Monday, November 30, 2009

Running out of time

December puts me into panic-mode. It's probably the end of year thing, there's a finality to it. We haven't found all the money that we need and the year is rushing towards the finish line. Well, not really, we decided a few months ago that February-March would be much more realistic and given that it's a winter shoot, I'm not worried that the Manitoba winter will suddenly turn into San Diego weather. We could probably shoot winter well into April.

But there is a stronger sense of urgency, compounded by the beginning of a new year. In a way, it has the potential of a new beginning and investors are likely to look at our project with fresh eyes.Then there's Dane, the Manitoba partner who's bringing in the tax credits and some equity. I will be traveling to Winnipeg December 11 to meet with him as well as Rachel, the Eh Channel executive and some other companies as well.

The trip also allows me to visit my 86-year old mother who lives in the town I was born in many decades ago. It will be a white Christmas most certainly for me, and a rush of nostalgia from my childhood which continues to inspire and motivate me, nearly 2000 miles away in California.

They say that the person you are at seven is the person you become. At seven, I was going to movies with my parents as often as I could. Not that there was much of a choice, we had one movie theater in town, a rebuilt church hall. By 8 I was going alone. So I am the person I was at seven and I think that's a good thing.

But what about Travel Day?


While it was Black Friday for America last week, the whole week was pretty bleak for me. The Thanksgiving holiday really started the week-end before and it was pretty much impossible to talk to anyone about our movie. Even the Europeans I had pitched didn't reply and, apart from friends, I had literally no contact with the movie industry.

Christmas is the same, it begins here around December 15 and doesn't start up until the 2nd week of January.

This week I have a few calls to make and at least one meeting and possibly more. The major event of the month will be my meeting with Dane in Winnipeg as this is where we  outline our separate entities, meaning what each of us brings to the table. The contradiction there is that Dane will bring the tax credits and a letter from a bank that indicates they will be able to advance us a loan of perhaps 90% of around $300,000 of tax credits on Manitoba labor. This money is in effect, first in, as they say.

By doing this, other investors get a stronger sense of security in Travel Day. Investors notoriously dislike being the first one in and this money even comes from a major bank so it's even more solid than the investors themselves.

My duty is to offer what I can in the way of confidence by having several elements in place at roughly the same time, these being;

  • A "star" name actor
  • At least half my side of the budget (around $200k)
  • Names of several of key creative crew (DP, Editor)
  • Distributor Interest

All of these will help, but the name actor and distributor are the hardest to get. I have my work cut out. It's times like this I wonder why the hell am I even trying, now being 8 months without any pay whatsover, spending my money and time, and Shirley offering her expertise in graphics, art, conversation and just being there.

But then, what else is there to do?


After all, I missed Stoogefest this week-end, I've attended for the last 5 years and this time didn't have the time to do my annual 3 Stooges festival with my friends. It's times like these I take comfort in a pie in the face or a poke in the eye.


Don't try this at home and wish me luck.








Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fashionable Food and Drink is Haute!

"Le Rituel" Box Set: The Ultimate Glass Slipper Combo




Red haute sole shoe-maker Christian Louboutin revisits a famous ritual from the 1880’s that’s "symbolic of European living with no limits in mind—to sip out of a woman’s stiletto!" Louboutin created a pump with a very high glass heel accompanied by a bottle of Piper Heidsieck’s exclusive bubbly. The ultimate glass slipper is available in a limited edition Heidsieck x Christian Louboutin Le Rituel Box Set. Available through Parisian boutique, Collette for € 350.00 VAT included. Cheers!

Louby and Laduree: A Tasty and Fashionable Pair




ooOOhh la la! Luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin and French bakery Laduree team up for a sweet treat! When I’m in Paris, I make it a point to visit my fave haute spot right on the Champs Elysees. It’s a must-stop for dessert and tea tasting… using your pinky curl. But when I heard about this decadent fashion fix, I was thrilled! Louby designed three gift boxes displaying his exclusive red sole shoes and handbags for Laduree’s world famous macaroons. I wonder did they create a matching shopping bag? After all, you don’t walk down the Champs—you stroll with bags in hand! The boxes are available just in time for Christmas! Prices are about € 9.80 for six. Paris anyone?

London’s Fashion Scene is Good Enough to Eat





In London, The Berkeley Hotel puts a fashion spin on “High Tea.” Designer items turned into cakes, mousses and biscuits can be found in the heart of London’s fashion scene. The Berkeley launched the PrĂȘt-a-Portea collection in celebration of London Fashion Week’s 25th anniversary along with the return of Burberry to the catwalk. You’ll find a collection of tempting treats like the Louis Vuitton pink bunny ears on a bed of chestnut and pomegranate mousse, Burberry’s classic trench in the form of a cinnamon biscuit with caramel icing and Roger Vivier’s chocolate over-the-knee boot biscuit! The fashion crowd is going WOW! Prices for PrĂȘt-a-Portea begin at $40 per person

Friday, November 27, 2009

Writers & Actors who break the rules.

As expected, this week is a complete loss in terms of contacting anyone. Thursday, the LA freeways were empty, like a movie about the end of the world. My dinner for friends worked well, turkey, drink, football, obligatory naps, more turkey and that was it. Since there's nothing really to report on Travel Day, I thought I'd let you in on an industry secret. Not really a secret but something few people know about.


I'll start with a story about Jon Voight, the actor made famous in Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman.  A few years ago, Voight was asked by a friend to be in his low budget movie. So low that it was non-union. Voight belongs to the Screen Actor's Guild, known as SAG. As with all unions, including my own WGA and WGC (Canada) they're pretty tough on producers with good reason.

Actors and writers regularly get screwed. 

Back to Voight. He agreed to be in his friends movie as a favor. However, when SAG found out they went wild. They told Voight he could not do it, or they would kick him out of the union. This wasn't some new actor or some unknown actor, it was an Academy-nominated famous actor. But SAG was not bending.  Now, you have an Oscar winner and about 40 other nominations who has been told he cannot help his friend. It left Voight with one choice.

Financial Core.

Financial Core is a little-known and infrequently used and what it does is allow a union member, any union, SAG or UAW or United Steelworkers, any union, to take a non-union job and still retain his union status to a point.

It's a very odd law that was started by an individual in a union in the mid-west who protested against his union deductions going to support a political candidate he didn't support. Basically he wanted his share of the money going back to him and whichever candidate he wanted to donate to. In short, as long as he pays his dues and fees, he is allowed to stay in the union without having all the rules apply to him.

How did actors and writers get into it?

Somehow, it translates to SAG, WGA and even DGA in that the member who chooses Financial Core can work on non-union productions and still retain his/her membership in that guild. But they lose the right to vote and the monthly magazine and the wrath of other members who can shun him. They can't vote nor go to the parties and miss out on other neat stuff.

But they remain in the union nontheless.

And the guilds hate it. As a matter of fact, they won't even talk about it and sometimes deny it exists. And it's not just about the person who chooses to go "core". If one does it, others will do it and the union will lose money they collect from the producer and actor.


Back to John Voight. He did go Financial Core and did start his friend's movie, but it was closed down after union protesters shut it down. All was relatively quiet until 2005, when Voight was nominated for Best Actor in a TV movie by SAG voters.

But that's not the best part.

SAG refused to allow him to go to the ceremonies. This wasn't the Academy Awards, just the SAG membership who vote for whom they think had exceptional performances that year for movies and TV. And Voight wasn't allowed in. And just because he had won an Oscar and had been nominated four other times as well as a few dozen other awards, they were going to show him that he would be sorry.

No tux, no limo, no meeting his peers at the ceremony. And no after awards dinner either.


The same applies to the WGA, during the strike some writers continued to work under the table while others chose Financial Core. It's hard to pay your bills sometimes and since WGA would not even consider any breaks. After the strike, the union leaders wanted revenge on those who either lied or went core, but very little came of it except for hard feelings.

Were the writers wrong, should they be punished? It's a tough decision, and you need to realize that the writers themselves have conflicts as well. There are roughly 8000 members of WGA, and of these there are less than 2000 who are working, although it's almost impossible to get the guild administration to give an accurate number.

That's an unemployment rate of 80%. The U.S. rate of unemployment is 10% (although realistically it's more like 15-20%). The guild has writers who make $2-4 million a year and the majority wait for residual checks while earning nothing.

I know unions very well, having grown up in Windsor, Ontario, across from Motor City itself. I worked on the line at Chrysler and later covered the UAW beat both in Windsor and Detroit. I also belonged to a television union, NABET. Unions are essential, otherwise the owners would completely take advantage of employees. Can you say Walmart?

To it's credit, WGA has a low budget deal in which the writer is paid a small amount of the minimum scale rate and then, when the film is sold, the writer gets full payment.  The minimum scale is around $42,000 for a budget under $2 million and it has to be guild sanctioned. Non-union work is a no-no.

What happens if you do a non-union job?

You can get thrown out of the guild, you can get fined the full amount you earned or you can get slapped on the wrist and told not to do that.

Read Voight's letter at:

http://www.pirromount.com/voight.html

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, the lost week & Ghostkeeper


Well, forget any business this week, it's only one day till Thanksgiving and you can't get anyone even on a twitter as Americans race to the supermarkets and shopping malls for deals. The day after Thanksgiving is known as "Black Friday", in which the retail businesses throw out every discount and sale they can think of. It's known as the biggest shopping day of the year. And it's also the premonition of Christmas sales. Needless to say the last few years were dismal but it's expected this year will actually go up by 16%.


So nothing is really going to happen this week for Travel Day except that I contacted a few producers who might be able to bring some needed investors. The only bright spot was a British distributor who wants to re-issue my Ghostkeeper movie in Great Britain as well as a potential sale to Netflix, the rental-by-mail DVD giant. The movie is nearly 30 years old and somehow has gotten a cult following up to the extent that a British web reviewer called me on the phone to interview me about the 29-year old movie.

It just goes to show that it's really true that if you wait long enough, someone will say something nice about you.


But my head isn't spinning too much, frankly it's not that great of a movie, we had budget problems and couldn't shoot the second half as I had written and it barely got finished. I had a great DP, John Holbrook and a legendary editor Stan Cole, both of whom made magic with it somehow.  Here's the good reviews:

  • Ghostkeeper is a pretty creepy and atmospheric horror film which will keep you guessing until the end. The acting is solid and the atmosphere of fear and total isolation is well-captured.
  • Ghostkeeper is one of those unknown horror gems that are hard to come by, but rewarding when discovered.
  • There's a very odd eeriness here that keeps it worthwhile and better production values than most other films of it's calibre makes it a film I recommend to true horror films.
  • An underrated horror gem and one of the better early 80's horrors.
  • A remarkably eerie and very atmospheric horror film... a pretty top notch 80's horror flick. 

Well, those reviews made me feel almost ready for a Manhattan on the rocks. But I'm not accepting the award yet... 

  •  "The Shining" for dummies. 
  • Ghostkeeper is not as good as others would have you believe. 
  • I simply don't know what this movie is about because there is hardly any story in this film, even at the very end you don't have a single clue to what was going on. 
  • Dull, derivative and unmemorable.

Well, you can't win everyone.

You can read these and more on www.imdb.com  and just enter Ghostkeeper in the Search box and scroll down.

Given that most of these people saw a badly aged video with poor color and, to my taste,  barely watchable. I figured the least I could do is give them a decent copy of the movie, even to the ones who steal it. More on this as it happens.

So to my American relative and friends, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving, I plan to indulge in as much food as I possibly can with my friends with a promised warm 82F day.



Monday, November 23, 2009

My Journey into the Land of Red Haute Soles

I remember my first visit to the Christian Louboutin boutique in Paris. The year was 2007 and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the shoe of all shoes. My friend Carole, who lives in Paris and loves all things fashionable, and I ventured to the original flagship store in the Passage Vero-Dodat area. As I made my way to the small French storefront, I remember rounding each corner with girly anticipation that I would soon be surrounded by a sea of red soles.
Upon entering this magical little shop, my eyes dazzled at the display of shoes surrounding me. I was greeted with a friendly “bonjour” by the shop keeper. I responded in kind and began browsing the selection. I must have tried on 20 pair of Loubous and yet each one reminded me of a work of art inspired by the ultimate jewelry collection. Each shoe is handmade with at least 10 pairs of hands leaving no sparkling crystal unturned. Every red haute sole is cut piece by piece and hand sewn to perfection. “The creative process is like being on a trapeze. It’s like dreaming, I feel totally outside myself when I am flying” explains Christian Louboutin, Designer.
So how did the red soles come about, I wondered? "I did not really choose the red sole. It’s more like the red sole came to me and had to stay with me,” explains Louboutin. “It started as a happy accident, which I kept. I was very inspired by pop art so all my drawings were really full of colors.” And thanks to his assistant who decided to paint her nails with red polish… Louboutin had an ahha moment. “Thank God I had this girl with me who was painting her nails. Grabbed her nail polish - thank you to Chanel for that! I grabbed the nail polish and I painted the sole.”
It’s true, “Every little girl going into womanhood dreams of the Cinderella shoe.” I was no different… only I had to dream of the perfect work shoe, social event shoe and weekend style find. I’ve learned to dream bigger thanks to Oprah! It’s all about the “Art of the foot and the sexiness of the arch,” says Louboutin. So true, so true, I often say to myself to justify the cost of my Loubous. Although, I have learned a shopping secret—Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue sales with an extra 25-30% off! I still have to back away from the shoe and talk it out of my hand until such time.
Before I left the store with Loubous in hand, I thought to myself, this must be a dream. I waved goodbye to the red soles adorning the walls and tables in front of the window. A smile crossed my face and then the feeling hit me... I could just dance my way right out the door back to the nearest Metro station. These shoes represent drama in all of its glittering form. After all, “Nobody wears shoes like a dancer on stage” says Louboutin. Putting on a pair of these beautiful red soles is like performing for the world. As I stepped off the curb, I thought… this is just the beginning of my red sole obsession.
Fast Facts About Christian Louboutin:
Louboutin has trained with Charles Jourdan and freelanced for Chanel, Maud Frison, and Yves St. Laurent.  In 1998, Louboutin worked with the great shoe designer Roger Vivier and helped him organize an exhibition of Vivier's work.


In 1992, Louboutin opened his own shop in the Passage Vero-Dodat in Paris. The Louboutin brand and the famous red soles were born. Today, Louboutin's creations adorn the feet of royals and famous celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Nicole Kidman, and Catherine Zeta Jones.
For More Info: http://www.christianlouboutin.com/#/louboutin_world


From the Oprah Show:
The Face Behind the Name: Christian Louboutin
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkxeQnQC0co
Do you have a red sole story?

What a producer needs to know.

Years ago, a real estate salesman met me at a party and asked me this; what does it take to be a movie producer? Turns out he had always wanted to be a producer but didn't quite know how to go about it as he lived in a small eastern city. My answer was simple. It's easy.

Find me $2 million dollars and you automatically become a producer.

He laughed and said it couldn't be that easy. But I wasn't joking. All you really need to know to become a producer, is how to find money. Everything else you need to know you'll find out soon enough as the money comes in... or it doesn't. 

There's contracts, and budgets and schedules and casting sessions, but all of that can be learned as you go, really. A producer's prime talent is the ability to raise money and that means someone who could sell swampland to anyone. You need to be able to convince people to give you money. 


Does that sound too much like a used car salesman? Or a new car salesman?

Sure does. And yes, there are a lot of those kinds of producers around. Not as much as there used to be, but enough. Because you have to sell a product that hasn't been made yet. It's like you paying for a house that hasn't been built or a car that has only been designed on paper. And the worst part of a movie is that it might turn out bad. And you lose all your money. At least a house being built will still be a house when it's done, flaws and all. But a bad movie goes to bad movie heaven and is never seen again.


I've had my share of those kind of producers, some raised money for me, some didn't. One quality many of them had was that they were charmers.  But that doesn't necessarily mean they're the only ones. 

There's another kind of producer, someone like me. We aren't especially charmers and we hate asking for money because we're way too honest to say that our movie will be the greatest ever. These are the passionate ones. That's a word I don't always like to use because it's become a common term for producers to use. And it has become a cliche you hear on late-night talk shows. 

What it really means is that we care. We care about our story, about our cast, our crew, and especially about our investors. And that gives us a slight disadvantage over the used car salesmen. We are brutally honest. And in spite of that we still get movies made.


Some years ago, an accountant approached me and proudly stated he had taken a career test that determined what kind of job he should have. It cost $300 for him to find out that he was qualified to be a movie producer. Now he was waiting for someone to hire him. 

Hire him? 

I told him he's hired. Now go find me $2 million. 

He didn't understand, where was his huge salary and the girls and the private jet? I suggested if he find me the $2 million, I would give him a rental car for 6 months. Subcompact. Needless to say, I explained what a producer's job is, that he finds the money, not me.  He wasn't so sure about that, he'd never asked anyone for money, he assumed it just came from somewhere.


He then asked me if I'd ever taken a career test to find out what I was qualified for. I replied that the last thing I wanted to know was the job I was qualified for.  Most likely a Walmart greeter.


So you see, it's not really hard to be a producer. Sure, I joke about it, but it really is that simple. If you can sell a newspaper subscription to a mall shopper then you can find money for a movie. You can start with your own bank account, then go to your friends, your neighbors and then strangers and in a few weeks have enough to make a movie. Granted, it'll probably be a small movie. 

Like Paranormal Activities. Made for $15,000 and it has now grossed over $100 million. After watching it, I wondered where he spend the money on; it's essentially 2 actors in the director's house for nearly 2 hours. Must have had great catering.

And one more thing you need if you're the used car salesman type or the passionate type. 


Determination.

You never give up. Never.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What a producer needs and what they should know

I've dealt with this a little bit in previous blogs but I realized I should lay out what I think a producer needs in order to produce. Besides the money. That is something you're reading about every week and this part is more what you should have before you try it on your own. For some of you this will be quite familiar, but for others it might be interesting. Let's have a look. 

A Screenplay
This is definitely the first thing you should have. How do you get it? You can write it like I did, but if you don't write and don't even want to, then find a script.

  • Ask your writer friends if you have any, they will be happy to show you their scripts.
  • If you don't know any writer friends there are dozens of websites that have hundreds and thousands of screenplays from wannabe writers and real ones.
  • Put an ad in Craigslist under the writer's category or go to Mandy.com which is for more professional and serious writers.  You will get dozens of them. Study the websites first and see how the ads are usually done. If you haven't read the funny ones I listed last week, you definitely should look at them, but don't copy their desperation.
Luckily, you won't need screenwriting programs like Movie Magic Screenwriter or Final Draft (the best one is Screenwriter in my experience) as scripts are usually sent in pdf format. You should insist on pdf format as otherwise you won't be able to read the screenplays from Screenwriter or Final Draft. There are other screenwriter softwares out there but don't even bother with them.

Or you can even ask for them to mail a "hard copy". Remember that. I still get producers who want me to mail 50 pages of paper (I print double-sided screenplays, an easy function your printer has, and saves on paper. And in spite of what anyone else says, the industry does use double-sided scripts for reading. Once you're in production the actors and creative people will use single-sided so they can make notes. 

Software

You'll need some specific software for producing, some of which is quite expensive as in $600 for budget programs like Movie Magic Budgeting and Scheduling. But if you can't afford them there are others, basically spreadsheets. Or you can pay a Production Manager to make them for you, although they can charge $1000 or more to do one.

Or find a film school student who has access to these programs for free.



An Office

This, of course can be ritzy office in Beverly Hills or a spare bedroom in Spokane or even a 1996 Ford Explorer. With cell phones, you don't need to worry about phone service. But if you have a spare room, use it. Have a door so you can close it and nobody can bother you.

You should have a computer with email capability and high speed broadband as dial-up isn't going to work great with the big files you'll get. Get a desk at Ikea, producers gotta have a desk after all, to put your stuff on. And a lamp for when you're working at night. Faxes are okay but I rarely use a fax anymore, even had my second phone line taken out as I used the fax maybe 2 times a year. You should get a texting/email type of cellphone, although it's not really necessary if you check emails a few times a day.

You don't have to worry about meetings at your office, be it humble or grandiose, because most meetings independent producers take are usually at Starbucks or your favorite lunch place. I always like to meet people at my places, not theirs mostly because I don't have to drive. LA is a big town.

Meeting a writer or actor or director? Buy them a coffee. You don't want them to know where you live in case you don't end up hiring them. And it's not because you're afraid, it's more likely their home is bigger and better than yours. I love my little home here, but I hate it when the cameraman has a mansion in Beverly Hills.

So that's what you need, more or less. A producer's office can be a huge suite at Paramount, or a table at Norm's cafe, these days it doesn't matter all that much. 

Monday's blog will address the question of what you should know, and believe me, it's not all that hard.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Help us find an actor

This week I am blasting (in Shirley's expressions) to at least 50 distributors and producers as a Hail Mary play (my old football expression) to convince them that Travel Day is indeed worth it. I'm also updating the handful of potential investors we've had for the last 3 months.

We also are looking for your help.

We've added one new element this week, a famous actress who we're hoping to interest in playing the lead role. As I've mentioned in the past, lead roles for women over 40 and who aren't offered mother or grandmother roles are few and far between. Even Winona Ryder is playing a mother these days.

We think we have a great role for a woman leaning towards 60. If you can't think of any actress in the 50's - 60-ish  range, how about these:

Diane Keaton
Faye Dunaway
Jane Fonda
Jacqueline Bisset
Meryl Streep 
Susan Sarandon
Glenn Close
Sally Field
Jessica Lange
Catherine Deneuve
Helen Mirren
Lauren Hutton
Sophia Loren

and of course...Cher.

Which one would you pick?

This is where you come in. I want you to choose one of the above, or even a new choice not on the boards yet.  Why? Because you're the audience and we want to know who you'd prefer. You can leave your suggestion(s) in a comment or email me directly by going to  my "About me" profile, my email is right there.

One thing that was spelled out numerous times at AFM was this; there is a shortage of good films and whatever you make, it will need a "name actor" that is recognizable not only in U.S. and Canada, but world-wide. So this probably eliminates most of the younger TV actors.

What or who is a "name actor".

After excluding anyone younger than 40, you have quite an impressive list. Matt Damon is 39, Will Smith is 41, Johnny Depp is 49. Same goes for women as noted above. They are all considered name actors in that their movies are seen all over the world. Michael Madsen, on the other hand, is not a name actor due to the fact he's been in too many bad movies that were distributed mostly outside of the USA, and he has been overexposed.

The trick is to get to the actors you want. We tried it before with Faye Dunaway through someone who "knew Faye quite well". That is until that "close friend", Casandra, stopped emailing me for some unknown reason.

Shirley has been thinking more about other actors as have I and I, being the producer, has the job of trying to connect with one or more of the above. The problem is this: If we go through an agent,  he/she will ask 2 simple questions:

  • Is the movie fully funded? They don't want to waste their time, nor their client's time if we're still looking for money. Which we are. Because we need a name to get the rest of the money. Catch 22. This business is full of Catch 22's.

  • Is this a valid offer? Same as above, are we actually offering the part to this actress? Well, not really, we're "considering" her which again is something an agent doesn't like.  But we're not sure our choice will be the distributor's choice or the investor's choice. Another catch.

  • "Our client gets $300,000 for her role." Assuming we make an offer, I have to remember one thing, the agent's job is to get the best price they can. How do you figure that one out. 
Well, fortunately the standard practicefor the last one  is to go by the last job that actor had. The trick is to find out what they really made as agents lie through their teeth. We had one very famous actress whose last job on a TV show paid her $875 a day for 3 days. That's SAG minimum scale, the fee starting actors get. But a job is a job. Yet the agent would probably ask for $300,000 or more.

I mentioned distributors above. Why are their choices considered? Because they know who will sell in foreign territories and who is this year's flavor.  Cher is always hot, Glenn Close necessarily isn't. There's actually a star value system that is done by Hollywood Reporter and goes by movie grosses and matches them with particular stars. Hollywood Reporter is one of the 2 big industry daily magazines, the other being Variety.

The "Star Chart" is purchased for around $20 or so and used to be included in the weekly edition but not any more. The trouble with it is that, by the time the chart has been completed, it's out of date. All it needs too change the hottest #1 actor, is that his or her last movie flopped.
Remember that old saying, "why do you think they call it show business. 

Now you know why.

So it's gonna be a big week of work. And I have to hurry because Thanksgiving is approaching fast and after that Christmas. Meaning all the big guys are once again...

... off to Aspen.

Don't forget to email or leave a comment on your choice of actresses. 



That's Haute! The Swaby Store Opens In Chicago



Project Runway Canada contestant Shernett Swaby opens a boutique in Chicago at 1933 North Damen. Swaby moved to the windy city from Toronto and a few months later her namesake was born giving the trendy Bucktown area a taste of “runway reality.” The Swaby Store has an elegant yet romantic feel offering a great backdrop for her innovative creations inspired by the starlets of the past turned modern day film sirens. Delicate lace, ruffles and sumptuous silk blouses are staples in her collection. You’ll also find tailored pants and blazers. But the attention is very much in the details. Cocktail dresses and evening gowns are made just for you since Swaby sews each garment by hand in a backroom studio. Couture pieces can set you back about $5,000. But you can find selections starting at just $700. And if that’s still too much try the model 29 line of affordably priced items for $29. And don’t forget to pick up her a signature Swaby bag for the city girl on the go!

Find out about monthly shopping parties at The Swaby Store by visiting http://www.shernettswaby.com/

Where is your favorite boutique?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Haute Stuff! Finding My Soul Purpose




Going green means more than just recycling old newspapers and water bottles to keep our planet clean. It’s also about organic beauty and wellness practices for better health. In my search for eco-friendly products designed to cleanse and nourish my skin, I discovered Soul Purpose, a wonderful line of nature-based body, beauty and lifestyle products created by Nadine Thompson, former co-founder of Warm Spirit.

Thompson has a unique knack for creating product lines that offer amazing health benefits. Her bath gels and body lotions contain a mix of ingredients with cancer-fighting antioxidants found in berries like the Amazon’s Acai, blended with red wine, green tea, and Oregan grape to moisturize and soften the skin. Gospel recording artists Mary Mary and Grammy Award-winner John Legend are also singing the praises of Soul Purpose. So I decided to try the bath and shower gel.

As the seasons begin to change, it always brings about a change in my skincare regimen. This time of year, my skin becomes dry and needs lots of moisture. After a recent trip to Brazil, I became familiar with the healing properties found in plants located in South American rainforests. I’m also inspired by the beauty of people of Portuguese and African decent who have the most amazing skin.

I decided to retreat to my private bathroom one Sunday afternoon for a Brazilian Jackfruit bubble bath to cleanse my mind, body and soul. As I began to massage the Soul Purpose moisturizing gel into my skin, I also embarked on a journey of aromatherapy. The fresh, clean, fruity smell made for a relaxing and therapeutic escape. And I was soon experiencing the benefits of the healing powers of Aloe Vera, Vitamins A&D, Rosemary and Chamomile. Talk about an organic floral and herbal infusion coming to life… Thai water lily was also added to the mix along with polyphenols from red wine said to aid in reducing inflammation also key to anti-aging, and lowering levels of free radicals. My favorite oils like sweet almond and apricot were also listed among the essential oils and plant extracts suddenly being absorbed into my skin. My bathroom was infused with top notes of exotic fruits, mandarin orange, apple and soft floral notes. It was like stepping into the Brazilian Rainforest for the ultimate eco-friendly awakening.

As my hour came to an end, I stepped outside the tub, leaving one foot in just to grab the last drop of this luxurious soak, but it was time to add the final touch. I applied the body lotion to my damp skin using long, circular stokes. It’s non-greasy and absorbs quickly leaving no sign of residue. I absolutely love the fact that this product protects against environmental dangers like pollution and sun exposure. My skin looked healthy and felt incredibly soft and supple… I’m thinking it must be the shea butter from Ghana, I could hear it whispering to me to lather it on generously. Feeling, refreshed and pampered, it was time to open the door and step back into the world around me. Just think… in little more than an hour, my skin took a trip around the world in search of anti-aging products designed to condition, protect and heal. As Thompson would say Soul Purpose is a state of mind that begins deep within your soul. After my hour of bliss, I found my purpose, passion and love in a bottle!

To learn more about Soul Purpose and get free samples click here http://soulpurposelifestyle.webs.com/getfreesamples.htm

Have you found your purpose?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

King of the Gypsies


Beware of anyone calling himself the King of the Gypsies who phones you and says he's decided you will write his true story and "Not that bullshit story that Peter Maas wrote". You will write the true story of Steve Bimbo Tene, whose life was first translated into a book by author Peter Maas and later made into a feature film with Eric Roberts and Susan Sarandon.

I knew about as much of gypsies as any average person, that they wear bandanas and tell fortunes but Steve would change all of that.


It seems a lawyer suggested me to him and he decided I would be the one to tell the real story of his quite incredible life. And that as a consequence, Steve would drop in and out of my life for at least ten years. The book, based loosely on his life but with added drama and fiction by Maas told the story of an American King of the Gypsies back in the 70's and was a best seller. Maas also wrote Serpico, later a movie with Al Pacino and Valachi Papers, a Mafia expose that also was a best seller and movie.

I agreed to meet Steve in a public place as I had no real idea who or what he was, or for that matter, if he was the real Steve Tene. I had seen the movie but that was my experience with gypsies. He showed up, as he always did later, with his "peeps", usually a nephew and a tall, gaunt man named Richard. After seeing stacks of articles and letters he carried in an office box, I realized he was the real thing.

I spend 6 weeks taping Steve as he told me his life story, which seemed to change significantly depending on the mood he was in. It paralleled the book but the book took more dramatic twists, in it Steve fought and killed his father for the throne.  In reality there was no real King of the Gypsies, at least in America and his father was very much alive. There were a few in Europe who claimed it, but author Maas felt that if there wasn't one in America there should be. Yet, what fascinated me was this enigma of Gypsies, of which little is known.

The book and the movie became a curse to Steve, sort of like being the fasted gun in town, other gypsies were usually gunning for him. Needless to say this was not a comforting thought to me. But there was a fascination with this character who, when he needed money, would go to Vegas for a few days, tell some fortunes in bars, and come back with cold hard cash.

I wrote an article for a local magazine and Steve disappeared soon after that. But he would return, calling me from Palm Springs or Riverside or Orange County and ask me to visit and consider writing a screenplay or a musical play. Or maybe lending him some money.

His life was always turbulent, someone was always out to get him, his sister was trying to send him to jail and he was always near death. At least that's what he said. But, as I learned, he was a Gypsy, and I learned not to trust them too much, they are amazingly like they are portrayed.  Steve said the Gypsies had a curse put on them because they made the nails that were used in the crucifixion of Jesus. But that God had also given them the gift of scamming so that they could earn a living.

Steve also taught me a lot about Gypsy culture, that they originally came from India, and settled in eastern Europe where they managed to make a living by working metal into swords as well as their well-known fortune telling which continues to this day. Even now, I can usually spot Gypsies in every venue from classic fortune telling to repairing driveways and hundreds of other scams.

Interestingly enough, Steve was illiterate, he said Gypsies never sent their kids to schools because they didn't want to be known about, they preferred to roam the country without social security numbers or addresses. It has changed a little now, with internet and cell phones, but they still manage to keep hidden.

It is estimated that there are 2 million of them in the U.S. and the amazing part is that they exist without most of us "Gadji's" (a Gypsy name for everyone else) even realizing it. Honor and revenge play a big part in their lives, even as their young attempt to break away from centuries of hidden existence. I remember once when Steve had a dog training business (shortly before the Palm Springs cafe business) I had arrived and told him there was a Ford F150 driving by. He glanced at a man who clearly was there to protect him, who reached in his jacket for a gun, walked outside, and came back to say it wasn't Steve's nephew who had sworn to kill him.

I kept thinking that nobody wanted to kill the writer, they just wanted him to write a story.

When he wasn't dying or being targeted or lied to or threatened, he was planning a big musical and I was to write it, in spite of the fact I've never written one before... nor aspired to. Steve was full of ideas and for a man who couldn't read or write, managed to survive amazingly well. He remembered house addresses from the 1960's, his music teacher's phone number when he was 16. I began to realize his life was full of inaccuracies and contradictions. Some stories had different endings, others were changed completely to suit his mood.

And he had moods. Steve was a tragic figure, and I guess, as a writer, I was fascinated with it, wondering where it would lead to. Then there were the late night calls when he yelled and cried and wondered why his life was so full of hell, and sometimes I just hung up because I was not of his world and somehow, the only one he could trust.

I asked him once what he would like on his grave, and he said he would like to be compared to Mighty Joe Young, a giant gorilla in a 50's movie by the same name, and a copy of King Kong. That he gave life his best.

In a way, I compared Steve and his people to the wild horses I filmed a few years ago in the remote deserts of Nevada, both lived their lives by their own rules, asking no one to feed or help them. And somehow both man and horse managed to survive by their own rules and once you see that, you somehow feel an appreciation and admiration for them as they fight a losing battle. Because eventually, society will swallow them up and we'll lose another independent species, man and horse.

I never did write "the true story" as Steve had always wanted. One of the problems was that he changed his story now and then.  But he also did have real interest in it, as I had met two credible literary agents who were offering a good amount of money for Steve's story. But whenever a deal was offered, Steve always turned it down.  And after awhile, the offers stopped coming.

It's been 2 years since I got a call from Steve, the last one was to tell me his Gypsy food cafe folded, he lost his condo in Palm Springs, but that he had a new idea for the play.






Friday, November 13, 2009

Back to the money.



Well, after some distractions, I'm back to the money search.  After AFM, I sat down with a stack of magazines and directories I got from AFM and began my search for two things;

A foreign sales agent.

And a domestic distributor.

Up to now, I hadn't contacted either, as the general philosophy is that both of the above want finished films and, mostly, that's true. But our deal on Travel Day is pretty good, in that Canada will bring in at least 40% of the $900k budget and possibly more. That means that whomever comes in for the balance will essentially get a $1.1 million dollar movie for their $450k.

In other words the US investor, be they private funders or a distributor gets a movie to sell for half price.  Kind of like buying a car for $20,000 and the government pays for half.You see the tax credits aren't really repayable, it is sort of a grant given to movie producers for bringing business to the particular province. There's even a federal tax credit that returns up to 15% of certain elements of the budget.

And I always have to remind Americans that these tax credits are readily available to any producer.

What's the catch?

Well, there really isn't one. The Canadian company has to own the copyright and the production company but that's not an issue. Profits are distributed fairly in whatever format is agreed on.

The one little catch is this;


The American producer cannot take sole producer credit. In some circumstances they have to take an Executive Producer credit, but again that's not a deterrent. And it doesn't limit the power of the American producer. I did 3 movies in Winnipeg in 1998 with Steve White, an American producer. Not only did he share the producing chores, he was basically in charge even though he wasn't on paper.  All for an executive producer credit.

Now back to the AFM. I compiled a list of distributors and sales agents, about 50 of them. Oddly enough many of the American distributors seem to have offices within a few blocks of my home to maybe 2 or 3 miles away. I always thought they were in Hollywood, but I can walk to at least four of the companies.Now and for the next 4 days (including working over the week-end) I am emailing proposals and current updates to the project.Thanks to the power of email, I don't have to spend money on mail and it should be relatively easy.

Then I sit and wait.

For one week.

Well, not really. I will keep after my current potential investors as well as look for new ones. There are internet sites with investors but I have found that there's usually a catch or their budgets are minimums of $5 million, or they are ex-hedge-fund stragglers looking to make a score on filmmakers.  Also, any site on the internet is most likely crawling with other filmmakers, mostly with less than I have already. 

And what these other filmmakers often don't understand because they're mostly novices is this:

What are investors looking for?

We have a fair amount of work already done on Travel Day, notably the Manitoba connection and the intent of two current investors. Other things they would like to see, but might work around are the following:
  • Do we have name actors? (2 interested, 3 we haven't contacted yet)
  • Do we have all the money? (No, that's why we're asking them)
  • Who would go see it (our audience will be people who like road movies, women-driven stories, comedy and drama mixed and interesting characters) 

And finally, the hardest question?

Why would anyone care if this movie is made or not?

This is the hardest to answer, as our film will not appeal to the Transformers crowd, nor the Saw horror audiences. But we feel our story offers the potential for compelling characters and original situations that we feel will spark an audience weary of effects-laden movies and sadistic horror films. We feel there's room for all of us on the movie screens.

And it's funny.

Not in a slapstick way, nor is it Borat, but rather a collection of characters who would normally never be stuck together in a 15-passenger van set in some of the most spectacular landscape audiences have seen. And that doesn't cost us a dime.

And we have a great team, a writer/producer (me) with over 30 years of experience and a talented director with focus and determination, as well as a creative crew of Director of Photography, editor and production designer as well as sound, all of whom will have considerable years and experience in feature films.

We're not kidding around, we know what we're doing.

So for the next four weeks I will be pushing like hell to get the final funding as we look forward to beginning production in February of 2010.

And the one thing you can be sure of in this business.

There's no guarantee.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Expert amateurs





Sex. You can imagine what it's like, talk about what you think it's like, even write about it. But until you've done it, you really don't know what it truly is like. 

Got your attention?

Where is this going?

Where it's going is here. And it started with the Internet and now, with blogging and millions of other information sources on the old world-wide web. When I hooked up to the Internet on Compuserve, wayback in 1991, I didn't know anyone else who had it except my brother Dave, who told me to sign on. There were different forums for different topics, and I ended up mostly on the film forum.

It was there where I discovered a curious thing.  People would argue with each other about films and screenwriting. Someone would post their idea of how screenplays are written and not long after, someone else would challenge them. Often these discussions turned to full-blown name-calling.

Then I noticed something else.


There was a common factor in who or whom were the biggest voices. It was something that was far older than the internet and forums. In fact it went back to the Greeks over 2000 years ago, and probably back to the time we lived in caves and discovered fire. The loudest voices, the ones who could trample on other voices with rage and energy were always the winners.

And that reminded me of any organization I ever belonged to. The biggest mouths were the ones who ruled the crowd. You can see this especially now in America with right-wing politics. But there's no politics in being a bully. Just go to a school meeting and listen to left-wing entitled parents. Same thing. And the majority of the room is usually quiet, not because they don't have anything to say, it's because the loud ones take over the room, and the rest of us are usually reluctant to make our point and either be shouted down or just embarrassed for saying something stupid.


There's one more interesting point in this.

More often than not, the loudest ones are the ones who know the least about what they're talking about. A woman named Amy Wallace wrote an article about how panicked parents skipping vaccinations for young children is endangering all of us. Her article was carefully researched and had major expert opinions contrary to the urban myth that autistic children are caused because of vaccinations. This included 12 major studies that could not find any co-relation to vaccinations and autism. Even the Center for Disease Control experts agreed.

Within days the woman got savage reaction from parents armed with anecdotal stories and straight-forward misinformation, attacking her and doctors and the government. The majority of readers however, supported her.

What this is about is "The Cult of the Amateur", a recent book on the subject.

How is this connected to the movie business?

Well, we have more reviewers of movies than ever. Anyone who can figure out a blog or website is telling us their opinion. Are they qualified because they watch a movie? Are you qualified to know how a lawnmower is built if you use it? Sometimes. Can you build an iPhone because you have one?

Can you write a screenplay because you have the software?

Members of the WGA have an alternate site where we can rag on producers or complain about guild practices. I used to go there a lot but have decreased my attendance mostly for one thing; the loudest voices there are more often than not, writers who either have written very little, or nothing at all.

One writer has 25,000 posts! In comparison, I've had about 255 posts in 4 years. Does this person have a life? When can they write scripts if all they do is post his opinions. Based on what? There are others also, who can tell you what's wrong with your script even though they've never sold one or had one made.

A year ago I put two screenplays on Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street website which opens up a world of wannabe screenwriters who read and rate each other's script. I signed on without giving any credits, I really wanted to see what these people thought of  my screenplays without knowing I was a produced writer. Both scripts leaped to the top 10 within a week, with great remarks and with some notes.

Then I blew it when I got into an argument with a wannabe and frankly told him what I thought of him, his script and his chances at selling it (none!).  I became persona non grata instantly, and was found out to be a produced writer and then had attacks on some of my movies. But I was not to be run out of town. A local group in the forum was having a dinner at a local pub on Sunset Blvd.

I decided to attend. To my surprise they were all very nice to me and it became clear that I was the only real writer there. But what I was seeing was very Twilight Zone-ish. They were all acting like they were real produced screenwriters. They shared stories of their new screenplays, repeated the mantras of screenwriting gurus and spend an evening pretending they were in the movie business. It took me a good 5 years to learn how to write well and they were expecting that all they needed was the software and a week-end with Robert McKee.

In spite of their ripping me on the website, in person they were mostly all anxious to be BFF's. Several of them asked me to read their screenplays and at least 2 asked for an agent referral. On the whole, they were all nice people, working day jobs in offices or stores and they shared a dream of selling their screenplay for at least $500,000 against points.

In the end, I realized I should just leave them to their dream world and avoid any contact because I couldn't lie to them. It's the reason I stopped teaching extension classes at UCLA years before. I couldn't lie to them that they have any kind of a chance selling their screenplay, because they really weren't writers.

So rather than disappoint, I just avoided them. And maybe a few might even get a pitch meeting or get someone who's a friend of a friend who works as a secretary at an agency to read their script.  But mostly they will go back to their jobs after a year or two, and tell friends how they were, for one glorious moment, a screenwriter.

An unproduced one.

But maybe that's better than never being one at all.

For some people.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Act Two - Heartbreak Hill.

Today we continue Act Two of our little movie venture. 

Wait! What was Act One? 


Alfred Hitchcock,  when asked what makes up a good story said, "It has a beginning and a middle and an end." Now, in an era where there are at least two hundred books on screenwriting including a dog's version, is Mr. Hitchcock simplifying it too much?  Don't we need the plot points or the inciting incident, or my favorite "the character arc". Don't we need to take expensive courses from teachers who more often than not have EVER SOLD A SCREENPLAY!

Because I think Mr. Hitchcock knew more about story and structure than any of those self-appointed experts, I used his simple formula when I taught extension classes in screenwriting at UCLA. 

Act One is where you set up the story. You introduce the main characters and the situation and some obstacles in their way.  This was back in August, when I introduced Shirley and myself to all of you, then began to explain the situation; we are going to try to make a movie and we're going to let you see exactly how we do it.

Then I introduced the obstacle. In Die Hard, Bruce Willis suddenly faced terrorists who held his wife and her whole office hostage. In Juno, she discovered she was pregnant. In Star Wars, Darth Vader was introduced.

For me it was... the Budget.



I don't have $900,000 US in my bank.  I don't know anyone who has $900,000 in their bank either. In fact all of my friends put together don't have $900,000 in their banks, mattresses or socks. Maybe I need new friends.

There you have it -- Act One.

Act Two, the middle, in writing, is always the hardest act to write. Because somewhere around Page 50-60, you reach the Heartbreak Hill of screenwriting. Act One is easy, Act Three is just resolving what you set up in Act One.

But Act Two is a mother... because you can't keep the same idea and hold an audience as no idea is that good. Well, maybe now and then, but very rare. And that's where you've been for the last five months. Shirley and I produced the proposal and I began sending it around by email and postage as well as emailing and calling everyone on my list to help me find money.


We had a good start with a strong indication of at least $400,000 based on the premise I find the first $500,000. Very few producers get that kind of commitment from the get-go. But now it seems to be unsteady.

I have continued to contact people and court the ones who have an interest and look for references to other potential money. Some weeks were good, some were just downright bleak. It was up and down and sometimes more down, until we finally reached Heartbreak Hill, that place in marathon runners' minds when many simply give up.

But I had been prepared for Heartbreak Hill.

Part 2 of Act Two came in the form of the American Film Market.  AFM.

Because I was waiting for it to come along to give us the momentum to continue after Heartbreak Hill. And it did. Now I can introduce TD to at least 50 potential investors and or distributors and even maybe even presales. It's not easy, but it sure hasn't been easy up to now, and it's never easy.

Take into consideration that many producers look for money for years, my own Emperor of Mars project has been around for 20 years!  Dustin Hoffman's D-boy told me Hoffman had a project that he wanted to do for 15 years and it still hasn't been made. Juno was around for a couple of years before someone made it. There are countless stories of projects taking years at every level of this business, from A-List to Z-List.

We went this far in 6 months.

Not that I'm bragging. Anything but bragging. It was a combination of luck, timing, 2 Academy nominated actresses and meeting Shirley.  All three of these women wanted to make my screenplay. This is a package. Much better than me running around with a script in my hand and nothing else. You need validation and I sure the hell had it. Enough to encourage me to go ahead.

So now we crest on the hill, and look ahead to where another hill looms. But we have help. The Manitoba producer Dane is beginning to bring his participation in, another money source has appeared, and we move ahead again towards Act Three. Then we have that Christmas thing where everyone goes to Aspen.

Well, some of them go to Aspen.


I go to Swan River, Manitoba. Who needs Aspen when there's a Tim Horton's less than a block away from my mom's house.  And I'm stopping by in Winnipeg to see the Manitoba guy, Dane, and Rachel, the Eh Channel exec.  I get back in early January as does Shirley from NYC (which has considerably more stoplights than Swan River's 5) and we start looking at preproduction if all works out.


And moving towards a February 2010 start date for filming.

God willing and the river don't rise.