Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Few Updates

A big part of this blog, for me, is being honest with you guys about the ups and downs I've encountered trying to break into this business and on that note, I have a few updates for you on a couple projects.

First, the good news:

The music video for White and Crazy Kids is coming along. We're continually revising the treatment but have a pretty good concept down. Also, big news, music video producer Dan Figur of New Dog Media has signed on to produce the vid. Dan has produced music videos for Angels and Airwaves and I'm happy to have him on board the project.

The not-bad-news-but-not-good-news:

We had a conference call with our Glory Days producer yesterday. We had the script at one of the big five agencies, as mentioned before, for a piece of talent. A couple weeks ago, the producer pulled the exclusivity of it to take it to his agent at the biggest agency in Hollywood. We've been waiting to hear from him and we finally did. His agent didn't really go for it. I guess it's a particular kind of humor. Now, this is not a terrible set back, however had he loved it, the road would have been much easier traveled, and for that reason, it's disappointing.

So, it didn't make for an exciting day, and because of that, it did not make for a great day. But the important lesson here is that the script is in no way dead. Our next step is to another agency, and we still have the first one excited about it. (I apologize for not naming these agencies, I have absolutely no interest in burning any bridges.) It only takes one person, like our producer, to get things start moving. Also, if there comes a time when your project is packaged, or you've sold another script, the agent who previously dismissed your screenplay will no doubt disavow all knowledge of it, claim to have never read it, and request it be promptly sent over.

And I've just received word that an agent at yet ANOTHER agency was sent it last night and is excited to read it. So, the script is getting around, but the producers intention is to package it and get this made and honestly that may take some time.

Since you can't wait around for the phone to ring on the ONE script you've written, as our producer says, "it's important to keep writing, writing, writing!" Which we are. Travis is on vacation (he rarely gets one) and I'm working on carding out the story. When he gets back, I'll have to move into production on the music video, at which point he will start development on the low-budget idea we've been flirting with. Once the video is done shooting, we'll return to our current script and begin writing. Hopefully, using history as our guide, we'll have a first draft 10 days later.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How I Got Started - Part 5

After the disappointment that was Summer's End, I spent my freshmen year at Fordham University doing everything but making movies. In high school, I led a pretty conservative life, never drank, never smoked (except cigars) never really partied, got wasted or just went out and had fun.

So, that's what I did. I started playing ice hockey down at Chelsea Piers and found myself going head to head with Tim Robbins; I hung out at bars like Lincoln Park and Blarney Stone, drinking excessively; I would walk around the city, getting lost and exploring NYC; I got into photography; all in all, I did a lot of things that had nothing to do with filmmaking.

However, as my freshman year was coming to a close, I had enjoyed the break but knew that it was time to get back into it. I wanted to make a short...an actual short...and I still not quite a writer (I'm not sure I would even say I'm totally a writer now) I thought that maybe adapting a short story would be a good way to go. I was a BIG fan of Vonnegut at the time (and still am), so I thought maybe I would adapt the short story "Long Walk to Forever" from his Welcome to the Monkey House anthology. It was a fairly small story that would focus on the relationship between two characters.

Still thinking this short would be a potentially great thing, I contacted Vonnegut's lawyer to ask for the right to adapt the story for a short film, hopefully for nothing. His lawyer actually got back to me, but told me that unfortunately, they could not give away the rights. Not having any money to buy them, I was now without a story.

But I still loved the idea, I saw this couple on a farm somewhere, it would take place at sunset, and look just gorgeous on camera. So, I came up with my own story that would use the same elements from Vonnegut's story, but would be completely original, and so, A Soldier's Farewell, perhaps one of the most beautiful and unfinished films I've ever done, was born. (I don't know why I don't finish these things, although I guess I have my reasons, which you'll see below.)

I wrote several drafts of the script when I arrived home from my first year of college and teamed up with Cordy Wagner (now the head of Fifth Column Media) to produce the flick. I met Cordy through my college counselor (who recommended I go to Fordham because Cordy had gone there). A year older, we saw each other often at Fordham, until Cordy transferred to NYU halfway through my freshman year. But, we both respected each other as filmmakers, and I, as I always do, wanted to bring someone on to handle all the logistical stuff.

We shot for five days in Eastern Washington, on an old farm, with a budget of $5,000. The BIGGEST mistake we made on A Soldier's Farwell was shooting on the XL-1s. Even though it still looks great, there is something about the video that doesn't jive well with the historical setting and takes you out of it.

I didn't finish the film. I essentially didn't have the money to finish it. We got it to a point where all we really needed was sound design and a score but I just couldn't afford it and what starting to move on to other projects. It's a bit of a shame, I really do wish I had a finished version of it (I did complete a shorter version of the film, which I submitted to Project Greenlight, and will try and find to post up here, it was essentially the first scene).

I spent the first semester of sophomore year editing A Soldier's Farewell. As the film began to languish, I started working on what would become my next short 12:01.

Shot in a weekend in April, I had a lot of firsts on this project. It was my first time working with the Mini-35 adapter, the first time working with my go to DP Paul Niccolls, first time working with a professional sound designer, and somewhat depressingly, the first film I completed since high school.

You can see the complete film on my website in the film section of the portfolio. Originally, with both the script and the first cut, the scenes were suppose to be out of order (a la 21 Grams). I changed it, and put it in order based on the advice of someone who saw it, and I will admit now that it was a mistake. I think it makes it less interesting, and completely changes the audiences perception of the movie. I wanted to make you think something and then have it turn out to be the opposite of what you believe. I think it would have been a much better movie had I done that.

Having been steadily building my portfolio and working on a variety of different projects, I was now about to start on the next one, which to date has been my most successful: The Beautiful Lie.

To be continued...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Where celebrities dish -- relaxed, uncensored -- for hours

There's a great article over at LATimes about Kevin Pollack's internet interview series. You can check out the article here and see the interview series at kevinpollackschatshow.com.

I had no idea this was out there until I saw the article in the Times. I would definitely check it out.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

3Questions: Scott Weinger - TV Writer/Actor

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Scott Weinger, a television writer and actor.

HBAD: So, tell us about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, what does that position involve?

SW: My name is Scott Weinger and I'm an actor and a writer. For the past few years I've focused primarily on writing for television. I've written sitcoms and one-hours, most recently this year for the dearly departed CW dramedy "Privileged," a great show I was proud to be a part of. Writing is generally thought of as a lonely craft, but writing for television is another story. TV writers work together in conference rooms, coming up with ideas, breaking stories, writing jokes, and making each other laugh. It's a fantastic process, and when it's your turn to write a script, you go off with your notes and get to do some real writing, pacing around your office the way everybody imagines it to be.

HBAD: How did you get your start?

SW: I became an actor sometime before my tenth birthday. I lived in Hollywood, Florida, which couldn't be further away from Hollywood, California. Acting was an after-school hobby that turned into a profession thanks to a series of happy accidents, but also the support of my parents, who recognized that acting was something I was passionate about and who agreed to take me to auditions after school, even travel with me to New York or California if something came up. After working steadily in Los Angeles for several years, I left the business to go to college. When I returned to LA, I continued to do some acting but I became more and more focused on pursuing a career as a writer. I was determined to learn how television writing worked and start from the ground floor so I wouldn't be perceived as an actor who thought it would be amusing to dabble in writing. I went to work as an assistant to a very successful television director, helping him out on several comedy pilots, bringing him coffee, the usual assistant drudgery. But from that job I learned the process of making a TV show from a perspective I never saw as an actor, and I met a great group of people who gave me my first crack at a TV sitcom episode and my first look at a writing room, and I was hooked.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to become a television writer?

SW: The best advice I can offer to someone interested in writing is to get started right away, don't wait. Start writing now, because it takes a while to really learn how to do it. Get in any door you can, work your way up. You'd be shocked if you knew how many successful people started their careers by bringing someone coffee or photocopying scripts. Meet as many people as you can, work hard, and your break will come in ways you never could have anticipated.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Big Ups to the Female Directors

There's a great article on Kathryn Bigelow in the NYTimes. What I respect about her is that she doesn't make crappy romcoms. She makes movies for guys. (Not that making romcoms means you deserve less respect, I just think it's cool that she directs badass action movies.)

I've heard great things about The Hurt Locker and can't wait to see it.

Check out the article here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Music Video: New Project

So, three months ago, my younger brother Luke and his friend Randall (names have not been changed) starting recording rap songs while they were drunk -- yada, yada, yada -- and as of last Friday they have a record contract with Universal. Don't ask me how, I have no idea. They're releasing an album in September and their first single should be released in August.

The awesome part about all of this is that they're shooting a music video. Guess who gets to direct it. Yep!

But the really cool thing about this is that they've got a decent budget (which means this is not a run and gun production) and a distribution outlet (which means you can see it somewhere OTHER than my site) and I'm going to bring the news, info, and behind-the-scenes to you as I produce this awesome music video for White and Crazy Kids! (applause! applause!)

You'll get to read, see, hear and watch everything that goes into it, from conceptualizing, writing the treatment, pre-production, production, post and release. I'll try and keep you as updated as possible (thought it may come in weekly batches).

Right now, we're slated to shoot the weekend of July 17,18,19. We may have an extra day. We're not sure. Our goal is to make this a huge, funny, enjoyable video that does not look like all the crap other first timers put out.

As of today, I've begun looking for a music video producer to come on board and help me out. I just can't do it all on my own. I don't have the contacts, the experience, or the hookups to produce a video with this size budget (I'll let you know what it is when I do...it's enough) and want to bring someone on to handle all the shit so I can worry about directing. The other advantage is that existing producers often have relationships with crew members, rental houses, and can often help save you money even if you're paying them to do so. I should hopefully have someone by tomorrow, Wednesday at the latest.

Next up, I have to write the treatment so we know what we're doing. As there isn't a lot of info out there on the process of making a music video, writing a music video treatment, and so forth, I'll try and provide what materials I can, as examples, though somethings may have to wait until the video is completed.

So, keep checking back for updates. I'll be sure to have another one this week...

Monday, June 22, 2009

How I Got Started - Part 4

I had a pretty good run in high school. The ASB films had made me at BHS, and there was, as I’d like to imagine in some kind of cocky way (that will soon be cut down), a hope from those who knew me that they may, someday, be watching a film I directed at the local multiplex. And after two years of making films that can really only be fully appreciated by the students sitting in the bleachers of Bellevue High, I was determined to make something that could be.

Thus, Summer’s End, perhaps one of the worst movies I’ve ever made, was born. It didn’t start out being awful and the movie itself isn’t terrible. It’s fairly technically proficient. I mean, I’ll brag that the cinematography is very, very good. It’s failure is story. After having my head get bigger and bigger over the past three years, even with the disappointment of Star Wars, I thought that I could do anything. I can’t even recall what the story was based on (though I think Shakespeare was involved) but it started off as collaboration between several of my friends. I was really into Magnolia at the time (Paul Thomas Anderson’s influence drips from the screen when you watch it) and thought that we could do four different stories that are related somehow. But in the end, we found that our fourth story, based on the song There Is by Box Car Racer, was the most compelling, so we decided to make that the A story and then created the other stories as B and C stories to fill in the rest.

I wrote the script, which was probably the first mistake. I was not a very good writer at the time and I honestly viewed writing as the least interesting part of filmmaking. I did not spend the time on the script that I should have. Which is often the problem of student films. Everyone wants to direct, they want to be on set, they want to be shooting the film, which was exactly how I felt at the time. The writing of the script was getting in the way.

The other problem with the film was that it wasn’t a short and it wasn’t a feature. The script hovered around 45 pages and the finished film actually crapped out at a full hour. But I got the script done and we moved into production.

This film was essentially shot using a three-man crew and sometimes only a two-man crew: the producer Chris, the cinematographer Adam, and me. Adam also had to work a day job, so he sometimes wasn’t there, hence the two-man crew. Despite that, there was a real arrogance on my part that we were making a “film”. Even though we shot on a GL-1, I always insisted on having the mattebox on the camera (even though it served no purpose) and having the camera hooked up to monitors (even though I was operating). I did not pay as much attention to the actors as I should have (since, arguably, I was doing everything else) and as such, the performances suffered. I was also working with ¾ of the cast who had never really acted before. (I am not complaining about them. I think they did a pretty good job considering that I didn't do a very good one as their director, something I worked hard at to change later on.)

All the while, I have this picture in my head of this being the greatest film ever made, of me standing at Sundance, of this being my break out. Meanwhile, I was, in reality, making a movie that was weak in perhaps everything but the look. I was too cocky and arrogant to realize it.

Now, I really have to say, that in the majority of cases (unless you are just a really, really terrible filmmaker) a good story will always trump technical proficiency. That alone does not make a movie. You know it. There are plenty of movies out there that cost millions of dollars to make, that have the most advanced special effects and cameras and some of the best talent in Hollywood behind them, that are, to some degree, unwatchable.

Then, there are movies like Once. If you haven’t seen Once, you need to. It was shot on digital cameras in, honestly, not a very great way. The cinematography on it just isn’t that amazing. It works for the movie though. But what really sells you is the story. That is a great example of what Summer’s End isn’t.

Here’s a few tidbits of info on the production:

- The film was in production for 3 weeks during the summer of ’02.
- Thanks to a friend of mine, we were able to shoot in two different show apartments in complexes owned by the friend’s friend.
- At one point, while shooting a scene near the Univeristy of Washington, a couple of drunk kids walked off with our camera, only to have their girlfriend later return it.
- The rain shot at the end of the trailer (and film) flooded the interior of the show apartment around the windows. We spent a couple hours that night holding our film lights over the rug trying to dry it out and going crazy in the process.
- We had a number of shots we were going to do in the winter, when I came back after my first semester in college. We never shot them.

What really hurts this film and story is that it’s so self-indulgent on my part. It really is. But in the end, I have to say, that despite it being the failure that it was, I learned a lot from it. The following summer, we all came back to it, and I had a lot of people saying, “We can save it, we can do something with it.” But I just lacked the interest in the project. I knew it wasn’t very good and my response was that “I got out of it all that I could.” There was nothing else for me to take away from it.

So, the film was left pretty much unfinished, and remains to this day. However, people, at the time, really seemed to like the trailer, which you can now watch below:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

3Questions: Glenn Meehan - TV Producer

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Glenn Meehan, a television producer and co-owner of UR-MEE Entertainment.

HBAD: So, tell us about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, what does that position involve?

GM: My name is Glenn Meehan and basically, what I do, is come up with ideas for TV shows. I run a production company, UR-MEE Entertainment with Michael Urie (Marc on Ugly Betty). Together, we are constantly looking for new projects, personalities, and ideas. My background is in news. So, I wake up each day and read five newspapers (three of them online) and I go to several websites looking for new ideas, trends, personalities. There are a lot of people out there all looking for the next big thing. You have to be first.

You need to be taking the pulse of America everyday. I go to the bookstore once a week to see what’s on display, what people are buying, etc. I have a sales person at my local Barnes and Noble who I’ve befriended. She loves to tell me the new “hot” book of the week. One of the best bosses I’ve ever had, Roger Ailes, the brain behind Fox News, would ask me, “What is America talking about today?” I hear his voice every morning as I comb through the newspapers. Say all you want about Roger’s politics (disclosure: I’m a liberal) but he made Fox News number one.

You have to come up with several new ideas a week and hope one of them will sell. You have to believe in each project and personality. I had two mentors in this business, Chet Collier and Jack Reilly. Chet discovered Regis, Merv Griffin and Jack was my first boss at Entertainment Tonight. Both of them taught me that TV is all about personalities. Concepts come and go, but without a personality attached, you really don't have a show. ET is a great concept, but can you imagine the show without Mary Hart?

Michael and I have many personalities in development. You never know when you might hear about someone. I went to hear Obama speak at the First AME church in Los Angeles. He talked about his "good friend" Hill Harper and his books. I knew Hill as an actor but didn't realize that he had a book out. On the way home, I went to the bookstore and purchased Letters to a Young Brother. I was talking to his manager the next day. Hill is a "bigger than life" personality. He speaks to a whole lot of kids out there that feel like no one is listening them or no one cares. I believe that this man should be on TV everyday with his own talk show. If I didn't go to hear Obama speak, I would have never of known about Hill's books.

I have fun everyday. I am so blessed to have met so many great people. I am fascinated by them. I don't need to have a "focus group" to tell me what is good and what isn't. I listen to my gut. I remember where I came from. Too often Hollywood forgets about the rest of the country and creates TV for themselves. That is why we fail so often.

HBAD: How did you get your start?

GM: I went to the best possible college I could, Emerson College in Boston. Emerson is an incredible place. I still use the skills that the professors taught me in TV classes. Emerson has an incredible group of Alumni. After I graduated, I came to LA to visit relatives. I had a list of Alumns and called them. One of the people on the list was Director Jeff Goldstein. He was the top TV director doing Game Shows. He was working on Dream House, a game for NBC. I went to visit him, during lunch, and the production coordinator, Heidi Cain, asked me if I wanted a job. I said yes. I was working there the next week.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to become a television producer?

GM: 1) Always trust your gut. Take risks. If you are going to play it safe in Hollywood, you'll get nowhere. We all fail. I've have had my share of shows get canceled. I don't look at any of them as a bad experience. I met some wonderful people and I learned a lot. Often you learn more from your failures than your successes.

2) It's all about relationships. Remember everyone! Stay in touch with people. Be there when they need you, they'll be there when you need them. With email, there is no excuse for not touching base with someone. If you read in the trades that someone you know got a new job or sold a script, make sure that you are there congratulating them!

3) Be nice to the assistants. I am amazed how some people treat assistants in this town. They decide whether your phone message goes on top of the pile or in the waste can. I have known so many assistants who are now agents, producers, etc. It is so nice when they tell me how nice I was to them when they were working for someone else.

4) READ READ READ. Newspapers are folding. It is so sad. This is the only way to figure out what tomorrow's trend is going to be. Pick up magazines. Read them on line. Read the trades...you need to know what is going on at all times. You don't want to be out pitching a show the day that MTV announces the same thing. You'll have egg on your face. Knowledge is power.

5) We have to remember that are our work influences a lot of people. We have to accept responsibility for what we put on air. I still feel that we have the power to change lives... make sure all of your work doesn't make fun or hurt anyone. You can do TV that makes a difference.

6) Have fun. Too often we take ourselves in Hollywood too seriously. We are not out to find a cure for cancer. If the staff and crew is having a good time, that usually translates to the viewers. Remember, it's only TV.

7) Always say "nice to see you" when you greet someone, even if you feel you've never met. I was walking into a meeting at Disney and I said to the person I was meeting, "Nice to meet you." He said, "Oh, we've met before, you interviewed me for a talk show but you didn't hire me." I don't remember the rest of the meeting.

8) Dress nicely for a meeting. There is no such thing as over dressing. I am amazed how many people come to job interviews look like they just came from a play date at the local park.

9) EMAIL AND FACEBOOK. I interviewed a girl for a pilot that I was doing at PBS. She was very nice. I looked at her resume after she left and I read her email address... it was "sassypants.” Needless to say, I didn't hire her. I couldn't turn that resume over to the heads of PBS. Emails are free. Get a work email and a "sassypants" type address for your friends. I google everyone that I am thinking of hiring. I just want to know about them. The stuff that I often see on Facebook and Myspace sometimes is a little over the top. Look, I’m no angel, but remember, everyone can now peak into your world.

10) Pass it on... Jeff Goldstein gave me my start. I will forever be grateful to him. I once said to him, "How can I thank you?" He replied, "Just do the same thing for someone out of college...give them their first job. That is how you can repay me."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Music Video: Robert Wilson "Gonna Make It"

I just finished post on my new music video for Robert Wilson's fantastic (and timely) song "Gonna Make It". Robert is a singer/songwriter from Vancouver that I met through a friend several years ago.

I always wanted to do a video for him. I heard him play a live version of "Gonna Make It", where he looped the beat, background vocals, etc. It was pretty awesome and I loved the song. He FINALLY got around to recording a studio version of it and it's very different - more jazzy - but I like it. (It would have been awesome to shoot the video in New Orleans but the budget, $0, nipped that in the bud pretty quick.)

So, I was laying around one day, thinking of what to do next. I had a trip planned to Seattle towards the end of April and thought, hell, maybe Robert will come down to Seattle and we could shoot a video. I know a guy who might lend us the RED and we could just shoot him walking around the city.

The initial idea was to have the video be a bit of a love story to a city, see Robert walking through the city, saying hi to people, etc, just a general movement video. We had no money, and one day to shoot, so doing more would have been tough.

I pitched it to him and he loved the idea of doing a video. So we agreed to meet up in Seattle and just do it. When I arrived I got a call from the friend with the RED. He got a paying gig and couldn't lend me the camera. Damn. Half the reason I thought of shooting this video was to just play around on the RED. So, I asked him if knew anybody who owned the HVX, since then I could at least shoot this on HD. He did and passed along the info.

That guy couldn't do it, cause he had a shoot that day. So, he gives me the number of a friend. THAT guy can't do it, he's got a shoot that day. I can't tell you how many people I went through trying to get an HVX. Of course, I was borrowing it, and had no money, so it's slightly understandable. What I don't buy is the lying. There is absolutely no way 10 different people had a shoot with their HVX on a Thursday.

I was a little pissed and irritated that nobody was willing to let me borrow a camera but considering I wasn't paying anything, it's somewhat understandable, as I said before. But come on, help a brother out. I always pay you back in some way if I can. And it was for one day. I would've given you a credit card...okay, rant -- over.

Fortunately, I had a backup. The trusty good ol' XL2. My friend Arthur, who use to be a part of my company, still had his sitting in storage somewhere and let me borrow it. I always knew I could use the XL2 but I just really didn't want to. Anyway, that problem was averted. But then, the night before, I'm laying in bed, thinking about the video, and I'm a little worried because I'm basically winging it. And then I get an idea for what the concept could be, that thing which just makes it. I won't tell you what it is though so as not to ruin the video for you.

The next day, I went out, met up with Robert, and we walked around Seattle shooting. Just me and the camera. We found this really cool location in Post Alley for the performance. It looked like a stage with all the public/street art on the walls.

I'm actually really happy with it. I think it came together really nicely, the black and white looks great, and I'm really hoping the video spreads since the message is so pertinent to to what is going on around us. Spread the word people!

Here it is:

And now that you've seen it, I can talk a little about the idea. I just hope that this, in some small way, impacts people. I think the notion of hope is an extremely important part of what makes us human, what defines us in this world, this idea that things can and will get better and that we have the power to make that happen.

I told Robert he should start an organization called "Spread the Hope!" and figure out a way to help somehow. I don't know if he took me up on it. But the song is just so timely and I would like your help spreading this video and the message to as many people as you can. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What Does a Showrunner's Assistant Do?

There's a fascinating First Person article over at John August's site on what it's like to be a showrunner's assistant. I've reposted this below for you all. Unfortunately, this isn't a 3Questions interview, but everything is pretty much covered. Below is John's lead in and the first person account:

In addition to a name that sounds like a children’s book hero, Jonny Sommers has a job many readers want — or at least, think they want: the assistant to a successful and busy TV showrunner.

I met him through Larry Andries, who is also writer/showrunner (but not Jonny’s boss). It was at a birthday party at a speakeasy in Koreatown, complete with a password at the door. So don’t forget that mixing and mingling is a crucial part of the industry.

When I found out what Jonny did, I asked him to write a first-person account for the blog. And here it is.

My name is Jonny Sommers and I’m a 25-year old nascent screenwriter. I’ve been living in Los Angeles for a little over three years. For the past year and a half, I’ve been employed as a showrunner’s assistant on a network hour drama show.

The job is akin to any other assistant gig in Hollywood. Difference is, your boss is running a corporation called a “TV show” and it employs hundreds of people. It’s the showrunner’s job to run the corporation smoothly, to make the best television possible. It’s your job make sure your boss can do their job well. This means:

  • managing their schedule
  • rolling calls (keeping a thorough call log and forwarding any calls to their cell)
  • setting up travel
  • coordinating their day
  • making sure they are where they need to be and are as informed as possible
  • reading scripts and writing coverage (providing a story synopsis and comments)
  • taking notes on calls
  • getting coffee
  • getting gas for their car
  • sending gifts
  • setting up dinners
  • getting that salad from that one place they love
  • listening to them vent their frustrations
  • being a gatekeeper and sometimes, their confidant.

There’s a large learning curve to the job. When I was new, I made more than my fair share of mistakes.

You cannot forget that word “assistant” in your title. Though you have access to every aspect of your boss’ life, you’re not an executive. Your thoughts, your feelings, and your opinions aren’t particularly important. Maybe one day your boss and you will forge some professional relationship and you’ll become more than an assistant. Until then, be quiet, listen, and make sure your boss looks good.

Your boss can ask you anything at any time and they don’t want to wait for an answer. Maybe it’s the name of an actor’s agent, or the shooting start time, or casting director’s cell number. You need to have all of this information ready.

The job requires long hours. You could be there late into the night. If you’re a clock-watcher, you’re doomed. I don’t mind the long hours because each moment is a chance to learn. It’s not that I have to stay until 2 AM because they’re still shooting, it’s that I get to stay.

Being flexible means your life plans take second place to the job. You will disappoint people because you will often have to blow off the 7:30 movie you planned or explain to your significant other that you’re working late, again.

Gatekeeping and Trust

With the hundreds of people associated with a network show, your boss is a wanted person. Everybody wants a piece of his or her time. Whatever issue they want to talk about, to that person, it’s the most important thing in the world.

It is your job to prioritize their day and protect their time so they can deal with more pressing matters. You’ll need to have a solid working knowledge of Hollywood and its players. Beyond knowing the names of cast, crew and executives on the show, you need to know who’s currently important in Hollywood. Is that person who just left word (industry term for leaving a message) a big movie producer or some no-name agent making unsolicited calls?

The relationship between showrunner and assistant requires trust. Since you are listening in on many of their calls, you’ll have experience with how the entertainment industry works. This also means that you’re privy to very confidential information. Subsequently, people on the show will try to buddy up with you to glean information.

A few years back, a young woman, brand new to Hollywood, somehow landed an assistant position at a major agency. At the end of her first week, she sent her hometown friends a breathlessly gushy e-mail about all the important people she’s met, and the juicy conversations she’s overheard. Unfortunately, she accidentally sent the e-mail to her the entire agency. She was fired on the spot.

The Good

For any open showrunner assistant gig, there might be 200+ applicants. It is the job that most assistants would kill for. Tourists pay fifty bucks a person to get a tour of where you work. You’re surrounded by celebrities. If you freeze your DVR, you might see your name in the end credits. You get to go to various parties and drinks with other assistants. You get free show presents such as sweatshirts, DVDs, screening tickets and so on. Plus, the pay isn’t that bad.

You’re in proximity to brilliant writers, directors, actors and other industry professionals. When my boss was hiring a writing staff for his show, I was able to get a first-hand look at how he, the studio, and the network, selected the staff. Those lessons will be beneficial when I’m going out for a job as a staff writer, which is my next career goal.

Not all showrunner’s assistants want to write. Some want to direct, produce, or work as a studio executive. Whatever your aspirations might be, this job can help you get there but it doesn’t guarantee that you will. If you don’t make the most of the opportunity, it can pass you by. This job, no matter how cool it is, should be a springboard and not an ultimate destination.

The Bad

There are some weeks when I’m just praying for it to be Friday. Beyond the long hours, the job is extremely fast-paced and very stressful. There are times I feel as though I’m drowning in work and my “To Do List” is growing infinitely.

Sometimes, what your boss is asking for may seem impossible. A friend of mine received a phone call at three in the morning. His boss was in New York City and wanted a private plane to fly him back to Los Angeles at 8 AM. That gave my friend two hours to locate a plane, a pilot, and get his boss on the plane. Somehow he got it done. When his boss arrived to work, my friend was treated with no fanfare. What he did was difficult and impressive but that’s the job. Your boss doesn’t need to thank you, or acknowledge a job well done. This is what you signed up for. If you’re a person that needs constant praise, this job may not be for you.

One executive I know described the assistant-showrunner relation this way: “You’re sort of like my fridge. I just expect it to work.”

From the second my boss walks in the door, to the moment work is done (not when he leaves because your responsibilities will keep you in the office long after your boss leaves) you have to be ‘on’ constantly.

Have you ever been to the circus and saw a juggler juggling fifteen sharp knives? Well, sometimes my job feels that way. Most days start off with my boss rattling off things we need to get done. “Jonny, did we call this person?” “Jonny, are we shooting on the location next Thursday?” “Jonny, can you get my car washed?” “Jonny, did you schedule that meeting?” “Jonny, did you read the pages that came out last night?”

Do your job, wear a smile, and don’t whine. When I first moved to LA, a friend who is a successful writer on a famous show offered me some advice. I asked, “What makes a good assistant?” He answered, “Just shut the fuck up and do your job.” It’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received.

Oh, and you should write, too

The most challenging part of the job happens when the day is over. After a fourteen-hour day of phone calls, endless questions, boring reading, and double-checking schedules, you’re fried. Here comes the second part of the job -– the part where you go home and practice your craft.

There is no such thing as a career assistant in Hollywood and no one is going to promote you to staff writer because you’re really good at rolling calls. You need to be really good at writing. Writing is the only credential that matters.

When you finally get home, you are in complete control of your career destiny. At the end of these long days, writing is the last thing you want to do. Motivating yourself to write in the wee hours, and knowing that you need to get up early to do it all over again, is really difficult. However if you’re serious about making the leap from a Hollywood assistant to a Hollywood writer, you’ll find the time.

It can be tempting to want to share your work with your boss, but there’s an appropriate way and an inappropriate way of advancing your career. The first few months is not time to ask for your boss to read your script. The absolute worst thing you could do is go behind your their back and ask one of their colleagues for a read of your script. The dynamic is akin to any relationship that takes time and trust. Use common sense before you call in any favors. The safe route would be to wait until boss offers to read your script.

Speaking of script, I should really get back to this spec script I’m writing.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Coldplay's "Life In Technicolor ii" Video

These days, music videos are very much disposable commodities, if you can even find them. I guess YouTube has created a little bit more of an interest in them, and certainly the "virality" of a video is extremely important. Every now and then, however, a video comes along that just reminds you of what music videos can and should be. It's no longer enough to just show the band playing the song on a stage. You gotta come up with a unique twist that is going to make people watch it again and again and again.

I think Coldplay's "LIfe in Technicolor ii" is one of those videos. Enjoy!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Indie Filmmaking: 35 Tips from Experts

Just saw this posted on Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood Daily. Thought it would be an interesting read for those trying to get into the independent game. With the way things are today, it seems just as tough as getting into Hollywood. The one thing going for you is that you can, if you want, just go and do it.


They came out of the mouths of the experts at last weekend's "Produced By" Conference during panels devoted to the financing, production, and distribution of independent films and documentaries. Here are the 35 tips compiled by a DHD stringer:

1. Change the title of your indie film to begin with an “A” or a number to get higher placement on iTunes.

2. “Experiment and try new ways of getting your indie film out there.”

3. Clark Hallren, Managing Director of the Entertainment Industries Group for JP Morgan Securities warned, “Guys it’s tough. Phenomenal events that statistically cannot happen did happen: we’re at an interesting point in the business.”

4. Lisa Nitti of Greenberg Traurig offered a financing checklist and the necessary groundwork that indie producers must complete to have a shot at getting money: a preliminary financing plan, a solid budget and schedule, and an understanding of Hollywood guild requirements.

5. Foreign pre-sales are not as readily available as in years past.

6. Established indie producers with a successful track record have a somewhat easier time than newcomers in getting attention from international sales companies.

7. Genre always makes a difference. Forget costume dramas and spoofs.

8. “Indie producers must have names that mean something to TV worldwide; [before pre-sales can be made] international distributors need time to talk to TV folks who are covering 60%-70% of minimum guarantees,” said Edward Noeltner, President of Cinema Management Group.

9. The number of banks involved in indie film financing has constricted and greatly impacted funds available. Previous to the financial market meltdown, there were 30 to 35 players. That number has been cut by 2/3s.

10. Financiers basically want a return on their investment. “I encourage indie producers to understand their film’s audience as much as they can. Understand what you mean when you pitch project. I want to support a film, but I care about capital and return on that capital. I just want to get my money back,” explained banker Hallren.

11. Risk tolerance by investors is at an all-time low. "We’re all in a back-to-basics environment,” advised Danny Mandel, Managing Director of Newbridge Film Capital. “We won't return to where we were; now investors are all about preservation of capital.”

12. Mandel predicted that by 2010 indieprods could see more capital available.

13. In indie producers favor: distributors will always need new product to fill pipelines.

14. At the Cannes Festival, Mandel met five international distributors who wanted a movie with "Wedding" in the title.

15. New financing models are having some success, says Danae Ringelmann, Co-Founder of IndieGoGo. She cited documentary producer Robert Greenwald as an example of a new paradigm: Greenwald needed $200,000 to finance his Iraq For Sale. He turned to his substantial email distribution list. Nine days and four emails later, he had raised $276,000. Think of it as “raising money Obama-style,” suggested Ringelmann.

16. Build a fan base for an indie film before it’s even made.

17. The disappearance of a number of local and regional film critics is a major concern because it makes it tough to launch an indie movie, noted Lawrence Bender, the Oscar-winning indie producer of Pulp Fiction, An Inconvenient Truth, and the upcoming Quentin Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds. So Bender said indie filmmakers must now be content with “tweets and the craziest things,” but not the critical insights of years past.

18. Roger Corman, the quintessential indie producer (Death Race 2000, Grand Theft Auto, Rock N' Roll High School) sees the Internet as a “ray of hope” for indie producers.

19. Corman envisions a day when distributors and theaters are gone and an ASCAP-type organization collects revenues for indie producers.

20. Concensus advice on how to get an indie film made: never give up.

21. Finding a documentary subject that’s worth a two to four year commitment comes down to “you know it when you see it,” related Marina Zenovich, Director/Producer/Co-Writer of Roman Polanski: Wanted And Desired, Director/Producer of Who Is Bernard Tapie?, Director/Producer of Independents Day Zenovich.

22. “Always good to get an idea from a financier,” quipped Davis Guggenheim, Director/Producer of It Might Get Loud, Gracie, and Director/Executive Producer of An Inconvenient Truth. Guggenheim was lucky enough to be pitched by financier Thomas Tull who asked, “Do you like the electric guitar?"

23. RJ Cutler, Filmmaker and President of Actual Reality Pictures (The September Issue, The War Room) noted that marketing and outreach for every documentary film is something of a riddle, but advised producers to investigate ancillary revenues. He pointed to Morgan Spurlock who had significant returns in the educational marketplace for his feature Super Size Me, which he cut down to an hour and created an accompanying curriculum and guide.

24. Before an indie film gets to the marketplace, producers must know who the audience is for the film, counseled Dennis Rice, Founder of Visio' Entertainment. “If you can’t market your film, you shouldn’t make it. If there’s no audience, you can’t get a return on investment.”

25. Once an indie producer knows who the film’s audience is, reaching them cost effectively is the next hurdle.

26. There’s no longer a one size fits all model for indie distribution; patterns and windows are changing as are the means of distribution. New strategies include video-on-demand, checkerboard release patterns, digital downloads via iTunes.

27. “There are at least 10 distribution structures out there, and new companies popping up,” offered Liesl Copland of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment's Global Finance and Distribution Group. Among the new companies she cited: Big Beach, End Game, and Zip Line. All have been smart about marketing spends, she says.

28. Indie producers need to move past the old distribution model and learn from experimentation.

29. Copland advised indie producers to think about own their own consumer habits when making movies in this kind of market “though clarity hasn’t surfaced in new revenue streams”.

30. Ted Mundorff, CEO of Landmark Theatres, sees video on demand pre-release and then theatrical release is working for some indie titles like Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. (Bubble ignited the trend. But Mundroff worries about cable companies saturating the market with titles.)

31. David Straus, Co-Founder and CEO of Withoutabox (a division of IMDb.com), implored indie producers to find ways to connect directly to audiences. “You don’t have to throw a ton of money to push a film to an audience; in an ideal world, the audience pulls film to them.”

32. Aggregating an audience is the lynchpin of this new world order. But is it something that impresses banks enough to lend money? Doubtful.

33. It’s not all doom and gloom despite the disappearance of studio-backed indie film divisions like Warner Independent.

34. There is opportunity for indie producers as long as they don’t get hung up on a 35mm theatrical film release. Ira Deutchman, CEO of Emerging Pictures, explained: “With digital, we can begin to play around with release patterns.”

35. Deutchman also recommended that indie producers “aggregate your communities.” He finds that his network of theaters does well with Jewish, gay-themed and French films as well as those that are spiritual and have "Wedding" in the title.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

3Questions: Phil Green - Manager/Producer

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Phil Green, a manager/producer and owner of Autonomy Entertainment.

HBAD: So, tell us about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, what does that position involve?

PG: My name is Phil Green and I’m the owner of Autonomy Entertainment. If you had to define us as anything, I'd say we're an entertainment and media support business. We help make projects and careers happen. Beyond that, we don't like to pigeon-hole ourselves because, regardless of form, we look for authenticity and voices that touch a cultural nerve but at the same time there's nothing specific we're looking for. We just find people or projects we believe in that we feel like we can build a business around. Could be a filmmaker, a writer, a musician, an event producer, even a startup. We have a really small roster of clients and projects and we’re really hands on with each one.

HBAD: How did you get your start?

PG: By believing I had something to offer and calling anyone I thought would listen. For me, the key is being willing to face a lot of rejection and realizing it might not have anything to do with what you have to offer or what you’re capable of. You just have to keep taking your hacks.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to become a manager/producer?

PG: Don’t wait for anyone. Make things. The barrier to writing and producing is so low, there’s no excuse. We had these two kids deliver a fully edited pilot they shot for $5k and it was one of the best unscripted shows I’ve seen. That’s what you’re competing against.

While everything can be done quickly, I think it’s important to take your time. Let things stew. You really need every word or every scene or every note to be what you know in your gut it should be.

Cold call people. But come with a specific point of view or a specific reason for reaching out to that person.

Don’t create things for the market. Create something that’s a pure expression of who you are. It should come from a place of need. I always ask people “What’s that one project you’ll see through to the end? The one you’ll still be pitching even after everyone in town has rejected it?” In Hollywood, the success stories of people who weren’t born in to the business are usually stories of persistence – the David Chase’s of the world. Those are the ones that change the game.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A heartfelt film within a film in 'Up'

is a fantastic movie. I personally consider Ratatouille to be one of Pixar's best, but Up contains this emotional element that really makes the movie shine. A lot that has to do with the montage their talking about below. If you haven't seen the movie, I highly recommend it.


Reprinted from LATimes.com:

It's among the most memorable -- and moving -- sequences in Pixar's new animated movie "Up": a four-minute, dialogue-free montage early in the film that traces the entire relationship between Carl Fredricksen and his wife, Ellie.

In encapsulating the couple's life together, the flashback sequence -- which Times film critic Kenneth Turan called "a small gem that will stay with you for a lifetime" -- includes a few issues rarely raised in a movie aimed at families, including a miscarriage, the failing health of the elderly, even death and bereavement.

"It's one of the things I am most proud of in the film," says "Up" director Pete Docter.

Docter and his "Up" collaborators always wanted to include the couple's back story. The sequence needed to answer critical narrative questions: Why would Carl Fredricksen, the grumpy old man voiced by actor Ed Asner, attach balloons to his house and float away if he might be leaving children behind? Why had the couple never made it to Paradise Falls? What was so critical about the homemade badge Carl pins on the Junior Wilderness Explorer, Russell? What little pleasures might constitute life's biggest moments?

In its earliest iteration, the montage looked as if it would last 20 minutes.

"You start with a ton of stuff and you pare down," Doc- ter says. "And we took out everything that wasn't essential."

The decision to present the scene without the characters' talking came a bit later (The montage does include an orchestral score by composer Michael Giacchino).

In researching the film's story, Docter, co-director and co-screenwriter Bob Peterson and producer Jonas Rivera looked at a number of Super-8 film reels from family archives and often found that the silent images were more powerful because of what wasn't said.

"We're always looking in animation to do things without dialogue, to turn the sound off and still know what's going on," Peterson says.

Adds Docter: "It kind of comes to life in your own head more. For a long time, we had sound effects throughout the whole sequence, to sell certain things like the jars breaking and the tire popping. And in the final mix, we just took them all out and I think it works even better.

If you watch the scene closely, you also will notice that the color palette shifts to reflect the nature of Carl and Ellie's relationship. When they are young, the shades are sepia-toned, suggesting something from the 1930s. In the prime of their lives, the colors are richer -- vibrant greens and blues. "Hopefully it's not something the audience is even conscious of," Docter says.

The filmmakers wrestled with removing Ellie's miscarriage but felt the scene -- and the rest of the movie -- suffered without it.

"It's a pretty strong thing to see," Peterson says. "And we tried taking it out. But it didn't feel as textured."

By John Horn

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mateo's "Underneath the Sky" Chapter 2 Premiere

I've been waiting to write about this but needed to allow Mateo to launch it when he was ready, which he was today. Chapter 2 of Underneath the Sky, the "groundbreaking" (not my words) mixtape music video series MySpace artist Mateo and I created, premiered today. If you haven't seen Chapter 1, you can check it out here and then watch Chapter 2 below.

Mateo - Underneath The Sky Mixtape Ch. 2 - Video

I personally think we really stepped up our game and expectations with Chapter 2. It's fun to make these things because it's just me running around with a camera, guerrilla style. Big ups to Hudson Smith, who stepped in at the last minute to play Donnie. He really brought it and put this project on another level. Hope you all enjoy it.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Great Read

I just finished reading The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters and would definitely recommend it. Here's some info about it from the author, Karl Iglesias:

Following the basic philosophy of modeling excellence -- that our most important teachers are those who have succeeded, the essence of the master-apprentice relationship -- this book is the next best thing to having the top screenwriters in the business be the reader's personal mentors as they guide and inspire him or her to adopt the mind-set and commitment inherent in being a professional screenwriter in Hollywood. The difference between successful writers and aspiring writers is that successful writers do all the things that aspiring writers won't do, can't do or don't know how to do. Common sense dictates why not look at what successful writers do specifically and do the same.

Designed for beginning writers as well as those more experienced who seek to jump start their career to new heights, this book focuses not on how to write a formulaic script but on what it takes to become the writer who creates a unique one. Whereas most screenwriting books attempt to teach the reader what to do, this book outlines, by studying those who are already doing it successfully, how to do it, stressing the key habits, so that the 'how' becomes second nature to the reader. Its structure offers a powerful and unique twist on the few established interview books by arranging the screenwriters' comments by topic rather than by individual interview, thereby following a more efficient model of accessing information needed by the reader. Rather than waste time reading a whole interview to pinpoint nuggets of information, the reader can refer to a specific topic and read what a group of successful writers have to say about it. Study their habits, learn from them, and maybe their wisdom will rub off on you and arm you with enough knowledge and self-confidence to accomplish your goals.

I've actually learned quite a bit from the book. One of the things that I found really informative was how the screenwriters both write and develop new projects simultaneously. While they spent the majority of their day working on their current script, they take a few hours at the end of it to develop the next one. That way, once they finish the first draft of the current script, they are able to immediately begin writing their next one. The advantage to this is that you're never putting too much time, energy, or focus on any one script, which means that if it's not perfect, or doesn't sell, it's not the end of the world because you have five more in the pipeline. That's something Travis and I are going to start doing.

Whereas before we would just write the one script and work on it till we were satisfied, and then move onto the next, this way we hope to start cranking out a lot more. And this is an important skill to have because if you sell a pitch and are getting paid to write, you have maybe 12 weeks to deliver the first draft, in addition to whatever other project you're getting paid to work on. Multi-writing is definitely a skill. And it just allows you to start pumping out the scripts.

I project that Travis and I will write, at minimum, three scripts this year, with at least one more most likely.

What I also like about the book is that it's not about the craft of screenwriting but about everything else you do around writing a script.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Universal Pictures to focus on comedies, event films

Could this be really great news for Travis and I, since we're working on selling a comedy, and our next three scripts consist of two comedies and a big summer event film? Only time will tell...


Reposted from LATimes:

Movie studios like to operate in their comfort zones. Hey, who doesn't? So, Universal Pictures, which is betting on three high-profile comedies this summer, is going to focus heavily on comedies and "event" movies when putting together its release schedule for next year. Indeed, given the recent lackluster box office for such adult dramas as "State of Play" and "Frost/Nixon," it's not a big surprise that executives at the General Electric-owned studio reevaluated their plans and halted development of some acclaimed dramatic projects, as my colleague John Horn recently reported.

"The mantra at the moment is to focus on what we know we do well," says Donna Langley, talking the other day in her office on the studio lot in Universal City. "We know we do really well with comedy and our event movies."

Universal is developing several projects with filmmaker Judd Apatow, to whom the studio gave a development fund to incubate ideas with his stable of talent that includes actor Jonah Hill and "Saturday Night Live" comedians Kristen Wigg and Will Forte. Hill will star in "Get Him to the Greek" as a record company intern who has two days to drag an uncooperative rock star to Hollywood for a comeback concert. Hill also brought Universal a project that he will star in and produce called "The Adventurer's Handbook," about four twentysomething pals who encounter bad guys on their globe-trotting adventure. The film, to be directed by Nick Stoller, will start production next March.

British comedian Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in Paramount's blockbuster "Star Trek," and Nick Frost co-wrote and will star in "Paul," about two sci-fi geeks who go on the road only to find an alien (a computer-generated character voiced by Seth Rogen) in the backseat of their RV. The movie, which also stars Kristen Wigg and Jason Bateman, starts shooting in a few weeks.

On the franchise front, Langley said the studio is "deep in development" on sequels to "Bourne Identity," "Fast & Furious" and "Wanted," the stylized action picture starring Angelina Jolie that was a big hit last year.

Also, Universal just announced this week plans to make "Stretch Armstrong," the first film to come out of the studio's six-year deal with toymaker Hasbro. Producer Brian Grazer and writer Steve Oedekerk are on board to adapt the action figure into a movie that the studio expects to shoot the first quarter of next year. Universal has already staked out a release date of April 15, 2011.

Other Hasbro properties that Universal plans to adapt into movies include the board games Monopoly, Battleship, Clue and Candy Land, a framed artist rendering of which adorns Langely's office.

— Claudia Eller

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

3Questions: Dana Brunetti - Producer

As part of our continuing 3Questions series, I present Dana Brunetti, President of Trigger Street Productions, and producer of Beyond the Sea, 21, and the upcoming Shrink, starring Kevin Spacey.

HBAD: So, tell us about yourself. Who are you, what do you do, what does that position involve?

DB: My name is Dana Brunetti. I'm Kevin Spacey's business partner, the President of Trigger Street Productions, through which I produce movies, and I'm also a co-founder of TriggerStreet.com. My job primarily involves finding source material for film and television projects, whether it's scripts, books, pitches, articles, biographies, etc; and then setting it up, finding financing, either through a studio or independently; packaging it with talent and overseeing all aspects of development and production.

HBAD: How did you get your start?

DB: I started as Kevin's assistant 12 years ago and learned the business by doing, being a sponge and absorbing as much information about the business that I could.

HBAD: What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this business, looking to become a feature film producer?

DB: Get your foot in the door and farm that opportunity. Work for free as an intern and make yourself indispensable. Hopefully, you can then land either a low paying assistant job there or with another company or person. Networking is key. Even getting a job as an intern working for FREE can require you knowing somebody who knows somebody.

Keep your expectations low and expect to put in long hours for little or no praise or recognition. There is no quick way to the top, and ladder climbers are easily identified and weeded out. On the occasional instance when someone does leap frog, they're usually eliminated when their lack of knowledge and experience becomes clear.

Remember there are 10,000 people a month that come to LA in hopes of making it in this business. There is a line of people standing behind you who are willing to do whatever it is you won't. Welcome to Hollywood...


Here's some more info on TriggerStreet.com, an excellent resource/community for young and emerging filmmakers and screenwriters:

TriggerStreet.com was founded in 2002 by two time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey and producer Dana Brunetti as an interactive mechanism to discover and showcase emerging filmmaking and writing talent. With the legal -- and attendant procedural -- restrictions on outsiders in Hollywood, Spacey and Brunetti sought to democratize exposure, providing an avenue of communication between Hollywood and emerging talent everywhere, thereby working to overcome the barriers they so often encounter.

Responding to the enthusiasm and high quality of work produced by its burgeoning film community, TriggerStreet.com evolved as a social networking utility to provide an evolving platform for emerging artists in different media: the strength of the peer-based review system and the positive impact of the resultant constructive criticism catalyzed the addition of several new specialized communities. Beyond its Short Film and Screenplay sections, TriggerStreet.com now provides opportunity for feedback and exposure for Short Stories, Books, Plays, and -- most recently -- Comics. By nurturing an environment where users collectively strive for creative excellence by reaching out to others, TriggerStreet.com has grown with the mission of facilitating the kind of collaboration and communication necessary for success in the entertainment industries.

It is the belief of the founders that exposure to the film and publishing industries provides a strong potential career boost to those actively committed to creative excellence. But perhaps more importantly, TriggerStreet.com builds craft, talent, and careers by encouraging the kind of objective criticism and analytical skills which allow members to help each other.

Producers Struggle to Stay Productive

This is reposted from the LATimes and written by John Horn. It's a very interesting look at the realities of the film business during these tough economic times and, unfortunately, the trending patterns in general.


What does a movie producer really do?

Before you start with the jokes, the Producers Guild of America wants to have its say. This weekend, the PGA will present its first-ever Produced By Conference, an open-to-the-public (although sold out) gathering on the Sony Pictures lot with seminars on such topics as independent film financing, digital rights, viral marketing and -- why not? -- booking private jets.

Ahead of the three-day conference, kicking off Friday, four experienced producers sat down to discuss the many challenges they face in these turbulent economic times: Studios are cutting producer deals, taking fewer risks, and finding more reasons than ever to say no. Our panel -- Groundswell Films’ Michael London ("Sideways," "Milk"), Lakeshore Entertainment’s Gary Lucchesi ("Underworld," "Crank"), Marshall Herskovitz ("Blood Diamond," "The Last Samurai") and Gale Anne Hurd (" The Incredible Hulk," "Terminator") -- covers an array of filmmaking styles.

Here are edited highlights from the conversation:

Q: What does it say about your business when well-reviewed, star-filled adult dramas like "Duplicity" and "State of Play" don't work?

London: I think there is something sobering about it. I think right now there is a premium on escapist material that makes people feel good. I don't believe for a moment that adult movies are going away, but it definitely has given me pause -- not to abandon the things I am most inspired by, but to make sure I am not out of step with what people are feeling.

Lucchesi: Having once been a studio president [at Paramount] and trying to turn the business into a science, I know that it's impossible. Last fall, I looked up the top movies of the '30s, during the depression. They were the Marx Brothers, comedies, escapist movies, "King Kong" was big then. You had "It Happened One Night," so you had romantic comedies. And then you had musicals, and then gangster movies like "White Heat." So, there were certain types of genres that were working during a recession.

Q: Is the passage through which you have to squeeze narrower than before? Gary, your last two films were "Crank: High Voltage" and "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans." Is there a future where you make Philip Roth's "American Pastoral"?

Lucchesi: Before that, we made [the adaptation of Roth's "The Dying Animal"] "Elegy." We're a very practical company. We're going to keep making commercial movies and then occasionally we're going to make those movies that are very, very difficult to make.

London: My company has worked primarily in adult drama. And right now there is such an enormous challenge in getting studios to assign a distribution slot to a movie that they perceive as belonging to this shrinking market. Right now, the number of distributors has shrunk dramatically, and of the distributors that are still in business, they are reserving those distribution slots for movies they feel appeal to the so-called four-quadrant [young and old males and females] audience. It's hard to give them a rationale to devote one of their precious eight or nine distribution slots to one of our movies instead of holding it back for a tent-pole, a comic-book, pre-sold franchise.

Herskovitz: There's a structural problem that permeates the entire media business in America, which is consolidation. In the last 15 years there has been this very interesting opening up of the movie business because you could make films independently -- there were a lot of distributors, there were a lot of different ways to get a movie out there. That's starting to shrink now, and now there's starting to be a bottleneck in the distribution area. This happened to us last year with " Defiance." We had independent financing, all we needed was a domestic distributor -- which was very hard to find. We finally found one, they did a great job, but they were the last -- we wouldn't have gotten the film made if it wasn't for them.

Q: Why was it so hard?

Herskovitz: Companies fear taking risks. The perception was that it was a World War II Holocaust film, and therefore would be difficult to find an audience. A lot of people said "Sorry, no thanks. Been there, done that."

Q: Does that mean marketing is now more important than ever?

Hurd: Everything really is about marketing. What is going to get people to leave their homes to go see a film? The industry has changed. It used to be that a film didn't need to have a huge Friday night, but now everyone looks at the grosses Saturday morning. And that determines a lot: "Well, that movie bombed, I'm not going to go see it."

Q: When you start making a movie, do you have to know how you'll sell it before you even shoot a foot of film?

Lucchesi: I think the process of getting a green light is so complicated that you pretty much have to know who your audience is before you start shooting.

Herskovitz: The audience is inundated by inputs from the culture -- from television, online and films. Marketing has become so difficult -- to penetrate the clutter. And you don't always succeed, even if you have good materials. So I have to know what is going to be the imagery or the sensibility of the film that will attract people.

Q: When studios are less willing to take risks, how does that affect you?

Lucchesi: When Universal greenlit "Duplicity" and "State of Play," it also was greenlighting "Fast & Furious." They didn't know that one wasn't going to work, that one was going to overperform and another was going to underperform. They didn't know that. No one can read the future. But producers are the greatest optimists in the world. I mean, that's who we really are. We are the people that find some material and actually imagine that it could be a movie. What are the odds of that? And then not only do we imagine it can be a movie, we imagine it could be a hit, and maybe even win an award. We are the ones with the machetes going through the Amazon jungle to the places we've never been before.

Q: Can you try to crystal ball the national mood in two years? What do you think people will want to see?

Hurd: I hope my movies!

Lucchesi: My gut tells me that people are desperate for emotion.

Q: How has industry belt-tightening affected you? Does it change who you hire and how much you pay them?

Herskovitz: The studio belt-tightening has had a direct affect on many producers because they cut producer deals. Producers not only create but also nurture intellectual properties for the five, seven, 10 years it takes to get movies made. I don't think we can afford to lose that as an industry. The studios have to cut their overhead, they have to deal with their bottom line. But in terms of the future, that army of producers that was creating new properties is going away. I think that is a problem for all of us.

Q: But don't good ideas rise to the top?

Hurd: What's a good idea? Who could have predicted "Slumdog Millionaire"?

Herskovitz: The reality is that most producers are financially struggling and being driven out of the business, and you have fewer and fewer independent producers. There are a whole bunch of young people trying to come up, but in terms of experienced, independent producers just trying to get by, it's very, very difficult right now, and a lot of them are being driven out of the business. If you begin to say, "The American film industry is starting to look less creative," you have to look at the causes of that in a lot of different areas. And one of them could be that it's really difficult now for creative people to get a movie made.

Q: Are there now more awkward conversations with actors about how they are not going to earn what they are used to?

Lucchesi: Here's something that I learned as an agent. Many years ago, clients would do movies and television and they would also go back and do New York theater, and make maybe $500 a week. With the more art-type movies, it's very easy to go to somebody and say, "We know you get X amount of dollars for your big studio movie, but this is a different animal, this is like you are doing equity theater, and you've got to cut your price to do it." Most people get that.

London: I think that everyone is so cognizant of the world we live in. I'm sure there's a lot of agents who are unhappy about the fall in that pay scale, but anyone who's got their eyes open recognizes that what's important now is to keep working.

Q: Michael, you're dependent on outside financing, and that money seems to be in jeopardy too.

London: From a business perspective, I'd like to have a successful business that rewards my investors and keeps my company afloat. But we're in a culture now, a movie culture, where so little premium is placed on original ideas, as the studios veer more and more toward this notion of something that has a pre-sold element, whether it's a comic book, or a remake of a movie or a television series. Well, what do we do? What have we all done our whole lives but find and champion and support original ideas? The truth about producer deals being cut is that [the studios] are not interested in original ideas. But you are talking to a group of people who when we leave here will go to a meeting, or lunch, or a movie this evening and fall in love with something that completely defies the analysis that we are talking about here.

Hurd: Let's go back to "Slumdog Millionaire," perhaps the most profitable film out there. If you start thinking, "Who is the audience for that? A film that takes place in India?" It was clearly a struggle to get it made, and yet, if you had gambled on that film you would have the greatest return of any film last year.

Q: "Milk" won a couple of Oscars, but didn't do all that well at the box office.

London: We had certainly thought at many points that it might follow more in the path of something like "Brokeback Mountain" and some of the other Oscar movies that sort of exploded. "Milk" bore a certain burden in terms of its seriousness and its themes, and its perception in terms of the audience that it spoke to. The pop culture has become really unpredictable and really resistant. People are not going to want to stop going to see movies about grown-ups. They might be slightly different movies about grown-ups, they might not be $45-million movies about grown-ups, they may not be led by movie stars, but people are always going to want to see those good stories.

Herskovitz: There's no doubt in anybody's mind that some of the above-the-line people in this business have been overpaid for a very long time to the point where it was very deleterious for the business itself. In fact, the business-model movie, when you look at it from the outside, often looks a little bit crazy where you have a star making four or five times more profit on the movie than the studio did. The studio risked all the money and the star risked zero. That's just not a sustainable model, and it's been one of those things that's been very hard to talk about.

Hurd: The interesting thing is that the tent-pole films don't generally star the top box-office names. Having been part of negotiations, they're very tough on actor compensation because there's a dynamic there, which is for actors to raise their fees for the next film, they need a huge breakout box-office hit. So the trade-off there is, well, if you star in this tent pole we may even pay you less than your quote. If there's a next film, you'll get a significant increase.

Q: Does that mean you're having to spend more time trying figure out deals than work on scripts?

London: In the independent world, we have to do it ourselves, and that's a nightmare. It's just like the movie business has become this incredibly intricate house of cards with so many different elements. And unless you're professionally devoted to spending morning, noon and night figuring that out, it's complicated and yet it's important to understand.

Herskovitz: But let's remember that no matter how odious it is, relatively speaking it's a small part of the process.

Hurd: On the other hand, if you are too close to the process, you are blamed for having an actor unhappy with the compensation package. Then it's your fault, as opposed to the person in business affairs.

Q: What are the things that take up your days that you would not have wasted more than a few minutes doing five or 10 years ago?

Lucchesi: It's the panning for gold that's the hardest part -- you wade through a ton of material. You know, you don't have pitches anymore, so you've got a lot of spec scripts and sometimes there might be a kernel of an idea in a spec script, even though it may not be completely well-written, that you feel is worth chasing.

Herskovitz: It is very difficult to pitch these days. I spent 20 years going in a room and telling stories and making deals based on a story that I told. But we're not in that business anymore. Right now there is a project that we're trying to sell, and there's really no way to sell it other than tell the story in the room. It's an amazing, wonderful story, and it's a struggle now. And I feel like there's a potential this great thing will be lost because that means of getting that development money is gone. They don't want to hear a pitch because they are not going to pay to have a script written.

Q: How do you think technology is going to change your business?

Herskovitz: I fear that we are on the precipice right now of . . . a huge rise in piracy in America. I think that the era of illegal downloading of films is about to begin in a major way. Beyond that, what I've seen in the last two years in terms of delivery systems is utter confusion. And I think that nobody knows anything yet. I think that what's clear is that people want to go out to the movies and will continue to want to go out to the movies for a long time to come. I think that we just don't know how this whole multi-platform thing is going to sort itself out. And everybody that I talk to just throws up their hands and says, you know, "I can look at four different models and I don't know which one is going to work."

Lucchesi: Had "Milk" come out on video on demand eight weeks after its theatrical release, would it have done better? I don't know, but I'd be curious about that.

Q: What gives you reasons to be optimistic?

Hurd: What I find exciting is that my 17-year-old daughter and her friends don't want to give up going out to movies. Their choice of films is much wider than we would expect. They get excited about some foreign films -- and they forget that they are reading subtitles. We are at times underestimating the younger filmgoers and what entertainment interests them.

London: The indie world is not as healthy as we'd all like, but there is a huge wave of new directors that are creating a lot of excitement, and audiences are excited about movies that take them out of their day-to-day lives.

Herskovitz: There's a huge diversity in the kinds of movies being made, and that allows for change to happen, and that to me is the healthiest sign.

Hurd: Being at Comic-Con last summer, everyone knew at that point the response to Robert Pattinson, in Comic-Con, heralded a new star is born. It was unbelievable, I haven't seen a reaction like that since the Beatles. . . .

Q: Don't you think also that there has been a shift in the traditional notion of stars? The studios are more open to new faces, new kinds of stars. Obviously, we cycle through them a little more quickly too, but it feels like the traditional movie star notion is changing.

London: Does everybody get that, though? Do the studios get that? Do the agents get that?

Hurd: It's harder to quantify that now. If you look at television and you look at ratings, that's not necessarily capturing the audience that is viewing a particular TV series, especially something like "Gossip Girl." My daughter couldn't even tell you what time it's on, she watches it online, on demand, and every one of the actors in "Gossip Girl" is a huge star to her and her friends, which is not something that you can quantify so easily just based on . . .

Q: It seems as if the studios care most about concepts -- " Transformers," " Star Trek," " Harry Potter."

London: I think execution is king. I really do. I saw "Star Trek" last week -- I'm not in particular a tent-pole movie guy -- and I loved it. It was alive and funny and moving and imaginative, hot and smart.

Herskovitz: A lot of these high-concept movies fail when they are not done well. This notion that concept is king is already 25 years old. I think the audience is more discerning about it now. But there is a danger here that is analogous to the auto industry. More and more of the studios have placed their bets on these high-concept films, but there could be a moment where people just get tired of those films. My fear is the studios are essentially getting rid of the apparatus for creation of new content.