Monday, July 1, 2013

Who's with me?

"Let's wait for a few months as we find a house for our project" snowballed into almost a year. Yeah, sure, we still talk about it when we run into each other, but let's face it, little by little Her Crooked House faded into that uncomfortable mental space where abandoned plans go to expire. Previous conversations about objectives and goals crumpled into sentences with an unsavory past tense: "Hey Max, what happened to that house-project we were gonna do? Remember that?"

Well, I'm here to say: Yes, I remember and I hope you do too. "Why the sudden re-awakening, Max?" you might ask. "Did you just find out you have cancer a la Walter White?"

Not really. (Although I've been listening to Tig Nataro's "Cancer Set" on loop lately, probably to remind me that being on the low end of the Hollywood Totem Pole is not THAT bad.)

It's because I'm itching for a creative pursuit, friends. And I know you do too: If I had a nickel for every time I heard you folks complaining about how your job sucks and how the modern 9-to-5, day-in-day-out is "deathly monotonous" (a phrase one of you actually used), I would've made enough quarters for a couple of laundry runs. And, look, I'm in that boat too: Being an assistant in Hollywood roughly translates to being a baby-sitter to your bosses. A baby-sitter they can freely abuse without anyone else batting an eye, because that's how the ecosystem of this place works. I've washed their cars, I've picked up their dog's poops (My boss at the time insisted this was within my duties because he was "scientifically allergic to shit". I wish I was kidding.) and I even did online traffic schools on their behalf, which, I'm pretty sure, is not legal. Oh, and, if you're reading this and you just recognized yourself as one of the people I worked for... Wait, that's not possible. That would require the higher-ups in this town to recognize their minions as human beings capable of intelligence and reflection and search for their blogs to see what they are thinking about. What a preposterous premise!

But enough about me, dear friends. The message you should take away from this blog post is: Let's jump-start this shit! We will be outdoors, we won't have people telling us what to do, we will execute our respective arts for the sheer joy of it. Imagine how long it's been since you did that? Did something just because you wanted to.

As far as additional incentives go: Girls, imagine how hot the Men will look as they work on the house and be all artistic and shit. We'll be like bad-ass versions of Bon Iver! And, men, to you I say this: There's gonna be women and alcohol.

Seriously though: Let's roll our sleeves. Let's set goals. Let's meet and talk about this. Let's make something.

Who's with me?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why Does ANYONE Want To Be A Screenwriter?

If you think you are going to sell a screenplay to Hollywood and enjoy a long, lucrative career, you (like me) are precisely like the character K. in Kafka's "The Castle."  For those of you who haven't read it, The Castle is about a man known only as K., who struggles to gain access to  mysterious authorities who govern the village based on powers that may be completely imaginary, and gain entrance to the impenetrable Castle. Dark, surreal, and strangely funny, The Castle is about endless attempts to break into a closed system, and the futile and hopeless pursuit of an unobtainable goal.

Generally speaking, I'm a filmmaker, not a "reader."  I like movies and comic books and other visual stimulation.  But on the recommendation of my friend and bibliophile John White (who helped me write this blog article,) I just read and finished Kafka's The Castle.  With the kind of horror I haven't felt since I first watch The Exorcist on DVD, I realized that Kafka's surreal and absurd novel perfectly described my life - and the life of any writer (yes that means YOU) with dreams of "breaking in" to Hollywood.  But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself...

Let's start by crunching the numbers.  Every year there are 50,000 screenplays registered at the WGA, meaning at any one time there are a quarter million recently written spec screenplays floating around. Only about 50 specs are sold a year, making the odds of selling a spec about 5000 to 1.  (see What are the odds of selling a screenplay?)

But it gets worse.  You have to face the fact that only about 1 in 20 purchased original screenplays get made into movies.  Most movies that get made these days are non-original remakes, sequels, and adaptations. After selling a screenplay, it is most likely to get stuck in "development hell" while the company or studio re-makes Children of The Corn. Suddenly your odds of seeing your "vision" on the silver screen have dropped to 1 in 100,000.

Wait!  It gets worse.  If your spec script does miraculously get made, it will, most likely be completely rewritten by other writers. (See Death By A Thousand Hacks.)  Now it isn't always this way; sometimes a new, original script does get made without too many changes.  Every year there is one Diablo Cody.  But still your chances of your script making it through development without being re-written are again about 1 in 10.

So your chances (and my chances) of getting an original script made in Hollywood are 1,000,000 to 1. Literally a million to one.  That's right.  Your chances (my chances) of NOT facing unmitigated failure are precisely the same as getting struck by lightning.

Wait, WAIT!  It gets worse. It gets far, far worse.

The WGA reports that WGA screenwriters, those few who have actually "broken in," are earning less and less every year and that fewer and fewer writers can get work (see Is Screenwriting A Dying Art?).  Those writers who are lucky enough to have work, describe working conditions that have "severely deteriorated." (See another WGA report) Even veteran professional screenwriters can no longer make a living, and A-list writers are asking the question Is Screenwriting Dead?

But you would never know this at a Hollywood Party. I am an aspiring screenwriter and I have been trying to "break in" for a few years, and I had a moment of clarity last night at a "Industry mixer" in which I suddenly realized that I am indeed Kafka's character K. hoping for a summons from The Castle - a summons that will never come.  I looked around me, and all I saw were Kafka's absurd characters. All the junior agents, independent producers and creative executives that packed the bar were precisely like the clerks and bureaucrats vying and maneuvering for influence of those unseen aristocrats within The Castle walls.  The actors and actresses, who are really waiters and waitresses, are exactly Kafka's erotic barmaids and peasant girls who flirt and seduce those who promise some powerful connections. Everyone is talking, scheming, and networking.  Everyone is leveraging relationships and working an angle.  Everyone is behaving as if they are right on the verge of winning the one-in-million-jackpot thanks to mysterious connections and ineffable "heat", all of which are purely imaginary.

There are millions of us, all dreaming of a summons into a Hollywood, but this entrance into Kafka's Castle that will never come.

And the last irony is perhaps the deepest.  There is no reason for anyone to be waiting hopelessly at gates that will never open.  Right now, for a couple grand, you can own a digital camera and a laptop.  With these items (and the proper software) and an internet connection, you have more filmmaking power in your hands that Eisenstien, more than Hitchcock, more than Goddard.  If you really have a story to tell, stop waiting to "break in" to the Castle, and get out there with a few actors and collaborators and tell your story.

If you are just another schlub with a copy of final draft, dreaming of winning the lottery, stop for a moment and look at yourself.  Wake up. Your situation is truly Kafka-esque.

And I say this knowing full well that I am looking in the mirror.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Character and Self - It's all in the "Spine."

char·ac·ter   [kar-ik-ter] noun

1. the aggregate of features and traits that form the individualnature of some person or thing.
2. moral or ethical quality: a man of fine, honorable character.

self   noun

1. a person or thing referred to with respect to completeindividuality: one's own self.
2. a person's nature, character
3. Philosophy .
  a. the ego; that which knows, remembers, desires, suffers.
  b. the uniting principle, as a soul, underlying all subjective experience.

So, as a storyteller, I'm not at a believer of the so-called "multiple self" (as some of my cohorts are calling in in their blogs.)  I mean, OF COURSE every character in any story might behave differently depending on the circumstances, depending on who they are with, and depending on their age and gathered experience and so on.  But these are all different aspects of one core, authentic "self." 

In a directing class I took in college, my professor taught us to identify a "character spine." This spine is a device that actor uses to interpret a character (role.) They use this spine (a character's life-need) to design the role. It like a hanger which all the character's actions hand off of, and this spine relates to the film's spine (theme).  So the spine is the basis for all storytelling.  

The "The Hero's Journey," by Joseph Campbell, outlines the "spine" for all stories and all heroes.  It's the basis for all religious stories and mythology, from Adam and Eve to Iron Man.  It's the one and only way human's have come to understand themselves and their stories.

Now, I'm wondering if any of you (my blog-mates) really believe in a "multiple self" (not counting, like...multiple personality disorder). I tend to believe that just about all of anybody's actions can be interpreted in reference to a single spine, a single life need, although it may be unconscious.   The spine/need may show itself differently in different situations, and so the character/actor may behave differently.  It may be hidden by all sorts of masks....but underneath there is a single "need"... a self whose striving drives the story.

Without a single "self" there"s no story.  And all we have to understand understand stories.  Am I wrong?

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Power of Documentary Films

As most of you guys know, I'm sort of an evangelist for the power of documentary film. I really think we are coming to a golden age of documentary. Have you ever noticed that the highest rated films on Rotten Tomatoes are always docs?

Apparently Ted Hope, indie producer extrodinaire, agrees with me. He writes:

"Don’t you love it when you see a film and want to change the world? Don’t you love it even more when you see a film and learn that that film has already changed the world — and for the better? I sat watching Amy Ziering’s & Kirby Dick’s THE INVISIBLE WAR with my jaw hanging open, literally; my fury growing by the minute. When I was done, my understanding of the world had expanded, and my confidence in the power of film was confirmed."

To read the rest of the article, go to: THE INVISIBLE WAR Proves That Films Can Change The World
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Watch the trailer here:
“Like” the film here:

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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My Future Crooked Film

So, my contribution to "Her Crooked House" will be a documentary (or I guess a series of doc webisodes) that will do periodic on-camera interviews with each member of the group.  I also plan to take video of whatever collective activities we engage in: parties, jobs, chores, orgies... (kidding Emma.)

However, as John will be in San Francisco and Emma will be in the UK all summer, I don't expect to start any serious filmming until the Fall.  I'm not much of a "blogger" really... so I don't see myself contributing a whole lot before then.

EDIT (6/18/2012): So after a long "google hangout" with the others, I've decided to keep on blogging about movies and other subjects for the next couple of months while we find a house.  I now officially have a warm fuzzy feeling about the entire project.  First step is to save money to save for a new camera.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Writing the Horror Script | Just Effing Entertain Me

I have to agree with horror screenwriter Stephen Susco (The Grudge, The Grudge 2, the upcoming Leatherface 3D) that "antagonists in horror are scarier when we don’t really know their back story." is a must read for screenwriters.

Writing the Horror Script | Just Effing Entertain Me