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CREATING WINNING DOCUMENTARY FILMS
By Joseph & Sandra Consentino & Elizabeth English
First, select an interesting subject for your documentary film! A subject that is of interest to a wide-ranging audience, and will be the kind of project many different types of film festivals will select for screening. A unique story, well-told is what gets selected and wins.
Write or have a screenwriter write a script for your film! Yes, documentary films need a script, a blueprint, a plan, an outline to follow during all phases of the production, from location scouting, interviews (if any), the shoot, the edit and adding the music background.
Avoid “talking heads”! Film is a visual medium, and must always be cinematic. Use voice-overs, instead. Dialog or interviews work best with perhaps a 10 to 30-second shot of the speaker, then segue to a visual to show what the speaker or narrator is saying or describing. As they say in Hollywood, “Show; don’t tell”.
Here’s an example of a winning short documentary film screened at the first Moondance in 2000: the “Beyond Words” short doc, directed by Linda Phelan McCoy and Andre Alosine, is a cinematic and visual expression, without words, of the truth, sorrow, hope, emotions and thoughts of breast cancer patients. As I remember it, from 13 years ago: it shows a dozen women & kids arriving at a barn on a lovely Rhode Island farm. They go in, take off their shirts & bras (if wearing one), and help each other put wet white plaster over the front tops of their bodies.
No introductions, no explanations, no captions, no dialog or talking heads, other than vague soft chattering in the background. Some women have already had a mastectomy, one needs second one, all will be having one. Some women who will lose a breast cut a hole in the cast where it will be removed. They let the plaster dry, then peel it off, everyone helping each other, kids included. By now, the film audience is starting to understand. Next, they all paint or draw something on the dry body casts. They paint rainbows, birds, red hearts, write poems, & etc. on the casts, then…this is the kicker, everyone carries the painted body casts outside and hangs them on the clothesline to dry, and stand back, smiling.
The camera now sees only the red barn, blue sky, green grass, the music rises, and we see these beautiful, sad, hopeful body casts waving in the breeze. Beyond words. Touching, heartfelt, passionate and real. The film evokes much emotion. See why it won?! The director got a standing ovation for 5 minutes, and half the audience had tears streaming down their faces. People started giving her money to continue her work with this marvelous program in RI.
Finding Your Subject:
Telling a Story:
Sound & music:
Some other good examples of winning documentaries:
William Erwin, artist, www.william-erwin-artist.com
PEACEABLE KINGDOM: THE JOURNEY HOME: feature documentary, Directed by: Jenny Stein (US). Combining the gripping testimony of farmers breaking a long-held code of silence, and with rare footage demonstrating the rich emotional lives of farm animals, this new documentary from the award-winning filmmakers of THE WITNESS invites viewers on an epic journey of awakening conscience. The farmers’ touching personal experiences with individual animals challenge what they’ve been taught since childhood, forcing them to acknowledge that these beings have greater mental and emotional depth than they were ever led to believe. A Moondance 2009 premiere & festival winner!
FAMILY VALUES: THE MOB AND THE MOVIES, feature documentary, directed by Joseph Consentino & Sandra Consentino (US). This film asks the question: who influenced who? Did the mob influence the movies, or did the movies influence the mob? They break arms, shoot off kneecaps. They leave the gun and take the cannoli. Sometimes they whack people. Stars from “The Sopranos” and other Mafia TV shows and films describe the broader issues of Italian-American identity and Hollywood’s fascination with the Mafia way of life.
BLUE VELVET IN THE SINAI, feature documentary, 52 minutes, directed by Gulrukh Kahn (UK).This lovely film is set in the exotic Sinai desert, Egypt. It focuses on the remarkable relationship between a wild female dolphin in the Red Sea, named Olin, and a hearing- and speech-impaired Bedouin fisherman. Olin gives birth to a male calf, who develops a remarkable bond with a Bedouin child, and the family of dolphins bring healing and prosperity to the village. Each part of this story relates to larger issues such as captivity, oceanic pollution and over-fishing. Ric O’Barry (Oscar-winner for THE COVE) relates stories and evidence relating to captivity and solutions for it, as well as dolphin healing with sonar and giving birth amongst dolphins.
ONE DEGREE MATTERS, feature documentary, directed by Eskil Hardt (Denmark). Now, even one degree matters! Travel to the Arctic to witness climate change at first hand, in this visually stunning travelog. An insider’s view on immediate and realistic solutions for tackling climate change. “It could be called An Inconvenient Truth, Part 2” – The New York Times film review
MISSION OF MERMAIDS, short documentary, directed by Susan Cohn Rockefeller, 15 minutes, (USA). Mission of Mermaids is about the current state of the ocean. Ms. Rockefeller takes a radically personal approach in the film, based on her deep love and concern for the seas. She invokes a mythical and spiritual connection, using the metaphor of the mermaid, as well as describing dire facts: ocean acidification, over-fishing, and pollution. This personal approach offers a powerful way to open a dialogue about changing the human relationship to the sea, knitting our past reverence for the natural world with our understanding of the urgent need to change course.
UNDER OUR SKIN, feature documentary film,directed by: Andy Abrahams Wilson (USA). It’s bigger than AIDS, West Nile Virus, and Avian Flu, combined, yet most physicians don’t recognize it or are afraid to report it. Insurance companies pay experts to say it’s all in your head. And the mainstream medical establishment won’t want you to see this film. Each year tens of thousands go undiagnosed or mis-diagnosed with such conditions as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and even autism, MS and Alzheimer’s. The shocking story of Lyme disease, what may be the fastest-growing infectious disease in the nation, and a hidden epidemic destroying untold numbers of lives.
- The Documentary Film Makers Handbook: A Guerilla Guide, by Genevieve Joliffe & Andrew Zinnes (www.amazon.com)
- Documentary Storytelling: Making Stronger and More Dramatic Nonfiction Films, by Sheila Curran Bernard (www.amazon.com)
- Filmmaking for Change: Make Films That Transform The World, by Jon Fitzgerald (www.mwp.com)
- When The Shooting Stops, the Cutting Begins: A Film Editor’s Story, by Ralph Rosenblum & Robert Karen (www.amazon.com)
ELIZABETH ENGLISH, founder, executive director & artistic director: Moondance International Film Festival, award-winning filmmaker, screenwriter, playwright, editor, producer
by Elizabeth English
OK, what is a screenplay? A screenplay is an instrument or blueprint by which words are transformed, by a collaborative effort, into images and sound in film.
What is the most important part of a screenplay? According to William Goldman, it’s the first fifteen minutes, and/or the first fifteen pages. Screenplays should snap, crackle, and pop on page one! Start with the story in motion, and that scene should foreshadow the story and the ending. And the 2ND most important part of a movie is the last fifteen minutes, as noted by the late actor, Paul Newman.
First, write a high-concept logline, telling the story concept in no more than two sentences or 25 words. Next, write a one-page synopsis, which is a SELLING tool, not only a TELLING tool.
You may also want to write a treatment, three to ten pages, double-spaced, present tense, telling each and every scene, little or no dialog. Whose story is it? What happens? Some studios also want a step outline, which describes each and every scene, one line each scene.
You may also want to write up a character list, with lead roles, supporting roles, speaking/action parts listed. Maybe even a list of Dream Team actors & director.
SCREENPLAY STORY COMPONENTS:
- Most important element? Structure! Act I, II, III. Beginning, middle, end.
- Protagonist, bigger than life, someone with whom the audience can identify.
- Conflict (vital, early on), well-defined.
- Protagonist changes by end of Act I.
- Antagonist(s) should be equal to or greater than protagonist.
- Focus of story, start story just before most interesting part.
SCREENPLAY STORY STRUCTURE:
ACT I: who is protagonist and what is his/her story? Set up dilemma for protagonist. Introduce characters.
End of Act I, most conflict, protagonist is ready to change to new direction.
ACT II: This is where the real story begins, and is the longest part of your screenplay. “A story is built around an active protagonist who struggles against primarily external forces of antagonism to pursue his or her desire, through continuous time, within a consistent and causally connected fictional reality.” (From Robert McKee’s “Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting”)
Screenwriters sometimes have a lot of trouble with Act II. It can seem monotonous, episodic, or aimless. This may be because they’ve conceived of it as a series of obstacles to the hero’s final goal, rather than as a dynamic series of events leading up to and trailing away from the central moment of death and rebirth. (Chris Vogler, “The Writer’s Journey”)
End of Act II. Crisis at high point, realization has set in for protagonist, confrontation with antagonist coming up, moment of truth about to occur, movie moment happens.
ACT III, no more than fifteen minutes long, resolving all conflicts, yada, yada, yada. What’s the hardest part of the script to write?
The ending. The climax usually happens about one to five pages from the end of the script, followed by a short resolution that ties up all loose ends. The big finish, the problem is resolved, the question is answered, the tension lets up, and we know everything will be all right!
Using a standard Hollywood-required screenplay format (such as Final Draft) will help get the screenplay read. 12-point Courier font is a necessity. Two solid brass brads, only in the top bottom holes, in white, three-hole-punch paper. 90-120 or 130 pages.
Title is important, although not always. I mean they made a film titled “Claire’s Knee”, didn’t they?
Other things screenwriters need to know:
THE FIVE PHASES OF FILM PRODUCTION:
1: Development, from script to financing, to production package & greenlight, can take up to three years for a studio film Maybe even five to seven years. OK, let’s talk about “development hell”, OK? Three words: money, money, money…and packaging. Don’t forget packaging: getting a screenplay, attaching stars, a director, producer, editor, distributor.
What kinds of movies will the typical big-studio exec greenlight? Formula movies, targeting their main audience: 14-to-28-year-old males. “Popcorn movies”. Hot package deals, with major stars, and/or an A-list director/producer.
Where big-studio execs and producers get their material:
- Adaptations of best sellers
- re-working of old films
- copy-cat films,
- TV spin-offs,
- comic books
- foreign re-makes.
Why? Zeitgeist (popular trending subjects). Audience recognition.
What? No original work? Not usually. Why? To minimize their financial risk!
2: Pre-production, which is the most critical part of making a film. Pre-production takes up to four months, and involves location scouting, story boards, production boards, script re-writes, production schedules, getting permits, setting the budget, finding the right director, producer, editor, production designer, art director, cinematographer, director of photography, costume designer and screenwriter all sitting down together and making sure they all have the same vision for the film. Rewrites and more rewrites. Getting a film crew together, contracting distribution, insurance bonds, completion bonds, hiring a caterer. Renting sound stages and equipment. Casting the parts. Rehearsals. Everything but shooting the film and editing it.
3. Shooting phase, takes ten to twelve weeks, if you’re lucky. This is just one of the creative phases in making a movie.
4. Post-Production can take up to six months. OK, what happens in post? Post is where many, many people try to fix the holes in your script, and try to make a film out of the director’s coverage (filmed footage). Post-production phase: Editing, sound, Foley, dubbing, special effects, background ambiance, music, lab work, color, title, trailers, ads…etc. The most pressured, most expensive and most complex part of film-making.
What can go wrong in post? Everything. Not enough coverage, too much coverage, not enough usable coverage, artistic differences, money problems, bad performances from actors…you name it.
5. Distribution. You must find a distributor for the film, or nobody but you and your friends and family will ever see it, and you’ll be broke.
PITCHING YOUR SCREENPLAY:
And now, for the moment of truth. Pitching! You’ve gotta pitch this baby to the Big Suits! You’ve gotta grab ‘em by the throat and tell the story, tell them why they should produce this film, convince them to love it, hope they’ll pay attention, convince them your story will make them rich & famous, and give you money, but you’ve got to be willing to change everything, re-write, no matter how much it hurts! Learn to say this phrase: “What kind of ending did you want, sir or ma’am?”
And while you’re sweating out the pitch session, what are they thinking about? Let me spell it out for you: B. U. D. G. E. T….the film’s production budget. A screenwriter needs to be aware of, and sensitive to, film production costs. You sit at your little computer and calmly write: “EXT. VIET NAM – 1967 – OLD BUS – NIGHT”. Action: “The old bus rattles and bumps along the dirt road, and is full of families and children and pigs and chickens. Military jets fly overhead and bomb the road. Explosions are everywhere. The bus driver swerves into a ditch trying to avoid bomb craters in the road.”
Do you have any idea how much that little one-minute scene costs? Salaries and perks for your stars, director & producer. Vehicles, airplanes, stunt men & women, location scouts, permits, transportation for talent, cast & crew to Viet Nam (or Florida, even), cinematographer, extra hazard insurance, pig & chicken trainers & wranglers, special effects, explosives experts, sound effects, Steadicam operator, SAG requirements, greensman/woman, costume designers and wardrobe assistants, makeup, hair stylists, script supervisor, drivers, continuity overseer, stills photographer, special permissions, translators, crowd control, tow-truck drivers, craft services, ambulance & EMTs, parking permits, shooting permits, electricity, weather reports, fire department, what else? Honey wagons (portable toilets)! Last-minute rewrites of the screenplay.
And we haven’t even started shooting yet! We still have casting, production office and staff, lighting set up, actors and extras salaries and perks, housing trailers for stars, camera set up, rehearsals to pay for and accomplish…all that stuff. Next time, after watching a film, stay and read all the below-the-line credits to get a better idea of all the folks involved, and who all need to be paid. And your little one-minute scene, shot out of sequence, of course, takes at least three days to shoot, needs several re-takes, costs many, many dollars, and that doesn’t even include post!
MAKING A HOLLYWOOD MOVIE:
See all those people out there? All that equipment? Each and every one of them cost money. You wrote a screenplay, didn’t you? It got the greenlight. We’re making a movie here. OK? Quiet on the set! Rolling!
Director, assistant directors or ADs, Cinematographer and/or DP, focus-pullers, gaffers, best boy, key grips, script supervisor, body doubles, sound and light techs, still photographer, videographers, body-doubles, actors’ assistants, and actors!
Production assistants or PAs, studio execs, animal wranglers, props, art director, production designer, extras, location manager, assistant to the director, producer’s assistants, Foley, prop master, special effects, stunt coordinator, tech advisors, book-keeper/accountant, fire marshal, production designer, art director, story board artists, line producer, editor, catering, (and maybe even the screenwriter, if you’re lucky!). How many people are we talking about? 100+ below-the-line, maybe 25-50 above the line. Budget for this pic? Anywhere up to a hundred million dollars, give or take a million or so.
Now, the DIRECTOR’S GOALS here are two things: to get the best, most believable performances from the actors, and to get the best visual images on film.
The PRODUCER’S GOALS, however, are to solve problems, give the director everything he or she wants, to spend the available time and money properly, and report to the investors. Of which, 70% goes to above-the-line costs, and only 30% go to below-the-line expenses.
But what do the studio execs want to see? They want to see their money up on that screen! A movie is the most expensive entertainment production ever devised (other than the US presidential campaigns)!
Directors strive for a certain “harmonics”, a balance between the story components in your screenplay and proper production values. They want the story to be authentic: believable even. And entertaining!
All those elements that make the world of the film believable to the audience: set design, lighting, sound, special FX, continuity, locations, props, extras, stunts, costumes, hair and makeup, music, editing…
What about the acting, the movie stars? What makes a star? The power and ability to sell a film to an audience. A star is someone who “opens”, and is a hedge against disaster. It’s whomever a studio exec thinks is a star. A superstar is someone they’ll all kill for. It’s also wonderful if they can act.
But what about the story?, you ask. What does the audience want for their money? What do they expect? They want their dreams and fantasies to come true. They need to relate to the story and the actors. They want to leave happy and satisfied when the house lights come up. It’s a lot like sex…
Film editing 101: In simplest terms, editing, or cutting, is about juxtaposition of elements in filmed coverage. The key part of a film editor’s job is to make his or her own contribution as imperceptible as possible. The film should be seamless. How long does it take to edit a film? Two to three times longer than the shooting phase! Editors select, tighten, pace, embellish, arrange and translate the director’s vision into a movie; taking a mess of chaotic bits and pieces that seem to defy continuity, sometimes 20 to 40 hours of raw footage, adding in the film score, and turning it into a cohesive story, letting the director’s filmed material guide the editor. Film editing should not call attention to itself nor strive to impress.
The power of music in film. We need 30 to 40 minutes of music, one of the most important elements in a film, which can be artfully used to arouse, to manipulate, to frighten, or to soothe & calm, to aid in transitions, to punctuate, to comment, to move plot along, to focus, to add sense of continuity, to add information, to define a character, to heighten tempo, add dramatic tension, to change mood, to add character, as well as to add dimension and give the film or scene a new or different meaning.
OK, we’ve just spent many dollars to make a movie! What do we do now? We spend even more money! We’ll now spend double or triple the cost of producing the movie to distribute this sucker, folks! For advertising and promotions on TV, in newspapers, magazines, internet, social media & radio advertising, for promos and publicity, for press kits, trailers and spots, for operating costs, plus 25% of the total spent for taxes, legal and insurance…and these are fixed costs, no matter what your production budget is.
“Wait! I’m just writing a low-to-mid-budget independent film!” you say. Well, in that case, you’re going to have to spend even more money! On what? On film festivals. Cannes, Sundance, Venice, Toronto, AFM, the American Film market in Santa Monica, SXSW, Moondance, and etc.
So what happens at film festivals? You join crowds of people and mill around, giving each other air-kisses, shaking hands, sipping champagne, reading the Daily Variety, exchanging business cards, and talking on your cell-phone. There are famous movie stars, directors, producers, agents and distributors. All are being photographed and videotaped, while they smile and schmooze and give interviews to the various media.
And you try to sell your films or screenplays to distributors, buyers, producers, investors, acquisition execs, casting agents, literary agents, movie stars, and directors; you promote and pitch your stuff to people like the Big 5 studios, foreign buyers, indie film producers; you try to find a better agent; you try to get an agent; you meet foreign & US filmmakers, you get publicity; you make important contacts; you get options &/or financing with the real players, and make deals at film festivals…that’s all. And that’ll cost you! Plan those costs into your budget.
Say, do you happen to know anyone in L.A.? I mean even remotely connected to Hollywood film biz? A friend from high school who is the gardener for the shrink of the waiter who serves lunch to the assistant of the guy who sweeps the floors at the office of the personal trainer for George Clooney’s hairdresser’s boyfriend? Contacts are all.
And get yourself a good agent, manager, and/or an entertainment attorney, while you’re at it, and that ain’t cheap! Agents typically get 10-15% of whatever you make. Managers get 15%, and entertainment attorneys get 5-10%.
There are people out there who know people, and they can make those connections you need, to find production funding, get name actors and directors to sign an LOI (Letter of Intent or Interest), advise you about rewrites needed, and put a desirable package together to sell to the money. But they will cost you, too, as much as $25-50K.
But there’s still hope! “The Last Emperor”, “Derzu Uzala”, “Babette’s Feast”, “The Color Purple”, “The Virgin Spring”, “Midnight Cowboy”, “Ryan’s Daughter”, “The Remains of the Day”, “Chocolat”, “East of Eden”, “The Piano”, “Shakespeare in Love”, “Sophie’s Choice”, …really wonderful films that got made. But then why are all those other so-called bad movies made? Why does the audience out there pay money to see them? Or any movie? What about art?
The spirit of the times. The latest thing. “Rebel Without a Cause”, “The Godfather”, “Caddyshack”, “Lion King”, “Rugrats”, “Casablanca”, “Scream II”, “Star Wars”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Dances With Wolves”, “Antz”, “Forrest Gump”, “The Black Knight”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”! Most screenwriters and filmmakers are just trying to keep one step ahead of whatever it is they think the audience is going to pay money to see. Nobody knows what the audience wants; even the audience hasn’t got a clue to what movies they themselves are going to like this weekend. It’s virtually impossible to predict what they’ll like or dislike. But they know when they like it, and then that film grows “legs” (word-of-mouth)! And then a lot of people get rich and famous, and get more work, including you, the originator of the story: the talented screenwriter.
Now. Here’s the Big Question: What makes a film successful? Uh….I dunno. “Then who does?” you ask?
William Goldman replies, (in an echoing, God-like voice) the three words that ultimately define Hollywood and the film business: “Nobody…knows…anything!”
“Creativity cannot be comfortably quantified in intellectual terms. By its very nature, creativity eschews such containment. You see, in Hollywood, where it’s everyone’s job to de-construct creative work, the act of creation, and the work itself, is often met with derision and is usually not appreciated. The great independent director, John Cassavetes, once told a young director, “In order to catch the ball, you have to really want to catch the ball!” This means stop complaining about the lousy curves you get thrown and stretch; reach for what you really want!” (from Julia Cameron, “The Artist’s Way”)
Elizabeth English lives in beautiful Boulder, Colorado, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She is the founder & executive director of the Moondance International Film Festival and competition. She is also executive producer and development executive for Mermaid7seas Productions. Elizabeth has written sections of four published books on creative careers, for McGraw Hill and has written screenwriting articles for MovieBytes.com, EuroScreenwriter.com, and was a ScreenTalk Magazine staff writer on women in the film industry, and the Moondance E-zine. She was invited to present a forum on the impact of women in film at the World Peace Conference in Barcelona, Spain in 2004.
Elizabeth’s short screenplay, APRIL FOOL’S DAY, was a finalist at the 2001 AFI Women Director’s Workshops. Her short screenplay, WILDERNESS WITHIN, was produced and has won many US and international film festival awards for the film, and was screened at Cannes. She has completed 35 feature screenplays, plus several short animation screenplays based on Native American legends, several TV pilots, and two feature animation screenplays. Her stageplay, THE MYTHICAL JOURNEY, was a 2001 finalist in the prestigious Alexander Onassis competition. Her feature screenplay, LUST DESSERTS! is currently in pre-production with a well-known Hollywood producer. She has also written, directed and produced three short indie films.
Other Screenwriting articles by Elizabeth English:
• First Impressions: Titles & Loglineshttp://moondancefilmfestival.com/titles-loglines-25-words-open-the-door/
• Two Brads or Three?Adventures in Judging Screenplay Entries in a Film Festival http://moondancefilmfestival.com/two-brads-or-three/
• Creating Character & Characterization in Screenplays http://moondancefilmfestival.com/character-characterization-in-screenplays/
• The Field of Dreams – Conflict as Metaphor http://moondancefilmfestival.com/conflict-as-metaphor/
How to Get an Agent: What Agents Want, (and Don’t Want), to See. http://moondancefilmfestival.com/how-to-get-an-agent/
Contact Elizabeth by email
303-545-0202 • 303-818-5771
BOULDER, COLORADO USA
Write, prepare, edit, rewrite, and polish your screenplay so it’s perfect, before you send it out to directors, producers, agents, managers, distributors, actors, film festivals &/or writing competitions, and for potential funding, as well as for others who may have requested your film or screenplay.
SCREENWRITERS NEED TO ADDRESS ALL OF THE
- Audience Appeal
- Principal Characters
SUGGESTED ARTICLES ON SCREENWRITING AT: http://moondancefilmfestival.com/category/moondance-magazine/.
Radio is sometimes known as the writer’s favorite medium; as Malcolm Bradbury once said, it is “a world made with words shaped into being, without a physical presence.” With radio, you have to use your imagination – something you don’t need when watching TV or movies. We can be whomever we want to be, travel wherever we want to go; all in “our mind’s eye”, thanks to radio programs. The stories and scenarios are often planted forever in our memories and in our own personal “theatre of the mind”.
Radio drama has long been a fertile training ground for writers and is a genre in which screenwriters, playwrights and television writers feel at home. It has given voice to generations of writers. From Welsh poet Dylan Thomas and Irish writer Samuel Beckett, to Orson Welles, to American playwright Harold Pinter; all have been involved with radio drama.
Moondance is dedicated to ensuring that radio drama remains an integral and dynamic part of our international broadcasting and cultural heritage.
MOONDANCE RADIO PLAY JUDGING CRITERIA:
Is the story interesting? Does it have a logical progression? How is the plot development? Is the story told completely? Does it have a great ending?
Does the script utilize the medium to its fullest? Does the script show how sound can tell a tale? Are the sound effects used intelligently? Does the use of sound add to — or distract from — the action?
Are the characters believable? Interesting? Do they help move the story forward? Does the reader care about them? Does each character add something to the overall story?
Do the characters speak as they should, depending on the era, character, personality, psychology, & various events in the story? Do they react to each other and events?
Does it have conflict that is believable? Does it add dramatic tension to the story? Is the resolution of the central conflict reasonable and satisfying?
Does the play feel as if it actually takes place where & when it should? Does the audience know the locale or setting? Can it make the listener imagine the visuals of the location, scenes and characters? Does the radio play transport the listener to that time and/or place?
The best radio scripts grab the listener, the readers/ & judges, and demand attention. They beg to be produced.
By Elizabeth English
Day 1: 6:AM Leaving Boulder, driving west (with my little dog, Zoe) in my red Jeep Cherokee to L.A., with much anticipation. Stopping for the night in St. George, Utah. The Jeep is full of Kinko’s boxes loaded with 5 copies each of all 10 of the screenplays I plan to pitch to film producers. Another box is of “one-sheets” or “leave-behinds” (one-page synopses of each script) and one-sheet lists of all 35 of my titles & loglines, just in case. Plus my resume and credits, if someone asks for it. The fourth box is full of treatments, pilots and series or documentary concepts to pitch to television producers. And let’s not forget the “right” clothes to wear to the pitches, meetings and parties! Which probably just means that one good black linen summer dress I have, despite the suitcases full of other stuff. Driving through the still-smoking forest fires in the Colorado mountains; much devastation and I’m saddened to see it like that.
Day 2: Getting an early start this morning, hopeful and exhilarated at the prospects before me! California, here I come! Driving through mountains and plains, then down into the magnificent other-wordly slick-rock formations of Utah, and to the desert of Nevada, passing the bright lights of Las Vegas, and on into California. Happy to at last see the roadside mileage sign: Los Angeles 222 miles. Stopping at the Mad Greek’s in Baker to get one of their famous fresh strawberry milkshakes. Heat there is oppressive and stunning. Thank God for car air-conditioning! Driving south, passing L.A. and a new forest fire and heavy smoke, right next to the highway in El Cajon Pass, on the other side of the mountain range, and finally arrive at my mother’s house in San Diego for a brief overnight visit.
Day 3: Noon-ish and off toward L.A. again, driving north. Still haven’t seen the Pacific Ocean yet! I stop off in Oceanside to visit a cartoonist friend, Greg Williams (aka: Dark One), and pick up his art portfolio to pitch for him in L.A. to whomever may be looking for a talented animation artist and character designer, should I get that opportunity. Hey; ya never know who you’ll meet! Or what they’ll want to see. North of Oceanside, I finally get a glimpse of the ocean. Arrive in L.A., finally, and drive up the mountain on the 101/Ventura Freeway to my hotel in Thousand Oaks (they take pets and are affordable), but as I arrive at the reception desk, I get a cell-phone call from my wonderful agent, Terry Porter, of Agape Productions in Flat Rock, Indiana, and now in Beverly Hills. He invites me to come down and stay at the estate in Beverly Hills, where he’s staying. I cancel my hotel reservations and head back down the 101 toward Beverly Hills, passing the famed HOLLYWOOD sign up on the hazy mountainside, arriving early afternoon at “my” little villa just off Wilshire Boulevard and almost next door to ICM (International Creative Management) offices.
Terry, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, sandals and sunglasses, Southern California style, is waiting on the shady porch under the huge date palm and banana palm trees, bamboo grove and pink flowering bougainvillea vines. We unload my car into the 1930’s Spanish hacienda-style villa, and put Zoe on a leash in the back garden under an orange tree by the pool. The mini-estate, owned by a famous Japanese woman actor/producer/writer, Chako VL, has 2 lovely villas and other apartments surrounding the pool. Chako is in Japan, at the moment, in development on her feature film. Two young Dallas, Texas film producers, Kenny and Kyle S., brothers, and also Terry’s clients, are in one of the smaller apartments already. The two brothers are in L.A. looking to distribute their indie feature film, “Almost Time”, and to finance an animation film, “Porky Pig”. Terry and I will share a villa, separate bedrooms, but using the same kitchen and other rooms together. These 3 men have been living on take-out food, microwaved left-overs, ramen soup, and frozen pizzas, so I head off to the grocery store to get a real dinner to cook for them. OK, OK, so I start being Ms. Professional Screenwriter tomorrow, “Mom” this evening.
Day 4: Terry is up and working the phone first thing in the morning, setting appointments with VPs of development and creative executives of the production companies and studios, while I fix coffee and hover around, nervously. Here’s how it works: 2 weeks ago, from his office in Flat Rock, Terry calls 20 or 30 production companies with which he has relationships and finds out what they’re looking for, at the moment, then tells them about my material. If they’re at all interested, he faxes or emails them one-page loglines and synopses of my work that fit their needs. Then he calls back a few days later to see if they want to get together in L.A. for a pitch meeting. Most say yes, and tell Terry to call them when we are in L.A. and they’ll set a date and time. Terry’s assistant has given Terry a long list of names and phone numbers of who wants what material pitched to them.
I had snail-mailed my BLUE SKIES, LITTLE JUMPING MOUSE and THE PLACE OF EMERALD LIGHT to Michael La C. at DreamWorks (“A Beautiful Mind”, “Schindler’s List”, “Jurassic Park”, “Shreck”) animation before I left Boulder. I also sent Michael H. at Buena Vista Motion Picture Group (recent films: M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense”, starring Bruce Willis; “Pearl Harbor”, starring Ben Affleck”; and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, starring George Clooney) my A WILDERNESS WITHIN screenplay, so we hope to get in to pitch to those two studios. We get 2 appointments today to pitch 6 of my scripts! I dash off to walk the dog, and to shower and get dressed for the meetings. I worry that, because I’m: 1. A woman, 2. Over forty, 3. Do not live in L.A. area, and 4. Do not know anyone in The Business, the meetings will only be a cooly “polite” 10 minutes, and I’ll be told, “We’ll call you.” And my screenplays will be tossed on a stack of other scripts, un-read forever.
Terry and I hop in the Jeep (very un-cool car to be sitting in a Beverly Hills driveway!) and head off to the Cindy Cowan production company for my first face-to-face meeting with a VP of development for a major Hollywood producer. I’m not nervous anymore and feel very confident, thanks to Terry’s good vibes. He says this first one will be easy and that Cam C. is a very nice guy, not to worry at all. All of my screenplays are in the back of the Jeep, ready to be carried upstairs in my briefcase, as needed. We park and go to the back of the car to pull out the scripts I’m going to pitch, starting a ritual we’ll continue for the next week, several times a day. I think I’m not nervous, but I simply cannot now remember what scripts to select, so Terry calmly reads off the titles to me: THE REALM OF EMERALD LIGHT, THE MEN OF STONE. He reminds me that they are looking for high-concept drama material. I have great hopes for my treatment and script, EMERALD, which was adapted from a novel by Italo Calvino, as I know Richard Gere is very interested in the original book, and Cindy Cowan is a friend of Gere’s. I’m hoping she’ll pass it along to him if she likes what I’ve written.
We dash across Sunset Blvd. and go through a palm-tree-filled lobby and upstairs to a tiny reception area, and then are ushered into Cam’s office. We are offered something to drink, we say no thanks, sit and do some small talk for a few minutes, then Cam asks me what I have for him. I respond by asking him what specifically he’d like to see, and then verbally give him the 3 titles and logline pitches for the scripts I have in my briefcase. He asks for THE REALM OF EMERALD LIGHT first, and I pitch it to him, telling him the basic story and concept and why I feel it would be a great film for his company, either as a live-action feature or as an animation feature. He agrees to read the treatment and script and I hand it to him, along with another copy of the one-page synopsis. Then he asks what else I have, so I pitch him THE MEN OF STONE, because that one is a women’s film somewhat like “Thelma & Louise” meet “The Witches of Eastwick”. He is interested and we discuss potential casting choices. Then he asks if we have anything else and Terry suggests BLUE SKIES, a favorite of his. Cam asks to see it. Terry goes down to the car and brings it up, while I pitch it. He seems to like this one the best! He says he’ll read all three and will get back to Terry on them.
Cam asks me about the Moondance film festival and we discuss that for a minute, and when I tell him that most winning scripts from Moondance have been sold or optioned, he asks me to describe one of them, so I just happen to mention one that won the first Moondance Columbine Award, BUENOS AIRES, by Olga R., and which was just recently offered a $5000 option. He asks what it’s about and I say, “ ’Casablanca’ in Argentina.“ He asks me to look in the stack of scripts in the bookcase next to me and there sits Olga’s screenplay, BUENOS AIRES! I pull it out and hand it to him, and he says he’ll do a special read of it. I can’t wait to call Olga and tell her the good news!
I ask Cam if I can give him a list of my other loglines and he says yes. He looks them over and says he thinks he’ll stick with the 3 he has, for now, and Olga’s Moondance script. We sense it’s time to go, so we do. Outside on the sidewalk, I feel like jumping up and clicking my heels because it went so well! Terry says I did really fine and we worked like a team in there, so I’m pleased.
We have some time between the first pitch and the second, so we go to lunch. We stop at a classy little café called Chin-Chin, on Sunset Boulevard and take a table outside, ordering several plates of dim sum and iced tea. I call Olga on my cell-phone and tell her about finding her script at Cindy Cowan’s. She’s elated and asks to speak to Terry. They agree that Terry will be her new agent. As we’re eating, I have to laugh, joyously, as the vision of me and my WGA signatory agent, both of us wearing sunglasses and dressed California casual, reading Variety magazine, making deals on a cell-phone, eating lunch between Hollywood pitches, on Sunset Boulevard, is a dream come true for me, after 10 years of slaving away at the computer keyboard in Boulder, Colorado. Not to mention the 7 days a week, 20-hour days/nights I’d just spent in the past month re-writing and updating all 10 of my scripts, loglines and synopses, in preparation for this!
Now it’s off to meet with Jon E. at Orly Adleson’s production company on Santa Monica Blvd. We park, gather up the screenplays we want to pitch, dash across the street and go upstairs to meet with Jon E. in his office. This time, I pitch THE DISCIPLE, THE MEN OF STONE and THE TEN. All goes well and I give Jon the list of my other loglines. Jon promises to follow up with Terry as soon as he’s read them all. We head on back to Beverly Hills and I’m very happy everything is going so well! Surprisingly, everyone I’ve met is NICE! I thought I’d be a dolphin cruising in dangerous, “shark-filled waters” out here in L.A., but that’s not the case at all. What a relief! I actually enjoy pitching and feel as if I could do this every day, no problem.
When we get back to the villa, Terry goes right back on the phone, setting appointments for tomorrow, while I run to the grocery store to get something for a celebratory dinner, as it’s the multi-talented Kyle S.’s 21st birthday today.
Day 5: We get only one appointment today, but it’s a biggie: Samuel D-S at the Robert Evans Company (“The Cotton Club”, “Chinatown”, “Urban Cowboy”, “Marathon Man”, “The Sun Also Rises”, “Barefoot in the Park”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Goodbye, Columbus”, “Love Story”, “The Godfather”) at Paramount Pictures! He wants to have lunch outside the studio because of post-9/11 visitor security hassles. Of course, I’d really wanted to have the opportunity drive through those fabled arched Paramount gates, preferably in a chauffeured, black 1930 Rolls Royce town car, for the appointment, but I guess this’ll do, for now. ;o)
We meet Samuel at Le Petit Greek restaurant in Larchmont Village. Samuel is a tall, good-looking, young John Malkovitch look-alike, and we sit down to order lunch. Terry picked the Greek place because I’ve lived in Greece and speak the language, so he thought I could impress Samuel a bit, I guess. Or at least it would help him remember us. Samuel doesn’t want any pitches until we’ve finished lunch, so we chat about Greece, Moondance, Colorado, director Robert Evans’ work, and Hollywood in general, until we’re done with lunch. I was too anxious to eat much. By now, I’m feeling both nervous and excited, because this is such an incredible opportunity for me.
Samuel indicates that he’s ready for my pitch now, so I launch into it, handing him the synopsis for THE DISCIPLE, which was the only one he’d previously agreed to consider. We discuss the plot twists, central theme and the characters, potential actors for the lead roles, and the fact that director Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down”, “Gladiator, “Thelma & Louise”, “Alien”, “Blade Runner”) had seriously considered directing it recently, but his money people eventually decided it was a bit too “sentimental and romantic” for a Ridley Scott action film. Samuel asked for the screenplay and then, when I asked him if he’d like to look at my other loglines, he noticed that THE DISCIPLE also comes in a female protagonist version. He really perked up at that and said he wanted me to send him that version as soon as I got back to Boulder. Terry gave me an “I-told-you-so!” smile. Samuel took the male protagonist version of the screenplay with him and promised to read it, but said he was really excited about reading the female version more. That really made me feel great!
As we leave the restaurant, I get a cell-phone call from an old friend, Matt M., whose wife, Melanie M., is a producer at Greystone Television and Films, for A & E’s Biography and The History Channel. Matt invited Terry and I to meet him at his wife’s office, so we drive over to North Hollywood. Matt had brought their 2 little girls to the office, along with a young falcon he’s training, so we just chat a bit and made a date to meet at Matt and Melanie’s ranch the next day. I had wanted to pitch my television series concepts and documentary TV ideas to Melanie, but it didn’t seem like the right time to do so. Terry and I stop off at the Writers Guild office building and toured the library, meeting with librarian Karen P., after I re-registered all of my updated screenplays, treatments and TV series concepts, programs and pilots.
Day 6: An early start this morning. Off to Thousand Oaks, where Terry and I have a quick breakfast with Moondance screenwriter Linda, who gives me her screenplay to read, then we head up to Westlake Village and the Cloud Creek ranch for Larry Brody’s TV Writer.com conference at Brodyfest II. I’m scheduled to be on a panel about film festival and writing competition strategies at 10AM. We park the Jeep in a pasture under some old oak trees so Zoe will have a cool, shady spot to stay. As we hike up to the ranch, a big bear of a man, Larry Brody (whom I’d never met before) comes down and gives me a huge hug, and saying, with a great deal of surprise “You’re Elizabeth? You are so HOT!” (I guess he had expected me to be an old grandmotherly type.) Both of us are staff writers for ScreenTalk magazine and we sort of knew each other from e-mails and our newsletters, and one of my scripts had been a finalist at his TV Writer.com competition.
I went straight to sit on the outdoor panel, with about 75 enthusiastic attendees, under big canvas tents overlooking the valley. Among the other 4 panelists were Jeb Brody, Larry’s son and NY film producer at Magnet Entertainment, and Richard Krevolin, author and USC professor in the cinema and television department. Terry was called to sit on the same panel, to discuss how to get an agent, what agents want to see, and etc. When Larry introduced me to the attendees, I kiddingly mentioned that I was the “token woman” on the panel. Larry got a big kick out of that and teasingly called me an activist and trouble-maker, which I certainly am!
After lots of great questions and answers, a fabulous lunch and schmooze-fest on the patio under the oak trees, Terry and I took off for a visit to Matt in nearby Malibu Lake. We found Matt outside, training the beautiful falcons. Melanie was at a birthday party with the 2 girls, so I didn’t get a chance to pitch anything to her, again, though we had a very nice visit with Matt. Terry and Matt really hit it off, as I knew they would, and Matt was invited to Brody’s for the party later that evening.
So it’s back to Brody’s ranch up in the hills, more panels, a break-out schmooze session and then an incredible catered dinner, fully-stocked bar and with a DJ for dancing under the stars. I am approached by a Chinese film producer and development exec. from Hong Kong and Beijing, Frank L., who offers me the opportunity to travel to China to present the Moondance films at a festival there. He also wants me to consider writing a script for a historical bio-pic he has in mind. I pitch one of my art film scripts, SPARE PARTS, to Jeb Brody, because it seems that his production company is looking for that kind of script. He agrees to read the script if I send it to his office in New York. Lots of people approach Terry to be their agent or to read their scripts and TV pilots. Larry Brody agrees to look at Greg Williams’ cartoon art portfolio I brought, but we never seem to find time to do it. Many people asked for my card so they could send their material to the Moondance 2003 competition.
Also at the Brodyfest, I meet Anton D. and his Russian-born wife Irina. Anton and Irina have written and produced, via their Polar Picture company, several important films for the big TV networks. We agree to get together later to discuss film projects we might do together, including a mutual interest in a bio-pic about the Native American woman heroine, Sacajawea, who led explorers Lewis & Clark to the Pacific Ocean.
Midnight and time to take our leave. Goodbyes and hugs all around and Terry and I head down to the parking area. Matt walks us down to the car and as I am walking Zoe, she decides to do her business, and at that very moment, Matt finally asks, “So what did you want to pitch to Melanie?” Without hesitation, I launch into my moonlit pitches. He really loves the second one and says he wants to pitch it to his wife tomorrow. He promises that if she goes for it, I’ll get credit for the idea. I ask to also be considered for writing and research on the project if it is a go, and Matt says that’s a good possibility! As we drive back down to L.A., Terry says that was the strangest pitch session he ever saw, pitching in the dark while leashed to a dog pooping in the background.
Day 7: A Sunday and we’re off to church. We go to the old, fabled Court Theatre on La Cienega, where Sanctuary is held. Many famous old-time movie stars have played here. The unusual church service was very enlightening and inspiring, and was accompanied by a really great rock band, led by a talented woman singer, Kathi P.. We then go to brunch at the popular Newsroom café in West Hollywood, right next to the NBC studios, and then back to the villa. I head off to the beach at Santa Monica with Kyle S. while Terry watches Zoe, as no dogs are allowed on the Santa Monica beach or pier.
Day 8: No meetings available today, so I do laundry and take a break. Terry calls many production companies, including DreamWorks, Imagine, Warner Bros, and Section 8 (George Clooney’s prodco), at Warner Bros. which has produced such films as: “Harry Potter”, “Superman”, “The Matrix” “Batman”, “Dances With Wolves”, and “The Wizard of Oz”. Michael La C. At DreamWorks tells us that, coincidentally, they are thinking of doing a live-action version by another writer of my feature animation story, so they can’t look at my material…yet. But they do want to see adult animation projects. Imagine TV suggests we wait a few weeks to pitch to them because their VP of development is leaving and it would be better to pitch to the new person. Section 8 tells us to fax or email them a letter about the script I wrote for Clooney, BLUE SKIES, and tell them how and why Clooney would fit into the lead role. I dash off to Kinko’s Beverly Hills to write up the letter and fax it to them. BTW, KInko’s has valet parking in Beverley Hills.
George LeP., director/producer for L.A. Pictures calls and says he’s got 2 VIP tickets to the IFP-sponsored L.A. Film Festival and would one of us like to go? I do, and Terry has plans to go up to Tarzana to meet Moondancer Ata S., an Iranian writer and film producer, so George and I head over to 8000 Sunset for the big IFP party. At the film festival venue, we see lots and lots of people standing in line to see Moondance workshop presenter Meg LeFauve’s latest Jodie Foster film, “The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys”. We hope it gets great opening weekend box office numbers! The balcony is filled with hundreds of international buyers and sellers, the music is good and loud, the vodka is flowing freely, donated by Skye Vodka, and the food is enough for two armies. I send my card to the L.A. Film Festival director as a courtesy and he sends me a message that he’ll call when he’s recovered from the festival.
I approach an interesting-looking man in an Armani suit and introduce myself. It turns out he’s Grant R., an Italian film distributor and he asks to meet with me early some morning for coffee to discuss projects. Coincidentally, he’s seen George’s indie film, “Go Fish”, and really likes it. George and I get invited into the inner sanctum, the Red Room, where the heavy-duty schmoozing and deal-making is going on, along with more free food and booze. George and I pitch our material to each other and people pitch stuff to us. I leave my card and Moondance promotional material laying around and strangely enough, people start calling me on my cell-phone within a few minutes, saying they’re at the same place and want to know about Moondance. We even get our pictures taken by a news photographer for the festival.
Day 9: Two meetings set for 3 and 4 PM, so we have a “relaxing” morning, except for sending a fax of my BLUE SKIES synopsis to Nickelodeon, at their request, then not hearing back from them…yet. Section 8 asks Terry to have me FedEx overnight my BLUE SKIES and THE DISCIPLE scripts, so I do that. Jennifer R. at Imagine TV asks to have my credits faxed to her, so I run to Kinko’s to do that. I call Ben Glass, an old friend who was stills photographer on most of Kevin Costner’s films, starting with “Dances With Wolves”, but he’s not in town this week. At 2PM, we set off for Franchise Pictures (“The Whole Nine Yards” starring Bruce Willis; “Angel Eyes” starring Jennifer Lopez; “Get Carter,” with Sylvester Stallone; David Mamet’s “Heist,” starring Gene Hackman and Danny DeVito; “Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her,” featuring Glenn Close, Holly Hunter and Cameron Diaz; and “3,000 Miles to Graceland,” starring Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner.) at a funky old building on Sunset Boulevard and a meeting with development VP, Leeza-Maria K. She takes us upstairs to the conference room, where I pitch my scripts THE DISCIPLE, BLOWING SMOKE and SPARE PARTS. Leeza says she’s very excited about all three of them and can’t wait to read them, That’s music to my ears!
Next we hurry to meet Gloria F. at Mosaic Media and Atlas Entertainment on Sunset Boulevard. Atlas Entertainment has produced film successes including “Cool Runnings,” “12 Monkeys,” “City of Angels,” “Three Kings,” and the live-action version of “Scooby-Doo”. I pitch several scripts to her, but after reading my logline list, she asks for THE UNICORN, because, she says, they only want “smart films”. After returning to the villa, Terry contacts New Line Cinema, but the person he knew there is no longer at New Line and we can’t get an appointment. Zoe starts barking like crazy, so I rush out to see what’s up, and it’s a woman, Trish, walking her dog past the villa. We stop to chat a bit and it turns out that she and her husband once worked with Oscar©-winning director Francis Coppola at Zoetrope. Only in Beverly Hills! After a quick take-out dinner from Debbie’s on Wilshire, Terry and I catch an Inuit movie, “The Fast Runner”. We like it, but it’s too long: 3 hours.
Day 10: I get an early-morning call from Red Wagon Entertainment at Sony. They want me to come in to pitch at 6:PM tomorrow. I had planned to leave for Colorado tomorrow morning, but I can’t pass up this opportunity. Terry tells me that a 6:PM meeting is the best, because that’s often when they bring in food and drinks and meet only with their most important clients.
I’ve asked several people to come to the villa for a buffet dinner at 8 PM tonight. Anton and Irina D., along with Terry and his friend Angela, Moondancers Devo C. (a Moondance 2000 winner for her short film, “Peacock Blues”) and her husband Scott R., both Moondance workshop presenters, and Marina G. and her husband Georg H.. Marina and Irina are two Russian documentary filmmakers (Marina’s film, “The Prince Is Back”, won the Moondance 2002 and she taught a workshop), and I want the two women to meet. An actor client of Terry’s, Alexandra, will be here, too. She has just finished “Streetcar Named Desire”, in which she played the role of Blanche. So it’s off to the stores to buy the food and wine, clean house and set up the buffet. We’d all agreed not to talk about the film business, but of course, that’s all we did discuss. I discover that Angela’s son is Danny DeVito’s L.A. agent, so I ask her to get my script, BLUE SKIES, to her son, because it was written for DeVito in the lead supporting role. Everyone came and enjoyed themselves and we all promised to do it again next time we’re all in L.A.
Day 11: I decide to stay in L.A. a bit longer, and Terry gets me 2 fantastic appointments: one at Disney Studios, and the other with Mel Gibson in Santa Monica, the next day.
Day 12: I pitch my feature animation project, LEGEND OF THE GREEN DOLPHIN, to two acquisitions execs at Disney. I think it went well, except that one of the execs said I’d have to take out the pipe the old lighthouse-keeper smoked, as Disney does not allow any smoking in their films! I asked if he could be just holding an un-lit pipe, and they frowned at me for that. Oops! Then I pitched them a live-action, teen demographic script, WILDERNESS BABY. They liked it a lot, but said I’d have to delete all the scenes that were against clear-cutting and logging of the Oregon forests. Hmmm….
Then it was off to Santa Monica to meet with Mel Gibson. His receptionist took my script adaptation, BEOWULF, from me, said not a word, and disappeared down a hallway with it. I looked at Terry & said, “Is that it?” He shrugged and suggested we wait a few minutes. 10 minutes later, Mr. Gibson, himself, came out, holding my script up to his chest, grinning, and said that he’d been wanting to film this story for years! (the horrible, in my opinion, CGI film that came out later is NOT from my script!)
Day 13: Last day in L.A. Grant R., the Italian distributor arrives for coffee at the villa in the morning, just as Terry is leaving for the airport. Grant and I discuss the possibility of his company attaching to 2 of my scripts to distribute. We make a wish-list for EMERALD: Richard Gere to star, Anthony Minghella to direct and Giovanni Agnelli to produce. For BLUE SKIES, the wish list of attachments are: George Clooney to star, Penny Marshall to direct and Harvey Weinstein of Miramax to produce. Grant takes both scripts with him.
I get a phone call just when he leaves. It’s Red Wagon at Sony. They want me to come in at 11:AM instead of 6PM, so I rush to get ready and drive off to Culver City!
What a thrill to drive through the gates of this major studio! I go through security, and they have a pass waiting for me. I park and go to another security guard, who gives me a map to the Hepburn Building. I walk through the studio lot, past many huge sound stages, and find the Hepburn building next to the Spencer Tracy building, (as is proper). I go upstairs to meet Pete C.. Red Wagon produced the Oscar©-winning “Gladiator”, as well as “Girl, Interrupted” and both “Stuart Little” films. Pete and I chat about Moondance for a while, then he asks, “what have you got to show me?” so I pitch him 3 scripts, THE SONG OF HIAWATHA (feature animation), THE TEN and THE WILDERNESS WITHIN. He agrees to take the first 2, but not the 3rd one. He explains that it’s a very big, very expensive period costume drama with an old man as the protagonist, and they can’t risk doing a costly film without a major star, like Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe or Julia Roberts. Pete tells me that the Sony lot was formerly the old MGM lot, and there’s lots of history here, going back to the 1920s. I tell Pete that my mother, Lenore English, worked here, too, when she was a silent film child star working for the original Goldwyn Studios, and with Charlie Chaplin, Tom Mix, and others!
I leave the first 2 scripts and synopses with Pete, who promises to give them a “weekend read”, and go downstairs, still amazed at the niceness of all of the people I’ve met in L.A. Everyone is friendly, polite, interested, and inspiring. Not a “shark” among them, that I can tell! As I reach the stair landing, I see a 7-foot tall pole leaning up in the corner. It has huge brass plaques attached near the top with Latin words on them and I suddenly realize this was a prop carried by Russell Crowe in the “Gladiator” film. How uncool of me, but I wish I could get my picture taken with it!
I get horribly lost on my way back to the villa, but when I finally arrive, Angela comes by, after dropping Terry off at LAX and I give her the SPARE PARTS script for her son to pass along to Danny DeVito at Jersey Films (“Erin Brockovitch”, starring Julia Roberts; “Pulp Fiction”; and “Get Shorty”).
Then I get a call from Ata S., the Iranian writer/producer, inviting me to a dinner party at his house. He says he has a surprise for me, too. I pack up the Jeep and reluctantly leave Beverly Hills, heading up the Ventura Freeway again. Ata has catered in a delicious Iranian feast, Persian rugs and all, and has invited several of his friends. The surprise is a video interview with me and Ata by an Iranian TV producer for international cable TV. Also interviewed is a woman friend of Ata’s, Alicia, who is a well-known line producer, and whose credits are totally amazing. We sit on cushions on the floor and talk shop all evening. I spend the night in Ata’s guest room and plan to take off early for Colorado, but Ata sends me to an Iranian mechanic friend of his to check my car and give it an oil change before the long trip. Finally, about noon, I’m heading east to Colorado, on my way home, after a very happy and successful (I hope!) wonderful week in La La Land, The Dream Factory!
by Elizabeth English
Music! Ah, yes. The power of music in film. A feature film needs at least 30 to 40 minutes of music, which is one of the most important elements in a successful film.
A film score can be artfully used to:
- SOOTHE & CALM
- AID IN TRANSITIONS
- PUNCTUATE A MOMENT OR SCENE
- MOVE THE PLOT ALONG
- FOCUS & ARTICULATE
- ADD A SENSE OF CONTINUITY
- ADD INFORMATION
- HEIGHTEN THE TEMPO
- ADD DRAMATIC TENSION
- ADD TO COMEDIC ELEMENTS
- CHANGE THE MOOD
- ADD CHARACTER
- DEFINE A SCENE OR CHARACTER
- ADD DIMENSION
- GIVE THE FILM NEW OR DIFFERENT MEANING
And you thought only the film director and the actors did all that?
The major categories of a film score are:
- THEME, such as the musical theme from James Bond films
- SOURCE, as from a radio or a band shown on screen.
- MOVIE SONG, as the music from “Titanic”.
- UNDERSCORING, soft, “seen but not heard” music
- DEVELOPMENTAL or NARRATIVE music, which adds to story as it unfolds, weaving in and out, through the film.
- COUNTERPOINT MUSIC, adds to contrast, adds conflict
- FORESHADOWING, sets up for the next scene
- OVERTURE, the central core. Sets mood, sets time, sets location.
- LEITMOTIF, which identifies a character or repeated action on screen, such as the scary tune in “Jaws”, when the shark is about to appear.
Along with a good screenplay, and great dialog, music is what makes a film memorable!
These are the talents and crafts need to make a good movie:
- animal wranglers
- art director
- assistant directors or ADs
- best boy
- body doubles
- cinematographer or DP
- costume designer
- extras, location manager
- fire marshal
- insurance executives
- key grips
- lighting technicians
- line producer
- location manager
- musical score composer
- production assistants or
- production designer
- production financing
- prop master
- script supervisor
- set designer
- sound technicians
- special effects
- stills photographer
- story board artists
- studio execs
- stunt coordinator
- tech advisors, screenwriter
POST-PRODUCTION PHASE: editing, sound, foley, dubbing, special effects, background ambience, film score music, lab work, color, title, trailers, promotion and advertising.
All of these vital crafts and elements contribute to making the “Dream Factory” world of the film believable to movie audiences!
By Elizabeth English
Now it’s your turn! You can settle for someone else’s vision of the world, or you can bravely embark upon a journey of your own. Moondance is about inspiration, encouragement, collaboration, stimulating self-confidence, learning new ways of perception and creative expression, and cultivating a whole new concept of success for women in the international film industry. There is purposely no elite-ism at Moondance; everyone associated with the film festival is both a student and a teacher. We seek to support and nurture dreams and to motivate creative artists to follow that dream, no matter the prevailing circumstances. Writers and filmmakers often perceive the world differently, and their reactions to these perceptions, expressed in the art of film, writing and music can invigorate and spark the creative imaginations of others in the world, especially that of our children and the future generations.
Women filmmakers, women writers and women music composers are vocal and active participants in the social forces that shape our culture. They portray women as three-dimensional, complex human beings, and thus defy the demeaning and pervasive stereotypes perpetuated by the mainstream media.
Moondance is dedicated to promoting visibility for women in the international film community and in Hollywood and their impact on the film industry. We see this as a means to disrupt and correct the misogynous, fantastical, passive, destructive and denigrating visual representation of females that has, historically, been rendered by men in all media and has for so long and so plentifully pervaded our visual culture.
Our work on reaching out toward women filmmakers, women writers and women composers everywhere in the world is primary and ongoing. Women writers and filmmakers from all six continents, and from a wide diversity of ethnic and linguistic groups are an integral part of our mission and goals. We seek to inspire and invigorate this creative potential of women to perceive, conceptualize, and produce their works for the benefit of the world society. We are dedicated to preserving their accumulated accomplishments and visions as expressed through the art of film, music and writings.
Moondance promises to raise awareness of the invaluable contributions of women to the entertainment community. Equity for women in the film industry does not mean stifling some voices so that others may be heard; it does not demand the compromising of personal standards to achieve success. Equity creates new standards, which accommodate and nurture differences. Equity fosters the individual voice, investing women with confidence in their own authority. Equity unleashes the creative potential. We see the equal treatment of all women and the equal respect for all responses they explore as essential to their and our ultimate goals.
Our film programs are always well rounded, entertaining, and enlightening, highlighting diverse cultures, opinions, and stories. We welcome individual expression and are committed to presenting diverse points of view. Moondance aims to entertain, increase awareness, provide multiple viewpoints, address complex social issues, provide forums for deliberation, and strengthen ties between a large variety of international audiences.
The long-term vision of the Moondance International Film Festival is to preserve and revitalize our intangible heritage, cultivate creative diversity, develop an intercultural dialogue, and stimulate this creative resource. Our mission is to present a vibrant and growing collection of films, writings, and music, which is an ideal means for communication across perceived boundaries of race, culture, place, age and gender. These works document the complexity and depth of men’s and women’s experiences that will become widely accessible within the world film industry and to the public, and will encourage and inspire others to write, compose music and to make films.
Moondance also encourages men writers and filmmakers to submit their work to Moondance, but in order to win or be a finalist, and/or to have their films screened at the film festival, we require that their work depict women and girls in a positive manner. The annual Moondance International Film Festival is for the benefit of both women and men, and all are encouraged to submit their work, and to attend and participate.