For My Consideration

One of the considerable perks of being in the Writers Guild is that come awards time, the studios will do almost anything to get you to see their movies.

Yesterday, my WGA card got me two tickets to see Dreamgirls and I am telling you, the only thing that could compare with Jennifer Hudson’s big song was the thrill of signing for my free tickets just one line below Diane English, creator of “Murphy Brown.” It’s weird: I’m not at all star-struck; I don’t understand the appeal of collecting signatures. But coming across the accidental debris of celebrities — or better yet, quasi-celebrities — is strangely fascinating. Look! Diane English is just as cheap as me!

Since one can’t always make it to the theater, studios also send DVD screeners. Two years ago, there was a big effort to cut back on the process, on the theory that it led to piracy. By recent evidence, the studios have decided not to worry so much about it. So far I’ve received:

  • Babel
  • World Trade Center
  • United 93
  • Notes on a Scandal
  • Flags of Our Fathers
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • Thank You for Smoking

I’ve also been sent the scripts for all of these, along with the script for Dreamgirls. As the weeks pass and envelopes keep coming, I’ll try to update the list of movies that I now have no excuse not to have seen.

Toddler books in the Store

[binky] A surprising number of readers have been buying stuff through the Store,1 leading me to wonder, “What other tangible products do I have opinions about?”

It turns out, the tangible items I handle most these days are board books for my 17-month old daughter. She has her favorites; I have mine. I’ve taken the overlapping subset and created four new pages in the store with our mutual recommendations.

As a general word of advice for new parents, or those buying gifts for new parents: when it comes to books, think repetition. As you thumb through pages in the bookstore, ask yourself, “Will this provoke thoughts of murder-suicide upon the 50th reading?”

I’ve only included one book like that in my list, Sandra Boynton’s Perritos. It’s a counting book with dogs who bark in Spanish: “¡Jau! ¡Gau-Gau-Gau!” Fun at first, but really hard on the vocal cords after three times through.

The other books are generally great. I’m particularly partial to Leslie Patricelli’s books, the complete canon of which I now have memorized. Sometimes, stuck with a cranky toddler, I find myself “reading” the Binky book to her, flipping the invisible pages. It buys a few more minutes, which is sometimes all you need.

  1. For reference, my biggest week has been a whopping $43. Which more than covers the site’s hosting fees. But I’m not giving up my day job yet.

Seeing The Nines at Sundance

trapI’m not going to suggest that devoted readers fly thousands of miles to see The Nines at Sundance. But I’m not going to not suggest it.

I’ve long been of the mindset that there’s no reason to go to Sundance unless you have a movie there. I haven’t been since Go debuted there in 1999. I had a great time, but it was a zoo, and my threshold for tolerating crowds, schwag and auteur-theorists drops considerably when wearing a parka.

But the truth is, most of the people going to Sundance aren’t filmmakers at all. They’re simply people who love films, particularly the kind that never see wide release. (You know, the ones that show up on critics’ top ten lists, yet you’ve never heard of.) There are worse places to spend a long weekend — what with the skiing and the dozens upon dozens of excellent films waiting to be discovered. So if you have the interest and means, why not come? Crash on the floor of someone’s motel room. Maybe you’ll meet that special someone who will change your life. Or convince you never to sleep with a singer/songwriter/gaffer.

Now that I’ve possibly convinced you to come, the natural follow-up question: Hey John, could you slide me some tickets?

Um, no. Sorry. In fact, the producers and I are actively scrambling to get tickets ourselves, because the festival allotment is limited.

Advance ticket sales begin January 5th, so the clock is ticking. They’ve recently released a brochure (.pdf, 5.6Mb) describing all of the films in the festival. If you’re signing up for a range of movies and showtimes — the omakase menu, if you will — the odds of getting some good tickets is pretty high. But if you’re trying to get tickets for one specific show, that’s where it gets tougher.

For The Nines, the premiere will be Sunday, January 21st, at 9:30 p.m. at Eccles. It’s a big theatre, but it’s almost certain to sell out. So if you want to come to it, definitely get tickets through the website. Basically, you pay $5 to reserve a place in line — or more specifically, a lottery ticket for your place in line. On January 5th, you get an email with a time that you can sign in to purchase your tickets. A pain in the ass? Absolutely. But it’s the best way to make sure you get a seat.

There are three other screenings of The Nines that week. I’ll be doing a Q&A after the premiere (along with the cast and some department heads), and also after the Monday morning and Tuesday night screenings.

I previously linked to a helpful guide for attending Sundance, but no doubt many readers will have their own recommendations. So, share away.

Is Scriptblaster worth trying?

questionmarkBlah blah, your site is entertaining and fantastic, blah blah I’m a new screenwriter trying to get myself out there, blah blah, I have a quick question.

The services provided by Scriptblaster sound pretty great and are offered at an affordable (to me) price. I realize there are loads and loads of “services” and companies out there that make their living off the aspiring writers of America (AWA) and this certainly seems to be one of them. But still. My question to you, who needs not a service such as this, is whether you know anything about it, have heard anything, or could just tell me your thoughts on using Scriptblaster to get my queries out there?

— Eric
Boston, MA

“Dear John — This seems like a scam, but it’s soooooo reasonably priced…”

I’d never heard of Scriptblaster, but a quick look at their website leads me to believe your money would be better spent elsewhere. Such as Vegas.

Let’s start with the testimonials. There are a lot of them, such as…

After beating my head against traditional Hollywood screenplay agents’ doors for almost a year, I tried your Blaster Package. Within three weeks, I optioned an original screenplay and have another producer looking at my novel, “Five in the Future”. You guys are simply super! — R. Malcolm Dickson

I’m happy for R. Malcolm Dickson, but who the hell is he? I’m not saying he’s made up; his testimonial could be completely genuine. But without details, how are we to know? For instance, which producer optioned his screenplay, and was it a free option? Has a single movie gotten made that was set up through this service?

Looking at the “blast” part of Scriptblaster, I go from dubious to a little bit outraged:

The Blaster Pack combines the Full Blast & the Agents Blast for just $89! When you choose the Blaster Pack, your query letter will be emailed to over 900 producers, agents and managers. A great saving – and a great way to get connected!

Allow me a quick rewrite…

When you choose the Blaster Pack, your query letter will be spammed to over 900 producers, agents and managers. What a great way to piss off hundreds of potential employers and representatives for less than $90!1

What Scriptblaster is selling is a mailing list of producers and agents, and a web script that generates email from what you type in a form. Yes, it’s affordable, but it’s essentially a query letter mailbot. I don’t know any reputable agent or producer who would bother to read one of these emails.

If I’m wrong, I’ll happily be corrected. So write in if you’ve had a good experience with this service. But please provide some independently verifiable facts to back up your praise.

  1. For the record, I don’t know that Scriptblaster’s emails are unsolicited — maybe they really do have legitimate opt-in process for agents and producers. But I see no link for it on their website, which leads me to believe their email addresses are culled from other sources. And are therefore spammy.

Lost Rooms and American Zombies

elleI set the TiVo to grab SciFi Channel’s “The Lost Room” mini-series, largely because it co-stars Elle Fanning, who is also in The Nines. The two projects seem to overlap thematically: in my movie, Elle plays the key to a dark conspiracy; in the series, Elle is a player in a dark conspiracy about a key.

It’s a giant relief to see The Lost Room, because it’s very similar to a show I nearly pitched this season — which would have involved Elle getting kidnapped, a cult, and mysterious goings-on. Since The Lost Room effectively precludes my idea, why do I classify it as a relief?

Because now I don’t have to write it.

Many of the projects I write — and the majority of the projects I produce — begin because an idea will present itself and I’ll think, “Wow, someone should really do that.” I’m sure a sizable portion of the American public has similar “why doesn’t somebody…” ideas. The difference is, I am that somebody. I can call up ABC and pitch a show and get a fair chunk of money to write it. But it’s not always the best use of my time.

“Someone should do a crime show set in Alaska” — six months writing and shooting the Alaska pilot

“No one’s ever done a show about private military contractors” — a year and a half writing three different versions of the pilot for Fox

“Prince of Persia would make a great movie” — going on three years executive producing an adaptation, which still doesn’t have a start date

So that’s why, sometimes, I’m delighted when someone else has the same good idea. I recently had 30 projects on my “To Write” list. Now I have 29. Actually, 28…

I just saw in the Slamdance catalog a listing for American Zombie. That’s a title I’ve had on my list for three years, without any real story to go with it, just a sense that, “Someone should make a movie called American Zombie.”

Now someone has. The director’s name is Grace Lee. I hope her movie’s terrific. Either way, I thank her deeply.

Should I worry about a competing project?

questionmarkI have a script about a big event in American history told from my personal viewpoint. A star is looking at it and it is a finalist at a prestigious writing lab. It is also with three important producers (including an Academy Award winner). It was always considered a “small independent film.”

Suddenly. last week an A-list producer wants my script. I asked myself why? Then I found through the trades, a major studio, producer and director are making a movie about this same event. There is a well known writer attached. But no script yet.

What should I do? Let my project die? Or go to the competition and drum up buzz? Suddenly my little personal script has become “commercially viable.” This is stuff I would discuss with an agent or manager, but presently, I have neither.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Again, thanks.

— Sung Ju
Venice, CA

I originally misread your question, and assumed that it was the competing project’s producer who was trying to buy your script — perhaps in the hopes of squashing it. That’s rare, but it does happens, and I’d have a hard time giving you helpful advice.

But since it’s apparently a completely different A-list producer who wants your script, let me lift my virtual 2×4 and smack you gently with it. Sell, Sung Ju, sell.

You have no agent, no manager, and no compelling reason to say no. If you like the A-list producer, go for it. The fact that there’s a competing project shouldn’t slow you down. In fact, it lights a fire under your producer to try to get your movie into production before the other one. And as a well-known screenwriter, let me assure you: lots of projects get started that never make it into production. (CoughTARZAN).

So go for it. Let the A-list producer hand-deliver you to an agency. Even if your script never gets made, your career has begun.

The only reason to put on the brakes would be if you intend to direct the movie yourself as a small-budget indie. If that’s truly your heart’s ambition, then don’t go with the giant producer. You need to be matched up with someone who makes movies of your size with first-time filmmakers. The screenwriting lab would likely be the place to get hooked up.

Either way, write back in six months and let us know what happened.