Sunday, February 27, 2005


I really have little to say this year about the Academy Awards. Though I am a huge film buff (not a surprise, since I'm a screenwriter and director), what with the move and the busy semester(s), I just haven't been able to see most of the nominated films.

I will say this -- I joked to my wife about what she would wear if I ever made it to the Oscars as a nominee... and she made it clear she had actually thought about it.

Now, who knows if I'll ever write or direct anything worthy of such recognition... but it's nice to know my wife believes that's possible. Seeing as she doesn't always 'get' my work or like what I do, it was a nice, subtle compliment.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

What I Write

I mentioned in a recent post about the difficulty I've encountered trying to sell my work or find an agent -- mostly because I write so-called 'sophisticated' material.

I often ask myself why I choose to write this stuff and not the kind of blockbuster script that will make an easy sale.

Well, it always seems like an easy question for me -- I just don't want to. Some people consider screenwriting to be a business -- a career-decision. And they write what will be most likely to sell. I had a friend in the MFA program who was like this. He just wanted to write scripts for a living, and it didn't matter to him a whole lot what kinds of scripts.

But for me, well, I started out as an english major in college. I wanted to write literature. I'm the kind of person who was writing poetry in college -- not romantic, mushy, win-over-a-girl stuff (I did that, too, but it's not relevant here). No, I'm talking about trying to write modernist poetry influenced by my love of Pound and Eliot.

So... how did I make the jump to movies? I don't know. I'm not one of the many of my generation who wanted to make movies after seeing Star Wars. I liked it as a kid, but it's just not my thing.

So I don't view screenwriting and filmmaking as a career-choice. I view it as artistic expression. Storytelling in the mode of my favorite literature. I could write high concept blockbusters, but I don't find it fulfilling at all. It's connect-the-dots writing; I might as well work in a factory (no offense to anyone who does in fact work in a factory -- my point is simply that writing that type of movie is completely unfulfillinf for me).

The other suggestion you often hear in this business is to write one such script, sell it for big bucks and to big accclaim, and then you can make the projects you want to make. Okay, this has merit. And I probably would do this. If I could.

I've tried. Honest. On at least two occasions, I started scripts with the intention of turning them into crowd-pleasing easy sells. And you know what? The didn't end up that way. The intention was to be more commercial, maybe almost high concept (but not quite), and it just didn't work. I couldn't get it to go in that direction. I haven't yet decided if I was simply unable to write it -- unable to think of good commercial ideas -- or if my mind just didn't like those ideas and rejected them subconsciously before I eeven considered them.

So I write what I write. One of the main reasons I started the project on which I'm now working -- and ultra-low budget film on HD -- is that I just got tired of waiting. I've been hustling my butt off to get this going (and I'm not a hustler -- I really just present my case and hope people will come on board; so far, the results have been uneven).

A low-budget HD film. Almost no money. No stars (well, one person who is on a quirky network sitcom will be playing a cameo role, but he didn't have time to play the lead). Is this any better an idea than writing indie scripts? Maybe not, but if it works well, a festival might go with it. Who knows what could happen?

Of course, people all over the place are doing the same thing I am. So many films made every year, and so many fade into oblivion, just another debt on someone's maxed-out credit card. I really hope this isn't going to be another one of those.

This is the kind of thing I recently decided I needed to communicate to my department chair. To get tenure, I have to get some acclaim for screenplays or films. To get acclaim... well, I am just hoping that the fests will respond to the indie stuff I do (and I hope I do it well... I'm having a lot of self-doubt lately).

Cold, Rainy Saturday

Man, I sounded cranky last night. Don't know why.

Update on Script Competitions: Since I mentioned this in passing, here's a more specific update. I entered four script competitions in the fall. These are all second or third tier competitions; deadlines for the big ones (like the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting) are coming up in the next few months.

Of those four, I've now heard from three. Well, in truth I've heard from TWO. One of them only posted results on the website, which I discovered today when I was looking around for the date when they planned to post results. So, of the three I've heard from:

  • I placed in the quarterfinals (thus far) with two scripts (i.e., both scripts advanced separately). Roughly the top 300 scripts out of about 2000 entries, so top 15%, which isn't bad. I'll hear more by the end of March, I think.
  • In other two, I didn't advance at all. I entered two scripts in both of those, and nothing. The same two scripts that I entered in the first one above. It's so subjective

I'll be entering the Nicholl Fellowship again this year (I was a quarterfinalist several years ago, which at the time was top 250 out 5000 entries). I'll also enter the Sundance Institute's Feature Film Lab programs, and Creative Screenwriting's new competition.

The really nice thing is that my department is paying for these entries since they expect me to have my work "peer reviewed" for tenure purposes. I really stopped entering contests a few years ago because I figured I had enough quarterfinalist and semifinalist placings to fill out my resume and make me look legit to producers. And it's expensive. I've already entered more competitions this year than I have in any single year in the past. Something close to $350 in entry fees already.

So, we'll see what comes of all this. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, February 25, 2005


It's late, and I've spent the last two hours or so reading other blogs. But all the ones I read regularly hadn't been updated. So I went looking for new blogs. I ended up checking out a lot of writer's blogs, so in addition to the (mostly) academic blogs in my blogroll, I've added a few screenwriter blogs.

Why I've been reading blogs for two hours, I really can't answer. TV was boring tonight, I'm tired and not wanting to work, the kids are in bed, so I'm reading.

All Logged In...

...and nothing to post. Sorry I've been mostly absent this week. First week in a while that I've been able to take a deep breath at the office. One of my three classes is now engaged in production on long-ish group projects (short films, 20 minutes +), so that class isn't meeting until the end of March.

I can't tell you how relaxing this week has seemed when compared with the first part of the semester. I've taught my writing class before (last semester), so that's mostly re-prepping material and changing it up a little to improve upon it (and on that note, I can't tell you how different it's been this semester with me already knowing what I was going to say and just having to review it -- wow. The results have been amazing. Instead of doubling back because I forgot to cover something or didn't think of it, I covered it at the right time, the students really got it, and we moved on. Or maybe they're just better students than last semester...)

Momentary detour -- so we're doing a writing exercise in class where students are working on their description skills. They have to take a really poorly described scene and rewrite it. Then we read them aloud. One of the students has cut the description down to almost nothing. In some respects, it really wasn't bad, so I said that it was an interesting choice to reduce to such a spare description. Clueless Student says in return, "well, uh, I didn't know we were supposed to be working on description." WTF? What did you think we were working on? Handwriting?

So, anyway, writing I've taught before, production class is out shooting projects, and History of Cinema is the only thing really taxing me, though I am lucky and blessed to have a colleagues notes and powerpoints to rely upon in there. My only real problem in there is (a) students are mostly in it because it's required -- thus there's a lot of non-film, general communication students in there who don't like it; and (b) there's no way I can get through the entire history of cinema in a semester, unless I learn how to trim things down a bit. I'm in the golden age of Hollywood now, 1930-1945, and there's no way I can only have ONE weekly screening from that category. So I just said 'screw it' and decided to show three films this week, which means VERY LITTLE lecture, which, I realize, works out great for me (and for them), but I did it with the purest of intentions. No way in hell most of these students will ever watch Citizen Kane, Double Indemnity, and It Happened One Night without someone forcing them to. And some of them will enjoy them. And I will have maybe opened a door for someone to an interest in something they've neever experienced before, as my professors did for me once upon a time.

So, this week was lighter than normal, and next week will be as well. I'm finding it hard to motivate myself to get moving on some new scenes I want to write for the big summer film, or for getting started on my new script.

And an agent. Or manager. I'd really like to find one, I mean. I've been at this for so long, have gotten steadily better as a writer, even had a low-budget indie produced last year from one of my scripts. And I still haven't found an agent. Or, you know, gotten paid (that's low-budget land for ya).

It would be nice to have an agent so I could at least convince myself that while I am busy writing and making films, that SOMEONE out there is trying to sell them. I know, you really have to 'agent your agent,' and I know having representation is not the end-all-be-all of a filmmaking career. But it sure would be nice to have one and get things ramped up a bit.

I did have an agent once upon a time. A bona fide WGA-signatory agent. In Indiana. Yeah, an agent operating out of Indiana. Don't ask. Okay, so you asked. A friend assured me he could get meetings with the studios. I was with him for a year, and I think he did send my stuff out to a few companies, most of them at my specific request. The problem: he knew very few people in Hollywood. It's not good enough to just BE an agent. You have to actually know these people. They won't read a script just because AN agent sent it. They will read it because Joe Schmoozer, who they have bought several scripts from, sent it over, and they're having drinks next week to discuss some deals. As I said to friends when I dropped the agent -- I can get in a slush pile all by myself. I need a legit agent to get me in a weekend-read pile, to take my work seriously and not assume its crap because it comes in over the transom with all the other scripts from flyover country.

I actually queried a couple of managers and agents late this afternoon. I haven't done that in months. The endless repetition of query, get asked to submit, send script, wait to hear back, never hear back or polite rejection.

It's a good thing I've gotten accolades somewhere or I'd have quit long ago. Contest placings are nice, but they won't build a career for you. Getting a film made -- I thought that would change things. It hasn't gotten distribution yet, nor has it gotten into any major fests (if you ask me, it was badly acted by one of the main characters, and some of the directing choices were suspect, too. Not that the script was perfect. But it sure played a lot better in table reads than it did in the final film).

I've had writers I barely know tell me my stuff is great. One person who I 'swapped reads' with -- someone I only knew online and didn't have any sort of relationship with -- told me that one of my scripts was among the best unproduced works she'd ever read -- and this was a woman who was a reader for Sundance's Feature Film Labs. I lived off that compliment for I can't tell you how long.

I just finished polishing a script for a producer who requested I spruce up this piece before he takes it to his money-people. I mean, people who know my work like it and respect my abilities. I just haven't seemed to hit at the right time or the right person. I've had agents read my work and really like it, but in some cases they haven't wanted to take on stuff that is in any way a 'hard sell.' How did Charlie Kauffman ever sell Being John Malkovich? Have you ever read that script? The original script is more twisted than the produced movie. How does he sell that stuff and I can't get an agent? Not that I'm a Kauffman clone -- Lord knows there are enough of those out there. The Kauffman-wannabe is to the 2000's what the Tarantino-wannabe was to the 90's.

I don't write big blockbuster high concept Hollywood stuff. I write 'sophisticated' (I've been told) independent-minded stuff. Dark comedies. Dark dramas. Darker comedies (what can I say -- some of my stuff has gotten really bleak). The comedy I'm directing this summer is actually pretty light, but it has a storyline that will likely scare off a lot of potential buyers.

I'm tired of ranting. Sorry -- I don't mean to use this blog just to complain. The agent/manager thing is just bugging me right at this moment, and I didn't have anything else to post about and feel like I've been neglecting the blogosphere (does anyone really use this word?).

So, if any of you is an agent or manager and wants to represent me, I'm available, I generally write REALLY fast, and I'm pretty good at it.

Update (less than an hour later): In an amazingly fast response, one of the places I e-queried wrote me to decline one script I pitched and ask to see the other. And the cycle begins again.

The first message, declining one of my pitches, was so final:

Dear Mr. Filmmaker Guy:

We have reviewed your logline and synopsis. Although we recognize that you have put a lot of thought into your script, we do not feel that we are the right company to successfully manage your career.

Um, so you know you're not the right company to manage my career from reading ONE synopsis/logline combo? I mean, I know it's form letter text, but couldn't you just say that this script doesn't meet your needs, doesn't interest you, etc? It's just a weirdly final rejection, like they don't want me to query ever again. Yet, they responded in a second e-mail by saying:

Dear Mr. Filmmaker Guy,

As in our previous email, we must decline "That First Crappy Script That We Don't Want to Read," but we would be interested in reading "This Other Script That Maybe Isn't as Crappy as That First One Sounds."

You may forward a hard copy of your script to:

...blah blah blah.

I'm just being ornery. Frankly, I don't get excited anymore when someone requests my work. I'm used to getting read. I'm also used to getting rejected a lot. Sometimes I wonder if I should bother since I know my work (especially the one this manager requested) is so fiercely independent and stylistically weird (I was trying to have the main character struggling to control the storytelling itself, so he's narrating and constantly stopping and starting the story, calling our attention to things that we wouldn't otherwise notice, etc. He's a very intrusive narrator/protagonist. Who kills people. Rather violently. And it's a comedy. You can see why it might be a hard sell.)

Monday, February 21, 2005


Finally figured out how all of you keep those nifty blogrolls... so I have one now. It's short... just a few links I read regularly. Feel free to ask me to add you, if you're so inclined.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Blogging for Fun or Profit?

Okay -- not profit, but rather for an audience (which didn't sound as pithy in the title)... in other words, who do I blog for? For me, to work out my issues, vent, etc.? Or for you, the audience (which often brings me to the "if a tree falls in the woods" saying, because I don't think too many people are reading this?

I guess it's the age-old question in blogging, which is hardly that old. Some people obviously blog with the audience in mind. I'm not sure if I do or not. But I know I sometimes (often?) consider audience response, calculating the way I say things to maximize possible comments. Which is silly, but as a screenwriter and filmmaker, I tend to want the audience response. I crave it, and when I post and don't get it, I second-guess myself and think about how I can make my posts more "comment-friendly."

But I keep coming back to the question of why I am blogging in the first place. And posts like this -- meta-blogging, as it were -- seem rather pointless.

Update on my film for the summer
Plans are rolling along. I am getting my LLC started this week (well, the lawyer is getting started this week -- it'll take several weeks for everything to be done) so I can get the investor money in the bank. I just want to go out and make this film; I hate having to hire a lawyer, start a company (which isn't cheap, by the way), pay for the lawyer (also not cheap), negotiate with the investor, etc. etc. Hate hate hate it. Did I mention I frickin' hate it? Well, I do.

On the positive side, I recently found out that two of my scripts have reached the quarterfinal round of a decent script competition. I wasn't going to enter these things anymore, but it will help my tenure case since it's considered peer review of my 'scholarly work,' so here's hoping I finally go all th eway in a competition this year. Better yet, here's hoping the film gets picked up by a distributor after a successful screening at Sundance, and one of my scripts sells to an indie company. Then I won't care about tenure. Actually, that's not true. Ironically, I'll still care, and even if I develop a steady film career, I may want to keep teaching. I like it a lot, and if I have that other career, the pressure will be off because they'll want to keep me anyway. I have a family, and want the stability of a regular job. Though i would probably cut back on my responsibilities by buying out part of my contract (assuming I had the money to do so by virtue of the film career).

Weird dream last night. I dreamt that I left my current post after two years here to take a similar job at my undergrad institution. And for some reason, me and my family lived in some sort of on-campus basement apartment that was doubled as a passage for students and staff... i.e., the bedroom itself wasn't totally private, but during the day, people would be walking through there on their way to meetings. It was a vivid dream. I remember trying to work out in my head -- during the dream -- why I left here after only two years. It didn't make sense to me, as I am currently very happy (and the move itself, with family in tow, took a lot out of us -- so it won't happen again soon!)

There was another topic about which I was going to blog, but my short term memory sucks lately, I forgot what the subject was, and I really have to pee...

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Blah Blah Blah


I think I'm too lenient with grades. It's all subjective, when I'm grading production stuff, directing exercises, writing assignments. I sometimes feel I should be harsher and expect more effort. Mostly, I think I just don't want to deal with the inevitable confrontations. Which is stupid and cowardly.

My throat is killing me. I think it's getting worse. At least I don't have to lecture again til Tuesday. Big exam in class on Monday.

It's too early in the semester to be this dang tired.

I should be grading right now. Or home playing with my kids. But when I get home, I'm going to be too tired to do that, too.

Okay, I just stopped to grade, and wish I hadn't. Why? I don't know -- sometimes I feel like I can just get it done, but then I need to think about it and make comments, and then I don't want to do that 'right now,' so I end up having to read it again later.

I finished grading -- it was just a couple of late assignments, not the whole class's stuff, so it didn't take long.

I just found out that I am teaching all my classes in the fall back-to-back two days of the week. Ten minutes between each. Mondays and Wednesdays are going to SU-UCK. But I'll like having Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays free. I look forward to have some seniority one day so I get preferential scheduling. I hate being the new guy.

I have nothing else to say. I feel so random and boring.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005


This cold/cough thing has been dragging on and on, and I am considering cancelling my writing class today because I am still croaking out my lectures. Had a long lecture yesterday, and I think I need to give it a rest for a few days. I hate doing that kind of thing -- hate getting behind schedule -- but my throat is really killing me, and the only one who will likely care if I 'soldier on' is me.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Feeling Blessed and Stressed

Admit it, my post titles just suck. Never been great with titles.

Feeling Blessed...
Finally pinned down the director of my division about what I can expect to get from departmental production funds for my feature project this summer. Really, I couldn't ask for more. I'm already using the department's HD camera to shoot it, plus all the equipment in the department is basically at my disposal and reserved for our use this summer. Plus we're making the production into a class, to give students experience, which means I'm getting a summer contract out of it (i.e., I'm getting paid).

So he told me yesterday how much money we could expect (it's not much for a feature, but it's one-fifth of the department's production funds, so I am grateful). Plus he'll order any other equipment we need (like a shoulder harness or additional lighting instruments) out of the capital expenditures budget, if the department would be able to use it later.

Basically, they're supporting me in every way I can think of.

Feeling Stressed...
So why should I be stressed then? Well, the business side of this stuff drives me crazy. I have one outside investor, and to make that work, I have to start a company (an LLC), establishing the investor as a member of the LLC with a specific profit sharing arrangement, etc. Legal fees. Contracts. The stuff I hate. But I'm working my way through it. I just find it stressful. I'll be happy when we're done with it. I HATE HATE HATE the business crap.