.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}


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, January 11, 2006

Meeting at Dreamworks

The fun thing about Dreamworks is that it kind of seems like it's from a movie. The massive adobe structure is one that Indiana Jones would feel fine strutting through, if it were not for all of those offices full of executives.

But the meeting makes me think of the writer's job in meetings. There has been much written on this before, but I pretty much have to work from the moment, and this forced me to focus on the issues I had to face. So I pass on to you the simple advice I've learned over the years (from myself or from friends) for when you find yourself in a writer's meeting.

It's not a big list, by the way. But it may be a helpful one.

1) Don't sell yourself. Sell the movie.

Whatever has brought you in, an original pitch, a re-write of a script, or an adaptation of a book (why I was there) you are merely a conduit for all of the studio execs hopes and desires, which is simply to deliver a brilliant blockbuster of a movie. Their path to that, which could be through you, is simply a great script. And it may inspired by what you have to bring to the table. They want to feel that inspiration, and the only way to do that - is to take your natural love to of story telling and fill the room with it. The fact that you are there means you're already in play, so get to work and fill the room with passion and enthusiasm for what you feel for the project.

2) If you're there on any kind of re-write or adaptation, have two of the problems you found in the source material fixed and they will think you're a genius.

Part of the problem, the reason(s) this thing isn't a movie yet, or doesn't exist in script form yet, is the seemingly insurmountable difficulties with the existing source material. This could be a script in one of several conditions: (a)crappy with great hook b) merely good with great hook c) really great with great hook except they now need to change the leading man to a leading woman).

Now, all you story tellers out there can sense when something's not right. Always ask up front before your first meeting if there are specific issues or directions they've tried that didn't work on the existing material. Then follow your instincts. The leading lady doesn't sound like a lady? Has no lady friends? Has no community? (which women will do more than men) Bring that up and You will undoubtedly be solving a problem. Story is too static? Story is too kinetic? Here's the fix? Bring your sense of what makes a great movie to this movie, and that shows them why you're right for the job.

And, if it's a 400 page book, as in my case, what the hell do you cut and how do you get out of the lead character's head and onto the screenplay page?

Again - follow your instincts. After you close the cool but thoughtful first person narrative remember a film is visual. And the middle 200 pages in a survival desert camp doesn't make for great visual story telling. Condense it, get to the point, get out, and create a visual set piece that forces the hero's hand and challenges him on his/her greatest weakness they have to face.

Because in the end, all drama is the search for personal identity. And what forces the identity to be revealed, and how much it deepens/differs in the character we've come to know and love, makes for great drama.

So put that in.

3) Determine the theme, the lead character's arc, and your tone. Is it a coming of age story and a comedy? Terrific, you've once again put into words something they may not have realized, and help them see how the structure will fall into place, hopefully with greater clarity.

Is it a redemption story? Is it the return of the King?

This is very important by the way and a great way to frame the discussion of the story.

4) Lead the meeting. When you're handed the floor take it. Everyone in this business is scared, and they want to be told everything will be all right. That's your moment to show them why everything's all right. Don't try to copy anyone else's style, or be someone you're not, just be you. But not at 60%. Don't be a night light. Be you at 100%.

As for me, the meeting went well and now I'm off to the next meeting with the producing partners. Now I'll have to repeat the same meeting with new people, perhaps more indepth and with more detail.

It's kind of like shampoo instructions. Lather, rinse, repeat.

But as you do so, you're honing your own story, getting it cleaner, more polished. Many of us have been down many of these roads, and it doesn't guarantee a sale, but it guarantees that you give it your complete best so you can have no issue with your own presentation.

And in the end, that's all we have control over anyway, whatever aspect of life we're facing.

It's certainly one of the requirements of studio work. Hitting the rooms with clarity, energy and enthusiasm high.


Blogger Fun Joel said...

Dude! Welcome back! And best of luck with this project.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Thanks Joel. New Year's resolution: blog more.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006  
Blogger Warren said...

Yay! Great to have you back over here. I'm saving this post into a Word document on my desktop, and hopefully, I'll need to come back to it soon for my first big studio meeting. Thanks, as always, for the great advice.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006  
Blogger Grubber said...

Welcome back Phil,
I tried to send you an email, but it kept bouncing back.

Hope all is well!

Thanks for the article, great information.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006  
Blogger Q said...

Great advice and good luck with the project

Wednesday, January 11, 2006  
Blogger Bill Cunningham said...

Great to have you back, but lo and behold we're writing about almost the same thing...

Great minds think alike!

Thursday, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Nice to have you back up and posting again. Great advice as always. I hope you get the job.

Thursday, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Eric Andrade said...

Philip: Thanks for the great blog, and the great advice. I'll keep this in my back pocket for whenever I get my first meetings...

Thursday, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

You guys are making me blush.

Thursday, January 12, 2006  
Blogger writergurl said...

Yipee! You're back! I thought you'd given up on teach us anything. Happily, I was wrong! Great post! Thanks!

Thursday, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous christopher said...

i'll say "welcome back," but i didn't know you were gone!

"Everyone in this business is scared, and they want to be told everything will be all right."

this to me is the single most important thing to remember, almost in life in general, but especially in the industry. nobody knows anything. i don't know how many times i've seen bad ideas get resoundingly supported simply because the person presenting the idea was charismatic.

Friday, January 13, 2006  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home