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.

FINDING COMPOSERS

I think music can make or break a movie.  I’ve seen a lot of movies that have really crappy soundtracks and music that is, well, just horrible.  If you are hunting for a composer to do your score, make sure they are the right person sonically.  I mean, they might be a great musician but ask yourself if their particular style of music fits with the tone of your movie.

Johnette Napolitano, the singer from 80s band Concrete Blonde, did the score for my first film PEP SQUAD.  I knew she was the right person for the cheeky campy sound I was going for with that film, and she did a haunting vocal version of America the Beautiful she called “Amerika.”  It was her first film score, and it was fun to work with her on it.  I even came up with the idea to incorporate drum cadences, which were recorded by our local high school marching band.  Pleasant Gehman was working on a spoken word album with Kristian Hoffman at the time, and Johnette had a recording of Pleasant’s “Super Mega Zsa Zsa,” and played it for me.  As soon as I heard it, I fell head over heels for it.  The totally insane part was that when I placed it into the movie, the song fit the scene perfectly, beats actually happening on certain cuts, and ending at exactly the right moment.  Total synchronicity.

Different composers have different methods of working.  Johnette made several variations of each theme and left me in charge of where to place them in the film.  Whereas, Justin Durban and Lindsay Ann Klemm, the composers for my film FIRECRACKER, scored music to fit the actual scene or sequence in question.

Also working on FIRECRACKER was The Enigma (using the name Paul Lawrence).  The Enigma had previously made some music with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, and composed some of the music for the carnival sections of the film.  My dad Clark played all the Chopin Nocturnes you hear in the movie.

Then I met the genius Rob Kleiner.  Rob is a talent beyond talents, and a great guy who is a total pleasure to be around.  Some of you know Rob from his work with Cee Lo Green, on the song they did for one of the TWILIGHT movies, which earned Rob a Grammy nomination.  Rob and I first worked together on WATCH OUT.  Then he did the incomparable score for STUCK! and then CASSEROLE CLUB, CULTURE SHOCK, and FAR FLUNG STAR.  Rob’s sonic brilliance comes into play as another character in each movie.  His music can be subtle or big, but always right in tune and in step with the rhythm and tone of each given film.

I’ve worked with dozens of other artists who have given me songs for inclusion into different scores.  THE WOODLANDS is Samuel and Hannah Robertson, who create absolutely breathtaking stuff.  Samuel also made a solo project called QUIET ARROWS, which is equally arresting, and a couple of his songs became part of the OCCUPYING ED score, which was composed by Kevin Peirce.  (Kevin appeared on my debut album Hypothermia, which was released in 1999).

Even if you don’t know famous musicians, it is totally possible to find super great music out there.  My advice is to keep in mind that the right music will make your movie awesome, and the wrong choices could make it horrible to sit through.

Also keep in mind that just because you like a song, doesn’t mean everyone else will.  So I encourage you to share the music with other people before including it in your movie.  Just in case.

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?

Tale of the Emerald Digger

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s the most beautiful stone in the world.  You’ll never stop thinking about it.  You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Oh, let me see it! I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says as he unwraps the emerald from a cloth.

“Oh.  It’s…. It’s…. GREEN.”

“Well, yes, it’s an emerald.”

“But nobody has an emerald!  Nobody wants an emerald.  People love diamonds.  They’re used to seeing diamonds.  They’ve never seen this before.”

“Yes, that’s what I said – You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“Why not?”

“Well it’s cut different.  It’s square.  It’s green.  It’s obviously not finished.”

“How would it be perfect for you?”

“Well, it’d be perfect if it’s round, or marquee shaped, and cut this way, and, well, clear…”

“Oh, you mean – like a diamond?”

“Yes.”

The man with the most exquisite emerald has a choice: Sell the emerald to the diamond buyer for next to nothing – or go to the emerald specialty house.

The digger goes across town to the Jeweler who specializes in emeralds.

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s the most beautiful stone in the world.  You’ll never stop thinking about it.  You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Oh, let me see it!  I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says, unwrapping the emerald from a cloth.

“Oh.  It’s…. It’s…. TOO BIG.”

“Well, yes, it’s the largest emerald on earth.  It would make a great necklace.”

“But nobody has an emerald this big!  Nobody wants an emerald necklace.  People love really small and short emeralds.  They love emerald earrings.  They’ve never seen this before.”

“Yes that’s what I said – You’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“Why not?”

“Well it’s too big, and too heavy.  It’s obviously not finished.”

“How would it be perfect for you?”

“Well, it’d be perfect if it was small, tiny even, and cut this way, and, well, not so large…”

“Oh, you mean – like earrings?”

“Yes.”

So the digger takes a good look at his emerald.  It probably once belonged to the Pharaohs of Egypt.  It is the largest most amazing emerald the world has ever seen – or will ever see.  But he’s grown tired of walking all over town.  He’s getting hungry and worn-out.  He needs the money to pay for dinner.  So he goes home to think it over.

Late that night, the distraught digger goes deep into the middle of town to have a secret meeting with an old jewelry cutter.  The digger has one last look at the emerald, admiring its magnificence.  And he hands it over.  The emerald is cut in half, and half again, ending up in dozens of smaller, tiny pieces – cut exactly like the jeweler mentioned.

The next day, the digger returns to the emerald specialty Jeweler.

“What gorgeous gem did you bring me?” Asks the Jeweler.

“It’s exquisite,” says the digger, “It’s exactly what you want.  You’ve seen this every day. There’s nothing shocking here.  It’s usual, typical.  Traditional.”

“Oh, let me see it!  I can’t wait!”

“Here it is,” he says as he unwraps the cloth and dozens and dozens of tiny emeralds spill out into a lovely green pile.

“Oh.  They’re… They’re so small… No, this isn’t at all what I had in mind.”

“Well, but you said people want earrings.  You said people want short and small emeralds.”

“Yes, but we’re going out of business.  The diamond jeweler down the street has been taking all our clients.  Everyone wants a diamond.  So we’re getting rid of our inventory and stocking up on diamonds.  Do you have any diamonds to sell me?”

“No.  I’m an emerald digger.  I hunt for emeralds.”

“Well… I can’t take it.  Nobody will buy this from me.”

“I see.”

“Come back to see me when you’ve got a diamond.  Or better yet – where is that huge emerald you brought in the other day?”

“Well, I cut it up, to make it perfect for you, so you’d buy it.”

“You idiot!  You idiot!  You didn’t cut up that big emerald to make these smaller stones!  Did you?  We just got a call from the finest museum in the world.  They want to pay big bucks for an emerald like that one.  Because emeralds are going extinct!  It was one of the last remaining on earth!  What with all this diamond craze happening, it would’ve been the finest emerald anybody ever saw!  Oh, that’s too bad.  What a pity.  We really could have made a splash with that one.”

The End.

My First Review: DECEIVED

When I was asked if I would write a monthly film column for Aftertaste magazine, I jumped at the chance.  What could be better than having a real platform (as opposed to my non-public living room) where I’m invited to share my experiences, joke about my enlightenments and make a fuss of my frustrations!  But then the inevitable happened – the months just kept coming, one after the other.  Sooner than planned.

Last week I attempted to turn on my computer and it simply did not go on.  After two and a half unpleasant hours of tech support, I learned that my hard drive had failed.  It was gone.  Dead.  And there was nothing I could do about it.  They would gladly ship me another one, but unless I had any back-up discs, everything on the hard drive had been killed.

I began to panic and rapidly search for ways to somehow see if any of my previously unpublished articles, unread screenplays, storyboards, poems, or recipes could be salvaged.  Maybe I could get back my address book, expense report, emails, or find out if all my FIRECRACKER marketing materials were still alive.  But on Tuesday, my outlook changed.

After lunch, I began to feel an overwhelming sense of relief.  Perhaps I’d only been hungry, but it felt like a total burden had been lifted.  So I elected to just get rid of it altogether and order a new computer.  I didn’t care if all of my documents were lost!  I was suddenly hungry for a new beginning!  I chose DELL because I don’t like the cult over at the other place – where people think they are better than others.  Plus, DELL has better customer service.

Then I thought – if starting fresh feels this incredible – I might as well throw everything away!  I gathered a bunch of big black trash bags and got to work.  I only had a couple of days before my new computer would arrive – so there was no time to waste!  Out went the folders, the papers, the pictures!  Away with the demos, the tapes and the discs!  I did keep some items of value, however.  The Plez Letters got their own box, but everything else was history.  My history. And there was no reason to keep any of it.  I still have my memory!  When I’m old and lose my mind it won’t matter anyway!

I couldn’t believe all the crap I had.  And it was all crap I thought was important!  Did I really need to keep the screenplay to a film I’ve already made?  Did I really think I would listen to those unsolicited CDs?  They’ve sat there unheard for over a year!  When I’m eighty, will I really want to sort through that box of high school memorabilia?  Who in their right mind really *needs* that unsightly stack of FLAUNT magazines?  They didn’t review the “Wamego” documentary anyway – so fuck ‘em!

When I finally made it through all the crap in my office, I decided the furniture needed to go next.  Out to the curb.  Then I decided to get a much better set of storage units.  I found some inexpensive systems at TARGET and spent another day assembling them.  Re-storing, organizing and shelving only the important crap felt great.  And by the time I finished getting the office back together again – the new computer arrived.  It’s awesome. Jet black – really fast – with a big flat-panel monitor.  Delicious!

I am now a firm believer that all seemingly horrible events are only truly horrible if we want them to be.  And in the end, if we want to turn them into positives, we can if we choose to.  Though no one ever does, it seems to me.  Usually people are so trapped in their misery that they never want to escape it.

Which brings me to DECEIVED with Goldie Hawn.  This woman (Adrienne Saunders) really reminds me of one of my family members.  She’s direct, unafraid of confrontation, and honest.  It’s a refreshing version of the typical woman-finds-out-her-husband-isn’t-really-her-husband movie.  What’s this version like?  Well-crafted and smart.

Maybe it’s just the clever way Goldie Hawn plays the role – but I sensed that there was little that could provoke her to curl up in the corner and shake with fear.  No matter what happened (the guy at the museum is dead, there’s some Egyptian necklace causing all this commotion, her apartment is broken into, her life is a total wreck, her dead husband really isn’t dead, etc.) she never cowered.  This woman was upset because she’d been lied to.

In a scene with John Heard, who plays her husband, she asks, “Why didn’t you just tell me?”  It was the way she said it that gave me the idea if he’d been honest with her from the beginning – she might have even helped him!  But he lied to her and seemed more interested in denial.  Big mistake.  Sure, it isn’t ethical to participate in jewelry fraud, murder, and pretending to be someone else – but the bigger problem is hiding it.  In the same scene (I think) he asks her, “Wasn’t I a good husband? Didn’t you feel loved?”  Clearly, he had parents and neighbors who taught him it was more important to look the part of Happy American than it was to actually be one.  Like there is some sort of shame associated with being anything else.  Sound familiar?  (Not familiar to films like this. I meant, familiar to our entire culture.)

I must make special mention to Thomas Newman about his score: Please, Mr. Newman, get off that goddamn xylophone or whatever the hell it is.  The theme for “Six Feet Under” is fine – but not every movie needs to sound exactly the same.  (Obviously “Six Feet Under” was scored years later – but still.  You scored DECEIVED over twelve years ago.  Enough is enough!)

On my street we believe it’s always better to be honest about something than it is to deny it.  No matter what it is.  Because it will – mark my words – come up at some point.

If you’ve killed someone, stolen some priceless treasure, faked your own death, and have problems with your mother – just get over yourself and be honest about it.  There are people who can help you.  Maybe not the 95% who will judge you, condemn you, or blame you for not living up to their expectations – I’m talking about the other 5% who will be supportive and understanding.  (This is the same 5%, it seems, who favor the separation of Church and State.)  If you make the choice, however, to deny it and pretend nothing happened – well, you will have a miserable life and die unhappy.

If you feel like the whole world is against you, or your life changes dramatically, simply eat something spicy and you’ll be fine.  You might even find the courage to do away with all that crap and move on.

(Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004)