Wednesday, September 30, 2009
HITFIX just recently posted a list of 29 films that could show up on this year's Best Picture nomination sheet. Remember, this is the first time the Oscar will go to one out of ten nominees, rather than the traditional one out of five. It's an interesting list, with a mix of genres and live action versus animation. Some of the films are more obvious contenders than others, and all have short pros and cons listed. Check out the full article - or if you're in a hurry, read the 29 selected films here.
(With the number of films he's apparently in this year, George Clooney could theoretically be in half of the best picture nods, if the projects he's tied to from the below list are all selected. I'm a bit surprised Public Enemies didn't make the cut. Or, to a lesser degree, Watchmen - just in light of some of the other choices. Also, I'm still not sure where the line is drawn for certain categories, i.e. Mr. Fox or Up appearing in Best Picture instead of Best Animated Feature categories, or District 9 and The Prophet taking one of the ten spots, rather than one of the five for best foreign. Frankly, I'm not even sure if District 9 is considered a foreign film or not.)
3. The Informant
5. Julie & Julia
6. Broken Embraces
7. Precious: Based on a Novel by Sapphire
8. Where The Wild Things Are
9. Star Trek
10. An Education
11. The Men Who Stare At Goats
12. District 9
13. The Tree of Life
14. The Hurt Locker
15. Bright Star
16. Up In The Air
17. A Prophet
19. A Single Man
20. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
21. Capitalism: A Love Story
22. The Road
23. 500 Days of Summer
24. Inglourious Basterds
25. Everybody's Fine
27. A Serious Man
28. The Lovely Bones
Monday, September 28, 2009
One of the biggest things I've learned in the past year is that, in addition to talent and strong ideas, a thick skin and a refusal to give up, a writer needs patience. A lot of patience. Early last week, my manager slipped my post-Apocalyptic spec to three agents. And thus began more waiting.
We're hoping to hear something early this week from the agents. If they don't express a desire to represent the script (and ideally that actually means me), then we'll take the script out without an agent. Of course, these sort of deadlines are semi-arbitrary. It might become obvious that waiting another week will work to our advantage with the agents. Yes, this is sort of prime spec market time, so we don't want to fall too far behind the times. Still, I'm waiting for a less-than-concrete deadline to come, and there is very little I can do about it at this point (other, of course, than work on a different project).
In the mean time, my manager is reading my Roman-army spec. I've asked for his feedback with the clearly-stated caveat that some of the beats in the script are very obvious place holders. There are some rather laughable moments (more embarrassing each time I think about them), and I gave him a re-write outline to accompany the script, with the hope that that takes care of some of his concerns about the more problematic beats. Though I'm 99% sure of the direction the new draft will take, I expressed a desire for my manager's input and am open to suggestion if he has other or better ideas.
This second script serves a couple purposes. First and foremost, once it's completed, it'll be my followup (hopefully, I'll need one) to the post-Apocalyptic spec. I don't like the idea of potentially going into meetings without a solid back up ready to go, and have already lost more time for rewrites than I should have. In addition to being the back-up, though, this script is also an addition to my resume so far as my manager is concerned. We still haven't solidified whether we'll be working together beyond the post-Apocalyptic project (maybe it's one of those things that will go unsaid). Last we spoke about our longer-term working relationship, we agreed that we'd see how the rewrite process went this summer and that he would want to read another project of mine. That's what the Roman-army spec is now.
Lastly, I guess sending him the script does something else, something equally important. It lights the fire under me to get back onto that project. Now that my manager is reading it and going to get back to me, I have no option but to start draft two.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
I just saw the following article (a few days after the fact, it would appear):
What does this mean for new and unproduced writers? I'm not necessarily convinced that there's any real cause for alarm, yet. Though, I must admit, this is a little disheartening to hear, especially since I think my team and I are about to try and go out with my post-Apocalyptic spec. the reason I'm not really worried, though, is that studios often change their plans or contradict some edict they've just sent down. Freezing development could, theoretically, mean freezing development, unless that one amazing project comes along. Exceptions are always a possibility in this business.
Universal Says No More Development for '09 Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009 Source: Variety Universal Pictures put the word out late last week that it will not spend money for the rest of the year to advance development projects.
Variety's Michael Fleming reports, "Word began filtering down to lot producers and the deal-making community this week that development has essentially been frozen at the studio."
A studio insider denied development has completely been frozen and stated that the studio has solidified its 2010 slate, and has made commitments to the projects it feels will line its 2011 slate.
There is also talk that Warner Bros. is paying scale to writers who don’t have established quotes, and most studios are employing one-step writer deals.
Nonetheless, if this is indicative of a larger trend to come, that last sentence about writers without established quotes being paid scale and one-step deals could be a bit worrisome. One-step (or, one draft/re-write) isn't a great sign for someone trying to break into the market with a spec. Typically, writers selling a spec can reasonably hope to be able to have a two-step deal (or more), whereby they are contracted to do a certain number of re-writes before the studio can take them off a project. If the one-step deal applies to specs as well as writers brought on to touch up a script, then there's a chance that new writers with great concepts but no name recognition to back them up could be dropped for an established writer much sooner on.
I'm curious to see if this is the last of these stories, or if this is just the beginning. More than that, I'm interested to know how that affects new writers trying to sell their first spec (yes, I am talking about myself in part, as well). Again, I don't really think there's major cause for concern - yet - but time will tell.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
A testament to the fact that Zombie and our other roommate and I are all mid-twenties year old males, there are no fewer than four working video game systems in our apartment. Last weekend, we watched the trailer for the new installment in the HALO franchise, ODST. I made my roommate replay it three times, because I couldn't get over how good it was. If you haven't seen it yet, check out the trailer:
Making trailers has become an art form unto itself. We all know how a great trailer can make or break a movie, even before it opens. FUNNY PEOPLE led a lot of people to think they were seeing a typical Judd Apatow comedy. What they got was a more serious film with funny elements. Word of mouth from the disappointed raunchy comedy fans turned a lot of potential viewers away. On the other hand, there are some trailers that ensure audiences right away and show them exactly what they're hoping to see. There's no mistake with a trailer for something like INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS that you're going to see a bloody movie about Jewish soldiers slaughtering Nazis.
In fact, trailers have become such an integral part of film marketing these days that it's not unheard of for writers to be asked to write partly for the trailer. When I was in school (and I've seen this in books I've read since), I remember being told that people who write action specs should have a couple obvious trailer beats in their script. There are always a few lines of witty dialogue right before someone gets blown up or a really awesome mid-air battle that helps sell the movie to the target audience just as much as the idea itself does. Hell, I've probably come up with no fewer than three trailers for my Roman-army spec.
The Halo ODST trailer blew me away. It is - for all intents and purposes - wordless. It has beautiful music. It perfectly conveys a world and protagonist. And, most importantly, it's clear what you'll be getting out of it. If this were for a movie and not a video game, I would have already bought my midnight showing tickets.
Monday, September 21, 2009
One of the many things I've learned about trying to make it as a screenwriter over the past year - and there have been many - is that it's important to plan for buffer time. Deadlines are things that (up and coming) writers absolutely have to meet. Beyond that, though, it's equally important to factor in time for edits, tweaks, re-writes, and anything else that might come up.
Today, just now as a matter of fact, I sent my producer and manager the umpteenth draft of the script. (When I say draft here, I mean it in the loosest of possible terms. A lot of writers define a draft as a version of the script in which substantial scenes/sequences have been changed or rewritten. This might mean that whole parts of the script have been removed, or brand new content has been added. What I'm talking about now, though, is more of a revision in which potentially minor edits have been made.)
The rewrites started out pretty big. At first, I wasn't quite prepared to accept them all. I was still ignorant about the assumed success of the script as it was back in May. I thought that the notes would change it dramatically, corrupting its "integrity" in the process. I was definitely wrong.
Once I came to accept the fact that the script not only needed changes (which I knew, but don't think I really wanted to make), it was then easy to see that the proposed changes I was given would really go a long way toward making the script stronger. From there, the rewrites got smaller. Elements that I was hanging onto from earlier drafts (actual drafts, in this case) were becoming more and more apparently out of place. As those got cut, the streamlining process kicked up a notch. The larger structural and plot rewrites segued into smaller edits to trim dialogue and action, particularly to keep the fast pace.
Over the past week, I've probably done no fewer than three edits, where I've worked off of a revised version my producer went through line by line. Each email from her had fewer and smaller edits, condensing beats, shortening monologues, and cutting the page count. At the start of this process, the first draft she read was 105 pages. It ballooned to 117 as I incorporated rewrites. Finally, after weeks of tightening, trimming, and tucking, we're back down to 106. Though only a page longer than the initial draft I gave her, this draft has so much more weight to it. The fluff and repetition are gone, as are the elements that weren't working. All that's left is a deeper, more substantial script that I am genuinely proud of.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Title: Wicked Lovely
Logline: A 17-year-old girl, who can see fairies, must fend off the advances of a fairy king determined to marry her to save the planet from his vengeful mother.
Writer: Caroline Thompson
More: To be adapted from the first book in Melissa Marr's series. CAA brokered the book deal with Writers House.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I will not read your fucking script.Simple enough, indeed. A bit later:
That's simple enough, isn't it? "I will not read your fucking script." What's not clear about that? There's nothing personal about it, nothing loaded, nothing complicated. I simply have no interest in reading your fucking screenplay. None whatsoever.
If that seems unfair, I'll make you a deal. In return for you not asking me to read your fucking script, I will not ask you to wash my fucking car, or take my fucking picture, or represent me in fucking court, or take out my fucking gall bladder, or whatever the fuck it is that you do for a living.
Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter.A very harsh truth in a lot of cases, I'm sure - but I have had experiences in the past where professional, working screenwriters were more than willing to offer feedback and advice to a fledgling writer. I know other Leaguers have, too.
You can read the full article here, and feel free to let me know what you think.
Logline: Set in a maximum security prison for the supernatural, a guard must join forces with a lethal inmate after a riot ensues in order to fight his way through various monsters and mad-men in order to survive.
Writer: Christopher Allen Nelson, Mitch Rouse
More: Spec. Broken Road's Sean Robins & Todd Garner will produce. Sony's Doug Belgrad & DeVon Franklin will oversee.
Monday, September 07, 2009
As I was leaving work on Friday, my phone rang. It was my manager, and he had Gretchen - the producer who optioned my post-Apocalyptic spec - waiting to conference in. With all three of us on the line, it was time to talk about the latest (and we hoped, final) draft I had turned in and what the plan for moving forward with my script is.
First, the great news was that they really liked all of the changes I have made and how effectively I have incorporated their notes. They reminded me that unproduced, young writers can best guarantee their careers by being easy to work with. Had I fought every note I've gotten from them, I'd be burying myself. Since I took their notes, threw in my own new ideas, fleshed the story out, and made the script much stronger, they said I have a much better chance of having a long career.
There's one final round of edits that Gretchen and I will be working on. There were some things that she wanted to cut, so she was going to use the weekend to really comb through the script. I should have those final edits soon. The difficulty, though, is that I write in Movie Magic 2000, while she uses Final Draft. Though the software claims to be compatible, I've found that it really isn't. She finally managed to get the script working in Final Draft after I converted the script to a rich text file. So, we'll see how re-converting goes.
Once the edits are all done, we're actually going to hold off on going to production companies or studios. Gretchen and (manager) Kevin have decided that trying to get an agent on board will make our case for the sale stronger. Their reasoning is that an agent at CAA, WME, or ICM will have other contacts at possibly bigger places and will also bring a level of name recognition that we might not yet have. Not to say that Kevin and Gretchen are unknown in the industry, but since they're working with an unknown writer, we have to do everything we can to make some things happen. If, however, we don't get any bites from agents by October 1st, we'll go forward on our own.
So, while there's more waiting ahead, I can handle it fine. There's been so much waiting to this point, that the next month shouldn't be too bad. Yes, we're waiting to hear back on some potentially big news, but I know I can't make those deadlines come any quicker. the best thing I can do going forward is to get another script in order that I can use it as a follow-up to this one. Roman army spec, here I come.
Friday, September 04, 2009
Title: At Swim-Two-Birds
Logline: A 19-year-old student sees the fictional characters in the play he's writing intertwining with the people in his life.
Writer: Brendan Gleeson
More: Based on Flann O'Brien's seminal metaphysical novel. Parallel's Alan Moloney will produce. Brendan Gleeson will direct. Colin Farrell, Cillian Murphy, Gabriel Byrne and Brendan Gleeson will star.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
My thesis professor once told me that he always gives his script to his wife because he knows she'll be flat out honest with him and tell him what's working and what's bullshit. I've always been a little hesitant to give my writing to my girlfriend. I'm not worried about how much she knows about screenwriting. She knows enough about the craft and is more involved with the entertainment industry than I am right now. There's just something about getting criticism from the person I wake up next to that scares me from time to time. I can deal with her being frustrated with my choice of tv shows, or with my wastefulness of faucet water, but her being frustrated with my screenwriting is often more than I'm willing to deal with. I usually opt not to fight my battles so close to home, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. I did more than bite the bullet. I put the gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger, and in a Fight Club kind of way, I feel like it saved my life.
A few months ago I was feeling none too thrilled about life. My girlfriend was feeling more like a roommate, she was making strides in the industry while I sputtered, the lease on my interest in my job was expiring, writing was slow, and my closest work friend and confidant was leaving the office to face her unknown destiny. I tried to fall back on my writing and completed two first acts to two different scripts. I enjoyed the concepts and hope to return to them, but the pages weren't fulfilling. I did something I've never done before. I abandoned my 200 million dollar concepts, dug real deep to get to the marshmallow of my personal emotions, and poured it all out into a minuscule budgeted, character driven script. It was a different animal. Those closest to me would be able to point at specific characters and events and say "Wait, I know that." It was the most personal thing I've written to date, a 90 pager about a recent grad who begins to question his current path and the relationships surrounding him after experiencing a traumatic work incident. So much of this script stemmed from feelings towards my girlfriend, some positive (love, admiration), and some not so positive (jealousy, envy). Even though the script was a work of fiction, it would hit home with her and had the potential to cause wounds. I felt it would be an extreme one way or another. Either she would be pretty upset and uncomfortable that I could write something like this without her having any knowledge of the process or content, or she would appreciate the invitation into parts of my life and value what I had chosen to share with her and what I had been able to create from those feelings. Despite some cautioning from the league, I gave her the script.
Around 10pm last night I got a voicemail from her stating that she'd read my script and she wanted to talk about it. Oh no. She can't even wait until she gets home from her late night commercial shoot to tell me how awkward she feels. In perfect dramatic fashion I couldn't make out the second half of the message. "I hate you" jumped through my mind, but it turns out it was "I love it." In our five years together I've been fortunate enough to get my fair share of "I love you", but this was the first "I love it", pertaining to a screenplay. I called her and we talked on the phone for half an hour about the script until she absolutely had to get back to work. I can't remember a time we talked for half an hour on the phone, and I can't remember a time she felt so strongly about one of my screenplays. You have to factor in the emotional connection to the material, but it was more than that. The discussion was surprisingly less personal but rather focused on the script as a story and how it might play out on film. I was so excited and relieved, because it just wouldn't have been fair to me to love the script as much as I did and have her not enjoy it.
In writing my untitled piece I not only got back on track with my writing, but I had put myself through self therapy and was feeling healthier. I felt better about my relationship with my girlfriend, my job situation (used to be a fatal tailspin, now just a loss of cabin pressure), and my emotions concerning my friend who had moved on. On top of that, I now have a very affordable, character driven script that I'm confident is pretty good. Lucky for me I get the league verdict on that later tonight at our next meeting.
I love the league and respect their opinions, but this might be the one I put my foot down with. I feel like I wrote it the way I wanted to write it and the way it needed to be written. There were so many moments when I felt the urge to make traditional screenwriting choices, things that would crank up the drama and solidify structure. But each time I tried to make those choices I felt like I was betraying the script and losing the human element that made it real. There are a few elements I'm open to changing, but I will most likely be stubborn as a mule regarding the vast majority of edits. That stubbornness might not make the script better, but maybe it will. Right now it doesn't matter, because I feel I've completed something more important than material.