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

Friday, November 30, 2007

Weekend Box Office #60/Strike Stuff

So though the AMPTP submitted their much-ballyhooed new offer yesterday, word has it that the offer is terrible, and really hasn't moved negotiations any closer to a settlement. In fact, negotations are off until Tuesday, when the WGA will present its new offer.

There doesn't seem to be any real motivation for AMPTP to want to get this settled before the New Year. Given the holiday break coming up, there wouldn't be much TV filming in December anyway, while apparently AMPTP has its eye on using force majeure to get out of some deals they don't want to be in.

Plus, let's face it: the AMPTP wants this strike to hurt. They don't want the writers looking back on this strike with fond memories in the future, to justify another strike.

Fingers crossed that it settles in January, but who knows at this point.


Meanwhile, only one movie opens widely this weekend. The first weekend of December is considered a dead week in theaters, with moviegoers still recovering from Thanksgiving and thinking about shopping.

Though given that Thanksgiving weekend is such a big movie-going time, the following week is always going to look bad in comparison. Especially if you don't actually release good new movies.

So AWAKE opens in 2020 theaters. The ads seem fairly effective; it should do about $8.3 million for the weekend. Though look for ENCHANTED to more than double that, and finish #1, while nothing else will likely break $10 million.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

An Interesting Exercise

I'm trying to come up with a good what-if scenario for this question. Let's try it this way --

Suppose you find yourself stuck in a parallel universe, where they have movies, but not the same ones we do.

You have a chance to pitch a movie you want to write to a parallel universe studio head, and you realize that you have the entire history of our world's movies to draw on.

Setting aside the dicey moral question of rewriting (or copying) someone's work from this world to present in this parallel world, what story would you choose?

Or, rephrased, what movie that has ever been made seems to be the one that you'd choose to get someone (who is unfamiliar with all movies) to instantly want you to write it?

What movie has the perfect hook, the wanna-see factor, the perfect representation of all things that everyone is currently looking for in a movie?

I think it's an interesting question, because it really goes to the heart of the issue of the kinds of things people should write if they really want to break into the business in a big way.

So now you're in parallel-world-land, you have a meeting with me, and you need to pitch something. The fate of Earth is at stake (somehow, just to up the ante. Ticking clock). What do you pitch?


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back In The Saddle Again

So I've returned to the (relatively) sunnier climes of California, after a five-day visit to my parents on Long Island, New York.

This year my mother-in-law tagged along with the wife and I, which could have been an awkward proposition, but it worked out well. And though it was cold, it didn't rain until the last day.

Though getting through airport security was a happily-quick process (we got there way early, and killed lots of time in the terminals as a result), we flew American Airlines, which is one of the airlines that is trying to cut costs by charging extra for the bad food they serve.

They also charge $2 for the "headphones" to watch the inflight programming, though the headphones now consist of some remarkably-uncomfortable earbuds. They say you can keep them and reuse them, but it's hard to believe that anyone would want to.

On the way there, they showed an episode of "The Big Bang Theory", and then they showed "High School Musical 2", which I think the entire plane pretty much ignored; I didn't see anyone between the ages of 5 and 20 on the plane anyway.

My wife kept putting her earbud in, tuning into a few minutes of the movie, and just shaking her head.

Flying back was moderately better; I actually invested in the uncomfortable earbuds to watch "No Reservations" (completely formulaic and predictable, but not terrible) and an old episode of "How I Met Your Mother".

And a million commercials.

Which of course begs the question of whether the writers are getting paid for any of it, particularly the TV episodes. Because the $2 is for the headphones, and the commercials are just sort of there.

And I can see the AMPTP arguing that the airing of "How I Met Your Mother" was "promotional".

Word has it that the negotiations yesterday went well, but they were basically just catching up on all the stuff they had already pretty much agreed on. And that today is the big day, because today is when they start wrestling over the other stuff.

Though, according to some sources, groundwork has already be laid, and progress has been made.

Here's hoping it gets settled this week.


I was almost dead-on with my ENCHANTED prediction; it made $49.0 million in its first 5 days. Other movies, I wasn't so close.

THIS CHRISTMAS quietly made a very-impressive $26.3 million. It's interesting that black movies seem to have largely taken over the genre of amiable family comedy-dramas.

HITMAN made a solid $21 million, though I thought it would do more. THE MIST only made $12.9 million; I thought it would do a lot more, though I don't think they did a very good job selling it.

AUGUST RUSH somehow beat The Mist, taking in $13.2 million. NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN did a very strong $10.7 million, in only 860 theaters.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Weekend Box Office #59

It's a five-day holiday weekend, which makes box office predictions difficult for the new releases. Still, I'll give it a shot --

ENCHANTED (3730 theaters). This is getting surprisingly good reviews -- surprising to me, anyway, because the commercials look so dippy. But it looks primed to hit big; it seems perfect for this weekend. $49.7 million for the five days.

HITMAN (2457 theaters). It's nice to see Timothy Olyphant getting a chance to star in things, and this should be the choice of a lot of guys home for the holidays. $27.6 million.

THE MIST (2423 theaters). The fact that Frank Darabont wrote and directed this makes it interesting, while the fact that (like his THE GREEN MILE and THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) it is based on a Stephen King tale will help. This will definitely be the lesser of those three works, but look for it to do about $26.1 million.

AUGUST RUSH (2310 theaters). The commercials really don't make this look very good at all. $6.1 million.

THIS CHRISTMAS (1858 theaters). In contrast, the commercials for this make it look very solid. $18.6 million.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (expanding to 860 theaters). Hitman and The Mist might steal some of the mainstream audiences away from this, but it should perform fairly well. $9.3 million.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Travel safe.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Doldrums

From my limited POV of the movie business, I can verify this: there don't seem to be many scripts circulating at all.

Because I work for a bunch of clients, mostly production companies and some small studios, and no one has anything for me to read.

It is the holiday time, when things are usually slow; every year, December is (by far) the slowest month for me.

But still, business is deader than dead out there.

It's not a big deal, yet, because I'm heading to New York with the wife tomorrow to visit my parents for the holidays.

And hopefully when I come back late Monday, it will be to some good strike news. We can dream.

Meanwhile, my $60 notes offer is still very open. Get those scripts done and take advantage of me while you can.

Otherwise, I took a revamped first act of my new script (the one I'm co-writing) into my group one night, and they still tore it apart, though I think it helped me learn some things about it. Mostly that we still haven't quite figured out the tone yet.

Tentpole film in 2010, though.


For once, my weekend estimates were pretty close. BEOWULF made $27.5 million. MR. MAGORIUM made $9.6 million.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA flopped, though, with only $1.9 million from over 800 screens. You'd think they'd know that basing a movie on a beloved book is only going to work if the movie is actually good.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN made a very solid $3 million from only 148 screens, an average of over $20,000 per screen. MARGOT AT THE WEDDING pulled in $80,000 from only 2 screens.

The new Brian DePalma film REDACTED tanked with only $25,000 from 15 screens.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Back to the Negotiating Table

So it was announced late last night that the WGA and AMPTP will start negotiating again, on Monday, November 26.

Hopefully both sides will make every effort to settle this thing.

The encouraging thing is that apparently this came out of a session last night at the home of CAA partner Bryan Lourd between WGA pres Patric Verrone, WGA chief negotiator Dave Young, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger, Fox #2 man Peter Chernin and others.

I like to think they were sitting around Bryan's living room in their pajamas drinking 40s and watching "Friday Night Lights", when they realized that they wanted to see how all of the show's story arcs were going to come out.

More likely, Big Media is realizing that they need TV to be a viable medium, and that the strike is just going to push people closer to the day when other new media -- which they don't control -- starts really taking over.

Hopefully they found some middle ground, and they'll get something done after the holiday break. Meanwhile, the strike continues.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Weekend Box Office #58

A few wide openings in this pre-holiday weekend, all of which got fairly negative reviews in today's LA Times:

MR. MAGORIUM'S WONDER EMPORIUM (3164 theaters). As much as I like Natalie Portman, this looks like it is skewing very, very young (and it's G-rated, to boot). I'm not sure the audience out there is as huge as they hope it will be. $9.7 million.

BEOWULF (3153 theaters). Well, 300 made a fortune, and this has 3D in a thousand or so theaters, while apparently Angelina Jolie (or an animated Angelina Jolie) is naked. So boys will see it. $27.8 million.

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA (852 theaters). Would make for a weird Javier Bardem double feature with NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. $5.1 million.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Who Are They Lying To?

United Hollywood keeps making these great YouTube videos, and theirs is a website worth checking regularly for strike stuff.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Future is Now

So I've been fighting some sort of severe cold/flu thing the past 4 days, and I haven't been able to get back out on the picket lines. Which I really wanted to do (and which I will do in the future).

But it has given me a lot of time to wander around the Internet, reading about the strike and the issues at hand.

There seems to be the thought floating around out there that somehow the writers have erred by going out too early. That though it is right to be concerned about getting a piece of the Internet pie, that it is too early to tell what kind of pie it is going to be.


Yeah, there are new technologies every year, and who knows what we'll be watching TV shows and movies on in the future.

But it boils down to this:

Either people will be paying to download movies and TV shows over the Internet -- and the writers deserve a fair percentage of that money -- or Big Media won't be charging to view content over the Internet, and instead will be making money off ads attached to it. Which the writers also deserve a piece of.

And both of these things are happening already. You can pay to download movies and TV shows now, but the problem is that AMPTP's (reluctant) highest offer for residuals on this is the same lousy .3% that writers get from DVD sales.

And TV shows are also available to view online for free, and many have unskippable commercials in them. But AMPTP views these (and other web content that TV writers wrote without being paid for) as "promotional", despite the fact that they are full-length episodes with paid ads in them.

A good current example is The Daily Show. This is a TV program that is too topical to be rerun on TV. But the show has a website rife with clips and episodes for the show -- and also rife with a lot of advertising. Which the writers get 0% of.

The real problem here dates back to the 1940s, when screenwriters gave up copywright ownership of their material; copywright is why songwriters and book authors always get a cut of any sales of their work.

To counteract this, the studios agreed to pay residuals. And now they are trying to roll it back.

20 years ago, the WGA unwisely agreed to the .3% home video rate, because it cost a lot to make home videos, and no one was sure what the future was. The rate was supposed to be revisited, and should have been, since DVDs are much cheaper to produce (and downloads are infinitely cheaper).

But AMPTP has no interest in revisiting that rate discussion.

Historically, the writers haven't fought hard enough in battles like this. But now, with the basic Internet issues here -- residuals on paid downloads, a cut of ad rates -- it's time to draw a line in the sand, for writers, directors and actors to get a fair cut of new media.

The future is now.

Monday, November 12, 2007

So Wait, Maybe There is Money To Be Made In This Internet Thing --

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Weekend Box Office #57

Meanwhile, movies keep coming out.

It's sort of interesting that I haven't heard anyone suggesting yet that people boycott TV and movies until the strike is settled.

I guess the idea is that no one wants to really pee on the industries that, in the end, both sides still need to stay healthy because livings need to be made there. Can't risk chasing the audience off.

And the effects of a boycott would be hard to measure, because box office numbers are so fluid. If there was a boycott this weekend, and FRED CLAUS "only" made $35 million, who's to say how much more it would have made without a boycott? Both sides could easily claim different things.

So keep going to theaters. Hopefully this thing will be settled soon. Meanwhile, I'm going to start listing the writers on every film, something I should have been doing a year ago.

FRED CLAUS (3603 theaters). It's opening wide, they have been advertising the hell out of it, and families have to be sick of BEE MOVIE and THE GAME PLAN by now. Written by Dan Fogelman. Prediction: $39.2 million for the weekend.

LIONS FOR LAMBS (2215 theaters). Reviews have been definitely mixed; word is that this is talky, talky, talky and a more than a bit heavy-handed. It's also only 90 minutes long. Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan. $9.7 million for the weekend.

P2 (2131 theaters). I've seen the commercials, and I feel like I have seen the movie. Written by Alexandre Aja, Franck Khalfoun and Gregory Levasseur. $6.4 million.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN also opens, in only 28 theaters, while AFTER DARK HORRORFEST 2 opens on 323 screens.

Friday, November 09, 2007

There's a Petition To Support The WGA

In case anyone is interested, it's here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Walking The Line

So today I went over to Warner Brothers, and joined the picketers.

I chose WB because two of my production company clients have offices there, I've been on the lot probably a hundred times, and so it felt appropriate.

I started out at gate 2, grabbed a sign, and joined the mass of protestors there. I soon bumped into a friend who was heading back from moving her car (the one downside, since one can only park on area streets for two hours), and joined her as she moved to her regular post at the next gate down, clockwise.

The group there was smaller (fluctuating from between 15-30 people) and very friendly. I spent 4 hours holding up a sign, getting passing drivers to honk (which a very large number did) while also chatting with the writers there.

And the community is definitely supporting the strike. In the period of time I was there at this one, small, almost-negligible gate (we had some luxury cars go in, but no trucks at all), a restaurant brought over five bags of food (sandwiches, chips, salads), Taco Bell dropped off several bags, someone dropped off a half-dozen pizzas. A guy in a pickup truck dropped off food. There were snacks sent by TV fans, and people bringing by water and candy.

The writers there are definitely determined, but they weren't starving, though all the food was much appreciated.

The vibe there was good, too. Some groups chanted, others waved signs or crossed back and forth across the street. Spirits were high. Friendships were made.

No one gave us the finger, at least that I saw.

There were even a few celebrity sightings. Legendary long-lost blogger Josh Friedman (who finally posted a blog entry today, after 10 months of nada) was holding court in one corner of the sidewalk, though I didn't get a chance to talk with him.

Justine Bateman came out later and was picketing for a while, with no entourage whatsoever. I exchanged the briefest strike-related chitchat with her, and managed not to blurt out a confession of the crush I once had on her.

There were a lot of SAG members out on the picket lines today in general.

People appreciated that I was there despite not being in any of the unions, though no one seemed to know what to do with the news that I'm actually a reader.

Tomorrow all the picketers are supposed to picket the Fox Studio en masse. I think I'll skip that, but I plan to return to the WB picket line on Monday. Anyone who wants to join me, go for it; your presence will be appreciated.

Unless the strike is settled this weekend. Which would be better.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Strike Explained

I've seen this posted on other blogs, but it's concise and clear enough that everyone should see it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

We're in a Strike World Now

So the writers' strike officially started yesterday, and apparently over 3000 WGA members hit the picket lines, aided by a lot of SAG actors as well.

On of the better websites to keep up with what is happening is Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood Daily. She updates it regularly, so even when she posts rumors that turn out to be untrue, they soon get corrected.

Given the often-skewed reporting by the news media (way too much of which is owned by the same conglomerates that own the studio) which tends to paint the writers as being greedy, it was nice to see that Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all came out in support of the striking writers yesterday.

Though I'm not a WGA member, I plan to hit the picket lines sometime this week. More on that when it happens.


So I brought the first chunk (22 pages) of the comedy I am writing with the friend into my screenwriting group last night, and it didn't go well.

Though, from another perspective, it went great. Because though it's always nice to believe that a piece of work is going to be perfect, this one has huge flaws (and hell, we wrote most of it over the weekend), and the notes from my fellow writers are going to go a long way in addressing the problems.

The basic flaw was because of a decision I made. The world of this script (he said vaguely) has characters early on speaking another language, but because I didn't want there to be 10 pages of subtitles right off the bat, I came up with a logical way for them to be speaking English throughout.

Language problem solved, but unfortunately that single decision completely undercut the humor and tension of the piece. Oops.

Plus there's also the problem that it's unclear whether the intended audience is children or adults.

And the problem that it's not that funny. Yet.

Back to the drawing board, though I'm up again next week (a fellow writer swapped me for my slot next month), so it's a good chance to rework the material and get it back in the hands of the actors and writers while it is fresh in everyone's mind.


Over the weekend, American Gangster surprised everyone by finishing #1 with $43.6 million, beating Bee Movie, which only did $38 million (not that that's chopped liver).

Martian Child did an underwhelming $3.3 million. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead did an okay $370, 542 in 43 theaters.

Otherwise, artsier, more serious movies continue not to do well at the box office. Among the movies that are tailing off, and are going to wind up making only $10-$15 million for their whole theatrical run, are Into the Wild, the Darjeeling Limited and Rendition.

In the Valley of Elah made less than $7 million. Jesse James, Things We Lost in the Fire, Lust Caution and The Jane Austin Book Club aren't going to make $4 million.

Sleuth has only made $205,000 in 4 underwhelming weeks. Lars and the Real Girl isn't breaking out.

Neither is Wristcutters: A Love Story, which has gotten a lot of solid reviews (and which I want to see), but which only averaged $1200 per screen in its expansion to 91 screens.

Is it because audiences are only going to movie theaters for spectacle, and saving the smaller fare for DVD rentals?

It's a concern.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Weekend Box Office #56

The box office should be picking up immensely this weekend, with two big movies opening:

BEE MOVIE (3928 theaters). Today's LA Times review wasn't great, but the commercials make it look like fun, and it should hit a wide swath of audience. $42.2 million for the weekend.

AMERICAN GANGSTER (3054 theaters). Solid reviews, and it should be a solid performer. $29.5 million.

MARTIAN CHILD (2020 theaters). I have no idea what possessed them to open this the same weekend as Bee Movie, which is going to crush it. They have been advertising this a lot, though, and Cusack's presence will help -- a little. $6.3 million.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

So Yeah, This Strike Is Going To Suck

Needless to say, I'm in one of those jobs that is going to be negatively-affected, bigtime, with any sort of long work stoppage.

Obviously I'm torn, because someday I hope to be a WGA writer, and take advantage of gains in residuals for new media, etc, etc.

But this just seems like it is going to be a train wreck for everyone. It's easy to see this being half a year of hell in which everyone on both sides loses lots of money, before finally coming to an agreement that they could have made yesterday.

Hopefully it all gets resolved soon. But somehow I doubt it.

Meanwhile, I'm revving up my $60 notes offer. It's a bargain, and I've gotten very good at it.


My streak of days doing something personally screenwriting-related for at least an hour finally ended Sunday, at 76 straight days.

It was sort of an accident. I did some paying work in the morning, took off for the afternoon with the wife and saw a couple of movies, went out to dinner, and intended to write when I got home.

But then I found a rush notes job that I needed to do, and I did that instead.

Still, it might be good to back off for a little while, and see if I can stay disciplined without it.

Though eventually, I'm going to try to break 100.