Wednesday, April 29, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part last)

A rerun from 11 years ago at this time, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

After writing a million treatments, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam have become tired of waiting for the script and are on their way out the door... I could pound out a script that could stop them, but the producer has instead decided to have me write a brand new treatment that takes place in South Africa. And after a stack of free treatments, this one will be for pay - hooray! Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

After reading a bunch of books on South Africa and watching some travel videos I did a version where he was a bodyguard in South Africa and the badguys were only stealing some diamonds instead of assassinating anybody. He was less involved in this story - still managing to run into the bad guys by accident over and over again.

This treatment was thrown away. Jean Claude Van Damme and Ringo Lam signed to do another movie... they’d still be interested in reading the script, if ever there was one. But now they were off on some other project and my guess is that MGM will lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Could Jamie Lee Curtis play a bodyguard in South Africa, I asked... the producer did not answer.

Every project has a certain amount of *momentum* - as long as it’s moving forward quickly, everyone is excited and that excitement can actually turn a script into a film. People want to make movies, and if your project is hurtling towards the screen like a juju-bee hurled by a twelve year old, everyone wants to be part of it. But when things begin to slow down, people start jumping ship... and no one really wants to replace them. The end result of slowing down is *stopping* - and no one wants to be attached to a stalled film. That’s a dead film.

I suspect my Hawaii film is completely dead at this point. It slowed down due to a possible actor’s strike - and because that strike kept dragging on without ever happening, the Hawaii project slowed to a crawl. Now that the actors are probably going to sign a contract (a year later) the economy sucks so bad I can’t imagine this thing ever happening. Another script of mine on some producer’s shelf forever. You have to strike while the iron is hot. There is a perfect time for the project, and if you miss that time because you are waiting for some other time, you lose momentum and things start to fall apart. The Hawaii thing waited too long, trying to play it safe... and now it’s over.

But back to 2002....

Even though I had some fresh cash in the bank on the never-ending treatment project, I wouldn’t get the nice big check for writing the script until the producer approves one of the treatments. And that was never going to happen if he kept throwing them away and coming up with new ideas (He’s an IRS agent in Latvia! He’s an ex-CIA assassin in Afghanistan! He’s a body builder in Bulgaria!). I wrote a new South Africa treatment with all of his crazy story-killing notes and now the protagonist had nothing to do with the story at all, he was just in scenes where things happened to other people. It had turned to dog-doo. I hated the treatment, but by this point I was a typing monkey and the producer wasn’t listening to anything I said in our story meetings.

That’s one of the things I will never understand about this business - you are hired because they have read a bunch of your scripts and like them... then they want you to write something that goes against everything they liked about those sample scripts. If they’d just let you do your job and keep out of your way, they’d probably end up with a much better script. But instead, the new treatment is basically dictation - nothing of me in there - and it has a completely passive protagonist and a complete non-sense plot and things that happen for no reason and massive plot holes and crazy coincidences and no conflict and zero emotional conflict...

One of the running battles I’ve been having with this producer - he wants to do something like BOURNE, just without the character stuff that made BOURNE more than just a bunch of cool action scenes. He *wants* a completely 2D character - not a complicated guy who worries that the more he discovers who he really is, the more he may not like himself much. Every treatment I am fighting to make sure the lead character has some character - and those elements are the first things he wants to remove on the next treatment. I am so masochistic, I don’t give up the fight. I want this to eventually go to script, and I want it to be a *good* script. Not just a bag-o-action. But after all of these treatments and losing our lead and director, I’m just keeping my mouth shut and doing what I’m told. Duane Haller in WHITE LINE FEVER was right - you cause trouble and all you get is trouble. So I crank out the treatment and turn it in and wait for the next meeting where it will be thrown out and I will be given a new random country and a new random occupation for the lead and a new random action event.

It was November by then, and I had spent almost the whole year writing treatment after treatment and never getting any closer to script

When the next meeting actually began with a new location, I quit. I tried to control my temper, but I may have failed a little. I complained that we were no closer to script than when I began and that I was getting tired of writing things that would never end up on screen. Part of my problem may be that I am “spoiled” - I actively seek out the people who actually make movies instead of just make deals, so lots of stuff ends up on screen. Hey, it may turn out crap by the time it gets to screen - but so do lots of big budget studio films... and the other 90% of the scripts the studio bought that year just get rewritten into crap and never make it to screen. I had done more that a fair number of free rewrites, and it was time to move on.

Looking back on it all, I think the problem was the producer couldn’t deal with the pressure of having MGM’s future on his shoulders. I think he choked. We all want to do our best work, but there’s a clever way of not ever failing by not ever finishing your work. Plenty of screenwriters do this - they write and rewrite and change things and never manage to get to FADE OUT. Because once they finish the script, the script can be read and judged and it might suck. But a script they are still working on? Always brilliant! I think this producer, whose history was a bunch of MOWs that were here this week, gone the next... just a way to sell laundry soap; was afraid that his first big theatrical would come out and flop big time, maybe even pull down the studio, and it would all be his fault. He couldn’t deal with that kind of pressure, so he postponed his failure (or success) by never having a project that could go to screen. The silly part about this is that when we had that treatment that actually attracted the talent required to make the movie, he should have pulled the trigger, gone to script, then made the sucker. At that point, the cast would have resulted in *some* box office, and would have been successful on DVD even if the film sucked. And there would have been other people who could have shared he blame if the film was a total stinker - you can blame the director or the star or even blame me.

There comes a time when the rewards outweigh the risks - or are at least equal - and it makes sense to just do it. You can’t succeed without the possibility of failure - and failure is not a bad thing. Failure is just a step on the road to success. In this case, the producer might have made a film for a major studio that would have been one of their big releases for the year. How many big studio films flop every year? MGM was coming off a string of flops - expensive flops - so this may have just been another MGM flop. Hey, it would be used in the same sentence as films that cost $100 million! That elevates the producer! Strange as it probably seems - being the producer of a $100 million film that flopped is better than being the producer of a $1 million film that does well for its budget. Same goes for writers, too. I wrote a film that made *five times* its production cost in profits! But I’m a footnote, and the writers of some big budget flop are popular because someone gambled $200 million on their last script.

This producer could not have failed even if he had failed - because he would move up a few rungs on the ladder. He would be making $10 million studio films instead of $2 million network MOWs. Um, the producer’s fee is much larger - even if the film tanks.

Before writing this blog entry I decided to look up the producer and see what happened to him. I had done this once before, but thought I’d check again. Well, he has disappeared from the face of the earth. His last credit was an MOW made before my association with him. His website is gone. His company is no longer listed anywhere (and hasn’t been for years). He is out of the business. MOWs were dying at the time we were working together, so he had to find a different kind of film to produce. Move forward because he could not move back. In a way, our project was the best way to keep his career as a producer - and it seems that he has lost that. Every time I search for him, I find nothing... not even a trace of him since our project.

Here’s the good news and bad news of it all: Hey, I paid rent and expenses for a year of freakin’ slave labor! And since the producer is MIA and our deal was for a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a newlywed and one of the crappy treatments in Dubrovnik, I’m thinking the free treatments that I wrote are mine. I was not paid for them. How can anyone other than me own them? So the school teacher treatment is something I plan on developing - it was my idea and I think there may be a market for it. The great treatment I wrote that attracted the talent is also mine - written before the second treatment payment. The bad news on that - I was writing so many treatments on this project that somewhere along the line that one was saved over by another treatment. I *do* have a hard copy of that treatment... except for the last three pages of the 15! Somewhere along the line those pages fell off the original - damned Staples staples! - and I probably have the notes on how it ends somewhere.... Where did I put all of those 2002 notebooks? I only discovered the 3 missing pages over the holidays when I brought all of this stuff with me to clean it up and set it up as something I might write this year. Now, it looks like I’ll have to take some time to figure out what was on those last three pages - maybe I’ll script it next year.

I’m also looking at all of the other versions of the treatments for either scenes or storylines or characters that I can steal. The two college girls one I may completely re-treat and turn into a Hitchcock kind of thing in some country other than Portugal.

I call stuff like this my “Phantom Credits” - work you’ve done and were paid for that never ended up going to screen, so there’s nothing on IMDB about it. You look at 2002 and you think I did nothing that year - when the opposite is true. Many of those years without any IMDB credits were years where I worked my butt off and got paid for some project that never went to film. Maybe one out of ten of the scripts they pay for go to screen, which means for every credit you see on IMDB there are 9 more you do not see.

Because I write for production - I try not to write anything that will still take a number of steps before it can be made, or is impractical from a production point of view - I’ve managed to get a higher percentage of purchased projects on screen. But I still have a bunch of things on shelves all over town that will never get made. After five years, you can buy those scripts back at cost - what you were paid. I often wonder whether I should do that (I’ve bought back three scripts, and still own them). Usually I think the future scripts are better than the past scripts. The future scripts have *potential*.

- Bill

Monday, April 27, 2020


It appears that I have a new book for 2020!





Loglines, Treatments, Pitching, Look Books, Pitch Decks, One Pagers, Rip-O-Matics, oh my!

You have written a brilliant 110 page screenplay, but how do you get anyone to read it? You need to distill it down into some form of verbal moonshine or story rocket fuel that will ignite that bored development executive or manager or agent and get them to request your screenplay. But how do you shrink those 110 pages into a 25 word logline or a 2 minute elevator pitch or a one page synopsis or a short paragraph?

How do you take that brilliant visual told story and great characters and snappy dialogue and dramatic moments and spectacular conflict and distill it into 25 words? How is that even possible? And keep it so interesting that that bored development executive reads it and wants to buy your screenplay and turn it into a movie that will make people laugh and cry and kiss $12 goodbye? The most common way is by crafting an amazing logline – rocket fuel – that will make people in the industry want to read your screenplay. The first thing that anyone asks about your screenplay is “What's it about?” and a logline is the answer. They have been used in the film business for almost 100 years, and are the secret to breaking in.

In this just under 100,000 word book we will look at all forms of “distilled story” that you are likely to encounter as a screenwriter, and take you step-by-step through the creation. We will look at the most effective ways to pitch your screenplay, and how the pitch reveals problems with your screenplay. Just about every question that you might have is answered in this book! Including how to use Look Books as a creative tool as well as a sales tool, and why some commercial pitch platforms may be a waste of money. We look at the 4 types of pitches, how a one page synopsis is a “birth to death” element of your screenplay – you may use one to sell the screenplay, and the distributor may use that same one pager on the back of the Blu-ray box! The critical elements needed in any logline. And much more!

So, what's your logline?


NO KINDLE REQUIRED! Get the *free* app (any device, except your Mr. Coffee) on the order page on Amazon!

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

India Folks Click Here.

Austrailian Folks Click Here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part three)

A rerun from 11 years ago at this time, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

Our story so far...

A producer with a deal at MGM wanted me to write a script for him, so I began (as usual) by pitching 5 story ideas... for Jamie Lee Curtis as the lead, which could be shot as a piggy-back on another project he had going in New Zealand. He liked an idea about newlyweds on vacation, the husband is kidnapped and the wife has to get him back. I wrote a 15 page treatment, which he loved... but then he changed his mind and wanted to shoot in Mexico, so the treatment became about a mother and son whose yacht comes to port in Mexico, and the son is kidnapped and the mom has to go Rambo to get him back. He loved that treatment, too, but wanted to change the lead to a girl in her mid-20s, and shoot in Portugal. So I came up with 5 ideas, pitched them, and he picked one and we wrote up a treatment... and several treatments later we were doing a male lead martial arts film in Dubrovnik.

So far, I had only been paid to write the original treatment and the others were “free rewrites” - just with completely different stories and locations and lead characters. After doing a few more treatments I decided I’d had enough of this, and I was going to write a *great* treatment that would cause the producer to pull the trigger and go to script (where I would get another check) and maybe we’d be making a movie. This new treatment was better than BOURNE - it had all kinds of great action scene ideas you’ve never seen before and a cool story idea about an attempt to assassinate Kofi Annan. We need to get to scripts soon, because we’re shooting in September... But then we lost our star... when he didn’t become a star, after playing a pivotal role in both MATRIX sequels.

seinfeld DVD - Buy it!
And someplace around here it became a bigger project - after reading the new treatment they wanted to spend the full $10 million on this film! It would be a big MGM theatrical release starring... Jean Claude Van Damme with action director Ringo Lam. Cool! My first big theatrical release! Ringo Lam is a Hong Kong action director, and I’m a big fan of his work. The female lead looked like it was going to be that French girl from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and some other name actors were up for supporting roles.

I tell the producer I’m tired of writing treatments and would like to go to script. Maybe verbally pitch the next version, and if he likes it I’ll script it instead of treatment it. He’s not sure about that idea - what if something happens after we go to script and we need to do a page one? I tell him we need to make up our minds because September is right around the corner. We need a script. The producer writes me a check... for another treatment. Not the script check. I am happy, sort of. This is paying the bills but not even coming close to paying for the work.

The amazing thing is that I have now been paid twice for the "same treatment" - even though it has really been dozens of treatments. Often producers don't want to pay you for the treatment at all, and often (subtext: usually) I'm okay with that. A treatment is the path to a script, and if doing a week's work gets me a script gig, that's a nice incentive. But I am also used to producers who are in the business of making movies. One of the reasons why I liked this producer is because he came from the world of MOWS (movies of the week) where you often get hired knowing that the movie will air at 9pm on September 17th on ABC, and everything is a race to get the script done so that they can start production. MOW producers don't endlessly develop like this... they make movies.

Many producers seem to be in the business of developing scripts, not making movies. I have no idea how they stay in business and keep their offices on the studio lots, but they almost never actually make a film. A few years back Sean Connery sued a producer because he didn't make movies - including a couple with Connery attached. These producers will have you read a stack of books to pitch your take on them... but never actually turn any of those books into scripts. Or they buy scripts and cycle through a half dozen writers doing rewrites on a script that will never be a movie. I don't understand these producers - who aspires to be the gelding at a stud farm?

For a writer, you can easily get trapped doing a year of reading books and giving your take, or reading scripts they've bought and pitching your rewrite, or just doing endless meetings where nothing ever comes of it. All of the money you've banked from the last script deal for that rainy day? Well, this is a rainy *year* - where you work your butt off on projects for some producer who doesn't actually make movies... they just develop scripts.

seinfeld DVD - Buy it!
Only I've been paid *twice* for this treatment - a miracle!

Of course, the producer threw out the treatment that everybody loved - because he had a better idea. By now, the “better ideas” were all much worse than what had come before. In the next version the hero was just a bodyguard who wasn't really trying to stop the assassination - he just kind of stumbled around and eventually ended up stopping the assassination by accident... with many many many other weird changes. It was total crap, and I was afraid I’d be stuck writing the script version... we were running out of time.

The producer had MGM and Ringo Lam and Jean Claude Van Damme all waiting for the script... which I hadn't started because he kept throwing out treatments. Every couple of weeks I’d write a new 15 page treatment and then he’d throw it out and come up with a different idea and a different location and a different co-star and a different job for the hero and a different everything else! And September was right around the corner! Everybody wants to know where the script is - and I tell the producer we need to decide on a story so that I can start writing the script. Though I’m a fast writer, it’s still going to take a month. The producer postponed the film until October... and that was kind of the last possible month to start shooting before Dubrovnik became neck-deep in snow.

MGM was wondering where the script was. Jean Claude Van Damme was wondering where the script was. Ringo Lam was wondering where the script was. We needed to take a treatment to script if we were going to beat the snow.

I went to the next meeting with a copy of the best version of the Kofi Annan assassination treatment. Because we had to go to script RIGHT NOW to avoid the snow, I wanted to make sure we took the best story to script. I was prepared to fight for that version.

The producer said he didn’t like the Kofi Annan version, and he had some new ideas to “improve” the stumbling bodyguard version. I said we didn’t have time to do a new version and still film in Dubrovnik before it was neck-deep in snow. I thought the weather would end up being the thing that made the producer make up his mind so that we could go to script... no such luck! The producer said - we’ll move the story to South Africa, where weather isn’t a problem.

I wanted to jump across the desk and strangle him. It was time to get off the pot and go to script. I had a great treatment - the one that got us a cast and director onboard - and instead we keep throwing away treatments and changing them into crap and not getting any closer to script. Instead of strangling him, I lost my temper. Now, even when I lose my temper I’m still fairly calm and reasonable. I’m still interested in explaining why I am right and they are wrong. And I don’t make it all about my emotions - I make it about the *evidence*, the *reasons* why I believe one method is better than another. But one thing I have learned in my travels in Hollywood - most people don’t give a damn if you can prove they are completely wrong, because they’re “mommy” and that makes them always right - even if they are wrong. This big ego thing gets in the way of making rational decisions. The more you can show them that their method won’t work, the more they fight for it. So, I leave the meeting with a new meeting in a week where I am supposed to deliver a treatment that takes place in South Africa... and has to do with diamond smuggling.

So, we have no Jean-Claude Van Damme, no Ringo Lam... and my guess is that MGM might lower our budget unless we can find a new star and a new hot director. Nice to have another treatment check, but we are no closer to going to script than we were when I started this project months and months ago. Will these treatments ever stop?

Well, you can find out in the last part next Wednesday...

- Bill

Because the comments on this blog entry contain references to these elements from when I first ran it in 2009...

Yesterday’s Dinner: Gilled Cheese sandwiches at the Standard downtown with a couple of attractive women, which are not nearly as good as the ones in the Library. A whole weekend of drinking and eating to excess at the Fango horror movie convention.

Movies on TV...
Saturday, April 25th, M4M2 (UK) 13:50 - Black Thunder - When the world's most powerful stealth jet fighter falls into enemy hands, only one man can get it back. Starring Michael Dudikoff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill (part two)

A rerun from *exactly* 11 years ago today, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

Monday night I had drinks with some fellow screenwriters, and one of the things we talked about was free writing. We all know that it’s a bad thing... but we all end up doing it. Some producer who actually gets films made wants you to write up a treatment to help get the financing for the film... or maybe wants you to write the whole script. What do you do? Because the producer actually gets films made, there’s this big carrot - a movie! A paycheck for the script! And probably that production bonus because this producer actually makes movies!

The most common place the free writing thing pops up is in rewrites. I’ve done a bunch of free rewrites because I would rather write for free and try to keep the script on course (oh, and the production bonus) than refuse to do the rewrites and have them hire someone else who will just screw everything up... and get half credit. And producers have a great way of pitching those free rewrites: Hey, I think with just a couple of minor changes, the studio will green light this. First, can the lead character be a cowboy? Second, can it take place in the moon... not *on* the moon, but inside it? And after hearing 10 notes like this you have to make that decision - keep going on this project or quit? And more often than not, you keep going... that carrot of production sure looks tasty!

In 2002 I wrote a treatment for actual pay for a producer at MGM... and then did “rewrites” on it for the rest of the year. I mean the whole year! This was a real producer, who had another project at MGM that was supposed to shoot in New Zealand. An MOW producer who had a huge lucky break when MGM decided his experience bringing in network MOWs on time and on budget was exactly what they needed after they took a big hit after releasing a string of expensive flops. If this producer could make them a string of $10 million genre films with second tier stars...

And I was the guy writing the movie! Well, writing a series of treatments that would become that movie. After writing a treatment for Jamie Lee Curtis as a school teacher whose son gets kidnapped in Mexico by bandits while they are on vacation... and she has to go all Rambo and get him back, the producer had some notes...

Could I make the lead character a 15-25 year old female, and instead of taking place in Mexico - the producer had found this great studio deal in Portugal of all places. Could I come back in a week with 5 script ideas for 15-25 year old female leads that takes place in Portugal? Um, sure.

I came up with some ideas, the best of which was the one they liked - sort of a female version of GOTCHA about two college girls on vacation in Portugal, and one gets mixed up with a terrorist and ends up in trouble and on the run. One of the other ideas was a riff on THE PASSENGER about a woman with a ton of problems who trades identity with the woman in the room next door after she dies in a car accident... and inherits the other woman’s problems which are much worse than hers. No... the producer liked the GOTCHA one. So I wrote a 15 page single spaced treatment and turned it in - driving down to Santa Monica again - 101 to 405 to 10 to surface streets. Between driving there and back, it pretty much eats up the whole day.

We have a meeting after he read it (or his reader did - I’m not sure anyone in town actually reads anything other than coverage, and even that may be read to them). And he loves the treatment, but has a new idea. You see, he’d just had a meeting with this guy who was playing a villain in the next two MATRIX movies. A martial arts guy who was “the new Van Damme” named Daniel Bernhardt. This guy was sure to become a big star, but right now he was cheap. Hey, I knew who that was from the BLOODSPORT movies! He took over for Van Damme! Could I come up with some male lead ideas? Action stuff? With martial arts? Hell yes!

A week later I pitched him five male lead action ideas - he picked one and asked if I could work out the details by next week. We’d be shooting in Portugal.

Behind the scenes, here, I’m doing a bunch of research every time we switch locations and stories and leads. I didn’t even know where the Friendly Islands were on the first treatment - the reason why the story took place there is that he had another movie that as supposed to shoot in New Zealand and wanted to piggy back the production. Shoot two films back to back and save money on transportation and basic set up costs. When we changed to Mexico I had to find out what was available near his studio with the deal, plus learn how a school teacher might battle a bunch of kidnappers using her knowledge of high school science. I bought a bunch of books of experiments for school teachers and read them, looking for cool MacGyver possibilities. When we went to Portugal, I had to find out what was there (near the studio where he had his deal) and what we could do within our budget. And as this tale continues to unwind, every single change meant a pile of research on my part.

I came up with *Ten* new martial arts stories with a male lead that took place in Portugal, because I wanted him to have a good selection so that we could get this show on the road and go to script so that I could be paid again. Though at any time I could have just said “No more”, that would have stopped things from proceeding to script. Script is where the money is.

My ten ideas included one that I had pitched as a sequel to THE FUGITIVE called PICK UP TEAM about a Federal Agent who goes to pick up a fugitive being extradited from Portugal who loses the fugitive and must recapture him before he can assassinate the President who is coming to Portugal for a meeting... and since the Portuguese government isn’t going to help him, he must assemble a team of thieves and criminals with special talents to help him grab the guy. Another was an existing script of mine about a CIA courier who loses a briefcase full of... well, it ends up being germ warfare stuff... and must retrieve it before it’s unleashed on the world. A bunch of other good action story ideas - that I still have - but the winner was...

A story about a CIA agent who gets set up by his own agency in Portugal and must find out why they want him dead. Sort of like BOURNE IDENTITY - except he knows who he is but doesn’t know why everyone wants him dead. Why? instead of Who? We went over the idea at a meeting, then I wrote up a 15 page treatment.

BOURNE IDENTITY had just come out and I loved it, so did the producer. And that became our model - we were going to do the $10 million BOURNE knock off, shot in Portugal, and filled with as much action as we could. My treatment was cool, and I really liked the idea of a substituting *why* for *who* as the question driving the story. Instead of Bourne’s search for who he is and discovering the sins of his past, I would have my guy searching for why his own people were trying to kill him and uncover the sins of his past. I’d still have a great, conflicted lead character who gets to kick a whole lot of ass before Fade Out.

Oh, and when I was in London I had seen a commercial for Nike shoes that featured these strange guys who did this thing called “parkour” - they ran through urban areas and didn’t let anything get in their way, jumping and twisting and sliding over all sorts of obstacles. Never seen anything like that before. I thought this was really cool, and included it in a scene of the story. These guys were from France, and Portugal is just next door. This would be a cool way to get production value from something no one had ever seen before in our film.

But that treatment was thrown out, because the producer found a much better deal in Dubrovnik. I almost punch out the producer at the meeting. But I control my temper and mention that I thought we’d be shooting the damned film by now and hint that some more money would help me focus on the treatment. He sent me off to write the new 15 page treatment, could I have it done in a week?

So, I did some research into Dubrovnik, and discovered that it was the home to the United Nations Environmental Conferences. I read a stack of books and looked at maps and... well, took my time writing the treatment. I spent a month writing it. Just to piss him off.

Writing these treatments was sometimes difficult because I had speaking engagements. I taught that 2 day screenwriting seminar in Tahoe in April, went back to London in June, and did a 3 day Screenwriting Conference in Las Vegas in July. Oh, and I did a bunch of Barnes & Noble book signings - for a while I was at a different LA store every week signing my book. So even my spare time was filled by activities! Some of these “Can you deliver the treatment in a week?” actually ended up being two weeks with a week in London in between, but only a week to write the danged treatment. I’d come back from an event and have to crank out a stack of pages on whatever synopsis I was working on. I had little time for sleeping, and couldn’t wait for the producer to make up his mind about the story so that I could write the script and then take a vacation. I was working myself into the ground.

Anyway, I wrote a pretty good treatment about the head of UNESCO security who is framed for murder in Dubrovnik and must find out why... discovers a plan to assassinate a top global warming scientist and blame it on environmentalists. The story had a bunch of clever plot twists and some great character stuff and some really inventive action scenes. I really liked this treatment and wanted to see it go to script. I was tired of writing free treatments. I had written a stack of them by now. We needed to go to script and make a movie!

After another meeting with MGM, the producer’s New Zealand project was dumped and MY script was this producer’s big project for 2002. He set a start date in September in Dubrovnik. My contract paid for airfare, hotel, and expenses while they filmed in Dubrovnik - I was going to have a 2 month all expenses paid vacation while they filmed my movie! Cool! This also meant we would soon be going to script... and I would get more money.

The producer didn’t like the environmental thing - even though it was something that really happened in Dubrovnik. He didn’t think that was important enough. Could I come up with a different idea?

Meanwhile, the first of the two new MATRIX movies came out and no one remembered Daniel who was supposed to be the next big thing. Bummer. I liked him. (Note: he would continue to play secondary roles like "Key Face" in ATOMIC BLONDE.) We would probably have to find a new star even if this was just going to be one of those junky weekend #1 action movies. For that we might need a script. I’m seeing a script fee on the horizon!

But instead I write a brand new version of the treatment where the target was Kofi Annan, and many other details were different. I decide to really give this one my absolute best shot and make it fantastic. This is my favorite of the treatments - all of the great twists from before *plus* some new ones, and even though the producer gives me an incredible stupid element he wants shoe-horned into the script, I manage to make that work. I come up with some even better action scenes, and a really cool twist ending that I think will have people talking when they leave the cinema. It had a different parkour scene in it - where the hero escapes from a top floor hotel room by bouncing between balconies until he reaches the street - then runs across the tops of moving cars on the street. Also, I had talked to the producer about a car chase, and the guys who did the RONIN chase worked out of France, and he had a connection to them - so I wrote a car chase that would *rival* the BOURNE IDENTITY and RONIN chases. This was one amazing chase! This treatment *rocks*! I am sure that after reading this we will go to script, directly to script! I believe this story is *better* than BOURNE. I know that this is the one that will get the producer to pull the trigger. After all of these treatments, I was in need of that script fee...

But this is only part two...

Part Three next Wednesday!

- Bill

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

2002: Year Of The Treadmill! (part one)

A rerun from 11 years ago at this time, about something that happened just over 18 years ago...

No, this isn’t about how I joined a gym and lost 30 pounds...
It’s about how I spent the entire year running as fast as I could and getting nowhere.
That statute of limitations has probably run out on this one, so why not share it?

It all started at the end of 2001 - I was on the jury of the Raindance Film Festival along with director Mike Figgis (LEAVING LAS VEGAS) and babe actress Saffron Burrows (DEEP BLUE SEA). It was a real high-point in my life... arguing with Saffron about a movie that she hated so much, she wanted to throw me out of a window because I liked it. I had a great time seeing movies for 14 hours a day for 10 days... and when I came home I had a meeting with a producer I had never worked with before.

My career happens by accident, and this was no different. I have no agent, no manager, and no gardener who also blows Tom Cruise’s leaves. Though I strongly advocate queries and cold calls, it’s a case of “Take my advice, I’m not using it.” I *do* query and cold call, but not very often. I used to send out query letters 3 times a year to a list of producers, but I’ve been kind of lax on that for a while. Usually once a year I send queries to the same producers - never anyone new. That’s a big mistake. When I go for a while without work, I get motivated. If there’s still money in the bank from the last deal, I am less motivated. So many of my gigs happen through no real effort on my part - no obvious cause and effect - by accident. Someone passes someone a script.

In this case, the producer had read something of mine a long time ago and remembered it, and when they saw some movie on cable I wrote, they decided to track me down and see what I was up to. So, I had a meeting, left a new script, pitched a potential project, and drove home. This producer had been making network MOWs for years, but had just snagged a deal with MGM - a studio without a studio - to make low budget theatrical genre films for them. Budgets $10 million or less. Now, that can get you a really nice movie with a low-end star in the lead that will play theatrical and make some money. Though the Jason Statham movies cost more than that today, back then you could make a film with someone like him as the star and have it be that kind of junky action film that opens at #1 over the weekend.

I was sure that this was just another wheel-spinning meeting that required me to drive to Santa Monica where MGM had its “campus” and then get stuck in rush hour traffic on the way home. But the producer liked my new script (or his reader did) and called me in for another meeting. The producer wanted a movie that could star Jamie Lee Curtis. A thriller. He wanted me to pitch five ideas and he’s select one.

Now, to you Jamie Lee Curtis may just be the actress who sells that yogurt that makes you poop on TV, but to me - well, she’s the star of HALLOWEEN and showed her boobies in TRADING PLACES and was Ah-nuld’s wife in TRUE LIES. She’s in a bunch of my favorite movies and her career has been part of my life. I’ve had a crush on her forever... I had just seen her in TAILOR OF PANAMA with Pierce Brosnan, and she looked great! I would have paid to write a script for her... but this looks like they’re going to pay me!

I came up with a bunch of ideas for Jamie, including a cool one called BREAKING NEWS about an overly ambitious news reporter who crosses the police tape and ends up being kidnapped by armed robbers who use her news van to escape... and now has to figure out how to stay alive when she is the center of the news story. But that’s not the one he liked...

He liked this cool story about newlyweds who dock their rented sailboat at the Friendly Islands, where the husband is kidnapped (the bad guys think the Husband and Wife own the sailboat and are wealthy), wife has no money so she must kick butt to rescue husband. Sort of BRIDE WORE BLACK meets RAMBO meets PROOF OF LIFE. The producer asked me to write a detailed 15 page treatment that he could take to Jamie Lee Curtis. And he paid me to write the treatment. I don’t remember what the treatment rate was then, but it was in the low 5 figures.

I wrote it, delivered it to the producer... and he wanted to meet with me because he had some notes on the treatment. Okay, maybe he didn’t like the scene where she flirts with the cop in order to get him to help her...


No. He had a new idea... a better idea! You see, he’d just met with a film studio in Mexico and could get a deal to film there. And he didn’t like the husband thing, what if it was a mother whose SON is kidnapped? Can I come back in a week with the mother/son version of this idea? Sure!

A week later I’m telling him this great story about a school teacher whose son gets in trouble so they rent a boat for a month to sail the coast of Mexico - so she can spend time with the kid and try to straighten him out. The producer said it sounded great - we went over a couple of details - he asked me if I could write up a 15 page synopsis so he could get it to Jamie Lee Curtis.

Of course, the relationship between a wife and her husband is a lot different than the relationship between a mother and her son, and a honeymoon cruise is very different than one that you would take with your kid... so all of those things that made it sound easy in the meeting - just search and replace! - were very difficult when I had to actually rewrite the treatment. It wasn't a rewrite as much as a start over. Changing a husband to a son turned it into a completely different story. Why the hell would a mother take her son on a romantic sailboat cruise? I had to find motivations that made complete sense... and then write a new treatment... in a week!

But one of the things that I have learned in my years as a professional screenwriter is that you need to be able to deliver great material on a tight deadline. Nobody wants it late, and nobody wants it on time but crappy.

I delivered the treatment a week later...

That treatment is here:
The Third Law

Note: Because I wasn't paid for THE THIRD LAW, that treatment is *mine*. The previous one with the newlyweds belongs to the production company.


But a strange thing had happened while I was writing the treatment. MGM had released a string of expensive flops - WINDTALKER and HART’S WAR and ROLLERBALL: THE AWFUL REMAKE - and had come up with a new company game plan... a good one... they were going to focus on lower budget films that would make their money back on video if they didn’t do well theatrically. Movies like those junky little $10 million action films that open at #1 over the weekend then drop off the charts... but continue to do well in the home video market. And *my producer* was the guy they were betting the studio’s future on!

So, a couple of weeks after turning in the treatment I had another meeting with the producer. Even though the synopsis was exactly what we talked about, the game had changed and now he thought that aiming at a younger audience was the way to go. Jamie Lee Curtis appeals to an older audience, and MGM was now looking for something that would work for that 15-25 demo that buys tickets every weekend. I said that I thought the Jamie Lee Curtis story we had might work for that because the kid is in that age range, and everyone has a mom. Having a mom as the lead means that old kids and young kids and people my age could identity with the story. Four quadrants.

But he wanted the *lead* to be 15-25 years old... could I come back in a week with 5 story ideas I could pitch with leads in that age range? Sure. No extra money - this is technically one of those evil free rewrites, but this is all leading to a screenplay that is all leading to a film production... and there is money on the horizon.

Oh, and the producer had found this great studio deal in Portugal of all places, could I come back in a week with 5 script ideas for 15-25 year old leads that takes place in Portugal? Um, sure.

Then, things got worse...

Part Two Next Wednesday.

- Bill
eXTReMe Tracker