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.
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
An ability to take criticism – Listen, Hear, Process
After 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.
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?
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).
There’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.
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 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.
Recently, somewhere in Hollywood, somebody got taken for a ride (no surprise).
They got so upset about it that they decided to start an organization dedicated to bringing film industry scammers to justice; hanging them out to dry where everyone could see them and be warned about them by listing their names, and businesses, and misdeeds.
Is this a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. Posting the names of known scammers could be helpful, I suppose, if they’ve been found guilty of a crime. But what makes a scam? Sometimes, indie filmmakers are just dumb (would naive be nicer?) and don’t do their due diligence on people who just don’t have the resources or expertise to do what they promise to do. Or sometimes well meaning producers just aren’t able to finish their project, so that “credit and copy” never make it to all those folks who volunteered their time. That’s not a scam.
Now in this case, it indeed looks like a scam. The guy is allegedly pitching himself as representing companies he’s not associated with (though he was once). And he is allegedly representing that he has connections that he apparently does not. But as near as I can tell, the guy has NOT been charged with or convicted of any crime.
Nevertheless, the site invites people to post their own stories about being scammed, and has posted claims from victims alleging that the scammer “apparently own a company called Central Films (Central Film Company) and has an office at the Lot studios in West Hollywood, California”. This claim isn’t true — Central Film Company was also a victim of this scammer and has severed all ties with him — but it’s getting repeated elsewhere and Central Film Company has now had to defend itself against this on numerous websites. In this case the site is apparently hurting innocent victims in its fervor to play scam cop.
That alone should be enough to bug me. But here’s what bugs me.
What the hell? Are you old enough to know that the “hollywood blacklist” was a dark and evil period in the history of the U.S.? No? Let me educate you, son.
Once upon a long time ago, Hollywood (and the U.S. Government) went through a rabbit hole of paranoia and wound up in a witch hunt called The Hollywood Blacklist. It was an institutionalized unAmerican effort hinged on fear, racism and nationalism that destroyed careers, lives and relationships.
“The Hollywood blacklist—more precisely the entertainment industry blacklist, into which it expanded—was the mid-twentieth-century list of screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other U.S. entertainment professionals who were denied employment in the field because of their political beliefs or associations, real or suspected. Artists were barred from work on the basis of their alleged membership in or sympathy toward the American Communist Party, involvement in liberal or humanitarian political causes that enforcers of the blacklist associated with communism, and/or refusal to assist federal investigations into Communist Party activities…”
I’m happy to say that by and large we’ve thankfully left this black mark of American history in the past (efforts of delusionals like Michele Bachmann notwithstanding).
So the idea of anyone resurrecting this term, from WITHIN THE INDUSTRY in particular, for a new site that seeks to “warn” people about the “misdeeds” or “omissions” or very possibly “innocent failures” of others within the industry based even in part on unverified or uncorroborated hearsay really irks me.
Now look. I get it. The Hollywood film industry is infamous for being filled with nefarious characters prepared to steal your script (unscrupulous producers), steal your money (unscrupulous distributors), steal your virginity (unscrupulous agents) or steal your soul (unscrupulous culture).
And the indie filmmaking community has perhaps more than its fair share of scammers, looking to trade on the hopes and dreams of every small timer with a handicam who thinks if he can just find the right person to fund, produce or distribute his unique vision he’ll be the next Spielberg/Coppola/Coen.
So we ought to watch out for each other, sure. But we also have to watch out for ourselves. You have to be vigilant. You have to be smart. You have to educate yourself.
In the end, although this whole thing seems well intentioned, I’m not certain I like the unverifiable nature of the site, or the apparent visceral vengeance that seems to drive it. That seems like an irresponsible place to be coming from when doing this kind of thinig.
If they don’t start taking more care in what they do, I hope they at least change the name. That’s a period in Hollywood and U.S. history that I for one don’t need to have revisited.
Did I mention? Both scripts were turned down by the Nicholl.
I was heartbroken.
Well, no, not really. But a little disappointed. It does feel good to be in the majority, though. From the Nicholl:
With a record number of entries and a readily apparent increase in quality, this year’s Nicholl Fellowships was more competitive than in any previous year. Now that scores have been tallied for all 6,380 entries, we have to inform too many writers of scripts featuring compelling stories, intriguing characters and excellent craft that they have not advanced into the next round. Regrettably, Grampa Was A Superhero was not one of the 321 entries selected as a Quarterfinalist in the 2009 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.
You should realize that while we strive to make the evaluation of screenplays as objective a process as possible, it is inherently both a personal and an extremely subjective matter. A lack of success here may not have any bearing on your reception in the marketplace where a sale is the ultimate measure of success. I’ll even venture a prediction: several non-advancing writers will become professional screenwriters in the near future.
To tell you a little about the process: each script was read once. After receiving an initial positive evaluation, over 2,700 scripts garnered a second read. Just under 800 scripts were read a third time. Each read resulted in a numerical score being awarded. Scores for each entrant’s script were totaled, and the Quarterfinalists were selected on the basis of highest scores.
Since then I talked to a friend who talked to an L.A. reader, who said:
Yeah, Nicholl. We’ve met finalists before. Nothing seems to happen for them. They’re in the same boat. Good script, looking for work…
Then talked to another good friend who has quarterfinaled in the Nicholl twice. His comment (to paraphrase):
Yeah, it didn’t do anything for me. Maybe ten requests to see the scripts, nothing came of it, here I am.
Me, I’m so glad I couldn’t reach those grapes. They look so sour.
If you read my first post on Enigma, you know that I was impressed by the trailer and excerpts, but had two primary issues: I was unimpressed with the animated googly-eyed monkey (put me into painful Lost In Space flashbacks), and I wasn’t sure why one would spend 40K on making something too long for a short but too short to distribute as a feature. Otherwise, I thought the production looked solid and bigger than its budget.