Category Archives: filmmaking

4 Steps To Finding A Producer

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I have cried. I have bled. I’m sweated. I’ve fought. This script has cost me money, time and a whole heckuva lot of peace of mind.

But I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to make a feature. Specifically my ode-to-my-mother romantic comedy Whose Wife Is It Anyway.

For the few – or many – of you, who have never heard  me talk about it, this is the logline:

When her terminally ill mother asks her to get married before she dies, a Muslim female comedienne dives into arranged marriage again, but with a new twist – she tests her suitors with improv games.
Whose Wife Is It Anyway is like Bridesmaids but they’re trying to plan love badly as opposed to trying to plan a wedding badly.

What I need most right now is a producer. 

Where does one find these miraculous creatures?

This very long 27-minute article has a few tips. And I’ve decided to summarize it for you.

Finding a producer is like falling in love. (Oh. I thought it was going to be hard.)

When I am an established director with my own production house…pfft, I can produce anything I want in-house. Though I might go after certain producers to fulfill certain ends like funding or getting access to stars.

What is a producer’s role?

Producers will have to know the film’s value in the market. Based on budget, they can attract foreign and domestic buyers. Script, director and cast all have to be calibrated towards that goal.

However first time filmmakers’ films are rarely presellable. They are what is called ‘execution dependent’.

Producers have to think from the outset how to distribute if a traditional distribution deal does not happen. 

So what exactly does a producer do?

  1. Helps ‘make’ the film.
  2. Finds financing.
  3. Rides point on distribution.
  4. Also controls marketing.

These roles can be divided or shared based on each individual’s strengths.

I should think about what kinds of skills I need for my specific project.

I do need to find that creative soulmate though. This is a peer who’ll be with me in the trenches. 

Executive producers are good in the outset for money and for those extra credits.

To find a producer, take these steps.=

Step 1: Understand your project’s 

  1. Tone
  2. Genre
  3. Audience.

AND why? Why this genre? Why this tone? Why this audience?

Step 2: Look for comparisons.

What films influenced me to make this film? Reach out to those filmmakers.

  1. Who’s making the kind of film I want to make, especially in terms of size and scope?
  2. Which people are working in the region I want to work in?
  3. Which producer would be familiar with my mode of production?
  4. Who has experience attracting cast and crew?

It’s a good idea to follow these people on Twitter.

Watch their movies.
Read their press.

Consider the motivations of each producer.

We can discern tastes from Twitter, track record, etc. But also from the producer themselves or their assistants.

What we are looking for is not content similar to our film, but thematic and emotional similarities. 

Good resources: 

  1. Hollywood creative directory
  2. IMDB
  3. Industry mentors.
  4. Agents who are interested in my short films might facilitate meetings.

Step 3: Make a presentation package.

This includes a:

  1. Script
  2. Look-book
  3. Mood reel
  4. Director’s vision statement

I should know reference points in film, literature and theatre as well.

Personal connections to that person are always the best. This helps cut through the pile. Because birds of a feather flock together. 

Timing is key to meeting with producers. Festivals and markets are good – we’re taking a zillion meetings anyway. However, just going to film festivals to support other filmmakers is great too.

Other ways to meet:

  1. Producer speed dating.
  2. IFP Project Forum
  3. Sundance Film Lab.
  4. Film Independent Lab
  5. Filmmaker magazine.
  6. Tribeca All Access
  7. “Script development markets — i.e., CineMart, Sundance, IFP, Tribeca, Film Independent, Berlinale Talent Campus

Step 4: Submit: Follow submission protocols on their website.
If there aren’t any, email or LinkedIn.

Step 4: Send a reminder after a week. 

How to conduct electronic communication: 
Write a three or four-sentence email with logline. The email should describe what films they have produced that inspired me. What is it about their approach that beckons me?

If requested, send a 1-page treatment and look-book. 

Don’t act helpless.
Don’t act gimmicky.

After I find my producer:

  1. Rewrite script.
  2. Plan different budgets at different tiers.

Producer can get me into the room – but I’m the one who is going to have to inspire. 

What is a film collective? Directors and producers banding together against the system.

What if I just want to make a film with my friends?
This is a viable option. But that may or may not look good enough to move the needle.

Another possibility: Work with someone who has never produced but a) is passionate about the project and b) is super organized.

We can also work with a producer after the film is made to get good marketing and distribution plans in place.

If anyone has anything to add to this discussion, as you might have guessed, I’m listening VERY closely.

 

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3 tools for the socially anxious filmmaker

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Have you ever been on a really terrifying roller-coaster? You know the kind that made you really regret letting your husband talk you into this? The kind that has you screaming and praying even before it started?

BUT… when it ended, you were actually sad to get off?

That’s what making my second film was like.

But leading up to it was a fantastic work-out of the ole emotional management system. Particularly of my anxiety disorder.

One never knows what’s going to happen on a film set. That’s why we’re always encouraged to back everything up and have back-ups of your back-ups. So my personal Balrog just luuuurrrvvved that.

Here’s a couple of things that worked for me this time around.

I avoided my tripwires, not my triggers.

My triggers are basically decisions, screens and other people. And I’m a filmmaker!

Can’t avoid those. And don’t want to avoid those.

What I looked for instead were my tripwires. How did I know I needed a break?

Usually if I found myself glued to my screen. Making excuses to not get up and get lunch or get some exercise.

If I found myself snapping at my husband and my son, that was a major trip-wire.

But the biggest one, I think, was starting to lose sleep. I knew I needed a day off when that happened. It was hard but it was necessary.

This process has actually really helped. I know that I can work hard when I need to. And I know that I can stop myself from going overboard.

I also tried to space out my triggers. 

My son’s schedule helped me stay away from screens a lot of the time – one of the many times that #momlife has been a blessing. I would try not to schedule too many meetings or decisions in the same day. No one is dying so usually nothing was that urgent.

And last but definitely not least, I tried to up self-care, not reduce it. (Spoiler alert: I failed) 

I’ll be the first to admit I’m the worst exerciser and still am. My meals got weird very quickly very soon too in the thick of pre-production. I’m talking doughnuts and camomile tea weird. But it didn’t help. So I’m telling you – it’s not going to help. It made me a whiny baby by evening. And I already have one of those.

Hope this helps. There’s more coming, once I wrap my head around life and film and post-production.

Being a filmmaker is a lot like being pregnant.

Take care of yourself, beautiful people.

Why Pride and Prejudice (2005) is absolutely perfect

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
Because this movie rocked my socks off as always, even on the millionth viewing, I want to break down why it works. It is one of the few “I hate you, but by the end of the movie, I love you” movies that work.

I’m going to use notes on rom-com structure from this fine tome. 

download

Set up – what are each of the protagonists missing?

What he is missing is more readily apparent. He is obviously miserable. Perhaps lonely. A number of walls between his true self and his outward appearance. He doesn’t converse well with strangers, by his own admission later in the film.

What she is missing is more problematic to think about. She seems happy. But she isn’t like her sisters. She doesn’t like performing for strangers. She is constantly demeaned by her mother and others for being headstrong, bookish and plain (plain in Hollywood is Keira Knightley). Perhaps what she unconsciously looking for is a place where she can be herself and be loved anyway. But for that, she’ll need to give up her peace and quiet and that of her family’s as well. Something she, like her father, values far too greatly.

Cute meet

For him, it is practically love at first sight. It is obvious. Even to her. But he insults her instead. Like a damn fool.

Negging doesn’t really work in the real world, bruv. Just so you know. (I think he knows.)

What I love about this scene is that it’s apparent how vulnerable the falling in love has made him feel. How the walls almost immediately start to crumble. And he immediately armors up by insulting her.

She of course never lets him off the hook for his behavior. Not for the entire film.  Which is great fun to watch.

This is her usual teasing behavior but this time, it causes much more trouble than it usually does.

Sexy complication

This is either Jane getting sick.

Or Elizabeth finding herself attracted to Wickham, who is Darcy’s sworn enemy.

Jane getting sick leads to a very sexy hand-holding moment.

I always find it unbearably charming that he stands every time she enters the room. And doesn’t join Bingley’s sister in finding fault with her ‘wild’ appearance (that’s my girl). And did you see the way he starts when the footman says her name? Gah. It’s the little things, dudes. The little things.

And you see in this moment? Ms. Bingley is making pretty obvious plays for him, but he chooses with his eyes.

The city girl/country girl dichotomy is apparent here. Though is it the virgin/whore dichotomy? That’s less apparent.

Wickham is definitely a complication. Though not particularly sexy. Like most of us, she’s looking for love in all the wrong places.

Hook (midpoint) – stakes-raising bonding moment. 

Oh but this is the clever bit.

Darcy proposes; she rebuffs him in no uncertain terms. And accuses him of ruining both her sister and Wickham’s life.

He writes a letter telling her the truth; about Wickham’s deceit of Georgiana Darcy, and his own mistaken view of Jane Bennet’s affections for Bingley.

Why does this bond them? It is after all a deeply painful moment.

Well a good argument is always rather sexy. Meanwhile an exchange of truths, even in very heated terms, is still a deeply intimate conversation, particularly for the walled-off Mr. Darcy. She tells him about her relationship with her sister; he tells her of his relationship with Bingley. And later his history with Wickham.

This shakes our Elizabeth to her core. What Darcy has said to her would shake her sisters to the core as well, but she prefers – not unlike her father – to keep the peace. A choice she will pay for later.

There are more small moments that show the gradual breaking down of Darcy’s defenses.

He admits her, in the most goshdarn endearing and adorable manner, that he is bad at talking to people.

He tries in an awkward but sweet way to have a conversation at dinner with Elizabeth. His aunt immediately cock-blocks him. He shows many signs of visible irritation as she lays into Lizzie. Something she could not have missed. Though Lizzie, always our girl, holds her own.

Swivel – Second Act turning point decision that lays tracks to climax. 

She and another aunt and uncle go to Derbyshire. Their carriage breaks down near Pemberley. Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle want to visit; Lizzie doesn’t want to, but decides to anyway. Against her better judgment.

In the course of visiting, she finds herself in the family’s private chambers where she spies Georgiana playing the piano. And Darcy come home to surprise his sister. They spot her; she’s embarrassed. He’s very gracious. But her heart has already been softened towards him.

Did the dirty great big house change her mind? The lake for miles? The tons of naked statues? More likely, the view of Darcy as a man begins to melt Lizzie. He is unfailingly generous, according to his housekeeper; plus, much like her, he dotes on his sister.

And here again is another one of my favorite scenes.

What I like best about this scene is the numerous times he says “I love you still” without really saying it.
Going after her in the first place instead of letting her go.
Asking if she had a pleasant trip.
Upset that she’d be leaving the next day.
Reassuring her that she hadn’t intruded.
“May I walk you to the village?”
Trying every which way to prolong the conversation.
Reaching the inn even before she gets there to invite her family to dinner, so that she might meet his sister. Lizzie is deeply troubled by this invitation.

Which leads to an exchange between the two, the only civil conversation they have the entire film. And also the only time Mr. Darcy smiles. My heart is mostly mush anyway, but this made it goo.

Dark moment

Lydia’s marriage to Wickham. Darcy tries to comfort Lizzie but is a man of action more than words. He leaves immediately without telling her what he intends to do.

Lizzie’s keeping of the peace has led to the precise opposite. Her family is almost ruined by scandal and her heart is broken by her own sister.

Joyful defeat 
When Lizzie finds out that her sister’s marriage is bankrolled by Darcy, well….not much left to say or do really. Other than propose.

There is a clash between two titans. The aunt and the prospective niece-in-law. Lizzie holds her ground and refuses to refuse to hook up with Darcy.

Note here – he didn’t stalk her. He didn’t try to convince her to marry him. He backed off UNTIL his aunt probably came home in a puff and said that that blasted Bennet girl must have the hots for him.

And then of course, is the best proposal ever.

The End.

Except in the US version, there’s this wonderful ending scene. Darcy is smiling. Elizabeth is teasing him but also at peace and in love. And you have that first kiss we’ve all been waiting for. Or is that just me?

I’d have to find the script to see if it was in the screenwriter who wrote in these gorgeous moments or in fact if it was fabulous acting and innate understanding of rhythm on the director’s part.

I must read the books again. And I must watch the mini-series. But I refuse to watch Lizzie kill zombies. I refuse.

Should I? I don’t know. I’m punch-drunk on Jane Austen.

10 Lessons from my first short film-making experience

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

So Alhamdulillah (thank God), I shot my first short film.

It’s a 8-minute short called I Like Long Walks. One location (my house), one character (me), minimal set ups. We’re currently tightening it up in post and hoping to submit it to a few festivals. Watch this space.

Here are a few lessons I learned from this teeny tiny but mighty experience.

  1. Food rocks. Food is super important. Food is the wind beneath my wings. (I’m fasting.) Seriously though: Plan lunch in advance in consultation with your crew. If you’re going to do French hours i.e. no lunch, have tons of healthy and nutritious snacks on hand. Again in consultation with your crew. I had precisely one other person so that consultation would have been easy. If I had done it. And have lots of water on hand.
  2. Get help. I was so overwhelmed writing, directing, producing and starring that I failed to account for pretty basic needs (see above).
  3. I was initially planning to shoot the thing myself so I did not feel the need to do a recce with sound and light in mind . If I had, I’d have known the train and the highway right outside would be rather a bother for sound. Plus my loud neighbors and their ludicrously long home improvement projects.  I had also initially wanted to shoot in my bedroom. But light is terrible there. So we chose the living room but light fluctuates like crazy where I was sitting.   It all made for fun times in post.
  4. Take your time on set. Goodness takes time. Especially when your actor (me) has not had a lot of sleep and is acting out some tough emotions.
  5. Divide your script into units even if there aren’t any scenes. So this makes it easier to shoot and easier to edit as well.
  6. Make sure sound is rolling when camera is rolling and off when camera is off. It can make for irritating work in post listening to sound files looking for the correct audio. Label sound files with scene numbers.
  7. Choose people to work with who are generous with their knowledge. Who don’t laugh at you when you ask questions. Who teach you everything they can. Because personally, I learn best from other people
  8. A true spirit of collaboration is key. No creative should dominate the conversation, should drown someone out, should muscle in, negate or ignore any other. Empathy and being a good listener are SUCH PIVOTAL QUALITIES for a good filmmaker, it’s ludicrous. I would highly recommend reading Marshall Rosenberg’s Non Violent Communication. The whole book seems to be up here for free with seemingly no copyright claims.
  9. This is where directing overlaps with mothering to a great degree – the director directs the vision of the film. What that means to  me is: Directors set the most gentle parameters they can and then allow their people to play freely within those parameters. Those gentle parameters are key, I think.
  10. Keep the props in a safe place in case you need to reshoot! 

Hope this helps. If it is in your heart to do so, go out and make movies, folks. Nothing quite like it. I always knew this. But I’m only accepting this truth now. Better late than never, I guess.

 

How I dealt with social anxiety or, My own personal Balrog

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I’m really quite shy.

No, shy is pejorative.

I’m reserved.

But that implies that I’m a tight wad when I’m not.

I’m introverted, okay?

I think.

I love people.

However, the limitless possibility of interaction paralyzes me sometimes. And while talking to people is huge fun, I don’t crave it like plants crave sunlight. I find alone time rejuvenating, not people time.

As you might have noticed, I’m trying desperately to protect myself because being an introvert is often seen as a bad thing. When I did stand-up and improv, people were often stunned at how shy I was in real life. And they said so.

Anyway, I don’t need to add another persecuted signifier to my already long list of persecuted signifiers.

Suffice to say, I find certain activities commonly associated with filmmaking downright vomit-inducing.

Pitching.
Networking.
Taking general meetings. Or specific meetings.

Can an introvert be a leader? Of course, we can. Leaders serve people. I’ve wanted to serve people all my life.

I’m working hard to entangle the tight knot of fears and insecurities that have stopped me from becoming a director all these years. When I feel that knot in the pit of my stomach, that instant aversion, my brain screaming ‘I don’t want to! I just want to stay home!’, I see him.

Who’s him?

The Balrog. Or rather, my Balrog.

I love him really. He looks frightening. And he wants to, of course. He’s got a mean roar. And fire in his belly for sure. But really, he’s cuddly and made of orange fluff. And the stuff that looks like scabs is actually jelly. He’s my fears.

I give him a big hug. It’s like being swallowed by a bear but it doesn’t hurt. Quite the opposite. I feel the fire in him go out.

I ask him what he’s frightened of.

“I’m frightened people will laugh at us. They’ll judge us because we wear a hijab. Because we’re a woman. Because we’re short. Because we don’t have any credits to our name, apart from the time we responded to a crowd-funding campaign.”

I consider my answer as I gently wipe his tears.

“You’re quite right. People might laugh at us. They will very likely judge us for being brown, Muslim and female. And for not having done much.”

“Then why do you want to go?”

“Because I like meeting people with similar interests. With similar passions. It’s been a long while since I’ve been around people like that.”

All of the fire goes out of him.

“But it might kill us.”

“It won’t kill us.”

“It might hurt us.”

“Yes. It might hurt. But we won’t die.”

He slumps down into his favorite chintz armchair. It barely fits him but he loves it.

“Have a cup of tea with me?”

“You don’t drink tea anymore.”

“No, I don’t. You drink tea. We’ll watch The Good Place.”

“Deal.”

“Will you come with me to the thing?”

“Yes. Definitely. Always by your side. Like your personal bodyguard.”

In a way being an introvert is a blessing. Adulthood often feels like high school. We are all so desperate to belong somewhere. But I know now all too well what the cost of sacrificing my integrity will do to me. So I’d rather be alone. And thankfully, I’m okay with being alone. Most of the time.

Anyways, I’m never really alone. God. Balrog. And me. Chillin’ like villains.

I don’t always recognize Balrog when he shows up. But when I do, I’m happy to see him.

2017 = the year of leaping into faith

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
So it’s been a long while since I updated this blog. I could say that I’ve been crazy busy and it would be true.
But I have also been grappling with massive internal growth. No, I’m not pregnant. But I have embraced my identity as filmmaker, which has caused me to face some pretty deep-seated fears.
The year started out pretty standard. I submitted a draft to the Nicholls and did not get in. Surprise, surprise!
But I also wrote the crap out of a short script, ostensibly because I said I’d let a producer look at it. That producer passed and since it’s a topic close to my heart – breastfeeding failure – I decided I’d make it myself. With an all-female crew a la Zoe Lister Jones. 
So far, no bites from producers. But I’m still young.
I also basically tore out my heart and put it on  the page – I’m writing a feature about birth trauma.
I pitched the feature to my ladies, the Broads. Got mixed feedback, especially about how funny or not the concept was. Well, no one ever said childbirth was a particularly comedic premise. However,
In addition to that, I found myself for the first time in my life craving like-minded company. Not just because it’s rather hard to make a movie alone. But because I still can’t quite shake the feeling that I’m crazy to think I can.
I found it oddly enough on Facebook. In numerous groups set up precisely for this purpose – assuring each other that we aren’t crazy. Groups like Moms in Film and Binders full of POC Screenwriters. Hopefully some of these will transfer into real life friendships.
Craving is actually too strong a word. I start to feel bone-chillingly lonely and so I think I should have some friends. Some people on the same riotous who-the-hell-do-I-think-I-am path as me. I put some feelers out to people. Which results in immediate nausea and regret.
But more often than not, after meeting and chatting with said people, the nausea dissipates and I’m rather glad.
It’s the ‘rather glad’ feeling I’m focusing on.
In general I submitted more. Much more. And got rejected much more. I won about 5 rejections, not counting the pitches that didn’t go so well. And one non-starter of a project.
The rejections burned for sure – and yes, I do mean vomit. But the warm feedback when it did arrive put some salve on those burns (no, nobody puts salve on vomit).
There is an audience for my work. I feel like I simply need to build a better mousetrap.
Besides if this guy has the audacity to make a movie about two people with anal fetishes falling in love, well, a chaste movie about childbirth shouldn’t be too hard a sell.
Mostly the most precious thing I gained this year was self-belief. Certainty that I could ask the right questions and get the answers that work for me. That I would figure out when to hold them and when to fold them. That God will be there to catch me.
It’s a humbling feeling. I’m terrified, but learning. From books:
….video courses….
One step at a time. I’ll figure it out insha Allah.
Because frankly I want to make things. I don’t want to simply be rejected at higher and higher levels, which is essentially what screen-writing is. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you’re getting paid.
So this year, God willing, will be the year of making things. What are you guys up to this year?

 

Update:

I feel the need to pat myself on the back for the God-given awesomeness that has happened in my personal life.

I moved to Australia.

I haven’t had a panic attack in months.

Depression is much reduced though it’s proving to be more of a barnacle than the drama queen that was anxiety.

And I’ve weaned my now almost 3-year-old son off screens – only on the weekends and that too for a couple of hours only on one day. It frankly wasn’t distracting him as well as I would have hoped anyway, in addition to making him downright irritable. His toys are much more his shiznit.

Demon hunting while fasting

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

We’re all trying to wrestle our demons in our creative work, aren’t we?

I highly recommend fasting if you are in fact staring into the face of the Devil.

There’s something about hunger and exhaustion that brings one face to face with one’s best and worst selves.

I learned a lot about myself this Ramadan. Not least because I wanted to concentrate less on the ‘acts’ of worship and more on being a worshiper, a slave of Allah. And that means paying attention to the beliefs that stop me from worshiping Him as he deserves.

They are many and varied and more than a little colorful, so I won’t go into details to protect myself from the innocent and guilty.

In addition to the Noble Qur’an, I also partook yet again of Brene Brown’s Gifts of Imperfection. I’ve read it before but I felt like I was reading it for the first time. So many of the guideposts seem to be speaking just to me.

My final analysis? My life has been tyrannically ruled by shame. There isn’t an aspect of my life that shame hasn’t poked its slimy fingers into.

I’m ashamed that I wasn’t able to hold down a job. I am made doubly ashamed by the fact that I was an honors student in high school and did pretty darn well in college. Still no Bugattis and babes for me.

I’m ashamed that I’m a filmmaker. No, really. I’ve claimed it. But I still can’t look people in the eye when I say it.

There are many other things that I am ashamed of, but not everyone deserves to hear my shame story. You, dear owner of eyeballs, may well be deserving, but this is still a public forum.

Oh and addiction! Brene Brown waxes eloquent on the subject of addiction and dude…have I got some real doozies!

The ones I’ve identified so far are: Anger. Sugar. Overworking.

Now if I find myself reaching for chocolate, having a mile-long to-do list, ruminating on past slights by a few chosen people (I know who my favorites are. I keep coming back to them), I find myself wondering what vulnerability am I trying to escape.

Being human is hard. Covering up our wounds, pretending we’re okay, makes it unbearable. Fasting helped me figure who my true Friend is and who my real enemy is. Fasting helped me deal with me as I am, not as I wish I was. Because as it turns out, I can never be perfect. Who woulda thunk it?

May Allah Subhana wa Taala accept all our acts of worship and bless us with another Ramadan Ameen! I miss you, Ramadan. Come back soon.

 

 

4 qualities of my favorite romantic comedies

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

10 Great Qualities of Film Part 1

10 Great Qualities of Film Part 2

10 Great Qualities of Film Part 3

Two years since I wrote Part 1 and I still agree with these thoughts. I’ll be darned.

It’ll be useful when I enter the mire of indie film-making and need a compass to get my bearings.

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So in keeping with my promise to myself in that last blog post, I have been devouring rom-coms as quickly as I can. Which means a few a month (I have a toddler).

I’ve nailed down what I love about the ones I love. Looking at them now, they look like the tools from my emotional toolbox. Here goes:

1. ROLE PLAYING TO SURVIVE

In My Girl Friday, the role Hildy thinks she has to play is the one of the wife, away from journalism. But journalism, and her ex-husband, keeps sucking Hildy back in.

In Tootsie, he is encased in it i.e. starring as a woman in a soap opera. The first professional success he’s had in years. He falls in love with his co-star while knowing that escaping this role is practically impossible.

2. CHAOS

To me, this feels true to my life. It’s chaotic and love happens when I’m not paying attention.

The professor in Bringing Up Baby chases a bone and a leopard across three states and ends up falling in love while doing it.

The professor in Monkey Business is trying to nail down the formula for his anti-aging serum but instead realizes he loves his wife and couldn’t care less about aging with her.

Both professors are played by Cary Grant. When it comes to rom-coms, he’s just toppers (props if you know which rom-com that’s from. Hint: It’s also a period piece.)

In most of these madcap movies, it turns out the thing they were chasing wasn’t that important after all. As usually is the case with things we chase.

But my favorite and obviously the most contemporary one of this batch is Bridesmaids:

Annie is trying desperately to cover over her insecurities. But the more she tries, the more they burst to the surface, causing an ever-quickening tornado of chaos. Of course, climaxing with her punching a cookie. But finally she realizes that yep, she is at rock bottom but she’s going to be fine. Because all good rom-coms, whatever their engine of comedy or romance, are about – wait for it – loving and knowing yourself.

3. IRREVERENT MELANCHOLY

 

I’ve been around a lot of grief lately. I wish people handled it in as entertaining a manner as this. Or handled it at all, instead of bottling it up, though that’s another post entirely.

This is where I think my love of the perverse and sci-fi could really come out to play.

My favorites:

Eternal Sunshine may well be my favorite movie of all time. Largely because it devolves into….

4. MELANCHOLIC CHAOS

A lot of the time lately, grief blindsides me while we’re rushing around trying to hold it together. Grief is followed by chaos, or vice versa. And because we lean on people when we grieve, love often follows too.

Death at a Funeral is one of my favorite examples of this. Precisely because it follows that exact pattern.

In Bruges is about guilt followed by chaos and a good amount of violence, punctured with love between these two wonderfully charming Irish hitmen.

And Four Lions. Disenfranchisement. Chaos. A good amount of violence. Punctured with love.

Now I know, these aren’t traditional rom-coms. I’ve expanded the ‘rom’ to include all kinds of love. Because if we’re not writing about love, what are we writing about?

 

 

Do your movies give people ‘pleasure’ or ‘joy’?

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

I have a feeling this is going to be a long one. Because it’s about my mom. Buckle in, my friends.

And I’m going to be saying ‘pleasure’ a lot. Try to keep your mind out of the gutter, Internet.

I can’t remember the last time I saw my mother enjoying something. I once saw her pop a pickle in to her mouth and she looked ecstatic.

But no, nothing after that. We spent her birthday in hospital in Vellore, Chennai. I tracked down a bakery and found her some awesome chocolate cake. She scolded me for it. And I can’t remember her eating even a little bit.

My mother felt the need to earn pleasure. To reward herself for hard work. For reaching a goal-post.

That’s all good. But the trouble is, those goal-posts are slippery. Like a just-lotioned toddler with no clothes on.

My mother never earned the right to pleasure, though she did a lot with her life.

Oh, but what is pleasure really, if you think about it? Life’s basic necessities with a little extra oomph. Tea and cakes instead of bread and water. A silky pajama with lace trimmings instead of trusty old cotton.

It’s, of course, a matter of taste what is pleasing. But what I’m getting at here is, it’s just a little prettier than what we would normally have.

There were times when my mother would deny herself basic necessities too.

I remember shopping for my impossible-to-please husband with my mom.

Some backstory: Sri Lankan Muslims have this beautiful custom of exchanging gifts when a couple gets married. There’s a couple of baskets of stuff for the bride/groom – usually clothes, toiletries, costume jewelry, the stuff you might give your spouse on an anniversary. And lots of baskets of fruit, chocolate, all kinds of food, for the bride/groom’s family. A flipping humongous cake is also customary.

After the wedding, the food baskets get divided among all the relatives present. It’s finger-licking good.

On this particular occasion, we were shopping for my husband’s baskets. I was sending him picture after picture, trudging into one designer outlet after another, and the dude just wasn’t satisfied.

I remember being pretty pissed at my husband. And my mother was frothing herself up into a panic. I can just imagine the thoughts swirling around in her head. “Oh my God, what are we going to do, child, he doesn’t like anything we choose, what will people think?”

But it was lunch-time and damn it, I wanted to eat. She wanted to keep looking.

Freaking heck, Indiana Jones couldn’t find what this guy wanted. But my poor dear mother wanted to skip a meal to keep trying.

Pleasure? She hadn’t pleased her overlords, so she did not even deserve food. I forced her to sit down and eat. This makes me a spoiled brat.  A food-court Chinese meal.

Tell me this isn’t about colonialism. That this isn’t about misogyny.

Now I’ve followed my mother’s example faithfully.I used to regularly work myself into a nervous breakdown.

BUT. After years of depression, anxiety and, God help me, a little guy who might follow in my footsteps, I want to change all that. I want to experience the delicious things of life. 

And I don’t wait till I hit a goal either. That particular habit, I haven’t shaken yet. My goals aren’t as SMART as I’d like. I’m working on it.

But – yes, another but – I’ve found that cake is nice and all, but it’s even better with company.

Which leads to me to this other concept. JOY.

What is joy to me?

Joy is sacred. Pleasure is the doorway to the sacred.

You can share pleasure with just about anybody. But joy has to be earned.

Joy is the difference between love and lust. Between hunger and satisfaction.

After overdoing pleasure, I’m now looking for joy. In every part of my life.

I’ve recently taken up yoga with this awesome woman’s videos.

I love that yoga practitioners tend to be radically calm. They don’t pour their bodies into punishing sports clothes and then yell and push till we all faint. I’d like to leave a session of exercise marveling at my body, not hating it.

Aerobics has always made me hate my body. Even if and when they speak of ‘modifications’, the underlying idea is that those are for the weak among us.

Adriene tells us to ‘find what feels good.’ My knee-jerk response to that was, ‘What right have I to feel good?’

The thought felt Like an electric shock, like a whip to my back. 

‘Let me punish myself before someone else punishes me. Because I deserve it.’

And joy? Joy was an insult to God. I need to always be humble and humility excludes joy.

I don’t know who taught me all of these lies about worship and God.

Which leads me to storytelling. My stories might be pleasurable, but are they joyous? This is where it might help to let go of structure and just tell a good story. To really dig deep into what makes you unbearable and establish a connection with the audience.

Ultimately the movies we remember didn’t just bring us pleasure, but also joy.

Oh but it’s more than that.

Because as we all know, Death is coming for all for us – and not the adorable Discworld kind either. Most of us have no idea when it’s going to strike. We should find that joy before it’s too late. And walk through as many pleasure doorways as our senses and values and resources will allow.

See. Told you it would be too long and about my mom.

Terry Rossio’s Time Risk in 11.5 minutes instead of 150

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

So I just finished an excruciating page-1 rewrite of Whose Wife Is It Anyway for Zero Draft Thirty.

I thought I’d take a glorious week off. Do some yoga. Meditate. Bake. Paint. Take deep slow nourishing breaths.

HA!

My friend Hudson Philips posted this on the Facebook group for ScriptBlast.

Terry Rossio, writer of Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, wrote an article called ‘Time Risk’ for his excellent site ‘Wordplayer’.
I read. I cried. I read some more. Cried some more. And now I want to get to work.

This article really made my head spin and it hasn’t stopped spinning yet.

I thought I’d do other time-poor writers a solid and write a Cliff Notes version. Feel free to suggest amendments.

What’s the one take-away?

Spend time making films, not trying to get films made.
That is, with the cameras rolling. When cameras are rolling, brands are built and power accumulates.

The assumption here is un-produced work is perhaps a paycheck but does not build a writer’s brand. (I only call it an assumption because I imagine tons of people have different beliefs. I believe this assumption myself.)

Damn. Makes me want to go out and get an Arriflex right now.

What is time risk?

Time risk = time spent on task (divided by) probability of said task resulting in writer brand-building, career stability or worst-case scenario, money (I know, Mr. Rossio has high standards for us.)

What kind of time-risks do other players have, compared to screenwriters? 

Directors

Directors can direct a hit feature and almost certainly be asked to do another, though it may not be something they are nutty about. They can direct a string of hits and become major league players who get to choose what they want to do next e.g. Spielberg, Nolan, Cameron, etc. Rarefied air indeed.

If they direct a flop film, they do land in movie jail.

Note – this is only with regards to features. I don’t think this language of flops and hits exists in the short film world, which are directing samples much like specs.

Actors

Actors are all looking for that big break. A lead on a hit film or TV show can instantly book tons more projects. If even one of these is a hit, it leads to even more.

Their foes:

  1. Time risk at the beginning is enormous: auditions, preparation, classes, etc. But the payoff, as described above is EPIC.
  2. Competition.
  3. Age (mostly for women – it’s a fact, don’t shoot me).

A working actor’s job also has lower time-risk in a few other ways:

  1. Their work usually starts when the camera is rolling i.e. onmaking films.
  2. Their time commitment to a project might be measured in months, not years. I’ve spent four years on Whose Wife alone. Gah.
  3. They can do multiple projects in a year due to this relatively lower time commitment.

Once they hit the big time:

  1. Much like directors, they might not always do work they like. But if they get really big, they get to choose.
  2. They might even charge a reading fee (just to read but not commit to the script). This further mitigates time risk.

Producers

Of all of the monkeys in the circus, I feel the most kinship with this one. With a few differences.

  1. We commit to one, maximum two projects per year. They commit to numbers in the double digits. Hedging their bets.
  2. Most of their work happens after the deal goes through. And they are paid for it. Ours – well, anyone who’s written a spec will know what a beast it is. And we’re only paid after the script is sold or optioned. And sometimes…not even then (wait till you see what I have in store for you.)
  3. They sometimes don’t even read the screenplay. They might have only read coverage.
  4. The writer faces that blank page with an idea and faith in that idea alone. We’re betting on our good judgment. The producer would likely only read the script after it was recommended by a trusted source. Raising the writer above the competition. He likely has more knowledge whether the finished project will work or not in the marketplace. Again elevating the writer. Then and only then does his/her work begin.

Agents:

All I could glean is that it is not the agent’s job to produce. It is their job to manage ‘heat, maximising pay-off when a project or writer generates interest.’ So after a writer does her job and a producer does hers, then the agent steps in and really blows it up. Right? No idea. Yet.

Okay, here we go. Clutch your pearls.

Screenwriters cop the most time-risk. Why?

Most of our work happens before cameras roll. By definition, we really get the short end of the time risk stick.

I tried looking for patterns, but realized that what we all want to know: Is there anything I can do? If so, what?

The only things we can control are our actions. So I divided the time liabilities by what we do to ourselves, what others do to us and things that no one can anticipate.

So here goes.

Things we do to ourselves.

Writing on Spec: Of course we all know what the time risk here. We’re faced with it everyday. The odd thing even pro writers are often asked to write on spec. WTH.
 
Free Revisions: Essentially it’s work for free for people who do not deserve it. Both factors must exist for this to be time risk. Free work. And the people must really not deserve it – bad notes, revisions are only a stalling tactic etc.
 
The Agent Hoop: Agents giving you notes when we are the experts here.

Assignment chasing: Essentially this is a job interview, which is enough to give me the shakes (I was laid off twice, fired once. Thank you, Recession). But it’s much WORSE than a job interview. You have to review materials – think of comic books that have editions stretching back decades. You have to develop a take. That won’t tick off fans but will hit all the right ‘boxes’. It’s enough to drive you potty.

The Free Outline: Unpaid work. Always a time risk

Giving notes: more unpaid work. But this time for friends. It’s awesome and fulfilling to help out friends. But there comes a point, I think, when it becomes a time risk.

There’s an old saying in Hollywood: “Get them into your film before they get you into theirs.”

Things other people do to us.

Death by Sale – a company might buy your script to hedge their bets and do jack with it. If we sell, we put all our eggs in one basket.<

“Sell the screenplay, transfer the copyright, the day cameras roll, not before.” – Ram Bergman, producer (Looper, Brick, Don Jon)

Getting fired: Despite the fact that everyone who signs on does so because of the script, the person most likely to get fired for one reason or another…is the screenwriter.

Credit arbitration: The first time I’m thinking about it this way. When multiple writers are used on a screenplay, this naturally leads to credit disputes. The WGA limits the number to four and stratifies them according to who got there first. Not letting the un-credited writers leverage the produced film into their brand. Which is a huge bummer.

Sweepstakes Pitching: Oddly enough I think I was landed with this one recently. I guess I’ve arrived right? Arf.

Sounds like the studio opens it up, knowing that only one can be hired. Another way of hedging their bets. Sometimes there is no assignment a.k.a. The Phantom Assignment. Sometimes they’ve already chosen their writer and are simply mining ideas from the pitches that, if not written down, will show up in the next draft of the project. Sometimes they are leaning towards one writer.

The Rights Hustle: You think they have the rights to something branded, but they don’t.

Hidden Previous Materials Boogie: You think you are the first and the last on a project, but you weren’t (this is sounding a lot like a country music song.) Leading to a messy credit arbitration.

The Vanity Option: A movie star’s pet project (yours) is humored to stroke the ego of said star. Nothing ever comes of it. But no one will tell you that.

Parallel Draft Deal: asking one or more writers to write their take on an idea. Sweepstakes writing, rather than pitching.

The Round table: Writing in a round-table. May not be a bad thing, but when it comes to credit arbitration?

Contract delays: Nobody gets paid unless those freaking documents are signed.

Turnaround costs: Projects that die can be sold to other studios. Sometimes the first-buyer studio can charge a thumping sum or are just plain difficult to deal with.

Lawsuits: Apparently successful films are always sued. God.

Whims: Well. You can guess this one.

Gone in 60 seconds: A concept spoken about verbally is stolen.

Circumstance

 
The Boxed In Draft: Your draft is boxed in by the tastes of a high-powered player (director or actor, from what I’ve heard).

Pitching up the ladder: Us first-timers are unlikely to meet people at the top – the one who really makes the decisions. We are likely the people lower down who, if they like it, pitch to their boss. Then they bring us in to pitch to their boss. If they like it, so on and so forth….Lots of potential for rejection.

Note Delays: 

In Hollywood, it’s well-accepted that projects in production take priority, then films in pre-production, then films in post, and after that, new projects.

That means that we get pushed to the back-burner. This is especially significant if a step must be executed for us to be paid.

Developmental Art: Might work in spades. Might also cost a lot of time and money.

The Competing Project

The Child Killing Gorilla: An executive who takes over from another and murders all their children (figuratively) i.e. their projects.

The Hit Song: We need more than one hit. We can’t be Milli Vanillis.

Option Expiration: Studio options an IP (not buys it). We get called in to write a script. Option expires before script achieves escape velocity (first day of principal photography). Now studio no longer owns IP. You would think that we could sell the script to the next owner. Nope. They can’t even read it for fear of plagiarism suits if they don’t buy it. Lord have mercy.

Learning curve: Man, it takes long enough learning this stuff.

What can screenwriters do about time-risk? 

Answer: spend time making movies, not trying to get films made.

This means becoming a hyphenate, whether we like it or not. Believe me, I don’t like it myself. But those doors slamming shut in my face are starting to ring in my ears. I’m starting to be frightened of my inbox. From those e-mails that start ‘Thank you for your submission!’ <—- notice the guilty exclamation mark.

We all know what they REALLY mean when they say ‘thank you’.

If you have a career:

Start and finish: If you’ve originated a concept – write a book so you own the IP. Insist on being a producer so again you’re attached to the IP.  Or if it’s the tail end of a project, write production rewrites, so you know your work will be filmed. It’s the middle that’s commonly termed ‘development hell’.
Pitch as high up the ladder as possible.

Double-book – train your agent to always be lining up jobs. Given the Hollywood machine – it’s hardly likely you’ll have two jobs at a time.
Prepare for the ‘You’re Dumped’ phone call – The phone call that lets you know that any or all of the above things have happened and your time has just been wasted. The hardest part is the person on the other end will likely be excited that their project is further along.

If you don’t have a career yet:

Make friends with sellers, sell to buyers: The buyers are the ones who greenlight pictures. Everyone else, even in their production company, is trying to get them to do so. So really we’re all in the same boat, just with various levels of access. Until you reach the seller, it’s relationship building, not selling.
Stop-loss: put an expiration date on your project.
Own your IP – write the book or the play instead. Then you own the original IP.
Ask the right questions. 
Spend your time risks – at the beginning of your career, we have time to burn. Use it wisely.
Stack: Work on two projects at a time. Maximise pace and benefit by working on one project with a partner or playing producer and outsourcing a concept to another writer.

General good sense: 

Make a movie, anyway, anyhow. Get your name on that screen however we can. More importantly:
Become a director. I’ll let Mr. Rossio say it himself.

“Either become a director, or form a team with a director. But better to become a director. And not a writer who directs, but a director who happens to write.”

When I asked if we should turn our focus away from screenwriting:

Be the Cohen brothers. Learn to direct as well as write. Concentrate on learning both crafts.

Television – Television is harder to break into but more stable once we get there.
Sequels: If you’re choosing between two ideas and one of them has sequel potential…Ocean’s Eight. Need I say more?
Give upwardly mobile notes: notes can be like a job interview.
Avoid the Money Guy like the plague: This is someone who doesn’t have the money, but claims they do from some rich recluse somewhere. Always boasts about something big they did previously. Always negotiating their cut.
Make incremental progress : one task a day rather than racing towards a deadline (that actually would never work for me. But to each his own.)
Start an animation studio: Because all you need is an idea, some clay, a kitchen table and a camera that takes good stills. Which is probably all phones these days.

Is your head spinning yet? Mine is.

Once it stops spinning, I’m going to ruminate on next steps. Maybe road-test some things in the next few months. And come up with a modified plan.

Because those ‘thank you’ emails make me want to punch someone.