Thursday, January 12, 2006

Sound as a Pound Pt. 1

Last time I promised you a post on how I used a treatment and outline to get a job. Here it is at 6:19 am thursday morning, and I guess I have nothing better to do than get up, rub the sleep from my eyes and make good on that promise.

Damn, it's tough being the mad, pulp bastard sometimes...

Anyway, the project I'm going to talk about is The Sound. I've mentioned it before -- it's a project I was brought in to rewrite for Velvet Steamroller (2001 Maniacs, God on the Mic). It's a new type of creature-feature, so I don't want to give away too much in terms of plot. Suffice to say it's got a lot of exploding, disingtegrating, melting and bursting body parts -- my kind of romantic comedy.

How I got the job is fairly typical at this lower budgeted end of the industry. It is a combination of a lot of things that have been belabored by people far better than I:

1. I had a library of work they could read and evaluate.
2. I knew two people at the company, and they liked my work.
3. I knew what I was talking about, and could sell them on the story I wanted to write.

(This last part is where the treatment comes in - but first, I'm going to make coffee. Be right back.)

7:11 am --

Okay, not so much right back, but back nonetheless...

So, back in April I was making my usual round of calls to all the usual suspects trying to drum up work for myself. That's how boring it really is - calling all of your contacts every month. Actually, I can't call it boring because it gives us all a great opportunity to gossip about the industry and tell each other what's going on in our lives. Let's say it's routine.

So I called Steve Bulzoni in Chicago to chat for a bit. Steve is one of the principals over at Velvet Steamroller and he and I used to work together at York Entertainment. He's got about 20 years of experience in the Home Entertainment business and he's one of the few good guys. Probably because he lives in Illinois and not Los Angeles.

Steve and I are working to put together a few projects for VS to fund -- projects I'm attached to as a producer, and projects I've written. We have a lot of business together, and we talk and email a lot.

Steve: So, I have this problem.
Me: What did your doctor say?
Steve: No, no. Not that kind of problem. You know this project we have, The Sound?
(drop of blood hits the water.... theme from Jaws rises)
Me: Tell me about it...
Kid Genius Inside Me: What's that I smell? The rent being paid?
(Da dum...da dum...)
Steve: We have this script, and we love the concept. Everyone we pitch it to immediately gets it and likes it...
Me: But?
Kid Genius: Tell him to send us the script! Close the deal!!!!!!
Me: Ssssh!
Steve: Huh?
Me: Nothing. Go ahead.
Steve: Well the script isn't "there" yet. You know what I mean?
(da dum...da dum...da dum...)

(Note: When they say the script isn't there yet, it means " There's something wrong with it, but we've been dealing with it for so long we can't see what that something is...")

Kid Genius: Tell him, idiot!
Me: Yeah, I know what you mean, Steve. Want me to take a look at it?
Kid Genius: Yes! Finally!
Steve: Could you? We really need to get this one back on track...

(Note: Back on track is a good position for any writer to inherit. They know something's wrong, but they want to "fix" it quickly and move ahead into financing & production. It's almost a "You can do no harm" type of deal.) *

Steve: What do you think you could do it for?

(Translation: We don't have a lot of development money. In fact, we've probably had five too many beers at lunch and only now remembered this project needs to get going.)

Me: How about x?
Kid Genius: Too low! Too low!
Steve: No, but how about y+1? This will be real quick. Half of y up front.
Me: Send me the script.

(da dum..da dum..da dum..da dum..da dum..da dum...)

Steve: But I'll have to run this past the others.
Kid Genius: The dreaded "Others" -- aargh!

(da damn! Theme music screeches to a halt.)

Me: Tell you what - you send me the script. I'll give you my notes and what I would do to rewrite the script - my pitch. You like it, then you give me the go-ahead and the check and we're off and running. You don't like my pitch then that's that. No harm. No foul.
Kid Genius: Good save.
Steve: Sound's good. Let me work it from my end.

Kid Genius: It needs to be quick.
Steve: Who said that?

So let's recap:

1. They knew my work.
2. I had somebody on the inside championing my work.
3. All I had to do was dazzle them with my brilliance and write a treatment that rocked.

Aw crap! How the hell was I going to do that?

End Pt. 1 -- I'm going for coffee down in the lab then getting to work. I'll post this later.

* And let me make this perfectly clear. The writers before me did a lot of good work. No one here is "dissing" their effort or talent. They saw things in the concept I didn't see at first. I saw things they didn't see. As a matter of fact, the Director and the Creative Executive did a polish after me. It's all part of the process.


Philip Morton said...

Bill absolutely terrific and much more entertaining than my post! Excellent view from the inside - and the studio view is absolutely identical, by the way, just add in about 5 people inbetween you and your friend Steve to slow things down and add more development notes. X and y+1 had me laughing out loud. In the end, we're all tap dancing to save our lives like in those bad westerns.

Bill Cunningham said...

Well, some of those people will figure into the next "adventure". They aren't between Steve and I so much as "around the process".

Alex Epstein said...

Sorry. In my experience, "The script isn't there yet" means "The script is a mushy piece of crap that doesn't know what it wants to be, and none of us have a clue what to do."

As for X and Y+1, thass what unions are for:

Producer: How much can you do it for?
Me: Well, y'know I'm a member of the Guild?
Producer: Could you do it as a polish?
Me: Is it a polish?
Producer: Sort of. [= "not even vaguely"]
Me: This is really Nathalie's domain. Why don't you call her?

Half the time that means Nathalie says "no," half the time it means yes. But it winds up being the same amount of money in aggregate, with half the work.

That's what it's like when you're a scale monkey ... Some of our fellow bloggers' agents would be saying things like:

Agent: How many zeroes?
Producer: Five?
Agent: Ho ho ho. Good one.

But that's showbiz, punky.