Thursday, October 13, 2005

Welcome to my screenwriting blog. What are my qualifications for this endeavor? Well, anyone can write a blog these days, but one subject I know a lot about is screenwriting. I've been writing for many years and it's a constant struggle. Every time I think I'm ready to hang it up, throw in the towel, donate my office supplies to Good Will... I get a letter, e-mail, or phone call that is "the sign" to hang on and keep writing.

I love writing scripts, creating plots and characters. What would I do if I didn't write movie scripts? I could write plays or books, but I'm a TV/Movie brat. It's ironic that TV these days is better than the movies. Television dramas are much better written than screenplays of late. TV ratings are going up, while movie box office revenues are sinking. Where are all the great scripts? Are they being written? Are they being passed on by knucklehead execs?

Let me give you a little background about my trials and tribulations as a struggling screenwriter. For some reason, I have always written spec screenplays. Six to date. I wish I was more inclined to write TV spec scripts because maybe it would get me noticed and land me a gig in LA as a staff writer... but that's not really what I want. I don't want to sit in a room with other writers, throwing ideas around and jokes or lines... I like the solitary life of being a writer. I like coming up with the original idea, executing it and sending it out with only my name on the cover (to blame).

So. In November of 2004, I quit my successful TV news job in NYC. I'm a video editor. That's my day job... or was. I've worked in the TV news biz now for ten years; 8 as a staff editor for a highly (okay, the most successful) cable news channel on your dial. I made decent money and had benefits and a 401K. I was content, liked my co-workers and, most days, my job. I worked covering big stories like the presidential elections, two wars, 9/11, anthrax terror, hurricanes and too many summers of missing kids and murdered wives. The news is damn depressing. You know... you watch it. Well, try working in it. It can be exciting some days. It can inspire and inform Americans. It can make folks get off their butts and take action. It can create fear. It can get ratings. It's a business like any other.

Anyway, I hit a wall professionally. I wanted to devote a year to my writing. And I have. This November 12th will be my one year anniversary of writing. Did I accomplish anything staying home and writing in the seclusion of my NY apartment? Giving up my good job and benefits? Well, let me say, I have worked at the same company two days a week... weekends... I have to eat... and I've juggled bills and dropped a few balls... cut back on expenses (no more fancy Manhattan restaurants, Broadway shows or buying clothes at the Gap)... but I'm surviving... and YES, I have seen some progress.

I got a manager this year. Not an agent, a manager! Do I need a manager? I thought only people like Britney Spears and Elvis and the New York Yankees needed managers, but a manager wanted me and so I agreed to be "managed". What's the difference between a manager and an agent you ask? A manager gets 15% of your script sale as opposed to an agent's 10%. Also, managers don't have to be licensed, agents do. A manager can also produce your work -- an agent can't.

My manager (still getting used to saying that) is great. She's no-nonsense, smart, a go-getter and has had my scripts circulating in Hollywood. We got two "passes" this week on my crime thriller. A TV exec said with all the "Law & Orders" and procedural shows ("The Shield", CSI, etc.) my script is well-written but needs more to stick out. In case you don't know, a "pass" is a "no". A rejection. I have loads of those. Binders and binders of them.

So besides getting a manager in LA this year (which was a goal when I quit my day job), I had a script optioned (another goal reached). A young producer-wannabe (and soon willbe) optioned my animation script WAR BIRDS for $500. Not bad. Downside? I co-wrote it, so I only got $250. which I had to use to pay my monthly Cobra benefits! A writer needs health insurance. In case I get another rejection letter, faint, fall of my writer's chair and crack my skull.

That option just expired. It won't be renewed because although the producer dude still likes it -- and it got great coverage -- Disney came out with "Valiant" which was very similar to "War Birds" and that movie tanked. The producer dude said two similar movies have been produced before, but usually the first movie does well (like "Finding Nemo" and then "Shark Tale"). "Valient" nose-dived at the box office. So "War Birds" got its wings clipped... momentarily.

I have so much to tell you about this crazy business and my background as a struggling writer. More to follow on this blog. In my next post I'll tell you about when Mike Farrell (of M*A*S*H fame) optioned my script a few years ago and how I came thisclose to getting a movie made. As my mother used to say to me, never get excited until the check clears the bank.

Until then... I pound the keys in NYC. Another rainy day... good day to write, huh?


Avery said...

Your decision to follow your passion was a great one. Never look back. Yes, it's tough financially, but one day you will be one of those overnight success stories that only took 15 years to make it big. My cousin did that and now after 20 years of rejection letters has written a few very well known movies and has done very well in her career and financial life. You will make it too, because you are a nice person as well. (That's my hubmle opinion)
Avery a/k/a The Edit Man, now in Houston, Texas

Avery said...

I see I need to use a spell checker for these comments. Oh well.