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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.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Cut For The Cutting Room Floor.

Well, the way things are going digital, there won't be a cutting room much longer.

Regardless, there will always be the idea of the - 'cutting room floor' - and where some of your scenes, lines of dialogue, images and darlings will inevitably wind up as the director and editor shape the picture, cut for time, cut for flow, cut for pacing.

You never keep everything you shoot.

So what does that mean about the draft you wrote?

The idea of the cutting room floor idea can be a useful tool for a writer at any stage of the writing, as a way to look at the work and lighten the load, cut the excess, stay on the straight line of the story.

The tighter, dynamic drafts are always the ones that read best. And you're forced to keep your poetry at a high level when you have less room.

What is the 'jewel' of the scene? The emotional moment required that makes the scene important? The plot discovery that makes it crucial? What do we learn about the characters or their fate, why is it neccessary? And if it's not neccesary, lose it. If part of it isn't neccesary, lose that.

If you don't do it now, you will hit that moment in a meeting with a director, unless you're directing yourself, when you gaze down upon a scene and realize - "we'll never shoot this."

That happened to me a lot in the last few weeks, as we're in pre-production on my script. But as the last thing I had in production was ten years ago the memory of this had faded. It was a great wake up call.

Good to get rid of the scenes you know you won't shoot, now. Why won't you shoot them? Becasue they don't advance the character arc, they don't advance plot. Period.

If you cut them now, you're improving the script, making it tighter, a better film, and a document that will speak more as a production draft to those who know production.

I read the script of Saving Private Ryan by Robert Rodat that sold. It's a fabulous script, very tight, no extra scenes, nothing wasted (different ending of course), a page turner it flew along amidst a huge cast of characters and endless locations; but felt like you were watching the movie.

Think of the cutting room floor and keep a step ahead.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Gladiator The Musical

No, it's not a joke. It's real. And I saw it last month. One night only. Tickets not available. You only hear about it because you get a call because you know somebody who knows somebody.

It was a workshop, of a full fledged musical, staged with no set and minimal props, mostly for Dreamworks executives and others of note. Ridley Scott was in the audience as well, invited to see what had been done to his masterwork in the small theater in the valley where the evening was staged.

I was there because an old friend of mine played (brilliantly) the Oliver Reed part of Proximo, and stopped the show with his song. And in the musical Proximo's part if beefed up and he goes all the way to the end.

The book is incredibly faithful to the movie, they work with Hans Zimmer's existing score, and the the songs are quite good.

It's a remarkable testament to good writing, the structure of the piece is so sound.

What was most amazing, from a back stage point of view, is that the cast of thirty some odd broadway professionals had 12 days to learn lines, rehearse and put the entire show on its feet.

Though purportedly Ridley Scott mumbled something to the effect of 'they should have left well enough alone...', I thought the whole production to be quite good.

As a writer who is used to writing material on spec and tossing it to the market place with fingrs crossed, I was most impressed that in many ways this was a spec. musical, in that if Dreamworks passed on funding it, the producers would have to find funding elsewhere (they had already okayed the concept).

Well, they kicked ass apparantly, because the show is now scheduled to open on London's West End.

What's next. Star Wars?

A very hollwood moment.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Cable Movie

The thing about tv is the blistering speed. You've heard that making a film is like getting troops into battle and waging a war against the clock. If a writing life could be oranized with that in mind, writing for tv should be required the way boot camp is for soldiers. You have to perform, under absurd deadlines, and if you live, you're a lot stronger.

That happened to me over the last two months. Three drafts, that were turned around in three weeks, two and then one, respectively.

And we go into production on July 19th.

I learned some interesting things, and got some very funny notes. I love the difference between creative notes and production notes. Creative note: "I don't feelt the main character would do this." Production note: - "You wrote a scene for 30 national guardsman, but we can only afford six." What do you do with that? You have to do the scene, how to play it? The other guys were sick? The rest of the National Guard are in Iraq...?