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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

"Gaming" the rewrite

Very thoughtful post at the artfulwriter about how some screenwriters may try to "game" the rewrite, or change more than 51% of the script, with the clear intention of getting credit. Craig Mazin points out how misdirected this is, and how the arbitration committee takes that 51% change as qualitative, not quantitative. My take on this is the same, and it comes from my experience on the set: (here's my post to Craig telling my story:)
Re-writing for credit and profit is bad business, as you point out. I came on as a production re-write man for FIRE DOWN BELOW with Steven Segal. I had one mission - make the stalled film, already in pre-production with millions in, locations built and cast hired, a go-film, as the studio was hedging because the latest script submitted was considered unworkable. Because of the nature of when I was brought in - locations selected, sets built, cast hired with no money for new character actors, etc. I had to stick to a great deal of the existing story line, locations and couldn’t change the characters. So I had to go deeper into the material, devise a more satisfying character and enrich the emotions, dilemas and set pieces already handed me. I wanted to make this a great movie, so I imagined Steve McQueen in a modern “western” in the hills of Kentucky. And turned the film into a go - and got co-screenwriter credit, sharing only with the original writer, Jeb Stuart, and the three writers inbetween didn’t get billing. The last thing I was trying to do was get credit, I was working my ass off to make a great story - and stuck in the structure and locations of previous writers’ work. So - there is proof of your argument in the making. We must always go to our deepest source, the one connected to our thrill of story telling, our thrill of writing, and if we truly hit that - then the rewards come. The gamers will always only hurt themselves.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The TV sample script

A crucial tool. If you want the tv gig, you've got to show you can write for the tv world your gig lives in. This question about a sample script already written is an important one:

Phil: My favorite (sample script) so far is DRAGNET. It's very visual. You can really SEE everything in the story as if it's happening right in front of you. It's quick-paced with lots of excitement. Everyone who's read it has loved it. The problem I'm hearing is that it's not on the air anymore -- does this really matter? Darren
Yes, I think it does matter. I think a good tv sample is both excellently written and relevant - and you stay relevant by being a sample of a current tv show. Show runners/producers are very aware of what's on the air RIGHT NOW, as they may be battling it in the ratings, or being compared to it in a different time slot, etc.

The terrible adage that yesterday is old news, is most true in television. It is the definition of the incredibly fast changing world of what's hot and what's not. A series that was cancelled last year is ancient history because it isn't up against the six new shows that may have the one breakout huge hit of
this year.

Think of ABC before Lost and Desperate Housewives. Their success changed the landscape of TV, as now everyone wants a show like that, but wouldn't have gone near either one the year before! Etc. etc.

Doesn't that suck? Welcome to the world of tv, and the requisite tv sample.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Taking Meetings

Last week met at Dreamworks, Warner Brothers and Paramount, all on different projects. After each meeting we went to "the next step", ideas liked, producers meetings to be set up, heads of production to be informed, etc. Wow, did I luck out, or not?

How does one take a good meeting? There is no precise formula. You enter the room with your set of ideas, and the executives/producers have their pre-set notions/concerns.

Each of these projects I met on, by the way, is different, a re-make of an old famous film, a book adaptation, a re-write of an existing script.

But taking a good meeting on any project for a writer is always about the same thing.

Bring enthusiasm, genuine love of the material, and - ultimately - your own point of view, your own big idea. That's the one they're going to want to pay for, the one they can't come up with themselves.

So. You've got to walk in with the goods. So, how do you get the goods?

Well, whatever it is, make sure the idea you come up with, is an idea you love, one that thrills you, that you believe in completely. Don't try to anticipate what they will/won't like. Don't make it up for them. Make up the movie that you would want to see five times in a row. Because if they pass on that, at least you were being true to yourself and gave it your best shot.

That's where you put your intention - and then you start with an emotional story. One that will have to crack open your hero's heart, and make them face their true nature. Then in your plot add the unexpected element that can't fit, but you make it a central part of the story. Because that, is life, we are endlessly faced with the impossible in our lives, (cancer, heart attacks, car accidents, you name it) and then we make it normal to keep our lives going. So when it appears in our stories, it feels right, even if it's science fiction, and the unexpected is that you discover you are a robot. Something about the unexpected, that is organic to the center of your story, just always feels right.