Sunday, August 13, 2006

Chronicles 31 - Do I smell a deal?


Okay, as promised, after a week-ette away I'm back again on the Underwood (read: Compaq nw8000) ready to pump out my next installment - Chronicles 31. Unfortunately our vacation inadvertently shrank from 7 to 5 days after receiving a call that our dog was very sick and about to 'shed its mortal coil' - after much panic, prayers and hefty veterinary fees she is thankfully well on the road to recovery. Phew.

So, back down to business. It's 78 days since I trotted off, wheeled suitcase in hand and bid my farewells to Cannes 2006. Of course, true to form, since then I have received the obligatory barrage of passes and semi-passes (come back to us when you have A-list cast attached. Yeah, right, thanks ;-)). However, there have been some unexpected and positive developments on various fronts which may justify my trip to Cannes as something more than an excuse to pose around in the sun being all 'Griffin Mill' - "This is a wine glass. Can I have my water in a water glass, please?"

After developing a number of animation projects at synopsis/treatment-plus-visuals level and despite great feedback from major Hollywood studios but no significant (or even insignificant) bites a UK production company has offered to option one of our projects. The project as presented in Cannes was nothing more than a high-concept, paragraph-long pitch with a few rough visuals created by my animation artist partner (who is also the co-creator of the project). The pitch itself covers the events leading to turning point 1 (at the end of Act 1) with a very vague overview of Act 2 and Act 3.

My strategy with animation projects has always been to avoid writing a full spec script and instead present the project as a pitch-with-visuals. If the company is interested then I can always write a treatment, (a nominal option fee would not be met with heated protestations at this stage ;-)) and if we get to the script phase one hopes that there will be some 'clinking of change' in the development dosh area. If they need a writing sample then I can always give them a live-action script which is precisely what I did with this particular company. Happily, they were impressed with the writing in my rom-com and I offered to write up a treatment on spec.

Apro pro live-action scripts; when I met with the head of development at Disney studios in Burbank he said that they prefer to read live-action projects as writing samples for animation. The problem with writing an animation spec script is that you have far fewer outlets/possibilities to set up the project than you do with live-action projects. How many animation films are produced each year, even by the big studios?

After writing Act 1 of the treatment I sent it off to the producer just to give them a feel of the comedic writing style and to my surprise they wrote back saying they were blown away by it and wanted to 'get something in writing'. Their lawyers are drawing up the option agreement and a background artist has been commissioned to draw up visuals. In the meantime I finished off the full treatment which was met with some concerns/notes regarding Act 2. Fair enough, my view on this was just to get it written so I could get a feel of what their expectations were on a story level. At least with the a full treatment we now have a bit more 'meat on the bones' to refer to in our meetings.

In addition to this positive development I received a call yesterday from another UK producer I pitched at Cannes. I had sent him my rom-com script post-Cannes and received the feedback per email that I had been put on the list of their preferred writers. Mmmhh...having felt for some time that I was on a permanent list of unpreferred writers I took this as a sign of encouragement. The producer told me that my script had been assessed by a number of people and they felt that I would be the right person to write a biographical drama that they were developing. Today I received the source material as .pdf files and I will take a look at the material and let them know my thoughts in lieu of a possible meet in the UK next week.

Things are also moving ahead on the short film front. The director arranged a reading of the script and I 'met' via Skype one of the actors for the first time, an excellent character actor who has recently been in Lady Of the Water and Ocean's 12. I couldn't fly over for the reading so thanks to the wonders of modern technology I listened in to the reading on Skype and was able to chat with the cast. The reading went very well and things seem to be moving ahead on the project - the director is working with a storyboard artist, the producers are looking at locations/additional funding and, fingers crossed, depending on actor's availabilities we are looking to shoot in October.

Apart from that, the procrastination continues. I had planned to continue writing my character biographies for my comedy-heist movie during my holidays but apart from some journal entries not a word was scribed or even scrawled for that matter. The scrivener in residence was otherwise engaged - sleeping, swimming or satiated (by Adriatic culinary samplings - fresh, grilled fish...mmmhhh).

On the production front I am focusing on pursuing US casting directors to somehow work my way through the agency maze in order to enter into the inner sanctum and gain access to 'names'. Names that will pre-sell a movie and thus activate the finance. This is tricky, since without a big pile of cash to offer casting directors upfront the only card in hand is the script. One hopes to find a champion who will 'get' the script and champion it with the agencies for, and here's the rub, a deferred fee. It happens, casting directors will take a pet project under their wing and 'co-produce', it's a case of having faith in the numbers game because it's a given that you'll be hearing a lot of no's before hitting a yes. Hey, same old, same old, right?

A cursory glance at my 'project plan' shows that I have about 6 projects in various stages of development. That all sounds very organized, pro-active and dare I say, anal, but generally no project is particularly favoured or spared on the procrastination front. Each project is lovingly aportioned an equal healthy dose of work avoidance. I wonder if this gets any better once you start getting paid to write, methinks it doesn't, maybe it even gets worse!

Actually I'm beginning to see a pattern here. Whenever I get the call to write, either externally or internally, I always think it's going to take a LOT longer than it does and projects that I think will take days are sometimes done in a few hours. I somehow need to extend those hours of fully focused activity into days, weeks and months, if I can do this I will probably end up being as prolific as Goethe and Mozart. Well, maybe not ...

Ciow for now :-)

See Chronicles 30 - The Early Years Part 2

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