Tuesday, May 30, 2006

My First Agent..(or How I got Representation and Didn't Even Know It)

...digging back into the recesses of the mind, thought this might be interesting post, especially to those living outside the major entertainment centers.

A long time ago, I was residing in the middle of nowhere in mid-west Canada - living the life of a filmmaker in a place I had no business trying to live that life...in a place that didn't know what a grip or a dolly or what a call sheet was... hell, I barely knew what they were and I'd graduated film school. But I formed a small company with another local, mostly making educational documentaries for government agencies and then repackaging them as a limited/on-going series for a regional tv network - was making a living, sort of.

Then good timing and good fortune shined down (as it always HAS to do) and we found ourselves near the top of list of companies capable of taking advantage of some regional incentives that needed to be spent by some of the federal film funding agencies we have in Canada. And it was us mostly because there wasn't hardly anyone else around with more experience (I only had a few dramatic shorts to my name). And so with my 'drama expertise', and my partner's financing savvy, we managed to produce and I directed two half hour one off tv dramas, and then I co-wrote and directed a one off hour long family drama...all in the same year. Lucky. Yes. But I tend to feel we all get breaks at some time when stars align and such, and you still have to deliver when you get your chance. The shows weren't brilliant, but they weren't embarrassing either (one won a Genini award..Canuck equivilent of Emmy).

What was I talking about again? Oh yeah, the first agent...

Where I was living and what I was doing, getting an agent wasn't even on my radar. And even if I did think about it, I was sure no agent was going to be interested in me or able to do anything for someone out in the middle of nowhere. So my next project was a tv movie I had in development with one of the pay tv channels in Canada. The writing had gone well and the script had been well received, but then it stalled - it needed something to push it over the top.

The year before, I'd met a very good writer from Vancouver (who's now doing very well in LA) at the Banff tv festival, and we'd become friends and stayed in touch.
I'll never forget a cassette tape (yes, this was in the days of record albums...pre-cd's) showing up in the mail (also the days pre-internet, file sharing, etc.) from this friend with Pearl Jam's 'Ten' on one side and Motherlovebone on the other...never heard of these Seattle bands before and they blew me away...so I intoduced him to Nirvana and we were even.
Anyway, I asked this friend/writer if he would co-write next draft of the tv movie with me to see if that would help take it to the next level. And I'll never forget his absolute shock, "...no way, this is your baby...it's great the way it is!" But for me, it's always been about getting it made/produced, so I pushed and pushed and he finally agreed (and it did eventually get made).

Oh yeah, the first agent...

So around same time I was in charge of putting together workshops for the local film festival/awards...so I came up with idea of bringing in a couple writers (I also knew a fairly successful writer/friend in Toronto) and their agents, and do an Agent/Writer Relationship workshop. I'd been negotiating with the Vancouver friend's agent for the co-write on the movie, so she and him agreed to come out (she was based out of Toronto). And the Toronto friend and his agent agreed to come out. So it was a go. And we had a great weekend of a long late dinner, the workshop, the so-called awards, another dinner, and everyone went back to their respective homes.

Monday morning, my phone rings. It's my Vancouver friend's agent in Toronto. We exchange pleasantries and boom..she quickly asks if anyone is representing me. I think I laughed out loud. And then said no. And then asked why would she care (I had no clue). She gets very 'agenty' and says she will fax me an agreement and agree to rep me right now if I'm interested. Now keep in mind she had a good reputation and repped several writers I knew, so there wasn't any sort of issue of credibility. But I remember being a little flabbergasted and said something like"...sure, whatever." An hour later the deal was done and I had an agent...a pretty decent agent by Canadian standards...and all I remember doing was answering the phone.

So what's my point. Well, I remember asking her some time later why she wanted to rep me, and she said she'd been hearing about me for a couple years, and she'd heard I did good work, and the Vancouver friend endorsed me, but mostly, she said that when she came out for the workshop...I DIDN'T ask her to rep me. It helped convince her that she 'wanted' me, as opposed to me (or anyone for that matter) 'wanting' her...or wanting her as an agent, at any rate. And I've heard that sentiment echoed over the years from a lot of writers: that it's just so much easier if the agent can hear about you not from you, and begin to think about repping you not because you are telling them to...that it's the agent who makes the first move.

That isn't to put down cold calling agents and trying to get them to read your material to see if you are worth repping ... get in front of anyone you can ... but if you can get a friend or an agent's client to recommend you to that agent, it can only work to your advantage.

And as for my first agent, alas, she's no longer repping me, though we parted amicably for reasons that will be discussed another time.

SONG & ARTIST? - There’s a man who leads a life of danger.
To everyone he meets he stays a stranger
With every move he makes, another chance he takes.
Odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

On a Personal Note...

...a short post commemorating and congratulating my oldest daughter for graduating high school this morning. It was a real thrill watching her march up on the stage and get her certificate and see the tassle on the cap get switched to the other side. And a little surreal because she graduated from same high school I went to...in the same gym...with some of the same teachers still kicking around!
Flashback-ville to say the least.

Told her younger siblings to soak it up because even though it was a long ceremony, it would be only time they'd ever see their older sister do this particular thingee...and they did.

Pride and joy. One successfully through this phase of the machine...three more to go. I know...who cares but me...but it was very cool.

SONG & ARTIST? It's astounding
Time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely
Not for very much longer
I've got to keep control

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Two Weeks Notice...

...actually, I'm just noting the fact that this little experiment in blogging has been going on for two weeks now..as opposed to to announcing I'm 'quitting' in two weeks.
Not yet. But we shall see.

And am enjoying very much a lot of the writer/filmmaker blogs out there...the world has got a little smaller...

And no guesses on some of the song lyrics so answers below, going back to day 1:

Elvis Costello "I Don't Want (To Go To Chelsea)

Iggy Pop "Funtime"

Warren Zevon "Werewolves of London" (Rip your lungs out Jim...'! can't believe no one got this one)

and, on most recent post...

Tom Petty "Refugee"

Congrats to Callaghan for correctly guessing the others...or more like a 'thank you' for playing along.

For next post, will try to drum up something interesting
perhaps even both
Thanks for visiting and commenting.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Something interesting to say?

Today? Not really. Been busy. Enjoyed long weekend (Canada). Took kids to beach. Also finished and delivered rewrite of middle two hours of a six hour tv miniseries.
Watched 'Lord of War' on dvd (really liked it), and CSI: Miami (ugh) and House (excellent) season finales, and Sunday's Soprano's episode (sorry, I'm developing 'whatever' syndrome').
Will dig into anecdote bag tomorrow.

SONG & ARTIST?: "Somewhere, somehow, somebody must have
kicked you around some.
Tell me why you want to lay there,
revel in your abandon."

Friday, May 19, 2006

The toughest shot...

...in golf is generally considered the 'long bunker shot'. Why? Not sure exactly (because it never gave me a lot of grief)..but its what the tv commentators always say when a player has one. Perhaps because its difficult to control, or gauge the distance, or sand scares the hell out of most golfers, or all of the above...

Golf is a great game, and almost always on my mind - I consider the Masters tournament my 'Super Bowl', and follow the PGA season and specifically Canadian Mike Weir with the same interest and intensity I used to follow the Maple Leafs hockey when I used to live in Toronto.

Some background - I worked as a range boy and proshop assistant for a while during high school.. and I worked nights running a film theatre and played golf almost every day during my university years (I also assistant managed a record store during same time...music...one of my other loves), and got pretty good...at golf, that is...

...and when I graduated film school, I was leaning toward going to assistant golf pro school. More than leaning. But then a combination of my graduating student film winning at the Canadian Student Film festival, and a good friend asking whether I wanted to work at what I liked to play, and not do anything creative in my life - made me reconsider golf work and I dived into this writing/directing/producing tv thing. And to this day, I wonder...

Anyway, it got me thinking...what's the long bunker stroke equivalent of making television? What's tv writing, directing, producing's 'toughest shot'?

Comments welcome....

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Finding your niche...

Recently, Denis McGrath made an interesting observation over on DeadThingsonSticks:

"Again, this is another reason why I toil in TV not film. In TV we're starting to learn that going for niche is the only way to score - by trying to reach everyone you reach no one. But it's still an eye-opening and interesting search."

...and he's right, as usual, but it got me thinking about blogging and going for a niche there.

After spending waaaay too much time trolling the multitude of sites out there, I've concluded the internet doesn't need another 'screenwriting advice' blog, certainly not from me. And there's some good 'behind the scenes and anecdotes about film/tv business' blogs - but those who do it do it waaaay better and more entertainly than I ever could. And as for hardcore insider biz info, I'm nowhere near the inside these days, so there's no niche there. And as far as just giving opinions or posting links to 'interesting news, information, and ideas' blogs, well there's millions of those out there and the only thing to distinguish each of them is the blogger's 'take' or 'slant' or 'world/life' view --- and who the f*** am I? I certainly have experiences, advice, anecdotes, opinions...but not earth shatteringly interesting ones. No score there.

There's a few blogs I enjoy because they are Canadians and they discuss the Canadian film/tv industry...so that is a niche in a way. And they 'score' with me because I can relate and like what some have to say. And there's a few that are brutally funny and very entertaining, like reading a good editorial or 'My Opinion' column in the newspaper. And there's a few that are diary-like and incredibly personal and even moving (if in fact these people are speaking/writing from the heart and not manufacturing a blogger 'persona' because that's how they can get visitors or generate comments...sorry, always a little skeptical). But right now my blog feels a little all over the place and paraphrasing Mr. McGrath...'trying to reach everyone and reaching no one'...and though being random may be an honest or accurate representation of me or my life or that day, it ultimately seems forgettable...

So who am I writing for? Is it about the audience? Or is it okay if its just about you? And the reality is, when you work in tv for a long time, it's always about the audience and entertainning them...but if there's no audience, or if they don't really care...

And so I considered packing it in - blogging can be a fun release and a form of self expression of sorts...and a score doesn't have to be a home run --- but if you don't even think you'll even be able to hit a single...well....

...and then I realized there is some small comfort gained in being informed or entertained by like minds, or relating to similar experiences, so perhaps its all just about giving something back and hoping you do the same for someone somewhere, even if its just a single...a broken bat single to boot...

...so I went back and found the exact "uninflected images juxaposed' quote (in a Mamet book) and it went like this:

"The job of the film director is to tell the story through the juxtaposition of uninflected images--because that is the essential nature of the medium. It operates best through that juxtaposition, because that's the nature of human perception: to perceive two events, determine a progression, and want to know what happens next" --

I don't know...for me, its still all about that last line...I guess I'm telling a story - until I figure it all out and find that niche, I'll continue to juxtapose stories and comments about tv directing, producing, and yes, writing...with some life stuff - try to enjoy putting thoughts into words again, and hopefully people will visit and read to see..."what happens next".

By the way, the lice are gone.

SONG & ARTIST? : They shot a movie once,
in my home town
Every body was in it,
from miles around

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

How's That Novel of Yours Coming Along?

The most popular google search that brings visitors here and still the Funniest Family Guy clip ever...

Because it still makes me smile.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Motherfu%&ing Lice On the Muthafu%&ing Plain

...stuck out here in midwest Canada...last night kids start complaining about itchy heads...check their(twins) hair...find some lice....learn that a kid in their class told them she had lice last week, but begged them to keep it a secret...they did....get out the Nix and the comb - do what you got to do....but still...its a parenting necessity we all could live without...

And tonight, I swear my head is crawling...ugh

SONG & ARTIST? - Last night I was down in the lab
Talkin’ to dracula and his crew

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Not a writer...

Let's just get one thing straight...I am not a 'writer'. Oh sure, I write tv...I've even been paid to write - over twenty hours of television at last count...and a lot more if you count rewrites while on staff producing tv series, but I still do not consider myself a writer in the true sense of the word.

Real writers in my book are not only naturally good, but they do it because they love it. And they plink and specifically plink out screenplays not necessarily because its a great story or a guaranteed sale or hit but just because they have a story they want to tell...one that begins FADE IN. And they love it. Really love to write. Me? I hate it. Makes me nuts. I turn into some kind of snarling, grumpy, sleep-deprived, anxiety-ridden mess. And then when I'm finished and deliver it, I rarely feel any sense of satisfaction. I'm still wondering if I made the right story 'choices', still questioning my characters and their motivation, still doubting whether I made it as good as it could be, and forever damning my dialogue....

And forgive me, but I am rather envious of those who make it look easy. And I've worked with quite a few. Very trying...even discouraging...and it didn't matter that they said that it was a grind and struggle for them also. Or that I was better than I thought I was Liars. I never believed it for a second.

I realized I don't write scripts in my spare time, don't write scripts for for the hell of it, and certainly don't write scripts for fun. I write when I get paid to do it...when a deadline is clear and defined and there is something tangible of sorts at the end of the line(see paycheck and/or produced program). But even when getting paid, I still hate it....or better put, it 'pains' me. And as a result I have dozens of premises, outlines, ideas all undeveloped and unfinished and most of all unwritten tucked in some desk drawer or computer file somewhere...because unless they got pitched and bought, I put them aside....what kind of 'writer' does that?

Am I a storyteller? Sure, and I love it. Do I also direct and produce and story edit? Absolutely, and I love doing that too. And yes, I also write...but ugh! Hate it...

This post is depressing me to no end...too much introspection and self analysis....

So why the hell did I write anything in first place? Well, when and where I started out, if you wanted to direct/make a film, you had to write it first. Nobody was going to do it and then hire a you, a nobody, to make it for them...so you did it yourself - born out of necessity as opposed to love or passion. Then you have a few successes, and then people begin to ask you to write for them or they want to pay you to write something you pitched for development...and you can't say no to that., can you?

And then you move to the center of the universe (as far as Canada goes), and a number of stars allign and you get hired onto the story departments of some tv series, and you have to write ALL THE TIME...and as much grief it may cause you, it also pays very well...and you can't say no to that, can you? (well, maybe you can, but I didn't)

And then you are encouraged to move to the center of the universe (as far as US film and tv goes), and you do, and then very quickly it really hits home...you are such a small fish and such a huge pond - and if your calling card is primarily writing but you don't really love to write, well its time to rethink everything. And I did.
I know I will keep producing, and keep directing, and keep story editing, and even teaching - screenwriting none the less...but me, and writing? Well, I started doing it here...and there's certainly no paycheck waiting at the end of a blog post...so maybe just maybe I should just try writing something for fun...tell a story I want to tell as opposed to just sell - and see what happens...

But whatever comes out of it, I'll still always know one thing...I'll never be a real 'writer'.
Are you?

ARTIST & SONG? - "You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful Wife
And you may ask yourself-well...how did I get here? "

Friday, May 12, 2006

Credit due?

I received a nice email today from a former film student I taught last year - he was on a semester exchange from Australia to Canada so it was a fluke that he ended up in my class - but nevertheless I thought I'd share:

Hi Will, how's it going? I hope you are well. I still think of your classes from time to time. Thanks for what you taught us. I have a portfolio DVD that I am interested in sending you. I did go on to produce 'Sacred Space' with the script virtually as it was in your class. It's 10 minutes and was actually selected for a film festival that screened in the heart of Sydney. I also produced a documentary while I was traveling through Africa which will go to air in Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia in July. And I am a finalist in Australian Story - probably our most respected documentary series featuring the tales Australian people, lifestyles and values. I'm working for Channel 7 in Sydney at the moment.

Anyway, I'd love to hear what you have been up to and the productions you have been working on.

Best wishes,

David **** - Producer/Director

Now let's first off acknowledge this 'kid' (I think he was 22, so a baby in my world) was good...blew away most of the local students in terms of his maturity, biz awareness, and story sense. And he welcomed criticism and took notes and applied solutions. But it got me thinking about the notion of 'credit due'. One teaches/advises a student on his or her film..and they follow your suggestions and your notes, and guess what...it turns out to be an award winner, or better yet, helps get them work or another film. And after much contemplation, I've concluded that there is no 'real' credit due...if the gig is teaching, then that's your job...and if students you've taught have some success, then that's the reward.

And furthermore, we all get breaks throughout our careers, but you still have to deliver once given that opportunity from the break. Stand on your own two feet as it were...without your teacher/professor/mentor holding your hand. And I'm sure the 'kid' delivered on that front as well.

Same goes to an even greater extent when working in the story department on a tv series. A screenplay isn't writing...its rewriting - and nowhere is that more true than in the writers room. And those of us who've been there know that feeling of taking a freelance story/script that has some good things but just isn't quite working, doing the all night rewrite to fix it and make it jive with the voice/style/tone of the series, hand delievering it down the hall the next morning to the AD's because it begins prep that week...and then seeing it win a script award a year later at the Gemini's or WGC Awards...believe me, it happens...

And don't get me wrong - I am not slagging or pointing fingers or condemning...just talking reality.

So...is credit due? Again - if your title is Story Editor or Executive Story Editor or any one of the Producer titles they designate to story department types in the US, then it's the gig...those in the story department are paid to write some scripts and paid more to rewrite all the others, because the showrunner rules, and the series is king, not the individuals...and the worst WORST thing you can do is take over full credit from the freelancer because you had to do a major rewrite (99% of the time has little to do with story writer pitched and wrote and more to do with production changes, cast requests, network demands - all of which the freelancer has little or no awareness of) and thereby screw him/her out of the production fee. But believe me, it happens...

....so don't sweat about 'getting enough credit' - eventually good work and good people will be recognized...just cash the check and be happy to be working, and hopefully that freelance writer you rewrote at least says thanks and buys you a drink...or better yet, hires you onto their show the next year...or even best, invites you to come work with them in Australia.


ARTIST & SONG? - "There's more to the picture,
than meets the eye.
Hey hey, my my"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Origin Story...

...of my blog name - hmmmm...I'm not sure if it was from David Mamet's book 'On Directing Film' or in a university class discussing the editing style of Eisenstein, or perhaps it was both, but the observation noted was something along the lines of 'cinematic storytelling is the juxtaposition of uninflected images that creates an idea in the mind of the viewer' ...

And it stuck with me...I remember thinking 'cool, that makes a lot of sense'...

And for a while I endeavored to write like that, but soon learned that writing that way doesn't necessarily make for a good screenplay...or at least make for an easy script to read.

Reading screenplays can be a tough slog - since most people don't know how to read a script, even those who work in this silly business....especially those. And to read shots/sequences back to back or' juxtaposed' will not necesarily create the idea/notion/feeling you are after in the mind of the reader...or certainly not as easily as 'seeing' it as a viewer.

So you modify, and conform, and compromise - you find ways to try to achieve that goal without just writing out a list of shots...and maybe its more of a rule for directors or editors, but it's still a cool notion.

Just watched a segment on The Daily Show about two competing dwarf Kiss tribute/cover bands each made up of midgets ... Mini Kiss and Tiny Kiss...too bizarre...too funny...

ARTIST & SONG? - "Oh no it does not move me
Even though I've seen the movie
I don't want to check your pulse
I don't want nobody else"

in the beginning...

...there was one, post...

to be continued....