Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - What do you want in a sequel?

I didn't get out to the movies this weekend, but I saw a lot of reviews that basically said the same thing about it - that they basically took the first movie and moved it to Bangkok. Having seen the trailer, I wasn't too surprised by that because it revealed the set-up was the guys wake up after another night of being plastered, can't remember anything and have to retrace their steps.

Not having seen the movie, I feel like that's potentially the laziest excuse for a sequel they could have come up with. It would be like if Back to the Future part II had sent Marty again into his parents' past where he somehow put his own existence in jeopardy again. (Sidebar: I think BTTF part II's decision to "give the audience exactly what they liked about the first film" by sending Marty and Doc back to that same night in 1955, but with an entirely different complication to resolve was rather brilliant.)

But perhaps this is a case where execution trumps concept. I can't really say until I see it.

But what do you expect from a sequel? Do you want essentially the same film in a new box (like the various Friday the 13th sequels and it's ilk?) Do you want an entirely new take on the concept, such as how Aliens went in a very different direction from Alien? Do you want a continuation of the first film that elevates the series mythology to a more epic level, like Empire Strikes Back?

What do you love about sequels and what do you hate?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Friday Free-for-All: Iconic sexy scenes - where is this generation's Phoebe Cates?

Originally I was going to save this one for next week, but we're already getting an interesting talk going over on the Facebook page, so as we're inching closer to the official start of summer, why not head towards the weekend with a blog inspired by a swimsuit?

I think every writer wants to write a scene that's remembered as iconic. And after over seven years of reading, I know that male readers enjoy writing scenes with female characters in various states of undress. And yet, in all that time, with all that female flesh, I don't think any writer I've seen has come up with something that's iconically sexy.

What provoked this thought was a Yahoo article I stumbled across earlier this week. It was about Phoebe Cates, and for at least a generation's worth of you, I probably don't need to offer further explanation. For people - mostly men - of a certain age, that name might conjure up memories of Gremlins, but it'll probably make you think of Fast Times at Ridgemont High. As the article notes: "Perhaps the most famous scene in which the bikini plays a starring role came in the 1982 comedy classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Actress Phoebe Cates wears a red two-piece while lounging at her friend's pool after school. Though the film is nearly 30 years old, online interest in the iconic scene remains red-hot."

I'd argue that the scene is famous not because Phoebe wears the bikini, but because she takes it off. Supposedly video stores in the 80s had to regularly replace their VHS cassettes of Fast Times because of "tracking problems" during the scene in question. (For my younger readers - that means that the videocassette was being worn out at that particular spot, likely because of excessive slo-mo and freeze-framing of that portion of the tape.)

Granted, times have changed and DVDs have replaced VHS, but I'm honestly at a loss to think of what this generation's "Phoebe Cates scene" is. Can you think of any film in the last decade that was purchased or rented largely for its T&A, to the point that the actress's name is synonymous with that scene?

The Yahoo article had their own picks for best bikini scenes. It's interesting, because out of 11 scenes, I could only peg three as iconic.

Ursella Andress in Dr. No.
Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C.
Carrie Fisher in Return of the Jedi

Interestingly, the most recent scene on that list is Jedi at nearly 30 years old. Andress' scene was so iconic that they had Halle Berry rip it off in a later Bond film, Welch's cavegirl bikini was a popular pin-up, and Fisher's Slave Leia sent a generation of Star Wars fans into puberty, becoming a popular costume at Comic-Con.

The remaining eight picks in Yahoo are certainly of attractive women, but not memorable in the same way:
Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life
Jessica Alba in Into the Blue
Cameron Diaz and Demi Moore in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Kristen Bell in Forgetting Sarah Marshall
Salma Hayak in From Dusk 'Til Dawn
Kate Bosworth & Michelle Rodriguez in Blue Crush
Brooklyn Decker in Just Go With It
Halle Berry in Die Another Day

Can you imagine any of those scenes being homaged 30 years later? Did any of those scenes spawn popular pin-ups, or become so memorable that when you mention that actress, that scene is what springs to mind? Frankly, most of these scenes are more along the lines of what I read virutally every week, eye candy with no deeper context. Empty calories.

(Also, to give most of the actresses on this second list credit, they've largely had more successful careers than Cates and the other actresses on the first list. Actresses like Moore and Bell have a strong body of work that overshadows their bodies.)

One Facebook follower came up with the same theory I have as to why the last ten or fifteen years of film has been light on these sort of moments, saying "With internet porn, there may never be another Cates' scene, again." True - Fast Times was a popular rental because it was something that a teenage kid could get his hands on in a time when naked breasts weren't a Google search away. I'm sure that had something to do with the scene's popularity. Surely the other three on the first list benefitted from being risque images either during a more conservative time (Andress and Welch), or being in a family-friendly film (Fisher.)

So with all of this in mind, I'm going to turn it over to you guys. First, are there any more recent scenes like this you think deserve to be called iconic? And then tell me what you think makes an iconic moment like this. I've bitched about T&A done wrong - how would you guys do it right?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Another perspective on getting the rights to use music

I got an email this week from a reader named David, in response to this earlier post:

I am by no means an expert on this topic, but I think what you've been saying in the past couple of posts is only partially correct.

The companies that own the rights to these songs license them out on a sliding scale based on the production budget. So yes, NBC or FOX would have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to use a song in 30 Rock or Glee, but that's because those shows have 7-figure budgets per episode. A feature with a $100,000 budget, I'm almost positive, could license that exact same song for a fraction of the cost.

Again, I'm not an expert on this, and I imagine there are lots of caveats to this - for example, if the artist owns the rights to his own material, you will be facing a very different scenario than if you're dealing with BMG. But that is a rare occurrence. And I do know that several years ago I produced a no-budget play and got the synchronization rights to three very well-known songs for the low low price of free.

Just thought I'd offer this up for discussion.

Reader question - When are remakes justified?

A Twitter-submitted question from @Swiss_Fox:

When do you think a remake is appropriate? What conditions/qualities need to be present/met in the original? In the remake?

My personal feeling is that there are few good reasons to remake a good movie. Would anything be gained by remaking Star Wars? ET? Back to the Future? If the original is already timeless, remaking it is a losing game.

In the case where the original film was based on other source material, then there might be room for reinterpretation - particularly in cases where the original adaptation took some liberties with the source material. Thus, I could see someone justifying a remake of To Kill a Mockingbird... but would it be wise to remake Gone With the Wind? I've long thought that you could get an interesting movie out of re-adapting The Wizard of Oz so that it's more faithful to the book. However, the problem there is that the original is SO iconic that the filmmakers would probably be facing an uphill battle.

I think there's more justification for remaking a film that might have had an interesting idea, but unsuccessful execution the first time around. If there's something new to be said with the material - a different tone, a reexamination of how the old themes play in a new, modern context - it also gives more justification for the remake.

Most of the time, though, the studio finds remakes attractive because they're pre-sold... so remaking a bomb would run counter to that desire. Having said that, I'd love to remake I Know What You Did Last Summer the way it was meant to be.

Just my opinion. How do you guys feel?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How do you write your own stuff and not let bad scripts for work get to you?

I got a Twitter question last week from @MichaelBrettler

"Script reader here as well. Any advice on reading for a company and writing at same time? Hard not to become disillusioned."

Believe me, I know where you're coming from. When I first went freelance and was reading for two companies, I had more scripts than I knew what to deal with. After a week of reading 12-15 scripts, the last thing I wanted to do was start working on my own. It's really hard to get the creative juices going because reading so much bad stuff can often be draining.

What I eventually decided to do was I'd shift to working 4 days a week and then I'd either try to write the other three days, or I'd take one day completely off from writing, and then just devote myself to the script for the remaining two. This meant that on those four-day weeks, I was probably putting in a lot more hours than on the 5-day work weeks.

But if you've got a 9-7 job at a company, it's a little trickier finding time to write for yourself. More than likely, you've got scripts you need to read when you get home at night and then just when you think you'll get free time on the weekend, you get hit with another three or four. And yes, very few of them are good.

I'd say the first thing you need to figure out is your time management. How many scripts are you dealing with per day? How many scripts will you have to deal with per weekend? There's also a better question: How few scripts can you get away with doing per day and per weekend?

If the President of Development drops four scripts on you at 7pm Friday, will he follow up first thing in the morning on Monday? Or is he likely to not check in until late afternoon or even Tuesday? On top of that, how soon will you get more scripts on Monday? I had a boss who had a habit of giving me three scripts on Friday afternoons, but then I'd get nothing at all on Monday. I figured out pretty quickly that I should just read the scripts over the weekend, and then do the write-ups throughout the day on Monday.

(But I ALWAYS read over the weekend... just in case this individual asked me Monday morning what I thought of a script. Often, unless it's a CONSIDER, you can get away with a brief verbal summary and review, and then tell them the write-up will be to them at the end of the day.)

So once you've got that worked out, you can start figuring out a schedule for working on your own ideas. Set a schedule and stick to it. Sometimes that might mean you spend most of a weekend staring at your screen or pacing your room thinking of ideas. Self-discipline is key here.

Ah, but I still haven't addressed "Burn-out." Let's face it, most of what you read is crap - but hopefully you're getting professional submissions that are crap in just the right way. The story ideas might be horribly derivative, the dialogue flat... but it all conforms to the basic three-act structure. If you're really lucky, the hack has studied Save the Cat and is religious about his beats.

Why is this a good thing? Because it makes this bad script VERY easy to skim or speed read.

And then there's the other technique....

Let's assume the script is 100 pages. Read the first fifteen pages. Then check in around p. 25-30. Then check in around p. 45. Then p. 60. Then p. 75. Then read p. 90-100.

Nine times out of ten, you'll be able to follow the story well enough to get decent coverage on the premise. And better still, you won't have lost quite so much time on it.

I can already imagine the angry comments I'm going to get from that lesson. Cold hard fact - I was taught that by a VP of Development with decades of experience under his belt. I should note that this technique is never applied when we can tell the writing is any good. (And if you've gotten to p. 15, you should be able to make that call. You'll probably even be able to hash out what the concept is - and with those two factors in play, you'll know if this is something your company's interested in.)

So when the writing's good and the premise is awesome, you bet your ass we read the whole thing. If it's a rom-com and the big boss has just made it clear he's not into those, it gets the skim read with a clear conscience (unless the writing is awesome, in which case it'll probably get a "CONSIDER FOR WRITER" and lead to that writer being called in for a meeting.)

So that's how I suggest keeping your sanity - don't let the bad scripts get to you. You're no good to yourself as a writer, and you're no good to your bosses if you burn out reading bad period pieces or hackneyed teen horror. Between that and time management you might find it possible to get your muse back.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Songs worth the money

Yesterday I talked about the high cost of using music in your spec. Performance rights apparently can be $40,000 or more, and using a famous recording of a song can sometimes cost as much as (cue Dr. Evil) One. Million. Dollars.

As you might expect, this can lead to some major budget issues. I don't doubt that many filmmakers have had to agonize over if their million dollar song was worth the cost. The right song can make for a memorable scene - though there are certainly times where the use of a particular song or four can feel self-indulgent. (Paging Mark Webb...)

So what movie songs were worth it in your estimation? (Note: I'm not talking about songs written especially for a film, like most Disney songs, for instance.)

"Don't Stop Me Now" in Shaun of the Dead?
"In Your Eyes" in Say Anything... ?
"Twist and Shout" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off?
"Secret Garden" in Jerry Maguire?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Why using karaoke songs in a movie can still make your budget disappear

V Thornburg asks:

I know in the past you advised against putting songs in a spec script because of licensing, and especially don't make almost the entire plot revolve around one song (The name of the girl that broke the Protagonists heart was "Mary Ann" so you used More Than a Feeling that's so original!) I'm toying with the idea of doing a movie based on a group of karaoke singers. I know that a karaoke version of a song is different, and if I remember correctly the rights to the karaoke version of a song are considerably cheaper. I would make all the songs random and have nothing tie in with the plot. Do you think it'd be worth a shot or should I just keep it in my notebook?

As always, I'm not a lawyer, so there might be something I'm missing here, but here are the issues you'll need to consider.

There are two kinds of music licensing that filmmakers need to be aware of:

Synchronization rights - this is the right to use an existing recording of a song in your film. If I want to play Boston's version of "More than a Feeling," these are the rights I need to purchase. As you might expect, with desirable songs and protective artists, obtaining this license could very easily be prohibitively expensive.

Performance rights - Essentially, this is where you purchase the rights to record or perform your own version of an existing song. (I've seen some books that refer to this as "publishing rights" as well.) In your karaoke movie, these are the rights you'd be going after. Sometimes, when it's not too expensive to get performance rights, you'll notice that some TV shows/Movies/Commercials purchase those and then hire a soundalike band to perform a cover version.

In theory, this should be cheaper - but some songs can be incredibly expensive at this level. Watch this interview with Tina Fey where she marvels at how much it must cost for Glee to get the rights to all the songs they use and tells how it cost her show, 30 Rock, $40,000 to get the rights to sing two lines of a parody version of "Night Moves."

(There's a misconception that if you do a parody, you don't have to pay. As I understand it - and again, I'm not a lawyer - it's true that you don't have to pay rights for the lyrics... but if you're using the precise melody without licensing it, I'm pretty sure the composer is owed some cash.)

$40,000... for ONE song.

This is a movie about karaoke performers, so let's assume you're going to use 10 songs, and that the $40,000 is more or less the average cost per song. (You might get a break on some, you might decide there's a song you really want and pay more.) Total music budget is suddenly $400,000.

Movies cost so much that perhaps that number seems meaningless. I'm going to try to put it in perspective. Do you know how much the minimum payment is for a screenwriter for an independent original low-budget screenplay? (Defined as $5 million or lower): $42, 930.

Yeah, it costs almost as much for ONE song as it does to pay the writer.

Any budget over $5 million nets the writer a minimum of: $87,879 for an independently-produced screenplay.

(You can find links to this documentation here.)

Consider the actor budget as well. SAG's indie rates for a low-budget film (which they define as less than $2.5 million) is a day rate of $504 or a weekly rate of $1752. (Info here.)

The non-indie rate appears to be $809 per day and $2,808 per week. (Per this.)

So I think you can quickly see the disparity here. Even if the film you write gets purchased by a studio, in theory, the music performance rights can still cost substantially more than the producers would need to spend on the talent. That right there should give you an idea of why such a big deal is made over a three-minute song - it's a comparative budget suck!

Obviously there have been plenty of low-budget movies made that paid above those minimums to secure talent that was a draw, and that probably shelled out some cash for songs that mattered to them. The bottom line is - it cost them. For some, it might well have been worth the headache to go through that for one or two songs.

But a karaoke script - with multiple cover songs? Unless you're lucky like Glee and can count a number of musicians among your fans, and thus, can count on getting a break on the licensing, music can cost a pretty penny.

Fey notes that using music got so expensive for their show that they've had to start writing their own songs that are reminiscent of other songs. This is a network show, presumably with a decent amount of cash to throw around per episode, and they still have to make these decisions for performance rights!

It's your call if you think your script is strong enough to take a gamble on. I'm just pointing out some things to consider.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My 500th post! Why I hate 3D!

500 posts. Where does the time go?

What started as a hobby has... remained a hobby, albeit one that I attend to much more frequently. Reaching 500 posts is a big milestone for me, considering that when I started this blog, I wasn't sure if I'd keep it up for 100 posts! I'm sure there are probably enough useful posts here to comprise a screenwriting book or two, which I suppose means that I'm a sucker for giving this all away for free. It's also gratifying for this to happen as I'm approaching 500 "fans" on my Facebook page (please "like" me if you haven't already) and closing in on 2000 followers on Twitter.

I've been thinking all week about what I should do for this post, especially when I saw it would land on my "Freebie" day of Friday. One thing that's become clear to me is that as much as you guys like my advice, you seem to really like it when I get up on a soapbox and rant! Some of my more popular posts have been things like calling G.I. Joe the harbinger of the apocalypse and comparing its cinematic merits to "Two Girls, One Cup." (Hi Mom... like I said before do NOT Google that!) My "Open Letter to Agents," taking them to task for the shit they shovel out, is also a fan fav. So it's clear to me that I need to celebrate 500 posts by picking on something and saying that it sucks.

While I was working that out, I was reminded that I really enjoy interacting with a lot of you guys over Twitter. There are certainly times where I'm more free to engage than others, but I really like when something I send out hits a nerve (in either a good or a bad way) and I see your reactions.

Yesterday was such a time. Amid tweeting links to an article about Playboy putting 57 years worth of archives online and Lars Von Trier's incredibly ill-advised statements at Cannes, I sent out a link to this article on James Cameron and Michael Bay talking about the 3D of the new Transformers movie. In it, I said, "I hope 3D dies soon."

Here are some of the responses I got:

@BlueRidgefilms - "amen to that. Pay extra for something that's going to give me a headache? Screw that."

@FrankenScript - "Not only do they want to make your ears bleed, but your eyes too."

@dansiger - "It's a scam. I haven't seen a movie yet that truly benefited from it."

@mrickett1 - "3D is just a pain in the ass."

@San_MonkeyGod - "I work on 2D & 3D films, as nice as it can be (Avatar) in most cases it doesn't really add anything - just B.O. receipts... plus piracy of film doesn't include the '3D experience' - one reason Avatar did so well."

@HannahSalt - "those self-rightous blue knobs from Avatar can keep their 3D, its naffa and hurts my eyes."

I'm pretty much in agreement with most of these statements. I think the 3D process has vastly improved since the days of red and blue glasses, but to me, it's still a gimmick, and as more than one reader pointed out, it's an easy way to raise ticket prices and thus, rake in more money.

I don't think anyone pointed out one of my biggest issues with it - which is the fact that the 3D glasses add depth at the cost of brightness and color vibrancy. I avoided all Avatar trailers until I saw the film opening day, so I was shocked when I started seeing the TV spots and realized how bold and brilliant the colors were intended to be. Comparatively, my experience was like watching the film through polarized sunglasses. I end up not seeing what the director intended me to see, and filmgoing is a less satisfying experience, especially at nearly $20 a seat.

Post-conversion 3D just flat-out sucks. A few other people expressed similar sentiments to me over Twitter and I couldn't agree more. If the film wasn't shot in 3D, then I cannot imagine any cogent defense for charging extra to present it as such. Also, if this post-conversion was a decision made after shooting ended, odds are the director would have composed his shots differently to take advantage of the depth. I'll give James Cameron this - the depth that his characters lacked was not missing in his visual compositions. He used 3D to its fullest advantage and attempted to create a real depth of field.

But then there's a director like Michael Bay, who - love it or hate it - uses more cuts per second than probably any director out there. With no time to appreciate the mise en scene, why go the 3D route? Before your brain can process what's on screen, he's already moved on to something else. The construction of the Transformers has already meant that some battle scenes have been nearly incomprehensible, where it's hard to tell where one robot ends and the other begins when they wrestle. (At times, it's difficult to even tell some of the robots apart in the quick cuts.) Bay's films are already a visual overload, why add a third dimension to that?

If I was a director, I'd do everything possible NOT to shoot my film in 3D. I can't imagine any director wanting to make their movie harder to watch, and for many people, the 3D is an annoyance rather than an enhancement. I make an effort not to by 3D tickets and going out of my way to find the (increasingly scarce) 2D showings. I fully intend to see Green Lantern, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and Captain America all in glorious two dimensions, no matter what money-grubbing studio tries to make that an inconvenient option. I'd go so far as to call it a boycott. Feel free to join me.

I asked on Twitter if anyone out there was willing to defend 3D and I got far fewer responses:

@chilldivine "Not defending as much as sitting tight. Old Hollywood geek, so can't help but compare with reactions to first talkies..."

@indieflickchick - "I love having the 3D option. I think to force things in 3D is a little much but it also has to do w/ the subject matter... and figure out how to most wisely use it, we can really make some awesome entertainment. For exple: Final Destination, Piranha 3D. Using 3D as a tool to move the audience, to involve them at another level."

I'm not going to pretend that a few Tweets send out on an afternoon are at all a scientific survey, but it is interesting fewer people were as passionately pro-3D as others were con. It's also probably worth noting that people who follow me on Twitter and who take the time to reply to me are probably more likely to agree with me. I don't exactly make it a point of following people who I regularly disagree with, so it's not unlikely that my followers and I are of like minds.

Do the pro-3D people have a point? In 1932, film theorist Rudolf Arnheim published Film as Art, in which he expressed the view that silent film was inherently superior to the "talkies" that were rising in popularity. His case for film as art was that it must strive to be different from reality, and that by adding sound to the moving image, the unique nature of film was compromised.

I recall the first - and only time - I read Arnheim's book. It was in a film theory class headed up by a professor who was an incredibly entertaining storyteller, but not always as apt at making those stories useful to our education. He lectured on Arnheim's tenants, which to me seemed pompous, archaic and anathema to everything I enjoyed about film.

Frankly, I thought Arnheim's views were garbage. The professor wrapped up the lecture with the note that Arnheim's book's publication coincided with the ascent of Adolf Hitler. Since he was a Jew, Arnheim's books were banned. I offered to the friend sitting next to me that the suppression of this book proved that the Nazis accomplished one good thing under their reign.

And there I just had a Lars Von Trier moment. Having made that gaffe, I could say I sympathize and understand Von Trier, but I suspect that would get me into trouble with Cannes. It's not that I care about missing the films - but I'd had to lose out on the parties.

So in hating 3D, have I become Arnheim? In 50 years, will some film student have this blog post directly downloaded into his brain and snicker at my naivete? (All together, "You should be so lucky.") I don't care. I hate 3D. And why is the music so damn loud? And what's with teens and their low-hanging jeans?

I can't think of a better way to spend my 500th post than tweaking 3D and evoking something I learned from one of my most memorable professors. Sir, this dry martini is for you.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Reader question - numbering drafts

Walker writes in reacting to a reader comment about how they were working on their 7th Draft. He's curious about what it actually means to call something "Draft 7."

I write, as I assume most do, in Final Draft. Either my project is done, or it isn't. I couldn't tell you where one round of revisions end and the next begin and I don't save out separate drafts - at least not unless I make a major change like the deletion of an entire scene. Some days I'll sit down with the intention of working on specific things (make all action paragraphs four lines or less, remove the yes/no from the beginning of all dialogue) but I don't feel like writing on the computer lends itself very well to drafts.

Do you think there's any virtue in the practice of separate drafts, or is it a hold over from the paper world?

What do you do?

Have any stories where it's been helpful or harmful to have many drafts laying around?

My method - I count it as a separate draft each time I send it out for feedback - OR if I make a substantive change in the script. That makes it easy for me because if I'm working on my fifth draft and Scott comes back to me with a note that my female protagonist isn't working for him, I can go back to my notes from Bryce on draft 4 where he points out all the ways that that same character works for him.

A reaction like that means that either one of my two readers is wrong, or my changes from draft 4 to draft 5 affected things in a way I hadn't anticipated. (And this can happen. Beware the ripple effect when you add or remove scenes.)

But I absolutely find it useful to have various incarnations of the script saved either by draft number or date.

As for if it's helpful or harmful, well, I never like to advertise which number draft I'm working on when presenting it to outsiders. If I'm showing it to professionals, I never EVER say, "This is my first draft." Everyone's first draft sucks. Don't tell anyone you're trying to impress you're giving them a first draft - and in fact DON'T show anyone important your first draft.

First drafts are to get the idea on paper. Show them to your writer's group, show them to your friends to see how things are playing - but never give out a first draft and be shocked when your reader comes back with notes.

Conversely, I shudder a bit when someone asks me to read their 14th draft. Many great movies probably needed 20 or 30 revisions... but that's also often a result of other people in the process wielding their influence. With writers working on their own, I sometimes see them getting lost in their own story once they cross into a double-digit draft.

That's why when I send out a script to someone, I never put the draft number on there. At most, I'll put the draft date.

What are your thoughts on this everyone?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview with Scream 4 co-producer Carly Feingold - Part III: Making Scream 4

Part I - The path to being Wes Craven's Creative Exec
Part II - What does a Creative Executive do and what do they look for?

Then you went and did Scream 4, which, you mentioned you were a fan of Wes’s from a long time back, how surreal was it to be a part of the new Scream movie?

The first Scream [was released when] I was in high school and under 17. I snuck into the theatre – it was so packed, it was the second weekend – and I sat in the aisle and watched it. I think I went back the next weekend and my parents bought me a ticket. And as soon as it came out on VHS, I bought it and rewatched that movie, like, 100 times, you know, with my friends. Like on Saturday night after we’d come home from going out we’d watch Scream. So I was so thrilled to get a chance to work on the fourth one.

Scream was one of my favorite movies. I know all the lines, I’ve seen it 40, 50 times, I was following Wes on Twitter when he was doing trivia questions for signed posters and every time I was like “Oh, I hope it’s a Scream 1 trivia question because I know that forwards and backwards!” I’ve seen all of them but I know the first one cold.

I told my parents, “See, this will pay off, me watching this so many times!” Then on set, they’d need to know something about the first one and I knew it. And so much of the original crew was part of it, so to hear all of the stories from them first-hand about stuff that happened on the first three was just so exciting.

I’ve heard all of the stories about how you auditioned actors for this one with scenes from the first one. I imagine this script was top secret, like the interns were not allowed to read it.

No, I don’t even think some of the actors we cast got a full script. We’d only give them their pages. That was all they’d see. At the beginning as the Co-Producer, I was kind of the script master, so I watermarked every single one we sent to anyone. We never sent it to any agencies or managers. We’d only hand-deliver directly to the actors so it wasn’t even emailed to them. For casting, we pulled sides from the first Scream and we also had fake pages – scenes that [screenwriter] Kevin [Williamson] wrote that we’d already taken out of the script that we knew we weren’t going to use. So we’d have the final Billy/Stu kitchen scene [from the first film] for the kids to read and we gave it to each character. Everyone who came in to read, read that scene.

So they all came out of that like, “Oh, I’m TOTALLY the killer!”

We gave it to everyone, all the boys, all the girls.

But there’s a neat kind of head-fake in there, where you’ve got people who are sort of reminiscent of the original, but it’s just enough that I could see people in my audience going “Oh I so know where this is gonna go because this is like in the first one where…” And then they’d go, “Maybe they think I’d think that, so it’s totally not him.” Like with the boyfriend, I could sense them going, “Oh, he’s so the killer. He’s so obvious…. Wait, it’s so obvious he’s not. But that’s how they did it the first time…”

Yeah, exactly! (laughs)

I just thought it was neat the new movie used everyone’s expectations from the first film against it. And it was kinda cool to see the speculation about “If this is a new trilogy, they’re totally gonna kill off the old cast” – which I think was the genius of the new one. I even did an article about how everyone’s expecting Sidney will get killed to pass the torch, and to find out “No, the person we think is going to take over the franchise is actually the killer…”

It was really fun to work on. Even the house we were shooting in for that final sequence, the owners of the house obviously could come around [during shooting.] But occasionally they’d bring people and we’d have to be, “I’m sorry, we can’t let you in your house.”

They’re going to see something you don’t want them to see.

Yeah, it was very top secret. Michigan was wonderful to shoot in, but because film was so new to them, all the neighbors would get so excited and they’d set up lawn chairs and watch until four in the morning – even if we were inside, they’d just sit there and watch because it was so interesting to them.

But at the same time, people would always be taking pictures, so anytime [the actors] had any blood on them we’d throw a poncho over them and get them in the van, in an attempt to not get them photographed.

“They can’t see that you’ve got blood on the carotid!” Was there ever a point where you were like, we should just screw with them and send, like, Neve out there covered in blood?

I think there were times when we let things go so people would think [that certain characters would die.] There was definitely speculation that Gale Weathers was not going to survive, and we didn’t stop that speculation. I can’t remember if we did anything to really tease people one way or the other. Wes would tweet some things like a picture of a bloody couch, or blood on set, and people would be like “Who are they shooting with today? That person must get killed!”

And you were one of the few people who knew, so would you get “Carly, let’s go out for drinks tonight” and have them try to ply you for spoilers?

It’s funny because my fiancĂ©e was a fan of the Screams too and he never knew. I never told him. And the script would be at my house but he didn’t read it. My sister-in-law’s also a big fan and she was like, “Just tell me.”

“It’s Dewey. You can tell me.”

It was a fun secret to keep.

Were there alternate endings?

No. That’s it.

Because I know they did that on some of the others. The third one, I think.

The ending’s the ending. There was a “button scene” we shot, maybe it’ll be on the DVD. It’s just like an extra little joke at the end.

Can I ask about the Kevin Williamson/Ehren Kruger thing, how much of Kevin’s draft is in the final film?

Oh, it’s his script. He had to go back to Vampire Diaries at the end of May, which we all knew. So there were things that still needed to be tweaked and he couldn’t do it, but it’s totally his story, his characters, his script.

It feels like his. It feels more like a proper part III than Scream 3 does, actually.

Last question: If you could go back to your first day out here working on Cursed and give yourself advice, what would it be?

The best advice would be to “always anticipate.” Try and guess what whomever you’re working for is gonna need or want and have that already done. That’s probably the best thing any aspiring assistant looking to move up can do… of the assistants and interns I’ve had, the ones that can anticipate are the ones that I then recommend for jobs in the future or try to help find their next job. It definitely makes you stick out a little more.

It’s so important to do that and not just be the intern who shows up with the attitude of “I’m not getting paid so I’m not going to do anything.”

And have passion. Be interested and not be like “Right at six I’m going to leave.” When I was the office PA on Cursed, I would always try to end my day with a delivery to set so I could stay on set and hang out. And I would stay there because that was my opportunity to learn more, and I didn’t have to work or do anything. I could just observe.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Interview with SCREAM 4 co-producer Carly Feingold - Part II: What does a Creative Executive do and what do they look for?

Part I: The path to being Wes Craven's Creative Exec

Anyway, we were talking about Wes as a producer versus Wes as a director. Is there a difference in working with him in those roles?

For sure. On projects he’s producing, even watching dailies you’re watching them differently than when it’s your own work. Obviously he respects the director because he’s in that position, so I think for directors he’s an ideal producer to work with. In the editing process he goes in and gives his notes, but he also gives space.

In these remakes, is he very good at divorcing himself from what his movie was and watching this as its own thing?

I think so. He had a lot to do with the Hills Have Eyes remake and let [director and screenwriter] Alex Aja and [screenwriter] Greg [Levasseur] just do their vision. He liked that they had their own take on it and it wasn’t gonna be the same, it was gonna be it’s own thing. The same with [director] Dennis [Iliadis] and Last House. If you’re going to remake something there’s no point in doing it the same way. He wanted a new take on it and for it to feel like a different movie. I think he was really happy with both results. He was very involved [from the start.] He approved it all. He was watching dailies every day and on Hills Have Eyes 2 he was on set in Morocco.

I’ve read a lot of horror scripts, and a lot of bad ones, and I can only imagine the kind of script submissions that get sent to Wes Craven. Do you get any of a higher quality?

Occasionally you get that adult thriller or you get a young adult novel that’s actually pretty good, or a graphic novel that’s a little more interesting. But you also get the – you know – kids in the woods and guy going crazy after them.

Let’s talk about being a Creative Executive, because I know that some of my readers know what that is and some may not know what the day-to-day is. So you’re reading a lot of scripts…

Yeah, I probably read on average, three to five scripts a day. Obviously not reading every single page. My thing was I’d always read every page until page 40 and then I would see if I wanted to continue reading every page or if I would skim the rest if I knew where it was going at that point. You can tell by then you should be in Act Two and get a sense of the writer.

And you know the characters, the tone, where the plot is going.

And I wasn’t always reading it just for that script. I was also reading it for the writer because we had other projects going that we were looking for writers to rewrite or to write. We were also watching films, looking for projects to remake… We were reading books, reading graphic novels, reading other things.

Were you taking submissions strictly from agents and managers or would you respond to queries?

We didn’t accept any unsolicited material. I would accept it if it came from a lawyer. It was just to protect us and the writer from anyone stealing any ideas.

And also as a CE, throughout the day you have pitches coming in, general meetings with writers and directors for any projects we might have been putting together.

I imagine the ratio of scripts read and meetings taken to projects was ultimately pretty low.

Especially because we were such a small company. There were only five of us working there – it wasn’t like we were this place with like 20 people and something’s always happening. Sometimes when we were shooting something, no one would be in the office because we were all on set. I was on-set trying to do both jobs, associate producing or whatever it was on-set, as well as reading scripts daily and taking phone calls.

What would catch your eye in a script? What were the things that would ensure that once you hit that 40 page mark you’d keep going?

Strong characters definitely. Characters that you relate to, but that’s interesting enough that I want to find out what’s happening with this person. [Rather than] five college kids are in a car on a road trip and they’re all the same. Give me someone I can really care about. That’s probably the number one thing.

And then [a premise] where you can tell me it in one line and I’m intrigued. I personally like supernatural and sci-fi, ghost stories, things like that, so I tend to go to those more. But I also love straight-up thrillers that could really happen, and what would you do in that situation.

It’s hard to find good stuff there, because that’s kind of my genre too. I’m always excited when I find a good one, but you have to go through a lot of “Oh, I’ve seen this before!”

Yeah, I got so sick of slasher scripts and things with rape – and yes, three of the films we did had rape in it. It is shocking and it is a horrible, horrible thing to have on screen and it definitely affects you. But reading it in script after script it’s hard to be like “Do people want to see this?”

And if you’ve read my blog you know that’s something that’s come up perpetually on it, because I’ve read so many of those kinds of scenes where you’re… very uncomfortable with how it’s written. It’s graphic and there’s a sort of unseemliness to it.

It works so well in Last House – I think – because you needed it to have the parents’ revenge be, [the rapists] get what they deserve.

I absolutely agree.

Because if that hadn’t happened, then the parents killing them would have been like “Yeah, it’s horrible they kidnapped them, but did they deserve death?” But [with the rape] it’s like, “Yeah, they deserve to die.”

Yeah and to be fair, you do wonder who’s coming into this surprised by the violence if they know anything about the original. “You’re surprised this is brutal?! All right…” Actually, they had just seen Music of the Heart and thought, “Oh, I’ll see this guy’s other movie!”

[laughs] A lot of people don’t know that Wes directed that!

Really? I always think that it’s interesting that’s the only outside-genre one he’s done. I always think that – even as a gimmick if he wanted to do a romantic comedy - -

His segment of Paris, je t'aime was a romantic comedy. It’s great, if you haven’t seen it.

I just enjoy the picture of your typical romantic comedy trailer with Reese Witherspoon and Paul Rudd and then having “Wes Craven presents…” come up. It’s be a great marketing thing.

He’s great with comedy. I can totally see him doing that.

When I was watching the Red Eye commentary, I remember he says, “Oh this is the first thriller we’ve done.” And I thought, “Really, it doesn’t seem like that,” but I guess everything else he’s done counts as horror, but I always saw Scream as more of a thriller.

I kind of think of The Serpent and the Rainbow as thriller.

Yeah, you’re right because that’s not straight-up horror. It’s a little more psychological.

Part III - Making Scream 4

Monday, May 16, 2011

Interview with SCREAM 4 co-producer Carly Feingold - Part I: The path to being Wes Craven's Creative Exec

If you've read my earlier interviews, you'll know that I've mostly interviewed writers and a few writer's assistants. This week's interview is a first in several ways. Carly Feingold was a co-producer on Scream 4, but she got her start like many in this business did, as a PA. In between, she climbed the ladder as Wes Craven's assistant and eventually became his creative executive. If you're among the readers who send me emails asking "How do I break in?" you might want to pay attention and take notes.

I know you went to The University of Texas at Austin – I stalked you on the Internet – were you studying film there?

Yes, I was a film production major. I finished early because I knew what I wanted to do and wanted to get to L.A. And while I was there I was part of a student film club. We organized this thing called Conference where each year we’d bring in professionals in the industry to speak to students about breaking in to the industry. We held workshops and a panel discussion. The year I was the conference director, I was able to get Wes Craven to be our headliner. We also had Wally Pfister there, Dody Dorn, and some more amazing people.

Wes and I just really hit it off that weekend and I kept in touch with him through email after that. When I moved to LA I called him up and just asked if I could pick his brain about what to do. It just so happened he was starting up on Cursed – for the second time – and he offered me a job as an office P.A. Then during that film, his assistant left and I became his assistant.

Wow. How’d you convince him to come to Austin in the first place? It seems like that was the root of all of this.

I was in college and I definitely didn’t have a subscription to Baseline! So I called a lot of people’s assistants… probably cold-called about 300 people in the industry. I picked my top three people that I wanted to come and sent them gift baskets. Wes was one of them. I was always a huge horror fan, and a fan of his, and just always loved the balance of humor and gore in his movies.

So I started a dialogue with his assistant and at the time, luckily, Wes wasn’t shooting anything. We only paid for speakers airfare, their accommodations and their transportation. They didn’t get paid to be there. We got about 12 speakers to come… so I think the gift basket really did it. For the other people I think it was just my persistence – calling every week until finally they were like “Okay, we’ll just tell this girl ‘yes!’”

It sounds like you did the right thing in making them feel special and important, and appealed to them personally. That’s a lesson right there, I guess. You never know who’s going to say yes when you try.

Exactly. It’s worth trying.

So you were an office P.A. for the whole run of Cursed?

I began on Cursed when it started up for the second time. Cursed was an interesting project. On the weekends I’d do Set PA work on music videos and commercials, just to get more on-set experience. During the very end of Cursed, Red Eye was starting and by then I was Wes’s assistant. We were still doing post on Cursed when we were shooting Red Eye.

Does a complete cut exist of that first version, or is it a case where they stopped so early in the process—

I never even saw the very first version. I think I’ve been told there was 8 minutes of the first version that was shot that ended up in the final movie. They recast parts and rewrote the script entirely. I think the problem was that when they started the first time, the script just wasn’t there yet.

So then Red Eye was the first time you were on the set of a feature?

Yes, as Wes’ assistant I was there every single day.

When you’re assisting a director, what’s the day-to-day job, if you can give us an idea?

I’m trying to remember what I did back then…. There’s a lot of making sure he had coffee… making copies of the shot list, making sure he had storyboards, and then just sitting next to him, really observing and being there if he needed anything.

Red Eye was unique because we had the same background actors for six weeks straight. They formed groups and had different holding rooms to retire to. I thought that was so interesting that I started doing a documentary on the background [actors]. I’d go around filming my own behind-the-scenes thing everyday, which was really fun. Then the editor’s assistant and I cut it and made a documentary on that.

How is that not on the DVD? That would be so cool!

I know, we interviewed Wes for it. We interviewed all these people and we gave it to [the DVD producers] and we don’t know why they didn’t put it on. It’s on YouTube.

Well, I’ll go look for it and maybe put a link in the article. That is really cool.

It was really fun and just gave me something else to do on set, because when you’re there 14 hours a day, you’re not busy every second of the day. I was reading scripts that were coming in for Wes but that wasn’t really my job at the time because I was hired at that point for the film and not for his company. Then after that I became an employee of his company.

Wes is such a great guy. He’s a wonderful person to work for and learn from. He used to be a professor, so I think he instinctually teaches. I’d ask a question when I didn’t understand something and he’d explain it to me without making me feel like an idiot. He is just so warm and generous.

So anyway, after you transitioned to Wes’s company as his assistant, were you reading scripts for him and the usual assistant stuff? Filtering through submissions and all of that?

And fan mail. He gets a lot of fan mail… some from prisons and all kinds of places.


A lot from Japan and Russia and all these other countries and you’re like “Really? Okay.”

And then how’d you transition up to being Creative Executive?

I think I was probably his assistant for about two and a half years before I became a CE there. At that time, other executives had left and the company had changed a bit. The other executive there – he would focus more on stuff for Wes to produce and I was trying to find stuff more for Wes to direct. Of course those things overlap a lot, but that was how we separated it. Most of the producing projects were the things he owned the rights to—

Like The Last House on the Left.

And The Hills Have Eyes, The Hills Have Eyes 2. Wes also did a great segment for Paris, je t'aime in there. So when we were on a press tour for Red Eye in Europe, we stopped in Paris to do location scouting and then came back a month later to shoot it. That was a great experience. It felt like film camp for professionals. All these [filmmakers] were there and would be like, “Hey do you want to come be in [my segment]” or “come help in mine.” That was one of my most fun film experiences.

Was there a point in there where you were like, “I didn’t even need to go to film school.”

Texas was great, but I probably learned more in one day on a feature set than I ever did in film school. When I was in high school though, I went to a wonderful film camp in Maine called, the International Film & Television Workshop. I went there for a two week camp, and I learned more in those two weeks than I learned in film school.

Were you making movies in film school?

Yes, but mostly I made shorts.

Same here.

I mean, I never made a feature. I started making my own movies when I was five years old – not that I was good at it, but you know, after school all my friends would come over to my house and we’d make a movie. That’s what we did all day. So that was what I always wanted to do and what I was working towards.

Part II - What does a Creative Executive do and what do they look for?
Part III - Making Scream 4

Friday, May 13, 2011

Thoughts on Smallville and its place in the Superman mythos

Smallville wraps up an impressive ten-season run tonight, and I must admit that I’m writing this entry partly because I want to, but largely because I feel like it’s expected. Anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time is probably aware of the fact that I’m an unabashed Superman fan. The first Superman movie is one of my all-time favorite films. I’ve got a complete run of Superman comics going all the way back to the John Byrne reboot in 1986, and since the beginning of 1989, there has not been a new issue that I haven’t bought the week it came out.

It’s also pretty well known I worship at the altar of Joss Whedon, and thus, am something of a fanboy for that WB/CW-genre of show. So you’d think a show that basically announced itself as Superman-meets-Buffy would have been appointment TV for me from the get-go, right?

Tell ‘em, Lex.

When I was growing up, occasionally I’d see articles by comic writers and editors, talking about how the George Reeves Adventures of Superman was their definitive Superman, and how even Christopher Reeve’s strong performance couldn’t displace that. I couldn’t really relate to that. For me, Reeve WAS Superman. George Reeves was fine for his day, but definitive? I just couldn’t see it. And it’s completely alien to me to think that Dean Cain could be fixed in anyone’s mind as the “true” Superman.

So when Smallville came along, I was only too happy to let the next generation have it. As I’m reminded whenever I wander over to some of the fan boards, I’m really not the audience for this show. When you have a fan base that hates the idea that Clark ends up with Lois and actively doesn’t care if he puts the Super-suit on, you’ve pretty much lost the thread.

I actually made it a point NOT to watch the show during its first season. I just couldn’t take seeing the adventures of a young Clark Kent being reduced to little more than a kryptonite-freak of the week adventure series. The early press basically made sound like they took the Superboy trappings, removed the costume, and put it in a Buffy Season 1 paradigm, only replacing “Hellmouth” with “kryptonite.”

The one time I did tune in, the episode turned out to be little more than a ripoff of that Lois & Clark episode where everyone gets drugged and horny for each other, which in itself was a rip off of “The Naked Now” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which, of course, was little more than a rip-off of Original Trek’s “The Naked Time.” Smallville’s take wasn’t all that interesting, and at least the Lois & Clark episode had the virtue of Teri Hatcher in her prime doing the Dance of the Seven Veils.

(You really CAN find everything on YouTube)

But the following season, the Powers That Be did the one thing that would get me to sample the show again, they brought in Christopher Reeve for an episode that actually suggested the story might point more directly towards the Superman mythos.

I started re-sampling the show and found it had gotten better. My initial feeling that I had trouble embracing it due to it not being close to continuity was disproven when Allison Mack’s Chloe Sullivan (a character unique to this incarnation) was actually the first character I took a shine to.

So I started watching the series semi-regularly and eventually regularly. Like any series there were strong episodes and weak episodes. The production value was generally strong, and the episodes often were entertaining – though occasionally too reliant on “borrowing” from popular feature films like The Hangover.

Season Three was generally enjoyable, while Season Four was abysmal, owing largely to a terrible main storyline that attempted to weave 17th Century witches into the main storyline. The purpose of this was either (a) to justify a strong focus on the Lana character by tying her to the mythology or (b) to justify an episode where the three female leads spent an episode possessed and dressed in skimpy goth-like corsets.

Both of those spoke to Smallville’s two major flaws. First, they’d bend the storylines and the concepts to service the Lana character, possibly one of the most irritating and unlikable characters to grace the WB and CW networks. But I don’t want to turn this into a rant about how the guys running a Superman show seemed more interested in telling stories about their pink princess Lana, so I’ll leave it at that.

The second flaw was that there was no amount of fan service that they wouldn’t stoop too. Erica Durance’s Lois was basically a cosplay Barbie for the producers and after a while it got a little ridiculous. And yes, Teri Hatcher got the same stuff during her time on Lois & Clark (see the earlier clip), but it felt like an even bigger crutch here.

I think the other Achilles Heel of the series was that it just didn’t know how to get the characters from A to B in the uber arc of the series. Lex Luthor started off as a good guy, but his path to evil wasn’t a very well-built road. He basically became a villain because the mythology dictated he was supposed to be evil. Around season 4, characters would suddenly talk about Lex as if he couldn’t be trusted. It was all telling and no showing – one of the series recurrent flaws.

Clark’s path was also equally problematic, particularly as they brought in other heroes like Green Arrow and Supergirl. In the Smallville universe, not only was Green Arrow the first hero to operate in costume, but he’s the one who formed and led the Justice League. The writers had a real opportunity to show Clark stepping up and becoming proactive by being the one to gather and unite all the heroes he’d met over the first few seasons, but instead he ends up just one more recruit for Arrow’s team. The Supergirl storyline showed a similar lack of forethought, as she not only had powers Clark hadn’t yet learned to use, but this season she made her public debut ahead of Clark’s Superman debut. This is a little like having Batman trained by Robin.

But in cases like that, the actors often showed an impressive ability to rise above the writing. Justin Hartley and Laura Vandervoort each had enough charisma to make their respective Green Arrow and Supergirl characters fun to watch, and pretty much all of the main cast performed strongly enough that even if you hated the plots, the actors could keep you engaged. That goes for Michael Rosenbaum, Erica Durance, John Glover, Annette O’Toole, John Schneider, Cassidy Freeman, Aaron Ashmore, and Callum Blue as well. It's this cast that has kept the show going for ten years, and I can understand how this generation will see them as the definitive incarnations of those characters.

But the underlying problem was still the overriding sense that Clark Kent had to be dragged to his destiny kicking and screaming. Clark never felt pro-active on his journey to Superman. No matter what he did, there was always someone there to tell him it wasn’t enough. Not only that, but it seemed like every aspect of the familiar Kent/Superman dual identity that we came to know is more or less thrust upon Clark by someone else. In the comics, Clark decides to do good, puts on a costume and goes to work publicly. On this show, he shies away from the spotlight while for years, hearing people tell him what he should.

It’s hard not to see a parallel between Clark and the actor who plays him, Tom Welling. Welling has said since the early years of the series that he’d never put the costume on. The early motto of the show was “no tights, no fights.” I get an actor’s reluctance to step into an iconic role that can lead to typecasting for the rest of their career. On the other hand, I think once you’ve played “Clark Kent,” the damage is done. The fact that you don’t actually put the cape on probably isn’t going to save you when you’ve become an entire generation’s conception of the Man of Steel.

But Welling and the producers have held to the line that this is not a show about being Superman, it’s about the journey towards Superman. The problem is that as a show that was expected to run for five years has now run twice that long, The iconic Superman settings eventually had to be accommodated. At a certain point, for the sake of Clark not seeming entirely wishy-washy and ambivalent about what he does, the cape has to come on. Clark and Welling have run from their destiny long enough.

There's a lot of talk about the costume making an actor look silly, but it doesn't have to. Dean Cain was an unconvincing Superman because he always seemed to be apologizing and overcompensating for the outfit. He'd puff himself up and speak in a put-on authoritative voice as Superman. Reeve took the opposite tact - "I just let the costume do the work." He wore it as casually as an old pair of jeans and THAT is what made him a strong Superman. Brandon Routh seemed to take the same approach, and I hope that it's something Welling learned.

And as Tom accepts the cape, perhaps old fogies (note: I am actually a few years YOUNGER than Welling) like me can make peace with the idea that for an entire generation, Smallville will be “the way Superman is supposed to be.” Tonight I’ll watch the finale to see how it all ends, and hope we reach the destination in a way that validates the journey.

At the end of the day, Smallville brought a new slew of fans into the Superman tent, so I can’t begrudge them their successes. They’ve got a lot to be proud of, and hopefully the creators don’t take it personally when guys like me say, “This isn’t the Superman I grew up with!”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

See Chad, Matt & Rob (and crash the gates of CAA)*

*Note: Do NOT crash the gates of CAA.

Have you ever wanted to choose the direction of a movie while watching in theaters? Now is your chance!

Join Chad, Matt & Rob for an interactive screening of their latest adventure "The Treasure Hunt."

Free Parking @ The Century City Mall (2 blocks over from the venue)

What starts as an average day at the office for Chad and Matt turns into high adventure when Rob barrels in with a faded map and tales of vast riches. It's easy to shrug off Rob's glee at an adventure in the making as nothing more then a fight of fancy, but the arrival of a dangerous tomb raider (ALFONSO ARAU) soon makes one thing clear: this may be one quest they have no choice but to take. While our heroes may have no choice in controlling their fate, their audience does in this interactive, choose your own adventure. In a spectacle that's part feature, part video game as the fate of this trio rests in your hands!

2000 Avenue of the Stars # 100
Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, May 11 · 7:00pm - 8:30pm

RSVP on Facebook

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Marvel Movie Continuity

I saw Thor this weekend and was rather surprised when I didn't find myself with two or three blog posts worth of material provoked by the film, as was getting to be the pattern of late. I thought it was okay, though the picture quality was visually dark. I'm not sure if that was an issue with the film itself, or the fault of the theatre's projection.

As Marvel movies go, I thought it was better than Iron Man 2, but not nearly as good as the first Iron Man. I'll give them credit for reducing the biggest fault of Iron Man 2 - the continuity porn. (Non-geeks - I'm not talking about actual pornography. That's what comic geeks use to refer to gratuitous references and cameos relating to other characters and stories that really have nothing to do with the main plot.) Iron Man 2 strained to make the Nick Fury and Black Widow storyline relevant to the main plot, and the cameo of the Captain America shield was incredibly clunky.

Fortunately, Thor only had two continuity porn moments. The first was the Hawkeye cameo, which was so poorly integrated and completely apropos of nothing that I'd almost be willing to wager it was scripted by an inept Marvel editor just before he declared a four-part arc be stretched out to eight-parts.

The second was the post-credits scene, featuring Nick Fury providing some set-up for The Avengers. Honestly, I'm not wild about the greater Marvel agenda of setting up this sort of cross-continuity. It works in the comics, but if Thor and Iron Man take place in the same continuities, that means that it would be entirely plausible to see Tony Stark take on the Norse gods from Thor in a future film.

Unpopular geek opinion, but I think this is kind of stupid. I like cross-continuity in my comics, but I do see the merit in one writer's position that it means "The best writer at the company is handcuffed by the worst writer." I think DC's taken the right approach so far by keeping their properties separate. The Nolan Batman movies are awesome because Nolan is allowed to run wild and create an entire world for Batman. I'd hate for some exec at DC to water that down just so Batman can gallivant with the Justice League in a future film. Can you honestly picture Superman or Green Lantern flying in to the Gotham City of The Dark Knight?

And that's how I feel about the Marvel slate. Sure, it seems like a cool experiment in the build-up, but let's see how those individual franchises continue after the grand crossover in The Avengers.

How do you feel? Are you on board with these crossovers or do you prefer your franchises remain "pure?"

Monday, May 9, 2011

Be passionate

If you want to pursue a career in film, you'd better LOVE film. And I don't mean, "yeah, I like to watch movies," I mean total full-on passion. You can't just "like" movies or "like" writing and expect to be playing at the same level as the kind of people who can talk for hours about the merits of some B-movie as importantly as one might dissect a Bergman film.

Last week, I was interviewing someone for this blog and if you had happened by us during the pre and post-interview chit-chat, you'd only have had to have heard ten seconds of the conversation to know this was a talk between two people who were hard-core movie fans. In fact, though I can't say for certain because I shut off the recorder after the interview, I'd wager we spent almost as long on post-interview gabbing as on the interview itself. (The interview will probably post next week, by the way.)

I also recently crossed paths with an executive I used to read for, a guy with a several decade career in this business. In that time, he worked on more than a few "important" films, but do you know what really made his face light up? When he was talking about horror films - and they weren't always the kinds of horror films most people would consider classics. To this day, I still think he should be hosting his own show on horror movies. He's forgotten more about horror movies than most people have ever known. And yet, he gives incredibly smart notes in virtually every genre.

Sometimes I read a spec that's loaded with drama and melodrama, but without any passion behind it. It's as if the author is writing what they think an "Oscar picture" looks like. And then there are execs who are total snobs, talking in high minded ways about period dramas and strange indie scripts. And hey, if they were enthusiastic about it that would be one thing. Instead they come at it from an intellectual level... talking about film with all the excitement of Ben Stein lecturing a class on voodoo economics.

More often than not, the people who I've seen go far in this business are people with a genuine love for movies. I'm talking about a Roger Ebert-level of love here. This doesn't mean you have to be a film-geek in the mold of Tarantino, able to quote chapter and verse on any number of obscure subjects. But if you're going to make movies, it better damn well be because you can't imagine loving anything more.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Friday Free-for-All: Happy Belated Star Wars Day!

May 4th was Star Wars Day (as in "May the Fourth be with you,") so it seems appropriate to use this edition of Friday Free-For-All to spotlight the Star Wars documentaries that one extremely devoted fan compiled and posted to YouTube. Each of these documentaries are feature-length and compile audio interviews, text commentary, behind-the-scenes footage. I haven't had time to watch all of these yet - but from what I've seen, they're pretty cool

Star Wars Begins

Building Empire

Returning to Jedi

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Reader question - Leveraging a manager's interest into a read from an agent

I got an email yesterday from longtime reader Susan and I'm hoping you guys might be able to help her answer a question:

I know I wrote to you a little while ago about how my husband and I were trying to use our audio production company, Pendant Audio, to gain some leverage when talking about our Hollywood aspirations with others.

Interestingly, this strategy has started to pay off in a number of different ways.

For one thing, talking about our company makes us feel a little bit impressive. We've started appearing at comic conventions and fans show up. It's kind of cool, it gives us an air of legitimacy, and it shows that we work hard and all of that good stuff. We project confidence when we talk about ourselves as writers now. It's also useful in networking with comic writers and companies.

Then, about two weeks ago, something interesting happened.

We were contacted by a fan of our company who has Hollywood representation. He actually had representation for a while with a different agency (I can't remember which right now) and he tried to help us get representation a year or so ago, but it didn't work out. Since that time, however, this guy sold a book, which was subsequently optioned. So he offered to send our material along to his new manager... at [REDACTED.]

At that point I just about fainted. If I had to pick the perfect management company for us in my fantasy dream land populated by unicorns who poop rainbows, we'd be managed by them ... and now we've got one of our screenplays over there in the hands of a seriously experienced manager. He's been sick, and he hasn't read it yet, but he confirmed today that our script is in his pile.

My question, now, though, is ... is it OK to leverage this, and contact agencies and say, "Hey, we're being read by [REDACTED]"? I've seen some places say yes this is OK, and some places that say no, that is not OK. And I'm really not sure.

I'm researching agencies to get names of agents and details about the types of materials they represent, and my husband is putting the finishing touches on our very latest screenplay so we're not ready to go out and try to leverage this just yet. I know of course this is a bad thing; this opportunity came up at a weird time for us where we were in the midst of putting together a package of related samples, and we aren't quite done. But if all goes to plan we should be ready by next week, and if we haven't yet heard from the manager, I COULD do this and feel reasonably confident in querying some other companies.

I just want to make sure I'm not committing a grievous faux pas.

First, great strategy in marketing yourselves. One reason I printed the whole letter is that I think a lot of my readers could take a lesson from this: Find a way to build a following or distinguish yourself in some way. In doing so, you might be able to draw people to you who can help build your career.

As for your question, here's my take - You might be jumping the gun. Sending out a query that says "So-and-so agreed to read my script" doesn't really point to anything more impressive than getting past the first gatekeeper.

You know what might be more impressive? "So-and-So is representing me."

My gut is to hold back on the agent queries, both for the sake of seeing how the manager responds and also for the sake of getting your other ducks in a row. If I was in your shoes, that's how I'd play it?

But do the rest of you have an opinion on this?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

More questions about how to get read

I'm gonna reach into the ole mailbag and pull out a question from "First time writer guy."

Dear Zuul, since you will put your foot up my ass if I send you a script, how would one go about proving to you they are going to send you something tasty to read and not another pile of dog poo?

That's easy. Either know me personally or convince someone who knows me personally that you've got what it takes.

Here are ways to NOT convince me:

1) Tell me that this is your first script. No one's first script is EVER any good.

2) Have a shaky command of the English language. If you can't get through a query without mangling basic syntax and grammar, I'm not going to have much faith in your ability to make a 120 page read worth my while.

3) Address me as "Bitter Screen Writer" or "Bitter Script Writer." Here's a tip - the name is at the top of the blog. Get it right.

4) Boast about how well your script is doing on Amazon Studios.

5) Somewhere in the query either insult me, or include language along the lines of "If you don't want read my stuff then you really don't know anything. Or maybe you just can't handle how AWESOME I am!" When you ask someone to read your script, you're asking for a huge favor. Manners apply.

6) Enclose racy pictures.

7) Whine about how no one is going to give you a break and how everyone in this industry seems to be working against you. Instead, be positive. Be someone who I want to help.

I got a similar question from Bob:

You're brave to add your email adress. [sic]

How can so many syndicated movies be so flat, yet no one will glance at new ideas and stories? "The wall" seems equally thick from both sides.

Why not just ask for tag lines and charge to read them? Charge to read quarries too. Can a few hundred a day extra hurt? Ha

Maybe we need a list of connected readers, with genre interests noted, (aka managers?) we can trust. You sound real enough.

I don't think it's a very ethical practice to charge to read someone's logline or query letter - whether you're charging as a way of screening or by offering some bogus service where you offer to help someone develop their loglines or queries.

As to the last question, while I know some readers make their names public, I've heard plenty of horror stories about agency readers who got tracked down by an irate writer after slamming their script in what was supposed to be an internal coverage report. I don't blame any reader for wanting to stay under the radar after that.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tuesday Talkback - Untitled Bin Laden Project

Place your bets - now that we have closure on Osama Bin Laden, which one of these movie adaptations do you think we'll see first?

1) A thriller about the search for Osama, following the CIA and the Justice Department over the ten-year crusade for justice. (Think Zodiac.)

2) A less sprawling thriller focusing specifically on the buildup and execution of Sunday's operation. (Think Valkyrie.)

3) A character drama about the solider who rises through the ranks until the moment of truth when he's the guy who kills Osama Bin Laden.

(Sidenote: I have this image of a grizzled medical examiner performing an autopsy on Bin Laden, and doing the whole CSI workup to the bullet hits so that he might match various wounds to the guns that fired them. Thus, he's able to conclude who really killed Bin Laden... announcing it with, "And the winner is..."

Look, my brain takes dark detours sometimes, okay?)

4) The Barak Obama bio-pic that forces on the struggles of his first term in office, ending with the Bin Laden operation as his moment of triumph.

5) The Michael Moore documentary that looks into just how cozy the relationship is between Pakistan and Bin Laden.

Also, I have to say I'm a little shocked Leno lasted ten years without once deploying the Dancing Osamas.

Everyone seems to assume it's a given that South Park is going to acknowledge Osama's death on Wednesday, so it'll be interesting to see which tact they take.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Reader question - How do I get people to read my script?

Jessica wrote in with this question:

I just wanna thank you for your blog it's been so helpful. I'm new to writing and i'm mainly just starting to write as a hobby.

Do you have any advice on how to get agencies to read my spec scripts? Just to be clear I'm not asking you top read my script I saw the warning.

Getting your script read is hard. The best approach is to get your script in through a personal contact. If you've built up credibility with people, they're more willing to read your script or pass it on to someone who will read it.

But let's say you don't know anyone who works in the business? Well, your options are limited. You're probably reduced to sending out query letters. Most people will tell you that's a waste of time, and it can be - unless you're willing to put in a lot of effort and be smart about who you query.

I recently did a round of querying myself, so I can offer a little bit of advice. First, an IMDBPro account was invaluable. With that, you have access to production company addresses and staff lists, agency addresses and - most useful of all - lists of every agent at each agency and the specific clients they represent.

Also, it's more likely that you'll get responses from managers - especially smaller managers - and smaller agencies than large agencies like CAA, ICM and so on. I got a list of many managers in town and using IMDBPro, I looked up each company and looked at each manager there. I took a look at every one of their clients, assessing if they seemed to have a preference for a particular genre of writer as well as if their clients credits suggested they were willing to take on younger writers.

From that I whittled down the list considerably until I had about 8 pages of agents and manager names. In cases where a particular company was a good fit and there were several agents and managers who looked like reasonable targets, I ranked the individuals at each company. I kept notes on specific clients of their and if applicable, referred to their works in my query letter.

Then over several days, I sent queries. When it came to companies when I identified multiple "targets," I always waited at least a week, often two, before looping back and querying a second manager at a particular company. Give people a chance to respond.

So basically, if you don't have any contacts, you'd better be prepared to do a lot of research. Write a concise query letter. Briefly introduce yourself, explain any relevant history (such as if you've won any contests, or have a distinction that might be noteworthy to potential representation. (In my case, one of the things I hit was my history in development and as a script reader.) Give a brief pitch for your script - don't tell the whole story. Your goal is to entice the target to read your script. Going through it plot point by plot point isn't always the best way to do that.

Lead with the hook, maybe talk about who the main characters are, and make sure it's clear what the genre is. Thank them for their time. Be polite, be concise and make your story sound as interesting as possible.

Queries are often a crapshoot. I got a fair number of requests from mine, but often you won't hear anything back.

Good luck!