Thursday, March 29, 2012

Networking your way to Hollywood from an office cubicle

Sometimes you need some inspiration to keep plugging as a writer - and this week saw two online examples of people "just doing it". Of talent rising to the surface. And how taking some small but important leaps of faith can pay off.

First, the story of this guy: James Erwin was writing software manuals in an office in Iowa when he commented on a random question on Reddit. The question was, "Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?” James, a military history geek in his spare time, wrote a six paragraph response with a hypothetical example of a U.S. military unit in Afghanistan finding itself transported back to Ancient Rome.

Within three hours, a film producer had contacted him, intrigued by his concept and his tight writing style. Within weeks, he had been offered a deal to write a movie based on his Reddit posts. James has now taken a leave of absence from his job to become a full-time Hollywood screenwriter. And all because of some (previously unusable) military history knowledge, some ingenuity and some genuine writing talent.

Then, Persephone Vandegrift's success on the Stage32 site (which I highly recommend). Persephone commented on another writer's historical film project - again, out of genuine shared interest - and this led to an online conversation with the project's producer, which eventually led to her being hired to write a historical miniseries on World War Two. This is particularly impressive because she did not have experience of writing for TV, but the two writing samples she sent on convinced the production company that she had the required skills.

Both of these writers were proactive, took risks and followed their passion. Reading their stories certainly gave me a kick in the pants - I can see that I need to take more chances and get my work in front of more eyes, even highly critical ones. Producers aren't telepathic and will not know about my great scripts unless I put them out there. Time to take a leap...

Thursday, March 22, 2012

May the writing frenzy begin...

I’m gearing up to take part in Script Frenzy next month. In case you haven’t heard of it, the Frenzy is all about signing up to write 100 pages of script in 30 days. This is similar to the challenge each November where people try to write a novel (or more likely, a novella) in a month.

Now, clearly with something like this there’s gonna be a bit of brain-dumping. The script you write in 30 days will be a rough first draft, or if it’s a big rewrite, an intermediary draft. I like the Frenzy idea because I have a big problem with thinking, not writing, and a challenge like this forces me to switch my brain off and just get stuff down on the page. As a wise person once said, you can fix stuff that’s written down, not stuff that’s only in your head. Or words to that effect.

That having been said, there’s no reason why you can’t plan properly for your brain vomit. Starting off with an outline will not only help you to write your script, but will make the end result a lot less unwieldy. I haven’t worked out every single scene for the script I’m planning to write, Last Girl Standing, but I know enough to keep me on track and prevent roadblocks.

Also, be realistic. You will find it tough to hit 100 pages in a month unless you’re writing regularly. So if you’re going on holiday for a week during Script Frenzy or planning a lot of socializing next month, this time around might not be for you. Ideally try and do it evenly – crank out 3-4 pages a day, every day.

Use the guilt factor to your advantage – paste your daily results on the Frenzy’s website. This will keep you accountable and hopefully keep you on target. I’ll be doing this and posting links on Facebook just to prove that I haven’t chickened out (I’m being really hopeful here). Give it a go – what have you got to lose?

In other news, there are 12 days left until our Fundit campaign for Tiger is over and we still have €1,030 to raise. Check out the trailer here if you have a few bucks and fancy having your name in some movie credits…


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

No loan shark required - my guide to funding your short film

A rough cut for my short film Tiger is due this week – post-production is well and truly underway! We’re still in the process of fundraising to pay for post-production (see our trailer page here). But I thought I’d open up about funding the movie in general to give pointers to any wannabe short-filmmakers out there.

I touched on this in a post a while back, but there are five main conduits to cash when you want to make a shortie:

The first, and the most commonly mentioned, is public funding (IFB, Filmbase etc). This can work if you aim for a deadline, have a director and producer on board and are prepared to jump through some hoops (you’ll probably have to do an interview – or even several interviews - with the funding body and talk about your vision for the script). The bad news – it’s a very competitive process with a lot of other writers, directors and producers looking for a piece of the same pie. And if you’ve missed all the deadlines, like we did, it can mean a long wait until the next one.

Second – approaching a production company with the script and hoping they have the cash (or can access cash) to make it. I probably didn’t explore this option as much as I could have. This was partly because I met the director of Tiger at a film festival last November and the project started building momentum pretty fast. By the time we were seeking funds, the project had kind of developed past the point of involving a production company. However, this is still a solid option and I’d advise anyone else to go down this route initially. Not only will you get a lot of expertise on board really quickly, but the production company will take care of things like putting the film into festivals etc which saves you, the writer, a lot of hassle. On the other hand, if you’re a control freak and prefer to be steering your own car, it’s time for option three

Fundraising (or crowdsourcing) the necessary funds yourself. I’m not a fan of this option but it’s the stony road I’ve chosen, given my laziness about options one and two. So here’s what we’ve done so far to raise funds for Tiger: held a table quiz, threw a networking party for filmmakers and now the aforementioned Fundit page. The quiz and the party raised half of the production budget and the director and myself added the other half ourselves. We may get this money back if we manage to sell the film to a distributor, or we may never see it again. But hey, the script is my baby and babies must be fed. We’ve currently raised nearly a third of the post-production budget on Fundit and I have hopes that we’ll hit our target by the cut-off date.

I’m not going to lie: fundraising is time-consuming and tough. But it’s a lot less tough than…

Option four – seeking corporate sponsors. So far, we’ve had some success getting companies to sponsor quiz prizes but no luck getting them to fund the movie, or even part of it. However, the optimist in me believes that this is still possible, and I’ve no doubt that someone out there has a film “Brought to you by Coca Cola” or similar. If you have had joy with this option, let me know! Maybe I can learn something!

Option five is grim – you pay for the WHOLE THING YOURSELF. Probably on a credit card, or with a credit union loan. Don’t go to a loan shark, you’ll end up with a short movie and two broken legs. Either way, your kids will be hearing about your film because you’ll still be paying off the loan that paid for it.

An unofficial option six is sending a rough cut to a distribution sales company and seeing if they will buy your short film just on the basis of that footage. I know a couple of people who’ve done this, although I’m unclear exactly when money gets handed over (Is it once you’ve signed a deal? When the film is completed?). Regardless, you’ll have to put some money up front just to get the film to a rough cut point, and this makes it a “speculate to accumulate” kind of situation. I’ll report back once we’ve finished Tiger and approached a couple of distributors.

That’s my ten cents on funding your film – if you have any other shorts-funding ideas, post them below!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dreams don't have deadlines. Or do they?

I may be a bit late discussing them, but this year’s Oscars gave me mixed emotions. There was the feeling of “What the hell?” when Meryl Streep stiffed Viola Davis for Best Actress. There were yawns when The Artist won an award – again. Bliss whenever Jean Dujardin opened his mouth and unleashed The Accent. There was disbelief when Billy Crystal debuted his new face (What was he thinking? What was his surgeon thinking??)

And there was joy, because after all, it’s the Oscars. When most people are at a yoga class and they’re asked to go to their happy place, some people will be thinking of a gorgeous beach and some people will be thinking of a hot man and a jar of peanut butter, but I’m thinking of my Oscar win. Yes, I’ve even decided what designer I want to be wearing (Armani).

And you might laugh and call it New Age mumbo jumbo, but when I come home from work and all I want to do is watch obese people being forced to run around a stately home (The Biggest Loser), that Oscar vision is what makes me walk up to the study to do some work instead. Because it’s the Oscars. All the people I’ve watched since I was little on the big screen are there, and I want to be there too, damn it! So as long as the vision forces me to stick to my dream, I’ll continue to visualise holding that heavy little gold statue.

On another note, I’ve always been the kind of person who uses deadlines to generate adrenaline. When I had a college essay due, it wouldn’t go in until the last possible moment. I used to tell myself that I produced my best work under pressure. But hey, I got a 2.1. Maybe if I’d gotten stuff in earlier, it would have been a First – I’ll never know.

This question has come up again now in relation to script competitions. Some people believe – and they may be right – that readers get mean and jaded as the deadline grows nearer and that you’re better off getting your scripts in early. On the other hand, I’ve always been paranoid that if I send my stuff in way ahead of time, I’ll keep spotting things I should have tweaked or fixed.

Any thoughts on this? Have you worked as a reader and is it true, are they creating piles of screenplays and setting fire to them by the time the Final Deadline passes? Or are all scripts treated equally?

Either way, my plan this year is to reach a compromise and get my scripts in early. But only two weeks early – I have my last-minute habit to maintain!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Oscars - from script to screen


I saw the rough-cut trailer for my short film Tiger last night - the first time I've ever seen a trailer for something I've written!

It was a strange feeling, watching it. What I now realise is that any time you see something you've written on a screen, it will look different in every way to how you imagined. Not in a bad way, just different. Like a little seed you planted has turned into a tree, but not the tree  that was on the packet.

The final trailer will be up on our Fundit site tomorrow so do check it out!

The other thing I watched this week was, of course, the Oscars. I like to do bets on the Best Actor and Actress but the only two awards I'm really watching for are the two screenplay ones - in particular the Original Screenplay category. (Note: spoilers to follow, in the unlikely event that you haven't watched Bridesmaids, The Artist or Midnight in Paris. In which case, where have you been, under a rock? Get down to a video store now and rent 'em!)

Bridesmaids was a very funny script that they made into an even funnier film - it was great to see it get a nod.  I read a 2009 draft of the script shortly before I saw the film and it was interesting to see what got cut and added in the meantime. For example, the bit at the end where Annie and her nemesis go in search of the missing bride. In the original script all five bridesmaids went along for the ride, defeating a nasty, sexist trucker on the way.

Was it better than the final version? It certainly would have given Melissa McCarthy and the other two girls a bit more to do - and would have made the film a bit more "Bridesmaids" and a bit less "The Bridesmaid". That said, I did love Kristen Wiig intentionally breaking the law in a brilliant montage sequence so maybe the best version won...

The Artist is a film - and a script - that's really made me think about screenwriting in a different way. Namely, do we need all that dialogue! We know that George Valentin's career is going down while Peppy Miller's is on the rise simply from a scene where he walks down a flight of stairs just as she ascends them. No words are necessary.

Even apart from screen direction, The Artist uses props really effectively - I'm thinking here of George's vanity painting, which appears at several moments during the film and always in a very different context. The scene where he discovers it at the end in Peppy's house under a sheet is one of the most chilling moments I've seen in a movie - because at that particular moment that painting represents the end! George has totally failed - and the painting is there to prove it.

Lastly, out of the scripts I've read, is Midnight in Paris, the winner on the night. It's Woody Allen's best script since Annie Hall, in my opinion. It has all his trademarks - a love letter to a city, a befuddled hero with a love dilemma , and an underlying Big Question - in this case, modern life versus nostalgia. Was the past ever as good as we imagine, and should we try to live there?

I've seen the movie twice, and I'd watch it five more times. It's that rare thing - a script that makes you think and entertains you and a film that is a perfect interpretation of that script. I may be biased, cos I'm a Woody Allen fan, but I think the best man won. That said, when I win an Oscar I'll show up - the jazz club can wait for one night...