Thursday, February 18, 2010

Writing for Production

So, most of my life is spent writing, obviously.  I toil away in small, cramped spaces, devoid of life and light.  I come up for air long enough to deliver a draft and get copious notes.  Then, I crawl back in my hole and do it again.  However, every once and a while, I get attached as a producer and/or director to a project, have to dust off my goin' out pants, brush up on my producin' knowledge, and pound the pavement trying to get a project off the ground.  And it got me thinking about how different writing for sale and writing for production really are and I thought I'd share a couple of difference with you. 


When I was a noob writer, I thought about everything in terms of production.  Mainly because I came from a production background and wanted everything to be shootable.  Then, as time wore on, I realized that producers want to read cool, not manageable.  So, I started adding a lot of pizazz to the script which was usually wholly unnecessary, but much more fun to imagine.

But, here's the sticky wicket, when a project actually gets the green light, all of that fun, cool, interesting bs you added in is quickly yanked out to cries of "what were you thinking", "we can't afford that", and "you don't know the budget".  It's sad but true.  So, as a producer and writer, you have to scale back your writing and think about what can be produced.  That car chase ain't gonna work on this budget, maybe a run through the streets.  Oops, can't pull of 30 second flyover of Los Angeles.  All of those cool moments you added in as a writer immediately pop out of your head.  Even if you could afford the 30 second flyover, is there a better way to use that money?


Writing for the page and writing to be spoken are two very different things.  Things that sound good on the page and sound good in people's heads sounds terrible when spoken out loud.  Unless you're Tarrentino, maybe Kevin Smith, that dialog you love is gonna have to change.  Sometimes, you might have to make scripts much more dependent on dialog because you're locations fall through, or because the action can only take up 10% of the overall structure.  Other times, you realize too far into prep that the writer you cast can't act quite as well as you thought, and you have to start gutting dialog because it's too late to recast them.  Still at other times, maybe you wrote your script for a nerdy white rich teenager and you end up casting a street smart African American in his 30s.  Well, that's a big change in the script you have to deal with. 

In addition, you might have 50 speaking role in the project, but the budget can only support 10, so parts have to be hacked, melded, swapped, combined, and generally mutated to the confines of the budget.  


You're script calls for 20 locations, all of them with equal screen time.  However, your budget can only support 5 locations and only 2 main locations which have to encompass 85% of the script.  That's an issue.  What are you going to do as a writer and/or producer?  You gotta significantly change the script or scrap the project and chances are next to nothing you're going to scrap a greenlit project, unless you're either really well off or really principled. 

Why does it matter how many location you use?  Here's an non-exhaustive list: 

1) If you have 20 scenes in the same location, you can bang out a lot more in a day than if you have 1. 
2) Every time one changes locations in a day, the entire cast and crew has to move, called a company move, but that time, better spent shooting, is instead used to pack and unpack gear.
3) You can often store gear in a space overnight if you're shooting in the same location the next day, which cuts down on your tear down at the end of the night. 
4)  Locations are expensive, and the longer you can keep a location, the more of a deal you get on it.  A location could cost 10k for the day, or 20k for the week.  If you're trying to find a free location, it's a lot easier to find 1 free location than 20.  Trust me. 

For all those reasons and more, less locations are more cost effective.  A small scale project in my eyes (and many others) is seen as under 8 actors and under 5 locations. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


I love the pretzels in the lobby of my building.  German salt I believe they're called, but they could be called German Hairballs for all I would care and I'd scarf them down 2x a week.  During the daytime, work-week, hours nothing makes my day more than when I indulge in one. 

So, today I was downstairs talking with one of the baristas as they warmed one up for me and I noticed they changed their entire set-up.  The George Foreman moved to the right side of the bar, and the coffee machine moved to the left side.  So, naturally, I tell her how much I hate change, because I'm a positive kinda guy.  Immediately she asks is I'm an earth sign.  "Like from astrology?"  She nods.  "I don't know.  I'm a Virgo."  She laughs.  Apparently, Virgos are earth signs and earth signs hate change.  We talk for a little while longer and I tell her that I have absolutely no idea what the heck a Virgo does or is.

So, I come back upstairs and start eating my pretzel.  Let me tell's goood.  But, I keep getting this nagging knot in the back of my brain.  So, I look up Virgos and start reading.  Half of which is true and half of which is false and another half is tomfoolery.  Bored, I start looking around the internet at all the other signs.  Let me tell you, there is a treasure trove of untapped inspiration when you look at this stuff.  Every sign has very detailed traits, and they don't get along with this sign, and love this other sign.  Here's a sample:

"Has a very keen and sharp intellect. They are methodical and extremely precise. Slow t make moves, as they analyse their knowledge, as to apply it usefully. They are practical and imaginative and develop skills that enable them to improve their being.

Some Negatives:
Can be obsessed with the idea of ‘order’. Can do and will do anything to achieve this. Known to be nagging and fault finding. Most have shy tendencies, are very introverted and self conscious. Having hypochondriac illusions."

Naturally I have characters brewing in my head, so I start looking through these signs trying to pull usable information for my own scripts and projects.  I highly recommend it.  Whether it's hogwash or insightful, it's great material.  Astrologists basically created 12 archetypal yet very human characters.  It's a gift from 2 thousand years ago. 

Monday, February 1, 2010


When you work in any industry, trust is important, but I find it especially important when dealing with a film/tv/web series, etc.  Why?  Because you're judged not by what you've done, as much as what you've completed.  Starting 50 movies is great, but if you've never completed one, what good are you?  The answer, not very.  Let me tell you a few stories about projects I've worked on.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent. 

My first film, ATTACHMENTS, was finished shooting in July 2007.  It's still in post-production.  It'll hopefully come out this year... but who knows. 

TRIBE CALLED ?LOVE, my first TV show, was completed for a grand total of...not enough money.  Let's just say I was hoofin' it all over the nation's capital.  I WAS one of the innovators who used Google Maps to make my project work... mostly because there wasn't a budget for anything else. 

TULIPS AND DAGGERS, another TV show, didn't have enough gear to get through a proper production.  We didn't even have night camera to catch the contestants while the cameras weren't on.  Also, no confessional.  Then, when we got into post-production, I was awarded a grand total of one 2 hour editing session during the assembly cut.  It still isn't finished, save for a trailer. 

So, as you can see from this smattering of productions, I've done some small stuff, but it doesn't matter because either a) it's not good enough to show or b) it's not done so nobody knows it exists.  There are tons more stories that I have about falling in with an untrustworthy cat, but I won't bore you with them. 

What does this all mean?  Well, don't sign a contract with someone just because they wave it in front of you...or offer you a chunk of money.  See, once you sign, they sort of own you.  You'll be called in to do rewrites, or sit in on casting, or any number of things which eat away at your time.  Then, they'll get through the process and take a big fat dump on everything you've worked on.

My advice:  Look carefully at a producer, make sure they've done something, anything, that they've followed through to the end.  You don't have to produce AVATAR to earn my respect, but you do need to show that you've got your head on straight and that you'll see my project through to the BITTER END, before I agree to work with you.  That, or write me a big, hairy, ungodly check and then I'll shut my mouth because, well, I'm a whore.