Saturday, September 23, 2006

Chronicles 34 - The First Time I May Get Paid For It

Well, isn't life interesting? Last week, in my "Is It Worth It?" chronicle I talked about possibly being offered an advanced fee against a deferred fee to re-write a biographical drama. As an indie-producer I know only too well how long and arduous it can be to set up an independent film so when the producer said that "this film will definitely get made" I grunted the right noises but inside I was going, "Mmmh, I'll believe it when I'm eating the popcorn".

Still, the project does have some viable commercial potential based on the nature of the true story which will spin off a book publication and documentary so, all things considered, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth. The producer is setting up a number of other projects as part of a slate and he has expressed his interest in using me for other projects a.k.a. dangling the golden carrot. ;-)

Anyway, I had a figure in my head for the advanced fee, a minimum figure below which I would just say, "Thanks, but no thanks". Funnily enough he offered me exactly this figure. I didn't commit there and there then but will wait for the written offer and counter-offer with a higher figure.

One reason for coming back with a higher figure is that I will need either an agent or lawyer to negotiate the contract so with their fees deducted from the advanced fee I would end up getting less than my "getting out of bed" figure - not good. So, in the last week or so I've contacted my lawyer to see how much a negotiation would cost and I've approached a few UK agents to see whether I can get one on board to do the deal and ideally take me on for the longer term.

I must say, I'm pretty friggin' amazed how slow agents are to respond even if you have a number of deals pending. I guess the commission potential on the advanced fee and future option isn't enough to 'stop the presses!' and 'hold the phones!'.

One of them has had the script for 3 weeks now, the others for ca. 2 weeks. One agent, who I remembered had offered to help me negotiate contracts didn't get back to me when I phoned yesterday. One major UK agency responded by saying they were reading the material right now. Actually, this same agency has passed on an earlier draft of the script via another agent so that will be interesting. Another agent wrote to me saying it would take her a month to read the script and would understand if I "approached other agents". Oh, well, if the agent thing doesn't work out I will just have to shell out the extra bucks for the lawyer.

On the casting director front my director (and I) had a typical Hollywood experience. The big Hollywood casting director who loved my script, would 'love' to work with us on the project, would love to meet my director blah blah blah ended up screwing my director around and essentially fobbing her off. They had been trying to see each other all week and it seems that the casting director hadn't been very accommodating and they finally agreed on a meeting on the day that my director was due to fly back. In fact, the director lost another meeting because she had to re-schedule to make this meeting with the casting director.

A time was fixed and then at the last minute the casting director cancelled deciding she wanted to be with her kids knowing that my director was due to fly back to the other side of the world on that day! The thing is, I didn't see any of this, the casting director and the assistant were kind of saying that they had "really tried hard" but because of the schedules it just didn't happen. It all seemed a bit strange until I phoned the director who told me that the casting director's assistant had confided in her and that the assistant was really angry with the casting director for her behaviour. The director basically said that we can forget about this person committing to the project if she can't even commit to a meeting. A typical Hollywood BS experience. All gush, gush, gush followed by a big fat nothing. Been there, done that. See Chronicles 14.

Of course, the allure of having a mover and shaker gunning for you in LA-LA land is a powerful Siren-like force. It's very easy to get sucked in and wake up crashed and stranded against the rocks of illusion.

So, a change of strategy, if I see some real dollars for the commission job I will re-channel that money into hiring a casting director to cast a pre-sellable lead for the romantic comedy. Getting a top casting director to work for a deferred fee is a tough call. Can I blame them? Do writers like working for a deferred fee?

I emailed a casting director with a good record in casting features/TV and he asked to read the script. He'd actually said previously that he couldn't work on a deferred fee because he was already working on a couple of projects on that basis. I asked him whether he would consider a partial deferral and he was interested.

Another 'let's see'. There are a few pluses here, we've already met, he respects the director, the director has met and likes him so it is down to dollars, his response to the script and if he feels that he is connected enough to attach a pre-sellable name to the project.

In the meantime I've spent the last week uploading content, such as the production diary blog, to the Web page for the short film. The shoot is only 3 weeks away so the Web page serves as a way to generate some 'viral' interest.

Now that's out of the way and before I get down and dirty with the biographical drama project it's time to start work, (tomorrow! ASAP!), on the second draft of the animation treatment along with the character profiles. We've laid down the structure so hopefully I can have some fun with the execution. Fingers crossed, if the prod. co. likes it we will move on to the next step with an option and investment in character and background art. Time to get the nose to the grindstone.

Ciao for now.

See Chronicles 33

Friday, September 15, 2006

Chronicles 33 - Is it worth it?

Last week I met up with a producer who had given me a biographical drama script to read along with some other source material. He also sent me a previous draft of the script by the same writer. After reading the material I came to the conclusion that neither of the 2 drafts worked and I explained why along with my 'take' on the project. We met in London and he told me that he totally agreed with my view i.e. that this project needs a page one rewrite.

The conclusion of the meeting was that he wants me to write the script and asked me what I had in mind fee-wise or should we say partial fee-wise, (most of it would be deferred). Having chatted to a couple of writer friends about this and having investigated the recommended Writer's Guild UK minimum fees I had a pretty good idea of what would get me out of bed. It may very well be much more than he imagined but at the end of the day I have to weigh up:

1) Will the film get made? Mmmh ... Jury's out on this one since the company has no previous credits and we are talking partially period drama here - not an easy sell and not cheap to make.

2) Most indie-movies never get made or takes AGES to set up so will an unproduced script, (that I wouldn't own) not based on my own ideas get me any further as a screenwriter?

3) Since the project is based on a true story and most of it is period then it will involve research on my part which is time consuming.

So the question boils down to - am I passionate enough about this project to do it for nothing? Quite frankly, no, I'm not. Would I do it for the right price? Sure. I do like the project and would enjoy delving into a new genre but I know the amount of work will not be insubstantial so it's a crapshoot. It could be a golden opportunity or dead-end alley and if it is the latter at least I can say 'it was the first time I got paid for it'. I'll talk with the producer in the next few days so that chapter will either come to an end or I'll end up pretty busy over the next few months.

In the meantime I had two sessions with my co-creator on the animation project. In the space of 2 days we've come up with the main character profiles and the overall structure of the feature. All I need to do now is knock out the treatment and if the prod. co. likes it we'll move forward with an option and they will start commissioning artwork. The good news here is that my co-creator impressed them with his published fantasy art book so now they would also like him to create the animation visuals. Once the artwork and possibly short character animations are in place then it will become part of a pitch package to attract investors.

The short film is gearing up to shoot on October 14th and the producers are doing a great job of securing the locations - one of them being this massive housing estate in London. Looks like we've got the permission to shoot there which is great since it is perfect for the film. The next thing to work on is the web page to see if we can get a 'Snakes On A Plane' viral marketing thing going on.

Some downer news just so that you don't get the impression that my writing-producing life is just a bed of roses. ;-) Unfortunately my director never managed to meet with the big casting director last week in LA. Both their schedules were so tight that the meetings kept on getting cancelled and it just didn't work out at the end of the day. So, the consolation prize is a round of phone meetings next week. Good news is that the casting director seems to still be very interested in going further with the project and wrote me an email saying how sorry she was that the meet didn't work out. The other casting directors either passed on the project or made it clear from the beginning that they wouldn't work on a deferred fee basis. It may be the same with this casting director. I guess I will know soon enough.

I was also hoping to get a friend of mine on board to do the art direction on the short film. She would have been perfect for the project and she really wanted to be involved but she couldn't because of family commitments. C'est La Vie.

This week I'm meeting with my actor friends to discuss the next step in the play we're developing. The main aim now is to get the theatre booked so we have a date to aim for late next year which means that I need to knock out a synopsis.

At the moment I have 6 projects in various stages of development and some of them have or may have deadlines attached to them so I hope that will be enough to get me 'on my butt' and start writing. Sometimes I feel like a passive protagonist. It's as if I need external deadlines and inciting incidents to motivate me to write. Of course, without the day job, I would also have fear of hunger and eviction as an additional motivator but I haven't reached those dizzy heights yet. ;-)

Hopefully next week I will be reporting on my blistering progress at the keyboard ... :-)

Ciao for now
See Chronicles 32