Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Thanksgiving, and I will be off eating turkey (the bird, not the country) and watching some film afterwards. I would like to take this time to thank *you* for reading the blog and the daily script tips and for putting up with me on those days when I'm a grumpy a-hole. I hate those days.

I think the great thing about Thanksgiving is that its the holiday where we set aside of differences and come together to celebrate all of the good things that have happened over the past year. Even if your life has not gone exactly as planned (and whose ever does?) you are still here and still plugging away. Find the joy in your life, even when things are not going right. Laugh.

I'm a big fan of silent comic Buster Keaton - his character had the worst luck of anyone on the planet... and that's where he found his comedy. My favorite Keraton short is THE HIGH SIGN, makes me laugh just thinking about it.

Hey, here's Keaton's feature THE GENERAL - view it online or download it free.

Tell the people you love that you love them. Forgive people. Be nice to complete strangers. Think of people other than yourself. And look at people who are different than you are and see the similarities. We all share this planet.

- Bill

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Picky Producers

From 2009...

Just read an advert from a producer who is still looking for a script, and doesn't want to read any of the previously submitted scripts again - he is looking for *different* scripts that fit his criteria. If you have already read all of the scripts submitted the first time, how many new scripts are there that fit your criteria a few months later?

A couple of years ago a screenwriter friend of mine had a movie stall out, and took a job on the other side of the desk as a development executive for a new company. Because he’s a good guy, the very first thing he did was call up all of his screenwriter friends and see if any of them had scripts that would fit the needs of his new employers. This was great, because we now had a friend “on the inside” who would really push our work to the company. My first question was, “What are they looking for?” If they were looking for rom-coms, I was out. If they were looking for family films, I had a treatment but not a screenplay - and that treatment is not high concept at all, so would probably not be in the running. If they were looking for a comedy, um... that’s also not me.

My friend got back to me (and everyone else) with the company’s needs... The good news was that they were looking for a thriller or horror screenplay. Hey, I have those! But that was not the end of it... They were also looking for scripts that can be made for $1m (hey, I got those), that were film festival quality (hey, I got those), that used an untraditional structure, like MEMENTO or RUN LOLA RUN (okay, now I’m in trouble) that was high concept (hey, I got those), that would not just be selected for the film festival, but would win a bunch because that was part of the distribution plan (um, I have no idea how I can guarantee a win), and would not require a star to be successful at the box office, oh - and would appeal to 15-25 year olds in the mainstream audience.

Okay, that’s a lot of different conditions for one screenplay... and a screenplay you are going to make for only $1 million. The company supposedly had access to $1m per film - probably some sort of revolving credit deal - so they were for real and could actually make several movies, one at a time. Now, $1 million may sound like a lot to you - it is what the average American will make over a lifetime of work - but it’s nothing in the movie world where the average studio film costs $106.7 million by the time it hits your screen. Making a film for $1m is difficult, and you really need a script designed for the budget. Limited cast, limited locations, limited night scenes, limited to no crowd scenes, etc. It is not easy to write a script that can be made for $1m. The biggest expense in a studio film are stars - and just because your film costs less than 1% of theirs doesn’t mean you can don’t need stars... you need a script that is set up for “confined cameos” where you can spend a chunk of money on one day of a name of some sort (or two) and try to get the biggest name you can for the least money. And you want *someone* in that lead role - a B level star or some TV person. All of this means the script for a $1 million movie is more difficult to write than one for a $106 million movie, because you must limit the cast and locations without looking like you are limiting the cast and locations. You can’t rely on amazing car chases or CGI or even fantastic locations or acting - the script has to be clever enough to work without those things. So, the $1m thing is already a tough thing to find in a screenplay.

But I have some scripts that were written for that budget.

The big problem seemed to be the elements that contradicted each other. A film that appeals to the 15-25 year old mainstream audience is not likely to have an untraditional structure or end up winning a film festival. If you look at the films that get *bought* out of film festivals, they tend to be the midnight genre films showing out of competition - like my friend Jonathan King’s horror comedy BLACK SHEEP. Now, BLACK SHEEP is a great movie and got some great reviews when it was released, but it is not the type of film to win a festival. It’s *fun*. It’s about killer sheep. It’s not some drama about an issue with a bunch of big speeches. And even BLACK SHEEP wasn’t a hit with the mainstream 15-25 year old audience - I think that demo prefers their horror without laughs and clever dialogue. They just want blood and guts and boobs.

It seemed to me that there were two factions at this company, and each wanted to make a different kind of movie... so they were looking for a script that would please both sides. One faction wanted an art house movie that would win at film festivals and the other wanted a movie that would make money with a mainstream audience. It is difficult for me to imagine the script that pleases both factions - and I am a fan of quality genre movies. THE DARK KNIGHT was a crowd pleaser *and* a critical success (though it was not nominated for Best Picture). But DARK KNIGHT had a traditional structure - wasn’t told backwards or sideways or any other strange way.

The problem for me was that I had clever genre scripts that could be made for $1m, but they were traditionally told and were not the type of scripts to win any film fests... though they might play midnight shows. I also had a couple of scripts that were not traditionally told (like LAST STAND), but these were aimed at an older audience and were too expensive to produce on a $1m budget. I had nothing that fit all of the criteria.

I thought my best chance was a thriller of mine, THE COMPLEX, which has almost been made three times, and whenever people pass on it they always say it’s “too art house”. Of course, it wasn’t art house enough for the company my friend was working for.

I talked to my friend, and he suggested I artificially break up the chronology of one of my scripts so that it fit that criteria - and that would get me through the door. Except I thought that would ruin the script. Here is where my ego gets in my way - because I should have just done it...

But first time film company with odd criteria seemed like a long shot to me.

Another friend had a script that was close enough (I think he may have jumbled the chronology in a rewrite to get through the door) and they had some meetings with him, but eventually did not think his script had all of the criteria. This writer is produced, and I believe he eventually sold that script (for much more money than this company would have paid) to a producer with plans to make a much bigger film. I’ve said this before on the blog, most low budget producers never even consider that the script they read for their $2m film still has fingerprints on it from a couple of studio based producers who were interested in buying it as one of those $106m films. They think the scripts are on the same level as they are, and are usually unable to tell a good script from a bad script.

Well, actually a “great” script from a “good” script - it’s like wine: An average person can tell a good glass of wine from a bad glass of wine. But the more you know about wine, the more refined your palate, the better you are at telling a great glass of wine from a good one. Suddenly that table full of wine bottles the average person thinks are good can be grouped into better and great and best and just downright amazing. The low budget producers usually just know what tastes good, and can’t tell which of those is great... and often are more interested in “bland good” than “interesting great.” So the company my friend worked for missed a chance at a script that sold for a bundle to others. They probably couldn’t see past their conditions.

If you are investing money in a script and film, you want it to be the very best you can afford. A producer is going to be stuck with that project through pre-production and production and post-production and selling the film and distribution and exhibition and DVD sales and cable sales and TV sales and then paperwork for the rest of their lives. They need to love the project. Making a film is like getting married, and you don’t want to chose some random person as your spouse. So I understand the need to be picky - in fact, I think I have a career *because* producers are picky. They want the best script they can afford, not just a bunch of action scenes connected by a flimsy plot and 2D characters. They want something good - and that’s what I want to provide for them. And I also understand that a movie, even a low budget movie, is an investment and the producer would like a return. That means the script has to be something that can be made into a movie that paying customers will want to see.

I know a director who makes genre films for a living, and when he finds financing for his own film, ends up making an “anti-genre film” - a boring drama of some sort. (may have blogged this before.) He has talked to me about writing one of these a few times, and I usually say no, because I’d like to write a film that will be seen and distributed (his previous arty films were not). I think the problem with this director and many picky producers is that they see all genre films as the same, and either do not look for or can not see the “art” in some commercial films. My theory has always been to write commercial genre films that are also about something - so that people will be talking about them 50 years from now... the way we're still talking about INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and other films that were made for commercial reasons but have stuck around because they are "commercial plus".

With the indie world drying up right now, there may not be financing available for non-mainstream films, so producers are going to have to make the kinds of films that are popular with a wider audience... but make *great* ones instead of dopey ones. Make genre films that will get good reviews. If you watch PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and any Uli Lommel film on a double bill, you’ll see what I’m talking about. We need more really great genre films!

Now, all of this sounds like I’m happy that this company my friend worked for was picky as hell... but I’m not. The whole unusual structure thing is obvious indie stuff, and it seems like they were looking for a mainstream genre script that was also an unconventional niche market art house script. They were *not* considering making a really good mainstream genre film. Maybe they were unable to see how a mainstream genre film could be good, or maybe the money faction wanted one thing and the creative faction wanted the opposite. They continued to look for that one amazing script that did everything.

Though I am the first person to point out that there are probably close to a million scripts in circulation at any one time, most of those scripts stink. The ones that are good? Well, I’m not really sure there were any that fit all of the company’s criteria. You would think there might be that one in a million script out there, and maybe there was... but the longer you spend looking for the perfect script, the more time your money people have to wake up and realize that making movies is high risk... and back out. There comes a time when it makes more sense to buy the best script you can find and make the best movie you can make, rather than waiting around for that one perfect script to cross your desk. There comes a time to settle for the best available.

Because there are only so many scripts available - and once you’ve read through them and not found *exactly* what you are looking for, waiting around for someone to write it just doesn’t make sense. When you’ve read through all of the submissions and none fit the criteria, asking for submissions again will just get you the same stack. Makes more sense to select the best script from the stack and make it, even if it is not *exactly* what you were looking for.

I suspect part of the reason they wanted that *perfect* script is that they were thinking that everything was riding on this first film. They wanted to begin with the perfect film which would rocket them to fame and fortune and make their company instant players. Though that happens once in a blue moon, usually it’s a bunch of baby steps. How many films did Miramax distribute *before* PULP FICTION? Probably hundreds! You can’t plan on perfection out of the gate, you have to build up to it. If you wait for the perfect script to surface, you will be waiting forever and get nothing done. Better to make movies while you are waiting for that perfect script... and if you are constantly making movies I think you have a better chance of finding that perfect script - you are a player and people want to play with you. If you aren’t making movies, you are not even in the game.

The company my friend worked for never bought a script and never made a movie, and eventually their money source went elsewhere. They closed their doors without having made any films... as do many other picky start up companies. I see the script searches with too many conditions frequently, and sometimes have meetings with companies looking for that amazing script that will guarentee them an Oscar right out of the gate. If thse companies had just selected the best script that was offered to them, made it, then continued picking best scripts and making them; they would be a company with a library and a future... and maybe along the way they might have found that one in a million script. Instead, they didn’t even leave any junky mainstream genre flicks behind.

We all want to write great scripts, but our first script(s) are not going to be perfect. They are stepping stones to better scripts. A single script is not going to be a life changing property - it’s just a script. You will write a stack of scripts, and some will be the ones that open doors and some will be the ones that do nothing at all except get you to the next script that opens some other doors. Each open door takes you a little bit farther down the path. You may write that script that opens many doors at once... but that script was the result of lessons learned from all of the scripts you wrote before. There is no one perfect life changing script - nor is there one single perfect life changing movie that makes your company an instant major player.

If a producer waits until they find that perfect script, they will never make a movie.

If a writer waits until they find that perfect concept, they will never write a script.

If a writer waits until they come up with that perfect line of dialogue, they will never finish that page!

Don’t create so many conditions that you limit yourself and create your own failure.

Just keep doing your best work.

Every step is a step closer... but if you wait to take that first step? You're going nowhere.

- Bill

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving...

Movies: BLIND SIDE - On message boards and in e-mails, people are always saying they have lead the most amazing life and someone should make a movie about it - and they would gladly pay me a third of whatever the script sells for if I write it for them. When I say that I’d be doing all of the work, they always say it was their life and they have had to live it, and once Hollywood hears their story, they will pay millions for it! Though most people don’t want to tell me about their life unless I’m onboard and have signed a NDA, the few who do share a few juicy morsels of their amazing lives... well, they don’t convince me to drop everything and write their stories. Most have lived unusual lives that would make them the center of attention at any cocktail party, but not exactly the center of attention at a multi-plex showing the latest superhero movies and disaster flicks and high concept comedies. This is the big problem with true stories on film - they seem really dull when compared with the other movies out there. Also, you are shackled by the truth - even if your story is about the survivor of an amazing event, you have to stay within the reality of that event.

BLIND SIDE is based on a true story, written as a non-fiction book by Michael Lewis, the same guy who wrote MONEYBALL - he kind of has a niche writing strange-but-true sports stories. The screenplay and direction are by John Lee Hancock, who writes and directs heartwarming true sports stories that often take place in Texas. Perfect match - this story takes place in Texas and is unabashedly feel good material.

Quinton Aaron plays Big Mike, a homeless high school kid with great sports skills. His inner city friend’s dad uses Big Mike’s athletic skills as bait to get both kids into a private Christian school in the wealthy and safe suburbs on a scholarship... then kicks Big Mike off his sofa. So Big Mike sleeps in a 24 hour laundromat and sometimes in the school gym - because he can scavenge uneaten food after the games.

One night, after a game, he’s spotted walking through the rain by Leigh Anne Tuohy (Sandra Bullock) and her upper middle class conservative Republican Christian NRA family as they cruise past in their SUV. Leigh decides it is her Christian duty to provide shelter for this kid, and when she discovers Big Mike has no family to go home to for Thanksgiving, invites him to stay. Eventually he becomes part of the family, best friend and protector to her son SJ (Sean Junior played by scene stealer Jae Head), reluctant brother-figure to cheerleader Collins (played by Lilly Collins) and surrogate older son to dad (Tim McGraw, who provides a few tunes for the soundtrack). Oh, and later there is a college exam tutor played by always-fiesty Kathy Bates.

The problem with Big Mike’s amazing sports skills is that he needs better grades to make the team... so they set out to tutor him and give him a normal life base to work from. And he makes the team and is accepted by the other students. And folks, that’s just about it! There are some minor real-life complications that provide some drama and conflict, and a by-the-numbers lowest point in Big Mike’s new life that is a little exciting, but the world doesn’t end and Big Mike is not bitten by a radioactive spider. He just gets to play football and have a fairly normal life.

This is the kind of movie I can recommend to my mom - she would love it. Your mom would probably love it, too. It’s one of those good old fashioned feel good movies - and managed to be the #1 movie on Thanksgiving Day. I suspect lots of families went to see it after dinner, and it was the perfect film for that.

The problem with a movie like this is that you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t - BLIND SIDE is not overly emotional, so it manages to avoid any criticism for being corny... but by avoiding all of those big over-the-top emotions, it comes off a little dull and distant. A little on the BLAND SIDE.

What saves this film is Sandra Bullock. After seeing her in nothing but silly rom-coms, it’s hard to remember that she can actually *act*. She was one of the saviors of CRASH, too - she just explodes in that film and makes you wonder why she isn’t cast in more serious films. In BLIND SIDE she is an amazing force of nature - you forget it’s Sandy Bullock. In a scene where she threatens the life of a vicious gang-banger, you fear for *his* safety! She is so fierce in this film, she practically burns a hole in the film in some scenes. This is a woman who knows what she wants and gets what she wants and *nothing* gets in her way. She’s also funny, and all of her passion comes from having a very big heart. I could imagine another actress getting the tough aspect down, but not the soft interior. Bullock manages to give a layered performance where she is tough *and* tender *and* funny all at the same time. Oh, and this may be TMI and just my personal opinion... but *hot*, too. She manages to be sexy while being tough and all of those other things. Though, that may just be wardrobe. When she goes onto the football field in a scene and man-handles the players - using them as props while explaining top Big Mike how to improve his game, you forget it’s Bullock. She just is that character.

The rest of the casting is also great - I mentioned Jae Head who plays SJ, who manages to make a work out montage funny, and a later college scouting montage laugh out loud funny. This little kid is amazing.

The film also has some great small moments, like when the cheerleader sister decides to have lunch in the cafeteria with Big Mike instead of her cheerleader friends. And when Leigh is reading the kid’s book Ferdinand The Bull to SJ and Big Mike... and cheerleader sis secretly listens from the next room. Moments of family life with this “adopted” family member.

Though the film also manages to show a conservative Republican Christian family and *use* those elements as a integral part of the story - the reason why they take in Big Mike in the first place is their faith, and the Thanksgiving prayer is another great moment - when they all take each other’s hands, and Big Mike becomes part of that circle of family. The way Leigh explains Big Mike’s job on the football field is that he is protecting his family of players. When those folks in the heartland complain that Hollywood doesn’t make movies for them, here it is. I have no idea how well it will play outside the USA, but it’s not strictly about football or religion, it’s mostly about *family*, and that may translate.

BLIND SIDE is a good movie... and probably the best movie your mom and her friends will see this year. And Sandra Bullock might even get some Oscar buzz from it.

- Bill

Friday, November 17, 2017

All Five Season 1 HITCH 20 Episodes!

There's a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on, and here are the first five episodes. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock. The new season begins next week... without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I will still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

1) This episode is REVENGE, which I am not a part of. The story is a corker, though: a man's wife is brutally raped and he extracts his revenge when she recognizes the attacker on the street. I actually prefer the remake done in the 1980s, due to casting: Where Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer) seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem extracting revenge, the remake had David Clennon (who always plays geeks with triple chins) who has a great deal of trouble with the physical aspects of revenge... making it even more gut wrenching.

2) This episode of the show is a great HITCHCOCK PRESENTS episode called BREAKDOWN with Joseph Cotten as a ruthless businessman who downsizes a loyal long time employee... and then ridicules him for breaking down and crying. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:

3) This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:

Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

A) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

B) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!

4) This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!

5) This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!

This was the last episode of HITCH 20 in this season... and by next Friday I hope to have a new entry for Fridays With Hitchcock on SABOTAGE. Followed by the not so great Hitchcock film THE SECRET AGENT (which still manages to have some great screenwriting lessons in it's muddled story) and then THE 39 STEPS, which is a great Hitchcock film.

Of course, I have my own book focusing on Hitchcock...



Click here for more info!


We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

AFM - Day Last

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

This is the sixth day of American Film Market, and I am on autopilot. I realize another issue with my AFM experience is not enough coffee. When I do an event like the Raindance Film Festival, I am sucking down coffee like crazy by the final days. But at AFM I’ve had a coffee before I leave the house and usually one for the drive in, and then I go to the venue and have no more caffeine. I should have bought a jar of Folger’s Crystals and ate it dry by Monday... but instead I was just tired again.

And the big problem is that I’ve decided today will be my last day at market, because I have writing assignments that need some attention. I just turned in a new draft of one assignment - a horror film, and am supposed to be working on the next assignment - a rewrite of an action film - this month. But so far, I have done nothing on it due to AFM, and this month has a holiday in it. So today is it for me at AFM...

And that was going to be a problem because I had put off talking to some of the larger companies until today, when it should be slower. The companies that I most need to have energy for... and I’m running on fumes. I walk upstairs like an old man, legs having a week of constant climbing already - like spending 6 full days on a Stairmaster at the gym.


While walking down one of the halls I notice a pair of posters on the wall that sums up great luck with movie stars at AFM. To sell a movie, even a low budget movie, you need stars. If you tell someone that your script was made into a movie, the first thing they will ask you is “Who’s in it?” You can have the greatest story in the world, and people want to know who the actors are. Once low budget horror movies became saturated, having some name in the cast became the key to selling them. When you look at a movie poster, any movie poster, the stars names are right there on top above the title in big letters so that everyone can see them. Your name as writer? In teeny little letters near the bottom. Hey, maybe not fair, but that’s reality. There are three kinds of stars that get cast in movies that sell at AFM - stars on their way up, stars on their way down, and genre stars (B movie actors).

GENRE STARS: The funny thing about genre stars is that mainstream audience members may not know who they are. They are specialty stars, who have loyal fans within their genre. Distribs know who these genre stars are, and know which ones are hot and which ones are not and which ones have made so many movies over the past year that *they* are over saturated and no longer mean anything as a star. Some of these genre stars are supporting actors in A movies like Gary Busey, but others are stars who hit big in some genre movies and now are the big fish in the small pond, like Jeffrey Combs (RE-ANIMATOR) who is still a star in low budget horror movies decades after his big break and Tiffany Shepis who has worked her way up from really low budget horror films by shining in every single one of them. That’s usually how a genre star comes to be - they are cast in a film that becomes a genre hit, and suddenly the audience knows their name and wants to see more movies starring them... so producers hire them. Or they are the person who shines in some film where they may be the best thing about it. Those who start at the top, even after their stardom has waned, are still names and faces the genre audience knows so they can continue to work... probably for less money in less expensive films. Those who start at the bottom have an upswing to larger budget genre films, and often go from supporting role to star. Both Jeffrey and Tiffany are known to the genre audience, even if you have never heard of them.

Most of my films have starred genre people. Though I have zero input on casting, I always suggest the producers hire some actors who are on their way up or actors from indie films either instead of or in addition to the genre stars. That way the films might appeal to a larger audience, who may not know the genre star. But so far, no producer has listened to me. Casting genre stars is kind of a sure thing. The target audience knows who the star is and may even seek out their films. If the producer cast an Oscar winner in a genre film, it may actually have a negative effect on sales. The target audience cares about Tiffany Shepis, but may not care at all about Judy Dench... and may even be turned off by a horror movie starring Dench. Casting mainstream names in a genre film may be a waste of money. So producers usually do what is safe and cast a genre star. I get that, but still suggest some star on their way up or indie name in the supporting roles. Often I write a couple of great supporting roles just so they can be cast with actors who are known outside the genre to bring in folks who are not those rabid genre fans... so far, none of those roles has ever been cast with anyone I’ve suggested. Pisser.


One of the actors I always suggested for my films was Sam Rockwell, who is from the Bay Area (like me) and I met before he was ever in a movie. Back when they were casting CRASH DIVE there was a key supporting role that was written for someone who could act. The stars would still be whoever the producer thought could sell the film, but I figured the supporting roles might be where an interesting actor on their way up might elevate the whole film. But the producer said he’s never heard of Sam Rockwell (this was mid-90s). I said, “Yes, but are you planning on casting someone you have heard of in that role? Or just an actor from a casting call?” The answer was casting call, but the *director* wanted to pick the actor. So the guy cast wasn’t great, and nobody knows who they are today. We *did* score on two other actors from the casting call: Catherine Bell as the female lead (she had done an episode of HERCULES) and Chris Titus as the comic relief character (was doing stand up in clubs) - both went on to headline their own TV shows after we discovered them.

One of the ways an AFM company can get lucky is by casting a talented actor who seems to be on their way up... and that star ends up in a huge hit studio movie. So the #1 live action movie over the weekend was DUE DATE starring Robert Downey jr and Zach Galifianikis and Zach did some low budget movies for AFM companies before being discovered by mainstream Hollywood... and the posters came out at AFM on Monday. Suddenly that old title the company had in their back catalogue became the hot title they were pushing to any territory that hadn’t bought it. I think this is why AFM companies *need* to look at the up and coming actors and have a good idea of who they are and how talented they are. One problem with many of the AFM companies (including guys I have sold to) is that they only care about the star that sells the film and the rest of the roles are meaningless to them... when those secondary roles may give the film a second life if any of the actors cast hit big later on.

STARS ON THEIR WAY DOWN: The other place AFM find actors to headline their films is stars on their way down... or stars whose future is uncertain. Either because the star gets too old for whatever gen re they are best known for, or completely screws up their career; they often end up starring in films at AFM. Tom Sizemore went from HEAT to headlining a Michael Mann produced TV show to crashing and burning (and doing some jail time) and ending up starring in AFM movies made for half a million bucks... which is probably what Sizemore was getting per episode for that TV show. The great thing about AFM movies is that they are kind of a safety net for actors that studios no longer want to hire. Last year’s hot babe in some studio film may be this year’s dramatic actress in an AFM film... or the chief of police in a genre film. Burt Reynolds may play a retired cop who gets involved in a murder investigation in an AFM film.

The big score was the company who had a star on his way up with Zach Galifianikis *and* a star is limbo with this Dakota Fanning movie. No longer a kid, and not a sexy babe, Fanning is at an awkward age for mainstream studio films which makes her perfect for AFM movies. Everyone knows who she is, so she can sell a movie, but she’s probably affordable because there aren’t many people who want to hire her. She’s in like an adult Culkin. So here she is in an AFM movie that will probably come to a Blockbuster near you... if they are still in business.


Hey, a couple of days ago I met Will Vinton, and now I’m using the title of one of his films! As I wander the hallways at AFM I notice that many of the doors are closed with notes on them. Some of the notes say they have closed early today and have a phone number where you can call if you want to meet with the company, and others are just plain closed for the rest of the market - the people have flown back to whatever country they came from (which might even be Beverly Hills). This tells me more about the market than the press releases I’m getting in my e-mail box every morning that tell me how business as AFM is booming and attendance is up 6% over last year. Um, business seems to be so slow people are leaving after the weekend.

Many of the other companies offices are run by skeleton staffs, making deals on whatever territories still need movies. If Bulgaria needs a couple of horror movies to fill out their slate, there’s someone in the office who can sell them... but not the boss. The boss may have already left.

This becomes another issue with interviewing people for my article - I wanted a huge number of interviews so that I could find a consensus, and so far I have a few interviews... and it doesn’t seem like I’m going to get many more today. Between my lack of sleep and energy and the closed companies, my “sample” is going to be smaller than I wanted. I’m worried about my article (though, if you are reading this blog you may not be as worried, since my AFM coverage is going to run about 65 pages). I go downstairs... and bump into Mike, who wrote a family film that has done well in Family Film Festivals. He asks me if I’m going to the seminar. “What seminar?” The one on making movies that starts in half an hour. “Who’s giving it?” Some group, but one of the panelists is Mark Damon. “I’m going.”


Some of you may be wondering who Mark Damon is, others know that he is the pretty boy actor who played opposite Vincent Price in THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER (1960). Oh, yeah, and he’s the King of AFM. While living in Italy and being the American star in a bunch of Spaghetti Westerns (like JOHNNY YUMA), he began putting together deals for US indie films for Italy and Italian films for America, and started one of the first foreign sales companies. Since then he has been the driving force in international film sales, and has made many films you have probably seen and continues to make upscale indie films like MONSTER and THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. The other panelists were equally impressive. And it was free. I went in, grabbed a seat, clicked on my pocket recorder in the event anyone said anything quotable, and the panel began... and it was *all* quotable!

Besides Mark Damon, the panel included entertainment attorney Todd Stern, casting director Ronnie Yeskel, publicist Erik Bright and was moderated by Sydney Levine and presented by Dreamago - an organization that connects talent with business.

Mark Damon said so many great things about screenwriting and the importance of the screenplay in an indie film deal, and how one goes about getting a good script, that I had my article for Script Magazine. A better article than if I had talked to every distrib at market (they never like talking about screenplays, probably because many have no idea what makes a good script and are afraid of having this pointed out in print). It was a great panel, lots of information, and plenty of stuff that writers need to know about this part of the business.

After the seminar there was a little party on the balcony, with wine and cheese and I grabbed some of each. During the panel I noticed a student from a decade ago when I lectured at Art Center College in Pasadena named Maja, and asked her what she was up to - she’s producing her second film! That’s great! She’s someone I see every once in a while at screenings and working in producer’s offices. There are people who work their butts off finding a way into the business, and they’re the ones who make it.

Not my bike!

After talking with Maja, I mingled... but am such a wall flower that I talked with no one else, not even Mark Damon who was only a few feet away or Sydney Levine who was talking to the person next to me. I have to get over this - I’ll talk to someone I know, but I am not good at meeting and chatting up strangers. Hey, I even had a meeting with Mark Damon over 15 years ago - that would have broken the ice. But instead I finished my wine and cheese and did a final lap of the lobby before leaving AFM for good. If they are closing up offices on *Monday* I can’t imagine what Tuesday will be like. For me, AFM was over... and now I had to get back to work on my script assignment.

- Bill

PS: Next Friday - the return of Fridays With Hitchcock, REBECCA... and then the Friday after that FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

American Film Market - Weekend
Part Two

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

As I climb the stairs, I pass the girl in the Backless Sundress and try to read her badge to see who she is working for, but can’t really do more than glance without looking as if I am staring at her cleavage. Dang - can’t read it. I keep climbing stairs. AFM is an endless stair climb - once the guard in front of the stairway door checks your badge, you are either climbing those endless metal steps or walking down a hallway. Once you get to the 8th floor - the top floor - the stairs continue up to the roof if you don’t stop. Sometimes you take a few steps up and realize you’ve passed your floor. The same thing happens going down - the stairs go all the way down into the hotel’s basement, and people frequently don’t stop at the lowest floor and keep on going. I’ve seen several people keep climbing down... but I never see anyone climbing up. What happens to them down there?

One of the problems with the weekend is that companies *are* doing business, and I don’t want to barge in to ask them silly press questions. The problem is, all of the other people with press badges don’t feel this way, and when I walk past a company some other reporter rushes in and interrupts a deal. So I am doing a lot of walking and not much talking. I decide to check in on the guys who produced (and ruined) my SOFT TARGET script a couple of years ago. When I get my foreign levy checks from WGA, SOFT TARGET is never listed - has it not sold any foreign territories? I want my residuals! So I climb the stairs to the 8th floor to see what territories they have sold...


A few years ago I had a script that was almost a nice big studio action flick, but one of the millions of things that can go wrong with a deal did go wrong, and the option expired and the script was mine again. I was in the process of getting it back out there when an action guy I have worked with in the past called to tell me he had just opened his own company with another guy and was looking for scripts, did I have anything? The big problem with being a professional screenwriter is that you have no idea where your next sale is coming from, so you have to try just about everything. I had just had this deal fall apart and needed a new deal, so even though this guy was nowhere near the top of my wish list for producers, I have an inventory of spec scripts and maybe I can sell one and have the next year paid for. I gave him my list of availables, and pointed out one cool action script that I would be happy to part with (and might even be a good fit). So, of course, he wants the script that the studio producer had optioned, SOFT TARGET. The one script on the list I don’t want him to have. I try to sell him on the other script, but he wants SOFT TARGET. I call around to try and make some other deal, but get nada... so I reluctantly sell them SOFT TARGET after they tell me how much the love it and how they don’t want to change a word. By the way - when someone says they don’t want to change a word, that usually means they want to change every single word of your screenplay but one, and that was the case here. The movie they made from the script doesn’t even have the same *concept*!

So, these guys are like the in-laws you hate... but they are still part of your family. And, though I dislike the movie they have made from my script, I still would like to get some residuals from the deal, so I want it to be successful (even though the film sucks). So, after they made the domestic deal with LionsGate, did they sell the film to any foreign countries?

And find out that they sold SOFT TARGET to another distributor! The whole film (and a couple of others from their library) sold outright to another AFM company. My guess is that it was done to raise money, but I don’t ask. I do ask who the other distributor is...

Uwe Boll.

Uwe Boll's leg!

My film is in his company’s big catalogue! Right there with POSTAL and BLOOD RAYNE 3. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing... but having seen my film, it belongs with Boll’s films. I have to go downstairs to Boll Films and grab a catalogue, but first I ask how’s business... and get the usual AFM answer that it’s a little slow today but has been great so far.

The amusing thing about this company is that one of the partners is an action film guy and the other makes animated family films. On the wall next to the poster from some violent action film is a cute poster for an animated puppy movie. While I am there, the action guy mentions that some dude stopped by to see if they wanted to distribute his animated films, and left his card. The animation guy asks his name. “Will something...” (reads the card) “Will Vinton.” Both the animation guy and I say at the same time: “The Will Vinton?” And that’s who it was - the Oscar winning animator of those California Raisins and just about any Claymation animated film you have ever seen that wasn’t made by Nick Park. The animation guy grabs the card, pulls out his cell phone, and calls... gets Will Vinton, who is still in the building, and asks him to come back up! When Will Vinton arrives, I leave...

But not before action guy asks if I want to write a film for him and Manny Pacquiao to shoot in the Philippines?

After what they did to SOFT TARGET?

“I’ll think about it.” And I’m off down the hallways to some other suite... passing the girl in the Backless Sundress! Again I try to look at her badge without seeming to be looking at her cleavage... and again I can’t read the company name on her badge. Dang it! This is becoming an obsession! I must know who she is working for!


Out by the pool I bump into a guy I know with an interesting background. Max is from Russia, works as a machinist, and loves movies. So he bought a prosumer video camera to make his own films, and ended up making someone else’s films. This German guy who had a hit slasher movie in the early 80s and spent all of his money on booze and drugs and broads, ran out of money and decided to make some direct to DVD movies, but had nothing. So he put an advert of Craigs List looking for a camera man with his own camera to film his next horror movie. Max responded to the advert... and ended up filming a bunch of “no budget” movies for this crazy German guy. The crazy German guy found a furniture store that would let him shoot there at night, so he had sets! Actors and crew are from Craigs List, and most get paid zip - they are interns or working for a credit and meals. The crazy German guy’s films are famous for being awful - he doesn’t have a script, just makes up the story as he goes along - but because he makes horror movies about real life serial killers, his films sell to distribs. LionsGate has taken most of them. Max makes a few bucks for providing the camera and shooting the movies... but the crazy German guy makes $100k in profit on every film, and is now a millionaire while Max has made pizza and beer money.

So my Russian friend Max decides to make his own horror movie... doing things exactly like the crazy German guy did it. Craigs List for cast and crew and script, found locations, and lots of improvisation. But now he can’t sell the film. Horror isn’t selling like it used to, and his story has no hook at all, and I have not seen the movie, but it may be bad. Really bad. So he is at AFM as a Lobby Rat, trying to get someone to take his film. He has screeners on DVD in his coat pocket and “flaps” in a briefcase. I ask him how it’s going and he says “Good” but doesn’t mean it. I feel sorry for the guy - he watched the crazy German guy make over a million bucks, and when he tries to do the same thing he can’t even make a dollar. He told me he’s been offered a job shooting porno movies, and is giving it serious consideration.

In the lobby I bump into a director I know who is seriously in need of work. He lucked into making a couple of films and the people who hired him to direct his two features are not interested in hiring to direct anything else. So he’s in the lobby looking for work, and asks me if I have any script projects in the works that need a director. I answer “maybe” and say that I’ll keep him in mind, but I’m really not sure I can recommend him to a producer. Both of the movies of his that I’ve seen have had basic direction problems (violated the 180' rule, missing key shots, bad acting, and many other issues). Best I can do is forward his reel, and let the producer make the decision. Why is it that people who luck into a job think their luck will hold?

The girl in the Backless Sundress passes by and I decide to just *stare* at her chest long enough to read the company name on her badge... but she turns away just as I turn towards her and I can only see her perfectly tanned back. No tan lines. Hmm.

Moments later I bump into my friend Rob, who might actually be “my student Rob” - he took classes from me at Santa Fe and Expo many years ago and went on to write and produce some movies that are available from distribs upstairs. Unlike Max, Rob’s films have distributors who can sell the film to all of the foreign territories... problem is, they aren’t doing a very good job of it. And this is common - many of these AFM guys push whatever their new film is at this market, and then dump it in the catalogue and never think about it at the next market... a couple of months from now. So you may be excited by how much your film made first time out... but that may end up being pretty much all it makes. In an article in Script on AFM a couple of years ago, I advised you do your own international promotions on your film, to make sure the buyers want that film after your distrib buries it in their catalogue. You may not think this is your responsibility, and technically it’s not, but *someone* has to get the film sold after your distrib decides it’s yesterday’s news.


I bump into the hot reporter from NBC and her camera guy, but don’t ask about that interview they wanted to do with me... and she doesn’t bring it up. So, I guess I’m not important enough for a TV network. Actually, I already knew that...

Hey, there goes the girl in the Backless Sundress with some buyer. Can’t see her badge from this angle...


Maybe a year ago, this company in Hong Kong is looking for projects they can shoot in the Philippines and I send them my availables list which has a cool spec that takes place in the Philippines - a pair of college grads who buy a treasure map and have an Indiana Jones type adventure the summer before having to get a job and settle into the 9-5 world for the rest of their lives. The company says they have a project about the same treasure in pre-production already, and I wish I had some other things that would fit what they were looking for, but I don’t. Well, they just bought a building in Venice, CA and are having a huge AFM party to introduce themselves. And I’m invited.

Actually, just about everyone is invited. My friend Rob is invited. The director looking for work is invited. The NBC people are invited. For all I know Dennis Woodruff is invited (though, he’s a no show).

The party is supposed to have food and drink, and a shuttle bus will takes us there from the Loew’s Hotel. Cool - no driving involved! About a half hour before the party is supposed to start, Rob suggests we see if the shuttle is parked out by the curb... the first ones to the party are the first ones to be served food, right? We go outside, and there is not a shuttle, yet. Rob goes to his car for business cards and I overhear someone say that the big bus across the street is the shuttle to the party. I cross the street and ask the driver, and he says no. He’s here for something else. A bigger party? I go back to the hotel and the director is there, says he’s going to the party - do I know where the shuttle is? Rob returns, and says he was told the bus across the street really is going to the party. We cross the street, and the big bus leaves, empty... and pulls up in front of the hotel. As soon as we cross the street, the bus goes back to where we were standing. We cross the street, and the bus pulls away again, and... There are now a group of us on the wrong side of the street, but the person in charge shows up, tells us *not* to cross the street again. The bus will pick us up on *this* side of the street, and will be back in a moment.

Bus comes back to our side, we climb aboard... and the driver pulls out, but has no idea where he’s going. The street is the same one that the FX studio that did the submarine battles for my CRASH DIVE movie was located at, so I have a basic idea of how to get there. Others on the bus had some other details, and we found our way to the party.


Party Photos!

The plan to be the first served food backfires! The food is not ready yet! So we all get our free drinks and mingle and tour the new facilities. The new facilities are impressive, and a company like Big Foot is the future of film companies... except it’s really the *present* of film companies. The company is headquartered in Hong Kong, has studios in the Philippines, now offices and facilities in Los Angeles, and they make movies for an international audience. Film is a global business.

And it seems like everyone in the world was invited to this party! The really irritating guy who claims to be a producer from the party a couple of nights ago is here, as is John The Dancing Usher - this guy who worked at the AMC Burbank cinemas and used to sing and dance before every movie. Though you may be imagining that as entertaining, it was really more strange. John has a rambling conversation with me about 3D conversion and screenwriting, and I nod my head in the appropriate places... and wonder where the food is. I also look around for the girl in the Backless Sundress - if John The Dancer Usher got an invite, she had to get one, too. But I don’t see her anywhere. Maybe she was the only person in the greater Los Angeles are who wasn’t invited?

Several beers later, I am *really* wondering where the food is. The music is so loud you can’t have a conversation - why do they do that at parties? I would think the purpose of these things is to mingle with people, and to talk to the representatives from the company, but you can’t hear anyone unless they are *screaming* over the music. Same thing at the Raindance Film Festival last year - the music was so loud at the closing night party that people were leaving to have conversations in the street. Hey, turn it down a notch!

Finally, food arrives. A server comes out from a side door with a tray of chicken skewers... and everyone descends on her and cleans the tray before she can take more than a couple of steps. Rob gestures me over to the *door* and we wait for thr next server... and grab some food before it is gone. The poor servers are only getting to take a couple of steps before their trays are empty! While we are eating, a server actually makes it past us to the center of the party. John The Dancing Usher walks past with a *plate* of food and I ask him where he got it - inside there’s a room with some food. I wander inside and find Rob already there... with an empty plate. It’s kind of the same as outside - everyone in the room is waiting for the arrival of a serving tray of food. Several arrive at once - different kinds of Chinese dumplings. We attack the food... and the next trays have pork buns. It’s dim sum with long pauses between courses. I look into the next room and see the legendary Uwe Boll talking to some people. I think about joining the conversation and mentioning that he has an awful movie that began with my script in his catalogue... but what if he thinks it’s a great movie? I decide not to talk to him, because I am just drunk enough to say something that might result in him punching me. You know, he’s beat up critics before.

After I’ve had enough dim sum to add up to a meal, I go back outside to the ultra loud music and attempt to talk to some people. The CEO of the company stops the loud music to make a little speech, but either they turn down the volume for her speech or she speaks quietly, because I can barely hear what she has to say. Maybe it’s ear drum damage from the loud music? Whatever, I assumed it was the typical “Welcome to our new building and we make movies and we hope you will buy our movies and watch them.” Then the blasted blasting music began again.

After another half hour, the music was about to cause my ears to bleed, so I take one final look for the girl in the Backless Sundress - not here - and when the shuttle bus pulled to the curb outside the Big Foot compound, I jumped on and headed back to the hotel... and then back home from there.

Sunday is when the cheap badges go on sale, so some of the lobby rats actually get to go upstairs. Mostly, though, it’s film students and low budget producers. But the stair climbing is exactly the same, just a little more crowded. I never found out who the girl in the Backless Sundress was working for... that mystery will haunt me for the rest of my days. Monday would be my last day at AFM, and that entry will be coming next.


- Bill

American Film Market - Weekend
Part One

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

Everybody’s working for the weekend... except at AFM where everybody is working on the weekend. Saturday is the heavy day at market, followed by Sunday. I have no idea why this is, since you’d think everyone who was going to be at market is already there. Who would fly in just for the weekend?

But some people seem to do that, plus you have people who might be in production during the week and those filmmakers who work as waiters and valet car parkers and have other day jobs. In the world of indie filmmaking, not everyone does it full time. Years ago when I first began attending AFM, there was a guy who made kung fu movies with some recognizable B names in the cast... who worked as a welder when he wasn’t making films. He’d show up on the weekend with his new film, looking and acting just like any other filmmaker.

On Saturday I’m still tired - I wrote an article for some screenwriting newsletter a few months ago on how to survive Screenwriting Expo, and the first thing I said was to bank some sleep. You don’t want to *start* tired. Oh, if I had only taken my own advice for AFM! Instead I was up at all hours writing synopsis for Disaster Movies and Family Films and some new Action projects... and hit the market in need of sleep. And due to a snafu, I didn’t get my fake movie posters made in time, so I ended up doing that *after* AFM one night - Kinkos is open 24 hours. Add to that, something like Expo or Santa Fe is only 3 or 4 days, and then you sleep for a week. This is the 4th day of AFM and there are 3 more days to go once I finish this one! I’m only at the halfway mark.

Even though I gain an hour tonight (Daylight Savings Time) I don’t actually expect to gain any sleep. Friday while I was climbing stairs I got an e-mail from a company who wants to read a couple of scripts, and tonight after the party I need to look through what I have available and find the scripts that best fit this company so that I can get the scripts to them on Monday before going to AFM. Tonight is a big party for a company that read one of my scripts a while back, and I want to remind them that I am alive... and that I have new spec scripts. It’s important to have new spec scripts. Though some companies at AFM develop scripts in house, others only buy scripts that are ready to shoot. So that extra hour will be used up working. When I walk into the Loew’s lobby on Saturday, I expect to see over a hundred...


Saturday and Sunday are the big days for Lobby Rats - people who don’t have a badge, so they hang out in the Loew’s lobby waiting to pounce on any exec with a badge who comes downstairs. The theory of Lobby Rats is that any executive that goes up, must come down... and they will be there with headshots or “flaps” (8.5 x 11 posters with synopsis on the back) or demo reels or script one pagers. Lobby Rats come in all shapes and sizes, but the main categories are:

A) Starving Actors.

Almost every other out of work actor in town is usually in the lobby with their new headshots. Both wannabes and has-beens. Unknowns and the once famous usually crowd the little tables, hoping that someone from upstairs will walk past and hire them to be in BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS 2: FULL FRONTAL BLOOD FRENZY. Usually holding court at a center table is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson - star of one of my favorite films, THREE THE HARD WAY. A few years ago Fred was promoting both my awful 18th film and BLACK KISSINGER from the crazy guys who made JESUS CHRIST: VAMPIRE HUNTER. Though you may see someone like Andy Garcia breeze through, Fred hangs out there. Though I didn’t see Fred this year, I heard that he was there for a couple of hours while I was upstairs.

You also usually see he Action Guys. You probably don’t know their names, but if you watch ROAD HOUSE, they play all of the other bouncers in that movie. They also pop up in all kinds of action films - if Stallone has a team of commandos, these are the guys who aren’t Dolph or Steve Austin or Statham or Jet. You know, Commando #4 and #5. The first guys to die. They also pop up as bad guys in big action films. They’re big muscular guys, often with Martial Arts training. They buy each other beers and slap each other on the back and hope that someone will cast them in the lead of a low budget film. That actually happens often enough to keep them coming back to the lobby every year. You ever heard of Sam J. Jones? I know some of these guys, and will nod to them. A couple of years ago I talked to Olivier Gruner about a project (STEEL CHAMELEONS) and said hello to him this year - still haven’t gotten that project off the ground. Olivier is a great guy who should have been in EXPENDABLES, but he made a World War 2 movie instead.

Scattered around the other tables are usually the Babes. Hot wanna-be actresses in various stages of decomposition. All of them wearing as little as legally possible. For the past couple of years there has been the same hot 20 something gal who wears backless white sun dresses that you can see through. Yes, see through. Yes, see that she’s not wearing undergarments of any kind. She flutters through the lobby, going from table to table and positioning herself in front of the elevator banks to snag any producer who comes down. I actually saw her on the arm of a couple of guys last year... and this year she’s wearing a badge. Is she some distributor’s girlfriend now? Or did one of them realize that if they couldn’t keep their eyes off her, maybe buyers couldn’t either, so they hired her to lure buyers to their suite? I want to check out her badge and find out who she is working for, but don’t want it to look like I am checking out her chest. I take a sly look, but can’t read the badge. She flutters away to find someone with a buyer’s badge...

Often the hot actresses will align themselves with a journalist with an all-access badge so that they can get into parties and maybe even sneak upstairs for an afternoon late in the market. Smile at any of them and you’ll get a head shot. Some even have lingerie photos - if you have business cards that say you’re a producer. Many have websites where you can see even more of them... for a price. There are usually dozens of these young Babes fluttering around the hotel lobby looking for a big juicy part in your low budget horror flick...

And also some older ones. You know that great bit in KISS KISS BANG BANG where Michelle Monaghan rags on the other actress for being 35 - over the hill - when she’s still got a chance at 34? Nothing is more frightening than the over-the-hill starlets in the lobby. You get to see the whole deterioration process - like a museum display. There are those Babes in their 20s, then the ones fighting to hang on in their 30s. Now, I have nothing against 30 year old women... but there’s this thing that happens with these starlets as they grow older - they wear fewer clothes. You’d think this would be a good thing, but it’s really sad and a little frightening. I’ve been going to AFM for 20 years, now, and have seen some of those hot 20 something babes turn into 40 something women wearing almost no clothes at all - and enough make up to spackle a house. They are still trying for the 20 year old babe roles when they are probably someone’s grandmother.

And life has been hard on some of these women - one actress I know who wears almost no clothes these days, claims she’s in her early 30s... but anyone looking at her would guess mid-40s. She has a website and fan club and lingerie photos and with a credit card you can see photos of her on the website with no clothes at all. She’s been in a few really low budget horror movies - you know, the kind shot on a consumer camera in somebody’s back yard. She’s *starred* in those films. I don’t know if she lies about her age, or if she really looks haggard after beating her face against the big wall of Hollywood for so long. Doesn’t matter either way. If I were her, I’d say I was 50 and let everyone tell me how good I looked...

And there *are* 50 year olds there in clothes revealing every sag and wrinkle. Yikes! You just want to tell them to *act* their age. Some have had so many face lifts they look permanently startled... and those perky nipples are really their little toes. One actress in particular who I see every year. She tries to out-do the sundress girl, and it backfires. You have to turn away. It’s like seeing grandma working at a strip club.

Which is probably where some of these “starlets” work when they aren’t trolling for work in the lobby of Loews. The saddest part about many of the female lobby rats is that they are the “after” picture in those dreams about hopping a Greyhound bus for Hollywood to become a star. I didn’t see that scantily dressed older woman this year, so maybe she took the Greyhound bus back home... or is starring in a movie.

This year, there were very few starlets of any age, and very few of the action guys. It seemed like only a quarter to a third of the usual amount of actors with headshots. I kept trying to look at Backless Sundress’s badge - who was she working for? But she always seemed to flutter away just as I looked over. I didn’t want to look like a perv so I tried not to follow her, staring at her chest...

B) Fly-By-Night Distributors.

Okay, it costs thousands of dollars for a suite at AFM, and some of the smaller distribs even share suites. So what happens if you are so small you can’t even afford to share a suite? You hang out ion the lobby. Because it’s not just the distributors who must come down, it’s the buyer’s, too. Hundreds of buyers fly in from every country in the world to attend AFM, and when they wander down, you can be there with your portfolio of films and maybe make deal. There were so many fly-by-night distribs, that a year ago they made a rule that you could not have a portable DVD devices or show films on a computer in the lobby. That doesn’t mean no one does it, but now it’s kind of like a bad movie version of a drug deal - some guy asks if you’re interested in horror movies, and if you say “yes” they lead you to a corner where they whip out a 7" DVD player and show you some clips. One day while passing through the lobby I saw a security guard close down a guy’s DVD player and ask him to leave.

There used to be this Asian guy named Joe who had a portfolio of movie posters and would try to sell his movies to everyone who walked past him. Dozens of posters - all completed films for sale. He had a whole library of films! I must have a dozen of his business cards from past AFMs - but didn’t see him this year... and there was only one personal with a laptop secretly showing clips. Also, one of my friends was there - but more on that in a minute.

C) Fly-By-Night Producers.

Some of those portfolios of posters are for “proposed films” - do you know anyone with money to invest? Would you like to invest money? You know, for a small investment, you can get an Executive Producer credit on a real feature film! There are two kinds of producers in the lobby at Loew’s: the wannabes and the has-beens. The wanna-bes are eager to thrust their mock up poster into your hands. They scatter them all over the tables, hoping that someone important will see them. They tend to hang out in the bar, often having meetings there. Often having a *pretend* meeting there with people they know who pretend to be someone important. There’s one guy I know who made *one* film back in the 70s and has been trying to make his second film ever since. He hangs out in the bar with all of his schedules and budgets for whatever his new project is - always something that just sounds awful. Really bad horror or really bad T&A or really bad genre-of-the-month. Often he has some of the 20 something starlets hanging around - he’s promised them roles. This guy has one of those “true-artist-beards” that shows he’s a creative guy rather than a suit. And he dresses like a cowboy. But that beard (along with whatever hair he has left on his head) has gone gray... so he dyes it. Dark brown. It looks so fake, it’s difficult to look at him without laughing. He’s trying to look hip, but ends up looking just as ridiculous as those 40-50 something babes in see-through clothing.

One of the other “producers” is a guy I see once a year at AFM - and he’s always trying to put together a film. He’s been trying for at least a dozen years. One year he grabbed me and told me he had a completed film that he was unable to sell, would I take a look at him and tell him how he could do *1* day of reshoots and sell the sucker? Because I have a problem saying “no” I ended up taking a screener video home with me. The poorly shot movie was about a producer who was having problems on his low budget film - the actors were screwing up lines and wasting film and the director kept going over budget. The acting was awful. There was actually a top-pop scene (nudity) but nothing else that you could put in a trailer to play on that bank of monitors over the lobby. It was the worst kind of vanity film - all about the filmmaker. So I told him my advice was to scrap the film and find something more like that stuff playing on the monitors. He didn’t like that advice, and continued trying to find a buyer for a couple of years... now he’s trying to find some money to make another film. A dozen years, and he has no finished film to show for it!

The other kind of producer you find in the lobby are the disgraced. About fifteen years ago, my friend Jim and I were looking for money for our Russian Project, and Jim stumbled on this guy with an office on Sunset Blvd named David. He was a typical producer - that is, he had a business selling cell phones to movie stars and that gave him the contacts required to make some movies with either stars on their way up or stars on their way down. I think at the time he’d just made a film with Burt Reynolds that you’ve never heard of. Anyway, he was interested in the Russian Project until he read my RIPTIDES script - then he wanted us to put that together... with his fallen-star connections in the leads. Eventually the whole thing crashed an burned - when he had trouble finding the money. But anyone with Frank Stallone’s cell phone number can still make movies in this town... and eventually David had a production and distribution company at AFM up there on the security floors, making all kinds of crappy films. For a while he was after me to write some of his crappy films, but he couldn’t afford me. My quote at the time was at lest five times what he was offering. Then, one year, he was the guy being ransacked by Sheriff’s Department deputies. They closed him down for not paying any of the producers who distributed through him. For a couple of years after that, he had disappeared... but he showed up a couple of years ago with a new company. Just not a company upstairs. He was wandering around the lobby looking to sell films and acquire films. He invites me to his big party one night... but it’s miles away from AFM and I’m just not in the mood to drive out there for one free drink... and a chance to be raided by the Sheriff’s Department.

But this year the guy with Frank Stallone’s cell phone number wasn’t there - maybe he’s in prison - and very few other broke or disgraced producers are in the lobby, either. There were a few more people filtering in after 5pm, when the folks from upstairs begin coming down, but nothing like last year or previous years. What’s up? Where are they? Did they go back to the mid-west or wherever they come from?

D) Starving Directors & Writers.

The KING of all lobby rats is this guy named Mel - he wears a brown fedora hat. He dresses sharp. He claims to be a writer-director. He’s there every year at AFM, trolling the lobby. After a few years of AFMs, Mel showed me one page of his amazing script. The script that was so great, it would win all the Oscars and break every Box Office record. This was screenwriting gold, and Mel is armed with NDCs so that no one can steal his ideas. I think on one with an NDC ever has a single idea worth stealing... and Mel’s script was just plain awful. The format was screwed up. I mean, they have computer programs that make sure your format is right... and this thing was all wrong. I tried to read an entire page, but I could feel the brain cells dying with every word. This was mind-killing bad. Everything about it was awful. I told Mel it could use a quick rewrite... and he snatched it from my hands and insisted it was fine. They’d change everything when they made it, anyway, right? So what did a few typos matter? And the dialogue was brilliant, no matter what I thought. Anyway - Mel was there in his brown hat this year, trying to get people to read his scripts as usual. He told me that he had a big project set up at a studio, but was really vague when it came to details.

D) Troma Characters

Yesterday I mentioned the Tromadance press conference, and The Toxic Avenger, well Toxie and the rest of the Troma Characters and other publicity stunt people can also be found in the lobby. Troma is Lloyd Kauffman’s company - they distribute schlock. Classic Oscar-bait like STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR and SGT. KABUKIMAN, NYPD and TROMEO & JULIET and DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS and his new classic POULTRYGEIST (about a KFC-like chain with zombie chicken problems). They are proud of how junky their films are. Every year, for the entire danged market, they hire actors to walk around in the costumes of their characters. Here’s the strange part: sometimes the actors in the costumes are the actors who were wearing that costume in the actual movie! Hey, it’s a paycheck. These characters come up and bother you, handing out fliers for the films. They also pose for photos.

Aside from the Troma characters, there are usually other publicity stunt folks wandering the lobby. Zombies, astronauts, lots of pretty girls in movie logo T shirts from CafĂ© Press. Sometimes they have a party for their film, and it might be worth going for free food and drinks. Two years ago I went to some horror movie party where the food was free and the drinks cost... and the movie was playing on the bar’s TV. It was poorly shot and the gore effects were laugh-out-loud bad. The free food wasn’t worth it, and I split. But mostly these publicity stunt people just hand you a one pager for the film and try to talk you into going upstairs to see a trailer (if you have a badge). If you don’t have a badge, they may leave you alone or they may just sing and dance around you and make a scene. That’s their job. This year - no pretty girls in movie logo T shirts and the only astronaut was Dennis Woodruff publicizing his movie SPACEMAN (which was probably shot on a consumer video camera).

Almost no one in the lobby this year! Where is everybody? Between 5 and 6pm more people show up, but it’s still practically empty. The Lobby Rats are entertainment to me - and this market had an entertainment shortage!

NEXT ENTRY I’ll tell you what happened when I went upstairs, and the big party that night.

NEXT ENTRY - AFM Weekend Part 2

- Bill

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

American Film Market Day 3

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

So, today I drank plenty of fluids, and felt much better... but I am still exhausted. And my feet and legs hurt. Climbing stairs uses some different muscles than riding a bike... and my feet are not used to all of this walking and standing - I sit on my butt for a living. Day 3 is Friday, and AFM should be much more crowded... except it’s not. The lobby is practically empty again. Where is everyone?

It’s so slow that I could actually take the elevator instead of climbing the stairs, but I’m so used to popping into the stairwells that I forget there are elevators. In the past I’ve tried to figure out the secret message of the AFM posters - one year every poster had a helicopter in it, one year it seemed like every poster had a puppy in it (even the action movies) - but this year there are very few visible posters in the hallways. Two things that I do notice are...


Not every star is only doing dramas, many folks who often headline movies end up in films at AFM. You may see these films on cable or at a video store and think you somehow missed that movie when it played in cinemas... but it *never* played in cinemas and was never intended to play in cinemas. Though Kevin Sorbo is a TV name, he seems to be in at least 20% of all films offered at AFM. Val Kilmer is in another 20% of all films at AFM. Ving Rhames is in about 10% of the films - and I think that’s a good thing (he *should* be starring in movies). Nick Nolte is in a few movies, as are Willem Dafoe and Maria Bello and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heather Graham. Halle Berry stars in a film titled FRANKIE AND ALICE - let’s see if that one goes to cinemas or not. Matt Dillon and Michelle Monaghan star in a film produced by the DVD distrib that now handles my CRASH DIVE and STEEL SHARKS movies. Ed Harris is in a few movies as is Josh Hartnett.

These actors are either people who were stars a few years ago or character actors... or women. It’s strange that an actress like Maria Bello isn’t starring in studio films - but most studio films seem geared to 13 year old boys. (Hmm, when I was a 13 year old boy, I would have liked to see Maria Bello star in a movie, but maybe that’s just me). Unless it’s a rom-com, actresses end up playing the wife and girlfriend roles in studio films, so if Maria Bello gets to kick some ass in CARJACKED even though it may end up on cable or DVD or maybe a very limited theatrical, she’s going to take the role.

The actors who *have* embraced genre films at lower budgets get to play some fun roles in some cool movies. Liam Neeson has a whole new career as a badass in movies made outside the studios (TAKEN was a French film, THREE DAYS FROM NOW was made by LionsGate, and UNKNOWN is from Canal Plus). As studios aim for sure things, the indies still like to cast interesting actors even if it is in a genre film. You just know Peter Dinklage is eventually going to star in a violent revenge film - and I’ll be first in line to see it! With fewer roles and less money for supporting roles, indie genre films are a great way to stay in front of the camera and have some fun.


The other thing I noticed was the amount of purposely schlocky movies - like those Sy Fy Channel crazy creature features. A few years ago Asylum pictures was a joke with all of their cheapo knock off movies, and 20th Century Fox even sued them for copyright infringement. But something happened... people began watching their cruddy SyFy Channel movies as goofy fun films and seeing their limitations as assets. Just as you might watch PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE and have a good time, you can watch these Asylum mockbusters for fun... or now their monster-mashup movies like MEGA PYTHON VS. GATEROID (which sounds too much like a snake in search of a sports drink with electrolytes). And other companies are following suit with their own silly films. I have no idea how long this trend can last, but right now it’s hot.


One of the strange things I noticed at one of the places upstairs were two different movies in different genres with the exact same cast, and seemingly the exact same basic location. At first I thought this might be a company trying to sell the same movie twice (not everyone at AFM is honest... actually, few are) but then I realized this was a cost cutting method by the producer. They hired the same cast - including stars - and crew and shot in the same locations for two different movies. They could light one room, shoot all of the scenes for *both* films at the same time, and not waste any time taking down and setting up lights. When the middle dropped out of the business leaving only low budget and big budget films, the medium budget people had to become creative.

In the lobby I bumped into a director I know, Rolfe, who was working on the film from hell... actually, the *films* from hell. He just shot 7 different movies for the same company at the same time. The scripts were written to use the same sets and same actors, so that if 4 of the films had scenes at a police station they could all be shot at the same time. Different actors in the ensemble might play the detective in differently films, and other actors might be suspects in different films, but he had to shoot all of the police station scenes at once... and all of the other locations that each of the films shared at the same time. An actor playing the cop in one film might play the killer in another and a witness in a third film and the District Attorney in a fourth. That actor would be doing costume changes all day, and doing lines from different films all day. I think the idea behind this was for the company to make a whole slate of films at the same time, and be able to sell all of the films *now*, instead of making 7 individual films and having for each to be made before they can sell it. Whatever the reason, Rolfe had to write over 600 pages of screenplays that all used the same locations - and that’s not an easy task. These are the things that we might have to do in the indie world as screenwriters - that kind of assignment may become more common.

After talking to Rolfe and some other folks, and realizing there was no free rum at the Costa Rica Film Commission booth, I decided to grab some dinner to wait out the traffic and call it a night. I could use some sleep, I was exhausted.


One of the reasons why I am behind on these blog entries is that I intended on catching up on Friday night (by skipping a party and writing while having dinner.) But this was not to be! Instead I bumped into a friend from online and we had dinner together... and no writing was accomplished. But we talked about the logistics of writing a low budget screenplay. About 15 years ago in Script I did a series of articles about writing for budget, and this guy had kept all of those articles. Now he works behind the scenes in production and sees how important all of those things are.

Most people have no idea how to write for budget. Sometimes they've heard that limiting locations is important, so we get all of these stunt films like BURIED where it is obvious that the film takes place in only a handful of locations. Though films like that are interesting, the real skill is in writing a film with limited locations that does not *seem* like it has limited locations. A script that seems like a regular film, but has only a handful of locations and maybe a dozen speaking roles. No one watching STEEL SHARKS would ever thing that there are only 8 locations in that film - it’s a big submarine warfare film! While watching AIRFORCE ONE again for an upcoming article for Script, I noticed that it has very few locations and a limited cast. Not many crowd scenes in that plane! And when that film isn’t in one of a handful of locations in the plane, it is in the situation room. When you watched that film, did it seem like something that could have been made on a low budget? It could have!

Limiting locations and cast are the most important elements in keeping the budget down. On STEEL SHARKS our submarine battles were done with models. When Airforce One crashes into the ocean, that’s CGI. As long as you keep the people and FX separate that isn’t a major budget issue. People and FX in the same shot costs money. I don’t know if studio development people understand this, or even if many of the readers and development people for producers know this. On one of my films, the same script was submitted to both Head of Development and Head of Production at the same company... and Development passed on it and Production bought it because it fit their genre requirements and could be made on a budget. The purpose of a screenplay is to be made into a movie, and anything that gets in the way of that script becoming a movie... gets in the way of that script becoming a movie. You want to make it *easy* fro them to film your screenplay.

Though the original plan was to go home early and try to get some sleep on Friday, because Saturday is a big day at market and Saturday night I was invited to a big party, our conversation came to an end when the restaurant closed and kicked us out. This ended up being the latest I was at an AFM related thing. I went home, went to sleep, knowing that the alarm would ring in a few hours for Day 4...

NEXT PART - AFM Weekend Part 1

- Bill

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

American Film Market Day 2

Originally published *7* years ago - but rerunning it while I avoid AFM this year.

The alarm goes off way too early. I drink a quick cup of coffee and check my e-mails - about 30 AFM related press releases, plus two party invitations. I RSVP to the later one, not wanting to ditch the market in the later afternoon for a Hong Kong Film Fest & Market party - I’ve been to the fest a couple of times in the past. I zip off to AFM without even stopping at Starbucks for a coffee to go...

Day two of AFM was more crowded... but still nothing like past years. Plenty of empty chairs in the lobby. It is hot again, and I’m glad I’m not a salesman in a suit and tie. But I *am* thirsty as heck, and a coffee or soda or even a glass of water at the hotel is not cheap. I’ll just tough it out. Even though the place looks empty, the official press release says:

The business of independent motion picture production and distribution -- a truly collaborative process -- reaches its peak every year at the AFM when more than 8,000 industry leaders converge in Santa Monica for eight days of deal-making, screenings, seminars, premieres, networking and parties. Participants come from more than 70 countries and include acquisition and development executives, agents, attorneys, directors, distributors, festival directors, financiers, film commissioners, producers, writers, the world's press and all those who provide services to the motion picture industry.

The 2010 American Film Market today announced updated screening numbers, with a total of 427 films appearing at the market. Of those, 43 are world premieres, 306 market premieres and 21 will be presented in 3D. Exhibitors from 36 countries will hold more than 700 screenings. AFM Managing Director Jonathan Wolf announced today.

Many films are already generating Oscar buzz on the eve of the AFM, Nov. 3-10. Throughout its 30-year history, 18 films that have won the “Best Picture” Academy Award® were sold at AFM.

I don’t see anything like 8,000 people here. But maybe they’re all waiting for the weekend. The hallways seem empty. What has happened to Indie films?


An independent film is one that is made outside the system. Usually the writer doesn’t sell their screenplay, instead they find the money from private sources and make the film themselves. Those private financial sources can be anything from selling your body to medical experiments (Robert Rodriguez) or selling your comic book collection (Kevin Smith) to getting a second mortgage or putting together a group of doctors and dentists. Check out the credits on your favorite Indie films - is the writer also the director and producer? The film is then sold or licensed to a distributor, or a deal is made with a foreign sales agent to represent the film to buyers at the market. The movie is sold to domestic and foreign distrbs, and hopefully you make your money back plus a profit.

When I was at the Video Software Dealers Association convention a few years ago, I attended an indie distributor panel where they estimated that there are 27,000 independent films made every year... and less than 600 get any form of distribution, *including* DVD. Most indie films are never seen by anyone other than the maker’s family and friends. The ones that are picked up by a distrib have some “exploitable” element(s) which make it possible to sell the film to an audience. Movies are made to be seen, and if your film has no audience appeal it will not survive.

The second kind of indie film you will find at AFM are those made by small indie producers who regularly make films. Many of these folks used to have deals with the studio based “indie” labels, but those are all gone now (except for Searchlight) - for whatever reason the big indie boom that gave us Miramax films in every multiplex went bust... and now Miramax has closed its doors in NYC. There aren’t enough people interested in seeing that type of film anymore... but there are still producers making them - if they can find a big enough star to get the financing. Because of the studio based “indie” labels vanishing, there seem to be more of these producers with deals at AFM, and it’s not unusual to see some big dramas there these days - driven by those producers who used to make movies for Warner Independent (or even the guy who *ran* Warner Independent).

The third kind of independent films are those made by producers who are outside the system... in the tradition of Roger Corman. The majority of AFM companies fall into this category. They usually don’t have a studio deal for theatrical, but they have some sort of financing connection - maybe with a cable net like SyFy Channel or Lifetime, or maybe with a DVD label. Though you may find a company that makes *star driven* indie films at AFM, most of the films made by *companies* (as opposed to *individuals*) fall into whatever specific genre is connected to their output deal. Companies like UFO make science fiction films, because they have a deal with the Sy-Fy Channel. Imagination Worldwide specializes in female lead thrillers, because they have a deal with Lifetime. Companies like Imageworks that don’t have cable output deals focus on popular genres like action or horror. You may not think of these as indie films, but the original independent films were B movies from companies like Monogram Pictures - films made outside the mainstream studio system in a popular genre that have a hint of exploitation... or more than a hint these days. If you want to survive as a producer, you need to make the types of films the audience wants to see... or you’ll end up with one of those unreleased indie films. AFM is full of indie genre pictures... from “backyard” horror films to low budget action and thrillers to bigger pictures.

You will also find the survivors of the big budget indies, like GK which produced THE DEPARTED and sold domestic rights to Warner Bros. and companies, like Nu Image, make star driven genre films like THE EXPENDABLES and the remake of THE MECHANIC with Jason Statham. Every kind of indie film is on sale at American Film Market, along with foreign films from every corner of the world.


The film business can be broken up into three stages: Production, Distribution, and Exhibition. As writers we are part of production - making the film. Exhibition is actually showing the movie - the cinemas. Distribution is the middle man - companies that find movies and deliver them to the cinemas. Movie studios are usually distributors who have deals with producers on their lots and often act as a bank - funding or co-funding movies. Independent distributors usually buy completed films that they find at festivals or through submissions. The Head Of Acquisitions at a distribution company might watch a stack of DVD submissions every day, looking for that one in 27,000. They will attend screenings set up by producers, and attend film festivals like Toronto and Sundance.

Distributors are an audience surrogate. They are looking for films with the elements that will appeal to the people who buy tickets and DVDs. Some companies have a special niche audience they cater to, others are looking for films that will interest a mass audience. Because a niche audience means a limited audience and limited earnings, most distribs are looking for a movie with cross-over potential that can play in art houses *and* mall cinemas. The first films that sell out iof festivals tend to be the genre films from the midnight shows. At the Toronto Festival a few years ago many of the films in competition never got picked up by distributors... but The Weinstein Company paid top dollars for ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE - a horror movie playing a midnight show and also picked up Jonathan King’s BLACK SHEEP, a comedy-horror film also playing at midnight. Both films ended up getting lost because Weinstein was undercapitalized and couldn’t do a wide release... but both films ended up getting a limited theatrical and had a great life on DVD.

If a drama or “serious” indie film doesn’t get good reviews, it will die in the cinemas and then either do no business on DVD or just not get a DVD deal in the first place. But a cruddy low budget horror movie can usually get a DVD deal, because there is a loyal horror audience that will want to see that film. So a genre film is a much better bet than a serious drama. This year’s World Jury Prize at Sundance, SYMPATHY FOR DELICIOUS, did not get picked up by any distrib at the festival... and would have remained unseen, but it got picked up by a very small company at AFM, Maya Entertainment, which specializes in “Latino themed” and Spanish language films. SYMPATHY is in English, and has an all star cast!


One of the producers I talked to told me his biggest problem is that stars haven’t seemed to notice that the audience for dramas and “indie” type material has shrunk down to next to nothing. Stars don’t want to do genre films, and distributors are not much interested in non-genre films; leaving producers stuck in the middle. Because a distribution agreement is the key to getting private financing, and much of the financing comes from the distribs themselves through guarantees and presales, a producer needs stars to get funding, but can not get funding if those stars are in an arthouse type movie.

This is really all about stars’ rates - someone who has been paid a high rate to star in a studio film expects to get the same amount for an indie film made for a fraction of the cost... unless it is some artsie film. They will work for a reduced rate for art, but not commerce. But many of these stars are either not being hired as much by studios (who may make an expensive tentpole movie with a second tier star) or they were no longer being hired on big studio films at all and were working in those studio “indie” films that no longer exist. Either way, if they want to work in this new indie world they need to work in genre films... except they don’t want to. The producer told me about a big female star who is “too old” to star in studio films and now plays mothers and character roles... but when offered a starring role in an indie genre film always turns it down. She has a passion project - a dramatic script that she will star in at a reduced rate - but everyone who has read the script thinks the film would never make a dime (though it might get the actress an Oscar nomination). So no one is going to make her passion project and she isn’t going to make a commercial indie project and she has not been in a studio film for a couple of years now. Time for stars to wake up to the new reality of the film biz - they may have to accept smaller checks if they want to keep working. Maybe do those studio jobs that pay well and slip in some indie genre films in between for less cash. The key is probably some sort of sliding scale based on the film’s budget. Meanwhile, producers are having trouble getting films made.


When I went downstairs to do a loop of the lobby, I spotted Josh Olson (who will not read your fucking script) at the bar and wandered over to say hello. I am practically dying of thirst but don’t order a beer... because I have had nothing to eat yet today. I ask Josh what the hell he’s doing at AFM and he says he’s on the Tromadance Panel in about 15 minutes... so I tag along. Maybe there will be a pitcher of water in the room...

In case you don’t know, Troma is the distribution & production company of Lloyd Kauffman and is responsible for films like THE TOXIC AVENGER and TROMEO & JULIET and SGT KABUKIMAN NYPD and STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR. They make unapologetic exploitation films out of New York. Lloyd is a character, and many of the costumed characters in the lobby on the weekend are from his movies. Several years ago when he was at Sundance he realized there were no exploitation films there, and only a couple of films without movie stars. How can some young filmmaker get their film noticed if Sundance won’t show it? So he began his own film festival that accepted genre films and rejected films with huge movie stars - Tromadance - a few blocks away from Sundance. Cost to submit a film to Tromadance - $0. Cost to attend the festival - $0.

Before the press conference started, some crazy guy dressed like a 1950s spaceman was at the podium making a speech about how his planet needed Earth women to breed with, and he would be accepting applications after the press conference. I look around for water... there isn’t any. I am dehydrated and need liquids... The spaceman starts to hit on women in the audience, asking if they would like to come back to his planet and mate. I realize that crazy guy is the infamous Dennis Woodruff - a crazy non-pro actor whose car is plastered with headshots and signs begging for a role in a movie, any movie. If you’ve seen VOLCANO with Tommy Lee Jones, you’ve seen a replica of his car engulfed in lava.

Lloyd wrestled the microphone away from Woodruff, just in time, and he talked a bit about the festival, which is moving to Ashbury Park, NJ next year, then begins introducing guests. Stephen Paul, producer of the sequel to GHOSTRIDER with Nicolas Cage and SUPERBABIES (one of the worst films ever made) talks about the importance of an indie film festival without prejudices against genre material. I don’t remember what his connection with Lloyd is, but it’s possible he began working for him many years ago. Lloyd is like the New York version of Roger Corman, many people got their start working on his cheapo films. Next up is Josh, who talks about making your own movie as a way to break into screenwriting, or just break into the film biz, and he’s funny and irreverent. He’s followed by screenwriter Adam Rifkin (MOUSEHUNT) who talks about making his weird indie films like THE DARK BACKWARD.... and you might notice that this press conference for a film festival has *two* screenwriters speaking. It all starts with the script... even THE TOXIC AVENGER starts with a script. It’s being remade now as a studio film... with a script by Akiva Goldsman (A BEAUTIFUL MIND).

Next up was Chris Gore from Film Threat, who thought it was funny that his film festival book was required reading in many film schools, since he’s a college drop out. Richard Saperstein, who has produced everything from SE7EN to THE MIST and has been an exec at almost every mini major and big indie distrib sa’d he “Was both inspired and offended by Lloyd Kauffman.” Hot actress Jaime King (PEARL HARBOR), who is abnormally tall, read a letter from Neveldine/Taylor (CRANK) praising Kauffman, and they said some kind things herself about him - she is starring in the remake of MOTHER’S DAY, a Troma slasher film from the 80s. Darren Bousman, the director of the MOTHERS DAY remake gave this advice to filmmakers, “95% of my day is failing, but the other 5% is what counts.” And told people not to be afraid to fail.

The thing about companies like Troma and Corman is that they give new talent a chance. James Gunn who wrote the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD and wrote and directed SLITHER and the upcoming SUPER started out at Troma, as did many other East Coast filmmakers. Indie genre films are a great training ground - the list of people who started at Roger Corman’s companies is almost endless. After the press conference I headed upstairs to interview some distribs...


Three things happened on Day 2 that may end up some sort of screenwriting job. I was interviewing a producer I’ve known for years who always comes close to hiring me be so far has not, and he asked if I had any disaster movie screenplays. The answer was “no” but I did have a bunch of new synopsis for disaster movie scripts - 13 of them - written for some other producer I planned to meet with. I pitched all 13, and he liked two and wants to talk to me about them after market. After that I bumped into one of the guys who was producer on the very first script I sold to Hollywood - he has since left Paramount (a dozen years ago), has been making indie films, and reread all of the drafts of that script I sold them 20 years ago (there must have been close to a dozen writers after me, one has an Oscar), and found a draft he really likes and a big TV star is interested in playing the lead. Problem is, even though he is a big TV star and starred in a few movies early in his career... he may not be big enough to get this thing made. Oh, and the draft of the script he liked so much - the original draft I sold them (pre notes). The wacky thing is how often after massive rewrites they go back to the original script - they could save themselves a lot of money. So an old script may have a new life - cool. The third thing happened at the party I was invited to - I M Global’s big shindig at a hotel down the street.

Meanwhile, I am a mess. I am dehydrated, tired, and it’s amazing I could complete a coherent sentence, let alone pitch 13 story ideas and have a normal conversation with a producer... and before the party, someone grabs me and says they’re serving free rum upstairs at the Puerto Rico booth... so I have some free rum. And now I am really a mess. I realized when I got home that I had down two days of stair climbing, and it had been really hot, and I had drank almost no liquids at all... except for free rum. I really was dehydrated and needed to drink a gallon of water or two. After I got home I drank several glasses of water and felt much better - should have done that when I first arrived at AFM. But I was not a happy camper as I walked down the street to the hotel where the party was.


I followed the crowd down the street to the venue, and there’s a check in table out front on the sidewalk with a huge line. I get in line with a hot reporter from NBC and her camera guy... and she recognizes me! She writes scripts and took my class at Expo one year. So we are talking while waiting in line, and she asks if they might interview me the next day... and I say “sure”, and then this complete pest guy who knows me from Sherwood Oaks classes cuts in line between us and starts talking to me. This guy claims to be an award winning producer, and wants a free option on some of my scripts so that he can take them to his “contacts”. Um, no IMDB credits, and if he has a contact with money, who not get them to fork over enough for an option? It’s not like *I* don’t have credits. Anyway, this guy is pestering us, and when it’s the NBC folks turn... their names are not on the list. Neither is mine. Neither are some other press people’s names. Seems the guy who sent out the press invitations used his personal e-mail address, and when we hit “reply” to RSVP, they all dumped into his personal e-mail. Not the company e-mail, which is what they made their guest list from. So we have to wait for them to call this guy at home, have him check his e-mail for our names. Took a while. Well, they screwed up a second time, and forgot to ask him if *my name* was on the list. So the NBC people and the others were sent in to the party, but not me. Oh, and that pest? He claimed he was with the NBC people and got in! He had no invitation at all! About ten minutes later they got ahold of the guy again and he cleared me.

Once inside the party - it was cool. A fire torch twirling gal, some gals on stilts, etc. No food, but plenty of drinks. I have a couple of beers, and feel better. But know that will be short lived. Across the room I spot a guy I haven’t seen in *years* - the guy who was answering phones for that producer who I convinced to read one of my scripts, and ended up getting the head of development and producer to read the script, buy it, and make it. Jim was producing big films for a while, and then seemed to vanish. He ended up working for a film financing company, and now is producing some films through them... could I send him some scripts? Sure!

Because my friend Keith Calder has a movie distributed by this company, I expect to see him here, but don't spot him for a while... then he comes in. His film is called BUNRAKU, and it's a martial arts film with Josh Hartnett, Demi Moore, and Woody Harrelson. Looks great! They are showing clips on the monitors in one corner of the patio. I talk to Keith and his girlfriend for a minute or two, then the director of BUNRAKU shows up and I let them talk business while I mingle a little more... And bump into an FX guy I haven’t seen in a couple of years who is now doing 3D conversions, talk to a few other people and then really want to drink 2 gallons of water while *not* standing on my feet (I wanted to sit down, not try to drink water while standing on my hands or something), so I split the party and went home. Although I had felt awful all day, some good things had happened.


- Bill
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