Monday, May 22, 2006

Hollywood and the "But" Word

Yesterday was everything the screewnwriting process has to offer: Exhiliration combined with stomach-turning compromise.
Only this time I think I have found redemption after a restless night. The key to writing for Hollywood is not to invest too much of your soul into the work. Why? It comes down to the “but” word. If you love your characters and story – the "but" word's going to rip your heart out of your chest and crush it. Here's how the "but" word works: “We really love everything about this, but could you rewrite it and turn the 25-year-old Amish girl, into a 45-year-old Taliban terrorist?” This is followed by a second wave of “buts”: “Now that our star is a 45-year-old Taliban terrorist, we love the script but we need you to change the setting, the plot, and the title. Oh, and by the way, you know the page 10 rule where something huge has to happen by page 10? Well, we like what you have on page 10, but could you give us something huge a few pages earlier?” This is finally followed by the last “But”: “Thanks for making the changes. We love them, but the script just doesn’t hold together like it used to and the studio passed.”
That is what you’ll have to go through on a routine basis. Now if you’re smart you will learn the reasons why they didn’t like something and address them next time. You’ll keep cranking scripts out until there is nothing possibly left to complain about. You’ll learn the craft. Why? Because if the person you’re dealing with knows what they’re talking about, the studio person will say the same thing anyway. This is what I did with the latest script – or thought I did. This thing is a beast. It is a monster. The producer loved it and gave me a nice deal which includes a $700,000 ceiling for writing it based on the budget, which has to be big. So if this movie is made, for what it needs to be made for, I could get somewhere from the minimum WGA screenwriting amount which is probably a third of that, on up.
Something happened in the last contract that changed my view of things. In that one, there was language for a small independent version of the movie, which included me getting a much smaller writing fee, but getting 10% of the producer action.
I took that and this time around - even though this one is a high budget contract - I asked for the same associate producer designation for 1% on top of the writing money. This was a good move, although it’s based on net, not gross, so it is problematic except that whatever anyone else has in a net agreement must be used to determine mine.
I spent 13 hours with the producer yesterday. We looked at all kinds of land, we talked about life and we had a lot of fun. At the end of a long day, we came back and he sat at my computer and we finished two contracts. The option fees are significant, although they would become even better if this is assigned to a studio. If the movie is made, this will become life-changing in many good ways, although I like my life now.
The producer loves the new script. It is hilarious. I think you know what is coming, folks. He loves the script, BUT if a studio were to invest this kind of money, they would have to attach an established star to the picture. Could I please rewrite the 17-year-old about to turn 18, into a guy in his 30s so we can get an established star? This, of course, would change everything, and greatly diminish the story line, destroy the charm, and ruin at least one potential sequel. This is how the business goes.
So last night, I was up looking at a website about teen stars. And yes, that did feel a little creepy. This morning I found the guy. It’s that kid who was in 6th Sense. A monster actor – the finest of his age group. He just turned 18. So I will get ready to think of the major changes, in case I have to write them. As a matter of fact, I have already agreed in good faith to write them. The producer said we have this version so write the other and if the studio has a young star, we can use the great original version, instead of the later, screwed-up compromised version. This time I’m going to resist changing the original story, even if I have to cast the damn thing too. Hollywood is all about gut-wrenching compromise but this time I’m going to fight.


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