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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Last Thoughts On The Film Year

Things have been a little mini-hectic, but not in particularly exciting ways. The wife and I are heading to New York tomorrow to see my family, so everything has been a process of gearing toward that -- getting a late rush of work done, making sure Christmas presents and such are taken care of, attending to all of the random details of the season.

So don't expect a new post here until the new year, though after that hopefully they will be very regular again.

Otherwise, a few film thoughts:

It's a bit strange the lack of huge blockbusters this Christmas season -- there is no Lord of the Rings-level hit, no Narnia, no Harry Potter, not even a King Kong. Instead, we get things coming out like Night at the Museum, which looks like Jumanji, complete with an overacting Robin Williams. Or We Are Marshall, which is supposed to be rousing but just seems a bit too depressing at its core. And it's hard to imagine The Good German or The Good Shepherd breaking $50 million gross for their whole runs.

So that leaves Rocky Balboa, which is apparently male comfort food -- you know what you are going to get, there's some punching, and word is that it doesn't suck as badly as Rocky V. Even though we know it probably does.

One of the reasons that I like studying box office is that it is a good indicator of what producers will be looking for, but the news in the last few months has been a little odd. Children's movies always seemed a bit automatic, but now there are so many cartoons that it is diluting that (while though Happy Feet did well, it also cost $100 million). Charlotte's Web opened at $11.4 million in its first three days; it cost a reported $85 million. Ouch.

In fact, the reported budgets for a lot of the movies out right now are kind of scary, especially since few of them seem like they will make the money back. I'm sure the new Bond movie will turn a profit, but it cost $150 million. The Holiday cost $85 million; what the hell did they spend that on? And this is without advertising costs.

Flushed Away cost $149 million. Yikes. It has made about $70 million U.S. box office. They are going to have to sell a lot of DVDs.

Though at budgets like these, someone is getting paid.

Blood Diamond cost $100 million, and has made $18.2 million in 10 days. It'll probably do some worldwide business, but it's hard to see it turning much of a profit. Between this and Catch A Fire, which didn't make much at all, it's not a good time to be shopping around serious thrillers set in Africa.

Apocalypto cost a reasonable $40 million, but it looks likely to top out at less than $50 million in the U.S. box office. The Nativity Story only cost $35 million, but it has only made $18 million in its first 17 days.

A lot of movies completely tanked this fall. Fast Food Nation was a complete flop. Few people cared about Tenacious D. Turistas made it clear that movies like that are no longer automatic hits. The Fountain bombed. A Good Year has only made $7 million. Flyboys, which cost $60 million, made $13 million.

Bobby isn't doing much of anything; neither are For Your Consideration or The History Boys. Little Children, despite a lot of good reviews, has only made $2 million. The Last King of Scotland has only made $3.5 million, and it's on its way down. The Nicole Kidman movie Fur won't break $250,000.

So what made money? Borat made $122 million -- and only cost $18 million. Little Miss Sunshine made $59 million, and only cost $8 million. So comedies are largely doing well; even The Santa Clause 3 has made $80 million.

The Departed did well. The Prestige did okay. The Queen has made $25 million, and can't have cost much. Stranger Than Fiction did okay. Deja Vu will probably make money after the worldwide gross is figured in.

The Pursuit of Happyness may wind up being the sleeper hit of the season, and its $55 million budget seems practically reasonable.

But there just isn't a whole lot out there to get thrilled about. Dreamgirls is supposed to be solid, though it doesn't have the buzz it had a few weeks ago. Children of Men still looks interesting, but no one is talking about it for any prizes any more. Letters From Iwo Jima is supposed to be good.

Hopefully 2007 will be better. Until then, have a safe holiday season, and don't eat the fruitcake.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Weekend Boxoffice #12

Three solid box office openers this weekend. Though none will probably break $30 million for their first three days, all should perform well.

CHARLOTTE'S WEB (3566 screens). It has a lot of name value, but it also looks like it skews very much toward little kids, while the fact that this is a holiday shopping weekend could hurt it. Call it $24.8 million, though it should do well in the long run.

ERAGON (3020 screens). The dragon effects look good, and this was a best-selling book, so it'll challenge for first, and maybe even take it. Call it $26.3 million.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS (2852 screens). Destined to have a generation of people to spell happiness wrong. But it's Will Smith, it looks uplifting and it's the only one my wife wants to see. $23.0 million... But it could surprise everyone and come in first.

Predictions? Which of these are you likely to see?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Holiday Lull

There just hasn't been much to post about the past few days. Hollywood is quiet, though there's enough work trickling in to keep me off the streets and out of trouble.

I'm planning for a trip back to Long Island over the holidays, to see family, and remember why it's good to be away from the frozen northeast.

The writing group continues to go well, while my brainstorming of my new script continues to yield a lot of promise, though the tone is still elusive; I'm not sure if it's a dark thriller, an offbeat drama/thriller, or more of a comedy. Probably the middle one, but it's still shaking out.

Here's a (vague) script-related question for you all -- if you want to feed my brainstorming, because anything you throw out that's interesting, I'll keep and use:

You are suddenly a version of yourself with a playful, vengeful side, and no moral compunction whatsoever. So you go into the deadend job you work at, at a big, faceless, cubicle-filled corporation, without caring if what you are about to do will get you fired (and not fearing any legal punishment either). So what would you do to your boss? To your rude coworkers, who deserve payback?

Let fly.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jenny Lewis on Conan

As has already been established, I have a married-man crush on Jenny Lewis.

This is her new song, "Fernando", though it isn't on her CD (despite what Conan says); no idea why she's playing it all over.

It rocks, though; enjoy.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Weekend Boxoffice #11

So there's a diverse quartet of movies opening this weekend, in one of the hardest weekends to predict this year.

UNACCOMPANIED MINORS (2775 screens). On the one hand, it sort of has a Home Alone vibe, but I don't think they've done a particularly good job in selling it; I have no sense of the individual characters, much less the plot, other than "kids running wild at an airport". That might be enough. Call it $13.7 million.

THE HOLIDAY (2610 screens). I think this movie will do well; it has a good cast, and it has a fun vibe that most of the movies out there for adult audiences lack. $19.4 million.

APOCALYPTO (2465 screens). This is actually supposed to be good, but the problem is that it looks like a history lesson, and apparently it's more of an action tale -- essentially an extended foot chase as a man tries to get back to his family. So though it may entertain males 14-24, I don't see them actually seeking it out, while I think Mel's name is death. $6.1 million.

BLOOD DIAMOND (1910 screens). This is supposed to be very good, but it also looks like a tough sell. Still, I can see most people choosing this over Apocalypto. $12.7 million.


The Holiday $19.4 million
Unaccompanied Minors $13.7 million
Happy Feet $13.5 million
Blood Diamond $12.7 million
Casino Royale $11.5 million
Deja Vu $7.5 million
Apocalypto $6.1 million

Feel free to weigh in with your thoughts...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Un-funking Myself, and a Book Review

So the process of prying myself out of my funk has begun in earnest, with two fairly major things so far this week:

1) I was invited to join a screenwriter's group, the first time I have ever tried this, but it's a process I am already enjoying.

The group meets once a week in a very small theater, where actors do cold reads of a 25-page chunk of whatever the writer is currently working on; the other writers then tear it apart. They do four chunks for four different writers each week, and the process looks very effective; the actors are good (and hearing your words read out loud definitely seems helpful), while the critiquing writers seem bright and spot-on.

I'm scheduled to wheel out my first 25 pages in January, so the benefit of this is that it is giving me one more reason to start something new, so --

2) I've begun work on something new. I was organizing my ideas file last week, sifting for lost gems, when I came upon a premise that I've played with in different ways in the past, but which I never came close to cracking enough to inspire me to attack it in earnest.

Over the weekend, I started brainstorming ways to tackle it. I changed the main character, found that that was working, and jotted down a bunch of ideas.

Then, because reading work is slow (damn holiday season), I got a chance to really put some thought into it the last few days. In addition, yesterday I did something that I'd always wanted to do writing-wise, and which turned out to be the perfect thing --

I read a screenwriting book, with the idea that I could filter the nascent ideas I had through whatever process it was recommending, and give an immediate jumpstart to the whole script.

And it turned out to be the perfect book. "Writing A Great Movie: Key Tools For Successful Screenwriting" by Jeff Kitchen. Kitchen is a respected writing teacher and script doctor, with a real grounding in dramatic structure, and the book is geared toward helping you do a lot of the work before you sit down to write, so you don't wind up doing 20 drafts of the same script, like I always do.

I didn't actually buy this book. It was sent to me in hopes that I would review it on my blog. It's the first time anyone has ever done this, and it turned out to be kismet, because reading through it automatically helped me flesh out certain parts of my idea, and really made me wish that I'd read this book before writing my supernatural thriller.

Anyhow, Kitchen gives a detailed immersion in drama and narrative structure and dramatic situations and character development and theme and other devices that prod the writer into not being such a lazy-ass and to actually do the work to make their script more dramatic. Kitchen illustrates his points by showing how they work on six films (The Godfather, What Women Want, Minority Report, Training Day, Tootsie and Blade Runner -- a pretty good genre swath) and then he uses the devices to create a plot of his own, just to illustrate how it is done.

There's no format instructions in this book; it's screenwriting for people who already know the basics, and are ready to do the work to make their script stronger structurally before diving into the first pass. I admit that I skipped over some of the denser sections, but I'll probably go back, and it's nice reading something from someone who really knows their stuff.

Worth a look.

Okay, I'm going back to brainstorming now.

Monday, December 04, 2006


So I haven't posted much about writing recently, because I haven't been doing much writing.

Call it the post-Nicholl crash.

A few months ago, I was riding high. I had a script that made the semifinals in the Nicholl Fellowship, for which I got about a dozen requests from managers. I didn't even send it to them all -- I was being picky.

I had also given the script to some connections in the business (mostly development people that I work for) who had expressed interest in reading it, so that they could pass it on to people (agents/managers) they know. One got me a meeting with a manager, which went really well; the manager said he was a big fan, he said his boss would read it within a week, he said there'd be a followup meeting with him and the boss.

They seemed like the perfect company for me -- they are growing, they are more interested in developing writers than glomming onto projects as producers, they seemed to want to work with me.

I thought I had it made. I thought I was on my way to representation. I had two pretty good scripts, a supernatural thriller I was finishing, and someone's else's script that I'd done a low budget rewrite on that actually wound up with my name on it too, and which is also out there.

While I waited, I did another pass on my supernatural thriller, got notes, polished it up, got more notes, polished it up again.

And waited.


Oh, not entirely nothing. The manager I met with vaguely touches base from time to time; I sent him the supernatural thriller. His boss hasn't read my Nicholl script yet.

The development people I work for keep promising to read my script someday.

The other managers? Black hole.

Plus it's winter, so the business is in its yearly lull. Everyone is getting ready for Christmas, and then Sundance. Things aren't going to really pick up for about 9 weeks.

In Hollywood, two months of nothing happening is nothing. But then again, two months is everything.

Lessons I have learned:

-- If you are an unproduced writer, don't assume anything. Or get too picky.

-- Just because people ask for your script, doesn't mean they will actually read it. Which, you know, sucks. I'd rather have someone tell me up front that they don't have time, rather than request it and ignore it (and apologies to anyone whose script I've ever requested and then ignored).

-- I suck at marketing myself. Really. The idea of cold-calling a million agencies and trying to get one to agree to read my script makes my skin crawl. Especially since now I fear that the scripts will just disappear into the same black hole they did at the management companies that wanted to read it.

-- If you are an unproduced writer, you need a script that is either jaw-droppingly amazing or which is so commercial that it will probably sell. Otherwise it will be met with an apathetic yawn.

Plus, the funk has soured me on both my scripts. If I thought the supernatural thriller was a home run, I'd be out there pushing it, but now I'm just tired of it, and can't conceive of anyone actually paying me for it. Which is also feeding my enormous reluctance to jump onto the whole call-a-million-agencies treadmill.

I just want to write. Dealing with people is not my skillset. So you, I know, I'm screwed. Unless it's a skillset I develop.

Right now I'm in too much of a funk to do any skillset developing.

So things percolate along. There are a dozen or so copies of Nicholl script floating around out there somewhere. A half-dozen copies of my supernatural thriller are in the hands of people in which something could happen with it.

Unfortunately, they are all Christmas shopping, or preparing to ski in Aspen.

Meanwhile? Aside from making a living, I'm trying to dive back into writing. I'm currently choosing between finishing the comedy I started 2 months ago (I plotted it out, wrote the first 16 pages, then got sucked back into my supernatural thriller rewrite), or pounding out a draft of an old idea that I've been re-brainstorming over the last few days. It's sort of a (vague, I know) cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers and a Charlie Kaufman movie. If I can figure out the right tone, I might write it, because I think it'll be fun to write.

And hopefully it'll help me escape the funk. Because in the end, it's all about the writing.