The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Be Inspired, Do Good Work

    Mark Sevi

    Mark Sevi

     If you've never seen the movie "A Face in the Crowd" I'm going to be spoiling a few things here. If you'd like to not have the experience ruined in any way, please stop reading and start watching. It's available on Netflix and these words will be waiting for you when you get back. If you continue reading, don't blame me!


    I've been obsessing over this movie since it just happened to be on TCM last weekend and I flipped it on just to kill some time. I'd seen it before a couple of times, but ever since I became a student of Blake Snyder's "Save the Cat" screenwriting story theory, I now have to at least consider every movie I watch in that context.

    According to Snyder's theory, there is a point in every great movie that marks the break between the end of Act II and the start of Act III. This is known as the "Dark Night of the Soul." This is roughly analogous to Joseph Campbell's "The Road Back / Resurrection" moment of classic myth or Dara Mark's "Descent - what life will be like w/o change moment of decision." As you can see, there's plenty of overlap in theories and I personally think they all add to each other rather than cancel one another out.

    Normally dialog tells us how the characters want other characters to think they feel about a particular situation and the audience has to infer the real meaning of the subtext via the actions of the character. Not so in the "Dark Night of the Soul." In that scene, all pretext is dropped and the characters voice their true feelings. In doing so, it makes it crystal clear for the audience members that might not have picked up on the subtext and allows the characters to understand what the real crisis of the story is. Upon seeing the crisis, the hero then decides to act.

    Just as a side note; I think this is also the scene in most movies where Oscars are earned.

    The "Dark Night of the Soul" scene in "A Face in the Crowd" takes place quite literally on a dark and rainy night in a bedroom where two characters bare their souls. What I find fascinating is the character you may have thought was the hero of the story turns out to be the villain and a character you may have thought was a supporting b-story character is actually the hero that has to decide to act at the end of this scene.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaLQMs_VDLw

    Damn, that's some fine writing and acting.

    Also prophetic as hell if you look at how some radio/TV hosts have used the media lately to push political objectives. Budd Schulberg was a genius when he looked at TV and saw the power it had available to it. It's a shame more people aren't familiar with the movie.

     NETWORKING, NETWORKING, AND MORE NETWORKING

     The way in which I have managed to receive great fortune to this point in my career is through networking.  Two years ago I met a talent manager by the name of Earl Shank at the LA Film Festival.  Earl owns Shank Management and has been in the business for 20 years.  Some Earl’s colleagues are names like Bryan Singer and James Franco.  I made a really strong impression on Earl and gave him my card.

     Since then I signed a multi-film producing contract with Reel Gem Films in Newport Beach.  Earl heard through the grapevine about my success as a producer and called me out of the blue a month ago.   We met in Hollywood and he offered me a proposal.  He stated if I produce and raise money for a pet project starring his A-list talent, we could make each other’s dreams come true. 

     We shook hands and we both made good on our promises.  That night I told him I wanted to get in front of the camera.  He introduced me to one of the biggest agents in the business and very quickly I started getting roles in multi-million dollar films and TV shows.  Remember, I have no acting experience or training whatsoever.

     Based on my experience the best advice I can give you is: networking, networking, and more networking.  A best friend of mine is the most amazing actor I've ever seen in my entire life, and because he doesn't network he never gets gigs.  On the other hand there is myself, a person who doesn't even know the first thing about acting, gets high paying gigs on projects people actually get to see, just because I network.  That's just how the industry works.

     You never know whom you’ll meet.  Maybe the next hand you shake is the one that gets you set for the rest of your life, but you’ll never know unless you put yourself out there to shake that hand. 

     Victor Phan & Clark Jones

    Torture Chamber Productions

    www.torturechamberproductions.com

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3399096/

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3454648/

    As a freelancer that lives in Santa Ana and books work in Burbank, I luck out sometimes and get an entire week of days at one particular location that I'll call "The Tower."  What this means is that even though I have this horrible, long commute no matter what, I can sometimes buy a Metro Link ten trip pass and ride the train in.  It still takes roughly two hours door to door, but I can spend that time reading, watching a movie or even writing.

    It's a pretty big challenge to actually write on the train.  There aren't many tables and since the train shakes around quite a bit, it can be a challenge just to get the right keys pressed on a keyboard or make recognizable letters in a notebook.  However, it is some quality time disconnected from the distractions of the internet; a personal weakness of mine.  On the train there is no wifi and I'm way too cheap to buy yet another data service beyond what I already use at Starbucks.

    It was foggy standing at the train station this morning so I wanted to watch something light; something fluffy.  Something with a cute bunny rabbit.

    I watched a five minute short by Pixar called "Presto."  Pretty revealing little demonstration of story that follows the "Save the Cat" structure by Blake Snyder, so I had to write a bit about that on the trip up.  You can find it in the "Scriptwriting" part of the forums.

     Your Worst Enemy Onset . . . The Prima-Donna!!!

                Making movies is a complicated and beautiful process.  It all begins with an idea that develops into a story.  From there money is raised, people are hired, locations are locked, then the next thing you know, your production is on its way.   It’s a rewarding process that takes a lot of effort, but all it takes to ruin this grand-charade is the devastation of a single prima-donna.

                Prima-donnas are whiney, think they deserve better treatment than everyone else, and to boot, they’re ungrateful know-nothings that don’t belong on any set.  They can be cast or crew, male or female, above or below the line.   After all of the preparation and collaboration it takes to get a film going, all it takes is one prima-donna on set to tear all of that hard work asunder.

                The signs of a prima-donna are clear and easy to tell, but their effects are not always foreseeable until the whole production is in the toilette.  At first it starts with a simple demand, but soon devolves into petty grievances and purposeful delays that will put you behind schedule and over budget. All of this seems to go down on set, long after the contracts are signed, mind you. 

                Perhaps the worst effect of a prima-donna is its self-replication.  Its divisiveness doesn’t stop at making crew split, it continues on as more and more crew see the prima-donna taking hold and figure that they too can jump in on the action.  Some crew members may not even realize they are being sucked into the void, and begin to have flairs in temper or demands reflecting the example of the prima-donna. 

                When you spot one, there are at least a few proven cures.  The simplest solution, and first step you should always take, is to take the crew member aside and talk them down.  Explain the collaborative nature of film, tell them you care but cannot be swayed, and let them know the behavior needs to stop.  This should work.  At least pray it does.  Because in the case of a continued problem, producers can and must be willing to use the ultimate option in their arsenal: the ol’ boot-in-arse ‘you’re fired’ technique.  It’s dirty, it’s effective, and at times can be the only way to ensure that one or two members don’t rip your production apart.

    No matter the situation, always act quickly, or else the rift will become permanent.  Remember, it may seem like one unreasonable demand now, but once that turns into a whole run of problems, you can kiss your movie goodbye.

     

    Victor Phan & Rylie Potter

    Torture Chamber Productions / Soph Productions

    August 29, 2009

     Fastest Way to Get a Heart Attack?  Be an Onset Writer!

                I’ve worked in entertainment since I was 18 years old.  I’m not going to mention how many years ago that was since that’ll just depress me.  What I will note, though, is that out of all of my experiences onset, nothing comes close to the stress of being an onset writer.

                I am on the set of Jess Meyer’s Tale of a Weekend Suicide for Reel Gem Films and Shae St. Films.   I was originally hired onto this film as a co-producer.  As production time approached, the other producers decided to have me write revisions of the script.  Just like that I became co-producer/writer of the film.  

                When we came to Big Bear to shoot the film, I thought I was just going to do typical producer duties like manage crew and write checks.  If only I were that lucky.   We came here with a very aggressive schedule in mind but were unable to get all of the shots that we needed, so the assistant director asked me to do rewrites on the spot. 

                I had to take off my producer cap and put my writer cap back on.   I literally locked myself in the production office and commenced writing onset revisions.   Everyday the assistant director would bring me a list of scenes they shot so I could cross them off my list.  He would tell me how many pages we were able to shoot with our budget and time constraints; I would then cut the script down and still try to keep the integrity of the original story.

                Let me tell you right now, this was a pretty stressful experience.   I had to write on a consistent basis against the clock.  Then I would have to redo everything I had already done according to what they shot.  I persevered and made changes as the schedule tightened.  I compromised with the directors and argued with the actors on a daily basis.

    I am not bitter about the experience.  If I can handle being an onset writer then I should be able to handle everything else Hollywood throws my way – hopefully!

     

    Victor Phan & Rylie Potter

    Torture Chamber Productions

    August 29, 2009

     

                I’m currently working as Producer on an independent film shoot in Big Bear.  The film is a drama called Jess Meyer’s Tale of a Weekend Suicide for Reel Gem Films and Shae St. Films.   I am literally locked on this shoot for 8 days straight.  Working on this film in the middle of the mountains has made me realize how viable my laptop, mobile phone, and car are as tools for filmmaking.  More specifically, my Macbook, Blackberry, and Honda Accord have literally saved me on this project.  Trust me, this isn’t product placement.  This is just my recounting of how these tools aided my ability to produce low budget films.  Maybe this may be helpful to other independent filmmakers out there. 

                My MacBook is definitely something I would never go to a shoot without.  Going to a shoot without it is like going to a gunfight armed with only a knife.  It has given me the ability to write thank you letters to the community for their hospitality, send important e-mails, import the dailies directly into Final Cut Pro, and write articles like this one during my downtime, among many other things. 

                My Blackberry has really proven its worth to me.  Thanks to the GPS, I can actually find my way around this mountain region.   I’m able to consistently communicate with my crew via calls, text messages, and e-mails.  The best part about having both my MacBook and Blackberry on this shoot is the ability to tether the Internet service from my Blackberry.  So instead of having to pay for WIFI somewhere, I can get Internet on my laptop by stealing it from my mobile phone.  This service has save me more than anything else on this shoot. 

                Last and not least, I have to mention my Honda Accord.  I’ve literally owned this car since 1996 and it’s still running very well.  My car is very economical, which has been a huge plus since I’ve been shuttling crew back and forward all over this town.   I’ve made trips picking up equipment from Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Burbank, Pasadena, Fullerton, Irvine, and taking it all the way back over to Big Bear.  I’ve had to fill up my gas tank every other day, but thank goodness it only costs roughly $26 every time.

                Before going to this shoot and being secluded out here, I never really realized how valuable these tools were to my profession.  Like some of you who may be reading this article, I am a filmmaker on a tight budget.  These cheap solutions have strongly aided my ability to produce a low budget feature film on the fly.  Isn’t one of the things filmmakers are supposed to is find are ways to get their films made with the most bang to their buck?

     

    Victor Phan

    Torture Chamber Productions

     August 23, 2009

    This section is basically a blog but it only features people who have production or semi-professional experience.  

    Some people here are involved in filmmaking, some in other fields or the arts, but all have something to say about their past, present or future experiences trying to do what they love and survive that experience...

     

    Mashup: the sum of many parts creating a new whole.  


    Welcome to our mashup page - rotating columnists, all over the place perhaps, but hopefully with the ability to inform, entertain and provoke.  

    That's our goal - art in, art out.

     Our Columinsts and their columns

     
    Marie Mastrangelo
    On The Ledge
    Deborah True Neal
    Poolside
    Raymond Obstfeld
    Mr. Fixit
    Victor Phan
    The Horror!
    Larry Porriceli
    View From The Balcony

    Mark Sevi
    Bend Over: A Secreenwriter's Life

    Christian Stambouli
    Life Rebooted
    Heather Winn
    Come, Go With Me
     

     

    Not surprisingly, George A. Romero spends a lot of time dreaming up new ways to kill zombies.

    “It’s a lot of down time between making these films and I’m always thinking about, ‘Oh, what can I do next time?’” the director/writer explained during a roundtable session promoting his latest undead installment, Survival of the Dead. “CG has made it [easy] to do things that I couldn’t think of doing when it was me and (acclaimed special effects artist) Tom Savini trying to pull the strings on puppets. A lot of old ideas that I have I’m able to execute now by using the computer technology.”

    Romero’s first feature, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, redefined not only that specific genre, but also the concept that important American cinema had to have a big budget, big stars and be otherwise overinflated. His little film about flesh-eating ghouls attacking the stranded inhabitants of a deserted farmhouse is not only explicitly violent, but satirical and relevant even today. Thanks to Romero, cheesy creature features and gross-out B movies gave way to a new sophistication in screen horror that reflects the ugly underbelly of our cultures’ sensibilities and flaws, which is frankly more terrifying and unforgettable.

    The legendary pioneer of contemporary horror films recognizes and cares for his fans. “I have sort of two kinds of fans: fans that sort of appreciate what I’m trying to say, and then there’s this whole other—and probably larger—group of fans that are just in it for the ride and don’t care about anything that might be beneath the surface,” Romero explained. “But you have to please that ‘fangoria’ crowd while you’re up and doing it.”

    Survival of the Dead
    spins a Hatfields and McCoys-tale inspired by William Wyler’s The Big Country. “One of the things that appealed to me about going with the Western theme is that it makes it a bit more timeless. I speak to today a little bit, just because people are shooting at their senators these days,” Romero theorized. “Of all the films I’ve done, Survival is much less about what is happening right now in the news than any of the other ones I did. But I like the idea of taking this sort of ageless problem, conflicts that don’t die and are just too deeply engrained. I felt that was the way to go. If I needed a broader theme, than that was one that I could use and it was not going to wear-out.”

    Survival
    also has a returning character from Land and Diary of the Dead, Sarge (Alan Van Sprang). Romero hopes that Survival may begin a new Dead legacy. “The first four films I’ve never been able to cross-collateralize to use the same characters, use the storyline, create a mythology that was bigger than an individual film because [the films] were all controlled by different people…and one week before we started this film, I said, ‘Tell you what…I’d love to do a set of three of these films, using minor characters from Diary and wind up with this portrait of the world where I could re-use characters and re-use storylines and have these little threads of mystery and rules and things that go through them,’” he enthused. “It all depends on how this film performs. It’s something I always wanted to do, though: create a more broader mythology. But we’ll see what happens,” he laughed.

    In the event that Survival doesn’t warrant subsequent spin-offs, Romero likely won’t be lumbering aimlessly about the countryside; he’s got an arsenal of prospective projects to keep him busy. “One of them is this non-horror thing entirely—a little personal film I’d like to try. Also low budget—always staying low budget, I don’t have the time in my life or the energy anymore to come down here and pitch something for a year and a half and then have it not happen. So I’m keeping myself at the two dollar betting window. That’s just ass-covering so that I’d maybe get a chance to make three or four more films instead of one,
    he said. We [also] have a horror project which is non-zombie and I’m also being talked to by two European companies about projects they want to do over there…[those would be] the most fun, I think—almost like a vacation. There’s a film called Paris le Temp…many little love tales. I want to do the dark side of that. And who are you going to call? So it will probably be me, and [John] Carpenter and [John] Landis and all of the usual suspects. That would be very nice and short term. All that sort of stuff is sort of…bubbling.”

    Romero is not a fan of remakes, especially remakes of his previous work. “It pisses me off a little bit. I didn’t particularly like the Dawn [of the Dead] remake; I think Zack’s (Snyder) a good filmmaker and I thought the first 15-20 minutes were really hot…and then it sort of lost its reason for being. When we made that film that was the first time any of us had ever seen one of these indoor shopping malls…I thought that was something fun to snipe at at the time. And then it’s not the same, it was a film of a certain time. I wouldn’t have chosen to remake it. It was quite successful and, you know, mazel tov. I just wouldn’t have chosen to do it. I get a little bit irritated about it, but by the same token my stuff is my stuff.”

    The director continued to put his point into perspective. “People always say to Steve King, ‘How do you feel about Hollywood ruining your books?’ and he says, ‘They’re not ruined; here they are, on the shelf.’ I sort of feel the same way about my films. I don’t think The Crazies needed to be remade, that my version of The Crazies was (again) of a certain time. It needed that to have any strength or any anger. So on the one hand I just find it silly, but I guess this whole remake craze, people would rather rely on what they think is a proven title than to try something new.”

    Is it true that Romero was asked to direct World War Z, the on-again
    , off-again screen version of Max Brooks’ zombie epic novel?

    “I was never called about that,” answered Romero. “I don’t even know what’s happening with that project now. I think Max actually believes that this may happen someday,” he chuckled. (The project is allegedly in pre-production with Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment to be directed by Marc Forster of Quantum of Solace.) Would the King of the Zombie flicks be interested in championing such a big budget, highly anticipated and possible monumental feature?

    “I don’t think so, no,” Romero replied. “My zombie stuff is again my zombie stuff. I don’t think I’d take it quite that serious.”

    Finally, if George Romero can’t advise us all on how to survive a zombie apocalypse then there is no hope for mankind. How would he best arm himself against the ungrateful dead that he almost single-handedly made infamous? (I'm not kidding, this is a frequent topic of conversation in my home, and hopefully everyone out there in the OC is thinking ahead as well!)

    “[Not] a chainsaw, you’ve got to get too close,” Romero stated. “I don’t know, man, I’d get out on a raft somewhere…although they can walk on the bottom of the water…” he remembered.

    Not good. Has Romero inadvertently made the walking dead ultimately invincible? He doesn’t think so!

    “I’d try to find some protective spot, get a Gatling gun or something,” he concluded. “I wouldn’t think of fancy ways of killing them, I’d just think of killing them. Save up the ammo and get a tank!”

    I had the pleasure to chat with Peter and Micheal Spierif during a phone interview to promote the DVD/Blu-ray release of Daybreakers. Peter recalled how he and his twin brother sparked the film’s initial concept. “I think Michael might have come up with just a very brief one-liner of, ‘What if the world was dominated by vampires?’ and then I added, ‘What if they weren’t [in a] postapocalyptical kind of world?’ and we kind of bounced back and forth with ‘What if?’”

    “It was always, what if they moved back to their homes and then went back to regular jobs and the big dilemma is that they’re running out of their food supply, which is human beings. What’s that world going to be like?” Michael added.

    The Spierig Brothers hail from Australia and until Daybreakers had a few shorts and one low budget horror film, 2003’s Undead, carrying their credits. Sharing writing and directing roles, they found that the tricks of the visual trade they picked up during their first feature would   serve them well while in production with Daybreakers as well. “Peter and I ended taking on a lot of the visual effects ourselves again, which is what we did on our first film to keep the cost down,” Michael admitted. “It wasn’t something we originally planned on doing, but again [with] budget constraints we ended up having to do it. I guess it’s good to have that knowledge when it comes to visual effects.”

    The payoff is a low budget yet stylish vampire genre film that holds its own against blockbusters that racked up at least five times the budget. For the most part, Peter said they are satisfied with the results. “We were terrified when we shot that last scene, saying, ‘Gee, do we have enough footage?’ I never thought we did have enough; I always wanted more. I think it turned out okay, though. I wanted it to be bloodier. It’s still bloody enough, I guess,” he laughed.

    How did they manage to lure in talent such as Ethan Hawke, Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe? “We wrote the script saying we’d really like an Ethan Hawke type, never assuming we’d actually be able to get him. He was just sort of an archetype, I guess, in some respect,” Michael explained. “We just said, ‘What the hell, let’s go ask him and see what he says.’ He responded amazingly to it. He loved the material, and once he said yes it kind of opened the door to legitimize the project. We were very lucky everybody said yes, which was a huge surprise to us, particularly considering some of these guys, certainly Ethan, hadn’t done a horror film before.”

    “He keeps saying that he doesn’t like horror films but he’s seen every one. I don’t believe that he doesn’t like horror films,” Peter added. “[Willem] had fun with it. I always think these serious actors, they always like doing these parts because it gives them a chance to be a kid again and play cowboys and Indians. They all love it.”

    Speaking of love for horror films, what inspired the Spierigs to contribute to the vampire genre? Michael was quick to answer. “Near Dark is a big one, Kathryn Bigelow’s forgotten classic in many respects; I love that movie and that was of course a good time for vampire films that year [which] was dominated by another great film The Lost Boys, which is the ‘Corey classic.’ And there’s a fun Roman Polanski one, The Fearless Vampire Killers--Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. It was an odd movie, really kind of twisted and kind of fun.”

    Prior to writing the script for Daybreakers, the brothers inadvertently wrote a detailed graphic novel to use as source material. “We’ve written a very detailed backstory on how the vampire plague happened and how the world reacted and how it spread. All of that really isn’t in the movie, but it’s kind of necessary to understand before you write that story. Maybe it’ll get published sometime soon, maybe it will be another feature film--it’s hard to know at this stage,” Peter said.

    But for now, any thoughts of a Daybreakers sequel, prequel or an updated Captain Blood feature (based on the Errol Flynn classic) are on hold. “We’re currently working on the sequel to The Dark Crystal, which is really exciting and sort of a big passion of ours. It’s such a complex movie that it’s going to consume all our time for the next couple of years,” Michael explained.

    Michael and Peter will be directing The Power of the Dark Crystal from a script written by Baz Luhrmann alumni Craig Pearce (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge).  At this point, I felt compelled to interject, "You Aussies kick ass" to which Micheal replied, "We've been doing it for years!" 

    Are there any issues directing material they did not have a hand in writing?  “We’ve written purely out of necessity. We’ve felt like in order to get our career to a certain point, in order for people to take us seriously and so we’re not directing the twentieth sequel to a straight-to-video horror film or that sort of thing, we felt that we had to take the initiative and write our own project and dictate our path,” Peter said. “Now we’re fortunate that we have the opportunity to work with some extremely talented and experienced writers, which is what we’ve always strived for and thankfully now it’s starting to happen.”

    Back to the matter at hand, the release of Daybreakers on DVD and Blu-ray. “We put in a feature-length documentary about the making of the film; it’s all in high definition. It’s a really in-depth account of how we made the film, it’s not a total love fest like most of these ‘making-of’ documentaries are; it’s an honest, accurate account of how you make a movie and it starts from the initial script stage all the way to premiering [the film] at the Toronto Film Festival,” Peter enthused. “It’s a very comprehensive account of how this film was made. We have interesting things [in it], like a producer being rushed to the hospital--he got hit by a car--lots of interesting things like that happens while you’re trying to get a film made,” he laughed.

    “There’s also obviously a commentary track and we managed to remaster one of our short films (‘The Big Picture‘) and put it on the Blu-Ray disc and in high definition as well, which is great. The short film has nothing to do with Daybreakers, but it is a fun little addition if you’re sort of curious about how we got started and where we came from,” Peter continued with another chuckle. “The audio’s been mastered to 7.1 which is fantastic--it sounds incredible. It’s a great disc; certainly the Blu-Ray is very comprehensive. Definitely worth the money.”
    I'm sold!  Checking out some Blu-ray deals at Best Buy as I type....

     

     

     

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