Friday, October 26, 2007

WGA Strike, A Benefit For The Flyovers

They can say what they want, but the truth will out. The landscape has change since the last writers strike. In those long ago days, there wasn’t an Internet, 2,000 plus film schools around the country, an international pool of talent that speaks multiple languages. We might be seeing the crumbling of the Hollywood empire.

Those who have looked down upon the ‘flyover states’ now have cause for concern. Let’s explore the changes in nature and work environments.

If the global warming scenario continues, then LA and other coastal areas will be under duress to continue filming and TV work. Look at the current situation with the wildfires in LA. Stars leaving their homes, TV and movie productions halted, the ever present threat of earthquakes. What are they going to do if the ocean starts to swamp their beach houses? It doesn’t take a genius to understand why many people from the coastal areas have relocated here, in middle America.

When it comes to the work environment, the WGA and the writers have been living in a cocoon, a nice tranquil world of big names and fancy dinners. Let’s not forget those backpats at the awards shows. The ego-feeders will find out all about the bottom feeders who will eat their lunch and steal their jobs. Unlike the movies, real life can be real serious, without a happy ending.

In my experiences with Hollywood, I’ve found out that as much as they would like the world to think that they are ‘leading, bleeding edge’ adventurers, they really are pretty much stuck in a rut. Notice the same-old, same-old when it comes to movie themes and TV shows. Rip-offs of foreign TV and movies is now greater than ever. If Americans knew how much of their TV and movie fare came from outside sources, they might be shocked. I doubt that they really care. All they want is something that’s interesting and entertaining. Which they now find on the Internet.

Those with a clue can see where this is going. You might consider looking back to see what lies ahead. In the really old days in Hollywood, they cranked out two to four films a month, per studio. They weren’t epics, which came along to fill movie seats for long times and more popcorn/soda money for the movie house. Which was part of a chain owned by the studios. Now, many people don’t leave the house for the local movie palace to take in the latest flick.

Everyone has a two minute attention span. In writing, essays were supplemented by newspaper columns, are being augmented by blogs. Plays were supplemented by movies, which gave ground to TV, which is now seeing the impact of the Internet.

The key factor in all of this is that they diversified, yet increased the audience base. It also resulted in a general depreciation of content. Fast food people want short order entertainment. Something they can watch and digest in less time than it takes to read this blog.

Sooner or later, everything gets destroyed so that it can be recreated in a new form. Why should Hollywood be immune?

After all, the movie business started in New Jersey. Then moved to California because the cameras and other equipment were too fragile to use outside except in perfect weather. Now anyone can shoot anywhere, at any time and put it up online.

Goodnight Hollywood, it’s been a wonderful dream.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Rise of Bollywood, China and Hollywood North

As the sun goes down over Sunset Boulevard, you can hear dreams crashing like bumpercar BMWs, as if driven by writers off their meds. It’s a sad day in the city of Tinsel, as scribes wander the streets wailing for residuals. The WGA has voted, will it be much ado about nothing or the final strike-out?

While those of us who have written, but not been bought, stand back and contemplate. Can we now get a shot at the big time? Don’t hold your breath, I’m not. We live in the land of litigation. Look at me wrong and I’ll sue you down the river of debt.

No, there will be few scabs, even if the writers have to get out of their cars and walk the picket lines. If they’re smart they’ll get a rent-a-picket, someone who actually can be physically intimidating to a line-crosser. How far will they have to travel to stop writers who can work off-scene, away from LA, somewhere across the digital divide?

A while back, I presented a screenplay logline to a couple of hundred writers during a seminar held at a major studio. It was about outsourcing jobs around the world. The Important Hollywood Scribe/Director/Producer in charge of the seminar had a simple critique for my screenplay. He didn’t know what the word ‘outsourcing’ meant! Therefore, my screenplay wouldn't sell. The Hollywood crowd and the WGA will get to find out what the rest of American society has known for years. It’s outsourcing time in the city!

The easy way out for producers and studios alike will be to go East and head North. Bollywood might not have the same cultural excesses as it’s namesake, but the producers will just write in the extra sex, drugs and gratuitous violence. Then there are our neighbors to the north. Vancouver will be glad to shoot more movies, TV shows and documentaries for those in need. Montreal can give it a leetle French flair, mon ami. Did I mention all those studios in China? We love our globalization.

Don’t hold your breath WGA. This might be the start of something big. After all, one of Hollywood’s own started all of this, back when he broke up the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). You might remember him, he was the president of the Screen Actors Guild, before he took up residence in the big, white house on Pennsylvania Avenue. Which led to fuzzy math economics. Kinda like those figures you hear concerning residuals, new media, digital revenue, etc. It could be a ‘trickle down’ type of contract. Moguls, keep your genitalia away from that zipper!

I better check my passport. Can the WGA sue me if I work as a writer in China and get paid through a bank in Switzerland, while claiming residence in Australia?

How To Succeed in the Biz Without Using Your Genitalia

It’s always interesting, hearing about how people become an ‘overnight’ success. After eight to ten years, if not a couple of decades, of slogging away in the trenches, they are suddenly ‘discovered’ by the rest of the world. Their star ascends into the celebrity sky and shines bright as it establishes itself. Sometimes, without sleeping with anyone important.

These entities are then imbued with special powers by the masses or maybe just the media hounds. Able to discern the future, pick political leaders, make fashion statements and expose their genitalia, they are supreme in their own estimation, ego-powered beyond the output of any nuclear power plant. Able to light up entire tabloids with their mega-watt smiles. Unless they’re raging at the paparazzi.

The burn-out rate is determined by the self-love factor. The more headlines they seek, the faster they turn to burnt toast. Slow roasted by the fast bored public. A side trip to the pokey or the rehabarama can either be image enhancing or the end of the story. An event usually induced by drugs, sex, driving or guns. Maybe a toxic combination of all of the above. Having drugged sex while driving with guns…there’s a headline!

Probably the only safe way to success in the Biz and maintain it, is to be professional, do your job, keep your mouth shut about your love affairs and never, ever, show off your crotch, whether male or female, to anyone who isn’t your love slave. Get a non-disclosure agreement in writing before you head to bed. A pre-dip pre-nup.

Even if you’re some college girl wanting to be the Phelgm Queen or maybe get into a men’s magazine, one way or another, it can come back to haunt you in the end. Especially if you get the large version of the butterfly tattoo. Which, with old age, will look more like crumpled wall paper than a nymphalis californica. Has anyone told you how it will feel if you have to get a body scan at the hospital? Burn baby burn.

As for the men who think that their manhood can’t be beat, beware. The old race track adage applies, there’s always someone out there with more cubic inches. No matter the chemical or physical enhancements methods you might use to stroke your joke. Sometimes it more about quality, then quantity. Try harder, think like you’re number two.

Otherwise, you could always just fake it. Emote that talent thing all the way to the bank or into the ditch. If you hook up with the right people, even the talent challenged can rise to the top. You might even get to be president. Just don’t ask me to write about it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The World's Next Great Comedian

I had the privilege of meeting the World's Next Great Comedian this past week. Since I am not at liberty to divulge their name, I'll refer to them in this post at the WNGC.

This person showed up down here last week, ostensibly to 'get advice' from one of their relatives. When a person is seeking 'advice' it can mean a different things; like they really want to know an experienced person's point of view, they need money or a place to crash. Maybe it's all three.

You don't just catch the next subway, train, bus or plane to get to where I live. Let's just say that I'm so far out in the sticks that I can get one TV station without satellite, which I don't have, there is no cable hookup and I can't even get a decent Internet setup through the phone company, it's all low-tech dial-up. The closest China-Mart is about 17 miles away, which is where the local Fast Grease Food emporiums are located. To even get a gallon of gas or a quart of milk is a journey of about four miles. I love it! If someone wants to visit they have to make a serious effort. It weeds out the drop-in visitors big time. Not to mention the know-it-all relatives.

When the WNGC showed up, my neighbors were just expecting a quiet, Sunday afternoon visit. You know, coffee and some sticky-sap cinnamon buns while catching up on the relatives.

I had been invited to stop by for supper earlier in the day, but told them I wasn't feeling well. She's a good cook and it would be a break from my basic chow. I'd call before I drove over.

Which is a good thing that I did. It was the old, "We got some unexpected company. Why don't y'all come on down and I'll fix you a plate. Just come on in the back." Translation for Yankees and Coastals; 'One of our leech-sponge relatives is here, I'll give you a doggie bag to go. Stop in at the back door, they're all on the front porch.'

I get in Little Redneck, the farm's small pickup truck and rattle over to their house. Things are a bit spread out around here. My closest neighbor lives across the street and it's 100 yards between the houses. These folks are my next nearest neighbors and they're almost a half mile away. It's a nice walk, but you don't do it with stray dogs, hungry coyotes and random snakes between here and there. At least not when you're carrying food.

Imagine my surprise when I walk up to the back porch and everyone is in the family room/kitchen. Time to face the relatives. Introductions are made and I get to meet the WNGC and their mate. The WNGC starts off by telling that they are the FUNNIEST PERSON I HAVE EVER MET. Really? I didn't know that I had led such a sheltered life. The pleasantries begin.

WNGC wants advice. Has heard that I've actually been to Hollywood and New York City. What should they do about their upcoming recording session? Huh? Seems that they have talked a producer into a recording session.

"You got a contract, right?"
WNGC, "Uh, no."
"How about an agent or lawyer?"
"I haven't talked to one."
"How long you been doing comedy clubs?"
"Never done any, don't need to. I just do stuff on tape."
"What are you going to do when it comes time to go on the road. All comedians, sooner or later, have to go on the road."
"I'm not going on the road, I'm not leaving Memphis!"

Then WNGC wants me to listen to their screamingly funny comedy tape. I get to hear about ten minutes of it. Out of five jokes, one is not too bad. I ask them how many they've got. They claim to have "two tapes worth". How about copyright? Never done it, doesn't need to.

"Everything is all in my head".
No kidding?
Welcome to fantasy island, backwoods style.

I have copies of different contracts from a screenwriters conference that I attended a few years back. Since it now turns out that the WNGC will be staying for a few days, "to continue getting advice" I volunteer to give them a copy of a contract to review.

Then were spoken those words everyone loves to hear.
"I'm gonna be here a few days, just to be able to do my work."

In this county there are about 10 bars, all serving beer, you can't buy liquor and there aren't any comedy clubs. I doubt that the material I heard on the tape would be played in one of the 117 churches we have for our 10,000 residents. Let's say that this is serious Bible belt country.

You can't imagine how overjoyed I was to hear the next comment.
"If you aren't busy in the next couple of days, I'd like to talk to you about my work."
Didn't we just do that?

After all, I was just sitting around, waiting for you to show up. I'm working on a book, rewriting a business plan, maintaining a 300 acre farm and restoring an old car. My days are a minimum of 16 hours long, every day of the week. Lots of spare time. Which is spent looking at the back of my eyelids.

I had just spent the last hour and a half with this person, explaining what little I know about the entertainment business. They had proceeded to tell me that none of it applied to them.

You don't need to do any work, just show up at the recording studio.
Why worry about a contract, the producer is going to pay me, right?
Hey, I wrote this stuff, so nobody can use it but me. If they do, they have to pay me.
Why write anything down, I can remember it all in my head!

This is all being said while the WNGC is drinking shots of Uncle's whiskey and sipping beer to chase it. Then complaining to Uncle about the " rotgut that you drink, can't you buy better booze?"

After that I excused myself, took the doggie bag and headed out the back door.

WNGC got the copy of the contract the next day. I got the "Yeah, it doesn't matter." speech. Probably right, it's just words on paper. When this happened, I realized that this was more than a waste of time. There was work in the barn to be done, so I went there next.

Rerun everything I wrote above, just change the setting to the tractor shed where I repair the farm equipment. This happened everyday for the next three days. How many times can you tell someone the same thing? I tried the allegory method, the personal example, etc.

It's like hammering on a large piece of steel with a wooden stick. You exert your energy, but nothing changes. OK, the stick will flatten out and eventually splinter. Like my reserve.

I finally had to say those magic words.

"I don't know what to tell you."

When a person knows more than you do about a situation, just give it over to them. You might have all the experience in the world, but they are going to make their mistakes, no matter what you tell them. Save yourself the time and effort.

Wish them the best.
Then go on with your work.

Friday, October 12, 2007

More Pay, Less Work, Heavy Thinking

I love to write. It's the one thing that I do every day (body functions not included). Even if it's as basic as the outline for a story or just random thoughts.

The entire aspect of writing appeals to me.

Reading about or travelling to a place to do the background research. Getting sick on the strange food. Meeting beautiful women with hair under their arms.

Checking out the latest developments on the technical aspects of the story. Acting like I know what the hell they are talking about. Assuring them that I won't divulge their secrets.

Meeting experts in their field to discuss the current and future trends. Like I care about something I'll never live to see. If it ever happens in the first place.

I even like doing the rewrite work, trying to smooth out the flow of the story to get just the right pitch, making it a harmonious composition, instead of a jangle. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ah bullshit...

During the past few years, I've had a variety of jobs. Some of which even paid some money. The one thing that I learned from these escapades in employment; the less one does, labor-wise, usually the more one makes, in respect to payment. When I mention labor, I'm talking physical labor, not heavy thinking or childbirth. We won't even go into the 'jobs' that are more play than work.

I have worked hard as an auto mechanic and hardly worked as a technical writer. Guess which job paid better? Some of this is due to involvement in the job. When you are truly involved in your work, it's not really work any more.

After the first few brakes jobs, they all begin to look the same to me. When I'm writing, that changes, as there is more than one way to describe the brake job. Although I have friends who make great money as mechanics, I never did. The work did prepare me to do technical manuals, which paid fairly well, not to mention it's cleaner work. I still do my own car repair work though. Nobody touches my ride but me!

Writing has allowed me to travel to both LA and New York City and many places in between. Which is where I am now. I've worked and lived in Europe, writing technical manuals, screenplays and my first book. Which is not my only book, but the only one that's published.

People that I have met in the writing business are some of the most interesting souls on this planet. Some are just less than average assholes with big egos, but we won't go there today.

It's one of those avocations that will be the same as it was 3,000 years ago, but different tomorrow, always moving to the next level. I didn't say whether this would be a higher or lower level. A topic for further discussion.

What I want to know, if I like doing this so much, how can they call it 'work'?

Striking Out, Instead of Joining Up

As I wander through the daily debris of the news, wonder turns to dismay.

What ever happened to unions and guilds supporting each other when one of them goes out on strike? The IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees) has warned the WGA about their actions. Like if you mess with our work, we will sue, or something to that effect. I won't go into details, the trade papers are full of the specifics.

In the old days, before lawsuits became the weapon of choice, unions and guilds would respect the strike of another and even go so far as to support it. When the Teamsters would shut down the trucking companies, the Longshoremen on the docks would honor their picket lines.

I can understand that there is a bit of an overlap with the IASTE having people doing animation writing and other stuff. Why hasn't there been an attempt to have these two groups meld and give them even more clout? Does it boil down to the old ego of the management scenario? After all, you see corporate mergers all the time to increase their strength in the marketplace. Why not these two groups?

Stay tuned for our next exciting episode...

Will the IASTE sue?

Will the WGA counter-sue?

Will the Great Strike of 2007 break Hollywood....

Does anyone really care?

Don't touch that remote!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hollywood Writers Strike

It's fall, there are leaves hitting the ground and lines being drawn in the sand. Hollywood is facing a writers strike. I had planned on flying out to LA to attend the Screenwriters Expo, but won't be doing that this year.

The thought of a writers strike is not good news. It means that the people who are supposed to work together in the movie business can't divide up the income from the product in a manner which is fair to all participants. The problem is that money has become the overriding concern.

The aspiring writers who I have met almost all mention two things that motivate them to write for the movies. The 'big money' and their ego, err, name on the 'big screen'. The serious ones write, whether they make money doing it or not.

Which comes down to the motivation. This strike, like many I have seen, is about leveraging power to redistribute the income from the product. Too many people are unwilling to accept the fact that the lines between writer/director/producer are blurring.

It's going to be an interesting situation. I would like to see it resolved to everyone's satisfaction. That's not going to happen. It will probably be like any deal. Someone is going to walk away from it feeling like they got the short end of the stick.

This could be the seismic shift that changes how movies and all video content are created and distributed in the future.

So, if they want, let them fight it out.

I've got work to do on my book.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

As The World Turns The Scribe Writes

Another day in the books and more words on the page.

What have you written and will time be good to it or will derision prevail? The never-ending lament of authors everywhere. It's difficult to write and much harder to accept the idea that it's worthless to some people.

Don't feel bad. Someone, somewhere will be glad to tell you how terrible your work is, even if they don't just ignore it to begin with. What do they know? You will always have your friends, Mom or some other admirer who will boost your ego.

Writing is the sublime torment that only an intelligent mind can appreciate.

The difficulty in finding a word or phrase to fit and convey the thought of the moment.

Once you have done this, it can ring down through the ages.

Few other things are so timeless.