Monday, September 30, 2013
Q. I am an emerging writer-director in Central Europe. I have an American-style script I would like to direct. How do I go about getting a US agent?
It's always going to be hard to get a US agent if you are not in the US. Theoretically it could all be done with a PDF of the script, a Vimeo of your director's reel, and Skype. But agents like to sit down with you and see how congenial you are as a person, which is an important part of being able to sell you.
I think to get an agent if you don't live in LA, your best bet is to try to hook up with agents at a festival at which you have a film playing. American agents come to some overseas festivals (Cannes, Milan). If you can get something into SXSW, or Tribeca, or Toronto, or Newport Beach, you can probably meet some agents there.
You're always going to be better off meeting an agent when you have a story: your film is in competition, your film won an award, your film is in theatres. (I went to TIFF when BON COP / BAD COP was still in theatres. That was a good TIFF.) Because they need a story to sell you
Saturday, September 28, 2013
Q. Do you plan on attending the American Film Market in Santa Monica in November and do you recommend it to other young writers and filmmakers?
Film markets, as distinct from festivals, are generally not for writers or filmmakers. They are for producers to sell their product to distributors. Sometimes producers bring filmmakers along as decoration for a project they're trying to finance, but filmmakers have no real serious reason to be at a market.
The last time I went to the AFM, I was working for a producer, and we were selling our movies to distributors. There were no directors there who were not also producers.
Friday, September 27, 2013
Q. I have a producer interested in my script. I want to direct. I've directed a few short films.
The film could be made for $10-20M as it's a commercial style high budget film. The producer agrees.
But he is a not a big fish either. He's got one film greenlit, but no producer credits.
He has sent me an Option Purchase Agreement for $1. Purchase price is $50k + 5% of producer's share of proceeds and another $50k for the directing. Would you say that's reasonable for an unknown author + first time directing?
He doesn't want to sign a directing agreement yet; he says that a simple paragraph in the option is enough.
The thing he has mentioned though, is that he would bring an experienced co-director on board - what I'm worried about is that once he does that, he'll just kick me out.
There are a number of things wrong with this situation. One, nobody is going to fund a debut feature for $10M except in exceptional circumstances. E.g., you are an award-winning director of commercials with hundreds of well-known spots under your belt; or, your father is Francis Coppola; or, Tom Cruise is in love with you and is willing to appear in the picture. A $10M film requires bankable stars. The agents of these bankable stars will resist putting them in a movie with an unproven director. Distributors will also resist making financial commitments on a movie directed by an unproven director.
Normally a feature debut is more like a million-dollar budget, though it can vary from much less to a bit more.
Hence, the "experienced co-director." There are very few "co-directors" in the world, and they are usually brothers. The producer intends to tell everyone that the "experienced co-director" will do the real directing. At some point they'll make a deal with you to buy you out so they don't have to give you a directing credit, because an "experienced co-director" isn't going to want to share credit with you after he's done all the actual directing.
A producer who has one picture "greenlit" but no credits ... that's not very convincing. How do you know the film is actually greenlit? How do you know if the producer is the prime mover in the picture, or is just one of many producers?
A $1 option is not very good, obviously. It means the producer does not have any money to spare, and/or does not have that much faith in your project. He's willing to throw it out there and see if anyone's interested, but he's not willing to invest money in it. However, I wouldn't rule out a $1 option. A feature debut is always a difficult proposition for the producer. Assuming you really believe the producer has the clout and enthusiasm to get the picture made, a $1 option could conceivably be worth agreeing to. However, option renewals should not be free. If he hasn't advanced the project after 12 months, he should either have to pay some money (even $500) or return it to you.
$50K is a reasonable purchase price for a script by a non-union writer, and $50K is a decent salary for a first time director, but neither are par for a $10M movie. There should normally be some sort of escalator. For the script you should get 2%-4% of budget on the first day of principal photography, split with the other credited writers. (Plus the 5% of Producer's Net, assuming there is any.)
The producer is correct that you don't need a full directing contract, just a Right of First Refusal to direct in the option agreement. However, the ROFR can't be subject to this or that (e.g. "subject to approval by the investors"). It has to be an absolute ROFR, or it won't mean anything. (I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice.)
You also want a ROFR to do at least the first paid rewrite, at union rates. Or whatever rate you're willing to rewrite for. The producer will ask you to rewrite endlessly for free, on the grounds that hey, it's a feature debut. You might decide that's worth doing, IF the producer is for real and your directing is for real, and you have faith in the producer's notes. But when a producer pays for a rewrite, he's really going to focus on giving you the best notes possible, whereas when he doesn't, he might try out half-baked ideas on you, because it doesn't cost him anything.
(I don't advocate rewriting for free when you're only the screenwriter, unless you're just starting out. Some feature screenwriters live off rewrites of their own optioned work.)
The key question: have you shown this script around to other people If you've shown it around and no one else is interested, you might take this deal. If you haven't shown it around, you might shop it a bit more and see what the interest level is elsewhere.
It's tough when you get enthusiasm from someone but no money. Sometimes you have to take these crappy deals if they're the best on offer. But don't be in a hurry to lock up your project for a buck unless you really believe this guy is gung-ho on putting you in the director's chair -- which he's already told you he's not.
Also, consider putting this project aside for a third feature, and go write something that can be made for a million bucks. A million dollar budget script with a great hook and great execution, from a director with some short films people dig, is a very plausible proposition for producers and distribs.
Sunday, September 22, 2013
I watched most of SEX AND THE CITY, and I marveled how those girls screwed up one relationship after another, some of them with pretty decent men. (Aidan, for example.) I asked Lisa about it, and she said that, for a woman, part of the fantasy is that, if you had Aidan, you wouldn't push him away.
So I'm watching Season One of GAME OF THRONES, finally. The first time through I couldn't bear watching it because it was too obvious from episode 1 or 2 that poor Ned was an idiot who was going to pay the price for being honorable in the wrong situation. Weirdly, now that I have seen enough spoilers to know how Season One ends, I find it much easier to watch. But I'm enjoying it in the same was as one might watch S&TC: boy, if I were Ned, I could manage things better.
I don't think we only watch because we identify with the hero. I think we watch because we separate ourselves from the hero. We think, "I may be a romantic idiot sometimes, but I would at least wait to see if Juliet is really for sure dead before stabbing myself." Or, "No, you old fool, keep your kingdom and let your daughters have it when you're dead." Or (my favorite): "Now that the witches have said you are destined to become king, avoid becoming king as long as possible: you cannot die until you do!"
You watch BREAKING BAD, as somebody said, to get to say, "Walter, no!" and "Jesse, think!"
When you write a script, don't just track the characters' emotions. Track also the audience's emotions. Make sure they get to have some fun ones. Fun emotions may be exciting negative ones or reassuring positive ones, or both in the same piece, but make sure they get to have'em.
Friday, September 20, 2013
Q. I'm applying to a TV fellowship. I specced a and just received a request for a spec pilot.
I have a traditional sitcom in the same tone. Or I could spend the weekend writing up an edgy family drama idea I have, similar in tone to the ? Is the genre too different than what they might be expecting?
You really have two questions. One, should I go with the polished script, or the unpolished script I suspect will be better.
The other is, should I go edgy or trad?
For a fellowship, edgy. They want to find a diamond in the rough, not a really nice polished piece of coal. Showing that you can take risks and execute on them is more important than showing you can nail down every last joke.
If you were applying for a job on a trad sitcom, they might be more concerned about whether you can nail down jokes.
For the "how do I spend my weekend?" question, it's easy: spend the weekend writing up the new idea. Then see if it seems better than what you've got polished. Sometimes you can bang something out fast that's better than something you took more time on, just because it's a better idea. Of course, most of the time, it won't be.
Always send you your most impressive, freshest writing. Most people reading you have read a lot of polished stuff. Send something that can stand out -- but stand out for fulfilling its promise. A half-executed good idea is no better than a well-executed weak idea.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Well, the 7th Annual Writer Mafia Party at TIFF was a success. I left around midnight, but my spies tell me there was still quite a crowd there at one in the morning.
Parties at TIFF are strange. Theoretically they are showbiz industry parties. But when I go, there are an awful lot of people I've never seen before -- and whom my friends have never seen before. I guess they are in the great Canadian marketing industry. Which is fair, since TIFF is a promotional event.
So, we instituted the Writer Mafia Party, where we don't buy your drinks or offer you free food, but you'll probably know a lot of people. I think it's one of the most fun events at the festival.
(I have tried over the years to take pictures of the WMP. It is really hard to take a picture of a party that looks like anything!)
Tonight I'm premiering a new short, WINTER GARDEN, at the Elgin. It's part of the Stage to Screen
program, celebrating the Elgin's 100th anniversary -- it's the oldest continually functioning theatre from the vaudeville epoch in North America. There are six of us emerging directors, each with a film shot entirely at the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatres. Everything from a post-apocalyptic folktale to a silent film in black and white, to the death of John Dillinger to... my little supernatural tale.
My other 2013 short, ROLE PLAY, premieres at the Vancouver International Film Festival
on October 2.
Come to the Elgin tonight, if you're around. Should be a good program.