Posted tagged ‘Snallygaster’

The Continuing Adventures of Pineapple Man

July 6, 2011

Actually, “Pineapple Man” is the comic book creation of Sam Campos, an artist in Hawaii. I read about him in the local paper a few years ago, and had wanted to meet him for a couple of reasons: he was friends with Jason Scott Lee, an actor I envisioned as the meth-addicted murder suspect — and possible curse victim — in my INUGAMI Japanese werewolf script; and Sam was doing storyboard work on Hollywood movies. I thought maybe we could help each other with our mutual contacts, and perhaps collaborate on projects right here in Hawaii. But he went to L.A. for awhile and I wasn’t able to connect with him.

What brought us together recently was the Amazon Studio contest. He had been shooting/editing a no-budget superhero television pilot on his own, when he heard about the Amazon deal and considered entering his project because there was big prize money being offered. I happened to be looking for a storyboard artist to turn INUGAMI into a “test movie” for the AS contest, since that’s what they really seem to be looking for. That gave me an excuse to email Sam, and next thing you know we’re having coffee in Kailua and talking about our respective experiences with various managers and producers in Hollywood. In fact, he has kept his L.A. phone number because he says it’s hard to get movie work if they know you reside elsewhere.

After I explained to him that Amazon has some pretty restrictive conditions for test movie submissions, Sam realized he didn’t want to tie up his TV pilot project in their contest. But he was very interested in doing the art work for INUGAMI and my Amish horror spec, SNALLYGASTER, which made the Amazon Top 50 monthly semifinals list twice. As it happens, I’m in the process of adapting SNALLY into an ebook format for Ed Gray’s Aisle Seat Books venture, which was another Amazon Studios-related connection. Ed’s concept is to turn good screenplays into good ebook reads that retain the best elements of a page-turning script — but in a prose format that’s easier on the average reader. You won’t see large blocks of narrative or internal thoughts. The emphasis will be on action and dialogue, just as it is with most movies. Will there be a market for these script novelizations? I have no idea. I’m willing to take a shot at it though.

Sam’s approach to storyboarding is to first ask the writer to choose three key scenes that contain the best visuals you’d want to see on the big screen — sort of like a movie trailer. He also asked me to list actors I’d like to cast in starring roles so he had a clearer idea of the characters he was going to draw. Doing both exercises helped me see my own movie in sharper detail as well. Try it with your own script or book manuscript. It might change the way you view (or pitch) your story.

For the SNALLY ebook, I asked him to give me a quote on doing the cover art work. He started reading the script and emailed me to say how much he liked the writing, and that he could really see it as a movie… a big compliment since he’s worked on Hollywood productions before. His price was very reasonable too, so I told him he’s hired. Now I just have to adapt my script to meet Ed Gray’s guidelines. Oh, and the reason I decided to chance it with Ed is that he got Amazon Studio’s endorsement for adapting AS script entries into ebooks. They even said they’ll help promote the ebooks, which is no small thing. Will I make any money from this publishing experiment? Who knows. But I’m sure it will get more attention than if I tried to self-publish my script adaptations.

More importantly, the Amazon Studios contest experience has kicked my ass into another gear. I’m not just sitting around waiting to hear back from managers or producers or contests. I’m taking numbers, meeting with professionals in the TV and film biz here in Hawaii, and trying to make something happen on my own. And I’ve gotten more results in the past couple of months than I did in two years while being repped by a semi-famous manager. So bad-mouth Amazon or other screenwriting contests all you want… it still comes down to what you do to promote yourself, and your work.

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Amazon Redux

May 18, 2011

As much as I hate to kick a dead horse, it seems I get the most blog views whenever I post something related to screenwriting contests or the on-going Amazon Studio “experiment.” I’ve been reading some of the complaints on the AS message boards about Amazon’s monthly choices for Top 50 semifinalist scripts, and have one bit of advice for those writers: stop whining about not making the cut.

Yes, that’s easy for me to say because I’ve had two scripts make the semifinals, and my Amish horror spec SNALLYGASTER is in the running again this month. But aside from receiving two Amazon Studios t-shirts the prior times I made the Top 50, nothing happened. No contacts from Warner Bros. or any agents/managers. Unless you actually win one of the cash prizes, the contest results are pretty meaningless.

Moreover, I really don’t think Amazon cares one bit what you do with your non-winning script, or mine for that matter. So to those complainers who keep asking Amazon to release them from their so-called option agreement, why don’t you just change the title of your script and do whatever it is you want to do with it? Do you honestly think the Amazon Studio cops are going to be tracking your every move and checking whatever scripts you’re trying to get people to read? Sheesh.

Furthermore, if you’re upset that you didn’t get any recognition in a contest that has gotten about 4,000 submissions, you are in need of a serious reality check. Over 40,000 scripts are registered each year with the WGA — ten times as many as Amazon has received. Add those to the backlog of screenplays that have been floating around for a long time, some of which are actually damn good, then put yourself in the shoes of professional readers/reps/development execs who have to sift through hundreds of awful scripts each month. To make it to the top of the dung heap, your script or story needs something that sets it apart. You have to show them an idea or twist on an idea they haven’t seen before.

I haven’t had the time nor interest to read many of the Amazon entries, but obviously the AS judges saw something in the ones they have chosen over the past few months. Are their choices flawed, or simply bad taste in some cases? I don’t know. The other night my wife and I tried to watch that Tom Cruise/Cameron Diaz action “comedy” that began as a hot script called WICHITA. They changed the title to KNIGHT AND DAY. It was horrible. When I read the script, I thought it was too over-the-top and predicted it would bomb. But somebody, including Cruise, Diaz and their people, obviously saw something different when they looked at the project. Does it mean they were all wrong from the get-go? Maybe. Bottom line is it doesn’t matter what you or I think is going to make a good movie. It’s always going to be up to someone else to play “judge” and pick their favorites, based on whatever criteria they have developed over time.

If you’re lucky and develop your craft, you’ll improve your odds and get better at choosing story ideas that aren’t D.O.A . from page one. But if you let contest results and rejections get in your head, you’re already out of the race.

NEXT POST: Confessions of a screenwriting contest junkie… and how I learned to “read” the contest judges to get a leg up on the competition.

New Life for Old Scripts?

April 23, 2011

Before the rambling, disjointed conclusion of my four part series about how FOOL-PROOF was optioned by Hollywood producers, then turned into a completely different project, I wanted to share some thoughts on “trunk scripts” and why I entered a couple of mine in the Amazon Studios contest.

Sometimes, with age and experience, a writer can improve an old screenplay that wasn’t quite there in the original draft. In fact, my Amish horror spec — SNALLYGASTER — which I dusted off, fixed up a little and posted on Amazon last month was one of the Top 50 semifinalists for April. According to one blog that has been tracking and mocking the AS contest, only nine of the 50 April picks were “virgin” scripts (Snally being one of those). The rest had made the semifinals or finals in the previous monthly contests, going back to December. To date, over 4,000 scripts have been posted on the AS site.

Anyhow, one reason I’ve been recounting the story behind my FOOL-PROOF option is to show how long it can take to just get your script to “workable material” stage even after you’ve done well in contests and gotten interest from managers or producers. They’ll tell you they LOVED your script — it just needs a little work. A few tweaks. And, oh, maybe the plot should be changed a bit. It can take months of rewriting before an agent or manager is ready to shop it around.

So you have to keep working on new stuff simultaneously, because chances are your rewrite isn’t going to sell either. That’s the reality of the spec game. While I was rewriting FOOL-PROOF under the guidance of the ROBOCOP co-writer who optioned it, I was also banging out a satirical comedy called THE GODPARENTS. It’s about a cynical “child-free” L.A. couple who get stuck taking care of the kids of their New Age friends who live in Sedona, after the mother disappears. It turns out she’s on a mission to kill the self-help guru who bilked his followers of their live savings. Think AS GOOD AS IT GETS meets FLIRTING WITH DISASTER. (Another aside: James Brooks, who directed AS GOOD AS IT GETS, starring Jack Nicholson, was sitting at the table next to me at the Austin Film Festival the year I was one of the finalists in that contest for a supernatural thriller I wrote. He actually applauded me when my name was announced, which was pretty cool.)

GODPARENTS was a finalist in three smaller contests, but didn’t do anything in the majors. However, I did get a call from Village Roadshow, which was just starting to ramp up in the U.S. at that time, and they took a look at it. To be honest, I wasn’t that excited since I had no idea just how huge Village Roadshow was going to be. The VR development exec liked my writing, but said they were passing because it wasn’t quite what they were looking for… these were the guys who would go on to make the MATRIX movies and a bunch of other high concept comedies. Had I been better prepared, I could have used that opportunity to pitch something along those lines.

Instead, I literally put THE GODPARENTS script away in a box inside my office closet, where I kept all my original hard copy drafts. By the time FOOL-PROOF became I GOTTA BE ME a year later, I was already finishing up two other new scripts, and starting two more simultaneously. For awhile, I found that working on two scripts in different genres at the same time kept me going, because I could pick the project that fit my mood on a daily basis. If I felt crappy, I’d work on the comedy to cheer myself up. On darker days, I’d switch to the horror spec. Needless to say, during those years, I didn’t have a real job. My wife was the breadwinner and supported me one hundred percent. Yet I felt guilty about not making any money, and I started to doubt whether I’d ever make it as a writer. A lot of that angst is there in the pages and dialogue of THE GODPARENTS.

I forgot how funny — and honest — it was until I opened the old Final Draft file copy of it on my computer. The only reason I did it was because SNALLYGASTER had made the Top 50 of the Amazon Studios contest, and I figured it was worth taking another look at some of my other old scripts that I was proud of. They aren’t high concept enough to generate interest from most agents or managers. But they’re entertaining stories, and if people at Amazon Studios are willing to read them, great. I just want people to read and enjoy my stuff. The rest is in the hands of the Big Guy or Fate.

Odd coincidence: there are two other Amish-themed scripts I know of in the AS contest! One is a comedy, RUMSPRINGA BREAK, and the other is about an Amish assassin. I presume that’s a comedy too.

Here’s the Amazon Studios links to my SNALLYGASTER and GODPARENTS scripts, which can be dowloaded as PDF files. If you have feedback or suggestions, feel free to post honest, critical reviews on the AS site!

Addendum: Forgot to mention, SNALLYGASTER is set around Easter because it ties into pagan customs and Old World religious beliefs… plus, have you ever heard of any Easter horror movies? It’s kind of like PUMPKINHEAD with elements of THE VILLAGE and BLAIR WITCH, but some readers have been comparing it to JEEPERS CREEPERS.

After the Quake

March 23, 2011

I’m not sure why I wrote about being half-Japanese when I posted my blog about contradictions on March 4, but after the sirens sounded here in Hawaii the night of March 10, I sensed something terrible was happening across the ocean in the country where I was born. Earlier, my wife thought the TV news bulletin of an earthquake in Japan was on a DVR playback from the week before when a quake triggered a tsunami alert. I told her, no, this is live. And this one was much, much bigger.

We live on the Windward side of Oahu, near a canal that connects to Kailua Bay about a mile down the street from our house. I felt fairly safe though, despite the later siren blasts and the news that the first tsunami waves were expected to hit our island around 3 am. People on our street who lived closed to the beach were evacuated. Fortunately, we were spared. Other parts of Oahu and the Big Island weren’t so lucky, but no lives were lost.

Anyone who’s ever been to Hawaii knows how closely we’re tied to Japan. Over 20 percent of the local population has some Japanese in them. You see the influences in the food, customs, aesthetics. Our economy depends a lot on Japanese visitors too. In Japan, hula is extremely popular and there are many “halaus” or schools that teach hula. (There’s a charming Japanese movie called HULA GIRLS, which is based on a true story about how Japanese women decide to put on a hula show to save a town when the mining company decides to shut down operations. You can rent it on Netflix.)

So people in Hawaii were deeply affected by the devastation in Japan. There have been all kinds of fund-raising efforts going on with a local angle. One that you might be interested in supporting is buying $20 “Aloha” shirts that have a red circle in place of the letter “o” that kind of says it all. All profits from sales are going directly to Japan, and I’ve already received the shirts I ordered just a week ago. You can go here to order them online from Butigroove.com, and here’s a link to another blog with more donation options.

It’s strange watching mainland TV news coverage of the events and fears of a nuclear meltdown. For a few days it dominated the airwaves… then it just sort of became old news as Libya took center stage. It sickens me that Charlie Sheen continues to get as much coverage as he has. I stop in to lurk at some screenwriting message boards, and the continual sniping and snarkiness that goes on between amateurs and professional writers makes me wonder what world these people are living in. Have we really become that ego-centric where all we care about is our personal success?

I guess so. Aside from buying some t-shirts, giving money and sharing my thoughts about the disaster in Japan, there isn’t much I can do either. Life goes on, Charlie Sheen is unstoppable (until he crashes) and the grass needs cutting. I still want to tell you my “Opposites Attract” story about writing a bizarre punk rock musical script that was optioned by ROBOCOP co-writer Michael Miner, but will save that for a rainy day.

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Random updates: After cracking the first Amazon Studios Top 50 semifinals list with LEGENDS OF THE MENEHUNE, have not had any luck in the two subsequent monthly script contests. So I added two new projects: STUNT GUYS, big budget action/comedy, and SNALLYGASTER, an Amish horror story… yep, I said AMISH horror. You can check both of them out by going to this link and downloading the pdf files, which are much easier to read than the horrid rtf versions they were making us post before.

Or you can go to these individual script page links:

SNALLYGASTER

STUNT GUYS: THE SULTANS OF S.W.A.T.

Thus far, I haven’t heard of any actual movie deals coming out of the Amazon Studios contest, but the fact that they’ve changed their policies about “open” collaborations (you can opt out now) and are finally allowing writers to upload pdf versions of their scripts tells me they are listening to suggestions. The question though is, are any legit producers or agents taking this contest seriously?

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BTW, remember my post on “Idea Theft or Coincidence?” Well, apparently TV writers aren’t the only ones who say they’ve pitched ideas to producers who then used those ideas without crediting the writers or paying them. On Nikki Finke’s Deadline Hollywood site, she had an article about WGA contract negotiations, which resulted a long thread of comments — many of them pro screenwriters, who say they are being ripped off through “sweepstake pitching” practices…

According to anonymous commenters, it works like this: studio producers meet with repped pro writers to hear pitches for open assignments. Assistants take notes. Producers then sift through ideas they like, and turn them over to the A-lister they hire, without giving any credit or compensation to the ones who pitched those ideas. Sometimes the idea or set piece winds up in a completely different film, says one writer. As a result, some writers are passing on those meetings… but with fewer films being made, how many can afford to “just say no” to sweepstakes pitching?