Saturday, April 29, 2006

Chronicles 20 - Cannes 2006 - Showtime!

So, guess what? He passed. Who passed? The A list mega comedy star who was reading my script. That's who. The one that would have greenlit the finance and got me studio distribution. That one. I wish him the worst with his future projects ;-) Only (half) joking. Who knows if he really read the script. You never know.

I picked up my mobile phone and got a message from the agent's assistant. There is a certain tone and dip in the vocal intonation of a pass message. I could tell from the preamble that it was a pass. Then comes the word, the death-knell, the final nail in the coffin sealing my fate - "unfortunately" - Next! Next! Next! At this point you may as well hit the delete message button because anything beyond this point is platitude city.

Standard response from agents - "It's not (really) what he/she wants to do right now". Okay, I can handle that. "Right now" meaning he could, he could be interested, say, next week? That's not "right now", right?

Anyway. I immediately sent an offer to another star repped by the same agent. She said that he wasn't available. Well actually, she didn't even finish the sentence. The email, probably sent from her Blackberry read, "He's not avail". Obviously my offer hadn't even merited a full "available" but an "avail". I'm in the partial wording category, I'm in the, "he's not worth the extra kilo joules of energy that the letters 'able' would require" category.

So, I move on. Send an offer out to an A list star at a UK agency. Word out on the street is that he's looking for something "dark and edgy". Still, I try anyway. Call the agent's office the next day and it seems the offer is being taken seriously and they are considering the project. Let us see-eth.

In the meantime I've started my Cannes campaign. I try to start early. 4 weeks before. I start with an email campaign then, for those who don't reply, I chase on the phone. I like to have a full diary. I'm not really into 'hangin' out' in Cannes. I go there for meetings. If I get in at the odd party all well and good but no Cannes party has ever yielded a productive contact for me, as yet. I go there for the meetings.

What I'm seeing in my initial email campaign is that as the layers are bulding on my project i.e. director, finance, credible casting director that I'm getting responses and meeting offers from people who either ignored me or wouldn't meet with me last year. It's a war of attrition. You have to grind these people down, in a nice way of course, but, there has to be progress on the project. There has to be a feeling that they might miss out on something big if they don't meet with me. I got an email response from a Studio indie-arm. She wanted to take a look at the script and wanted me to send her a logline so I did. She didn't even respond last year, so that feels like progress.

My main aim is to meet with sales agents, distributors and other producers - people I can team up with, preferably people with kudos, credits and maybe access to finance. Also, it's all about builiding up a network for the long term. For the next project. You never know.

Okay, that's it for now. I have about 11 meetings so far and a whole load of offers of meetings, and I'll get on the phone on Monday and start chasing the people who didn't respond to the emails. I've used this strategy a lot and normally I end up with a pretty full diary. Let's see. I hope the weather's nice.

Oh. Insider Cannes tip. Wear comfortable shoes. In Cannes 2004 I wore brand new shoes. Bad idea. Most of Cannes involves walking up and down the Croisette. By the end of the festival my feet were blister city!

Onwards and upwards! Ciao :-) See Chronicles 19

Friday, April 21, 2006

Chronicles 19 - Megastar's agent calls me!!!

At 1:40 a.m. in the morning!!!

Mmmh...yesterday was...intense, to say the least. Read on....

Remember that producer I told you about who was enthusiastic about coming on board? Well, seems like his business partner didn't quite share his enthusiasm, so, even though they see the commercial potential of the project...I'm afraid it's not something...blah blah blah...anyway, they pass.

Having faced so much "rejection" over the years I find my ability to "get over it" is evolving. Rejections like this would have depressed me for about a week 10 years ago but now I just think. Next! Move on buddy!

In the evening I speak to the casting director and ask him if he would help get the script to a UK actor. A good actor who the director likes but whose pre-sellability might not be a slam dunk. Anyway, he says no problem, he'll speak to the agent. Great. I send him some info via email later on that night.

Then things get interesting...

About 1:00 a.m. I speak to the director and we discuss my conversations with the casting director. Then I call my entertainment lawyer in LA and check to see if he's heard anything back from mega comedy star's agent. He hasn't, but, he suggests that I touch base with a casting director contact of his who, for a nominal fee, will try and attach talent to a project. Okay, why not. He sets up a conference call there and then.

By this time it's 1:30 a.m. in the morning. The first thing she says is, "I hear you're going after Mr. mega comedy star?". I say, yes. She then begins to reel off the multi-million fees of his recent movies. His fee for his last movie was 1.5 times the total below-the-line production costs for my movie. In so many words she was saying that I didn't have a snowball's chance in a baker's oven to get this guy, and I kond of agreed with her. IN THAT SAME MOMENT - my phone rings - at 1:40 a.m. in the morning! I thought my wife was stuck on a motorway or something. I pick up.

Who is it? None other than the mega star's agent's assistant phoning from a big 5 agency in LA. She says that she has the agent for me. I tell her to hold because I'm on the other line.

On the other line? At 1:40 a.m. in the morning!! Jeez, what sort of sad life do I lead? Anyway, I tell the agent and casting director that I have to call them back.

The agent gets on the phone and asks me how much time I need for a response on the script. I ask her how long she needs. She says she'll give me an answer in 2 days. She asks me about the finances. I give her the blurb or "selective revelation of the truth" as I like it to call it - and the call ends.

I get back on the phone with the lawyer and US casting agent and tell them the story. They're blown away. They say that that is extremely rare that an agent of that level would give me such a response time and that it normally takes months! The casting director says, "I tell you what. You must have an amzing script for this to happen". Who knows? I don't know anything anymore.

I ask her if she thinks the star will now read over the weekend. She said "definitely". I go to bed all pumped up full of adrenaline, can't sleep for 2 hours and sit there projecting all the possibilities of having this dude attached to my flick. Of course, I've been here before, (See Chronicles 1-18 ;-)). Nowadays I take a more, "I'll believe it when I'm eating the popcorn" point of view. Still, something went right yesterday even if it fizzles out. My director things that I must have had excellent coverage, (feedback from one of their readers), and since the offer's time limit had lapsed they might not have wanted to miss out on a good vehicle for said mega star. Let's see. If anything, it's one more for the anecdote box.

Watch this space. Good night and good luck :-) See Chronicles 18

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Chronicles 18 - I'm Waiting for my Man

Up to Lexington 125...oops wrong blog.

So where am I? Currently waiting back from the producer who was interested in 'coming on board'. I called him. He said he'd call me back. He didn't. He then emailed saying he would call - shortly - he hasn't. I call him. No answer. Mmmmh...

Received an email from a UK agent that her client - huge megastar whose veritable nod would thrust this movie into hyperspace - "enjoyed the read but it isn't what he wants to do right now".

Mmmh...this sentence is becoming depressingly all too familiar. Question. Did he really read the script? Mmmh.... Did the assistant read it and send him a brief synopsis? Mmmm... Did he read the first ten pages and throw it at his dog? Mmmh...

In the meantime I'm waiting back from the US agent who reps the US mega comedy star who's fee is about twice the budget of this movie! Dream on buddy.

Anyway as that guy from Wayne's World would say, "Live in the now, man!", so I'm working on my next script. Moving on. Doin' my thang. Keepin' on Truckin'. Can't put all your Basques in one Exit as my Dad used to say. Exit, Eggs-it. Get it?

Good night and good luck :-) See Chronicles 17

Monday, April 17, 2006

Chronicles 17 - Perceptible Progress?

Well here we are again - we're heading for Summer 2006 which is 6 years after I first conceived of the idea for the rom-com. Did I mention that the film business doesn't do 'quick'?

See Chronicles 1-17 (Summer 2000-April 2006) below for the whole story.

So here's the latest on the rom-com:

January 2006
After a few months in development the director finally signs off on the latest draft of the rom-com. She now feels that it is finally ready to go out to actors. Great! In the meantime I start working on the new script, a heist comedy, and we've also secured a producer and a well known indie actor for a short film that we aim to shoot in September 2006. The aim of the short film is to showcase the director (and me - the writer/producer) to raise money for a feature. The short is based on a short play I staged in London about 10 years ago. Man, I'm getting old!

February 2006
I send the rom-com script out to the talent agent I met in 2003. She is now with a bigger and more powerful US agency. She forwards the script to one of her clients, an Australian actress, who obviously has reading difficulties. She's taking AGES to read the script. I jest of course. It's not down to reading difficulties it's down to 'heat'. If a major star came on board then that would create heat for the project which would motivate her and her agent to elevate it a few layers up the reading pile.

I send the script to various UK producers. A few passes. No surprises there. There's no success without failure as they say.

I have a very positive meeting with a major UK financier. They are very interested in financing the project since it is "exactly the type of project they are looking for"! They are also able to fund a lot more money than I expected. The upshot of all this is that provided I can find a bankable star my movie is fully funded! The next day the financier sends me a letter of intent. The rest of the money I would get from the co-production partner along with gap finance and pre-sales.

I also meet with a major UK casting agent who is interested in helping out to attach talent. The casting agency have worked with the director before and love her work so that's good news. I smell actual progress here?

I also meet with a UK sales agent who are interested in selling the project. They usually are - but - here's the rub - it's all down to names - pre-sellable names - they need names that they can pre-sell to distributors. The distributors will only purchase the license rights if they feel they can sell the names in their territory this results in an industry not necessarily driven by creative choices. An actor may suck to high heaven but if his name can trigger finance then he'll get the gig over the highly talented but no-name actor. That's the way the mop flops and the cookie crumbles.

March 2006
My director meets with a big US agency who are interested in representing the project for possible packaging and domestic sales i.e. selling to US distributors.

April 2006
I ask a UK producer who has produced a number of films with major stars if he would like to come on board as co-producer. He reads the script and we meet up in a trendy media club in Notting Hill. He loves the script, thinks it's very commercial, thinks it's funny, full of heart and has very good dialogue. He also says it's engaging, characters are authentic etc...(continue the unadulterated praise please!).

The Upshot - he wants to come on board as co-producer and use his agent relationships to package the movie. Great! He now needs to run the project past his business partner. More waiting...

I speak with the casting director - he's read and likes the script. He'd like to come on board and help us with the packaging process. Things are looking good!

Of course the waiting never ends. I sent an offer out to a MAJOR US star through my lawyer in the US. I'm waiting back on that. Will be interesting to see if the talent agent responds and and if my script ever darkens said mega actor's Beverly Hills doors. I'm told they have to forward the script if there is an offer attached, (albeit subject to finance), so let's see. At least I feel that the script can hold its own now.

That's it for now.

Good night and good luck :-) See Chronicles 16

Chronicles 16 - 2005 - Things start moving - slowly

January 2005

So here we are heading for 5 years since the idea of the rom-com was first conceived. In 2005 I had already given up on the UK agent. He did his best but there wasn't much he could do for me. He'd tried to get it set up at some major UK prod. co's but with no luck. He also had some near misses on the animation projects.

I had hoped that on the wave of setting up the rom-com I could also co-produce the family comedy. Since the rom-com wasn't moving along that plan fell apart and the family comedy was also in limbo. I tried to get it out to a number of US agents and managers in Jan/Feb 2005. They all passed. I decided to get the script out to US prod. co's myself. See later in this post.

At the beginning of 2005 we were waiting back from more actors who either never responded or passed. Nothing was moving at all on the rom-com. Nothing. The UK tax system was also in a limbo so the industry as a whole was not that buoyant. I decided I would go to Cannes in May and try and get things moving. I also decided to source out some new contacts e.g. new producers since I was also planning on shooting a short film and using that to fund a low-budget feature. Essentially adaptions from a couple of plays I had written and staged.

Cannes went well. A few new contacts. Found a producer for the short film and a potential producer for feature projects. I also sourced a potential financier for the rom-com.

In summer I got the family comedy out to over 55 US production companies. This led to a whole bunch of meetings but no sales or options. The response to the writing was very positive and one Creative Executive handed me a treatment for my 'take' on the project. I wrote the 'take' up over the weekend. The studio based producer liked it but essentially said it would be a spec job i.e. I would not get paid to write the script. It was a CGI project. We talked on the phone, exchanged emails. The producer said he would secure the rights to the treatment but then got distracted. Haven't heard from him since. Welcome to the Pleasure Dome ;-) At least it gave me the opportunity to pitch my new project to the US prod. co's which was met with a very positive response. I'm on the first draft right now.

I met with the director's manager who mentioned that the director felt that the script needed 'work'. I resisted this because the UK producer at that point felt it was okay. Fast forward a month or so later. After getting passes or no responses the producer began to hint at a lack of enthusiasm for continuing with the project. He made suggestions for the script which I didn't agree with. A few heated email exchanges later and we decided to call it a day. A positive step as afar as I was concerned. I was frustrated at his progress and the project was now in my hands. I decided that if the director wasn't interested in moving ahead with me I would dump the project and put it all down to experience.

I spoke to the director and asked if she wanted to continue just with me alone. She said she believed in the project and wanted to continue. I said that I would like to work with her on the script so we went into 'development' for a few months.

She gave me great notes and I wasn't sure whether I would be able to pull them off. After 4 drafts I phoned her and she said that I had, "really pulled it all together". It was a far better script and she felt that the reason that we hadn't got talent on board was that the script hadn't been 'there', it wasn't believable in previous versions. Now it was. So by now I had written 8 or 9 drafts since the summer of 2000. It's a long journey.

See Chronicles 15

Chronicles 15 - 2004 - Waiting, waiting, waiting

At the end of 2003 my UK co-producer met with a director who had read and liked the script. I watched her movies. I really liked her work. She was a strong possibility. We went out to another director who later passed. The choice was made for us. I liked her. I didn't want to send the script out to anyone else.

I went to the AFM in February 2004. We met with sales agents at the AFM and I had some meetings at the animation studios and we met with a few prod. co's like Morgan Creek. Nothing much came of the AFM apart from establishing more contacts.

At this point we were out to another star at the major agency where I had landed a supportive agent. Her client had already passed. The major male star also passed. The rest of 2004 was spent getting the script to actors via their agents or managers. Since the actors took months to read the script 2004 was spent just waiting, waiting, waiting. They all passed. It felt like the project wasn't going anywhere. Time was passing. I was getting older and the entropy of the universe was irreversibly increasing.

See Chronicles 14

Friday, April 14, 2006

Chronicles 14 - "I absolutely love this script"

So it's November 2003, over three and a half years since conceiving the idea for the rom-com.

I'm driving down the 405 Freeway on the way to my next meeting. Things are going well. I've been offered representation on my family-comedy by a respectable boutique agency. I have a meeting set up with a big 3 agency to discuss attaching top talent to my rom-com and I've had a great response so far from casting directors to my script and also some great responses to our animation pitches. I've made it! Well, not so fast, read on.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. So I'm driving down the 405 and see the huge sprawl of LA before me and I start to get the feeling that I'm cracking my way into this beast. The mobile phone rings. I get a call from a casting director, well, not any casting director, this woman has a huge reputation in Hollywood. She's cast some HUGE movies. She says she doesn't have time to see me - but - she says she, "...absolutely LOVES this script...each character is really well drawn...I really want to take my time on this project...let's talk in January". Wow. A legend has just called me and told me she "absolutely loves my script". I've made it. Well, umm, no, I never spoke to this woman again.

When I phoned in January she was busy with a big Warner Bros project and I only spoke to her assistant. It never worked out. Still, I enjoyed the moment. You have to enjoy moments like that!

The week continued on the same high. I met the big talent agent who said my script was very well written and she gave me a list of actors that she was willing to send the script out to. Trouble was, not many of the names could raise finance. Still, there was always her big female star. She told me I would hear from her in 2 weeks. It ended up being 3 months - and, yes, the female star passed. Another fade out.

The literary agent sort of faded out too. Long story. Oh yeah, Disney loved our pitches and took over 1 year to come back to us with a pass. So much for making it!See Chronicles 13

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Chronicles 13 - Moving swiftly on - 2002-2003

So the romantic comedy concept was conceived in the Summer of 2000. In November 2002 I had a UK co-producer and a one-man-band not-so-connected UK agent behind the project. I had pitched a number of studios my animation projects with a positive response. I had also had meetings with a number of people like Dream Works, New Line, Mirage and handed over a copy of the rom-com.

Not bad. Let's see what happens next. I'm going to speed things up a bit here and fill in the gaps between November 2002 and November 2003. So here goes:

November 2002
Pass from Fox 2000 on the rom-com. Pass from Disney on the animation projects.

December 2002
Pass from Nickelodeon and a bunch of other US prod. co's.

December 16
Flew to NYC with my day job and started researching Brooklyn for my family comedy.

January 2003
I'm about 70 pages in on my family comedy. In the meantime some feedback from UK sales agent on the rom-com and meetings with the UK co-producer. Progress is slow on the rom-com. It's not really working out as I imagined. I thought the producer would immediately start packaging the project i.e. get a director or actor attached in order to trigger the finance. My feeling is he's testing the waters, slowly, with the script, looking to see how the market responds. Looking to see if we get a bite from Dream Works etc. - which doesn't happen. They pass.

May 2003
My UK co-producer is in Cannes. I'm on the 3rd draft of my family-com. I also write a play in the meantime.

June 2003
I finish the 3rd draft of my family-com. Not much happening with the UK producer as a result of Cannes.

July 2003
I finish the family-com. Start to send it out to friends/trusted readers to read.

August 2003
Positive feedback from friends/trusted readers on the family-com. I start sending copies to agents in the US. Went to Italy for my holidays and teamed up with my partner on the animation projects and we conceived some new animation pitches.

September 2003
Phoned my contact at Dream Works who originally loved the pitch of my family-com but said that they were now not reading any scripts with the subject matter I was dealing with. Great :-( I get the script out to New line as well. That ends up being a pass.

September 2003
I rev up a campaign for another visit to LA in November 2003. By this time I'm feeling quite frustrated with the progress of the rom-com. I just feel the producer isn't aggressive enough in realizing the project. Why weren't we packaging the project and attaching finance? I pitched him in May 2002! It's now October 2003! I decided I wanted to rev things up a bit so I planned on flying to LA to start getting the script out to talent agents. A slightly haphazard strategy because I had no director attached at this point. Still I went for it. The UK co-producer also gave me the idea to approach US casting directors. I went through the complete list of LA-based casting directors, checked their credits and only contacted those with serious credits. I also started calling all the big agencies to try and get the script out to actors. Parallell to this I sent my family-com script out to over 50 US agencies/managers. I also arranged meetings with the Disney, Sony etc in order to pitch our animation pitches.

October 2003
Between October and November 2003 things go pretty well. I've booked about 4-5 meetings a day with studios, casting directors, agents, managers and prod. co.'s in LA! One literary agent really liked my family-com script and offered to represent me. He said it was very funny and original.

A big 3 agency's talent agent phoned me up a few days before I left for LA. She had read my rom-com and said that, "This was a film that should be made". Wow! Great news! Normally with an agent like that you don't even get your script considered. It seems she had a previous contact to my UK co-producer so that was how I got read. Anyway she asked me whether I wanted her to send the script to a big female star she represented. Oh yes! She then said I should meet up with her. Great! I was flying to LA with some serious meetings set up!

See Chronicles 12

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Chronicles 12 - Hollywood Agent - "I don't have a sense of humour"

November 8th 2002

It was Friday. The day I was flying home. On the whole, it felt like a successful trip. I'd had a great response to my pitches. The meetings went well. I had opened a lot of doors that would make future project submissions easier. Maybe something would come of all this. Maybe.

A friend of mine invited me to The Ivy. I told him about all my exploits and he said, "I'm sure it will happen for you. I can feel it". Mmmh...the question is...when?

After a positive meeting with Warner Brothers animation where I was told the children's TV concept was, "Awesome", and having had a positive round of meetings I was feeling pretty fired up. I had high hopes for the new family comedy which had a unique concept inspired by an idea my son came out with when he was 9 years old. The family comedy was more of a US studio movie than the rom-com. I felt it could sell. So, feeling all buzzed up I managed, driving up Wilshire boulevard, to get through to a busy and successful Hollywood agent and convince him to take out 10 minutes of his time to meet me. He agreed. Great!

This was to be my last and most challenging meeting of the day. His office was on Wilshire Boulevard. I parked the car and after a long wait the, rather unfriendly, personal assistant, uttered the words, "Come with me" in a very Eric-von-Stroheim-Sunset-Boulevard-type way.

I walked into the agent's office. He was sitting behind a desk covered in books, scripts and Post-It notes. He gives me a cursory glance as if I've just landed from Mars and says, "Okay, what have you got for me" whilst writing away on Post-it notes and checking his email.

I launch into my pitch and talk about everyone I've been to see and he continues checking his email and scribbling on Post-it notes. "What's the project?", he says. That was my cue to launch into my pitch so I start with a scene from the movie. "Don't give me scenes", he says, abruptly. I tell him that this is how I pitched to the guys at Sony and they thought it was really funny. "I don't thave a sense of humour", he says.

BOING! Another email alert and he's checking his email again. I realize that I have to grab him at this point or I will have lost him completely so I forget the scenes, I forget the log-line and I just give him a 9 word tag line i.e. the line that would appear at the bottom of a movie poster. SUDDENLY, he stops what he's doing and looks at me with an epiphany-like gaze and says, "That's good, that's good - who have you been to see?". Obviously he had completley ignored whatever I had said earlier and began to take interest in the project.

I left his office with a promise that he would read the script, (once written). I spoke to him after completing the script. We spoke for a while. I sent him the script. He never read it. Next! See Chronicles 11

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Chronicles 11 - Hollywood Player - "I like your shoes!"

October 28th 2002

I check into the Hilton hotel in Woodland Hills. Not the coolest location in LA since it's, "in the Valley", but, luckily I've still got some reward points left over from my Cannes trip so I manage to stay there for nothing. They even upgrade me to a friggin' penthouse suite! Great! I feel like I'm some big-shot Hollywood player. I'm not, of course. I'm identifying with an illusion. That I've 'arrived', and as I found out later, I hadn't 'arrived' anywhere.

Meetings don't mean a thing. Even a posiitve meeting doesn't mean a thing. Even, "that's a really cool idea, that's a great pitch, I look forward to reading the script, I'm really interested in this project ...", doesn't mean a thing.

I spend the evening checking my itinerary. How I'm going to get from A to B etc and practice my pitches out loud. This is the only way you can realy practice a pitch. You need to rehearse it, like an actor. The main thing is to grab them with the main hook, the hopefully high-concept hook, and hone in on key scenes in a concise way with passion and enthusiasm.

October 29th 2002

I hit the ground running. My first meeting is at 9:30 a.m. in Glendale. It's Dream Works Animation. It feels pretty cool to drive up to the Studio gate, hand over your I.D., grab your, 'Studio Pass' and park the car. I wait in reception for some time. If you've never done Hollywood meetings then you better get used to that. They can leave you waiting for quite some time. It's very rare to go straight into a meeting at the pre-assigned time which means you have to allow for that when you schedule. Leave plenty of time for hanging out in reception areas at studios and prod. co's. drinking Evian and reading 'The Trades' i.e. Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc.

Anyway, I'm ushered in by a friendly female and the first thing the development executive says is, "You've got fifteen minutes". No problem, I was used to that from Cannes. First pitch. He didn't like it. Second one he liked but it was TV. No luck. So, not wanting to stop the meeting there and then I pitched him my new family comedy which I thought could also be adapted as an animation. He loved the pitch. He said it would be a great vehicle for Ben Stiller and Jack Black, (who both have Dream Works deals or whatever it will be called after the Paramount buy-out). He urged me to meet with Dream Works live-action while I was in town. I told him I was setting up a meeting with the Head of Creative Affairs, (with the help of my co-producer) over in the Amblin building on the Universal Lot. That was it. Meeting went pretty well and he said I was always free to pitch him projects. Cool.

On the animation front the rest of my LA schedule was spent pitching people like:

1) Disney - I pitched the head of development - He liked my ideas. Said I was always welcome to pop round whenever I was in town. A nice guy. He's left now.

2) Fox Animation - Tough. They only make one animation every 2 years and develop in house. A long shot.

3) Nickelodeon - Very positive. Liked the feature animation project and the family comedy idea, "That's a really cool idea!". Great!

4) Warner Brothers Animation - Met with a producer who said the childrens TV concept was, "Awesome". Wow! I've progressed from cool to awesome. Not bad.

5) Sony - Really nice guys over there. Liked my ideas and were in the market for new material and opening up channels of communication. This was good. It meant I could submit projects without flying over to LA every time. They were looking for projects without human characters at the time though.

6) Met Disney Channel. I was told my children's TV project was a strong concept but, "Too Disney for Disney". I jest not. They were looking for the next Spongebob and Squarepants.

7) Met a number of animation production companies. In one meeting I was ushered in to the CEO of a very well known animation company. The first thing he said to me was, "I like your shoes!". So for a couple of minutes we talked about my traditional English brogues which I'd taken a fancy to at Heathrow before flying off to LA.

So there you go, if you want to break the ice at a meeting, wear smart shoes. As it turned out he didn't, "take pitches", so I was led in to meet with the development executive. Did my, 'thang', and went on my merry way.

The problem with all this swanning in through studio gates and 'giving good shoe' with serious industry CEO's AND getting a positive reaction is that one is lulled into this false sense of security. A feeling that you've entered the sanctum santorium, you go where very few of the 'great unwashed' have gone before. Screenwriters dream of getting through those studio gates. Screenwriters who have lived in LA for years, who have been unable to get read, never mind, get a meeting.

Bottom line is: You can't eat a meeting. You can't live off Evian. Meetings are a necessarry part of the buisness and most of them come to nothing, and getting them is good, but you have to maintain a balance between enthused optimism and well-grounded realism. My take on the schedule was, "This is about 20 meetings, I'm pitching about 4 different projects, so by the law of probabilities SOMETHING has to work out, right? Not necessarily. Scripts get sent out by the big agencies all the time, some of them go 'wide' (40-60) to production companies, and they don't sell.

Trouble is, the first time you enter into these sort of intense, flying-into-town, jam-packed schedules and enter into the fortress-like dream factories it's hard not to buy into it. It feels good. It feels good to feel like Griffin Mills (The Player - Robert Altman) especially when you get 'in-the-door' and get comments like, "Awesome concept", "These are GREAT ideas", it's hard to believe that the result of all that will still end up being a big fat zilch. An obese and rotund - zero. I don't mean in terms of building up relationships, which is essential in this business, I mean in terms of getting a deal.

This isn't the washer and widgets business. If you make decent widgets then it's a case of targeting the market and getting out there to sell the damn things. You're selling something real. Something you can hold in your hand. In Hollywood you're selling an idea, words on a page that people will respond to, (or not) in ways that you cannot predict. Okay, you can predict to a certain extent but how a human being responds to a pitch/script depends completely on that person's emotional-spiritual-personality-make-up matrix, not to mention the remit of the prod. co./studio. There are many unknowns in that matrix.

I've gone into meetings which I thought would be a waste of time which turned out, in some ways at least, to be fruitful. I've walked into other meetings, convinced that they would love my pitch, that I was in a 'slam-dunk' zone and have been met with, well, consummate underwhelment. A wall of coma-inducing passivity that hits you like a sledgehammer. People with such low-energy that you find yourself wondering not only how such people could be working in such as high-energy, passion fuelled business but how their internal organs could still continue to function. I hate those meetings. They're the worst. Such people shouldn't be in the movie business. They should be treating insomniacs. Creating sleep inducing relaxation tapes. It's a rare and special skill.

Anyway, I digress. Onto the live-action stuff.

I met with Dream Works. The exec. liked the rom-com idea but was more enthuiastic about the family comedy. Great! It seems that idea has legs. Better write the script. I also met New Line Cinema. They also really liked the family comedy idea.

My feeling is that the rom-com is a UK flick. I don't really see it as something the Americans would make but would probably pick up for distribution if the package, (director and cast) is good. My co-producer thought it was worth pursuing. Okay, why not. What do I know?

I met with Mirage, (interested), Jersey Films, (interested in the family comedy), Bedford-Falls, (not really for them) and the Scott Rudin company over lunch in the Paramount canteen. This was serious Griffin Mills territory. I had a great lunch with the CE who loved the animation feature project but wasn't so sure about the rom--com for Scott Rudin. Oh, well. Lunch was nice.

November 8th 2002

Fox 2000 cancel. We set up a phone meeting instead.

See Chronicles 10

Monday, April 10, 2006

Chronicles 10 - Hollywood here I come!

October 15th 2002

The phone campaign is moving ahead. I now have 5 meetings booked in LA including Sony, Disney and New Line.

16th October 2002

The list is growing. I have meetings with a number of animation production companies as well as studios and some live-action production companies - for my rom-com. I secure a meeting with Universal animation! Things are looking up! Get a meeting with Fox 2000, Jersey Films, Mirage, Dream Works. I'm going to be busy. I'm in LA for 5 days and I'll have 4 or 5 meetings a day.

25th October 2002

I get a number of passes from my agent on sending the script out to UK production companies. What concerns me is that he is sending out the synopsis in many cases! I'm not happy about that. They should at least read my writing.

Got an email from a US agent who I had met a couple of times. She spoke to a Hollywood producer I had met with in 1999 who had praised my writing i.e. a 'referral', although, unlike the producer, the agent wasn't that keen on the script. Anyway, I had personally handed the rom-com into her office in November 2001 and I finally, with some cajoling, managed to get her to read the rom-com. She passed. Somehow I'd got it into my head that she would end up representing me but the fact was, she didn't respond to my writing. It's true, the 2 scripts that I had sent her, the drama/fantasy and the rom-com were not, 'there' yet, but, other industry people had seen the potential in my work and left the door open. She didn't do that. Oh well, no point flogging a dead horse. Next!

I continue preparing for my Hollywood trip by writing up my treatments and pitches for both the animation and live-action projects. I do this for a number of reasons:

1) It helps me formulate the verbal pitch in my own head.
2) It enables me to leave behind a brochure with an overview of all my projects. People who pitch for a living don't leave, "leave-behinds", but in terms of presenting yourself as a production company it does help to create a good impression. The brochure was a mix of text and visual images i.e. animation drawings. People always like to see some colour and pretty pictures. My new found co-producer told me later that this was one of things that impressed him about my presentation/pitch. He said most producers scribble their figures on scraps of paper.
3) If they ask for a treatment then I can leave it behind. I wouldn't recommend this for live-action projects, in that case you want them to read the script, but for animation projects, a synopsis/treatment along with visual images can give them a good idea as to whether they are interested in the project.

28th October 2002

Nail meetings with Imagine, Nickelodeon and another major animation prod. co. I have a pretty full slate. I have meetings set up with Dream Works Animation, Fox 2000, Disney, Warner Brothers Animation, Jersey Films, Mirage Entertainment, (Sidney Pollack's outfit) and so on. Basically I have 4 or 5 meetings a day!

See Chronicles 9

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Chronicles 9 - Post-Cannes - Ups, Downs and 'Radio Silence'

June 21st 2002

Get an email from one UK producer saying that he would like to option the rom-com. He hasn't produced a feature before so I'm not so sure. Still, encouraging!

June 24th 2002

Receive another email from this same UK producer. He read my other co-written script, said it was very well written and wants me to offer me a write-for-hire contract. Great! Well, not really, nothing ever came of this.

June 25th 2002

Phoned the one-man-band UK agent. He thinks the rom-com is 'super'.
Despite the encouraging news I was feeling pretty down. I felt that I'd entered a post-Cannes 'radio silence' phase. No news from most of the major companies I had pitched. I didn't really have anyone with any 'clout' or finance behind me at this point.

June 28th 2002
I get an email back from another UK producer that he was, 'enjoying my script'. I start to summarize the feedback I've received from the female agent and the UK producer who offered to option the rom-com.

July 4th 2002

I speak to the female UK agent. She says that she's been thinking of me and considering everything I have been doing re. Cannes etc. I may get frustrated at the way she works. She said that 'representing me would take a lot of work since I have a high coverage rate and she doesn't work like that'. Fair enough. Still, we left it that I would send her a re-write of the rom-com. She also said that thing were going 'amazingly well anyway' and that 'it would happen for me'. She forgot to mention when ;-)

July 8th 2002

I started working on the third draft of the rom-com using feedback from the one agent and one UK producer. Did a lot of phone chasing. It's already July and most of the Cannes contacts haven't got back to me.

July 9th 2002

Another German animation company who was loved the idea of my children's TV project said she couldn't move forward with the project because of, 'internal changes'.

July 17th 2002

I'd had the idea to write a drama set in Northern Ireland and started researching its troubled history. I found myself in Belfast through my day gig and went for a tour of the trouble spots. It was quite an eye-opener to see all the places I'd seen on the evening news all those years when I was growing up. The Shankhill Estate was the most shocking aspect for me. The whole estate was a sort of para-military shrine. Apparently, you can only buy a house on the estate if it's sanctioned by the para-milataries. It was fascinating, in a morbid, screwed-up-history kind of way.

22nd July 2002

Went to London. Met the UK one-man-band agent with an office off Oxford St. A very nice old chap. He wants to represent me. Encouraging, although I get the feeling he's not very connected. He doesn't give me any notes apart from cut 20 pages off the script. I think he's someone who would work with me as a 'producer'.

The female agent felt a lot more connected and literary and filmcally-aware to me. Her notes were very good, but, she wouldn't have really pushed my other projects and I would have to surrender to her way of working. I was on a different trajectory so I kind of called it a day with her. She was encouraging, said I was talented and had no doubt I would write and produce many pojects. Mmmh...

25th June 2002
Development executive from US/German LA based company phones me and says she wants to make a live-action movie out of the children's TV project. Great! She'll pitch the idea to her boss.

2nd August 2002

I start writing 1st person biographies of the characters. This helps me understand their motivations more.

5th August 2002

Get an email from the female agent that the US/German prod. co. interested in making the live-action script has gone into liquidation. Great.

23rd August 2002
A UK prod. co. passes. By now I've had a few passes or have been told I need to attach a director and finance to my projects.

30th August 2002
Finished cutting down the 3rd draft of the rom-com script to 110 pages.

5th September 2002

Sent 3rd draft of rom-com to a US agent.

11th September 2002

A UK producer who has good finance and industry contacts and who has produced a medium budget UK indie emailed me to say he was interested in co-producing my rom-com project. Great news! This was one of the major goals of me going to the Cannes film festival.

My UK agent is pleased with my 3rd draft, although sometimes I feel like that Groucho Marx quote:

"I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as Members". i.e. He can't be a very good agent if he wants to represent me.

Still, he's a lovely old chap. He loves all my projects and is sending my work out there. I just get the feeling he doesn't represent many writers, it's not his bread and butter, and is not very connected. Still, for now it's good to say I have an agent.

16th September 2002

I met my UK co-producer. It was a positive meeting. We got on well. He sees the project as very commercial and has some Hollywood contacts that he would like to draw on. Great! I should be in production in a few months, right? Wrong.

3rd October 2002

Started developing a pitch for my new script. A family comedy. Planning on flying to LA in November.

9th October 2002

I start my Los Angeles campaign. I emailed agents, managers, studios, mini-studios, the big animation studios like Sony, Disney, WB, Fox Animation etc.

Response was slow initially. The UK producer doesn't seem to be doing much. Seems to have followed up with a couple of sales agents that I contacted in Cannes. He's started giving me some input into who I should see in LA. The main advantage here is that, since he has produced a movie, he gives me some credibility. He's also helping to set up a meeting for me with a mini-major.

10th October

Sod the damn email campaign. I need to hit the phones! I prepare a phone list of contacts to hit and prepare a phone pitch. I write down responses to difficult questions. I act out my phone pitches.

14th October

A young, German production company I met with in Cannes who really liked my rom-com have presented the project to the head of a German film fund.

I start the phone campaign. It's working. I have a meeting booked with Sony Animation and a smaller animation company in Burbank. By the end of the week I have meeting booked with a whole number of studios and production companies! See Chronicles 8

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Chronicles 8 - Cannes 2002 here we come!

May 2002

I Cannes-do this!

The Cannes film festival is the biggest and most glamorous film festival in the world.

There are various, parallel universes of activity taking place almost simulataneously in Cannes.

On one level you have the producers pitching their projects to financiers, sales agents and distrbutors.

You then have sales agents who are there to sell flms to distributors from all over the world via screenings or face-to-face meetings in their offices.

Since you only have a limited time, and some people only come for a few days then, you try and squeeze in as many meetings as possible and very often you will hear people say that they haven't been to see one single film in the whole festival. In Cannes 2005 I don't think I ended up seeing one single film!

Then you have the celeb-worship-cult fest. People who's sole purpose is to stand around for hours, camera in hand, outside hotels and the Palais waiting for that elusive in-the-flesh celebrity sighting.

All the film companies are based in the hotels (or in the Palais). In order to gain access to the hotels you need a badge. You also need this badge to access the Cannes market in the Riviera, essentially a big hall full of sales agents/production companies/distributors selling their films.

Once you've shelled out the few hundred euros for Canes Market accreditation you get given a big thick book which contains names, addresses, phone numbers, (even cell numbers), photos of sales agents, distributors, producers, financiers, agents etc.

This is a great resource. You also get information on their projects - whether they are in development or production or completed, who's attached, the budget etc.

Now, importantly, this information is available a couple of months before the festival begins. This gives you time to send out the emails and make appointments. Do not, I repeat, do not go to Cannes without a strategy and without booking appointments beforehand. If you arrive in Cannes with no meetings you'll find yourself merrily bouncing into the Miramax (or the Weinstein company) suite asking whether you can speak to their 'development' or 'acquisition' executive. Be warned, it won't be Harvey Weinstein or even his development/acquisition executive sitting in reception - it will be a gatekeeper. Usually a good looking female who has been warned of your impending arrival. The response will be a stock, "He's in screenings right now and he's on a very tight schedule but if you'll leave your business card or a message he will get back to you". No he won't. He will NEVER get back to you. He's got bigger fish to fry.

Luckily in 1997 I had traveled to Cannes with absolutely no knowledge of the film business or what a producer does and already made my experiences of turning up in Cannes with not one single meeting booked. With a bit of chutzpah we managed to get a few meetings but I didn't want to go through all that stuff again.(I'll post these experiences in another post since they formed the basis for this rom-com project).

As the Scouts motto goes - Be Prepared!

March/April 2002

I spent this time preparing for Cannes. I created a brochure with my company logo on the front. The brochure contained summaries of all my projects which consisted of a mix of animation and the rom-com projects. I had a page on each project and some blurb about myself along with the animation guys I was working with. It gave the impression that I was a fully-fledged production company with a full development/production team. In reality, it was just me working with a few mates, albeit talented ones. Still, it's all in the presentation and the package looked good.

April 2002

The last thing I wanted to do was arrive in Cannes with no meetings. People's diaries are pretty damn full in Cannes. At least the people you are interested in meeting up with anyway. There's no use emailing these people a few days before the festival begins. They've already hit the ground running.

Now prior to the email campaign I had a bit of luck. I'd spent about 2 years travelling around Europe and had built up a substantial bank of reward points with Paris Hilton's daddy's hotel. Now, even though I was Diamond status, which means a guaranteed booking even if the hotel's full, normally during the film festival it is impossible to book a room on reward points, but, through some administrative error I slipped through the net. This was fantastic news! I was going to spend 10 days in the Hilton on the Cannes croisette for nothing. Completley free of charge! This meant that I could announce that my production company would be 'based' at the Hilton hotel for the duration of the festival. I would come across as a real player. Things were going smoothly.

Cannes email campaign - May 6th 2002

That's the beauty of a journal. Since I started this on April 2002 the chronicles become more detailed. I started the email campaign rather late - 11 days before arriving in Cannes. Nowadays I start emaling about 3 weeks prior to arrival. This gives me time to chase up people via the phone if they don't respond to my emails.

I formulated an email, aiming to connect with a broad mix of UK and German production companies, sales agents, distributors, financiers and regional funding bodies. It went well, the emails started flooding in. By the time I arrived in Cannes on May 17th 2002 I had about 30 meetings lined up.

I was still on a learning curve. I'd read a few books on film production and had a basic idea of what I needed to do. Basicaly, producing a film is a fairly complex process and I saw my film as a co-production, possibly with Germany. I was searching for a co-producer, UK or German or both.

May 7th 2002
I already have 3 meetings set. In the meantime I was finishing off a treatment for one of the animation projects for which I had a 2 minute teaser animatic and a storyboard. I was also preparing all my verbal pitches and creating a synopsis for each project in the brochure. My new visiting cards were being printed. I also managed to get a line producer to read my rom-com project and give me a rough idea of what the budget would be. This was good. Almost everyone asks what the budget is.

May 16th 2002
Spoke to female agent. She didn't really 'get' or like my plays or animation projects. Bottom line. She's interested in the rom-com but wants to see the rewrite.

May 17th 2002
Flew from Paris to Nice. Arrive by taxi at night to the Hilton. Saw Emily Watson on the plane in the biz class cabin and in the biz class lounge. I'm a legend in my head! I feel like it's all 'happening'. Like I'm a 'player'. Well, the film business is based on illusion, after all. ;-)

May 18th 2002
Hit the ground running. Met a UK prod. co., a producer-for-hire, a French producer and France Television Distribution.

May 19th 2002
Met a UK financier and a regional German film fund. Tried to secure apointments with other contacts.

May 20th 2002
Met a number of regional film funds. On hindsight, in the meetings so far, nothing ever manifested but I had read that going to Cannes as a first-time producer was a great way to learn about the film business, so, I was definitely learning how to put projects together, where the money was, building up a netwrok.

Before I left for Cannes, people were telling me that they were sure I'd got there and 'sign a big deal'. I've since learnt that it doesn't work like that. It's a slow process of network building and gathering allies. You don't do that in one festival.

The week continued with various meetings with the heads of German regional funds - so called 'soft' money. I started realizing what I needed to get together. A director, and before approaching the German funds I needed UK money first and I needed a German producer.

At a certain point I started to get the feeling that this wasn't really getting me anywhere. I was info gathering. I could have got a lot of this info from the regional fund's web sites. it was all very nice to sit on a yacht with the Isle of Man fund but in order to get a taste of their money I needed a detailed budget, a director, talent attached, other funding in place. This producing thing wasn't going to be a walk in the park.

Just as I was reaching the point where I thought I was wasting my time I met with an older French distributor/producer. He gave me some advice, he said, "Never, ever, ever, give up. Just keep on going." He was in his 60's and he ran his own sales/production outfit so I took his advice and kept on going.

May 22nd 2002
A positive day! I met my future UK co-producer, (although I would only know this 4 months later).

This is how it happened. I was still hustling away. Trying to pack out my schedule and get as much coverage and meet as many people as possible. I had my trusted Cannes guide in hand and flipped through the book, found a producer who seemed to have good connections to finance and phoned his cell phone, (which was in the guide). He said that he'd like to meet me. We met in the Majestic hotel. I pitched him my rom-com and he seemed to like the idea and I handed him my brochure. It was a very brief, but positive meeting.

I also had a very posiitve meeting with a German animation company. The development executive loved the childrens TV animation project I pitched to her. That meeting also came out of me flipping through the guide and phoning the CEO of the company in Germany. He said, "That's exactly what we're looking for, go and see these people and tell them I sent you". I got the appointment and it went really well. Well, in the sense that it gave me the illusion that things were 'happening'. Shortly after Cannes the bottom fell out of the German film market, companies went bust, this development executive left the company and I never managed to set this project up.

May 23rd 2002
I met with more financiers, (UK tax funds), UK sales agents, a UK producer, a German sales agent and producer. More meets and greets that led to nothing. Well, okay, I was learning, and, I was doing a lot of pitching, sometimes 3 projects in one meeting. It was good practice. I was geting good at being, 'good in a room'.

May 24th 2002
Had a very positive meeting with a development/acquisitions executive from a German production company based in the UK, Germany and Los Angeles. She loved all my projects, especially the animation projects.

The one that got away!
Okay, allow me to digress here for a moment since these chronicles are mainly focused on the rom-com project. This was the first of many, close shaves. After this, very positive meeting, I sent the development exec. all of my projects which consisted of my rom-com, 2 animation projects and my very first co-written script.

July 25th 2002
So two months after my pitch meeting in Cannes the dev. exec. phones me back saying that the rom-com is too close to the business, the first co-written script is a hard sell, the feature animation didn't really work for her BUT she wants to make a live-action feature out of the childrens TV animation project. Great! She wants to pitch it to her boss and she'll get back to me. Fantastic! I start contacting a few US agents saying a development deal is in the works and manage to get their interest. Read on.

Monday 5th August
Walk into work. Check my emails and I see an email from the female agent I've been talking to who tells me this same company who is about to possibly commission me to write a feature has gone into liquidation! The first of many close shaves!

Back to Cannes - I continued pitching a number of UK production companies, film council etc. Met a UK producer on the last day of the festival. We got on well and I went to lunch with his family on Sunday. I watched a couple of movies, About Schmidt and 24 Hour Party People. Relaxed.

Monday 27th May

Flew back from Cannes. Spent the next week or so sending out follow-up letters.

June 21st 2002

Get an email from one UK producer saying that he would like to option the rom-com. He hasn't produced a feature before so I'm not so sure. Still, encouraging!

June 24th 2002

Receive another email from this same UK producer. He read my other co-written script, said it was very well written and wants me to offer me a write-for-hire contract. Great! Well, not really, nothing ever came of this.

June 25th 2002

Phoned the one-man-band UK agent. He thinks the rom-com is 'super'.
Despite the encouraging news I was feeling pretty down. I felt that I'd entered a post-Cannes 'radio silence' phase. No news from most of the major companies I had pitched. I didn't really have anyone with any 'clout' behind me. See Chronicles 7

Friday, April 07, 2006

Chronicles 7 - If only I had an agent

December 16th 2001

I had just finished the final flourishes on my second draft, hit the print button and was about to invest some money into Her Majesty's Royal Mail service. It was time to query UK agents.

I don't really know what I was expecting from an agent, (a miracle perhaps?). The UK film industry is not like Hollywood where an agent can send a 'spec' script 'wide' to 60-80 production companies (or to a select few) and hopefully within a few days get feedback on whether a production company or number of productions companies, (the bidding war!), want to take your script into a studio, (the buyers), and 'set it up'.

There is no weekend-read-bidding-war-spec-market in the UK. An agent in the UK would probably send the script to specific producers/production companies on a one by one basis. Since producers take ages to read this will take some time.

And unless it's a Working Title or some lottery funded production house then, even if a producer loves your script and wants to do your movie there is no guarantee when or if it ever gets made.

That producer or production house will have to scrape together money from a variety of sources such as UK tax-funds, (which change with the weather), equity funds, UK Film Council money, (dream on...), soft money from regional funds in Europe or other countries such as Australia or Canada, pre-sales, (tough) and gap (bank) funding.

Then he or she will have to start sending the script out to directors and actors. He'll probably not be in a position to make offers to actors or directors so he will be up against not being taken seriously by some agents, (the bigger UK or US ones), or he will get the 'slow read' i.e. he'll spend months waiting for an actor to pass on his script and by then the UK government will have changed their tax laws. More of this later.

Of course, when you're sitting there writing your 'vision' you're not aware of the vagaries of the independent film world. You envision an almost magical process where you send off your script, get multiple offers from agents, spend some time choosing the 'best fit', map out your strategy for success with your new 'mummy' or 'daddy' and then wait for 'the call' from Tim Bevan at Working Title who has read your script and 'absolutley loves it'. The rest will be history. No, the rest is something else - a long drawn out process of ups and downs, rejections, set-backs, disappointments, highs and lows that goes on for years where you will not only wonder if this script gets made but whether any thing you write will ever get made.

Okay, that's the positive side ;-)

Only, (half) joking, again.

Okay, so I sent a number of letters and emails out to about 20 UK agents. Many of them wrote back saying that they 'weren't taking on a new clients'. Yeah, right. What they were saying was they weren't taking on writers with no track record and zero industry heat. The truth is, you have to take agent-speak such as the above or the, 'referral-only' note in the Writer's Handbook or Hollywood Agent's Directory with a pinch of salt. If you have some serious industry interest or actual success then they will be open to 'taking on new clients' and will waive their referral-only stipulation.

Well, I had no track record, apart from staging a couple of fringe plays, and I didn't have any industry interest. All I had were the words on the page. The letters and emails went out before Christmas and I continued querying until February 2002.

January 2002

I received a letter back from a London film/television agency:

"Thanks very much for yours of 29 December. I've now had a chance to look at the script and I'm afraid it didn't really do enough for me."

I was going to have to become very familiar with such dream-crushing sentences. The first of many!

"I think the dialogue is very sharp and there's a nice sense of satire".

Well that's positive!


There's always a but...

"I found myself struggling in the first 25 pages with too many characters"

Too many characters? Do you suffer from attention deficit syndrome? Come on, this isn't The Iliad!

"...the story starting a bit slowly and I also have to overcome quite a strong resistance to scripts set in or around the film business".

I was going to have to get used this last remark. The, 'film-biz' thing. I pitched the chairman of a production company in Cannes and was half-way through my pitch when he said, "Can I stop you right there? We, as a company have decided to stay away from projects about the film business".

"Well it's not about the film business, it's...". At this point I would then attempt to tell them that it was a romantic comedy about how we as humans pretend to be something we are not, how we put on masks, how we each have our own personal 'spin machines', but, if they have a problem with the setting it's time to move on to the next project. N.B. Make sure you always have the 'next project'.

Some more letters came back. One praising the structure and the writing requesting me to keep me updated on future projects.

I still remember two contradictory sets of feedback that I received from two different literary agents.

Number one:

"We didn't warm to your central character".

and number two:

"We loved your central character".

Well, there you go. This getting an agent thing wasn't going to be like falling off a log.

Early February 2002

I received an email back from a one-man-band agent based in the centre of London saying he would be, "happy to read my script". I sent him a reminder 3 weeks later and then in June. You see how long this stuff takes. The film business doesn't do 'quick'.

Of the five US agents I had given the script to (i.e. lovingly delivered by hand to their agencies in November 2001), one passed, another who I'd met in 1999 said he wasn't taking on new clients, another, to this day, never read the script, and the 2 others took over a year to read!

Did I mention that Hollywood doesn't do 'quick'.

June 2002

I receive an email a few days later that the agent, "...enjoyed it very much and perhaps if you would care to, we could meet and have a chat".

Great! Positive news!

Prior to waiting back from agents I had tried to contact UK companies directly by phone. A very disheartening exercise. Each one told me they would only read my script if it was submitted via an agent. I was in the classic Catch 22 loop. Can't get read by an agent without a referral from a producer, can't get a referral without getting read by a producer. This sucked. So, the prospect of getting representation was good news, right? Sure, but it was good news with no guarantees.

April 2002

I received a message from another one-woman-band agent that she would like to meet me. We met in her office. After the niceities were dispensed with she proceeded to ask me questions about my script, which I wasn't expecting. I thought it would be a case of, "Hi, love your work, I'd like to sign you".

I felt slightly ambushed, I didn't think I was going in for a notes/inerrogation meeting! Anyway, I tried to field the questions as best as I could. They were good questions and I could see that she was a good notes-giver.

Her main positive note was that I'd managed to "pull-off", what many people are not able to do i.e. write a convincing trans-atlantic romantic comedy. That was nice to hear especially after being ravaged by self-doubt when writing the first draft.

The upshot of the meeting was that I would send her the next draft of the rom-com along with examples of my other work.

Back in:

November 2000

I had met with a couple of agents in Los Angeles. One of them offered to meet with me for breakfast in a popular film-biz restaraunt on Santa Monica Boulevard. I forget the name.

He told me straight that he had no intention of representing me, told me why it would be very difficult to sell my first script which he'd read but told me that it was well written and structured.

So why did he meet me? He said that he rarely met with unrepresented writers but that he met with me because he, liked my style and thought my strategy regarding approaching Hollywood was smart. Mmmh...interesting. What strategy? That I gave good phone? He gave me some advice which basically planted a seed in my brain.

Later on I got involved with a number of animation projects and in:

February 2002

I started thinking about setting up my own production company. I had a number of projects, both live-action and animation that meant, ta-ra! I was a producer with a 'slate'! A 'slate' being producer-speak for a group of projects that one is trying to 'set-up'. So, even though I was about to get an agent my head was already planning how to present myself as a production company to both Hollywood and the forthcoming Cannes 2002 film festival.

May 2002

I got a phone call from the female agent. She'd read, but wasn't so impressed, with my other projects. Some of it was for personal reasons regarding the subject matter. She wasn't so impressed with the animation projects, either. By this time it was clear that I would set up a 'production company' and I was about to aggressiely market myself and my projects. We met again. She told me in so many words that because of my own marketing strategies that she wouldn't be able to keep up with me. She said that she might not speak to someone for a year and would then contact that person for a specific project to look at, probably, exclusively. What I was doing was going out wide in a very agressive campaign and she thinks that I wouldn't have the patience for her way of doing things. I didn't argue. I felt she was right. Although I think she would have made a good agent on one level, I wasn't happy that she didn't warm to my other projects.

June 2002

I signed on, (verbally) with the one-man-band agent who was enthusiastic and interested in selling all my projects, both animation and live-action. Positive!

April 2002

I set up a limited company to promote my projects and to present myself as a producer at the Cannes film festival.

At this time I also watched a DVD by a self-development consultant called Jim Rohn. Mr. Rohn inspired me to keep a journal. I've kept one ever since. Since I've pretty much kept a record from April 2002 I should be able to provide a more detailed chronicle from this point on.

So to re-cap:

Summer 2000 - rom-com conceived
April 2002 - Production company set up
June 2002 - 'Signed' with UK agent
See Chronicles 6

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Chronicles 6 - Why did I want to write this script anyway?

Backing up a bit

So I got the idea for this script in the summer of 2000 and by September 2000 I had a few scenes and a collection of research material and ideas. Not much.

Why did I want to write this thing anyway? I knew it was going to be hard work with all the research and I wasn't sure if I could write comedy, least of all a romantic comedy.

I had written comedy before but it was mostly black comedy and I had no idea if I could write all that romantic stuff.

On a long, cramped coach flight to Los Angeles in November 2000 I decided to just get my pen and paper out and start writing the first draft or at least a partial first draft. A few scribbled pages later I looked at the lines and thought to myself, "Oh God, this is awful. It's cheesy, corny and embarrassing. I can't do this."

Then I thought to myself. "Hang on a minute. I felt the same way about the first draft of the very first screenplay I wrote. I thought the dialogue was corney and cliched then as well, but, then it got better, and better. Then the script ended up getting me meetings in Hollywood with some very respectable production companies."

So I decided to just write through the crap and kept on going. By doing this I would ocassionally stumble on something that actually sounded quite good. This gave me the impetus to keep on going and see this damned thing through.

Okay. To answer the question. Why did I want to write this script anyway? I guess it was the hook. It was about a guy pretending to be someone else to 'get the girl'. I love those types of movies where you are watching a character flying by the seat of his pants, having to juggle a whole number of different balls in the air, (like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie), and you know at some point the whole house of cards is going to come tumbling down. It's great entertainment. It's not going to feed the world or solve the Middle East crisis but it takes you out of your daily life for 90 minutes and, if its done well, makes you walk away with a good feeling inside. Hey, there's a lot worse things you can do than make people laugh, (or shed a feel-good-tear), right?

So, after ploughing through the first draft and second draft and getting encouraging feedback from the script consultant it was time to hit the agents! Success is right around the corner, right?

See Chronicles 5

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Chronicles 5 - Take the bloody notes and get on with it!

The Second Draft

Okay, the script consultant's notes didn't turn out to be the superfical tweaks and the fine polish job I had somehow hoped they would be. Oh, poor, deluded me.

No, this wasn't a polish, this was a rewrite, a new draft. This is what I call a new draft anyway. I had about five different versions of my first draft. Versions that I'd tweaked and honed. That's polish work. It didn't mean that I was on my fifth draft! No, the notes I had received from the script consultant entailed examining structure, character arcs, character motivations, intra-character dynamics, plot and credibility issues etc. That's a rewrite!

A polish you can just breeze through. You whack on your i-Pod and sail happily into the sunset, not so with a re-draft. It's like chess. You have to sit there and think. Make notes. Try things out. Examine your character biogs, if you've written any, juggle scenes around etc.

So idea:

Summer 2000

First draft to consultant:

October 5th 2001

I then went off and wrote a second draft and:

November 2001

I flew to Los Angeles for a vacation but also used the opportunity to get my rom-com into the hands of a few agents.

I continued with a second draft polish and was done with that on:

December 16 2001

Don't get the wrong impression here. It doesn't need to take this long to write a script! The slow pace is me, catching time to write on weekends and evenings.

Second draft is done. It's still too long - 130 pages. What was I thinking? I know what I was thinking. I've sent this out to a few chosen friends and had great feedback! Was the script ready to send out? No, but the positive feedback that I'd received empowered me to go forth with zest and enthusiasm. See Chronicles 4

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Chronicles 4 - Feedback - Unadulterated Praise Please!

The Script Consultant

Somewhere around the:

5th October 2001

I sent out a polished, first draft to my trusted script consultant. I had used him on a previous, (first ever), screenplay and, on that script, I had made the mistake of sending it out too early. That first-time script got me meetings in Hollywood but the feedback that I got mirrored the feedback that I got from the script consultant. The lesson here for me was to make sure I send it to the script consultant first so that the problems are fixed before getting 'notes' directly from the market place.

The script consultant is a former Hollywood development exective, writer and producer. He's not a micro-detail, line-by-line feedback man but he has a good sense of story and charges a relatively low fee i.e. under 200 bucks.

So a week or two later I get an email back with the main 'notes'.

"Finished your script. GOOD WORK! Here's the headlines:

* Your writing is of course SUPERIOR. Funny, deft, witty etc. I enjoyed it a lot."

Wow, great! Bring on the unadulterated, uninhibited praise! I've made it! Time to send this baby out there, right?

Oh...what's this?

"The script though is long, sometimes "bumpy," overly literate (you're too smart for most of the world-I'd lose a few big words especially the foreign ones.). It needs tightening/ grooming/clarity".

Okay I can do that...damn, there's more...

"* The protagonist's trajectory may need a bit of streamlining. At times the effort's for unfulfilled ambition, then it seems to be for love. His decision to abstain from his ruse then getting sucked in again may lack a certain discernibility (ie: sometime hard to follow his trail). He hustles the money too fast and maybe even out of context/order of events. Sometimes hard to pinpoint the core arc throughout in this regard. (can you send me a quickie "beat sheet" on his arc for our call?)"

...this is starting to sound like hard work...


God, does this ever end?



"* The protagonist's shennanigins (towards the end) somehow begin to feel unattractive. We need to get a sense of conscience and (coming) growth".

What happened to the unadulterated praise?

"* I'm pretty lost towards the end".

Jeez. It was all looking so good a few seconds ago.

"Anyway we obviously have some things to discuss".

The bold emphasis is mine.

"Again good work!".

Yeah, right, thanks for nothing! Hey, I pay for praise not criticism!

I'm (half) joking of course. What I really would have liked, at the time, is a few polish-like notes that would have entailed a few superficial tweakings before I send it out on an eagerly awaiting army of assistants, readers, agents and producers who are short of a script or two to read. " A script! Wow. Haven't read one of those in months. Sure, send it over, I'll read it tonight".

Dream on, buddy. It's back to the drawing board for you. See Chronicles 3

Monday, April 03, 2006

Chronicles 3 - The Outline a.k.a. where the hell am I?

The Outline

Okay, somehwere around:

Spring 2001

I started putting an outline together. I was approaching the point where I felt I could write authentic rich, upper-class characters and describe their world in vivid detail. It was no longer this fuzzy, out-of-focus realm with cliched, stock, 2-D characters. These characters might actually have something interesting to say.

I needed to build some sort of chessboard to move these pieces around on. This would be my outline. When I start writing I want to be able to write a scene and once its done know where I'm going next. If I've got my outline I know the road ahead and I can just keep writing and churn out my first draft. Of course, the final screenplay isn't written in stone and ideas tend to shoot out of the unconcious through the very act of wriitng itself, so, there is room for the unexpected but it does help to have a basic road map.

I've heard of writers who just start writing their scripts with no real idea of where their going. A sort of Zen approach. I've often thought of trying this out since it can be an interesting process to discover the characters and in my experience that only happens when they start talking and acting. Such a spontaneous draft could then be a basis for the outlining process. I opted for the outline first approach.

Once I had my rag-tag collection of scenes I started to give them SCENE HEADINGS in Final Draft (INT. MANSION - DAY) and gave the scenes a brief description or ACTION as it is described in screenplay format terms.

Final Draft has a scene navigator which allows you to view and re-arrange scenes. The navigator will also move the actual scenes in the script. I used the navigator to create the outline being aware of structure in terms of plot points and acts.

Once this was done I was ready to write the first draft. This process of outlining and researching and scene gathering seemed to melt into each other and from:

April 2001 to September 2001

I had this evolving pre-first-draft mix of screenplay scenes, treatments scenes and idea/resource material that eventually ended up in the first draft screenplay in:

September 9th 2001

I then went through 5 drafts which were essentially more polishes than major rewrites. The script was now at 143 pages. See Chronicles 2

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Chronicles 2 - Research, Research, Research

Research, research, research

So, the idea was conceived in the:

Summer of 2000

I have some sort of half-baked, mutant, treatment/script/idea file thing dated:

12th September 2000

I also have another script-ment,(a fusion of a script and a treatment) dated:

17th April 2001

Then another script/treatment from:

13th June 2001

This one seems to have a lot more research source material in it. That probably means I was close to writing a first draft. This continues. I have a Final Draft document dated:

19th July 2001

This Final Draft document is over 230 pages long! This is where I went through every book, magazine and Internet source that I'd read and copied/pasted all the marked and bookmarked passages into the Final Draft document.

This process continues until:

September 6th 2001

I send off an almost finished first draft to the WGA for registration.

September 9th 2001

Whoo-hoo! This is the first, complete draft from FADE IN to FADE OUT. It comes in at a whopping 160 pages. The world's first epic romantic comedy!

Okay let's back-track here for a second. The idea for this romantic comedy was conceived in the summer of 2000 and I didn't finish my first draft until September 2001! Jeez. What the hell was I doing all that time?

Well, as I recall I was reading the likes of Tatler, W, Harpers and Queen as well as various novels/non-fiction books on aristocracy, the lives of the rich and famous etc. as well as not 'giving up my the day job' which involved flying around Europe on a weekly basis.

During this phase I gathered up an ideas file. A collection of scene, character, plot ideas that I just dumped into a Final Draft doc. Whilst researching I marked various pages in books, ripped out magazine articles, downloaded various stuff off the Internet, watched lots of rom-coms, relevant TV programmes etc. When I felt that I'd finally read enough I went through the stack of material I had and wrote down all the sections I'd underlined and dumped this into my ideas file in Final Draft.

Essentially what I was doing was trying to collect an excess of material. I didn't want to be under-researched. My aim was to have a generous collection of scenes that I could re-arrange into some sort of a screenplay outline. I ended up, intentionally, with far too many scenes for a 110 page screenplay than was necessary, but that was good. It meant that I had a rich source of material that I could edit and hone later in a Darwinian, may-the-strongest-scenes-survive-type way. I tried as much as I could in this phase to also think of visual scenes, so that theoretically when I gathered this rag-tag collection of ideas together I could see the silent movie in my head. Film being, as rumour has it, a visual medium 'n' all that ;-).

It's worth mentioning here that the research phase wasn't just a passive absorption of information. During this phase I was, through delving into research, generating ideas for scenes, characters etc. I was also mentally putting this film together in my head.

So, first draft is done. See Chronicles 1

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Chronicles 1 - The Idea

Adventures in the (indie) screen trade

It's not about the destination, it's about the journey...yeah, right.

Okay, as promised some real-world tales from the trenches. This series of chronicles focuses on the the creation, development, production and distribution of one of my projects - a feature length romantic comedy. However, I do mention other animation and live action projects along the way.

Alright, that was the first lie. This sounds like I'm chronicling a project that has already been screened in your local multi-plex and is available at your local Blockbusters. It's not. Although, strangely enough I have been involved, even if only on a theoretical discussion basis, in all these areas over the years. If you decide to produce or co-produce an independent film you still need to talk to distributors and sales agents at an early stage even if the only tangible thing you have in your hand is 120 pages of white paper covered in 12pt Courier.

The moment of conception - Summer 2000

So how did this long, hard, humbling, ego-thrashing, learning-curve-inducing, sojourn into the independent film making world begin? The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills? The Majestic Hotel, Cannes, The Ivy? Starbucks? The garret? Getting warmer...well, it was umm...on my, uhh...couch actually.

On one lazy Saturday afternoon in England I was lying on said couch discussing my exploits and first time experiences at the Cannes film festival with my wife. I had related these experiences to friends and family and the feedback I'd got back was, "Those are really funny stories, you should write a film about that".

We've all heard this before, right?

That's a great idea for a movie! You should write a script about that! The Americans love all that stuff! They'll lap it up! It's a Hollywood slam dunk! Just write the damned script!

In those long, after-dinner conversations a towering castle-made-of-sand is built up. A world of possibilities that seems so real, so immediate, so 'do-able'. In fact by the time the evening's over with the film is in the can and the deafening roar of applause from the World Premiere audience is already ringing in your ears. Forget about writing that 'dammned sript', I have more pressing matters like lunching with my agent and preparing my Golden Globe speech....and I would like to thank all my friends and family who supported me...SMASH CUT TO:


What lies beneath that tip-of-the-iceberg, off-the-cuff remark, "You should make a film about that", is a Titanic-wrecking, gargantuan chunk of ice that represents the climbing-Everest-like series of obstacles and challenges that must be overcome to get to the point where you get even a sniff of a possibility, a slight inkling that yes, maybe, maybe my film will one day be made after all.

After all. That's the loaded bit in that last sentence. After all. After all the researching, outlining, idea-generating, plotting, thinking, writing, re-writing, emailing, phoning, mailing, spending, selling, follow-up-ing, pitching, calling, rejection-taking, flying, meeting, discussing, reading, notes-taking, walking-up-and-down-the-Croisette-ing, driving-around-LA-ing, waiting (!), and waiting, and-more-waiting, did-I-forget-to-mention-waiting?...phew...and so-on-and-so-on-ing. When all that has been done, then, yes, maybe those immortal words, "You should make a film about that", will finally manifest into 35mm celluloid.

Until then...

It's back to the couch...

So, my wife suggested the same thing. That I should write a film based on my Cannes experiences. Now I had read that one of the most common ideas in scripts that Hollywood readers received were films about 'making films'. I wanted to avoid this but still wanted to mine that same territory i.e. my early and very brief experiences in the film industry. So, laying on that couch I thought of how I could build a hook around this idea. A so-called high-concept i.e.:

A unique premise easily understood in one sentence e.g. "Jaws in space" (Alien).

I sat there for a while thinking and eventually, BHAM!, it came to me. I had a hook and a pretty good idea of the target audience for the movie and how it would be produced i.e. as a UK rom-com with international appeal. Great! Pick up Final Draft and start writing, right? Whoa, cowboy. Wrong.

I had my basic concept. Now I had to look at the world of my script. Would I be able to just outline it, plot it out and then write it? In a word, no. The script partly involved a world that I knew very little about, namely the British upper class. I didn't know how these people spoke, apart from the prevaling, "I say, what-O!", stereotypes which I wanted to avoid. I needed to dive into their world, research their attitudes, their speech patterns, their 'language', their world-view, their customs, their eating habits, dressing habits, social behaviour etc. I wasn't likely to get that by watching the odd re-run of, "To The Manor Born" or sneaking a peek at the menu in the BA first class cabin. No, I had to get to the point where these characters would be able to talk freely in my head, in an authentic voice without any prompting from me - the interfering, manipulative writer. The characters should do the talking. Not me. Anyway, I have enough work to do, plotting the damned thing. David Mamet once said, "Dialogue is easy, plot is difficult". That's true, at least for me, (and my close friend, David).

Another lie. I've never met David Mamet in my life but the name dropping has to start somwhere. This is the film biz right? Back to - If It Ain't On The Page - Home Page