Wednesday, December 30, 2020

ATLIH: American Film Market...
The Lobby Rats
(it's part 2)

From 2006...

The big convention of All The Losers In Hollywood takes place in the Loew’s lobby. You see, it takes a badge to get upstairs to the dealing rooms... and that costs money. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that everyone who goes upstairs must come downstairs... and if you wait in the lobby with your movie posters or headshots or screenplays, you may be able to ambush one of those big shot distributors when they wander down for lunch. At least, that’s the plan of the Lobby Rats.

THE LAYOUT

First, how about some geography? To get into the Loew’s Hotel, you’ll have to go through a security checkpoint where they will search your bag for bombs and handguns. You might think this is all about terrorism, but I suspect what it’s really about are those disreputable distributors upstairs who owe producers money. Every year there is at least one raid by the Sheriff’s Office due to some legal action taken against a distributor. It’s kind of exciting - a bunch of Deputies with guns storm into the market and march up to one of the suites... then serve papers and often close down the distrib for the rest of the market. I know a producer who sold his film for $5k and a high % of the back-end... except there wasn’t any back-end. After his contract was up, he pulled the film... but the distrib kept selling it! So checking for weapons is a good idea - more on this in part 3.



Once you get passed the guards, you go through the revolving door and are ambushed by people trying to give you Hollywood Reporter and Variety and the foreign Trades (Screen International, Film Business, etc). They practically assault you. I hate taking the magazines when I arrive, because that means I’ll have to carry them with me for the rest of the day - and they get heavy. Most of the people handing you magazines are actors picking up some spare change. Up until a few years ago, they were mostly hot actresses. Hollywood Reporter had this “uniform” of black shorts and tight white T shirts. They “cast” every really hot actress in town. I remember one, Alicia, who may have started out handing out Hollywood Reporter when AFM was in Beverly Hills... and eventually became the head of development for an AFM company.

Once you get past the trade-hawkers, to the left are the restrooms, where you may find yourself standing at a urinal next to the guy who played Billy Bear in 48 HOURS or maybe one of the more mutant Baldwin Brothers. To the right is a hallway leading to the 4th floors and the AFM Info desk and the wide circular staircase overlooking the pool which leads up to the restricted floors. Past the stairs is something they added a couple of years ago - a cart where you can buy coffee at prices that make Starbucks look cheap. If you look straight up, you can see the balcony-hallways of every floor, and all of those distribs and sales agents and buyers who can afford a badge looking down. Maybe even spitting. You won’t be able to see much of them, though, because couple of years ago they started plastering the balconies with banners. Huge ads for the movies upstairs. Last year and the year before there were ads for movies I wrote - but not this year. If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s Ed Azner doing these days?” All you have to do is look up at the banners and see a couple of new movies he’s in.

The lobby is cut in half by a bank of hanging TV monitors, showing trailers for the films upstairs. One thing you notice about AFM is that the movies are *concentrated*. There used to be this section in Blockbuster called “Super Action” - that’s where some of my movies ended up. All of the movies at AFM are “Super Action” or “Super Horror” or “Super T&A Comedy” or some other “Super”. Makes me laugh when I’ve watched a rotation of car explosion and chainsaw trailers... then there’s an epic drama trailer from Korea complete with sweeping vistas and a million costumes... oh, and swordfights.

On the other side of the monitor bank is the half of the lobby with the bar. Just past the bar are the doors leading out to the pool - where the really cool lobby rats hang out. I always hope to go out there and see Uma Thurman swimming laps in a bikini, but it’s usually some fat, hairy German guy in a speedo. Up until a few years ago, a group of folks from upstairs would come down to watch the sunset every night. It’s really beautiful, and a great way to get your priorities straight after a day of haggling over Lithuanian rights to BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS. I haven’t seen those people for a couple of years - more proof that the business is changing.

Opposite the doors to the pool there is a restaurant that is sometimes used for meetings and used to be used for big parties. I remember a few years back South Korea had this big Godzilla-like monster movie, and they held party there... complete with a huge ice sculpture of the monster attacking a building. This year, there weren’t any parties there... and least, none that anyone told me about.

There are pillars with ferns or something every so many feet on the edges of the lobby, and tall tables are set up - this is where the lobby rats congregate. A handful of them at each table, or leaning against a pillar, or with a briefcase set up on a potted fern. They read the trades or talk business or pretend to talk on cell-phones. Or they just pose. The big days for the Lobby Rats are Saturday and Sunday (when they aren’t working at their day jobs) you’ll find a bunch of them down there every day during AFM. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the main categories are:

STARVING ACTORS

Though you won’t find Dennis Woodruff in the lobby, you’ll find almost every other out of work actor in town. Both wannabes and has-beens. Unknowns and the once famous 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. Holding court at a center table is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson - star of one of my favorite films, THREE THE HARD WAY. Last year Fred was promoting both my awful 18th film and BLACK KISSINGER from the crazy guys who made JESUS CHRIST: VAMPIRE HUNTER. This year, he’s just trolling for work - and signing autographs and posing for cell-phone pictures with lobby-rat fans. Fred is the King of the lobby - the most famous guy who just hangs out there every day. Though you may see someone like Andy Garcia breeze through, Fred hangs out there.

A table away from Fred are the 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 Ah-nuld has a team of commandos, these are the guys who aren’t Bill Duke or Carl Weathers or Jessie Ventura. You know, Commando #4 and #5. The first guys to die. They also pop up as bad guys. 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 inj 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. Last year I talked to Olivier Gruner about a project (STEEL CHAMELEONS) but missed him this year. He was down there while I was upstairs, but had left by the time I came down.

Scattered around the other tables are 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 this year. 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 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, DeeDee, 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. 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 Leows. 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.

Though there are probably some actors who don’t fit either the action guy category or the babe category, they are the minority. That always surprises me, because there really are producers who wander downstairs and an actor armed with headshots might be able to hand one to that producer who is trying to get one of the action guys for their next flick. Sure, it’s a long shot, but this is a tough business.

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 in the lobby. Because it’s not just the distributors who must come down, it’s the buyers, 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.

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 *pretend* meetings 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 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 shows up this year with a new company. Just not a company upstairs. He’s 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.

STARVING WRITERS & DIRECTORS

The KING of all lobby rats is this guy named Mel - he wears a hat. He dresses sharp. He claims to be a writer-director. He’s there every year at AFM, trolling the lobby. For me, the highlight of this year’s AFM was watching David Carradine trying to break free of Mel as he tried to cross the lobby to a meeting. Carradine was like the gazelle on the Discover Channel who gets attacked by the lion. It’s only a matter of time before that lion is going to wear him down and bring him to the ground. Mel was just all over him. Carradine tried every single Kung Fu move to pull himself out of Mel’s iron grip... but had yet to extract himself when he left 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 no 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 - David Carradine probably had to sign the NDC and read a page or two this year. I’m sure it caused more brain damage than all of his past drug use combined.

Not all of the writers and directors in the lobby are losers. I was there... okay, maybe they are all losers. Anyway, some of the Thursday Night Gang showed up, and I spent some time talking to them. My friend Jeff was there for a meeting about a couple of horror movie sequels. He brought along my friend Duane, who was in PULP FICTION and FEAST. Even though Duane has been in one of the most well known indie films of all time, he’s constantly out of work. Why? Well, we’re in the lobby talking while Jeff’s at one of his meetings, and some people are recognizing him... but Duane has no headshots or cards to give them. He didn’t forget them, he just doesn’t want to look like a guy who is looking for work - didn’t want to be part of that whole lobby rat zoo. Okay, I understand that... sort of. But luck favors the prepared man. He should have had a stack of headshots for when people asked... and he should have figured out how to get upstairs and distribute headshots to every producer he could find. One good day at AFM and Duane could make a years worth of deals. People know who he is.

One of the people that knows who Duane is and stops by to say hello is the director of Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s latest film. I introduce myself, and he tells me how completely unlucky I am. You see, on my film Don pushed his weight around and ended up with a yes-man director (who this director said was “supremely untalented”) and Don didn’t want anyone more famous than he is in the film (so he turned down all of the actors I sent him - the very least known of which was Duane who was *starring* in FEAST at the time) and thought he had some better ideas for the story and dialogue and even the concept! Result is a movie that really sucks big time... and had some trouble selling. The director tells me that Don learned a lesson on my film, so was much easier to work with on his film. This new film has some real names in the cast, Don didn’t mess with the script, and Don followed directions on set. Don kept telling me that his fans didn’t care about that theme stuff or dialogue or character - they just wanted to see him kick ass. Well, on the new film he’s much more of a team player... and uses a gun more than his feet. I’ve seen footage from it... and it really pissed me off. It’s so much better than the piece of crap that SOFT TARGET turned into. And SOFT TARGET was one of those scripts that had almost been made a couple of times for much much bigger budgets (the month it was finished I optioned it to a studio producer who was attaching cast when his money fell through)... and a script that a couple of my pro writer friends (who make a lot more than I do) thought was really good. Don turned it into shit... and I can’t sell it again.

I also bump into a couple of other Thursday nighters in the lobby, Rolfe (horror director I’ve mentioned before... he seems to keep remaking the same awful kids-in-a-cabin-get-hacked-up movie over and over again... and it’s not getting any better) and Ron The International Man Of Mystery. Rolfe is walking on air - he’s just discovered that an old script of his is getting made... with Pamela Anderson in the lead. When DUMB & DUMBER came out, Rolfe had written a T&A version called BLONDE & BLONDER. Basically a cut&paste version of D&D with boobies. (REPLACE: He with She). Story is just about the same - road trip, bla-bla-bla. This thing had sat on some producer’s shelf for a decade... then someone had pulled it out and cast Anderson and the ex-Mrs. Charlie Sheen in the leads. Filming in Canada for pocket change... but this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to Rolfe. He’s gonna use the buzz to put together financing on a couple more films.

Ron The International Man Of Mystery is... well, I’m not really sure what he is. I used to call him the center of the Hollywood universe, because everyone I asked knew him. Everyone. My guess is that if you asked Mel Gibson, he’d know him. If you asked Paul Newman, he’d know Ron. Everybody does. Ron is everywhere. When I talk to Ron, he tells me about some screenwriting deal he was involved in ten years ago. One Thursday night a musician friend was talking to Ron, and I overheard Ron talking about his band. Ron talks about his film editing career to editors, his directing career with directors, his acting career with actors. Ron is all things to all people. I can’t really figure him out - famous people know who he is, but he’s not famous. You look him up on IMDB and don’t get much. Ron is like that joke, where the punchline is “I don’t know who the guy in the backseat is, but he’s gotta be important because the Pope is his chauffeur!”

THE TOXIC AVENGER

I’m sure if you were to ask The Toxic Avenger, he’d know Ron. You may be wondering who The Toxic Avenger is, or where you might find him to ask such a question... but 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 other publicity stunt folks wandering the lobby. Zombies, astronauts, lots of pretty girls in movie T shirts, and this year we had some dopey looking guys in hats and bomber jackets with their film’s logo. Sometimes they have a party for their film, and it might be worth going for free food and drinks. Last year 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.

The Toxic Avenger will actually grab your arm and escort you upstairs to the Troma suite, if you let him. Though the lobby rats don’t have badges and are trapped downstairs for the entire market, next post we’ll sneak upstairs with Toxie and I’ll show you all of the treasures available at the American Film Market.

- Bill

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

ATLIH: American Film Market... All The Losers In Hollywood

From 2006...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know every loser in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography. (or this blog)

Well, the annual convention of All The Losers In Hollywood took place in early November. Losers from all over Hollywood, and losers from the film biz in other countries all descend on the Leow’s Santa Monica Hotel for a week of fun and games otherwise known as the America Film Market. You’ve never seen so many losers under one roof! I always wonder why Springer doesn’t do a special show about AFM... he even had a movie here, once.

WHAT IS AMERICA FILM MARKET?



Movies are a global business. The same Tom Hanks movie you saw at the mall multiplex last week is going to play in every country in the world - and is *designed* to play in every country in the world. The average American film makes 60%-70% of it’s income outside the United States & Canada... in countries like Japan and Germany and Spain and South Korea. When they are making a movie, they don’t ask “Will it play in Peoria?” anymore, they ask: “Will it play in Pakistan? Paris? Phnom Pen?”

Now, chances are that Tom Hanks movie was made by a big studio like Universal or Paramount or Fox or Sony or Disney or Warner Bros. The big guys control their own distribution overseas (because that’s where the money is) - they either have distribution deals in place or distribute the film themselves in Phnom Pen. But an Indie film doesn’t have distribution in place... that’s because most indie films are made... independently. Outside the system. Someone in Nebraska says, “Hey! I’ve got a barn, let’s put on a show!” If you don’t get the Andy Hardy reference* (shame on you), basically Indie films are made with private resources - someone writes a script, finds some money and some actors and some locations and props and they make a movie outside the system. Indie films are do-it-yourselfers. Once this film is finished, they hunt for a distributor so that people will be able to see the movie (and so that they can repay their private investors - often themselves - many people finance movies with second mortgages).

At VSDA a few years ago, a panel of indie distribs said there are 27,000 indie films made every year... and only a little over 1% of those find any sort of distribution. ANY sort. That includes DVD and TV distribution. Most indie films are never seen. Never.

Okay, there’s self distribution. The ultimate Hollywood loser is this guy named Dennis Woodruff - you’ve seen his car in that Tommy Lee Jones Volcano-In-LA movie. Dennis is this *old* wanna-be actor who cruises around town in this beat up old car hand painted with advertisements for his amazing acting skills. Oh, and he sells VHS tapes of his new movie... co-starring Jack Nicholson! So, Dennis will pull into a Denny’s parking lot and then go from table to table inside trying to sell his VHS tapes. If you spend the $20 to buy the tape, you’ll see an amazing scene where Dennis ambushes Jack Nicholson outside a restaurant somewhere and starts a rambling and half-crazy conversation with him... and that’s the star power in Woodruff’s film. He’s become so famous, that they put his *car* in movies, now. (They still don’t seem to be hiring brilliant master thespian Dennis to be in movies, so it’s good that his car earns a living). So, that’s self-distribution, if you’re interested.

Unless you’re Dennis Woodruff, you probably want a distrib from your indie film, and the two places to find distribs are Film Festivals and Film markets. Both venues revolve around the idea of competition to assign value. So, you’ve got this little indie film that you’ve made yourself, and you enter it into a bunch of festivals where distribs hang out in hopes that one of the distribs will want to buy it. Actually, you hope that a few distribs will want to buy it and you end up with a bidding war - raising the price. This year at the Toronto Film Festival, there were films like VENUS and COPYING BEETHOVEN and TEN ITEMS OR LESS in competition, but the big bidding war was over a horror movie playing at one of the midnight shows, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE. The Weinsteins won the bidding war, paying $3.5 million to distribute the film. They also paid top dollar to pick up the other horror movie playing midnight shows, BLACK SHEEP. Okay, I have to admit that I know the guys who made both of those movies.

You may be wondering what happened to all of those serious dramas playing in competition... well, most of them probably didn’t get picked up at all! I guess that means horror movies are still hot (and dramas are still a hard sell - even to art house distribs like the Weinsteins).

I know, you’re wondering what this has to do with AFM... well, the next step is for these distribs to sell the films to all of those other countries. So they show up at Loew’s Hotel and take a suite (the rooms are all converted into offices for the event) and then engage in the second part of the bidding war - getting distribs within a country (or territory) to fight over the rights to show a film in their country... thereby raising the price. If Poland has 4 major distribs, you want them to all be fighting over your movie so that they pay the best price. Add up all the territories and you can make a lot of money on the right film...

But you can make some pretty good money on the right film that never played in any festival and wasn’t part of some huge bidding war. A distrib or foreign sales company might pick up some indie film like BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS and use the competition between Poland’s distribs to raise the price. Sometimes these films get theatrical in Poland, but in the case of BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS it will probably be direct to DVD... hey, Poland needs schlock, too! Right now, there are drunk Polish frat boys longing to see a movie where a hot blonde girl takes off her top and is then killed by the maniac. The goal at AFM is to sell to all of the countries for a reasonable price and make a profit. Often the deals with distribs and foreign sales agents are set up so that you split the money after expenses - and they have all kinds of expenses to tack on! Sometimes your film can make the distrib or foreign sales agent wealthy while you see almost nothing. Welcome to Hollywood, baby! There’s a reason why they lump in Motion Picture Distribution with Global Terrorism in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. These guys are crooks! So if you are negotiating a film deal with them on *your* film, bring a lawyer! Their "standard contract" includes all of those expenses including the yacht, the champagne, and the hookers when they take your film to Cannes! You need a lawyer to get a good deal for your film! But the low budget distributors aren’t the *losers* in Hollywood... you’ll find them below the dealing floors in the lobby.

The big convention of All The Losers In Hollywood takes place in the Loew’s lobby. You see, it takes a badge to get upstairs to the dealing rooms... and that costs money. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that everyone who goes upstairs must come downstairs... and if you wait in the lobby with your movie posters or headshots or screenplays, you may be able to ambush one of those big shot distributors when they wander down for lunch. In the next blog entry, we’ll wander downstairs and I’ll introduce you to All The Losers In Hollywood....

- Bill

* Actually, not an ANDY HARDY movie! It's from BABES IN ARMS, starring almost the enire cast of all of those Andy Hardy movies.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Print The Legend

From 2009...

You may have read that bio over there and wondered why the hell I would ever turn down writing ANGELS & DEMONS. Was I crazy?



In the movie I LOVE YOU MAN Jason Segel is giving Paul Rudd lessons on being a man and explains the difference between telling a lie and omitting the truth. He asks Rudd when was the last time he masturbated, and Rudd doesn’t want to answer a question like that... but eventually admits he masturbated to a picture of his fiancĂ© a couple of weekends ago when she was away. Segel asks if he told his finace when she returned. “Of course not!” Was that a lie? No... but there was really no reason to tell her.

You may read that I turned down ANGELS & DEMONS and imagine Ron Howard or Tom Hanks begging me to write the script... and I still said no.

I am going to allow you to believe that.

Sounds really cool, doesn’t it? Telling Ron Howard to go to hell, you aren’t going to write a script for him... Or telling Tom Hanks - a guy who was born in the same hospital as I was - that I’m just too damned busy to script your damned film.

None of that ever happened, but if you imagine it happened that’s okay with me. What really happened is kind of dull and uninteresting.

EXTRA SPICY

One of the problems with being a writer is that you automatically turn everything into a story. Some boring thing happens to you, and you find some way to make it funny or exciting when you retell it to somebody else. You embellish a little. You twist things a little or withhold some information to spice up the story. One of my problems when I tell a friend about a really bad movie I’ve seen is that I tend to make sense of it - I turn a bunch of unrelated incidents that add up to nothing, into something resembling a story. My friends think the film doesn’t sound so bad, but when they see it - well, it’s much worse than what I described. The problem with being a storyteller is that you can’t help but turn those crappy scenes from a crappy film into something that resembles a story when you talk about it. Your mind makes the connections that the person who made the film did not make. You smooth over all of those really rough edges. You take unrelated events and either leave them out when you retell the story or find some interesting way for them to relate. You tell a story.

And when I’m writing a blog entry or telling someone a story, I remove the chaff and retain the interesting parts, and often focus on what is exciting and leave out the dull stuff. And maybe that dog that just barked at me in real life, growled in the story version and wanted to take a bite out of me? A slight embellishment. Makes the story a little more exciting... and it’s not really a lie - the dog may have wanted to take a bite out of me, I don’t speak dog so I don’t know. When a storyteller tells the story, they tend to spice it up a little. The meat is still the meat, you’ve just added some garlic. You are still eating steak, it’s just seasoned steak.

Blog entries here often are written to be more amusing than the mundane and crappy truth - I look back on events and laugh. If I don’t, I’d go crazy. And when I tell some horror story about some film that has my name on it, I tell it from my point of view and try to make it amusing. I have no idea how long I *actually* talked to an actress on the set of one of my films while maintaining eye contact the whole time - which was difficult because she was dressed *only* in black lace panties, and was hired because she was beautiful *and* could act... but when I tell the story it was 45 minutes. I’m sure it was probably only five or ten minutes, it just seemed much longer. She was discussing her role with me... I was trying not to look at anything other than her face. I am a gentleman... and probably a fool.

But all of that actually happened. When I tell that story, I stretch it out so that you think I might look down... I spice it up a little. But it’s still true. Probably more true than any film that says BASED ON A TRUE STORY in the credits.

BELIEVING THEIR OWN BS

I have met any number of people who had business cards printed saying that they were producers. Hey - you can get 250 free cards from Vista Print that say you’re President Of Warner Bros Studios if you want. FREE. There are websites galore for guys who made a silly movie with their friends with a cheap video camera or their phone and now claim they are motion picture producers or even a studio! Hell. I have cards that say I’m a producer. I am kind of like those guys with the video cameras - I’ve produced and directed a bunch of short films, and even made an ill-advised feature on Super 8mm film - but I’ve made no 35mm films that have played at your local cinema. I’m a *wannabe* producer at this point. So, don’t send me your scripts or pitch me loglines.

I’m fairly sure that most of the people with websites and business cards would probably be completely honest if you asked them what they’ve produced... though there was a guy on Done Deal’s message boards recently who was a complete scam artist but would not admit it no matter how many people offered proof. This “producer” charged a $350 script reading fee! And had not produced a single film.

I’ve also had “producers” in real life who have told me stories about all of their various projects around town, but would not get specific. They became evasive when questioned. When I looked them up later - no projects around town that I could see. I could tell you stories about fake producers all day - but what I don’t understand is why *they* are telling these stories. It’s pretty easy to look up someone’s credits these days, and even look up what they have in development. And, what’s wrong with being a new producer? Everybody has to start somewhere, right?

When you aren’t just leaving out the negative stuff, but actually making up credits that never happened and *lying*, you are going to get in trouble. I may have mentioned a guy I knew who claimed he wrote one of the BATMAN movies and actually showed me a copy of the script from Warner Bros with his name on the title page... and it was the actual script of whichever BATMAN movie that was released that year. He managed to attract a hoard of toadies and sycophants from that showing around that script. Later I discovered that he was a *typist* at Warner Bros who made up a cover page with his name on it. That’s why he was still mostly broke and working at his day job even after writing that Warner Bros big tentpole film.

I also know an actor who claims he is related to a big movie star - and they have the same last name - but both the big movie star and this actor changed their last names when they went into the biz. So it’s a complete lie that he tells people to land roles, but so easy to disprove that I wonder why anyone believes it.

SCREW YOU OPIE!



But you want to know the truth behind Bill Turning Down ANGELS & DEMONS, right?

Just as I had that year where all I did was write one treatment forever, I also had a year around the same time where - for some reason - everyone wanted me to read books and pitch my take on them. This is pretty common. Someone reads some spec script from you, likes it but doesn’t buy it (few spec scripts actually sell, most just get you assignments) and thinks you might match a project they are working on. Now, these projects can be anything from a rewrite on some other screenwriter's script (I usually turn those down) to magazine articles and books and board games and cartoons the production company has an option on that they need a screenwriter for. To get the adaptation gig you read the book or article and then come back and pitch your take on the story. “Your take” is how you would go about adapting the book or article or board game into a screenplay. Sometimes it’s focusing on a specific element as the spine of the story, sometimes it involves a little more imagination - I have never pitched my take on a *board game* but people do that.

During this period everyone was giving me a book to read. Somewhere around here I had a meeting with Cruise/Wagner at Paramount and *they* gave me a book to read. You read the book, figure out exactly how you would turn it into a movie (which usually requires that you "break the story" and write up an outline) and then come back and pitch them your take. And then they say "Not exactly what we were looking for, but thank you" - and you have just wasted a couple of weeks and not been paid a cent!

So after doing a bunch of these things I landed one - a New York Times best seller. An erotic thriller kind of thing that perfectly fit my skill set. The producer was packaging my script with stars and director and, well, things stalled out. That happens. A lot. He eventually sold the project to another production company... meanwhile I was meeting a whole bunch of other people who owned the rights to books and wanted me to pitch my take.

I read a stack of books. I pitched a lot of takes. "Not exactly what we were looking for, but thank you."

And one of the producers had an option on ANGELS & DEMONS.

At that time it wasn't high profile at all. This was pre DaVINCI CODE, and ANGELS & DEMONS was some odd-ball book published by the new age division of Simon & Schuster. It was probably a “worst seller” at the time. The publisher had basically dumped it. This producer who I had never worked with before had read some of my scripts and liked them, and had read the book and optioned it... probably for beer and pizza money I don’t know if anyone else was even interested in the film rights to ANGELS & DEMONS at the time, but I doubt it.

The producer was kind of a character - he had a bunch of actual credits (I don’t know whether I looked him up on IMDB or somewhere else) but was an indie guy who worked out of his pool house when he didn’t have a deal with a studio. We mostly met in restaurants between the lunch and dinner hours when they were mostly empty. He liked to eat. He also loved conspiracy theories... and that’s what attracted him to ANGELS & DEMONS. That, and he knew where he could get a Rome set somewhere like Bulgaria.

This, friends, is how movies actually get made. A producer knows where there is a set that looks like Rome and reads a book that takes place in Rome that he likes because he also believes that everything Art Bell says is gospel.

We had maybe 4 or 5 meetings, once in the poolhouse office and the rest at restaurants - but never Italian restaurants. Maybe he was concerned that Italian restaurants might have some connection to the Vatican or the Illuminati or whatever.

He gave me a very first edition copy of ANGELS AND DEMONS (which I gave back - stupid - probably could have sold it for a fortune on e-bay) and asked if I wanted to adapt it. I read the book, and didn't like it that much (Dan Brown is not a great writer IMHO) - but the big problem for me was that the book had two plots that met at the end. This is great for a book, but not so great for a movie. You only have 2 hours to tell a story, and that’s tough to do when you only have 1 plot. I thought we should either go with one or the other - and I think I suggested killing the Cardinals because the blowing up the Vatican thing seemed silly and maybe out of his budget range. The producer wanted to do the whole damned book. Could I come back with a version that covered everything in the book? I tried - made notes, tried to outline how I might turn the book into a single movie under 120 pages that stressed the conspiracy aspects and only showed the portions of Rome that existed in Bulgaria... and couldn’t make it work. So on our last meeting I gave him back the copy of the New Age Publisher version of the book and told him I didn’t think I could do it. I turned the job down.

I’m pretty sure that I was not the only writer this producer approached... and I think *everyone* turned it down or pitched a versions that wouldn't work. The producer allowed the option to expire... and then DaVINCI CODE came out and became a bestseller and I felt like an idiot. The producer probably did, too.

If I had just written *one* draft of ANGELS & DEMONS, I would have been first writer on and I’m pretty sure my name might be in the "story by" credits.

Or maybe not.

But I didn't turn down a best seller, I turned down a non-seller that I didn't think was well written and I didn't think would make a good movie... I guess we will all find out on Friday whether they cracked it or not. But if you want to imagine me telling Ron Howard that I simply refuse to write this script and he can go take a hike, that's okay by me.

- Bill
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