Archive for November 2010

Amazon, E-Query Updates

November 25, 2010

Download my LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE script at Amazon Studios!

Per my last post, I bit the bullet and entered two of my scripts in the Amazon Studios contest. So far, I haven’t had many downloads or reviews, and no one has bothered to post a revised version — which doesn’t surprise me. That would require reading the script, then doing unpaid writing work. Who has time for that? (Here’s my script link.)

Meanwhile, on screenwriting message boards and blogs, the scathing attacks on Amazon continue unabated. Yeah, the so-called “option” and licensing clauses in their agreement pretty much suck for writers/filmmakers… unless you happen to be one of the winners. In any event, I went ahead and did a mass e-query blast for the LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE spec that I submitted to Amazon Studios. If — and it’s a huge thousand-to-one odds “if” — I should get a legit offer for my script as a result of those queries, then I may have a problem. We’ll see what happens.

The e-query went out Mon., Nov. 22 as I requested. My family-friendly script is set at Christmas time, so I wanted to get reads over the holidays when Hollywood shuts down and agents/managers catch up on reading. The downside is I sent it during a short work week when everyone is trying to get out of the office early, which could prompt them to hit the “delete” key extra quick as they scan their emails for “spam” queries.

However, I got nine script requests in the first two days. Not great, but not bad. Some were from bigger management companies and prodcos that I have wanted to contact. And all it takes in this business is ONE person or company to like your stuff. I also received a reply from a book agent, who said she normally doesn’t rep screenwriters but she “liked my pitch” and wanted to take a look at it… as I’ve written in this blog before, I am adapting my scripts into books because I think the odds of getting published are better than selling a movie project. Now I have my foot in the door with a book agent, which was an unexpected bonus.

At the same time, that response from a literary agency shows the pitfalls of mass e-queries. The Script Delivery service I used sent my pitch out to over 6,000 agents, managers and producers in their database for a cost of $80. About a dozen bounced back as either undeliverable (person no longer at that company) or replied that they don’t rep screenwriters.  A few hundred will probably be flagged as spam or automatically deleted as junk mail. That doesn’t bother me. I’m trying to hook just one fish. The nine nibbles I’ve gotten so far are positive signs. Past e-queries I’ve sent out generated script requests months after they went out (in one case a management company asked for a script over a year later — eventually it got recommended to the top partner, who passed on it).

I’m not saying you should try the same approach to marketing your script or book project. Other writers I know used the same e-query services I did and got zero requests. Much of it depends on your pitch. Over on Done Deal and other sites, I keep reading about how you should come up with a standard industry logline approach because that is supposedly what agents or producers want to see. Maybe. Or maybe a pitch that is different might be a way to make your query stand out from the dozens they scan through each day. Below is the e-query I just sent out…

Subject: Big Screen 4-Quad Adventure Script

Take a charmingly cynical British resort developer — say, Hugh Grant or Colin Firth.

Add a group of misfit kids (GOONIES).

Put them in Kauai’s spectacular canyons and jungles, where JURASSIC PARK was filmed.

Have these modern day skeptics encounter the mythical little people of Hawaii, who may actually be a real ‘Lost Tribe’ that time forgot…

And you could have Spielberg’s next IMAX project — well, maybe he’s booked up. But this is a Christmas movie that’s made for big screen 3D live action with CGI creatures. It was a finalist in the Page Awards, beating out over 5,000 entries, and was ranked in the top 5 percent of the Nicholl Fellowship competition.

Here’s the logline:

After being taken captive by a legendary tribe of 3-feet tall Polynesian elves, a Scrooge-like real estate developer and four plucky kids must use the Menehune’s ancient knowledge to avert an environmental catastrophe caused by the developer’s resort expansion plans.

Coincidentally, Disney is opening their new Aulani Resort on Oahu next fall. It’s said that the Menehune will be incorporated into the resort’s theme.

If you’d like to read LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE, please contact me directly. I was formerly repped by Cathryn Jaymes, who passed away earlier this year (she was Tarantino’s manager for 10 years), and am seeking new representation.

Thanks for your time!

Aloha,
Rich Figel

Phone: 808-262-5073

P.S. What’s also interesting is there is now evidence that the Menehune may have been real. Here’s a link to a NY Times article about the “Hobbit People”…

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/28/science/28hobbit.html

What do you think? Would you request the script if you were a Hollywood reader, or pass?

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Amazon Studios contest debate

November 18, 2010

The latest free-for-all screenwriting/filmmaking contest is underway at Amazon.com, which unveiled a weird peer review site that combines all the worst elements of Project Greenlight and Triggerstreet. But they’re also giving away lots of money, and there IS a chance someone will sell a script or possibly get a movie deal. The biggest negative though is by entering you must agree to give them an 18-month “option” on your project.

On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous and I wouldn’t fault anyone for saying it’s stupid to go along with those terms. So, of course, I entered two of my scripts. Here’s my thinking: INUGAMI and LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE have done very well in contests, and I did just about all I could to market them — targeted agents/managers, equery blasts to producers and studios, networking at screenwriting conferences, etc. In fact, I’ve gotten lots of reads and good feedback. But no sales, or offers by reps to go out wide with either one. So what do I have to lose by giving up the rights to sell it for 18 months when no one is buying anyway — at least not through the conventional routes?

Also, I’ve optioned scripts before and it can take months for anything to happen even when you’re dealing with legit producers. If you’re a new unproduced writer, chances are there isn’t going to be a lot of heat on your project. And if you’re dealing with producers or managers who have stuff in active development, your project might not be very high on their list of priorities. If someone should come along and make an offer on either of my scripts, I seriously doubt Amazon Studios will try to stop it from happening… and if they wanted to, they would have to pony up money to exercise the option. I’ll take that deal any day of the week.

The daunting reality aspiring screenwriters must face is the odds are nothing is going to happen with your script, whether you enter contests or not. I don’t expect to win any competition that allows “peers” to rate scripts. What happened with Project Greenlight and Triggerstreet a few years ago was pretty ugly. Writers were asking other writers to give them favorable reviews, and if you didn’t, some would “torpedo” the reviewer’s script with negative ratings. Many of the reviewers didn’t know the first thing about writing. Yet their scores were given equal weight with more experienced screenwriters or filmmakers.

However, I did actually get some useful feedback and there were readers who genuinely enjoyed my screenplays. For a writer, isn’t that the main reason we do it? If you write a script and no one is reading it, for all practical intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist. So I’m putting my stuff out there, and hope you’ll download the scripts if they sound interesting to you.

BTW, please don’t feel obligated to post reviews on the Amazon Studios site. Just by downloading it, you’ll be helping me because when the download counts go up, more people will tend to read those “more popular” scripts. Some are showing thousands of downloads already, which seems pretty fishy to me… but I’m tempted to download those too just to see if the scripts are any good.

Anyhow, here’s the links to the Amazon Studio site and little about my projects…

INUGAMI

http://studios.amazon.com/scripts/264

A dead fortune teller. A skeptical private eye. An ancient Japanese curse. The fear is real, but the terror is all in your mind…

Think CHINATOWN with Shinto witchcraft. It was inspired by a real life murder of a Japanese fortune teller in Hawaii years ago, combined with a Japanese werewolf-type legend I read about. Earlier versions made the finals of the Austin Film Festival contest and quarterfinals of the prestigious Nicholl Fellowships (top 4 percent of 6,044 entries). “R” rating, low to medium budget.

LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE

http://studios.amazon.com/scripts/145

Family/adventure big budget project. A Scrooge-like resort developer and group of misfit kids discover the mythological little people of Hawaii are responsible for big problems at a Kauai resort… but revealing this secret could threaten the very existence of these Polynesian munchkins, who have survived for centuries in a hidden valley as a Lost Tribe that time forgot. (This was written with IMAX 3D in mind to highlight Kauai’s spectacular natural beauty.)

An earlier version had been optioned by Talk Story Productions, but that deal fell apart and rights have reverted to me. The latest draft made the finals of the Page International Awards, beating out over 5,000 other scripts in the process. It was also in the top 5 percent of last year’s Nicholl Fellowships competition.

Speaking of the Nicholl contest, a writer from Maui (Daniel Cretton) won one of the coveted fellowships this year. There was a nice write-up on him in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that shows just how significant some of these competitions can be. Congrats, brah!

I Hate Time Travel Movies

November 17, 2010

With the exception of TERMINATOR and TERMINATOR 2, I’m sick and tired of time travel plots. The latest big budget flick I’ve seen that relied on a time-changing gimmick was PRINCE OF PERSIA. Problem is when the “Sands of Time” magic dagger is used to go back to the first act break into Act Two, it basically negates everything that happens afterward — so you’ve just wasted an hour watching developments that had no consequence since it was all for naught after the hero prevents the future from happening!

In effect, the emotional investment is similar to playing a video game. If you know there are multiple outcomes, and your characters can come back to life in different scenarios, there’s not much at stake. You just hit reset and start over.

The fallacy of time travel plots though is that if you eliminate one “bad” antagonist or event, that the tragic outcome will be averted. But how can you be sure the alternative scenario wouldn’t be worse? Take Hitler, for example. Let’s say his mother had a miscarriage or he was aborted before being born. You can’t assume someone else wouldn’t have come along to start WWII or begin a movement to exterminate Jews or some other race.

In daily life, we already do a certain amount of time travel. I’ve become so used to watching TV shows on DVR that I sometimes only half-watch what’s on, then rewind it if something catches my interest while fast forwarding through things I don’t care about. This has carried over to how I half-listen to radio. I wind up missing stuff I was interested in, then want to hit a “rewind” button on my radio to play back what I missed. Except I can’t. Sometimes I even tune out my wife when she’s talking because I’m preoccupied with worries that usually pertain to tomorrow, instead of being here in the “now.”

Actually, there is another time travel movie series that I do like: PLANET OF THE APES. It works because in the original movie, the twist isn’t revealed until the end when we see the half-buried Statue of Liberty, which tells us the human astronaut has returned to earth in the distant future. It’s just brilliant. Recently, there was a 2-hour show about how the movie evolved from a book into a film that spawned unplanned sequels and finally a short-lived TV series. Rod Serling of TWILIGHT ZONE fame worked on the first draft. It’s pretty ingenious too how they came up with sequel plots. Unfortunately, I can’t recall the name of the show — “Beyond the Planet of the Apes” maybe? If only I could go back in time and retrieve it from my DVR…

Time travel in TV series turns me off too. Take Lost. Man, I loved the first two seasons. I kept wondering, how in the hell are they gonna explain all those cool WTF moments in the first few episodes? They hinted that there might be scientific reality-based explanations that would eventually be revealed. But the second it became apparent that there was going to be time shifting crap — even a mechanical “wheel” to change time’s course ! — I just lost all interest. The quasi-mystical “good” versus “evil” back story seemed like a giant cop-out. This year’s attempt to replicate Lost was NBC’s The Event, and after 15 minutes of jumping back and forth in time, I was already shaking my head in frustration.

I dunno. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and with less time left in front of me, I don’t want to spend it fantasizing about going back and trying to change the past or jumping forward to a future where I’d already be obsolete. I want stories and movies that make me feel glad to be alive right now. But few of us are content with what we have. We dream of bigger achievements and success, and keep thinking about what might be if the stars align just so. Life rarely lives up to the grandeur of expectations in our personal time travel scenarios, however. It’s not a video game with a reset button or magic dagger to undo what has been done.

It reminds me of a line I read somewhere years ago: Hope is forever stealing away the little time we have left.

I don’t know who wrote that, but I know what he meant.

Lost in America

November 2, 2010

It’s election day, and I’m feeling a mixture of disgust, resignation and hopelessness. This past year, I’ve been producing a local TV show called Career Changers and interviewed a lot of people who have had to create business opportunities for themselves, or adapt and learn new skills because of the economic downturn. There are positive signs that the worst of the crisis has passed. Yet most of the anger out there is directed at the people who have been desperately trying to FIX the crisis — that was caused by the prior administration!

This is what it has come down to: we want instant solutions for problems that we allowed to build up over years of wasteful spending and generous tax breaks for the most affluent segment of our population. When respected leaders and economists warned the public that Republican tax cuts for the wealthy would increase the deficit, where was the outrage? When anti-war protesters warned that invading Iraq would cost lives and billions of dollars, where was the Tea Party anger?

Despite the trillion-dollar war President Obama inherited, despite the fact that Bush turned a surplus into a record-breaking deficit, despite the reality that the stock market had nose-dived below the Dow 8,000 mark (it’s now over 11,000), despite all the negatives… we had a president who stayed calm, managed to stabilize the financial markets, improved our foreign relations simply by not being Bush or saying blatantly stupid things, passed health care reform that will benefit millions of people over time, and for that he’s being blamed for the failure to rectify eight years of mismanagement faster! Geez.

I was watching that new AMC series last night, The Walking Dead, which is your basic zombie story, and it occurred to me the real nightmare is the Voting Brain Dead in this country who are electing the same party that got us into this humongous mess. Have they no short term memory? Two years ago there was serious concerns from economists that we were heading into another Great Depression. To be sure, the job market is still pretty bad. That’s one reason I started the Career Changers TV show. I knew it was going to take at least a couple of years for Obama to steer this country in the right direction… but I honestly didn’t think the GOP was so determined to seize back control that they would purposely sabotage recovery efforts to prevent that from happening. And why?

The only motive I can ascribe their actions to, are basic human emotions we writers focus on in our work: greed, pride, vengeance. Power monger Rupert Murdoch, who runs Fox “News” and now owns the Wall Street Journal, has one goal in mind — to prove he is right and everyone else is wrong. Since he used the Fox propaganda machine to back Bush, Cheney and Rove, he must now rewrite history to vindicate his choice as being “better” than the alternative, which is what Obama’s victory represented. The irony of course is Murdoch isn’t American, and could care less if his personal need for vindication bankrupts our country.

I keep telling myself it doesn’t really matter. Even if the GOP and Tea Party take over, the way our system works these days is that nothing much will change anyway. Ask them what they will cut to balance the budget, and they don’t have any real answers. They won’t cut the military budget. They won’t take the axe to Social Security or Medicare. Once they’re elected, they won’t take pay cuts or volunteer to eliminate stimulus money that is going to their districts. Instead, they’ll wind up taking credit for the stuff that was passed by Dems that kept the economy from completely crashing. Does anyone remember how Bush responded when the crap hit the fan? He had that deer-in-the-headlights look. Wall Street had no confidence in him, even though they helped elect him and kept him in power for eight years — eight years in which corporations were allowed to do whatever they wanted under his rule! Sigh.

An old college friend of mine recently decided to pull a “Lost in America” move and got rid of his house and belongings to travel the country with his wife in a van. In some ways I envy him. Why worry about a mortgage and scratching out a living, when there is so much more out there to be experienced that doesn’t have to be ugly and nasty as what we see on the nightly TV news? Why not just chuck it all and become a nomad… but then I remember the movie and realize that my wife and I would wind up blowing the “nest egg” in Vegas or Atlantic City in all likelihood, because we want the nice creature comforts that define the American Dream. It’s sad though that the dream has soured for so many people in this country. Tomorrow we’ll wake up and try to carry on. That’s all we can do.

Here’s a link to my friend’s blog about “dropping out” and seeing America via a Eurovan camper:

http://astralnomads.blogspot.com/

Gerry was one of my college apartment roommates at Montclair State in New Jersey way back in 1976-77. He was and still is a talented writer himself. A poet actually, who became a computer programmer (or software designer? I’m not sure), which I always thought was kind of odd — he never struck me as the programmer type, to say the least. Funny how life takes us down so many unexpected roads, only to arrive at the destination we had in mind from the very start.

Sorry for the rant, but I had to do some venting or my head would explode!