a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Encouraging Tales of Writers Making It

Today's LA Times tells the story of Bryan Bertino, who two years ago was working as a gaffer on commercials and low-budget independent films, trying to accumulate enough hours to get into the electrician's union.

On his off-hours, Bertino wrote a thriller spec called "The Strangers", which got knocked out of the quarterfinals of the Nicholl but got Bertino a meeting and a manager. Bertino was so encouraged by his first meeting with a production company that he quit his job. Several days later, the script sold to Universal for low six figures against mid six figures if the movie was made. Bertino celebrated by buying his first suit and a TV.

The movie starts to shooting in three weeks, with Bertino directing, a $10 million budget, and Liv Tyler playing the lead. Bertino has also been hired by Jerry Bruckheimer and Scott Rudin to write genre-bending horror scripts for them.

This week's TV Guide (hey, I read it on the toilet) tells the tale of Caroline Kepnes, who became hooked on the TV series "7th Heaven" in college; it lead her to want to become a screenwriter (we all get our muses somewhere). Kepnes wrote a sample script for the show, and wound up befriending the producer. Fast-forward; Kepnes wrote this year's season premiere of the show.

I know, it's only "7th Heaven". But real passion, focused in the right direction, can get you anywhere.


At 8:15 AM, Blogger Systemaddict said...

You're right. It happens anywhere- and it's the people that make it happen.

At 8:41 AM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

I think I heard Bertino interviewed on KCRWs The Business. He seemed like a nice enough guy. I wonder how he got himself in there as director...

For all I hear about "never send your spec to the show you wrote it for" - it seems like a good handfull of people did so successfully. I guess it all goes back to "nobody knows anything."

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Brett said...

I think in this biz "the rules"—the accepted wisdom, the mantras moaned by those know-nuthinks claiming (and believing!) to know everything—are in fact just a sort of filter designed to keep out that timid sort who too willingly agrees to be bound by such arbitrary limits and constraints.

At a certain point, outrageous audacity becomes the only realistic option to throwing in the towel.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

I like stories like that.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Joe Valdez said...

I'll be honest: news like the Bertino story discourages the hell out of me. Not that I wish bad times on anyone, but all I can think when I read another amazing true life story like this is:

Here's another guy who wrote a brilliant script, got to quit his day job, and now he's directing it with Liv Tyler. What have I done today? I opened my Netflix rental without tearing off the self-adhesive sticker.

As far as inspiration, the Calendar story on Janet Fitch, author of "White Oleander" was much more helpful. Here's someone who rewrote a 300 page novel twice with two different narrators, then shelved it all together in the middle of the book's photo shoot when she still wasn't happy with it. The novel she wrote instead, "Paint It Black", uses L.A.'s punk scene of the early '80s as a backdrop and is supposed to be great.

Oh, Fitch is 50, and spent 22 years working on her fiction in small literary magazines before "White Oleander" was published. This gives me hope that, as long as I keep writing, I can ultimately be great at something besides mastering Netflix’s return envelopes.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

Another one has risen from the ranks of the Common Man into the demi-god cathegory we refer to as "working writers and directors". Emphasis on working.

I have just one qualm with the story: WHY... NOT... ME? Do you have to be a gaffer to make it in Hollywood these days?

I'm with Joe on this. This makes me sad. I haven't written more than ten pages this month, Little Red Riding Hood: A Serial Killer Story hasn't moved an inch, and we don't even have Netflix over here.

Excuse me while I drown myself in various liquors.

At 4:34 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Don't get depressed. Just do what they did.

Write. Write some more. Find a time to write every day.

Dangle a little notepad from a string next to the toilet if you have to.

You've got to be in it to win it.

At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Leif Smart said...

Someone needs to drop Bertino a line and tell him to start up a blog!

At 6:22 PM, Blogger The Moviequill said...

Brett is so right... it is the ones that do not follow tradition, that make waves and show us a true original voice, eventually get heard... the impetus is not to rise to the level of mediocre

At 10:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And to think, the script only made it to the quarterfinals of Nicholl. Just goes to show it's not always about winning. Sometimes it's exposure that counts

At 7:01 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

I love this story. Thank you for sharing it.

At 10:19 PM, Blogger Peter said...

Hearty congrats to Bertino and a lesson to all of us that persistence and hard work may pay off and without these? Not much chance.

Good news for all of us. It can happen.

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Ryan said...

It's only 7th Heaven? What kind of My-tastes-are-so-superior kind of crap is that?

I don't watch the show, but it's primetime almost-network programming. The professional writers there may not write to your cup of tea, but they entertain millions of people every week.

We should all be so lucky as to land someplace like that.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous Original Peter said...

Gotta agree with Ryan.

The shot against 7th Heaven felt particularly snarky.

But it isn't "almost network" programming, it IS network programming and has been the WB's highest rated show since its inception.

I don't like the show, either, but I'd be delighted to be writing on a series of that level and so would anyone else reading this blog.

But, nice, inspirational ancedotes for both of those newly-minted pro's.

At 1:56 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

I said "almost network" because I don't think the WGA considers the CW a full-fledged network yet and so they can, I believe, pay slightly lower rates.

I consider it a network. I watch more shows on that channel than I do on FOX anymore.

At 8:13 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

It's probably a great show, for what it is. I didn't really mean to be snarky; I was just trying to acknowledge that it wasn't the kind of show that most aspiring writers out there were speccing, for whatever reason ;-)

At 9:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have another encouraging writer/director story for you all.

It's a script called GREY GARDENS, the same story as the 70's documentary, about the mother and daughter, Edith and Little Edie Beale, who were relatives of the Bouvier family, who lived in an East Hamptons mansion for decades and went crazy together while the house was crumbling around them.

The writer, Michael Sucsy, went to school at Pasadena Art Center, studied film, got work directing commercials afterwards, but not enough.

So he got a job outside the biz, got the rights to the Grey Gardens story from the surviving family members, and wrote a spec screenplay that told their whole story, beginning in the 30's leading up to the present.

The script was so good, he got two good producers attached, got himself attached to direct, and Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange attached to star. He got signed at CAA, and Picturehouse is backing the movie. They should be shooting right now; they were in pre-prod. in August.

I've covered four drafts of the script for work, it's fantastic. Funny, heartfelt, tragic, maddening. It's genius level work--the whole thing came together solely on the strength of the script.

At 10:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Got another encouraging story for you all.

The script is called KILLING ON CARNIVAL ROW. One of the best scripts I've ever read. Probably number three all time. No joke. And I've covered thousands, and read thousands more, been in the biz for thirteen years. #1 on the list is the first draft of THE TRUMAN SHOW, #2 is GATTACA, both by Andrew Niccol.

The writer of KILLING ON CARNIVAL ROW, Travis Beacham, was still in school, at some art college in North Carolina when a buddy of his was interning at Kopelson. The buddy gives the script to an exec, they option it, develop it a little, Travis gets signed at William Morris, they attach Guillermo del f'ing Toro to direct, and New Line buys the script with a pre-emptive bid.

That was last year. Now Travis is writing the CLASH OF THE TITANS remake for Warners, and is the f'ing toast of the town. Everyone thinks he's a genius, and he is. The kid is 24 now, I think, and he writes like he's been at it for 30 years.

The script is a cross between CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, LEGEND, and CHINATOWN.

I know, but it's genius. It's a detective/gumshoe movie that takes place in a fantasy, 19th century London sort of town, populated by faries and creatures, and humans. The detective gets accused in a series of farie murders and goes on the run while trying to clear his name.

Check it out if you can--you'll be thrilled.


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