Friday, February 25, 2005

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.)


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