my new job and why it made me disappear

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve posted. A few folks have been asking where I’d disappeared to, so I figured I’d catch everyone up.

screenplay writingIn September of 2009 I took the first full-time job I’ve had since 2002. Well, that’s not entirely true… it’s the first full-time job working for someone else. See, back in 2002 I was working in the dot-com web development space, doing project and account management. Then everything went to hell (remember when web developers wore black turtlenecks and had cappuccino machines at their desks? Remember that? Yeah… good times… ) and I was unemployed. Prior to that I’d spent 17 years in the office products industry… ever seen “The Office”? I was Jim. I couldn’t bring myself to go back to that, so I sat on my couch for 7 months ruining a perfectly good credit score. Then, since no one would hire me, I decided to start my own web-development company – groupofpeople.com – with two other unemployed guys from my old job.

That worked out pretty well… we did a bunch of really good work for about 2 years, employed 12-16 contractors at any given time, and had a cool little office (no cappuccino machine though). I did all the business management, plus project management, usability audits and information architecture. Then my partners realized they didn’t want to be owners, they wanted to be employees – regular paychecks and no headaches, who could blame them – so they took off. I closed up the office and ran the company out of my house for a couple years, then closed it up completely to pay attention to my real passions… writing and art. Continue reading my new job and why it made me disappear

where the wild things are – review

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Where The Wild Things Are – a disappointing imbalance of dramatic and thematic intent.

I knew going in. I’d heard the reports, seen the reviews, and I knew.

“It’s awfully dark,” they’d say. “It’s not a kid’s movie.”

“But it’s a kid’s book,” I’d say. “It’s about a boy who imagines a land with friendly monsters. How can that not be for kids?”

But in my mind I thought maybe at least it would be an interesting adult take on a kid’s story. And it was a tossup between WTWTA and Jim Carrey’s new 3D Scrooge extravaganza from the people who brought you the robotic and unengaging Polar Express. So I opted for WTWTA.

Ah, but they were right. And I was wrong. And here’s why. Continue reading where the wild things are – review

Positive feedback on the Faeries script feels so good

Although our screenplay “Faeries” didn’t win at Shriekfest, we still got to see the judge’s notes… those kind folks who put so much time into reading all those screenplays. We’re feeling pretty good about what they had to say…

A lively, unusual slasher movie that delivers plenty of gore, and introduces a new set of monsters that could be worth a franchise.

I could see this as a movie… so many are hard to see actually made. This could be a fun little romp. 9 out of 10!

Clear and atmospheric writing that flows easily down the page. I enjoyed it. Definitely above average writers.

Thanks, amazing readers at Shriekfest! We appreciate your time, attention and obvious good taste!

Faeries at Shriekfest Film Festival

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Shriekfest Screenplay Competition finalists include "Faeries" by Chip Street and Sean Meehan.

Let’s get the news out of the way right off the bat: Faeries did not bring home an award in the screenplay competition. But the good news is, the grapevine tells us that we were a very close runner up, and an unofficial judge ‘s favorite for commercial appeal and shootability. Moreover, we walked away with two producers interested in reading the script, and one well-respected studio reader itching to rep it to a few prodcos. So we’re still chuggin’ along.

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But we did make it to Hollywood for the Shriekfest Festival, and win or lose, what a gas! Founder and fest director Denise Gossett, her most excellent husband and a bevy of dedicated volunteers put on a really fun, intimate, quality fest on the grounds of Raleigh Studios. Denise is a certified Scream Queen in her own right whose next project, the horror comedy Crustacean, is already in post-production. Continue reading Faeries at Shriekfest Film Festival

paying to pitch

There are lots of sites and services that charge writers or filmmakers for the opportunity to “pitch” their projects. And there are just as many filmmakers and writers who decry the practice as an outright scam focused on simply taking the money of starry-eyed newbies with no intention of ever really making their movie (see the recent Nehst Studios post).

Sometimes those same writers and filmmakers pay for pitch sessions as adjuncts to seminars, festivals and etc, like the Great American Pitchfest. Unknown writers put out hundreds of dollars, maybe a couple thousand when you include travel lodging and food, to go to the Pitchfest in LA. They get to pitch their unknown project(s) to a bunch of “producers”, some of whom are legit, some of whom possibly are not, none of whom have ever heard of said writer, or have ever shown any interest in his work. They only agree to hear his pitch because he PAID. And many such writers seem to think this is a great opportunity, completely legitimate, money well spent, an investment in their careers, etc.

I still don’t understand why some folks insist that a Pitchfest makes sense, but when ONE producer or website makes the same offer, it’s a scam. It may be a scam, if that particular producer is a thief. But why is it by definition a “scam”, when a Pitchfest is a legitimate “opportunity”?

I’d love to hear examples and experiences about Pitchfest-esque events, individual producers/agents/managers who charge for pitch sessions, and online sites that charge to connect you with pitching opportunities.

And I’ll be writing a comparative blog soon on sites like VirtualPitchFest.com, GreenWriter.org, InkTip.com and ScriptStork.com, who charge (or not) to host your projects in the hopes of connecting you with a legitimate producer.

the rise of the unsuperhero.

greatest american heroSure, superheroes are all over the silver screen. And that’s great for the comics publishers (who get to license the rights to their IP) and great for producers and studios (cuz it’s easier to sell a movie that’s based on an existing brand). But it sucks for the spec screenwriter who doesn’t have said rights (and thus would be wasting his/her time writing an adaptation of, say, The Tick) and still wants to write a superhero movie.

So what’s a spec screenwriter who wants to put their stamp on the superhero genre to do?

Is there room for a nonbranded, unknown superhero at the box office? Well sure. There’s a legacy of unknown heroes, from Cannell’s Greatest American Hero TV series to Wayans’ Blankman, from the borderline brilliant Unbreakable through the very cute Sky High, from the wonderful The Incredibles to the watchable but forgettable My Super Ex-Girlfriend and lastly the simply unwatchable Zoom (somebody needs to apologize for this movie). And need we even mention TV’s Heroes? Continue reading the rise of the unsuperhero.

i will not read your fucking script but if i read your fucking script appreciate my fucking feedback

A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson seems kinda pissed.

Apparently he gets asked to read a lot of scripts.

Apparently most of them are crap.

And apparently nobody really wants his honest feedback.

So he wrote a scathing essay over at The Village Voice, outlining just how much this all sucks. Continue reading i will not read your fucking script but if i read your fucking script appreciate my fucking feedback

Faeries is a finalist at Shriekfest

faeries-posterWell, I told you just days ago that our horror screenplay Faeries had made it to the semi-finals of the 2009 Shriekfest screenplay competition.

The news just got better.

Faeries has now advanced to the finals, baby! Looks like we’ll be heading down to Hollywood again next month, to attend the fest. We will, of course, keep you all posted on the final results, about the trip, and about the fest itself.

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?

Faeries makes semi-finals at Shriekfest

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Our horror script “Faeries” has made the semi-finals in the Shriekfest Horror and Sci Fi Film Festival screenplay competition.

Chip and Sean,
Your screenplay has been selected as a semi-finalist in the 2009 Shriekfest Screenplay competition.  Congratulations on making it this far.  The judges are currently in the process of selecting the finalists for the festival.  We will be contacting everyone sometime this coming week.  Thank you for your patience.

Don’t know if we get laurels for it, but I’ll take it anyway. Not bad for a script we wrote in 6 weeks, huh?

And let’s not forget that Faeries is also under consideration by a prodco in Vancouver

Everybody cross your fingers for the finals… it’s a solid script and deserves some more lovin’.

[CLICK FOR UPDATE…]