I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.
~Henry David Thoreau
HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL EMERGING SCREENWRITERS
THIS IS A RIP-O-MATIC
Also called clip-o-matics, mood reels or tone reels, these handy tools are used as visual aids during pitch meetings. Rian Johnson shows in the reel above what the movie Looper would look like. A rip-o-matic is a mash-up of clips from produced sources a filmmaker uses to help sell a story by getting the viewer to understand to basic mood, tone, structure or energy of the project.
Do you know how many writers have stories? Good stories? And great agents? Who are connected to power players who can make a green light happen over a trip to Starbucks? Yes, that many. And who are you again?
Just the writer. With few credits and a good – excuse me – great script. You need a visual tool to help your story stand out in the mind of who ever you pitch to. A one sheet was enough back in the day. As long as it came with a referral and an executive with the courage to champion a favorite project. Not anymore.
You’re on your own, kid. You need to make your mark by making your mark. Create a video presentation in any way you can to show the executive, agent or producer what they’re buying and why they need this story, or (more importantly) why they need you.
A pitch document is a start, like a leave behind with more pages – especially for a series that requires multi-seasonal arcs and episodes. But the overall effect – the Wow! factor is how you want your project to be the one the execs can’t stop thinking about. What they play on a loop.
These days most pitches include a video presentation – a sizzle reel – for the buyers to get a sample of the finished project. This is frequently for reality TV, but common to all areas of media production.
The rip-o-matic is the easiest to create when you have no money to produce your own trailer, sizzle pitch or concept video. Yes, technically you are stealing work product from the studio, network or copyright owner. Normally, I would say don’t steal ever, but in this case executives and producers know this reel is to help them visualize the final project and if it gets them excited about working with you they don’t mind using the clips.
I’m in the process of making a rip-o-matic for a producer I’m pitching to. I’m not going to lie, it’s a bitch. The steps are simple enough. All you do is create a trailer of your project whether it is a feature, series or game. Write it, storyboard it they way you would if producing a real trailer, then the hard part. Scour every resource you have to find images to fit the trailer. Adding voice over helps to make the reel your own as opposed to just a bunch of clips. Include inspirational music as long as you are only using this reel for pitching purposes. Remember, this is a tool for your pitch not for public consumption.
There is affordable editing software to help you cut it. I’m using Adobe Premiere. It’s a tedious process, but worth the effort. I hope. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you have a rip-o-matic story or reel you’d like to share, please pass it along. This is all new for emerging screenwriters and we need all the tools we can get.
In the mean time here’s another rip-o-matic to inspire you.
My very good friend Consuelo Mackintosh lives with her boyfriend who happens to be a dead ringer for Javier Bardem. One night, Javier 2.0 invited a group of people over who became loud and annoying. It actually drove Consuelo out of the house. She decided an evening movie would be a nice way to kill some time before going back to the rabble invading her home and went to see mother! – an artistic exercise masquerading as a film about rabble invading a woman’s home. Consuelo chose this movie because it stars the original Javier, but it is also Jennifer Lawrence’s latest effort to prove her Academy Award was not a fluke.
I had no intention of seeing mother! – Maybe because it received both cheers and boos after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Maybe because it received an F on CinemaScore which measures audience’s reactions immediately after seeing a film on the first night of wide release. Or maybe because I just don’t appreciate titles that require punctuation. Whatever the reason, I was not interested until Consuelo called it artsy crap only film students can appreciate and not worth the price of admission for anyone else. What can I say? I think fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for artsy crap.
And that is just what mother! is – artsy crap. Emerging screenwriters often make the mistake of trying to produce their own art. We say we want our work to be polarizing because at least people are talking. It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you. The movie was written and directed by Lawrence’s real life paramour Darren Aronofsky, a big cheese in the film biz. Everyone knows him. His filmography includes Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. I mention so many to give you a sense of where this guy’s head is. So polarizing is good, but for the tested and certified successful writer/director like Aronofsky. You, me – not so much.
This week, Hurricane Harvey rampaged through the Texas Gulf Coast. Any natural disaster that strikes causes devastation to thousands of people and international relief efforts are necessary to help victims get through a struggle that could take years to climb back from. Now, more than ever it is important for those who can, to give aid and comfort in any way to those fellow human beings and animals in crisis.
Be prepared. This is a longer post than I usually write. I got carried away. Apologies. Maybe because it’s back to school time that these first few paragraphs may seem like a classroom lesson, but if you keep reading I promise it gets better. I suggest you pack a lunch or read it in sections; stretch first we’ll be awhile. Okay, ready? Ahem… Stories give a narrative account of events either real or imagined. Those events involve characters. The characters the audience relates to are the heroes we root for. We want them to win. We are invested in their character arc as they journey from one place to another, learning something, transforming internally and improving their lot in life along the way. It is understood in most stories that after trial and tribulation the main character chalks up a win. This is similar to the way Americans believe in success. That if you do the right thing, if you work hard, if you don’t give up, you will eventually get what you want. It’s America’s Promise which can be summed in the equation
Talent + Hard Work = Success.
In screenwriting, heroes’ arcs go up because of good behavior and after several losses they end winning what is most important to their journey. In a negative character arc, the anti-hero’s journey is the result of bad behavior and choices that hurt others and eventually themselves because they end losing either their life or what is most important to their journey.
In between the picnics and fireworks, I hope all emerging screenwriters are using this long weekend to get some writing done, but also to remember why you write and make it worth something to yourself and to your audience.
I believe in America because we have great dreams, and because we have the opportunity to make those dreams come true.– Wendell L. Wilkie
Here’s to making all of your dreams come true.
Father’s Day is coming up. Yeah, I know it’s one of the non-holiday holidays that sneak up on you and if you have a dad, I hope you at least got a card off on time and if you are a dad, I hope you get a nice mug to go along with that made-in-art-class ashtray your eight-year-old sculpted so brilliantly. I am neither a father nor a son, but I am an emerging screenwriter fascinated with the dynamics of the father/son relationship. In fact, the feature spec I am working on now is an indie coming-of-age effort that hinges on a teenage boy’s disappointment in his dad.
It probably won’t surprise you to know that writers often write about themselves. (No, really?) We are constantly searching for what we’ve lost or what we’ve longed for. That includes a perhaps subconscious theme of parent-child estrangement, especially fathers and sons. I believe it’s because Hollywood is still run by men who want to find a way to reconcile the myth of their fathers as mighty sons of bitches with the desire to break the cycle and become fathers who are nurturing and committed to raising their sons as they would have liked to have been raised.
This is from Psychology Today
“The pain and grief and shame from the failed father-son relationship seem universal, as evidenced in the popular movies of the past few decades which had father-and-son themes that overshadowed anything going on between men and women. Men feared being like their fathers, but they wanted desperately to bond with them even if they could never really please them enough to feel anointed.
In 1989, the film that set the tone for the Men’s Movement was Field of Dreams. Baseball, with its clear and polite rules and all its statistics and players who are normal men and boys… is a man’s metaphor for life. In this magical fantasy, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) tells us his life story: how his mother died when he was two so his father gave up his efforts to play pro baseball in order to raise his son.
Costner hears a voice from his cornfield telling him “If you build it, he will come.” He understands the message to mean that if he mows his cornfield and builds a baseball diamond, his father’s hero, Joe Jackson, will appear. He does. Then Costner’s dad appears in his baseball uniform, and father and son solemnly play a belated game of catch. Father and son don’t talk much, they just play catch with total solemnity. And it is quite enough.
Father-son screenplays always attract an audience, especially those done well. What goes on between the father and son-and what does not go on between them–is surely the most important determinant of whether the boy will become a man capable of giving life to others or whether he will go through life ashamed and pulling back from exposure to intimacy with men, women, and children.”
After generations of fathers Missing-in-Action, Millennials have deemed fatherhood as the one occupation that gives a man his self-worth. The way a father values his son as a child determines the boy’s future. It is no longer about providing for the family, or simply paying child support, it is about nurturing and being there to love and teach love as an expression of masculinity.
I think I’ve got most of the character development for my screenplay done. As an emerging screenwriter we need to remember the son’s arc and overall journey is determined by the father, whether he’s a dynamic bastard, lovable nurturer or M.I.A. The attitude leads to the action and the action produces the relationship.
Field of Dreams is only one example of the power of the Father-Son screenplay. If you’re looking for inspiration for your own work or just want to see your favorite guy get all misty-eyed put on one of these sure-fire Dad’s Day DVDs:
The Champ – (1931) This champ is set in the boxing world but pays homage to Charlie Chaplin’s silent classic The Kid. Both tell the story of a ne’er-do-well dad trying to do the best he can in order to take care of his young son, the cutest kid ever. The 1979 remake starring Jon Voight and Ricky Schroeder was not as well received critically, but packs the same emotional punch.
Bicycle Thieves – (1948) The Italian classic by Vittorio De Sica about a father and son searching for their stolen bicycle the father needs for work to feed his family.
East of Eden – (1955) Even if you do not get the magnetism of James Dean, it is hard to deny the powerful performances in this classic Cain and Abel story about the competition of two brothers for the affection of their conservative father in WWI.
Hud – (1963) Paul Newman as an asshole. He plays the titular Hud who clashes with his noble father on the family ranch which has to be saved when disease infects the livestock.
The Godfather – (1972), and The Godfather Part 2 (1974) Uh, duh. The circle of patriarchy shifts from Don Vito Corleone to the transformation of his youngest son Michael who evolves from military hero and family outsider to ruthless mafia don .
Life As A House – (2001) An underrated Kevin Kline film about a man diagnosed with terminal cancer determined to repair and rebuild his relationship with his pain in the ass teenage son.
Road to Perdition – (2002) Based on the graphic novel, the film is beautiful to watch. Sam Mendes second film and Academy Award winning cinematographer Conrad L.Hall‘s last is about a mob enforcer in 1931 Chicago who tries to protect himself and his son as they seek vengeance against a mobster who murdered the rest of their family.
Big Fish – (2003) Father and son storytellers relate tall tales while trying to reconcile their relationship.
Beginners – (2010) A man’s beliefs about his father and himself are shattered when he learns that his senior citizen father is gay, has a young male lover and is dying of cancer.
A Better Life – (2011) A Mexican-American Bicycle Thieves. An illegal immigrant (Demián Bichir) can’t go to the cops when his truck he needs to work as a day laborer is stolen. He and his teenage son set out to locate it on their own.
Footnote – (2011) This Israeli gem is about father and son professors of Talmudic Studies whose complicated relationship is mostly rivalry that becomes the main way they communicate personally and professionally.
Tree of Life – (2011) Terrence Malick‘s enigmatic film about a man contemplating the meaning of life by flashing back to his childhood in Waco, Texas and how the origins of his strained relationship with his father influenced his disconnected world view.
The Judge – (2014) Robert Downey Jr. plays an attorney who defends his estranged father (Robert Duvall) on trial for murder.
I had a meeting this past week for staffing. Yes, yes good for me in the general sense, but after over a decade I’m still staff level so what the fuck happened to my career? But I digress. My manager informed me she was going to NYC for upfronts again. Really? Is it May already? I had forgotten all about upfronts. A reminder for anyone else who has forgotten, television upfronts are the yearly to-do networks make showcasing their new and returning fall programming to advertisers hoping to get them to throw their commercial bucks their way. It’s a crap shoot, after all who knows how the fickle television audience will commit their viewing time. Back in the day – say 2010, this was the biggest fucking deal. There were gala events with top billed actors and balloons and champagne to woo the buyers. Pilots were picked up to series with an eight to ten episode commitment. Writers rooms were opened and the frenzy to get staffed was chaotic and electric.
Not so much now. Oh, there is still chaos and frenzy, but the electricity has given over to apathy. After all, network and basic cable viewership has been in a steady decline since DVR, VOD and streaming options have increased. An argument can even be made that devices have made the TV itself as an appliance obsolete (gasp!)
See, when network TV was the only game in town programs were “appointment viewing.” Audiences scheduled their activities on the coach for the Thursday night NBC line-up of Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace and Law & Order and the TGIF family sitcom juggernaut on ABC. This may explain why Will & Grace is coming back and why the TGIF line-up was similarly updated (Fuller House and Girl Meets World. Really? Yes, really.)
Pay cable’s frequent multiple repeats, changed the game. The Sopranos? – Fageddaboudit. That’s appointment viewing in the millennium – watch once, then tune in three hours later and five more times during the week in case you missed something. The habit passed on to basic cable with Sunday nights on AMC. Mad Men was written into appointment books, and don’t lie, I know it’s not just me.
Networks couldn’t keep up. Pay cable and web streaming don’t really do the advertiser thing. In today’s terms, the binge is the thing. I admit guilt but no shame in watching eight hours of Orange is the New Black on my iPad while flying and changing planes then capping it off with another three hours of Game of Thrones on my phone. On. My. Phone. Thank you, HBO Go.
Okay, Gayle, what does that have to do with upfronts for the emerging screenwriter, you ask? Well, advertisers are spending their money differently on TV, to include streaming and watching across multiple devices. So that means networks are ordering fewer episodes per season. The original twelve order with a back nine at mid-season is a dinosaur. Fewer episodes means fewer writers. Fewer writers means less money to hire down the list. That means the staff writer is an after thought. Not good for us.
As emerging writers in television we must be aware of how drastically the game has changed. We can no longer rely on our representation to get meetings with show runners unless a) our representation represents the showrunner or b) we are the contact to the showrunner. Most staff writers are people they already know. That’s part of the package.
I know, I hadn’t expected this to turn so dark, but that is our reality. Emerging TV writers – network, network, network. The more people who know who you are and what you do, the better chance to get the meeting in today’s year-round TV cycle.
It is a Golden Age of Television. That means more opportunities, but those opportunities are not coming to us, we must create our own. Network and basic cable upfronts are a very nice week of parties and enthusiasm for those involved, but for those of us still seeking a way into the room they really do not matter. Not a lick. Write a great pilot. And a back-up great pilot. Then get it to someone who knows a showrunner-level writer. That is the best (and unfortunately may be the only) way to score that staff writer job.
I started this blog to help emerging screen and TV writers survive the day job, general meetings and life shit that happens on the way to success. So you’re a writing a TV pilot, I assume you know what to do. If not, there are a gazillion analysts to help writers write. Here is one I highly recommend – Michael Tucker and his Lessons From The Screenplay on You Tube are definitely worth a subscription and a donation via Patreon.
I have spent years allowing my representation to send out scripts and get small meetings that led nowhere. So in March, I dedicated myself to putting myself in the driver’s seat. I took the wheel and am in the process of making a ninja short. Over the next few months I’ll chronicle the process. It is definitely not for every emerging screenwriter, but for anyone who can commit to making it yourself, why not? Emerging as a ninja filmmaker will get your name out to a wider audience and it is the kind of attention you want.
I have neither the contacts nor the pedigree to burst on to the Hollywood scene with an amazing first feature. Yet. Still? What I do have is passion, drive and a game plan. I am no longer climbing a career ladder buckled with competition, I am making my own ladder. First up – the “Let’s just do something in the backyard” short. Many, many people do these shorts just for fun. It’s easy to get a great camera, a lot of them are done on iPhones. Add the idea of being a bad ass professional on the sly who goes in and out undetected but gets the job done like a ninja and you have the ninja filmmaker. That’s the kind of short I wanted to make. In and out, get it done, calling card for a professional indie short to be used as a proof of concept for a feature. That’s the plan – let’s see if God laughs.