CASTING: JUST LIKE COOKING

Casting and crewing a movie is the most challenging aspect of making a movie, and one that many directors and producers should reevaluate.  By casting and crewing your movie correctly, you can avoid having conflicts on the set, maintain a healthy atmosphere, and construct a positive environment in which everyone can thrive.

When I’m casting or crewing a movie, I think of it like cooking.  The movie is the dish we’re about to make, and each element that goes into making that dish becomes an ingredient.  Different locations, props, costumes, and people, each have their own unique color, flavor, energy, and thus each has a unique ingredient.  Like saffron, ginger, or cucumber.

I think it’s very important to make sure that all the ingredients work well together, both on screen and off.  If everyone enjoys being around each other, the atmosphere will be free of conflict.  And if any conflict arises, people who enjoy each other tend to handle conflict in a healthy, mature way.

So, think of people like food.  Try it.  Go on.

Pick someone you know and imagine what kind of ingredient would they be.  Are they volatile, or spicy, like, say, cayenne?  Are they sweet and rounded, and ordinary, like, say, a Granny Smith apple?  Would you pair them up together in the same recipe?  And if so, how would you do it?  Or, what other ingredients would be needed in order for the right balance to happen?  Or, if you picked the Granny Smith apple person, is there another contender who embodies an ingredient that might work better?

Sometimes this is very difficult to explain to other producers, actors, and directors.  Especially those who have been programmed into doing it the traditional way.  But, I’m telling you, this works.  It’s about understanding chemistry and really understanding a person.  It’s possible even to understand it, and use this information, without ever being in the same room with the person.  It’s also very handy tool to use when casting people together that need certain chemistry.

Some people use astrology in a similar way.  I understand that for the most part, people might not like this because it’s stereotyping.  Fitting everyone else into a box.  But, so long as it keeps working, I don’t care.  The goal is to cast and crew a movie, and to end up with a group of people who get along and shine on screen.

Even if a person is the best in their field, or the greatest performer, they might not be right for the particular dish we’re assembling.  It’s incredibly important to select the right combination of people to create the ideal environment off screen as much as on screen.  When people are living together in such close proximity to each other, and work and play morph together, it is imperative that each personality work well together—like creating the perfect recipe—each ingredient matters or could throw off the whole thing.

Would you rather be working for three weeks with a bunch of talented people who hate each other, or a bunch of talented people who enjoy each other?

In addition to taking a look at someone’s skills and talent, it’s also a good idea to look at how they see the world; interact with others, and how their unique ingredient might give flavor to the ultimate dish.

Ponder your own combinations.

Figs go well on their own, with fresh crisp foods, and even meat but I wouldn’t eat a bulb of garlic at the same time.  Some might, though.  That’s fine.

Got a fresh peach, or a plum, and a bossy steak?  Try them together, the fruit works surprisingly well on top of the steak.

Roasted beets taste like sweet corn, which is also great with arugula.  But I’d avoid pairing them up with gummy worms.

The Wamego Trilogy

To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of its initial release, I am making the WAMEGO TRILOGY available for FREE on Vimeo.  Spread the word and share these documentaries with every filmmaker (aspiring or professional) you know.

“Dreams are made of this stuff… Missing here are power-lunches and power-trips. Which is a breath of that fresh Kansas air.” – AFTERTASTE MAGAZINE

“Perfect! If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you’d be a complete fool not to watch all the docs in this trilogy… There’s a lesson to be learned from the Baldersons.”
FILM THREAT

“Hollywood should be jealous.” – ICON MAGAZINE

“Literally thousands of miles away from the world of red carpets, cocaine nose-jobs and botoxed to the bone, anorexic 40-year-old women pretending to be 21, Wamego is a world full of cinematic dreams and devoid of pretension.”
HOFSTRA CHRONICLE

“Steve Balderson’s approach to his work is not just a breath of fresh air – it is a gale-force wind that just may huff and puff and blow that famous Hollywood sign down right before the film industry’s eyes.”
OREGON DAILY EMERALD

“A constant reminder to never give up or give in…”
ALL ABOUT TOWN MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO is a testament to the hard work ethic of the Midwest. It proves that with determination, anything is possible – even making a feature film by yourself, in the middle of nowhere!”
LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD

“What was ‘Lost in La Mancha’ could easily be ‘Found in Wamego’ … A warmfelt, honest lesson how to realize your dream without sharing a bed with the devil.”
PLANB MAGAZINE, NORWAY

“Balderson serves a fat slice of humble pie to his Hollywood peers. A reality-check to inspire indie artists worldwide!”
THE BLACKSMOKE ORGANISATION, UK

“Those who have filmmaking ambitions of their own will get a little more…”
MICRO-FILM MAGAZINE

“WAMEGO will have a league of moviemakers clicking their heels to be transported to the Kansan, Do-It-Yourself state of mind.”
BRAD JEWELL

“It’s fascinating, entertaining, inspiring.”
PLAYLOUDER, UK

“The documentary, more than any other movie-in-process film, actually demonstrates how to make a movie. It’s not a tedious and silly art school exercise, but a deep look into the thinking, perspective and determination that a filmmaker has to have in order to get a vision on the screen. Wamego is good story telling… A rich tale with fully developed characters, a well-developed plot and layers of conflict… Wamego is recommended viewing… Shows those professionals from LA how things should be done.”
DISCOVERY PUBLICATIONS

TOP OR BOTTOM?

There are two ways to budget your movie.  The first, which is known as the traditional manner in which all movies are budgeted, is Bottom Up budgeting.  It’s the least effective way to budget a movie, but most everyone does it.

Bottom Up budgeting is where you start from ground zero with no idea what your movie is going to cost.  Then you identify all the people, jobs, things you think you need, and at the end you’ll have the amount that will cost.  There is software out there, which can help you down this path.  See this example of a traditional budget Top Sheet.

When using this software, you’ll scour an endless list of job titles, finding out there are jobs you never knew about, but that you must need, now that you’re thinking of them.  Yes, a Script Supervisor would be great.  $100 per day is a bit much so you plop in $20 per day.  Then you’ll go to the next job, plop in a new amount, and so on.  At the end of the list, the software will tally up all the jobs and expenses you typed in, and voila: you see the budget for you movie.  In this case, your movie will cost over $240,000.

But then you’re faced with the reality of trying to raise a quarter of a million dollars.  Which, if you can do it, great, by all means, have at it!  But, chances are in this economy it simply isn’t going to happen.  You might raise half that, or even less… but a quarter million?

I prefer to budget a movie using a Top Down approach.  This is where you start with an amount and deduct items you know you can afford, and do away with the items you can’t or don’t need.

Let’s say we believe we can raise $60,000 to produce the movie.  Or, let’s say we have already raised $60,000 and we’re not sure that’s enough.  I’m here to tell you it’s more than enough, and here’s how you’ll do it.

First, identify the items you must have.  Not things you think you need.  You don’t need a Script Supervisor.  Anybody on your crew can do it – since the job is required only when cameras are rolling.  If you’re making a horror film that requires visual effects, or special effects make-up, those items are mandatory.  So, write those down and subtract their cost (let’s say $7,500).  Now you only have $52,500 remaining in your budget.

Next up, fifteen people on the cast and crew.  Let’s say you’ll shoot for two weeks and pay everyone $50 per day.  Subtract $10,500.  Now you only have $42,000 remaining.  Can you get those people to work for deferred?  If so, you can add $10,500 back into your budget.  Need to fly them to the set?  Subtract those costs, or see if you can use airline miles and add those costs back in.

Hopefully you get where I’m going with this.  I’m thinking about expenses as if I were using a debit card.  Not a credit card.

I understand the general public would rather use a credit card instead of a debit card.  The traps of “buy now, figure out how to pay for it later” are easy to fall into.  But those people are usually in debt.

By handling your budget in the Top Down approach; you’ll know exactly how much money you have and can make realistic decisions on what you can afford.  And what you can’t.  Which will keep your movie on budget, and you won’t waste a cent.

CUT OUT THE FAT

If you have a backer with unlimited financial resources like, say, a pharmaceutical company, then this doesn’t apply to you (i.e. Studios).  But for the rest of the filmmaking world, think about this.  People cost time and money.  Even people working for free.

Every single person on your crew will cost a certain amount of money.  That amount varies, of course, because maybe you’re housing people at neighbors and friends.  But if you aren’t, you’re going to have to house them someplace.  Cheap motels aren’t free.  Some people have the ability to fly or drive to you, feed themselves, and bring their own bottled water to the set.  But will everybody?  Probably not.

The easiest way to save time and money is to cut out unnecessary crew members.  If you operate your own camera, you don’t need a camera person.  If you know about lighting, you won’t need a DP.  You don’t need a Gaffer, because anybody can hold the reflector or turn on the light.  Go for an intern.  If you have a DP or camera person it usually means you’ll add another dozen or so people automatically.  Most DPs and camera people can’t manage to hold the camera and also pull focus, change lenses, memory cards, download cards, etc., and they will usually request an additional person for each of those simple activities.  And all of those people will have NOTHING to do but stand there and wait for their specific duty.

By having the actors manage their own costumes and props, you omit the need for a props person, props assistant, costumer, seamstress, and whomever else those people “need” to assist them in order to do their jobs.  Of course, if you use a costume person, consider another area on the crew you can omit a person.  Can that costume person also manage being on Script during the takes (since they’d otherwise be doing nothing)?

By keeping on schedule and doing adequate planning ahead of time, you’ll also omit the need for a Second AD, and any other office-type person who would otherwise have nothing to do but sit around all day waiting to see if you’re behind schedule.

In addition to saving money, by omitting unneeded crew people, you’ll also save time.  The more people you have, the more time it takes for everyone to show up.  More people means less time in the loo (so “take 15 minutes” usually turns into “it’s been 45 minutes, we’re already behind, and not everyone has had a chance to use the toilet.”)

When an aspiring film student comes up to me and says, “I want to work on your crew, I’ll do anything, I’ll even pay my own way,” it’s very tempting to have them join the team.  But I’ve learned to draw the line.  While it’s helpful if one or two people come aboard under those circumstances, six or seven end up bogging down the set.

In addition to saving time and money, a smaller set is more enjoyable.  If you’ve never been on a film set before, you’ll come to love the days when hardly anyone is there.  Fat or thin, tall or short, the fact is, people take up space.

Add in equipment cases, bags, tripods, even at the barest minimum, it becomes crowded really quickly.  And, a crowded hallway isn’t as easy to walk down as an empty one.  Getting on and off the set, or in and out of the location is far easier when there are only a handful of people.

I know it’s exciting to have all your friends around to watch, and people willing to work for free, but please consider my advice and draw the line someplace.  If a person isn’t actually doing something useful, get rid of them.  Or select certain days on the schedule when they could be useful, and tell them to stay home on days that aren’t.

CASTING: A NEW WAY TO AUDITION

Traditionally, when casting a movie, there are a few standard approaches to how to do it.  One is to have a cattle call, where actors come in, perform a monologue, give you their headshot and resume, and leave.  Another is a process where actors come in and read pages of the script (called “sides”), by themselves, or maybe with a second actor also reading sides.

For me, the traditional casting process is useless.

I don’t have actors audition in the traditional sense.  When I do a cattle call, I simply visit with people and take a look at their reels, or resumes, and that’s about it.  If I decide to have them audition, I will have them put themselves on tape later on.  But there is no reason to make actors do random monologues that have nothing to do with your movie.  Unless your character is exactly like Hamlet, do you really care if Actor Carl the best Hamlet in the world?

Doing cold readings from “sides” are totally unfair to the actor and also to the director.  I can’t expect an actor to walk in off the street without any previous discussion with me and nail it.  Sure, sometimes magic happens.  But, it’s unfair to ask the actor to do that.  It would be most beneficial to everyone involved if the actor and the director could speak about the character in question.  Actors act.  That’s what they do.  Most of the good ones can play any part you throw at them.

If an actor does a reading that isn’t a match with the director’s idea of the role, it is totally unfair for the director to judge that actor.  How could that actor know what the director is thinking unless the director says so?  Actors can be talented, but most are not psychic.  They need some “direction” which—oh wait—that’s why they call it a Director.

Yet, most often, bad directors hold cold reads and casting calls and will judge an actor based on their ability to perform without any direction.  Those are the directors who want actors who can direct themselves so he/she doesn’t have to do any work.

When I’m casting a movie, I like to meet performers and match their personalities with their co-stars.  If I think someone has the right energy for the part, I ask them to do a private video audition.  We visit a bit about the character, and then they record a short video in character introducing themselves to me.

They don’t work off the script, they just work off the energy inside the character and it’s totally improvisational.  I explain to each performer that there is no right or wrong way to interpret the character.  Part of the exercise is just so I can see how they look and move on screen.  Videos also convey if the actor has a deeper understanding of the character in question, or if they’ll need some additional guidance.

Sometimes I’ll ask an actor to do two videos, each with a different character.  This is a great idea if you’ve never worked with the individual before.  Because, they will show you what kind of an actor they are and you won’t have to guess.  If the actor shows you two totally different performances, it is clear they have a range and can do a variety of roles.  But, sometimes, if they perform both parts with pretty much the same style, it sends the signal they deliver one type of performance.  Which isn’t bad.

One time I had a gal do two video auditions for two roles, and she was pretty much the same in both.  Even though they were vastly different characters.  But, she was great at doing the thing she did.  So I cast her in a part totally suited for that kind of performance.  And, she nailed it.

Doing video auditions is also very valuable when you’re shooting a film across the globe.  When I shot my film CULTURE SHOCK in London and Paris, the only way for me to audition people was via Skype and video.  There was no money to fly me overseas to do the traditional casting process.

Traditionalists scoff at my concepts, but I think they work wonders and save lots of time and money.  So next time you prepare a casting or audition, think about what it is you want to achieve from it.  And do whatever you can to reach the goal.

VANITY ON THE CLOCK

If you’ve worked on a film set, you know how important it is to remain on schedule.  The art of scheduling a movie accurately is really one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process.

In order to schedule a movie, clear communication needs to take place between the crew and cast who will shape it.  Some DP’s will want to spend hours lighting “that shot” while some actors want another hour to prep for the scene – and soon you’re behind schedule.

The first thing I do is limit the DP set up time.  If he or she has truly given it some thought, there will be an easy way to light nearly any scene in less than 15-30 minutes.  On any given budget.  But, it takes the self-discipline to be able to sit down and plan it.  If you wait to decide what to do until you show up on the set, you won’t know what you’re doing until you get there.  In that case, you will not be prepared and it could take a long time before the camera team is ready to get the shot.

Another thing I do is tell my actors to show up Make-Up and Hair ready.  In some cases I have hired a hair and make-up person, but I tell them to be in charge of their own schedule.  And if Hillary needs to be camera ready at 3pm, she should be on set at 3pm.  It’s the responsibility of the make-up artist and Hillary to make sure this happens.

Preferably there won’t be any make-up or hair person, and each actor can just be responsible for doing it themselves.  If my actor isn’t comfortable doing it on their own,  they can hire their own make-up artist.  I’m happy to give the artist credit in the movie, but they most likely won’t be a part of our overall schedule and planning process.

I understand that everyone wants to look his or her best whether it’s in front of or behind the camera.  The DP wants the best lighting, the actors want to look their best, the props, costumes, all of it.  Each person wants to achieve their best.  And I think that’s great!  When I’m directing something, I want it to be the best possible experience for the viewer.  So I totally get everyone wanting to be and do his or her best.

What I don’t understand is how few people are really willing to take responsibility for themselves to make sure they achieve their goals.  I sketch storyboards before showing up on the set.  There’s no reason the DP can’t look at them and design his lighting plan in advance.  There’s no reason the actors can’t look at them and know which side of their face will be seen.

I made my storyboards available to the cast and crew of FIRECRACKER and I believe only about four people (out of 42) looked at them.  Karen Black was one of them.  There was only one moment Karen didn’t like where I was putting the camera.  But, I told her that now wasn’t the time for that discussion.  The time for conversation was all those weeks earlier when we went through each storyboard together.

Since I filmed FIRECRACKER, I’ve never had an unorganized shooting day.  And I’ve never been behind schedule.  Even if I’ve experienced a scene running over the pre-planned time, I average about an hour ahead of the scheduled wrap time each day.

Yes, it is possible to make a feature film wherein you don’t have to work 12-14 hours a day.  The trick is to check vanity at the door, really communicate with clarity and focus, and work with people who love taking responsibility for managing themselves realistically.

MOVIES & HOUSES

I think it is totally illogical the way movies are sold nowadays.  Sales Agents really need to figure out a new way to do business or soon, what with the coming of VOD into the everyday consumer routine, they will all be out of a job.

When one goes to sell or buy a house, there is a very clear asking price to begin negotiations.  I think movies should be treated the same way.

This, of course, doesn’t apply to mega studio super budget movies that are all done in-house and have nothing to do with the rest of the world.  I’m talking about independently made films looking for distribution.

Say you’ve made a movie for $75,000.  I think it’s best to just say it.  If you try to make it sound like your movie is worth $500,000 you’ll look foolish.  Likewise, if a typical three-bedroom house in Kansas costs one thing and you’re asking five times that, you are likely not going to sell your house.

Of course there are dumb shits in the world who will pay for something that costs more than its worth.  But even though it seems those types have the run of the place, they really are quite rare.  So I suggest finding out what your movie is worth on a realistic level and just tell people that’s what you want for it.

If you say you want $75,000 for worldwide rights, expect an offer for anywhere $50,000 or even lower.  If your selling worldwide rights, that would be the end of the deal.  No royalties, nothing else.  There is a lot of greed out there, naturally, so people would rather “lease” their movie, or “rent it” like they would a residential property.  But, I say, just sell the damn thing and move on.

Of course, location has a lot to do with selling a house.  For instance, a $300,000 house in Kansas would be worth about $3.2million in Los Angeles, or five times that based on square footage in New York City.

Think about your movie in terms of genre and star power.  If you have Julia Roberts in your movie, you’ll likely be able to ask $3.2million for it even if it only cost $200,000 to make.  Do you have a Victorian mansion, or a two-story duplex, or a mid-century modern ranch-style?  Is the home you’re selling sit in a desirable neighborhood, or is it on the wrong side of the tracks?  Is it a horror comedy, coming of age drama, or musical?

You can try and disguise your movie all you want, but at the end of the day, it might help you to understand your movie from a realistic perspective.  Bring in someone to evaluate the worth of your film, and strategize the best way to get it out there.

If you’ve made a movie for $75,000 it might serve you better to release it yourself.  For that amount you only have to sell 4,000 DVDs or VOD purchases.  That isn’t a huge ordeal.  But, on the flip-side, if you’ve made a movie for $300,000 you’ll have to sell 15,000 DVDs or VOD purchases.  While that’s not out of the question, it’s a lot easier to sell less.  So keep your costs as low as possible.  Or remember that if you’re selling a home, it’s best to get as much as you can and then move to a town where you can get a lot more for less.

HOLLYWOOD APPLE TURNOVER

I’m not speaking of the traditional apple turnovers, which are tender and flaky, with apple pie-like filling and a thin, white glaze.  Nor am I speaking about Gwenyth’s daughter.  I’m speaking of the kinds that are just a bit flaky and work as executives at movie studios in Hollywood.

When I began my film career in the 90s, I met a slew of awesome people who had great jobs with MGM, Miramax, and so forth.  After Harvey Weinstein called me personally to express his interest in my film PEP SQUAD, I became friends with his assistant.  Or, rather, his assistant du jour.  That person was quickly replaced by another assistant, who, shortly after being hired, developed a crush on me.  It was kind of bizarre.  Of course I never met the guy in real life, but to be funny, I sent him an 8×10 glossy of my face as a joke.  He hung it up on the wall by his desk.  And each time I called to visit with Harvey, the assistant thought I was calling to visit with him, not Harvey.  It all became very confusing.  But, just as soon as he was developing some long-distance feelings for me, he was axed as well.  So in came another assistant.  By that point I’d sold my movie to another distributor and I didn’t think Harvey would appreciate me continuing to bother him, so I stopped calling.  I’m not sure who his next assistant was.

My mentor Eric Sherman always suggested it was a really good idea to network and make friends with executives at certain companies because at some point they might be able to help me get a movie made, or whatever.

Besides Harvey Weinstein’s assistant, I met some great people who were VP’s of production, directors of acquisitions, and other higher-ups that, one would think, would be relatively great connections.

One incredible woman, Sara Rose, was an inspiration to me.  After seeing my film at the Cannes Film Market, she came up to me afterwards to introduce herself.  Any time I was in LA I would stop by and see her at MGM.  She always took my meetings and was always a delight to visit with.  She then became VP of Production at MGM and we spoke many times about making my film FIRECRACKER together.  That didn’t happen, but we kept in touch and I always looked forward to working with her in the future.

While I was on track to develop these relationships (some of the people were awesome, like Sara Rose, but some of the other ones were the flaky kind and not so cool), a strange thing kept happening.  They kept losing their jobs.

Some executives moved to other companies on their own free will, some were moved into different jobs within the same company (but not a job that had anything to do with why I was talking to them), and then there were some were fired and were never seen or heard from again.

After several years it became clear to me that most movie executives can’t keep a job for more than about two years.  This Turnover Syndrome is a bizarre fact about the movie business.  Even Penny Marshall mentioned this phenomenon in her memoirs.  If there is someone working with you on your movie when you start the process, they won’t be working at the studio when you finish the movie.  Just as simple as that.

My question is: WHY?  Why can’t most movie executives keep a job for more than a couple years?

WAITING TO WORK

If you are serious about wanting to get your film actually made, you should avoid Hollywood altogether.  Trust me.  No one but The Majors make movies in Hollywood.  The players you would think would be the most involved are precisely the individuals least interested in the activity.  What?  How can you say that?  Well, because it’s true!  People go to Hollywood to be in a continuous state of development.  Why?  BECAUSE THEY ARE LAZY.  They do not want to work.  They do not want to be productive.  They want to stay in bed or lounge about the fucking pool sipping martinis.

No one in Hollywood will return your calls because there’s just no time!  They will tell you they’re SO swamped.  People in the movie business are SO busy.  Try so busy scheduling their August holiday!  Think you can call back in September?  Guess again!  From September to November people in the movie business can’t manage a conversation because all capable speaking skills are being sucked up by Toronto and the other fall film festivals.  No one works in December, regardless of religion, and when they return after the New Year, all available time is spent obsessing over Sundance.  And, of course, February is out of the question because everyone is obsessed with what happened or didn’t happen at Sundance.

April through May is lost to Cannes.  This leaves only March and a slim chance to reach anyone by telephone during hiatus (June and July).  Please note: no one in the industry seems to understand how to use e-mail.  Unless you’ve got Spiderman 7 in the works, or the latest “special effect’s show,” the only real chance you’ve got is to make your film on your own.  Think you want to involve the movie business?  Heed this warning!

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying time off from time to time but must we remain “off” so much of the time?  And what are people doing in their off time?  Playing videogames, chatting with online strangers, playing golf, attempting yoga, gorging on wine and cheese.  Whatever happened to productivity?  Come to think of it, maybe Hollywood isn’t the only place contaminated with laziness.

There are 365 days in a calendar year.  104 of them are wasted by people not working on the weekends.  That only leaves 261 days to get any work done.

Think it stops there?  Guess again!  We can’t forget the holidays!  (FYI: The movie industry observes every holiday known to man, and not just the major ones.  I used to think they did this to avoid offending any major cultural or religious group.  But, it seems to me that most everyone in the U.S. does it as well—even people who are deliberately offensive on a daily basis and clearly cannot be attempting to avoid offending someone!)

We have Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Good Friday, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day (by all means a special day to deliberately not work!), Columbus Day, Election Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas…and those are just the Bank Holidays!

We can’t forget Chinese New Year, Groundhog Day, Valentine’s Day, Ash Wednesday, Purim, St. Patrick’s Day, April Fools, Passover, Easter, Tax Day, Cinco de Mayo, Nurses Day, Mother’s Day, Armed Forces Day, Father’s Day, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Halloween, All Saint’s Day, Eid al-Fitr, Hanukkah, Ramadan, and, of course, Kwanzaa!

I found the following on the website for the Pennsylvania Department of Banking: “When a fixed holiday falls on Sunday, it shall be observed on the following Monday; when it falls on a Saturday, it may be observed on the following Monday.  Independence Day, July 4, 2004, will fall on a Sunday and, therefore, must be observed on Monday, July 5, 2004.  Christmas Day, December 25, 2004, will fall on a Saturday and, therefore, may be observed on Monday, December 27, 2004.”

Are they kidding?  No!  We wouldn’t want to overlap a weekend with a holiday for a chance at yet another day off!

By the time New Year’s Eve rolls around, people take yet another two days off!  Yes, two whole days.  (No one should have to work with a hangover!)  I’ve never understood why people celebrate the coming of a new year.  Are they excited that yet another year has passed?  Are they thrilled at the notion that in the coming year they only have 24 days to work?  Or, are they thrilled at the idea that 341 days will be spent not doing ANY?

On my street, there isn’t a reason to take a vacation.  We don’t need a break from our lives.  We need no escape.  We happen to enjoy what we’re doing.  That’s a rare thing these days—actually having enjoyment at your place of work.

I used to get really frustrated.  It seemed that every time I turned around people were finding any excuse possible to avoid doing any work.  Now, I see it as a gift.  While millions are sitting around by the pool, playing golf, taking a holiday, the rest of us can get the upper hand.  My advice is to encourage other people to take even more time off from work.  This way, you’ll be able to accomplish more while they’re gone.  And if you’re as efficient as some, you might even get the desired results before they get back.

If, on the notion you dislike your life and don’t really want to do any work, I suggest moving to Los Angeles and getting a job in the movie industry.  If the move seems daunting, taking any job seems to do the trick regardless of the location.  Don’t worry. You’re sure to find a place where you don’t have to do anything!

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004)

So you want to be a screenwriter?

You’ve decided to write a script and make it big.  You’ve found a great story that, for some reason, you think other people want to read (or see for that matter).  You’ve written it and are now ready to shop your script to producers and directors.  Shopping your script is the first mistake, which I shall address on another day, but if you are determined to have someone else make your movie – there is something you should know.

Not only has The Industry become lazy and formulaic when it comes to storytelling (and you’ll have to comply as well), it is now imperative that every screenplay must look and feel identical.  Coming up with a good idea to write about is one thing.  Coming up with a good idea people are willing to pay for is another.  But the most important thing – the thing they never tell you – is that you MUST BIND YOUR SCRIPT LIKE EVERYONE ELSE!

Never mind the story.  Never mind the content.  It’s come down to this: If your script does not have those common, unsightly and second-rate brass “brads” attached to the top hole and bottom hole – your project is worthless.  They will tell you that only amateurs go to Kinko’s.  Because “everyone” knows you MUST OBEY THE RULE OF THE BRASS “BRAD”!

Never make the horrible mistake of placing it in a three-ring binder.  And never, ever, put “brads” in all three holes!  Because “everyone” knows you’re supposed to only use the top hole and bottom hole.  A writer I once knew told me his script was returned unread because he’d placed a “brad” in the center hole.  As ludicrous as this might seem, this is no joke.  It’s really happening to people.

Most of Hollywood can’t understand how to read something unless it has these brass fasteners.  But let that be a lesson.  Do I really want to work with people who are obsessed with the binding and not interested in my cast, financing, marketing plan or that seemingly, from their point of view, irrelevant part known as cinematography?  Come to think of it: No… I don’t.  I want to work with people who can understand pictures and sentences, too.

On my street, I bind scripts professionally.  I love the look and feel of it.  The appearance says: QUALITY.  DISTINCTIVE.  IMAGINATIVE.  And those emotions happen before reading the first sentence!  Going one step further, I like to include photographs and sketches that assist in setting moods and atmospheres – the kinds of things that separate a motion picture from a novel.

Still, it doesn’t do any good.  Several years ago, a woman named Elizabeth called me from Miramax and said she was excited to read my script.  I made the horrible mistake of sending it to her.  Several days later, she telephoned and told me, “It’s perfect for Dimension, so I sent it to them.”  I was livid because she was passing it around without my approval.  I asked for her to return it at once.

I received the script the following day.  When it arrived, I found it had been completely dismantled.  The crucial photographs were removed from the script, and the binding was replaced by those stupid second-rate brass fasteners!

Now, it’s not like I only had a few pictures.  I’d actually placed one on every other page. So it was clear to me that someone had wasted an entire afternoon going through the script page by page and removing 125 pictures.  Isn’t that silly?  They had to make it look like all the other scripts in order to understand it!  Also, I looked up on staples.com and those stupid “brads” are called “standard punch brass fasteners.”  So next time you hear a dimwitted industry executive say “brads” you will know the extent of his or her mental capacity.

There is something to be said about going against the norm.  Doing things in an unorthodox manner separates you and your material from the millions of people and scripts milling about the basin.  But for some reason – fear of not fitting in, perhaps – most people will continue to worship the “brass brad mentality” and end up looking like everyone else.  Sure, they’ll fit in.  But no one will see them because seven million other people have done exactly the same.

My advice?  If you feel the need to write something clever – simply eat something spicy and the feeling will pass.  You’ll be much happier in the end.

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine in 2004.)