Edvard Munch, painter of The Scream, once said the test of great art was its correspondence to life. If people recognized truth in it they would take off their hats, as if in church.
Spend a few hours on the internet looking over screenwriting sites, you’ll find a glut of NON-truth. Lots of slick sites, lots of claims. Very few authentic voices like William Martell.
William Martell is a working screenwriter, an author, a teacher. His site, Sex In A Submarine, is excellent. His voice is authoritative because the man has actually written scripts that were made. His insights are gleaned from decades in the trenches. Like the old Merrill Lynch ads said: When Martell talks, people listen. Least I do…
Here are a few tastes from his blog:
I liked his article entitled Are You Flexible? (scroll down) about one of a stalled project starting up without him:
“What you discover when you brainstorm is that there are hundreds of possibilities for your story and if you challenge yourself to keep going – possibilities that you never knew existed. The story doesn’t have to work one way, it can work hundreds of different ways. To find the way that works best, you need to open your mind to every possibility…
Screenwriting is often problem solving. But you must be willing to solve the problems. To look at your screenplay objectively, and realize that even though you love the idea of kids dancing on the beach, that may not fit the dark and violent horror story you are trying to tell. Instead of fighting for your “vision” when it doesn’t work, fight for the screenplay and make sure it works. Be flexible enough to see when something doesn’t work – even if it is something that you love. A script that you love but doesn’t work at all (or stalls out at page 52 and you never get to Fade Out) isn’t a good script. You want to make that script work, and make it work all the way down the line so that it can be made into a movie and be seen by an audience. Hey, that might mean the crusty old guy you originally envisioned ends up being a woman in her early 40s. If that makes the script better, you make the change.”
No Middle Man! (scroll down) is about his struggles pitching to Network production execs.
“Much of my career is due to middle men – they pass the script to their best contact – but that also means a bunch of deals that never were is due to middle men screwing things up. Sometimes you get a Devo with kind of a “tin ear” and they completely fumble the pitch to their boss. Sometimes you get a person who knows someone looking for an action script, and they want to submit your women in jeopardy script (WTF?). Sometimes it’s the middle man who is the problem…
…But part of this business, or any business, is that you not only have the connections that you have, you have the connections that your connections have. I don’t have time to know everybody, I’m writing screenplays. I know a small handful of people, and my scripts sometimes travel to people I do not know. But each person knows someone who knows someone else – it’s networking. The thing about networking is that it’s one of those chains that is only as strong as its weakest link – so you should always expect a bunch of links and chains to break. There is no sure thing, it’s all a numbers game. There will always be people between you and the decision maker, and some of those people may screw things up for you. But others may champion your work and open doors for you. I often have people who read something long ago and remembered it, and maybe submit it at their new company.”
He had me laughing at a recent post about LIMITLESS! (scroll down)
“There are lots of people on message boards who think they will sell their first screenplay for a million bucks and date underwear models while sipping champagne and floating around in Spielberg’s pool. That’s the LIMITLESS version. The more realistic version involves writing a stack of scripts, rewriting them, doing all kinds of hard work and networking, and maybe landing an assignment that never gets made. Sure, I know a couple of people from message boards who worked their asses off and actually sold their scripts (not the first scripts for either one) and the scripts actually got made into theatrical movies with stars. Cool. Those are the couple that I know who seem like overnight successes – and I know a whole lotta people…
…But if you were to find one of those people who might be floating in Spielberg’s pool surrounded by underwear models, that Cinderella story of theirs that sounds a lot like LIMITLESS? Fiction. 99.9% of those overnight success stories had some very long and very dark nights. The LIMITLESS people like to point to those folks… without ever digging very deep into their legends to find out of they are true or not. LIMITLESS people would rather believe the fantasy than search for facts they’d rather not know…”
Last but not least, check out his prose poem to the American Film Market. Epic, indeed!
LOBBY RATS I KNOW
Out by the pool I bump into a guy I know with an interesting background. Max is from Russia, works as a machinist, and loves movies. So he bought a consumer video camera to make his own films, and ended up making someone else’s films. This German guy who had a hit slasher movie in the early 80s and spent all of his money on booze and drugs and broads, ran out of money and decided to make some direct to DVD movies, but had nothing. So he put an advert of Craigslist looking for a camera man with his own camera to film his next horror movie. Max responded to the advert… and ended up filming a bunch of “no budget” movies for this crazy German guy. The crazy German guy found a furniture store that would let him shoot there at night, so he had sets! Actors and crew are from Craigslist, and most get paid zip – they are interns or working for a credit and meals. The crazy German guy’s films are famous for being awful – he doesn’t have a script, just makes up the story as he goes along – but because he makes horror movies about real life serial killers, his films sell to distribs. LionsGate has taken most of them. Max makes a few bucks for providing the camera and shooting the movies… but the crazy German guy makes $100k in profit on every film, and is now a millionaire while Max has made pizza and beer money.
So my Russian friend Max decides to make his own horror movie… doing things exactly like the crazy German guy did it. Craigslist for cast and crew and script, found locations, and lots of improvisation. But now he can’t sell the film. Horror isn’t selling like it used to, and his story has no hook at all, and I have not seen the movie, but it may be bad. Really bad. So he is at AFM as a Lobby Rat, trying to get someone to take his film. He has screeners on DVD in his coat pocket and “flaps” in a briefcase. I ask him how it’s going and he says “Good” but doesn’t mean it. I feel sorry for the guy – he watched the crazy German guy make over a million bucks, and when he tries to do the same thing he can’t even make a dollar. He told me he’s been offered a job shooting porno movies, and is giving it serious consideration.
In the lobby I bump into a director I know who is seriously in need of work. He lucked into making a couple of films and the people who hired him to direct his two features are not interested in hiring to direct anything else. So he’s in the lobby looking for work, and asks me if I have any script projects in the works that need a director. I answer “maybe” and say that I’ll keep him in mind, but I’m really not sure I can recommend him to a producer. Both of the movies of his that I’ve seen have had basic direction problems (violated the 180′ rule, missing key shots, bad acting, and many other issues). Best I can do is forward his reel, and let the producer make the decision. Why is it that people who luck into a job think their luck will hold?
The girl in the Backless Sundress passes by and I decide to just stare at her chest long enough to read the company name on her badge… but she turns away just as I turn towards her and I can only see her perfectly tanned back. No tan lines. Hmm.”
Bill, lots of respect here. Hang in there.