MISCELLANEOUS STUFF...


BOOK REVIEW

I recently read a book titled Writing Drama: A Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scriptwriters, by Yves Lavandier. This is a comprehensive book that truly digs deep into what successful dramatic writing is all about. The book weighs in at about 530 pages—and that’s not including the index and glossary—so it’s something you’ll have to take a bit of time with, but I assure you, it will be time well-spent. So whether you’re a screenwriter, playwright, or novelist, I’m certain you’ll find Writing Drama valuable, insightful, and a worthy addition to your bookshelf. For more information about Writing Drama, A Comprehensive Guide for Playwrights and Scriptwriters, CLICK HERE!

GREAT "MOVIE" PODCAST SHOW!

A few months ago, I posted about a podcast interview I did on the Movie Geek United Show. Let me tell ya, this has turned out to be one heck of a fantastic series of shows. In recent weeks, the Geeks have interviewed directors Brian De Palma and John Badham, composers Howard Shore and Mark Isham, writer/producer Michael Grais (Poltergeist), producer A. Kitman Ho (Platoon, JFK, Born on the Fourth of July), horror actor Michael Berryman (The Hills Have Eyes), actor Joe Pantoliano...and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t checked out this show yet, I strongly urge you to go to the Movie Geeks site and download what you’ve been missing. And for those of you who didn’t catch the interview I did, simply go to the August 19th podcast and download away! (Included on my interview segment is screenwriter Allison Burnett, screenwriter of Autumn in New York, Resurrecting the Champ, and Feast of Love.) To visit Movie Geeks United, CLICK HERE!


And finally...

My friend Craig and I were at a housewarming party last night. This being Los Angeles, we got to talking to some young “movie people.” One fella was an actor, and another was a film composer, another was a budding filmmaker/screenwriter. We all got to talking about our respective favorite movies, soundtracks, and actors. Craig and I both got some blank stares after mentioning some of our selections.

I’m always left just a little incredulous when people (usually those under 30) have little notion of who Steve McQueen, Henry Fonda, or John Wayne were; or no real awareness of fantastic films such as The Great Escape, Midnight Cowboy, Rosemary’s Baby, Marathon Man, Three Days of the Condor, or, going back even further, Meet John Doe, Sullivan’s Travel’s, and Red River.

I mean, if you’re a filmmaker, screenwriter, actor, or film composer, you should have a decent grasp on movie history, right? Sure, there have been lots and lots of fantastic movies made in the last 20 years...but movies did exist back in “olden times.” If you’re not aware of some of the great films from the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s, then you owe it to yourself as a filmmaker to do a little exploring. I’m sure you’ll like what you discover.

With that in mind, I thought I’d have a little fun here, so I culled together clips and trailers from some of my all-time favorite movies. These are just a very few of the movies that sent shivers down my back in dark movie theaters, sparked my imagination, and ultimately, guided me to a career in filmmaking. I hope you’ll watch some of these clips. I hope you’ll watch all of them! Then perhaps you'll watch some of these movies; and I hope they’ll spark your imagination, thrill and delight you as they did me.

Also...you’ll notice that a few of these clips contain images of my all-time favorite actor—the late, great Steve McQueen (The Great Escape, Bullitt, The Towering Inferno). When it came to screen presence, he was the king. When it came to “cool,” he was the king of that, too. Enjoy!


Trailer for Midnight Cowboy (1969):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiV0Vw2P3C0

Trailer for The Towering Inferno (1974):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zsRnQQpklPM

Trailer for The Poseidon Adventure (1972):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAjK5xDa-ks&feature=related

Trailer for Bullitt (1969):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccVe9F99idA&feature=related

Trailer for Rosemary’s Baby (1968):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otPyEsObI1M

Trailer for The Great Escape (1963):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyalXyjoyEQ&feature=related

Trailer for Goldfinger (1964):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qj-vmGlAt2Y&feature=related

Trailer for Marathon Man (1976):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vp7nXAL5dBo

Trailer for Electra Glide in Blue (1973)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tn-T_wmYTdo

Segment from the motorcycle chase from The Great Escape:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNmzJdqdhxQ

Tribute to Steve McQueen:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-uNWweqbe8&feature=related

BETTER NEWS...

Remember earlier this week when I told you how one of my projects had been derailed? Well, a couple days ago my rep got word from the producers that they’ve had some very encouraging meetings...and the project is moving forward once again. Of course, this is all subject to change at any moment, but right now things look pretty good. The nutty roller-coaster ride continues. I’ll keep ya posted.

READER QUESTION (and some fun stuff)...

Michael wrote, asking: “I’ve just started writing a feature screenplay. How many pages should I write each day?”

Every writer has to find what works best for himself. The advice I usually give is to write something every single day. Rain or shine, night or day, in sickness or in health, even if it’s a third of a page, get something down on paper.

As for myself, every day I do something that brings me closer to my goal of getting a project completed. Even if it’s just notes, I get something done. If I’m working on a first draft of a screenplay (which is usually handwritten), I’ll typically spend 3-4 hours a day cranking out pages. At that pace, it’s not unusual for me to complete that first draft in about a week.

There are times when the going is a bit slower. Maybe some days I’ll work for just an hour a day and that first draft takes a few weeks longer. However long it takes is how long it takes. I’m happy as long as I’m getting something done on a consistent basis. But do what works best for you.

By the way, I don’t necessarily believe in setting a page-per-day quota. If I tell myself, “Today I’m gonna write fifteen pages,” and then I only write six, am I supposed to beat myself up over it? No way! Don’t you dare do that to yourself. Look, getting a script written can be difficult enough; there’s no need to make it even more difficult. So, my advice here: no quotas. Just get into the habit of writing something every day.
Every day until you get it done.
Bit by bit.
You’ll get there.
Probably quicker than you expect.

Thanks for the question, Michael. Good luck!

STAR SIGHTING!

So last night I was once again out with my friend Craig. Late in the evening we stopped for a refreshment at a restaurant/bar in Beverly Hills. As usual, I had a cranberry juice, and Craig had...well, something that smelled like paint thinner. Anyway, there was a large table near us with about twenty people seated at it. Among them was actress Tia Carrere (True Lies, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). Let me tell ya, she’s a nice lookin’ lady. Then another familiar face showed up: Francis Fisher (Titanic, and Clint Eastwood’s ex-girlfriend). Judging by the way she was being treated by everyone (and by how she was treating them), she seems to be an absolutely lovely woman. And oh, speaking of lovely: Earlier in the evening, Craig and I were at another restaurant, having something to drink, chatting away about this crazy WGA strike, and we kept noticing these unbelievably gorgeous young women walking up the stairs in front of us. One, then another, then another, then another. They just kept coming! I mean, we’re used to seeing gorgeous women at this particular establishment, but even this was a bit much. (Not that I’m complaining, mind you.) Anyway, we asked our bartender, “So what’s going on here?” He told us, with a big grin on his face, “Victoria’s Secret is holding a little party upstairs.” Yup, I guess that’d explain it. Only in La La Land, folks.

And finally...

There’s a new trailer for House at the End of the Drive. See it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIs21tU9O-g

The Reality of a Screenwriter’s Life...

I had a bit of a setback last week. Actually, a major setback. A script I’ve had under option for something like three years—and a script that was oh-so-close to obtaining its full financing—sort of fell apart on me. Yup, we got word several days ago that the first group of investors has backed out of the deal; and now the other group is having second thoughts about the whole thing. We’re not down for the count just yet, but it ain’t lookin’ too good. The producers say they’ll have to kick the project loose if this second group of investors decides to drop out. All the meetings, all the phone calls, all the e-mails, all the script submissions and meetings with big-name actors...and this is what it’s come down to. But ya know what? Like it or not, that’s the way this business of film works. Up one minute, down the next. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. Not just to me, but to every other screenwriter—every other filmmaker—trying to eek out a living in this cockamamie business. (And make no mistake about it—this business is cockamamie.)

A few hours ago, I got off the phone with a friend of mine who happens to be a film director. He’s done a few movies in the last handful of years. You’ve probably seen at least one of them. But anyway, here’s a guy with a halfway decent track record and even he’s struggling like crazy. Up until about a week ago, he had a pretty big movie lined up. An Academy Award-winning actor was set to star. It was a greenlit picture. Then, CRASH, it all fell to pieces. Back to square one. But again, that’s how this business works sometimes.

As for yours truly...well, I spent about twenty minutes kicking the furniture. But then I put myself back into the proper mindset and got creative. All I could think about was, “How can I get this project back on track?” “Who can I call?” That’s pretty much the only path you can take, otherwise you close up shop and sell insurance for the rest of your life. Lemme tell ya, that ain’t gonna happen. (No offense to all you insurance salesmen out there.)

But I do have other scripts in the works. As I posted in a recent blog, I just had a table-read of one of these scripts. It went very well and the producers were very happy. So I’ll press forward on that project and a couple of others I’m cranking on. Yup, it’s a lot of work, and things usually move at a snail’s pace (and that’s an awfully frustrating part of this job), but this is what I do. I have to put up with the disappointment. No real way around it.

That’s why I laugh when some newbie writer—who’s written maybe two scripts in his entire life— tells me he sent out 25 query letters and has yet to received a response. Boo hoo, I’m heartbroken. C’mon, snap out of it. Send out 25 more queries. Send 100. Send 200. Hit the streets and knock on some doors. Make some phone calls. Do what it takes. Build up your immune system. You’ll need it if you are lucky enough to join the big boys.

If you’re not willing to get your hands dirty and your hair mussed, then a cozy cubicle at ACME Insurance awaits. For me, it’s onward and upwards.


READER QUESTION...

Carlo is a university student and teacher in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has a “safe” job...but would “much, much rather” move to L.A. to be a screenwriter. He wants to know if he must live in L.A. to write. If he moves here, what are the risks? What kind of money will it take to live here? Here’s what I had to say:

No, you do not need to live in Los Angeles in order to write. You can write from anywhere in the world. My questions, Carlo: Do you have two or three really great scripts in your briefcase? Not decent scripts—great scripts; scripts that will thoroughly impress the movers and shakers here in Hollywood. If those scripts aren’t top notch, you might as well stay in Toronto. (By the way, I’ve kinda covered this ground already on my website and in this blog. If you have yet to read through them, I suggest you do so at once.)

The fact is, there’s a ton of competition here in L.A. The good news is, about 99% of the budding screenwriters in this town have scripts that are various shades of dreadful. If you’re one of those 99%, you have no business being here. If you’re of the one percent that actually has a really great script (one that screams: “I AM A MOVIE—MAKE ME!!”) then you have a pretty decent shot at some sort of success.

As for life in L.A.: Well, it’s darn expensive. I don’t know what kind of rent or mortgage you pay up in Toronto, but a 2-bedroom apartment pretty much anywhere here in town will run you roughly $2,200 a month. Sure, you can find areas that are cheaper (and some that are even more expensive!), but not by very much. The median price of a home in L.A. hovers around $500,000. In Orange County (south of L.A.), the median price is roughly $425,000. So, not exactly cheap.

Then you have transportation. Everything is so spread out around here, so you’ll need a car (and lots of $3.30/gallon gas to go in it). Sure, we have buses and a subway and train system here, but it’s only so effective; not exactly practical, especially if you have a family.

Speaking of family, you’ll want to settle in a “safe” part of town. They exist, but ya gotta do your homework. (I’m a big fan of Simi Valley, just over the hill from the San Fernando Valley. Very safe, very clean, very family oriented.)

Anyway, I think you can see where I’m going with all this. My advice is to get those scripts written, save a ton of cash, do some major homework on L.A., Ventura County, and Orange County, then get your tail down here. By the way, did you say you were married? If so, only make the move if your wife is 100% behind you. If she’s not, divorce her immediately. (Just kidding.)

I truly think it’s important for all of us to go after what we MUST have in life. If writing movies and/or television is something you absolutely MUST do, come on down and give it 110%. Life’s an adventure; if you’re just gonna play it “safe”...well, um, let’s not even go there.

Thanks for the question, Carlo. Good luck!

WANTED: TOPICS!

Got a screenwriting question you’d like answered on this blog? Great—send me those questions!

TheWorkingScreenwriter(at)yahoo.com

An early morning rambling...

So, yesterday I did an on-camera interview for House at the End of the Drive. If a DVD of the movie ever gets released, the interview will be part of the supplemental material. At least I’m assuming the interview will be included. I mean, I’m only the screenwriter, so ya never know. But the interview went fine. Brief, but fine. Afterwards, the producer and I viewed several hours of behind-the-scenes video footage (again, for use on the DVD). I’ll tell ya, I can’t believe the guy who shot this footage actually got paid. I’m serious. Of approximately 14 hours of footage, maybe 90 minutes of it was actually watchable. Hey, I liked the videographer very much—he just doesn’t belong behind a camera. But I got a big kick sifting through all that footage. Some fun memories. That was a fun (albeit hectic) shoot and I enjoyed working with those people. Well, most of ‘em. There were a couple crewmembers I’d like to see drawn and quartered...but I guess you have to expect that sort of thing on a movie set. Some of the behind-the-scenes footage included Lance Henriksen. Man, what a really good actor. A really nice guy, too. It was fun having him on the set for an afternoon. I guess that’s what I enjoy most about this whole filmmaking thing. It’s not necessarily the finished product (which is usually not as good as you’d hoped), it’s about the people you get to know. Once a project is over, some you’ll never see again. Some you’ll work with again on another project. Some you’ll bump into on the street or at a screening or at a party and you’ll recall the fun experience you shared once upon a time. Every so often you’ll establish a connection that blossoms into solid friendship. Back in 1988, I met an actor on a low-budget horror flick. We’re still friends to this day. Funny, on that same movie, I worked for several days with Len Lesser. You know him as Uncle Leo on “Seinfeld.” I knew who Len was when I was working with him. After all, he’d been in some very big movies back in the 60s and 70s. I felt bad that he had to work on this ultra low-budget piece of garbage. Just a few short years later, he’d become a household name with Jerry and the gang. Good for him! Len is living proof that if you keep at it, anything is possible. Look at Rodney Dangerfield. Sure, he’d had some nice success in his 30s and 40s...but he didn’t hit it really big until he was nearly sixty! Many budding screenwriters in their 50s and 60s have asked me: “Aren’t I too old to be a screenwriter?” My reply is always: “Heck no! If you’ve got the talent, Hollywood wants you.” As I write at the end of my book, Q & A: The Working Screenwriter: Follow your dreams. Live your dreams. Always. Ya know, that ain’t half bad advice.

Why do they call it La La Land, Daddy?

I stopped by the American Film Market (AFM) late yesterday. I entered the lobby of the Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel and stepped into a sea of film distributors, lower-tier producers and directors, and slinky “starlets.” I’m not complaining, mind you. I mean, it’s an interesting place to hang out for an hour or two; and if you do it right, it can be a good education into how the B-movie market works. But hang out I did, out by the pool, overlooking the ocean and a beautiful setting sun. I’ll tell ya, there are only a handful of things about L.A. that I truly love and sitting on the beach on a crisp fall day, watching the sun set, is one of ‘em. So there I am out by the pool...people around me were schmoozing, making deals, and smarmy types from far-flung countries were hitting on fledgling actresses. But as enjoyable as all this was (cough, cough), once that gorgeous red sun sank beneath the horizon, I was outta there. I then took a walk up to the Coffee Bean on Wilshire and 9th, parked myself at a table, and proceeded to work on a script. My buddy Craig joined me a couple hours later. We did what we always do: talked about movies, talked about writing, and talked about a road trip we’ll eventually take. At one point in our conversation, I glanced up and saw somebody I recognized coming towards us: a heavyset man with close-cropped blonde hair. Philip Seymour Hoffman, ladies and gentlemen. He sat down at a table behind us. Now this is one actor I think very highly of. If you’ve ever seen him in anything, I’m sure you’ll agree he’s pretty amazing. I loved him in Boogie Nights. I thought he made a great bad guy in Mission: Impossible III. He was heartbreaking in Love Liza. Heck, he’s always so good. Yup, Philip Seymour Hoffman...and there he was sipping flavored iced tea at a coffee house on Wilshire Boulevard. Well, I guess this is one more reason to enjoy living in La La Land.

“WE SEE” (and other “rules”)...

The debate rages on and on and on and on. “Never use ‘we see’ in a spec script!” “Put ‘we see’ in your script and readers will toss it into the trash bin!” “Only rank amateurs put ‘we see’ in a script!”

STOP THE MADNESS, PEOPLE!!

Yes, you should definitely avoid using we see in your scripts. But the real problem isn’t the use of we see. Fact is, if it’s used properly a few times in a script, it’s not such a big deal. The reason it doesn’t work in your script (and virtually all newbie scripts) is because all the other words around it are so poorly chosen and so poorly placed. This is why we see is overlooked in pro scripts—because everything else reads so darn well.

For example, in the screenplay Heat, Michael Mann breaks every rule in the book, including multiple uses and variations of we see, but we don’t care because a) the story is so good, b) the characters are so well-defined, and c) the action makes this an exciting page-turner. Here's an example of Mann's “overuse” of we see...

CERRITO'S POV: As we approach the street, an armored truck passes by. We fall in behind. At this point we realize these men are going to pull down and armed robbery of this armored truck. But, we turn LEFT. The armored truck went straight. Then we turn RIGHT. However we SEE the armored truck again. It turns left. Our paths will intersect at 90 degrees.

Mr. Mann also grossly over-describes his settings and characters...

Planes ROAR overhead in landing or take-offs. Yellow vapor lamps glare. It's gaudy with lights. Neil and a man named NATE are parked next to each other facing opposite directions. Nate's 50 -- an ex-prizefighter with his nose all over his face in a silver Mercedes. His big muscles have gone to flab. He wears a yellow rayon shirt. He's deeply tanned and pock-marked. Nate functions as a middleman and fence for Neil. All calls from people who want to contact Neil come to Nate. Right now he examines the manila envelope from the armored truck. Neil's in a Lincoln Town car, gray suit, white shirt, no tie.

....and Mr. Mann also uses "CUT TO" after every scene!

So there you have it. Lots of broken rules, even some sloppy writing ("...his nose all over his face in a silver Mercedes."), but when a script works so well, when the characters are rich and the story compelling, we're willing to overlook such sloppiness. (You could argue that Mr. Mann wrote in this manner because it was a script he was directing himself. Still, it's a pretty fab script.)

Here’s another example of “we see” used in a perfectly acceptable manner (from the screenplay Vacancy, by Mark L. Smith):

Amy snuggles close against David. They sit together in the darkness...staring at the door.

AMY: What are they doing?

David glances up to the video camera, aimed toward them.

DAVID: They’re enjoying themselves.

We pull back away from David and Amy...back up toward the camera...farther...into the camera. David and Amy grow smaller...then darkness takes over for a moment...

...until we see David and Amy again...this time they’re lit with a green glow, like we’re watching them through nightvision goggles.

And we pull back farther...realize the image is on a VIDEO MONITOR...we drift back even more...past the head of the MAN, watching the screen.


So please, folks, don’t get soooooooo stressed out over breaking a few of the so-called rules. Nobody really cares. Just worry about the other 14,000 words in the script and you're golden.

***

APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from Amazon.com and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)

It’s...it’s...THE BLANK STARE!!

A little observation yesterday...

So I was at a coffeehouse, seated across from a guy who was at a laptop and working on—yup, you guessed it—a screenplay. At least I think he was working on it. I say this only because each time I glanced over at him all he seemed to be doing was admiring the screen of his laptop. I mean, if he had actually been writing a screenplay, wouldn’t there have been some actual fingers upon keyboard action going on? Well, maybe this fella was just having an off day. Or maybe he had more pressing matters on his mind. Or maybe he was just stuck on what to write next. Actually, that’s probably the most reasonable explanation.

Believe me, I see this sort of thing often: the glassy-eyed stare, agonizing over just the right word, just the right sentence, just the right line of dialogue. The writer will type something, delete it, write it again, delete it, then...the blank stare. OK, sure, fine, I can understand agonizing over individual lines of action and/or dialogue when you’re at work on a fourth or fifth draft, or fine-tuning your submission draft, but if you’re in the midst of the first or even second draft, well...

I'm a firm believer in racing through early drafts, especially the first draft. Stalling out can be the death knell. When you hit a snag, it’s important for you to put something down—anything—and move forward. For instance, let’s say you have a scene where a character reads a poem. Don't stop and spend hours coming up with just the right poem. Simply write Insert Great Poem Here and move forward.

If your character tells a really funny joke, don't pace back and forth trying to come up with the joke. Simply write Insert Really Funny Joke Here and move on.

If you get to a scene but you're not quite sure how it's going to wrap up, just write notes to yourself (i.e., “Joe realizes he was wrong and tells Jill how much he truly loves her”) and move to the next scene.

Or if you have a police captain bellowing orders to his men, and you don’t quite know the appropriate cop jargon, don’t worry about it at this point. Just slap down something that sounds halfway decent and you’ll fix it later.

The point is, do not stop the progress of the script. Vomit up those ideas. Just get ‘em down. Think of the first draft as a long crawl across a scorching desert. Your only goal is to get to that oasis on the other side. Stop in the middle and you're D-E-A-D.

Believe me, I’ve seen my share of screenwriters get frustrated and overwhelmed by relatively insignificant moments in a script, then they'll stuff the script into a deep, dark drawer. So do yourself a favor: on that first draft, quit staring at that blinking cursor and move forward, forward, forward. The oasis awaits!

And while I have your undivided attention...

Pssst. How’d ya like to sit down to coffee with 16 working screenwriters? Great! And hey, you can do it without leaving the comfort of home. Yes, my book Q & A: The Working Screenwriter – An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today’s Film Industry is available online wherever fine books are sold. That’s right, ladies and gents, Allison Burnett (Autumn in New York, Resurrecting the Champ), Katherine Fugate (The Prince and Me), Brent Maddock (Tremors, The Wild Wild West), John Rogers (The Core), David J. Schow (The Crow), Stephen Susco (The Grudge), and ten other working scribes have much to say—and they’re saying it to YOU. Question is: Are you listening?

Buy Q and A: The Working Screenwriter here!