Some Movement

March 31, 2008

Busy season has just ended at my day job so we should be seeing a lot more writing (on both the blog and on the scripts) in the near future. Speaking of which…

It seems like just a few days ago I posted that I was in hurry up and wait mode, but somehow it has been a month already. And in the last few days there has been some movement on Supervillain:

Abbot Update: I exchanged emails with my contact at Abbot Management the other day and learned that no news had meant – as it usually does – no news. It appears Supervillain may be on the bubble over there – they don’t represent the script, but they haven’t officially passed either. At last glance of their website, they say they represent 13 writers and have 28 more in their development library, so evidently they are making commitments and signing people – and at least one of them has commented here – but not me. Via email they told me they would be making more decisions about other scripts in mid-April, and I should expect a decision then. I infer this to be further reinforcement of what I heard from one of their readers, that they think the script has commercial potential but aren’t completely happy with it yet as written. And since it is still under option, they don’t have to play their hand now anyway. At first I was bummed about the dragging on about this, but then I got some info today that caused me to stop caring (see Option Update).

Option Update: Last time I reported that my producers had spoken to a new money source that might be interested in financing the entire budget of Supervillain. Today, over a month later, I learned that this party is still interested. My producer acknowledged that things are moving slowly, but.. well, here’s what she said:

>>We’ve signed some initial paperwork with them to start exploration of a potential deal. It’s the first step toward investigating the financial details and possible terms. It’s moving along, slowly but surely.

Apparently this is a group of venture capitalists which has never invested in a film before, and that explains the slow and careful pace. My producer had lined up 80% of the budget from other sources, but this group wants to finance the whole thing itself (a very good sign we think) and they are also talking about budgets for P&A. And if they are the sole investor, we figure they would want to be serious about P&A to protect their investment. So things may be moving slowly, but this is very promising. I always try to keep myself from getting excited, but I’ll just say that today I am pretty excited.

I have officially set myself up for a quite a fall now…

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When Do You Get Your Ideas?

March 20, 2008

Ideas are funny things. I seem to get my best/most interesting ideas (story-related or otherwise) when I am busy doing something else. If I sit down at the computer needing to come up with a great idea, I can’t do it. But get me busy doing something completely different, and I just might come up with something.

After months of dead ends, I finally got the idea for the (twist) ending of Aftershocks in the middle of the night, when my then-18-month-old son woke up crying and wouldn’t stop. As I trudged down the hallway to his room 99% asleep, it just hit me. The direction it took me in was a complete surprise. Years later, I got the idea for Psycho Ex while walking him home from school one day. As he spoke it was obvious that he had a serious crush on his first-grade teacher, and as I listened the idea materialized. And while I was out mowing the lawn last Tuesday, a trailer-worthy one-liner for Dead Guy was suddenly just… there.

So the best question for what I’m getting at here is not “Where do you get your ideas?”, because we all get them from the same place: life. I think the more precise way to ask the question is “When do you get your ideas?”. What are you doing when most of your ideas come to you?

It seems like (for me at least) the mind wants to Read the rest of this entry »


We Should Try This

March 13, 2008

Just finished listening to a great KCRW podcast with a very inspiring idea. The podcast was about how, faced with the implosion of the record business, musicians are trying out new and creative ways of building careers. The system is broken, and instead of trying to fix it they are taking matters into their own hands and trying out more individualized business plans. One of these – www.sellaband.com – is genius; musicians hold an IPO and sell shares of their future earnings to investors for cash. The website acts as a matchmaker, connecting investors to musicians and showcasing the musicians’ work. Anybody can invest, with shares going for only $10. With the help of the website, the musicians raise the money and then record and market their music. The resulting cds and digital downloads go up for sale to the public, with the investors and the musicians sharing the proceeds. Genius. Everybody wins.

Of course, the first thing I thought was – screenwriters should do this! I should do this! And I immediately thought this because, well, this is exactly what a friend of mine tried to work out back when I first moved out here over 10 years ago. He approached me and a couple of other guys – all 4 of us writers – and pitched this very idea. He had some contacts in the oil business back home in Houston, and maybe – just maybe – they could be convinced to invest in the future earnings of 4 young, ambitious screenwriters. We would raise as much as we could and then use this money to rent an office and pay ourselves regular salaries to come in to work and write screenplays. We could then be able to make a decent living while spending all our time writing. And without the need for day jobs, just think how much we could get done between the 4 of us in a year (or more) to pitch to the studios and production companies! I thought the idea was genius and was totally on board, but the thing fell apart before we could go to investors. What can I say. My friend was ahead of his time.

So how can writers use creative new business models like these? One advantage that musicians have in this set-up is that their finished products are just that – finished products, ready for sale to the public, at 99 cents a track. For writers, especially feature screenwriters and novelists, the marketplace for selling their “finished product” isn’t the public, but instead one much smaller and much more specialized. We should challenge ourselves to come up with some kind of writers’ equivalent to sellaband.

And I’m not talking about established models like www.inktip.com and www.sellascript.com. Those are great for writers, don’t get me wrong, and my option made me a fan of inktip for life. But never forget that the business plan for those sites is to generate as much money as possible for those sites, not for the writer himself. I’m talking about something more direct. Something to finance the writing process itself.

The traditional answer has been for writers to write shorter, more sellable material while waiting for their big break – specifically writing for magazines and newspapers. Writing for the web is the obvious promised land, but I still see it as merely the most recent iteration of this traditional “day job” solution. During the strike there was all kinds of talk about Hollywood writers jumping into new ventures in the web, shredding the traditional models and getting radical, but you don’t hear so much about those ideas these days. Anybody can write and shoot a movie and put it up on YouTube, and for next to nothing. And then there’s the supposed upcoming era of the 2-minute “webisode.” But I am ambivalent about these – writing and producing short films or even shorter pieces of short films is very different from writing features. And if you want to write features, the best way to get practice is by… writing features.

Maybe my hesitancy is just the kind of old-school rigidity that is exactly the enemy in this whole issue, but I’m not convinced. The idea here is to be bold, and I don’t think a day job writing for a website while writing a real movie after work is much bolder than a day job writing for traditional media while writing a real movie after work. I thought the whole idea was to use the power of the web to subvert the whole idea of the “day job” itself. But who am I? Just a guy who can’t even get a writing gig on the web and blogs for free… while writing a real movie after work at a day job.

So… who’s got the new business plan?


Random Question #26

March 13, 2008

In what city in the world would you most like to live – and why don’t you live there?


Online Peer Review

March 7, 2008

With all the discussion about Abbot Management and sending your stuff off for coverage (free or otherwise), I got an email with a great, great question: how do you know when your script is ready? For writers without a network of other writers to help out with peer review (and even for writers with such a network…), this is a big question. At some point you want educated and credible feedback, but you don’t want to waste a first impression with a production company or agency or pay money to enter a contest with an early draft that you’re pretty sure needs some work. A writers’ group or writing classmates are great, but these aren’t always available.

So what do you do? I recommended to the emailer – and I recommend to everyone else – to go to www.zoetrope.com. The zoetrope site is part of Francis Ford Coppola’s domain, and basically what you do is upload scripts for other people to read while you read other people’s work in return. You read and give feedback on 4 or 5 scripts for each one you can upload, so usually you get at least 3 or 4 sets of comments on your work. Nobody sees the script comments except for the writer, and then you can email the reviewer if you like, ask questions, even strike up a friendship. There is a real culture of helpfulness there – there is nothing to gain from being snarky or mean – and all the readers are writers themselves. It is free. Plus Coppola has a screenplay contest there once or twice a year if you want to pay to enter that. I have not used it for a few years, but I will definitely be jumping back in there to have Dead Guy and Psycho Ex looked at before I send them out. Another very cool feature is that the site is not just for screenwriters – there are similar areas to exchange and give feedback on novellas, poetry, photos, graphic design,…

For me, the real secret weapon of the site (and of writers’ groups in general) is the reading you do in return for having your stuff looked at. Just becoming familiar with other peoples’ scripts, how they do this and that, discovering good practices and recognizing what NOT to do is invaluable. The reading is just as important as the writing, if not more. It is relatively easy to find classic, successful, published screenplays like Casablanca and Chinatown and whatever, but it is my opinion that reading unproduced, in-progress scripts, scripts written by people just like me and you, is much more valuable and helpful. Plus you can meet people, set up writing groups, etc. And getting feedback from fellow writers can open up new avenues for you and your story and then help you know when your work is ready to show.

Another site I tried years ago, but one that I would recommend you avoid, is triggerstreet.com. It was set up years ago in a frenzy of hype (due to Kevin Spacey’s involvement) with an idea similiar to that behind zoetrope’s, where you submit scripts and read other people’s stuff. The problem is that it is set up (or was, I have avoided it for years) as a competitive thing where people are snarky. Again, I haven’t used it in years, and maybe they changed it, but it became a competitive thing where you could make the ratings of your script look better by trashing other people’s scripts and giving them low marks, so that’s what people did. Also the script reviews were public – everybody could see them – so being critical and harsh became a competitive sport. There is some use of competitive rankings on zoetrope but the whole idea is just so different – the readers are even rated and rewarded for being the most helpful, you can seek out and talk with the best-rated readers, etc.

Anyone have any other sites they can recommend? Celtx, that free screenwriting software I mentioned a while back, appears to have some kind of community feature, but I’ve never tried it out. Or maybe people have better things to say about triggerstreet. Again, it’s been years since I went over there, so it may have improved.

So check out zoetrope and get your stuff read!


Random Scene

March 3, 2008

Nothing new to report, so I thought I’d make good on an old post and put a new Random Scene up. This one’s from my Outer Limits sample from the old days. This script was always a guilty pleasure for me. Had just the right amount of cheese, I thought (too bad the producers of the show disagreed). Enjoy.