The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Mark Sevi

    Mark Sevi

                A long long time ago in a galaxy far far away, when I first got into filmmaking,  IMDB was in it’s infancy and was not the industry standard it is today for confirming movie and television credits.  For those of you who don’t know, IMDB is the Internet Movie Database.  IMDB is a tool people use to check others’ professional credits.  I remember sitting in a film class and showing the teacher a film I spent all weekend working on.  He critiqued my film and told me how I could’ve done it better.  I thought to myself, F#$% you!  Let me see your credentials if you think you could do better.

                Well back in those days there was little or no resources for me to easily check out what he’s done.  I had to take everything he said at face value and assume he was an expert or commit myself to an arduous process to confirm his bona fides.  I remember attending networking functions and meeting a whole bunch of people I never heard of before.  I remember them talking about how many films they’ve done and all of the big names they’ve worked with.  Once again there was no easy way for me to corroborate any of their credits so I just had to go with what people said about themselves.

                 IMDB was started in the early 90s but became the standard for checking credits in the 2000s.  Now everyone has the ability to check someone’s official credits immediately.  This is very important because a lot of people you will meet are full of BS.  IMDB gives you the ability to not waste your time with someone who is obviously not who they say they are and move on to someone who can actually help you realize your project.  This is an invaluable tool for small-time and big-time filmmakers for hiring cast and crew.  Honestly, why waste your time interviewing someone who only knows how to make movies that only Youtube could love?

                The great thing about IMDB is it has a very strict adding policy so posers can’t just add themselves.  The people who manage the database actually do their homework and check peoples’ credits.  They don’t let people add their films onto the database unless they have been screened at festivals or have distribution deals.  Both criteria are difficult for people who aren’t serious about filmmaking to accomplish (*cough*Youtube*cough). 

                I’ve worked in the industry for a long time now and have met many posers.  I once asked myself why there are so many people who pretend they do what I do for a living.  The answer is quite obvious.  People like the perks but don’t want to pay their dues. Also people have this natural interest in the entertainment business.  Don’t believe me?  Watch how many heads turn if you’re ever at a party and say you work in the film industry.  People give you a certain amount of respect if you can make a living in the film industry because everyone knows how tough it is. 

                Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t look down or think any less of people who don’t work in this industry.  It is a very tough business and I often ask myself why I even do it.  The paydays are few and far in between.  The hours are long and inconsistent.  Even with so many reasons why not to do this I still see why there are so many people who pretend this is what they do.  They want the same respect that the people who did what they couldn’t do get.  People who work in this industry are people who let go of the safety net and took the plunge.  We closed our eyes and leapt after our dreams never caring if we land safely or plummet to our deaths. 

                Because we took that plunge we were able to live the lives people only dream of.  We got to rub elbows with famous people.  We got to work onset with the sound stages and bright lights.  We got to see our work or ourselves on the big screen and in our living rooms.  We got to build a body of work we’ll always be remembered for and continue to be prolific.  And if you don’t believe me, you could always check our credits to see if I’m bluffing. 

    Victor Phan & Clark Jones

    Torture Chamber Productions

    December 2, 2009

     

    BLOG 3.5 – Bonus Blog about Bootlegging Bastards

    During the past couple of weeks, I have had an unwanted crash course in bootlegging, DVDRips, file sharing, bit torrents and pirates.  As a struggling filmmaker, it makes me want to VoMiT.  <(If you don't get that joke, you especially need to keep reading.)

    I didn’t really know what any of those terms meant.  I thought the only bootleggers were those people selling crappy $5 DVD’s on the streets of New York, and certainly nobody would bother bootlegging Teenage Dirtbag.  I wasn’t at all worried that my film wasn’t available for download the day it was released on DVD.  Why wasn’t it available? Well, because there were sound issues holding it up with iTunes, and to be perfectly frank, my distributor is small and old-school, and didn’t worry about getting it up on Hulu or Cinema Now, or anywhere else.  They didn’t quite grasp the magnitude of how important it is to make it available for download… IMMEDIATELY. 

    I am embarrassed to say, neither did I.  If I couldn’t get the movies I wanted from Movies On Demand, then I would get them the old fashioned way – Blockbuster.  Not Blockbuster on-line, Blockbuster the store down the street.   I hadn’t even explored the option of Netflix until they ordered my film. Now I subscribe and love it, just in time for mail to become the outdated way of getting movies.  People download nowadays. 

    Thanks to my favorite new mentor, Mark Sevi, I found out that Teenage Dirtbag’s bit torrent numbers were off the charts.  I didn’t even know what he was talking about.  Basically, it meant thousands and thousands of people were stealing my movie, giving it away, and worst of all - selling it on-line without the rights!  Mark told me I should be flattered, but I was furious. What an absolute violation!  Don’t those buttholes out there understand that this isn’t some big money studio picture, and their theft isn’t a drop in the bucket?!  It’s just little ol’ me, my friends and family who invested, my hard-working sales agents, and my struggling distributor.  It matters!  This meant war.

    Step 1, I called my distributor and gave them the numbers of how many people were downloading the movie, and told them if they want to stop the bloodletting, they better get the damn thing up onto a download site, and fast.  Step 2, I launched a Cease and Desist effort against the file-sharing sites. (It has been about as successful as trying to clean sand off of the beach… But whatever, I’m angry.)  Step 3, educate fans of the many legitimate ways to get the movie.

    By the following day, my distributor miraculously got the film up on Cinema Now.  Three days after that, they added a new on-line store to their website, and were selling the download directly. Within two weeks, the movie was up on iTunes.  (Turns out money is a good motivator.) So I won one very small battle.  But the bit torrent numbers have continued growing to staggering numbers across the globe, which means I am not only losing the war, but it is a bloodbath, day after day.   For those of us who desire to make our living on intellectual property, we are so screwed.

    Let my mistakes be your lessons: 

    1. Don’t assume the person selling or distributing your material knows what they are doing.  Just because you sold your work, or got distribution, doesn’t mean your job is done.  No one cares about it more than you, so stay involved.

    2. Protect everything you have in any way that you can.  Copyright, register, watermark, etc.

    3. Be a step ahead of the bootleggers.  Make it easily available through lots of on-line sources, and you’ll be more likely to get paid.

    4. Send the legal threats, make the noise, report the thieves.  

    5. Walk the walk… don’t download other people’s movies/songs/etc. just because you can.  Saving $4.00 isn’t worth the bad karma. 

    6. And finally, if you’re like me, and are a little oblivious to the digital age, get on top of it – NOW.

     

    BLOG 3 – IT’S FINISHED!  NOW REWRITE IT.

     My tail is between my legs.  I did not finish my script entirely.  BUT, because of the commitment I made, and sassy remarks many of you left on my Facebook page, I worked harder than usual, and got a LOT accomplished.  Thanks to you, my script is now 92 pages, and is complete enough that I paid my $20 to register it with the WGA, and can now tell you the name:  Tijuana Train.  Ta-da!  Three more small scenes and it will be totally done.  And by done, I mean ready for a year of re-writes.  I have  friends who are in the process of writing their first script, and I am afraid to tell them that “finishing” it means you are really just starting.  I don’t want to spoil their fun.

    My first script, Teenage Dirtbag, is a memoir-style drama, a genre that I feel very comfortable in as a writer.  This second script, Tijuana Train, is an action-comedy and I just know it sucks.  Action-comedy? Who do I think I am?!  It's a pile of dung.  In fact, a dung beatle is trying to roll it off of my desktop right now.

    Yesterday, I sent the script to an industry friend who worked on my first film, who I respect infinitely.   I figure I might as well get it over with.  I trust he’ll find a tactful way to tell me it’s a heap-o-crap.

    I find that one of two things happen to us as writers:

    1.       We finish a piece of work, and believe it to be a flawless and glorious masterpiece.  Each word was so carefully chosen, and hand-forged together into a seamless work of literary architecture that it could, and should, change the world.  In this case, we are likely wrong.

    2.       We finish a piece of work, and believe, strongly, that it is the worst thing we have ever written…Moreover, it’s possibly the worst thing anyone has written, ever.  In this case, we are likely right.

    But, you have to start somewhere.   Even if you have one crappy script/novel/self-help book/TV pilot/letter to your grandmother finished, you are that much further ahead than the person who is still talking about writing something.   You’ve done it.  Good job!  I’ve done it.  Yay!  Now we gotta do a little more.  It’s time to rewrite.  

    If we think it’s already perfect, I’d say let’s not be so stubborn that we stand in the way of our own success.  Or, conversely, if it’s just too awful, let’s pony up the confidence needed to make it better. 

    I’m going to send Tijuana Train to everyone who will be kind enough to read it, and listen carefully to what they have to say.  Ugghh… I’m tired, but it’s time to rewrite.

     

    November 15, 2009

    Where’s that coupon for the free yoga class?  I really should organize all of my pictures into files on my computer.  A friend of mine wants me to go drink a bottle of wine with her.  Okay, I’ll do that.  I let Pleasure get in the way of Procrastination.  But only because Responsibility always gets in the way of Pleasure.  And all three get in the way of my writing.  Especially that nasty bastard Responsibility.  For me, everything I have-to-do-but-would-never-do-again-if-I-had-oodles-of-money, is part of that loveless marriage I have with Responsibility.  

    Do I have a new friend request?  Damn it, Procrastination! Not now… I am trying to write my blog!! 

    So obviously disciplining myself is difficult, and finishing the last 15 pages of my next script, an action/comedy which we’ll refer to by the initials “T.T.,” seems nearly impossible.  This is why I am going to ask for your involvement in the process.  My commitment, to you, is that I will have T.T. complete by my next blog, in two weeks.  That’s it, no excuses.  If I don’t deliver on time, well, it’s kind of on you now.   So, do your job and hold me accountable!

    Okay, Mr. or Mrs. Screenwriter/Filmmaker/Dreamer friend out there?  What do you need to do?  How can I return the favor and hold your tender little feet to the fire?  Do you have something to finish… or maybe something you need to start?  (That’s what I thought.)  Please comment here and get it off your chest… I want specifics, deadlines, pages, the steps involved. 

    Writing should be our Joy.  It probably usually is, just not always.  But here’s my experience:  the non-joyous work brings progress, and progress brings Joy.  It’s like saving money for a vacation… it sucks and seems to take forever, but guess what? You’re not going on that trip otherwise.  And I want to go sooo badly, don’t you?  So let‘s GO!  Okay, here’s the first thing we’re going to do… Cut and paste the quote below onto a blank page:

    “The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working.  Beethoven, Wagner, Bach and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand with as much regularity as an accountant settles down each day to his figures.  They didn’t waste time waiting for inspiration.”

    Now, change it into a nice font and make it larger. Big! Now print it out and tack it on the wall somewhere.  I put mine right above my desk.  If you’re really in bad shape, print it over and over and put it in your areas of distraction.  Tape it to the TV, the fridge, your cat.   If needed, print it on to a tee-shirt, one for you, one for Procrastination, one size XXXL for Pleasure’s fat ass, but nothing for Responsibility. You have to look at that sour puss everyday whether you like it or not.  We’re stuck with Responsibility, indeed.

    I’ll see you in two-weeks.

     

     I don’t know about you, but when I went to see "Speed" I wasn’t thinking it would be great art. I thought to myself; “Sure, it’s going to be stupid, but I can tune out for a bit and be entertained.” And really, that’s all the movie was supposed to be anyway. Just a bit of fluff in your life to take your mind off of the insanity. Then, somewhere in the third act, they decided to ratchet up the action a bit and do something that was, well, so incredibly stupid that it took you out of the action and made you say; “Oh come on! Really? A bus just jumped over a gap in the freeway and landed on the other side? FFS, that’s simply not possible. It might as well have sprouted wings to save itself."


    Yeah, that was stupid. What it did was break a familiar law of physics and how we know things behave for a stupid stunt somebody thought would be cool that stopped us cold in our tracks and actually screwed up our thought process, thereby losing us.

    Well, "2012" is a lot like that. Sadly, they didn’t even wait until act three.

    In fact, not only do we see that gag done once, we see it done three times, by the same character in three different vehicles in three different parts of the movie. Really?

    Now I know what you’re saying, you’re saying; “But it’s a movie about the end of the world! You have to let them do some whacky stuff.” No. Not that much. Certainly not that early with the graphics turned up to 11. It just doesn't give them anywhere to go.

    You can change a single piece of reality and have the end of the world come. Fine, that’s your freekin’ movie right there. But when you add in all of the extremely lame cliff hangers, chases, collapsing buildings and narrow escapes that come up in this film, it simply makes no sense whatsoever that our main character makes it out of the first reel, let alone saves the day at the end of the film. The logic just doesn’t add up and feel right in the first ten minutes.

    John August recently wrote on his blog;

    "As the writer, you need to burn down houses. You need to push characters out of their safe places into the big scary world — and make sure they can never get back. Sure, their stated quest might be to get home, but your job is to make sure that wherever they end up is a new and different place.”

    http://johnaugust.com/

    Ok, fine, but there is over doing it and "2012" is way past that line way too early in the film.

    I guess the only good thing I can say about a lot of the cliff hanger scenes; if you need to go out for popcorn or visit the restroom, feel free to do so at anytime. There's going to be another scene exactly like it in about 30 minutes. And I do mean exactly.

    October 30, 2009

     

    Ten nights ago, I celebrated the release of my first film, TEENAGE DIRTBAG. I drank champagne. 

    Two nights ago, I dreamed I was driving in the daylight on a steep, winding road that had been entirely covered in snow. There was no longer any sign of the pavement, just pure white snow.  I was filled with fear at every corner, but somehow, I navigated my way up this hill.   I didn’t consider stopping, but even in my deepest conscience, I knew not to go too fast, or I would lose control of the car.

    Still dreaming, I made a call on my cell phone to tell my husband that it would be awhile, as I could not see where I was going. When I got off the phone, I found the white snow had changed into equally white sand, with the same powdery feel, but just a little less slippery.  I relaxed a little bit.  White sand as far as they eye could see, but to my wonderment, I was still able to follow the narrow curves.  It was like I had been there before, and knew the way.

     

    I didn’t remember this dream until later that morning. It popped in my head the way non-scary, non-sexual dreams do:  vivid but harmless.  I can still see the white sand now. But where was I going? Was I alone in the car? How did it end?  I don’t remember dreaming the answers to any of those questions, so I don’t know.  What I do know is that it seemed like a glaringly obvious metaphor for my life in the past, the present, and more than likely, the future.  I’ve never read one book on dream analysis, but I think I’ve got this one pegged. 

    Today, somebody close to me told me they are tired of hearing about the movie, and that making films is my deal, not theirs.  Today, my distributor told me Sam’s Club ordered 5,000 copies of the DVD, which are on the shelves for sale right now.  Today, I am writing my first blog, and I should have something worthwhile to say, some wisdom to impart.  I do not.  I am not even sure if I have been keeping the correct tense throughout this wandering, run-on thought.

    The saying ‘you could fill a book with the things I don’t know’ applies here.  Indeed, it’s an endless book with expansive, white, facetless pages, stretching out before me.  So, let’s navigate it, shall we?  Let’s fill the book (in this case blog,) with a careful account of all the things I don’t know, and maybe in the end it will produce knowledge. Maybe we will find out where it is we are going. At the very least, you and I, my fellow writer/filmmaker/dreamer, will know we are not alone in the car.

     

    Need to beat up and outline a story before writing your screenplay?  Yeah, I think you do and now there's an App for that.  At least there is on the iPhone.

    Based on the late Blake Snyder's theories and movies analysis books, as well as his outlining software for desktops, the Save the Cat App for iPhone can be found in iTunes.  Check it out HERE.  At $19.95 it's a bit pricey compared to most iPhone apps, but as something you can carry around with you where ever you go, even at times where dragging the old Moleskine might be obtrusive, it's an interesting addition to the writer's arsenal.

    I just downloaded and installed it with no issues.  I'll be working on a script tonight so will report if I find any.


    Here are the minor improvements in the update:

    Send to Script: Send content from your Index Cards (Summary Side) right to your script with a simple mouse click.

    Text Highlighting: Highlight text using the new toolbar icon and its five bright colors.

    Script Compare: Compare two drafts of the same script right down to individual words and punctuation.

    Print to PDF: Now also accessible from the File menu.

    An exercise used in screenwriting classes is to split the class into A and B groups and pair each A student with a B student.  The A student then has five minutes to pitch his story to the B student, the B student then has five minutes to critique the story.  Then it’s the B student's turn to pitch and be critiqued.  After the full 20 minutes, A students rotate to a different B student and the cycle continues.  The goal really isn’t to hone your skills as a person with a perfect pitch, but to help the writer gain some sort of clarity in telling their story in a short amount of time.

    I've had to do this in every screenwriting class I’ve ever taken at UCLA.  Last night I had to do it once again.

    I've been working on one screenplay for about a year now.  After all the log lines, beat sheets, outlines and pages of actual script, I think the one thing I’ve taken away from the experience so far is to keep it simple.  If you can’t tell the major plot points of your story in five minutes, then it’s probably too complex for an audience to follow.  If you have to stop to explain the physics of a plot device, it’s probably a point that will lose a good chunk of the audience.  If you have to use the word “meanwhile” to describe an important piece of action happening simultaneously somewhere the main character isn’t, then you’ve probably gone off track somewhere.

    My next story is going to be so much more simple.

    You can love or hate Starbucks for a lot of reasons.  I love it because for the price of a cup of coffee I can rent office space for an hour or two to work on a project while waiting for an appointment.  It's also a great neutral place to meet people to talk about projects or whatever.

    I recently saw a series of commercials for Starbucks' new instant coffee.

    Starbucks Postal Workers

    Starbucks Three Men

    Starbucks Town Hall

    I'm nearly certain the creative folks in the advertising people meant one thing, but to me it has a completely different meaning.  To me what these commercials say is smiling lackeys, people that are jokes and screaming idiots can't tell the difference and we think we can fool you too.

    Now, I'm not saying this to bag on Starbucks' advertising guys, but instead using it to illustrate the point of subtext.  Dialog can and frequently does tell us what the character wants us to believe while the action and visuals tell us what is actually going on.

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