Life and Death in L.A.: December 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Disaster in 3D for the Holidays

Face it, the most fun to read year-end stories are the ones that dump on all of the Hollywood movies that--if you'll pardon the technical phrase--sucked the big one.
And, oh, did 2010 provide some fine examples of just that. From "Valentine's Day" to the "The Last Airbender" to the truly atrocious "Birdemic."
The L.A. Times points out that this is an off-year for holiday films--few came to the screen in 2010. So it's with great joy that I kick the lifeless carcass of one of this year's holiday films that bombed at the box office and was duly loathed by critics: "The Nutcracker in 3D."
How could such a convergence of technological wizardry and classic storytelling fail, you ask.
Easy, it was made in Hollywood, baby. The place where they bet that the $55 million "Burlesque" was going to knock audiences on their asses.
While "The Nutcracker" does offer some perverse laughs: The Rat King, played by John Turturro in an Andy Warhol wig, for instance, the overall effect is better expressed with the words "grotesque" and "painful to watch."
Best advice: Stay home and pour yourself a big, big snifter of brandy in front of the fireplace.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Which Screenplay Contests Should I Enter?

Opinions vary greatly whenever the topic of screenplay competitions comes up.
One screenplay consultant I've talked to recently says contests are useless. The top screenplays chosen in any contest are just that: They're the best of the batch that were entered into the competition. Just because you're leader of the pack does not mean that your work is Hollywood worthy.
Another spokesperson, who not coincidentally happens to be a reader for one of the major screenwriting competitions, offered this sage advice in a recent forum:
"It depends what your goals are. Certainly Nicholl and Austin are two of the top competitions. I am a reader for one, and it is a very high bar with 4,000 to 7,000 entries, so make sure your script is perfect. Some will open doors for you even if you only advance to the second round. Nicholl top 10 are what interests decision makers. That said, there are many specialty competitions that may be better if you are in a genre such as horror or sci-fi, or even women. I can say this: It doesn't make a difference if you write a script set in say New Hampshire and then enter in the New Hampshire fest. A good script is a good script (period). It is a very subjective process of selection as is anything creative. If your funds are limited, I'd suggest getting a reputable script coverage done (at a reasonable cost) and then submit to one or two after making your script shine, instead of just entering the top 10 contests.
Do your homework too--are the prizes worth the entry? Do they offer feedback? Are the judges in your wheelhouse?"

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Royal Bout of Nerviness Bagged Rush

Screenwriter David Seidler, whose latest film, “The King’s Speech,” is being eyed as an Oscar contender, said the script first came to Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush’s attention through unconventional—and perhaps unethical—means.
After Seidler failed to make contact with the Australian actor’s Melbourne office—The reception was “icy”—a Seidler associate took it upon himself to pop a synopsis of the script through Rush’s home mail slot. Seidler recounted being horrified to learn that the associate had broken protocol by approaching the actor directly. But six months later Rush was attached to the project.
Seidler made his remarks during a question and answer session following a screening of “The King’s Speech” last week at Los Angeles Film School. His film and TV writing credits include the Francis Ford Coppola directed feature, “Tucker: The Man and his Dream,” as well as animated films, “Quest For Camelot” and “The King and I.”
“The King’s Speech” tells the story of King George VI (Colin Firth), who is afflicted with a dreadful stutter. The King, known to family members as “Bertie,” gets help from unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush).
Seidler himself developed a stutter at a young age, and as a child in England was directed to listen to the king’s radio addresses as therapy. The screenwriter developed a great admiration for Bertie. Through speech therapy Seidler overcame his stammer, but his soft spot for the king remained.
He first told the “King’s Speech” story in an unproduced play that he later rewrote as a screenplay. Tom Hooper (“John Adams” TV mini-series) directed the film.
Seidler says he always takes longer to write the treatment—up to three months—than the script, although it’s a common misperception that the treatment is quick and the script takes much longer.
When it comes time to write the script the treatment can fly out the window.“The characters start talking to you,” he said. “You’d better listen, because they’re smarter than you.”

Friday, December 17, 2010

You Deserve to be on the Hit List

The Black List is dead--the Hit List is where it's at.
Well, the Black List isn't exactly dead--it's still quite well read and influential. But following in its path, the Hit List provides a rundown of spec screenplays by promising unrepped writers.
That was the Black List's mission originally. But while most of the Black List scripts are in productions or are being flogged by major agencies, Hit List scripts don't have agents pushing them nor production deals in place. It's a list of some of the year's best undiscovered scripts that perhaps gives a wider perspective on fresh talent than does the Black List. In short, if you're an unrepresented screenwriter it's a list you'd want to see your name on.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Off With Their Heads at 'The Walking Dead'

 The entire writing staff of "The Walking Dead," AMC's series based on the post-apocalyptic comic book of the same title, has been given the heave-ho.
Word has it that they'll be replaced with freelancers. That's cause for both outrage and celebration, according to writer Ken Levine.
It's obviously bad news for the canned staff scribes, however it opens the possibility that some fresh talent will get a crack at the big time. And as Levine recalls, way back in ancient times (the 1970s), writers had to prove themselves by creating a spec script of a given series to get hired onto its staff. Maybe this house cleaning thing isn't such a bad idea.

Monday, December 6, 2010

To Move or Not Move to LA-LA Land

A question many screenwriters ask themselves is whether or not they should relocate to Los Angeles. While leaving Boise may initially sound like a sensational idea, the actual act of pulling up stakes and moving west may make you jittery.
Among the possible issues to examine are your ties to family and friends, the expense of moving and whether or not you're really committed to the craft of screenwriting. 
If you've completed a couple of polished scripts, have the financial means to start anew in a strange city and possess the overriding urge to get into the business, the answer is probably yes.
Some folks at Script magazine have tackled the question. They've covered some of the pros and cons, but as a whole, all signs appear to point toward an answer in the affirmative. If you want to make industry contacts and be taken seriously, you're better off facing the long odds in L.A. vs. the nearly impossible odds anywhere else, with the possible exception of New York City. However, bear in mind that New York's film industry is but a fraction of Southern California's.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Quote Worth Thinking About ...

"I have two tricks. One is that I write every day, regardless of whether I want to or not because as I just said, in a way I never want to write. It's not even an issue. I just write four pages a day when I'm working. I have a quota. A sub-set of that system is that I am a firm believer that bad ideas lead to good ones. When I am not inspired and I don't know the solution I will just type out the most banal solution and know that at least it's on the page and it gets me to the next story beat."
--Wesley Strick
("Cape Fear," "Wolf," "True Believers," "Arachnophobia") 

Amazon Studios: It's a Jungle Out There

One entertainment lawyer says that screenwriters should think twice before signing on with Amazon's production company:

Actors Unions OK New Deal

The boards of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have approved a new three-year contract. The agreement must still be approved by a majority of the unions' members.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Jonesing for Another 'Mad Men' Cocktail

 I've been watching the first season AMC's "Mad Men" again. I say "again," although I saw only most of the first season when it was originally broadcast. Then, after the onset of this silly little recession, I shut off most of the more expensive (worth watching) cable channels. Fortunately, Netflix has "Mad Men" on disc, and I re-upped my subscription. Ever since, I've been taking in the series from the beginning.
And I'm hooked -- again.
As anyone who has been watching it knows, not only is the series' atmosphere intoxicating -- the amount of liquor poured during and after office hours aside -- but the writing is splendid.
Like the best feature screenplays, "Mad Men" not only presents great characters in the show's leads, Jon Hamm's tormented Madison Ave. advertising executive Don Draper especially, but even the fringe characters at fictitious Sterling Cooper Inc., take on more dimension than do most other TV dramas supporting players in six seasons.
Draper's initially mousy secretary, Peggy Olson, discovers her calling within the creative department shark tank of the Sterling Cooper agency.
Draper's young charge and nemesis at the firm, Pete Campbell, takes drastic steps in an effort to boost his profile at the agency.
And Draper's boss, Roger Sterling, has a revelation, perhaps too late, after his boozing and philandering drives him to the brink of mortality.
This is only part of the story, of course. I'm leaving out Draper's amazing family backstory as well as the supporting cast's personal lives.
I plan to watch all seasons available on DVD, and when I'm through, read the scripts. I recommend that you do, too.