Sunday, February 20, 2011

The screenwriter learns that there is no "I" in "team."

I have always said that filmmaking is a team sport; it takes a variety of people doing different things together to make it happen but, honestly, I didn't think the teamwork element applied to the screenplay.

I thought that I write the screenplay and the team makes it but I am now coming to realize that there has to be a degree of teamwork in the writing stage. I have to be open to input, questions, suggestions and different perspectives because, at this point, I am usually not the person who is making the film.

The person who is making the film either asked me to write a screenplay based on his/her ideas or saw something in one of my original screenplays that he/she wanted to produce. It becomes my job to serve the producer or director’s vision even if I was the one who came up with the idea in the first place. Ultimately, at some stage in the process, I have to sign off on the screenplay, walk away from it, let the production team do whatever they want to it --- while I cower in the shadows and hope for the best.

The L.A. producer who optioned “Aftermath” two years ago wanted me to make a number of changes to it in the six months that we worked together. The development and re-writing process in 2009 was the hardest work as a writer that I have ever been asked to do. Honestly, I have often been able to coast by on the relative strength of generally decent work but relative strength and general decency was not going to cut it in L.A. and I was really stretched and challenged. The result was a screenplay that is much deeper and richer, more solid than I could have done on my own.

While it is not official yet and I am supposed to be somewhat hush-hush about it at this point, it appears very likely that "Aftermath" will be shooting in Philly over the summer --- with a new title and, at the director's recommendation (and my willingness), a radically re-worked screenplay.

Truth be told, I just read the January 2008 and the July 2009 drafts and I have to admit, the screenplay needs some work.

Along the same lines, another production company is producing “April, Mae & Joon,” a short screenplay that I wrote. My original script was 5 pages long and largely silent. While the director sought my input on it and we volleyed several rewrites back and forth, she quickly developed her own vision of it. The screenplay has now become a 20 page, very talky piece with her stamp all over it that somehow retains my original ideas and themes.

Go team!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Why I became an "actor" when I coudn't make it as a waiter

I couldn't get a job as a waiter so I became an actor!

Seriously, in December, when I found out that I wasn't getting any teaching work this semester, I went crazy, scrambling for any job that I could reasonably apply for. In one week, maybe even the same day, I applied for a job at a restaurant around the corner from me (owned and operated by U2's former personal chef but that's another story) and I responded to an ad placed by Philly/NYC theater company.

I never heard back from the restaurant but the theater company responded quickly. We had a series of e-mails, a couple of phone calls and, a few weeks ago, a face-to-face.

They are very much about blurring the lines between theater and real life in very high tech ways -- last year hiring actors to "play" people in facebook-oriented production online, in a theater and, to some degree on facebook and recently staging a similar production in NYC.

Their newest "production" is going to be the new website for the company where subscribers, fans and the culturally aware and excited 18-30 crowd will form a community, a back and forth with the members of the company --- who are all going to be fictional characters "created" and "played" by "actors" who will blog about the progress of work on various production but also art and cool culture in general --- and interact online with their fans, supporters, benefactors etc.

So, I have been “cast” and I am now "playing" a character online, on their blog, on facebook and, who knows where else? I have created a persona and I continue to cultivate the character, interacting with the other characters, posting links to sites, articles etc. of interest or concern to who we are and what we are doing. So, is this “Second Life: The Musical” or “Catfish: The Play”? I don’t know, I am just going with it and, why not, “All the world is just a stage” and so on. We all have our online persona anyway, I might as well have another one. By the time I post this blog, the gig could be over or it could just be heating up. And, yes, I am getting paid.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Ups & Downs of David Greenberg: Confessions of a Minimum Wage Screenwriter Pt. 1

In early December, 2010, I walked into the Kimmel Center with a video camera. I got into a glass elevator, turned the camera on, pointed out the window and shot myself going up and going down. I came home, put the footage into my computer, edited it, added tons of effects, music etc. and posted the resulting minute long short film “The Ups & Downs of David Greenberg” on Vimeo, YouTube and Facebook pages.

At the time, I had no idea of how accurately “ups and downs” would wind up becoming so accurate. I just thought I was being witty because I was riding in an elevator.

It was right around this time that I found out that I was likely to be unemployed, without a teaching job this semester. My one class at University of the Arts was canceled due to low enrollment and I was not offered any classes at Drexel University.

Unemployment = DOWN.

I scrambled for work.

I responded to a post from a producer who was looking for someone to write a documentary about Bonnie and Clyde. I had two phone interviews, wrote a sample treatment, outlining the approach to the script that I would take.

I beat out 150 other writers and got the job = UP.

Next came a whirlwind of research/writing and I delivered the first draft of the the script, on time, three weeks later. I turned in a third draft earlier this week.

It paid what I would make in about 6 weeks of teaching.

However, six weeks of work was not going to cut it = DOWN

In one week, maybe even the same day, I applied for a job at a restaurant around the corner from me (owned and operated by U2's former personal chef but that's another story) and I responded to an ad placed by Philly/NYC theater company.

I had not worked in a restaurant since my early 20’s --- and, even, then, it was at my father’s place whenever he was short-handed.

As mentioned in my last blog post, I had given up on acting long ago. I think I last auditioned for something in 1985.

I never heard from the restaurant but the theater company contacted me quickly. We spoke on the phone, had a face to face and, as of this week, it looks like I will be earning a little bit of money as an actor -- sort of. Much more on on that, later.

I like to think that, when I couldn’t make it as waiter, I took a job as an actor to get me through.

Getting a chance to “perform,” to be involved with my first love: theater = UP

I banged out a good, ultra-low budget screenplay for a director friend, he liked it, didn’t love it, but planned to make anyway.

Ultimately he decided that, even with 6 characters, a handful of locations and no major special effects or set pieces, it was too big for him to mount at this time.

He still wants to make it, but he wants me to write something even smaller = UP/DOWN

A short film that I wrote, “The Audition”, played at a film festival in California = UP

But the big news was that, after two years in development at an L.A. production company, the option on my screenplay “Aftermath” expired in December.

I have retained the rights to it = UP/DOWN

The Philly production company that optioned it in 2006 has expressed an interest in it and I feel morally obligated to give them a shot if they want it because I broke my agreement with them in order to send it to L.A.

An L.A./Philly based producer who has long been familiar with it seems awfully interested in acquiring the project.

One or maybe even both of these companies could produce “Aftermath” this year = UP

Both could decide to pass on it = DOWN

The “Aftermath” story has been and continues to be an epic saga, something likely to dominate my blog posts for the indefinite future.

I am working all the time and I am still looking for a job.

These are the Confessions of a Minimum Wage Screenwriter.

To be continued...