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Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas’

“It’s unbelievable we’ve been able to do something so big, so fast.”
Joe  Herber
Million dollar Doritos commercial winner in 2009

A lot has happened in the last 20 hours. Yesterday the world celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall. Where were you in 1989? Do you even recognize the world from 20 years ago? Even if you were five at the time you have to be amazed at the tremendous about of change in the world in the last two decades.

Sure we still have problems in the Middle East and with illegal drugs (heck, legal drugs) but 20 years ago there was no You Tube, no Facebook, no blogging, no Netflix, no Guitar Hero, and most people didn’t have cell phones, cable modems, and laptop computers. (If you haven’t seen Louis CK talking about “Everything’s amazing right now, and nobody’s happy” it’s worth a view.)

Several years ago I went to Berlin for a shoot and it was a magical time to drive around and take in the city. We stayed in a old hotel on the former East Berlin side and I wondered what it would have been like to have lived through communism all those years and then to experience that day when the world changed.

And since I like to point out big things coming from small places who would have thought that someone born in an apartment in Tampico, Illinos, raised in Dixon, Illinos, and got  his broadcasting career started Davenport, Iowa would have a role in the Berlin Wall coming down? But that was the route that Ronald Reagan took before becoming an actor in Hollywood and then later the President of the United States where he uttered one of the most famous presidential lines ever, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall.”

I’m not sure was Joe Cada was born yet when Reagan uttered those words, but the 21-year-old just a few hours ago became the youngest player to win the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas.  As the AP reported he, “chose cards over college” and the youngster from Michigan won $8.55 million.

Part of what made that possible is the technology that I wrote about last year in a post called Screenwriting Las Vegas Style where Chris Moneymaker won the World Series of Poker mostly just learning how to play online.  Cada is said to sometimes plays online in up to a dozen tournaments at the same time.

Around the same time Cada was earning his millions thousands of other hopeful creatives were attempting to win millions in this year’s Doritos Crash the Super Bowl challenge where anyone can submit a commercial in hopes of having their spot air  during the Super Bowl and have a chance at $5 million in prizes.

Last year the winners were brothers Dave & Joe Herbert, aspiring filmmakers from Batesville, Indiana, who made a commercial for less than $2,000 that rated more popular  in consumer ratings than all the big budget productions. They also won $1 million. Last night at midnight was the cut off to submit  videos and I produced one and gave another idea to some college kids who produced another one. We’ll see what happens.

All that to say it doesn’t matter whether you’re in Dixon, Illinos, Batesville, Indiana, Davenport, Iowa, Michigan or a small village in Germany there are opportunities out there for you to create some things that have an impact on the world stage. But it doesn’t hurt to first try them out at your local theater.

Scott W. Smith

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It’s been a long time since I’ve been on my feet as much as I have in the last two days walking around NAB looking at a variety of production equipment. So I cherished those breaks where I was able to sit and listen to speakers. Yesterday I watched an interview with Malcolm Gladwell (The Tipping Point, Outliers) who I have quoted on this blog before. And I also heard Tim Street a producer and social marketer. 

Street gave a sweeping overview of some success stories of online programs and webisodes which represent a new era of opportunities for screenwriters. Many of these shows have budgets above independent feature films and have viewers into the millions. Finding ways to monetize these ventures is still a guessing game for all involved, but I thought you’d be encouraged to know that there are people writing and producing online stories that are making money. 

According to Street Gemini Division represents the best of websiodes. It’s about an undercover NYPD vice cop based on an original story by Brent Friedman and created by  by Electric Farm Entertainment.  Each episode is five to seven minutes long and stars Rosario Dawson. I believe the budget for the first 50 programs they are producing is in the $1.75 million range. They have many deals in the works with sponsors. 

Like any TV program the key to success is to generate millions of viewers. No easy task, but one where screenwriting places a key roll because nothing hits an emotional cord like a good story. Millions of viewers opens the doors for marketing and licensing opportunities. Street talked about some of the deals where the producers sold the web rights but maintained the TV and DVD distribution rights. This is all new territory but is going to do nothing but grow. Newspapers are shrinking and traditional TV is unsure of the future of advertising dollars.  But the future looks bright for the Internet.

The great thing from a screenwriting perspective is can put you in the driver seat. Less dependent on agents and the system that can take years to bring your work to the screen– if at all.. Just think of the ideas that Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption) could have produced online verses the three years he spent on writing and developing that Indiana Jones script that got scrapped.

This won’t be for everyone, but for those of you have creative friends (actors, directors, editors, camera people) this can give you an opportunity to pull your resources together and create some pilots that generate some opportunities for all of you. That’s what writer/actress Felicia Day did with her award winning online sitcom The Guild

This really is a brave new world for screenwriters out L.A. because potential partners are interested in you having one thing…a great idea with the potential for millions of viewers. So start working on a two or three minute pilot that could grow into a webisode series and see where it leads.

 

Scott W. Smith

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“Three years ago I was living in Vegas as the night manager of the Mirage Hotel tram line.”
                                                            Anthony Zuiker
                                                            C.S.I., Creator & Exec. Producer 
                                                            Creative Screenwriting Vol 9 No. 5 (2001) 

 

“I like to gamble. The way I have learned to play poker is by putting a lot of hours into it and learning from my mistakes.” 
                                                             Peter Eastgate          
                                                                                  

Professional gambler Peter Eastgate became a multi-millionaire at 5 AM yesterday morning when he won over 9 million dollars–and a gold watch–at the main event at the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. The 22-years-old from Demark also became the youngest person to ever win the tournament.

Eastgate symbolizes to many the best of Vegas. The hope that you can parlay a little into a lot in a short amount of time. (Some would say that is also the problem with Vegas.)

But back in 2003 Chris Moneymaker (yes, his real name) won the same tournament and became the face of Internet gambling. He parlayed $39 into $2.7 million dollars. He had never played in a live professional tournament, but he had gotten so good playing online poker that he could beat all his friends. And he was inspired by the movie Rounders in which Matt Damon plays a poker player in the World Series of Poker.    

That’s one more example of movies reflecting the culture they help create. Now there is talk of a movie being produced on the life of Chris Moneymaker. Maybe Matt Damon can play the lead in that as well — just to keep the cycle going.

“I got lucky along the way. I also bluffed a lot during this tournament, but somehow got away with it.”
                                                             Chris Moneymaker

But what does all this have to do with screenwriting? Once again the key is learning a skill and using the Internet. Just like Diablo Cody (Juno) being discovered on the Internet, Chris Moneymaker refined his game on the Internet.  I don’t think Cody and Moneymaker were as lucky as they were prepared. (Moneymaker did earn a Masters degree in Accounting and had played cards since his youth.) They were prepared for the moment that came there way. 

The same is true for C.S.I. franchise creator Anthony Zuiker who was working at Vegas Hotel when he translated some experiences at work into an immensely popular TV franchise. He had graduated from University of Nevada Las Vegas with a BA in English.  He wasn’t sitting in a coffeeshop in L.A. talking about be a screenwriter. He was in fly-over country (fly-to country?) working a regular job to pay the bills and keeping his eyes open for story ideas.

“The police and I are in this motel room searching for evidence when an officer lifts up the bed skirt. All I see is a pair of eyes before she leaps from beneath the bed clawing at my face. And I thought, ‘There’s a show here.'” 
                                                               Anthony Zuiker

Las Vegas itself is an iconic and fascinating place that I have watched reinvent itself it few times over the last 20 years since I first drove through there in college when they still had $3.99 steak dinners. The last time I was there was four years ago for a video shoot and happened to catch them shooting Miss Congeniality 2 at the Venetian. Vegas may not be a hotbed for creating writers but the atmosphere itself is conducive to a wide array of storytelling.

Leaving Las Vegas
Honeymoon in Las Vegas
Casino
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas 
Viva Las Vegas
Heat
Melvin & Howard
The Electric Horseman
21
What Happens in Vegas
Pay it Forward  
3000 Miles to Graceland
Oceans 11 
Bugsy
Indecent Proposal
Vegas Vacation
Showgirls
Swingers
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery

If you have a screenplay set in Las Vegas then look into the Nevada Film Office Annual Screenwriting Competition. It’s open to all unsold writers, though 75% of the screenplay must be filmable in Nevada. 

And since we’ve touched a little more on the internet, I think the first book that touched on the web for screenwriters outside L.A. is Christopher Wehner’s Sceeenwriting on the Internet. Wehner also launched screenwritersutopia.com back in 1996 which is packed with helpful information.

“With the Internet you really do have a resource that can help you find a market for your writing. No longer can we sit back and say, “if only I had connections, I could a been a contender…” We’re all contenders now!”
                                                                  Christopher Wehner 

I don’t really know what goes on in the rest of the state of Nevada production-wise because the spotlight always seems to be on Las Vegas. But I do have restaurant recommendation I discovered years ago when I was heading up to Squaw Valley from L.A. for a shoot. On the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe there is a Chart House Restaurant that has one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever seen. (Life can’t be screenwriting, screenwriting, screenwriting.)

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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