February 27, 2009

The toughest five minutes you'll ever love

So, as most of you know, I make movies.

That's my true passion. It's the reason I quit an insanely well-paying job in New York and moved all the way to Los Angeles nearly 10 years ago to get my MFA in Screenwriting at the American Film Institute.

Ironically enough, I pursued screenwriting after I took a production class at NYU back in 1998 and realized that I really didn't care enough about F-stops and film stock to devote my energy to cinematography and directing. I figured, if I could learn how to tell a good enough story, I can draw in all of the technical people I needed to make my films happen.

That was, of course, before I moved to Hollywood.

Now, don't get me wrong - you will never see a good movie that doesn't begin with a good script. But, after getting my degree and years of trying to push various feature film scripts in the marketplace, I came to realize that, when all you do is write, you're completely at the mercy of other people's tastes. Certainly, spec sales happen, but, given how many scripts there are out there in the system, selling a spec (i.e. a script you wrote on your own, with out anyone paying you to do it up front) is a lot like winning the lottery. Of course, if we're going to stick with the lottery analogy, going to film school is sort of like living in Montgomery County, MD - there's just an abnormally high number of state lottery winners there, just like you're more likely to know spec sellers if you go to film school.

Anyway, I came to realize that, contrary to popular rumors, scripts are not the coin of the realm in Hollywood. Only actual finished films are the real currency in Hollywood. From a buyer's perspective, buying a script is too big of a risk - WAY too many things can go wrong because of way too many people before you get your money back. There are far more buyers for films - cable networks, foreign territories, film markets, etc. - than for scripts.

Which gets to a piece of advice a lawyer buddy told me he received from his mentor at his first law firm: He told my friend that there were lawyers at that firm who could never understand why they didn't make partner. But making partner had nothing to do with seniority or legal skill. In a partnership, you have to split the pie, and anytime you add a new partner, you have to split the pie a little thinner. So the only reason why they would ever add a new partner is if he or she has something, a client or a relationship or something, that makes the pie bigger.

No one will hand you their equity for nothing.

And, as I thought about it, I noticed that a lot of the screenwriters I really loved were also directors: Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, Spike Lee, David Lynch, etc.

In short, I realized that, if I wanted to see my movies made, I had to start making them.

So, I did this:

You like? If so, show "5" a little love: make it your favorite on YouTube, give it 5 stars, leave a funny comment, and, of course, forward it to every single person in your address book. :-)

You'll feel better when you do.

But, back to my original point, I've gotten FAR more traction as a screenwriter from this little short than from any of my feature screenplays. Why? Because it only takes 5 minutes to watch, while I script can take hours.

Which is why, whenever I run into a frustrated actor or writer, I tell them, take control of your destiny and make a film. Give yourself the role you want. Make yourself the producer who loves your writing.

Give yourself your own equity.

In the meantime, I'm planning to make something considerably.... longer. :-)