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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.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Don't Carry the NO Out The Door.

I've said this before, but one of my favorite things said to me in this business about this business was buy someone I know who's achieved great success. He said the only difference between his being a struggling writer and a successful writer was that he drove a nicer car.

I laughed until I stopped. And then said - wow. It was eye opening, kind of like a bit of wisdom as a two by four cracking me in the head. Because he's worked with Spielberg, other directors, directed his own film, worked with heads of studios, and has dealt with just as much frustration, bad manners, incoherent notes and unpleasant behavior at every step of the process, all the way to the top - just like have we all at every level we're at.

And I found that idea incredibly freeing.

Because it laid bare the point of the whole process. If you don't enjoy what you're doing at your desk when you're writing, and if that isn't the place where you live, come alive, channel the universe, suspend reality and drop your personality, leave your body behind, expand your consciousness into the universe, and let what's up above and come down through you, and find that one of the greatest things you can do, the rest of it won't matter anywhow.

Because they're not going to make it any easier for you anywhere on the ladder.

So that's what I mean by the point of this post. The crap will always be in play at some point from someone about something. But you don't have to let that stick to you when you walk out the door of whatever meeting, phone call, memo, email or fax you got that day could potentially harsh your mellow.

Point of fact: I just left a meeting yesterday pitching to the head of a large movie company. It wasn't an easy meeting to get to. It started with me six months ago being asked my take to adapt a book, yet to be released, with Dreamworks and this other big Co. in co-production. My pitch goes over very well. But two teams of executives ask for tweaks. We do that. More meetings with great promise follow. Four months of meetings later at Dreamworks and then they're SOLD to Paramount and the new regime passes on the book. Nice. But this thing is still in play at the other big shot Co. So I meet with top executives there, twice, over two months, adjusting and tweaking pitch specifically just to this place - and they LOVE it more now by the way - so they all approve it, pitch it to their boss, but he wants to hear the full out thing from the writer. That's good - that's the room you want to get into. Sell the top dog. That was yesterday. Pitch goes great. Executives are laughing along with me all the way. They all turn expectantly to the boss. The Pres. pauses. He doesn't like it. Gives notes as to why. Some notes are good notes, that are intelligent. Some notes are 'what the F?' 'Were you in the room?' The three other execs in the room are a bit stunned - and all come to my support, they want to hire me. He won't pull the trigger. Thanks for coming in. I could come back and work it up again based on his notes, however, if I like. I suspect that beating a dead horse will not get it to gallup, trot or even start smelling less bad in his eyes. But I'll let my agents say that.

Some things happen after he leaves which will go unsaid.

Stars couldn't have been aligned better than for this one, so boy was I bummed out. Lot of time and energy invested in that one. But his lack of a clue doesn't stick to me when I walk out the door. Let myself feel bad about that one for a few hours. Then let it go. And you have to let yourself feel it - whatever it is - before you can move on. That goes for anything.

Back to the original, the other meetings, the other pitches.

We shoot many arrows into the air in this business as pitches, spec. scripts, conceptual meetings, what have you.

Let them fly and get the next quiver ready and restring your bow.


Anonymous Tom said...

Wonderful insight.

Apologies for my ignorance but what is the 'NO' in the title? Leave the 'No' at home – or does it stand for something else?

Thursday, July 13, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

tom: thanks tom, had to LOL a bit at 'wonderful insight' followed by - what the hell do you mean? But the NO I refer to is any rejection at any level. I had a NO in this meeting after months and months of yes at higher and higher levels, but it could be any turn down, pass, no thanks, script rejected, script returned and the crucial thing is to not take that in - don't carry it with you, don't accept it as part of who you are, your identity, your work, your creative 'knowing'. You leave the No right there and move on to the next thing. NO is insidious, and for those who are busting their ass at any level and not paying attention the NO is insidious and will begin to attach itself to one's identity. That's what I mean.

Thursday, July 13, 2006  
Blogger wcdixon said...

bummer - it's strange how that stuff like that can go...it's almost like the top dog wants to 'discover' the hit themselves as opposed to being told 'how great this is'. Yet you need the 'how great this is' from the underlings to even get in the room. Sometimes it all comes together, most times it don't. And it has little to do with you or the quality of the pitch.

Thursday, July 13, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

WC: Dead on. The guy is known for having to have the idea himself, or transforming it with his ideas so it becomes his. Ah well...

Thursday, July 13, 2006  
Blogger blogwriter said...

i just found this site, I loved 12:01, I still remember seeing it when I was younger and just recently founda VHS copy.

Friday, July 14, 2006  
Blogger Chesher Cat said...

At any stage of this long arduous process, did you receive any monetary compensation?

I'm writing spec features at this point but know some writers that are constantly being given novels for adaptation pitches. They put tons and tons of non-paid work into the pitch just for the chance to get the assignment. It doesn't seem fair that the suits can call in endless numbers of writers and get all their ideas for free.

Maybe we should take a lesson from plumbers and charge for the house call/estimate - in this case, the privilege to hear our ideas.

Friday, July 14, 2006  
Blogger ggw07 said...

This is brilliant, tough, honest stuff- The best thing about "NO" is it helps create great obtacles and antagonists in your work- and of course, heros who keep going-
Thanks so much-

Friday, July 14, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

Chesher: ZERO. But that's part of the process. You can write the spec. (always should be)and you can pitch, or be pitched to. I just worked up an original pitch that just went to one company, I've been pitched a concept by another and am working up the 'movie' for that. We don't get paid for this. At some point you have to decide where your energy is best served. You can always pull back and just write originals, or you can be in the mix and hope for the studio assignment as well. I do both as I like to play all the possibilities. It's like acting auditions. You know you're not going to get every job you go out for, but if you don't go out at all, you won't get any audition job.
ggwo7: Thanks!

Friday, July 14, 2006  
Blogger Lucy said...

Totally agree - I NEVER take NO for an answer, if I did I'd run out of ideas, and rightly so. A screenwriter's journey is like Odysseus' I reckon - without the highs and lows we'd be worse off for insight and material. I've been rejected so many times now I reckon I've got my own epic bubbling in my brain!! ; )

Saturday, July 15, 2006  
Anonymous pd boy said...

A little off topic but still about negativity and how other blogs seemed to savage the new Superman film, I was wondering if you would do a post on this film.

I would be curious to hear, from someone who has ACTUALLY been involved in the superhero genre, what you thought about this film.

(sorry about my timing, I just saw it for the second time with my son, got my brain thinking about everything negative I heard/read)

Personally, I loved it.

Other people seemed to hold onto the "no" of other peoples opinions. Held onto that negativity for dear life.

Maybe from you, someone with experience in the genre, we can hear an educated criticism (positive or negative, at least it's coming from experience)!


Saturday, July 15, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

pd boy: Haven't seen it yet, but I'll be glad to throw in my two cents when I do. It's a very challenging genre, given you have to deal with fantastic reality and emotional reality scene by scene, or fail. And the hardest thing to do is to make the hero's emotional reality, his problems, issues etc., 'everyone's problems, in the sense that we can relate to it. In the Fantastic Four Ben Grimm's arc was the same in my draft as it was in the twelve others. That's because it was the best emotional story - loss of girlfriend becasue he became the THING - then giving up his powers to get her back - then sacrificing his humanity once again and taking his powers back to save his friends - definitely the best story in the script. But in the film everyone else's story was emotionally unreal and the film suffered for it. It was never emotionally grounded.

Saturday, July 15, 2006  
Anonymous pd boy said...

I too felt the work done with the THING had the most gravitas. His loneliness was palpable.

And in a similar vein, I felt the same about Superman's emotional reality. He discovers defintively that he is the last of his kind. From that point onwards, his importance is then questioned.

To me, heartbreaking.

Look forward to your thoughts!

Sunday, July 16, 2006  
Anonymous pd boy said...

And now this is the first time, outside of my wife and agent, I speak about my "No" experience.

A few months ago I sold my first script to a reputable film company. Both my agent and I made some decent cash from it.

The script was nothing but a low budget horror film and they started shooting almost right away. As it stands right now, they are in the can doing post.

Less then a week after the sale, I have a "script meeting" with the director who told me exactly what the executive said: "we love your script. But you wrote a 5 million dollar picture and we need to shoot it under two..."

So, he gave me notes on how to chop some expenses from my original script (I was under contract to do one re-write). The list came out to about 20 things.

Oh, and they gave me just about 36 hours to complete the changes. (???)

So, I work like a dog, don't sleep and complete the 20 points in the day and a half.

Then... I hear nothing...

Then, for tax reasons, I had to fill out some forms about citizenship.

That's when I discovered that they had changed my title.

And that's also when I discovered they were actually shooting the film.

I contacted the exec., told him I was going to visit the set.

Strange, he doesn't respond.

From the other people I had been in contact with in re to the tax papers, I discovered where they were shooting.

I visited the set to discover that, basically EVERYTHING I had written was gone and replaced with... I dunno what, but replaced nonetheless.

I know this is part of the biz and from this experience I got a whole lotta jadedness, a writing credit and cash, but it hurt pretty bad. Especially since they let me go on set letting me believe I would be visiting the production of something I wrote.

Instead, I left humiliated and for the next several weeks struggled with writing the script I'm presently trying to finish.

Thank god I'm now coming out of it, but the experience left me bewildered, humiliated and yes, depressed.

But the way I got though it is to try and take the positives away, namely, a written by credit and my first paying gig!

Sunday, July 16, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

pdboy: please list the number of a good therapist when you tell that story. Wow - well, welcome to the pros. How horrible. Yes, the upside is you can laugh all the way to end credits and some bucks. I could flood you with other similar stories in varying degrees, but why? When writing for the public stage, as it were, in one of the biggest big bucks businesses there is, there are many pitfalls between the keyboard and the press screening. And the great irony is that selling your script and getting it made is one of the biggest pitfalls of all. It's hard to read the hand of fate and know how all one's experiences in life build on the other, but they do. Is this experience the one that will allow you greater access for your next piece because you have one 'under your belt?" Will you still cry yourself to sleep at night? Only for about another six months, don't sweat it. I think my wife is more upset at some of my
'bad' experiences than I am. But I've learned that once I feel whatever it is that's bothering me about the bad ones, and I've had plenty - to let it go and drop it - and move on. You shouldn't have felt embarrassed by the way, they should have. They were the idiots. These experiences don't define who we are, by the way, the present moment does and how we use our energy in it - and what we bring to each new moment does. That's what defines us.

Monday, July 17, 2006  
Anonymous pd boy said...

Thanks Phil

Very inspiring words!

Monday, July 17, 2006  

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