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    Thursday, 04 April 2013 10:23

    Roger Corman: The Business of Low Budget

    Written by
    “Not understanding money in the movie business is like an artist who doesn’t understand paint.”  - Jack Nicholson1
    roger cormanI first became a fan of Roger Corman as a little boy watching monster movies on television.  His low budget monster films captured my imagination and brought out a boyish wonder in me, inspiring me to one day become a genre filmmaker myself.  As luck would have it, I was hired in May of 2011 to produce a Corman-like creature feature film titled The Prey.  The experience in independent low budget genre filmmaking made me appreciate Roger Corman even more so.  My appreciation of Corman as a low budget filmmaker and businessman inspired the writing of this paper, which hopes to summarize Corman’s illustrious career, his business strategy and his legacy on mainstream cinema.  
    Roger Corman studied engineering at Stanford University but quickly lost interest in engineering and developed a love for filmmaking.  He only worked four days as an engineer after graduating before deciding to quit his job.  He landed a job at 20th Century Fox as a messenger and was eventually promoted to script reader.  
    He became the youngest reader on staff, yet he never recommended a script for production because he felt the brass never gave him a script good enough to recommend.  He eventually received a good script that he made a number of story notes on, and the script became the film The Gunfighter (1950) starring Gregory Peck.  The story notes Corman suggested were used in the film but the studio never gave Corman any recognition.  To add insult to injury, the story editor whom Corman worked under received a bonus for Corman’s notes.  Corman decided to leave the studio and to try his hand at independent filmmaking.  
    Corman’s first independent film was Monster from the Ocean Floor (1954).  Corman hadn’t gone to film school so making movies became his education in filmmaking.  Corman did every job he could on set to learn as much as humanly possible.  His second film was The Fast and the Furious (1954).  Even then Corman had a sense of saving money; he borrowed cars from a local sports car dealership to shoot the film and returned them at the end of the day.  Corman immediately saw the problem for independent filmmakers; independents needed to make their money back on their current picture before they had the money to invest to make their next picture.  Corman circumvented this dilemma by signing a 3-movie deal with American International Pictures, allowing him to constantly make movies instead of waiting for returns.  
    The major studios didn’t understand what young people wanted and for the most part during the ‘50s, completely ignored the youth market.  Corman and AIP purposely targeted the youth market that the major studios weren’t able to reach and didn’t care for anyway.  Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009) screenwriter Howard McCain commented: 
    masque of the red deathRoger started in a different world in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when he was directing movies.  The market they went for was the drive-in movie market and/or double feature . . . The strategy was to make cheap movies really fast with hotrods, bikinis, and monsters.  These films were meant for teenagers and were made with no more care or no better scripts, but filled a market that the studios ignored.3
    Corman continued making his youth market films with AIP throughout the ‘50s, but by the beginning of ‘60s, Corman began to have confidence in his abilities to master the craft of filmmaking.  This inspired him to make a series of horror films based on Edgar Allan Poe stories starring Vincent Price.  The films that came out of his Poe period were House of Usher (1960), Pit and the Pendulum (1961), Premature Burial (1962), The Raven (1963), The Masque of Red Death (1964), and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964).  Masters of Horror (2005-) executive producer and director Mick Garris expressed, “he made Poe a commercial basis for horror films!  Imagine, a 19th Century author the source material for many commercial horror movies that appealed primarily to teenagers in their prime!2”  The Poe films symbolized the highest production aesthetic in Corman’s career, yet the exploitive filmmaker in him still sought ways to maximize his financial investments.  While shooting The Raven (1963), Corman wanted to shoot another movie using the sets he’d already paid for to get two pictures for the price of one.  The movie that came out of this experiment was The Terror (1963) starring Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson.  Various directors such as Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Monte Hellman, Jack Hill, and Jack Nicholson shot the film back-to-back, ultimately making a disjointed narrative that even the filmmakers themselves can’t comprehend.  
    Even though Corman had great success with genre films, he wanted to do something different than the genre fare he became known for.  He read the book The Intruder by Charles Beaumont, which dealt with the issues of race segregation in the south.  Corman wished to adapt it into a film, so he pitched the project to AIP but they decided they didn’t want to make it.  He was quite astonished because they never said no to him before.  Corman chose to self-finance The Intruder (1962) with his brother Gene Corman since it was the first film that allowed him to make a personal statement about his feelings regarding social ills of the time.  Roger and Gene cared about the project so much that they mortgaged their homes to make the film.  Future Star Trek star William Shatner played the lead role, a character that comes to the south to stir up conflict between the races.  Corman shot the film in the south since the film dealt with racism and separate but equal was the law of the land there.  At first, the general population left Corman alone to shoot since the title and his reputation made them think he was shooting a horror film.  Once the townspeople found out about the political nature of the film, they began driving Corman out of locations.  Corman was able to get enough footage to complete the wild angelsthe picture and people would scream “communists” at the Corman brothers during the screening of the film.  Unfortunately, the picture became a wonderful commercial failure.  Gene said, “It’s the only film we didn’t make money on.  And it’s our best film1.”  Roger learned from the experience and studied the concepts of text and subtext from method acting.  From this point on he would make the text of his films be the commercial content his audiences paid to see, such as monsters and naked women, and within that he would hide the subtext, which would be the social message that was important to him.  
    Corman wanted to make a picture about the Hells Angels movement for his next project and AIP agreed instantly.  Corman started working on The Wild Angels (1966), a film that casted real Hells Angels as background actors and as actor Bruce Dern recalled, “The extras made the movie1.”  Actor Peter Fonda stepped in for the lead role since he knew how to ride motorcycles and the original lead didn’t.  Future director Peter Bogdanovich had a reputation as a film critic and magazine wrier, but wanted to break into the film business.  At the time there weren’t many avenues into the industry since film school was still in its infancy.  Howard McCain said of the era, “Roger was about the only game there was if you were a new person3.”  Corman gave Bogdanovich his start in the business and paid him $125/week to work as his assistant on The Wild Angels (1966).  The Wild Angels (1966) became the biggest grossing independent film ever made to that time and changed the public’s perception of Peter Fonda.
    Corman wanted to somehow make a film out of some leftover footage and two shooting days with horror legend Boris Karloff.  He asked Bogdanovich if he’d like to try his hand at the project and Bogdanovich made the film Targets (1968) out of it.  Corman was so pleased with Bogdanovich’s work on Targets (1968) that he asked if he would like to direct another picture.  AIP wanted to do a picture with sexy women and the film Bogdanovich made became Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women (1968). 

     Bogdanovich said of his directing experience with Corman, “Roger is the type of person who asks if you know how to swim then throws you in the water1.”
    There was a revolution occurring during this era in the youth culture; sex, drugs, and rock and roll symbolized the time.  Corman, with his professorial demeanor, was the 

    jack nicholsan

    straightest guy in the wild political movement, yet his views were left of center.  Howard McCain commented on his impressions of Corman’s, “He’s a very polite formal guy.  He’s very well spoken but he’s definitely a character within that3.”  Mick Garris expressed his first impression of Corman, “He's an extremely intelligent and educated and cultured gentleman.2” Corman wanted to do a film about LSD as his next project and hired his good friend Jack Nicholson to write the script.  Nicholson originally asked to be paid a little more than scale but Corman immediately refused.  Nicholson still wrote the film and used his knowledge of drug culture to write The Trip (1967).  Since Corman was the director, he felt that he couldn’t shoot a film about LSD if he hadn’t used LSD himself.  During Corman’s LSD trip, he described what he was experiencing and future screenwriter Frances Doel took extensive notes of his experience.  Even though Corman had a great trip, he wanted to show bad trips in the movie since he wanted to make a serious movie about LSD.  After Corman submitted the completed film to AIP, AIP became concerned that the project was becoming a pro-drug movie and changed the ending without Corman’s consent.  
    The biggest independent film of the era was Easy Rider (1969).  To Peter Fonda, the lead actor and co-writer of Easy Rider (1969), the whole film came from Corman who made The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967).  When Corman pitched the project to AIP with Dennis Hopper attached as director, AIP agreed to make the film on the stipulation that if Hopper fell one day behind schedule, they had the right to replace him.  This forced Hopper to take the project over to Columbia and both AIP and Corman lost their percentages on Easy Rider (1969), which became one of the most successful independent films ever made.  Nicholson had attended the screening of Easy Rider (1969) at Cannes.  When he saw how crazy the audience went when they saw him onscreen, Nicholson had the realization, “Oh shit.  I’m a movie star1.”
    AIP wanted to make a woman gangster movie next and Corman’s wife Julie found the book Box Car Bertha by Ben L. Reitman.  Boxcar Bertha (1972) became the first picture she devilJulie worked with Roger as a co-producer on and the first feature film directed by Martin Scorsese.  Corman knew Scorsese was going to be a big time director when he visited Scorsese before the shooting of the film and saw that Scorsese had sketched 500 storyboards encompassing the entire film.  After the film was finished, Samuel Z. Arkoff of AIP took over the film and released it in a way Corman didn’t agree to.  This final action caused Corman to break off from AIP and form his own company New World Pictures.  Outwitting authority had always fueled Corman, and by owning his own production and distribution company, no one could tell him how to make his movies.  Corman had a loyal audience of young people who would watch his films during the two weeks they ran at the grindhouses and then at the drive-ins.  McCain commented on Corman’s decision to form his own company: 
    He broke away from AIP and set up shop; the model followed.  He mirrored himself since he went to Stanford.  He approached things very logically because guys who made movies for teenagers trained him.  What he added to it was this, “I’m gonna hire more people like me.”  He finds kids that are really smart and really want to be in the film business knowing that even if the films are crap, at least they’ll get it done.  Being as that is, he’s never said anything disparaging about his own product.3
    The MPAA rating system came in effect by the time Corman made the film Hollywood Boulevard (1976).  The rating system allowed filmmakers to do and show things that they couldn't before.  Corman began making raunchy ’70s exploitation films like Jackson County Jail (1976) and The Woman Hunt (1973).  He hired young smart ambitious filmmakers to shoot his films and this became unofficially known as the Corman School of Filmmaking.  If you were a new filmmaker at this time and didn’t have any connections, Corman was the only place in town that would give you your shot.  It was a true exploitation experience because Corman exploits these young ambitious filmmakers with long hours and slave wages, but they’re also exploiting him because he’s their only road into the movie business.  Corman asked a young Jonathan Demme, “you can write press releases but can you write a screenplay? 1” Demme tried his hand at screenwriting and out of this came the woman’s prison film The Hot Box (1972).  As long as the new filmmakers knew what genre notes they had to hit, they could do whatever they wanted in between.  McCain recalled his first meeting with Corman: 
    I had an obligatory meeting with Roger for new directors.  Roger had a real office in front of the building.  You sit on couch and Roger comes in.  He introduces himself and has a polite, calm, erudite manner.  He reminds you the basics: get plenty of coverage, work from a shot list, and don’t let things go too slowly on set.  Every new director got this standardized speech.3
    The reward for doing a great job for Corman was matriculation into the mainstream film industry.  Hollywood was desperate for new talent in the ‘70s and turned to film school graduates and Corman alumni to take over.  Ron Howard was known as an actor but wanted to get into directing.  Corman gave Howard the opportunity to direct as long as 


    he would also act in the film to make it more marketable.  Howard agreed to Corman’s terms and made a car chase comedy called Grand Theft Auto (1977).  During the production, Howard needed to get a shot of a stadium full of extras but didn’t have enough on set.  He called Corman to ask to hire more extras and Corman said no.  Corman could tell Howard was dejected and told Howard, “you do a good job for me on my terms on this movie and you’ll never have to work for me again.1
    Corman got into making Blaxploitation films for urban audiences such as The Big Bird Cage (1972) starring Pam Grier.  Grier did her own precarious stunts and said of Corman, “He can talk you into buying sand on a desert and it’ll taste good too.1” Martin Scorsese actually brought his project Mean Streets (1973) to Corman first to produce.  Corman said he would do the picture if the characters were black instead of Italian.  Scorsese gave the idea some thought but chose to keep the characters Italian because that was his own upbringing.  Scorsese didn’t make the film with Corman but because of his experience on Boxcar Bertha (1972), he was able to shoot the film on a time limit.  
    Surprisingly, Corman’s taste in pictures is a lot different than the films he makes; Corman is a big fan of international art films.  Corman owned his own distribution company that distributed Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman films when the studios gave up on them.  Mick Garris commented on Corman’s tastes, “He's also got a taste for the outré, in addition to his more commercial endeavors.  He has a good sense of humor, but seems rather serious at times, and unflappable.2
    Things were looking good for Corman and New World Pictures in the ‘70s.  Corman made a lucrative deal with CBS to license his old films for television.  Corman had decided to get into more expensive filmmaking but the new generation of filmmakers completely caught him off guard.  Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) became the first summer blockbuster hit, a film that brought a very Corman-like premise of a killer shark eating a naked woman, into the mainstream.  Suddenly, people stopped going to drive-in movies.  The biggest blow to Corman’s business model happened with the release of Star Wars (1977).  The hit came from nowhere and a giant change occurred just like the Easy Rider (1969) change.  Star Wars (1977) was a major threat to Corman’s business model because the major studios were doing what Corman was doing for low budget, but they were doing it for multimillions.  He didn’t know how he would be able to compete in this new landscape.  The major studios hit him in his bread and butter and Corman knew he couldn’t get away with making cheap science fiction anymore. 
    By the time the ‘80s came around, Corman’s business was diminishing but the advent of home video through VHS saved his business.  The major studios didn’t realize the potential of releasing their catalogues on home video yet, so the VHS landscape was his to dominate.  Corman began cranking out movies that went straight to video, spending a lot of money making sure the videos had catchy boxes.  This strategy gave his business a second life and Corman began making even more films than he had gladiatorsbefore.  The over production, and the fact the films weren’t going to be released on the big screen anyway, caused a giant reduction in production value.  The roads to the film industry for young filmmakers had changed too since new opportunities had presented themselves with the advent of music videos and commercials.  New filmmakers no longer had to go to Corman to break in.  
    Hollywood started paying attention to commercial filmmakers and music video directors in the early ‘90s.  Things really changed with the birth of the Sundance Film Festival and strong receptions to independent films like Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989).  Independent films and their filmmakers began getting attention and making a lot of money.  Young filmmakers didn’t have to make subpar genre films through Corman; they could actually produce films they were proud of and that were lucrative like Reservoir Dogs (1992) and El Mariachi (1992).  As the VHS market matured, the major studios began putting their film libraries out on VHS.  Corman responded by making his films more marketable overseas.  Howard McCain was hired as a director at New World Pictures in 1994.  By then, everybody had already realized that the Roger Corman experience was on the downward slope and that the heyday had passed.  McCain would go on to direct two feature length films for Corman, No Dessert, Dad, Until You Mow the Lawn (1994) and The Unspeakable (1997).  
    The advent of DVDs in the late ‘90s and the general reception of them in the 2000s boosted sales for Corman.  The major studios had learned their lesson from VHS and were quick to release their catalogues on DVD.  Corman was able to thrive in the 2000s by making coproduction monster films with Syfy Channel, which would air the films.  With such a long and rocky career, the question of relevancy comes to mind and McCain commented: 
    The very fact that I go to film schools and no one knows who Corman is speaks volumes.  Roger Corman is relevant because of the people he helped who became the leaders of the film industry, never because of his films.  That has since stopped.  Only in the lingering sense that those people are still relevant in the upper echelons in the film business is he relevant.2
    It is true that most film students do not have the slightest idea who Corman is, yet they do know who his world-class alumni are.  It does seem like the people who Corman discovered are the ones who cement his legacy, yet Mick Garris shared a quite positive outlook on Corman’s relevancy: 
    Hey, he's a human being, and a human being who left a tremendous mark on the world of cinema, so he'll always be relevant.  You judge someone by their best work, and he's got a long list of best works.  And even today he is churning out Syfy movies with abandon!  In his eighties!  So yeah, Roger is and always will be relevant.3
    corman and wifeIn 2009, Corman was invited to the Academy Awards where he won an honorary award for lifetime achievement.  The many filmmakers whom he had started were giving back to him.  Quentin Tarantino presented the award to Corman and said to him, “The film lovers of the planet earth thank you.1” As Corman made his way up to accept his award, Jonathan Demme told him, “I know when you get up there you’re gonna stick it to the man.1” Corman accepted the award and expressed in his thank you speech, “To have success in this world you have to take chances.  Keep gambling and keep taking chances1.”   Everyone in the star-studded audience stood up and applauded the man, the legend, and the legacy that is Roger Corman.  
    Today Corman still produces high volumes of low budget films with his latest company New Horizon Pictures.  I actually had the honor of working on one of his brilliantly titled movies Attack of the 50ft Cheerleader (2012).  New generations of low budget filmmakers have copied Corman’s formula for their own financial rewards, yet there can only be one Roger Corman.  It’s difficult to discuss Corman’s legacy without mentioning the waves of notable names who got their start through him such as Francis Ford Coppola, Joe Dante, John Sayles, Peter Bogdonavich, Robert Deniro, Sylvester Stallone, Pam Grier, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Jack Nicholson Ron Howard, Jonathan Demme, and so many others.  
    At the age of 86, Corman still wants to stay in the game and is the shining example of how there is no retirement age as long as you love what you do.  
    1.  Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel.  Dir.  Leslie Alex Stapleton.  Blu-ray.  Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2012.  
    2.  Garris, Mick.  E-mail interview.  November 17, 2012.  
    3.  McCain, Howard.  Phone interview.  November 9, 2012.  
    Monday, 18 February 2013 11:34

    The Mulberry Tree - No Sh*t!

    Written by

    Sorry about the language but that is exactly the reaction I had recently while moderating a film at the Regency South Coast Village Theater.  Let me tell you about it because it further reinforces what I tell my students about this business - you just never know so never say no to anything!

    First, the movie:  A terrific little independent feature called "The Mulberry Tree" written by actor and first time writer Louis Crugnali.  The logline sounds like you're going to want to get a box of tissues instead of popcorn:

    A drama centered on a young man working in Rhode Island's state corrections system and his relationship with a convicted murderer who is dying of AIDS and spending his remaining days on hospital detail.

    Yikes.  Pass the soft but strong paper.  And certainly some of that is true, tissue-wise, but the film is ultimately very positive and life affirming as the central character (played by Crugnali) struggles to find his place in the blue-collar world he's in.  The terrific Joe Morton plays the dying con with amazing grace and quiet charm and the stunning Daniella Alonzo plays Crugnali's love interest with as much skill as Morton but she is just a bit easier on the eyes.

    Guys, I love 'ya but bring Daniella next time she's in a movie of yours, okay?  Seriously...

    This unassuming, small film shouted its truth so loud and strong at various film festivals it's won several "Best Of" categories.  Everyone who saw it Friday night loved it and stuck around to listen to the men who helped birth it. 

    The film was accompanied by one of the producers and one of the distributors.  I normally do these Q&A's from a creative standpoint since I am a writer and that is what most interests me; but of course, there's a business side to film and I cover that too.  With a distributor and producer on stage we got an equal measure of both the creative and business end, and what a great boon that was!  Veteran producer Russell Grey told how he found the script, how many drafts he went through with Crugnali (19 drafts,) how how long it took to produce it (8 years,) and why it is listed as being made in 2010 but is only now hitting the theaters in 2013.

    Their distributor New Hollywood Entertainment's (NuHo) Chris Kanik was refreshingly blunt and honest about his work and the way films actually get to the screen.  Shoot anything you want, he said, then what?  You need a distributor to get your work to an audience.  I loved Chris' plain talk - truly a breath of fresh air.  Of course, Russell was equally as honest but there was always a little twinkle in his eye when he said anything - an indication to me that no matter what anyone said about the business, Russell knew from hard-won experience that there were exceptions to any rule, situation, or reality.  "It depends," he said - about almost everything.  Truth.

    The experience that had me saying "No Sh*t!" was so much fun.  In introducing myself to Russell before we went on stage and he said my name sounded familiar, asked me if I was in the business.  I (humbly - ha!) mentioned that I had 19 films produced.  When we talked a bit further we discovered that he had done casting for one of my films.  We had a good fifteen minutes of reminiscing about the production which was both great and very frustrating.  And we talked about how many people and companies we had in common.  At then end of the night, we exchanged cards and worked out that we would try to get something over to SyFy channel as soon as possible.  Russell doesn't cast anymore but he's doing even better as a producer and is as busy as a Hollywood madame after the Oscars.  I don't think there's any way that he and I can't connect given my track record with SyFy and his connections on the business side of things.

    larry p

    What made me happiest was that I got one of my talented scriptwriting students introduced to Russell and they exchanged contact info.  If she makes it, I'm getting a cut!  No, not really - just a thanks will do.  Really.  No really.  Well, maybe a Starbucks gift card...

    The amazing, wonderful, effusively enthusiastic and massively talented Lorenzo Porricelli, the Regency's general manager, was responsible for this incredible evening.  Mille grazie, paison - I had a perfect evening as usual. 

    Go see Mulberry Tree while it's in the theaters!  You'll be glad you did.

    Sunday, 17 February 2013 22:54

    Trouble? A bit...

    Written by

    ocswa logo

    Happy 2013, Everyone

    Okay, so it's a little late - been busy, y'all.  And while we're at it, what happened to the website, you're asking?

    We were hacked.  Not horribly, just enough to freak me out and make me want to make sure it won't happen again.  Still working on that but we seem fairly stable now.  Now if I just get Google to forget that bit of nonsense and re-index us my life would be happier.

    And, yes, I am putting up a new site that will be cleaner, tighter and mobile aware.  That wasn't a lie - just not the total story.

    Until then, I'm shutting down site registration for a few reasons - mainly because I need to gain better control of it and that won't happen until the new framework is up. 

    You can still sign up for the newsletter and get the latest - click HERE

    There will be new content coming but I'll be keeping a bit more control over that too.  I may or may not open the front page to anonymous users - not sure yet.  But until then, until all that happens, enjoy what's here, keep on the lookout for some on-the-ground stuff (like seminars) coming up soon!

    So, stay focused and keep working for that dream!  We'll be right there with you in 2013 and beyond.

    Thanks and all our best,
    Mark, and the amazing Board of Directors for OC Screenwriters: Eric, Joe, Larry, Robert, Rudy, Toby and Victor!

    P.S. Also see these pages for more info on OC Screenwriters!





     Looking for SCREENWRITING CLASSES Click Here

    Saturday, 10 November 2012 22:54


    Written by

    smashedAaron Paul isn't a large man.  Not that he's small - what I mean is that he isn't big or overpowering physically.  However, his screen persona is definitely bigger than life.  He consumes your entire attention when he's on stage  - that's why he's an Emmy-award winner for his role in "Breaking Bad" as Jessie Pinkman.

    Paul brings that big energy to his latest movie, "Smashed,"  a tiny-budget, indie directed by journeyman director James Ponsoldt.  Ponsoldt is a force to be reckoned with; a true talent who should be quickly rewarded by Hollywood for his understated style and very capable handling of the performances of his actors. 
    But then again, everyone associated with this film is damned good.  Everyone from the supporting actors to the producers who guided this film to a Jury Prize at Sundance, and especially the lead actors like Paul and Mary Elizabeth Winstead who plays her role brilliantly in this sometimes difficult movie about the devastation of addiction.
    Basically it's a story about change.  Imagine marrying and becoming drunks together.  Shared activities can be more than just going to bake sales.  Having blackout drunk sessions together counts, right?  At least it did for this film couple played by Paul and Winstead until Winstead's character decides to get sober.
    The unraveling of this relationship is at the core of this story.  It's ably and aptly handled with scenes that tear at your heart with their quietness.  Winstead's character wakes up once or twice not sure where she is or how she got there.  She loses her car.  She loses her lunch.  She loses the threads of her life so completely that all she can do is quit drinking and try to find herself again.
    Unfortunately that journey can't involve the man she loves because he wants to stay a party hound - he, according to him, doesn't have a problem.  He can handle the drugs and alcohol even if she can't.  Thus the basis of the dramatic conflict - how do you reconcile a sea change in your wife's life?  How do you cope with a new understanding of who you are that doesn't include your husband?
    For better and for worse takes on a whole new meaning with this film.  Who is better and who is worse, it purports to ask.  How do you leave someone you love so much but whose lifestyle is slowly killing you - and him?
    Tough stuff to think about.
    Even tougher to watch.
    But even with the emotional electricity that crackles and shocks throughout this film there's a core of sweetness and plain honestly  that gives you hope for the future.  The car scene with Winstead's character and her male friend comes to mind - you'll know it when you see it.
    The film is dark but it isn't bleak  - it's more like watching a rain storm that you can't play in but won't hurt you either like perhaps a hail storm or thunderstorm would.  If that analogy's working at all then I hope you're taking my meaning: despite the subject matter, this film won't make you so depressed you hate yourself for going.  Paced well, at 87 minutes it just flies by.  You meet, fall in love with, mourn and hope for these two confused and struggling characters in an crazy-short span of time.  They feel real and fully realized and you like them both.  And hate them both.  And feel sorry for them both.
    Saturday night, at the Regency Rancho Nigel theater, we were privileged to watch the film and then have a Q&A with Aaron Paul, the director/co-writer (Susan Burke is the other writer) James Ponsoldt, and one of the producers, Jonathan Schwartz.  All were articulate and charming, navigating questions from the moderator (me) and the enthusiastic audience who all stayed to listen.
    It's amazing to me how very nice and funny Paul is in person given the severely damaged characters he always manages to play.  I asked him where that came from - his producer, Jonathan, answered for him:  "Aaron has a vulnerability that comes pouring out of him even when he's playing bad guys."  I thought that really made a lot of sense.  The characters are damaged and you dislike them but you also feel terrible for them.  Quite a balancing act for Paul and one he manages to pull off seamlessly time after time.  After "Breaking Bad" goes away he should have a continued, massively  successful career both in features and television. 
    And I expect to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a ton more features soon - she was just terrific.
    "Smashed" is playing in theaters everywhere (art houses mostly so you might have to look for it) and has several places to get more information.  Facebook seems to be the choice for most up-to-date info.  (FB LINK)
    Highly recommended.
    And kudos to Lorenzo Porricelli and Greg Lenou at the Regency chain for supporting these independent films.


    Saturday, 20 October 2012 14:07

    Paul Williams

    Written by
    paul williamsHe was a 70's phenom.  Seemingly anything he penned went Gold and Platinum.  Now he's (self-admittedly) in his 70's and happily busier than ever.  That twinkle and spark, the boundless enthusiasm he always seemed to have and would exhibit on talk shows, TV, movies and in his music is still roaring strong inside him. Grammy and  Academy Award-Winning Songwriter Paul Williams entranced a room of novelists and screenwriters for over two hours at the monthly SCWA meeting today.
    In his 20's and 30's he penned such  hits as "An Old Fashioned Love Song", as well as "The Family of Man", and "Out in the Country" for singing group Three Dog Night.  The Carpenters' "Rainy Day and Mondays," "I Won't Last a Day Without You," and "We've Only Just Begun", originally a song for a Crocker National Bank commercial solidified his star power.  
    He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and he's also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame; but even if you don't know of him, or some of his hits, you do know his music.
     "Rainbow Connection,"  sung by superstar Muppet Kermit The Frog (and recently covered beautifully by songstress Sarah McLachlan) - one of his.  "Evergreen," that haunting song from a Star is Born and for which he won an Oscar - his.  He's done musicals, soundtracks, singles, albums, voice overs and voice acting - TV appearances as an actor, written TV eps, feature films, children's shows (like for "Sesame Street" and "Yo Gabba Gabba") and so many other things it's exhausting just writing his credits let alone imagining where he found the time and energy to do it all.
    He's so amazingly funny and accessible too.  That's something you don't often see in a star of his magnitude.  This is a man who's worked with John Huston, Robert Duval, Robert Redford, to name a few film people.  He's written for superstars like (political satirist) Mort Saul, The Carpenters and Barbra Streisand.
    Years of commercial and critical success is writ large against his still-ongoing legacy and yet he was happy and willing to sit and sign posters, CDs and DVDs for any and all who wanted.  He ate lunch with us and was interrupted a dozen times but always found a smile and a nice word for the people who came up to him while he was trying to chew gracefully around his food.  He was still cheerfully signing for people who ran after him as he was leaving for another appointment in Santa Barbara.
    He told stories - lots and lots of GREAT stories about his youth, and recent ones about his experiences and travels as current president of the prestigious ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.)
    a star is bornHe also told stories of blackout drunkedness and drugged-out stupidity that cost him work and relationships.  
    Sober now for years, Williams never blinked when he related tales of his alcohol and drug use that fueled many of his most creative years and filled many of his bleakest moments.  Of all his legion of accomplishments, he sounded most proud of the fact that he had managed to crawl out of the darkness in his mind and find a way to the light and away from dependancy.  (And also perhaps that he had recently lost 40 lbs - he did look great.)
    It's a cliche that creative people are self-destructive ("I did 48 episodes of Johnny Carson, I remember six of them".)  Perhaps Williams had more reasons than most to be so.  He was given drugs when he was young that severely stunted his growth (although obviously did nothing to harm his fertile and facile mind.)  No doubt he grew up with a short man's complex festering inside him - he was 4'6" in high school.  But, as he admits, perhaps that was also the reason he succeeded beyond anyone's expectations.
    Born in Nebraska, raised by extended family, Williams' path to Hollywood and songwriting fame is an uncanny, thrilling and inspiring tale of overcoming obstacles, never taking 'no' for an answer, and somehow always answering the bell when it rang even when those clanging bells were part of a massive hangover.
    As I mentioned - he held us enthralled.  We all want to believe that given the right circumstances and an unwillingness to quit we can all accomplish what he has.  He made us believers.
    A recent documentary "Paul Williams, Still Alive" (IMDB link) (available on iTunes for rental) details a lot of his story.  He mentioned an episode when he drunkedly guest-hosted the Merv Griffin Show that he said he ordered taken out of the 2011 film because it was too painful and embarrassing to watch.  Then, he said, he changed his mind because he wants to continue to help people by example.  "Embarrassing it might be," he said, "but necessary to show how far I've come.  And if I can do it, they can too.  So I left it in to show them that."
    He used the word 'gratitude' a lot and you got a sense that he is indeed grateful for his life turning out as well as it did.  Not that he didn't work hard for his acclaim; but he seemed to know, even if he didn't express it directly, that many work hard but many also fail.  He didn't fail and his gratitude to "The Universe" was often and genuinely expressed. 
    Wikipedia has a comprehensive article on him and he's all over YouTube.  But even if there was no written material about Paul Williams, his legacy is sung by tens of thousands of voices at weddings, in cars and Karoke bars, and on radio stations and television shows minute by minute by minute.  I'm sure something of his has made its way into a space capsule or space-born radio transmitter and is beaming across the galaxy to alien ears.  I wouldn't be shocked if said aliens landed and said to us, "We're looking for the Rainbow Connection."
    His love for his world and his place in it that found its way into his beautiful and irresistible compositions echoes relentlessly in the decades he's been around, now and most definitely will for decades to come.
    Even if he never writes another note or word, that is some damned legacy.
    And he is most definitely, some damned inspirational guy. 
    Special thanks to Lorenzo Porricelli and the members of the Southern California Writers Association (SCWA) for bringing such great speakers to The O.C.  Please check their website ( for more great events.

    Wednesday, 17 October 2012 15:37


    Written by



    "Songs, etc."

    The Southern California Writers Association invites you to its monthly meeting this Saturday, at 10:00 AM, to hear Academy Award Winner, musician, writer, singer, actor, producer, and so much more, who will share his writing methods and muses with us, in addition to perhaps singing a new song. Paul has written some of the biggest hits in music, as well as acted with Brando, worked with Streisand, and constantly has something new going on.

    This month we will take a break from our usual fare of book writing and the business of writing to listen to one of America's great song writers.

    PAUL WILLIAMS (Music and Lyrics) is an Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globe winning Hall of Fame songwriter. “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “You and Me Against the World,” “An Old Fashioned Love Song” “I Won’t Last a Day Without You” and “Let Me Be The One” are among his timeless standards.

    His songs have been recorded by such diverse musical icons as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Ella Fitzgerald, David Bowie, Ray Charles, R.E.M., Tony Bennett, Sarah Vaughn, Johnny Mathis, Luther Vandross and Kermit the Frog.

    Paul is the president of ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers at

    The meeting is held at the Claim Jumper Restaurant, 18050 Brookhurst Ave., Fountain Valley, 92708.

    Please call me if you would like to attend, at 714 580 5072 for a reservation! Great food, great companions, great time!


    Friday, 05 October 2012 11:49

    On The Town

    Written by


    Screenwriters, directors, producers, actors, save your money!!!! Fire the shrinks and tell your advisors to take a hike. Your day of salvation is at hand. Shout hallelujah!

    If you really want to know what works in our profession of the gods, then bow down, raise your arms, and worship Warner Brothers Home Entertainment Group. For in early January, they will be celebrating Warner’s 90th birthday anniversary with a celebration that will last for the entire year, and will feature the largest collection of film ever assembled for you to obtain in 100-film DVD and 50-film Blu-ray collections.

    On the studio lot yesterday, Warner chairman Barry C Meyer unveiled the new Warner shield logo which will celebrate the year, as well as “Best of Warner Bros.: 100 Film DVD Collection,” and “Best of Warner Bros.: 50 Film Blu-ray Collection.” And there are no fillers, these films range in age from 1929 to 2010, and bring to you a virtual history of motion picture success right at your fingertips. 

    Along to support Meyers were directors Richard Donner and William Freidkin, and actress Jane Withers. Donner, of course, directed the “Superman” franchise as well as “The Goonies,” Freidkin was responsible for “The Exorcist,” and Withers has been working since 1932, including work with James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor, and rock Hudson on “Giant,” in 1956, which was Dean’s last film. All shared that Warner was a real studio, and were so supportive of their work as artists. 

    Warner Bros. has the largest film library in the world – 6,800 features and includes 22 Academy Award-winning Best Pictures, which are the most in Oscar history. Warner Bros. also features the film world’s leading franchises – “Harry Potter,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Batman,” “Superman,” and “The Matrix.”

    How did they ever accomplish this amazing achievement? According to Meyer, it is Warner’s long-lasting relationships with talent that have brought it success. 

    In a fascinating documentary presented yesterday by Jeff Baker, EVP of Warner’s Home Video and GM of Theatrical Catalog, “Tales from the Warner Bros. Lot,” the story is just that – stories from talent and personalities on the Warner’s lot about Warner Bros. and what that means to them to be working on the lot. 

    Baker’s film contained so many funny and touching stories, and Clint Eastwood’s was so powerful, as he shared he pretty much has had a handshake deal forever with Warner Bros, has always got a green light, and still views his work in the same screening room, #4. This documentary will change how history is shot – it is not a lot of clips from movies, but words from personalities, all filmed on the lot, as the lot was the star, just as Baker wanted it to be.

    The lot is the oldest in Hollywood, and has kept its buildings and water tower from another age, and has protected them and uses them. When you walk on the lot, you feel the history, with building facades you may recognize from a favorite film, you can relax under trees that probably shaded everyone from Garbo to Nicholson to DiCaprio, and co-mingle with talent sipping coffeein a grassy glade, or in the lot’s coffee shop, Central Perk, which of course comes from the Warner hit tv show, “Friends.”. 

    But that’s not all. Warner is also spending a fortune restoring so many films, and one that will get special treatment is “The Wizard of Oz.” A favorite of many generations, it will even get special 3D treatment and be released as a disc and also a kick-off in movie theatres, which will surely soar to the top of the box office charts. When the film was re-released in 1998, it led the box office for several weeks, demonstrating that good stories always work.

    Additionally, as if that wasn’t enough, Baker screened some scenes from a similar film on Clint Eastwood and his career at Warner, and it was an inside look at one of the most prolific and successful men ever to work in Hollywood. Stars shared their experiences, including how Clint inspired them when he worked with or directed them, and also a great tale was Marcia Gay Harden, Meryl Streep, and Gene Hackman revealing what got Clint mad on the set. (Sorry, no spoilers here.)

    And if this sounds to you as if I am shilling for Warner, that’s fine, but don’t blame me when you are out of work, when your career is in the toilet, when you can’t figure out where to go with that story, when one of your characters is killing you, when you are stuck in a 7-11 or in your kitchen eating anything to stop the anxiety, as the remedy for all that and more is right here, at the movies, and Warner is bringing it to your doorstep

    This January, run, jump, and if you have to, fight for the prize, this is something that will change your life and cure what ails you! The gods have been good to us mortals in this treasure. Enjoy, and get to work!! 

    Monday, 01 October 2012 09:33

    3rd Anniversary with Producers Peterson and Rukeyser

    Written by

    1st event, circa 2009In May 2009 The Orange County Screenwriters Association held its first-ever event (pictured left.) 

    The magnificent Regency South Coast Village Theater was the place where we "opened for business."  The Regency has always been the venue we use for these "big" events.   It is a jewel in the crown of the incredible Regency theater chain and we are eternally grateful to have them as our supporter.

    My longtime friend, producer (with slashes too numerous to list) Clark Peterson, was our first guest.  He  instantly accepted the invitation because of his incredible generosity and was a massive hit with the assembled as he took us through the ins and outs of Hollywood and the feature-film world.

    at the regency theaterAt that time, Clark was accompanied by (TV show runner) Stacy Rukeyser.  They were dating and becoming more serious about their commitment to each other.  When they came down this time, they were married and had their son with them who had just turned 1-yr-old.  A great love story made real.  

    This time around we had Stacy share the dais with Clark since she is quite an accomplished TV writer/producer/show runner (another mega-slash) in her own right.  Between the two of them they cover nearly the gamut of production in Hollywood.

    They talked about their path to their current status as producers.

    Clark's went toward the business side, as an executive.  As creative as anyone I've met, Clark felt that his journey to the ranks of a professional filmmaker would be better served by understanding the business aspects of filmmaking.  In several companies, this allowed him to be present in hundreds of story meetings and business strategy sessions and to amass an amazing Rolodex as he met and worked with directors, producers, writers, on many dozens of productions.  

    Stacy came up as an actress and then a writer.  Her agent at the time suggested a way to get better roles would be to write them for herself.  She was hooked and excelled.  One job led to another and she eventually became so well-thought of that companies began giving her producer work too.  It takes knowledge, creativity, inner strength and common sense and patience to run a TV series - Ms Rukeyser has these in spades.

    These individual paths have crossed and diverged as the years went by.  Both are involved now in all facets of production and filmmaking; Clark has written scripts and become an incredible independent producer; Stacy is an Exec Producer on several TV series.

    I book a lot of guests and every one of them is fantastic.  Clark and Stacy are however incomparable both because of the depth of the understanding of the business but also because they are still massively active in dozens of productions.

    Clark has just wrapped "Devil's Knot," the true story of the West Memphis Three.  He is also co-producing "The Prophet" with Salma Hayek based on the world-famous book of Kahil Gibran.  He's optioned "Blood's A Rover" from author James Elroy and will be producing that film in 2013.

    Stacy's latest TV series for ABC Family Network "The Lying Game," based on a series of YA books is wrapping its 1st season, and she's got pilots out (as Exec Producer) for two more series and a script out for a feature film.  Her Exec Producer credits are beginning to overwhelm her writing credits and that's a good thing for the bottom line of her career since the more she produces, the more she'll be able to produce.

    To cover the entire Q&A would be impossible.  We hope to have film at some point to show. Suffice to say that they held us rapt for almost two hours giving us the benefit of their hard fought knowledge and wisdom.

    I love these two both personally and professionally.  They are hard-working, uncompromising filmmakers when it comes to their professional lives and two of the most generous and gracious people I've met in twenty years in this business.

    I can only wish them continued success in all endeavors and hope that they will once again join us at a future event soon.

    Clark Peterson's Credits IMDB

    Stacy Rukeyser's Credits IMDB

    stacy, clark and benMy buddy, the former chair of the comparative religion department at CalState Fullerton, Dr. Ben Hubbard, was also there to give the closing invocation as he was at our first event.  Thank you, Ben - we love having you come to these events.  You really class up the joint and bring a reminder that we have a higher responsibility as writers than just to make money.

    On a personal note, I was given an honor by OC Screenwriters for running this org for the last three (plus) years.  All I can say is a humble thank you, and that there is no way I could have done it without everyone's help and love.


    Thanks to my amazing and always-pitching, Board of Directors:

    Joe Becker
    Rudy Garcia
    Eric Hensman
    Victor Phan
    Lorenze Porricelli
    Robert Rollins
    Toby Wallwork

    And thanks to all who've supported the OC Screenwriters.

    It's been a great three years and looking forward to many more!

    Be Inspired, Do Good Work!

    Monday, 10 September 2012 13:02

    September 29th Event - Mega Producer Clark Peterson

    Written by

    A personal message from Mark Sevi, president of OC Screenwriters:

    mark seviHi, all.  Thanks for taking the time to read this.  

    I've been a professional screenwriter for 20 years.  Had 19+ movies produced, more to come.  

    Clark Peterson (IMDB page), my friend, has been responsible for three of them and I hope at some point ten or twelve more.

    Clark ("Monster" "Dear Mr. Gacy" "Dim Sum Funeral" "Rampart") is a remarkable producer/writer/exec.  He's smart, in touch with today's markets, and a hard-working, no-excuses dude.  The movies on which we've worked were fantastic and that continues with everything that Clark does.  

    His recent  film,
    reese witherspoon"Devil's Knot" (original script by me) stars Academy Award-winning actors Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth.  It's one of the most compelling films in recent memory and based in horrifying true events.

    A few years back, Clark fell in love with his soul mate, a talented (and gorgeous) writer/producer/show runner named Stacy Rukeyser ("The Lying Game" "One Tree Hill" "Greek" "Crash")  This not only made his heart happy but the two of them then became one of the more formidable Hollywood  producing teams out there.  

    Clark and Stacy are both in direct touch with today's markets in features and television.  Because they're also both writers, they know 1st hand what it takes to be creative in a business that both rewards and ignores creativity.

    FINDING A BALANCE between those two is essential - they can tell you how.  Clark and Stacy know this business from all angles, intimately, and they will inform and inspire you and your work...


    There are no more informed and industry-aware guests in this business.  If you really care about carving out a career in film, come listen to and ask questions of two of the most dynamic (and nicest) film/television producers (and people) that I have had the pleasure to meet in over 20 years of my professional life.

    Come, learn, listen and network.  See you there!  Details after the jump.

    OC Screenwriters


    Saturday, September 29th 10:00am-12:00pm

    Mega Hollywood Producer Clark Peterson

    clark peterson

    (Monster, Rampart, Dim Sum Funeral, Devil's Knot)

    With his wife and partner - 

    Writer/Producer/Show Runner Stacy Rukeyser

    (The Lying Game, One Tree Hill, Greek, Crash)

    stacy rukeyser

    This amazing "It Couple" husband and wife team cover the gamut of what's moving and shaking in features and television in Hollywood today.

    Between them they are responsible for over 28 features and over 80 television episodes with more coming in late 2012 and 2013.

    Clark was The Orange County Screenwriters Association 1st guest in 2009 when he was producing "Dear Mr. Gacy" and he continues the tradition of great feature films with the stunning "Devil's Knot" the true story of the West Memphis Three which has garnered national attention and stars Academy Award-winning actors Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth.regency theaters

     Join us at the fabulous Regency South Coast Village Theater for a morning of conversation and Q&A and gain real insight from these two fantastic film gurus into how to pitch and sell your script from people who really understand the business.

    What: The 3rd Anniversary of The Orange County Screenwriters Association
    Where: Regency South Coast Village Theater
    When: Saturday, September 29, 2012, 10:00am-12:00pm
    Cost: $2.00 at the door to help cover costs.

    We welcome any & all to this fantastic event. Questions? This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

    MAP to theater - HERE

    Congratulations to the Regency South Coast Village for again winning Independent Theater of the Year!

    Regency South Coast Village
    1561 W. Sunflower Ave.
    Santa Ana, CA

    Win a copy of the industry-standard screenwriting software Final Draft !

    Two to be given away!

    Win a Cinebag!



    movie tix

    Movie Tix! Gear! Posters! And other great swag will be given away!!!



    Thursday, 30 August 2012 22:44

    Rockwell Sheraton

    Written by

    "Rocky!  Rocky!  Rocky!"  Yes, I swear I wanted to stand up and cheer tonight like they did in "Rocky" the movie.

    Why?  Because our guest at The Writer's Room was that inspiring.

    I sat and was delighted tonight by a man who I should know but hadn't met.  We had traveled in a lot of the same film/production circles in the last 20 years and to say that I regretted not meeting him ten years ago is an understatement.

    Rockwell Sheraton is that rare combination of supremely accomplished producer and nice guy.  He was funny, succinct, vast, comprehensive, personable and just...nice.  He made us laugh at his stories of the movie business but he was also just as happy to listen to others talk about their travails and laugh along with them.

    OCSWA board member Joe Becker mentioned Rocky a few months back and I thought he sounded great for this smaller venue event.  What I didn't realize is the Rocky knows or has worked with just about everyone in Hollywood.  He told us trade secrets, regaled us with stories of his career (both music and film,) and provided hugely important information on how to make it in this business.

    Even I, who has had 20+ years of experience as a writer, was amazed at the things he told us\ that I didn't know.

    No, I'm not going to say what any of that that was - next time come to the event and find out.  But here's a tip - we've asked him to come to our Halloween event to sit on the horror panel so don't miss him if you did the first time around.

    Thanks to my board of directors who helped and those who couldn't come tonight for helping with the arrangements.

    And most of all, thanks to Rocky for being a great filmmaker and an even finer human being.

    Rockey's prodco: Cinedicate

    Check him out!

    Tuesday, 28 August 2012 14:27


    Written by


    AUGUST 27 - 30, ONE PER NIGHT AT 7:30 PM
    Regency South Coast Village Theatre will honor the late director, Tony Scott, with a four film tribute of his work, including films, "Man on Fire," "Crimson Tide," "Days of Thunder," and "Top Gun," and each will screen at 7:30 PM on their specific day scheduled. The "Tribute to Tony Scott" will begin on Monday, August 27, and continue nightly through Thursday, August 30, at 7:30 PM daily. Each film features Scott's unique blend of action and drama in his style that was loved by moviegoers, and Regency is honored to bring this to film lovers in appreciation of his work. Monday, August 27, 7:30 PM - "Man on Fire", has Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken, Dakota Fanning, and Mickey Rourke, in the stunning drama of a former assassin who takes revenge on a group who attack a family he is guarding.

    Tuesday, August 28, 7:30 PM - "Crimson Tide", stars Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman in the tense thriller of a submarine captain with an itchy finger on his nuclear weapons.

    Wednesday, August 29, 7:30 PM - "Days of Thunder" features Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Robert Duval is the exciting story of a hot-shot car racer who gets to race at the top levels.

    Thursday, August 30, 7:30 PM - "Top Gun", starring Tom Cruise, Val Kilmer, Kelly McGillis, and Meg Ryan, tells of macho fighter jet pilots competing for best in the class and for the teacher’s affections, it takes us up where we belong!  Plus, Tony Scott always wore a red hat, and this night the first 125 attendees will receive one in his honor.

    Information and tickets can be found at, or at, and tickets are only $7 per show. Regency South Coast Village is located at 1561 W. Sunflower Ave, Santa Ana, CA, 92704, and can be reached by phone at (714) 557-5701 (recording), or (714) 557-5703 (live). Regency South Coast Village is a longtime home of Classic Film, and every Wednesday night at 7:30 is Classic Film Night at the theatre.

    Copyright (c) Orange County Screenwriters Association
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