Friday, March 28, 2008

Chronicles 61 - N'awrleans

Well, that's how they pronouce New Orleans in N'awrleans. I was there for a week with the day job and I realized that I couldn't explore such a visually interesting place as this without capturing some images so I bought myself my very first digital camera. Somehow I'd been meaning to do this for a long time but never got round to it and could never be bothered finding out how my phone takes pics.

After buying the camera, an Olympus FE-280, I quickly got addicted to snapping away and I could see that being 'camera aware' changes your view on the world. You find yourself seeking out visual images to capture and it certainly expands the field of observation. As a screenwriter anything that enhances the visual faculties must be a good thing, right?

The photo above is a typical French Quarter image i.e. the verandas and hanging pot plants. I suspect 'The Quarter' is culturally protected because I didn't see one Burger King, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Borders etc in the Quarter itself. A rare thing in modern day America.

I saw a number of jazz bands at places such as Maison Bourbon, Snug Harbour and Fritzel's but the best was a band that played on Royal Street on Sunday afternoon led by an African-American lady, Doreen, who was just AMAZING on the clarinet. Whenever she launched into a solo one just felt the heart leaping with joy as the musical strains rippled into the ether.

Some of the songs were jazz spirituals and somehow, sitting there on the pavement, I had a strong sense of the redemptive power of music, that through the suffering and humiliation of slavery (and racism), the African-American people were blessed with a gift in order to liberate themselves (at least momentarily) from the pangs of bondage, prejudice and hard labour. That gift was blues, jazz, gospel and soul. How ironic that this music, which actually brings joy and elevates the soul, is born out of a system that is inherently evil and anti-human. Somehow this summed up New Orleans for me, a place of opposites, darkness and light, the conservative and the Bohemian, intergration and segregation, wealth and poverty, corruption and purity.

New Orleans has also been home to great writers like Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, the latter being one of my favourite playwrights.

Tennessee Williams wrote Streetcar Named Desire in 632 St. Peter between 1946 and 1947. The street is in the French Quarter and very close to Pirate's Alley (formely Orleans Alley) where Faulkner wrote his first novel. In the picture above, Tennessee lived in the second house from the right in the top flat.

A Streetcar Named Desire is set in Elysian Fields Avenue which is just off the Quarter. The actual Streetcar itself is out of commission, has been since the 40's, but it is still in the depot.

I spent some time in a coffee shop on Royal Street reading the play again and I was actually struck by its humour, even though it is a tragedy, and often found myself laughing out loud. Blanche's descriptions of Stanley as an ape, an animal and a survivor of the stone age are very funny. The play ebbs between the humourous, the dramatic, the tragic and there are moments where in the context of the drama that it becomes poetic, evoking timeless imagery. I love this passage from Blanche, one of the great tragic figures in American literature, where she is visited by a young paper boy:

"I'm not a conventional person, I'm so-restless today...Don't you love these long, rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour but a little piece of eternity dropped in our hands?-And who knows what to do with it"

The passage itself hold its own poetic grace but in the context of the drama it becomes layered with additional pathos and sub-text. For Blanche, who is gripped by neurosis, delusion and who is pathetically clinging to the last remnants of her youth it seems that these moments, these little pieces of eternity, are her only liberation from her crumbling life.

So, like the African slaves who found solace in God and music, Blanche finds it in poetry, culture and imagination.

Ciao for now
SWU - swunderwoods[at]yahoo[dot]co[uk]

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Chronicles 60 - In the Belly of the Beast

I have about four projects flowing through the pipeline right now. By pipeline I mean that extensible tube that flows through time and is of indeterminate length. Going out with a script as an independent project can be like tossing a stone in the water and watching it disappear without the faintest ripple appearing in the pond. You really have no idea how long it will take for the Courier to transform into Celluloid. What you can guarantee is that it ain't gonna be quick. Still, as an aspiring screenwriter/producer you can't resist donning those rose-tinted glasses and quoffing from the glass that is 'half full'. We fall for it everytime. We think to ourselves, "Maybe this is the one, maybe this is the fast track project". It rarely is.

I've just finished two assignment projects, one based on a true story and the other on a historical figure. The first one has been 'out' to directors for about 8 months now. Out to directors? Out to lunch more like! I got an email one morning that an A-list director was interested and that I needed to go to the post office to mail a Big 3 Agency release form. Wow, exclaims the excited brain. A US Big 3 Agency! And of the three, this one was the most powerful agency on the planet. A-list director who has helmed HUGE movies! One word - Tumbleweeds. That was friggin' months ago - not a whisper. HOWEVER, I bet if I got the same call today I would still rush to the post office in the hope that this could be 'the one'. Directors are hard to nail down, especially if there is no money offer. If they are successful and filming then they're not reading so you wait and months/years go by. Reality check, look at 3-10 years before your project hits the big screen, if at all. That is why you need multiple projects out there.

Now, onto the second assignment. As I mentioned before, the producer was pushing me to finish the second draft before the WGA strike ended, not because it was a WGA project, it wasn't, but so that we could beat the flood of scripts going out to directors, talent etc after the strike.

Now the years have left me a little jaded and cynical and fully aware of the 'hurry up and wait' syndrome. I decided I wasn't going to kill myself just to sit around for another 9 months with no idea if the director will EVER respond. No thanks. I finished the script last week and it went out, again to a Big 3 Agency and to a very well known UK director. So I could be walking around right now, all buzzed up that I have 2 projects in at a Big 3 Agency. Yeah right, one of my earlier posts comes to mind. 'Don't wait, CREATE!' That's the way forward as a writer. Don't sit there watching the projects flowing through the infinitely extensible pipeline. Move on. Of course, it's hard to completly be unaware that you have projects 'out there', although 'out there' can sometimes literally mean 'out there - in no man's land'. Waiting for Godot.

Onto the 3rd project, the rom-com that has been chronicled in some detail in this blog. This is slowly approaching a contractual phase although I am loathe to blog about it until I put pen to paper. Even then, when we tie down a major portion of the finance we have to 'go out to' talent and attach a 'name' to the project. The rest will then be financed with tax credit, gap finance (bank) and pre-sales.

I've co-partnered with a credited, experienced LA producer on the project and if things go well we'll have a movie on our hands, but, who knows, right? Hope springs eternal, blah di blah. So that means, we could very well be going out with a 3rd project to a Big 3 Agency et al in the coming weeks. This would be a little more than a request for read but would be an offer, although pay or play is unlikely. Still, touch wood we will be able to show actual contracts for the finance to the agents instead of letters of intent so hopefully we will be taken a bit more seriously.

And then there's the fourth project. The black comedy-drama. Now the US producer on this is actually represented by a Big 3 Agency and has just put a project together with a stellar cast for an indie film so the hopes are high here. She's reached a point where she can get read by major talent without having to go through all the 'make an offer' thing and it looks like the agency really works for her in putting projects together. She's reading the script this weekend and reckons that if she has any notes they will be minor and we'll be ready to go out to talent soon.

Now, since she's proven very recently that she can get A-list names to work for SAG minimum I have a good feeling on this one, but, you never know. What is it they say about war? The battle-plan goes out of the window as soon as the first shot is fired. She, the director and I feel that we have a good chance of attaching top talent on this one but there's no guarantee, certainly no guarantee we'll get the names we want.

Interesting though, I could very well find myself shortly with 4 different project floating through the belly of the beasts i.e. the top three US agencies. Let's hope the beasts don't digest them all to pieces but manage to excrete some glittering gems. In any case, one doesn't have any control on this stuff. Film is a collaborative medium and that includes not only the shooting but also the initial production work. All the pieces have to slot into place at the right time. THEREFORE, one can only move on and keep writing, because, after all, it's a numbers game. That's why producers have 'slates' of projects, they don't put all their eggs in one basket and writers have to do the same.

I'm now about to sign a contract for my 3rd assignment and I'm due to write another after that. This is good news on one level but on another level I'm getting a bit nervous about chanelling so much of my time in projects with one producer, who, on the surface of things, seems to have the contacts and who seems to be attracting some good directors to his projects, but on the other hand, has no track record. He's putting a big slate together and the question then is, will my projects be one of the ones that go from Courier to Celluloid? Because, you can bet your bottom dollar not all of them are going to go into production. Still, on the other hand, I'd be a bit crazy to turn down assignments at this stage in my 'career' (emphasis on the quotation marks). The downside of course is that the spec projects I have bubbling under the surface are not boiling over and seeing the light of day. Still, maybe it's a good problem to have, I don't know.

NEWSFLASH: I just got an email from the producer regarding the director he wanted me to rush a new draft to. His read of my script is, predictably, on hold since he has to finish a script for Warner Brothers that was postponed because of the strike. Producer's now going out to other names. See? Told ya!

Ciao for now
SWU - swunderwoods[at]yahoo[dot]co[uk]