Friday, November 13, 2009

The Re-write Writing Credit

I've already been asked a couple times about the writing credit on this project so I thought I'd post the details here:

I won't be getting a writing credit on this one. But the director will give me some other kind of credit -- perhaps Story Editor or some made-up thing.

On normal movies the Writer's Guild of America has rather explicit rules regarding who gets writing credits on a movie and, in fact, is the final arbiter in disputes -- being able to override even the makers of the film.

But this isn't a WGA signatory movie so the credits are pretty much just whatever the company making the movie says they are and the original writer has ensured he gets sole credit on this -- probably so that the producer or director doesn't come in and poach a writing credit. And I certainly don't blame him for that!

Had this been a WGA signatory movie, the writing credits would be wrong on two counts -- the actual credits would likely be "Story by" the original writer and we'd share "Screenplay by" credits since much of the characterization, text, and ending is new, though there's a fair bit of the original left in there and the new stuff is pretty much an outgrowth of the original material.

The other wrong bit is the made-up Story Editor credit. The WGA is a stickler for making sure that companies don't start inventing these sorts of credits and giving them to every guy in the production who had some input on the screenplay or has enough pull to force their name into the credits because they offered a few suggestions -- it's a way of protecting writers from having their labor diluted.

Finally, I'd also be wrong here to specifically suggest what the writing credits would be -- I'd have to wait and let the final arbiters determine it.

Just like a b-

If you read the screenplay for The Dark Knight in the scene in Hong Kong before Batman goes into the big bank and grabs the crooked banker, Lucius Fox shows him a 3D map of the office created by sonar and you've got the following dialogue exchange:

WAYNE: (smiles) Sonar. Just like a b-

FOX: Submarine. Like a submarine.

But in the film the exchange is:

WAYNE: (smiles) Sonar. Just like a -

FOX: Submarine. Like a submarine.

When I watched the movie I never got the joke and knew it was a joke since they shared a little smile. But I sure got it once I read the script.

This is a good example of something that works great on the page, but doesn't work at all on screen. People don't stop mid-word and, if they did in the film, it'd sound really artificial and forced.

My guess is they found out it didn't sound right during the shoot and made a fix they hoped would work.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

First re-write

I got my first re-writing assignment last week. Roughly six days to do a pretty significant overhaul on a script.

The outline and structure were all there though we did change the ending. I have to say this kind of re-write isn't so bad -- though it was intense. Basically 14 hours a day devoted to getting it done quickly.

One nice thing about this is that it'll get made, and get made quickly -- in three weeks! That's why they needed it so fast. The director had to get the script to actors considering being in it and the people who pick locations and make schedules.

This is the same director as for COP DOG, though this time it's a more Hitchcock-esque film for a Lifetime-esque audience and the budget will be a little larger. My guess is that it'll have an easier time getting a U.S. release of some sort down the line.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cop Dog download now available at Amazon

Cop Dog is finally available in the United States -- via Amazon's Video on Demand. You can rent it or purchase it via the above links (and the above links are the only way I'll earn 'residuals'!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Predator POV

POV shots from the monster or the slasher stalking his target are fairly common in movies. But, considering how many movies have been inspired by Halloween, I'm surprised I haven't seen more people use what was an extremely effective technique in the original:

After the opening teaser, in the first act we don't see out of the monster's eyes, but instead watch the main characters with the monster's body or his vehicle framing the scene. That creates this constant, lurking presence penning the characters in, and feels much more foreboding than just looking through his eyes.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Geek Power

Midnight Chronicles went from IMDb Moviemeter rating 6,865 to 28 last week -- up 24,417% in popularity -- putting it adjacent to other such low-budget fare like Knowing and Observe and Report.

Coincidentally, this week was also GenCon -- where I imagine the DVD was released. That's really an astronomical improvement and rating for what is an essentially indie feature with no major distributor (Epic Level Entertainment, whose only other distributed films are Xombie: Dead on Arrival and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising) and no advertising. I haven't even seen banner ads at EN World.

For nerd-friendly fare I'd think studios should pay attention to this as a booth at GenCon is practically free by studio-marketing standards. I also think studios should be more friendly to RPG adaptations of their franchises. There's no money involved, but it keeps a franchise's fan base active and you can mine the good ideas that were developed for later films, comics, or TV series.

Midnight Chronicles is also available on iTunes and through RPGNow -- though I'd recommend the iTunes route for downloading since RPGNow doesn't have the bandwidth to handle big downloads yet.

Midnight Chronicles itself is impressive in certain aspects. Production quality is strong -- a few terrific special effects, some really nice outdoor scenes and outdoor cinematography. Many of the performances turned out quite well -- I think they benefitted from going after actors who could perform instead of actors who could help them get distribution (of course, what helps the movie likely hurts the producers). The action direction and fights scenes are, unfortunately, rather tame -- too slow and careful.

But the real problem is the story. There's some good elements here and intrigue being set up between the different factions -- at one point it felt like it could be a strong Babylon 5 kind of series. But it's not a series. It's 100 minutes and I think they introduced as many as 15 or so characters, all of whom are launching their own story. So instead of one fully developed story we get the first 5 minutes of a dozen or so stories. I had to laugh when at about minute 68 (!) they introduce the secret surviving twin brother of some high-ranking legate who helps head the resistance. Save something for season two folks!

This cripples the story as a film -- and is also way too much for even a series pilot (which is what the Midnight Chronicles was originally intended as). In a series pilot you need to cleave more closely to a film mode -- find your core couple characters and key on their stories so that we have an enjoyable episode and get a chance to know them. Roll out the extra characters and plot complications as the season unfolds -- because, unless that first episode catches, you otherwise won't have a season to tell your story.

Which leads me to my last general lesson that I've learned writing. Movies are small -- at about 22,000 words they're really equivalent to a novella. Especially in a genre piece where you've also got action set pieces and such eating up minutes, you really need to choose your story and focus on it. And pilots are even smaller -- though you can leave a few hooks in them for later exploration.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nicholl Quarterfinalists Out Today

Congratulations to all the Nicholl Quarterfinalists!

The Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting contest is the best contest to enter in terms of getting you moved along in your career. Making any of the final rounds will garner reads and help you land representation even when you're out in the wild.

Being that it is so head and shoulders above the other contests I cannot recommend strongly enough entering early and often. Not just because it's good -- but also because your window for entry is rather narrow.

You stop being eligible to enter the contest after you've made $5,000 for writing, even if that's just from a screenplay option or optioning a book you wrote. And that's a really easy number to hit fast.

I did not realize this and only entered once before I became ineligible -- and I can tell you that I've definitely regretted it over the last couple years.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Suspicious ballot photos posted by Iran state media?

This item is from Nico Pitney's liveblog at the Huffington Post. It is fortunate for the moral arc of the universe that criminals are, by and large, stupid -- and here they appear to be broadcasting evidence of their own crimes:

12:23 PM ET -- Suspicious ballot photos posted by Iran state media? A reader writes, "I believe this is well worth reporting: many interesting photos are being put on the web as I write, a good number of them published by IRNA itself (see here). These are images from the recent Guardians Council TV broadcast session where they 'recounted' some ballot boxes and found out that indeed Ahmadinejad's votes were higher than previously counted. These pictures show two things very clearly: 1) that a whole lot of the ballots that are being recounted are fresh, crisp, unfolded sheets - which makes no sense, given that people typically had to fold these sheets before they can slip them into the ballot boxes, and 2) that the handwriting on so many of the sheets which are votes for 'Ahmadinejad' are the same handwriting (and very clearly so)."

Pitney goes on to post another item providing more evidence of vast and clumsy fraud:

1:06 PM ET -- Rezai's spokesman claims ballots had similar handwriting. Mohsen Rezai, the most conservative of the three 'defeated' presidential candidates in Iran's election, agreed to drop his official election complaints several days ago. But Rezai's unofficial spokesman Omidvar Rasai charges in an interview here that "between 70 to 80 percent of the votes in some constituencies was written with the same pen and with the handwriting of a single individual."

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Track Record, Track Record, Track Record

If you're fortunate enough to get more than one option offer on a script you've written and are trying to figure out who to sign with, I recommend going with the producer with the best track record -- even to the point where doing so might mean foregoing a decent option payment (around $1,000) versus a negligible option payment.

In my experience, track record -- how many films they've made and how consistently they've done so recently -- has been a better indicator of whether or not they'll be able to get your film made.

Two different companies were able to get me thousands of dollars in options -- but neither were able to make the movie. They also had few to no movies made, though they did have good financing connections.

On the other hand, a $100 option led to the assignment that got me my first film, and I worked with another producer with no option at all that eventually would've gotten set up as a little indie if I hadn't optioned the script to someone else first. Both these people had consistent (though not spectacular) credits. I think the consistency counts for a lot. People who get things done, get things done.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Was horror the best choice?

I like horror films so that's what I started out writing. And there's generally a number of smaller production companies out there looking for horror -- so it's also a practical choice. However, at the moment, the well appears to have dried up so it's not so practical now ... though it seems these sorts of trends can change every six months.

In retrospect, though, I think there was a problem with writing horror, or at least focusing so heavily on it. Horror, particularly teen, Freddy and Jason kind of horror, is intrinsically a reactive genre -- and this and other features make it a genre where it's challenging to demonstrate or develop your character building skills.

In fact, through the original Friday the 13th, the protagonists spend the majority of the film not even knowing that they're being attacked. They neither are nor can be proactive simply because they don't realize that there's anything to be proactive against.

But in most stories we much prefer our characters to drive the action -- this is how we get them to reveal their inner selves and turmoil.

This is compounded by the fact that another intrinsic feature of horror is that the characters are grossly outmatched. They can't drive the narrative because they're too busy getting their asses kicked.

A Nightmare on Elm Street actually manages to create a strikingly pro-active heroine in the Nancy character, and is a good film to study for keeping the heroine in the driver's seat -- but this is also a rare feature of the pure horror film.

Another problem with horror films is that you've got a limited amount of time to do any character development with the side characters. After all, at least one of them dies by minute 20. That means you've got 20 minutes to establish your setting, introduce the stars, set up the bad guy, and generate enough feeling for this poor dead-on-page-20 schmuck that he won't feel like a throwaway. Let alone all the other secondary characters who get eviscerated before they ever get a chance to complete even a partial character arc.

The couple family films I wrote on the other hand have plenty of time to see all the characters through to the end and they're almost completely driven by the young protagonist on their quest -- things very conducive to fooling producers into thinking that you're a much more serious-minded and sensitive writer than you actually are.

That said, I'm not sure family films are great for breaking in from outside. I don't think they were 5 years ago -- but I have noticed more small companies looking far afield for family films lately, so that might be changing.

Looking backwards, I suspect thrillers would have been good to develop. They're hero driven, many of the characters stick around for a long time, and there's also a wide market for them -- small companies look for them for DVD features, cable movies, TV movies, and particularly strong ones can also be picked up as theatrical releases.

Supernatural thrillers (by this I mean tamer, wider-audience horror films like The Sixth Sense or even The Ring) also have some of these strengths, but I'm concerned that these need a name star to sign on, which means they need to be higher budget, which means it's harder for someone outside the town to get to the kind of production company that can finance them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Writing from the Wild

UPDATE 11/13/2009 -- the other blog is dead and gone because I am a slacker.

I'm starting up a second blog called Writing from the Wild -- this one focused solely on screenwriting.

It seems that I've made enough headway to call this a career, and so far I've done it entirely from outside of Los Angeles, which is particularly problematic for screenwriting. So I thought I'd share my experiences and talk about stuff that worked and didn't work, as well as theories pulled out of my ass, in case it'd be helpful for other people trying their hands at screenwriting from the lands of no In-N-Out.

I'm copying my screenwriting posts over there. But I'll also leave them here and generally keep this blog up to date at my standard glacial pace.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Billy Unger Wins and Cop Dog Pandemic

Billy Unger ended up winning Best Performance in a DVD Film at the Young Artists Awards!

He's also in like a dozen movies coming out over the next year or two.

The lead actress, Cassi Thomson, has also landed a recurring role in HBO's Big Love, playing Chloƫ Sevigny's secret daughter.

Finally, COP DOG has spread via cable and satellite to more portions of the world:

-- on DVD in Australia

-- on the Superchannel across Canada

-- and on HBO in Mexico and pretty much every other country south of Texas.

-- but still not the part of North America between Canada and Mexico... I blame Lou Dobbs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Squirrel Tricks

We've been feeding the squirrels in Central Park lately and noticed a couple tricks they've learned.

The parks people put out little feeders for the birds -- and, knowing that squirrels will go after the seeds, they hang these small feeders on the thinnest branches so that only the light birds can get to them. But the squirrel in this first photo is brave -- he climbs down the thin branch to the very end, then pulls up the string hand-over-hand to drag the basket closer, then holds the basket with one paw and grabs seeds out of it with the other.

The pigeons have also figured out a strategy for this -- the squirrel drops a lot of seeds in the process so they all hang out below the basket.

As you can see in the second photo, they aren't shy. They also have another thing, which I suspect is a trick. You'll throw them a peanut and it lands maybe a foot from them, but they'll wander around looking for it and not finding it. Sometimes even walking right past it so their butt is practically hanging over the peanut.

We point and make clicking sounds to get them going the right direction, but eventually grow so frustrated that we simply toss them another peanut. Playing dumb gets you twice the food...

Saturday, March 28, 2009


We're sitting at yet another NY Starbucks and over the course of a few hours as we watch out the window, every dog that passes the stack of garbage bags outside first sniffs them, then pees on them. It's Facebook for dogs.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

15 Days

My dad wrote a little short story a couple weeks ago and I thought it'd make a strong short script (and be really easy to adapt -- all I did was change the formatting!)

So I spent a couple hours re-formatting, showed it to him, and then sent it off to a couple places asking for short scripts. 15 days later and a director now wants to make it.

It took me five years! I'd call my dad a bastard, but I think that might backfire on me in some way.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Low Budget Awards Season

The Oscars are over -- so now it's time for the movies that cost less than the dresses worn at the Oscars!

Billy Unger is nominated for best performance in a DVD film at the 30th Annual Young Artists Awards. Go Billy!

You'll need to scroll down to the bottom to see the list of nominees -- but he's doing well in a category where two of the other films are by Disney and Universal.

Also, my horror screenplays RED SKIES and THE SOUND are both finalists in the 2009 Paranoia Horror Film Festival script contest. After seeing their website I figured that my goriest screenplays might have a better shot.

Given that the IFFF where COP DOG showed was Feb 26-March 1, the Paranoia Film Festival is March 13-15, and the Young Artists Awards are on March 29th, and we just had 10 inches of snow dumped on us and wind chill is sub-zero -- you can imagine that this is a month I particularly wish I was in L.A.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Marketing Strategy

The headline above is from the New York Times and if I were the Obama team I'd SEIZE on it.

Everybody thinks they're middle-class, or at least has reasonable hopes that they're on their way to being middle-class. He might even manage to get crazy Lou Dobbs on board.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

7th Anniversary

We don't make a big deal about our wedding anniversary and don't mention it to people, but at dinner last night -- our 7th -- got this fortune in my cookie.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Would You Check?

Via Mind Hacks -- Steven Pinker says of the genes that increase the risk for Alzheimer's disease:

Still, I figured that my current burden of existential dread is just about right, so I followed Watson’s lead and asked for a line-item veto of my APOE gene information when the P.G.P. sequencer gets to it.
I would check. One reason is that I'm young enough that there's still hope for various forms of treatment or preventative measures to arise before I reach risk age. But second, if prevention isn't possible I'd just as soon kick off due to heart disease as have my soul slowly destroyed -- Camel unfiltereds here I come! -- at about age 55-60.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Too Lazy To Type Degrees of Separation

You'll probably need to click on the image to read anything but that's the IMDBPro main page above.

Typing being the awful chore that it is has forced me to invent a game: how few mouse clicks can I use to get from whatever the current main page is to the actor, director, writer, or movie I'm looking for?

No typing into search boxes allowed.

For example, using the sample page how do I get to, let's say, Kuma -- the canine lead in Cop Dog?

We start with the #2 video rental from the left column, Death Race (1 click), from there to lead actor Jason Statham (2), then on to Crank 2: High Voltage (3) -- then to Lil Chev Chelios, Billy Unger (4 -- Billy Unger is the Rosetta Stone of Cop Dog!), then Cop Dog (5) and finally Kuma (6 clicks).

If music videos got IMDb pages it'd actually be slightly faster since Taylor Lautner (middle starmeter at #5 famous in part from Twilight, 1 click) is in the music video Caught Up In You (2):

by Cassi Thomson (3), co-star in Cop Dog (4) then Kuma (5 clicks).

On a side note, apparently tween girls all over the world hate, hate, HATE, Cassi for stealing Mr Lautner from them.