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Sorry all, but it’s summer. That means no work at Columbia College and me probably fleeing Chicago’s 101 degree temps. Before I jump on a plane to Manilla Monday, just a couple thoughts for you.
I mentioned in another post about avoiding some student film-making mistakes when it comes time to make your own micro-budget flick. One of the things I talked about was students who have the tendency to spend more time on the TITLE credits than the movie itself. This lead me to think about TITLE SEQUENCES, and the greatest maker of those, Saul Bass. Bass had a hand in the opening credit sequences of so many movies, it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite. Especially though the 1950′s and 1960′s, his IMDB credit roll is pretty much unmatched, period. PSYCHO, WEST SIDE STORY, SPARTACUS, the original OCEAN’S 11, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM. Later credits include ALIEN and GOODFELLAS. Here’s a compilation of 10 of his best credit sequences from Indywire. Also a couple of my favs, from local Chicago writer Nelson Algren. The WALK ON THE WILD SIDE video is my all-time favorite, and includes the best cat-fight ever which, in today’s PC times, might have had trouble making it to the Final Cut.
What do title sequences have to do with screenwriting? Absolutely nothing!
Take some time to re-charge, Good Reader! Get out into summer…or maybe do like I’m doing as I type this now, barricade yourself into a small room with Air Conditioning, turn on a flick (just now watched NIGHT OF THE HUNTER) and enjoy!
Leave the quest for screenwriting fame, or bucks, or legacy, or ultimate personal expression, or whatever the reason you’re so OBSESSED about. Just… leave it! For a day or two.
Like I said last week–What are the chances you’ll be remembered in 100 years anyhow? Ever think about that? You’ve had a week to name 10 writers from 1912… any luck? How about naming 10 directors or 10 actors from 1912? See what I mean?
Living life in the here and now present tense. Just another life lesson you never freakin’ asked for, from your Humble Narrator. Over and out!
Name ten silent film stars from the year 1912 or before. Don’t Google it. I’ll wait….
Done? Having trouble? Ok, let’s make it easier:
Name any ten movies from 1912 or before. No Googling…
Ok, let’s make this easy: Name any 10 film stars from the entire Silent era.
Those of you who never took a History Of Cinema class might have trouble remembering the names of Edison film experiments like Record Of A Sneeze (1894), the earliest surviving copyrighted motion picture. Or any of the 1,400+ short films of the French Lumiere Brothers.
The website silentladies.com profiles over two hundred silent film actors. The names I recognized were these:
15 names? From the entire silent film era? How is that possible?
THE 100 YEAR TEST
Cameras were rolling on the birth of movies. Think about that. Film may be the only art form to be documented in its infancy. In 1895, audiences screamed when a train came directly at them in the Lumiere Brothers’ Arrival of a Train. 100+ years later, we have the CG of Inception and Avatar.
Makes me wonder: What will survive 100 years from now? And aside from making a living, why are people so utterly obsessed by trying to get their visions on film?
Will you be remembered 100 years from now? How will you be remembered?
I’ll go out on a limb to predict that the films of Spielberg, Scorsese, Eastwood, Kurasawa, Fellini, Wells, Coppola will be around in 2111.
Deniro, Pacino, Streep, Johnny Depp, and Daniel Day Lewis will be there when the next century rolls around.
How about Michael Bay? Think The Island will pass the 100-year test? How about Entourage and sushi-eating Jeremy Piven? Lindsay Lohan? Taylor Lautner?
You’ll notice I didn’t ask you to name ten screenwriters from the Silent era. The existence of the era’s writers has come down to us strictly in the domain of historians.
Will they remember Shane Black? Will they be able to read his Lethal Weapon script? L.A Confidential will probably be around, meaning Brian Helgeland’s name will survive. Maybe folks in 2112 will be like moviegoers today, going to films without really giving a damn who wrote it. Ask 100 people on the street today to name ten current screenwriters, how many could do it?
Ultimately, if the work lives, if the movie survives, then the writer lives on, even if no one knows or cares about his name.
So, what the hell is my point? I bring this up only for you to consider the bigger picture:
You want your script made. You want it bad. Aside from getting paid, have you figured out why you want it so bad? You might want to examine your reasons. Is it the chase for legacy, for your name to live on in 2112?
Maybe it’s the ex-casino craps dealer in me that has to state the obvious: The true odds of being remembered 100 years from now ain’t great. Maybe we shouldn’t drive ourselves crazy with the pursuit of legacy.
Examine why is it you write in the first place. It might help to get you on your journey faster.
I’ll be talking more about the project I’m working on, CHAT, the closer we get toward production in the early part of 2013. This will be micro-budget all the way, no A or B names attached to our little 40K movie, yet I’m optimistic. Why wouldn’t I be? My director partner Boris and I are seeing the movie the same way, content-wise, visually. Micro = I can raise the budget myself = minimal (I hope) compromises. Imagine Wells and Cassavetes in the time of the Alexa or 7D camera? Orson wouldn’t have to make those awful Mateus wine commercials. Cassevetes wouldn’t be making other people’s movies just to grab the cash he needed for his own endeavors. Micro, a beautiful thing.
With the democratization of cinema comes everyone and their Uncle making these movies. But only a few of the tens of thousands made will rise above the surface to gain an audience. It’ll ultimately come down to what it always has, the technical skill to visualize, and the stories themselves.
If you’re about to endeavor on one of these micro journeys, I need to bring up a life lesson that JANE DOE taught me, which is: Cover thy ass.
No blanket statements but seems to me writers and the business end aren’t natural companions. Yet this shit MUST be talked about. Take my own experience for CHAT…
My partner Boris is producer/director. I’m the writer. Simple, right? That’s an understanding any Columbia Film and Video freshman could understand.
What happens when we seek financing and I hand the script off to the few contacts I have; what if one of them bites? Say, one of the producers of MONEYBALL, who is an acquaintance of mine from way back. Up for an Oscar this year, she’s a player. What if she likes the script? What if she wants to come on as producer, to add a zero, or even two zeros to our stated $50,000 budget? What if she wants to send it to A-list people? G-R-E-A-T, right?
But what if she wants a director with a “track record”? What if she wants to bounce my partner Boris? Would he be satisfied with just a producer credit in a larger film? Would he feel betrayed? How much compensation will he need to step away? And what if she wanted to bring another writer on board? Would I be good with that?
How about if, through that connection, I bring in the majority of the money to the project? Doesn’t that bump my share of producer profits? By how much? Do I get a producer credit? What is my percentage as writer? What percentage are we allocating for potential investors? What’s expected of me after the script is finished in terms of time and money commitment?
See what I mean? A thousand questions…. My partner and I need a prenuptial agreement. All these contingencies need to be discussed. Paperwork needs to be drawn up specifying the EXACT roles and expectations of each person.
Do you have a similar situation for your upcoming movie? Have you thought about all these contingencies?
The I’m-just-the-writer-don’t-bug-me bit won’t cut it with micro. Traditional roles of writer and producer go by the wayside when everyone has to contribute everything they can to the cause. And if no money can be found for a $200 an hour entertainment lawyer? Sit down and hash out this uncomfortable stuff, clarify expectations, maybe write out a basic agreement, sign the paperwork and put it away like a prenuptial agreement.
Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
Want to get your script made? Become a student of how other movies get made.
While I work at the micro-budget level these days, my bother is working in the rarefied air of Indy budget movie-making. Hope he doesn’t mind my detailing his experience on BLACK WINGS HAS MY ANGEL. It’s an eye-opener for anyone thinking of doing this for a living.
You read a 50 year-old film noir novel and love it. You inquire about rights and are pleasantly surprised when the estate only wants a few thousand per year for option rights. You take a breathe, swipe the credit card, and buy in for one year.
You get to work on the script. There are excellent young male and female leads. You try to stay faithful to the novel while pumping up the visuals, transitioning smoothly from words on a page to images on a screen. You finish the script in a couple months and go into producer mode. You attempt to leverage EVERY LAST CONNECTION you have into money, into getting the movie made. You send out to your people.
Your people aren’t impressed. Nada. Nothing. No interest. You pay out another year’s worth of option money. Never say die.
During the three years looking for money on this movie you make a smaller film. It gets into a couple fests but no distribution deal, moving damn fast into the DVD box. As you do a final edit, you casually tell your editor about the noir adaptation. He asks to read it, and likes it. He asks what you’re doing with it and you honestly tell him not a whole hell of a lot. He offers to pass it on the producer of a movie he just worked on. That film, a million-dollar Indy, just made Tribecca. You say hell yeah, pass it along.
The producer reads it and likes it. He inquires about rights and a deal is made. He’s now on board, bringing HIS people into the picture. That means Elijah Wood. There’s no acting role for Elijah but he can come on as producer, lend his weight to the project that way. Elijah Wood reads the script and likes it. It’s not a huge time commitment for him to come on as a producer. He agrees to do so. Very cool!
With Elijah’s name attached money is now found for a big-name screenwriter to rework the script. You pay Barry Gifford (WILD AT HEART, LOST HIGHWAY) to pump the script up. At $10,000 per week, this is no small dollar commitment.
With the Tribecca producer you got Elijah Wood. With Elijah Wood, you get William Morris. The script gets into the hands of an up-and-coming Mexican director. He loves it and wants to direct. You were hoping to be a triple threat (writer -producer – AND director) but you recognize that one of the impediments so far is that you’re a virtually unknown director, and that isn’t helping find the millions you need in a depressing recessionary era of Indy financing. You step back and take of the director cap. Smart move. The Mexican director rewrites the script again and promises to lend his name to find Mexican financing money.
Through William Morris the script is sent out to multiple A-list names. Just what an A-list name is, when you think about it, is constantly in flux. How many A-listers from 2000 make the 2010 list? Point being, Whether A or B list, Anna Paquin being interested in your project is a VERY good thing. This is what happens. You meet her, it goes well, her people talk to your people, and she’s in. She’s freaking IN! Elijah Wood agrees to play a supporting role and you nab a quasi-unknown, Tom Hiddleston, to play the lead. Hiddleston won’t be unknown for long however. He’s the antagonist in THOR and has a major role in WAR HORSE. Three serious actors are now committed.
Working on two levels now… trying to find a time in the busy schedules of three major actors that you can target to actually make this movie. Oh, and getting the money in the bank. You think summer 2010 but that marker goes by the wayside when Elijah gets work on a project. Then Hiddleston is busy in the Fall when the other two are free. Very hard to coordinate the schedules.
Oh, and the money is still not in the bank.
Signatures on paper, the project is announced in the press. It goes out wide and it makes a major splash. People seem genuinely interested in the project and 30+ Google pages dedicated to it bode well. Looks like a November shoot. The momentum is totally positive. Even with the bean-counters…. advanced sales commitments are looking good, the Mexican director’s money people are stepping up… it’s all good baby!
The money is still not in the bank. Some debate on whether this is a three or five million dollar movie. Either way, you’re in eight years on the project now. Eight years! Yeah, you’ll make some coin on this when– not if– it happens. Just gotta close the deal. The Mexican money is very close to in the bank. That’s all that’s left now, just putting the money in the bank.
Anna Paquin gets pregnant! Oh, really? That adds a twist to matters. That means the November date is off. Means a new production date will have to be negotiated. Means the question is now: Do you replace Anna Paquin and shoot for 2012 or push the production date back yet again (summer 2013?). And how does this impact the Mexican money that wasn’t in the bank yet?
News flash: Just because something is announced on the press or on IMDB doesn’t mean it happens. The moving parts on a 3-million dollar movie make a miracle any Indy budget movie gets made at all. Be ready for the long haul if you write toward a budget like this. Your piece could be a done deal until the very last moment and still not make it over the finish line. And your eight year on the project becomes your ninth, looking for that money…
What will happen here?
Let the director direct and the actor act. Don’t presume to dictate the smallest gesture. No smiling, sighing, smirking or hand gestures that don’t directly impact plot.
The actor, when filming the scene on page 63, is not going to remember you wanted him to point with his right hand before the words: “Land, ho!”
Get to the verb.
Jimmy begins to eat the casino buffet food.
Jimmy digs into the $3.99 beef tripe extravaganza.
Grammatical errors are deadly. Want to wave the red flag for the reader? Write this on Page 1:
They’re in the Deathly Hallows did the Darkness cast it’s Great Gloom upon Harry Potter…
Trim out but and and from action lines. Use shorter sentences. Mundane as it sounds, use commas well.
Don’t be so busy concentrating on story and character that you forget basics, like using active verbs.
Avoid is walking, is jumping, is playing.
Walks, jumps, plays.
Yes, I’ve read about the “new spec style” at the Page Screenwriting Awards (scroll down for the Dave Trottier link).
I would say avoid gimmickry if you can. Don’t get cute, don’t get fancy, unless there’s good reason for it.
As you previously read here, Page 1 is valuable real estate. When you take your story back too far, it slows down the opening of your movie. Figure out the place in your story where we have to start, where the story won’t make sense without it. Where you start your movie is a critical decision. You want it to be logical, hit the ground running.
Seek the visual, not verbal, solution.
If it’s in the action line, we see or hear it. It’s a given, why tax the reader’s eye with it?
Give white space between paragraphs. Go vertical. Force the reader’s eye down the page, have him turning pages. Look to cut to a new paragraph where the camera would naturally cut. For example: When the focus of the scene shifts from one character to another.
You’ve got music in mind for your Boy Scouts vs. Zombies script so you write Dead Man’s Party by Oingo Boingo into your action line. Unless you have the money for Oingo Boingo, I wouldn’t. 80s Rock works just fine as description, unless you can pay the piper.