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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.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

If A Pitch Goes South, Do You Try To Save the Meeting?

This is a very good question from Moviequill, and as we had this dialogue in the comments section a few posts back, I reprint it here for others who may have missed the comments.

in one of the many tips that ended up my way, I heard if it looks like the pitch is going downhill, try to salvage the meeting by finagling yourself into a re-write job on some stalled script they have on file...do you find that is the case? they are willing to keep you around even if the project you came to them for falls through? - Moviequill.
Good question, Moviequill, but no - that's not the case. All you can do is to bring 120% commitment to your take, your creative enthusiasm, and your genuine insight into the project - and that will either win the day, or not - based on countless variables of which you know only a few. Have they heard something like your take before? Are there political issues with this exec. behind the scenes that make them more/less in favor? Do the execs love this project, but the pres. hates it? (that's happened to me).

You could go crazy trying to figure it all out. I"m guessing that was non-professional advice you heard. I've been specifically told by my agents not to de-rail and try to jump tracks onto a new idea. It looks like you're desperate, and it takes away from you in the end. Now, having said that, if you're in the room - and the exec. says - "hey, forget that, you might be the guy for - this - and it's a new thing, go for it. It's coming from their side and follow that energy. And, on another meeting, I went in for a re-write chat, but we took off on a whole other thing which would have been an original adaptation of a sci-fi book. But as that conversation wound down, the exec. realized it wouldn't work, and so we went back to what the meeting had been about. So in those situations, you ride the energy.

In this town, everyone on the money side has one emotion: FEAR. Afraid they can't fix the script, afraid they'll be fired if they hire the wrong person, fear that the movie will "go away" if the next draft is awful, on and on - so your job is to come in clear, grounded and with answers. Jeez, this is turning into a long answer and I have more to say. For example - in my meeting yesterday, for this production re-write, I went in saying - cut this character, I want this other guy to now be a woman, and she has a child, and they move in with the leading lady...blah blah.. and she is crippled psychologically and has panic attacks (she's a cop and was fine in the other draft) and all this new stuff is coming at them and they're saying - 'you're sure?" And I'm saying - this is how I want to do it, this is how it has to be, don't you see? Now, they're thinking it over this weekend. They may say - screw him - or yeah! But in the end, I went in crystal clear, and confident in the way I saw it - that's how you write, and how you pitch in this town. Period. Because at the end of the day you have to know you did your best job, and the rest will fall where it may. Phew.


Blogger The Awful Writer said...

>I want this other guy to now be a
>woman, and she has a child, and
>they move in with the leading
>lady...blah blah.. and she is
>crippled psychologically and has
>panic attacks (she's a cop and
>was fine in the other draft)

Thanks for your post. It’s always interesting to read about life in the screenwriting trenches. I’m really curious to hear your reasons for suggesting the above change. I don’t know if you can relate any more details of the story, but if you can, it would be cool to hear why you thought this character needed to be changed. Why was her being a well-adjusted cop a problem and how was that problem solved by changing her to a neurotic pregnant woman?

Wednesday, July 20, 2005  
Blogger TN_Dreamer said...

Awesome post. I'm nowhere close to getting in the room, but I hope I'll remember this advice when I am.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Awful: Well, don't have to relate much more of the story to answer the question. I was given a script that was well structured, but with flat characters and a bad ending. Meaning that - people moved through the story just to get to the next scene. And at the end there wasn't a big feeling of resolution or closure, even though the heroine lived. There was no feeling of emotional connection, personal histories, or good leading character issues like: remorse, redemption, facing one's ghost (demon/fears,etc.). This story is very situational. So I came up with a character who was the WORST suited for the situation, in that the bad guy gets her at the end and plans to kill her. For her to survive now, she will have to triumph in mind and body. Thus the change. We'll see if they go for it. Note: They also sensed they needed a change, but didn't know what it should be. I didn't know this going in, but learned it in the room. My change is big, but brings the whole movie up to a better level, I think, as it becomes a fun character study as well as great crime story, and the clash of the two will either crush or release the heroine from her issues. Big plus: A-list leading ladies are ACTRESSES, don't forget, and they love juicy parts. My ideas prompted discussions on this too. But who the hell knows at the end of the day? Still waiting to see.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005  
Blogger The Awful Writer said...

Thanks for the great answer!

>There was no feeling of emotional
>connection, personal histories,
>or good leading character issues

That begs the question why did they buy this screenplay. Or is this a case of a great script that got progressively worse with each rewrite (until you came along, of course)?

Thursday, July 21, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

good question. No, there weren't too many rewrites. The original writers sold the draft they created, and then did a re-write that was it. But as good as their script was - which is good - it's not great. It's not what you want to send to talent yet, as that dialogue and life literally has to jump off the page. So buying it does make sense from a buyer's point of view - they see the potential and they're close, they hoped the writers would nail it in their last pass, and didn't. Thus - it falls to the next. It's very refined and dicey waters to tread in, if you get the job, you really want them to make the movie - or you're the writer that didn't get the film made - and possibly terminated the project as they're already into it with significant $$ on the writing side and don't want to spend again and again.

Thursday, July 21, 2005  

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