Last week, I sent my screenplay to a film producer. She was my entertainment attorney a long time ago, and when I looked up her up on google, I learned that she had become a producer, and had produced two of my favorite films. Earlier, I had told her my basic plot synopsis and she kind of hated it. I had one scene that the main character “did” and she said from that moment on, she had no interest in him. She said that I need to make the main character somebody we root for, cheer for. So with that advice, I began writing the script from outline. The formatting of scripts is very, very particular. In a script you have to describe the scene, actions within the scene, and then have dialog between characters separated by their names. So, instead of a novel format, “Susan turned to Brad, and as tears welled up in her eyes, she murmured, ‘it’s you, not me'”. It becomes:
(turning towards Brad as tears well up in her eyes)
It’s you, not me
It’s up to the actor to murmur, mumble, or say it with precise diction. I can honestly say that I’ve written a screenplay before I had ever read one, because I didn’t have time to read one. Andy Wolfendon taught me how. I can also say that I never got a rejection letter for it.
Script writing is done by specialized script software. There is “Final Draft” (expensive, bulky), “Slugline” (super awesome but not able to collaborate) and finally, “Celtx” which is what we chose. This formatting software allows you to very rapidly create scenes, actions and dialogs by certain keystrokes. I got the hang of it pretty fast, and it is super fun.
To better understand who my characters were, I simply used script software to have them do a dialog. It’s like free association. Imagine putting Oprah and Ellen together in a room. What would they say to each other? Make yourself keep them both talking until stuff bubbles to the surface. Jealousy? Patronizing admiration? Competitiveness? If you make people pretend talk, the things that come out will help you understand who they are, what is bugging them, and how they are trying to cope with that. Fit this into a moving timeline, make all the characters touch each other’s lives, and you have a script that is three-dimensional and compelling.
I had to put my Russian girl in a chat conversation. One thing that came to my mind was when she says, “That is remarkably not haha funny”. This is a girl who is an intensely dedicated student of the english language (and therefore uses words like remarkably) but does not have the opportunity to be immersed in it. So she thinks that there are two ways to describe funny. Funny (peculiar) or haha funny. She, not knowing better, says “haha funny”.
Make believe dialogues helped me create the five main characters and give them lives, histories, and flaws. It was a fascinating process to be introduced to people who reveal themselves to you, but you are actually discovering them by typing words.
I have always said that a good book writes itself. I have written a book called, “Church Of The Happy Sky” but it died midway. I couldn’t figure out where to go from the middle. I wrote “Huff and Bluff” but it was too angry and made me sound petty. When a book writes itself (like how “So You Think You’re A Rockstar) it is so awesome. It’s like you sit back and watch.
I submitted the script to the producer when it was done. She hadn’t called back in a week, and of course – I was on edge. Thinking that it was just a cool story that might be low-budget, I wrote it to be economical. There are just a few sets to build; a bunker, maybe a news desk. Other than that, airplane cockpits and submarines can be rented. I actually started to fall in love with the idea of just making it myself, using my talented friend Justin MacGregor to do all of the cinematography. Together we talked about casting people in Kelowna. We enlisted the help of his brother to be the production manager, and we were going to make a teaser to the film.
We would have been flying to New York this week. My friends on Facebook will recall that I did a shout out for a handful of actors to be in the teaser. We were going to take some Sony a7s cameras (with the awesome cinema lens) to Times Square. We needed a scene of a crowd of people in Times Square looking upwards. So I proposed an idea – we would have a group of people point up to a building and scream, “Oh my God! That guy is going to jump!” and that way we could get hundreds of people to all look upwards. We would then run like hell so we wouldn’t get arrested or something. Speaking of getting arrested, I thought of bringing a drone to Times Square and flying it up behind the New Year’s ball. That probably would have been a huge problem!
The New York shoot is not going to happen. The producer called me back and said that she was “surprised” at how good it was, and that she had read thousands of scripts and this was among the best. We spoke for an hour and a half about the script. I told her my plans to make our own teaser, or to possibly even make it ourselves.
She just listened to me, and asked me some questions. “Do you want to direct it?”. Now, as much as I know my characters inside and out, and could definitely coach the actors if they get a scene wrong, I am no director. Even though I knew which lenses I would want for different scenes, I am no director of photography. So, I said no, I would have no idea how to direct a film, and that directors were magicians. She was relieved because she wanted to know how much of a control freak I was going to be about my movie.
Then she asked me why we would make a teaser. “To get people to see my script” I answered. And she said not to bother, that she could get the script to anybody. She said that this film needed a big budget and a great cast and director because it deserved that. And she said that while it was ready to send out to Hollywood, she asked me to make just one small change. Explain why my main couple is having problems with their marriage, and to soften my very decisive and hard-charging female character. She asked me how long that would take, and I said a couple of days. She didn’t believe me, she thought it would take a month or so. I told her that the entire screenplay was written in 18 days, and it was complex, intertwined and researched. I could knock off an arc to the couple’s relationship easily. I submitted the rewrite to her on Thursday.
She called today and loved the new changes. She found two little typos and had me correct them. And then she proposed a deal to work on the film. It’s a fair deal, but most importantly, she loves the screenplay and has a real passion for it. After one reading she had a ton of insight into who my people were.
I didn’t know this (and few people do) but scripts that are not represented by an agent, producer, or entertainment cannot be read by many filmmakers for legal reasons. And, that a producer who is a member of the Guild (Producer’s Guild Of America) can get scripts to pretty much anybody. Who knew?
Her films had been done with Fox Searchlight, so I figured that she would start there for interest. I didn’t know that Fox Searchlight will not finance films for over $10 million, and that she said this one would require more than that.
Hollywood has become so stale as investors have come to invest only in sequels. Yet, they are always searching for new scripts. But you can’t get even a great script to anybody until you get a producer, agent, or entertainment attorney. And that is where things spin around in a hamster wheel. Also, there are fantastic independent films being made (independent means the money is raised by investors, not a major studio). But she wants to bypass independent investors and go straight to the studios.
Whatever happens, I know I am no longer alone. It is a bit lonely to write a screenplay and not know if it is any good. Now I have a passionate partner in Hollywood who believes in the film. That is the most important thing – because the screenplay is something I am very attached to. I want the best for the film, as I wouldn’t have written it if I didn’t think it had an important message. So – major motion picture from a studio? Sure! Ok!