A COUPLE OF QUICKIE UPDATES...


Update #1:

Last week I received payment on a one-year option extension for one of my scripts. This script has been in the hands of these particular producers for a couple of years now.

Believe me, this been a real roller-coaster ride. For a few months things looked really good, then the next few months things looked dismal. A few months up, a few months down—ugh, I was getting nauseous! In recent months the producers were doubtful they’d ever go forward with the project.

But recently, things turned around. Though it won’t actually happen until next year, the producers now feel very confident they’ll get the project off the ground and into production.

Based on what was paid for the option extension (not exactly a paltry sum for a low budget project), it seems they have quite a bit of faith that this will actually happen.

Gosh, I sure hope so. I’ll keep ya posted.

Update #2:

Today I turned in the first draft of the script that sent me down to El Salvador three months ago.
Not including the six days I spent in El Salvador doing research, it took approximately five weeks for the outline, about a week for the treatment (which was sent to producers for approval), and 22 days for this first draft. I now await notes from producers.

I really enjoyed writing this script. I think it’s a fun story with a nice message.

INTERVIEW: DARREN HOWELL

Last April, Summit Entertainment optioned the sci-fi action spec Arena written by first-time feature writers Toby Wagstaff and Darren Howell. The story of Arena revolves around a group of modern-day soldiers mysteriously transported from the thick of battle to a terrain-shifting landscape where they must fight the best warriors from different eras and histories in a gladiatorial fight to the death or be killed by the all-powerful operators of the "Arena."

The UK-based Darren, 39, was in L.A. a couple weeks ago for a round of meetings with producers, agents, and lawyers. By pure chance I met him in a bar at the hotel where he was staying. We got to talking and the next thing I know, he’s agreeing to be interviewed for this blog. Cool! OK, let’s get started, shall we?

JV: First of all, big congratulations on selling Arena! When did the script sell?

DH: Thank you! I think we kinda knew at the beginning of March that Summit Entertainment was going to option it. Then there was a period of to-ing and fro-ing between them and our lawyer—which seemed to take ages! But I remember it was Good Friday when we got their "official" offer. Couldn't have happened on a more aptly named day!

JV: How long have you been writing screenplays?

DH: I've been writing for absolute ages. It started as a hobby, you know, creating worlds and then knocking them down. All for fun! I wrote a [book] manuscript about ten years ago that got rejected about six times in the UK, so I thought I'd turn to movie scripts. I'd like to go back to the novel one day, or at least convert it into a screenplay.

JV: Whereabouts in England do you live?

DH: I live in a town called Cheam in Surrey, which is just south of London.

JV: What was your occupation prior to selling Arena?

DH: I was, and still am, a tube driver. You know, the subway. It's all very boring, but pays the bills for now. It's funny, our agents took us out for lunch while I was in town, and all they wanted to talk about was the Underground. They seemed to think it was really exciting! It was all pretty surreal.

JV: Will this script sale give you the freedom of becoming a full-time screenwriter – or do you anticipate going back to a "regular" job?

DH: At the moment I'm not in a position to leave the Underground, what with the dollar to pound exchange, but who knows. That's my dream, to write full-time.

JV: Do you have plans to move to the Los Angeles area – or are you perfectly happy in England?

DH: Well, I have two small children, so I don't know if LA is somewhere I'd consider moving to. (No disrespect!) Although, maybe somewhere quiet and sleepy in California could be an option. It would make sense to come out on a more permanent basis, but I'd like to get another couple of sales under my belt before I decide. My manager seems to think it's an option I'll have to consider eventually.

JV: In learning how to write a marketable screenplay, which do you feel helped the most: how-to books, seminars/classes, studying pro screenplays, watching a ton of movies, trial and error, a little of everything?

DH: When I decided to write a screenplay I did a lot of reading: books for advice, and screenplays online to get the "feel." I've always been an avid movie fan/buff, so I think that helped as well. But ultimately, I have a great writing partner. I've learnt so much from him and we get on fantastically well. I couldn't have done it without him. Thank you, Toby!

JV: To date, approximately how many screenplays have you completed?

DH: As a lone entity I've done about six or seven, both TV and movie. As a partnership, we've completed two, including Arena, but we have the seeds for about another three or four, plus we have my solo projects to return to.

JV: Have you ever entered a screenplay into a competition? If so, what was that experience like?

DH: Never entered a competition.

JV: While writing Arena, how did you and Toby, who is based here in Los Angeles, divide the work?

DH: At the beginning of the project, there was a lot of idea exchanges via email and Skype. Thank God for the Internet! Then, when we'd got the story into something we considered solid, we'd go off and write our own takes and then marry them up. For us it seems to work pretty well.

JV: How exactly did you get your script into the hands of the powers that be in Hollywood?

DH: Well, I went out to L.A. in 2005 for the Fade In Pitch Fest. I met my manager there and pitched him a script I'd already written. He liked the idea and asked me to mail it to him. He read and loved it, and assigned Toby, who worked for him at the time, to develop it with me. We worked well together and decided to become co-writers, which was great for me, having a full-time job and two children. It kinda took the heat off me.

JV: Did you and Toby have an agent prior to the sending the script out?

DH: No, we only got an agent off the back of Arena. We had two of the big five after us, which was nice!

JV: OK, you get the call that Arena had just sold – what happened next?

DH: I had a lovely bottle of Champagne waiting on ice! Although, if I'm truthful, I don't think it's still fully sunk in. It's all still a bit of a dream.

JV: Tell me a little about your experience visiting Los Angeles earlier this month.

DH: We had some great meetings. Everyone really loved Arena, so that helped us get a foot in the door. They liked what we had to offer and we were pitched several projects, which we're taking a look at.

JV: So what is the current status of Arena?

DH: From what I understand Summit is eager to get going ASAP. They're currently in the process of attaching a director and are down to the last couple of guys. No, I can't tell you who they are! We met with one of the candidates while I was in L.A . He seems like a very cool guy. We've had some general notes and ideas for improvement, but it's nothing that's going to change the dynamics of the plot drastically, and we're not getting into rewrite mode until the time comes.

JV: Producers are fairly notorious for kicking loose the original writer(s) and bringing in a writer with a fresh perspective. Do you anticipate staying with the project from start to finish – or do you think the producers have other plans?

DH: Who knows! I sincerely would like to stay with Arena until the end, and we seem to have a good relationship with the producers, but again...who knows!

JV: Most novice writers think they’ll be on Easy Street once they’ve sold that first script. Do you think there’s any truth to this notion?

DH: To sell one script is fantastic—to sell another would be the cherry on the cake! I'm just taking each day as it comes, but I don't think either of us is under the illusion that we're on Easy Street after just one sale. If anything the pressure upon us has increased since the sale—especially now we have an agent and lawyer to feed! For instance, we have our first script, "The Duritz Find," we're getting ready to rewrite, now interest in it has reignited due to Arena's sale. Plus, we're doing a treatment for New Line, through Benderspink (Arena's producers), for a big sci-fi comic book adaptation. Plus, we're bouncing ideas at the moment for three projects pitched to us during the meetings. And, of course, we're always throwing ideas out between ourselves for future ideas.

JV: From your perspective, what’s the MOST FAVORABLE aspect entering the world of professional screenwriting?

DH: It's just a dream—to do something you truly love. To get to this point, it's been a great ride.

JV: From your perspective, what’s the LEAST FAVORABLE aspect of entering the world of professional screenwriting?

DH: The flying! I hate it! Another good reason to move out to L.A., I guess. Plus, I'm not good in meetings or pitches. I find them really daunting. It's strange, I can talk general bullsh*t with anyone, that's no problem—and I can do karaoke no problem—but talking about stuff I've done? I freeze. Thank God for Toby, he seems to love meetings!

JV: And finally...what’s your best advice for screenwriters who aren’t necessarily located in the Los Angeles area?

DH: With the advent of the internet, and technology as a whole, I don't think [living in Los Angeles is the] necessity as it probably once was. Everything we could do face to face, we can do online. Although, I do kind of miss that personal interaction, so I think it's important to try and get out when I can. Hopefully, as things progress I'll be able to get out more often, despite the flying!

JV: Thanks for your time, Darren. I wish you the best of luck with Arena as well as all your future projects!

***
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!)

Ya never know who'll you'll meet...

I did another round of barhopping with my friend Craig last night. We were at a cool little spot in Beverly Hills, chatting away with the bartender/budding actor, when a gentleman plopped down onto the seat next to mine. He got himself involved in our high-spirited, somewhat geeky conversation about which actor portrayed the best James Bond. (By the way...though Daniel Craig is doing a fine job, James Bond will forever be Sean Connery. Don’t even try arguing with me about it.) Our new bar buddy, whose name is Darren Howell, was from England, was a screenwriter...and had just sold his first feature screenplay to Summit Entertainment. He was in town having meetings with producers, directors, and agents. Darren sat with us for more than an hour, discussing movies and, of course, the crazy/exciting world of professional screenwriting. He had a very interesting POV of being a UK writer selling to Hollywood, so I asked him if he’d like to be interviewed for this blog. He seemed pretty enthusiastic about it. Darren heads back to England this weekend, so I plan to conduct his interview shortly thereafter. Stay tuned.

Variety blurb about Darren’s script sale:
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1117984713.html?categoryid=1236&cs=1

FIRE!!

Universal Studios Hollywood suffered a bit of a loss over this past weekend. Once again, a major portion of the back lot burned down. (The same exact section of the lot burned in 1990.) I was on the road last Sunday, driving from Los Angeles to Dallas, Texas, when I got the call from a family member (who happens to live a couple hundred yards from where the massive conflagration raged). All I could think was, “Not again!” Then I got to thinking about the four years I spent working security on that back lot. I worked the graveyard shift and spent many a night patrolling those dark, lonely streets. I must say, of all the jobs I’ve had, that was certainly the most enjoyable. For a movie guy like me, and a guy who has no problem being all alone for hours on end, I was like a kid in a candy shop. I spent countless nights on the historical New York Street, Brownstone Street, and Courthouse Square. Yup, lots of fond memories.

Here’s a comical memory:

I was out on New York Street one Thanksgiving, desperately trying to eat my boxed holiday meal as a chilly wind buffeted me. I was really struggling to eat my meal. It was pretty pathetic. I got to laughing so hard, I nearly choked on my sliced turkey!

Here’s a weird memory:

One evening I watched an odd bluish-white light swirl in a high window in one of the upper floor façade windows. The light wasn’t coming from outside the building and I don’t see how it could’ve been coming from inside the building since there was nobody up there. So I called dispatch and requested a supervisor to come check it out. He arrived quickly and did a thorough search. He found nothing.

Here’s another weird memory:

One November night, about 2:00 in the morning, I confronted a dark human-shaped figure standing stone-still mere yards from me. I quickly got on my radio and called for back-up. When I looked back a moment later, whoever it was—or whatever it was—had vanished. My supervisor and a couple other officers did a thorough search of the immediate area, but found nobody. Kinda creepy.

Here’s a geeky memory:

There was the time when my security buddy and I reenacted the famous “Did he fire six shots or only five?” speech from the classic flick Dirty Harry. We performed the scene in the precise spot where it was shot for the movie. I played Harry and my buddy was the wounded bank robber. “Well do ya, punk?” Pretty geeky, sure, but fun for a movie guy like me.

Here’s a fun memory:

On more than one occasion, my pals and I would chase each other around the New York and Brownstone streets in our security vehicles. Sure, not exactly the smartest thing to do (something that could easily get a person fired), but hey, you gotta break the inevitable monotony of patrol once in a while.

Here’s another fun memory:

There were nights/early mornings when I’d put a little excitement into the lives of new recruits and pretend to be a trespasser. I’d remove my badge, or turn my jacket inside out, and wander around at the far end of the street. They had no idea who I was and would try to stop me...and that’s when I’d take off running. They’d chased me all over the place, screaming into their radios, “602 on New York Street!” (FYI: I told the gal who worked dispatch to ignore imminent calls about trespassers. Also, "602" is code for "trespasser.") I finally allowed the guards catch me. They sure had a good laugh when they discovered I was one of their own. Welcome to the team, boys!

Yet another fun memory:

One night I freaked out a new hire who kept hearing strange noises in one of the facades. I kept telling him the noises were just animals roaming around. He insisted they were not animals. I wanted to teach him a lesson, so I asked my supervisor to go hide in the façade and rustle around. When the new guy called in to report the noises, I responded. I had the new guy follow me into the eerily dark, eerily quiet façade. At just the right moment, as my flashlight beam searched high and low, my supervisor leaped out, screaming like a banshee. Man, that poor guy must’ve jumped about ten feet in the air. After he finally calmed down, he shook my hand and congratulated me on a good scare. He quit the following day. What a wimp.

Here’s a potentially malodorous memory:

One night I was posted on Courthouse Square (which is where the clock tower from Back to the Future is...um, was). I was sitting alone on a stage. I looked down between my knees and discovered a skunk directly beneath me. You can pretty much find every variety of animal life on that back lot—skunks, deer, snakes, raccoons, rabbits, opossums, and coyotes. Luckily, I was pretty used to being in close proximity of the lots’ skunk population, so I didn’t make any sudden moves. If I had, I’d probably still be trying to get the stink off me!

Here’s a cooooold memory:

There were all those nights, in the dead of winter, standing alone for an entire shift in 40 degree weather. (I know, all you folks in colder climates are saying, “A 40 degree winter? You call that cold?!” But still, pacing back and forth in 40 degree weather for 8 or 12 hours ain’t exactly a picnic in the park.) If I was lucky, there’d be a work lamp out on the street and I could warm my hands over it. Every so often I’d make a quick trip to the restroom on Brownstone Street and put my cold hands under hot running water. Ahhhh, it felt sooooo gooooood.

The aftermath...

I got back to L.A. on Tuesday and picked up my car from my brother’s house—as I mentioned, he lives extremely close to where the fire occurred—and my poor car looked like it gone through a war, covered in ash and burned bits of plastic. Scary.

I had four fun years on that studio lot and I’m sure sorry to see a big piece of it go up in flames like that. But fret not, friends, if the powers that be at Universal decide to rebuild New York Street, Brownstone Street, and Courthouse Square, they’ll have it completed in about three months. Trust me, those Hollywood guys in can do anything.

To view video footage of the Universal Studios fire, click here.

To see some fun pics from my Universal Studios security days, visit the photo section of my MySpace page: myspace.com/theworkingscreenwriter