Archive for screenwriter

Dealing with Current Realities Or Am I Related to Francis Ford Coppolla?

Posted in Greenspoke, Making Movies, Non-profit filmmaking, reelheart with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2009 by Tom McIntire

Filmmaking has been a passion of mine for many years, supported financially by me through my corporate employment. When I was at the 2008 ReelHeART International Film Festival (RHIFF) with my short film two julias, I received a phone call from my employer of 6 years letting me know they were laying off several people in my department and that I was one of them.  The ironic timing of the call did not go unnoticed since I had made my first film as part of an employee filmmaking contest there. They let me go while I was on vacation at the first film festival to show one of my films in competition.

RHIFF is a great filmmaker-friendly festival and definitely worth the submission fee – I have entered again for 2010. However my overall festival submission strategy has definitely changed since then. I tended to take a shotgun approach before.  I research the festivals more and take advantage of early bird submission rates where I can to save money. If you use withoutabox.com, use their search and watch list functions rather than waiting for their e-mail notifications. Most of the e-mail notifications are for the higher fee late or final deadlines. More money for WAB and the festival but not the best use of limited filmmaker bucks.

I took a leap of faith and used my severance to fund Greenspoke, a project that was already in pre-production before my layoff.   I do not regret making that decision – that project kept me sane through what I thought would be a couple of months seeking employment. Greenspoke has done well so far, showing in four festivals and getting a good review in The Seattle Weekly. Oddly my layoff from a high profile employer and continued filmmaking also led to a small piece in The Seattle Times as well. Unfortunately the article makes it sound like the layoff somehow helped my filmmaking career – that is not the case. That story came up in a job interview I had shortly after the article came out.

As I have been searching for a web editor job over the last 15 months, I have had to adjust my expectations as a filmmaker to line up with current realities. Before I would have gone ahead with a project even if funding was iffy — that just isn’t possible anymore.  I can’t proceed with any production activities until firm money in place. I set up non-profit Smiling Z Studios as a means of soliciting tax-deductible donations. When many of your previous supporters are also out of work or worried about losing their jobs, it is tough to make the pitch that a non-profit  independent film production is a great place to make their charitable donations. We do pay all of our cast and crew, many of whom are struggling financially, as part of the studio’s mission. However,  if a potential donor is on the fence between supporting our projects vs making a donation to a food bank or the Red Cross, I would not want them to choose the studio.

Most of us wonder what we would do if we won the lottery. I often think about what it would be like to make that transition from mostly self-funded director/producer to working as a director with full production support and investors who believe in me and my abilities enough to finance my projects. While that is not out of the realm of possibility, I do believe the odds are better to win the lottery and give these feelings the same kind of weight. I think most artists sans trust fund or those who lack a family connection to Francis Ford Coppolla struggle with how they are going to pay for their art.

So what do I do while I’m sorting this all out? Work on the things I can. Besides checking in with friends and former co-workers (again) who may be able to help me find work, I’ve redoubled my efforts to seek gainful employment. There do seem to be more jobs out there in my field and I’ve even had a couple of promising interviews.  I’ve also started working on storyboards for my feature length screenplay The Smiling Zombie, which was a finalist in the 2009 ReelHeART International Film Festival Screenplay Competition. The Smiling Zombie is about Jack, a successful musical theatre performer whose career is cut short by multiple sclerosis. With the support of his HIV+ partner, Jack attempts a comeback of sorts with a featured extra role in a no-budget zombie film. Making the best out of a bad situation seems to be a theme here?

Paper and pens I got, and storyboards help me to really think through the script, its problems and strengths, and what the overall look and feel will be. If I work on the things I can, I’ll be ready with a new job and a solid script and storyboards when things turn around. And who knows, maybe I am related to Francis Ford Coppolla?

Filmmaker or not, what are you doing to keep your passions going during these tough times?

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Posted in Greenspoke, Making Movies, screenwriting, Toronto, two julias with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 21, 2009 by Tom McIntire

Tom Petty lyrics aside, the end of a project is when it all is beginning. Greenspoke, my environmentally themed short sci fi piece, is entered in several film festivals, including the Seattle International Film Festival. No official selections yet but by early May we’ll start hearing how it is being received by the festival programmers. After spending months and months on a project you want people to see it. And distribute it. And fund that feature you want to produce next.

Speaking of features, there was a delay in judging in the 2009 ReelHeART International Screenplay Competition. Two of my scripts, The Karma Stone and The Smiling Zombie are finalists (as followers of this blog already know). I was amazed and thrilled to have TWO scripts in the running. Out of six finalists, three were chosen as the top three, and will receive a live, rehearsed reading at the festival. Judging was by a prominent agency. Eek! This led to much checking of e-mail, wringing of hands, self doubt and consoling by friends. I sometimes think I am not very competitive but deep down I am. Unfortunately neither script made it into the top three. The festival director was nice enough to call me and let me know.

If you have not participated in ReelHeART (RHIFF) in Toronto, it is a wonderful experience for filmmakers and audiences alike.  They treat filmmakers with care, respect and make it fun to boot. My short two julias premiered there last year, winning a Director’s Pick and Honorable Mention. We also got a distribution offer from Toronto-based Ouat! Media. Even if you don’t have anything in the festival, if you are in Toronto there are lots of filmmaker-focused events.

The Smiling Zombie AND The Karma Stone Made the Finals at RHIFF

Posted in Making Movies, reelheart, screenwriting, Toronto with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2009 by Tom McIntire

Two of my feature length screenplays have made it into the finals of the 2009 ReelHeART International Film Festival (RHIFF) Screenplay Competition. I’m still processing this information but I can say that I am thrilled.  These scripts also were semi-finalists in the WriteMovies International Writing Competition. At a time when I am struggling to find another day job (I was laid off from my job at Washington Mutual last June), it’s great to get this encouragement and recognition. Like most artists out there of all stripes and sensibilities, I am trying to figure out how to make my way in the world and still feed my passion. Finding that elusive mix where they are one and the same is what keeps me submitting films and scripts to festivals and writing competitions.

What are your secrets to reaching the next level? What challenges are you facing?

Lessons Learned in L.A.

Posted in Greenspoke, screenwriting, Shriekfest with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2008 by Tom McIntire

My recent trip to Shriekfest was supposed to be about networking with other filmmakers, producers and potential investors. While I did do some networking (and gnoshing) with fellow filmmakers Paul Yoo, William Lu and David Shin, I felt like a fish out of water at the two Shriekfest screenings I attended. After some reflection, I’ve come to these conclusions to make my next outing more productive:

  1. Plan ahead – what are you trying to accomplish on this trip? Have you done your research and legwork to make sure you connect with the people who can help you?
  2. Be prepared – a variation on #1. Do you have your pitch ready? If you have 2 minutes of a producer’s time, will your glorious script grab their attention or will they wish you luck and move on?
  3. Choose the right festivals – if a festival is focused on a specific genre – do you work in that genre? Are you enthusiastic about it? When you watch the films at a particular festival, how would you feel about your work in juxtaposition to the other films you are seeing?
  4. Be open to speaking to people who may not be in a position to help now. I’ve learned so much from other people who are also starting out. We’re dealing with the same issues – commiserate, encourage and stay in touch. When you have a time when you are feeling a little overwhelmed or discouraged, these are the people who can help you understand that it is not you it is just the way this highly competitive business works.
  5. Be honest with yourself about your work – if you are having trouble explaining a script to someone else, is there a problem with the script? We get close to the work we do and can turn a blind eye to glaring problems in the concept or execution. A great story should be easy for you to pitch enthusiastically.
  6. Have fun – you don’t do this for the money – at least not yet anyway. Enjoy the cast of characters you meet from writers to actors to producers to directors to film lovers.
  7. Celebrate your own victories – finishing a script is a major accomplishment. So many people out there are talking about being a writer or a filmmaker. Sitting down and DOING the work to get there is something to be proud of.