Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Buyers Market

I caught a TV movie a few nights ago directed by a friend of mine starring an actress who was a teen idol in the 80's. She was great as a troubled teen but now pushing late 40's. The movie was one of those made by a local producer who specializes in cheap movies for TV which are becoming the norm.

This movie cost about $750,000 and looked it, shot on a 20 day schedule in which everyone, the actors, the crew and the director worked for basic rates. One director I know had a job that paid $25,000 which sounds like a lot, but consider that 20 years ago he would have been paid $75-$100,000. 

That was when TV movies were made for $2.5 million to $3.5 million. But those days are gone. I attended a party around 2005 at the Roosevelt Hotel across from Mann's Chinese theater which was referred to as "The Death of TV Movies" party.

Almost all my credits were TV movies, a genre that began in the late 60's and I caught the end of them around 2005. Survivor, the reality TV happened, cheaper to make and it got ratings. What was left was Hallmark, Lifetime, ABC Family and Sci-Fi Channel.

They discovered that it was truly a buyer's market and it wasn't long before budgets dropped and fewer writers worked. My last movie, the Christmas story, was made for under $1 million and shot in 12 days. In an odd way, the price reflected the episodic series of the late 1950's in which half-hour episodes were made for even less than now and in 5 days.

Screenplays now are pretty much up for grabs, if you go to InkTip, Mandy or even Craigslist, you get producers looking for completed screenplays with themes like the following:

A Christmas story with a dog
Limited horror location stories
A script with elements of Fargo, Psycho, American Horror and Lars and the Real Girl
High concept script with characters that don't get killed off in unique ways.
Serial killer scripts
Feature length Christmas story for a budget of $300,000.
Scripts with fairies as the main characters
Horror creature story set in the old west 
Female martial arts
Scripts with good coverage

Some of those scripts offer a deferred salary or payments of $1500 and more if  the movie gets made. And if you think these ads are by small-time producers, one of them is from Universal Studios.

And these guys get hundreds of screenplays to read, most of which aren't very good and made with actors who were supporting actors in series 20 years ago because that's all the producers can afford on the budgets that the companies I mentioned earlier are demanding.

And they really are demanding, paying as little as $500,000 for a TV movie. And that's why many end up in Canada or Louisiana where tax credits can supply another $250,000 or more and maybe a sale to Canada and Great Britain. Most European countries don't buy American TV movies as much anymore, they make their own.

But what bothers me most about those themes/genres above is that all these producers want is something like the latest hit movie in whatever genre. Nobody's asking writers for a story that they wrote with all their heart or even a story they had to tell. Granted, that might not make money, but yet, that's what writing is about. Spec scripts should be anything that a writer has passion for (yeah, that over-used expression) because passion is what a good script is about.  

It's not about copying the latest $100 million movie that some producer thinks he can match on a budget of $300,00. And I'm not dumping on genre films, write what you want to write and hopefully what you need to write. I've got a stack of spec scripts that have never been made and probably won't get made, but that doesn't stop me from writing a new one because I truly love writing.

Ironically the tale of screenwriters seems to be following the economy, wherein at least 27 million Americans are out of work with no real hope of finding work. And remember, I'm talking about the TV movie, not episodic nor tentpole blockbuster movies made from comic books. Those genres have their own problems, the least of which is originality and freshness.

And the baby-boomers have no great need to let go of their hold of this country, around 70 million, meaning that it is harder for the younger ones to grasp a piece of the pie are who are left trying to find their piece, be it movies, airline pilots, business or whatever. As a boomer, I plan on hanging around because I happen to like writing and making documentaries.

What does work?

A good story, of course. And how do you get a good story? You write and write and write. Like I always say, writers don't need a job to write, they just need an idea. And there's lots of ideas around. It should be about something, not just a copy of a film you liked.  Remember that William Faulkner wrote all his books in his little town in the south, remarking that every story there was, was in his home town. You don't have to travel to Paris to write a screenplay, you just have to look around.

You might even have a Chinese action-driven script ready.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The real writer's world.

Hopefully some of you have stuck around. I was gone on a bit of a holiday and had little access to emails. Regardless of that, I'm finally back in LA.

As some of you know, this blog started in August of 2009, which begat a whole lot of blogs, starting with 3 new blogs every week and now only two.  I've repeated myself a few times, have had a few disagreements with some of you and find myself still here.

You've also seen at least 3 projects I've started in the last 2 years and two of them failed to start up. The first was Travel Day, which the entire blog is titled. It fell apart after major financing fell through in Canada. Shirley, whom you remember is still active and we are still talking about making a film together.

Then came the TV series which caused a few disagreements between myself and a mystery person who seemed to have their life goal to see me discredited. Believe me, there are better things to do with their spare time. I have exceeded all expectations that anyone had of me so I have little to worry about when someone wants to prove me wrong.

Nobody knows anything anyway, as William Goldman once said.

That followed by the reading of Casualties of Love, the no-budget film I hoped to make last year. However, after filming the reading, I found I didn't like the screenplay and set it aside until such time I would address it again and hopefully discover what is wrong with it.

And finally Ghostkeeper re-appeared in my life. After 31 years, my first feature film, both written and directed by myself, reared it's head and found a new life. I've finished the "extras" including a great interview with 86-year old Georgie Collins and the DVD release will happen in early January.

Even as the DVD market is slowly giving way to streaming video.

And then there was Ghostkeeper 2, which I wrote in the hopes that I could finance it to film this November. As of now, it seems it might be late winter 2012.

So what is this re-assessment all about? 

I've given you a really good look at a writer's life from every angle, and always honest and truthful. Maybe I mixed up some dates but at my age, that's allowed. What you've read is what most writers go through for their entire lives.

It's all about continuing no matter what and the truth is that you never really get to make all the movies you want. I have a list of around 35 screenplays on the "shelf" as they say. In other words 35 screenplays that have never been made. Some were close, some were never even considered.

So when a new writer comes to me with their first screenplay, expecting that it should be made, it's hard for me to offer suggestions. Especially if the screenplay isn't very good.

What's good and what isn't?

It is subjective to an extent, you can always find someone to agree or disagree with your choices. But ultimately there is something else and the only way I could describe it is "street creds" as the gangbangers say.

Until you have actually had a screenplay made and shown somewhere, theaters, TV, wherever, you aren't a writer. Same goes for jet pilots, bakers, whomever. Once you see your words said and your scenes work, you really don't know anything. And all you can do, or should do -- is to continue to write. And write.

Rejections are plenty in this business, only actors are rejected more than writers, and you learn to live with that. And as you can see in my part of this world, that sometimes I get a film made, and most of the time I don't.

But the ideas continue to flow and the projects continue to emerge. Besides what else could I do.

So it's back to the grind after my little Parisian moments and forward and onward.

Hope you stick around. 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Confidence is HAUTE!

I love hanging out in Los Angeles so when I have a chance to head west--I do! I was in LA on a philanthropic mission but I did have time to meet friends for dinner and meetings with my American Express prepaid card in hand. I also met two of my Haute Travels followers while in town.

On this day, I just wrapped a meeting with a swimsuit designer who creates sexy suits for curvy girls. While walking through the lobby of The Beverly Hilton, I noticed the flowers matched my dress so I had to pose for a picture.

Being in Hollywood means that you can’t help but notice that some people are supper skinny. But for girls who rock their curves, we also turn heads because we tend to be more secure in our skin and our confidence shows.

When I walked through the lobby of the hotel… heads turned and people smiled. I think the color of my dress along with my glow brightened their day! And that’s HAUTE!

What do you think about a confident woman?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scooter Adventures in Chiang Mai

After a wonderful morning snuggling with giant cats at Tiger Kingdom, we continued on our rented scooter to discover the real Chiang Mai. Some locals drew a small map for us with some spots to visit. 

We started by visiting Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, where we took a walk through the jungle to see the waterfalls  and the biggest, tallest bamboo I've ever seen. Locals were having a picnic on the rocks at the base of the falls and I wished we had packed something to eat. We continued on our scooter and drove past rice paddies where men and women were watering the crops and scattering seeds. We ran into a few elephants on the side of the road and occasionally stopped to photograph huts nestled deep in the foliage. We came across children swimming in a nearby creek with magical light streaming through the massive trees overhead. All of it looked like scenes from a storybook to me. 

Some of our best adventures have been those that were unplanned. It's always rewarding to venture a ways out of the center of town to see where the locals live, work, and play. Many of the photos below were taken by me from the back of the scooter while Yuriy drove. Enjoy!

- Julia

In honor of our one year anniversary(!), I will be sharing our wedding images on my personal blog. Feel free to join in!

Still out of the loop

Back on Monday, did some travel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Haute Travels Beauty Seminar with Celebrity Makeup Artist Sam Fine

Rhone Botanicals and Skincare Scrub is Haute!

After a long day of writing and consulting, there’s nothing like a little me-time in the bath. As you can imagine, I’m a product junky but only if I love it. I was sent a few products by Rhone Botanicals and Skincare to sample. I have to say… I really like the Dead Sea Salt face and body scrub with Eucalyptus. It’s amazing because it can also be used as aroma therapy without applying it to the skin.

Eventually, I tried the scrub on my legs and arms to remove dead skin cells revealing a smooth, soft new layer giving me a special glow. The great thing about the Dead Sea… it’s been a healing source since the beginning of time. These products improve blood circulation and detoxify the skin. The scrub really improves the appearance of dry skin and dark spots.

I’m a fan of products that offer 100% pure ingredients like unrefined Dead Sea salt and Shea butter that nourishes as it cleans and heals the skin. Rhone’s natural skin products offer a lesson in wellness that allows you to relax and release stress or tension before your day comes to an end. When a product makes me feel good… it’s tossed into my haute travels tote!

If you’d like to try Rhone Botanicals and Skincare products visit their site and don’t forget to bring your new American Express prepaid card along for purchase!

Are you a fan of natural products?

The New American Express Prepaid Card is HAUTE!

If you’re a girl who indulges in shopping sprees you will love the new American Express prepaid card. It makes life easy because you can set your own budget. I recently decided to test the new reloadable card, while boutique shopping in Atlanta. The card allows you to keep your spending in check. It’s easy to go over the limit that you place in your mind but never actually stays there… however; with the new card by American Express sticking to your budget is easy. You can even go online and track your spending, while reloading for free.
The best thing about the new prepaid card… it’s safer than using cash and credit cards. You’ll never have to worry about identity theft because the card isn’t linked to your credit or bank accounts. Plus, it offers fraud protection and your funds will be replaced if your card is ever lost or stolen.

As you can imagine, I found a number of items to take home along with the security of knowing that I stayed within my budget. If you’re looking for a great way to shop without worrying about fees or overspending… the new American Express prepaid card just may be for you! Order your card today by visiting

What do you think?

Disclaimer: As compensation, funds were provided to use for loading the card in exchange for a review of my experience with the new prepaid card.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Tiger Kingdom

We rented a scooter for the day and decided to venture out of downtown Chiang Mai and see what there is to see around town. Well we heard there was a place called "Tiger Kingdom" (sounds magical, doesn't it?) so we headed in that direction. 

I didn't even realize how excited I was until we pulled up and it hit me that I would get to pet a giant kitty cat! Every feminine instinct kicked in and I was pretty much squealing and jumping up and down when I saw the tigers. The cats are beautiful. They look beautiful, they move beautifully. With our ticket, we had 15 minutes to spend with a tiger of our choice in his cage. It wasn't nearly enough. We had just enough time to snap some photos, get the lazy tiger to walk around the cage with us, and force him to do a little snuggling...  then they booted us out. I expected a tiger to be really fluffy and soft, but the hair is coarse and waxy and the body is firm... quite similar to petting a horse. We were allowed to touch the back paws but not the front paws or the face. 

The tigers were really lethargic and the employees at Tiger Kingdom tried to keep them awake by dangling toys on sticks in the air. Many people assume that the tigers are drugged, which made me uneasy. However, Tiger Kingdom had information posted around the site that the tigers are never drugged-- tigers are night hunters and if they are well fed, they have no need to exert energy during the hottest parts of the day. You can read more about it here

Last time I wanted a tiger for a pet so much was during my Calvin and Hobbes obsession as a kid! Visiting the tigers in Chiang Mai was one of the highlights from our entire time in Thailand.

- Julia

Baby tiger!