So you want me to read your screenplay? Then skip to the end. Otherwise…
I’m a writer. I grew up in Kentucky. Four years at good ol’ Marshall County High. I was jock, redneck and geek rolled into one. The southern Ferris Bueller. Still have the accent. Sort of. Ain’t as thick but it’s still there. I went to a private Christian college, Freed-Hardeman University but dropped out before my senior year to pursue a woman. That ended poorly which resulted in my walking the earth like Kung Fu if Kung Fu was a drunken slut. In ’96 I moved out to LA, slept in a hammock for a couple months, got a craphole apartment off Pico. Currently and since ’96 screenplays have paid the bills. My first movie was a Friday the 13th movie. Love me…or more likely hate me, I’m the guy who put Jason in space. Don’t ask. It’s a long story. Just know that the answers are rarely simple. It wasn’t my first screenplay. 23rd if memory serves. My first was a fantasy. This was back before fantasy was cool. It was an awesome script. 40 pages in and still no plot had revealed itself.
It was many scripts and many years later before I got the hang of it.
Talent, luck and who you know. I used to think those were equal. They are not. Luck is 80 percent of it. But if you don’t have the raw talent, don’t bother. Not trying to be mean, just saving you some time. So where was I? First movie? Hockey Mask guy movie. Yeah. I wrote a pretty fun script. Oddly enough, that script didn’t get made. Welcome to Hollywood.
I’m what you call a working writer. I suppose there are different definitions. For me it means I write, I get paid, I pay my bills. But I’ve managed to pay the bills with writing money since ’96. I know that’s rare. I complain but I’m not blind to my being slightly blessed. I’ve had at least one gig a year since my first film and I’m very thankful for that. This means I live by feast or famine. I’ve made ALOT of money and then lived on it. And I’ve lived on credit cards. I have always lived below my means. I don’t have a mansion. I don’t drive a new car. I’m middle class. And that’s why I’m still here. Although…I wonder sometimes if that’s enough. It’s tough. Tougher every year.
Hollywood sold this amazing ad campaign. “If you do the work. If you get a movie or two under your belt. You’ll be rich.” That’s BS. They sell this so that you’ll do your first couple of films for dirt. They WANT you to believe that you are paying your dues. That writing for dirt is part of the right of passage. BS. Because very few ever get the brass ring. Very few ever get truly ahead of the game.
I’m not complaining. I get paid to write. Sometimes. And that’s still great.
So, what did I do after I put Jason in space? I’ve sold a spec with an A List writer attached to direct. Yeah. It didn’t get made. I pitched an idea and then got hired to write it. It got made…after eight other writers took a stab. So it’s not really what I wrote. I wrote a Mini Series for the Scifi channel. Yeah. It didn’t get made either. I’ve written a couple of video games. They didn’t get made. I’ve written a couple of comics. Oddly enough, those got made.
As for screenplays the executive runs the show now. It’s always been that way but used to there was one or two at every studio with the power to “make” you change the script. Now the guy who answers the phones has more clout than the monkey with the keyboard. And that’s tough. Five or so years ago the biz started to change. What happened was an influx of hungry new writers.
You had the old school boys who fight. And then you had the new kids who smiled and made whatever changes they were asked to make. I’ve always been a fighter. I would argue for what I thought was best. But the biz changed and suddenly when I argued I would get replaced. So, one time, just for gits and shiggles, and because I had bills to pay, I tried the friendly approach.
I calmly stated my opinion and if I couldn’t sway them (and I never did), I made the change. What resulted was the worst screenplay ever written. Not worst screenplay written by me. Worst screenplay ever written. I made changes that I knew were totally wrong. And I can’t tell you why. It’s a gut thing. It’s tone and pacing and structure and arc and character. I can’t tell you why it was wrong. I just know it was wrong. Horribly horribly wrong. As a result, not only did I hate the process, I really didn’t like the finished script. And, of course it was read and deemed problematic. Not by those who’d given me the notes. No. It was deemed problematic by those with the money. And would you believe it? The one who gave me the dreadful notes suddenly pointed the finger at the moron of a screenwriter. If I’d only listened to them none of this would have happened. I was promptly replaced. Welcome to Hollywood part II.
So, I’m back to fighting. Sorry but I’d rather fight for what I believe and be replaced than do what I’m certain won’t work and then later be replaced because…it don’t work. At least my way I always have a script I can show with pride.
2008 and 2009 were good years but lean years. The Money doesn’t like to part with the money. I guess that’s always been the case but now the Money simply doesn’t pretend. 2008′s work was rewarded with the releases My Bloody Valentine 3D and Messengers II: The Scarecrow. One a big feature. One a direct to DVD. Loved working on both for different reasons. Shhhh, don’t tell nobody but I made more money on the direct to DVD then the big feature. Welcome to Hollywood part III. And there were dozens that never saw the light of day.
2009 saw the partnership of Lussier and Farmer really take off. This lead to the spec sell of Drive Angry which led to Mike Deluca which led to Nic Cage. There were highs and lows as with every year. We wrote a a great Three Days of the Condor in High School but in the end Andy Rona told us he’d rather it be a ghost or a killer in a mask. We wrote Halloween 3D which was glorious but in the end gut-wrenching (you’ll have to visit the journal for that story).
2010 was ALL Drive Angry. We started shooting in March. My Bloody Valentine was mostly our movie. There were some moments that derailed it but we always brought it back online. And in the end it was MOSTLY what we wanted it to be. DRIVE ANGRY was MORE of what we wanted it to be. In the beginning we asked Mike De Luca what his notes were. He said, “Go shoot it”. So we did. Millennium films didn’t make us develop it. They said, here’s your money, don’t go over, now go do what you need to do. So we did. Sure there were rewrites, but they were our rewrites. Love it or hate it, the movie would be ours. And we spent ALL year on it. We wrote nothing else. We made no other money as writers. This was a slight oversite because as a writer it’s harder and harder to make it on just one gig a year. But we made our little movie and in Feb of 2011 it came out and made 5 million dollars it’s opening weekend. That’s not so good. A movie that cost 30m. Or 50. Depending on who you ask (30 cuz I can add). Fact is… Drive Angry tanked. All that work. An original screenplay rather than a sequel or a remake. And it was OURS. No goofy studio notes… and yet… we tanked. Nobody went. That hurt. But it is what it is.
In the end, Talent, Luck and Who you know is BS. It’s mostly timing… and/or Luck.
But let’s move on from the negative.
My best friend, Dean Lorey, is the guy who both believed in and suggested I move out to LA. He’s gone from movies to TV to novels to TV to porn. Smart man if you ask me. Next came Sean Cunningham, with whom I still have a love/hate sexual relationship. He paid me to write for three years which led to my first credit and my foot in the door. My mentor, Dean Riesner, wrote Dirty Harry. He passed away at 83 and I miss the old sumbitch. Patrick Lussier is one of my two closest friends and fought for the script like I never knew was possible. We are now partners and shall ever be.
With all this going for me I should actually be way more successful than I am but…eh…what are you gonna do?
Finally, being a daddy has made me a little nicer than I used to be. Not much, mind you. But a little. She really is my greatest screenplay.
So that’s me for what it’s worth. I write and I put my story here so that one day I can look back and laugh. I’m more than willing to answer questions but I can really only tell you what I’ve done. As for teaching screenplay method, that’s not my thing. There are some great sites out there with screenwriters way smarter than I am. I’m really just here to vent and record for reasons of my own sanity.
If you need to send witty banter:
So you want me to read your screenplay?
The business is as tough to break into as I’ve ever seen it. Studios are making less movies. Screenwriters are out of work. Those who are working are making less money. Therefore, more established screenwriters are available and willing to write for less. Yet, I get more requests to read screenplays now than ever before. But here’s the thing, even though the cards are stacked against you, you’re not alone. The cards are stacked against all of us. In the end it still comes down to talent, luck and who you know.
So, yes, I’ll read your screenplay but you’ll have to pay for my time. And I won’t do it if I have a looming deadline. Nor will I sugarcoat it. Faint of heart need not apply. Hollywood is tough. The suits do not like you. And readers are looking or any excuse to toss your script into the can. But here’s the good news, in the last year the suits have been hiring more and more new guys/girls. Here’s why: one, you don’t have any dings against you. In other words, you don’t have any failures. Two, you’re cheap. Truth hurts sometimes but there it is. But here’s what will kill you in the water, newbie mistakes.
While there are no rules, there are norms. You step outside those norms then there’s a good chance you’ll get tossed in the can. And yes, I’m aware that Tarantino never walked a normal screenplay but statistically a well written, high concept idea sells way more often than a Tarantino, out of the box concept.
So while I can offer no guarentees, I can likely help. I can point out red flags. Hollywood doesn’t like taking risks. So if your screenplay reveals your lack of experience then you are toast before you get started.
I won’t write the script for you but I’ll give you my opinion of story and character. I won’t develop the characters for you. But if something jumps out at me, if a “fix” (which will simply be my opinion) reveals itself then I won’t hold back. I will read and give you notes. What you do from there is up to you.
I won’t give your script to my agent. I won’t give it to a producer. It’s still your script. Still your journey.
So… if the above hasn’t scared you off, if you write because you love the journey rather than the destination, then feel free to contact me and we’ll discuss my cost. Wendagojunk at gmail dot com.