Good interviews about Father Knows Less

UPDATE: 4/28/2011 — Links to “Father Knows Less” IMDb listing no longer active.

UPDATE: 4/28/2011 — All podcast links have been updated.

podcastOkay. It’s not actually podcasting, but behold the site’s the first-ever audio links.

I’m currently rewriting a script called Father Knows Less, originally written by Aline Brosh McKenna. It’s the story of “a loving but aloof guy (Dustin Hoffman) abandoned by his trophy wife, [who] finds himself in charge of raising his young kids. In order to connect with them as their father, he turns to his children from his first marriage for help.” (synopsis by IMDb)

Tonally, it’s a dramedy in the James L. Brooks mode. More Jerry Maguire, less The Pacifier. New Line is the studio.

As it happens, Claude Brodesser of Variety has been tracking this project on his KCRW radio show The Business, and has had various members of the production on to talk about the process. It’s a refreshingly candid discussion of how a movie wends its way through development.

You can start with the initial conversation with McKenna, agent Devra Lieb, and producer Laura Hopper about the pitch, and how the project was set up. The discussion starts at 11:08.

Next, there’s a follow-up conversation with McKenna and Hopper as they start looking for a director. Starts at 2:51.

Finally, Brodesser talks with the movie’s director, who explains his decision to take the project, and the discussion about bringing on a different writer (which ended up being me). The talk starts at 9:20.


Good article on Shane Black

The Los Angeles Times has a long, interesting article on screenwriter Shane Black, whose Lethal Weapon not only kick-started the action genre, but also begat the million-dollar spec screenplay meme.

After considerable success, and a few disappointments, Shane sort of dropped off the face of Hollywood for a few years. He’s a neighbor of mine, but I never met him until the Austin Film Festival — we were on a panel together this year. He’s a bright and funny guy, and easily had the best explanation for how to keep a pitch engaging. Two words: “But then..!”

One thing the article makes clear is that success can have its own perils:

“The biggest task I had to face was managing to believe that I in any way deserved it,” Black said of his swift rise, “especially in light of all the people who had worked just as hard, as strenuously, but to whom it didn’t come quite so easily.”

In many ways, a professional athlete might experience the same thing. The difference is that an NBA player has to suit up and get on the court, while a screenwriter is free to hide himself away. Which is sort of what Shane did for a few years. He’s back with a new movie he wrote and directed, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, which is set to come out in the fall.

You can read the whole article here.


Sundance Screenwriters Lab announces projects

For the past four years, I’ve been one of the creative advisors to the twice-yearly Sundance Screenwriters Lab, a program which connects working screenwriters with emerging independent filmmakers. Because of work commitments, I’ve actually missed the past three labs, so I’m happy to be going back again this June.

The Sundance Institute recently announced the list of projects and filmmakers for this session. I thought it would be interesting for readers to see how far from “obviously commercial” these projects tend to be.

Taika Waititi (writer/director), A LITTLE LIKE LOVE, New Zealand: For two awkward misfits, life is the question, and love is the answer. Taika Waititi is of Te Whanau-A-Apanui descent, from the east coast of New Zealand and directed the Academy-Award nominated short TWO CARS ONE NIGHT.

Cruz Angeles (co-writer/director) and Maria Topete (co-writer), DON’T LET ME DROWN: In a post-September 11th world overflowing with fear and hate, two Latino teens discover that sometimes the only thing that can keep them from drowning is love. Born in Mexico City and raised in Los Angeles, Cruz Angeles is an award-winning student filmmaker from the graduate film program at NYU. A Bay Area native, Maria Topete began her film career while studying at U.C. Berkeley, and has collaborated as co-writer and producer on several award-winning short films.

Dante Harper (writer/director), DREAMLAND: An unflinching portrayal of the origins of domestic terrorism, DREAMLAND is the tragic story of Tim McVeigh, from his boyhood dreams of being a soldier to his life as a man at war with his own country. Dante Harper is an independent filmmaker, video artist and co-founder of CLC Films and director of the independent film THE DELICATE ART OF THE RIFLE. (more…)


Mongolian characters speaking Chinese

full throttlerantI’ve been thinking to write you this letter for a while. I saw the movie Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle on a movie channel recently. As a Mongolian, I’m deeply offended by your knowledge about my country.

In the beginning of the movie you show a scene that something is happening in Northern Mongolia and the people in the movie were speaking in Chinese. If you know a little bit about the country you would’ve known that Mongolia has its own, unique language, Mongolian. If you wanted to use Chinese people with their language you should’ve called that place Northern China.

I’m pretty sure that you’re a young and talented writer, but if you don’t know much about other cultures then don’t use them. I’m glad I didn’t pay to see your movie.

– Toshka

The sequence you’re talking about was written in English, with Russian subtitles, because the bad guys were supposed to be Russo-Mongolian. However, when it came time to shoot the sequence, they ended up casting Chinese actors. From a production standpoint, this makes sense: the martial arts team for the movie was largely Chinese, and these are the people who would end up doing the fight sequence anyway.

This is an example of why it’s frustrating being a screenwriter. You get blamed for a lot of things that are completely out of your control: plot holes that arise from editing, crappy dialogue improvised on the set, and supposedly Mongolian actors speaking Chinese.

I’m sorry, Toshka, that the five or six lines spoken in Chinese during the sequence offended you, but I think you’re expecting way too much cultural accuracy from a movie which ignores gravity, plausibility and narrative logic with alarming consistency.

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle isn’t my favorite movie either, but I can easily think of five better reasons to be frustrated by it:

  1. Too many villains. (Four, if you’re counting.)
  2. The wrong kind of sexy. Flirtatious, meet slutty. Oh, you’ve met.
  3. The whole ring McGuffin. Where’s Frodo Baggins when you need him?
  4. It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s — huh? Demi Moore can fly?!
  5. Bernie Mac? Funny! I just wish I could understand what he’s saying.

I was complicit in at least three of these faults (#1, #3, and #4, begrudgingly), so I’ll gladly accept my share of the blame. But as for the Mongolian problem, nope. Can’t help you there.


Answer: You are an American male in his twenties

Thanks to the 470 of you who were gracious enough to fill out the not-especially-scientific survey, I can now state with confidence that the typical reader of johnaugust.com is a North American college graduate in his 20’s who has a Y chromosome, but no WGA card.

Now, before anyone protests, I should point out that not all readers are typical. Some are women in their 30’s from South Africa with graduate degrees; others are older, younger, or more international. And one could easily fault the methodology: it relied completely on self-reporting, with no particular incentive for readers to click the link to take the survey.

Yet the trends in the data are so clear that there’s not a lot of point keeping the survey running any longer. If you don’t believe me, maybe some charts will prove the point:

chart: male/female

The vast majority of readers are men. That’s no surprise, but I wasn’t expecting almost 90%. I don’t know whether this reflects the reality of the male/female split among screenwriters or not. Regardless, I try to vary to my pronouns, so that I’m not always talking about “a screenwriter and his script.”

chart: age

Readers are a little older than I thought. Had I known that the under-20 categories would be so sparsely populated, I would have broken up the age groups differently. Given the average age, I may feel a little more liberty to swear.

(more…)


Taking a meeting without an agent or manager

questionmarkI’m developing a script with a writer/director who has already finished his first feature. The film we are writing now aligns directly with the kind of films that Lion’s Gate has been producing in their new genre devision. Fortunately I have a contact with one of their staff producers (which explains why I’m attached).

My question is this: The writer has no agent or manager and I’m wondering if that will be a hindrance when approaching the studio. We’re very confident in the story, but I was wondering if there is some sort of protocol to follow when approaching a studio, even if the contact is a friend of mine. We’re not sure if we should attempt to pitch before submitting the script or if it’s necessary to get third party representation before doing so.

– Chris
New York

You’re fine. Don’t let the lack of an agent and/or manager slow down your process at this point. Use your contact, get your meeting, and pitch the project. Particularly at a genre division, they’re used to working with unsigned writers. Embrace your outsider status.

If they want to buy your project, you’ll need to get an entertainment lawyer involved to help figure out the contracts. The writer/director might already have one, but if not, you’ll be able to find one within a few days — particularly in New York or Los Angeles.

Where do you find an entertainment lawyer? Well, you could start by asking the company. If they want your project, they’re likely to want the deal done right. They’ll understand that it’s in their best interest to see that you have a good lawyer. But of course, don’t stop there. Make sure you meet with several attornies at different companies. You want someone you feel you can trust.