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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Oh, and here's another thought about listening. Listen to the marketplace. There's a crucial difference in DREAMS ON SPEC between Dave, the guy who succeeds, and Joe and Deborah, who fail.

Dave is listening to the marketplace. His script is a low budget slasher movie with a twist. It's about a masked slasher à la Freddy or Jason, who invites a documentary crew to film his upcoming career.

Complications ensue.

Dave has taken a well-known genre -- low budget slasher movies -- and added a post-modern twist. That's listening to the market.

Also, he takes insults well. The director chops off 20 pages? He sucks it up. The director grabs a co-write credit? He sucks it up. (A better contract would have helped him there.) And then Dave, realizing that his $25,000 fee for the picture isn't going to catapult him onto the list of Studio Approved Writers, doesn't give up his day job. Which is a day job as an assistant at an agency.

Smart boy, Dave.

Meanwhile, Joe's a guy who mortgaged his house to produce and direct his own script, starring himself. It hasn't got distribution.

That's not listening to the market. If no one wants to buy your script, and no one wants to direct or star in it, it's pretty arrogant to assume that if you direct and star in it, they'll want the finished film.

There are always stories about people who spend their own money to break into Hollywood. Hollywood loves those stories. You have to assume that for every Robert Rodriguez who raises $7,000 to make his own feature, there are 100 guys who maxed out their credit cards and didn't get a deal. There are exceptions to every rule, but the rule is still there: Other People's Money, baby. Do not spend your own money on your script. If you can't find anyone willing to put money in it, it may not be that good a script.

Deborah, at least, has the right idea there. She's trying to raise money for her to direct her film. But again: not listening. Has she had one of her screenplays produced? No. Is anyone hankering to buy her script? Not that I noticed. So why does she think her project becomes more interesting if she's directing it? Has she directed before? No.

Climb the mountain one step at a time. Don't try to pole vault. You don't even want to direct your first script. You want to become a really good screenwriter, so that then when you get to direct one, at least you know your script is good. If you direct your first script you'll be cursing your screenwriter the whole way.

Make your mistakes one job description at a time.

Deborah's level of self-delusion is almost as big as Joe's. She's got two months in the bank. So what's her plan? Get funding for her movie in two months. Are you kidding? It takes 6-12 months to finance a picture when all goes well. As a CE she ought to know that. And she thinks she's going to get Oscar-winner Adrien Brody to star in a movie directed by an unknown?

She's not listening to the market. She's listening to her hopes and dreams.

I got out of film school with a degree as a filmmaker, not as a writer. But It isn't until this year that I've dared attach myself to one of my scripts. I was working too hard just getting my pictures made at all. Now that my name's on a hit comedy, I feel comfortable attaching myself to my own low budget romantic comedy. But I also shot a short film (using grant money!) so people can have a comfort level with my directing. (And I can tell you some of the mistakes I made on the short, too.)

Climb the mountain one step at a time. Sure, from time to time, you may find a hidden escalator; be ready to take your shot whenever it comes. But if you come to a chasm, don't assume that you have miraculously been granted the ability to fly. If everyone is telling you, "don't go that way," maybe they know something.

This is hard advice to give, because there's nothing we all love as much as stories about people who held out against all the good advice. Sylvester Stallone, broke, turned down $100,000 for his script ROCKY, which he was insisting in starring in. He'd never had a starring role. He'd had roles like "Youth in Park" and "Mafioso" and he'd starred in some pornos. He held out, and the rest is stardom.

They don't tell you about the guys who were offered $100,000 and turned it down and that was it, that was their break, and they blew it.

They also don't tell you about the people who were probably telling Sly, "This is a freaking awesome script, man! And it's perfect for you! This is your shot! Don't let anyone else take it!!"

They don't tell you, because it's not a good story, about how most people put their careers together, little break by little break. The first script I rewrote for money, I was offered $1000. I have no regrets about taking that gig, even if they did stiff me for the last $200. I'm always asking my agent: is this a good project for me? Are these good people to work with?

Film is a collaborative medium. The writer has to collaborate with the director and the actor and the money. You can't collaborate unless you know how to listen.

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And thus we have another example in the pulp screenwriting game:

-Write hard.
-Get produced.
-Learn all the lessons that getting produced teaches you.

-Rinse and repeat.

By Blogger Cunningham, at 5:13 PM  

Amen, again.

By Blogger Fun Joel, at 9:18 PM  

So what you're saying is that I SHOULDN'T be holding out for Steven Spielberg to direct and for me to star and get 5% of the gross of my spec??? I wish you told me that before!

Good advice, though.

By Blogger Unknown, at 1:45 PM  

I think Robert Rodriguez's story is actually really useful to aspiring filmmakers, but people always draw the wrong lesson from it.

Before he did EL MARIACHI, Rodriguez had directed dozens (maybe even hundreds) of zero-budget shorts, starting off when he was a kid using his dad's video camera. Then he made a short with a bit of a budget on film, and got it into a bunch of festivals.

So by the time he did EL MARIACHI, he had a huge amount of experience using the camera to tell a story--plus, thanks to his short film's success in festivals, he had some external confirmation that he actually had some talent.

So the lesson to draw from his story is not (as some people seem to think) "Jump right in and spend your own money on a feature, and you'll launch your career!" Instead, it's "Spend a lot of time making damn sure you know what you're doing before you stake all your money on making a movie."

(Which is basically what you're saying. I'm just saying that Rodriguez's story actually supports your argument, rather than being a counter-example.)

-Jacob S.W.

By Blogger Jacob Sager Weinstein, at 7:01 AM  

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