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Archive for September, 2016

 

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Today we pick up part six of the interview with Greg DePaul, screenwriter, teacher, and author of Bring the Funny:

Scott W. Smith: Richard Pryor once said all comedy is rooted in pain. In your book you talk about mean comedy, can you unpack that?

Screenwriter Greg DePaul (Saving Silverman): Certainly comedy has cruelty. You’re always going to have people doing mean things to each other because that makes us laugh. If you’ve ever watched Larry, Moe, and Curly [The Three Stooges] you know how much mean stuff can make people laugh. I mean Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd, and Daffy Duck shooting their faces off with shotguns is pretty visceral isn’t it? That’s just an element of comedy there’s no doubt about it. What I try to do in Bring the Funny is give you the tools you’re going to use to speed up the journey, to learn things quicker, and just write better. As a teacher, I also focus a lot on the whole world of the dramatic writer, because I think the best writers—especially those in TV—have a dramatic approach. Most films schools don’t teach dramatic writing, they only teach screenwriting. I think that’s a mistake.

Scott: By dramatic writing, you mean Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekov?

Greg: Dramatic writing is playwriting, feature screenwriting, TV writing, and sketch comedy writing. Those are all dramatic writing. Where you use characters in a dramatic presentation. That’s a separate world from prose. Certainly, a screenwriter and a playwright have more in common with each other than either has with a prose writer. For my students, I talk about how screenwriters are a little bit like novelists, and the TV writers are a little bit more like playwrights. And if you look at the writing staffs of TV shows, especially sitcoms, you’re going to find a lot of playwrights.

If you look at NYU – how the Tisch School works — which I think is the absolute best school for dramatic writers. So you learn about the Greeks, and Ibsen, and all those people, and then branch out and take a screenwriting class, you take more playwriting classes, you take a TV class, but the foundation is dramatic writing; characters, drama, conflicts.

Scott: Certainly part of Aaron Sorkin’s success is being rooted in dramatic writing, and he’s someone who has worked in theater, television, and features. In fact, when he wrote Social Network he said that it was basically a Greek play. And it does appear that TV has become the place for the kinds of drama that feature films were doing back in the ‘70s.

Now you’re based in New York, my blog is called Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, and I know you’re a fan of “get to L.A. if you can,” But in your opinion, when is the best time to go to L.A.?

Greg: Look I didn’t come back to the East Coast by choice. My career went up and down twice, I came back east because I have two children, that’s it. And it’s a lot easier to raise kids in suburban New Jersey than it is in Los Angeles. If you want good public schools for instance. It’s a night and day difference. So I came out here because what I wanted was the family environment and all of that. So for screenwriting the answer is L.A., L.A., L.A. and there’s really no exception to the rule. But if you can’t be there, you can’t be there, that’s life.

What I tell people is if you’re going to spend years writing and you live in Massachusetts, which is not off the edge of the world—it’s a sophisticated place, it’s just not L.A., then you shouldn’t just be writing screenplays. Come on, write novels, you can be a novelist anywhere. The book industry is used to people writing from Alabama, or Arkansas, or having the local flavor of Nebraska. There’s no prejudice against you there. And it’s not built around contacts.

If you’re in New York, because you’re a playwright, or because you’re a journalist, and you also want to write screenplays, fine. Now that I’m in NYC, I’m also a playwright. Most of the creative writing I’m doing this minute is playwriting and working on my next book. And more recently I’ve begun working on a screenplay.

But if you just want to write screenplays or do TV writing you have to go to L.A. and you should go there before you’re ready. And the reason is you’re not going to show up in L.A. and have everybody go, “Great, give me your screenplay.” It’s going to take years of making contacts while you’re there to get open minds. So you might as well go there and do your maturation there, because while you’re maturing and writing badly, and hopefully improving, you’re going to be meeting people. It’s going to take a few years to meet people who will read you. If you wait until you’re 35 and now say, “Now, I’m a great writer,” you’re going to have to prove yourself there. You have to develop fans. That’s why writers groups are so important. Other writers have to notice you and take note of you.

In Bring the Funny I talk about that a lot. If you’re an agent on Venice Boardwalk or you’re in Times Square New York, or Santa Monica Promenade, and you’re walking around and looking for an act. One guy’s juggling, one guy’s carving something in sand, and one guy’s telling jokes, and another singing, the guy who has no one around him—you’re not going to walk up to that guy. So you have to develop a circle of friends around you as a writer that gets you attention, that builds your contacts, and that’s when you start bumping into agents. Maybe you have a friend who likes your work, he or she already has an agent and because they know and like your work they say, “You know, I can introduce you to my agent.” Well, think how long that took to develop. That doesn’t happen the day you arrive in L.A.

Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com. His writing group is Stillwaterwriters.com.

Scott W. Smith

 

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[Note: To support this blog, and further interviews, please become a patron at Patreon. Even if just $1 or $3 a month.]

Scott W. Smith: One of your lines in your book [Bring the Funny] is “You must teach yourself how to be a screenwriter.”

Screenwriter Greg DePaul (Bride Wars): Definitely. But I do have tools that can save them a lot of time in the learning process.

Scott: You write that the most important key to success as a screenwriter is [drum roll please]…diagramming. What do you mean by that?

Greg: Well, some people would call it deconstructing, or coming up with a beat sheet for an existing movie or what have you. When I was getting an MFA degree in playwriting from Catholic University I took course from a guy named Mark Stein who wrote a movie called HouseSitter with Goldie Hawn. He was also a playwright. He said, “The first thing I’m going to teach you is diagramming.”

Basically it means taking an existing film. (I strongly encourage you to use the script, not to watch the movie.) You can do it by getting on Netflix and hitting pause after every scene. And you deconstruct it by creating a one sentence version for each scene. So you’re going to have 60,70, 80 sentences all in a line. They might take up two pages. Single spaced may be one and a half pages. And then you can break it into three acts. You can just see “Greg shoots Bill.” “Greg escapes the police.” “Greg goes to see Mandy.”

And the trick to diagraming is to put the main actions in capital letters, so SHOOTS, KISSES, ESCAPES are always in caps on the page. I don’t usually put the setting or any details in the scene because it’s not that necessary. I break it into three acts, and this does two things. It helps you remember that movie. Because if you’re writing a horror movie, (which I’ve never done) you should be diagraming every horror screenplay in your genre or subgenre that you can possibly diagram. And you should pile them up in your room if you’re writing horror, so you’ll be very familiar with the turns of a horror film.

So you’ve done your research. Don’t write in ignorance. Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. There are certain things that come up in every horror film. You need to know them, even if you’re going to change them, or violate them. So first you’re doing research on your genre, I’ve diagramed almost every romantic comedy you can think of, and secondly you’re also training yourself as a writer to remind yourself not to fall into the biggest pit that all screenwriters fall into which is not enough action. I can’t tell you when I read someone else’s script how many times it doesn’t have enough action, and if there’s not action there’s not conflict, and if there’s not conflict, then there’s no story generally.

There’s derivatives of that. Like I teach a sitcom writing course where I make them diagram a whole bunch of screenplays or TV scripts and they don’t just write Greg KISSES Mandy, I have them use the word DESPITE.  It’s a rhetorical trick. Every time you use the word DESPITE then you have to look for the obstacle. Greg KISSES Mandy DESPITE her RUNNING AWAY.  Bill STEALS the money DESPITE the guards SHOOTING him. Whatever it is. So now you’re training yourself to identify and use action at the same time, and to identify and use obstacles. Because the next problem that screenplays have is people don’t give their characters enough obstacles. So there’s a lot of tricks like that I used when diagraming that’s really just about understanding the story form that you’re writing in, especially your genre, and also reminding yourself how to write.

Scott: I went to a workshop once with an accomplished writer and he started by saying, “I’m not sure why they wanted me to do this workshop because I’m not sure writing can be taught or that there are any rules.” I raised my hand and said, “What about conflict?” He said conflict was good you should have conflict and it ended up being an enjoyable day of anecdotes. But his approach was more internal, instinctual, and he didn’t really have way of conveying what he did.

Greg: I’m an A- screenwriter, but I think I’m able to help people [learn the writing process] more because I’m not a natural. If someone was a total natural at it they may not have had to externalize their process and articulate it. It might be easy for them. If it’s too easy for them, it might not help you if you’re having he struggles that the other 99% of writers have.  

Scott: I call that the Ted Williams-effect where the great baseball player Ted Williams who’s advice to younger ball players was to wait for a good pitch and swing. Some have said his coaching career was short-lived because he became impatient with ordinary athletes’ abilities.

Greg: Right, I think that also works with genre, tone, and style. There are some people who naturally happen to have been into dark comedy, and that’s your natural bent, but now they’re not buying dark comedy. Well, now you’re going to have to work hard to write bright, happy comedies if that’s what the market wants. And you might be able to make that change. It might take you some time to make that pivot. Or if you hit the market in Hollywood with your dark comedy in a year or month when they’re dying for dark comedy then you might break in immediately, but that’s like the luck of the draw. The zeitgeist happened to be looking for you and you had it. For most of us though you’re going to have to have to make a compromise with the zeitgeist.

Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com. His writing group is Stillwaterwriters.com.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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Scott W. Smith: From the original conception of the idea for Bride Wars to when it finally got produced how many years went by?

Greg DePaul: It might have been five years, 2004 to 2009.

Scott: So there’s a lesson there. Michael Arndt talks about writing 10 screenplays over ten years before he sold one, and that one (Little Miss Sunshine) took five years to get made. I think he was 40 when he got his first produced credit.

Greg: That’s more common than the person who goes out to Los Angeles at age 27 and breaks in on their first script. The average age of someone entering the Writers Guild [on the feature side] I’m going to guess is at least 35, if not 40.

Scott: In your book Bring the Funny you talk about hearing Michael Arndt talk about his writing process at a Writers Guild event. What did you learn from him?

Greg: What I learned from that discussion years ago was that he’s a typical Hollywood screenwriter in that sense. I learned from Blake Herron who I met back at the Writers & Actors Lab who I looked up to. He wrote Bourne Identity and some other movies. And he told me like 15 or 20 years ago when I first got to Hollywood, that he sold his 13th script. That’s very common because you generally get better each time. And what most of what writers learn they learn through trying and failing, not books on theory. So you have to keep be willing to push it out there and get humiliated over and over again. That’s really the system.

Scott: I have a whole list of screenwriters I’ve gathered over the years who said they wrote many screenplays before they sold one or hand one made. Oliver Stone said he wrote 12, Sheldon Turner was 10, Dale Launer told me he didn’t even show anyone a script he’d written until he’d written 10. Not too many people selling screenwriting books and workshops address that because who wants to face the daunting task of writing 5,10,15 scripts before they get any traction? I think the record was Geoff Rodkey who wrote Daddy Day Care, which was his 18th script but his first to get produced.

Greg: I’m on the East Coast now and have been here for about seven years, but I spend a lot of time with other writers. I run a writers group called Stillwater Writers (Stillwaterwriters.com), which is New York City playwrights, screenwriters, and TV writers all hanging out together talking and reading each other’s scripts. But I founded a group called the Clark Street Players back in LA with my old writing partner Hank Nelken, I was in the Writers and Actors Lab in LA that’s how I met people like Jim Uhls (Fight Club), Blake Heron, and other great writers that helped me. So I’ve always been involved in these writer’s groups. And I’ve seen how people develop and it’s a long time coming.

So I’ve taught workshops, I teach at NYU, and I teach at the New School and I’m completely straightforward with people about that. I don’t say it’s easy. And I tell them don’t go to pitch festivals, conferences like Austin Screenwriting are useful, but when you go to those things you’re not going to walk up and pitch some executive an idea and he’s going to give you a million dollars. I’ve never heard of a movie that got made that way.

Scott: Michael Arndt also said that 99% of your focus as a screenwriter should be on the writing. And that’s what you hit on in your book. You talk about the AIC—can you explain that to people?

Greg: Ass in Chair. And I didn’t make that up I read it in an article some place from a romance novelist—I think it was Nora Roberts. But I use it. It’s ass in chair. The biggest problem I see with my students is perfectly understandable. I have this problem too, everybody does. It’s a fear of being in the chair too long, and yet you can’t succeed unless you commit wild amount of hours to sitting in that chair.

Scott: How do you quantify to your students how much time in the chair they should be writing?

Greg: More is better. Not a time or page limit. It’s to make yourself do more. If you’re in Hollywood and you’re getting work and you’re a working screenwriter, there is some virtue to write all morning and take meetings in the afternoon theory. But most people don’t have that luxury. If you’re trying to break in, more is always better when it comes to writing.

When Hank and I started working together and got serious, which was probably 1997 or ’98, just to have a goal I think I came up with it, I said, “Dude let’s do seven pages a day and see what happens.” It became silly and arbitrary and sometimes we’d just add lines on the page to hit CUT TO:, and go on to the seventh or eighth page and then go drink. When I was working with a partner it was usually two shifts. We write from 10 in the morning until 5 in the afternoon and then say we can’t stand each other anymore and then we’d take a break for three hours and go home and have dinner, and come back at 8:00 and write until 2 in the morning.

Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com. His writing group is Stillwaterwriters.com.

To support this blog, and further interviews, please become a patron at Patreon.

Related post:
The 99% Focus Rule
Write 2 or 3 Scripts This Year
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic
How to Become a Successful Screenwriter (Thoughts by Michael Arndt)

Scott W. Smithimdb

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“I will never know the names of the three screenwriters who judged my contribution to Bride Wars [in WGA arbitration], nor do I need to, but I am grateful to them. With their help, I put myself through law school.”
Screenwriter Greg DePaul
My Bride Wars

“Your wedding better watch it…Your wedding should be very scared right now. If I were your wedding, I’d sleep with one eye open.”
Liv (Kate Hudson) in Bride Wars
In a scene that may or may not echo a Bride Wars legal fight over credits.

It’s no secret that drama in moviemaking isn’t just found within the movie. In the case of Bride Wars, there was a battle over screenwriting credits.

Part three of my interview with screenwriter Greg DePaul picks up after his original idea for Bride Wars was sold and developed by Kate Hutson’s production company & Miramax. Unfortunately, after a couple years into the process, Miramax as a studio went into a transition where it become apparent they weren’t making the movie. That was the whiff of death moment for the project that eventually got produced.

Greg DePaul: [The Bride Wars script] sat there for a couple years and at some point I gave up on Hollywood. We had one kid and another kid coming. My son had some fairly serious medical problems, and so did my wife during the pregnancy. We kind of gave up on Hollywood and moved to New Jersey.

And I went to law school because I wanted to have the ability to do something else for a living. And I was in law school when the studio said, “By the way Miramax sold the Bride Wars script to New Regency and they attached Anne Hathaway to be the other woman.” It didn’t change my plan at all. They went ahead and made the movie. They shot it in Manhattan right across the river from where I was going to school in Newark and I said, “Great can I come visit the set?” and they said “no.”

I had been on the set for Saving Silverman for the whole time and it was wonderful. Sony and Village Road Show were wonderful. And the reason New Regency said no was it had been re-written. Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) had taken a pass. At least six or seven writers had taken a pass in the intervening time that I’d been unaware of. Casey Wilson and June Diane Raphael are on the poster with me and the studio was pushing them as potential stars and had roles in the film. The last thing they wanted was some man’s name on that movie. They proposed to the Writers Guild that I only get a very small shared story credit. But as you know I didn’t have to accept that. So I protested to the Writer’s Guild and demanded an arbitration which I basically won.

Casey and June opposed me naturally, because they wanted their names all over that movie. And the studios really wanted them to succeed and they saw it as probably hurting them. I’ve never met the other writers by the way, but I’m sure they’re very nice people. But they fought it and lost and appealed it. That worried me because they could go to the appeals hearing in Los Angeles and I was busy in law school and couldn’t fly out to L.A. and be there personally.

So I went to the Writers Guild on the East coast and I said, “Can you allow me to do a Skype video conference?” And they said “yes.” I went to their office in Manhattan office and did a Skype with the appellate board at the Writers Guild which is a bunch of writers, and I pled my case. And I said, “You can’t let them reopen this, here’s why…” I hit them with all kinds of facts and they agreed and denied the appeal. What I ended up with was Written By Greg DePaul first with their names after mine. When there’s two names with an ampersand they’re treated as one person for money purposes.

Scott: In the appeals process were they looking at story, character, plot points…?

Greg: Three independent writers read everything. When you arbitrate they send you every draft of the script. They may have sent me 30 or 40 paper drafts. They came out it big boxes to New Jersey. And I lined them up in two big lines. And I saw all these others names, Don Roos (The Opposite of Sex)—he had changed a lot of the dialogue. He did a really wonderful job. And I was able to track using six different highlighters who did what. There were people who wrote on it, and then were written out again. There were some drafts of that script that made some serious changes and then the studio changed their mind, went back three drafts, and started over with another writing team.

When you’re playing with that many millions of dollars, and it’s a hundred grand here, and three hundred grand there, you do whatever you have to do. But what I really saw over time was that the other writers never really changed the fundamental story, they never changed the fundamental characters, or the setting. What they changed were the little details. And so that’s what I was able to show in my arbitration. I had to spend weeks on it. I had to fight it like it was a law case. I wrote the mother of all arbitration statements. And that’s how I got my credit back.

To go deeper into the legal process on Bride Wars check out Greg’s article My Bride Wars in the Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Journal. That article is also helpful to entertainment lawyers as it concludes with “advice to attorneys who counsel screenwriters who are going through the WGA’s screen credits arbitration process.”

Greg teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School, wrote the book Bring the Funny, and blogs at bringthefunny.com.

To support this blog, and further interviews, please become a patron at Patreon.

Scott W. Smith

 

 

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“Getting a movie made is very hard to make happen.”
Screenwriter Greg DePaul

Even if you don’t care for romantic comedies, who doesn’t like screenplay origin stories? Part 2 of my interview with screenwriter Greg DePaul (and author of Bring the Funny) covers how came up with the original idea for Bride Wars, how he pitched and sold the idea, and how he thought the project was dead in the water after the studio developing the movie died.

Throughout this part of the interview Greg also reveals the business aspects (and frustrations) involved in working in Hollywood. And he tells what he did after botching a pitch in front of Kate Hudson.

(To support this blog and more interviews like this please become a patron at Patreon. Brad’s getting lonely over there.)

BW_B_Eng1sht (Page 1)

Scott W. Smith: Bride Wars has a universal concept and a title that has built-in conflict where you can see the poster in your head even if you haven’t read the script. It’s primal. The original script you wrote attracted Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. It made over $100 million. The concept looks so easy, but I’m guessing the journey from idea to released movie in theaters was a difficult one.

Greg DePaul: Getting a movie made is very hard to make happen. Bride Wars was based on a real thing that happened. About 12 years ago I was working on my own in Santa Monica and my wife and I got engaged. And I’d pitched lots of things. I’ve sold or co-sold eight or nine feature film scripts based on pitches. However that’s 1% of all the things I’ve ever pitched. You have to pitch like a machine gun. And you have to pitch over and over again. And you have to write really well before you get noticed and before anyone will listen to your pitch.

People think, incorrectly, that you can go someplace and pitch an idea and they’ll pay you to write the script. That simply does not happen. It’s almost impossible. It’s like a supernova occurring on the same day as you’re holding the ace of spades—and a royal flush. Basically the way it works in Hollywood—actually, it’s harder to do now than when I did it then. They’re buying less and less pitches like Bride Wars. And Bride Wars itself was an anomaly.

The way it works is you write a spec that gets you noticed. People say, “I think Scott’s a great writer, I love his spec. It made me laugh or was really great.” And they don’t buy it because that may not be what they need at that moment to buy. But they remember you because you wrote something that made them laugh. And they say, “Scott, my door is now open.” And that’s when you start coming in every couple of months with new pitches. And I did that for years in Hollywood. In fact, my old partner, Hank Nelken and I would say “We’re the sandwich guys.” Remember in offices 10-20 years ago they’d have these guys walking around with a cooler? They had pre-made sandwiches for offices that didn’t have a cafeteria and they’d go door to door, knock on some lawyer’s door and say Hey you want ham and cheese? Great, five bucks. We’d say we were the sandwich guys.

Once you develop fans, a lot of people in town who like your scripts and think you’re good, the door can be left open for years. You’re on the list of funny or talented people. You can’t waste the opportunity. You can’t call them every week. You might go every two or three months. If you have an agent or manager, they’re the ones that schedule that. If you have 20, 30, or 40 fans. You’re going to their offices 2,3,4 times a week to various people and you’re just pitching everything you’re churning out when you’re home writing 10 hours a day coming up with stuff.

So that’s where I was when I pitched Bride Wars. I’d broken up with my writing partner and I’d gotten engaged to my wife. I was at a point where I had a heist comedy script out there called Fur Crazy. People liked it, but nobody bought it. And so people thought I was funny on my own. I had distinguished myself from my partner in that way. And now the time had come where I was asked to do myself what my partner and I had done when we sold Saving Silverman and other movies.

It is by the way, much harder to pitch by yourself. Especially with comedy. Because I didn’t have him there to work with me. And so I was going into a room everyday at ten with a pot of coffee and a computer screen and a note pad and just trying to come up with one-liner ideas. And every couple of weeks I come up with them and review them with my manager, and he’d say “That sucks,” “That doesn’t suck,” and maybe he’d say those three or four are good. He’d set up meeting and I’d go pitch them.

And a lot of times what happens is you pitch them and they’d say, “That sounds pretty good Greg, why don’t you come back in two weeks with more on it?” So you have pitches you’re working on, pitches that are original, pitches that are getting stale, and it’s like your working at a diner flipping lots of burgers trying to find one that’s hot, or just tasty for someone to buy. They’re only going to buy a perfect burger. So you make a lot of burgers before they buy the one that is perfect.

So at some point Dvora [a credited writer on Married with Children] and I were getting engaged. Her sister had gotten engaged first. And they had been setting up plans to get married. My in-laws had laid out money for what was going to be a wedding in 9 months or a year. And Dvora and myself  got engaged, so suddenly my in-laws were facing the prospects of two weddings within six months that they’d have to pay for and deal with and it seemed like an act of cruelty. So my wife said, “We’ll make it a double wedding.” So then you had two sisters trying to plan a wedding. My wife and her sister have very different tastes and they may not have argued that much, but they argued a little over the style and the band, and the food, and the this and the that, and who to invite, and that’s when I got the idea of two women fighting over weddings in some manor.

And then I thought, “Wouldn’t it be easier if it was two friends and not sisters and they had mistakenly planned it for the same day?” So I changed the set-up to get the same second act tension that the real life wedding was actually causing.

So ironically as I worked on my pitch, my sister in-law broke up with her boyfriend and my wife and I sort of had their wedding. It was funny. So it was the band we had not picked, the shrimp we had not ordered, etc. But the long and short of it was the idea came through my wife and her sister.

And the first thing I did was try and work on it as a one-liner. I think I called a writer friend of my named Elizabeth Rogers and her friend Julie Forman because they were both woman and both screenwriters, and comedy writers. And I thought they’ll tell me if it’s good. And they said,”That sounds funny, we can relate to that.”  And so I embarked upon an idea that I normally would never write because it’s an idea for a young woman and teenage girls. But it was the money that kept me going.

So I worked on it for months. I ran it by my manager and he liked it. And eventually I took it to different producer. I think I took it to Mark Gordon, and various people. A lot of people passed. I took it to Bob Simonds who does a lot of Adam Sandler movies, and he was attached for a while. But he wanted them to be socialites from Houston, because he was from Houston. So I was working on it with him on one hand. In the meantime I was working on a whole ‘nother version with Alan Riche who was a producer who did Starsky and Hutch and Mousehunt, who’s now doing Tarzan that’s coming out.  I’d sit down with Alan, I’d give him my ideas and he’d give me notes and I’d keep working on it. And eventually Alan and my manager Matt Luber took it to some studios and the studios passed. I think maybe they passed because I’m a guy. They were like, “Can this guy write this?” Because they only knew me from Saving Silverman and other things.

Scott: When you took it to the studios what form was it in?

Greg: Once you start pitching it, it grows. And you grow it with the producer it grows. My pitches are very simple. I write things down. I come with a clipboard . I have maybe a page or two of what you call a beat sheet and I’ve basically memorized it, but truly memorizing your pitch is the dumbest thing you can do. And the reason you don’t memorize it is people will keep changing it. Are you going to keep changing what you memorize? Every time you pitch they’ll say, great, how about this, how about that? “Can you make him from Sumatra? Come back next month with that version.”

So you’ll have different version for different producers and different studios. Because you want to tweak it to serve their needs. If you try to memorize all those things you’re going to drive yourself crazy. And in fact, you’re not auditioning for the job of an actor, you’re auditioning for the job of writer. You don’t need to memorize anything. So I write stuff down, I have a pad, I have a clipboard that I refer to. By the time I pitch it I know it off the top of my head. But you’re not there to show you can memorize.

And so eventually, after many studios had passed, Alex or Matt said, “Let’s pitch it to Kate Hudson’s manager Jay Cohen.” We sat down with Jay and I pitched it and he liked it. And then he called back in a week and had notes and I had to make changes.  And he said, “Why don’t you come pitch it to Kate Hudson?” So at that point my manager, another producer who’d gotten involved, Tony Ludwig, Alan Riche, and Jay Cohen, all these middle age men showed up in a room and waited for Kate. And she showed up and sat down. And we sat in a big circle around her and pulled up my chair and pitched it.

And the first time I pitched it to Kate Hudson, I stumbled. And that almost never happened because I’m very good at pitching. But I was a little nervous because I was with a star. And I got a third of the way through and I said, “Wait I made a mistake.” And Kate said, “Well, why don’t you just start over.” And I started back from the beginning. And she was very nice. She laughed at curtain places and she thought certain places were funny and say, “I like this” and “I like that.” And when we were done she said, “I like this, I can see it as a movie. It would be me and another woman,” which at that point was undetermined.

And she gave me some notes, and I left the room knowing she really liked it. And I verbally got back with her or one of her people on the phone and they said, “Okay, we’re going to run with this.” And they got on the phone with Miramax and they re-considered because she was attached and they said, “Let’s make a deal.” My manager negotiated and we made a money deal for two drafts and probably some rewrites as I recall.

From that point it took a couple of years to write because I did one draft and there was a lot of waiting, and then I did another draft, and there were some producer polishes, and there’s always sits and stalls when that happens. And then when I finished my duties writing Miramax died as a studio. So it was sitting on their shelf and they owned it, but they weren’t going to make it.

Come back tomorrow and learn how the project got resurrected and eventually produced. You can find Greg on Twitter @GregDePaul and more info on him at the Bring the Funny website. He also teaches screenwriting at NYU and The New School.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“If the current rates of growth keep up in China, the country will surpass North America as the world’s largest film market in early 2017.”
The Hollywood Reporter/3.1.16

Back in June, screenwriter/playwright and NYU instructor Greg DePaul took the time with me to have an hour and a half conversation that ended up being quite a sweeping overview of the ups and downs of being a working screenwriter. We talked abut his movies (Saving Silverman, Bride Wars), about his book Bring the Funny:The Essential Commpanion for the Comedy Screenwriter, and what it’s like to sit in front of Kate Hutson and pitch your idea. I will chunk out the interview here over the next week or two. We started off taking about the Chinese version of his original idea that was first produced in the United States.

bride_wars_2015_film_poster

Scott W. Smith: Do you have a Chinese poster of Bride Wars?

Greg DePaul: I wish I did. I’m going to do that. I’m going to buy one and frame it.

Scott : Have you ever seen that version?

Greg: I have. It’s just funny that it even exists. I’m credited on the poster and in the film.

Scott: And you got paid, correct?

Greg: I got paid. I had to tell them to pay me, but I did get it. I have a friend Scott Abramovitch (The Calling), a writer/director, and he contacted me and said, “I see your movie is getting made in China.”

A handful of years before that I got contacted through my lawyer at the time and the studios said they wanted to make Bride Wars in India. They had two Indian stars lined up. I said, “Great, my contract says I get a pretty large amount for a remake—foreign or domestic. And they said, “Okay, but we’re not going to make it unless you cut your rate and make that change to the contract. Agree to take five cents on the dollar.” So they were going to cut out 95% to what they’d agreed to in my contract. And I told my lawyer, “No, don’t do it.” I sent my lawyer an email saying this is insulting and that they’re a bunch of jerks or something. And he was a terrible lawyer. He kicked that email to them, because he just wanted me to sign. They walked and we never made a deal. And I didn’t hear about it for five years. And I didn’t want to tell my wife because I thought she’d say “fine, take the small amount of money, we need the money.”

Scott: And it would have had a great Bollywood musical ending.

Greg: Exactly, that would have been awesome. The studio was all upset with me and they yelled at my lawyer, and blah, blah, blah. And then two or three years ago Abramovitch contacted me again and said, “I see your movie is getting made in China.” And I go to Variety online and there it was saying they were making Bride Wars in China with director Tony Chan. So I called a different lawyer, a friend of mine and an excellent attorney in L.A., Ron Levin, and I said, “Ron can you handle this for me?” And he called them up and sent them an old contract I had and told them, “You owe Greg this money”; and they paid the full amount.

Scott: Maybe Bride Wars will end up being your Grease. I read that everyday somewhere in the world Grease is playing and the writers are getting residuals.

P.S. Author and futurist Kevin Kelly has said in light of China’s 1.367 billion (2013) population verses 316 million people in the United States that the U.S. is “statistically insignificant.” The largest film studio in the world, Hengdian World Studios, located in the Zhejiang Province is the largest film studio in the world. When you add to the mix that both India and Nollywood (Cinema of Nigeria) now produce more films than Hollywood you can see there is an interesting shift happening in global cinema. (A topic I will explore on this blog throughout 2017.)

To support this blog, and further interviews, please become a patron at Patreon.

Screenwriter Greg DePaul Q&A (Part 2)

Link:
Bring the Funny website

Related article:
Is ‘Chinawood’ the New Hollywood?/BBC 

Scott W. Smith

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Are You an Anomaly?

“It’s good not to follow the herd. Go the other way.”
Robert Rodriguez

What do screenwriter Diablo Cody and golfer Tiger Woods have in common? I know it sounds like a setup for a bad joke, but the word I’m looking for is anomaly. They’re both anomalies.

a·nom·a·ly
1. something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

When Woods won the 1997 Master’s Tournament by the greatest margin ever is was apparent to all that there was a new domanant force on the PGA tour that the world had never seen before.

From 1999 to 2010, except for a few months, Woods was was the top ranked golfer in the world. Because of his African-American heritage it was often predicated that he world inspire a wave of black golfers that would follow in his footsteps.

That didn’t happen.

Almost 20 years after his Master’s win there not only hasn’t been a wave, there hasn’t even been a trickle that’s followed in his footsteps professionally. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010 when Joseph Bramlet became “first player of African-American descent to make the PGA Tour since Tiger Woods.” (In his time on the PGA tour he’s had no top ten finishes, making it doubtful he’s the next Tiger Woods.)

Tiger Woods was an anomaly.

And in the world of Hollywood screenwriters, Diablo Cody is an anomaly. Her rise from graduating from the University of Iowa, to Minneapolis blogger, to Oscar-winning screenwriter before she turning 30 was remarkable.

I made that Wood-Cody connection recently after I did an interview with screenwriter Greg DePaul (Bride Wars) who, along with still writing, is now teaching at NYU. (Starting tomorrow I’ll begin running posts of the interview with DePaul over the next week or so.) DePaul is clear that his goal is to teach screenwriters only (not director/writers or filmmakers) what it takes to be a Hollywood screenwriter. He told me “you don’t teach the exception” and that makes sense at NYU, UCLA, USC, and AFI—because those routes are a tried and true path.  (But, of course, there are no guarantees there.)

But my blog is titled Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places, so do I seek to inspire the anomalies?—Absolutely. And that almost always means wearing at least two or three hats: producer/director/writer/actor/cameraman/editor/filmmaker.

The odds are against you any way you cut it, but if you’re going to be anomaly—embrace it. Be a purple cow, as Seth Godin calls it. Find a way to stand out.

Just yesterday I read about two young guys who started making films as kids in Durham, North Carolina and eventually graduated from Chapman College just five years ago. A film they made after graduating got the attention of M. Night Shyamalan which eventually led them to an opportunity for Matt and Ross to write and direct Stranger Things for Netflix, using their professional name The Duffer Brothers.

The real life brothers are anomalies. I spent nine years writing blog post pulling quotes from some of the best screenwriters and filmmakers in U.S. & European history, but I’ve also written a good deal about the exceptions—the anomalies. I love anomalies.

But on the other hand, Tiger Woods, Diablo Cody, and the Brothers Duffer really aren’t anomalies. Woods’ father introduced his son at an early age to golf and coached him and brought him up playing on golf courses, just like many a champion golfer. Cody said she wrote every day (poems, shorts stories) from the age of 12 on and majored in media studies so she had around 15 years of writing when Mason Novak discovered the then Minneapolis blogger online, and The Duffer Brothers were encouraged by their parents to make films at a young age and went to school in Southern California which put them in close proximity to Shyamalan.

We can argue over the technicalities of what makes someone an anomaly, but here are a few people—some anomalies— that come to mind who’ve found a way to get a film or two made taking a less than traditional route:

Filmmaker Tyler Perry in Atlanta
‘Super-Serving Your Niche’

Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez in Austin
Freedom of Limitations

Filmmaker Jeff Nichols (Mud) went to college in North Carolina, wrote his first script at home in Arkansas, and moved to Austin to make his first film (Shotgun Stories). Peter Travers wrote in Rolling Stone magazine earlier this year that Nicholas “already ranks with the best American directors of his generation.”

Screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) in Portland
Mike Rich & Hobby Screenwriting. While screenwriters like Cody often move to L.A. after their initial success I don’t believe Rich ever has. He also wrote The Rookie, The Nativity Story, and Secretariat.

Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in Haydenville, Massachusetts
Ken Burns on 1+1=3

Filmmaker Joe Swanberg in Chicago
Shooting a FIlm in 4 Days

Screenwriter Rick Ramage (Stigmata) in Denver
Screenwriting Quote #197 (Rick Ramage)

And while it’s hard to argue with Greg DePaul that if you want to be a Hollywood screenwriter you have to live in L.A. That’s where you’ll find the studios, connections, and assignments.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t be like screenwriter Nick Schenk who wrote Gran Tornio in a bar in Minneapolis.
Screenwriting Quote of the Day #10 (Nick Schenk)

While Breaking Bad creator Vince Gilligan eventually moved to L.A. (and graduated from NYU) he got his break back in his home state of Virginia when he won the Virginia Governor’s Screenwriting Competition. One of the judges was Oscar-winning producer Mark Johnson (Rain Man), who introduced Gilligan to The X-Files creator Chris Carter, who offered Gilligan a freelance opportunity to write for the The X-Files and eventually hired him as a full-time writer on the show.

Check out the article in MovieMaker online by Steve Balderson who’s made 16 feature films based in Wamego, Kansas. And the following documentary on making movies anywhere:

9/14/16 Update: In the way that these kinds of things line up sometimes, the day after I wrote this post John August and Craig Mazin spent the first 20 minutes of the Scriptnotes 267 podcast talking about launching and/or maintaining a film or Tv writing from outside Los Angeles. They played back phone messages or read emails of various writers including Chris Sparling (Buried) who now lives in Rhode Island. Check out the podcast for to further your understanding of what it means to start or maintain a dramatic writing career outside of L.A. What I Greg DePaul calls an exception, and I call an anomaly, Mazin called an outlier. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success  touches on why the outliers sometimes comes at things from a fresh new perspective that the insiders don’t see..

Thanks to Brad my Pateron launch was only slightly better than the last Space X launch. Yeah, the one that exploded. One million views=1 Patron, it’s a start. Please consider helping to keep these blog post going and growing by becoming a patron—even if it’s $1 or $3 a month. Thank you.]

Related posts:
‘Don’t Try and Compete with Hollywood’—Edward Burns
‘The Best Film School’
A New Kind of Filmmaker
Bob Dylan & Your Filmmaking Career

Scott W. Smith

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