Tag Archives: film

Sony's Samuel Dickerman, New Deal Studios and Filmworks/FX

I had a hell of a birthday last month… it’s been nearly three weeks, and now I’m finally getting around to writing about it.

filmworksfx logoMarvin Acuna of The Business of Show Institute (BOSI) invited myself and 9 other screenwriters down to Hollywood to sit in on a discussion with Sony V.P. Samuel Dickerman (Marvin’s BOSI is an amazing resource… this is my second event with them).  The event was held on the lot at Filmworks/FX studios.

Sam flew in from the set of Battle: Los Angeles to chat with Marvin about the current state of the film business, how it’s affecting screenwriters, and what he looks for in a project. Here are my notes on the conversation.

  • 320 screenplays “hit the market” to date in 2009 (spec screenplays repped at the studio level). Of those, 16% were purchased.
  • Writers must be prepared to do much more than simply write. They need to be prepared to act like producers, to be proactive about getting attachments, to be creative about their pitches, to go the extra mile. It’s not just about writing any more.
    • The director who won the job for Battle: Los Angeles beat out the studio’s short list of 3 preferred directors by holing up in his basement studio, shooting footage, cobbling together some CGI, and presenting exactly what he envisioned the film looking like. Much more than the simple “look book” of old movie stills and sketches provided by the average director.
    • The writer who won the job of scribing the new Baywatch movie (Jeremy Garelick – The Breakup and The Hangover [uncredited]) landed the job by volunteering to write fully a third of the script on spec… and this is a guy who’s a working pro who doesn’t have to do that.
  • You must have two great samples that demonstrate voice, structure and character.
  • You must be prepared to explain how you’re going to help pull the production together… how you are a creative asset to the team beyond simply writing a professional script. Or, have such incredible kick-ass concepts that you can spit on a napkin and have it be brilliant. Guess which one you probably are?
  • Know how to read between the feedback lines… producers aren’t writers, and they’re sometimes obtuse about communicating what they’re looking for. When they say “That’s great, but can we add aliens somewhere?” they don’t literally mean “add aliens”… but they mean they’re looking for something spectacular and unexpected, and it’s your job to understand that and to creatively provide it.
  • You cannot submit to the studios without representation… agency, management or minimally a connected entertainment attorney.
  • The last blacklist – the mythical list of amazing spec scripts making the rounds that all the execs are talking about but will never make because they’re not commercial enough – was largely drama. Which tells you that your drama script might be a good calling card (writing sample), but it ain’t gonna get bought or made.

Above all, you must have these three things:

  • A passion for movies
  • Perseverance
  • An ability to take criticism – Listen, Hear, Process

newdeal logoAfter the talk, we were given a tour of the facility by President/Director Ken Locsmandi. What a great place… a fully functional end-to-end soup-to-nuts facility, that has been providing fx work to the larger studios for years (City of Ember, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan, Juno, Apocalypto). They’re right next door to, and partnered closely with, New Deal Studios (The Dark Knight, X-Men: The Last Stand, Live Free or Die Hard, Spiderman 3), which we also got to tour.

We had to sign NDA’s, so if I say too much I’ll have to kill you, but we did get to see the bad guy’s dump truck from The Dark Knight, the VTOL fighter jet from Live Free or Die Hard (not an actual existing style of jet, we learned, but an amalgam of several different jets), a number of space ships from projects not yet released, and lots of other simply way cool stuff that we all felt very privileged to see. Shelves and shelves of amazing miniatures, recognizable vehicles and creatures and landscapes… like stumbling into Santa’s workshop.

And then lastly, we all retired to a great little ocean side Italian eatery for lunch, where we sat around and talked movies, writing and networking ideas. I got to see some folks I’ve met before and have been staying in touch with online, and some new friends, all of whom are forming the base of my growing community of contacts.

Lots of what I heard at the event is stuff that’s beginning to sound familiar… the bullet points above didn’t come as a big surprise. But what’s valuable about trips like these is that it’s an opportunity to hear these points again, to have it made clear that yes, everyone from the writers to the agents to the producers to the execs are telling a consistent story: Hollywood is knowable, and crackable, if you know what to bring to the table.

That’s the great service Marvin and his crew at BOSI, and all the players that he makes accessible are doing… showing us aspiring writers that Hollywood is a small town, and  that although it’s tough to break into, it is knowable. It’s not a mystery. Marvin, Sam, Ken and all the folks at the studios were so friendly, accessible and accommodating… they clearly all love what they do, love to share it, and are truly supportive of newbies like us. You can tell that they want everyone to succeed. It’s just that it’s a very small pond, with room for a very few writers (relatively speaking), and so the ones that make it are going to be those who bring a lot more to the table than just stories. They’ll be bringing a collaborative spirit, a professional demeanor, and a personality that other people are going to want to spend time around for the next 18-24 months – or more.

I know that’s me. Is it you?

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hyperion: the movie?

Holy Crap.

Hyperion - by Dan Simmons

Hyperion - by Dan Simmons

I guess this isn’t news… this project has been in the works for years, it turns out. But somehow it wasn’t on my radar.

The Hyperion Cantos, one of the most amazing, brilliant, Literary works of science fiction known to mankind, is being adapted to film by Warner Brothers.

Hyperion Hyperbole, you say? I think not. Hyperion investigates issues of humanity and society alongside the best of Gibson, but without the (sometimes) overly conscious punk edge that can make classic cyberpunk “too uber-cool for school”.

It creates mysterious worlds, frightening mythologies and psychological challenges for its characters, and its readers, like very little else.

It is far and away more Literary in the most fundamental sense than any of the fetishism of scientific specificity that mires the Clarkes and Asimovs and yes, occasionally, even the Heinleins of Golden Age scifi.

And its foundation in classical Literature (Hyperion is clearly modeled on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales) makes it all the more rich for those with an awareness and appreciation for it (and merely having a character quote Shakespeare from time to time – hello, ST:TNG – is not the same thing).

The Hyperion Cantos is easily on par with such watershed works of scifi as Herbert’s Dune (which has yet to have a proper theatrical interpretation, though I liked the miniseries just fine), or Card’s Ender series (which is also in development with Warner Brothers)… and in many ways, most clearly stylistically, it surpasses them. And while a few scifi films have been based on the works of P.K. Dick – one of them even good (Bladerunner) – Dick’s books have dubious Literary value at best but rather are merely good ideas poorly executed.

The trick is, in the end, Hyperion is a fractured travelogue, a collection of campfire tales shared by a group of travelers quietly working their way across a dangerous planet as a war rages in space above them. The stories are intense, and fantastic, and heart wrenching, and personal. And the war, for the most part, remains in the sky as an occasional light show, reminding the group of the importance of their mission. The book has very little to do with the 3-D trickery, unfolding automotive robots and blood-thirsty aliens of typical contemporary Hollywood scifi.

But it’s this unique, sensitive, artful brilliance that will make the film profound and timeless, so long as the source is respected.

It’s being adapted by Trevor Sands, whose work I’m unfamiliar with but who seems to have written exactly one produced short and one produced feature (note to self: get feature produced).

I would love to see this done right. I’d love to see something like The Cell meets Bladerunner meets Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Please. Please do this one right. For me.

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write club screenplay challenge

WriteClub_squareThere’s a new blog in town… Write Club Screenplay Challenge is a simple little blog that sets up mini-challenges for screenwriters. It’s like one of those 48-hour filmmaker’s challenges, but you don’t have to make a whole movie. You just have to write it.

The site is designed to offer motivation to get writers to write; it allows for socializing with, and feedback from, your peers; and it’s good fun.

Write Club was inspired by the John August website. Although John is a busy busy man, he occasionally finds time to offer his blog readers a “scene challenge” — wherein John sets up parameters, and invites readers to post “entries”. Similarly, Write Club will set up new challenges, with professional “referees” who will not only define the challenges, but judge the results, choosing a winner and a few close seconds.

THE FIRST CHALLENGE has been posted today, September 1st 2009.

This should be good fun. Pass the word around…

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scion – short film

Earlier this year I was a screener for the Santa Cruz Film Festival. I had to watch a truckload of crap… most of it was crap, frankly. Being a screener (or a screenplay reader) is a real eye opener, really… because most of it is crap. But I found a few gems, and I thought I’d get around to sharing them with you. Not all of them made it into the fest (not for lack of quality or vision, more for programming reasons) but I still think you should know about these films.

Scion_artSCION
Written and Directed by Michael Rosetti

Deep in an abandoned factory lives Scion; lonely and crippled, he hobbles along, trying to create a companion.  When a mysterious man stumbles into the factory Scion eagerly follows him and the two develop an odd relationship, ultimately changing Scion’s insulated existence forever. Creation and destruction are bound together in a story of the search for meaning and existence.

I was stunned by Scion. At only 12 minutes long, and with only a single line of dialogue, Scion is a beautiful movie with delicate performances. Shot on 35mm by Greg Mitnick, Scion’s urban grunge post-apocalyptic setting is filmed with the light and composition of a Vermeer.

In fact, my recommendation to the programming committee went something like this: Continue reading

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blair witch marketing efforts still relevant ten years later

Jessica Rovello has a good article over on HuffPo on what we’ve learned about online marketing from The Blair Witch Project, what’s still relevant, what’s changed, and where we go from here.

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the release of the Blair Witch Project, the ground-breaking, nausea-inducing, most successful indie film of all time. Blair is widely considered the first film to use the Internet to drive its marketing campaign — something I’m lucky to have firsthand knowledge of. In 1999 I worked at Artisan Entertainment as the Director of Online Services and was in charge of producing the film’s Web site and the online media outreach — not a bad gig for a 24-year-old. Had I had a second to breathe and understand what was going on around me — of the frenzy that was Blair Witch — I probably would have developed (in no particular order) shingles, a drinking problem and a facial tic. Luckily, I was blissfully unaware of the maelstrom.

She’s got five quick points. My favorite (as an old web usability whore)? Flashier isn’t necessarily better.

Also check out the official site.

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