Monday, March 28, 2011

Is that gig really worth it? A guide to how I figure it out. Part One

This is a topic that springs up from time to time, usually inspired by conversations with fellow friends and colleagues in the industry, who are tired of being taken advantage of.

There are so many factors to cover, that this is probably going to be a mini series so that I don't ramble too much, nor have the post end up the length of my languishing novella.

(Me, pontificate? Perish the thought.)

Ahem, right - back to this part of the topic.

How the heck does one choose projects? There are zillions of them, ranging widely in potential, both creatively and pay scale.

My most basic is a sliding scale based on those two factors. The less I get personally out of a project, the more money I'd better see - or the project better be insanely simple. I once got conned into shooting part of an infomercial for free, because I was flat out lied to about it, the 'producer' claiming that it was a documentary on research for new cancer treatments. To say I was irked would be a bit of an understatement.

What I've come to notice, is that newbie producers genuinely believe that the whole industry runs on hype and bullshit. Save that crap for promotions, where it can occasionally work that way. Experienced producers understand that honesty is the most important commodity that they have. They are honest about the scope of each project, the requirements, and the rates.

So baby producers - stop lying, stop exaggerating. The only people who believe you are in no way experienced enough to add value to your production. Don't tell me that a piece that hasn't been shot will get into Sundance, let alone win - you cannot predict that. And if you start your pitch with 'this will be great for your reel', I'm going to smack you through the phone. Really want to impress potential crew? Try 'we believe in this project and have really great catering'.

On awards - really, nobody you want working on your movie cares. Now, if you have an extensive track record of major awards, by all means, mention it. Single awards, or even a series of them for a single project is not so impressive - it makes that work sound like a fluke. There are so many factors for each film, and each one is unique. Honestly, seasoned production is far more worried about good accommodations, decent food, and the checks clearing.

As a brand new production person, by all means take a wide variety of offered projects - you'll get your hands dirtier, and learn more that way. Only you can tell where your limit is, and you'll figure it out in time.

More on that 'great for your reel' thing. Yes, everyone does need material, and to keep shooting stuff. Here's where it breaks down - why should I kill myself on a project for no money when I have a network of pros who all want to shoot personal projects in their free time, and understand what goes into it? I can take a day with some friends to shoot something awesome and have a great time getting more footage for my reel. You're asking me to do what I'd do for a friend, but we don't even know each other. I can collaborate with friends who are also seasoned pros to get great footage if that's all I'm looking for. So this is NOT a prime selling point.

If I want to read the script before deciding whether to work on your project, send me the thing. Trust me, I don't want to steal your student film project opus idea. I have plenty of ideas of my own. What I'm looking for is a script that's both strong, and seems like it could reasonably be shot in the number of production days allotted. Refusing to send me the script tells me two things - you're a paranoid egomaniac who's going to be a nightmare to work with, and that your script probably sucks. (Believe me, this is a safe assumption.)

Out of the scripts I've been sent (figure around ten or more every month) over the past, let's say five years, I've been excited by the writing on...


So yeah, chances are the script alone isn't as brilliant as the writer/director wants to believe. The vast majority are nearly unreadable. The remaining ten percent are just awkward, overdone, or tired - I think mostly because the creator is only familiar with either blockbusters, or the top few films of the last decade or so. Watch widely. Read widely.

More thoughts on that sliding scale in the next post.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Your old writing

People often ask about one's old work - if they can read it (I'm not that evil), what it was like, how long you've been writing. Not one writer has ever sprung fully formed from the first sentence - we all have trunk novels, stories, and whatever else is formed of words on paper, in varying degrees of awfulness. Through a series of moves, my old work is long lost, and mostly forgotten.

I can, however share this 'gem' from memory:

My best friend and I were huge ghost story and Twilight Zone fans, and decided to become 'rich and famous' or somesuch by writing our own. (We were six or seven at the time, I suspect 'rich' included such things as getting our own pony.)

The memory is a bit fuzzy, but I believe the story had to do with a woman reading about a train crash and then perishing a few hours later the same way. Nothing wrong with the basic premise - the writing?

All I can clearly remember was the debate about the title, remedied by using both ideas. This masterpiece was called:

'The Fantom book of Fate/The Phantom book of Phate'

We thought the spelling change was terribly clever, but couldn't agree on which to use - so of course we used both.

I suspect the rest of the writing was equally inspired.

Friday, March 4, 2011

MARScon - the trip and pre convention

I made it to Minnesota!

The trip was not without it's interesting points.

The first exciting bit was that I nearly got dropped off at the wrong airport. My dear friend Gene was kind enough to drive me, as he had business in the general area anyway. While in good spirits, neither of us were at our mental best at six o'clock in the morning. After two hours of joking about which airport I was headed to, there was some confusion about which one was actually correct...

After being dropped off and finding my gate, I was left with a great deal of time to kill. Two flight attendants sitting next to me were debating the breed names of brown and white cows. I mentioned Jersey and Gurnsey, the only two I know. (I've seen cows at the county fair, and that is about the end of my intimacy with the subject.) We looked at pictures of cows, discussed farms - which a relation of one of the attendants had just purchased, complete with some sort of brown and white cows.

Turns out, they were Hereford. I find a new use for my smartphone every day. Discovered that the camera bag that I have is both overly bulky and awkwardly designed, yet I still managed to nearly forget it under my seat in the waiting area. Minor heart attack #1.

The first leg of the trip, I more or less slept. Southwest has this 'open seating' policy, where you pick your own seat, and board based on where your ticket appears in the line up. I chose not to pay extra in order to board early, a choice I will continue to make. Families can board earlier, so if you choose not to, you don't have to be near four screaming children. For that alone, I like the open seating plan.

I usually get a little airsick. I had a layover, as SW had no direct flights. This actually isn't a bad thing, particularly if you choose not to check your luggage. I suspect that would add a layer of tension to an already tight trip. Somwwhere between getting on and off the first plane, I lost my second boarding pass. One of the cow attendants (meaning one of the guys I'd been talking about breeds with) assured me that they could print a new boarding pass quite easily.

Getting off the first plane, I looked around rather blankly for someone who could help with the boarding issue. Some bank promotion was going on, and they followed me for a while telling me the advantages of the flyer miles through their bank. If they had told me where the help desk was, I might have accepted some of the literature that was thrust toward my face.

Getting a new pass genuinely was as easy as the attendant had assured me, once I found the desk.

On the second leg of the trip, I sat next to a lovely woman who grew up in Minnesota. She splits her time now between NY and Arizona. When I found that the next leg of this plane's trip was Tuscon, I had a brief bout wrestling with myself as to whether or not to just stay on the plane. Particularly when we arrived, and the tarmac was decorated in snowdrifts.

But I'm here, and the excitement should begin in about an hour. Next up, the night before