Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Honesty as a Selling Tool?

David Marlett has been blogging over at with some great articles on film financing. This week he touches on something that's the opposite of what you'd think would be a selling point in a pitch meeting: honesty.

Marlett actually considers honesty to be a key ingredient of the sales pitch. (Doesn't honesty in sales sound like a kind of oxymoron itself?)

His attitude in terms of laying out the possible return on investment scenarios for investors reminds me that "people don't want to be sold to...they want to buy." Investors don't want to be hustled or fast-talked. They know if it sounds too good to be true it is. If I had a dollar for every producer I met who said that the movie they were developing was going to snag an A-list actor, an Oscar winning director and make a boatload of cash, well I'd have nearly enough money to start shooting the crazy Bollywood movie.

We're so hardwired to sell, sell, sell it's useful to reflect on how much we stand out by acknowledging that we don't have all the answers. We lift ourselves out of the pack by simply confessing that the final fade out of a movie's run might not be all of its investors sipping champagne on private islands from the movie's theatrical and DVD sales earnings.

But hey, not too much reality. We're in the dream business... We have to pull off the balancing act that requires us exciting a prospective investor at the same time as we (ironically) build his or her confidence by acknowledging we could come up short.

Check out the post here if you're producerly inclined.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Festival Bound...And Missing Tribeca

So while everyone else is descending on New York for the Tribeca Film Festival, the hubby and I are in LA for the Indian Film Festival of LA.

I find it amazing that I have always for one reason or another missed out on Tribeca...(Okay, maybe not all that amazing...I was out of New York for the first three years of the festival.)

The New York Times' preview of the festival makes me determined to catch at least some of it when I get back. "Still Walking", "Departures" and "In the Loop" are top of my list...if I can score tickets.

We'll see.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Someone's Always the Villain. Mostly It's a Thing Called Time.

Last October, I got into a little tiff with our co-producer on the documentary. Frustration at the rigors of financing a project can sometimes cause you to sharpen your knives and point them at the people closest to you. I'm going through this now with the co-producer on the crazy Bollywood project but having already seen the disease before at least I know why it's happening and not to act on it.

When we have so much waiting to do, it's tempting to blame others for why things are taking so long. Throw in distance, different time zones, missed communications (both of the companies we're producing with are based outside of the US) and it's a dangerous cocktail. Especially when you've got so much waiting to do.

Anyway, today I got an e-mail from the same co-producer...a propos of nothing, just saying how much he's been thinking about the documentary, how much he wants to make the film and how sorry he is that it's taking such a long time. It was a sweet e-mail though I immediately felt guilty because I felt like it was coming because of that slightly hysterical place I was in last October when I was sick of the project going nowhere.

I e-mailed him back, essentially telling worries. We'll get it done. We'll make this movie. It's just a matter of time.

How have I become so zen in a matter of six months? I am learning the value of persistence and to think not in weeks or months but years. The other thing that allows me to be so sanguine is having so many other projects on the table. Yes, I know. Some days it's overwhelming and I complain about it here, but it's also grounding and allows you to maintain perspective. Documentary going nowhere? Well this manager wants to read problem child screenplay. Stuck in the middle of new rom com? There's a new financing lead on the crazy Bollywood project. There's a whole board in play, not just a tiny corner.

When I'd just finished undergrad and was working for an eccentric, very successful Third World filmmaker, I learned the story of the making of his famous film. Despite all the accolades it eventually received, the part that stuck with me was the fact that it took nine years to get it made. Nine years! That would always stop me, because I felt I'd picked the wrong path. I was like one of those young quaking apprentices who's looking for the door in the "you kids aren't tough enough scene", because I figured I didn't have that kind of tenacity. Nine years of knocking on doors, raising money, hustling, trying to get folks to say way! It seemed like such an utter waste.

What I didn't realize then was that it wasn't nine years of waking up every day and pushing the one movie. You do other projects, make other money, do TV, teach writing, chase other dreams in between and suddenly you look up and the years have passed. It's not nearly so daunting when you're in it.

But the other point is, that to stick at something for nine years, you must love it, very very much. I try not to dwell on the fact that I wasted like almost a year on a project that I ultimately abandoned. When I look back on it, I just don't think I was ever passionate enough about the concept. There's got to be something special about a project to get you fired up, to keep you coming back to it: an itch you have to scratch. And of course, if you're not in love with your project, you're not going to get any one else to fall in love with it and go on the crazy journey with you.

And there is something a little crazy about pushing the boulder up the hill for so long. Your friends are in awe that you can still be writing something that you wrote two years ago. Still be finding money for something that you already started shooting. Sometimes they ask "How's your documentary?" and you want to report on it like a kid. "She's two years old now. Potty training. Making full sentences. Going to music class."

But that's ridiculous. For one, there's often no news...just that you're waiting on something to happen... until of course something does happen. There's no fix for it, all that waiting. And sometimes even your champions, the ones who fall in love with your project, just need to be certain that you're in it for the long haul. That you won't break their hearts. And the only way to show them that is to do the "time."

Photo by John-Morgan

Monday, April 20, 2009

Don't Mind Me. I'm Perendinating.

I sign up for "Word of the Day." Mostly it's a cause of inbox clutter and a hindrance to my Inbox Zero campaign but occasionally it throws up a gem I want to slavishly start using.

Today's word is "perendinate", which means to put off till the day after tomorrow.

Or like Mark Twain said in a great dialogue reversal, "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow."

Why procrastinate when you can perendinate?

You can thank me later.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What's That Whooshing Sound? Oh Right, Contest Deadlines.

This is the year that contest deadlines are just whizzing by me. At this rate I think I may only do Austin because I really want to go to check out the festival, and it would be nice to go as a second rounder or finalist. Plus it's got one of the later deadlines.

But each other contest I had in my cross hairs (yes, even the Nicholl) I'm abandoning as the due date approaches. I'm finding I just don't have the time to do the intended polish of "problem child" script in the midst of trying to get crazy movie musical made.

As recently as last year I'd have been getting my "submission" on with Withoutabox, checking my meager writing budget for how many contests I was going to enter, memorizing notification dates so I could anxiously check my e-mail around said date. Not this year. This year I'm knee-deep in a business plan. I am, however, not filled with that much remorse, though I am struck occasionally by the irony that it is a contest that gave crazy Bollywood movie musical whatever traction it has.

Pulsing through my brain is this from Scott @ Go Into the Story:
Students ask me all the time about screenplay competitions. Apart from the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, unless you really need something like that to motivate you to write, I don't recommend them. In part because some of them... are of spurious value. But the bigger thing is there is a much better screenplay competition that really pays off: It's called Hollywood! Write a great script and win that sucker!
And the thing is, about winning "Hollywood", you don't even have to write a great script. I mean it helps, but overall the project just has to be marketable and appealing to a sizable enough audience (this is where writing the good script helps) to make a bunch of important people say yes.

Oh my God, do I sound like a producer or what? Maybe next month the writer in me will fight back when I finally finish the draft of the little "doesn't fall neatly into any box" movie I want to direct.

Photo by angst

Monday, April 13, 2009

Will I Ever Write Like A Writer Again?

I'm freaked out. We're currently writing a budget for the crazy Bollywood musical and I'm being forced to think like a producer. Can we afford this montage? How can I do this scene differently? Does this character need to be in the scene?

Pretty much, I will never write another EXT.- EXPENSIVE PLACE- NIGHT slug line again without thinking "how are we going to light this?"

I wonder if this happens to all writer/producers? I was meeting with a fellow producer recently and saying how I've always operated as a writer, thinking story, character, visual and then all of a sudden you sit down as the producer, look at a bunch of breakdowns or schedules and you take out your red pen and you're slashing scenes.

The producer then asked me if I'd ever thought of selling the script...a question that's come up before and I was totally passionate that the material needed to be handled right and that's why I was in it for the long haul. It was a great shot in the arm (being forced to defend the decision) because I was reminded of why I need to be doing the tedious, slightly schizophrenic work I'm doing right now. It is too easy for someone else to create something inauthentic about Third World Girl's culture, and you know how I feel about authenticity.

So I've put aside thoughts of being rescued by big moneybags studio...for now at any rate. I'm learning as much about producing as I can and secretly looking forward to the next script I want to write that I do want to sell and be done with it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Every Draft Is A First Draft

I took a short story workshop once with a hard nosed, no B.S., "but what does that mean!" type of writer. He was great and had an impatience for my overblown language that I'd never experienced anywhere else, that ultimately did me a world of good. He taught story, story, story.

But one thing he said has stuck with me for a long time, primarily because I don't understand what he meant. At our first workshop session, I prefaced what I was about to read with a "this is a first draft" disclaimer.

The short story workshop leader enigmatically replied, "Aren't they all?"


I've never known anyone else to think like this. I thought we'd agreed that "writing is rewriting", which would mean that the more drafts we do, in theory the better the work gets? Nothing should be like a first draft as we reshape and polish...crack story problems, refine character, get a firmer sense of theme.

But every time I finish a rewrite I sense what he meant. You try to fix problems but in the immediate aftermath of the FADE OUT, you don't really have much perspective. Face it, you can come up with dumb ideas/fixes anywhere in the process.

I'll never wholly agree with him that all drafts are first drafts, but I'll say that I have learned you need to give yourself permission to make a mess and get it wrong regardless of what number draft it is.

Photo by mpclemens

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chicklet's Words of Wisdom on Movies and Jello

The Chicklet has become obsessed with movies. I guess it's natural. It's what she hears us talking about all the time. The latest thing is she'll take a blank sheet of paper and draw tons of faces all over it, characters..."boy with curly-wurly hair", "baby with cold sneezing", "woman with hat and earrings", "man with glasses". When you ask her what she's doing, she'll say. I'm making a movie. (And it does look like some crazy detailed storyboarding, seriously.)

Anyway, the other day after dinner as she was sitting at the table, done messing with her mac & cheese and I asked her if she wanted some jello.

She looked me dead in the eye and said, "First I make a movie. Then I eat jello."

In that instant, I felt like the Chicklet was telling me, focus on what you've got to do: polish the script, make the calls, research the tax incentives, co-production deals, talent search...then engage in the time wasting, web surfing, day dreaming, film festival fantasies... i.e. the jello.

First I make a movie. Then I eat jello.
I want to put it on a T-shirt.
I want to live by it.

Photo by gifrancis

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Predictable Dialogue: Examining the Dialogue Reversal

I've been getting several sets of notes on the Crazy Bollywood script before I send it off to the co-producer whose readers will also run it through the mill before we go out to talent. For the most part, the feedback lines up and the coverage is pretty good...but the other day I got a note about dialogue. The reader didn't think it was bad but thought I could work it harder in terms of dialogue reversals.

My first instinct was to bristle... even if I hadn't a clue what the heck a dialogue reversal was.

I know about reversal "reversals". They're the bread and butter of any scene, the action that turns a story in an unforeseen opposite direction, but I never thought about how the same's true for dialogue...never considered how a lot of laughs we earn as writers are really about surprises in how dialogue's constructed. I went back through the script and the reader had a point. I confess to being so focused on working structure and tone that I'd missed the opportunity to punch up the dialogue.

At any rate, now I've become obsessed with studying quotes for the dialogue reversal and trying to apply it to my own writing. Here are a few of my favorites. Study exactly where the reversal happens in each line and then go write some memorable, A-list attracting dialogue for your characters.

"Marge, it takes two to lie. One to lie and one to listen."
Homer Simpson

"You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take."
Wayne Gretzky

"Actually, it only takes one drink to get me loaded. Trouble is, I can't remember if it's the thirteenth or fourteenth."
George Burns

"I want a man who's kind and understanding. Is that too much to ask of a millionaire?"
Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Happy reversing!

Photo by Zevotron