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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.

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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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