Here's a nice little article in LA PRESSE on our march yesterday. Attention, c'est en français. The writer put me a bit on the spot as the writer of Bon Cop:
Le principe est le suivant: quand il y a un grand succès, il faut que les créatifs en aient une partie, croit Alex Epstein, l'un des scénaristes de Bon Cop, Bad Cop. Je ne me plains pas, mais le succès de Bon Cop, Bad Cop arrive aussi après les autres boulots que je fais.
When you've had a success, it's awkward to complain that you haven't been adequately rewarded. And I have no complaints -- Bon Cop has been good to me.
But not directly. I don't share in the DVD sales of the film. My payoff is that more people want to hire me to write stuff, for higher pay. I got paid on BON COP based on its budget.
Moral issues aside, this is inefficient. The next thing I write almost certainly won't do as well as BON COP, but I'll get paid more for writing it. There are lots of screenwriters whose quote depends on one hit; am I necessarily better than another guy who didn't luck into a writing gig on a movie with a great concept, great star package, brilliant director, hardy producer, etc.?
Who's heard of the BLAIR WITCH creators since? They haven't done anything outstanding; people keep hiring them hoping lightning will strike.
It just makes more economic sense to pay people for their successes rather than for the things they do after their successes.
(The Blair Witch guys did clean up economically, but that's because they also produced their movie.)
Which is where residuals come in. If your show runs endlessly on TV or the Internet, if it sells more DVDs than tickets, you should get a real piece of that success. Then you'll write not only for the theatrical release; you'll write for the DVD. You'll make your stories richer because it'll put money in your pocket to do it. Or you'll take more risks because Internet is all about niche marketing.
If your show drops out of sight after opening weekend, you should get a cup of that oblivion. Just like the studio and the producer.
Quebec members of the Writer's Guild of Canada joined today with members of SARTEC, the Société des Auteurs de Télévision et Cinéma, our sister organization, in solidarity with the Writer's Guild strike.
Chants we had aplenty, because who knows how to hold a manifestation like the Québecois, unless it's their ancestors the French. "Pas d'auteurs, pas d'histoires! Pas d'auteurs, pas d'ciné! Pas d'auteurs, pas d'télé!" And "So-so-so-solidarité!" We had come prepared with some English cheers too, but in keeping with Law 101, they had to be half as loud, and half as clever.
I've got a great idea for a book about movies/moviemaking. I assume this all starts with a query letter. Do you have any general advice? Also, I'm young with no moviemaking credits, how much harder does that make it for me to sell a book about movies?
The book biz is an entirely different racket than the movies. Books cost little to produce, authors make very little, and it takes an astonishingly long time for publishers to produce a finished book from your electronic manuscript. (Though it takes iUniverse about two weeks...) The book biz is also bizarre because booksellers get to return any unsold book to the publisher for a total refund, which is a huge waste of shipping and paper that no one seems able to stop.
But the critical difference you need to know about is between the book biz as it used to be, and the book business now. By and large, publishers are not looking for a good book. They are looking for a book with a "platform."
What's a platform? It's what makes the book promote itself. Any book by a celebrity (Diane Keaton's books of photography, an autobiography of Joan Jett, etc.) has a platform. A book by a writer who makes a business out of selling his books has a platform. They want a cookbook by a chef who has his own cooking show, or chain of restaurants, or both. They want a book on screenwriting by an author who does weekly seminars all across the continent. They want a book on art buying by the head of Sotheby's, or the former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Any book by a celebrity will get press. Thomas Hoving is pals with lots of reviewers; his books get press too. And, of course, any author who goes around personally promoting their book at seminars and other events doesn't really need press.
I was recently talking to my editor trying to sell her a second, revised, expanded edition of CRAFTY SCREENWRITING. Her main question wasn't "how will it be better than the first edition?" Her main question was what my platform is. I have a popular blog, appear randomly on radio, occasionally jury things, appear on panels and so forth. So I'm not without a platform. But I don't cross the country teaching seminars and selling my books. (I don't have time.) I may have said I would do, back when I wrote my first book, but by now it is obvious that I don't.
So it may not be easy to sell your movie book, if you don't have a platform. A great idea may not be enough.
The process for getting a book contract, as far as I've seen, is:
a. Tell your idea to a book agent; b. If she bites, write her a proposal. This is a document of forty or so pages with a sales pitch, a marketing plan, an explanation of your platform, an outline, and a sample chapter. c. She helps you polish your proposal then d. sends it to publishers, who hopefully get in a bidding war.
One other thing you should know about book writing: by and large, you don't do it for the money. On most books you'll be lucky to get a $5,000 to $20,000 advance for 3-6 months work, and you'll be successful indeed if you clear your advance.
You write to help crystallize your own thinking. It may be an excuse to do some research you wanted to do anyway. It is a great opportunity to interview people who might not talk to you if you weren't writing a book. It is fun to give back knowledge.
Q. On page 210 of Crafty Screenwriting, you state that one should not photocopy the title of the screenplay to the card-stock cover. Should anything appear on the card-stock cover? If so, what? Should one laser-print the card-stock cover with the Title Page information, or is the cover just a cover?
The cover is just a cover. If you're with an agency, the agency will put their cover on your script.
Lately I've seen a lot of scripts without a card-stock cover of any kind. But for submissions I would go with a plain solid color cardstock cover.
Solidarity Rally Tuesday, November 27 Washington Square Park 12:00 - 1:30 p.m.
Join your fellow members of the Writers Guild of America, the labor community, and supporters and fans, as the WGA begins week four of its strike against the media conglomerates of the AMPTP.
Meet us at Washington Square Park for a Solidarity Rally. We’re expecting a large attendance from the union community -- including SEIU, SAG, UNITE-HERE, AFT, NYS AFL-CIO, national AFL-CIO, and the New York City Central Labor Council among others -- as well as some exciting speakers, music and entertainment.
Check the WGAw site for where to picket on the (warmer) West Coast.
And don't forget, Wednesday is International Solidarity Day. Canadians will be demonstrating (not picketing) in Montreal and Toronto (anywhere else?), Brits will be demonstrating in London, etc.
Just because the AMPTP is coming back to the table doesn't mean they won't pull another fast one. Please come out and support the strikers. If you're an emerging or aspiring writer, now would be a great time to show what you're made of to the Guild writers walking the picket line in this deteriorating weather. When you need them, they'll remember that you were there when they needed you.
Meanwhile, enjoy the "speechless campaign" on Deadline Hollywood. Here's Holly Hunter trying to get rewrite ... which has been outsourced to Bangalore.
See? This is what happens when you leave writers with time on their hands.
“Everybody's in the same position. We all have stuff on the shelf we can use … the common assessment is that we're all good until January. But as of January, when new episodes of shows would have been expected, that's when schedules start to change a bit.”
I think people are underestimating the effect of the strike. TV is a not a warehouse. It is a pipeline. (It is, if you will, a series of tubes.)
Yes, you can shoot and edit and show all the episodes for which there are already scripts. And that takes you to January.
But what happens in January? Can you just get the writers to air new episodes? Um, no. Writers have to think up new episodes, write first drafts and second drafts, and then take them to production. Production needs to shoot them and editors need to shoot them.
You don't get any new episodes until February or March.
Think of the strike as a growing gap at the beginning of an assembly line. When the engine-makers put down their tools, you can keep making cars until the gap reaches the end of the line. And then you shut the line down. But when you start the line up again, you have to wait for the engines before you can make any new cars. And no one's making the engines any faster than they were.
With each day of the strike, that gap in the line is getting bigger.
The truth is, the strike is already having an effect on every struck show. The effect is delayed, but it is irrevocable. TV staffs work flat out. There's no slack to take up. It's not like a plane you can fly faster to account for a late take-off. If you lose a day, you're behind a day for the rest of the season. (Okay, you can go from an 8 day schedule to a 6 day schedule, and you can do a bottle show or a clip show, but then you're just writing and shooting substandard episodes.)
Think reruns will help? Not in the long run. TV schedules already plan for reruns. But while you only lose, say, 10% of the audience the first time you rerun an episode, how about the second time you rerun it? The 10% figure comes from the audience not knowing a rerun is coming up. What happens when the audience decides "that show is nothing but reruns all the time?" They just stop watching, period.
If I were a shareholder, I'd be pretty irritated at the networks for pretending not to understand this.
I recently got some very interesting notes from a reader. They made me think about the difference between the good notes I get from readers, and the kind of notes I give.
Reader notes are all about the experience of the movie: this character is hateful. This character is adorable. This scene is talky. I find this character confusing. Reader notes can't be "wrong," because they're telling you how they experienced the read. (Reader suggestions on how to fix things are usually wrong, but notes on how they felt reading the script are true from their perspective.) And they're crucial, because no one can have a fresh perspective on their own work; and you're not writing the thing for yourself, you're writing it for millions of viewers.
But there's another kind of notes.
When I give notes, or when I get notes from a writer who's good at giving notes (which not all are), they are all about the mechanics of the story. I usually look at the elements of the story, which are, as you will recall:
a. a character we care about; b. who has an opportunity, problem or goal; c. who faces obstacles and/or an antagonist. d. If he or she succeeds, he or she wins something he didn't have before (stakes); but e. he or she is risking losing something precious to him or her (jeopardy).
The vast majority of stories that fail, fail along these lines. It's not that the characters are not well thought out; it's that their opportunity is not compelling, or their obstacles aren't big enough, or he's not in enough danger, and so on.
I also look at whether the character is actively pursuing his goal, or the solution to his problem. A novel character can be reactive, a screen hero has to become pro-active by no later than the end of the second act, but ideally as soon as the situation is set up.
I look at whether the story is external or internal. Internal stories don't work well on screen. I sometimes find myself asking for a character that the hero can talk to (an "interlocutor" for want of a better word), but better than having the hero talk about his internal story is finding a graphic, visual thing that he can be doing that tells us what he is feeling.
I look at whether the writer has developed the theme enough. I was recently pitched a story about a woman who is afraid of who discovers that her husband is a . I liked how the theme of fearing the was magnified by her horrific discover; that's what made the story into a movie story instead of a short story.
I look at pacing. Can we set up the elements of the story sooner? Can we put the hero in more danger soon? Can we put a clock on the action?
I'm also looking to reduce the numbers of characters. Can we get rid of so-and-so? Could these two characters be merged?
I'm often looking at who the point of view character is. Recently I suggested changing the movie's point of view from one character to another, and that seemed to work rather well.
On a scene level, my notes often involve sharpening and clarifying the turns of the story. If a character is going to have two realizations, it's often clearer to make those two scenes; you don't want the story trying to do too much at once. If a character is going to change his mind, we often want to make it clear exactly when he changes his mind -- to "make it a moment," even if many things have built up to that mind-changing moment, and other things reinforce it later.
Sometimes it's a matter of taking an event or a scene and moving it sooner, or later, or trimming it out. Move a single scene, and everything may fall into place.
All of these notes are really about the mechanics of the story: how the engine of the story works. It's the difference between a driver saying that the car tends to fishtail, and the engineer saying the center of mass of the car is too far forward.
These are the kinds of notes I most like to get because they make the fix easier. If you think the problem is that the car fishtails, your "reader" response is to drive the car more slowly around corners. Your "writer" response is to move the center of mass, or to throw on a spoiler to push the rear of the car down onto the road. Then your story corners nicely at high speed.
(Can you tell I'm a Mustang fan?)
All reader feedback is useful. Intelligent, thoughtful reader feedback is invaluable. But what really floats my boat is great writer feedback. In my medieval horror comedy, John Rogers pointed out where I could have some secondary characters brutally killed about 20 pages sooner; that made the jeopardy visceral much sooner, revving the pacing up. I had not made the antagonists villainous enough (it's my liberal upbringing, I know); he suggested a way to keep their essential characterization the same while making them scarier.
I think a big part of becoming a crafty writer is learning to think in terms of the mechanics of the story, rather than merely the "structure." " Structure is a static word, but a story is a thing in motion. And, structure has become a term of art to describe the chronology of the story. But a story is not only its chronology. It is how the elements of the story work in sync with each other.
Take a look at whatever you're working on. Try to see what's going on under the hood. That's where the real improvements lie.
I sent my spec pilot to a prodco as a writing sample. They want a bible including pilot synopsis, character profiles, and future episode ideas. Is this expected or should I be paid?
Great that you've got interest in your series. If you've gone to the trouble of writing a spec pilot, then writing a 6 page bible with a synopsis, character descriptions and springboards ought to be the work of an evening. In which case I wouldn't insist on getting paid first. If they want to see another script you ought to get paid to write that, and at that point, they ought to option the pilot and the bible as well.
I'm not in the WGC, don't have an agent.... what should I do?
At the point where someone wants to option your material, or hire you to write something, then it ought to be a snap to get an agent. (Canadian agents are listed on the WGC website.) All they have to do is negotiate the option terms, and they're attached to your series forever more. That's a no brainer for them. Just don't sign anything before an agent looks at it.
Next Wednesday, the 28th, the WGC and SARTEC (the French writer's guild) are sponsoring a demonstration in support of the Writer's Guild of America strike for fair pay. This is part of the International Day of Solidarity where writers in Australia, Ireland, South Africa, Britain, and other places, are all showing their support for fair pay for screenwriters in the wired future.
We will gather at 10:30 am in front of the SARTEC offices at 1229 rue Panel East (between René Lévesque and Ste.-Catherine. The demo will run till noon.
This is a rally in support of the WGA -- not a picket. I'll be there, and so will most of the Montreal writer crowd, I hope.
All are welcome -- friends, family, aspiring and emerging screenwriters and filmmakers. So dress warmly and come meet the gang. Come say hi, come say "Hey Hey Ho Ho, Management Can't Write the Show!" ... just come.
Oh, and the WGGB's getting in on it too:
British writers and trade unionists will hold a public demonstration on Wednesday 28 November 2007 in support of the American screenwriters’ strike [...] at 12 noon outside the Trades Union Congress HQ in central London. [...] Official Writers Guild of America T-shirts and placards will be distributed to participants in the demo. The event will be filmed and we hope that a video compilation covering demos in Britain, Ireland, Australia, Canada and other countries will be added to the many strike-related clips on YouTube.
WGGB General Secretary Bernie Corbett said: “Guild members and other supporters are urged to come to the TUC in Great Russell Street (near Tottenham Court Road tube station and the British Museum) at 12 noon sharp on Wednesday to make this a convincing demonstration of support.
I know some of y'all are reading the site through the feed. I don't recommend actually reading the posts that way. I often have further thoughts over the course of a day, and expand the post or clarify it. Please just use the feed to find out there's a new post.
We watched DAS LEBEN DER ANDEREN, the Oscar winner that beat out EL LABERINTO DE FAUNO (PAN'S LABYRINTH) for the foreign language Oscar last year. Ulrich Mühe manages to be beautifully expressive in his minimalism as the secret policeman who is losing his belief in the system; Sebastian Koch is lovely as the Party approved writer whose rival is a powerful government minister.
It's interesting to watch as the meticulous Stasi guy sets up his surveillance, how much it plays like an American police procedural. Except now we're not rooting for the cop. We're worried about the guy being surveilled.
In these times where we hear so much about people who want to blow us up, it's worth remembering that it is not so nice to live in a state where the police are all-knowing, either. And it's worth watching how the very measures the State takes to protect itself against a group of people radicalizes those people and turns neutrals and even supporters into enemies.
But politics aside: a beautiful story beautifully told.
A teeny tiny post because I know 60% of you are hoping the turkey is not too dry. (Unless you went for it, and fried the thing. In which case it's yummy, and you're hoping you don't drop dead before you can get the cholesterol out of your system.) For those of us in Canada: hope you've already got your snow tires on. Yeesh. Where's global warming when you need it?
Q. I've sent a company my tv series pitch. They're asking to see a few pages. Do you think they are really interested or is this just a standard request before ultimate rejection?
No, if they were uninterested they wouldn't ask to see pages. They'd say TBNT.
They want to know if you can write. No one asks to read a stranger's stuff just out of politeness. Show people just aren't that polite.
I'm doing some research for a book and I'm wondering if there is a screenwriting term for those scenes where everyone is happy and things are going well, but somewhere else something bad is happening to a character that everyone cares about? For example - recently on Brothers & Sisters the entire family was celebrating and dancing but in the corner of the frame you see someone answering the telephone. You see a look of fear and dread come over this person's face.
There's no term for the scene. If you rack focus from the foreground to the background, well, that's a rack focus. If everything's in focus, then it's deep focus.
I'd call it "ironic counterpoint." But I'll ask my blog readers.
What do you do when you have a great idea for a tv show, based on a column you wrote for a NY alt weekly? I've sent a few e-mails to agents but have little faith in that approach. I've also got a friend at NBC who says they'll give it a read. Sent them a two page treatment, char descrips, and a summary of about 8 episodes, but now what the hell do I do?
Write the pilot.
Sometimes producers will buy a story or other underlying rights, but it's usually something they tripped over themselves. If you want to make a TV show out of your column, then do it. Write a spec pilot. Adaptation isn't easy. You may see the TV show in your own column, but asking other people to do so may be a bridge too far. You'll have to adapt it for them.
Ideas aren't cheap, but a TV idea isn't just a hook. It's the essence of the TV show. It's very hard to sell just a hook. You have to sell them something that embodies the essence of a TV show.
A company that is interested in one of my pitches is now interested in another one of them. But if I send them both, wouldn't that in effect pair one submission off against another?
It's better to spread your projects around, all other things being equal. You might try to see which project the producer is really serious about, and pull the other one.
But bear in mind any producer has ten projects on the go, so your projects are only tangentially competing against each other; mostly they're competing with the producer's other projects. Sure, he may like one of your things better than the other; but more often he'll like one thing better for one source of financing, and the other, better for another source of financing. The producer will be sending your projects around to execs at the various channels and networks and studios; they usually won't all like the same projects. I currently have two projects at one production company. One is more of a CBC project; the other is more of a Showcase project. So they're not crowding each other out.
If the only interest you have on two projects is from one producer, it's better to get them into his hands than have them sit on your shelf. Right?
Periodically my parents ask me to solve problems on their Windows computers. It's a job I hate with a passion because (a) I don't use Windows (b) it's a lousy, buggy, insecure operating system (which is why (a)).
Right now I'm trying to help a friend of my parents install iTunes on her new Windows Vista laptop. Wow, is it slow. Like, 15 minutes to reboot slow. (If it were fast, I wouldn't have time to write this post.) A brand new computer shouldn't be this horribly slow on any OS. (It's a Sony Viao.)
It's come to this: for Chrismukkah, I'm buying my dad a Mac.
Q. I've queried a Canadian producer with a MOW script. He's interested in the concept but tells me his funding requires Canadian writers do the work.
Is there a way to deal with this short of becoming an iceroad trucker? Get a Canadian agent? Aquire some sort of work visa? Accept the fact that hockey is here to stay? What?
Have you finished the script? Or is it just a treatment at this point?
If it's a story idea, he can buy the idea from you, then hire a Canadian writer to write it. You can negotiate some sort of producer credit (Exec Producer, Associate Producer) and payment in lieu of getting to write it. Not great if the whole point was you writing it, of course.
If it's a script, you're out of luck, unless you want to immigrate to Canada, which seems extreme for the sake of one producer's interest. (Though it is an excellent thing to do for any number of other reasons.)
There's generally no point in querying Canadian producers if you're American. It's a protected market.
You can query Canadian producers if you are European, because they can do a Euro-Canadian co-production. Though it makes more sense to query producers in your own country, who can then contact a Canadian co-producer.
Of course, if you're American, you're really out of luck at the moment -- you can't query American producers, either, until the strike is over!
Q. If the writer is American, doesn't a Canadian director, actor(s), dir. of photography, composer, set designer, etc. culminate in enough points for the company to qualify the production as Canadian content (Cancon)
Yes, for CAVCO, which is the 15% production subsidy that can be combined with a provincial subsidy for about 25% of the budget. No for a producer who's just planning on getting the other 75% of his budget from Telefilm.
Yesterday I wore my spiffy new strike shirt (that a friend at the Guild was kind enough to send me) to meet my editor, y'know, 'cause that's what the cool kids are wearing these days. And I was standing on the platform at 42nd Street when, wouldn't you know it, the head writer for THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS came up to me to let me know that the story about his writers crossing the picket line was wrong. (Real story: a non-writing producer who once wrote something and stayed for the healthcare crossed the picket line.)
"We're solid," he said.
I was thrilled.
I'm also glad to hear that the AMPTP has agreed to start talking again ... in a week. I'm a little frustrated that the WGAe is not striking again till Tuesday -- the two days they take off are the two days I'm in New York! So you won't get a report from the picket lines. Unless, God forbid, they're still at it around Christmas.
Here's a strategy thought for the WGA strike committee: if you can get one studio to sign a fair deal with you, the others will be forced to sign the same deal or lose market share (and they hate that).
I read that a number of Teamster trucks won't cross the WGA pickets. That impacts production immediately. Some UPS trucks, too. But the WGA pickets aren't in place 24/7, so stuff still gets through.
On the other hand, it's hard for three thousand picketers to completely cover all the studios and networks.
But what if the WGA picked one network for an all-out effort to picket them? Pick whatever network seems most likely to cave. The one that, say, has the most reality shows, because they have less to lose from paying writers fairly, and the most to lose if production is shut down. (If your scripted shows are already shut down, picketing won't bother you. If you were planning to air lots of reality shows while the other networks were dark, a production shut-down is really irritating.)
Or, figure out which network or studio seems most likely to listen to reason. Shut them down.
It's not like the studios care for each other's well-being. They can't support each other during the strike, because of anti-trust. So each is on its own.
If you can get one to cave and sign, then you can move on to the next. Who's going to want to be the studio with no product while everyone else is working merrily away?
The strike committee has done a great job of getting the word out in media-friendly ways, with Take Your Kid to Strike Day and Picketing with the Stars. Now we have to convince the stockholders that greedy negotiating is costing more than it's worth.
You can now buy your very own WGA strike swag! All profits go to the strike fund. I think this is a much more effective way to support the strike than not watching TV (unless you are actually a Nielsen family, in which case, please TiVo everything and wait at least 3 days).
Stylistically I prefer the awesome WGAw On Strike shirt you get for actually picketing, which I'll post a picture of as soon as I can find my dad's digital camera. This one seems a little off message? But I'm sure the schwag site will have more fun stuff. They just ran out of the "No Justice. No scripts" wrist bands but I'm sure there'll be more soon.
My general impression of the past few weeks is that it took actually going out on strike for people to have enough time and attention to start crafting the writers' message. But hey. It took Pearl Harbor to get the US focused on beating the fascists. And then we built 100,000 airplanes.
Québec AM interviewed me about the strike a couple days ago: why the writers are striking, how long before the strike has an effect, and how it will affect us up in Canada. You can listen to the stream. I start in at 1:28.
No, seriously. If writers can have one, why not painters and sculptors?
No, you can't have scale payments for paintings (by the square foot? per hour? per bottle of vodka consumed?). But here's some things worth fighting for:
a. a health plan b. a code of conduct for galleries -- no charging artists for "expenses," no "handshake deals," clarity that your paintings can't be locked up in court when your gallery goes bankrupt. c. a royalty to the artist every time their work resold -- if auction houses can scoop 35% of the sales price as commission between buyer and seller, surely there could be 5% to Jasper Johns when a painting he sold in 1955 for $500 goes for millions.
Lisa made the interesting point yesterday that the two groups that most need unions are people doing jobs that nobody wants, and people doing jobs that everybody wants. Writers and actors, because we'd do it for free if we had to; and grape pickers and coal miners, because the kinds of people willing to go down into a hole in the ground already have their backs up against a wall, and can't afford to lose their jobs.
Yes, we're lucky to have our jobs. That's why we need this strike to succeed. Because once you let the studio's rollbacks go through, the slope gets oh so slippery...