Saturday, March 22, 2014

Confessions of a Veronica Mars Kickstarter Backer

One of these beefy gentlemen is my husband.
 I'll explain how this photo happened in a minute. But first-

Veronica Mars is one of my top five television shows of all time. I never missed an episode when it aired, and in the summer between seasons one and two I kept an unhealthy level of obsession with who was at the goddamn door. I watched the kissing scene on the balcony like a thousand times. I think "A Trip to the Dentist" is still one of the greatest episodes of television ever made. Every time I see a yellow Nissan Xtera, I still say "Hey, it's Logan!" 


When the third season ended, Veronica had just ruined her father's reputation through her own reckless behavior. Her entire college campus had seen her naked in a sex tape filmed and distributed without her consent. Her ex-boyfriend beat the tar out of a mobster who threatened him with certain death, and her current boyfriend still refused to cut his stupid hair. And suddenly, that was it. No more story.


 You may not love Veronica Mars. You may never have understood it or even watched an episode, but at some point you've probably loved a show that was canceled. The vast majority of my readers are screenwriters, and I refuse to believe a screenwriter does not love a single show that's been canceled. If you haven't, you're either extremely lucky or you haven't loved enough. And if someone wanted to continue your favorite story and give it an ending, wouldn't you be excited?

I'm lucky to have loved shows that had a rebirth - Farscape and Firefly chief among them. I'm still waiting for Samurai Jack to go home or a Pushing Daisies... anything.

When Firefly was canceled, fans offered to pay for a second season. That would have been unrealistic even if Kickstarter had existed then, but the intent was there. If it's money you want - we have money! We will give it to you if you give us our show!

And we do pay for content. We pay for Hulu Plus and Netflix and Amazon Prime and cable and satellite and other services that allow us to watch the things we love. And I loved Veronica.

So when Twitter buzzed with the news that Rob Thomas had launched a Veronica Mars Kickstarter, I did not hesitate to check it out. I watched the video a million times because this is the most Veronica Mars we'd gotten in years. I read the fine print. I studied the rewards list. I made my choice and gave my money.

And ever since, people have given me shit.

Not me directly, but VM Kickstarter backers as a group have been sneered at by a lot of folks who think they know better how we should have spent our money.

According to some, anyone who contributed is a sucker who gave a studio money and only got a T-shirt in return.

Here's what I say to that:
Jog on.

I wanted a Veronica Mars movie. Without the Kickstarter: no movie. With the Kickstarter: movie. It was that simple. Is this setting a bad precedent? Is it going to make studios run to Kickstarter to fund all their movies now? First of all, not really, and second of all, that's not my problem. That's not Rob Thomas' problem. Rob Thomas wanted to get this movie made, as did we all. This was the way.

A friend of mine used to bring me to these Battlestar Galactica viewing parties with cast and crew members, and at one of them I told a director I was making a short film. He handed me $20 and wished me luck. I never saw him again. And that happens all the time in this town - the support for creative endeavors from other creatives is enormous. We all want to see good stories get told.

So yes, I gave my money. And when I did the math, I probably paid maybe $20 more for the items I got than I would have had I bought them independently. I'm okay with that.

Because what I really got was a great movie. The advantage all the naysayers weren't considering was that by circumventing the studio system to a degree (isn't that what we all say we want to do?) Rob Thomas was able to make a movie for the people who funded it - the fans. Instead of getting note after note and making a film that had to appeal to a broad audience at fan expense, he was able to indulge us in everything we loved about the series.

This film was exactly what I wanted. It's what I paid for. And I proudly wear my shirt and look at my poster, and when the Blu Ray comes I will watch it repeatedly.

The cast and crew knew how much trust we placed in them, and they didn't take it for granted. At the Paleyfest panel, they showed a documentary about the fans, and in every frame, as well as in the panel discussion that followed, there was a respect and love for the people who helped make this film happen. Yes, extras usually get paid to be in a movie and here were people who themselves paid for the privilege. But you know what? For professional extras, it's work. For these people, it was a chance to be part of something cool that they wouldn't otherwise get, and they don't regret it, so why should you regret it for them?

The guy in the picture up top in the red pants? That's Eric the Trainer, who trains tons of celebrity clients, including one Jason Dohring, AKA Logan Echolls. Through a mutual friend, I was able to go see the movie this week with Jason up there. He was polite and friendly (and I ain't gonna lie, handsome as hell in person), but when I told him I was a backer, he jumped up and hugged me and engaged me in conversation. It made my fucking day. I'm also pleased to announce that I did not embarrass myself, despite my internal squealing.

The entire time they made this film, the cast and crew knew exactly who they were making it for. You can see it in every frame of film. Is it a perfect movie?  Of course not. Is it everything I wanted as a fan? Fuck yes it is.

Here's one last thing. I never gave to Kickstarter before the Veronica Mars campaign. I have now given to nine funded projects in all, including comic books, short films, documentaries and a project that allows terminally ill children to write their own books. I think that's a pretty good precedent.

So don't you worry about how I decided to spend my money. You worry about your own spending habits. I chose wisely.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Be the Change

"The world is round, people."
(Yes, I know it was a Woody Allen movie.)
Sometimes in the morning when neither of us has anywhere specific to be, Beefcake and I lie in bed while I read interesting news articles on my phone. This morning, I read an article about a bill in Iraq that would make it legal for men to marry 9-year-old girls and illegal for women to refuse sex with their husbands. Then I read an article about the Pakistani 17-year-old who set herself on fire to protest the release of the leader of the five men who kidnapped and gang raped her. Then I read an article about the new law in Michigan that requires women to purchase special "abortion insurance" if they think they might be raped. Then I read about Terry Richardson. And we all know about Woody Allen by now. And of course, we can't forget about Roman Polanski.

This is about culture.

In each of these cases, someone in power sanctioned this behavior. Celebrities pal around with Terry Richardson all the time. They defend Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Governments and police forces support laws that keep women suppressed and abused all over the world. And all of that speaks to a culture that subconsciously (or in some cases, consciously) believes that women deserve what they get.

We as artists have the power to instigate change. Making movies isn't like curing cancer. It's not "important work." Or is it?

A recent study showed that the MTV series Teen Mom helps to reduce rates of teenage pregnancy.

There are no statistics to back it up, but many believe that the magnificent David Palmer, the black president on the TV series 24, helped Americans open up to the idea of a black president. It seems likely that Will and Grace made being gay a more acceptable part of our society.

Art begets change. The Jungle changed the way the government handled meat processing in this country. Look what happened to fast food menus after Super Size Me. Black Fish is already having an effect on our perception of animals in captivity.

We can make a difference with what we write. We don't have to, but we can, even if we write the silliest B movie to hit VOD.

When every black person you see on film is a thug, you are more likely to believe that black people are plotting to shoot you. When every gay person you see on film is a sexual predator, of course you believe that the gay community is coming for your children. And when every woman you see in film is a wife/mother/victim, you're far more inclined to believe that we're not capable of anything more.

This is why I write female protagonists so often. I don't write them just because I'm a woman. I write them because I want to SEE women - women I can relate to, women who aren't just running scared or trying to please the male lead.

This is why Frozen and Hunger Games were so successful this year. Girls are starved for female characters who carve their own path. And guess what? Boys watch this stuff too. Yes, boys are capable of enjoying films about girls.

One year when I was a teacher, the Big Read chose The Joy Luck Club as that year's novel. I volunteered to lead the related activities at our school. As the English teachers were meeting to discuss our plans, one of our male teachers protested teaching his students this novel. "I don't think the boys will be interested in reading a book about women," he said.

Before I could even begin my angry response, the teacher beside me handled it much more simply. She said "Why not? Girls have been reading books about boys forever and they don't complain." And in my classroom, I had no such complaints. I taught a room full of first-generation Americans, and even those without immigrant parents could relate to the parent/child relationships raised in the book. There's more to being a woman than having a vagina. We have a lot of the same thoughts and feelings as men do. And sometimes, we have a different take on those thoughts, one worth hearing.

If you're a boy who can't dare to watch a movie about a female protagonist, you're a fucking idiot.

You don't even have to write a female protagonist to have interesting women in your film. Most writers default to male. The only characters who get to be women are the characters who MUST be women. But when you change a character's race or gender or sexual orientation to something other than the default, cool things happen in your story. Your characters suddenly become more interesting.

So do this for me today: find a character you defaulted to male and make that character a woman instead. Most likely, you don't have to change anything else. Don't make her a love interest or somebody's mom or a murder or rape victim. Just make her a person. Give her some good lines to say that have nothing to do with her gender.

If we all do this in every script, imagine the difference we could make together over time. Imagine the fate of the celebrity rapist. Imagine the rape victim who at least knows that these men are buried so far under the prison that they will never touch another girl again. Imagine the woman who doesn't have to carry her rapist's baby to term because she failed to buy "abortion insurance." Imagine the women who will know it's okay to stand up to their abusers. But most importantly, imagine the courage we give to girls all over the world to become the best version of themselves.

It kind of starts with us. People all over the world watch movies. It's the easiest, most subtle way to send out messages, to influence culture. We have that power.

It's not just words, you know. It's a decision that you make every time you write: BE THE GODDAMN CHANGE.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rep Relationships: An Insourced Post

See, the rabbits are the managers in this scenario.

Let's talk about managers some more. Just managers today, not agents, since for most screenwriters, this is the first stop.

In the beginning, you're just so excited that someone wants to read your script, you don't care who it is. And if someone wants to rep you - hot damn, now you're off to the races!

But it doesn't really happen that way. Having a rep can open all kinds of doors, but it is not a guarantee of success. And sometimes the rep you pick ends up not being the right one. That's okay. There are so many in this town that if one doesn't work, you try another. The comparison to a romantic relationship is absolutely apt. You go in hoping to make it work, but sometimes you have to know when to walk away.

I had a manager who was on her own, between firms. You'd think she had a ton of time to devote to me if she was basically her own boutique with few clients, but that wasn't the case. She was busy trying to find a new place to settle, and I was left wondering what to do.

I had a manager who was part of one of the biggest firms in town, and he was always attentive. He called me regularly, put me in rooms, returned my phone calls and emails right away. I feel fortunate to have worked with him. So the size of the company doesn't matter. Only the person matters.

And sometimes, even the best person doesn't work out. It's like a guy you know is really great and nice and wants to marry you, but you're just not feeling it. You have to walk away.

Many new writers get conflicting information on this, so I'm going to clear  it up right now: You must leave your current manager before finding another. Yes, it sucks. Too bad. Agents might be different, but no manager worth her salt will poach another's clientele. And that means you have to be confident that you'll land another before you leave the one you have. That's the part that's scary.

I'm in that process now - seeking new management. Now that I'm a little more experienced and have more confidence in the scripts I'm carrying around, I've gotten very picky about who I want to work with.

Managers are as individual as writers, and they all have different styles of operating, so you have to figure out which one works for you. This is what I do:

I watch TrackingB and The Tracking Board, both Internet script tracking sites. What's the difference between them? TrackingB is less flashy and more devoted to straight reporting of information. You can check out archived posts for free and decide if you like the format, and it boasts a widely respected contest whose goal is to get you repped. Disclaimer - I was a finalist in TrackingB's contest in 2011. Meanwhile, Tracking Board has a lot more going on than just script tracking, with the Hit List and a forum and its own contest. They just put out a comprehensive book looking at the past year's spec market.

Anyhow, I check the boards and the annual Black List (the list, not the site) and The Hit List, and if I see a great logline, I'll check out the manager associated with the writer of the project. I look for other projects that manager has gone out with. I check his IMDB Pro page to see who else they represent. I go to Done Deal Pro and search his name in the forums to see what others have said about him. I go to Deadline and check on what kind of news he's made. If I recognize a client's name, I'll contact the client and ask about what the manager is like to work with.

I do all this before I even ask them to read a script.

There are things to be aware of as you search. Tracking Board frequently reports options as sales, so often a manager looks like he's sold a ton of projects, when in fact, he's negotiated options galore and not so many outright purchases. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, but beware that sometimes the managers with the most glamorous looking record are not as amazing as they seem. You also frequently see managers who go out with a lot of specs that never sell. In that case, could be those managers believe in using specs as writing samples and concentrate on getting their clients assignment work rather than a splashy spec sale, or it could be they just throw everything at the wall. Deadline is helpful in figuring out which managers are more interested in looking for material to produce. But these are things you need to be aware of when you decide which kind of manager you want.

Then there's the level of participation you want from a manager. Some are completely hands on. They want to go over your ideas with you, give you notes, consult with you before all major decisions. With some - you hand them a finished script and they decide what to do with it. There are many in between. You decide what you want your working relationship to look like and then find someone who matches up.

In the end, it all boils down to trust. You trust this person to handle your career, and in return, she trusts you to write good work. You'll disagree sometimes, but as long as you trust each other, that's okay. If you're honest and open to ideas but not a pushover, you'll be fine. And if there comes a time when you no longer feel you can trust this person, move on. If you feel you are being neglected, move on. A successful screenwriter once told me "A manager who never calls is not your manager." Remember that. Don't cling to hope like a neglected wife; Just pack your bags and go.

For more on this topic, I recommend you read Craig Mazin's recent post on the subject over on Done Deal Pro.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rep Relationships: Outsourced Post #3

After receiving this question about rep/writer relationships:

 Is it true that managers and agents will only do something for you twice---after you give them the first spec they like and if that doesn't sell then if you are generating income for them----otherwise they won't do anything for you because they have 35 plus other clients (managers) or (70-80 for agents)... Would a new writer get lost in the shuffle at a big management company like Anonymous Content or Benderspink if they aren't hot right away...or is it better to go with a medium manager who's a hot spec seller.... How do you figure out which managers will take time to develop material and build a new client's career from ones that are strictly going for the one off quick deal?

I asked several of my writer buddies to help out by giving their perspective, since every relationship is different and I haven't had that many. You can find Part One HERE and Part Two HERE 

Writer #5 is just getting started, but after a high profile introduction his script got passed all over town:
I have both agents and managers. Fortunately, I love 'em. They're exactly the people I thought they were. They work their asses off, and they fight for me. However, the road to figuring out the question of representation was full of hiccups. It was very challenging. My situation was fairly bizarre.
I was fortunate enough to have a few options, which was wonderful and surreal and humbling. It's also taxing and stressful and terrifying. As someone who wasn't based in LA, I wasn't able to meet the majority of the reps in person. This only complicates matters. It's hard to really read someone based off a Skype session, a phone conversation, etc. I encountered a wealth of intelligent, incredibly talented, and admirable people. This only made things more difficult. A large part of the equation is figuring out who genuinely believes in you. Will this agent/manager work hard for you, not just in five minutes, but in five years? Because ideally, that's what these partnerships will be: long term ones.

A manager is your creative partner. Let me correct that - a good manager is your creative partner. As the industry has shifted, some agents have found footing in the managerial world. These people are plenty talented, but in some cases, their strong suit is not in the development of material. For me, that's the purpose of a manager. A manager is the person you're in the trenches with through every step of the creative process. They are your sounding board. They are someone with whom you're incredibly vulnerable, as you share your most embryonic ideas and early drafts.

For those lucky enough to be in a situation in which you're forced to choose between agencies or managerial firms of various sizes -- the behemoths and the smaller, boutique shops -- like everything in our business, there is no concrete rule to guide you here. So much of this comes down to your gut. You must absolutely be mindful of your agent/manager's client list, the size of their company, and how you fit into the equation. Do you want someone who is hungry? Always. Unfortunately, the hungriest are also, most often, the youngest. However, if you believe that Giant Agent/Manager X from Big Company Y, with a client list full of established writers, adores your writing and truly believes in your potential, that person may be the right rep for you.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't heard the horror stories. A talented young writer signs with a big agent/manager off the strength of his/her script, and then finds themselves marginalized over the next year as their "heat" fades. The phone rings less. The inbox isn't as full. The rep senses that you won't cash a check in the very immediate future, and backs away. Hell, I once met a rep who said something astounding. When our conversation shifted to a discussion of a young writer, who had broken in with a massive spec sale just three months earlier, the reps words were: "well, what has [the writer] done since?" With the wrong reps, Hollywood can become a business of "what have you done for me lately?". If you don't immediately sell the next spec, or land the OWA you've been chasing, the attention you receive can dwindle. It's important to note that this can happen anywhere. This type of behavior isn't restricted to the largest agencies & firms.

With the right agent/manager, you'll find someone who isn't utterly inconsolable when your spec doesn't sell, or you lose out on that big studio gig. You'll find someone who understands that the next opportunity is right around the corner, because at the end of the day, talent does win out. ( least that's what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.) You won't feel like you're in this alone, because you won't be. That person -- the sherpa that will guide you up this mountain -- may work for a behemoth of an agency/managerial firm. That person may also just as easily may work for a smaller boutique.

Make an informed decision. If you're unsure about a rep, try to find someone who has worked with them. Hollywood is an incredibly small town. Seek out a fellow writer, or an exec. Ask them about their experiences. Listen to everything, and dismiss nothing. Don't let one overly enthusiastic or aggressively negative opinion sway your decision. Another useful little trick: read their clients work, and see if it speaks to you. There's no one trick to the trade. Do your research, and then follow your instincts. After all, they've carried you this far.

 Writer #6 is a TV and film writer who's had a lot of success and steady work over the years:

ME: Do you have a manager or agent or both?

Both.  These days, much more common.  One quick advantage of having both - when you're trying to get an actor or director on your script, an agent will be offering their own clients.  A manager works with all the agencies, so has more flexibility in trying to attach talent.

ME: What is that relationship like?

I think the underlying question here is "what should my relationship with my rep be," and people are trying to judge based on what pros do.  The truth is, I've been through three managers and probably ten different agents (I've been at the same agency for a long time, but agents move/teams change), and every relationship is different.  Some want to get involved and read drafts and give notes, some want to "sell it, don't smell it."  Some are behind you and keep fighting when they believe in you, even during cold streaks - some are heat seeking missiles.

I feel a rep is better than no rep, by a long shot. If you're a new writer and you get an offer, unless the person is a fraud, go ahead and give it a shot.  You can always change reps if it's not working out.  If you have multiple offers of representation, just listen to their pitch, ask what you can expect, and choose.  If you're wrong, it's not forever.

And thus ends the outsourced part of my post. Next time, I'll give my own answer, since this question has become increasingly relevant to me of late.  Thanks to all the writers who so graciously participated in this posting series. I know your insight has been very helpful to many.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Rep Relationships: Outsourced Post #2

After receiving this question about rep/writer relationships:

 Is it true that managers and agents will only do something for you twice---after you give them the first spec they like and if that doesn't sell then if you are generating income for them----otherwise they won't do anything for you because they have 35 plus other clients (managers) or (70-80 for agents)... Would a new writer get lost in the shuffle at a big management company like Anonymous Content or Benderspink if they aren't hot right away...or is it better to go with a medium manager who's a hot spec seller.... How do you figure out which managers will take time to develop material and build a new client's career from ones that are strictly going for the one off quick deal?

I asked several of my writer buddies to help out by giving their perspective, since every relationship is different and I haven't had that many. You can find Part One HERE and Part Three HERE.

I was going to keep everyone anonymous, but these guys didn't care.

Brian Scully:

For me, it breaks down to the reps who care and the reps who don’t. The reps who want a paycheck and to help a client’s career grow because they believe in said client… and the reps who just want a paycheck.

The relationship is one of mutual belief in each other, which is what I responded to more than anything else when COUNTERPOINT first got attention and I started getting emails and calls and responses to queries. A few reps who had responded favorably were great to hear from, and I was weighing some choices, but Kathy lost her shit when she got back to me. I didn’t sign with her because of that necessarily, but because when she talked to me about it, she just *got* the script, down to its details, and what it was doing and why it was doing it. I was sold from that moment on. She wanted me because she believed in me, and I wanted her because I believed in her. It’s been that way since. A second script she took out to a few select reps was one she also believes in very strongly, but it’s a very weird script with, like, six different genres and is not an easy sell by any means. MERCIFUL, again, is the same story, and it has only reinforced my satisfaction with our relationship so far. I feel the difference with her — I feel believed in. And I see and feel her dedication still, and it’s only grown in strength, even though, if one looks at finances, only 1 deal has been signed thus far, and from that only an option check distributed while financing is raised. Had I been with [REDACTED], I would have been thrown away as trash long ago because I didn’t make this person a quick buck right off the bat. The difference to me is immediately apparent and reinforces my preference all the more.

Of course, I’m assuming you wouldn’t post on the blog a direct quote from me saying out loud that [REDACTED] is a trashy fuckstick, because I’m not so retarded as to want to fire cannons directly at someone like that. Who do you think I am? John Gary?

John Gary:

I'm not going to answer the actual question - I'm going to answer the question behind the question, which is really "Hey who should I have represent me? Should I sign with a big manager or a small one? A big agency or a small one?" The answer is "I don't know, do you want me to pick what you should have for breakfast, too?"

These kinds of questions are what I like to call "role playing game" questions - they're questions that ignore the realities of the business and what happens when you go looking for a rep and what it's like to actually have one.

The fiction here is the notion that you can choose between a big manager or a medium one, a big agent or a small one. I've had this same discussion with different writers for 15 years. It used to be fun to talk through "Oh well I'd totally choose the small agency over the big one!" but when push comes to shove, it's about who you sit down with, what they say, what they offer, and the other connections the reps have.

Until you are in that room sitting across from the rep wanting you to be a client, this is a useless conversation. Send your material to anyone who will read it. The material will make the decision for you.