Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What's Going On?

(I love that Marvin Gaye song)

So, it’s been a while since I’ve posted about my remake project, and I have a good excuse.... I didn’t know what was going on. That’s frustrating.

The last news I got was at the FRIDAY THE 13th premiere when I ran into the producer and asked him how it was going and he said, “Fine.” The producer on the project isn’t the kind of guy to just call to see how you are doing. He’s a busy man, making deals and putting together film projects. People often mistake being busy with being rude - the producer is actually a really nice guy. A friendly guy. I like him. I like working with him. He just has a bunch of things going on at the same time and must focus on what is important *right now*. My writing is over, it is no longer important. Remember this when you don't get that instant return phone call on your project. I also bumped into the company’s head of production that night, and he gave me the details - the script had gone out to some places and everybody loved it. A director they like had read it and would be interested if there was a star attached, so the next step was to get it out to some talent.

But not the star we originally wanted. When I began writing the script, there was an actor that everybody loved - including me - who would have just been perfect for the role and would have brought attitude to the part. He had been playing sidekick type roles in movies, and stealing the show. One of those guys who wasn’t the star, but may have actually been the main reason why you went to see the movie - this guy was great. While writing the script, I tried to make sure it would work for this actor... though not be dependant on him. What if he was too busy playing sidekicks in other movies to star in ours and we had to get someone else? Always a bad idea to tailor a role to an actor you haven’t signed. I remember back on TREACHEROUS doing drafts for every star the script went out to... and we *did* land Mickey Rourke based on the boxing draft... but when Hemdale went bankrupt we lost Rourke and I was back to writing drafts for other actors... most of which we did not sign. That's a lot of rewriting for nothing!

But if this remake project’s lead character could sound *close* to the sidekick guy’s voice and yet still be a fully formed character that any other actor could play? That was the goal. Except, by the time I wrote FADE OUT, someone else had realized the value of this sidekick actor and gave him a lead... in a film that was successful enough that he was now a star and his agent had booked him in as many films as he could while the iron was hot. He was now unavailable for the near future.

So, someone else would play the lead.

Now, here is the problem with casting the star of a movie - all stars are equal in the eyes of a producer. That is, they are more concerned with the star power and less concerned with the actor fitting the role. Early in the project a bunch of star names were tossed around for he lead, and half of them were just plain wrong. Stars, yes. People who came even close to fitting the role, no. One actor was too young to have experienced the character’s backstory and still have time for the current story. So I had no idea who they were going to send the script out to, now.

When you don’t know what happens, it feeds into that writer’s paranoia. Are they not telling me for a reason? Have I been replaced by David Koepp? Or a trained chimp who will get all of the credit, then bite my face off at the premiere? Is Octo-Mom doing rewrites on the script? Why are they keeping me out of the loop?

Well, a couple of weeks ago I called to see how things were doing and talked to the producer who said, “Fine” again. I mentioned that if the director they liked was not available, I have a connection to a director who had done a film in the genre a couple of years ago that got all kinds of great reviews, even though the scheduling and release of the film had been screwed up and the film wasn’t a box office hit. Due to the great reviews, the director had landed a fairly big gig, he was in post on that now, and was probably wondering what his next directing job was going to be. He’s an undervalued director with a potential slot on his schedule - could I drop by the office and drop off a DVD of his first film? The onbe all of the critics loved? “Fine.”

This gets me through the gates and into the office. One of the reasons why it’s good for a screenwriter to live in Los Angeles is you can do things in person - which gets you on the lot and into the producer’s office where they will see you and remember you and you may end up with another job. Woody Allen says 80% of anything is just showing up. I probably landed a couple of assignments just by showing up in person to pick up a check or look at poster art or drop off some paperwork. If you show up at the office at the same time they are looking for a writer, you may end up with a gig. Even if they don’t have an assignment, this is a business of relationships - and showing up in person is a great way to keep that relationship with the company at the forefront of their minds. You tell a couple of jokes while you are there and shake some hands and high five some people and this reminds them of what a great guy you are to work with. Thought I don’t expect some other gig to result from me dropping off the DVD, maybe I’ll find out what’s going on... if Octo-Mom is there getting rewrite notes...

But instead of Octo-Mom, I talk to the head of production who fills me in, sort of. He tells me they have a new star who likes the script (right age, even though he doesn't look it), their director choice is still interested (but I get the feeling this guy is fielding offers and will pick the one he likes most), and everything is still moving forward... slowly.

It’s not that they are keeping me out of the loop on purpose, it’s just that at this point of the deal I am not even part of the loop. The writer has nothing to do with signing actors and directors and putting together the package that gets the producer the best possible studio deal (my deal does not change, even if he gets paid twice as much money). So they are off doing their thing and I am off doing mine. No news is not bad news...

But after a couple more weeks my paranoia is back, and I’m getting ready to call or e-mail the producer when I get an e-mail from him. From the actual producer. And it says more than "Fine". Octo-Mom *is* rewriting my script! That is why she hasn’t been taking care of her kids and Gloria Allred is fighting mad...

No. Just an update. Though I suspect there may actually be someone else doing some script tweaks (or that might just be my paranoia), the news is: it seems like they have a star interested, that director is still interested, and they are going after (and probably have by now) the sidekick actor - a TV star who has played *the lead* in at least one movie I have seen. What’s interesting to me about the casting of this sidekick role is that they have picked someone who resembles the actor who played the role in the original film... rather than someone who resembles the character in my script. The script was written to open up the possibilities for casting by giving more character to the character - making them more than just a sidekick. The actor they have is great, but one of the strange things about a remake is that everyone has a preconceived notion of what the characters should be and what the story should be and how each scene should play out... because they keep thinking of the original film. This limits the possibilities of the remake, instead of opening up the remake to something that isn’t just a carbon copy. Sometime in the future, when the statute of limitations on this project have expired, I’ll probably talk about the difficulties of writing a remake. Do you just remake the original or do you use the original as a jumping off point for something different?

But it seems like they are sticking with their initial director choice, no mention at all of the DVD I left them. This isn’t a big deal, their director is “hot” right now. But “hot” is one of those funny things in Hollywood. I am not “hot” - I’ve been around too long. To be “hot” in Hollywood, you must be mostly *potential*. Their hot director came from another occupation in the film biz where he was very successful, and has made one film which happens to be in this genre... which has not been released. The director I suggested has made a film in this genre which has been released and got excellent reviews but wasn’t a big hit. As strange as this sounds, their director’s unreleased film has the *potential* to be a massive hit! So the less actual experience you have, the more *potential* you have. More on *potential* when I post part 2 in a couple of days...

But here’s what’s going on with the remake project - star, sidekick and director are close to signing, then some other stuff happens, then they schedule it and then they make it and then Octo-Mom goes on Dr. Phil to talk about her new movie coming out...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The DVD Explosion Part One.
Yesterday’s Dinner: El Pollo Loco... I *must* eat more green stuff in the future. I used to eat salads regularly, but for some reason I am not near the places where they serve the green stuff. I do eat a lot of chicken, though.
Pages: After beating my head against the wall on my country-western bar script, I finally figured out the problem and think it's smooth sailing until the end. Of course, this may all change if I hit another roadblock tomorrow.

I am on the radio tomorrow: Screenwriter's Utopia Script Talk - with that smokin' hot Nicholl's Fellowship winner, Max Adams. My guess is that we'll be discussing contests, and breaking in by just being a damned excellent writer.


Dharmesh said...

I was listening to a previous show and you don't come across as a shy person at all. You're really passionate -- I like that! And yes, Max Adams is wayyyy hot.

wcmartell said...

There's a big difference between when I'm "on stage" and me in real life. I've had to work on the "on stage Bill" - when I first began doing classes I was awful.

I am passionate about writing and now the onstage version of me can give a good class or talk a good talk... but if you catch me in real life, I'm the quiet guy in the corner typing. Unless I know you. Once I get to know people I'm okay.

- Bill

Unknown said...

Do you ever think maybe you haven't quite nailed your niche? I just mean that you are pretty much the best thinker about narrative film on the net. With Ted & Terry off making millions, you're It. (And even when they were on the net, they said you were It.) But the masses just don't seem to get It!
Perhaps that's the story with anything with substance, but it may also be that your website isn't very sexy and your books aren't polished in presentation. (This relates to the way you describe yourself: kinda daggy and shy.) So I think a lot of people can't see past the typos and 80s looking website. (I'd go so far as to call your general web template Combover!)
I really think people can't see the quality. You crap all over the more popular sites that churn out the same trite tips over and over, and your knowledge of film and examples stomps on their narrow, same old, same old examples. It's like you've been watching films when they've been reading screenwriting books. Just no comparison.
...Or maybe it really is just that the masses don't get It and never will. But it's clear as day to me that your one true talent is analysing and improving upon stories from an audience perspective...far more, even, than scriptwriting itself. I suspect that it's this analysis talent you have that is the foundation of your low key screenwriting success so far. You've written a lot of scripts, but I'd hazard to guess you've written a lot more analysis and reflection, and that's your true gift. I wonder if you can exploit or embrace it even more. Because it's top of the world, seriously, and it's always on the backburner. You have all those blue books and revisions to do, yet hacks are publishing screenwriting books that sell all over Amazon. Could you be neglecting your true talent?
If only the studios could realise how much you could improve films in production, rather than having to write your own. You'd be the world's be script editor/consultant, or old time studio head. ...If only.


Anonymous said...

thanks for the update, Bill -- hope it pans out... wicked stuff

Morgan McKinnon said...

"I am a smart ass and a practical joker."

I'm sorry. Perhaps you can grow out of it...perhaps, perhaps, perhaps...

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