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Devolve
May 17th, 2015 by paul peditto

Hey folks, let me introduce you to Devolve. This is a web series I became involved with last summer and helped shoot in late January, 2015. I know, EVERYONE is making a web series! It’s a crowded landscape and the last thing you need is ANOTHER “How-To” article on how YOU TOO can join the tens of thousands now making a web series! That’s not the endeavor here.

So why should you care about this web series?

From Day 1 at SCRIPT GODS I’ve talked about proactivity. About not letting the bastards tell you no. Who are the bastards? They’re the folks manning the front gate of the Hollywood Hotel—that gated community of cosmococcic beauty. It’s the agent’s assistant at Jagoff Productions who sent you a form rejection to the query letter you spent a week writing; or the rejection from the Script Pipedream screenwriting contest without a single reason given (should have paid extra for reader notes!), the promise of “industry connections”, and don’t forget to send that $40 check with the script. It’s the bored “boutique” agency Junior rep yawning at your Pitchfest pitch no matter how many hours you practice; or bullshit producers pushing for free rewrites; or screenwriting consultants with fabulous websites and non-existent IMBD profiles who make promises, taking your hope and time and $$$$$$$$ without getting you one centimeter closer to actually getting your movie MADE. It’s the L.A. thang.

It’s time to get your movie made. How do you go about doing that without contacts or an agent or lots of money?

You stir the pot. You make something else. You put it out there and pray that you have even an ounce of talent.

You spend low money and make a web series. You try to find 30,000 subscribers or more and monetize the thing to the best of your ability. The cliched “going viral” takes a hell of a lot of work but so what? You’re making something. You’re not waiting any more. You’re done with that. You’re fucking taking it–NOW.

So, I’ll be giving you a ground up look at what it took to make this happen. The time table for release is still in flux, but I’m guessing Summer, 2015. When it’s ready, you’ll be the first to know.

Meanwhile, here’s how we put it together.

Maybe you’ll do the same.

  • BEGINNINGS

IMG_0099About a year ago in March I gave a seminar at Chicago Filmmakers called the Screenwriting Sampler. This was a marathon, five-hour session. The lectures can be at Screenwriting University and other places. So, at that lecture was Dan Arthurs. Dan is a Chicago guy who braved ten below winds to listen to–Christ help him–five hours of me talking about screenwriting. Something must have clicked because within the month I heard from him and his partner, David Schwartz. Dan was writing a web series called Devolve. They wanted me involved. Write–direct–produce. And they could actually pay me a little something. Well, bless my mercenary soul, attention achieved!

 Dan was wrapping up the first draft, which would consist of several episodes. The page count was still being defined but the price on this was set. While I won’t get into producer specifics, let’s just say the goal was to keep the project under $10,000 total. Without a locked script it was hard to get a firm grasp on what it would cost, so we concentrated on nailing the script down.  IMG_0009The original story was this: A group of Right-wing twenty-somethings stumble upon a Stoner God and decide to document him changing a man into an Ape (thus, Devolving him). Things go wrong and our Stoner God turns him not into an ape, but Rick Perry. Complications ensue.

This was in May and the script was a work in progress. I met with the guys in New York. I loved the idea of the Stoner God but wanted to move away from the politics (short shelf life, hard to pull off) and wanted to move it toward our twenty-somethings being just out of Film School. The early draft was also set in a verdant field, placing God under a sort of Malick-esque Tree Of Life. I remind the guys that this was already May. Shooting in Chicago (as was the plan) we had until end of October to reasonably ask a crew to spend 12 hours outdoors. David wondered about alternatives and yes, even though Pixar warns about never taking the first solution, the first thing that came to my mind was an arboretum. God could squat in a greenhouse. The guys liked it. If we couldn’t nail down the script and pre-production in time, we could go the arboretum route, shooting it into November or early December if necessary.

  • SUMMER

IMG_0115The pressures of Columbia classes changed the dynamic come the summer months. I realized pretty quickly I would have to delegate some of my producer duties. It was a no-brainer to ask my Chat producing partner Boris Wexler to come in on this. #1, Boris is 20X the producer I’ll ever be. Good Reader, if you learn anything from this article, learn to delegate responsibility well. Boris would be lead producer, would find us a Line Producer, draw up the Scheduling and Budgeting documents essential for production. Oh, and one other thing. Fred Miller, ace DP who shot Chat, would come in at a discount. Boris pitched Fred who said sure, why not. Fred would bring the camera package and make a few calls for G&E crew. Things were starting to come together.

But the script was still a question mark. Dan and I passed the script back and forth trying to find a solution. Where did the politics fit in if they were going to be film students? What story were we trying to tell? IMG_0021And could we tell the story with the number of days and budget we had? We moved from a third draft to a fourth. We were into August now and the October shoot date was looking unlikely. Then, I had an idea.

I had a friend, Lizz Leiser, a short-form comedy writer working with her crew at Serious Theater Collective in New York. Maybe she could take the script to a better place. Here’s another life lesson, Good Reader: Collaboration can be a bitch. It’s how you react that counts. No panic here. Get the script to Lizz, let’s see what she can do with it.

  • FALL– LIZZ TO THE RESCUE!

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 Obviously, by this time we had abandoned the Tree Of Life setting for God. Also the arboretum idea went by the wayside with calls to the handful of local Chicago places. Nobody was going to let a pack of 20 micro-budget web series TYPES take over their lush gardens for a 12 hour shoot. So, now what? Our simply astounding Line Producer, Jacquelyn Jamjoon, suggested her work warehouse space. It was vacant weekends and could be played as God’s lair, spooky empty. Set up a couple fake palm trees and some lounge chairs, God smoking from his WW2 gas mask–sounds good! Boris had a better idea though. He knew from previous shoots that Reggie’s Rock Club was micro-budget friendly. A quick call, a friendly price quoted, and we had our space.

The beauty of Reggies? IMG_0025It had an upstairs bar that could double for the bar scenes. If you’re producing a web series on the cheap, try to limit company moves. Now with Reggies, we wouldn’t have to move, everything could be shot there. Now, what about that script?

We had reached the point of no return. We had already abandoned the pre-Christmas production dates. If we didn’t nail down the script soon, it would be impossible even to shoot in January.

Lizz and her writing partner, Ricardo Delgado, sent back their first draft in early October. General rejoicing commenced! David and Dan loved her new take on the material. Lizz and Ricardo immediately took over the writing duties, polishing the first draft into a second and third. Meanwhile Jacquelyn and I got to work on casting. Through Breakdown Express we had well over 100 actors apply for the 7 roles. Because the script was still in flux it was unclear if we were going SAG or Non-SAG. Our goal was to just find the best actors possible. Dan joined us to help shoot the auditions and we put up the auditions on Vimeo for Boris and David to see. The beauty of working in Chicago on a comedy web series is the obscene amount of actors who rolled in with Improv training. We were literally up to our necks in funny people! The narrowing down of call backs would soon follow.

  • WINTER- JOHN MOSSMAN TO THE RESCUE!

IMG_0049I had already given up my producer duties to Boris on budgeting and scheduling matters, and to Line Producer Jacquelyn J. on the day to day stuff. New teaching responsibilities now made it clear right I wouldn’t be able to follow up with my Director responsibilities either. What did I say was the key, Good Reader? Correct—knowing good people and delegating well! If I couldn’t see this through, who did I know in town who could? A handful of killer directing candidates were at the ready through Columbia College. I made a few calls and found out to our very great fortune that John Mossman was available. John is not just a long-time teacher at Columbia, he runs his own theater company (The Artistic Home) and is an actor himself! Always the fatal drawback for me, I never acted so it was hard to empathize with the acting process. I’m more sympathetic these days but in years past I’d gladly, like Samuel Beckett, just put my actors in urns, face them forward and direct them to READ MY FUCKING LINES! Nope, not really the guy you want trying to help people be funny. Dan and Dave interviewed Mossman and before I could say get in the fucking urn and read my fucking lines!–John Mossman became the director of Devolve. I was the only one at this point to know what an upgrade that was.

Devolve was going to happen!

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Script Magazine Series, Part 2
May 12th, 2015 by paul peditto

script_logoOK, let’s go back to the archives and check out some more gems–nuggets–tidbits–from the Script Magazine files. This is meant as a taste, a sampler of articles you might have missed. Thanks to Jeanne Bowerman, my editor at Script Mag, for compiling these. If you want to see the contributors’ blogs, go here. The website is found here. Vamos!

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  • THE HOLLYWOOD FOOD CHAIN

I like Doug Richardson’s voice. He breaks me up with the truth. In my days with William Morris I took meetings at a reasonably high level, but if you wanna know the “behind the lines” sound of Hollywood, go no further than this guy. The full article is here. And a taste:

“Countless times I’ve been in meetings or on phone calls where producers or agents are making promises or assertions about the next step in the process.

“This is exactly what Alfonso Cuaron is looking for,” an agent might say. “I just had a signing dinner with him and this pretty much describes what he wants to do. I’ll send it right over to him.”

Translation? Maybe the producer knows the director. Maybe he even had dinner with him. Or maybe he was at a dinner attended by the director. Or perhaps in the same restaurant where the director was dining. The fact is, whatever this meeting or the resulting memo was, the agency made a big signing and is throwing every resource it has at the director in hopes to please its newest big-time client. That means every script, cast member, and notion for potential revenue is at their disposal. So it’s of veritable importance that despite the bona fide or bullshit representations of my agent, I needed to know where I was in the food chain and the process of my screenplay would undergo finding its laborious way to Alfonso’s reading pile. Otherwise, I might walk away from the meeting actually imagining my agent personally emailing my script directly to the director’s bedside iPad with a subject line that says: DROP EVERYTHING AND READ THIS NOW!”

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  • NEOPHYTE MAKES GOOD

This is the story that drives 8000+ specs scripts to the Nicholl Fellowship. This is why tens of thousands of scripts are registered every year with the Writer’s Guild. Spec script, new writer, Studio purchase. And Peditto said it never happens!

I’m an ex-craps dealer, so sue me, I think in terms of probabilities. The LIKELIHOOD is…this will never happen to you. Lottery winner. What’s that like? What did he do to make it happen?

Thanks to my editor Jeanne Bowerman for this interview of Eric Keonig, writer of Matriarch, which was just purchased by Paramount.

Good Reader, prove me wrong… Go and do likewise!

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  • TRANSMEDIA

Think tomato soup. The Warhol can. A product. Campbell’s could choose to sell that product as a single can on the shelf stocked back to infinity. Or… it could create Cream of Mushroom. Cream of Chicken. Chicken Noodles… same product, soup, but a different take on each. This is an oversimplified explanation of Transmedia. Think about how many different ways Star Trek has been sold to us, how many different variations of TV and film re-incarnation–but always Star Trek. How about something a little more offbeat? Look at Green Day’s American Idiot–starting out as the album, last year moving onto Broadway as a play, not to mention the documentary film following Billy Joe Armstrong’s journey from punk rocker to Broadway impresario. Same product, different incarnations. That’s Transmedia.

Now, if you want a REAL explanation on why it seems like every new show on Broadway was a movie first….check out this thoughtful article by Tyler Weaver on Transmedia And Writing Exposition. Here’s a taste: “”Transmedia storytelling is, at this point, in a continuing state of definitional flux and while this is a detriment to most discussion and analysis of it, it’s a wonderful thing for creative people; it’s the mythical blank slate. It is what you make it.”

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  • SOMETIMES THE BEST SCRIPT IS NO SCRIPT

This great article by Clive Davies-Frayne dares to speak that which is never spoken on screenwriting blogs– what would happen if you didn’t need to write a script to make a movie? Sounds like blasphemy, until you realize that what he’s talking about isn’t without precedent:

As I said, working without a script isn’t a new process in the film world. Directors like Mike Leigh have been “working out” scenes with their actors, without a formal script, for years. Filmmakers like Drake Doremus, Grand Jury Prize winner at the 2011 Sundance Festival, are building good careers using similar techniques. These directors are able to work without a formal script, simply because they understand how to work creatively with actors. What’s also clear, is people who make films this way, have a deep and intimate knowledge of storytelling. They’re not just “making it up as they go along.” They have a plan, a story and, in many respects, a deeper understanding of their characters, and the craft of storytelling, than most screenwriters.

The idea that you can build a movie based on a beat sheet, character backstories and knowledge of how to work with actors, is only one script-free route to creating a movie. The other route is a pure cinema methodology. By pure cinema, I mean it is possible to see a film as nothing more than a series of images; images that create a story through the juxtaposition of concepts. The film is just a series of visual moments; visual moments that can be organised using nothing more than a storyboard. This kind of filmmaking requires a completely different view of the filmmaking process, than is normal or acceptable for most screenwriters. To work like this, the film’s creator has to think more like an editor than a writer.  It’s the kind of filmmaking that owes its origins to the work of filmmakers like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov.

The question is, if it’s possible to make great films without a formal script, which it is, what can screenwriters learn from these approaches?”

Hmmm….interesting!!!

index
Best Monologues
May 5th, 2015 by paul peditto

Thinking about a monologue for your script? Wondering if it’s too much?

Writing for the visual medium of film, you have to be half-crazy and really good, along with having a riverboat gambler’s mentality, to pull this off. That monologue you’re writing is going to take multiple screen minutes. How are you planning to visualize it?

I was going to do a Top 10 monologues, but there are too many great ones. We’ll do a few posts on this subject. I’ve gotten through A to O on the Drew’s Script-O-Rama list and am working outward in search of the constant variety of screenwriting Sport. Let’s look at how the pros handle it and imitate where we can. Vamos..

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So your plan is to not just write a monologue but open the movie with it? What are production company–agency–screenwriting contest readers giving spec scripts these days, 5 pages? You’re basically laying down an all or nothing Red/Black roulette bet opening with a monologue. Unless you’re Woody Allen, and just kill it…

FADE IN:

Abrupt medium close-up of Alvy Singer doing a comedy monologue. He
wearing a crumbled sports jacket and tieless shirt; the background is stark.

ALVY
There’s an old joke. Uh, two elderly
women are at a Catskills mountain
resort, and one of ‘em says: “Boy, the
food at this place is really terrible.”
The other one says, “Yeah, I know, and
such … small portions.” Well, that’s
essentially how I feel about life. Full
of loneliness and misery and suffering
and unhappiness, and it’s all over much
too quickly. The-the other important
joke for me is one that’s, uh, usually
attributed to Groucho Marx, but I think
it appears originally in Freud’s wit and
its relation to the unconscious. And it
goes like this-I’m paraphrasing: Uh …
“I would never wanna belong to any club
that would have someone like me for a
member.” That’s the key joke of my adult
life in terms of my relationships with
women. Tsch, you know, lately the
strangest things have been going
through my mind, ’cause I turned forty,
tsch, and I guess I’m going through a
life crisis or something, I don’t know.
I, uh … and I’m not worried about aging.
I’m not one o’ those characters, you know.
Although I’m balding slightly on top, that’s
about the worst you can say about me. I,
uh, I think I’m gonna get better as I get
older, you know? I think I’m gonna be the-
the balding virile type, you know, as
opposed to say the, uh, distinguished
gray, for instance, you know? ‘Less I’m
neither o’ those two. Unless I’m one o’
those guys with saliva dribbling out of
his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria
with a shopping bag screaming about
socialism.
(Sighing)
Annie and I broke up and I-I still can’t
get my mind around that. You know, I-I
keep sifting the pieces of the relationship
through my mind and-and examining my life
and tryin’ to figure out where did the
screw-up come, you know, and a year ago we
were… tsch, in love. You know, and-and-and
… And it’s funny, I’m not-I’m not a
morose type. I’m not a depressive character.
I-I-I, uh,
(Laughing)
you know, I was a reasonably happy kid,
I guess. I was brought up in Brooklyn
during World War II.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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