The Theory of Chaos

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sometimes I really do need to be reminded I work in the movie business

For those of you trying to keep track, I'll distinguish MSK - the abbreviation for the script I'm currently writing a first draft of - from The Vegas Project, the script I finished the first draft of over New Years' which my producer friend is presently humping around Hollywood in search of patrons. Today I got an update on The Vegas Project.

This is a script that my agent, my producer friend, and myself all agree is not right for the spec market. "Spec", for those of you who don't know, is short for "speculative". It's a blanket term for scripts that are not written on assignment, but on a writer's own uncompensated initiative. Most writers, really any writer without a secure position on a studio's approved list of go-to pencils, does a lot of work on spec. When I get a new idea, I can take it out as a "pitch" - hoping through a thrillingly witty sales presentation to get someone excited enough about it to "pay" me before I actually have to "write" it. Or I can "spec" it, so the script itself can convey my intentions.

There are people out there who've made steaming piles of cash because they can pitch the hell out of a story (known as "Great in a Room"), even though they absolutely fail at making a good script out of it. They thrive because studios can always hire someone to re-write them. Whatever I might think about the efficiency of that system, I have accepted one thing - I am not "Great in a Room". I'm terrible at pitching, so I
have to be good at the writing.

I've already written The Vegas Project on spec, but when it comes time to get a script out into the industry for consideration, "spec" takes on a different meaning. To an agent, to "spec" something means to ship it out simultaneously to as many clout-wielding moneybags as they can get on the phone, banking that in the general confusion and clock's-ticking excitement, enough people will fear losing the project to someone faster that their reasoning will be scrambled and they'll be more likely to buy first and ask questions later.
Queen Lara made some small noise with this technique, it probably contributed to it being purchased rather than optioned. Fast-reading scripts with marketable high concepts and glitzy attachments thrive in this atmosphere. Moody, character-dense pieces like The Vegas Project do not.

My agent, my producer friend and I have thus settled on a more deliberate approach. We're seeking attachments - the clinical term for additional people-assets that will sex-up the project for potential buyers. This most often takes the form of directors or actors who pledge to work on the eventual film, thus making it easier for executives (who cannot admit they're never quite sure they can tell from reading the script) to pull the trigger. This isn't easy - agents don't like committing their clients to work that isn't fully-funded yet, but you hope to end-run around them and ignite someone's passion with it so they'll take the risk. You seek directors and actors with their own production companies - they've taken a more entrepreneurial interest in their career, and are thus more approachable with potentially non-blockbuster "prestige" material. They have the chance to get in on the ground floor of a project that will feed their creative urge. That's what we're presenting The Vegas Project as.

So my producer friend has good friends at two production companies run by actors who are right for the lead role in my script and can command the big letters on the multiplex marquee. To get in the orbit of either of them would defibrilate my whole damn career. One has yet to respond - his boss has a movie opening imminently and is thus rather occupied. The other called to respond today...

As I suspected, he passed. The star he vets material for already has A Vegas Project where he would play a very similar character to my script. That one has a director and financing, and a bird in the hand with money behind it sure as hell beats what I'm offering. This happens very often - in Hollywood there's a rotating group of about twelve actors who can make your movie go by their mere presence. Take out the unavailable ones, the ones you can't access, the ones who have "something similar" already cooking, and the ones who just plain don't like what you're shoveling, and it's a wonder anything ever gets done around here.

Still, the feedback was positive, and didn't sound too heavily cut with Executive Folderol. We'll turn the pressure up on the other one for a response, and in the meantime my producer friend is making a new submission to a friend who represents some up-and-coming directors, one of whom I'm familiar with and very interested in.

This is sort of how the rocks tumble around here. You learn not to get star-struck or carried away. It's like Vegas - you go in assuming you're going to lose every time. Then, maybe, one time you won't, and that will be a pretty sweet day.


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