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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.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Another Meeting

It's something Hollywood mass produces. The meeting. And the town is never at a loss for them. Many are unimportant, though as they say in sports, you never know when you can turn nothing into something. So every opportunity is always that, an opportunity.

As you go up the meeting chain cycle you get the meet and greet, the conceptual pitch, the full out pitch, meeting with producer, meeting with talent, meeting with director, meeting with VP's of production, meeting with president of production. (And it seems like more meetings are required than ever before for the same jobs. There are more variations of course. A friend of mine has met with the President and production exec of a big independent company, has a deal to direct a film for this A list company, has been involved in months of development on the re-write of the script and was just informed he has to take a new meeting with the pres. of the studio this company resides at to see if he still has the job. How do you categorize that?")

Anyway, I just returned a few days ago from a third meeting on a studio project, before a room full of top people, getting to the top tier as far as I could go before they actually decide on me this weekend. It was the "money meeting" so to speak - the one in which, or whereafter they decide to pull the trigger on the job, so to speak, or not. Full out hour pitch to a roomful of executives, as it's a co-venutre, studio and producing partner splitting the bill. An adaptation of a yet to be published book they have high hopes for.

First thing I do? Tell them to throw out half the book as it doesn't make a good movie.

Something I love about that. Aside from it being neccessary, it's a good lesson in not trying to pander to second-thought. I don't know how married they are to this project or not, but the inspiration - my own thrill of the story has to lead me to the words 'the end" not my hope or "idea of what "they" want. That is instant death.

Sure, they may say - stupid pitch Jacko, and toss me. But I know I came out of the gate with the rigth story for this project.

Years ago on a Paramount project of a script I had re-written several times, a director was then assigned. He came in with new notes and revisions that the studio was excited about. I worked with him for months on a new draft. I delivered it and the studio wasn't happy. We had a long conference call with all the involved parties - and it was filled with frustration on both sides. Finally the exasperated director said:"Just tell me what you want." And there was silence on the phone.

And I realized he'd just committed project suicide.

And he was off the project a week later.

Because no one in Hollywood knows what they want. They only know what they don't want. So never ask them what they want, tell them what they'll get. (The caveat, of course, which is the important question on any re-write or adaptation is "have you been down the road with this at all?" to find out what they've already discovered they don't want.)

But the bottom line is they have to keep hiring the creators to keep creating - because the money side is incapable of doing it.

I'll see if I'll be the creator for this project, hopefully next week.


Anonymous pd boy said...

The famous William Goldman line: "Nobody knows anything"... but I'd like to add: "except for the writer"

What a crazy world, where all we want to do is create and the idea of creation is so pure until, I guess, we drive head first into the meetings and then the roadblocks appear where the writer is supposed to know everything and nothing at the same time!

Good luck with the latest!

Saturday, February 11, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

pd boy: Yes, well put, I like that. we have to know everything and nothing. Oddly zen. Yes the purity of writing and creation is a sweet experience. One could also choose to sit and write a book and not be bothered by anyone else (I may do that soon, actually). But to play on the public stage, in the big show, so to speak, with volumes of money equal to the GNP of small countries, comes with all the trappings, back room deals, power broking, people managing and ego issues of the courts of kings.

Saturday, February 11, 2006  
Blogger Warren said...

Those meet and greets must be a little odd. You're all geared up to talk projecs, maybe pitch a thing or two, hoping you'll get a job out of the meeting, and then it's just like having coffee with a friend - what's up with you? Not much, you? Everything's fine.

At least, that's how I picture them. I haven't had my first one yet, so that may be way off.

At any rate, good luck with the project. We're all rooting for you!

Saturday, February 11, 2006  
Blogger writergurl said...

Best of luck with this!

Sounds like you may need it, even if you DO get the job!

Monday, February 13, 2006  
Anonymous chris soth said...

I always call these meet and greets "idea poker". They don't want to tell you their ideas, your agents have warned you against giving your spec ideas away...so, you try to bluff each other into revealing something...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

chris: yes, exactly. Never give the spec. idea away for two reasons. If it's very stealable it's bad business. And if the exec. in the room is excited to see it - he will ask your agent to make sure he does - and you've potentially screwed up your agent's release pattern as your agent may not want to go to that exec, but maybe someone else at the same company, and now has to deal with the person politics of that. However it doesn't mean you can't turn it into businss. You're there because they like your writing. They may toss ideas out that they're interested in but need work/lots of work. If you spark to one, you may be able to return with a pitch that excites them (I did this at Warners years ago and set up re-write) however you may work up a brilliant take and write a treatment and then have it tank (this has happened to me too, more recently than not).

Wednesday, February 15, 2006  
Blogger Law Student & Aspiring Sitcom Starlet said...

Wow, good luck with that . . . I hope they pick you! And, here is my shameless plug: I'll be your lead! *grin* Best wishes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

ls&ass: Well, that's the kind of unabashed confidence you need to get anywhere in this business anyway. But FYI, screenwriters don't cast unless they're producers as well and have some pull with the director. Film directors, bingo, they have all the power unless the studio sits on their head and refuses (Ridley Scott was told he had to cast Orlando Bloom in his crusade movie or have no movie, for example). Tv writers who are producers are a much more powerful casting lobby as well. Tv directors, not nearly as much. Odd, nay?

Wednesday, February 15, 2006  
Blogger James Lincoln Warren said...

Most TV directors are hired guns who usually do a few of the several episodes produced in any given season. The man responsible for the look and feel of the show is the showrunner, who is almost never a director, but a producer with writing credits.

Friday, February 17, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

jlw: Excellent point James, thanks for the crystal clarity. I have friends who do both, one runs NUMB3RS and one is a director who shoots on multiple shows (CSI, HOUSE) it is exactly as you describe.

Friday, February 17, 2006  
Blogger Paul Parducci said...

Thanks for this post.
You hit the nail on the head.
I attribute whatever success I have had in this business so far to simply knowing what I want. In the long run you are respected as a creator to the extent you respect yourself and your own ideas.
Best of luck to you!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006  

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