EDIT: STRIKE AVERTED! YAYYYYYYY!
When you look at the impending writer’s strike, this is what you see. An industry making 51 billion dollars while many writers are struggling to pay their monthly rent. At first glance, that doesn’t seem fair. But I also know numbers can be deceiving. 51 billion isn’t the profit margin. It’s the revenue. Let’s not forget how much money goes into prep and production and expenses and advertising. And let’s not forget all the TV shows and movies that fail, costing studios billions of dollars (hits pay for misses). 51 billion dollars is a big number. But it doesn’t tell the whole story.
Also, the writers have to see the studios’ side. If the studios paid everybody – actors, directors, above-the-line, below-the-line – what they wanted, there wouldn’t be any studios left. They’d all be bankrupt. There has to be some acknowledgement that these people are running a business and nobody’s in business to break even.
We also need to take into account perspective. We tend to see problems the way they relate to us and us only. Writers, obviously, feel like they’re vastly underpaid. But it’s not like we’re perfect. Tell me how you’d feel if you just paid an A-list writer a million dollars and they turned in a shitty draft, forcing you to hire another A-list writer with another million dollar quote. I’m assuming you’d feel like you just got screwed. And that happens all the time.
Look no further than Michael Jordan for a lesson on perspective. As a player, he routinely complained about how cheap his owner, Jerry Reinsdorf, was. Jordan’s team was winning Reinsdorf championships yet Reinsdorf was notoriously stingy during negotiations. It infuriated Jordan. Now that Jordan himself owns a team, he’s known as one of the thriftiest owners in the league, eschewing big contracts for his players and, yes, being notoriously stingy during negotiations. The ceiling is the roof.
Perspective is important because unless you understand the other person’s side, you’re convinced you’re getting screwed, and that’s what turns negotiations personal, which is how these things spiral out of control and everyone loses money, or worse. I’ll never forget when a writer told me during the last strike that his friend, who was also a writer and had a mortgage, a wife, and three kids, was thinking of committing suicide. After that moment, I started seeing the strike from a completely different perspective.
With all this said, there’s no question that writers are underpaid. In fact, they’re vastly underpaid. And it’s something I’ve never understood. Without writers, THERE WOULD BE NO ENTERTAINMENT!!!!!! There would be no Star Wars. There would be no Breaking Bad or Sopranos. There would be no Guardians of the Galaxy 2 this weekend. There wouldn’t even be reality TV shows. How is it that the people who give life to every film and TV show are so undervalued? Not to mention, hundreds of people become employed every time a writer writes a good script.
The answer to this question may be that writing is the least visual of all the processes in the medium.
You can watch an actor create a great performance right in front of your eyes. You can see a director organize and block a scene. You can see the cinematographer frame a shot, the gaffer put the lights in place, and the audio guy mic up the talent. But nobody sees a writer write. And if you can’t see something, is it real? If a tree falls in a forest…?
It’s why, whether you like their writing or not, people like Max Landis, Damon Lindelof, Diablo Cody, and (going old school here) Joe Eszterhas, are important to the writing industry, because it reminds the industry that we’re here. Writers are real. I would love for more screenwriters to market themselves in this digital “look at me” age. It’s not a ridiculous proposition. Legendary writers like Truman Capote and Ernest Hemingway were masters at marketing themselves. As is Stephen King today. We need to be visible because out of sight = out of mind.
It doesn’t help that everybody thinks they can do the writer’s job better than the writer. You hear a bad line in a movie and you say, “I can do better than that.” And based on that one bad line, or one bad scene, you’re convinced that you’d do a better job screenwriting than the professionals. That ignorance isn’t limited to the average audience member. The majority of people in production feel the same way.
None of these people realize just how much goes into writing. That it isn’t a line that defines a story, but the 385 choices made that lead up to that line. Look at a show like Breaking Bad. What the average person doesn’t know is that Vince Gilligan’s choice to build the entire story around a dramatically ironic premise (Walter White keeping his meth business a secret) ensured that three seasons down the line, when they had to shoot a quiet family dinner scene, that scene would still have tension and suspense, since Walter is lying to his family every moment he’s with them.
Someone who doesn’t understand screenwriting would NEVER think of that. But this is what screenwriters do. This is what we bring to the table. Knowledge of story, structure, characters, conflict, suspense, theme, dialogue and a million other things! We may not always hit it out of the park, but I guarantee you we’ll do it more than Joe Moviegoer.
We are in an age where screenwriting is more important than ever. On the feature side, instant social media reaction has eliminated the scam of fleecing audiences on opening weekend and riding that box office buzz to a respectable take. The social media rejection of films like Fantastic Four, The Great Wall, Pan, Now You See Me 2, The BFG, Ghost in the Shell, Ben-Hur, and many others, prove that.
On the TV end, what was once being heralded as the golden age of television has now become one of the most competitive arenas in business. There is so much content that the only way to stand out is excellent writing. It’s why shows like Mr. Robot, Fargo, Big Little Lies, 13 Reasons Why, Westworld, Atlanta, The Americans, to name a few, have found success. Great writing. If the people writing these shows can barely pay their monthly expenses, it’s only so long before they move on to something that does pay.
What the writers are asking for isn’t much. They’re asking for more than 1 step deals on the feature side, not to be held hostage all year for a short TV series, and, finally, a better health care package. Nobody’s asking for 5% of the gross of Fast and the Furious 9. I feel like this is totally doable. And I hope it gets done by the end of the day. Because strikes are unpredictable. For us to be a couple of months down the line with no deal in sight would be a tragedy.
Let’s get this thing done today!
Hey everyone. So, I’ve been a naughty boy. I actually didn’t have any project to finish. Instead, I went on vacation! I needed it, man, if only to rejuvenate my soul. I decided to go to a city that people have been telling me to visit for years now – Prague! And, boy, did it live up to the hype.
Unlike cities here in the U.S., Prague has grown organically over hundreds of years, leading to beautiful architecture, cobblestone streets, and a series of twisting tunnels and walkways that make the city feel like one giant kid’s fort.
Here are a few pictures. The thing on the bottom is called a langos. It’s fried dough with cheese sprinkled on top, along with tomato sauce. Although the tomato sauce on mine tasted suspiciously like ketchup. Either way, it was fried dough. So it was wonderful.
I’ll be back Monday for regular posting. We’re going to start off talking about the writer’s strike. In the meantime, I highly recommend Prague as your next vacation spot. It’s a glorious city!
Hello all. A quick heads up. I’m in the midst of a project I have to finish which is going to affect my posting for the next week and a half. Expect sporadic posting during that period. I know a lot of you are wondering when the Shorts Contest announcements are going to rev up. And I promise you that after I’m finished with this, the Shorts are my main priority. The director is on me every day to get this going so we’ll get’er done. Don’t worry.
In the meantime, let’s all check out the latest Star Wars trailer. And… I don’t know guys. Something’s not doing it for me here. The first half of the trailer looks like three people got a cool location, shot there for a day, then cobbled together a Star Wars fan film. There isn’t a single iconic shot in here. And the story looks like it can be boiled down to, “Luke’s Mad.” That sucks. I was hoping for a lot more. What’d you guys think?
Today we’re going to talk about summer madness and all the shapes, colors, and sizes it comes in. With Fast and the Furious dropping their bi-annual supercharged nonsensical treatise of loyalty and family on an all-too-eager public this weekend, how could you NOT get excited about the summer box office? I know I am. For both the good and the bad. Here are the key projects I’ll be keeping an eye on…
It’s hard to have much of an opinion on a Christopher Nolan movie before it’s released since he’s so darn secretive. But even the most hardened Nolan films will agree that this is a pivotal movie for Nolan. His last two movies (The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar) were major messes, with progressively sloppier screenplays. Exploring another genre was a good idea. But now we’re getting details on the plot, which involves soldiers… running away? Hmmm… that doesn’t sound very active or heroic to me. I’ll see any Christopher Nolan movie. They’re events. But if this doesn’t work, the Nolan shrine may need to be placed in storage.
Wow. Where the hell did this movie come from?! As if Marvel didn’t have enough success. They take their worst character, pair him with the Hulk, put him back where he came from (another planet) and all of a sudden this looks like the freshest coolest comic book movie out there. There’s a screenwriting lesson to be learned here. You need to play with ideas more when you come up with a concept. If you go the obvious route, you come up with Thor 1 & 2. They found the right combination of ideas with this one and, out of nowhere, it’s awesome. This is now one of my most anticipated movies!
This movie was supposedly shot, then reshot, then one half of that reshoot was reshot and then someone shot themselves for shooting it in the first place. You can tell when a studio movie had extensive reshoots cause that money then comes out of the special effects budget. I suspect the effects to King Arthur were outsourced to a guy in Korea with an Atari 2600. You know a movie is bad when you don’t even know what it’s about after the trailer. What is this about? I suppose they should get credit for giving us a fresh take on King Arthur. But it just goes to show that fresh takes are still gambles. You have one that worked out (Thor) and one that didn’t (King Arthur). It’s time to put that sword back in the rock.
If you’re anything like me, you’re skeptical about this new Hollywood benchmark that’s taken over the internet: Most trailer views in 24 hours. It seems to be the only thing that anybody cares about anymore. However, everyone knows that the studios pay for at least a portion of these views. So how seriously can we take them? “It” is the new record holder, with something like 250 million views. Regardless of my trailer view skepticism, the movie looks great, and their adaptation approach was very clever. This book can’t fit into a single movie. However, a trilogy would’ve been too much. To split it into the kids film and the adults film was a stroke of genius. And we all know how much I loved Andres Muscietti’s previous effort, Mama. So count me in!
There is no franchise more tuned into what the public is looking for than this one. Guardians 2 has just the right blend of character, humor, action and Groot. And you can already tell that this film is more confident than its predecessor, a movie where director James Gunn admitted that he thought he might be making the next Pluto Nash. Guardians will probably win the summer box office prize, a prize it will, unfortunately, have to hand over to Star Wars at the end of the year.
I’m neutral on this one. It seems to me like they’re making a smart play though. You know that old saying, “When you try to please everybody, you please nobody?” That’s clearly what was going on in the last two Spiderman movies. They wanted so badly for everybody to like them that you could feel it permeating off the screen. With this new version, they’ve kinda said, “Let’s move away from that” and gone back to Spiderman’s roots, which are in high school. So they’re targeting a more specific demographic, the teenage crowd, and we’ll see how it works. I know I liked Cop Car (the director of that tiny film landed this job). And if there’s a lesson to be learned for screenwriters, that may be it. Make a small passion project and direct it yourself. Who the hell knows what might come of it?
The Fate of the Furious
I don’t care what you say about Fast and the Furious. It still has the best and most inventive set pieces in the action game. It beats out Mission Impossible, Bourne, and James Bond in that category. In fact, one of the most common notes I give on action specs is to be more inventive with your set pieces. Fast and the Furious had two cars dragging an apartment sized vault through the city streets. You need to do better with your set pieces if you want to compete. Now regarding this plot point of Dominic turning on his team. How probable is it that it’s part of a bigger plan to help his team? One thousand percent? One million?
For super movie nerds, this is a project all of us have been following for awhile. Why? One answer: The Fifth Element. This was going to be what Luc Besson would’ve done with The Fifth Element had he had more money. Besson is a great filmmaker. And he was supposedly creating sequences and techniques that had never been used before to give the audience a one-of-a-kind experience with Valerian. But after seeing the trailer, I was shockingly disappointed. This was it?? Sure, it seemed okay. But it hardly felt like something I’ve never seen before. Then it struck me. It wasn’t the visuals I was having a negative reaction to. It was the characters. How fucking boring do these two characters look? They mumble. They have no chemistry. There doesn’t seem to be any conflict between them (in fact, it’s the opposite, they seem to like each other – major screenwriting mistake!). Watch the Guardians and Thor trailers then watch this. Note how much more personality the characters have in those trailers. Valerian is in trouble. And let this be a lesson to screenwriters everywhere. Don’t get lost in your world-building. Make sure the characters are compelling first. Or nothing else matters.
Why do I get the feeling that Scott’s only making these movies out of spite? And when Scott goes spite, he goes FULL SPITE! After this film, he has three more Alien movies lined up. Say what?? Not to jump on Thor’s jock yet again. But the idea with any franchise is to elevate, find fresh new ways to explore the subject matter. This looks like the same exact movie as the last one. I don’t get it.
Rest of the movies: I’m not a fan of the DC films so I’m not looking forward to Justice League or Wonder Woman. It seems that their big mistake is hiring visual directors, whereas the Marvel guys are hiring storytellers. As for “maybe” movies – Pirates, The Mummy, and Apes – the reinvigorated Pirates looks like it’ll be the breakout (can Disney do no wrong?). But The Mummy doesn’t look bad either. Don’t get me started on Transformers (they could slip one of the previous four films in theaters, slap a “5” on it, and I swear nobody would notice. Save 200 million bucks). One day somebody’s going to do a documentary on how the five worst movies ever made became five of the biggest box offices successes of all time. Of the two Stephen King offerings, The Dark Tower was never my cup of tea. “It” was so inspired. Tower just dragged on. I never made it to the end (8 books!), but I hear the ending was terrible. All that investment for no payoff. I have a feeling this franchise isn’t going work. Still, one for two ain’t bad.
And that’s my roundup! What about you folks? What are you looking forward to? What movies do you think are undervalued? Overvalued? Chime in in the comments!
Premise: Released after a 20 year stint in prison, a man is ready to spend the rest of his life on cruise-control, until he befriends a strange young boy who lives next door.
About: Palmer finished on last year’s Black List. The writer, Cheryl Guerriero, wrote a Spanish film before this called “The Hunting Season.”
Writer: Cheryl Guerriero
Details: 122 pages
In honor of the controversial backwater memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” getting the movie treatment via Ron Howard (people say the author of that book was “The Trump Whisperer”), I thought I’d review another “struggling white middle-class” script. Although this one doesn’t contain any Trump controversy. At least none that I noticed.
Eddie Palmer, pushing 40, has just been released from prison. He did a dumb thing when he was 20, robbing a bank, ruining any chance he had of living a normal life. He stumbles back to his grandmother’s house (Vivian) and asks if he can stay there while he gets his shit together.
Vivian loves Palmer, but she’s still smarting after what he did. She says he can stay, but only if he comes to church on Sundays. Meanwhile, next door, drug-addict Shelly is so busy running around with abusive men that she can’t take care of her seven year-old son, Sam.
Sam is different. All the other boys like sports. Sam likes dolls. And dresses. His dream is to be accepted into the Princess Club. Because Shelley’s never around, the burden of taking care of Sam has been shifted to Vivian. And Vivian’s just fine with that. Sam may be different. But he’s the nicest boy you’ll ever meet.
Now you have to understand, this area of the country isn’t exactly West Hollywood. A little boy who likes dolls is going to have it rough. And when Palmer meets Sam, he doesn’t know what to make of him. At first, he tries to keep his distance. But Sam keeps chatting his ear off, and he’s so darn charming that Palmer starts to like him.
(spoiler!) Just when things are getting copacetic in the house, Vivian dies. Which means Palmer has to take care of Sam on his own. Palmer’s actually becoming well suited for that. It’s everybody else who’s the problem. Should a man who just got out of prison really be taking care of an unrelated seven year-old boy? And why would a man want to take care of a little boy anyway?
Palmer’s one cheerleader is Maggie, a teacher who can tell that Sam genuinely loves Palmer. But the rest of the town isn’t on board. And as the powers-that-be put the squeeze on the arrangement, Palmer and Sam must prepare for reality – that Palmer can no longer be his guardian.
Man, this is a tough subject-matter to write a spec off of.
I don’t mean in the dramatic sense. I mean commercially. You’re basically writing about people being people. There’s no concept. There’s no hook. Actually, there’s a bit of a hook but it’s far from a “poster” hook.
I see so many of these scripts disappear, even when they’re good, because they don’t have that commercial appeal that producers require. And I don’t want to get too into this. But guys, remember, you’re selling scripts to people who are trying to make a living. These aren’t folks with Floyd Mayweather money who do this as a hobby.
Every potential buyer looks at a script and, at some point, asks, “Will anybody go and see this?”
I just want you to keep that in mind when you’re coming up with your next script idea. I’d never say don’t write something you’re passionate about. But at least consider the commercial aspects of your idea, because I guarantee you producers will.
The good news for Palmer is that it’s one of the good ones. This is a beautifully constructed character piece, one of the best I’ve read all year.
That beauty rests in the main relationship, between Palmer and Sam. Regardless of whether you’re writing a straight character piece or a giant blockbuster in the vein of Fast and Furious, you should spotlight the key relationship in the story and make it as interesting/compelling/conflict-filled as possible. That relationship will be the heart of your film. So if it’s not interesting, we won’t care about anything else.
Here you have Palmer, who’s an old-school conservative tough guy. There you have Sam, a little boy with likes to wear make-up and dresses. Before you’ve done any extra work on the characters, this setup is going to give you some interesting scenes.
On top of that, Guerriero adds other things to create more contrast in the relationship. Palmer rarely speaks. Sam can’t shut up. Palmer is hard to like. Sam is the most likable kid on the planet. Palmer is a Negative Nancy. Sam is a Positive Paula. All of these factors contribute to a series of interactions you can’t look away from.
One of my favorite things to watch here was Sam win Palmer over. Palmer is initially weirded out by how effeminate Sam is and how he carries around dolls. But Sam never gives up. One night, when the two are eating spaghetti, Sam notices that he’s got all the meatballs in his bowl and Palmer has none.
So Sam leans over and scoops a few meatballs into Palmer’s bowl. “You don’t like meatballs?” Palmer asks. “They’re my favorite,” Sam says. I mean if you don’t fall in love with this kid at that point, you have no heart.
The structure is fairly solid, but you can tell that Guerriero isn’t as comfortable with that component as she is character. I would’ve given this script a mega-impressive had it not faltered at the end, where too many endings were stacked on top of one another. I sensed trouble from the start when I saw 122 pages on the page count. “What small character piece takes 122 pages to tell?” I thought. Then, the whole way through the script, I’m thinking, “Wow, it’s still not dragging. None of these pages are being wasted.” But then the third act arrives and there’s just too much going on (a court case, a house sale, a kidnapping, lots of characters talking about what should happen). It killed the momentum of the story.
Sometimes we overthink our endings and that may be what happened here.
But outside of that, this was a really nice little script. If you’re someone who gets the note, “Your characters are thin” or “Your character development is weak,” check this script out. You can definitely learn a thing or two from it.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Never ever write a perfect character. Even if a character is supposed to be perfect, don’t write them as perfect. You know why? Because perfect is manipulative. Since nobody is perfect, when you write a “perfect” character, the audience senses that they’re being manipulated. Even Sam, who it would’ve been so easy to write “perfect,” has a flaw. He steals things. And thank God he did. Because it humanized him. If he didn’t steal, I might’ve thought, “This kid is too good to be true.”