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Sunday Morning Movie Blog
e-book One - 2009-2010
A collection of articles about screenwriting and the movie industry, written by a full-time media hobo www.filmutopia.co.uk www.lonegunmanifesto.com
Introduction At the end of May 2009 I had just completed a feature ﬁlm script called Smoke, which had attached directorial and acting talent. I was also starting to feel the pressure of over twelve years obscurity in the movie making community. Twelve years of writing spec scripts for the industry and making digital movies… none of which had resulted in the career I set out to have. Smoke looked like the project that would probably change that… however, it came about at a time when the independent movie industry was in turmoil over new technology, 2.0 social networking and the evolution of self and hybrid distribution strategies. The Sunday Morning Movie blog started as a way for me to make sense of my personal journey as a screenwriter and as a movie-maker… whilst I tried to deal with and understand my place in both the mainstream movie industry and also as a radical independent movie maker. The goal I set out to achieve was to write and deliver an article about the movie industry every single Sunday morning. One year on, I can say, hand on heart that I have published something every single week. However, what has been remarkable about this journey has been the dialogue and discussion these articles have generated in the screenwriting and movie making community. It has been this connection to a group of people who felt some connection to this journey, which has inspired me to turn out article after article. You guys have been marvelous. This ebook is a collection of some of the better pieces… often the pieces that gathered the most response and discussion and also a new article about writing micro-budget, which has never been published anywhere before. I have decided to make this document open source… this means you can use, distribute, give away, alter anything you ﬁnd in this ebook without needing to seek my permission. Feel free. In compiling this ebook I have been forced to re-read a year’s worth of
articles… an interesting experience. What struck me about that, was how my personal journey and attempts to make sense of the industry accurately reﬂects some of the pressing discussions in independent movie making about the future of content creation and distribution. We are living in interesting times, with the digital revolution, 2.0 social networking and also uncertain economic stability. I hope you enjoy what’s been written… viva la revolution!
Clive aka @ﬁlmutopia
How to Write Micro-Budget Scripts
Every now and again I'm asked to write articles about micro-budget screenwriting. A couple of weeks ago I was asked to do this and, for whatever reason, the guys who commissioned it never got back to me. So as I'm up to my eyes trying to get 400 Grams ready for production, I thought I'd publish as this week's article... as you can see, the writing style is a little more formal than my usual. Hope you enjoy it.
The Wrong End of The Horse Three week's ago I cast an actor to play a part in a movie which begins principle photography in August of 2010, the only thing is neither the script or his role exists, yet. He said a resounding, yes! So, now I will write a role speciﬁcally for him. The week before that, I was out selecting and photographing locations… again, for a project that currently is no more than a half page of notes on an A4 pad. If I’m honest, this is my favorite way to work: have an idea, call some people I want to work with to see when they are free, pick some locations that inspire me and then build a movie around those things. Welcome to the world of micro-budget screenwriting, a way of creating movies I think you’ll discover can be more liberating, more challenging and ultimately more rewarding than anything you’ve previously experienced. Almost all the advice I’ve ever read about writing screenplays was written by and for people who are writing either spec scripts or scripts for the industry. The good news is that some of the core basics of that advice also applies to writing a micro-budget screenplay. Good structure and character development are key to the writing of any good movie script. However, built into the vast majority of the advice about writing for the industry, are a set of assumptions that are very particular to the way the industry works as a business and which have no bearing at all on the process of creating a great piece of cinema. This piece is about looking at movie making in a completely different way. A way I believe has very real beneﬁts for all kinds of screenwriting and not just for micro-budget.
I think the ﬁrst thing to understand is that the vast majority of rules about story-telling in the TV and movie industry are nothing but a series of conventions. These conventions have evolved along side the industry’s development as both a creative and a business medium. So, for instance, if you look back at the early days of cinema, in Fritz Lang’s M actors were ﬁlmed looking directly into the lens. This is completely opposed to the modern convention, where a director will always shoot away from the actor’s eye-line, usually as if the POV is over another actor’s shoulder. That directorial convention is so entrenched in modern movie making and in the minds of modern audiences, that to break it now just looks wrong. It would seem like the director had made an actual mistake, as opposed to a choice. As such, this convention has passed into the fundamental language of ﬁlmmaking and is now pretty inviolate. However, despite this, in reality it is still only a creative choice. For screenwriters the primary conventions are mainly about knowing our place in the industry’s pecking order. So, we are discouraged from doing the director’s job by choosing shots for particular sequences or by thinking about the look or style of the movie. We’re forbidden from telling the actors how to do their jobs by being overly speciﬁc in our writing of direction. At the same time, many of the conventions of narrative structure have been created by the industry in an attempt to codify a template for box-ofﬁce success. For many screenwriters, learning to write for the industry is largely about learning to conform our creativity to the requirements and norms of the industry. All of which are laudable disciplines for people whose primary ambition is to get paid for writing. However, putting that aside for a moment, 90% of the conventions adopted by writers in the industry are solely designed to create a demarkation of what is the writer’s role and what is someone else’s job. So, you can write the dialogue (providing you understand the director and actors will rework it in production)… you can create the plot (providing it conforms to understood narrative structures)… and, you can even evolve the character’s inner life (providing you don’t tell the actor how to achieve that). On top of that, you must lay out the script in the subscribed professional format, in Final Draft 8, so that other people can effectively use your script to do their jobs of ﬁnding locations, creating a look, making wardrobe decisions, creating schedules and the timing of sequences. What makes writing micro-budget such a challenge for successful industry professionals is exactly that set of conventions. The very things they
are discouraged from understanding and controlling when working for a production company, are the very things that are required to understand to write a great micro-budget script. A good micro-budget writer needs to understand not just how the drama works, but enough of the production process to understand what can and can’t be achieved on the available budget. Writing micro-budget, is largely about understanding the importance of the speciﬁc. Any movie budget is made up of a list of all the places, services, contracts, things and people you need to create a movie. The more a writer understands about this how to use this process to their advantage, the easier it is to write micro-budget. Historically, the most famous micro-budget movies have all been developed by people with a phenomenal understanding of production. Robert Rodriguez was able to to write and shot El Mariachi, on ﬁlm, with a production budget of $7,000, mainly because he spent years honing his talent as an editor. Primer, by Shane Carruth, was written and shot on 35mm ﬁlm, also for a budget of $7,000, a massive achievement for a ﬁrst time movie maker, which he achieved by applying a scientiﬁc methodology to studying both writing and production. Now, El Mariachi, is an action movie and Primer is science ﬁction. Both of these highly successful movies confound the widely held views, still held by the vast majority of ﬁlm-makers, that micro-budget automatically means shooting digitally and also means avoiding writing scripts for what are perceived to be high-cost genres. The fact that micro-budget is done best by those who understand production, doesn’t mean that writers without that experience shouldn’t attempt to write one. There are ways for a writer to approach micro-budget, even if they have very little production experience or knowledge and I suggest that the starting place is to take on board just one or two guiding principles, which will give any writer a shot at getting their ﬁrst micro-budget script off in the right direction. Principle One: Time is Money The easiest way to increase a movie’s production cost is to increase the number of days it takes to shoot. This is largely because the people who make movies are all freelancers, paid on a day-rate. It’s also true that the vast majority of production equipment is hired in for productions and therefore has a “cost per day” implication. In very simple terms, the easiest way to make a micro-budget movie is to shoot it in as few days as possible. At the same time, if you can the lower the number of shooting days you need to complete,
you increase your chances of attaching the kind of actor you really dream of having on the project; an actor who can justify ﬁve days on a project of this level, but not six weeks. In very practical terms, the number of locations that a movie is shot in and the distances those locations are spread apart from each other, directly effects both the number of days shooting and with it, the budget. However, at the same time, nothing betrays the smallness of a budget quite as quickly as poor location choices. For me, the ﬁrst major creative choice, before considering the plot or the characters, is deciding exactly where your movie is going to be shot… and, more importantly, that it is somewhere visually interesting. A place which will be a major contributor to the look and feel of the movie, whilst at the same time being a location that you can control and easily get permission to shoot at, without incurring phenomenal expenses.
There have actually been a number of movies where people have transcended the location/budget problem, simply by being astoundingly clever. Top of my list for smart uses of location has to be the sc-ﬁ horror movie The Cube. What they did in that movie, was create one studio set of a cube shaped room and then use it multiple times. What’s clever about this, is the whole plot of the movie revolves quite literally, around the simple premise of a group of people trying to negotiate their way out of a maze of interconnected cube shaped rooms, each of which presents its own dangers and challenges. Like all smart low and micro-budget movie making, its execution didn’t just try to hide the lack of budget, it turned a neat budget cutting solution into a genuine beneﬁt. In many respects, the same can be said of Blair Witch (a movie I personally detest). But, again, the production chose a location they could control, which added to the look of the movie and which would cost them next to nothing to shoot at. Many writers will ﬁnd this way of working, the picking of a location and writing to that location, completely unnatural. As I said at the start, the industry prefers us to think in terms of the characters and the plot… and not in terms of exactly where a movie will be shot. Other people, I hope, will ﬁnd the idea of starting the writing from a speciﬁc location incredibly liberating. I know I do. These days even when I am writing spec scripts, I work from location photographs and my writing is the better for doing that. One of the things I’ve become very aware of, is that environments impact on human behavior and therefore impact on plots.
Getting a grip on your use of location, is one of the primary skills of micro-budget movie making. Just to recap, the points a writer needs to hit are: the maximum use of as few visually evocative locations as possible; where there are multiple locations, they should be close together and easy to control; and, the more you integrate the location into your plot, the better the movie will be. Do this one thing well and creatively and you can bring a budget down from low to micro-budget, or a micro-budget down to practically nothing. Principle Two: Money Doesn’t make Movies, People and Resources Do! The saying guns don’t kill people, people kill people, also applies to money and its relationship to the movie industry, in that, money doesn’t make movies, people do. The second principle of writing micro-budget is largely about understanding that simple premise. It’s about looking at movie making from the wrong end and working backwards. The reason movie making costs money is largely because of the workﬂow and conventions that the industry has created. In that workﬂow, a writer has an idea for a movie, the movie is set in 1914 England and also in the trenches of Passendale. A producer who likes the script, raises money in order to be able to pay for all the people and resources needed to make that movie. Or, if you cut that process down to basics: ﬁrst comes the idea, then comes the list of resources needed to make that idea a reality. A lot of writers like the traditional model, simply because there is a huge ego boost from having a lot of money spent on making something that started off in your head. OK. For micro-budget, just reverse that process. That’s right, the smartest way to create a good micro-budget project is to start with a list of resources and then develop the project backwards from that list. The great thing about this kind of movie making is that it doesn’t matter how new you are to the industry or how unconnected you feel from the big players, every single person on the planet has some of the resources you need to make a movie. What takes a while to develop, is the ability to see those resources for what they are… to see the potential that each of us has sitting right in front of us. The irony is, that if you have the right contacts, some technical understanding and imagination, it’s actually possible to make a 1914 period drama, with the scenes set in the trenches, on a micro-budget and without anyone ever realising you did it all on an almost non-existent
budget. Writing for micro-budget then, is largely about changing your mind-set as a writer. It’s about looking at the process of movie making with fresh eyes and thinking about the creative process from different angles. What it most deﬁnitely is, is challenging. It asks more of us than working in the industry, simply because it asks us to be more responsible and accountable for what we write. It asks us to let go of the ego boost of having people spend vast amounts of money on our ideas and instead asks us to improvise with the things we have to hand. At the start of this article I said I had spoken to an actor about working on my new movie. A movie that is not yet written. That actor is a resource. I also said that I had been out scouting locations. Locations are resources. The truth of the matter is that my actual process is vastly more complex than those two facts, but that is only because I have thirteen years of production experience to make it so. However, despite the fact that what I do is more complicated and more radical than I have outlined here, at the heart of it still lies those two core principles of “time is money” and “it’s resources that make movie, not money.” They are a great starting place for any writer who feels the urge to step into a larger, freer and more fascinating world.
Why The UK Movie Industry is Bollocksed I have this theory about why the UK movie industry is so completely and utterly bollocksed... It could be utter wank... but I don't think so Basically, it's this: The writers, the agents, the directors and producer who currently make movies in the UK learned their skills in the UK TV industry. These people try to make movies using techniques that are considered inviolate in UK TV... and when they get to make a movie, invariably they create something that looks and actually is, a bit wanky, a bit poor... generally not worth the price of admission. UK TV Drama, from the soaps right up to the big budget show pieces, only has one basic formula for creating drama and it's this: Cause inner turmoil for your characters by putting them through constant, relentless conﬂict... and by exposing them to their worst emotional nightmares, over and over again. This technique is never, ever questioned in UK TV drama and more importantly it's never discussed why it's such a pivotal technique... and actually the answer is simple, inner emotional turmoil is CHEAP! Yes, you have to pay the actor the same amount of money whether she has to spend the day hanging from a helicopter or whether she has to spend the day acting her ass off, because of the acute inner emotional turmoil caused by the discovery her father touched inappropriately in the bike shed. However, one requires huge budgets and helicopters and the other involves some crying, a lot of tissues and a menacing cut-away of a bike shed! Writers, directors and producers in the UK make their day to day living by churning out hours and hours of this formulaic approach to creating drama.
The only variable, the degree of crassness or subtleness with which it's applied. On top of that, pretty much the only delivery method applied in UK TV is the "people talking" technique. So, people talk in ofﬁces... people talk in the street... people talk over the kitchen table... people talk in restaurants... if it's a comedy they talk themselves into humiliating and embarrassing situations... if it's a drama they talk until they uncover each other's secrets and throw each other into inner emotional turmoil. The truth is, the UK TV industry has become pretty adept at this approach to programme making and every now and again, when they get a project with a budget, like Dr Who or a period drama they throw a light frosting of props, effects and costumes over the whole thing, and it sort of works... on the small screen. However, these techniques look cheap, tacky and tedious when applied to movies... because movies are bigger than "I'm upset, because I'm afraid Eric will cheat on me with Denise... OMG, what are Denise's knickers doing in his jacket pocket!" Movies have lots of ways of telling stories... some of them involve car chases and big budgets and some of them involve densely metaphorical cinematography, where it becomes necessary to have runners pick all the daisies out of an entire ﬁeld, because they're throwing off the colour balance. Cinema looks and feels bigger than TV... except when it becomes hacked down to TV's size by writers, directors and producers who think they understand the medium... but in fact don't. Over the last twenty years I've sat through literally hundreds of British made movies, that would have done better if they'd been made for TV. Everything from the plotting, the writing style, the casting choices, the shooting style, every single aspect of the movie shouted small screen. Then they wonder why the movie tanked at the box ofﬁce. Until UK movie producers are sat down and told that the techniques they learned making Casualty and East Enders do not transfer to the big screen, the UK movie industry will remain hopeless and until UK writers learn that TV writing techniques don't apply to movie scripts, then the industry will remain what it currently is... hopeless, parochial and hugely disappointing.
(I still pretty much feel the same about this as an issue and a whole year of dealing with UK agents and agencies has further conﬁrmed my thinking that they are locked into a world-view that is damaging the development of the industry.) #
Be Nice, You Assholes There are two different movie industries currently pretending to be one industry... the old world industry and the new wave. Sometimes the people from these two industries work together. Quite often the people from these two industries pretend that there is only one industry and paper over the cracks, but the truth of the matter is this, the old world ways of doing business are increasingly under pressure from the new wave interlopers, because the old world ways don't work as well as they used to and much like the mighty Roman Empire, a lot of the old worlders haven't yet ﬁgured out that they're stuffed. The old world people are easy to spot because their business formula is money + fame = power... and power is something you exercise and demonstrate at every possible opportunity. "Don't you know who I am!" I could write pages and pages about the rudeness and the bad behaviour I've seen and heard by old world movie people, who genuinely believe that fame and money give them the right to act like jackals, but I'm not going to... we all know stories like that and anyway the new wave people are more interesting. When people talk about the digital revolution, they generally talk about the technology and not about the culture that technology has created. Almost all the people in the new wave movie industry were either directly created by digital production techniques... or have been dabbling with it. And what's really, really interesting is what deﬁnes the new wave people isn't the technology they use, it's that co-operation is at the core of their thinking. There is a reason why people who have adopted digital production techniques tend to me more cooperative than people who only make movies
the old way. It's because almost everyone who learned digital in the early days, did it because at some point in their lives, their ass was hanging out of their jeans and it was the only way they could make movies and if you're making movies with no money, then goodwill is the largest part of your production budget.... and, guess what, nice people with interesting projects survive better in that world than assholes. On top of that, the new wave movie makers are all about sharing skills and information. On a low budget production team, if your DOP is also an editor, that's a good thing. The guys who pass on their skills and their intel to the people they work with, are the ones that survive, because each person they taught is now a buddy. This new wave cultural evolution is the opposite of the forces that shaped the old world movie industry, where behaving like a jackal is how you rose to the top. The old world movie maker mentality is: don't tell anyone anything, don't cooperate, build weasel clauses into every contract so you can bail and, any problem can be solved if you throw enough money at it. Rising up through the industry at the moment is a huge group of people who value good manners, are cooperative by nature, who hate egotistical assholes, who can multitask into any part of the production process (all your DOP's can edit, direct, do post production audio, art direct, etc) and who strongly suspect that people who throw their weight about don't have the talent to back it up. Not only that, these people are all networking, all of the time and are starting to pull some fairly major projects together. Even though they don't know it, yet, the old world movie industry is in decline. It's ﬂoundering about because economic forces are putting the old worlders under pressures they don't understand. Production budgets are being cut right across the business... and ironically, the people who don't ﬁnd that concept even slightly daunting are the new wavers... because new wavers always have a workaround. The truth of the matter is the old world movie industry always has looked ﬂaky to anyone who understood business. The people who deﬁned their importance by the size of their production budget, who weighed up everyone they met to see if they're were worth talking too, who only trusted their lawyers and who held their customers in contempt... those guys have always looked wrong to the outside world. However, the big change in the industry over the last ten years, is that more and more they're starting to look wrong to the people on the inside as well.
(Again, one year on, I still hold this world-view. If anything my experiences at Cannes Film Festival have shown me how the new-wave movie makers are starting to have a growing degree of inﬂuence.) #
Why Fame = Money There's been a lot of heat online this week about James Cameron's trailer for Avatar. I've yet to read anything positive about it. I watched it and was frankly underwhelmed. Let's face it, has been a lot of hype about the movie, about how it will herald in an age of 3D movie making... and yet, when the trailer came out, my ﬁrst instinct was "I can't be arsed to watch that movie" There is a general impression out there in cyber-land that the production team got so excited by the technology, they forgot to make a movie. Of course, it may just be the magic doesn't translate to a 2D trailer. I doubt it, because a compelling story doesn't disappear in the cracks between 2D and 3D. "Tech-glamour" is a common failing in the movie industry and it happens at all levels. My take is, the second you start to believe that either a particular camera format or editing system or effects package is going to be the making of your movie, then you're stuffed. The things that make a movie are the way it's written, the way it's cast and the way the team works together to tell the story in an interesting way... the camera format ought to be the least important thing on the set. This week on Smoke casting has been the primary issue. We already have one of the two male leads cast... a great name actor and we were massively excited when he agreed to attach to the movie. This week I may have found the other male lead... or rather, I have found an actor I really like, what I don't know is whether I can persuade investors and distributors he's the right guy for the job. He's done some good work in supporting roles, but in the language of the industry "he's got zero box-ofﬁce," which basically means having his name on the poster won't bring money through the door. In a sane world that shouldn't be a problem, in the real world, it is.
If I'm honest, this is the part of movie making which drives most people insane. The easy part is casting the movie, if you don't care about either ever making it or seeing it in a cinema... because let's face it there are loads of talented actors out there. I could cast this entire movie in an afternoon, if the quality of acting was my only concern. The hard part is explaining to the the investors and distributors why someone who has done incredible work as a character actor, is the right person to take one of the lead roles, despite his lack of box ofﬁce. It's not like I don't understand the economics of the movie industry. Getting production ﬁnance is linked to what an investor believes will be the return on US theatrical distribution. A British movie is doing well if it does $1.5M in the US at box ofﬁce, therefore, if you need $10M worth of production ﬁnance, you've got to persuade people your product can perform phenomenally at the box ofﬁce. Guessing box ofﬁce returns is far from scientiﬁc and one of few factors you can actually put a ﬁgure against is what your lead actors have achieved at box ofﬁce... if you've never explored Box Ofﬁce Mojo do so, it's an education. If you're going to argue against that kind of maths, then you've got to have something else to put in place of it, which is equally compelling. Again, those kinds of arguments aren't impossible and I do have some ideas. What I also know is any attempt to rewrite this script down to a $2M production budget, will mean cutting all the stuff that makes this movie a movie and this is why the vast majority of UK movies are so bloody awful, because when you write your movie to hit a particular budget, then you end up cutting out the very things that make it cinematic you end up with expensive TV, rather than cheap cinema. A mistake I see happen all too often in the UK, where we have an inﬂated idea of how important our home grown talent is to the rest of the world and where people are still trying to make movies in the £1M-£2M price range. In my opinion, that is not enough money to make a movie.
(Actually, it now looks as though making Smoke in the £1M to £2M budget range is going to be the best shot at getting it produced. What I hadn’t ﬁgured into my early thinking was the need for the project’s writer and producer to have worked their way up through the ranks. It’s going to be a few years before anyone could put £5M into one of my movies… so, you live, you learn)
I think this is why Richard Curtis who wrote "Four Weddings and a Funeral" has been so successful. He picked a good, high proﬁt genre, wrote
bloody excellent scripts, in a genre where previously they'd been a lot of bad ones... but more than that, he made sure the movies stayed cinematic. And, he also made the right casting choices to secure the budgets he needed. In his early ﬁlms there was always one US female box ofﬁce name and she was generally the love interest. That's smart producing. I actually met Richard Curtis a few years back at the Edinburgh Film Festival. He was standing in a crowded bar with a little semi-circle of "fame space" around him. (fame space is the distance the British put between themselves and a celebrity in crowded social situations). I just stepped up, introduced myself and chatted with him for about half an hour, mainly about the writing process. I found out that Blackadder was rewritten about 24 times before it got commissioned and that he writes an entire series when he's pitching a new TV project, he doesn't just write the ﬁrst episode and hope it'll be enough to make the sale. He knows the writing always needs a lot of work to make the sale. In reality the same is true on Smoke. The team knows what it needs to do in order to make the movie fantastic. My job as producer is to defend their right choices and then make sure they make good ﬁnancial sense for everyone. If I can show the investors how to turn a proﬁt on a movie that hasn't been compromised in either writing, production or casting, that will be quite an achievement. Bottom line is... I've got a lot to think about.
(The main change in my thinking since I wrote this, is a clearer understanding of how the UK Film industry in particular revolves around who know whom… and also the resume of the person involved. I rather naively thought one good script could open any door. About that I was wrong. It helps but it’s not the whole process)
Why You’ll Always be an Unknown Movie Maker It's been a tough week. I got a phone call at the start of the week to tell me the development funding application for Smoke had been removed from the selection process. For both the movie and me personally, this is a major set back. It's a set back for the movie because it means I can't afford to bring my team together to complete the budget, which in turn puts back any conversations with investors. Personally, it means more time living without an income... I can't even start to explain what that means. I can reapply, but it's going probably going to be at least three months before I can do that. Effectively, if I stay with the same game plan, this means putting the movie back three months. The truth of the matter is I made a stupid mistake on the funding application. I didn't re-read the funding criteria as I was rushing to hit the deadline and because of that, I presented the information they needed in the wrong way. I forgot the golden rule of applying for grants, which is: if you don't tick all the boxes, your application will never get in front of the panel. Making the presentation mistake isn't the only problem... the other problem is larger. The other problem is the one that keeps me up at nights. The biggest problem an unknown producer faces is the issue of credibility. People in the industry have an natural distrust of anyone unknown... the assumption is, if you're unknown then you must be a wanker. It's not an unreasonable assumption because the vast majority of unknowns you meet at ﬁlm festivals and industry events are wankers. There are a lot of wannabes out there who make it tough for everyone else, by being a horrible combination of hopeless, arrogant and insane, all at the same time. People in the industry try to avoid talking to those people at all costs... something they achieve by only talking to people they already know. You can see this on twitter, celebrities and media types largely follow the people who they consider the
insiders, the safe people... people they know. In other words, other celebrities. In the real world, in the movie business, the same rules apply. What this means for the someone like me, is the biggest problem I face pulling the movie together, is dealing with the industry's equivalent of the "tick boxes.” In the same way that funding organisations need you to present information in the right way, people in the industry need some evidence that the project is "viable.” Viable is just another word for a project not run by wankers. In other words, a well established name can take any piece of shit to people and they'll listen... an unknown can turn up with the best project in the world and the industry will fail to listen, because chances are it'll be a waste of time. At the moment, it's not unusual for me to be on the phone to a gate keeper (the people they put between you and the people you need to talk to) and for that person to say "Well, we've never heard of you." So, right now, the biggest hold up on this movie is having me as the producer. I don't have the right proﬁle for a project of this size. Again, this isn't because I don't have the skills to make this movie... I do. In fact, I have a phenomenal understanding of what this movie needs to get made and to do good business... what I don't have is the right level of access to make this movie easily. Like I said, it's about credibility. So, this week I've spent a lot of time considering whether to carry on with my original game plan, to produce this movie myself, or whether to make the process easier by shopping around for a co-producer with sufﬁcient credibility to open the doors I need opening.
(This is actually the decision I eventually took. Having no money and no established reputation in the industry proved to be too big a handicap to allow me to make this movie on my own terms)
Bringing in a co-producer is a mixed blessing. Right now I'm able to protect the project from stupid decisions. The second I bring in another producer, I lose the ability to do that. It also means that my company comes away with a much smaller piece of the pie. I haven't made any decisions yet. Push on by myself and or put time and effort to ﬁnding the right co-producer. It's not an easy decision to make. The irony of all this, is had the development funding come through it's a decision I could have held off for at least another couple of months.
What Disney Taught Me Like a lot of people my age, Disney was my introduction to cinema. In fact, the ﬁrst movie I ever saw was the original animated "101 Dalmations." (Yes, I am that old!) It was at the Savoy, Kettering in Northants. The main thing I remember about that day, was the Savoy had a little coffee bar down one side of the entrance, where you could drink milk shakes. The stools were real Americana, chrome poles that supported glamorous red leather bar seats. This was the ﬁrst time I'd ever been to the cinema by myself, I must have been about eight or nine years old. It's hard to explain to people who've grown up with huge colour TVs, home cinema and HiDef computer screens, just how huge the visual and audio chasm was between home entertainment and cinema in the 1960's. Going to the cinema was literally mind blowing. To this day I still prefer to see movies in cinemas or at the very least, projected. Something I don't think will ever change. As a producer it's hard not to ﬁnd Disney inspirational. He reinvented animation and took it from being B movie, pre-feature short, kiddie entertainment and transformed it into a highly proﬁtable, story and art driven industry. He did the one thing that all movie makers strive for, he made marvelous movies and proﬁts at the same time. Not only that, he did it the arena of family entertainment, an area where all too often the output was trite, mediocre and patronising. A trait that is often still true today. I personally would love to slap the back of the head of anyone who believes children's programmes and movies can be handed by second rate writers and directors (dolts!). These days what I really take from Walt Disney are a set of core values I apply to movie making (not the family entertainment thing, er, I'm not best suited for that. I think swearing is funny, grown up and clever), but rather a set of core values I can distill down to one simple bench mark: What can we do to make this movie phenomenal?
The irony of this core value, is that what I see in the lot of the movie makers and producers around me is a shorter and much less satisfactory version of that core value, it seems to me that often their core value is simply: What can we do to make this movie? The difference, in terms of how a movie is produced, between "How can we make this movie?" and "How can we make this movie phenonemal?" is vast. It is a completely different mindset. What I'm doing at the moment is building a team of actors and crew who want to bring their own particular skills and passion for the project and give them the opportunity to work together to create something phenomenal. To each of them I'm saying, not "How can we get this movie made?" but "How can we make this movie, stunning, phenomenal, wonderful?" Of course, what's interesting about this process is that by concentrating on how to make the movie "phenomenal" we are greatly increasing the chances of it actually getting made... simply because it's easier to sell a phenomenal movie than it is one that is merely, good. Something Walt Disney understood all too well. What's amazing about this process, is I'm discovering how rare it is for people in the industry to be asked to do the things they are passionate about. How sad is that? The good news is that every time I put the script in front of a movie professional I want to work with, I get the same response "This is great, let's make it." To which I respond "Thanks, but let's make it phenomenal."
The Changing Face of Movie Producing This blog really only exists because friends on Twitter asked me to write about what I do as a media hobo and producer. So, this week, rather than just rambling on about whatever was in my head, I thought I'd ask the folks on Twitter what they'd like me to write about. By far the most popular request was "what producing skills should writers have?" First up, I'm not sure that I'm the best template to use if anyone is looking for success in the movie industry. Despite the fact that every script I've ever written has either been produced/optioned or has had signiﬁcant industry interest, in terms of actually making a living, ﬁnancially I would have been better spending the last twelve years delivering pizza. Seriously, I would have earned more money, had less personal grief, been through fewer divorces (probably), kept more houses... and, best of all I would have eaten a lot more pizza. So, in a lot of respects, pretty much everything I write here, is what I learned from the litany of mistakes I've made. If I've anything original or worth saying about producing movies, I guess, for me, the one thing I really believe is that in the new digital world "pigeon holing yourself" is bad for producers. One of the things I see, every single day, at all levels of the movie industry, are people who make a decision about where they ﬁt in the industry and then mentally box themselves into that slot. At the bottom end, there are the independent ﬁlm makers who decide the only way they'll ever make a movie is to buy a camcorder and do it all themselves; at the top end, is the Studio Executive Producer who won't look at a project which has a budget of less than $25M. In both cases, before the new project is even written, each of these producers has decided on the budget range and the distribution method for the ﬁlm. In the case of the indie it's "no budget" and "on the net." In the case of the Executive Producer, the budget is "$25M+" and distribution is "A global theatrical release, followed by DVD and TV sales, mainly pegged to sales in the USA." What's funny about this, is if you gave them both the same
script, the indie would make it on a camcorder with his mates and the Studio Exec would attach the big bankable names of the moment and make it for $32.6M. What's even funnier, is chances are, both of them will probably make a bloody awful movie. I genuinely believe one of the hardest things a writer/producer needs to be able to do, is to look at their script and see realistically where it slots into the industry. Is this a movie I need to make myself on camcorders? Is this a movie I make with professionals, but on a micro-budget? Is this a "Made for TV" movie, I pitch to a producer who specialises in that kind of material? Or, is this a massive Hollywood Studio, $25M+ starfest, where I'll need lots and lots of help? The hardest part of that equation isn't the script itself, but our own personal comfort zones, because, just in the same way that an indie with a camcorder is often too scared to put a script in front of the majors, major name directors and producers are too terriﬁed to put their professional reputation on the line by turning out a camcorder movie with friends. (I do actually believe we'll see this change soon... I even have some ideas about who will lead the way) My personal take is that knowing where the script will best ﬁt, is the number one skill a producer needs to have, that and having the conﬁdence to work at every level. In terms of how you get to that point, the only way to do it, is to do it. It's a lot like rollerblading, you have to be prepared to dive in and make a dick of yourself, over and over again, until you reach the point it all just feels automatic and natural. Over the past year, I've started to see a new class of producer emerge. People who, like me, are experimenting with a more ﬂexible approach to the industry and they are making some remarkable choices. Of these, Robert Llwellyn is one of my current heroes. Best know, internationally, for playing the OCD android "Kryten" in the BBC series "Red Dwarf," (@bobbyllew on twitter) currently produces one of the best DIY online shows in the world "Carpool," a show where he interviews interesting folk, whilst giving them a lift in his much loved Toyota Prius. It's a great show and I've watched it evolve from its rather shaky roots, where, to be honest the sound quality was sometimes a little below par, to its current, all singing version. As a producer, what I like about Carpool is that it's a concept Bobby could easily have slotted into regular broadcast TV, a world where he's an established name and where he has the right level of connections. Instead, he's made what I believe to be a better decision, he's created a successful
online fanbase for the show, done everything for himself and now, having proved its worth as a concept, he can either sell it on as an established format or, look at other ways of getting a return on his investment. Personally, although I'd love to see it on TV, I kind of hope he's got other plans for it. In lots of respects, as a producer I am the mirror image of Bobby. He's an established and much loved TV star, who is discovering the how's and why's of self production and distribution, whereas, I am the guy who can make a $750,000 feature ﬁlm with just $60,000 in cash and a shit load of good will, who is learning that just because I can do it that way, it doesn't mean that for every project, it is the best way to go. For me, this is what makes the current movie and TV industry so exciting. For the ﬁrst time ever, it isn't just one thing. In a very real sense, it is whatever we can make work and whatever excites us most, both as creatives and as business people. For the screenwriter who wants to be a writer/producer my main advice would be, don't pin your whole career on one script. Take an honest look at each script you write and then slot it into the sector of the industry where it ﬁts best. With some projects this may mean sitting on a script until you've got the right contacts to create an opening for it. The other thing I would deﬁnitely do, is take at least one script and make it for next to nothing... nothing teaches you about writing or producing better than actually making a movie and seeing from the end result, where you screwed the pooch.
Who is the Audience for this Movie? One of the things I've understood for years, and one of the reasons I believe I can make a living as a movie producer in the current economic climate, is that the movie industry doesn't seem to take marketing and advertising seriously. In the current economic climate, my take is that a professional marketing strategy for a movie is more important than the cast we attach in terms of securing ﬁnance and also ensuring the success of the movie. The days of "it'll make money providing X is in it," are over.
Historically, the industry has a limited number of techniques which work brilliantly when they work, but that have an appalling failure rate. I've spent decades in this industry shaking my head as both Hollywood and independents fail time and time again to apply any kind of creativity to what is essentially the launch of a new brand or product. Whilst at the same time, both the industry and independents also get overly hung up on the means of delivery, rather than on the content of the message. Or, in other words... the answer isn't "the internet," is what you do with it. The same applies to any other advertising or marketing medium... the answer isn't posters, it's what you do with them... etc etc The good news is that the core principles of understanding a movie as a product are pretty simple. When I ﬁrst got a job as a copywriter in radio, I was taught how to write commercials by a team with a very simple philosophy. That you could approach any advertising problem by answering three simple questions: 1) Who are we talking to? (deﬁned by a speciﬁc desire or problem) 2) What do you want them to do? (buy stuff) and 3) Why should they do it? (a compelling reason which addressed the desire or problem) This may seem simplistic, but by using it professionally for thirteen years I discovered it's actually a very sophisticated way of approaching marketing and advertising problems. In particular, it's about the dance between the "who" question and the "why" question... or, in other words, the way the why of why people should go to see your movie, is linked to an understanding of who your core audience is and what they want. What's really, really important, is to grasp that "Who" is deﬁned by a speciﬁc desire, rather than in the normal marketing speak of most "marketers." So, for instance, "17 to 25 year old cinema goers" is not a "Who," it's a piss poor generalisation which tries to predict movie going trends based on the assumption that all 17 to 25 year olds want the same thing from movies. A better who might be: "a person who enjoyed 'Withnail and I'" ... or "a person who thinks some grafﬁti is brilliant urban art" For Smoke I've a huge list of "whos" all of which are matched to the
strengths of the movie, which in turn become linked to the "Whys." Some of those "whys" are about the genre of the movie (comedy)... what kind of comedy it is (is it more appealing to the kind of people who like 'Spaced' than it is to those who like 'Friends')... and some of those "whos" are directly related to the type of characters in the movie, the kind of world they inhabit, the cultural references in the movie. In total I've identiﬁed about sixty speciﬁc groups of people (deﬁned by what they like) who will naturally ﬁnd "Smoke" their kind of movie... that is, they will if any of them ever ﬁnd out that it exists. This means that part of Smoke's marketing strategy is about ﬁnding ways to isolate speciﬁc groups of people (whos) and then let them know about the movie's existence and why it's for them. In some respects Hollywood has always used a crude version of this formula, but only to the extent that "who are we talking to?... someone who likes Brad Pitt... why should they see this movie?... because Brad Pitt is in it" or "who are we talking to? ... people who loved 'The Matrix'... why should they watch this movie?... because it's 'The Matrix IV - in which Neo and Trinity's child battles the Architect's plan to redecorate the matrix in Hello Kitty merchandise'" (sorry about that one... I had a moment... but, you do know it's only a matter of time, don't you?). The easiest part of this equation is always the "what," because it's very simple... "what do you want them to do... buy the movie and tell their friends to see it." What I'm trying to do with the business plan for "Smoke" is to deﬁne my market pretty clearly in the early stages of the movie's development. A process I started when the script was being written and one I intend to formalise into a marketing strategy before I approach investors... This isn't something I want to be doing when the movie is completed. I'm doing it now because one of the strongest assets any movie has is the script and it's easier to adapt the script to conform to the needs of the market, than it is to adapt the market to the needs of the script. Of course, the major players do this all the time. The problem is, often the changes made to make a script conform to the market, are applied without any real understanding of what the market actually is... or in many cases what the script is really about and who it really appeals to. For Smoke this has meant a rewrite of the original script to alter some of the language, so that it would be broadcast safe on mainstream TV... the
tricky part was achieving that without compromising the piece. My baseline is that every alteration has to make the movie better, not just more mainstream. Doing both is and was possible. It's never about compromise... that's important... and also where many market driven rewrites go wrong. The bottom line is... I understand Smoke both as a script and also I understand it as a product. For me, that's the key to getting all this to work.. and this also is the big change I really want to see happen in the independent movie sector. Let's be grown ups and recognise that our movies have to perform as products... but at the same time, let's make a commercial virtue out of our understanding of what makes a great movie. Those two factors don't have to be contradictory... but, and this is a big but... in order to do that we have to stop the belief that niche marketing can be achieved by throwing up a website, designing a poster, attending a few ﬁlm festivals and hoping for the best. The marketing strategy needs to be targeted, speciﬁc to that movie and built like a brand launch. If the movie is costing multiple of millions of pounds, the marketing of the movie needs to reﬂect that. Even if the movie is costing nothing, the marketing needs to reﬂect the commercial potential... and by the way, no movie costs nothing, by the time you factor in crew and cast time investment, they're all expensive products. This is the reason I sometimes despair of current trends in independent movie making, where business strategies are being formulated on the baseline belief that audiences can't be built through conventional business strategies. When, what I see is a failure to treat each movie as a distinct product and to develop marketing strategies designed to talk to and nurture a desire to see, in each movie's natural set of Whos. Every movie has an audience, you just need to know who they are and then talk to them! What's exciting about the new media developments is that that is now possible, but like I said earlier... new media/new distribution isn't the answer, it's what you do with them. It's all about content, for both the product and the marketing of that product.
Mood Swings, Rejection and Life in the Industry @stephenfry is an institution on twitter, one of the central ﬁgures. A man whose contribution to spreading information and rallying the good people of the world to worthy causes, is legendary. He is also a great wit, a talented writer, a phenomenal actor and a rather wonderful human being and yet, he's also a man who is prone to what Churchill called "The Black Dog," or mood swings... manic depression. He's been having a bit of a rough time the last twenty four hours and my heart and my best wishes go out to him. I'm not manic depressive, but I understand mood swings and I also understand the steep price that is extracted when you are blessed/cursed with the personal combination of creativity and vulnerability. Personally, I think vulnerability is one of the keys to good drama, both for actors and for writers. However, the downside of that, is that the very things that equip a person to be a good dramatist, are sometimes liabilities when it comes to surviving the business side of the industry. Which in a way is what I've been trying to write about this week... that delicate balance between artistic integrity on one side and business integrity on the other. A thought I'll come back to. However, for the moment, I just want to talk a bit about how one of the hardest pressures on an independent movie maker, in my experience, is learning how to survive rejection and criticism. In fact, perhaps more important than that, is how we stop our own minds from creating phantasms of rejection from less than perfect evidence, especially in an industry where the actions of most of the people you will do business with, will reenforce your sense of rejection. I had the perfect example this week. We'd sent details of a documentary project out to someone nearly a month ago and heard nothing back. In this industry, nothing back usually means you are not important enough even to get a personal rejection. However, I made the follow up call
anyway and discovered that the person in question has been out of the country on holiday for the past three weeks. Or, in other words... we're not actually rejected, yet. Even with a project like Smoke, where we're getting a lot of support and interest from the industry, I would say that at least a couple of times a week I have to deal with either a personal rejection, or a personal snub or in some cases outright rudeness from someone in the industry. The problem is, dealing with this means not just an adjustment of the business plan, but it also means taking the emotional hit, picking yourself up one more time and ﬁnding some way of getting positive about the project again. Some weeks this is easier than others... and sometimes, like this week, you hit a spot where for no particular reason at all, everything seem harder and more futile than usual. The industry is harsh... and yet it needs vulnerable, creative people. This is one of the great dilemmas of the movie industry. On some levels I equate artistic integrity with vulnerability, although I don't think they are exactly the same thing, I can see connections. When a creative in the movie industry talks about ﬁnding truth, or making an important movie, generally they're talking about exploring human vulnerability... and more importantly, they're also emotionally invested in seeing the movie made the way they believe it should be. The ﬂip side of this equation is having business integrity. Business integrity is about ensuring that my artistic integrity isn't created through exploitation. For me, that means making sure that everyone who works on the movie is paid the right rate for their time and their input and also it means ensuring that I do everything in my power to ensure that the people who invest in my movie, make a handsome return on that investment. In my opinion, artistic integrity without business integrity is both egoistical and narcissistic. These days I read a lot of articles about why the movie industry is suffering so much. Almost all of them point of external and evolutionary forces: economic down turn, credit crunch, internet piracy... blah, blah, blah... actually, my take is that industry has never paid sufﬁcient attention to the balance between artistic integrity and business integrity. So, on one side you have had a lot of independents who have made movies with artistic integrity, but who haven't cared enough about the business side of the equation to protect and serve their investors. On the other side you have a
huge section of the industry whose only interest is in short term business gains. In particular a distribution industry who learned they could make money without having to try too hard... providing they only turned out easy to sell movies. I guess what I'm saying is we'd have a better movie industry and better movies if vulnerable creatives like myself, learned how to do more than just take the knocks, but also managed to take a step back and understand our larger responsibilities as business people... and at the same time, it would also make a real difference if the distribution sector of the industry learned better marketing and advertising skills and stopped reducing every movie to "what was the budget and who is in it?" On a personal level, I understand that Smoke's ability to make it to cinema screens depends all most exclusively on my ability to carry on making the right business and artistic moves and also to a larger extent, my ability to dust myself off, pick myself up and believe it's all worth the effort. Which is what I'm going to do right now...
Media Hobo Movie Kung-Fu One of the things I learned very early on in independent movie making, is I have to be adaptable. This is because regardless of how well I do my fund raising, I'm always going to be presented with problems that can't be ﬁxed, with the amount of money I have available. What this seems to mean is that independent movie makers often learn one of two skill-sets: how to creatively adapt to the circumstances or how to compromise. When it comes to movie making, my take is that compromise is always a mistake. In fact, I'd go as far as to say, that it's better not to shoot, than to shoot a project you know isn't going to be the movie it should be. That's why adaptability is the most important skill a producer can have. Not only that, the less money I have, the more adaptable I have to be.
Personally, I think adaptability is probably more important than money and the top end of the industry would be in better shape, if people used more of it, instead of spending their way out of problems... but that's a rant for another day. I learned my attitudes to adaptability through the study of martial arts. In particular a Tai Chi based martial art called Feng Shou. Without getting too Kill Bill about it, what I learned from my teacher, Chee Soo, was that the best way to deal with an on coming force was to get out of its way... and more than that, to give it a little bit of help. This may not sound like it can be applied to the movie business, but it can. In business terms, what this means is that I won't get my movie made by struggling against the forces at play in the industry. I'll get Smoke made by pointing the business plan in the same direction as the tide. Not only that, as the tide changes I need to adapt with it, rather than trying to force my way forwards with the old plan. This week, I've made a strategic shift to turn Smoke into the tide. Basically, I've started writing a version of Smoke to pitch as a novel. One of the underlying truths of the industry is that adaptations of existing novels, perform better at the box ofﬁce and are more likely to get made, than new ideas from spec scripts. A lot of screenwriters, trying to sell speculative screenplays bitch about this issue. It's occurred to me that rather than kicking against that trend, it made perfect business sense to turn Smoke into a novel, as well as screenplay. The argument for doing it is very simple: ﬁrstly, it's an opportunity to take my existing product (the script) and open it out to new potential markets. This means that even if the movie never came off, I'd still have an alternative opportunity to earn from the story; secondly, getting the novel published automatically increases the potential audience base for the movie and increases its credibility as a product. It's a win, win situation.. and as Smoke is currently stalled by lack of development money and the endless wait for people to get back to me about stuff, it's also a sensible use of my time. When in doubt, write. Part of my thinking about reworking Smoke for the book trade, is related to the current push from people like Power to the Pixel and Ted Hope to get independents to think about multi-platform releases as a way of building audiences. However, whilst they seem to be obsessed with digital platforms, I've been looking wider and at more traditional industries. I've been asking
myself: would my movie make a credible graphic novel? Can I sell it as a comic book series? Is it more literally and therefore more attractive to people who read ﬁction? The bottom line with cross platform selling, is that I need to match the alternate products to my movie's potential audience base. With Smoke it was and still is a toss-up between novel and graphic novel... but, as I have the skill to write a novel, unaided, the novel won... for the moment. I've enjoyed this week's writing, a lot. Writing a novel is a new experience for me, so starting was actually quite a scary experience. When you have skills in one style of writing, they don't automatically translate into a new medium. However, it's coming together really nicely. What's been really interesting for me, has been to see how writing a screenplay in novel form, has forced me to unpack the characters in greater depth than I do for a screenplay. I'm honestly surprised screenwriters don't do it more often. There's actually a lot more to this idea of going with the ﬂow, rather than kicking against it... especially in terms of the business side of movie production, but maybe that's a discussion for another day. What I think is important though, is to get over the idea that in the movie business, the movie isn't the product, the story is, the characters are. And, like in any business, there are often multiple ways to bring those characters and this story to an audience... all of which ultimately serve the best interest of the movie.
How I Learned to Write Screenplays I ﬁrst came to screenwriting about thirteen years ago, when I was already an international award winning radio copywriter. I had just won The London Internationals and had come to the conclusion that I'd tackled all the challenges advertising had to offer me as a writer. I wanted new challenges and I also wanted to do some "serious" writing, or at least some writing where the client's stupidity wouldn't ruin my work. I have to laugh, because if I'd known then what I now know about the movie industry I never would have seen it as the better or more expressive option than advertising. Hey, and in advertising I also got paid! The reason I mention my background, is because I came to screenwriting as a well established, professional writer, who was at the very top of my chosen ﬁeld and yet, in all honestly, it was to take me another nine years to actually translate the ability to write a coherent sentence, into a script that I could "hand on heart" say was genuinely good enough. I really had no idea, when I ﬁrst started out, just how difﬁcult and technical screenwriting is. All I had in the early days, was the ability to write killer dialogue. This I had learned in radio studios, by writing scripts for actors to read... which in itself is no small achievement. Even to this day, whether it's here in my blog, in a script or even in the novel, I still construct sentences that are designed to be read out loud. I don't see that changing any time soon, if ever, because in many ways, this way of writing has become the largest part of my voice as a writer. It does also explain my idiosyncratic punctuation; hahahahhaha. For me, the process of learning to write, has largely been the process of writing for production. Which in turn has given me nearly twenty years of direct feedback on how my use of language works in a practical setting. This is one of the reasons I've always been an advocate of screenwriter's producing their own movies, because my entire learning process has been founded on writing, then producing, then seeing where I got it right and where I got it terribly wrong. In all honesty I don't think I ever would have evolved
as a writer, had it not been for my opportunities to write for radio and hear the results... and then to repeat the same process as a digital movie maker. My personal process of learning to write screenplays, took much, much longer than I possibly could have anticipated. About nine years and seven movie scripts in total. Where I was lucky, was that every time I wrote a script, a producer saw something in it that made it worth producing. (Even when paying me wasn't an option). In no small respect, I survived in the industry for many years, only on my ability to write dialogue that actor's found enjoyable to work with. What took me forever to learn, was the technical nature of the screenplay. Not just absorbing the two millions rules: no passive voice; no directing the camera; no directing the actors; the placement of the inciting incident and the call to action; act breaks; character arcs; sub-text; the nature and disclosure of secrets; the relationship of the scene to the segment; formatting (whose rules change every other day); how to engage, pace and write for people who don't like to read; the balancing act between conﬂict and connection; 3 act structure; 4 act structure; why all the screenwriting manuals are written by people with practically no movie credits; and, ﬁnally the actual language of the screenplay... which is unique and perhaps the most complex magic trick ever staged... in that, you tell the director exactly how the movie needs to be shot, without the bugger ever ﬁguring out how or that you did that. Actually, that is only half the problem, because once a script is exposed to the industry you rapidly discover everyone interprets these construction guidelines in different ways. In fact, I got so tired of having readers tell me my scripts didn't follow three act structural guidelines, I actually built the key structural points into the script of Smoke as gags... so at the end of Act One, Font has grafﬁted a sign in Acton to read "You are now leaving Actone!" Trust me, that was so worth the effort. Moving away from the technical constraints of screen writing these past few weeks, has been an absolute delight. Writing a novel and writing a screenplay are very, very different disciplines for me as a writer and if I'm totally honest, although challenging, writing the novel is turning out to be both liberating and much more enjoyable. The ﬁrst thing that struck me as a ﬂedgling novelist, was just how much of the creative process in screenwriting is devolved to both the actor and the
director. The rules of screenplay writing are largely about placing prohibitions on the writer, in order to give freedom to the director and the actors to take ownership of the creative act. So, in my original screenplay, the Transport Policeman who opens the movie, was a device to get us through the credit sequence and to introduce the protagonists. In the novel, I suddenly had the space and the freedom to take this person and explore his inner life, his aspirations and to create a credible backstory. None of which would have been possible in the movie version. The next thing that struck me, was how my vocabulary and writing syntax was set free, to play on the page in the novel form, in a way that just isn't possible in a movie script. I'm discovering my natural writing style is both literary and lyrical, neither of which are natural ﬁts to screenwriting. A friend of mine once told me that screenplays have to be written in language that is accessible to a lower than average high school student, largely because movie producers aren't big book readers. "Clive, if they have to consider reaching for a dictionary, they'll hate you for being smarter than they are and they'll hate the script." The same is true of the syntax of the movie script... it is deliberately constricting. In fact, as I've been writing this, I've realised that in an ideal screenplay, the writing is meant to be invisible. If you notice the writing, then it is acting as a distraction from the story. What's happened to me, in the process of adapting Smoke into the form of a novel, is I've been let off the leash as a writer. Suddenly, I can use the word "rapscallions" in a sentence, without being self indulgent. For the ﬁrst time in many, many years as a writer, I am free to use all the tools at my disposal and to have a genuine and singular voice. My characters, my story, told in the way I want to tell it. As a writer, that is a serious amount of fun. What I've also begun to understand this week, are the reasons that adaptations of novels to screenplays pretty much always fall short. The truth is that the screenplay has no possibility of accurately reﬂecting a novel. At least not with the industry as it exists today. It's always going to be like trying to stuff a live bear into a bunny costume. In that there is always too much bear and not enough room in the bunny suit! In other words, all of the things I try to imply or build into a movie script via metaphor and context, I can explore explicitly in the novel. For me, as a screenwriter exploring the novel as a form, I see the freedoms it offers and for me personally writing in the novel form is more challenging. Simply because I'm having to adapt to the freedoms. Whereas
the conventions of writing for screenplay are hard wired. I visualise the scene, I hammer it down, without even having to think about how I do that. Through hard work and study and practice, writing for screen has become second nature. What that doesn't mean is that it is easy. I can see how the sparse form of screenwriting, must seen simplistic to those writers who have mainly written novels. All I can say is, it isn't. I genuinely believe that as a writer, the hardest challenge I have ever undertaken, was learning how to write for the screen. Not that I believe people shouldn't try, just that perhaps they need to accept, that no matter how good they are in their current writing form, based on my experiences, they should probably dedicate a good eight or nine years or getting it wrong, before they actually understand how to write a movie, well... or, maybe I'm just a slow learner! Given the current state of the movie industry and the fact that it's populated largely by the insane and the terminally stupid, I can't imagine why anyone with the freedom to write novels would ever bother. Trust me, it's soul destroying. What I am ﬁnding, however, is what an incredible blessing my years as a struggling screenwriter have been to my development as a story teller. The truth is that the very restrictions, disciplines and development processes that are the norm in screenwriting, provide a rock solid foundation for writing a novel. One of the common mistakes writers make, in all disciplines, is trying to compress the whole creative process into one act of writing. By that, I mean, taking a blank page, starting to write and then trying to plot, be constructive in their use of language and develop characters, all on the ﬂy. I'm in the rather fabulous position of knowing my story and my characters, the story arc and how it plays out and develops, already. All I'm having to do, is write. And by that, I mean I have the luxury of only having to think about the way in which I use words, to give the readers an enjoyable read. Bliss. As of this week, I have absolutely no idea how or when the movie will make its next faltering steps towards production. I'm going to take some time over the Christmas break to consider my options there. What I do know, is that I am happy and enjoying writing in a way I haven't for years... which for me, is as good as it gets.
If You Act Like a Dog I've not talked much about the development of the movie recently and that's because I've been a bit stuck. Ever since the development funding crisis three months ago, I've had a pretty frustrating time with the project. I'd like to believe the reason the movie's progress has stalled is only about the lack of development ﬁnance, but actually there are more fundamental " Catch 22" style problems, which I'm currently trying to get a perspective on... and that's what I want to write about today. Earlier this week @bang2write posted a link to a John Blumenthal article titled "Why Writing a Spec Script Will Get You Nowhere" The jist of this article is: There is no point in writing a spec, because everyone and their dog is doing that and no one in the industry will read it anyway. On one level John is right, one of the problems facing any screen writer is the fact that the industry is drowning in a sea of absolutely awful spec scripts. I friend of mine, who reads specs in Hollywood, once told me that 98% of the scripts that passed over his desk were unreadable. They were so bad they didn't even manage to achieve the baseline for competence. One of the results of this tidal wave of spec pap, is the industry has developed a view point that anyone who is new and unheard of, mathematically has a 98% chance of being a complete waste of time or a wanker... the industry is notoriously wary of wankers. This is a huge problem for anyone trying to break into the industry and the heart of the "Catch 22" issue I mentioned earlier. You need to be known to get read... but how can you get known, unless someone actually reads you? On top of all this, is the on-going trend of the studios, to retreat from "unsafe" projects. The studios are moving more and more to high budget adaptations of existing brands: toys, comic books, novels, etc. So, in very real terms, a spec script from an unknown and unbranded writer, is about the biggest risk it is possible for a studio to take. The bottom line is that an unknown writer like me, with a spec script, has absolutely no leverage, if I
choose to play by their rules. My take is that every independent movie-maker and unknown screenwriter is trying to solve exactly the same problem: how to create sufﬁcient leverage, in order to make their creative work worth paying attention to. I know for me personally, leverage and my lack of it, is a daily business problem, one I'm working very, very hard to overcome. It seems to me that ﬂip side of this, is that this closed community is also the biggest problem the movie industry faces right now. Everyone wants someone else to take the risks on their behalf: producers want agents to act as gate keepers; talent want agents to act as gate keepers; agents want to take the safest option for their clients; investors want the talent and distributors to buy into the movie before they do; the agents want to see the production money is in place and distribution is sorted before they attach their clients; and, distribution wants to know who is in it and who is directing before they'll even talk to you. No one wants to be the ﬁrst to attach signiﬁcantly and, even when you ﬁnd people who are interested, like for instance a distributor... the golden rule seems to be, we like you, but we'll not give you anything useful, until everything else is in place. The whole industry really is idiotic and it's idiotic because it's run like a school play ground where no one wants to commit to playing with the new guys, until they see whether the "cool" kids think he's OK. If you really want to know why the movie industry is a mess, it's because at its heart, it is run by people who don't have faith in their ability to tell a good script from a bad one. Well, that and an inability to market creatively or distribute sanely. (But don't get me started on those) From the start with Smoke, my plan was to bootstrap my way into a bankable position... or in other words, use the leverage of the script to attach the right talent, to attract in all the other cool kids I need to get the movie made. Smoke started very, very well. I got my director immediately, got one of the lead name actors I needed, immediately. Where we're stalled, is that even with those two people attached, I still don't have the leverage I need, to get the other elements in place. There is a good reason for this... it's partly me... as a writer and as a producer I am too much of an unknown quantity to give the project enough credibility. But, actually, neither of my two major leverage issues are the real problem... the real problem is more human and is to do with my gut level
distrust of the way the industry conducts itself. It's actually really easy, in this business, to buy into the norms of behaviour and conduct, that seem to be part and parcel of how things get done. Personally, over the last couple of months, I've really started to question that. What really bothered me, was how I was starting to accept that unacknowledged emails are the norm and unreturned phone calls are "just how things are done." In fact, more than that, I'd started to believe that the lack of response from agents, producers and other industry folk was my fault. No one was talking to me, because I wasn't worth talking to... which is bullshit. When I was a proper, full-on independent, I never stood for any nonsense at all. My working philosophy then was: this is my movie. I am going to make this movie. If you want to be involved, good for you. If not, then fuck-off. Either help me make this happen or get out of the damn way! Those were the only two choices. What I never did as an independent, was sit outside the door like a wet puppy, waiting for someone inside to let me in out of the rain. All of the hold ups on Smoke, have been entirely down to my willingness to hang around like a whore in a cheap bar, waiting for either a government quango or industry folk to actually pay attention to the opportunity I'm presenting them with. I've allowed them to set the pace and the agenda. So, as of today, the independent head is back on... everything else gets punted to the sidelines. if I've proved anything in the last six months it's: if you act like a dog, you get treated like one. However, the news isn't all grim, because it seems that the industry itself is swinging more towards the model of movie production I believe in. My take has always been that the talent, money and the writer could package projects and then take them to the studios for distribution... and guess what, as Hollywood retreats its production model to the CGI effects, $100M+ brand driven movies, in Europe, Hollywood talent is starting to see the beneﬁts of developing their own projects, outside of the studios, with international money. This is great news for me, as an English language movie producer living in Milan, because my guess is that once more the European festival scene is going to become the driving force behind new movie development for the American market. A trend that I ﬁrst noticed at Cannes 2009 and am now seeing played out across the pond. If the industry becomes more Euro-centric, more script driven and more accessible via the major European Festivals, I
might actually have a shot at making this work. What I don't see, yet, is the London scene getting their asses into gear to be part of this... but actually, for me that maybe a bonus, I've always done better in mainland Europe, than I ever did in London, where the scene is dreadfully class driven and insular, or Los Angeles, which is rapidly losing ground as a player, for my kind of project. On top of that, I've actually got leverage in Europe, most of which I gained by establishing a reputation on the festival circuit, as a guy who can by-pass agents and get other people's projects back on track. The important thing is, I don't feel either frustrated or helpless in this process anymore... John Blumenthal was right, but he missed out two important points. Yes, everyone is writing specs, but most of them are writing really bad specs and good writing will always ﬁnd a way onto the right desk... and ﬁnally, the days of the screenwriter/employee are over. I shouldn't be relying old Hollywood to discover me, when I can be out there ﬁnding collaborators in the new global movie economy. More importantly, there is no point trying to attract the attention of people who aren't interested in me or in Smoke... not only is it pointless, it is disempowering and soul destroying. There is another factor at play in all of this. The perceived decline by old Hollywood of star power, to guarantee box ofﬁce. As the major acting names in Hollywood see their power as employees diminish, I predict they'll become more pro-active in ﬁnding and developing projects of their own... which has got to be good news for writers. Now, all I need, is for that zeitgeist to ﬁlter through to their agents, who are still largely playing the "old school" game. We're living in interesting times, all right. On with the revolution.
How I approach Writing the First Ten Pages I almost didn't publish, this week. Between it being the holidays and the head splitting migraine I had yesterday, it would have been easy just to give myself the day off. But, the truth is, the discipline of writing is good for me, so here I am, banging out a quick piece on the actual day of publishing. Yikes! Last week @jeannevb from #scriptchat asked me to write about how I approach the ﬁrst ten pages of a screenplay. If you didn't already know about it, #scriptchat is a weekly online chat on twitter about screenwriting, which has brought together an eclectic group of screenwriters on twitter to talk about scripts and writing. I'm always a bit reticent to write about screenwriting, partly because it always elicits a "who do you think you are?" response. Which is fair enough, but which makes me sad. There is another reason. I really hate, loathe, detest and distain all screenwriting books. I've tried to read a few over the years, but they are always such massively tedious reading and always so badly written. I confess I've never managed to complete one. I always believed the bare minimum someone writing, a "how to" book on writing, ought to be able to do, is to construct an entertaining sentence, but it appears too much to ask, apparently. So, what I'm trying to say is, all that follows is just how I write my scripts, for what that's worth and it probably won't make much sense to anyone but me... oh dear. There is one other problem... and that's is, I both use a formal structure and then ignore it, all at the same time. What this means in practical terms, is that I use a four act, hero's journey structure when I'm doing my plotting, but when it comes to the actual writing I try to ignore that as much as humanly possible and concentrate of more important things. From a structured, formal plotting point of view, the ﬁrst ten pages are
"the hero, alone in the world, is moved towards an incident, which will throw him into an adventure." Or, in other words... the ﬁrst ten pages are about introducing the audience to the central character, moving them towards an event that will force them into a taking a journey (either literal or emotional). ... you see what I mean, when you start breaking this stuff down into principles, it becomes as dull as ditch water! The good news is, once I start the actual writing, I forget all of the tedious theories and work on the stuff I really care about... cinema, language and entertainment. For me the opening of a movie is really, really important. Regardless of how many trailers they've seen or reviews they've read, the opening of a movie is an uncomfortable time for an audience. They've had many wonderful times in the cinema and they've also had some really quite rubbish, disappointing times as well. For the audience, every new movie is a risk. What this means to me, is that I have an obligation to entertain and delight them from the ﬁrst second of the movie. I can't just throw them my central character and force them to sit through ten minutes of tedious plot set ups. I can't make them pay up front for future delights. I have to entertain them, page one, line one. One of the easiest ways to do that is to write about interesting people. I'll just let that one sink in a bit, because you'd be amazed at how often screenwriters forget that very simple concept and chose to write about boring people. For me, the people I am usually interested in are: rebellious, intelligent (in some way), idiosyncratic and emotionally vulnerable (in some way). However, the character alone, isn't enough. The character has to inhabit a world that is wonderfully cinematic. Or, in other words... they have to live somewhere that has something going on for it visually. So, what I'm really saying is this: In the ﬁrst ten pages of the screenplay I attempt to introduce the audience to an idiosyncratic, intelligent, vulnerable central protagonist, by showing that person engaged in something fascinating, entertaining and cinematic, which tells the audience where they are, what kind of person they are dealing with and at the same time sets up this person to be crashed into a new world and a new adventure.
Or, bottom line... Interesting person, interesting world... early demonstration of personal vulnerability Now, the truth of this is, all of this can be achieved in the middle of a car chase, if that's the world this person inhabits... or in the middle of a gun ﬁght, but, where I see Hollywood go wrong, time and time again, is when they think the ﬁghting and the chasing are more interesting, than the people who are doing the ﬁghting and the chasing. There is nothing wrong with opening your movie with an action sequence... providing they are just devices to reveal who the hero of the piece is, where he is idiosyncratic and how he is in some way vulnerable. By the same token, I also see many, many screenwriters who can't see any further than their characters and who therefore spend the opening of their movie, trying to unpack the characters in banal settings, with nothing happening... except people talking. Movies, for me, usually aren't about people talking, they're about people doing. If I wanted to see people talking as a form of drama, I'd watch TV, where they can't afford to show people doing. So, to conclude... ﬁrst ten pages... interesting people, doing interesting things in an interesting place. Yeap, all these words to basically say "Don't be boring"... and that's why I don't write about screenwriting very often. There's nothing clever about stating the obvious, in a long, convoluted fashion.
How I Reveal Character Without Using Dialogue I invariably arrive early at airports. This means I always have time for a coffee... and yet, no matter where I am in Europe, when I go to order my coffee, the person behind the counter will automatically address me in English, even if I haven't uttered a word. Except, occasionally, when I'm
traveling on business, when sometimes they address me in German. Sometimes I play along and order in German. For a couple of months now, I've been trying to ﬁgure out how to explain my current approach to screenwriting, but I've struggled to ﬁnd a way to make it simple and coherent. Then, just the other day, as I was thinking about my immanent trip to England, I realised that my experience of airports explains it perfectly. It seems fairly obvious to me, that when I approach an airport coffee seller, they take one look at me and based on their past experiences, they take a guess at what nationality I am... and, most of the time they get it right. Just by looking at me, most Italians can tell that I am English. On the occasions they get it wrong and assume I'm a German, it's usually because my idea of dressing for business makes me look more like a German tourist, than it does an English businessman. The truth of the matter is, every time we're in public or when we're watching a movie or the TV, when we see someone we've never met before, we attempt to make guesses about what kind of person this is, based on their appearance and the setting. Who is that coming towards me on the pavement or who is that sitting across from me on the tube train? We see people and based on nothing more than how they hold themselves, what their hair is like and what they are wearing, we then make up stories about what kind of people they are. So, are they rich or poor? Are they vain? Are they conﬁdent or shy? Are they violent or peaceful? And, you know what... I think, in the vast majority of cases we are probably right on the money. That guy in dirty clothes, mumbling to himself, probably isn't a doctor. That young girl, with the Prada handbag and the Chanel shades, probably isn't a fan of Cradle of Filth. The ﬂip side of this, is the concept of projected self image... or, in other words, I dress the way I dress, in order to communicate something about who I am. From my Converse sneakers, via my Levi 501's, all the way to the Threadless T-shirt, black hoodie and carbon ﬁbre Aviators, I am telling the world, that I'm not the kind of guy who works in insurance. Invariably, I dress, like a middle-aged media hobo. You can see me in the street, and you'd have a pretty fair shot at guessing my record collection, my taste in books and whether or not there was a graphic novel or two in my apartment. This, I believe, is also true of most everyone. As individuals, we are deﬁned by what we wear, where we chose to be, what and who we like and
what we consume. Hang in with me... because this does all relate to screenwriting. But, before I talk about how I currently approach screenwriting, I need to talk, just brieﬂy, about conventional screenwriting wisdom and how I think it leads to poor screenwriting. Basically, for most writers there is a clear understanding that characters in movies have to have emotional depth, which is developed by understanding their backstory. So, in terms of writing characters, most of the emphasis is usually placed on understanding the character's inner life. Almost every screenwriting book you can lay your hands on, talks about the character arc and character development and three dimensional characters, but always in the terms of inner life, goals and aspirations, almost never in terms of how to achieve that in a cinematic way. And, because writers tend to become focussed on the inner life of their characters, they invariably also become focussed on dialogue. The revealing of the character's inner life becomes an exercise in exposition and therapeutic disclosures. From my perspective, this often becomes problematic in many screenplays. As the writer searches for meaningful dialogue to give the characters depth, they lose touch with the visual nature of the movie. They create a mental split between character and action; where character is dialogue and action is plot. This leads, almost inevitably to the "when I was a kid, I had a kitten (beat)... I Ioved that kitten" scene. Where the character reveals, in exposition, the deﬁning moment of their past. Oh, dear. If you hear a massive sigh, when that happens in a movie, it usually means I'm somewhere in audience, squirming. In many respects, this way of writing, mirrors the method way of acting. In theory, if you understand the past history of the character, you can see how they will move forwards through the obstacles of the plot. At least that is the theory. Now, what I'm saying, is that when a screenwriter sets themselves the task of revealing a character's inner life by concentrating on the dialogue, they are pissing into the wind. Not just a light breeze either, they are pissing into an almighty gale... with an up-draft! Personally, I made a decision about a year ago to abandon the idea of a character's inner life and instead look at the different ways people reveal who they are through the semiotics of self-image... or, in other words, I use the way people dress, the places they chose to be, the people they chose as
friends and enemies, the music they like and the furniture they put in their homes and ofﬁces, to tell the audience what kind of person they are dealing with. But that's not the whole story. One of the things I see a lot in spec screenplays, is the use of generic locations. A generic warehouse, a generic ofﬁce, a normal kitchen. When people focus on the inner life of their characters, they miss the deep signiﬁcance of the speciﬁc. The idea that this particular story could only happen to this speciﬁc person, in this speciﬁc place. Think about it for a second. Would Spiderman be the same person, if his story had been set in a generic small Mid-Western town in America? For all kinds of reasons, Peter Parker and his story would be radically different. He'd move differently because there would be no tower blocks to swing from. It would be almost impossible to keep his identity secret, because there would be fewer people and therefore, less anonymity... and most important of all, he'd dress differently. The red tights, just wouldn't have occurred to him. Even with the same basic story premise, moving Peter Parker to a different location or environment, changes both him and the story. (By the way, if you're interested, this is one way to create an interesting reboot). Try this for yourselves... imagine how the Batman story would alter if Bruce Wayne was from a poor Italian family living in Sicily, instead of a rich Gotham (New York) family. Or, how different would Terminator have been, if Sarah Connor had been born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria? The point I'm trying to make, is that choice of locations in screenwriting need to be speciﬁc and right for the characters who inhabit those stories and that every single item of clothing, every prop, every stick of furniture can be used to tell your story. This person, in this speciﬁc ofﬁce, with this speciﬁc furniture, dressed in this speciﬁc way, in this speciﬁc city. It's an approach to screenwriting that I've used for a little while now, where I attempt to give the audience the clues they need to decode each character, in a way which matches the way people judge strangers in real life. This means it really matters, not just whether they own a Zippo cigarette lighter or not, but also exactly which model and how old it is. The inner life is revealed in the details. This kind of writing I call observational. Fairly obvious really, because it means I can only write to the limits of my observational skills. The important thing about this way of writing, is it takes the pressure off the dialogue. I don't need to say anything, that I can't show. This frees up the dialogue for subtext, jokes and banter... and the real advantage is, it takes the
movie back to the visual and cinematic. I did my degree in linguistic philosophy, so I tend to think about this in terms of self-image semiotics and location as metaphor... but, the bottom line is, it is as simple as, my protagonist lives in the rough end of Hackney, he wears a retro ﬁshtail parka and he owns the cheapest Zippo lighter it's possible to buy. This is also the reason I keep observations of everyday life, in notebooks. I take what I see, make up stories based on my assumptions and weave the speciﬁcs into my screenplays. I am obsessed by detail, by furniture design, by brands, by sub-culture uniforms and by fashion. If you want to see a perfect example of this technique, go to Youtube and do a search for "The IT Crowd"... it's a perfect example of how speciﬁc set dressing, wardrobe choices and props, reveal the inner lives of the central characters. It's also loaded with in jokes... which is the next level up of metaphor and observational screenwriting. But, maybe I'll write about layered visual metaphors another day. Watch it anyway... it's funny. (I would have embedded a clip, but Channel 4 have disabled embedding... a quick slap to the back of the head to Channel 4 for that one). I hope this makes sense. And as ever, this is only how I do it... it's up to you to decide whether it's useful or not. All I know is that this approach has transformed the way I approach, research and write for the movies. Next week, the world will start working and talking again and I can get back to the business of getting Smoke out into the world. Happy New Year to all of you and thanks for reading.
Bloody How To Books! One of the reasons I've become a bit reticent, over the past couple of years, to write about screenwriting is because I'm very aware that my way of writing is idiosyncratic. The people who read my scripts either love them or hate them. It always falls into those extremes. I'm also very aware, that I've yet to write a script and see an end product come out of it, where I can hand on heart say, that's exactly what I was aiming for. So, all I can every say is, I'm a media hobo and this is how I do it this week. I certainly wouldn't try to pitch myself as a template for screenwriting success. This is also one of the reasons I get infuriated by screenwriting gurus and people who make their living selling "how to" books and courses. I've yet to meet a working screenwriter with a decent set of credits, who is selling "how to" guides. I've yet to read a "how to" book about writing that didn't feel wrong, misguided or just plan evil. There is something perverted and weasellike about making money from the aspirations and ignorance of people who want to make careers as writers. A pox on all their houses... seriously, people who write "how to write a screenplay" books should be horse whipped, by a horse. A big horse. A big horse, who has a migraine and who was once locked in a lift with a rabid, blazer wearing, social media expert. The other thing that bothers me about people who write "how to" books, is how, by and large, their agendas are identical, it is to transform the writer into a safe product, by providing a template and a list of don'ts... "don't use montages, don't use voice-overs, don't use ﬂashbacks, don't do this, don't do that"... ARRRGH! This is an approach to movie making, where fear of not getting a sale, is seen as more important than telling a great story and because these books are never written by successful screenwriters, they are all based on reverse-engineering of other people's movies. The best way to understand this process, is to imagine a "painting by numbers" book designer, creating a template for you to paint the Mona Lisa... but, who suggests you choose your own colours... whilst at the same time, convincing you this is
how DaVinci did it. To be fair, a lot of the industry has encouraged this kind of thinking and unfortunately a lot of producers and agents have read and swear by these dreadful bloody books. A pox on their houses as well. With every passing day, I become more and more convinced that the only way I can work as a writer, is to do it by playing by my own rules, by trusting in the stories I want to tell and by telling them in the way that I think works best... and, when the industry isn't interested, then I'll ﬁnd another way of doing it. This is the reason, I've already decided, that if I haven't secured a publishing deal for the novel version of Smoke, by the time the manuscript is completed, then I'll self-publish. Of course, I'd prefer to have a brilliant agent who believes in what I'm doing and a mainstream publisher... but, for goodness sake, if that doesn't happen, in this age, I don't have to roll over and die. I honestly believe far too many writers get obsessed with "the industry," agents and screenwriting competitions, simply because they believe that only industry recognition will be enough... but let's face it, this is the industry that gave us "Battleﬁeld Earth," "Son of The Mask" and 'Dragonball Evolution." The question I've asked myself, often, over the last year is, what is it I am really trying to achieve? What I know for sure, is that I'm not working my ass off, in order to be given the opportunity to write "Dragonball Evolution II" or even to write an occasional episode of "Eastenders." I'm convinced the industry is changing, in ways that mean sometimes it makes sense to for me to work within the industry and sometimes it makes sense to keep them as far away from a project as humanly possible. My objective is to write stuff I can be proud of... both as novels and as movies. The people who serve those ends, I'll work with... those that don't, I won't. At the end of the day, it is my work and my choice. Of course, as ever, I'm just a media hobo and this is how I see it, this week. Next week I'll suddenly realise, that with no serious credits and no income, I'm probably the perfect person to write a screenwriting "how to" book. CODA: It's now 48 hours after I wrote this piece... and I've a little perspective on it. Like a lot of unknown screenwriters I struggle with my relationship with the industry. On one hand, the industry still represents the only serious way to make movies that require hardcore investment. On the
other hand, the industry is populated with idiots and tedious gatekeepers. At the moment I see two common reactions to this, a group of writers who want to get into the industry at any cost and a group of writers who have turned their back on the industry and want to do everything themselves. Personally, I'm not convinced by either approach. I've seen too many writers in the UK destroyed, by turning out hack drama for the TV and too many independents who miss out on the beneﬁts of being involved in the industry... one of which, ironically, is the difﬁculty in getting stuff made and the harsh feedback in the script development process. In this piece, I think it's easy to see my own personal struggle with this dilemma. I don't hate the industry and I could certainly do with the ﬁnancial beneﬁts of recognition. However, I also understand the gratiﬁcation of DIYing it. I did that for nine odd years myself, made a load of shorts and two feature ﬁlms. I honestly don't know what the answer is. The industry often seems too narrow minded, overly concerned with playing it safe and seriously unskilled at marketing anything outside of their comfort zone. Indies, all too often, don't have the resources to come to the market with a product or a distribution strategy that is economically viable, which in turn leads to compromised movies. It's a mess. I genuinely do wish I had some answers. At the same time I see talented screenwriters entering competitions and chasing agents, with scripts that stand little chance of getting into production. As it stands, today, I am searching for answers and all I have, are some ideas. Some of which are about getting to grips with movie marketing, some of which are about writers taking more control of the production process and acting as entrepreneurs and some of which are about just hanging in and trying to make the best choices I can, as things unfold. What I do know, is that talking and writing about the process helps... thanks for being part of that process.
Character Development and Plotting
I didn't have this blog when I ﬁrst started writing Smoke and as a result, I've never really talked that much about my writing process. However, as this week I'm embarking on two new scripts, it seems like a perfect opportunity to share how I go about my preparation for writing a new project. Another reason I wanted to talk about this, is because last week's discussion about "how to"
books, really got me thinking. I've been wondering just how much my own structural approach is dictated by stuff I read, in books I hated... my guess is, quite a lot. One of the tools I use for plotting and for character development is an excel spreadsheet (see above). I can't overstate how many ﬁrst draft problems I avoid, simply by using this simple Excel spreadsheet. It's the primary tool I use when I get blocked on the story A problem that usually occurs because character development hasn’t had enough work. This is an extension of my own, "When in doubt, write" maxim... so instead it reads "When in doubt, write; when you can't write, work on the character development spreadsheet!" Not as catchy, but for me, it works. I've found the character spreadsheet to be the most useful writing aid I use. Mainly because it allows me to create the plot from the pre-existing character conﬂicts and connections, I created in the spreadsheet. The protagonist and antagonist are going to come into conﬂict, simply because their desires, motivations and character-ﬂaws give them overwhelming psychological needs to destroy each other. It's also brilliant for helping you to spot cliches. If you've got a "tough, recently divorced cop" as your protagonist, this sheet give you the opportunity to put a spin on that meme and make the character unique to you and your movie. It's also great for rewrites. Take the ﬁrst draft, extract the data from your script onto the grid and look for the holes. Then rework the character sheet, before plotting the rewrite. A lot of my thinking about drama, is based on the notion that the characters in a movie or TV series need a degree of connection, rather than just conﬂict. I call this "The dark mirror" and it's something I see a lot at the moment in US TV. Basically, to create the prefect antagonist for your hero, they just make them a darker version of the hero... this allows the hero to struggle with the "but I'm just like him" scenario. What separates the antagonist and the protagonist, is often as simple as the choices they make and one of the easiest dilemma set ups, is for the hero to be forced to make a decision identical to one made by the antagonist. Again, a device I see a lot in current US TV and not enough in UK TV, where they still largely go for less morally challenging dilemmas. One of the main reasons I do all of this and my very structured notecard plotting prior to writing, is because it means when I do get to the actual writing, I can concentrate on the cinematic nature of the movie. I couldn't do
that, if I was also mentally engaged in character development and plotting. This is one of the reasons my ﬁrst drafts often don’t look like ﬁrst drafts. Many people like to do character development on the page. Which means they don't really know their characters until the end of the ﬁrst draft. This means the second draft is often a massive restructure, based on what they now know about the characters, which means the dialogue and cinematic vision often don't surface until a third draft. Personally, I hate unpicking scripts and doing radical restructures. So, out of laziness, this is how I avoid a lot of that kind of rewriting. Anyway, as usual, this is just how I approach it. Use it if it seems helpful, quietly mock it and me in the comfort of your own head, if it doesn't
Screenwriter; Film-maker; Media Hobo? This piece is about my take on the changing nature of media, the ﬁlm industry, the digital revolution and my personal struggle, to come to terms with those changes. This is my attempt to explain why I am not a screenwriter, why I'm not a ﬁlm-maker and why, these days, the only label I'm comfortable with is "media hobo." Here we go. I truly became a media hobo, because one day I realised, the movie industry does not exist, anymore. On one level this obviously isn't true. Movies still get made. The cinemas haven't closed down. DVD shops still sell DVDs. The TV companies still commission, and broadcast, drama and comedy. Much of it is still very, very good. Some of it remains proﬁtable. People are still being paid to write, direct and produce content. Actors are still working and earning. By any sane
deﬁnition, the industry still exists. However, over the years it's become clear to me, that the idea of one coherent industry, no longer is a reality. Maybe it never was. The "industry" now seems to be more fragmented than it's ever been and is made up, largely, of independent production companies and individuals, with varying degrees of access to traditional ﬁnance and traditional distribution. So, for every producer who can raise $35M and deliver global theatrical distribution, there are a thousand other producers, who are struggling to raise $2M for a movie, that will never see a cinema and below them, another ten thousand producers who will have decided, prior to production, that online sales are the way to go. Often, when people talk about the "industry," what they seem to be talking about, are the 1 in 11,000 producers, who can take a script and option it, pay in advance for the rights to develop it. When I thought of myself as a screenwriter, my main priority was to ﬁnd a way into that circle of producers, so I could turn my ability to write, into an income. I wanted to write, to then hand the development problems to someone else, take the money up front and move onto the next project. At that point in my life, I viewed the industry as a walled city, with all the money and work one side of the wall and agents acting as the guards at the gate. The fact that the vast majority of producers have given up on reading specs, in favour of only seeing writers with agents, seemed only to reenforce that idea. However, despite the fact that I don't have and never had had an agent, in the past three years I've self-generated: a serious, sit down, with an Oscar winning director about one of my scripts; I've put my writing directly in front of and attached, a name Hollywood director to one of my projects; I'm currently talking to one of the most important producers in the UK, about him taking the EP position on Smoke; and, I've turned down option offers, from ﬁve different international production companies, on other projects. However, just to put that in perspective, my income from all that activity has been $0. Yeap, these days, I am probably the most successful hobo in town. At the same time, it's been the afﬁrmation from professional movie-makers, that my writing is worth taking seriously, which has kept me in the game for four long years, of being completely broke, all of the time. Even going into this year, I still have no idea, at which point all this work, will ever turn into any kind of an income. Although, I am getting clearer
about how, this is now much more under my control, than it was, say ﬁve years ago. Of course, there is an argument that if I'd had an agent behind me, some of those opportunities would have come to something. Which is a fair point. However, it seems to me as there is no real industry as such. All an agent could have offered me, was a different collection of desks for the projects to land on. It's impossible to tell, really, if, or how, things might have been different, if I'd chased agents, instead of chasing potential collaborators at the major ﬁlm festivals. What I do know, is there was a point about two years ago, when I stopped thinking about the industry as one thing... And, I started seeing it as a collection of small businesses and entrepreneurs, each with their own game plan. The other thing I discovered, was that most agents are actually much more conservative in their tastes, than most producers, directors and actors. Of course, I could be biased, because I've always had more success with my scripts with actors and directors, than I ever had with agents. Maybe I've yet to met the right agent. So, one part of my decision to become a media-hobo, was related to the fragmentation of the industry. The other half was deeply personal, because I do know exactly when I ﬁrst decided to become a full time media hobo. It was after my second wife left me. I responded maturely to that by hiding under a duvet for six months, watching endless episodes of "House" on my computer and by working on a script called "The 117 Page Suicide Note." My intention, at that point, was to parallel the story of my protagonist. Complete the script, then kill myself. Fortunately, my ability to procrastinate over scripts is legendary. I never did complete that script. I did however, come out of that period with a new perspective on what it was I was trying to do. Up to that point, my entire career had been an attempt to ﬁnd the formula for success, at all costs. What came out of that bout of depression, was a different approach. Basically, if writing is about writing and not about success, then I can tell any story I want, anyway I want and take it to the market, any damn way I please. I think the timing of that epiphany was signiﬁcant, because it occurred just as the digital revolution seemed to open up new possibilities for storytelling, with every passing day. In fact, I've just come off the phone with my Brother, who has just uncovered an exciting, new way for us to get Smoke out to an audience. Tremendous stuff, which I'm sure will become the subject of this blog at some point.
This is why, I am a media-hobo. I'm not a screenwriter, because my interests in creating content are wider than just landing the new script-writing job and I'm also no longer sure that I want to make movies, by optioning my scripts. I'm also not a ﬁlm-maker, because although I have the skills and resources to write, shoot, edit, market and distribute a "no budget" movie, I don't currently have a story, I want to tell in that way. For me, being a media-hobo is about looking at the story and then looking for interesting ways to get that story out into the world. Sometimes, it seems, that this is going to happen by making genuine friends in the fragmented industry and working with them on projects, we want to see out there. Sometimes it's going to mean other things: self-publishing, e-books, this blog, webisodes, graphic novels. At its core, it means working creatively in any medium and whereever possible building a personal relationship with the audience. I think this is why my take on writing and the business, sometimes comes into conﬂict with screenwriters and ﬁlm-makers, because although we may share common techniques, we often don't have common goals and aspirations. I actually like being a media-hobo. My only aim is to tell the stories I want to tell, in ways that interest me. I don't care about success at any cost. I don't care, that much, what my critics think about me as a person or as a writer and I'm still believe there is value in wanting to do it my way, on my terms... and, most days I'm still happy to live with the consequences of doing that. It's entirely possible that at some point, I will change these views. Probably the day an agent hands me a cheque or asks me if I want to write "Ocean's 14"... because if I've learned anything at all on this journey, it really is all just talk, until the cheque clears.
Pitching? That’s a Tent Thing, isn’t it? One of the most depressing sounds a writer can ever hear, is the "media sigh." The media sigh is the sound "old media" folk make, just before a pitch, which conveys with the most world weary of outward breaths the message "Well, if you must." Personal experience has taught me the "media sigh" is a guaranteed precursor of the polite rejection letter and, that when it happens pre-pitch, it is also a sure sign, I am completely wasting my time. It is all over, once the fat lad sighs. I've been thinking about pitching a lot this week, mainly because a friend on twitter asked me what my thoughts on the Cannes Film Festival were, as an event for screenwriters? I'm in the middle of deciding whether or not to go, this year. I probably will, but, as usual, I'm not really sure why. Not to pitch, that's for sure. I never go to Cannes with the intention of pitching a script, anymore. In fact, I've come to the conclusion that pitching is a waste of time. A lesson I learned by trying it and deciding it was not an approach to business that was suitable for adults. The idea of the pitch is part of the Hollywood, movie industry mythos. it's a lie the industry has told about itself so often, it's become a half-truth. The plucky unknown writer, steps into the elevator with the cigar chomping movie mogul, "Gee, Mr Big Shot, I've got a swell idea for a movie!" "Go for it son, you've got until this lift gets to the tenth ﬂoor" CUT TO: Tenth ﬂoor: Elevator door opens "Son, that's the best idea for a movie, I've ever heard! Miss Jones! Give this boy a contract!" I'm amazed at how embedded into the culture, the idea of the pitch is. At some core level, so many people want to believe "the pitch" is the door everyone has to walk through... when, in my opinion, the pitch isn't a door, it's a ﬁlter. The pitch evolved, not as a way of discovering new ideas, but as a barrier speciﬁcally designed to keep people out. It's also a bad ﬁlter because it is the laziest and least robust way possible, to develop any creative project.
Which is the reason the media sigh often comes before the pitch, rather than after. If the pitch is a door, it's often the door that just got slammed in your face. Not only that... being asked to pitch, is a sure sign you're talking to someone who is "old media," as opposed to "new media." That world weary sigh, is the hallmark of people, who just aren't having fun any longer and call me radical, but I'm not sure people who aren't having fun, should ever be allowed to make entertainment. I try my level best, to never get forced into a pitch. I try to discourage situations where the agenda is "I am selling, do you want to buy?" Instead, I try to set up conversations, where the agenda is "I'm looking for collaborators in this business venture, I think you could bring a lot to this project, are you interested in talking?" Collaboration is the core of "new media," a shift towards the idea of the movie as an entrepreneurial/collaborative businesses, as opposed to an industry where maintaining the illusion of power is the primary game. It's not always possible to make that shift in conversation, but that's OK too, as it tells me who is more interested in playing power games, than in talking business. The way someone conducts themselves with people they believe to be unimportant, is always massively revealing. And trust me, anyone who asks you to pitch, is making a fairly bold claim about their importance, in comparison with you. Last week, I wrote about the level of discussions I'd managed to generate for my projects, without ever having an agent. All of that was achieved at industry events, like Cannes, simply by refusing to pitch and instead talking like a grown-up about movies as products and the business as a business. This is a process I call co-opting. It happens when two adults, sit down as equals and discover whether they can help each other, by working together. The truth is, I've yet to meet a director or actor who isn't looking for an interesting script, or a producer who isn't looking for an interesting coproduction and, I've yet to ﬁnd a business I wanted to do business with, whose rules for pitching couldn't be by-passed, if you refuse to be treated like a child. More importantly, I've also never met anyone in the industry who I couldn't introduce to someone else, who may be useful to their projects. Where old school media folk tend to network only in order to meet their own narrow agenda, new media folk tend to network for their whole community. One is about trying to collect and control power, the other is about sharing it about, for the common good. Actually, that is the thing about pitching as a business ethos. It's
essentially an "old school" power play, where the person taking the pitch, creates the illusion they hold all of the power. The implication is: if I don't buy your script, it will never get made; if I don't take you on as a client, you'll never get work; if I don't give you the ﬁnance for this movie, it'll never happen; if we don't distribute this movie, it'll never get an audience. The thing is, it's never true. The industry is way more diverse than that. The conversation should never be that one sided. My writing is the basis for a product, which in return is capable of generating a proﬁt, providing the people involved in representing, producing and distributing it, don't fuck it up. In many respects, I have more to lose by collaborating with idiots, than they do. The people who want me to pitch to them, are only any use to me, if they are capable of getting their heads out of their asses, focussing on getting the product right, getting the deals that work best for the project and only if they can see the opportunities of the new business environment, instead of moaning about the collapse the "old media." Which in real terms means, every pitch is an audition that works in both directions. Without the writing... there is no product. Sure, it has to be great writing and a great product, but, the bottom line is, everyone eats because of the writer and not the other way round. In the evolving digital and online economies, that's going to become more and more true, with every passing day.
The Good Camera, The Bad Idea and The Ugly People It seems odd to me, just how often synchronous events occur in my life. For instance, at 8 pm tonight I'm going to be part of the indie panel for #scriptchat, the twitter hashtag conversation for screenwriters. However, whilst I'm typing this pre-amble to being on that panel of "indies," I'm also researching the Nikon D90 DSLR camera as a possible production tool. Yes, after years and years of telling everyone and their wife that I'm not an indie ﬁlm-maker and that cheap camera ownership is a dumb way to make movies,
I am actually going to buy a camera, with a view to creating some DIY content. It's a big decision for me. I've never advocated camera ownership and as you'll see, I have some issues with the ethos of indie production. I've also been taking some time this week, to take stock of what bugs me about both the indie scene and the industry. It's an obsession of mine, if I'm honest. I see problems with both models and I don't like a lot about either of them. That's what this week's article is all about, my personal take on why both indie movie-making and the industry, often suck serious amount of ass. On a personal level, I understand the indie production mentality. Been there, done that, remortgaged my house to pay for the T-Shirt. I'm also a big fan of micro-budget movie making, as a concept. I genuinely believe, it is theoretically possible to make a stunning movie for pocket change and for it to achieve commercial success. At the same time, I also understand why that really hasn't happened. The digital revolution has revealed an uncomfortable truth, even given the means of production and distribution, the vast majority of the people in the indie ﬁlm scene don't have all the skills needed to make the digital revolution happen. It is that simple. It's not about the equipment, it never was; indie movie-makers always break the only two rules of movie making that can't be broken, under any circumstances. But, before you start leaping up and down and screaming, I'd just like to point out that the mainstream industry often does exactly the same thing. Of course, it helps if you know what the two rules are... so, here they are: 1) Get the content right. 2) Have a mass audience for that content, who are willing to pay to view it. I can actually condense it down into one easy to remember phrase... make good shit and be able to sell it to shit loads of people. It's fairly easy to see how the industry screws the pooch. Basically, too many ﬁlters, fear, greed and stupidity. The problem with any mainstream media project is that there are often just too many dumb people with leverage to effect the content: powerful actors; actor's agents; producers (multiple); executive producers (multiple); investors; and, ﬁnally, scaredy-cat, lazy-assed distributors. My experience is that in any creative endeavor, once there are more than three people who have leverage over the project, the people who
have most to fear about the ﬁnancial outcome, will do everything in their power to fuck things up. The baseline is: money people don't trust creative people and visa versa. However, what we do need to understand about the mainstream industry, in order to understand the failings of the indie scene, is the movie industry overcomes most of its problems by spending huge amounts of money. If I spend $15 on a movie ticket, then my viewing experience is a result of multimillion dollar spending: on production, on post production, on advertising and on the actual infra-structure of delivery (the cinema itself). I'm getting a lot, in return, for a quite a small amount of money. By deﬁnition, whether an indie movie is made for $2M or on $5,000, it is already at an incredible disadvantage. Indie movie makers can't throw money at the problem, either to make the product or to connect that product to an audience and yet, the people who pay to see movies, expect the same level of delivery from a movie, regardless of the budget. I've yet to leave a cinema anywhere in the world and hear someone say "Well, that was a bit poor, but that's because they only had a $2M production budget." Audiences don't care about the budget, they care about the movie. The hard truth of the movie business is, the less money you have to spend on production, the more outstanding the content has to be, just for it to be worth $15 and an hour and a half of the average cinema-goer's time. Audiences don't give bonus points for artistic integrity or for trying hard. The gig is simple, you either entertain and engage them for ninety minutes or you don't. For me that is the real lesson of Avatar, if you spend enough money and make something shinny enough, people will ﬂock to the cinemas to see it, even if the premise and script is exceedingly poor. However, if James Cameron has shot the same script on a prosumer camcorder on a $6K budget and cut it in Sony Vegas, it would now be Youtube fodder (and probably hilarious). My twelve years experience of the indie scene has taught me that most of the people involved in it are obsessed with two memes: the holy grail of the cheap "as good as ﬁlm" production camera and the "self-distribution can bring down Hollywood" pipe dream. Twelve years ago the meme was dancing round the Canon XL1 DV camcorder (because Danny Boyle made 28 Days Later with it and $9M)... and the self-distribution meme was attached to DVD on demand, via Customﬂicks. Twelve years later, the meme has shifted to DSLRs, online download sales and social networking. The objects of obsession
have changed, but the memes remain the same. Production tools and distribution which by-passes the existing industry, are still seen as the only issues and peddled by indie-gurus as the answers to a movie maker's prayers. If only! In terms of means of achieving a viable micro-budget movie, it is true, the tools have improved. However, that's not the problem. The means of production, distribution or marketing have never been the problem. The problems are and always have been the same: content and connection of content to paying audiences. In the last ten years indie ﬁlm-makers have had all the means of production and distribution options they needed to make commercially successful movies and yet, it hasn't happened. Personally, I think the reason for this is that all the ego problems you ﬁnd in the mainstream industry, also play out in the indie scene. Every actor, thinks they are a writer; every self proclaimed writer, thinks they're also a director; every camera owner, thinks they're a cinematographer; every FCP owner, thinks they're an editor; and, worse of all, everyone and their dog believes they are a writer. So, basically you have the same problem as the mainstream industry, too many idiots with leverage on the project, but without the advantages of access to hardcore production professionals, experience of professional project development or money. The biggest hurdle to the indie scene are the egos of indie ﬁlm makers, each of whom is interested in controlling their creative vision, to the extent that every single aspect of production must be controlled by one person. Trust me, even Woody Allen who can write, act and direct at a world class level, uses someone else to set the lights and run the camera and he learned his trade in TV, before going independent. The odds that anyone could be good enough at everything, to make this work without professional help, are just mind numbingly slim. Not because it's not possible to get the job done at a reasonable level, but because it's not possible to be a world class, producer, actor, writer, director, cinematographer, lighting director, sound recordist, editor, comp and effects artist, PR and marketer. It's possible to be OK at some of those and great at other bits. It's just not possible to be world-class at every aspect. This is the core of the problem, because it's not good enough to just be OK. Like I said before, the smaller the budget, the more outstanding the
content has to be. That means better than can be achieved by paid professionals, working with the best equipment money can buy. The real problem with the indie movie scene is that it has too few ﬁlters. The real game changer isn't the production equipment, the real game changer is in the writing and the development of scripts so astounding, they compensate for the lack of money spent. Personally, I think Charlie Kaufman would make a game changing indie movie-maker, as would Paul Schrader. I think Steven Soderburgh has probably already made the leap and gone interestingly indie. The thing is, the digital revolution should have been a game changer. It provided all the tools needed to change the movie making industry forever. And yet, until the focus of the indie and independent scene becomes about content, instead of wanking over the means of production and distribution, it will remain what it currently is... masturbatory. I don't like to make predictions, but I'm going to this week... it is this: the digital revolution will have the most profound effect on the lives of those already established as working professionals, because it will remove some of the ﬁlters, which have been holding back creatives in the mainstream industry. What it won't do, is create a revolution of previously unknown, commercially successful content makers, who did it all themselves. Not unless indies learn a little humility and start to pay more attention to script development. Ironically, despite knowing all this, it's still my intention to buy a Nikon D90 next week... because I'm like every other deluded indie movie-maker, I still believe, in some insane corner of my mind, that I can be the one who beats the odds. Ha!... and I actually may be right about this, because if anyone stands any chance at all of beneﬁtting from the advantages of the digital revolution, it is the writers. Where this whole game really does change, is when someone with the writing talent goes back to the two basic rules and nails the ﬁrst part... getting the content right. Do that, surround yourself with talented people and all the rest falls into place. This is actually what I want to try and get over in tonight's panel, that indie movie making is full of potential, that the tools are there... but, that it often fails to deliver, mainly because people think "how can I do that, but for nothing" instead of concentrating on creating incredible content. When I was looking into the Nikon D90 as a potential purchase, I came
across a site that had the "best of Nikon D90 shorts"... the images and use of the camera convinced me it was a viable camera option, but there wasn't one single movie which didn't bore the arse off me. I couldn't be bothered to watch two minute shorts, all the way through. Which kind of sums up the issue, doesn't it? One last, throw away, thought. Maybe the point of indie movie making has changed. It used to be the route into the industry... make a calling card movie and festival the ass of it. Maybe that just isn't the case anymore. Maybe indie movie making, these days, is about making movies that couldn't get made any other way... or about making movies that break the conventions of camera use and story-telling. Maybe, just maybe, the freedom it offers, is more important than the commercial viability. What I do know, is that there is an incredible opportunity to push the boundaries of cinema here and I see far too few people pushing that envelope.
Fractal Screenplay Structures I'm going to jump right into it this week... here we go: There is no real difference between a movie, TV and a web-series, anymore. During last week's #scriptchat people asked me what I thought writer's should have in their portfolio. I said "ﬁve good movie projects, of which one should be micro-budget and one of which should be zero-budget." It was an off the cuff answer, but actually I've been thinking about it most of this week, simply because several people responded with a "shouldn't you also have a TV project in the mix?" The "shouldn't you have a TV project in the mix?" question threw me. It
threw me because I genuinely don't think in terms of cinema, TV or webseries as separate entities anymore. It's all just content. Like I said at the top of the piece, for me there is no difference between a movie, TV and a web-series. In my head that list is even longer than just movies, TV and web-series... but, if I ﬁlled out the rest of the list, then I'd have to kill you, dead. Probably with my bare hands. It's in the any other part of that list, where I'm doing a lot of research these days. I'm conﬁdent that I'm not the only person who is sees the boundaries between the media industries eroding and I'm damn sure I'm not the only person who sees this as a good thing. However. This is a fairly big however, so I've given it, its own paragraph! However, this may mean we'll start to see a fairly radical change in screenplay structure and this is what I want to write about this week. Just when everyone thought they could forget about structure, because after all we've all been told structure is universal, it looks like the digital revolution is going to impact on the way content gets written. It's going to impact because now, because of the cheapness of production, we're going to see a massive swing towards spec production. This trend that started in indie movie production is rapidly bleeding into the other industries. TV in particular. I tend to use the four act structure for movies scripts... and, as I've got a fetish about 100 page screenplays, that means four acts of twenty-ﬁve pages a piece. There are plenty of cool places to read about four act structure, so I won't repeat it here. What I am suggesting is that underneath the standard story arc, writers may well want to micro-structure pieces, in order for them to be able to play across web, TV and ultimately cinema. I'm also going to suggest for strictly pragmatic reasons, that eight-eight minutes is the new ninety. (90 being good length for a feature ﬁlm to hit). The easiest way to understand micro-structure is to think about some of the old movie serials, like "The Shadow" or "Flash Gordon" These old movie serials had an overall story, which was spread over ten or so episodes, each episode had a running length of about ten minutes. The idea was that each episode of the story had its own arc, whilst at the same
time being part of a larger piece. Now, these old serials were pretty crude about how they approached it... but the actual thinking behind episodic structuring is incredibly well suited to web-series. Getting the balance between the episodic nature of the piece and the overall arc of the story is a real challenge with this kind of writing. However, isn't this the exact same balance that exists in a TV series, where, each section leading up to the commercial break needs to hold the audience to the next section. In fact, one of the reasons for writing a movie eighty-eight minutes long, is because this also means you can also break the story into two forty-four minute, macro-episodes, which is the equivalent of two episodes of hour long TV drama. Personally, I think we'll see much more of this multi-purpose structuring over the next couple of years and more micro-budget writer projects, that are structured to work as web-series, TV drama and only ultimately as a stand alone piece of cinematic ﬁction. Trust me, I've been getting my head around the structural issues of this kind of fractal plotting for nearly ﬁve years now... and, it's a complete and utter mind-fuck. It makes industry standard three act structure look like a nursery school glitter picture, in comparison. It worth the extra effort though and there is something really enjoyable about breaking the story down into ever smaller arcs. What is important about this, isn't so much the technical nit picking about precise structural approaches, but the important issue is that scripts are not one thing any longer. None of us can afford to write with only one potential outlet for our scripts and expect to be able to make progress with them. On a personal level, there actually is part of me that wishes I'd structured Smoke in a episodic micro-structure, because believe me had I done that, I wouldn't be sitting here a year later, waiting for people to return my calls. This is the reason I believe that writers need a spread in their portfolio. Straight movie projects are hard bloody work to get into production. It makes sense, therefore, to have at least one or two other projects where you have more control over the pace things move forwards. However, like I've been saying. The key to good zero-budget production is writing to hit the needs of as many potential media as possible. This is the area where my personal portfolio is currently lacking. I don't have a micro-budget fractal project in
my mix... and that's the reason I'm working on one of those as we speak.
Money, Movies and Global Stupidity "I'd like to option your script, Red Light." "Marvelous, what ﬁgure did you have in mind?" "Pardon?" "I said, what ﬁgure did you have in mind for the option?" "Well, I can't actually afford to pay you." "Really?" "Yes, I'm investing in producing trailers of ﬁve scripts to take to Cannes. I mean, I've only got a limited budget and my line producer alone, is costing me like £250 a day!" "Harsh!... I tell you what, why don't you shoot a trailer of the line producer's script!" "I'm sorry, my line producer's what?" "Your line producer's script... I would ﬁlm the trailer for that, deﬁnitely." "My line producer doesn't have a script!" "Exactly my point." "I'm sorry, you've lost me, what are we talking about?" "We're talking about the fact that you want to pay your line producer £250 a day to shoot trailers and you don't want to pay me anything for the ﬁve months I worked on writing the script. The script that you want to shoot a trailer of." "But, I'll be investing all this money in shooting a trailer of your script! And you want paying as well?"
This week I've been reading a lot about Bectu (The UK Union for Film and TV workers) in particular about the "Illegality of working for free" This court case and their "Say No to Zero Cost Labour" stance is an interesting one. The bottom line is that an unpaid Art Department Assistant successfully took a production to court, in order to lever the UK legal "minimum wage" out of the production company, for the hours she worked on their movie. I honestly don't have a lot to say about the actual case. I don't know the speciﬁcs. What does interest me though, is how Bectu's attitude accurately reﬂects the movie industry's weird relationship with money, wages and paying for things and also my personal take that it is this weird relationship with money, which has placed the industry in the hands of idiots. Fundamentally, the industry tries to sell us on the idea that it works this way: Writers have ideas and write scripts. Producers select from those scripts and take the ones they think have commercial value to investors for production funding. Investors gamble on the idea and the reputation of the producer for making money. Everyone on the production becomes an employee and gets a wage for their job (including the writer and the producer). The investor now owns part of a product, which the producer takes to market. Sales agents help the producer recoup money from distributors and broadcasters, who pay for various rights to exploit. Distributors sell content to the public. Actually, it is more complicated than this, because to see the industry as it truly is you also have to imagine that everyone in the above scenario invests 90% of their energy into trying to palm off the risk to someone else, whilst grabbing as much cash off the table as possible. It's understanding that everyone involved in the movie industry wants someone else to take the actual risk, is the key to understanding why it's both insane and run by idiots.
Once you realise almost everyone in the movie industry is out to secure their personal pot of money at the expense of someone else, with as little personal risk as possible, then this Bectu court case doesn't look so strange or unusual, it looks just like every other aspect of the industry. This self serving grasping for the short term buck, is also the main reason investment for movies is so bloody hard to secure. The movie industry isn't a high risk investment because the entertainment industry is inherently difﬁcult. The movie industry is high risk and difﬁcult simply because its business model forces people to become obsessed with securing a pay-off for themselves, at the earliest possible moment in the process, in reality, before the movie proves to be a lemon in the market-place. What we're now seeing with the digital revolution, is a magniﬁcation of the greed and stupidity that drives the industry. As the spectre of "FREE CONTENT" becomes ever more vivid in the minds of those involved in the industry, the more desperate the scramble for "ME" to get paid at any cost is going to be. The industry has gone cut-throat. Distributors are screwing even tighter deals; investors are demanding almost risk free investment and massive returns; unions are demanding rate-card wages regardless of circumstances; and, as a result of all this fear, greed and general stupidity, the industry has become almost incapable of taking risks and in some cases, incapable of making or distributing anything but pap. I don't know about you, but I think it is both possible and necessary to change this dynamic for the better. I believe the biggest challenge to the current movie industry isn't to do with either production technology or even alternative distribution, but actually involves a long and serious look at the "me, me, me" business model. Seriously, how hard can it be to turn our backs on a system which promotes internal competition for resources (ie. money) and to replace that model with one where a movie is produced and taken to market by a team of people, working together to a mutually beneﬁcial economic and creative plan. One of the biggest myths in this industry, is that the movie business is essentially collaborative, it just so isn't. The movie industry is more often like two hundred coked-up pirates ﬁghting over the ship's supply of rum, whilst one poor bastard tries to steer the ship through a hurricane, in a sea surrounded by sharks... sharks with guns, knives and unlimited lawyers! The thing is, if you go back to the conversation I had with that producer
four years ago (at the top of the page) you can see, at that point, I was just as bad as everyone else... all I cared about in that conversation, was securing my wage at the earliest point possible and taking the risk out of the venture for myself. I wanted to pass that risk onto someone else. I'm not defending the producer in question, he was also being a complete and utter dick. Which is my point this week. My point is, maybe it's time for al of us to stop acting like dicks. Personally, my views since then have evolved. That conversation was one of the main reasons I decided to become a writer/producer and my experiences since then have really challenged me to think long and hard about whether there are better ways to do this, whether there are better and more collaborative business models. Personally, I think there are and I'm genuinely hopeful for the future. Of course, in terms of getting Smoke into production, I have once more taken the questionable decision to have meaningless conversations with industry pirates... but as I'm currently skint, they tend to leave me alone, except for an occasional glance in my direction to see if the conditions of my bank balance have changed in their favor. It hasn't of late. When it does, I expect a sudden and predictable rise in popularity. In the meantime Bectu are using this court case to wage war on microbudget movie making. Or, in other words, it's shitty pirate business as usual. Now… the funny thing about all this and the reason I still have hope for the future, is my personal experience of movie making has always been, that working people in the industry are actually incredibly generous, with both their time, support and services for scripts and projects they believe in. Behind all the rhetoric of Bectu, their membership, as individuals, are capable of making personal judgements about whether a wage is important or not, on a project by project basis. Above and beyond all the bullshit that happens once there is money involved, there are still many, many individuals whose primary motivation is still to make great movies. Unfortunately, sometimes greed-head producers take advantage of that and generally take the piss... ho hum. Where I do have a personal opinion about the court case, is that regardless of how incredibly talented this Art Department Assistant is, personally I'd never be able to hire her onto a production. Let's face it, there is enough litigation in the movie world already, without having to worry about getting sued by everyone on set. I'm pretty sure I won't be the only
producer who feels the same way. There are deeper issues here. Money in the movie industry brings out both the best and the worst in people. For me, the bottom line is, there must be a better way of doing this, a way that takes "me me me" out of the equation. For the time being, I continue to work on developing that business model. Just in the same way that I continue to surround myself with people who are creative and sane, whilst pushing away the greed-heads, opportunists and the wankers.
Movie Blog: It's About How We Deal With Rejection and Criticism About twice a week someone online will take time out of their busy life to tell me I'm an idiot. Sometimes they're offensive about it, sometimes they're just sarcastic, very occasionally they are articulate and considered in their opinions. The considered and articulate opinions I tend to publish, think about and then respond to... all the rest I ignore and delete. The sarcasm and the bile that gets thrown my way used to really get to me. It honestly used to upset me. But just recently I had an epiphany about it. It's this: "If people aren't ridiculing me and my ideas, then I'm probably doing something wrong." This is an extension of what I was talking about a few weeks ago, about taking creative risks and being prepared to fail creatively. It is the same thinking applied to speaking honestly in public and thinking for myself. If we do anything creative in public, the one thing we can guarantee is we'll have to deal with opinions and criticism. We may never get paid for what we do, we may never get the recognition we feel we deserve... but if we create something or express something in public, people will feel free to
tell us what they think. Human nature being what it is, a lot of that feedback will be negative. It is human nature to try to understand and predict the nature of reality, by creating a map for ourselves that allows us to make predictions. As a culture we tend to create that map in terms of consensus thinking... or in other words, if the vast majority of people believe something, it must be true. Express a thought that is "off the map" and the resistance from the centre-thinking will be both concerted and hostile. The thing about movie making and the movie industry is there is very little hard science and hard data. Especially on the business side. Everyone does their best to create a workable map to explain how things are. From the student ﬁlm-maker making their ﬁrst short, right up to the studio execs, everyone is taking their best guess based on what they hear and what they believe to be true. Despite what they'd have you believe, everyone... and I do mean EVERYONE, is constantly trying to ﬁnd evidence to support the idea that their map of how things work is the right one. That's the reason that industry folks read the trades, obsessively. Everyone wants to see what the next trend is, so they can jump on the band wagon early, whilst there is still some cash left in it. Which is the reason that everyone and their dog is talking about shooting in 3D at the moment. Prior to Avatar a lot of the industry was watching 3D, skeptically. As soon as the Avatar box ofﬁce results started to come in, everyone is suddenly a convert. Now, I am pretty certain that at least half of the people now converted to 3D as a production technique, were calling James Cameron an idiot two years ago. Avatar, prior to release, was routinely slated by everyone and their dog. Once you understand that overnight transition between "you're an idiot" to "you're a messiah," it is possible to get some perspective on the industry's opinions and also the way they treat unknowns. In comparison with how the industry treats unknowns, online criticism is nothing. By far the hardest criticism any writer or ﬁlm maker will ever have to deal with is the indifference and contempt that the industry routinely displays to anyone they haven't heard of. I currently have two active projects, 400 Grams and Smoke. 400 Grams is a no budget Lone Gun Manifesto movie. Smoke is a multi-million dollar production with attached talent and a name director. Smoke as a project is now a year old. The vast majority of that year has been spent waiting for industry folk to get back to me. In fact, the last three months has been spent waiting to hear back from an inﬂuential UK producer, whose agent strung us along and strung us along, right up to the
point where the he passed on the project, when we pushed for an deﬁnitive yes or no answer pre-Cannes. I'd like to say this is unusual... but, the truth of the matter is this about the norm. Agents can't read anything in less than six to eight weeks and then frequently don't bother to get back to you. Talent agents often don't even bother to pass projects onto their clients and producers often delegate the reading of spec scripts to the ofﬁce junior. This is the day to day reality of the industry. The bottom line is that agents and producers prioritise reading the trades over reading spec scripts. I suspect that they do this because deep down they trust the latest trend, over their own ability to spot a good project from a pile of specs. Now, whilst it's important to understand why the industry treats unknowns with contempt and indifference, it's not as important as understanding what we as screenwriters and movie makers do with that rejection and indifference. Unfortunately, I think the vast majority of moviemakers and screenwriters adopt one of two responses to the industry, neither of which I believe are completely healthy. The most common reaction from unknowns to the industry's indifference and contempt is the "I must be doing something wrong" response. Basically, a screenwriter writes a script, sends queries out to agents and producers. The response is silence. Nobody gets back to them. The writer then assumes that the script just wasn't good enough, so they sign up for another screenwriting course, buy another "how to" book and the latest piece screenplay software. Having built their conﬁdence back up, they rewrite their script and then send out another batch of queries. Now, what I'm not saying is that writers shouldn't review their writing abilities and attempt to improve them. What I am questioning is whether we ought to automatically assume that silence and indifference from the industry reﬂects at all on our ability to write a decent movie script? I'm convinced that often it doesn't. In fact, what I'm totally convinced of is that anyone who says it'll take them six to eight weeks to read a spec script, actually has no real desire to read that script in the ﬁrst place. It actually doesn't take that long to work through a pile of spec scripts. I can tell by the end of the ﬁrst three pages whether a script is worth reading all the way through or not. A person's ability to write cinematically shines through from the ﬁrst page. The other reaction from unknowns to the industry's indifference, is best described as arrogance. The "I know best" response. I see this as a very common mind-set in independent movie makers. This response is almost a
mirror image of the unknown screenwriter's response. Instead of assuming that they automatically are wrong about everything, the most common independent ﬁlm-maker response is to confuse isolation with independence and to produce movies without having any development input from the industry. This often results in bad movies and also a growing reputation for indie movie making as being a ghetto for poorly conceived and executed projects. Personally, I think it's important for movie makers to learn by making bad movies. However, what doesn't seem to happen is the learning of lessons, as a result of failing. In my opinion the problem isn't that people make bad ﬁlms, but that instead of learning from their mistakes, many movie makers see their problems as being external to themselves, rather than one of skill development. That they would be successful, if they just got the breaks. In the past I have held both of these positions. I have been the screenwriter who doubted my abilities due to silence from the industry... and, I've also been the independent ﬁlm-maker who would not listen to anyone else. Neither position has served me well. So, what is a sane response to rejection, criticism and the industry's indifference. Well, the ﬁrst thing to understand is that as well as having weaknesses, both responses have strengths. What's great about some unknown screenwriters is the way they constantly question their screenplays and take outside notes to make them stronger... and what is brilliant about independent movie makers is the way they step aside from the powerlessness handed to them by the industry and attempt to ﬁnd ways to empower themselves. If you combine the strengths of the two responses and give up the weaknesses, then I believe you actually have a chance of achieving something. That's my point this week. We actually have a choice of how we respond to the indifference of an industry which is appears too self-obsessed to pay proper attention to spec scripts and talent development. We don't have to remain powerless and by choosing to empower ourselves, we don't have to completely reject the rest of the industry. It doesn't have to be an either or choice. I like the freedoms Lone Gun Manifesto movie making offers me. The chance to experiment and try out material I wouldn't even consider pitching to the larger industry in script form. However, the most important change LGM movie making has had on me isn't related to 400 Grams, it's the way it's changed my attitude to Smoke. Simply because I now have a production
moving forward, that is in completely under my control, the set-backs on Smoke have stopped bothering me. When we ﬁnally got the "we've decided to pass" message from that producer, I literally thought "OK, his loss" and went back to working on my post-production workﬂow. If nothing else, LGM has made me slightly more bullet proof to the indifference of the industry than I was before. I'm genuinely looking forwards to Cannes now... I don't feel under any pressure at all to impress anyone. If I ﬁnd the things and people I need to move Smoke forwards, that'll be lovely. If I don't, that'll be ﬁne too.
Why We Need Digital Grafﬁti Movie Making in a 2.0 World I believe it is the movies where we get it horrendously wrong, which are the movies which ultimately deﬁne us as artists. I know this is an odd view because surely it is our triumphs and successes that are the really important pieces of work? Personally, I don't think so... I think that getting it horribly wrong is the most important thing a movie maker can ever do. It's important because we only get it wrong when we are prepared to take risks. I'm a great believer in taking creative risks... in fact, I believe in that one thing more than almost anything else. This is one of the main reasons that I have not yet found a comfortable home in the mainstream industry. The industry is obsessed with reducing risk, largely by endlessly repeating what it has been done previously and by selling only to the easiest audiences. If I'm honest, movies made by safe movie-makers bore the arse off me, as does star driven teen fodder. The whole point about taking risks is to run along the ragged edge towards almost certain failure. Taking risks is about taking a creative leap of faith off the thirty story building and at the same time being prepared to hurt when there is no crash mat to soften your meeting with the concrete below. Hitting the creative concrete at high speed hurts... trust me, that kind of cataclysmic failure to deliver, after all the puff and arrogance of production,
is about as rough as it gets for the fragile artistic ego. This was certainly my experience of making my last movie. I took risks, I did things nobody in their right mind should do either creatively or ﬁnancially and my payoff was personal bankruptcy and about six months hiding under a duvet, because I couldn't face looking at myself in the mirror anymore. That's what real failure feels like. If I was able to just shrug it off, there was no real risk involved. The pay-off of all that pain, was a much deeper understanding of writing and of the workings of the industry. The beneﬁts of which, I still use pretty much every single day. It is the cornerstone of the Lone Gun Manifesto. (see below) Most of the people you meet in life will do almost anything to avoid the lessons you learn by failure. They crave the payoff of success, but will settle for not failing as the next best thing. Failure for most people is not an option. That is a shame... because failure is magniﬁcent. Failure on an epic scale is heroic. It is good to fail. It's good to fail simply because to do otherwise is to remain beige, safe, conventional, cushioned from the world... to remain forever essentially ﬂuffy and worthless. This one of the main reasons I despise screenwriting gurus. I despise them because their pitch is always about increasing your chances of success as a writer. I have serious issues with that as a philosophy. I have very serious doubts about whether avoiding failure should be ever be a consideration for a creative person. Make stuff you passionately believe in and learn to relish feeling like hammered shit when it all goes pear-shaped. Learn to deal with the pain you feel when people hate the things you make. Make them anyway. In my less than humble opinion, indie and independent cinema continues to make the hideous mistake of trying to recreate the working practices and techniques of the mainstream industry, only done cheaper. My question this week, is whether that is ever a good idea? Are working practices used to minimise risk and decrease the possibility of innovative work, applicable to projects where the opportunity to take risks is both possible and the very thing that deﬁnes us as different from them? It is the very lack of resources and reputation that we have, which gives us the freedom to do and make anything we can imagine... in anyway we can imagine. This apparent weakness is actually our greatest resource and our greatest strength and yet all too often we wish and piss that opportunity away by putting success at the top of the list of virtues, instead of maybe something better, like honesty for instance. And if you don't think being honest involves taking a risk, try
counting how many lies you tell in the next hour! I had a moment of clarity about about a month ago, about the insanity of obsession with success and with emulating the industry. It doesn't work creatively and it also doesn't work as a business model. It is time to do something different creatively and in terms of how we approach movie making as a business. I believe it is time to openly embrace risk taking and failure and give to give them way more attention than success. Success is a goal for tedious wankers and drones... personally I'd rather be good, honest, kind and innovative, than successful. People, I urge you to pick up your computers, your notebooks and your cameras and make an epic effort to fail in your next project... not just a little bit, but to get out there and make a complete and utter dog's breakfast of it. Then, after a couple of months of tears, booze and ice-cream, I urge you to dust yourself off and leap off that building again and again and again. Do it! Attempt to do something outstanding and unimaginable. I promise you one thing, when your face hits the concrete I'll be right beside you, bleeding from every broken bone, but laughing like an Aardvark on speed! And... just to put my own testicles ﬁrmly on the anvil of fate, here are a couple of announcements: The novel of Smoke will be published on December 2nd of this year! My new #lgm movie 400 Grams will be released on February 14th 2011 The LGM document attached to this post below is open source, so you can print it off, give it away, blog about it as much as you want without needing my permission.
The Lone Gun Manifesto
The Lone Gun Manifesto is an open source document. You can reproduce it, share it, give it way and alter it anyway you wish, without my permission. For me it is a toolkit. My toolkit. A tool kit based a mixture of punk rock and grafﬁti culture, a toolkit that will enable me to shoot a cinema quality feature ﬁlm, in under eight days, on a production budget of about $600. If you don't agree with any of the principles, feel free to write better ones. That is the reason this is labelled (vs1 beta).
LONE GUN MANIFESTO For the last twelve years I've been banging my head against the wall, trying to ﬁgure out how to deal with the insanity of the movie industry, whilst at the same time exploring the equally insane world of micro-budget movie making. The problem is that neither system works. The industry becomes more and more obsessed with playing it safe and the independents largely try to imitate the work patterns of the industry, only with less money. For people like me it's a nightmare, because what I want to do is make movies and have people watch them... and, to do that without investing three years of my life and all of my money into a project which then ﬂounders around the ridiculous distribution system. Anyway, after many years of pondering the problems of funding, shooting and distributing movies, I believe I have an answer. However, it means completely changing the way we think about movies. It is a production philosophy designed to let creative people make brilliant movies quickly, cheaply and without exploiting the people who contribute to its making. Here are the headlines: 1) One DSLR camera, One person, One microphone (The lone gun shoots alone) 2) Strip movie making down to the basics - a camera, a great story and some actors 3) A lone gun never asks for permission to shoot at a location
4) Put something original and honest in front of the camera 5) Think like a photographer, not like a ﬁlm-maker 6) Money is for food, transport and a dedicated hard-drive for each project and nothing else 7) Natural light only 8) Everyone who works on a movie, has the right to distribute that movie for free or for proﬁt 9) No credits before the title ever, regardless of how famous someone is. 10) The end product must be cinema quality (capable of projection to cinema sizes without falling apart) 11) A creative common license for the movie (how open you go is up to you, but people must be able to share and alter it for free) 12) If you’re going to be a gorilla (sic)… you may as well wear the full monkey suit. OK. In practical terms this means that you are shooting in public places, but never in such a way that anyone is aware you are shooting. That's why it is done best with a standard DSLR camera. (I really want to see someone ﬁgure out how to do this with the RED by the way!) In terms of the sound recording there are two alternatives: radio mics for all cast - or the way I am doing it, a $30 pair of binaural mics, (which look like iphone headphones) jacked into a portable digital recorder. (I've tested this method and the sound quality is phenomenal, once you've got the hang of it) To use the binaural system, the actors have to set away the sound, which is placed in shot between them... and one of them is given a Zippo cigarette-lighter to clack at the start of a scene, which gives you the cue for syncing the audio. In reality this means you are only ﬁlming mastershots. You can't control the environment to get coverage. However, this really, really speeds up the production process. Basically, you and the actors pick your location. You decide where you are going to place the camera. When you're set up, they walk into the set up, set away the audio and play out the scene. Because there is no crew and no lines to edit, the acting can be completely natural (think Woody Allen circa Manhattan). Here's the list of kit I use (feel free to improvise better solutions):
1) A good DSLR camera 2) A portable digital audio recorder 3) A microphone (not the kind you’re thinking about.. The one I use cost $40) 4) A Zippo cigarette lighter 5) A small beanbag 6) A computer with some professional editing software on it 7) Some actors 8) A pocket sized notebook 9) A brilliant idea for a movie 10) A script 11) A dedicated hard drive 12) An idea about how you’re going to build an audience One of the things that I think makes this philosophy work is that the writer/director decides in advance, to give everyone who contributes to the movie the rights to distribute the movie for free or for proﬁt. My project has been running for four weeks so far - we’re in writing and pre-production. The ﬁrst actor I attached has already told me he has friends at a European TV station, to whom he would like to give the ﬁnished movie... along with a raft of international arts festivals. Neither of those two distribution options would ever have occurred to me. I'm working on free distribution via iTunes and also on getting a US theatrical release via some of my US contacts. Once you take the rights shackles off a project, it's amazing what happens. Seriously amazing. Finally, I know there are issues about working this way. It forces moviemakers to give up a lot. However, the freedoms it gives in return, to just work with a team of people quickly and creatively to make a movie, more than pays off for any restrictions. And… ﬁnally, if you know of anyone who would make an outstanding movie, if only they had this one piece of paper, then give it to them. Pass this on to the people you believe it will inspire. Thanks for reading this - up the revolution!
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