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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.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Meeting at Paramount

Studio meetings are a way of life, and the many executives you meet over the course of a job, or the course of getting the next job, is quite numerous. Yesterday I met with a guy I first met when he was the youngest member of this Paramount company's creative team, a CE (creative executive) lowest on the ladder, assigned with the impossible task of taking down notes during writers' pitch meetings and then writing those up a in a coherent presentation for the in-house creative "team". That was in 1999. Now he's an exec. here with his own assistant, in charge of his own CE. Nice to see that, the system actually working as opposed to chewing them up and throwing them out, which the system also does.

As for the meeting, I was pitching my film adaptation "take" of a comic book bought by Paramount for this company, implying the wonderful possibility that the studio was already behind it, as they committed more than 4 cents in option money. This used to not be earth shattering news, nevertheless, in this current cold climate of film development, any thread, any glimmering light, any port in a storm. So they were particularly excited that the studio was behind it already.

As for my pitch - which went on for over an hour - I had to field the unexpected task of dealing with this executive's notes, as the pitch was happening. Now, for those of you who don't know, questions or adjustments are not unusual after your pitch, and very occasionally during. But this is a very development oriented group, (I've written two scripts for them I know) and they are very comprehensive with their note writing. This "note writing mind" has now unfortunately trickled down into the meeting where the notes are presented to the writer as the pitch is happening.

Can you imagine?

I'm pitching the story, the characters, the relationships, and suddenly have to field - what if he's "older/young?" "what if his father is actually not around?" "What if his friend has a completely new family not currently in your pitch and how would that play out? What if the bad guy had a different motive? Maybe the bad guy should appear earlier/later and how would that play out?" pause...waiting for my response... And as any good story teller will tell you, boy does this do wonders for the momentum and building excitement of your pitch.


As my head was spinning I calmly advised him hold those notes until I had least presented my whole story. He saw the wisdom of that and agreed, until two minutes later when he gave me a note on changing the major set piece of act 2, and changing the location of the ending and how would that play out? - pause - waiting for me to answer.

Well, I did answer, and played out the ideas of his notes, and we talked more, then had to re-summarize the whole movie in beats for the poor new assistant who was taking notes - and said that his "eyes were burning" by the end of our meeting. That's okay, my frontal lobe was burning.

After we finished the whole thing, and all shook hands and I left, I wanted to go stick my head in a bucket of cold water.

Will they move forward with my take? Do they like it? Who the hell knows? What did I say? And what did it become? I can't wait to get the notes from this meeting and find out what the hell my take is.

And of course they won't tell me if they don't like it, they'll tell my agent. Well, in all honesty, they will tell me as they're pretty cool. Most won't, however, so get ready for that if you haven't experienced it yet. Hollywood is a sunnytime town, all friendly and nice when things are happy and they're happy with you, and rather quiet when things are not in your favor. Don't take it personally. It's just business, as any experienced Mafia figure will tell you.


Blogger The Moviequill said...

I can see myself in that situation with them throwing questions at me 'what if it's a girl?' (ok, dust off Draft #7 on file), 'what if the guy dies at the beginning instead?' (ok, I did that on Draft #11) ha

Saturday, July 09, 2005  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Good, because it happens all the time. This was just particularly brutal because there were no drafts, no treatment, just my first presentation!

Saturday, July 09, 2005  

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