Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why don't I like old westerns?

I've never been much of a fan of Westerns. I grew to appreciate The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Magnificent Seven, but I never really voluntarily watch the spaghetti westerns. I was bored by what little I watched of Lonesome Dove and every time The Beefcake tries to make me watch an old John Wayne western I fall asleep. Don't tell him I said that though.

The Quick and the Dead wasn't bad, which is why for a while I thought maybe it was the fact that there is no real place for a woman in most westerns.

But no, I recently saw The Good, The Bad and The Weird and fucking loved it, and there's pretty much no women in that movie at all. I also enjoyed the remake of 3:10 to Yuma very much.

I'm looking forward to True Grit in a big way, and good lord I am excited about Cowboys and Aliens. And because I'm sane I love Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

So why don't I like the old Westerns? It's not that they're old, because I adore Kurosawa films. Maybe they're a little slow? Maybe they seem uncomfortably sandy? I don't know. It's a mystery.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Star Struck

I cannot dance. Actually, that's not entirely true. I can do the club dance, the bump and grind and whatnot. I used to go dancing all the time in college. But I can't actually dance.

For a year I had a roommate who was a dance major - tiny little thing who bounded around like she was on springs. One time while imitating her I fell and busted my ass, because that's what I do. My mom always told me that once I grew into my limbs I'd stop bumping into things but that did not happen. I am not coordinated. In eighth grade it took me two days to learn how to click my heels to play an orphan in our school production of Oliver! Two days. On the upside, I can still do it.

I can move to the music, but I cannot do anything with any kind of rules, is my point.

So when I watch So You Think You Can Dance it is with nothing but admiration. I am baffled by what those people can do, often moved, and ever since a friend showed me years ago that routine with the ping pong table I've never missed an episode.

My very favorite dancer on that show is Mark. Oddly enough, this is my favorite of his routines on the show:

He's ethereal and masculine, sexy and quirky all at the same time. I am always thrilled when he makes an appearance on the show.

So today at Trader Joe's I made eye contact with this really good looking, tall guy in the aisle next to me and suddenly realized it was Mark shopping for groceries with a woman I assume is his mom.

Now I have had conversations with celebrities before. Sometimes brief, sometimes longer. I was not nervous even a little bit when I met Amber Benson, Danny Strong or Katee Sakhoff, and I carried on lengthy conversations with Jane Espenson on two occasions. There have been others - when I talked to them I was always fine because I know exactly what to say to those people. I know what to ask them or what kind of clever stories to tell. I have no idea what one says to a dancer other than OMG YOU'RE AWESOME. Plus I looked terrible. No makeup. I threw on sweat pants and a work-out T-shirt, thinking "Who am I going to see at Trader Joe's on a Sunday afternoon?" Who indeed.

Yes I know he's gay. That's completely irrelevant. And for the record he's so cute and very tall. It always surprises me how much taller celebrities are in person. Except Danny Strong and Katte Sakhoff - They're really short.

In LA it is an unspoken rule that you don't bother the celebrities. You can say you like them, but don't pester them, particularly when they're out buying bread with mom. I'm not one to break the rules.

So after pondering for like five minutes my plan of action, I waited until he turned in my direction, then said in my cute little girl voice the following statement:

"You're my favorite."

He smiled all huge and thanked me, and I immediately turned around and put all my attention into bagging my groceries to hide my nervous red face and shaking hands.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm thankful for the written word.

Okay now that that's established, how many pages can you get written on this extra day off?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving writing

Hope you guys have a happy Thanksgiving! I have a whole week off, so I'm cleaning, running errands, picking people up from the airport, doing laundry, and at some point every day, writing.

I got to the final scene of my vomit draft and had no idea how to end it - big speech? Heroic sacrifice? Humorous prat fall? - so I decided to go back to page one and fill in my missing scenes so I'd have a better idea of what my characters would do when they got here. That means it's time to write the less interesting scenes.

Today I had to fill in a scene where a coworker convinces my protagonist to stop by a taco stand to pass on information to the owner of said taco stand. And what do you know, in the very next scene I'd already had her eating tacos. Complete coincidence, unless you take into account how much I love tacos.

Tomorrow I'm cooking a turkey for the first time. Wish me luck.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Things I've been thinking about TV shows

I love The Walking Dead, but that really shouldn't surprise anybody. They started off embracing tired stereotypes and have since gradually opened them up. At first it looked like every episode would be all stereotype all the time, but especially this last episode where the Cholos turned out to be running a clinic.

Along those same lines, I was overwhelmed with joy at the zombie episode of Community. I love ABBA. I love zombies. I love Community. I'm not sure how they got inside my brain, but I like it.

BBC's Luther is interesting as hell. The choices they've made on that show are so unexpected I feel surprised with every episode. It's not often you get surprised by TV anymore, especially cop shows.

Until Doctor Who comes back, Stargate Universe has become the show I look forward to the most during the week. The characters make some seriously tough choices, and I am always pleasantly surprised at where the show goes thematically. It is miles better than its predecessors, including the movie.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Amazon Studios deal

The other day while I was eating waffles with friends the topic naturally turned to the Amazon deal. By now, you're no doubt heard about it: You upload your screenplay to the site, people tinker with it all they want, you can't send it to anyone else for 18 months, and in the end you might maybe get paid if you can get past all the legalese and someone decides to make whatever the crowd produces.

Know who has time to edit someone else's screenplay for free online? People who don't have good projects of their own they'd rather be revising. This isn't like Triggerstreet or Zoetrope where people are giving notes - this is a situation where people who have no idea what they're doing can fuck with your script in a relatively public forum. I was going to login and see what kind of scripts have already been uploaded, but there's no way in hell I'm signing onto that contract even as a casual reader. There are entirely too many loopholes.

It's a new method of doing business, so who knows, maybe it will payoff in the long run. I am not going to be the guinea pig.

Personally, I think it's a despicable attempt - one that has already seen a lot of success, sadly - at seducing desperate writers with promises of a back way into the business. But don't take my word for it.

Craig Mazin thinks it's a bad idea.

John August thinks it's a bad idea. What's funny is how Amazon actually links to his blog.

Drew McWeeny thinks it's a bad idea.

Michelle Lipton thinks it's a bad idea.

Hal Croasmun thinks it's a flawed idea.

Then there's this parody video, which is just awesome.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making a scene stronger

Today the kids were all working on group projects or taking a state-mandated standardized test so I was just sitting at my desk all day. At one point I popped open Movie Magic and cranked out three pages, so I finally made it to page 50.

As I wrote I made sort of a mental note of my process and I thought it was kind of interesting.

Years ago while I was working on Not Dead Yet I had a scene where my protagonist dispatched a bunch of zombies in a totally badass way. Someone read it and gave me a note that changed the way I write. Instead of having her be a badass who defeats all her enemies, why not back her into a corner and make us fear for her life?

From that point on, I constantly run through my options when I write a scene, always thinking about the way I can put my character in the most danger and up against the most conflict.

So today's scene revolved around a woman who breaks out of her hospital room by knocking out the cop guarding her. She takes his shirt. She ends up outside in the parking lot, kidnapping a guy and stealing his car. While she's in the parking lot she talks to her kidnapping victim for a minute to get some needed information before she can leave - nevermind why. That's the set up.

As she stands there, a security guard making his rounds sees her from a distance so she hurries her kidnap victim into his car before the guard starts to wonder why she's there.

Then I thought, if it's a security guard, why not make it a guard who knows who she is when he spots her? Then I decided to make the guard hustle, so she grabs the kidnapping victim and shoves him in the car.

Then I thought, if it's a security guard who's after her, why not make it the cop she knocked out upstairs? That means he woke up, realized she stole his shirt and is pretty pissed off. We have a shirtless cop hauling ass through the parking lot to get this bitch.

Now it's personal. She hates this cop. She wants to kill him. She's not running away. Much better than a security guard out on his rounds casually spotting her in the distance.

I ran through all of this in probably less than a minute, constantly figuring out how I can up the stakes of the scene until I had a configuration that works. I do this with just about every scene, and every time I do it I get a little bit better and faster.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How I write my vomit draft

I'm toying around with titles. What do you guys think of this one? Nice Girls Don't Kill.

I suck at titles.

One thing I am really good at producing is a true vomit draft. I tend to write with wild abandon, no real editing and no looking back. Sometimes at the beginning I edit a little because I'm still finding my characters, and often I'm unsatisfied with the day's pages because I don't know who these people are yet. But now that I'm in the middle of it everybody knows who they are.

So now I write my pages with very little correction. I even change major plot details and do not go back and change previous pages. For example, I changed my protagonist's profession but haven't gone back to fix the pages that introduced her workplace. I made a note on my outline and kept going. Sometimes I'll shoot a gun and realize I never put it in anybody's hand, so I make a note on the outline and keep going.

Sometimes I'll come across a scene I don't feel like writing - usually some B story stuff that I haven't figured out - so I'll jot down a note about what goes there, highlight it in yellow, and keep going. Sometimes I'll forget a character's name who we haven't seen in a while so I'll just write THIS GUY'S NAME WHATEVER IT IS and star it, and keep going. When I'm writing I try not to stop or go back for anything.

If you were to read my first finished draft it would make no sense at all.

I go back for the second pass, filling in the highlighted story gaps and fixing all the continuity errors I noted on the outline. It's not until my third pass that I start making real changes to the story. I think I do this because I tend to go in order, always pushing forward, so if I'm going to work on something I'd rather start from page one and shoot through it than jump around and work out of order.

So this is my method. What's yours?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Interview with Michael Patrick Sullivan, guy who writes

Most likely you have not seen anything Michael Patrick Sullivan has written - Yet. Michael is one of those guys that's about two inches from a professional writing career in television, and it's a place he's been sort of destined for all his life. This past year a short film Michael wrote called Mastermind premiered at Comic Con, and interest in his work has been picking up ever since.

Michael has a wall of DVDs of nothing but TV shows. A wall. He's seen more television shows than I've heard of, and he knows the ins and outs of all of them.

What never ceases to amaze me about Michael is his productivity. He writes like gangbusters, and almost always good stuff. Michael is very private, but I managed to pry some information from him about his process, because I think one of the biggest problems writers often have is sitting your ass down in the chair and writing. Michael has that problem conquered.

EB: What's your daily writing schedule like?

MPS: I don't really have a daily schedule in the conventional sense. Some days I write, some days I don't. However, every day I intend to. Some days turn into research days.
I get big chunks done on the weekends. Start early and stay up late. I've had Saturday nights where I go out, so Saturday night stuff, come home at 3AM and then write until 6 or 7.

On average, I get home from work, I wind down, get caught up on the goings on of the internet and then just start writing. If no one or nothing stops me, I'll just keep going until either I get tired or I get to a logical stopping point like the end of an act. I always stop at the end of an act, even if it only took a page to get there. The end of an act is time to review everything up that point.

Do you write vomit drafts or edit as you go?

I don't really vomit draft. I may call it a vomit draft, but from what I get from talking to other writers about their vomit draft, mine is more like a dry heaving draft. I don't just power though stuff, let the plot holes fall where they may and then clean it up on the next pass. To me, it ultimately feels like more work. It's like lifting the same load twice because I didn't just put it where it goes the first time.

I thoroughly edit as I go. Everything from page one to whatever page I'm on is in a constant state of review. As much as what goes before informs what comes after, I also do it the other way. I will immediately go back and rewrite whatever I need to to support a late stage idea.

How do you decide which project to work on next?

The decision is made in two stages. First, as a TV writer I'm always conscious (or trying to be conscious) of what the popular specs are and what the popular spec might be in the near future and evaluating the current array of specs I have. Which ones are getting too old? Which ones are maybe not as good as I used to think they are?

So if I need a spec, that's probably what it's going to be. I've already decided that as soon I finish the pilot I'm currently writing, I'll get into a new spec.

Otherwise, I go with whatever it is I can't not write. And there's never a tie. There's always one thing that's clearly ahead of the rest.

When do you decide to let a project go?

When I'm not motivated enough to even continue writing. I'm not one of those people who has to make themselves sit down to write. Even if I hit a stumbling block, if I like the idea enough, I will slave to get past that obstacle and move on with the story.

If I get up to any point where things just aren't working and I don't feel a push to make it work, then I'm just not into it enough, and if I'm not into it, I certainly can't expect anyone else to, so why bother continuing.

If I'm spending too much time brainstorming new ideas or working out the next project beyond just a basic concept, then it's time to just drop the current project and move on.

It usually means that once I got to know my characters, I didn't like them as much as when I first met them.

What do you feel is the key to cranking out so many good scripts?

Writing has to be a priority. We have enough things in our lives that get in the way of writing, so I try to keep those things to as much of a minimum as possible. For instance, I'm not a big video gamer at all, largely because I don't want to spend that time not writing. I just got Call of Duty: Black Ops and in four days, I've played to for about two hours total. I also just got the new Greg Rucka novel and I've barely gotten into it because it's time I feel like I should be working on my pilot.

There's usually a small window after I finish a draft where I feel like I can do any recreational thing I want and not feel like I'm impacting my productivity.

Also, whenever I'm not physically writing, I'm still writing. In the car, at work, when I get in bed, basically anytime I can concentrate on it, I try to do so. Not always successful, but I try. I'm outlining before I write the fairly loose outline and I'm basically prescripting in my head as much as possible before any time I sit down to write the script.

I've cut out things that were taking up too much time as well. I used to do some freelance entertainment journalism, but it started absorbing too much time. They were paying gigs, but they were too much of a drag on what I considered to be more important writing.

Also, I've known more than a few writers who just don't keep writing. They've got a couple of good a specs and a pilot and they're in no hurry to increase their inventory. I look at that in two ways. You're not really a writer if you can switch it off like that. You might be good at it, but if it's not in your blood, then I just don't understand why you do it all.  I think Throw Momma From The Train said it best. "A writer writes, always." Secondly, the more material you've got (especially original) the more chances you make for yourself.

I recently went into a pitch with six ideas ready to roll. And after some general chat with the execs about what they're looking for, what direction the network is looking at and that sort of thing, I self edited down to two ideas. If I'd gone in with just one or two and they were the wrong one or two, I'd have been dead before I even got started. The same holds true for written material. It give you a greater ability to tailor you're submitted samples to whatever it is you're submitting to.

Lastly, and this is probably not so duplicable because when I tell people this part, they find it hard to - I dunno - understand, accept, believe, whatever. Some people put on music when they write (which BTW, The Social Network soundtrack is really good for that), but I put on the TV while I write. So a lot of time lost by other people just watching stuff, I regain a lot of.

It's also a good litmus test. If I stop writing while the TV's on it either means what I'm watching is really, really good or what I'm writing isn't good enough.

Monday, November 15, 2010


I have 18 research papers to grade before I go to sleep tonight because I decided to staple Poe inspired student artwork to the wall of my classroom today instead of doing grades. I have no time to post an entry or write any pages. I did not get to page 50 this weekend like I'd hoped because I was dealing with rage issues, so I am working past a big old fail at the moment.

In the meantime, I really like this poster:

Friday, November 12, 2010

A good writing day

I made a deal with myself this week. I had 30 pages, and knowing I would be off Thursday I did some calculations and determined that I could get to page 50 by Sunday night if I spread my writing out the right way. That relied on two pages Wednesday night and six pages Thursday. Today I have to write two pages, and Saturday and Sunday I have to write five pages each day. Completely doable when you break it down to short-term goals.

I met my Wednesday night goal, and then Thursday I just had a terrific writing day. I wrote my six pages, but they were really great pages. I was in a good mood all night.

When I started this script I had a hard time pushing through because the first 21 pages were garbage. I decided to trust myself and my outline and keep going, knowing that eventually I'd figure out how to break through and write the good stuff. Then page 22 was pretty good. I told the scene to a couple of friends. They chuckled, so I knew I must have been getting somewhere.

So yesterday my objective was to write a date scene between my male and female leads. This script is more romantic comedy than anything I've ever written, so this is the first real date scene I've ever written. In my outline I just wrote that they were on a date, envisioning it in a restaurant like a normal date, but when I started writing I thought about how boring a restaurant is for a date, so I moved it to a more interesting location.

As my characters talked and played a game, my guy catches my girl in a lie and gets pissed. In order to get out of it, she tells a bit of emotional truth embedded in a bigger lie, which moves him to kiss her.

But as I wrote her little speech I started to question why this was so true for her. She talks about wanting to help people, but her job isn't helping people at all. I just chose that job because it was something with which I was familiar, and I felt like she could be invisible working there. But after she gave that big speech I realize that was not the place she should be working, so I envisioned her changing to a job that reflects the theme of the story better.

Then as I made him touch her hands to show her how to play the game, I saw the cliched scene I was creating, and suddenly made him do something unexpected.

So after all that, I was just so pleased with myself. Through careful planning, thinking, and pushing myself, I managed to meet my goals, write solid pages and improve the script as a whole.

Plus if I knew this male character I created, I'd totally hook him up with one of my friends. He is AWESOME.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dog gender

Here's a quick question for you guys.


In I Am Legend, Robert Neville has a dog named Sam. Part way through the film we learn that Sam is short for Samantha. It completely changes how we perceive the dog at that moment. I, for one, cried harder at her death, and I'm not the only one.

Why? Why does it make such a difference that the dog is a girl?

[edited to add: This is more of a philosophical question than one looking for a finite answer.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My essay on how to make it in this town even though I haven't made it yet in this town

Last week I spent a day in a writing workshop, so basically my school paid for me to sit and write all day. Oh the horror!

During our half hour freewrite I finally tackled a page in my current script that's been giving me fits, but first we were required to write an essay. This is that essay:

One time at the gym I wanted to use a stationary bike, but there was a screenplay resting on it. This is Los Angeles so that’s not an uncommon occurrence.

I asked the guy on the next bike over if it was his and he said “Oh! Do you want to read it?”

“No I just wanted to use the bike,” I said. His face drooped. For one shining moment, he thought I was a producer and this was his big break. He must be new here.

Ask around at your next gathering in this town, and every second or third person will tell you all about the genius idea they’ve been concocting. “Okay, so there’s this chick and she’s like, morbidly obese, right? So this guy hates fatties, like Bob from The Biggest Loser or something, and he kidnaps this woman and makes her eat right and work out or he’ll kill her. Right? I’m gonna make a million dollars on this idea, man.”

That’s obviously a stupid idea. Except that a couple of days ago Dead Weight, a story about a morbidly obese woman who is kidnapped and threatened with deadly consequences if she doesn’t lose weight, sold to a production company called Vesuvio Entertainment. A year from now you may be able to buy this fine film on DVD, or even see it in the theater.

This might make a normal person think selling a screenplay is easy. If that guy can sell such a dumb story then so can I! I mean, I can sell a totally better one! So you buy the books on screenwriting, you read all the blogs and the boards and go to the Robert McKee workshops and watch Adaptation four or five times, then you start typing.

Oh man, this is the best thing anyone ever has written! Look out, Dead Weight, here comes Naked Vampire Assassins from Mars! It’s going to make me rich!

Congratulations, you have just started your lifetime journey of frustration and self-doubt. Today you think you’re better than sliced provolone, but I promise you that if you’re any good at all, by tomorrow you’ll think you are worse than Bubble Yum under my 3 ½ inch heel. Thanks for putting that there, by the way.

Every year new writers show up in town with brand spanking shiny new scripts, proudly displaying their WGA registration numbers to avoid all the hungry old desperate writers from stealing their amazing one-of-a-kind ideas that we haven’t heard since at least last week. These writers know they’ve got what it takes and all they need is to get this thing in the right pair of hands. If only I can get an agent, they tell themselves, I will be a millionaire.

Look at Diablo Cody. She was a stripper and she won an academy award for her first screenplay! If she can do it, so can I!

Okay, genius. Name me one other screenwriter who’s done that in the last 20 years. Diablo Cody is a freak in this world. She is proof that it can be done, but you should know that it most likely will not happen to you.

If only I knew the right people! If I knew Speilberg then I’d be a famous screenwriter!

So first of all, name some famous screenwriters.

Wait. Name some famous screenwriters who aren’t also directors or Diablo Cody.

Anyway, there IS a who-you-know element to this town. Scripts get passed from hand to hand until suddenly the right person reads it, calls you up and bob’s your uncle, you’ve got a job. Then, of course, you have to apply for the next job all over again, but that’s a story for another time.

But even if you know all the best people you still aren’t guaranteed a spot in the great Hollywood tour bus. There was a  guy on Done Deal a while back whose wife was an agent - nice guy all in all, really passionate - who talked about how successful he was going to be now that he had all these deals going around town thanks to her help. Some time later that guy has completely vanished, most likely because, well, after you tell everyone how successful you‘re about to be with all your big deals, it‘s a bit embarrassing to show up and admit you‘re not rich and famous yet. And his wife is an agent at one of the big three, for heaven’s sake. Knowing somebody in high places certainly doesn’t hurt, but it can’t take the place of-

-Well, of what, exactly? What am I getting at? If it’s not who you know, and it’s not your brilliant idea, and it’s not your unending enthusiasm, what is the answer? How do you make a career in Hollywood?

Some say perseverance. Some say skill. Some say luck. Some say to show a little cleavage.

So what do I say?

How the hell do I know? I’m not there either, but damn if I don’t I keep trying.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Dialogue adjustment

I watched Death Proof this weekend, and felt the same way a lot of people did. I also felt the same way I did about Inkglorious Basterrrrrrdz. SHUT THE FUCK UP. I ended up fast forwarding through most of the first half. The second half was awesome, but I didn't need to hear so many people talking about so much shit I don't care about before I got there. That whole opening could have been trimmed to a couple of scenes that would have had the same effect.

I know there are people who love that stuff, and everybody knows that one reason Tarantino makes his characters talk so much is because he's really good at dialogue. I'm all for good dialogue, but I'm more for efficiency in dialogue.

I am constantly paranoid that my scripts are too talky. Every time I write a long dialogue sequence I immediately hate it because I'm convinced that even if it's terrific dialogue, it could be better with action.

Whenever I write first drafts I write page after page after page of long, actionless dialogue sequences. The first thing I do on rewrite is cut the shit out of them. I do that by concentrating on three things: Subtext, action and conflict.

I had a bit where my male lead has just started dating the female lead. They work together, and he has just given her a dangerous job to do over the phone.

Scrippets is being whorish so the format's off, but here's what I originally had:

Hey Lana?


Would it be weird if I said I liked you?

Yeah. But you can say it anyway.

I do.

I like you too.

Sucks, right? Very on-the-nose, very dull. A little too cutesy.

So I thought about how I can use subtext instead of being so obvious. She's going to do a dangerous job, so he would be worried. Then I thought about actions to show that she likes him too. Then I thought about how I can have a tiny suggestion of conflict between them while still allowing their relationship to move forward. And I can do it with way less.

So here is the revised version:

Hey, Lana? Come back alive.

Hey, I'm a professional.

She hangs up, tries to stop the smile creeping across her face.

Better, I think. Doing less with more.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Oh what the hell, I'll answer more questions

My friend Vanilla Chunk (he says that's not his real name, but I have doubts) gave his own answers to the questions JC asked last week, and there's some good stuff in there. Then Vanilla followed up with questions of his own. So what the hell, I like answering questions. The rest of this week will be devoted to posts on technique, but I wanted to answer this last set of questions first so I can practice for when I'm in fancy writing magazines talking about my big sale.

Here they are:

VC: You came from the South. How did your Southern childhood affect your writing?

Just yesterday I called Sprint and got a woman who immediately announced that she was in Charlotte. I happily told her I am from North Carolina also, and this started a conversation where while searching for my information she asked about the weather in LA, when was the last time I’d been home, what kind of dog I had barking in the background, how excited my family would be to see me at Christmas, etc. We’re like that down South. We chat. No reason to be all business when you can be friendly and learn something from each other. You don’t get that when you call other places, and it’s one of the things I miss the most about home. Strangers here sort of huff uncomfortably if I get too personal.

I think this means two major things: We don’t like silences so we fill it with chatter, which is one reason I talk so damn much, and that we’re comfortable expressing ourselves honestly but with tact. Not everybody from the South is like this, but I think there is a consistency with Southern women at least, that we speak our minds. Politely. Often with our hands on our hips.

So how has this affected my writing? Confidence, maybe. I’m not afraid to be honest. An ear for dialogue I guess. I like to write quirky characters who all have a sort of Southern bellesque reaction to uncomfortable situations. One of the problems I’ve had is that sometimes it’s tough for me to write characters who DON’T speak their minds. It also gets me into trouble on a personal level when I point out something people wanted to keep quiet. People always say "Emily!" in this horrified voice when I had no idea that what I said was inappropriate.

VC: What is the worst advice you've ever received about screenwriting? (This reveals more about you than the best advice you've gotten.)

Now THAT is an interesting question, and it had me thinking for a while. I’ve gotten a lot of bad advice, but I think I have  a winner.

I don’t even know how many people have told me not to write female protagonists for my action scripts. Nobody wants to watch an action film with a female lead. Sure, Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley were cool, but that was a long time ago and everybody knows women just can’t be believable as action stars these days. Then when Angelina Jolie came along everybody said, oh well, that’s Angelina. She’s an exception. If you can’t get her your movie is useless. And yet after she did it again in Salt, it seemed like everybody and their mom cranked out an action script with a female lead. Most of them are terrible, which is a post for another time, but suddenly the female action lead is trendy.

For the record, the only people who ever told me not to write female leads were other aspiring writers. I’ve never heard that from any producers or agents or anyone else with a career in the Industry. Remember that one time in 2007 when Jeff Robinov decided Warner Brothers would no longer make films with female protagonists? Guess who’s distributing Sucker Punch.

VC: Is there a genre or subject that just bugs the fuck out of you, one that'd make you hesitate to take a check? (For me: vampires. Hobbits and vampires.)

I’m not the biggest fan of formulaic romantic comedies, but what really annoys me is that boring, pretentious artsy shit that hits me over the head with the point, which is always something really trite like “Racism is bad” or “Child abuse sucks”. I’d rather watch The Rock shoot the shit out of some bitches. But I have a feeling nobody will ever try to make me write that artsy shit. If it doesn't have explosions and fight scenes, why in the world would you come to me?

VC: What is the most important thing you know you should be doing for your career, but you still don't do it? (We're all asking ourselves that).

There are a lot of things I should be doing. I should be going to more stuff for one thing. Just last week I was supposed to go see four movies and I missed every single one of them. Part of the problem is that when you think about going to something it sounds so cool, but when the time comes to go and you realize you'll get 4 hours of sleep, it's tough to drag yourself out. I spent the entire weekend in my house and when I had the opportunity to go somewhere I just stayed on the couch because I was afraid of being sleepy at work today. I'm never going to meet people that way.

But the biggest one is simply writing more. When I’m on vacation I write all the time. I read all the time. But when I’m working I tend to only write one or maybe two days a week. My scripts, while good overall, aren’t blowing anybody away over at the management firm. The only way I’m going to land jobs is by writing something spectacular. In order to do that, I need to write faster, finish each script so that if that script doesn’t blow anybody away I can get to the next one. I’m two ideas ahead of what I’m writing right now. I want to get to those ideas, but I’m having trouble getting up the energy to get the fuck to it.

Actually, thinking about this has made me come up with a new plan. Starting today, one page a day during the week and five pages a day Saturday and Sunday. That gives me 15 pages a week, which is totally doable. At the moment I'm averaging 8 pages a week, and that's just not going to cut it.
That said, I’m going to stop writing this and start writing the script. Right now.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Interview with me, part the only

I REALLY enjoy this picture.

So earlier this week, "JC," who may or may not be Jesus, asked some questions in the comments. These questions were meant for Bill Martell, but this is my blog so I'm gonna field JC's questions myself whether he likes it or not. So here you go, JC, just for you:

Q.1 What does it mean when a Reader tells me that the movie THE MATRIX is not a realistic or a respectful sci-fi movie?

It means your reader is jealous of the Wachowski brothers and probably sits in his basement and watches Primer on an endless loop.

Q.2 How come it's not a good idea to call myself 'action screenwriter' on my business card. When all I write is action scripts on the spec level.

You’re going to hear differing opinions on this. I know people - Julie Gray specifically has talked about this - who believe you should not put “writer” on your cards because it marks you as a novice.  I get that thinking. She’s certainly not alone in this perspective.

Personally I put “writer” on my cards because long ago when I’d go to a party I’d come home with thirty thousand cards and have no idea why I’d collected them. Which ones were writers? Which ones producers? Which ones were trying to get into my pants? That’s why I have it on my card - so at least everybody knows what the card is for. But I also have awesome cards. It’s your call, really. I wouldn’t put “action” on there, though. Just sounds a little too specific.

Q3. When an aspiring screenwriter turns 70+ years old and hasn't sold a script, what should that person do next? Are most ready to face this question?

Clearly that person should hunt mummies with Bruce Campbell. It's really all that's left at that point.

Q4. A Reader from a forum recently called himself an expert on screenplay grammar, what does that mean? And he will charge $4000.00 to re-format a script so it reads like "Alien". Is this something an aspiring screenwriter should consider?

If you want someone to edit your script - which you should only do if you feel like your English grammar is total crap - you should look at Roland Stroud. He IS an expert and charges a reasonable fee. Anyone charging $4,000 for anything other than a car or a Coach purse should be punched in the face.

Q5. Why do most Readers hate strange script hybrids? Then why did SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN sell for big bucks? And why is it that most top selling graphic novels are hybrids and being optioned daily?

Is this all one reader or are these different readers you’re talking about here? I don’t think most readers hate script hybrids, but I do think readers don’t like scripts that don’t know what they are. The danger with an odd hybrid is that often you’ll have so many different elements slapped together in a screenplay the tone lacks consistency. I read a script a few months ago that started out as a drama about a little girl’s sad childhood, then suddenly became a horror story, then a love story. I got tired from constantly changing the rules of the story in my head. That kind of thing is very difficult to pull off and a new writer should definitely be cautious. Try something a little easier first.

Q5. Lately I noticed most screenplay bloggers are repeating themselves. Are you noticing this? Do you read at least 10 blogs per day? Or maybe you read 20 per day to stay on top of the game?

I once asked Bill Martell how he manages to constantly write new stuff and he said he was kind of surprised himself at how much more he always had to say. And here you are asking questions, after all, so clearly there are still unexplored topics out there. But for most bloggers, they lose interest after a while. A blog takes some effort to maintain and some days coming up with new material is really tough. Try it some time. As for reading, I read all the ones on my sidebar before I start writing so I get some influence to jumpstart my work. I also read them every morning so I can procrastinate on having to talk to teenagers.

Q6.Could you provide me with some examples of complicated and complex screenplays?

Like what?  Give me an example.

Q7. Would you say the chase scene in "Seven" is well written?

I’d say the everything scene in Seven is well written. Andrew Kevin Walker wrote one hell of a script. Know what else is a great chase scene? The one in We Own the Night. I think it's my favorite of all time.

Q8. Do you know where I can find a copy of the script 'ENTER THE DRAGON' or 'THE OCTAGON(CHUCK NORRIS) or GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK(CHUCK NORRIS) No one so far can locate them?

That’s because that first one’s in Chinese, and those last two were written on the clean side of a used napkin.*

Q9. Have you ever played the video game MAFIA 1 and MAFIA 2? Do you think in the year 2100+ or so, there will more video game writers than screenwriters?

In the year 2100, we will be living inside the video games.

Q10. Can someone learn to write dialogues like Woody Allen or Tarantino or Guy Ritchie. What I'm asking is this - if you read the lyrics of top rappers and songwriters, they tend to have ton of energy and fire - can this be taught?

All you have to do is be quirky. If you want to sound like Woody Allen, use a lot of words. If you want to sound like Tarantino, use a lot of words, but half of them have to be n____ or motherfucker. If you want to sound like Guy Ritchie, be British and cool and shoot at people who are shooting at other people who meant to be shooting at you but end up shooting themselves by accident.

Q11. How come UNK is not posting lately?

Unknown Screenwriter finally snapped, killed a man in Reno for pissing all over screenplay structure, and went on the lamb.**

*I made this up. Enter The Dragon is available at Script Shack.
** I also made this up. I would guess that Unk no longer has the emotional energy to deal with us, but I have no idea what’s really going on. He won’t answer his door when I bang on it.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Interview with Bill Martell, part three

Here's part three of my interview with Bill Martell. Checkout parts One and Two.

What screenplay(s) do you wish you’d written?

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, BODY HEAT, THE LAST OF SHEILA, 48 HOURS, a whole bunch of others. There are scripts that I read and realize I will never write that well. And, of course, many others that I read and wonder why the heck someone bought it. When I was starting out I read a lot of Lawrence Kasdan and Walter Hill and Paul Schrader scripts - those guys wrote my favorite movies, so I studied their screenplays. 

Why haven’t you written a book about your experiences yet? You have some ridiculously good stories.

I have a blog where I often tell some stories - often disguised so that I can keep working in this town. That ends up being the real problem - I can’t put a story about some idiot producer in print and still be on his list of writers he may want to hire on some future project. You may think - well, that would be a very good reason for insulting that producer, he will never hire you again! But Hollywood is a small world and you don’t want to burn your bridges in front of you. I already do way too much of that. At a screenwriting conference I was hanging out with some of the other panelists and told a story about a development guy for an Oscar nominated producer who gave crazy notes, and a couple of the writers (both who have had big hit films) guessed who I was talking about because they have dealt with that same devo on projects. I didn’t even have to say the name of the company and they figured it out!  If that story were in print, they’d never read another one of my scripts again... and even with the crazy notes, that producer was nominated for an Oscar!  There are many crazy people in this business - you don’t want to offend them because then you are closing doors instead of opening them.

When I tell stories on my blog, I disguise names and change enough stuff so that I hope I can still work in this town.  Recently I did a blog entry that included a friend of mine in a “supporting role” in the story, and he later talked to me about the blog entry and mentioned how similar the story was to that thing that had happened to us on that project... not recognizing that it *was* that project. When I told him, it all came together and he recognized “his character” in the blog entry and suddenly it was obvious to him. But I thought it was funny that he didn’t recognize himself before I said anything, when there were things he actually did and said in the entry. I just hope the producers who might hire me have the same problems not recognizing themselves!

But there are plenty of stories I can not tell on my blog, so I have a “retirement plan” where I will tell fictionalized versions of those stories (so I don’t get sued) in a series of mystery novels about Mitch Robertson, Hollywood Screenwriter. I’m doing some short stories about the character in whatever spare time I have now. The first novel will be about one of my films that went really really wrong when the director blew part of the cast money on cocaine - so the film is not just completely on crack, but half of the characters from the story are missing! In a fiction form I can get into details that would probably get me sued... and Mitch can hook up with the ultra-hot leading lady - who I wish I could have hooked up with (but I am a screenwriter in the real world, not the fictional one). It will be fun to use all of the stories I *can’t* tell in these books.  

Why do you think it is that a guy with your experience and regular paycheck doesn’t have representation?

If I knew the answer to that I would fix it. You have to ask agents and managers that question, because I don’t know the answer. Several years ago I was at a Sherwood Oaks Experimental College “Meet The Agents” event, and the guy who wrote ANACONDA was there, also looking for representation. Now, you might think that’s a cheesy movie, but it was a huge hit for Columbia and turned J-Lo from a singer to a movie star. And he couldn’t get an agent! I don’t know if he’s represented now, but he just sold a spec for big money... through his production company. Anyway, at that event I asked an agent at MTA (do they still exist) why I was having trouble getting an agent to *read* something when (that year) I had three films in production. She told me if I had three films in production I didn’t need an agent... and went on to the next question and never talked to me after the event. What’s up with that?

I think a big part of the reason is that agents (and managers) like to discover new talent, or steal talent from the competition... but I am neither of those. I am a freak. My friend Harry Connolly (whose excellent books CHILD OF FIRE and GAME OF CAGES can be found in a book store near you) had a great link on his blog a few days ago to a fiction writer who had broken in without an agent, had a bunch of books come out through a major publisher, but when the economy went south and the publisher began publishing fewer books she found herself with no publisher and no agent... and no one wanted her. None of her books had been bestsellers, so she wasn’t that hot writer everyone wants to sign, just a typical working writer. And I think that typical working writer things is kind of a no man’s land in fiction and screenplays. An unsold writer has a better chance of being signed by an agent than I do, because they may become a hot writer. Even though I could also become a hot writer - I have all kinds of nice big high concept tentpole scripts - my track record so far is just a bunch of cruddy MOWs and cable flicks. An agent or manager might think that is the best I can do... and see 10% of a bunch of small projects as *not* that big score spec sale deal. But I sell a script or land an assignment every year - which is better than the average WGA writer who works every other year - and I’ve have 19 of those suckers hit the screen in the 20 years since I quit the day job. It’s kind of a tortoise and the hare thing - I’m the tortoise and agents seem to be looking for hares. 

I’m sure much of it is also my fault - I could probably give a manager 10% of the fee from my current assignment as a way to open the door, but *I* landed that assignment myself. I want an agent or manager who do something that I am not doing for their 10%. I also do not ask friends for referrals ever - and I have some pretty famous screenwriter friends. I think *my career* is my referral. If some agent or manager can find some other potential client who has been earning a living for the past 20 years writing scripts and has 19 of them on film, they should sign that person too. I feel (and this is my flaw) that I should be able to just walk in to some agency or management company and dump a pile of DVDs on their desk and get signed instantly, based on my work. But it doesn’t seem to work that way.

The possible good news is that I talked to a couple of managers at a recent event and they seemed interested in having a client who is actually getting paid to write scripts when most of their clients are not getting squat. So the bad economy might get me representation. 

How do you find so many jobs without a manager or agent?

Like Blanche Dubois, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” My career depends on someone reading one of my scripts and liking it enough to pass it up to their best connection. A few years ago I had a new spec script, and gave it to a couple of friends to read and give me some notes on. One of my friends never read the script, he left it on the coffee table of his apartment. His roommate, in some garage band, started reading the script and liked it. He took it with him to some gig in some crappy club, and ended up giving it to some other member of his band when he was finished with it. That script got passed from band to band all over Los Angeles, and then I got a call from some band’s manager who read the script and really liked it and had a connection with a big company that has made about 5 films that opened at #1, and you have probably seen all 5. The band manager asked if he could pass it to his connection at the company. Um, why not? Though the company did not buy it, they had a meeting with me. And that is usually how my scripts get places - people pass them around. 

The other way I get gigs is kind of passed around scripts in slow motion - someone remembers reading one of my scripts years ago and recommends me. The assignment I just finished happened that way. Over 15 years ago Cannon Films (all if those Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson movies) read something of mine and called me in to meet with an upcoming action star they needed a script for. At the meeting was the star and their attorney and a foreign sales guy and the producer and development people. I pitched some ideas and gave the star something I’d written as a sample (and a possible “back door spec sale” - if the star likes the spec sample, maybe they just buy that instead of having you write a script for them). But Cannon was on its way out and the project crashed and burned before we had a contract. Cut to last year, when that now-retired action star’s attorney calls me - he has remembered me from the meeting and the script I gave them and has a client who needs a writer, can we meet? Absolutely. 

I also do some query letters and stuff like that, but usually it’s someone reading a script and liking it enough to call me in for a meeting. The problem with studio meetings that come this way is that there is no one to close the deal. I can’t exactly call them and push them, and because it is only me - no agent’s list of clients that the producer wants to work with or keep working with - there is no leverage. But I’ve had all kinds of studio meetings that did not result in work, from Tom Cruise’s company when they were at Paramount to the guys who make the Tom Clancy movies - just to cover the T/Cs. Every once in a while something does go through, like the remake thing from the end of 2008/beginning of 2009 or the MGM things I had a few years back... and this top secret remake/reboot 1980s action project with Sony/Columbia I have a meeting on next week. But it is hard to get a big company with a bureaucracy of people who need to be onboard before they hire a writer to say yes when you don’t have your own bureaucracy of an agency behind you. Much easier for me to get a gig or sell a script to a independent producer who may have a DVD output deal with a studio - that’s only a couple of people who have to say yes, and the “leverage” is that the film from the script will make them money.    

I think another way that I continue to be employed as a screenwriter is that I write commercial scripts - I write the kinds of movies that I regularly pay to see. I love action and thriller and horror movies and that’s what I write, and while writing them I imagine that I am sitting in the cinema watching the film - am I bored? Or is this the most kick-ass movie I have ever seen? Also, I often write with budget in mind - I try to come up with the coolest idea I can that won’t break the bank. So a script like CRASH DIVE may seem expensive because it’s submarine warfare, but I knew it could be made on a budget because of the Navy cooperation angle, and the sub interior is a set. Most of the film takes place on that set - not a bunch of scattered locations that would be expensive. And that script had less than 20 speaking roles and every few extras. When you have a script that looks huge, but can be made inexpensively, that is a big plus for producers. They want to get the most bang for their buck, so I try to remember that when writing a script. 

Though, I do have a bunch of *huge* scripts like SHOW OF FORCE (WW3 breaks out when the President and other heads of state are on an aircraft carrier to sign a peace treaty) and PAST LIVES (a 12 year old girl tracks the serial killer who murdered her in her past life through San Francisco) and HARD RETURN (kind of FANTASTIC VOYAGE inside a computer when a virus knocks us back to the stone age) - things that can only be big studio films. I have one on the slate to write next year that is huge fantasy adventure that won’t be cheap to make. 

But usually I focus on things that can be made on a reasonable budget so that if a studio adds an expensive star the film will still be affordable. Though agents and managers may not notice things like that, it is often exactly what producers are looking for. So I might have a script like ALTITUDE (kind of DIE HARD meets SPEED on a plane) that seems huge but is actually inexpensive to make because most of it takes place inside the plane (contained) and can be shot on one of a handful of existing sets. A producer knows that script can be made at a price, but not look like it was made for that price. That script was written 15 years ago, got screwed up by 9/11, but I just did a page 1 rewrite on it for 2010... hopefully someone will buy it!

What do your parents think of your movies?

After 20 years of being a professional screenwriter, I think my parents finally understand that I am not going to be getting a “real job”.  This is a very recent change - I swear, last year at the holidays they were still pushing for me to get something with a regular pay check and 9-5 hours. Like that’s going to happen! 

One of the strange things about this business is that it is easier for me to get another $20k from a producer than get another copy of the film on VHS (or DVD now). They usually just give you one copy... and that’s it. On HARD EVIDENCE I had my lawyer hard-ball them to get a total of 3 copies, and it would have been easier to get money! I probably should have just asked for $50k more, then bought extra VHS copies with it. I had already seen the movie on TV, so when the copies came I mailed one to my mom & dad. A couple of weeks later I was wondering whether a specific line made it into the finished film, popped in the VHS tape and... wholly crap! 

It was common back then to shoot extra R rated footage for the VHS release with TV movies, the famous example was the LONG ISLAND LOLITA movie with Drew Barrymore where after the film aired they shot a bunch of nude scenes with a body-double for the VHS release and Drew got mad because she wanted to do them herself.  Anyway, they shot *a lot* of nude scenes for HARD EVIDENCE. On TV it had “lingerie nudity” - soap opera level stuff - on the VHS the lingerie came off and the scenes really began. I grabbed the phone and called my mom... “You haven’t watched the movie I sent you, yet, did you?” Hoping I could stop them, or at least prepare them. “Yes, Bill, we had all of the relatives over last Friday...” Swell. 

Why do you always apologize for them? The movies, I mean.  Not your parents.

Do I have any choice?  I mean, I’ve seen my own movies, I know they suck. 

Here’s the problem: Even with a movie like HARD EVIDENCE that is mostly what I wrote, the film was directed by a TV movie guy who was just getting the coverage (long shot, close up, medium shot) and not doing anything creative. Oh, and they shot a pile of nudity for the video release so that people who might have seen it on USA Network would still rent the film. So, the film is not exactly PRESUMED INNOCENT or BODY HEAT. It’s kind of blah. Now, if I tell you that this is a great film or even a good one, and you watch it... you will think I have no idea what “good” is. So, I don’t want you to be disappointed in the film or think I have no taste.  I want you to go in knowing that there were *many* challenges getting that script to the screen, and it didn’t turn out exactly as planned.  

Part of this is my website and book and classes.  Say you watch CYBER ZONE and then discover that my out of print book is selling on Amazon for $990... why would *anyone* want to buy a screenwriting book from the guy who wrote CYBER ZONE for $20, let alone $990?  Well, if I tell you upfront that CYBER ZONE is a stupid movie about robot hookers from outer space - that I know the film is not all that good - then you might check out my free Script Tip every day and see that I actually *do* know how to write a good screenplay, and maybe even join the Cult Of Bill that I plan to form someday, which would be kind of like Scientology but with Tom Sellack’s MAGNUM PI moustache instead of space aliens. You should not pay $250 for my out of print book, because I don’t get a cent from that.

One of the accidental features on my blog is my apology for the films of mine that are showing on the U.K.’s Movies4Men channel (kind of the British version of Spike TV) - because they *constantly* show my movies. There was a week where I had 9 movies in 7 days!

I’m kind of like a father who’s daughter got a full-face tattoo.  You still love your daughter, but need to warn people about the tattoo before they meet her.  My 19 produced scripts may be kinda crappy movies, but they all began as *screenplays* that I am proud of, and it is not easy to get 19 scripts that go all the way to the screen. Hey, it’s not easy to *sell* 19 screenplays (I’ve actually sold or written on assignment over 40 screenplays - everything from adapting a New York Times best seller by Stuart Woods to a remake of a hit 1980s horror film for a studio last year to a giant killer frog creature feature that was supposed to shoot a couple of years ago). 

Even though the stuff that has gotten made is in the $1m-$3m range (with one $15m exception), and some people think selling a script in that range is easy - try it! It is just as difficult, and maybe even more difficult in some cases. There are a bunch of screenplays out there, a limited number of movies made every year, and when you add in budget considerations it becomes very difficult to write something like BLACK THUNDER which is an airplane dogfight script that was made for a couple of million bucks. You need to limit the number of locations and speaking roles.  

Hey, to bring it back to the amazing Oscar worthy film CYBER ZONE, the waterfront bar had to be a full day of shooting because we could only afford so many crew moves. So you are forced to set about 10 pages in that location... and 10 pages in the Boss’s Office location... and 10 pages in the Submarine/Space Ship location (by turning the set on it’s side we turned the space ship into the submarine). Usually you have around 8 locations (total) to work with, and 15 speaking roles. So you have to write some screenplay that works - is entertaining and is the one they choose out of the stack of half a million or whatever - *and* has 8 locations and 15 speaking roles and can look like a much bigger budget than it will be shot for (has airplane dog fights and huge explosions or something).  This is not easy.  You may watch one of the more expensive looking films that began with my screenplay like STEEL SHARKS or BLACK THUNDER or CRASH DIVE and think there are more that 15 speaking roles and more than 8 locations... but count them! 

But I don’t want you to think just because BLACK THUNDER may look like an expensive movie, that it’s going to be as competently made as the kind of big budget movies you are used to seeing in the cinema. Just look at that crappy CGI plane gunfire!

How do you stay so nice when you’re surrounded by so much foolishness? You are like the nicest guy I know, seriously.

I think you go through a period of anger and frustration and wanting to bring an automatic weapon to story meetings, and then eventually... you still want to bring that automatic weapon to the story meetings, but realize there is no shortage of idiots in Hollywood, so if you kill these idiots they will just be replaced by other idiots... and calm down. Still, you might not think I was nice if you were a development executive with crappy notes.  I will argue and explain and generally be a pain in the ass. I will attempt to show you how foolish your notes are.  And in one case, once the film is made and stinks, I will send you reviews that say the problems with the film are those notes I argued against.  I *can* be an a-hole. 

But I do not believe that I am in competition with other screenwriters, my “competition” is to get my scripts on screen closer to the way I wrote them. So, I want other screenwriters to succeed - just so they can feel my pain. The purpose of my website (and now blog) is to have someplace where I am in control, and give some helpful advice on how to write the script that is good enough to sell, so that they will give you those stupid story notes and turn it into crap by the time it reaches the screen. You can read the Script Tip and disagree with it, that’s cool with me. I always try to give enough examples and explain them well enough so that you understand whatever lesson I’m trying to teach. My focus is on commercial writing, because that’s how you can quit your day job - write something that someone wants to buy.

But after a while you look at the way things work and realize you aren’t going to stop fighting for things to get better, but aren’t going to turn into some angry bitter dude who hates the world.  Better to be a nice person who says please and thank you and treats others with respect... until they give me a stupid story note.  

The mustache. How do you keep it so elegant?

Absolutely no care at all. It gets trimmed with scissors when it gets in the way of eating.  It’s funny, when I worked at Safeway Grocery I had zero facial hair.  When I sold the brilliant Oscar worthy NINJA BUSTERS I quit my day job and grew a full beard. I wanted to look like Scorsese. I did not... but it hid my weak chin. (The choice was - send my chin to the gym or grow a beard.)  When NINJA BUSTERS crashed and burned and I had to go back to work, the warehouse forbid beards, but said moustaches were okay... and I’ve had the moustache ever since. Now, along with the bicycle, it’s kind of become my trademark. That is more on the moustache than I have ever shared in an interview before!

I remember you once talked about a frog movie project to be shot in Hawaii. Can you tell about the story with the frog movie? It sounded awesome.

It’s about a giant frog!  

This is one of those projects from hell. A director of photography on one of my films recommended me to a producer-director who was looking for a writer. One of my rules is to try to only work for producers who have actual offices in actual buildings - and if it is a company that owns the building or leases out a couple of floors, that’s where I am most comfortable.  So, this producer had a *floor* in an office building and regularly made or acquired movies. He wants to do a creature feature because they sell well overseas, and he has some connections at SyFy Channel. The producer is a nice guy, we get along... but his ideas are screwy. I try to pitch him my SPLICERS script about those half-dog half-scorpion gene-splicing things the U.S. Government created to go after Bin Laden in the tunnels of Afghanistan, but he had his own idea: frogs! He’d read an article about this problem Hawaii was having with non-indigenous frogs, and because he owned a house in Hawaii, thought it would be fun to shoot a movie there. I mentioned that I thought frogs may not be the ideal creature for a SyFy Channel movie, but he basically told me he’s a producer and knows what sells and I’m just a writer. We make a deal, he cuts me a check on the spot, and I’m writing a movie about giant killer frogs. 

The cool thing is - there is this old horror movie from the 70s called FROGS! that I saw at the drive in that stars Sam Elliot and the poster has a giant frog with a human arm sticking out of its mouth (the rest of the human between its teeth) but the movie was just about regular sized frogs. So I could write the movie that posted didn’t deliver on. I watched FROGS and a bunch of other monster movies from the 70s and 80s, plus some of my favorite creature features like the original PIRANHA and JAWS. I wrote a fun creature feature about the Chief Of Police in a small Hawaii town dealing with a giant frog that is killing people. I loved the idea of this long tongue shooting out and grabbing people as if they were flies. As usual, because this was going to be some cruddy killer B movie, I was free to really explore the characters - and tried to make it one of those movies that you would watch again and again, because it wasn’t just fun, it was also good. Like SLITHER. 

So, I do a couple of drafts of the script, and the producer sets a start date for shooting in Hawaii, and my contract gives me a free trip to Hawaii for the duration of the shoot, which is cool because it’s a vacation where I watch them make my film. But then a potential SAG strike hits, and the film is postponed until the actors negociate their contract. Can’t fly a bunch of actors to Hawaii first class, put them up in first class hotels, only to have a strike kill the film. Everyone thought this whole thing would be over in a month... but the potential SAG strike dragged on and on and on... and the frog movie ended up shelved. I think part of the problem was that by the time the potential for a SAG strike was over, the producer had discovered that the SyFy Channel wouldn’t be interested in a movie about giant killer frogs. 

I still love that script, and I’m thinking about asking the producer if I can try to set it up somewhere. I hate having dead scripts all over town. I have dead scripts at Paramount and MGM and a few other studios, and my big 1980s hit film remake project that I wrote last year for a studio appears to be shelved. Since only about 10% of the screenplays *bought* or *developed* by a studio ever get made, that means 90% of the work a professional writer does will never be seen by anybody. They just don’t make the film, and shelve the script in that warehouse from the end of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Imdb credits are like an iceberg - they only show the 10% that gets made. In my case, that 10% are usually films like the frog movie - genre things that can be made for a couple of million and star Gary Busey that have a built in audience.

Which is the better movie: Mansquito or Zombie Strippers?

ZOMBIE STRIPPERS. The thing about MANSQUITO is that it’s suppose to take place in America but was shot in Eastern Europe and all of the people on the street are white Slavic-looking folks which is kind of weird. I have a whole review of ZOMBIE STRIPPERS on my blog somewhere - I saw the film in a cinema! The cool thing about that film is that there is much more to it than meets the eye, it’s really a reworking of Eugene Ionesco’s philosophical stage play RHINOCEROS and explores the horror of conformity - all of the strippers *want* to become zombies because the zombie strippers like Kat get the most tips. Though ZOMBIE STRIPPERS has boobs and zombies and ping pong balls, it is also a film that deals with serious issues in our society - which MANSQUITO never does. 

This is the thing that most frustrates me about cruddy low budget films - they *could* be good films as well, but the producers don’t care - and usually even do not want anything they do not understand in the film... which makes the films stupid. And as much as you argue that a genre film that is also smart, like SLITHER or ZS, will not only appeal to the genre fans but get good reviews which opens the door to an audience that might not see the film otherwise, many producers would rather *lose money* that make a film that has elements that may be over their heads.  

I think screenwriters are *story experts*, just as the cinematographer is an expert. The producer doesn’t know which lens to use for this shot, that’s why they hire the cinematographer. But when it comes to the screenplay, the producer hires a writer because they are the expert and then proceeds to not listen to that expert and force their own stupid ideas into the script, or not allow the expert to just do their job and write the best script possible. If the producer doesn’t understand it, they don’t want it in the script, even if it will result in a film that will make the producer more money! Of all of the movies made from my screenplays, the most successful one financially was the one that stayed closest to my screenplay.

My advice to writers - write. Don’t talk about it, do it. And keep writing. The race is not to the swift or the strong, it is to those who are too stupid to know when to quit.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Interview with Bill Martell, part two

Yesterday I posted part one of my interview with brutally honest action screenwriter Bill Martell. Here's part two.

We’ve all read your stories about how good scripts go bad. How do you handle the psychological toll of rewriting something to make it worse?

It kills my soul. When you get a bad note, you don’t just say, “Yes, sir, I’ll put a donkey in it!” you fight for your script. You ask the reason for the change in hopes of finding a better solution to whatever the problem is, you explain exactly why this note doesn’t work well, you use other films and their box office numbers to show how implementing the note will make the movie less profitable and lose the producer money, you bring out all of the evidence that prove the note will not work... But at the end of the day, you have sold the script to them and they are the new owner and get to decide what they do with *their* script. And if your contract includes revisions, you have to make the changes even if they will destroy your baby.

Now, you may think that something like this is just hack work, but anytime you write something that you are not passionate about, it shows and usually does not sell. The original story was about a workaholic divorced cop who opens herself up to love again... but with all kinds of conditions so that she won’t get hurt, never realizing that those conditions will hurt the other person (or android). Though I was not a female homicide cop in the future, the rest of that was me - autobiographical. So, to change my personal; story (disguised by fiction) to be some story about robot hookers from outer space was painful. What happened in this situation is that I started from scratch and came up with a different story with a different “personal doorway” that connected me to the subject matter.  It became a buddy action comedy with one guy who just wants to do his job without being bothered by romantic entanglements, and one guy who wants to become romantically entangled but work keeps getting in the way. Kind of the same personal issues as the original in a different form. I think good writing is always autobiographical, even if it’s a big summer tentpole movie.

And I guess that’s part of the way to deal with bad notes - if possible, try to find the way to make the changes they want in a way that keeps the things you are passionate about in the script. Not always possible, but you try your best.

Plus, something Frank Darabont once told me (don’t you just hate name droppers) - I was at his house once, and noticed a book shelf across from his desk filled with his own screenplays. I asked him about it, and he said: “Those are *my* screenplays the way *I* wrote them.”  Now I have a bookshelf of my own screenplays near my desk.

What warning signs do you usually get on a project that’s destined for badness?

They don’t understand the script at all... or latch on to some element and want the script rewritten around that element. I had a project where the producer loved this minor character who was in a couple of scenes and wanted me to do a page one rewrite making that minor character the lead... except that character was not really involved in the conflict at all, and couldn’t really be involved in the conflict. But no matter how carefully you explain the problem, or how many times you ask why they want the crazy rewrite, they will not budge an inch on their brilliant script note. Sometimes you create the problem yourself - you come up with a cool idea that overshadows the concept of the script, and they suddenly want the script to be about that.

But there are so many ways for the script to go south, it’s surprising any film comes out good. Even if the script - or parts of it - are not ruined by bad notes or other writers or the director’s girlfriend who used to work at a cosmetics counter in a department store doing a rewrite (you think I’m kidding), you still have the minefields of production and post-production to deal with.  You probably won’t be around for those, so you go to the premier and see something that looks nothing like the final draft they went off to produce.  On NIGHT HUNTER one of the supporting actors decided to change all of his dialogue, not realizing that his character was carrying the theme, and screwed up the story. I had a film where the director had never read the script, just the coverage, and would only read the pages he was shooting today... and would improvise scenes. He put a character who had been killed several scenes earlier in a scene. Plus, locations fall through and actors insist on wearing their lucky leather jacket when they are playing an uptight engineer (yes, that happened) and millions of things go wrong in shooting that require the story to be changed. And once filming is finished, we get to editing - which can make or break a film - and music and sound design and... crap, they forgot to film that shot of the gun that makes the whole scene work!  I was once brought in to write some new dialogue for a scene that would cover material they didn’t shoot that was critical to the story - we dubbed the dialogue to plug the massive plot hole (which was never in the script). I know of movies that were changed *by their trailers* - some piece of info was left out of the film, so they put in the trailer.  On a big studio film they may spend millions doing reshoots, on the stuff I write, HBO would give us $3 million for a submarine warfare movie like CRASH DIVE and there was no money for reshoots or any other “movie rescue” stuff. If something went wrong, it might still end up in the final cut of the movie.

Droid Gunner has a serious Star Wars type feel to it and what seemed to be a direct reference to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Was that intentional, something you put in, or did the director do it?

In the script. When the script went from my story to a tender, touching, Oscar caliber tale of robot hookers from outer space; I focused on the comedy elements and tried to make it the perfect film to see while consuming a six pack of beer. So I did kind of a STAR WARS / EMPIRE STRIKES BACK parody in the background of the story, with the great Robert Quarry as a Jabba The Hutt guy who had a dancing girl on a chain, and the Mattius Hues character as kind of a Han Solo (he’s a space smuggler with a ship called the Perpetual Condor- like the Millennium Falcon, only silly), and there are a bunch of other references. There was a CHINATOWN element that was cut out of the film completely... but I think I still snuck in a James Bond theme lyric in the dialogue as well as a Sam Fuller movie title. I tried to make the dialogue between Marc Singer and Rochelle Swanson fast paced and fun banter like in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, all of the characters are named after directors who made adventure films in the 1930s and 1940s, and the pocket watch created as part of the back story for Marc’s character came into play at the end in a three way Mexican stand off homage to the end of FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE. I just wanted it to be fun. If you were a film lover and rented it, you would have fun finding all of the film references... if you rented it looking for a silly sci-fi movie with lots of hot women, you wouldn’t be disappointed.  

I always like to have a few in jokes in my scripts for film fans - James Bond theme lyrics and Sam Fuller film titles, the name game - figure out what all of the character names have in common, etc. I call it “self amuse” and it is similar to “self abuse” - I do it for my own pleasure. So I make sure it is in addition to the story, not critical to the story. If you have never seen FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE, it’s just a Mexican stand off before a bunch of shooting. But I had fun writing it.     

What’s your favorite movie of those you’ve had produced?

HARD EVIDENCE turned out the most like the original script that I sold them. A USA Network thriller starring Gregory Harrison. Directed by a TV guy in the blandest possible way; but when I watch it, I recognize almost all of the dialogue and almost all of the scenes as things I wrote. After airing on USA Network, it was released on VHS the same day as a Julia Roberts movie called SOMETHING TO TALK ABOUT... and my movie was #7 rental in the nation and Julia’s was #8!  I was going to buy a half page advert in The Hollywood Reporter that said “I Beat Julia Roberts!” but that would have cost me about $2k and I’m a cheapskate. I *did* get a bunch of meetings at Warner Bros (which released both HARD EVIDENCE and SOMETHING) where development execs asked me why my film that had already shown for free on TV could beat their big budget film. My answer was: Have you seen the Julia Roberts movie? It’s kind of a train wreck.

The biggest problem with judging movies made from my scripts is that I know what they were *supposed to be*, so when I watch CRASH DIVE I think it completely sucks because the script was so much better... but Playboy Magazine gave it 3 out of 4 stars.  I am just now able to watch BLACK THUNDER without trying to poke out my eyes with knitting needles, because it got screwed up on the way to the screen - but that’s another film that some reviewers liked. If you see one of the movies that began with a screenplay I wrote - writer gives no refunds - and *you* think it sucks, I’ll bet I think it sucks even more.

What’s your favorite screenplay that you wrote independent of production?

Good question!  I have an incredibly expensive to produce movie about homeless people called ANYONE CAN LOSE that has an indoor shark attack when the glass at San Francisco’s Steinhart Aquarium ruptures, plus a huge downer ending. People who have read it, love it... but it is so extreme no one wants to hire me after they read it.

I really like UNDERCURRENTS which is always a bridesmaid, never a bride - it was optioned by one of the producers of MEMENTO for a while and they tried to set it up at Universal. Since then, that script has almost been made several times - it’s like THE GRIFTERS on a yacht. Con men (and women) on a cruise through the Caribbean with some millionaire “marks”... and someone is murdered and the money goes missing. The new yacht captain (protagonist) has to find the money and killer to prevent people from shooting each other on his boat. Lots of plot twists in that one, and it’s noirish. It will be made someday.

I also really like ANDROID ARMY, a script written quickly for a possible sale... but the characters are fun and it ended up with one of the most dramatic scenes I’ve ever written... in a script about the Alcatraz of outer space where the most dangerous criminals - humans, aliens, and androids - are sent to work in the mines. When the androids organize a riot, it’s steel against flesh! The strange thing about a script like this is that I know going in that it’s going to be a genre movie that will not ever be in the same sentence as the phrase “Oscar nominated”, so I am free to have fun and actually work on big character moments because no one will care if I reach for the stars and only get the moon.  This is another script that has almost been made a few times. A couple of years ago a producer attached one of my favorite directors - who has kind of disappeared recently - and it looked like we had a movie... until the first story meeting with the director (in a bar), who had all kinds of *crazy* notes and wanted to throw his weight around based on his past theatrical hits. Um, not recent past. When the producer asked him why he wanted one of the wacky changes, his answer was because he’s the director and he says so... and the producer said, “You are no longer the director” and fired his ass. Cool - the producer stood up for the script! Not Cool - having no director caused the project to crash and burn. Option expired, script is mine again... anyone wanna buy an action sci-fi script?

I wrote this sleazy low budget horror script called GATORBABY that is CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF meets JAWS - but with a half-man/half-gator... and I love that script. I had so much fun with those characters, and again - I reached for the stars in some scenes. The script was written because I knew a producer who had access to a cool location, but only after I finished the script did I discover he had no access to money... just a nice office across from Radford Studios.  So I ended up stuck with the script... and have since decided to find the money and produce the script myself. Probably next year in Louisiana (gator country). After a couple of decades of having other people ruin my scripts, it’s about time I ruined one myself.

Also on the make-it-myself list is a script called DREAM LOVER that I plan to shoot in the Bay Area next year with three of my oldest friends - we worked on each other’s super 8mm films when we were kids.

Tune in tomorrow for part three.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Interview with Bill Martell - part one

Bill Martell, as you should know by now, writes the kind of movies that air late at night on your TV, movies that star actors your recognize but can't quite place, the guys who might be the next Steven Seagal, and even a movie with Seagal. He's written over 19 produced scripts and teaches all over the place about how to create and maintain a writing career, and he does this with no representation. He runs a website with daily script tips - Script Secrets - and a blog - Sex in a Submarine - where he talks about more personal experiences. If you are not reading this stuff then you are missing out on one of the most informative sources of screenwriting education materials on the Internet.

Whenever I end up at a party with Bill I eventually corner him and chat it up, no doubt blocking his chance at meeting loose women, so it was only a matter of time before I went ahead and convinced him to do an interview. Actually it didn't take much convincing. Bill has a lot to say and he's pretty much the nicest guy I know, plus he's brutally honest.

If you've ever ended up in conversation with me at a party or anywhere, really, you know how much I love Zombie Strippers. On one such occasion Bill mentioned that he has his own version - a robot hookers from outer space movie called Droid Gunner. Of course I was overjoyed, so he brought me a copy of it. As I watched the film I began to formulate questions about how one creates a movie like this, so I asked. Here is part one of that interview.

Why, when I watch Droid Gunner, does the title screen come up as Cyber Zone?

George Lucas. Seriously. Though there are some countries where it was released as DROID GUNNER, and it was supposed to be released under that title here - the producers got a nice letter from George saying that “Droid” is his word and no one can use it without his permission. I thought this was BS - how can you own a *word*? I suggested they just put an apostrophe in there - ‘DROID GUNNER - but the producers caved and changed the title to CYBER ZONE even though there is no “cyber” or “zone” in the movie. We had all kinds of publicity and an article in Femme Fatales magazine about the film under the title DROID GUNNER... and all of the people who read the article may be still waiting for DROID GUNNER to come out. I have found through 19 films that titles often change, and often even change into titles that make no sense at all.  One of the movies that began with one of my scripts had a working title that seemed like random words thrown together - THE ENEMY OF THE INVISIBLE. Maybe it was translated into Chinese and back or something, I don’t know.

But watch the commercial for the Droid cell phone... at the end is some legal fine print that says the word “Droid” is used with permission of Lucas Film. When you get as big as George, you can own *words*.  

So weird that you are asking me about this movie - it has the lowest budget of any movie made from one of my screenplays (most are $2-$3 million HBO World Premiere Movies or USA Network MOWS or Made For Showtime movies... one is a $15m Sony Studios film with Seagal), it’s not available on DVD in the USA (though it’s a huge cult film many places - I just did two interviews with Russian movie magazines about it), and it’s stupid.  Though, it *is* my infamous robot hookers from outer space movie, and I don’t hate it the way I hate many of the other wretched films which began as my screenplays - I knew going in that it was going to be stupid, so I tried to make it the best movie ever made about robot hookers from outer space. Something my old co-workers at the warehouse would love.  We used to buy a case of beer or two and rent some stupid action movie... so I wrote the movie we’d have loved to see. Which means it must be viewed drunk!

I noticed in reading the treatment that you built a whole world for this story. How do you approach building a world? What are the key elements you feel are necessary to make it work?

The original treatment was called STEEL CHAMELEONS, a title that I have since stolen from myself for use on another script, and took place in a near future where androids were part of every day life - kind of a robot slaves. Through the course of the story we learn that these androids have developed feelings, and there is an underground railroad to get them papers so that they can live among us as humans. 

There was a period in the 90s where I was writing a lot of science fiction screenplays because it was a popular genre. For the most part, a science fiction movie is really just an action movie that takes place in the future. Sure, there are exceptions like GATACA, but mostly you have TOTAL RECALL and JUDGE DREDD and TERMINATOR and I ROBOT and MINORITY REPORT. In a science fiction script you start with what one big thing makes the world different - Apes have taken over? Food shortage plus population boom so we all eat Soylent Green? The Zombie Apocalypse happened and now you are the Last Man On Earth? There are psychics who tell the police who to arrest before they commit the crime? There is one big change, which is tied to the theme (point) of your story. That’s the concept, it is your basic idea.

But now we have to grow the world around it. Part of that will be to take that basic concept and see how it effects everything else. So if we have these lifelike androids that can pass as humans, someone is going to use them for criminal activities.  In the STEEL CHAMELEONS story, every state except Nevada has laws prohibiting the use of “Pleasure Droids” - PDs.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some illegal brothel in Los Angeles where you can find male and female Pleasure Droids and can have disease-free sex. Oddly enough, the whole concept of that story probably came from the herpes and AIDs sex scares - you couldn’t just have casual sex anymore, you needed a blood test on the way from the pick up bar to your swinging singles pad. The idea of some guaranteed disease free sex partners was a potential common fantasy among people who bought movie tickets. So that’s what I was tapping into, I hoped.

And once you have a class of “people” who are not given the rights and respect of everyone else, you will have groups that work to see that they have those rights - either through changing the laws or doing things that may be illegal under these laws but is morally right. You will also have the other political camp, and people and androids who are struggling in the middle. 

Once we have that main piece of the future world, we look at our current world and extrapolate what they future might be like. In another science fiction script that was made around the same time, I took two facts about Los Angles in the early 1990s (when the scripts were written) and extrapolated them into the near future:

1) The EPA demanded that L.A. have 20% electric vehicles by whatever the date was (since rescinded), so in the future all vehicles would be electric. For film purposes we would find the most futuristic looking current cars and remove the sound of the engine and add a low hum. At the time, the Dodge Silhouette van and the Saturn were my picks.

2) Los Angeles is a desert that lives on imported water... so I had your typical public drinking fountains with a place to slide your credit card.  To me, the more mundane the item you “futurize” the better. Oh, and there was no such thing as cash anymore, everything was done by debit card - that may not seem like sci-fi to you now, but when I wrote the script an ATM card was just to get cash from a machine.

Oddly enough, the things I created for these movies included the Smart Phone - called the Pippin - which was a combo phone and computer that was pocket sized and had no keyboard - they worked by voice command and had a “human” interface on the screen, you had your choice of faces/voices (kind of like your GPS). That was a simple jump from the smaller cell phones in the early 90s and the internet.  I haven’t read the STEEL CHAMELEONS treatment in ages, but there may also be guns that only the owner can fire - which just combines a fingerprint scanner with a gun, and all kinds of other small things which are part of today re-imagined for tomorrow.     

So in STEEL CHAMELEONS we have our PD s which are discovered by a female detective in the Police Department (also PD) during an investigation of a serial killer who preys on recently divorced women - like our female detective. Some of the victims have connections to the world of PD s - there’s a Gloria Allred-like attorney who defends androids and a woman involved in the Android Rights movement, etc. That way we can explore all of the “side effects” of androids as part of every day life though the murder investigation. Also helps with clues and suspects and plotty stuff.

When we get to DROID GUNNER/CYBER ZONE, the only thing that remained from the STEEL CHAMELEONS treatment was “Pleasure Droids”.  After a wonderful story meeting (sarcasm) I was told to write a whole movie about robot hookers from outer space. Which is a whole new world. So, I extrapolated again - earthquake knocks California into the ocean, and Phoenix is the new West Coast (the film is called PHOENIX 2 in England), the early 90s Christian Coalition lead by Ralph Reed has turned into a major faction in the future - and the underwater mining city of New Angeles is *ultra* conservative Christian, but needs employees who will sign a 4 year contract that says they will never think impure thoughts. Phoenix and the rest of the country is divided into the poor surface dwellers who do manual labor and the wealthy people in the penthouses above the smog... I swiped that from Lang’s METROPOLIS!  Because I’m a working class guy, one of my things is to show people who do manual labor in films, to counteract the whole Hollywood thing about every protagonist working in an office doing advertizing or something. Since this film was written for my warehousemen buddies from back when I was doing forklift jousting for a living, I made the protagonist live in that surface world. Because this was a more cartoony world, things were exaggerated for humor. Then I wrote the script in 9 days, they shot the film in about 9 days, and it was on Showtime before the paint had dried on the sets.     

Oh, and the film made 5 times its production budget in foreign sales alone! It was a major financial success for the producer. In fact, almost everything I have written has made a ton of money for the producer of the films. At one point in time after CRASH DIVE when I was writing a bunch of military action things for a company called Royal Oaks, the producer handed me a script by another writer that was not getting much interest from foreign territories in pre-sales to read... and it was an action script with no action! It had, like, two action scenes in it and the rest was characters sitting around talking. And the dialogue wasn’t good enough to make the talk scenes work. So, I told the producer all of this, and he said I must be wrong because the script was from some big agency. Whatever, not my problem. The producer didn’t use any of my notes, made the film... and it flopped. They had trouble selling the film, even with a much better cast than some of the stuff I’ve written. Many people believe that it’s easy to write a genre film, but I’m sure you’ve seen many genre films that were boring or crappy or just not fun.  The writers who think doing some direct-to-video action flick is easy should give it a try and see what happens. A few years ago there was a writer on one of the message boards who was represented by one of those 3 letter agencies and loved to rub it in... only, after a couple of years of representation still hadn’t gotten any work. So he thought he’d just write a DTV action flick and pop his cherry. Except nobody seemed much interested in his script, and it ended up going to a really small company. It was made... but still has not been released! I check it out every once in a while to see if maybe it’s on DVD yet. Nope. Like that all-talk action script, it’s tough to sell a movie that doesn’t satisfy the basics of the genre. An action film needs action scenes. A horror film needs horror. A thriller needs suspense. So it really does come down to the writing - you have to know the genre and how it works and know the audience and what they look for in a movie. This should be easy if you write the kind of films you regularly pay to see. If you are just crapping out some script you don’t care about because you think you can sell it, you will end up with unsaleable crap. You have to really love what you are writing... even if it ends up being a movie about robot hookers from outer space.

Look for Part Two tomorrow, where we discuss how Bill muddles through bad notes.