Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Spring Break" Summer Vacation

In 2010, I have doctored no less than four feature length screenplays, written two features from scratch and written a short history of photography as part of The Daily Book Of Photography” that will be published in hardback on October 1rst.

August 2010
I woke up in the dumps on a Sunday a few weeks ago, depressed, defeated and demoralized for some reason. Not for some reason, some random reason. I decided to give up, to finally close the book on this stupid, pointless dream of being a writer or a filmmaker or, dare I even mention that I had considered doing both --- writing and making movies?

Everywhere I turn, it seems like someone I know is making a film or knows someone who is making a film and that’s what I want to do, what I have wanted to do for so long and I am not now, nor have I ever really been doing it.

Keep in mind that I was in a really bad mood, just feeling bad. I know that it is all crap. With all due respect, many of the films that have been made by some of the people I know, are quite unlikely to go anywhere -- maybe a festival screening here or there, but, more likely, straight to dvd oblivion if they go anywhere at all.

Of course, that is the dream, or at least part of it, anyway: make a film and have people see it. Sure, making a film, having millions of people pay millions of dollars to see it, would be pretty nice too but is, at this point, maybe unrealistic for me (and others) anyway. Don’t get me started on the topic of the movies that millions of people are paying millions of dollars to see.

Anyway, I’d had enough. I had spent the past few months struggling through a re-write or re-conceiving of a screenplay by someone else who feels that he has a good chance of getting it made. Why was it such a struggle? It was a half-decent screenplay to begin with and, after months and months of working on it, I am not sure that I can say that it is notably better, different or even good. I did not feel especially creative or inspired while working on it.

So, I simply don’t even know if I can write anymore, if I ever could write, if I should even bother trying. I submitted query after query, responded to ad after ad, really worked the system as best as I could but never got any bites, not even any responses. I decided to call it quits.

Okay, you know that this is just me whining, is not the complete truth. By my estimate, since 2003 or so, I have probably sent out 8000 e-mails to producers, directors, production companies -- some of who were actually soliciting writers. Of the 8000 e-mails, I have probably had 200 responses, of the 200 responses, I have gotten about 20 jobs, of the 20 jobs, fewer than 10 paid anything and, in the end, 1 feature film that I was hired to write was produced, albeit with a screenplay dramatically altered by the director and 1 original screenplay has been optioned.

Okay, so maybe I have nothing to be embarrassed about, I have beaten some considerable odds but I do feel that I have earned the right to be demoralized.

Later that Sunday night, not exactly out of the blue, I was asked to write a draft of “Spring Break Massacre 2” and, believe it or not, getting the gig really changed everything --- well, if not everything, a lot of things, primarily my attitude.

No, “Spring Break Massacre 2” is unlikely to make anyone forget “Citizen Kane” but I was really psyched to be writing it and enthusiastically threw myself into the project. I was not going to be much money from it but it was better than no money. A family film that I wrote -unwisely, for deferred pay- was supposed to shoot this summer and, had the investor not backed out in pre-production, it would have paid me almost ten times as much as “Spring Break Massacre 2.”

However, at this point, it was not about the money, it is really about the work and, oddly, I felt invigorated, like I had gotten a second chance, like I might be able to put off quitting for awhile.

So, I got a treatment from the director of “SBM2” and got down to business, felt “it” while writing and banged out half of the screenplay in a matter of days. Now, if anyone actually reads this blog, I am going to guess that this reader has not seen the original “Spring Break Massacre.” Shot in just a few days, for a few thousand dollars and then mired in a prolonged legal battle, it was finally released to DVD this year and, apparently, is doing killer business, especially overseas and nothing inspires sequels like a solid return on investment from the original.

As I was turning in my pages in ten page blocks, I was getting regular updates from the director as he was meeting with producers and investors. Time was getting tight and, fast as I was writing, they needed a script a.s.a.p. but, it seems, more than my script, he really wanted creative input and feedback, to be sure he was doing the right thing. Midway through writing my screenplay, I heard that they had made changes to the original treatment and commissioned another draft of the screenplay by another writer but, the director told me, I was to keep writing my version.

The second treatment was written, approved and then a third treatment was written, this time by the producers and investors who had decided to shoot for a comedy with slasher film elements rather than the slasher film with comedic elements that I was initially asked to write. A new screenplay was written, sent to me for my opinion and I really liked it.

There are now one and a half lines of my dialogue and a scene that was adapted from one of mine by in the new version and I am cool with it all. This is the way the business works and, in the end, I predict that “Spring Break Massacre 2” will do even better than the first one. My credit went from “co-writer” to “additional dialogue by” to, finally, in part at my suggestion, “special thanks to...” Shooting starts November 15th.

So, it was back to the dumps for me. No fat credit on a likely dvd “hit”, no paycheck, no new prospects on the horizon -- though the SBM/SBM2 director has “Bait & Tackle”, a screenplay that he asked me to write last year.

September 2010
I am currently writing a short film for another director. The guy who gave me my first screenwriting jobs back in 1996 just asked me if I am interested in collaborating on a feature idea that he has. I am open to anything, expecting nothing but hoping for something.

At one point last week, I found myself chatting with three people at the same time on facebook. One guy was a twenty-something 2010 film school grad who is finding life in the “real world” to be a bit of a wake-up call. Another guy was a thirty-something guy with one feature under his belt and a new short film that he was expressing anxiety about. The third guy was a forty-something successful commercial director who is eager to do more, to make features and has a lot to offer but is frustrated by his experiences with “the industry.”

So, there I was, licking my wounds, just about at rock bottom with nothing to lose, not much to look forward to and what did I find myself doing? I listened to people, I was there for them, present, supportive and encouraging when they needed someone to talk to and, while I am not going to support my family or realize my dreams by doing this kind of thing, I felt good.