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Monday, October 29, 2012

Tickets to Visionfest

I have a limited number of free tickets for this year's Visionfest to give away to fans of my blog, Genre Hacks. If you'd like to go this Tuesday night (link below), please contact me at genrehacks@gmail.com




                                            2012

 

2012 will be our 15th year of VisionFest, Filmmakers Alliance annual screening and celebration bringing together the best of LA’s independent film community!


The evening begins with the presentation of the VISION AWARD to an established filmmaker whose artistic ambition and consistent filmmaking excellence provides artistic inspiration to emerging filmmakers all around the world.  Past recipients includeMIke Figgis, Terry Gilliam, Wim Wenders, Allison Anders, Alexander Payne, David O. Russell, Werner Herzog, Mark and Michael Polish, Kevin Smith, Ted Hope, Nicolas Winding Refn and last year's recipient, Christine Vachon
This year’s Vision Award recipient is Korean filmmaker Kim Jee-woon.


If you don’t know him then you certainly will very soon courtesy of Hollywood (Kim Jee-woon is currently working on his first English-language project with Arnold Schwarzenegger called “Last Stand”); you may know him from “A Tale of Two Sisters,” which Terrence Rafferty of The New York Times calls “one of the best, and most heartbreaking , weird-girl horror movies ever made.” Rafferty also states that it “is so cunningly constructed-it’s as tricky, in its way, as Alain Resnais’ ‘Last Year at Marienbad.’”
Although Kim Jee-woon’s cinema does include the shocking and horrifying, his list of credits also includes comedy, noir and even the western. “I want to work with a wide range of genres because it gives each film a different cinematic energy,” Kim states.
Jee-woon’s eclectic oeuvre never fails to thrill and enthrall. His is an unfailingly distinctive vision that expresses itself in every frame of every genre he’s tackled...or mixed genre he’s created. FA is honored to be a part of his introduction to mainstream American audiences.
 
 
The presentation of awards will be followed by a program of some of the best short films produced in the previous year. This year, we opened up submissions to filmmakers nationally. Ironically, the theme that emerged from the films selected is:

"THE LA LIFE!"

Each film, directly and indirectly paints a small portrait of daily life in Los Angeles. See if you recognize your own story among them.

We are pleased to announce the following films:

Future Days (10:00) Directed by Clay Zimmerman
Mayfly (24:25) Directed by Aimee Graham
The Gaskettes (14:00) Directed by Jason House
Another Bullet Dodged (13:11) Directed by Landon Zakheim

Also, the program will be preceded by a special music video presentation:
A House A Home (07:00) directed by Daniel Fickle.

Total program length: 69 mins.



The evening finishes with a high-energy party in the Egyptian Theater courtyard catered by some of Los Angeles' best restaurants.



PARKING INFO:
The Egyptian no longer validates for the Hollywood & Highland complex parking lot or any other lot. There are several area parking lots nearby that charge various amounts.


Read Meter signs carefully. Parking regulations have changed and much of the parking is one hour only and meters are enforced until 8pm or later on side streets near the theatre. There is also free street parking on Selma (south of Hollywood Blvd.) and other area side streets.

Cherokee & Selma (south of Hollywood Boulevard).
South of Hollywood Blvd. there are attended Grant & Classic Parking lots on McCadden Place and on Las Palmas. Parking is $8-$20 flat rate maximum. They do NOT offer validation to Egyptian Theatre customers. There is often $5 parking in area lots a block east of the Egyptian. Always verify if you are paying a flat rate or hourly before parking.

Take Metro!
Metro provides Bus and Rail transportation to the Egyptian Theater located at 6712 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, walking distance from the Metro Red Line Hollywood/Highland Station. For your best route or more info, visit the Metro Trip Planner or call (323) Go Metro or (323.466.3876).


VISIONFEST 2012 SPONSORS INCLUDE:


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

What do you say to a friend when you don't like his or her screenplay?

This question and answer was originally posted on Quora.

Usually, in any screenplay there are at least a few elements - a character, a sequence, a particular line of dialogue - that you do like.  Begin with those and give them special emphasis. Then give a few simple reasons why the screenplay wasn't for you.  Don't give too many specifics unless asked for more detailed feedback.  It also helps to emphasize that your's is just one opinion.  Perhaps you just aren't a fan of that particular genre.

In the end, its best to be honest but gentle.  Don't say, "I didn't like it because..." Instead say "it didn't work for me because..." Frame your response around the work itself, not the writer.

If your friend is a professional screenwriter he or she may want more detailed feedback.  A professional should be able to take negative feedback, and if you sugar coat it, you're doing nobody any favors.  Tell them specifically which elements you didn't like.  Perhaps you didn't care about the main character.  Perhaps you didn't find certain parts funny (or scary, or dramatic) in the way s/he intended. Be as specific as possible.

Above all, don't try to pretend you liked it by using slippery phrases. Personally, I know readers didn't love my work when they say things such as...

1. "It's interesting." Have you ever seen a blurb on a movie add that read, "IT"S INTERESTING!" Film is an emotive medium. "Interesting" means I've failed.

2. "The writing is really good." This tells me that the reader enjoyed my grammar, sentence structure, and descriptions of sets.  Unfortunately, they didn't like the story, characters or theme.

3. "We have something just like it in development." This is what studio executives say when they are passing on my script. "Something just like it" could mean they have a project that also features a young male protagonist who lives in the United States.

4. "Great work! Thank you so, SO much." Danger! This is what your employer says when you are about to get replaced by another writer. Beware sincere praise of your work ethic and heartfelt gratitude for your efforts.  They are about to get rid of you.

How do I know when somebody genuinely loves the script?  It's easy.  You can see his or her eyes light up. They recount parts of the story they liked best, in the same way they recount their favorite moments in a great film or a fantastic TV episode. "I really liked the part when..!  

When studio executives like my work they say, "I LOVE it!!! I just have a few notes..."

Friday, May 25, 2012

Movie pitches, Startup Pitches


I have developed pitches to studios, to networks and premium cable, and to "angel investors" for both startups and indie films. In the next eight weeks, I'll be pitching a TV series pilot, a feature film spec, and I will joining a larger team to pitch a startup to VC's. Quite a lot comes to mind when I compare the two worlds, especially as those worlds continue to merge.

So check out my answer on Quora to...

Venture and Investor Pitches: In what ways is a Hollywood film pitch similar to a Venture Capital pitch for a startup?


I have developed pitches to studios, to networks and premium cable, and to “angel investors” for both startups and indie films.  In the next eight weeks, I’ll be pitching a TV series pilot, a feature film spec, and I will be joining a larger team to pitch a startup to VC’s.  Quite a lot comes to mind when I compare the two worlds, especially as those worlds continue to merge.
Honestly, the biggest similarity is just the anxiety and dread I inevitably feel before attempting to sell myself and my idea.  People attracted to screenwriting and technology (or both) tend to be introverts and not natural salespeople.  Pitching to anyone about something you care deeply about can feel like going up on stage to do a tap dance routine… wearing clown make-up and a speedo.
However, my personal neuroses aside, I’ve noticed three fundamental similarities:
  • You Must Tell A Story
You begin the pitch with a hook that grabs attention of your audience and moves them emotionally.  They think, “Wow, this is a story I want to hear.” Then you tell a tale about people with a BIG problem and a hero with a unique solution.  The story is exciting because both the hero and the people want something very, very badly, but there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles to getting it.  The story ends with a payoff, punchline, twist, a solution, and the audiences say “Ahhhhh, now I understand!”
The best pitches I have ever heard seem effortless.  They are delivered like a spellbinding anecdote told over martinis at a dinner party.  If the pitch is for a startup, the protagonist is the entrepreneur him/herself, but the structure of the story is the same: a big problem with unique solution executed by heroes who are the only ones for the job.  The “twist” or “punchline” of the story is (in startup lingo) your “secret sauce.”  It’s the unique quality of hero, his or her “superpower,” that will allow him/her to save the day.
These stories are told with passion. They aim for the maximum emotional impact and personal connection with the audience.  Charisma, eloquence, and authenticity are all essential when pitching your story.
However…
  • It’s All About Execution
In both stcreenwriting and startup circles you often encounter the meme:Your Idea Means Nothing. 
Well, this isn’t exactly true.  Said Michael Wolf, “I’ve never met a VC who told an entrepreneur, ‘don’t tell me about your idea since it doesn’t matter!’”  Likewise, I’ve never met a producer or studio executive who told a screenwriter, “Don’t bother pitching me your story. Ideas don’t matter. It’s all about execution!”
However, when you walk into an office to pitch a great idea, what you are really selling is your execution of that great idea.
This often comes down to who is already “attached” to the project.  In movies and television, this means that a major star, a powerful producer, or a hot director has already committed to doing your project should it get set up.  Likewise, in start-ups, it’s good to have a great programmer, a great marketer, proven businessman, or some other “rockstar” on your team.
For example, if you went into a room and pitched a dark tale of madness set among dancers in a production of the ballet “Swan Lake,” you would likely be shown the door.  However if your director is Darren Aronofsky and your star is Natalie Portman, you have a much better shot.
Perhaps the key element in the execution piece is answering the question “How the hell does this make money?“  In movies, this often comes down to having the exclusive rights to a “property,” a popular book or famous movie that can be remade.  Having a built-in audience assures the investor that that there is enough potential interest in the story to turn a profit. In startups, this often comes down to a “proprietary technology,” something that distinguishes you in an established and lucrative marketplace. In both cases, the burden is on you to convince the investor that there are actually people or businesses out there who might pay money if your idea is realized.
  • Who The Hell ARE You, Anyway?
“Who you are” will set the tone, the receptiveness, and level of enthusiasm in the meeting before you even walk in the door.  Often, I can sense how a pitch is going to go, just by gauging the energy of the participants in the first 60 seconds.In both worlds, it’s easiest to pitch to people who either already know you or already know you for something.  Whether you have already had a popular movie, sold a spec script, been a key player in a successful company, or just have “buzz” around you and your project(s), it’s good to have “heat.”
Let’s face it, if you pitch a Question and Answer website, no matter how good your idea may sound, nobody is likely to care unless you just happen to have been players in the development of Facebook.
If you are unknown to the person you are pitching to, the first thing they will do before the meeting is google you.
For example, before a movie pitch, the executive will first look at my IMDB page and my blog, both of which (for better or for worse) show up on the first page of my Google results.  Likewise in startups, your online “brand,” as defined by your Linkedin profile, online articles written about you, or your website itself, will define “who you are.”
If you are a complete unknown and have no established reputation, what matters is who you know.  Someone important -  a powerful agent or producer, a powerful entrepreneur or expert in your business – has to vouch for you to get you in the room.
“Who you know” is particularly important because of the notoriousnepotism and cronyism in the film and television industry.  Truth be told, the best way to sell a pitch (or to become an actor, director, or producer) is to be the related to somebody famous.  While connections matter in every business, the startup world is far more concerned with proven qualifications.  Hollywood is NOT a meritocracy.
For example, if an entrepreneur graduated at the top of his class from Harvard, Stanford, MIT, or Caltech, with a host of awards and achievements, it would carry weight with a potential investor.  Conversely, I graduated fromUSC School of Cinematic Arts, arguably the best and most Hollywood-connected film school in the world, I had close to a 4.0 grade average, and I won several awards and scholarships.  Yet, while the time I spent there was invaluable to me in my development as a filmmaker, my USC degree means virtually nothing to anyone listening to a movie pitch.
  • Bonus Similarity – The Rejections
Even if a  pitch is ultimately bought, 99% of the people you talk to are going to say, “no.”  It takes a lot of strength, dignity, and most of all, passion to weather the long storm of rejection and indifference.  The King’s Speech took a decade to get funded, even with Geoffrey Rush attached.
In both worlds, the job of the people you are pitching to is to say NO.  Their task is to listen to dozens of pitches a day and figure out a good reason to pass on almost all of them, because they (and their companies) can only say yes to a very limited number of projects.  You can’t take it personally, and you can’t see the rejection or even many “reasons” given for a pass as indictment of your core idea.  You just have to take a deep breath, make adjustments if necessary, and move on to the next one.
The only thing you have to keep you going through the long slog is the (sometimes delusional) belief in your core idea and the authenticity of your “story.”
So, as it turns out, whether or not you have hot properties, great connections, or rockstar attachments, your “story” may indeed be the most important thing after all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Does It Have To Be Three Acts?

People get hung up on 3 Act Structure in screenplays, and all it really leads to are "problems in the second act." These problems come because the hour long "second act" has no "turning points" or "act breaks" within it as described in most screenwriting books.

The truth is that 3 Act Structure is a myth; or more accurately, it is just one way, among many, to think about "structure." You can look at movies as having four acts, or eight (usually called sequences.) In this link, a very funny blogger makes a case for the 5 Act Structure of Iron Man. A five Act structure leads to more complexity and character development.  (See Film Crit Hulk)

If it was good enough for Shakespeare and Romeo and Juliet, its good enough for your rom-com. :)

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

John August asks, "Is Screenwriting Dead?"

Interesting post/podcast by John August: Is Screenwriting Dead?

It is indeed harder and harder for feature screenwriters to find work and make a living in traditional ways.

What I tell my students at USC (and what I tell myself when I face the uncertain future) is that screenwriters need to be entrepreneurs, and create their own projects and opportunities.

They also have to be willing to write for "anything with a screen." This means writing and pitching for TV, but it could also mean creating webisodes, interactive media or writing for video games, or transmedia. I've even encouraged screenwriters to write short stories, graphic novels, and even full length novels, when appropriate, instead of spec scripts, because the writer then owns the IP. There's a lot of hunger for content out there. Be proactive and connect with the people who are making it.

What's clear is the old model of taking out feature specs and pitching for feature writing assignments isn't enough to sustain even established writers. "There's just no business in it." I hear many say. So rather than be passive, we have to look at the changing media environment as opportunity.

You CAN eek together a living, you just have to be...well... CREATIVE.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crowd-Sourced Screenwriting and Scripped.com


80,000 writers in "the crowd"
What we talk about, when we talk about screenwriting, is usually traditional/professional movies and television. However, with the explosion of youtube channels, there is a growing crowd of "screenwriters" who are writing completely different kinds of content and collaborating in unique ways.

I got a chance to speak with Sunil Rajaraman, who runs the Scripped.com, a website that boasts online screenwriting software and five times more members than the WGA. Who are these writers, what are they writing, and when should Final Draft get nervous? 

SH: The professional film and television industry has been dominated by the screenwriting software Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter. Why hasn't an online service such as Scripped or Celtix been able break in? Is it just habit?

SR: I’ll push back a bit and say that we have gained a lot of traction since our initial launch in January of 2008! I know CELTX has been downloaded hundreds of thousands of times. We have a user-base of over 80,000 writers and we grow by 25-50 writers a day.

With regard to the professional market, we aren’t after professional screenwriters so I’d say that we are not really trying. I always tell friends that if they want to be a professional, they should use Movie Magic or Final Draft – we are servicing a different market. Our revenue model is ultimately not based on selling screenwriting software – that business (at a macro level) is slowly dying, and isn’t all that interesting.

SH: Do that a service like Scripped will become the professional standard in the future, or will the Scripped community mostly consist of aspiring screenwriters looking to break in? 

SR: We are definitely not after professional screenwriters. Professional screenwriters are paid a lot of money because they are the best at what they do (and they should have the best tools to write their screenplays). We are servicing aspiring writers who may be more interested in writing a short for Youtube, or dabble in screenwriting (with the hopes of someday becoming a pro).

SH: Some of the major innovations of Scripped are the collaboration tools. Screenwriters are able to work together in "virtual writing rooms." And soon you are promising "highlight authorship and revision compare features [that] will soon allow writers to access a comprehensive history of authorship." This seems to make the script into a kind of wiki-project. Do you think this kind of online collaboration can be as effective as a physical writer's room? Are your users really using this service actively?


SR: Writers are actively using collaboration – both on public and private scripts. I’m having a look right now at some of the public scripts on the site, and it always makes me happy to see writers working together constructively. We don’t ultimately seeing this functionality replacing a physical writer’s room – it’s fun,a nd our users love it! We want them to have great online experiences by working together with other writers.

SH: Many artists bristle at the idea of "crowd sourcing" stories. They argue that great stories require a single artist/visionary (or small team of talented visionaries) with a particular point of view. Why do you think a screenplay, a play, or even a novel can be "crowd sourced" like software or a wiki-article?

SR: All writing is crowdsourced – top professionals in every field of writing constantly iterate with editors, and peers. Crowdsourcing is just a fancy word to describe that phenomenon, which already exists – would love to meet the person who coined the term someday (he or she is a marketing genius). The difference with Internet crowdsourcing is that you’re doing the same thing with total strangers, and a lot of them.

SH: Working on open source software, wikipeida articles, or other "crowd sourced" projects requires a certain amount of altruism and willingness to contribute anonymously. Can this work in the competitive and cut throat world of entertainment, where so many are focused on selfish self-promotion? Will budding "auteurs" want to be just another voice in a "crowd?"

SR: It’s a good question Sean and the verdict is still out. There will be a lawsuit on this very subject very soon, and I can’t wait to watch it unfold. I think the studios are smart to hang back and wait to buy crowdsourced scripts.

SH: The most popular and successful mass-collaborations are often led by a single, charismatic celebrity who attracts large numbers of dedicated fan-artists. This celebrity then curates and manages all the myriad contributions. I'm thinking of Joseph Gordon-Levit's hitRECord.org in particular. How has the involvement of people like Edward Burns, Steven de Souza, Dawn Olivieri and Alex Albrecht, driven projects on Scripped?


SR: The involvement of Eddie in particular has been huge – he’s a fantastic guy and is at the forefront of all things related to film/tech. Unlike Amazon Studios and some others, we are not really publicly crowdsourcing scripts through our contests – all scripts are private, and belong to the content creator unless they win (in exchange for the rights to their work, they are paid money). Our contests with Eddie, Steven and Alex were all very successful and drew hundreds of entrants.

SH: With the coming of instant video on Netflix and Amazon, youtube channels, and digital projection, the whole distribution model for movies and television is being turned on its head. Why do you think a platform like Scripped offers a better way for writers to work and collaborate in this new paradigm?

SR: We think that while the professional screenwriter will continue to use Final Draft, the amateur screenwriter who wants to hack together a quick youtube script will use Scripped. In other words we are after The Long Tail – the volume play (rather than going after a long established business).

SH: What are some of the other companies and websites out there that you think could be disruptive forces in scripted entertainment?

SR: I am a huge fan of Dana Brunetti and Kevin Spacey and what they’ve done with Triggerstreet Labs – I think they are the clear pioneers in this space, and have the star power to disrupt scripted entertainment. Franklin Leonard is really onto something with The Blacklist – I think he will figure out a way to somehow disrupt the system.

SH: Many new companies (like Quora.com) experience an initial surge of excitement, press and involvement from users, only to see the excitement plateau. How do you plan to keep Scripped vibrant and growing?

SR: Since we’ve been around for a while (wow 4 years now!) we have studied our user behavior patterns in detail. Thankfully we have fantastic user engagement and have a great understanding of how our cycles work. There is definitely a huge bump in engagement around Script Frenzy time .

SH: What are some of the most exciting finished projects to emerge from Scripped?

SR: My two favorite: Alex Albrecht produced his winning script, and it looks fantastic! (Check out the link: HERE) Steven de Souza’s Unknown Sender Episodes on Metacafe are an especially huge accomplishment – it marks the first time webisodes were completely crowdsourced (both script and videos were outsourced).



Final Thoughts: I'd be very interested in hearing comments from scripped users about what they like about the system, what they like about the community, and what kinds of projects they aspire to write.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Weekly Filmmaker Finds (May 20, 2012)

At least once a week from here on forward, I will be listing 10 fabulous things found on the internet related to screenwriting, filmmaking, or the future of storytelling. I will be collaborating with the mysterious, anonymous and brilliant curator "Boris," who describes himself as "author, screenwriter, filmmaker. A child of Marx and Coca Cola who strives to be Terrence Malick when he grows up (or David Lynch, he hasn't decided yet)." You should follow him on both Twitter and Tumblr.

I invite anyone and everyone to submit links, articles, or videos for Friday Finds For Filmmakers by emailing me at genrehacks@gmail.com. And so, without further introduction:

1. A shot of a script page from the original "Alien."

This is how script pages look during the filmmaking process. They are protean documents under continual revision from concept, through shooting script, through filming, editing, and re-shoots. If you are rewriting your script, this is what your pages should look like: covered in marks, cross-outs, alternate dialogue, and notes for later. All writing is re-writing.

CLICK HERE TO ENLARGE

2. David Lynch on Stanley Kubrick.

David Lynch tells the story of meeting Stanley Kubrick and showing him Eraserhead.  It's a short but fascinating audio, and it reminds me (I worked on Twin Peaks as a set dresser), that David sounds exactly like Mr. Rogers... if Mr. Rogers ever dropped acid.  Click the link HERE.

3. Christopher Nolan on shooting his first film, The Following, on “no budget.”

He was the Writer, Director, Producer, Editor, and Cinematographer. 


4. A student short film, No Time (1994), by Darren Aronofsky.

"When I went to film school we had to do three short films," stated Aronofsky who sought to obtain his masters in directing at the American Film Institute, "so I started reading the short stories of my favourite authors."  Here is his third,  No Time (1994) which features Robert Dylan Cohen, Chas Martin and Billy Portman.


5. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman on Alfred Hitchcock and writing ‘North By Northwest’. 

Lehman received 6 Academy Awardnominations during his screenwriting career. In 2001 he received an honorary Oscar for his works, the first screenwriter to receive that honor.



6. A rare documentary on John Cassavetes.

He acted in many Hollywood films, notably Rosemary's Baby (1968) and The Dirty Dozen (1967). However, Cassevetes was also a pioneer of American independent film by writing and directing over a dozen movies, which he financed in part with his Hollywood paychecks, and which pioneered the use of improvisation and a realistic cinéma vérité style.





7. TED Talk of the Week:  

Just in case you all think I've gotten too "film-school-artsy-pretencious" with all this Kubric, Lynch and  Cassavetes, here is Andrew Stanton (Toy Story, WALL-E) with tips on storytelling: start at the end and work back to the beginning.




8. Twitter Feed of The Week:

Follow Ted Hope, legendary producer: @TedHope

The Hollywood Reporter recently cited Hope and his partners as one of the twenty-five most powerful people in the Independent Film business. Says Ted, "I produce films -- and try to find a way to make indie film sustainable. We need to build it better together."

9. Short Film of the Week: The Nails

I like three things about this nifty little horror short film: It was all shot on an i-phone, the performances are oddly authentic, and its really scary.



10. Blog of the week: A Filmmaker's Life.

So, you really want to find out what it's like to live the life of a fiercely independent filmmaker? Then follow this blog by award-wining filmmaker and Sundance alumni, Jacques Thelemaque:


Thanks again to Boris, who I hope will become a regular collaborator in my weekly filmmaker finds . And if you readers have found something cool, email me at genrehacks@gmail.com, and if I post it, I will credit you here! I believe we all should be curating great content, particularly great films and shorts, but please don't just send me your own stuff for promotion. Let's support our peers!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

You ask,"Why is there so little originality coming out of Hollywood?"

A recent question on Quora.com: "Why is there so little originality coming out of Hollywood?
Remakes, ripoffs, adaptations, sequels and prequels. Where did the creativity and originality go?"

I answered the question this way:  Hollywood funds movies that are daring and original when large audiences go to see daring and original films. To some degree, this was the case in the 70's before the rise of the blockbuster (Jaws and Star Wars.) It's hard to imagine today's audiences flocking to see movies like Chinatown, Midnight Cowboy, A Clockwork Orange, or Taxi Driver.

I would also challenge those who bemoan Hollywood's lack of originality to look beyond mainstream Hollywood, and check out the thousands of movies being made outside the Hollywood system. We live in a time when Netflix can send or stream just about any foreign film or independent that might interest you.

For example, the next time you update your Netflix Queue, check out these startlingly original films: 


If like the rest of the world, you have already seen The Avengers, why not check out another movie in theaters that has a 93% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes, the action-thriller from Norway, Headhunters?

There are startlingly original movies, both foreign and American Independent, out there in every genre, from drama to horror, thriller to comedy.  You just have to dig a little deeper, do a little research, and instead of just watching any "event" film that is marketed to you, take responsibility for the media you consume, and seek out movies of high quality.  I'm sure you liked Jennifer Laurence in Hunger Games, but she was better in the far more original indie-film, Winter's Bone.

Hollywood makes more of what audiences pay to see.  When more people start showing up for original movies, more originality will come out of Hollywood.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Adapting Your Own Work: An Interview with Ed Brubaker

Sometimes I do interviews on this blog in order to reach out to writers and filmmakers I admire.  This is certainly the case with Ed Brubaker, author of the award winning graphic novel series Criminal, as well as Incognito and the recent series Fatale.   He's one of those comic book writers who, as the cliche goes, "transcends the genre" and get's reviewed in the New York times.  If you are a fan of hard-boiled crime fiction and loved the movie "Drive," you should click on the links above and check out his work.

Hollywood has noticed him too, and much of his original work has been bought or optioned.  This is pretty common for popular novels and comics, but what interests me is that Ed himself has been hired to do the screenplay adaptation for one of his most outstanding stories Criminal: Coward.

Readers of Genre Hacks know that I'm obsessed with finding ways for storytellers to get their original work up on the screen.  Ed graciously agreed to answer some questions about the advantages and challenges of adapting ones own work from one medium to another.

SH: When you started writing your Criminal series, did you think of the possibility of any of the stories eventually becoming films? 


Ed Brubaker
EB: Coward actually started as a screenplay idea. But I could never find the time to work on it, and I kept having other ideas for the character and other ideas for crime stories, and really wanting to do a crime comic series. So I ended up taking the basic germ of it, and using that when we launched CRIMINAL at Icon. When I wrote it, finally, like most writers, I hoped someone might like it enough to make it into a movie. But I didn't write it as a "movie pitch on paper" like you often see in comics these past few years. I was building a world and exploring characters, and trying to make the best comic story, issue by issue, that I could.

SH: In my own career I been frustrated by the industry's focus on "pre-branded" material (sequels, remakes, and adaptations.) Many writers are now writing original books or graphic novels rather than original spec scripts. I'm thinking of David Guggenheim (Safe House) made a deal to co-write his first novel, and Andrew Pyper, who just sold his unpublished book manuscript for The Demonologist to Universal. Would you recommend that writers with original story should try to prove their concepts in another medium in order to build a following and prove that the story works?

EB: Boy, I couldn't say, really. I've been writing stories and comics for most of my life, so it's kind of all I know how to do. I always envied guys like Shane Black or Scott Frank, who got to write all these cool crime movies. I just always did comics, from when I was a kid, and always wrote fiction. When I was in my 20s, I wrote movie reviews and articles for a living, while writing and drawing my own comics on the side, because it was just something I had to do.

Coward - A graphic novel
It's odd that we've ended up in a place where comics, which is a fairly low-paying field (compared to film or tv writing) have become part of the larger pop culture in Hollywood, and I feel fortunate now that pretty much every studio or production company has a few executives that are into comics. But that's a real recent thing. I was coming down here 10 years ago, and that wasn't the case. Back then it would be someone's assistant, now it's the head of the company, sometimes.

But I've always thought, write the story in whatever medium you want to see it in. I did a pilot for Fox a year or so ago, and that was just an original idea I had for a TV show, not a comic idea or a novel idea. I think that's important, to respect the audience and the material. If you do a book or a comic that's just a movie pitch, its unlikely you'll end up with say a Megan Abbott or Joe Hill novel, or a Neil Gaiman comic. You know what I mean?

So I would say, if you have an idea, make sure it makes sense as a comic, or a novel, or a web-series, whatever. Don't just take your spec script idea and shove it into another medium. Novels and comics and movies have totally different languages, that make them all better at different things.

SH: Do you think we are reaching a time when it is common for the original writer of a book or graphic novel to also write the screenplay adaptation? (I'm thinking of Suzanne Collins are her involvement in the Hunger Games film.) 


EB: I don't know. I think I would've sold some of my books a few years earlier if I didn't want to write the adaptations. INCOGNITO sold fairly quickly, and there's been not even a hint of anyone wanting me involved in the scripting. Which on that one, I was fine with. But with Coward, and most of the Criminal books, I either didn't want them adapted, or wanted to be involved, so I insisted. But I still get the sense, outside of independent producers, that screenwriting is this club that novelists and comic writers have to break into, through force of will. It's certainly not something most producers or studios will suggest. They'd always rather have their own people or a writer they know, doing that adaptation.

But you look at someone like Will Beall, who got his start as a cop writing a novel, then adapting that book - LA Rex - and then got hired on Castle, and now is a fairly hot screenwriter just a few years later. So it does happen.

SH: Your characters are seedy, complex, realistic, violent and yet morally conflicted. They are not the kind of people we usually see in mainstream Hollywood movies. This will excite many movie fans, but does it make your producers and executives nervous? 


EB: Not so far. The biggest thing I kept running into early on, when having meetings with studios about Criminal, was that they weren't "high concept" enough. I remember when we had a bunch of actors and directors interested in Coward, originally, and we were taking it around, it was the same time the last Die Hard movie was a huge hit, and all the notes were - love the character and the world, but the heist isn't high concept enough, can it be about national intelligence or terrorism?

And then a few years later, you see movies like The Town or Drive get turned into fairly faithful adaptations of their source material, and do huge business. Affleck isn't stealing the Declaration of Independence or stopping a bombing plot in the The Town.

SH: Some of the best crime stories are showing up on cable TV, not in movies. In particular, I'm thinking of "The Wire" and "Breaking Bad." There seems to a greater opportunity to write three dimensional characters, long story arcs, and creatively inspired scenes of violence and sexuality. What do you think of trying to take your work and, like George R.R. Martin with Game of Thrones, creating a cable series? 

EB: I would love to, or to even create an original show for cable. With Criminal, I'm pretty far down the road on it as a films, but yeah, agreed. The Wire, Deadwood, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men, those are probably all among the best writing in the US in the past decade. If HBO or Showtime had come knocking for Criminal a year ago, I'd have happily said yes to a George RR Martin-style arrangement, where I got to be involved.



SH: You are working from a medium, sequential art, that is very analogous to cinema and TV. You already have dialogue, action and structure worked out in your script for the comic/graphic novel. Your partner Sean Phillips, has already created an outstanding visualization. What is involved in writing the screenplay? Are you faithfully transcribing what you've already written/created or does a movie adaptation require you to make substantial changes to elements of story, characterization or dialogue?


EB: That's the struggle I'm in, and why I'm not going to want to adapt all my own material, I think. With Coward, the basic structure of the book is very much, straight-forward three act structure. And the director is a huge fan of the book and the way the story is told. He actually wants to be more faithful than I do. The things that change are, in the comic, there's lots of first person narrative explaining the world and the characters and the backstory, even their internal thoughts. You don't want that in a movie, not so much. You can do it, certainly Fight Club did it beautifully, and others have, as well, but for a crime movie, today, not so much. And some of the locations change, of course, and there are characters that are in the book that aren't in the screenplay, and some that aren't in the book that are in the screenplay.

And the main difference I've found from comics to screenplay with dialog is, in comics, you fake it. You try to write dialog that when read, seems in the readers head to feel realistic. But if it's said outloud, it isn't. Because you're limited by space in the panel. You don't want huge balloons or tons of them all over the page (although it works for my friend Brian Bendis) so you fake it. But with film, the dialog can be more real. It's still not actually real, because that would be really boring, but you can expand it, and find different rhythms and take more time with it. Something like In Bruges, what makes that film work, or Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (to name two of my favorites for dialog) would never work in comics. And that's why when in Watchmen, the film, when the actors said the dialog directly from the comic, it didn't sound right. Because those words were meant to be read, not spoken.

SH: Do you worry that the elements that made Criminal: Coward so effective and popular could get lost in the translation to film? What have been the biggest struggles in moving from one medium to another?

EB: The biggest struggle is second-guessing myself on every decision I made 6 years ago when I wrote it the first time. In some ways, I'd like to just pretend I never did the other version, and sometimes I'll be writing a scene, and then look at that part of the comic, and realize I did it better there. I think another screenwriter might not second-guess, and might just take the stuff directly from the book that works, because they aren't as close to the material.


My feeling is, I just want it to be a good movie. I already wrote the story one time the exact way I wanted to. Now I want the director and producer to help me realize it as a film, the best way it can be. The struggle there, of course, is they both love the book, and want to be faithful. It'd probably be easier for me if they didn't. Because I worry I'll turn in a script that's TOO faithful, and someone will think I haven't spent months agonizing over every scene. That I just cut and pasted the comic script.

And I also worry that part of what makes my comics what they are, my voice or whatever, comes in those narratives, which is what we're leaving out. I know it's not true, because Gotham Central was my voice, on my issues, at least, and we didn't use narrative on that series at all, but you know, I fear it anyway. I never want to write something that doesn't sound like me. At least, not anymore.

SH: It's extremely common for screenwriters to be rewritten by other screenwriters, especially as the project nears production and directors and stars are attached. Do you worry about your material getting changed in the development process? 

EB: I do, but I'm not totally opposed to that, depending on the circumstances or the writer. My first screenplay was something I did for David Goyer about ten years ago, and after three drafts, another writer stepped in to do a pass, and it was weird. The story and dialog were all still there, but there was some new stuff, and he amped up the action and tension. I then did another pass over his pass, to make it more mine, and I learned a lot in the process.

But you know, once I'm done with my part, I know that's a possibility, at least, if not a likelihood. On Coward, I am involved heavily and working closely with the director and producer, so I haven't worried about it as much. I figure if they need to replace me, it'll be because I failed, not because they need Scott Frank to do a dialog polish.




SH: While working on Conan The Barbarian I spent a lot of time re-reading old pulp stories by Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. I'm also a fan of crime fiction, particularly Chandler and Thompson. Tell me about how these pulp authors have inspired your work. 

I grew up on that stuff. My dad was a big reader, and loved mysteries, and my uncle was a well-known screenwriter, John Paxton, who wrote The Wild One, and Murder My Sweet, and On The Beach, among others. So from a young age, I was always seeing old movies based on Chandler and Hammett books, and reading Conan comics.

As I developed as a writer, I drew from my own life, as well as all those pulp influences, to create whatever the hell it is I do. My real lightbulb moment was reading the Lew Archer books, by Ross Macdonald, because he was clearly writing about himself, while writing crime stories, too. And with Lovecraft, that's just the best kind of horror, isn't it? The kind Hitchcock would've done, where the anticipation is what drives you nuts, not the actual monsters themselves.

SH: Was the Criminal series inspired by any particular movies? Do you have any Film Noir favorites? What about current hard-boiled crime films like "Drive?" 

EB: Out of the Past is probably my favorite movie. In recent years, yeah, In Bruges, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Drive, Yellow Sea, Chaser, Memento. A lot of others I'm forgetting.

But Criminal wasn't inspired by anything in specific, just a desire to have a place to tell all kinds of crime stories in comics. I was jealous of what Frank Miller had done with Sin City, but wanted to do something realistic, not over the top, and just wanted to write character-driven stories. With each Criminal story, there's a bit of trying to do my twist on a genre trope of noir, but I don't put too much thought into that side of it, honestly. I just let the characters tell their stories.

SH: One of the major reasons for Crimal: Coward's success was the outstanding art of Sean Phillips. Is he involved in the film?  Do you think that graphic artists could be a benefit to film production by supplying storyboards and production illustration? 

 EB: Sean isn't involved at this stage, but it may be something to discuss if and when we move to production. I'd hate to take him away from our comic work, on Fatale, but I do want him to have the excitement of seeing this stuff being brought to life, that he drew. If we actually get this movie made, I'm sure we'll both be on set as much as they let us.

  
FINAL THOUGHTS:  

Besides being a Hollywood screenwriter and USC filmschool teacher, I'm also a fanboy, and I love Ed and Sean's work.  It has all the visual storytelling, complex characterization, and tension-filled plotting that I aspire to as a filmmaker.  The adaptation won't be easy, but its one I'm eagerly looking forward to, and the producers made a smart move in hiring Ed to do the script.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Filmmaking Master Class This Weekend: April 28th and 29th

I want to put in one last plug for the Independent Film Master Class that is happening this weekend.  It's a great way get some new skills, propel your project forward, and network with other like-minded filmmakers.  I'm donating my time just to support the cause of indie filmmaking.

Presented by The International Academy of Film and Televisionin association with Filmmakers Alliance

REGISTER NOW!!

When: Saturday, April 28th 2012 - 10 am to 5 pm
and Sunday, April 29th 2012 - 10 am to 5 pm

Where: International Academy of Film and Television
635 S. San Fernando Blvd.
Burbank, CA 91502

Filmmakers Alliance's INDEPENDENT FILM MASTER CLASS is the complete, a definitive, step-by-step, two-day seminar for independent filmmakers giving you the KEY information you need to get your film MADE and SEEN. The INDEPENDENT FILM MASTER CLASS is a clean, clear, concise and complete independent filmmaking blueprint for your film project that will allow you to sustain your life as a filmmaker!!

DAY 1

Concept, Story and Script Development - Developing ideas and concepts that work! Then, writing that script in a way that will get your film made without compromising your vision.

Web Tools For film - New tools and programs are developing almost daily to help indie filmmakers manage every stage of a film’s life and maximize time/money. Find out about some of the best.

The Legalities - What needs to be done to get your production up and running and to avoid any legal issues at any point down the road. Private Equity Financing, Grants, Crowdfunding and Tax Credits - Where to find the money and what you need to do to get it.

Distribution Planning - What you need to do at the front end (and throughout) to prepare for the back end success of your film.

DAY 2

Pre-production and Production - How to get the most filmmaking bang from your budget - creatively and cost-efficiently managing your project. Also, how best to work with actors, crew, locations, unions, guilds, crafts to ensure your film not only gets made, but looks exponentially more than its cost.

Post-Production - New technologies and methodologies are making it easier to high end work with a low end budget. Find out what they are and what you need to do give a stunning, world-class finish to your film and how to prepare for it long before you reach post.

Festivals, Marketing Distribution - Understanding the festival circuit and how to use it to your film’s greatest advantage. And devising and executing a distribution plan that will give your film it’s best shot at success and sustain your filmmaking life!

Speakers include:

The seminar also includes filmmaker case-studies and open Q&A periods, so come prepared with your specific filmmaking questions - the ones that most have you stumped - so that we can take you to the next level.

REGISTER NOW!!

Ticket Prices:

$199 - General seminar fee.

$149 - Single Day seminar fee.

$274 - Includes seminar fee plus one year of Filmmakers Alliance membership.

$224 - Includes Single Day seminar fee plus one year of Filmmakers Alliance membership.

REGISTER NOW AND TAKE YOUR BEST FIRST STEP TO GETTING YOUR FILM MADE AND SEEN!!