Thursday, July 28, 2011

Opie loses his job?

It seems Ron Howard got passed by for the new Dan Brown film The Lost Symbol for a "hotter" director.  It didn't matter that our Opie has made some of the most profitable films around and some even won awards.

No, Ronnie (I can't help calling him that) is only going to be a producer and that's the kind of job where he drops by now and then to have lunch. It almost sounds like retirement. 

And then he lost the new Bourne movie to Brit Paul Greenglass.

Now I'm not particularly worried about Ronnie, he's not Nicholas Ray who eventually had to sleep at friend's homes and run up phone bills. This from the director of Rebel Without a Cause.

Or Orson Welles who ended up doing wine commercials and anything else he could find. And even John Huston had to move to Mexico where living was more affordable than California.

But the best one, or at least potential best one was Allan Dwan, who started in silents and made millions of dollars before income taxes were introduced. Again,  living with friends as so many Hollywood directors seemed to do, Dwan barely survived. When asked why he lost all his money his alleged answer was simple: 

"I must have made, in my life, $50 million in my career, but I spent $75 million." 

I always wondered why it was directors who seemed to end up broke, not actors or writers. At least not in such big numbers. From the books I've read one thing many directors did back in the old days was drink, gamble, drink, gamble and buy race horses. Dwan, in 1913, was making $1500 a week.

And of course, being of retirement age myself, I again bring out the one thing that writers have over everybody; they can write till they die. I'm going to post that question on WritersAction, a website for WGA writers, many of whom are "older".

As you know, I seem to have a fountain of youth in terms of ideas, working on at least 5 or 6 things at the same time, and I see nothing that would convince me to quit doing it because I don't know how to quit.

I'm curious about this; I'll let you know what other writers think.

And something else, I'd like to let you tell me what you think. Are we baby boomers gonna hog everything until the last one is gone? Or is there room for all of us?

After all, all any writer needs is one thing; a good screenplay.

Monday, July 25, 2011

New Years in Bangkok

Can you tell we're behind in our posting? :)

We felt lucky to ring in the new year in a big city like Bangkok. We headed to CentralWorld Square for the biggest countdown in the city. The closer we walked, the thicker the crowds became. The major roads had been closed off to cars and were instead filled with people and rows upon rows of street food vendors. Pretty soon, we were sandwiched between sweaty strangers, hardly able to move, but still pushing forward to get a better spot. The atmosphere was electric. So many people had blinking bows and bunny ears on their heads and glow sticks around their bodies. In the middle of the square was a concert stage with music blasting in the middle of the night. As midnight approached, we counted down with the crowd (in English, surprisingly) and bent our heads back to watch a crazy fire work show above the palm trees and mall buildings. We were sprayed with water (hopefully that’s what it was) from someone in the crowd and were herded right out as soon as the fireworks ended.

For years, I’ve celebrated New Years at small parties with friends from church. I always wanted to be in a massive crowd in a big city with a wild countdown to ring in the new year. Well that’s exactly what we experienced in Bangkok, but it wasn’t as satisfying as I imagined. As soon as the fireworks ended, we didn’t have much to do and I would have traded it all for a small house party with our closest friends in a heartbeat.

Yuriy and I headed to the red light district and had a yummy later dinner/drinks/our first meal of 2011. We headed back to our hotel and hit the hay earlier than usual for a new years night. We missed our friends and family, but we felt fortunate to have such a memorable New Years that I’m sure we’ll remember forever.

- Julia

I wonder if any of these people actually enjoyed the fireworks behind their cameras.

"Long live the king." This guy has his photo ALL over the city and in almost every building. 

Cotton candy to celebrate!

Does a writer matter?

                                  " You'll never work in this town again... 
                                         or at least until we need you."
Those were the exact words my favorite agent Frank told me once after a prodco exec told him that they would have a "sour taste" for me after I asked for money that was due me. Luckily WGA was also behind me and I did get paid. If you read my blogs you know the story.

And the Snow Leopard above, I bought that for $1000 (it's a Bateman for those who are curious) and I bought it for one reason. I saw it years ago when I was broke (a common situation I might add) and it really spoke to me in that artistic way. But not because of how good it is.

No, it was because I immediately identified with the snow leopard, that might as well have been me on that ledge with the wind-blown snow whirling around. Because that was me in the film business. Alone, cold, hungry, looking for a job and nobody to help me. And when I got some money I bought it as quickly as I could and I look at it every morning to remind me of one singular thing in this life...

Nobody cares.

Writers are arguably the most disposable in the entire film industry. Who else gets replaced on a film by anywhere from one to a dozen or more? There's an old story that goes like this; A producer gets a screenplay and his first words are, "This screenplay is amazing, fantastic, one-of-a-kind." The he pauses and adds: "Who can we get to rewrite it?"

Then there's the joke, "Did you hear about the Polish actress? She slept with the writer."

Why do they get replaced? There are lots of different answers but I think it all falls down to a couple of things:
The producer has a writer friend who needs a job.
The producer doesn't like the original writer.
The producer and his flunkies don't really know if it's a good script or not and the best way to "make it better" is to hire someone else. And maybe someone else after that to "punch it up". And maybe a few more writers to make it even better.
And the producer may have a secretary or assistant who wants to be a writer.

And I know at least four people who became screenwriters because of one or two of the above.

I fall in between the lines on those situations, I've rewritten a half-dozen screenplays and in each case, a full page 1 rewrite, meaning I began rewriting on page 1. At least 3 times the producer and even the continuity person wondered why the original writer's name was on it as my drafts were completely different.

That was the deal I made. They brought me in and paid me to do this work and take various credits like Creative Consultant, story editor and a few others.  Meaning I didn't get a "written by" credit. But I got to live in Europe, Mexico and Canada for several months and it was a lot of fun.

And I was rewritten once. 

By the same producer who said he had a "sour taste" for me. And it was his friend who did the rewrite.

And there's another reason why writers are replaced.

Because there's always another writer willing to step in and take over. We are whores sometimes, don't like me, get someone else, and so on.
So do we matter at all? Does anyone care about who writes what? Sometimes the screenplay does need work. Mostly it's adding bits, like better dialog and some character "stuff" as they say. Some writers are better than others in certain areas. My worst area is plot, I do lousy plots but good characters. And I write well for women's roles. Really good.

When you sell a screenplay, they love you. You get expensive lunches, joke with the producer who tells you how great the screenplay is and lets you sit at his desk at the studio when he's gone and even park in a special spot.

Until you're replaced and all of a sudden, calls to him go unreturned. It's like you don't exist.

Until they need you again.

And that does happen.

There's another story about this business, supposedly told by Peter Hyams and it goes like this;

"Being in the film business is like being married to a beautiful woman but she cheats on you and you know it. But sometimes when she dresses up and you go to dinner and you look across the table at her, you decide it's all worth it."

And I admit  to have thought that many, many times.

At least I'm not the guy who cleans up after the elephants who when asked why he does that awful job, answers; "what, and give up show business?"


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Mystery Producer

This past Monday, in my desperation, I put an ad on Craigslist for a producer who can raise at least 50% of the budget for Ghostkeeper. Counting today, Thursday, I have had only one possibility.

Someone with an odd name. Wat. 

At first I dismissed it, but after a few days of nobody else coming in, I replied to him/her. Wat responded, wanted to see more, so I sent Wa the detailed proposal which includes the top sheet budget.

Wa said he/she would make some calls. 

So do I think this is real. Who knows? My initial feeling is no, but stranger things have happened and so I figure why not go with it. At the same time, I'm moving forward to contact every distributor that's ever made a horror/suspense/sci-fi/supernatural film.

I'm not going to the majors, ie: Paramount, etc, because they really don't handle low budget films, that is unless I have a great movie that's already been made. They make money from $100 million movies, not $1.8 million. 

Once in a while they take a plunge into the Blair Witch Project genre, Blair cost about $15,000 and made well over $100,000. But as I've said in the past, that's a "non-recurring phenomenon". The sequel to Blair didn't do as well.

To my advantage, I have a film that is a sequel of sorts to an older film, this gives me a bit of leverage as the original has been made and is getting some attention. Well, a little bit of attention. Got 306 viewers on Youtube and add about 10-15 each week.

And the new screenplay is a lot better than the original, I'm a better writer than I was in 1980. And I have half of the cast back and the DP who did such a great job.

And I'm more experienced in every aspect of filmmaking over the past 30 years. All of this has to be at the very least, interesting to examine for a distrib.

On the other hand, as of now, I have no money raised. And that's the tough one. If nobody has put in money, then nobody else wants to for one simple reason; 

Nobody wants to be the first in. 

Kind of like who dives off the cliff first.

You see lots of deals where one party gets half and the other gets the other half. But usually this means that the original party has no money in yet. And these deals often have neither party wanting to go in first.

The reason, mostly, is that each party really isn't that confident about the other party, "you got half and I got half" is the most often abused expression in the business. Kind of like playing blackjack in Vegas, the house shows its cards last.

You might not think that it would be an advantage, but it is.

There are as many deals as there are movies made and one that works for me might not work for anyone else. Bottom line is that I have to find the "first money" and this could also be a distributor.

How much first money? Not necessarily a lot. $50,000 is a good start. It could get $50,000 from another investor or two. They add up. Once around $200,000 of the budget is raised it gets easier. Those who don't have full confidence now see that this movie could actually get made.

There's another old saying in Hollywood, it's easier to raise $30 million than $500,000. And this is usually due to the fact that for $30 million you can get name actors, director and a studio behind you. For $500,000 you barely have enough to cover non-union crews and actors lower on the totem pole.

So at $1.8 million we're in a level that is harder to define, can't afford the big guys, can't really afford union crews like IATSE and DGA. And we get breaks from SAG and WGA.

Wonder how much Wat will bring in. 

(Mon: Name cast or not)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chatuchak Weekend Market

When we found out about the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Bangkok, it wasn't even a question about whether we would go. 

The flea market markets spans over 35 acres, has 5000+ stalls, and gets about 200,000 each day!! It is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. The market sells just about everything and is divided into sections. Even with numbered stalls and a detailed, color-coded map, I was almost always lost.

We walked around until we ran out of money. Walked back to our hotel to get more. Then came back and walked around until our legs ached and the stalls began to close around sunset. 

We resisted shopping in all the countries we visited until now... the prices were too good to pass up, and we figured we were close enough to the end of our trip to load up our suitcase a little more. I scored myself a whole new outfit (which you saw in the previous post). I was impressed with the styles we found, and especially impressed with the great number of vintage shops. I love that so many of the shops sell hand-made stuff and you can meet the person who made what you're buying. Fun!

- Julia

Yuriy snapped some photos of me searching for goodies.
"Beware of pick pocketing."

The small alleyways between stalls are stuffed with sweaty people. No AC or fresh air. 

Kook and Tom run a shop called Kookoo where they sell their own screen-printed t-shirts. We loved the style and quality of their shirts, so we approached them with our shop idea. We met a couple times and became friends quickly. These are the guys who made all the t-shirts for Handle With Care Shop!

Some of my loot.....

New outfit from the market: vintage dress ($10), belt ($3), purse ($7), straw hat ($6), leather sandals ($20)...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Grand Palace, Bangkok II

You can't visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok and not overdo it with the picture snapping. There is so much glitz and decorative detail all around you, it's visually overwhelming. At moments like this, I feel like taking way too photos is the only way to cope. Going by the comments to the first post, it sounds like a lot of you have been here before, so I'm sure you can understand! Here is the second set of our photos.

We bumped into so many gardeners around the palace grounds, working away on the neat hedges and pretty trees. I'm awfully curious how many they have on staff and how many hours they put in. The landscaping is flawless, no?

- Julia

Lotus flowers are dipped into holy water and tapped on the head for blessings.
Prayers and offerings of flowers and incense outside the temple.
Religious paintings on some of the walls.