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Best Screenwriting Links 3: No Film School
Apr 27th, 2015 by paul peditto

nofilm3Onward with our Best Screenwriting Links series. It occurred to me looking over my archives that among the dozens of amazing websites out there giving away knowledge for free–check the Links page at www.donedealpro.com for about two hundred of them– among these are a handful of ridiculously strong sites that could be featured in and of themselves. No Film School is at the top of the list, and if you haven’t been there, well, to quote Gomer Pyle, “Shame, shame, shame!” Here’s a sampling of articles that might help you in your Quixote quest to slay your own filmmaking and screenwriting windmills in this year of our Lord 2015.

  • FREE SOFTWARE

koo-nofilmschool-logo  You’re moving toward the production phase of a micro-budget feature or short. How do you whip up the production documents you need without paying for expensive software? Here’s a free alternative, called Casper. From the NFS article: “Production reports, call sheets, time logs, and schedules are a very necessary aspect of a shoot’s organization. On smaller productions with a limited crew, you may be responsible for producing these documents yourself. Thanks to a developer called ThinkCrew, you now have access to a tool that makes creating these production docs that much easier. It’s called Casper, and it’s a totally free set of templates for Microsoft Office Excel designed for production management. Dynamic scripting under the hood means Casper automates the process for you, filling in relevant data across multiple documents as you input it. Read on to check out Casper, plus some videos breaking down this useful toolset.”

casper-call-sheet-thinkcrew-automated-automatic-ms-office-microsoft-excel-spreadsheet-template-e1362272574110-224x139

  • THE MASSIVE LIST OF GRANTS

koo-nofilmschool-logo   Yes, I admit it, I’ve never explored the grant route. Why is that? Well, I probably didn’t know where to look. When it comes time to finance my films, the notion of making a total spectacle of myself before friends, family, and potential investors dancing with my tin cup in hand BEGGING FOR MONEY is somehow more appealing. Or maybe it just struck me as the only way to do it. Knowledge is power– Maybe I’ll put away my Bojangles dance shoes next time and try to make money via the grant route, using this list compiled by No Film School. You should consider it too. Grants from February through June can be found here. Summer/Fall grants can be found here.

  • 8 “SOMEWHAT UNUSUAL” SCREENWRITING TIPS

koo-nofilmschool-logo The internet is crammed with “list” posts— XYZ # of rules GUARANTEED to help you in your impossible dream. Virtually all are bullshit. This one appealed to me. Compiled by V Renee, it’s kinda out there, unconventional advice. How can’t you love bullet-point #5: “DO THINGS THAT EMBARRASS YOURSELF”– “This is probably one of my favorite things to do to help my creativity — and it’s simple. The title says it all. If you’re stuck on a scene — it’s not flowing well and the dialog feels contrived, then I suggest sitting in your bathtub for a while. Perhaps you should wear wigs and costumes when you’re stumped. I do interpretive dance (ironically,) practice my draw with toy revolvers, sing songs from HMS Pinafore and The Mikado (do I love comic operas or what?) — anything that jump starts my brain creatively is alright by me — even becoming El Espadachín while I write in my office (as demonstrated below.)

What all of these silly things do, at least for me, is cut any ties I have to my ego, pride, or shred of coolness I might’ve onee had, and allows me to approach my writing without the added pressure of writing “a great screenplay.” Plus, it’s fun.”

How many of you would pay cash money for a video me of me doing interpretive dance wearing a Gilbert and Sullivan wig? Hey, make me an offer!

  • JOHN AUGUST’S 11 STEP GUIDE TO WRITING A SCENE

koo-nofilmschool-logo  Lastly, from the No Film School, this advice from the great John August website. Joining No Film School on the short list is this essential storehouse of screenwriting acumen by the guy who wrote Big Fish, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Frankenweenie, and many others. He just gives it away on his site, NOT grousing for consultancies, NOT looking to make a dime on you. There’s enough of interest on the John August site to keep a screenwriting nerd like myself bunked up for a month. I liked this infographic article on something common to all screenplays– How you actually go about writing a scene. How do you prepare? What is common to all great scenes? Here’s knowledge from a pro, a guy in the arena. For the article, go here.

photo

Chat- Distribution & Festival Update
Apr 20th, 2015 by paul peditto

Chat Poster V2

It’s been nearly two years since I first told you folks how CHAT, the micro-budget film I wrote and produced with my partner Boris Wexler, came about. It’s actually been almost three years since the first idea for a script. Then came months of outlining, another 10 months to write four drafts, then months of the Kickstarter campaign and private investment raising to get us funded.

We went into pre-production in April/May of 2012, an 18-day shoot in Chicago, all Chicago crew and actors. I wrote a series of posts about life on set which can be found on this site, the trials and tribulations that most D.I.Y. filmmakers know like old friends. We finished filming in early May with only one short day of pickup photography and well within budget.

Post-production commenced. The many months of editing, epic time-code notes, opinions from our “inner circle”, Boris looking to cut and tighten, our production house doing the ADR and foley work, color correction and score. The film was “ready” for a cast and crew screening early this summer. I swear to Christ I’m not patting myself on the back when I tell you that night when nearly 200 folks got out of their seats for a standing ovation for CHAT–it felt pretty damn good.

036

So, where are we at now with CHAT?

It’s never easy for a micro-budget movie like ours, a movie without name actors, with little or no cash for promotional material, minimal cash for festival submissions, in a crowded field absolutely gutted with “product”–because, you see, now that everyone can get hold of a Canon 5D and make a micro-budget film–everyone is. 12,000+ submissions to Sundance last year.

Boris and I, along with producer Lucy Manda, then embarked on as comprehensive a strategy as we could for the cash available to us. Lucy put together a definitive monthly list of A, B, and C-level film fests. Through another generous donation by our lovely and generous investor January Stern and her investment group, we raised a few thousand to pay for festival submissions. Lucy would send out each month to the short list we picked and because we’ve only recently started I can’t give you a comprehensive scorecard so far–too early to tell. I can say the movie will screen locally in Aurora, Illinois on May 3, at 1:30 at the Illinois International Film Festival.

Also, I can tell you about though was my experience with traditional distributors. Back in the day of my first movie JANE DOE, if someone had told me I’d be making cold calls to tired-eyed distributors to sell my movie–well, let’s call it unlikely in the extreme. NO CLUE. But here I was just a month ago making cold calls to a Distributor list Boris and Lucy put together.

Now I had experience with what it’s like to try to cold call agents with a screenplay. The results were U G L Y. You’d have to be smoking some 12th generation purple indica to think that agents want to hear your cold telephone elevator pitch, let alone spend two full hours of their weekend reading your Final Draft opus. So, I fully expected the same reception with my clumsy telephone pitch of CHAT.

Guess what? Not a single distributor told me flat out no. I was shocked, but I shouldn’t have been. We had a movie in hand. It’s a very different matter to ask someone to watch a two-minute trailer and read a logline/synopsis. About 20 of them did. About two were interested immediately.

We went with neither of them.

phpIBu7dCPM

Remember the four golden words: WHO DO YOU KNOW?

A friend of a friend got hold of the folks at Showcase Entertainment. The watching of the movie might have started as a favor but, in what was probably a great surprise for them, they dug the movie.

And offered us WORLDWIDE distribution!

Here’s the web page for Showcase Entertainment, and the Chat page.

CHAT is also featured in a book Boris and I have coming out called The D.I.Y. Filmmaker. It’s being pre-sold at Amazon now and is due out in late May/June.

So what’s all this mean? It means they pitched us at American Film Market. Are pitching us at various cable outlets and foreign territories. Digital will come later, hopefully connecting with Netflix, Hulu, Vudu, iTunes and the other usual suspects. This exposure, plus selling a few foreign territories, will, hopefully, move us toward paying back investors.  We shall see what transpires. I’ll keep you abreast…

So with that, Good Script Gods Readers, here’s the latest trailer for CHAT.

Wish us well, mockingbird.

Action Sequences 2
Apr 13th, 2015 by paul peditto

All right, action fans! Let’s pick up where we left off with action sequence stylings that would make Tarantino or Shane Black envious! You can’t steal them outright, but let me remind you, Good Reader–while there are most definitely copyright laws for content, there is no copyrighting a style, how words are laid out on the page. Nor is there copyright on action verbs, or on driving the eye down the page, or on to the death stakes, double and triple binds, inter-paragraph dash technique, or any of the other popular ways the pros make action sequences jump. Let’s have a look…

  • BAD SANTA

bad-santaI know, Bad Santa isn’t an action movie. Great action sequences are found in all genres. Here, there is crosscutting with a frenzy. They put characters on the clock and the stakes are huge. Check out the Teddy Bear moving to beat the store alarm:

INT. MILWAUKEE DEPARTMENT STORE – SANTA’S WORKSHOP – NIGHT

A large Teddy bear sits under a Christmas tree.

Suddenly -— it moves, bolting upright and sprinting from the
room.

INT. MILWAUKEE DEPARTMENT STORE – DOWNSTAIRS – NIGHT

The alarm continues to count down — 15… 14…

The Teddy bear slides down the space between the railing of
the escalators. Landing on its feet, it barrels toward the
door.

10… 9…

The Teddy bear scrambles for the door, crashing into
everything in its path.

7… 6…

Running past a clothing display, it rips the arm off a
mannequin without breaking stride.

5… 4…

It skids to a stop at the base of the alarm box, too short
to reach the controls.

2…

It raises the mannequin arm, using the pointed finger on its
hand to press the “CANCEL” key on the keypad.

Mission accomplished, the teddy bear rips off its head to
reveal his true identity: Santa’s Elf — in civilian life
known as MARCUS SKIDMORE. He is covered in sweat and panting
like an asthmatic.

Read the rest of this entry »

Best Screenwriting Links 2: Death of the Indie?
Apr 6th, 2015 by paul peditto

actors-hollywood-indiefilm

Let’s continue our Screenwriting links series. Today we’ll check out a recent trend you might want to consider when it comes time to writing and selling your script. We’ll concentrate on Indie-budget movies. It doesn’t take a Nostradamus to see, when it comes Indies– the times, they are a-changED.

  • DEATH OF MID-BUDGET CINEMA?

index  “As Mad Men’s Matthew Weiner put it, “Something happened that nobody can make a movie between $500,000 and $80 million. That can’t be possible.” While we weren’t looking, the mid-budget adult-oriented motion picture has all but disappeared. And the gifted directors behind them are in danger of disappearing as well.”

When’s the last new John Waters movie you saw? How about David Lynch? Or Francis Ford Coppola? Many thanks to Flavorwire for this article that puts the puzzle pieces together. It’s not a pretty conclusion. Writers writing original specs, one to five million dollar-budgeted, take note: The mid-level budget Indie film is on life support.

Steven Soderbergh saw the writing on the wall, telling an audience at the San Francisco International Film Festival, “The meetings have gotten pretty weird. There are fewer and fewer executives who are in the business because they love movies. There are fewer and fewer executives that know movies… You’ve got people who don’t know movies and don’t watch movies for pleasure deciding what movie you’re going to be allowed to make.” He made a well-publicized exit from feature filmmaking last year.

  • AMERICAN FILM MARKET: FUTURE IN DOUBT?

hollywood-reporter-drama-emmy-actresses  My own movie Chat was sold at American Film Market this year. While the figures are still out on how we did, based on this Hollywood Reporter article about AFM, the outlook ain’t promising. Why is that?

  “A seismic shift is underway…Over the past five years, the DVD market, which used to gobble up those lower-tier titles as fast as the industry could produce them, steadily has declined. Figures from market analyst SNL Kagan show physical sell-through and rental revenue in the U.S. from DVD and Blu-ray discs fell from $18 billion in 2009 to an expected $10.6 billion this year.

 “VOD has been hailed as the indie savior, and sales have risen. SNL Kagan figures show that online revenue, including revenue from Netflix-style streaming sites, online rentals and digital sell-through via iTunes, has risen nearly $7 billion since 2009 — but for most indies, it still doesn’t fill the gap left by the fall of DVD.

“There was huge hope the VOD business would make up for the lost revenue from DVD sales,” says Scott James, president of Artist View Entertainment, now in its 24th year. “But to be honest, we haven’t seen that happen.

AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf says that while it is true that sellers used to be able to produce a $5 million horror film and make money just in video, “Today, you could never do that.”

See the connection with the article above? A changing dynamic, happening before our eyes.

  • SUNDANCE 2015: BY THE NUMBERS

Sundance_distribution-1020x440 Many thanks to Adam Leipzig from Cultural Weekly.com for compiling a ton of useful information on the state of the market as demonstrated by the 2015 Sundance film fest. Loved the Infographics on dollars and distribution–everything from number of films submitted (12, 166– 2,309 features– 79 features accepted) to number of film that got distribution deals (95 in 2014), to U.S. Box Office figures, first-time filmmaker stats, down to the economic impact on the state of Utah. His conclusions at first look refreshingly optimistic:

” Congratulations Sundance filmmakers! You have a 4 in 5 chance of getting a distribution deal. That’s one key finding from our data-crunching preparation for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. As recently as 2010, getting distribution at Sundance was rare. In that year, as in years prior, only about 10 percent of the movies got deals. But then came the Great Digital Shift, with the explosion of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, iTunes and other opportunities for video on demand. We may now predict that more than 100 of the 124 feature films at Sundance this year will get some form of distribution opportunity.”

But dig further, and you see the same trend as the first two articles…

'How to Dance in Ohio,' directed by Alexandra Shiva, screens in the US Documentary Competition. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

“While Sundance Festival programmers make their selections based on their own artistic criteria and judgments, theoretically blind to the movie acquisition marketplace, inclusion in the festival is an initial stamp of approval for acquisitions executives. Financially, however, what does that really mean? In most cases, indie film financiers won’t get their money back. Only a handful of movies will get deals topping $1 million; last year’s highest sales price was a relatively modest $3.5 million. Getting distribution is easier today because of the digital explosion, but along with that has come a price implosion.

'Mistress America,' directed by Noah Baumbach, screens in the Premieres section. It was purchased pre-emptively by Fox Searchlight last week. Photo courtesy Sundance Institute.

Yes, there were 95 Sundance movies that got distribution last year, but that was spread out across more than 50 distribution companies. Some you have heard of — IFC, Magnolia, Drafthouse, A24, Netflix, Lionsgate, Music Box, Roadside Attractions, The Weinstein Company, Sony Pictures Classics, Fox Searchlight, Focus — and these companies will be active again this year. But many of the companies that distributed last year’s Sundance films barely appear on the radar, and most only distribute a few films a year in microscopically modest ways. As it was last year, most of the distribution deals in 2015 will be digital-only, and most will be for extremely low numbers: $25,000, $10,000, and in some cases zero — literally zero dollars, with the promise of financial participation based on sales.”

Three different articles– same conclusion. Writers, take note as you sit to write that two million buck-budgeted spec script…

The gap between Micro, and Studio…is treacherous.

 

Great Scenes with Psychos: Business Cards & Hughie Lewis
Mar 31st, 2015 by paul peditto

american-psycho-business-card-holder1

I could fill half a Top 10 Psycho scene list with Patrick Bateman highlights. By limiting myself to two today I’m leaving out the Final Confession sequence, the 2×1 prostitute scene (and don’t you love that the screenwriter, Guinevere Turner was one of the women?) and the Chloe Sevigny nail gun scene.

200px-AmericanPsychoBookDid you read the book? You should. The phenomenal choice of Mary Harron to direct and co-write gave the movie a sense of humor. When Patrick goes to the refrigerator to get some sherbert and has to move a human head– the book is far more a gore-fest, far more Jeffrey Dahmer…compared to the movie where you bend laughing when Christian Bale utters the immortal:

“You like Hughie Lewis and the News?”

First, to the business card scene. As usual, I’ve got the full scene with YouTube video below to compare to the script. Speaking of script, it’s very close to the finished version of the movie. This scene– and the full movie– plays out on two levels, outside and inside Bateman’s head. The top of the scene plays out in real time, outside his mind…

Bateman takes out his wallet and pulls out a card.

BATEMAN
New card. What do you think?

McDermott lifts it up and examines the lettering carefully.

McDERMOTT
Whoa. Very nice. Take a look.

He hands it to Van Patten.

BATEMAN
Picked them up from the printers yesterday

VAN PATTEN
Good coloring.

BATEMAN
That’s bone. And the lettering is something called
Silian Rail.

McDERMOTT
(Envious)
Silian Rail?

VAN PATTEN
It is very cool, Bateman. But that’s nothing.

He pulls a card out of his wallet and slaps it on the
table.

VAN PATTEN
Look at this.

They all lean forward to inspect it.

PRICE
That’s really nice.

Bateman clenches his fists beneath the table, trying to
control his anxiety.

VAN PATTEN
Eggshell with Romalian type.
(Turning to Bateman)
What do you think?

BATEMAN
(Barely able to breath, his voice a croak)
Nice.

PRICE
(Holding the card up to the light)
Jesus. This is really super. How’d a nitwit like you get so
tasteful?

Bateman stares at his own card and then enviously at
McDermott’s.

american_psycho_business_card_poster_by_trickytreater-d5ukid0Then we go into his head. For you haters of Voice Over, good luck here… This is brilliance:

BATEMAN (V.O.)
I can’t believe that Price prefers McDermott’s card to mine.

PRICE
But wait. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

He holds up his own card.

PRICE
Raised lettering, pale nimbus white…

BATEMAN
(Choking with anxiety)
Impressive. Very nice. Let’s see Paul Owen’s card.

american-card

Price pulls a card from an inside coat pocket and holds it
up for their inspection: “PAUL OWEN, PIERCE & PIERCE,
MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS.” Bateman swallows, speechless.
The sound in the room dies down and all we hear is a faint
heartbeat as Bateman stares at the magnificent card.

BATEMAN (V.O.)
Look at that subtle off-white coloring. The tasteful thickness
of it. Oh my God, it even has a watermark…

His hand shaking, Bateman lifts up the card and stares at it
until it fills the screen.

He lets it fall. The SOUND RETURNS TO NORMAL.

Poor Paul Owen…made two mistakes. That Saturday Night reservation at Dorsia (Bateman got laughed at when requesting the same thing) and that subtle off-white, watermarked business card. He heads back to Bateman’s for a drink and the result is yet more instruction on the power of using humor, even in the most heinous of scenes.

american_psycho-131INT. BATEMAN’S APARTMENT – NIGHT
The living room floor has been meticulously covered with
newspaper.

Owen is slumped drunkenly in a white Eames chair, a glass
in his hand. Bateman is looking through his CDs.

BATEMAN
You like Huey Lewis and the News?

OWEN
They’re okay.
BATEMAN
Their early work was a little too New Wave for my
taste. But then Sports came out in 1983, I think they really
came into their own, commercially and artistically.

Bateman walks to his bathroom, taking a large ax out of the
shower. He takes two Valium.

BATEMAN
(Said partly from the bathroom)
The whole album has a clear, crisp sound and a new sheen of
consummate professionalism that gives the songs a big boost.

Bateman comes back out and leans the ax against the wall.
He walks to the foyer and puts on a raincoat, watching Owen
from behind ail the time.

BATEMAN
He’s been compared to ELvis Costello but I think
Huey has a more bitter, cynical sense of humor.

american psychoPoor fucker. Has no clue what’s about to happen to him. Ever remember a scene with a slaughter like this? Slaughter with style, New York Times style section laid out at Owen’s feet…

Owen is absent-mindedly leafing through the Barneys
catalogue.

OWEN
Hey, Halberstam?

BATEMAN
Yes, Owen?

OWEN
Why are there copies of the Style section all over
the place? Do you have a dog? A chow or something?

BATEMAN
No, Owen.

OWEN
(Confused)
Is that a raincoat?

BATEMAN
Yes, it is.

Bateman moves to the CD player. He takes a CD out of its
case and slides it in the machine.

BATEMAN
In 1987 Huey released this, Fore!, their most
accomplished album. I think I heir undisputed masterpiece is
“HiP To Be Square,” a song so catchy that most people probably
don’t listen to the lyrics. But they should because it’s not
just about the pleasures of conformity and the importance of
trends. It’s also a personal statement about the band itself.

AmerPsycho_127Pyxurz

BATEMAN crosses the room and picks up the ax.

We follow BATEMAN from behind as he walks up to Owen, the
ax raised over his head.

BATEMAN
Hey, Paul?

 

As Owen turns around, FROM OWEN’S POV we see Bateman swing
the ax toward his face.

Blood sprays onto the white raincoat.

FROM BEHIND OWEN, we see BATEMAN as he yanks the ax out.

Owen drops to the floor. His body falls out of the frame.
We stay on his legs twitching mechanically.

Blood pulses onto the newspaper-covered floor.

BATEMAN
(Raising the ax and screaming)
Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking
stupid bastard!

LOW ANGLE ON BATEMAN as he beats Owen with the back of the
ax.

OFFSCREEN, the sound of the ax hitting Owen.

BATEMAN
(Panting)
Fucking bastard…

Bateman takes his raincoat off, still panting. He folds the
coat carefully in half, bloody side in, and drapes it neatly
over the back of a chair.

He sits back on the white sofa and surveys the scene. He
checks his Rolex and lights a cigar.

OFFSCREEN, Paul Owen’s last faint sighs are heard.

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