Good morning, Wavers! Well, it's the dawn of a new day, and the Rouge Wave is moving to a new URL as of today at 2pm. Any Wavers who have RSS feeds on TRW should change the URL to: http://www.justeffing.com as of NOW if you want to continue to be alerted of blog updates.
The Rouge Wave is also changing its name to Just F-ng Entertain Me - or just, you know, Julie Gray's blog. It's a new look, a new location but the same good ol' advice and information you've come to expect. Hell, I also hope to get back to blogging with (almost) the same frequency I used to! I think I spoiled you Wavers for a long time with daily updates! No worries, the Rouge Wave archives will still be available for your reading pleasure and the good news is that the archive is being condensed, compressed, converted and somewhat re-imagined into a screenwriting book which should hit bookshelves sometime in the latter half of 2010.
I hope all my loyal Rouge Wavers are just as pleased with the new blog - again, don't forget to update your RSS feed so you don't miss a thing. And remember - the mailbox is always open so I look forward to receiving scintillating questions you may have vis a vis the entertainment industry, personal hygiene, recipes or mechanics.
So head on over to www.justeffing.com and check out the new digs!
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Good morning, Wavers! Well, it's the dawn of a new day, and the Rouge Wave is moving to a new URL as of today at 2pm. Any Wavers who have RSS feeds on TRW should change the URL to: http://www.justeffing.com as of NOW if you want to continue to be alerted of blog updates.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Hi Wavers - here is the list of the semi-finalists in the Silver Screenwriting Competition. These writers represent the top 4% of all entrants which is something to be very proud of! Now, somewhere in this list, there are the top ten finalists and somewhere in that list - is the winner. So it's really fun. Congratulations to the top 4%!
BET ON BLOOD by Patrick Barb (horror)
CHIMANA by Paiman Kalayeh (romantic drama)
ENDOWMENT by Ian Samplin (drama)
EVERLASTING by Brent Spencer and Jonis Agee (drama)
FERTILE ATTRACTION by Mariah Wilson (rom-com)
HAIR TODAY by Dennis Douda (comedy/family)
HERO QUEST by Joel Dorland (action/comedy)
HORROR COMIC by Stephen Hoover (thriller)
HUNTING PICASSO by Marlene Shikegawa (thriller)
INUGAMI by Rich Figel (thriller)
LIFE AMONG THE RUINS by Anthony Fisher (heist thriller)
MEADOWLANDZ by Moon Molson (drama)
MECHANICSVILLE by Jason Thornton and Chris Thornton (drama)
MY BROTHER MICK by Kim Nunley (drama/thriller)
OFFRAMPS by Patrick O'Riley (comedy)
ONE NIGHT STAND by Ian Coyne (horror)
PLUS SIZE by Jacob Roman (comedy)
RAEFORD'S GRILL by David Meyer (drama)
SHIFT by Kodjo Akeseh Tsakpo (thriller)
THE BASEMENT by Scott Shackleford (drama)
THE COOL KIDS by Cliff Zimonowski (thriller)
THE GREAT AMERICAN LOSER by Jess DiGiacinto (dramedy)
THE HAPPINESS EXPERIMENT by Alex Darrow (dramedy)
THE WARRIORS OF WESTGATE by Michael Harriel (drama)
UPGRADE by Louis Rosenberg (sci-fi)
WAY TO THE CAGE by Richard Michael Lucas (drama)
WHEN IN LIMBO by Adam King (thriller)
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
I am writing a television spec and am perplexed about a few things.
First, how long should a show have been aired before writing a spec for it?
Second, I heard I should wait until the show is in its third season, but then I find that the third season will be its last. So, how fast should I be churning these specs out? Maybe I am writing too slowly? I come up with ideas and then read in the trades that the show is being cancelled. I try to cut myself some slack since I am still learning (as a newbie, not to be confused with the pros and the continued learning curve).
At this rate, I fear I will have no current episodes by the time I get there.
-Perplexed in Pennsylvania
This is a great question. Having current samples as TV writer is a constantly moving target.
Yes, a spec of an existing show should be the first place to start. Especially if you are new to TV, you should attempt to spec a current show first to help you understand TV pacing and structure, as well as voice.
An ideal spec script will be in a genre similar to a show you'd like to write on, in a tone similar to a voice you can write well. The old adage is true, never spec a show you want to write for; those showrunners will RARELY (mainly NEVER) look upon your idea of their show with warmth and open arms.
So, if I want to write for "The Mentalist," having a solid "CSI" or even "Medium" as a spec will help me. If I want to write for "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia," having a good "Weeds" or "South Park" come in handy.
Because shows aren't around as long anymore, it's safe to say that if you choose to spec a show it should have had a successful first season, and at LEAST a second season order. The trick here is just to write something that executives and showrunners are likely to have seen. An obscure show does you no good.
Also, I'm a big believer in taking a risk and trying to write a spec BEFORE something is a massive hit, because then everyone has a spec of that show. From what I've heard, executives are sick of "Gray's Anatomy" and "The Office," - and now's the time to bury that "My Name Is Earl" spec, while you're at it. Right now the market is also flooded with "The Mentalist," "Mad Men," and "30 Rock specs.
I wrote a spec of "Gossip Girl" early in the first season of the show, knowing and hoping that it would change some of the tides in terms of tone and genre of CW programming. I got lucky. I could have just as easily been wrong, in which case I would have learned a valuable lesson and maybe that's about it. That's the nature of spec writing. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you don't. It happens to everyone.
You should be updating your spec pile every year. If working writers think an old "Friends" or "Alias" spec is going to help them, they're probably not working on a show right now. Keep current. Which shows are coming up the pipeline? May is when the majority of orders happen for new serieses; a majority of those will fail in the fall. But, quietly over the summer, both "Nurse Jackie" and "True Blood" got picked up for another season - two for "True Blood." Read the trades and learn which shows are getting good ratings, good reviews, awards nominations, etc. Understanding the business will help you get better at predicting the turning of the tides. Choosing a spec should involve finding a good creative match for you in a relevant show.
Also - and not to add any stress to a confusing situation - the emphasis these days is more on original material than spec scripts. Don't get me wrong, you have to have a spec script or three in your back pocket. You never know what will come in handy when. They are a necessary evil in TV. Also, don't quote me on this, but the majority of TV fellowships require a spec script as an entry for their programs. So mastering a solid spec is absolutely necessary.
But once that's done, the real work begins. Lately, you can't get an agent anymore on a spec script. Actually, from what I've seen with my circle of up-and-coming writer friends, getting staffed FIRST is the only real way to get an agent. But don't worry about that yet.
What you've got to do is write an original pilot. Again, write in a genre that you'd like to write in in the future. Don't write a procedural murder show if you really want to write half-hour comedy. The point of the pilot is to distinguish yourself from the pack. Show that you understand the form and structure of TV at its basic level, and then use the platform of the pilot to make your voice shine.
What's a personal story to you? A world that you have great access to? What's different/special about your voice, your take on things? All of that should come through in your pilot. Showrunners want to hire VOICES in their rooms. Executives want to find new TALENT. Audiences want to see a WORLD they've never seen before. They can't tell all of that from a spec of "Criminal Minds," so help them out. Write a pilot that makes it undeniable what a gem you are.
If that feels too daunting at first, try your hand at a one-act play. I've gotten more than my fair share of mileage from a one-act I wrote. It's a simple way to get your feet wet in the land of original writing. Keep it simple, and let your characters and their voices shine. Again, another opportunity to show who YOU are.
Yes, it's a lot to take in. Being a current TV writer requires an arsenal of projects and getting that built up is not easy. But if you think that's hard, try writing a 60-page script in a week, because that's the job you're signing up for.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
This great post is from our friend John August, who always hits the nail on the head. First, here's the question:
When trying to sell a screenplay, does it have to be accompanied by a logline and/or a synopsis? Or will just handing someone a script suffice?
And I would also like to know the general work hours of movie studios. I want to maybe personally hand my work to someone at a studio since I am uncertain of whether or not they read unsolicited work; however, I have a very unflexible work schedule, and I usually get off late. Are studios open on Saturdays?
New York City
...and click here to see John's response. It's good stuff.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Like the millions of school children buying Pee-Chee folders at Walmart, like the leaves beginning to turn, like the fog moving under the Golden Gate Bridge and the gray whales migrating to Mexico for the winter, we are shifting into a new Hollywood season.
That's a long way of saying that this is the beginning of the Hollywood school year - when it comes to writers. Here is the latest Hollywood Calendar for 2009/2010, which my intrepid assistant arduously compiled for your writing benefit. These are the events, festivals and holidays that I think you should be aware of.
Make sure you pay yourself first and set aside some family monies so you can attend the CS Expo this year - it is honestly one of the best annual events for screenwriters out there. Besides, I'll be teaching a class this year so yowza that. Many of you will notice the Expo is one day shorter this year, which is probably a good thing. Jam all of that intensity into a shorter time span.
Some items you may ask why I am specifically noting the Jewish High Holidays. That's because a fair number of people in Los Angeles and in Hollywood (including me) observe these holidays; it's respectful to be informed of a holiday - especially one that means some will not be doing business during this time.
Get out your red pens and your blank calendars out and jot this stuff down:
Toronto Film Festival
September 10-19, 2009
Creative Screenwriting Expo
Austin Film Festival
Tribeca Film Festival
Silver Screenwriting Competition
BlueCat Screenwriting Competition
Cannes Film Festival
Disney/ABC Television Writing Fellowship deadline
Great American Pitch Fest
Nicholl Fellowship deadline
Warner Bros Television Writers' Workshop
Monday, August 17, 2009
So how many of you watched the "Mad Men" season premiere? Go ahead--raise your hand. I’m counting. Nice. I think your Facebook statuses indicated this and I am happy to report that you’re not alone out there, my 1960s slick suit wearing, brandy in the office sloshing and non-filtered Marlboro loving friends.
Most of my fellow entertainment brethren agree that the writing, acting and art direction of the show is beyond stunning. Many shows try to layer in all the most important aspects of storytelling, but few succeed like "Mad Men." No detail is left behind. But within all the layers of storytelling comes something I usually rarely find in worthwhile television...
How many of you noticed the hidden (or not so hidden) symbolism that the writers and directors use to convey theme and emotion as an integral part of the show? Yes. You in the back--from Dubuque, Iowa. You noticed? Bravo! Julie, go ahead and call Sprinkles stat! Dubuque gets a cupcake.
Images provide the audience with something I love about storytelling: Show, don’t tell. The subtext that is not only visual, but also visceral. And of course, sometimes a cigar is just a big ole fat...well, cigar.
Sure we see symbols in great movies. They can be conventional (fire, water, wind, the puppets in BEING JOHN MALKOVITCH). Or unconventional (the briefcase in PULP FICTION, the blue box in MULHOLLAND DRIVE, the loons in ON GOLDEN POND). But symbols are often left unexplored on most airing TV shows.
"Mad Men"’s premiere offered many eye-catching, provocative symbols. Season three starts with birth. Don is at the stove, boiling something that he then leaves unattended while reflecting on birth. And that something boils over, which gives us the sense that something ELSE will boil over this season. What could it be?
And when Sal engages in a kiss with the male bellhop - who somes up to check the overly warm (boiling) temperature in his hotel room - his pen explodes, leaving his starched white shirt pocket dripping with oozing ink. Sal’s tension fueled by a deep desire to be with another man bursts phalically and symbolically forth onto the screen.
And then there is the more nuanced symbol of Cooper’s ant farm. Did anybody else tune into that? It sits in the old Head of Accounts' office; when the new British boss (Pryce) and his underling (Hooker) meet, one of them comments, “This place is a giantocracy.” Hooker and his British boss will watch their ant farm of an ad agency from upon high. Then, they’ll command their little worker ants to grow their new empire with a fiery controlled chaos they surely will delve up by the truckload this season. Just like how they have already begun to pit Pete and Ken against each other as the new co-heads of Accounts.
It’s very simple, but, if interwoven well, symbols can really help reinforce your stories and premises throughout each and every scene.
How do you know it’s done on purpose in "Mad Men," Mr. Mike? Well, the frequency an object or character is mentioned is uber vital. I think "Mad Men" is subtler in its approach. But, if it is mentioned often, it is probably important. Another way to find or write about a symbol is to look at how much detail is used in describing it. Do your characters talk extensively about the object? These two methods give clues that the writer wants you to infer something about a particular object. You should do the same!
Please, writers (especially TV writers) – watch for this as you scribe your specs and future cable or network hit pilots. It enriches the world in which your characters play and thrive. And ask yourself, “Is there something more I can do to include symbols, images and icons to heighten my story and better convey emotion, theme and conflict?”
Now punch up that DVR and watch the season premiere again. Then, whip out your stogies, dirty martinis, underwire bras, skinny ties and enjoy those subtle as well as not so subtle symbols all over again...
Michael Perri is a writer/producer/comedian/techno-geek and partner with Yes No Maybe Productions in Los Angeles. Mike has produced and written plays, content for game shows, short movies, features and some scribbling on bathroom walls as a small child. He successfully helped create and launch some of the most critically acclaimed web series online including Citizen Kate and the latest smash hit - Weed Shop. Mike is currently developing original film and animated content that will soon hit the net and airwaves this year.
Friday, August 14, 2009
Morning, Wavers! If you haven't caught any of the WKUK (Whitest Kids U Know) videos on Fuse or You Tube, you're missing out on some great sketch comedy. This one is particularly relevant and hilarious. Enjoy!
Thursday, August 13, 2009
I received a disappointed email from a writer a few weeks back; he was upset that once again, his comedy script received low marks from a reader. Readers just don't get comedy, he postulated. I'm not sure one can make a sweeping statement like that, but at the same time, comedy IS pretty subjective. What if a reader reviews your script and as it turns out, he or she has a totally different sense of humor and gives you low marks because of that subjectivity? What is a writer to do? I asked my friend Peter Russell, a long time reader at some of the most illustrious production companies in town and a teacher of story analysis at UCLA, to chime in:
The writer who complains bitterly that readers don't 'get' comedy, especially low comedy, is half right.
Readers who don't have a sense of humour will not get comedy. Readers who love drama are legion, and they probably do have a harder time with lowbrow comedy than they do straight drama, in the same way comedies get fewer Oscars and less respect -- comedy is considered, by such readers, as a 'lower' form, and that probably does leach into their ratings.
But a good reader with a sense of humour will get comedy thoroughly and perspicaciously, and can judge a comic script, low or high, with accuracy.
That's the rub. How many good readers have a good sense of humour? An anecdotal guess would be less than half, if you define sense of humour as the ability (and I mean this sincerely) to judge the merits of a fart joke. And there are merits to a fart joke. Many.
Anecdotally, more men than women are puerile, and being puerile is a huge advantage when it comes to judging low comedy (whether it's Seneca, Plautus, or Apatow.) Of course there are exceptions. One of the foulest, most hilariously scatological writers/readers I know is a female.
So, yes, low comedy gets short shrift from script readers without senses of (puerile) humour. But a lot of readers do have a sense of humour, and an astute story editor at a studio can often guide the script to the right reader.
Half the time the writer will get a fair shake.
In Hollywood, those are good odds for a writer. If it's a good script, and it goes out enough, it probably will be noticed.
That's all any writer ever gets in this town.
I love Lasse Hallstrom as much as I love Fellini, Woody Allen and John Waters. I love action movies, drama, adaptations, science fiction (Danny Boyle's SUNSHINE was the last sci-fi movie that really rocked my world although I'm quite excited to see DISTRICT 9), rom-com and...and...you name it. I love the movies. Passionately.
And I love a good B-movie as well. Why? Well, because I love to see what filmmakers do with a limited budget and a wild imagination. I love the stilted action, the hilarious FX and the whoopsy daisy continuity problems. I love the wink and the nod that is a B-movie. Click here to read up on the history and definition of B-movies. Suffice it to say that like cockroaches, strong martinis and hot nights, B-movies are a long and lively tradition in Hollywood. The indisputable king of the B-movie is of course Roger Corman, who gave many an accomplished filmmaker a start in his movie-making boot camp. And by accomplished film maker I of course mean people such as Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, Francis Ford Coppola and the like.
One of my favorite B-movie makers is The Asylum, producers of movies like MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS, 100 MILLION BC, TRANSMORPHERS, and SNAKES ON A TRAIN (yes, you read that right).
MEGA SHARK is among the most entertaining B-movies I have seen lately (although SHARK SWARM still holds a place in my heart), featuring a shark so mega that once he is released from a glacier, where he was locked in battle with a giant octopus, and is free to roam the modern day ocean, he leaps 30,000 feet into the air and bites an airliner in half. IN HALF, people. That's one bad-ass shark. If you think the entertainment ends with bad-ass sea monsters from the Ice Age, think again. It also stars Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas. Rent MEGA SHARK, invite over several friends as I did, make blue cocktails, make plenty of popcorn and enjoy.
One day recently, I decided to write a fan email to one of the principals of The Asylum, David Latt, and find out if the Mini-W and I might be able to take a field trip over to their offices and pay them a visit. Little did I know what a treat we were in for. Latt agreed readily, and when my daughter and I arrived at his mini-studio lot in Burbank, he greeted us on roller blades. Apologizing because he was in the beginning stages of a cold, Latt nonetheless took my daughter and me on a tour of Asylum's new digs.
The company, co-founded by Latt, has been in business since the '80s; they start production on a new film every four weeks. Every. Four weeks. Most everything is done onsite. Pre-production, post-production and principal photography. The commissary is a microwave and some folding chairs. A dinosaur leg and part of a whale carcass lie stacked in a corner.
I had so many questions for Latt about his business model, how he got into making B-movies, if he found the term offensive (No, that's a compliment. Our movies have been called Z-movies, he said with a laugh), where he gets the ideas, who writes the scripts, what his movies cost to make, etc. And this is what I learned:
Most films produced by The Asylum have a core budget of $150K. MEGA SHARK cost $250K in part due to the cost of casting. Why that particular film became a viral online phenom, Latt is not sure. Netflix rentals were 70% higher on that title than in general but due to their business model, no more copies or profit were made.
The scripts all come from ideas that are then assigned to a small stable of non-guild writers. The ideas are inspired by what is renting well at video outlets like Blockbuster. If 10,000 BC is renting well at Blockbuster, Asylum sets up 100,000 BC. It takes about four months from the inception of an idea to the movie hitting the shelves.
Marketing is nonexistent. Asylum films are sold directly to Netflix, Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and some foreign distributors. Zero marketing costs mean predictable profit. Latt has never lost money on a film made by Asylum. In fact, every film has made a profit - which makes The Asylum more successful, per project, than Disney, Fox, Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros and Universal combined.
Many more questions were asked and answered; I didn't record the interview because it wasn't as formal as that. One question I wish I had asked is if Asylum had ever been threatened with lawsuits by the makers of the mainstream movies that they riff on if not...dare I say it...rip off. Eek. The answer would appear to be no, since one such lawsuit would bury Asylum but good and with permanence. And yet they just upgraded to newer, larger facilities. I'm not sure what the writers are paid, or if their pay scale is in keeping with the usual WGA 3% rule.
Latt is, in many ways, living the dream. He makes movies. A lot of movies. Quickly. And he sells them predictably and he pockets enough profit to keep Asylum in production mode at all times and to float his personal life as well. He knows the films made by Asylum are not great art and he doesn't care. He is good humored and realistic and has a great generosity of spirit. He may be looking for some fresh writers down the line, so we exchanged business cards.
If you have a sense of humor and appreciation for ingenuity, stop by your local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video or go online and rent some of The Asylum's titles and enjoy.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Good afternoon, everybody! And now...bite those fingernails...the quarterfinalists have been narrowed down significantly to the contenders for the top spots. I just had the scripts printed and labeled and took them to my office. So now I gaze upon the pile of scripts in which I will find my winner.
The title, writer's name and genre are written on each. Who will it be? This is the fun part, this is the part I love. I know of the hundreds of scripts received that these are the cream of the crop. Is the grand prize winner the script with the hilarious title that I can't wait to read? Or is it the script with a very unassuming title? Which genre will it be? I'm like a kid in the candy store; I love the anticipation. I wonder what the writer's like? I wonder if this will kick off a career?
Amidst all of this, life continues to roll on. As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, I went on vacation in Key West and Miami for a few days. While on that trip, I met a young, aspiring writer who took my business card. A few days ago, he emailed me a few pages of his novel, wondering why he cannot get any interest in a read from editors or agents. I'm too busy for this, I thought! Gah! I have a competition to run! But - I'm in a good mood so I read the few pages he sent.* And because I don't want to leave you Wavers hanging for entertaining distractions to read today, the slightly modified (for privacy and entertainment) email I sent the writer is below. I figured there's a kernel in here for everyone, screenwriter, novelist or short fiction writer though you may be:
*What is the lesson there? If your email is polite, not too ass-kissy but with just the right amount of flattery, the recipient might just be in a good mood, have a free five minutes and read what you sent. You never know, right? I get emails like this all the time -requests that are rude, blunt or demanding go straight to the deleted folder. If you've ever sent me a question or some pages and you never heard back it's because I'm busy up to my eyeballs and your email did not move my spirit to stop what I was doing and read your unsolicited question, script or manuscript. Hint: I like flattery and cupcakes.
Hey Young Writer X - wish I could look at this material much more in depth, alas, I am way too swamped with the competition right now. I did read over it very quickly though and my very surface comments would be that the premise - where this is all going - is unclear as heck and the main character is not very likable or relatable. That's all fine; many fine main characters in fiction have been less than charismatic but that said, a reader needs something they can hang onto - something they can relate to, and some reason they would want to read on.
Now, you know that I primarily work in entertainment, i.e, film scripts, but in my travels I was also frequently hired to read novels for possible adaptation. I have a book coming out this spring called Just F*ng Entertain Me and the main tenet is that material needs to be fundamentally engaging and entertaining. While literature has a lot more room for wheelie-popping, character development and reflective musings, at the end of the day, as attention spans are growing shorter and shorter and the demands on our time have become crowded with things like Twitter, You Tube, gaming, television and movies, you have to be particularly adept at grabbing your reader immediately and keeping them reading your pages. And for that, your premise must unfold and present itself fairly quickly and the main character, even a dissolute anti-hero as yours, must be relatable in some way.
Now, a story about an anti-hero who gets sick to death of it all and hatches some plan or other is not a new premise. What do you bring to the table that is fresh? The beginning pages (including prologue) do not yet highlight or showcase why I should read on. Read the first 10pages of The Lovely Bones and tell me you're not completely hooked. Hell, the first two sentences of the book hooked me: My name was Salmon; like the fish, first name, Susie. I was 14 when I was murdered on December 6, 1973. This is brilliance, just FYI. She was murdered at age 14?? Then - who's narrating the book?! Hooked solid.
Put yourself in the shoes of an editor who receives piles of manuscripts each week. Read the first few pages of several authors whom you admire. Reread your first few pages. Why should I read on? What am I going to learn from a bitter, dissolute character that I haven't already read before? Your job as a writer is to ENTERTAIN your audience - writing a novel is not an exercise in gazing at your navel and picking the literary lint out of it while showing me what pretty words you know - your job is to entertain me. It's bread and circus. Thumbs up or thumbs down.