Tomorrow The Dance Begins

Today my agent called from his car.  He said that he had gotten my final revision with the one remaining actress gets a beefed up part.  Basically, what he and the producer wanted was for my Russian girl to be more “interesting”.  He said what he didn’t want was for that character to be a “suitcase”.  A suitcase is what Faye Dunaway was in “Three Days Of The Condor”.  In that movie, her character existed simply to deliver an important item to Robert Redford later in the script.  He said that TDOTC was a famous, classic movie, but what bugs him and other students of film is that Faye Dunaway had nothing interesting about her.  She’s just a carrier pigeon.  He wanted my “suitcase” to be interesting.  By changing her occupation, and a couple of scenes, we vastly improved the complexity of that character.  This, he taught me, was important in marketing the script because we would want a big actress to want that role.  Knowing that, I added some really cool devices to show off her talents, and these scenes require some acting chops.

I asked him if he wanted me to make any more changes, and he said now the screenplay was perfect to go.  He said, “I start my dance tomorrow” and that he is mostly looking to find a “whale” (jargon for huge figure in the industry).  I know who he is going to meet in person.  And it’s tomorrow.  He is going to meet someone responsible for pretty much all of the blockbusters in this generation.  The way it works in Hollywood is – one meeting at a time for the big pitch.  And every pitch is big, because if an agent brings a dud to a director, eventually he won’t get an appointment anymore.

This morning it was really fun calling the agency, and asking for the head.  “May I ask who is calling?” “Gary Fong”  “Will he know what this is regarding?” “Yes”.  I get a call from him in his car.

He asked me if I was good in math (?).  And I said that well, I majored in Physics at UCLA but then switched to Pharmacology at UCSB, but it’s not like I do math all day.  And I asked him why he thought so, and he said that the speed at which I could make script revisions was mathematical.

I called my high school drama teacher today.  Doug Griffin made the best High School musical productions at Westchester High.  It really was a performing arts school.  Doug now works with director Tim Story (Barbershop, Fantastic Four, Think Like A Man) and Doug was his mentor too.  When I came up with my story idea, the first person I called was Doug.  He spent about 15 minutes telling me how to write a script (have a conflict or distraction in every scene to keep the audience from being bored with the dialog, use as much cinema as possible and few words, keep the script to about 100 pages, and make sure that it is formatted correctly.

Using that advice, (which was crystal clear even though he doesn’t think much could have been said in 15 minutes) I was able to have a direction and format for my movie.  It worked.  The final draft was done in 18 days, and landed at exactly 100 pages.  When that went to the producer, she asked me why I had left a character arc out of the main couple’s marriage.  I said, well, I had to cram it all into 100 pages!  She told me that if I needed another six pages, take it.  Six pages is all of the room in the world!  I developed that and another character, and we still wound up at 104 pages.  Doug told me that it is one page per minute, and that every minute of film costs X number of thousands of dollars.  So fat scripts increase financial risk for the investors as the cost goes up.  Knowing that, I wrote the script to be inexpensive (relatively) to film (no armies of space aliens landing in New York).  Getting investors is all about risk vs reward.

This is why getting big talent on board is important in getting big financing.  If, say, Matt Damon wants to do it, the agent goes to directors and says Matt Damon is on board.  If we get a director like Michael Bay, then now we can get a big actress, and with all of that comes big financing.  The weirdest, craziest, nuttiest, most bizarre, insane, unbelievable, jaw-dropping, stunning, pee-inducing thing is knowing that on the way to getting commitments from huge talent means that many big stars read it on the way to getting commitments.  How would you feel if you knew that George Clooney, or Brad Pitt were going to be reading the words you wrote just a few weeks ago?  Would you be able to fall back asleep as you are jolted in the middle of the night?  Could you stop your hands from trembling out of nowhere?

I liken this stage to the opposite of grief.  In grief your loss is so overwhelming that you cannot fit it into perspective of your regular life.  So you may have an hour where you are laughing with friends, then it hits you like a piano dropping on your head.  With me, it is like ridiculous mind-blowing amazement will hit me like a ton of bricks as I go about my day – which is becoming more and more difficult to do as we progress in this process.

From here, it will be ridiculous.  I’ll get word that an actor wants it.  I’ll get word that a director wants it.  Or, it will die a slow-painful death, where it is in the office of an executive producer that says, “I’ll get back to you” and we wait, and wait.

What is neat about this script is that it is so topical.  My agent literally was reading my screenplay about simultaneous breaches when it literally lept off my pages and onto his news websites.  The day he is handed the screenplay, the world gives a “trailer” to my movie.

If there was a killer whale attack on a Southern California beach, development companies would be scrambling through the 85,000 scripts (true number) floating around in Hollywood to find one that had something to do with killer whale attacks.  Or they would engage writers to work off of that story concept.  When these things hit the news, I happened to be in front of an agent with a well-developed script.  Done.  With directorial notes.  I even put in lens angles.  I see the whole thing in my head, crystal clear, so I can describe which lenses should be used and where.

Being a wedding photographer is huge training for filmmaking.  I have had to tell stories of over a thousand weddings, each one unique, with images.  I storyboarded them just like directors do.  I shot and edited each of the stories one by one.  I think that is why it was so easy for me to do.

Writing is super fun and really natural.  Yes, I think it is weird that I could, at age 54, just discover a talent I never knew I had and have it all flow out.  But writers and directors become writers by experiencing life.  There are many dialogs I have in my screenplay which were very real.  Every character is a composite of people I know, saying things that I’ve heard people say.  And here is a little spoiler for you – I am Noel.  So when you’re watching the film, you will see a lot of me in it.  A lot.

I have a scene where the newsman is in a bar talking loudly.  One of the bar patrons complains that the TV is turned on too loud.  But it’s the newsman (with a very unmistakeable voice) live, and in person.  This scene came from when Clay Blackmore told me about when he was at a Washington DC bar, and thought someone had the NBC Nightly News turned on too loud, because it was Tom Brokaw in person, a bit hammered, talking very loudly to his friends.

Some of you will recall when I had some “comments” about the Canon EOS7DmII in one of my YouTubes, and the people at dpreview came out trolling with such anger.  This happens to my character too.  Again, everything you see in the movie is something I’ve seen in myself or others.

So, you may wonder why I chose this image of Russian patches for my blog post.  Here’s the deal.  When the screenplay was finished, Justin and I were planning on filming a “teaser” clip to promote the script.  We were going to have an actor remove a Russian army uniform and show is US uniform underneath it.  The problem is that we didn’t have any props, so I ordered these patches from Russia.  We were a bit annoyed that we wouldn’t be able to finish filming the teaser for weeks because these damned patches were going to take so long in International Post.  We planned on filming all of the other scenes and doing the “uniform” scene last.

By the time these patches were delivered to me, I would have no reason to try to find a way to get “someone” to read my screenplay.  They got here the day before my agent “begins his dance”.

Craziest situation ever.  And this never happens in Hollywood.  As much as I would like to say, “hey aspiring writers!  Stick to it!  Keep at it!” I can’t give that advice.  Hollywood has closed and locked doors, not open to the public.  I’m still trying to make sense of it all.  If I had any advice to share, it is to explore your creativity.  You might suck, you might be great, but don’t care about the goal.  Just play.  Try things.  Goof around.  Start a project.  How do they say it, “dance as if no one is watching”?  Let me change that to, “write a movie as if nobody is watching it – except you”.

I'm an author, photographer, entrepreneur, musician, husband and parent of twins. And most currently, screenwriter

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