that you can write a script that looks like a big studio film that can still be made on the producer’s budget. When I was doing stuff for HBO, that was the challenge - you had a film made for $3 million sandwiched between two big Hollywood films, and you wanted to make your film look like it belonged. You didn’t want the audience to think your $3 million film cost $3 million. You want them to think it cost $100 million. So you learn to keep your eye out for anything that adds production value. I see a film with “harvestable” stock footage, and I remember it. In this case, I was looking for stock footage that had been used at least once before in an inexpensive film - that way I know it’s cheap. Easier to sell a problem producer on something inexpensive than something expensive.

By the way - the place to find great “harvestable” stock footage: you want to find great footage from a film that completely flopped. George Lucas isn’t going to sell you footage from STAR WARS (starring Mark Hammill) but you might be able to buy some of that great sci-fi footage from SLIPSTREAM (starring Mark Hammill). The bigger the film flopped, the more likely the producers want to make a buck or two selling someone stock footage. I once spent a couple of weeks renting every flop sci-fi film just to see what kind of stock footage I might get from them. I also rented every flop war film - and there were a bunch of those, and many had nice battle scenes. The biggest mistake you can make when thinking of stock footage is to consider material from a film that made money. You need to *only* look at big flops.

The next day, I start writing. It’s been a while since I’ve done 5 pages a day, so my first week is just trying to find the groove again. I end up with about half as many pages as I wanted, and spend a day looking around for an electronic version of an old contract. Nada. I have some hard copies and a scanner - but is this really my job?

I call the director, ask if he’ll tell the producer that I don’t have a contract, and he’ll have to provide one. The director says that shouldn’t be a problem... and how many pages do I have? I tell him I had a slow start, but I’m picking up speed. He’s excited...

I go back to work on the script, and really do pick up some speed. The second week I get close to 5 pages a day. And some of the scenes are really cool! I do some great suspense stuff in one scene and come up with multiple twists in another. I’m really happy with this script...

But where the heck is that initial check? I may not have a signed contract, but I like to be paid for the work I’m doing. I’m working, but there’s no pay. I don’t want to call the producer, because I’m kind of afraid that he will yell at me or insult me. Well, I’m *really* afraid that after he insults me I’ll lose my temper and tell him to go to hell... and I need this gig. Look, the guy is difficult, but many people are. I need to just keep the smile on my face until I turn in my last draft. So I e-mail the director about the contract. He e-mails back that it’ll come, but how far am I on the script?

Somewhere in the third week, no contract, no check, I become less inspired. I’m still writing, just turning out fewer pages a day. I have a couple of other things to do - articles for Script and MovieScope, and kind of lose momentum. I get regular e-mails from the director, but have heard nothing at all from the producer. Nothing. No quick note to tell me the check is on its way. No e-mails about the contract. Nothing. Is this a deal or not? I’m beginning to wonder - but the director keeps e-mailing me about how excited he is about this project, and dropping some impressive casting names, and I’m seeing this as a go project. I’m going. The director is going... but the producer?

Is this a deal or not?

Friday - part 3.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Well Balanced Confusion and EXOTICA.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Sandwich on the run from Togos.


James said...

The suspense is killing me :p

Jonas Ussing said...

LOL, I can't wait either. Funny thing you said about stock footage - you know, only use it from flopped or unknown movies. There are a few movies that put in clips from T2 (guess the footage went up for auction when Carolco bankrupted). Look at the trailers - and look at those T2 money shots sticking out!

Looking forward to part 3.

- Jonas

Oasis said...


[IMH] said...

I know this isn't going to end well (you said as much in the first post), and I'm thinking you really should have followed Harlan Ellison's advice with regard to Hollywood producers -- don't type one damn word until the check clears.

Hope the deal that did go through is paying the bills. :)

Morgan McKinnon said...

This isn't THE END!

I think this is like page...
(hmmm) 75-85. You know that
"all is lost" point?

This is when you can really kick some ass.

Kick that pleasant smile...
that mischievous grin...

into HIGH gear.

Lift those shoulders.

Hold your head high.

Put that pep in your step.


The explosion is on the way!

Have those scripts ready!

Anonymous said...

I can certainly relate to unanswered emails and being ignored. I know how much I dislike it, so I try to never do it to anyone else.


Anonymous said...

Where is Part 3? I am dying here. ;)

DManley said...

I've learned the hard way the old adage is true:
"When things start to go wrong, they usually don't get any better."

This producer is obviously a dysfunctional human being. How could he produce anything with such a negative attitude, let alone a movie?

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