Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The kind of script you should be writing

I'm going to try as much as I can and without causing myself trouble, to blog about things I'm learning that nobody told me about when I was hunting for a rep.

Today, I'm going to talk about the biggest challenge ever: THE NEXT BIG IDEA. People will often tell you to write commercial, but they don't tell you what else you need to write. Just having one good script is not enough. You need to show that you can continue to produce work the town will want to read, and hopefully buy.

So I've got a script worth reading. Heck, I've got two scripts worth reading. I'm taking meetings, working my thing, getting introduced to the town.

Meanwhile, I have to figure out what to write next. Those ideas I've been saving up for years on little color coded index cards? USELESS.

When you're on your own you can write whatever you want. Want to write a Civil War martial arts story? Knock yourself out. Passion can drives your work. You write the idea that excites you the most.

Once you start building a career, you write the idea that excites you the most but which also 1) has a commercial concept, 2) fits within the genre of your previous work, and 3) can have a star in the lead role so you can make attachments.

Never underestimate the importance of a star vehicle. When you're writing a script to get the attention of a rep, you need something that will attract a star, and not just one or two stars. If the only person who can star in your movie is The Rock, it's going to be a hard sell. What happens if he's not available, or if he doesn't want to do an action movie right now? You're stuck.

So the best thing you can do to get noticed is write something commercial with a lead who is a white male in his early 30s. Then write another one.

This is a lot harder than it sounds. That's where I am now, trying to beat out an idea that fits that criteria and has obvious potential to make money. I think getting my masters degree was easier.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Thoughts on the film: Haywire

I liked Haywire, and here's why:

It was refreshing to see the camera lay back and let the star do all the work during action scenes. We've come to expect our action scenes to have a zillion cuts, largely so we don't notice the big stunt double who's doing all the tough stuff in between close-ups of the beautiful star's face looking intense. In this movie, there was no need for the star to have a stunt double do all the work, so we got to watch the pure action scene without cutting in and out and back and forth and shaky-cammed to death.

She looked like she could kick ass, she acted like she could kick ass. I felt like Gina Carano's acting was just fine as long as she had something to do, although the scenes when she was sitting still and talking were not so good. Anything that took place inside a car was cringe-worthy.


The MOS stuff in Barcelona was terrific, and for once I actually liked Channing Tatum, and you just can't beat those action scenes. I'm jealous of how well that woman can move her body to kick major ass.

Is it a perfect movie? Definitely not. I barely understood the plot, and the parts I did understand had some serious holes, but it was shot beautifully and clean. No extra bullshit. I wish more action movies were shot that way, because sometimes I feel like the constant movement of the camera is trying to make me think there's more going on here than there is. I loved that in one scene, Carano was just running after a guy. Just running, trying to catch him, doing what a woman like that would actually do. It wasn't super fancy. It was just straight up, old school running.

The problem is, the marketing made you think this was a Bourne movie with a chick. It's not. The premise is similar, but the shooting style is vastly different, and if you went in expecting Bourne you'd be angry at what you got. That's probably why audiences responded so poorly.

I'm sad about the audience response, but at least nobody can blame the weekend on a strong female protagonist. Thank you, Underworld 4. And Haywire will make its investment back because of its low budget. Hopefully this was a great introduction to Carano and we will see more of her soon. I'd write something for her in a heart beat if the job came up.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Go to Haywire.

This has been an insanely busy week. I had a doctor's appointment on Tuesday to get started on therapy for my wrist, I had a walk through with the caterer Wednesday to plan for the wedding, I had a studio meeting on Thursday, and in between I've been managing a big sales push for yearbooks at work, so I haven't had any time to actually sit down all week. I had a whole slew of blog posts planned and no time to write them.

The more stuff I have to do, the more wired I become. I'm sure by the time I walked into the office on the lot yesterday I looked like a cocaine addict. I hope I wasn't too frightening.

Tonight's activity is Haywire.

Haywire. Go see it, everybody.

As of this writing, it's got 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. Hey, that's good! It's got an ass kicking chick who actually knows how to fight. Did you see that arm bar she pulled on Channing Tatum in the first five minutes? Textbook. Don't know what an arm bar is? You don't have to! It's still awesome to look at!

Like Ewan MacGregor? This movie has that!

If this movie does well, cool options open up for me. If this movie does not do well, I've got an uphill climb with some of my projects. So believe me, I'm completely self-centered when I say please, everyone, go see this kick ass movie. You know you want to. You've been thinking about it. You said to yourself, hey, maybe I want to see that tear jerker about the kid and his dad and whatever? No, you don't. That kid doesn't even punch anybody in the face in that movie.

Remember how George Lucas has betrayed you? Yeah, you don't want to go through that again.

Underworld is okay, but we all know the fourth of anything isn't all that great.

So go see Haywire, because it's awesome, and also because seriously go see this movie.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Meetings: Part 1

Now is the time when I go to meetings. I haven't done too many yet; I hope to fill my calendar with them in the coming year. These are great meetings because I'm just going in to chat with people, make sure we like each other, see if they have any projects for which I'd be a good fit.

Driving on a studio lot is cool. I've been on the Warner Brothers lot before as somebody's guest at one of those bi-annual sales where they sell off all the shit left over from old TV shows and movies, but I've never been on a lot in any kind of official capacity.

So when I drove on a lot the other day, I admit I got a little giddy. I've seen enough movies to know how you're supposed to act, so I just pretended this was like any other day for me when I told the guards where I was headed. It's a nice feeling when your name is on a list. And not a list of people who've been banned from Putt putt for climbing the fake rocks.

Anyway, I took the water like everybody else, but the problem with drinking water during a meeting in an unfamiliar place is that I always have to ask where the bathroom is. And in all that talk about water bottles, here's something nobody ever mentioned before: Tip the valet a dollar. I had to ask some guy who was standing next to me waiting for his car.

I've got another meeting this week - thankfully within a short distance of my house this time so I won't be in traffic for an hour, not that I mind, then another at the end of the month. I'm excited about both meetings, and I hope they shove another one in there soon.

Meanwhile, I'm writing, writing, writing, and finding ways to avoid grading papers.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A few general thoughts on reps

Having a rep is amazing, but as I learned last time I had a manager, it does not guarantee any kind of success. Their job is to give you opportunities. Your job is to make the most of those opportunities.

Reps sign you on because they think you can make them money. They can get your career going. The few I've dealt with have struck me as people who love getting excited about working with someone they believe has talent, and that excitement is contagious. Your job, as an unrepped writer, is to get that excitement going over you.

But there are different kinds of reps. If you don't know about hip pocketing, that's when the rep doesn't do any work on your behalf, but if you need someone to submit for you, they'll do it. So let's say you're at a party and you meet a studio exec. You pitch him an idea, he likes it, tells your rep to send it over. That's when you call your hip pocketing agent to send that requested script over. And maybe if he likes you enough, or if you show signs of promise, he'll decide to fully represent you.

Any "agent" or "manager" who wants money up front is a fraud. Period. I don't care how much they gush over you. They are full of shit and you shouldn't do business with them.

There are plenty of stories of reps who sign a writer then forget about them. It happens quite a lot, actually. But as a very successful A-lister once told me, a rep who never calls is not a rep. If you end up with a rep who hasn't contacted you in months, break it off. They're not interested in you. Remember the excitement the like to feel? As soon as they lose that sense of excitement, you've lost them.

But it's not the end of the world if you have to fire a rep, even if you have to go back to being without one for a while. Sometimes it's not a good fit. I know plenty of successful writers who've been through three or four reps until they found the right one, and I know successful writers who stuck with the first one they landed. It's different for everybody.

But the important thing is, no matter who is representing you, keep working. Bust your ass, do what they say, and maybe you can keep that excitement going. That's where I am now: busting my ass to take advantage of the opportunities I'm being given.

Monday, January 09, 2012

And now, the busying

You guys are amazing. I actually had to block off a couple of hours on Friday morning just to respond to all the nice emails and posts and tweets.

I figured I'd at least have a couple of people making snide comments, but it was all positive. All people who are happy for me. That was great.

The nature of this blog will probably change now, but I think it will be helpful to chronicle as much as I can the journey as it happens. I can't go into any specific or name any names, but I can talk in general terms about what I encounter.

I had a rep before, but I didn't have this kind of attention, so now I'm bracing myself for the amount of work I have to do. Obtaining a rep is step one; Step two is taking advantage of the opportunities with which they provide you.

I have to come up with my next project, which is a lot harder than you'd think. I was working on a Civil War martial arts story. That is obviously nixed for the time being, because while you're fucking around on your own, your dream project is all well and good, but when you're trying to build a career, you need to write material more than three people would pay to see. I'll go back to that script some day. It will be my Inception.

In the meantime, I must come up with something commercial that fits the kind of work I consistently want to write. I had a lot of ideas I'd been saving over the years, none of which are good enough for this task. So I'm in the process of developing something new. I'm also revising an old script to get it up to par.

This week I start taking general meetings. I've had one of these meetings ever, so I'm still really green on meeting etiquette. But I'm not worried. If I can make 46 juniors read a novel silently in a classroom, I can probably handle a polite conversation with a studio exec.

But I am busy. Busy busy busy. I'm so busy I'm thinking of ways I can change my original plan for the rest of the school year so I don't end up having to take so much work home. The kids shouldn't suffer because I've got a second job, but there's no way I can do my job the way I always have and still have time to build my screenwriting career.

Then again, I'm at my best when I have 100 things to do. It's a good busy. I couldn't be happier to have no time.

Friday, January 06, 2012


I've had a lot of time to think about what I'd say here today because I've been sitting on this news for weeks, unable to tell anyone. I wrote about four posts already before settling on this one. This must be what it's like to work on Project Runway.

In case you haven't yet heard, I was one of the three finalists in The TrackingB feature script contest.

I entered Nice Girls Don't Kill the first week the contest opened for entries, then I got busy working on my next script, How My Wedding Dress Got This Dirty. It turned out that the contest still had a week to go when I finished the script, so I entered it at the last minute.

Now that I had two low budget commercial scripts completed, I got back to work on my Civil War martial arts story. Things were going swimmingly, moving along at a casual pace. I wrote pages. I graded papers. Ladeda.

Then one night while I was entrenched on the couch, grading essays, lamenting that fact that it was taking me longer to give notes on these essays than it took the kids to write them, when I got a message from The Insider, the guy who runs TrackingB and the contest, asking for my phone number.

This can mean only one thing.

I pretended to be all cool and nonchalant as I answered the phone, and he told me I was one of the finalists with How My Wedding Dress Got This Dirty.

I probably said "That's awesome!" about eighty times during that conversation. Adjectives are not my strong suit.

This was a Sunday night.

Monday I drove straight from work to the Circle of Confusion office, where I met with Ken Freimann. I thought he was just awesome, and even though I knew other managers were reading my script, I signed with him on the spot.

I spent the next couple of days letting people know I'd already found a rep, thank you for your interest. All the while, The Insider let me know who he'd sent the script to, asked how I was doing and what I had decided, and gave me great advice on how to make the best choices in the middle of all this heat.

Tuesday, between grading more essays (I feel like for the past three years, nary a moment has gone by when I did not have an essay to grade), I approved the new cover for my script, complete with COC logo.

Wednesday Ken and I met with Ava Jamshidi at ICM. I loved her. Even though I knew we were waiting for other agents to read the script - agents you would cream your pants to meet with - I decided on the way home that I couldn't do any better than Ava. She's awesome, and she gets shit done. She and Ken had some terrific plans for me.

My team was made official on Thursday morning.

So to recap: Sunday night I was grading papers in front of the TV, watching a marathon of MI5 episodes. Thursday I had a manager, an agent, and my script was already in the hands of three production houses, one of which I'd been trying to get my work to for years.

And now here I am, still grading these fucking essays while my team gets my career started.

It's pretty awesome.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Keep going

I'm an eternal optimist. It helps in this town. There's an interesting dynamic here, where half the people tell you that your shit smells like roses and sunshine, and the other half fling poo in your face. Somehow you have to let your ego ride straight down the middle. So, it helps to always think everything will be okay.

Sometimes I'll write a script and think it's pretty damn solid, so I get notes. And sometimes those notes tell me to shove my head in an oven. I'll get sad, spend a day weeping, think about giving it all up and resigning myself to turning teaching into Plan A.

But that feeling lasts a few hours, until I think about the notes and figure out how to incorporate them into the script. Then I get all excited about the rewrite and figure it will all be okay eventually.

Because eventually, if I keep working and I keep learning and I keep searching for the best story, someone will take notice.

The only people who don't make it in this town are people who refuse to learn. Don't give up, Listen, Learn, Work hard, and it will happen. I firmly believe that. You have to have faith that it will all be okay, then you have to work your ass off to make sure it does.