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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

2007 Holiday Gifts for Screenwriters!

Yep, it's that time of year again, folks. Time to start shopping for gifts for the writers in your life. Whether your screenwriter friend, relative or significant other celebrates Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Solstice or any other holiday, you might want to consider these as potential presents for him or her.

But first...
At the risk of defeating the whole purpose of this blog post, I still want to make note briefly of a new movie that's coming out. A guy I went to grad school with many years back has a brand new documentary out that aims to counteract the growing commercialization of the holiday season, and in fact of America in general. I haven't seen it yet, but it looks hilarious and thought provoking, and I recommend you check it out. Produced by Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame), and directed by my friend Rob VanAlkemade, What Would Jesus Buy? looks like just the film for the season!

That being said, if you aren't going to be completely avoiding the "Shopocalypse" (to cop a term from WWJB?), allow me to make a few suggestions!

Firstly, let me link to my previous posts. Nearly all of the links from those pages still work, and my opinions of those products have not changed. They are all excellent choices for the gifts you can give to your writing cohorts!

The Original Catalog was broken into 3 main sections:
Part 1 featured my Top 10 most essential things for screenwriters. (Let me just give you this updated link for The Hero With a Thousand Faces. And here is an updated link for the Hollywood Creative Directory - Representation book.)

Part 2 featured 13 options to help writers develop story structure, general writing skills and character development.

Part 3 focused on some of the greats in the screenwriting world, as well as a number of solid "stocking stuffer" type gifts.

Then, last year, I added some more links in the 2006 Gift Catalog. Again, I still stand by these suggestions for screenwriter gifts, so check those out as well!

So now on to the new additions for this year.

Firstly, let me reiterate that I am once again offering my holiday special sale on screenplay services. 10% off my regular affordable prices! Give the gift of professional feedback and advice. For others, or just treat yourself. Please note that these can also be purchased in advance and used later, so if you or your gift recipient isn't ready for notes now, but you want to take advantage of the discounted prices, no problem at all. Just contact me, and we'll go from there!

What else? I looked over the films from this past year, and in all honesty, I realized that I was a bit disappointed, in retrospect. Not that many great ones, though who knows where the big holiday movies will take us? However, I did find two that are worth reviewing from a screenwriting perspective.

Waitress was a remarkable film. It is one of the few dramedies I've seen that truly works on both dramatic and comedic levels, without shortchanging either. And there was a true bittersweet realism in the film. It was unflinching, but even handed, and it also had true heart and soul to it. Nearly everyone I know who saw it loved it. I highly recommend watching it and examining its excellent screenplay.

A few weeks ago, I saw a preview screening of Beowulf in 3-D, before it was released. I meant to post about it, but the time passed. But what I will say is that I was quite impressed with the screenplay in particular. It has been a while since I've read the book, but I remember it to be a sprawling tale that is somewhat haphazard. But the screenplay here did a wonderful job of finding a cohesive and compelling story. A developing screenwriter seeking to view this in greater detail, could compare the book to the script.

Here's another silly/fun stocking stuffer type novelty gift. Glow in the Dark Flesh-Eating Zombie action figures! Ah yes, fun for the whole family.

How about gifts for writers on strike, or those who support them (which should be all of us)? Well, let me again link first to Writers Strike Swag. But let me also suggest this pedometer as a way for them to track how much exercise they're getting walking the picket lines! Or something with which to soothe their aching feet when they get home.

Last year I noted the disappearance of the Famous Writer Shot Glasses. I still can't find them, but what about that other enduring stereotype for writers -- coffee? This is the coffee maker that I use all the time, and I love it. Seriously. You can put in whole beans and water at night, program it for the morning, and have freshly ground, delicious coffee brewed to order for when you wake up! An excellent gift for the coffee lovers out there.

Lastly, two portable electronic devices that should be of tremendous use to most screenwriters out there. This handheld digital voice recorder holds up to 130 hours, and is great for taking notes on the run, repeating overheard snippets of dialogue, and talking through story ideas out loud. And no screenwriter I know would complain about receiving this portable DVD player. A great way to watch Waitress or any other favorite DVD.

That being said, Happy Holidays to all (in advance). I hope this has given you some good new ideas, and please consider doing your shopping through this site. I'll get a tiny percentage of the money you spend, and it will cost you the same amount. I'll take that as your gift to me! Thanks.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Chanukah Gift Idea

Ever wonder about the correct way to spell that Jewish 8-day holiday? Chanukah? Hanukkah? Channuka? Whatever. There is no right way to spell it -- it is just a transliteration from Hebrew, so spell it however you like.

But our annual oil-filled celebration begins next week, on Tuesday night. And so I have an option to offer up for any of you deciding what to buy for your literary-minded Jewish friends as a gift. No, this isn't screenwriting-related directly, but it is writing-related.

There is a just-released book called "How To Spell Chanukah...And Other Holiday Dilemmas." It looks like a pretty fun book, and I felt the need to mention it since among its anthologized authors, there are three who are friends of mine. So support them, and give a gift to a Jew you love!

And if you're looking for more screenwriting-related gift ideas, keep your eyes peeled for the annual update to my Holiday Gifts for Screenwriters suggestions! I'll hopefully get it posted within the next day or two.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Strike/Me Update

(LONG post warning.)

Where does the time go? One week and I'm posting tons of things about the strike. Turn around, and it's two and a half weeks later, with no posts! And its not that I haven't been keeping up on the news or participating. I just haven't had the time to post. So consider this a catch-up post. Many of the links in here, you may have already seen. But I'm posting them because I think they are worth highlighting, for those who may not have seen them yet.

So let me start by updating you all on what I've been doing. Let me pick up with Day 5 of the Strike. I did end up attending the big rally at Fox, and saw lots of stars. Shook hands with and thanked many, including Jesse Jackson, Dennis Haysbert, Seth MacFarlane, Tom Morello and Zach de la Rocha. Others I saw from close up were the guys from Reno 911 in their uniforms, Ed Helms, Brian Posehn and others.

I was pleased and overwhelmed by the number of people and the spirit of camaraderie, and though I didn't see a number of my peers/friends who I know were there, I did end up running into many others who I didn't expect to see. So that was a pleasant experience overall. And when will I next have a chance to sit down in the middle of Pico Blvd. in the middle of the day?

I made it out to the lines again once or twice the following week. I saw Steve Zaillian again (confirming my prior suspicion), introduced myself to him and chatted briefly and pleasantly. I also met a nice woman who writes for one of the daytime soaps. I'd never met anyone who wrote for a soap before, and it was really interesting to learn about that whole world and process. Additionally, since she was a Black woman, we discussed the lack of people of color on the lines (which I mentioned in that same post). She said she'd certainly noticed it as well. In fact, when she had walked to her car one time, she said that some people (non-strikers) asked her if she were "the only one." But we agreed that there may be more distributed at other locations, and that we'd seen a decent number during the Friday rally.

Another nice guy I chatted with had written some novels, then transitioned into features. He's one of those guys who has made a living in Hollywood without seeing much produced. These stories are more prevalent then you might think!

I also got to see a few more people that I knew, and reconnect with a few of the nice writers I'd met on previous days. Starting to recognize people there, which is nice. Of course, I knew it would be a while until I saw them again, since I was heading out to NYC/NJ the next night! This also meant that I unfortunately had to miss both the big march down Hollywood Boulevard, and the "Assistants Picket," which I would certainly have attended.

My original plan was to try to hit the picket lines in NYC as well for a day or two. Unfortunately, that was not to be. I got into the city early on Friday the 16th. But I had already learned the previous night that there were no pickets scheduled for that day. I got in touch with Alex to let him know, since he too was coming to town. We planned, instead, to meet up on the pickets on Monday. But when we later learned that they weren't going to be picketing that day either, the plan was nixed. Luckily, however, we did get to meet up at a bar on Sunday night, and it was a pleasure to finally meet him in person after all this time we'd been in touch in the virtual world of the Scribosphere.

Bottom line, for the entire 10 days that have been in NYC/NJ, there was only one day of picketing, on Tuesday. And unfortunately, I had too much work to do that morning, so I didn't make it out to the lines until about 5 minutes after the pickets ended. I at least got to meet a few of the WGAE picketers, and introduced myself to them, only to learn I'd missed my last opportunity to join them. Oh well. Would've been nice, and sounds (from the article) like they had some cool people out in support that day. Regardless, over this trip, I did get a chance to meet up with some of my readers, one of whom I'd met before and one with whom I'd only corresponded. I again failed to meet up with Joshua, but that was largely my fault this time. And I also got together with a guy I used to work for, who is now out on his own. And saw lots of friends, unrelated to the industry.

All this time, I've also been doing more research for the safari picture. As you may recall, I am in the midst of re-re-revising the treatment, and in my discussions (of which there were many during the week prior to my flight back East) we hit an impasse. The first half of the film is pretty set, but we're now completely rethinking or at least reconsidering the second half. And research seems the only way to go about this. It is frustrating, but I also know it is necessary. If we can solve these problems up front, I know the script will be better overall. And I hope that once we can agree on a good direction for that, I'll be able to get moving on the script itself, and hopefully knock it out relatively quickly. I certainly have my work cut out for me this week.

* * *

Okay, so now a number of thoughts, links, etc. about the strike.

Let me start by saying, I'm very pleased that both sides have agreed to meet again today. And I'm positively hopeful that there are rumors that this is all a formality. As you can see here and here, insiders are suggesting that the two sides have already agreed to most of the broadstrokes, and now just have some specific details to finalize. So hopefully, many of these thoughts I post here will not be relevant much longer.

That being said, let's think a bit about what the strike may have accomplished. Many people felt there was simply no way that the WGA could prevail and succeed against such wealthy and powerful corporations as those that own the studios and networks. (And for a great peek at exactly how huge these corporations are, you must check out this diagram from The Nation. Click on each company to see their details. And if you think these are already too big, you may want to examine a bill heading to congress now. Check out THIS site for more info.)

Still, I think that the studios/nets were going to be hurt a lot more than they'd originally foreseen. Some of the people I spoke to on the lines said the timing of the WGA strike was unexpected, since in '88 they waited to begin at the same time as SAG. Couple this with the showrunners walking en masse, which supposedly also caught the bosses off guard. Add this all up and it seems TV has been hurt more than originally expected. How much so? Enough that the nets could easily take a hit to their bottom line soon. There have been reports that advertisers are likely to ask for money back if too many reruns cut into viewership. Let me explain.

My limited understanding of how media buying goes (and please correct any fallacies I have here, if you know better) is that networks show their upcoming shows to advertisers. The advertisers (via media buyers) buy ad time, and the nets must deliver at least a certain level of ratings. This is done seasonally, which is why networks run sweeps weeks, to boost aggregate viewership for the period. (On a side note, it seems that the studios had enough shows to not have the strike affect the current season's sweeps week.) Anyway, if nets deliver higher ratings, all is good. But if it is too low, advertisers may get money back. This may be a big reason that the nets are so carefully examining their strategies to airing reruns.

What about the feature side of the business? Is there any damage the strike is doing there? Well, we must start with the fact that without late night TV, the studios lose a huge promotional vehicle for their big Holiday movies. This could hurt their bottom line sooner as well. And it may explain the talk of getting late night back on the air sooner.

But what about looking ahead? The lag time between production and release in features is significantly longer than in TV. So a prolonged strike would not show much of an impact until later in 2008, and into '09. We all heard the AMPTP party line about how they all stockpiled tons of feature scripts in advance of the strike. But as writers know, that only gave them more scripts that would need revisions -- revisions which can't happen during a strike. There are general rewrites needed, and once stars or directors attach themselves, they require rewrites as well. So first, the studios had to take a good look at their caches of scripts to see which were actually shootable.

And of course, that could lead to borderline decisions. Read this paragraph from the first of the above Variety articles for some of what we might have to look forward to, should the strike continue for a long time:

For pics going into production, producers would have to get creative in how scripts are reworked during filming. There's been talk that actors in comedies might be allowed to improvise, or that directors, producers or thesps will be allowed to tackle rewrites as long as they're not WGA members.

Luckily for us, the studios have started to wise up to the fact that can't work in many cases. In fact, we've already started to see some major films cancel production. Here's one story, and it has links to previous high-profile films that also shut down. Furthermore, though there are many films shooting on location (as opposed to on the lots that are being picketed), many of them have been shut down by loud picketers as well. If you're interested in knowing where there are film shoots in downtown LA, you might check this map. Not sure how accurate or up-to-date it is, but it could be a way to do something proactive.

A few random points, as well...

Those who have been following the news of the Strike have no doubt read that IATSE was not as supportive of the WGA as some of the other guilds (e.g. SAG and Teamsters). Well, this post points out why IATSE should be rethinking its position, as I think we've begun to see on at least an anecdotal basis.

We also know that the agents are the ones who were instrumental in getting the WGA and AMPTP back to the table today. But they are not the only ones likely to be hurt by a prolonged strike. The LA Times details exactly how high the costs of this strike could be to the city's economy overall, which is why politicians tried (generally unsuccessfully) to get this resolved as well.

At the beginning of the strike, people were complaining how boring the writers' strike signs were. They said that writers should be able to come up with better slogans! Well, I think we all know how much that has changed, but here is a nice collection of photos of some of the signs from the Fox rally a few weeks back, as proof.

And how else are writers putting their skills to work (without actually working)? Well, for starters, some are looking to the web, as this article from before the strike points out. This has clearly been a web-centric strike, in all ways possible. People have protested online, they have found ways to organize online, they have posted videos online, and the key sticking point int he contracts has been about the web. Here, then, are a few of my favorite vids from around the web. I'm sure you've seen some, but may have missed others:

Voices of Uncertainty
Videologblog: Writers Strike (Colbert Report writers)
Same Old Story (Irv Brecher)
WGA Strike: A Love Story

And as the strike wore on, we actually got a few that had some better production values as well:

Strike Police
Writer Boi - WGA
The Speechless campaign (make sure to scroll down for previous episodes)
The Mighty Pencil

And speaking of the mighty pencil, I'll point out the Pencils2MediaMoguls.com protest. If you're looking for more you can do until this strike ends, check these three posts for ideas. And if you want to help those who are hurt financially by the strike, here's one way to do it (even if they spell it swag instead of my preferred "schwag").

Lastly, here's a funny video from some "scab" writers. Kind of. And if you wonder about the origin of the term "scab," check HERE. I still prefer my definition in the comments to that post: "Whether this is its origin or not, I think the term scab is appropriate because it is something that covers up a gaping wound, but looks damn ugly while doing it."

Here's to hoping for a quick and favorable (to writers) resolution!

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Friday, November 09, 2007


Admittedly, I have only been to one strike location, but I've also been reading a lot of strike coverage on the web. And so I have one question (and no, it is not an accusation -- just information gathering):

Where are all the A-List feature writers? True, I saw Zaillian (I think), and I know John August has been out at Paramount. And maybe I'll see a bunch at Fox today.

But with all of the coverage I've been seeing, there have been tons of TV showrunners (stars in that world) and SAG stars, but I've seen very few pictures of the bigger feature writers. I'm not going to list the names of the types of people I'm referring to, but I really do wonder. For those of you who have been out, or noticed the coverage, please tell me I'm just overlooking this, or that it is just spotty coverage on the blogs. If you've seen some big-name feature screenwriters on the lines (and of course I use the term "big-name" in a relative sense), post about it in the comments, please.


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Writers Strike Round-Up

First and foremost, I must give kudos to the showrunners, who have agreed to show solidarity with each other and with their writers despite threatened lawsuits from the networks. I'm not sure whether those breach of contract lawsuits have any grounds or not, but I give these producers great respect for standing their ground in the face of some very scary prospects.

Now, on Day 4 of the strike, it seems that everyone is trying to come up with creative solutions. Apparently our "esteemed governor" is getting involved. Nikki Finke last night suggested getting the agencies involved as negotiators, due to their experience, knowledge and relevant interest, as well as having A-listers pressure the AMPTP. Ed Decter suggests the interesting albeit not-very-likely solution of urging Google to come to the rescue. There is also a petition on the web, that is gathering tremendous support very rapidly (to judge this, I was #2955 at 3:59 PM PST today -- see where it is at now). I encourage you all to sign it.

Okay, well let me suggest my own only-partially-tongue-in-cheek, and ridiculously unlikely solution. Starbucks. They have to be losing lots of money with screenwriters not writing, so it would be in their interests to get this strike resolved. And they have good enough business sense to convince millions of Americans that bad coffee is worth paying a lot for. Sounds like something the AMPTP could relate to!

What else? My plan was totally to attend the picket/rally at Fox tomorrow morning, but I just got word of a eulogy/funeral I need to attend tomorrow morning. Not a relative or close friend, but an amazing man who lived a tremendously full and heroic life and who attended my synagogue. I owe it to him to be there, so I'm not 100% sure if I will make it to Fox as well. And if I do, I have no idea what time I will get there. Just wanted to let you know. Regardless, I encourage you all to attend if you can!

You've heard about all the food and drinks and snacks that well-wishers are donating at picket sites? Well don't worry about your favorite writers getting fat(ter). I've seen varying quotes around the blogosphere from pedometer-wearing picketers indicating that they walked between 4 and 9+ miles in a single shift! (I think the discrepant lengths stem from the percentage of time spent on the picket lines, and what locations they were at.) So now you can not only support the guild and writers, you can also get into shape at the same time!

Okay, so I think that's it for now.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

My Afternoon on the Line

So I had decided, and so I did. If you go to that second link, you will see the video player on the side of the page. The second video (picture of Katherine Heigle) has the reporter positioned outside of Fox Studios on Pico and Motor. If you look carefully, you can see me in the background crossing the street as I picket the entrance to the studio. You can see me a bit at the beginning, and better during the closing wrap up by the reporter. I am wearing shorts and a red Hawaiian shirt. (By the way, I don't know how long the video stays up attached to that story, so if you read this post in the future, you may have to take my word for it.)

Anyway, yeah, I walked the picket lines at Fox Studios this afternoon. Let me tell you a few of the things that happened, and some of my feelings.

-- First of all, the emotions seem really positive. Most of the people I spoke with were happy to be there, and had a generally cheerful attitude. Many people brought food and treats by, and there were different drinks donated by various places. Overall, there was a sense of comaraderie about the line. When people found out that I had joined them, despite not being a WGA member, they were universally thankful. I paid that thanks forward by thanking the various SAG members that were joining us. While I did it because I am thankful for WGA members who will hopefully win benefits that I will enjoy in the future, the SAG members will never gain anything from our contract. So I appreciated their solidarity even more.

-- There was not a lot of chanting going on at Fox. Most of the cheers and efforts went to getting cars on the street to honk their horns in support, and at times there was a lot of honking. Loud and long. If you drive past picketers, and you do support us, please honk. It seems silly, but it really does give a boost.

-- On the topic of honking, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Almost without fail, every single Prius driver honked at us! Now, to be fair, there were plenty of people driving Mercedes, BMWs and Audis honking as well, and plenty of people in suits who honked support. There were even people who seemed to work for Fox and who honked as they were driving off the lot. So I don't want you to think I'm saying there is only one demographic of car driver who supported us, or that all the luxury car drivers were anti the strike. But it was remarkable how nearly universal that Prius effect was.

-- A few favorite slogans of the day. Simple but potent, a sign that said, "Reruns Suck." A horn-honker driving past leaned towards his open window and shouted to me, "Blank Page, Blank Stage!" A young woman walking the line with us, wearing overalls and fluffy slippers (perhaps with Simpsons characters on them?) held a sign that read, "Desperate Housewife."

-- I spoke with a few people who had been a part of the strikes in '88 and '85. The feeling that this one was much more unified and organized. The Internet (you know that thing they don't want to pay us for) plays a big part in this, as does a much larger union membership.

-- I have no idea if this is representative of union membership, but while there were large numbers of both males and females represented, I noticed there was almost not a single person of color on the line. Does anyone know the approximate percentage of the WGA that is non-White?

-- I had been planning to take some pictures to show y'all, but my camera is having problems, so that didn't work. But I did meet some cool people, both pros and others like myself. I had some nice conversations with working writers from both TV and features, including Matt Stone (not the South Park Matt Stone), Scott Wiper, and writers from House, King of the Hill, My Name is Earl and others. I did not speak to him, but I'm 99.9% sure it was Steve Zaillian who I saw on the line all afternoon. I also had a really nice conversation with Joe Siegman, a retired (I believe) writer/producer (he joked that he was striking against himself) who did a bunch of TV in the 70s. Mostly stand-up comedy shows and what he referred to as "junk shows" -- precursors to reality TV with celebrity challenges, such as Celebrity Bowling. And I also had the pleasure of running into someone I knew already, David Sacks, who has written on a number of big sitcoms, and currently has a show prepping to air on Comedy Central. My final meet-up of the day was also the most coincidental. A writer on Kyle XY overheard me talking to someone else, and it turns out that we grew up in the same town in NJ, only a few blocks away from each other!

-- One of the first people I met was another guy who was much in the same boat as me. His name is Josh, and he is also not a guild member. He's done one film (I believe it was a Sci-Fi Original, horror type film) and has been making his forward progress in his career, like I have. It was nice to have someone else in a similar situation, and be able to compare notes about hwo this may or may not affect us.

Okay, so I will again encourage all of you, if you support the WGA, to join the picket lines, even if you aren't a guild member. I will likely be back again, maybe tomorrow afternoon, maybe Friday morning. And if you would like to join me, let me know. Plus, I may see about joining a line in NYC while I am there.

On a side (but related) note, I want to direct your attention to THIS POST by my friend Bill Cunningham. In it he begins a grass roots campaign to call the studios' bluff on how "insignificant" Internet really is. He suggests we vow to not watch any TV streamed over the Internet until the strike ends. I would add that if we avoid watching movies, renting DVDs, etc. we would make the point even more strongly. I know that's difficult though -- I'm just saying...

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On Facebook?

If so, be aware that United Hollywood has a group on there, which you can join. When I joined this morning there were just over 30 members. As of now, there are already 219!

While you're there, feel free to add me as a friend as well if you like, but just identify yourself as a blog reader so I know who you are! :-)

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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I've Made My Decision

I've thought it over, and I'm 95% sure that I will be joining the picket line at Fox Studios tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. Let me briefly tell you why.

In general, I am not a big union guy. I'm not a real anti-union guy either, but I usually don't pay much mind to pickets. I've crossed lines before, but I'm also not the guy cursing out the picketers, spewing vitriol. Basically, my feelings on pickets are mixed and complex.

But to me, my decision is not about how I feel about picket lines as a concept. To me, this is about showing gratitude. I know that a lot of writers (and others) are sacrificing a lot in the hopes of making gains for the future, a future that I hope (and believe) will affect me directly. I am not a guild member currently, but I hope to be one in the not too distant future. And so, I believe that any gains the WGA earns now will benefit me down the road.

So I feel the need to thank the current members for going to bat for me, even if they don't know who I am. Even if they may be self-motivated more than altruistic. And the best way that I can think of to show my thanks is through a showing of solidarity.

If any of you feel similarly, I encourage you to follow suit, and join those lines as well. They had a great showing today, but as the strike wears on, those numbers and the spirits of those on the lines are likely to drop. If you would like to join me in person at Fox tomorrow, contact me directly. And if not, consider joining any of the myriad other locations. And if you head to Fox, I'll be the one in the red shirt. (Kidding!)

UPDATE: Like Josh (in the comments below), it is not looking like I will make it there today. But hopefully tomorrow or Thursday.

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First Strike Casualty?

No, I'm not talking about people out of work losing income and/or homes. I'm talking about a picketing writer being hit by a car!

The report from KABC-TV.

Let's hope someone got the driver's license number!

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Jolly Jet-Setting Joel

I'm just two weeks back from my Africa jaunt, and I'm already looking ahead to more journeys. I have two more trips planned before the new year! I'll still be working (one of the pleasures of being a freelancer in the telecommuting age), but they are still trips nonetheless. So, why am I telling you?

Because it will hopefully be an opportunity to meet some more of you that I have not yet met! So let me tell you where I'll be, and when. If any of you know of a writing group or class or something that would like to have me come speak on a more formal basis, I would love to try to work that in, following up on my Expo seminars. Definitely let me know! But otherwise, I would also love to just meet some of you on a more relaxed basis -- coffee or drinks, one-on-one or in groups. So let me know that as well.

So here's my schedule:
NYC/NJ from 11/16-11/26
London from 12/16-12/18
Israel from 12/20-12/26

Obviously, part of the NYC/NJ trip will be taken up by family Thanksgiving stuff, but much of the rest of that time I'm available. And for the detail mongers among you, 12/19 is a travel day, with some stopping, but no availability to meet up.

So, for any of my readers in NYC/NJ, London (or the UK and willing/able to travel to London), and Israel, please do get in touch.


Jon Stewart Rocks

On the off chance you haven't seen this yet (though I hope you are all reading Deadline Hollywood Daily, which is where I came across this tidbit), Jon Stewart is stepping up for his writers and those of The Colbert Report.

I'm sure some cynics will claim this is just a clever way to keep his show airing fresh episodes while the others go dark to repeats, and there may in fact be some truth to this. Regardless, I love it and thank him for it. Kudos to you, sir!

UPDATE: Deadline H'wood is now reporting that Stewart's agent has denied this rumor. Not saying I blame him for not doing it. It was quite surprising when the news came out in the first place. So I don't hold it against him if he isn't. Just not going to praise him after all! :-)

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Explain It To Your Mom

Via Dave's blog, I just came across this simple 4-minute video that explains what the WGA is asking for, and why it is justified to do so. (Forgive the audio dropouts periodically -- I think it was made quickly.) I know many of you who read this also read Dave's blog, but I just wanted to spread this as widely as possible.

Point your friends and relatives to "The Writers Strike: Why We Fight" should they ask what is really going on, or when they complain about not being able to see Dave or Jon tomorrow night or Days of Our Lives next week!

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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Strike Update and Opinions

I am still holding out hope that the WGA and the AMPTP can reach an agreement today, averting a strike. But I'm not holding my breath, despite rumors of some progress made today. Especially after I note the untruths and combative nature of the various statements over at the AMPTP website (I hesitated to link to it, but more information circulating is better in my opinion).

One of the things that I've been doing the last couple of days is talking to writers that I know, gathering their opinions. And I've been interested to find some differing points of view from those I've spoken to. I spoke with two working writers yesterday at synagogue, and another today via IM. I'm not going to mention any of their names since I didn't ask their permission, and since I easily could be misquoting them or misinterpreting their impressions. And if any of you do read this, and I have misinterpreted, please accept my apologies, and understand that is why I left you anonymous! But I did want to air some of the opinions.

The first writer I spoke to is a WGA member who has written for television, and then had a few features produced. He's approximately the same age as me (I'm 36), and married with a family. I'm giving details like this as a frame of reference only. I will refer to him as "A."

"A" was adamantly against the strike, and rather angry with the WGA for what is going on. He felt that those agitating for the strike are not representative of most working writers, primarily coming from the ranks of either the extremely successful and wealthy A-listers or the writers who are in the union more by fluke. People who may have written a single film or TV episode, got into the union, but make their living in other fields like law or something else. This was also a bone of contention in our discussion, since I am not in the guild, but I tried to assure him I was really just trying to learn his opinion and educate myself, not argue with him or tell him what the guild should be doing.

"A" sees the damage that the strike will do as much more significant than the gains it might achieve, and actually doesn't believe there will be much gained either. To him, DVD is a ship that has sailed already, a fight we already lost. So why are we bringing it up again now? And with internet, he believes no one has figured out how to make money off of it yet, so why not table the discussion until later when we really have an idea what we are arguing about.

Furthermore, "A" is doubtful that any strike will accomplish much because it will hurt the writers more than the producers, and we are bound to lose any war of attrition. He quoted a friend in likening it to sitting down to play poker against the richest man in the world. I didn't mention it then, but I don't think the analogy proves the point, because I take the opposite view. I have played poker against people who were significantly wealthier than me, and who brought lots of money to the table. And yet, I was still able to make a good amount of money off of them, sometimes more than I would against a less wealthy player. If you think the goal of a strike is to hurt the opposition, then you are right -- you can't beat the wealthiest man in the world. But if your goal is simply to improve your own standing, then the wealthiest man can be an excellent opportunity to do so.

Writer "B" is a bit older than Writer "A," probably in his 40s. He too is married with kids (older than A's kids), and is a bit further along in his feature career. He too was unhappy with the current situation. But he seemed less pessimistic or adamant about it. "B's" biggest complaint was that he felt the WGA had done too little to avert a strike, and that the leadership wanted one all along. I don't think he felt the points were not worth fighting for, just that the means of achieving them were not ideal. His wife, who was standing next to him, seemed more nervous about what it would mean, though she was also trying to keep on a positive face. But the bottom line, however, was that he was angry that it got to this point, but that he agreed that there was little choice at this point but to strike. It was bad that they didn't do enough to avoid the strike, but now there was no other way.

Writer "C" is almost exactly my age, younger than me by 5 or 6 months, married with a young baby. He is an associate member of the guild, and has had a number of deals go through in both TV and Film, though none have gotten to production as of yet. He just sold one of his specs to a major studio, closing the deal just under the wire, and has also been developing various TV pilots and the like. "C" is a staunch supporter of the strike. He sees the WGA's fight as significant, due to the way writers have been treated previously, and the potential for the future that this opens up. DVD's were a lost cause and Internet is going to be potentially huge. And he worries about it both because of the way we were treated with DVD, and also because of the prevailing (dismissive) attitude towards writers in Hollywood in general.

"C" is also hopeful about the WGA's power in a strike -- it's ability to achieve its goals. In his numbers, if the WGA got what they wanted from a new deal, its members would collectively gain around $200 million over the next 3 years. And the industry will lose $2 billion in a strike. So it is just good business to avoid the strike or end it quickly. (I did not inquire about the source of those figures, so I have no idea how accurate or inaccurate they are.) I pointed out that while I hope he's right, it also isn't as black and white as he paints it. Because as "A" correctly pointed out to me, what the AMPTP gives writers will not be viewed in a vacuum. Rather, any increases we gain will also be seen as indicators of the gains that SAG and the DGA will be seeking for their new contracts, in 9 months' time.

Still, "C" did also make another interesting point about the WGA's power in this. As has been noted in Variety and elsewhere, late night TV is going to be one of the first areas to be hit by this strike, potentially blacking out shows as early as Monday night. "C" pointed out that this shorts the studios of one of their major means of promoting their films that will be released in coming months and mid-season TV shows. This is a potentially large hit to their bottom lines, and something they may want to avoid.

So, that's an anecdotal collection of some of the opinions I've been hearing from pro writers. I'd love to hear the opinions of a few others out there from around the Scribosphere. We all know where we can find Craig's opinions, and even some of John's. But how about you others? Stephen? Chris? Jon? Julie? Anyone else who is a working writer? I'd love your opinions.

Now, just as a side note, I wanted to let you know that if you are not a member of the WGA, but you support the strike, you can still show your support by joining a picket line, if you like. I have not decided if I will do so, and know how shocking it would be to my parents if their son actually joined a picket line (come on dad, you can tell me in the comments here how you'd feel if I did). If I do go, it is most likely you'll find me outside the Fox lot, since it is closest and most conveniently located for me. We'll see. While I still support this strike, I'm trying to process all of the different pieces of information I've been hearing and evaluating everything.

(On an unrelated note, I apparently spoke too soon in my last post, and The Jets have accomplished what I should have come to expect -- they blew it again. And on another unrelated note, I may hold off on the last post I wanted to get up, and write it tomorrow instead.)

UPDATE: I meant to mention that I found it interesting (though not all that significant) that none of the three writers I spoke with had attended the WGA meeting on Thursday night at the Convention Center. Though Writer B's writing partner did attend. I also wanted to direct you to another working writer's opinions. And she was in attendance at the meeting. Kira has just begun what I hope will be a long and successful TV writing career. Read what she has to say, for the perspective of someone at a different point in her career than the other three I listed.

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Musically Memetic

I actually have a few posts I want to put up today, working around a manuscript read, and checking up on my NY Jets (who, miracle of miracles, might actually win a game). But figure I'll start with a brief one, a response to the music meme that's been going around, and with which Shawna tagged me. First, the instructions quoted from her:

Find a song that inspires you to write something, whether it gives you an idea for a script or just puts you into a better frame of mind. AND/OR (don't you love choices) peek into the lyrics and find a stanza that sums up the theme of whatever script you're working on. It's quite uncanny how the two circumstances go together.

If possible, post a video of the song to really get people into the mood. (Yep, I'm aware of the irony of using Internet clips during the pissing contest. I like irony as much as bitchiness.)

At first I was going to choose a different song, from an indie anti-folk artist out of Brooklyn, but there is no video available, and he no longer performs. So instead I went with an old standby for me, and I think one that really gets at my attitude's essence. It doesn't relate directly to any single project I'm working on, but rather creates an optimistic mood overall, one which helps me keep writing all the time.

I am referring to one of my favorite Bob Marley tunes, "Coming in From the Cold." (By the way, check that link -- it is SO cute.) It is not one of his most famous tunes, but it has always struck a chord in me, ever since I first heard it. I own the album on vinyl, I have many different performance versions downloaded, etc. First, a few lyrics:

It's you, it's you, it's you I'm talkin' to.
Well, you (it's you), you (it's you), you I'm talking to now.
Why do you look so sad and forsaken?
When one door is closed, don't you know, another is open?

Would you let the system make you kill your brotherman?
No, Dread, no!
Would you make the system make you kill your brotherman?
No, Dread, no!
Would you make the system get on top of your head again?
No, Dread, no!
Well, the biggest man you ever did see, was once a baby.

That last line kind of reminds me of that quote I recently posted that said that every produced screenwriter has at one time never sold a screenplay.

Alright, here's some video. I'm actually going to post two versions. The first is a bit more traditional, a concert performance (though the camera spends too much time filming the audience that we can't see in this version anyway). The other one has a lot more soul and is a bit more rough and non-traditional. Part of a performance during an interview apparently. Enjoy!

As for who I'm tagging, how about Stephen, Bill, Jeremy, Scoopy, and Christina.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Fall Script Services Sale!

Both as a follow-up reward to all the new people I met and/or taught at the Expo, and in advance of a potential strike-and-holiday-induced slowdown of my other reading work, I am offering up a 10% discount on my primary screenplay services for the next two months, through the end of 2007!

In particular, I am reducing the rate for full Development Notes to just $270 from the usual $300 rate. And the less in depth Studio Style Coverage now costs only $135, reduced from $150.

I've always aimed to keep my costs affordable, and on the lower end of the range of options out there. And I have gotten a great response from those who have used my services in the past, as well as having done repeat work for a number of people. (Maybe I'll try to put a few feedback quotes up here soon.) So I really hope that many of you take advantage of this offer!

If you are interested, please email me directly (change the bracketed [AT] and [DOT] to the appropriate symbols), and we can discuss specifics, such as timing, etc. And if you are curious about what each of those types of reports entails, click on the sidebar link to the left that reads "Fun Joel's Screenplay Services," or HERE.


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Safari Picture Update #6

Okay, so this is a drop later than I had originally planned. But it took me a little while to get back into the groove of things following Expo. And then I first had to wade through a month's worth of emails that I had only rushed through looking for any that were "important." So now, I am finally ready to give y'all a bit of an update on my trip, and the movie that was its impetus! But this will just be a "greatest hits" type version, not a complete blow-by-blow. And while much of this is not directly related to writing, or to film, enough of you have asked for details that I figure it is an acceptable exception to my general focus. Plus, it relates in broad terms!

First, some details of the trip. Following a brief visit to NYC/NJ where I caught up with many of my old friends (though not as many as I would've liked, due to the briefness of my stay), I jetted off to Istanbul, via Turkish air. I was lucky enough to have a friend of a friend in Istanbul, and he was kind enough to pick me up at the airport and act as my private chauffeur/tour guide for the day. A very nice guy and actually in the TV and lit fields, so we had some relevant stuff to discuss as well. Istanbul is actually a beautiful city, and I had a lovely time there. But it was only an 11-hour layover, and then I was off to South Africa.

I landed the next morning in Johannesburg (or Jo'burg as it is commonly known). The next three weeks or so would be spent using Joburg as a base for operations, with trips to our various safari destinations interspersed with time there. While in town, I met lots of nice new people, some of which will continue to be friends in my ever-expanding group of people I know. (On a side note, I'm currently reading Malcolm Gladwell's interesting book The Tipping Point, and I think that anyone who has read it will agree there is no doubt that I am a "Connector.") I also reconnected with an old acquaintance who I knew from LA and who moved back there. Good to find a familiar face in such an unfamiliar city.

I also had the opportunity to watch a lot of rugby, since SA was embroiled in their ultimately successful hunt to win the Rugby World Cup. What a lekker jol (in SA slang) to have been there to celebrate the Sprinbok win! We miss that in the States, because we don't actively participate in any real international sports on that level. Soccer, Rugby, even Cricket (which I can't stand). None of them are sports we are big on, and conversely, the sports that are our largest are ones that are unpopular around the world: football, baseball, basketball. Hockey is about the closest we come, and it is neither one in which we participate that strongly worldwide, nor one that is that popular. And while this isn't a major big deal, I will still say that we miss out on the feeling of what it is like when the entire country celebrates something like that together. It really bonds people in a prideful way. But anyway...

Things I learned about SA, that probably won't matter much for this script (since it will be set in Botswana, not SA), but which might have some relevance, and might gain even more for a future project... Lots of slang that I've learned the meaning of, along with certain foods that are quite popular (e.g. biltong). I also learned how much those South Africans love their braais (Afrikaans word for a BBQ). Man, I must have put on a good number of pounds eating that much meat all the time! As a city, Joburg feels very much like LA, except for three things. The security situation (as evidenced by high walls and electric wire surrounding homes, and heavily armed security guards all over the streets), driving on the other side of the road, and legendary thunderstorms.

Okay, but let me discuss the core of the trip, my two safaris (or game drives as I would say in SA, so I'd sound a bit less like a tourist). The first was in northern Botswana, in the Okavango Delta. We were based in a town called Maun, at a place called Audi Camp, which was quite a nice place to stay. We had just driven straight through the night to get there, and necessarily went slowly -- the roads in Botswana are heavily populated by wild donkeys on the side of the road. The cows and goats that also line the edges tend to stay there, but the donkeys will just walk out onto the road and refuse to move as cars approach. Dangerous!

Upon our arrival in Audi, we had an hour or so to settle in and get ready, and then we left to head into the bush (as the wild is referred to). This is as good a time as any to tell you why there are no pictures in this post. Over the course of the entire journey, I probably took about 600 pictures. The vast majority of those were shot on film, with the same camera I've used almost my entire life, a Ricoh SLR that has served me very well over the years. Before the trip I did buy a new 75-300 mm telephoto lens, as well as a doubler to extend that lens in necessary situations. So hopefully I got a ton of awesome pictures. But at the same time, I still need to get them processed, and that will likely cost me around $100. So I'm waiting a drop longer on that. Soon hopefully, and when I get them back, I will certainly post some.

Anyway, we first did a 2-day game drive, sleeping in the open bush in tents. This was in the Moremi Game reserve, a portion of the Delta. We saw tons of amazing animals in some very dramatic situations. As a welcome, when we were setting up our tents at the campsite, a group of 20 or so elephants walked right past us. The last one on the line was eyeing us, stepped a bit in our direction and even grunted slightly at us. But nothing really happened, and it was mostly an exhilarating moment. Other dramatic things we saw: a lioness hunting a lechwe (a type of antelope) at dusk, that same lion go up into a tree (very rare), a leopard underneath a tree with the impala it had killed stuck up in the branches (leopards pull their kills into trees to protect them from scavengers), and a baby elephant carcass that was half eaten out with a lion lying right next to it. These are the types of things you hope to see when you go on safari, and while they can be gruesome or disgusting at times, more so they are beautiful, since they represent nature in action. Nature works, in general, because things are in perfect balance with each other overall.

After our return to Audi Camp, we took another one-day drive into the bush. This time we took a ride in mekoros (traditional dugout canoes that are poled along, like Venetian gondolas), and then did a walking safari. The previous two days had been spent primarily in an open-sided safari jeep, so this was a completely different experience. The big sightings that day were when we made it to a watering hole and saw a herd of hippos inside. They approached a certain amount, then grunted warnings at us, but didn't come any closer. We were fine so long as we didn't enter the water itself. There were also many other animals on the far side of the watering hole.

Our other game drive, the following week, was a vastly different kind of experience. It was in the Kruger National Park, in South Africa, close to the border with Mozambique. While we had guides for our drives in Botswana, the Kruger portion of our trip was self-guided. We were in a closed van (though we did frequently open the doors to get better shots and views). Instead of sleeping int he bush, we were in a camp with near-luxury chalets, air conditioning and all.

We did see more game of greater variety, and in greater proximity to each other. In fact we had the pleasure of seeing the so-called "Big Five" (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) in a single day, four of them before breakfast. This was quite a treat, considering you never know what you'll see, and some people see almost nothing, or a fraction of what we did. But even still, the Okavango portion of the trip was so much more real and dramatic. We were in an open vehicle, and got so much closer to many of the animals. In Moremi I was maybe 15-20 feet from the leopard we saw, with a kill up in the tree, while in Kruger the leopard we saw was like 100 yards away, lounging on top of a rock. And while it was beautiful to see, it was somewhat less dramatic. It was quite something to see an entire pride of lions together in Kruger (5-6 of them lounging around together), but seeing that single lion hunt and then up in the tree (and much closer to us) in Moremi was even more dramatic. Plus, there were a number of other animals in Moremi that we were able to get even closer to, including the beautiful kudu (another type of antelope).

So overall, both trips were truly awesome, and were very different types of trips. I took a lot from both, and some things that will hopefully find their way into the final script. But given a choice, if I could only do one of them again, it would be the Delta.

Okay, so what about that screenplay? While we were up there, we had a few conversations about the treatment, and guess what? Another significant change that will require me to re-revise the treatment before diving into the screenplay itself. For those keeping score, this is the fourth version of the treatment. What type of changes? Elimination of a few characters and introduction of another major character. A shift in the core of one of the characters' journey. A bit more meat and purpose for one of the other characters, who remains somewhat secondary. And overall, the changes should hopefully help make the film overall more realistic, by getting rid of some of the more contrived elements. And I do believe that the final product will be better overall. Hopefully I'm right!

So this week will be spent thrashing out a new version of the treatment, and once the producers like it, I will then dive into writing the script in earnest. That about brings us up to date. Thanks for reading this long post. Hope it was at least somewhat as interesting and fun for you as it was for me!

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