Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chronicles 65 - Zen and the Art of Writing

It's been a while since I blogged. I've been totally wrapped up in courseware development and training delivery on a software product I specialize on. The day job took me to New Jersey/New York for a week which was great. The weather was perfect, very warm, but not humid or stifling.

I love walking the streets of New York and taking in the architecture. I was never big on photography until this year when I bought a digital camera in New Orleans. After capturing images of the French Quarter I was hooked and found myself roaming the streets of the Big Apple snapping away at the skyscrapers.

As well as working, chilling and meeting with friends I also met with my New York producer. The meeting was kinda downbeat. Indie film is on its knees right now. To quote Peter Bart in his blog, "I must have been preoccupied because I missed the ‘thud.’ The sound, that is, of the specialty film business landing in the basement."

Mark Gill, former VP of Warner Independent, talked recently about "the sky falling" in the independent film sector. That, coupled with the fact that I have a first time director and a script that is dark, very British, very London that not everyone 'gets' (especially US financiers and agents) has led to a change of strategy.

So, this week I've been querying UK production companies to find a partner for the US producer. I sent the short film to a few production companies after Cannes and we got a good response but the feature script wasn't ready then, now it is, so I have a bit of a 'package'. A director, a short, a script and a US producer who has just shot a film with A list talent.

The encouraging news is that I've got excellent feedback on the script from peers in the US and UK. It seems that people who 'get it' REALLY 'get it'. We just need to find that guy/gal who believes in the project and will champion it through the stormy waters of buyer's markets, credit crunches and the ever increasing market trend to follow the 'names'. No 'name' equals no finance and no distribution.

I'm getting a rough budget estimate done right now but essentially we are leaning towards a low budget. I spoke to another seasoned New York producer in Cannes who was interested in hiring me as a writer on a book adaptation. He looks for edgier scripts that have challenging roles for actors. That way, he gets them cheaper based on the principle that a) for younger up-and-coming actors it is a vehicle to showcase their acting skills and b) for older actors it can revitalize their career. He told me that he was paying some of the older actresses (and these are great names albeit no longer on producer's A lists) as little as 1200 dollars a week.

The whole trick is to make the film as cheap as possible because if the recoupment is only going to be 5 million, if you make it for 3 mill that's 2 mill profit. Not to be sneezed at.

The global financial crisis of course affects the film business especially as a lot of indie gap money comes from banks. About a month and half ago I got a call from the financier on my rom-com that two of his major investors were having liquidity problems and things were not looking good. A week later he found some new investors and he was back on course, and, fortuitously another fund opened up as well. So I went from one single funding possibility to none and then to two in the space of a week or so. The end result of all this is that, IF these funds actually deliver the goods then I'm looking at being financed, on the rom-com, by the end of the year. I'm not holding my breath, although I am still seeing the glass half-full. A case of quite, reticent optimism as opposed to wild and rampant, adrenaline-fuelled excitement. Been there, done that - it kinda gets tiring.

In the meantime I'm behind on my assignments. I should have delivered a final draft by now and all I've done is delivered the first draft of the treatment! I've taken a couple of weeks off work to catch up so after posting this blog I need to drag my butt over to Starbucks and hit those keys. Yes, on assignments, payment is a good motivator but so is the fear of losing the gig! Still, the producer understands my situation and knows that things can get crazy with my job. The other two assignments are either with, or on their way, to directors. Another black hole, along with the animation companies who were so keen on our ideas in Cannes and seem to have gone into semi-permanent radio silence.

A few weeks ago I started putting a post together on the right mind set required in order to deal with the vicissitudes of what is essentially, as far as I am concerned, the independent film market, (I don't really have anything to do with the studios or studio based production companies right now). I didn't get to finish the post so now that I've got some down time I can finally put digital pen to paper.

I was putting together a goal plan for my 'writing career' and after suffering a few set backs which have, in the meantime, reversed themselves, I came to the realization that if you don't get into the right mind set it is possible to fall into a trap of being constantly frustrated in this business.

The film business is not big on instant gratification. Projects can take years to manifest and at any point on that journey you can literally be a hair's breadth away from a greenlight and in the next moment the whole thing can turn into a distant dream again. The harsh reality is that most of our scripts, if not all of our scripts may NEVER get made and you can easily spend your life chasing a mirage, an elusive parallel universe of wealth, kudos and critical acclaim. If that becomes the be all and end all then the NOW will always be incomplete, filled with pockets of dissatisfaction, disappointment and frustration. Not really the best way to live a life.

Just around the time I was musing on these thoughts I had been forcing myself to push ahead with the script assignment and I got down to writing the treatment - a family comedy. After some time, I got into the groove and the characters started to come alive, I found myself enjoying the process and chuckling to myself as the humour started to manifest. That's when I realized, this IS the goal. The goal is to enjoy the process, even though it may be difficult and requires great discipline at times, because the rest, the transformation into celluloid and any accompanying success is icing on the cake that may NEVER happen.

The purpose and enjoyment is in the actual CREATION of the screenplay, and even though a screenplay is designed to be made into an actual film, you can still enjoy the film created in your own head. That way, at the end of your life when you are asked about the scripts that you spent so many hours creating which never got made you can say that you experienced the magic and mystery of creating something out of thin air, words on a page that you forged into a dramatic, captivating form to create a story, a journey, a tale told in someone else's shoes.

Even if the film never gets made, there are still people out there who have read our scripts and have been moved, captivated, have laughed, been entertained by our writing, maybe not in celluloid form, but in their imaginations.

The dirty little secret here of course is that, if you pull off the creation bit well, very well, then your chances of taking that quantum leap from imagination to silver screen are greatly enhanced, albeit, sadly, never guaranteed.

Ciao for now