Straight up, George Clooney!

I was a little tweaked last night when I checked in briefly with the cybershpere before heading off to bed.  I saw the news that Sydney Pollack had died.

I’ve been a fan of his since I was a kid.  I mean, who didn’t love his cameo as Dustin Hoffman’s agent in TOOTSIE?  Then to find out that guy directed the movie?  And wait…he directed a bunch of other things, too?  I quickly realized that he was the guy behind some of my favorite movies I’d seen as a kid–from JEREMIAH JOHNSON and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (both of which scared the hell out of me) to THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN and THE WAY WE WERE (two significant factors in the development of my affinity for "chick flicks", which I confess are a guilty pleasure of mine).  I began to follow his career more closely.  As a result, I think I have seen every Sydney Pollack movie at least once.

A couple of years ago, I had the ultimate fanboy moment.  Robbye and I are at the Texas Film Commission Barbeque during the Austin Screenwriters Conference.  I look over to my right, and who do you think is sitting not 30 feet away from me?  You guessed it.

Pollack was there as an honoree, and I’d tried to catch the panel he’d done that day.  Unfortunately, I was on a conflicting panel, so no go.  But there he was.  Robbye suggested that I go over and say hi, but I was suddenly all shy and befuddled.  It took a little coaxing on her part, but I finally summoned the courage to do it.

I caught him at the perfect moment–well, perfect for me…maybe not for him.  The swarm of people buzzing around him had scattered some.  He’d just sat down to eat his food, which I am certain was by then cold.  But I didn’t know what else to do.

This is probably my moment, I thought, and it won’t come again.

True enough, huh?

I stepped up to him.

"Mr. Pollack?  I know you’re trying to eat, and I apologize for the interruption-"

And while you would expect most people in his position would run for cover, Pollack did exactly the opposite.  He stood up straight away and set his plate down on his chair.

"None at all.  None at all."

"I won’t take your time because I’m…not sure what to say to you other than I am a big fan and have been since I was a kid.  Your work is one of the things that inspired me to get into the business."

And while you would expect most people in his position to make some crack like, "Sorry to hear that, kid," Pollack did the exact opposite.

"Well, thank you," he said, lingering on the last syllable, fishing for something.  My name, I supposed.

"Bill True."

"Bill…True."

Something flickered in his eye.  Was it, per chance, recognition?

"Yes…you’re last year’s winner."

He held his hand out to me.  I took it, shaking.  I was utterly thrown.  He KNEW WHO I WAS?!?  I had no idea what to say.  I chose the best (read: only) option available to me at the time.

"Y-y-yes."

"Congratulations.  And thank you for your kind words.  It means a lot to me to hear it."

"You’re welcome," I replied.  "And thank you."

It was at that moment I realized I should probably let go of his hand.

"I’ll…let you get back to your food.  I’m sure it’s cold."

He smiled.  The knowing variety.

"It’s no problem.  I’m glad you stopped to say hello."

At that, I begged off and returned to Robbye.  I couldn’t string words together in any coherent fashion for about five minutes.

As a postscript, Robbye and I were having breakfast the next morning at the Driskill Hotel.  We were catching up with a documentary filmmaker friend of mine, and who do you think sits in the booth next to us?  Yessiree.  And he waved and smiled (with recognition) and bade us good morning.  My friend was impressed.  It was cool.

Yesterday, George Clooney, who owes his last two movies to Pollack, said, "Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even
dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act.  He’ll be missed terribly."

Straight up, George Clooney.  I couldn’t agree more.

Mum-orial Day

Dear OLU Readers,

I can offer you no pith or vinegar today.  Fingers.  Stiff.  Brain.  Exhausted.

On the bright side, I managed to finish all the new content for our upcoming SagePresence website re-launch, which will hopefully happen sometime this week.  I’m not certain the stuff I created is exaxctly brilliant, but it’s a good start and heads above whatever we had there before.

The overall site, though, looks inspired.  It finally, REALLY captures who we are as SagePresence.  It’s far more interesting and accessible than our present site, and it does a much better job of speaking to both the "what we do" and the benefits of such.

As part of the site, I also created a new SagePresence blog and a News site that will be wired into the overall site as part of the new launch.  Whereas you’re gonna have to wait for a few days to see the new website goods on the whole, you can get a sneak preview of the blog and the news site:

HERE:

Splogoblogfinalolu

SagePresence blog

and HERE:

Splogonews

SagePresence news

And on that, I am signing off.  After working my little digits to the bone, I have the perfect remedy to bring them back to life.  Curl ’em around 12 ounces of hoppy goodness for the next several hours.  Ingest liberally.

Happy Memorial Day, y’all.   

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Gbubill
Cheez Whiz!  Has this been a week or what?

I gotta keep this kinda short, as there are two deadlines looming over my head.  Not to mention that it’s 8:45 in the morning here, and I am already feeling exhausted.

Okay…here it is in a nutshell:

THE GOOD

Well, it’s great that the ScriptNight folks wanna do a reading of INCARNATION.  There is something of a downside to it, however, in that we learned yesterday there was a little scheduling snafu.  The reading will really happen on Tuesday, July 8.

Yep…five days sooner than expected.

All of a sudden, there are deadlines for press materials, casting concerns, and the like all beating at the door.  And a small detail…I am not finished with the new revisions yet, which need to happen before the casting stuff happens.  Guess I better hurry.

The other good news is that I had the breakthrough I’ve been desperately looking for on the INCARNATION revision front.  As I begin putting it back together, I am feeling confident that this draft will not only represent a real leap forward for the story, but that it will really grab people.  I am, for the first time in over a month, feeling quite excited about this next draft.

THE BAD

A phone call I got on Wednesday.

The manager that I was hopeful I was on the verge of signing with.

She’d asked me to keep her in the loop on what was else was happening as I was completing this latest INCARNATION draft.  She was happy to help in any way she could, and I was welcome to use her name in conversations with other industry types.  So I did.  And at the beginning of the week, I sent her an email updating her on the mini-series thing and asking if, perhaps, she might be willing to help prep us for the pitch meetings we have coming up in LA in the next few weeks.

Alright…just so I am perfectly clear, I think this manager is topnotch.  I don’t wanna sound like I am complaining because not only does she have a great reputation, but I believe the way she handled the situation with me was very respectful and professional.  And though she wasn’t taking on new clients when we talked last month, she was willing to consider me.

Ultimately, it seems, it came down her her realizing that she had a lot on her plate with her existing clients.  When I started to engage her like a bonafide client would, it became apparent to her that adding me to her roster was not in the cards for her right now.  Limited time…only so many hours in a day.  And difficulty in today’s lean market in paying proper attention to her existing clients and keeping them working.

I get it.  And I really appreciated both her call and her honesty–her not stringing me along or simply not returning my calls and emails one day (been there, done that).  And I appreciate her willingness to recommend me to other agents and managers.

It’s all good.

Yet, I still walked around most of Wednesday in a kind of shock.  After all, I’d worked for over a year-and-a-half on developing this relationship.  And though I know that work is not for naught, it still stings.  It still hurts.  It still kinda sucks.  And I have to admit that it has cast a long and dark shadow across the rest of my week.

Oh well, back to the drawing board.  In the meantime, if you know any great agents or managers out there, you know where to find me.

THE UGLY

My day today.

I have SagePresence web content to create, as we are trying to launch our new look next week.

INCARNATION revisions to complete by next week.

ScriptNight press stuff.

Crap…I am going to stop there.  As if those three things alone can’t fill up a couple days.

Hmmm…I just noticed something.  My attitude stinks.

All the while I’ve been writing this post, all I can think is, "Is it Beer-thirty yet?"

Maybe I should be thinking a little differently.  Maybe I should be thinking more in terms of mixing up a batch of lemonade, huh?

It’s a beautiful day.  And I have the privilege of doing what I love all day…writing.

Cool.

I can start with that.  Get behind it.

Onward.

INCARNATION note–guess I should mention this

Speaking of INCARNATION, I almost forget to tell y’all…

Incarnationweb_2

If you’re in Minneapolis on July 14, – UPDATE! UPDATE! UPDATE!  NEW DATE — TUESDAY, JULY 8 — there will be a staged reading of INCARNATION at the Ritz Theatre as part of the Minnesota Screenwriters Workshop’s Script Night series.

This is kinda cool, as it’s the biggest kind of treatment a script can get in this neck of the woods, and the most recent events have spotlighted works from the likes of Shawn Otto (THE HOUSE OF SAND AND FOG) and Christine Walker (AMERICAN SPLENDOR and FACTOTUM).  It’s quite an honor to be lumped in with a crew like that.

The reading will be directed by my partner in crime (and fellow INCARNATION story originator/developer), Dean Lincoln Hyers.  We’re working with a couple of casting directors right now to bring some name actors from LA and New York to read the lead parts and with other folks to bring a really cool multi-media dimension to the experience.  It’s all pretty exciting.

I’ll post more information as it becomes available.  For now, mark your calendars

Bill True, this is your life

See this?

Beatlist2
Innocent-looking enough page with some typing and scribble on it, right?

If that’s what you think, you’d be wrong.  This page, and 105 others very similar to it, have the power to take control of a human life.  To keep it captive for weeks–even months–at a time.  Not just the body, but the mind.  The soul, even.  And they are ruthless, unforgiving captors.

For the past four weeks, I have been trying to complete a rewrite of my script, INCARNATION.  There at least two production companies (one has read a draft, the other hasn’t) who are very, very interested in it, and I am also counting on it to absolutely seal the deal on this very cool manager I have been sort of working with of late.  So…no pressure.

The good news is that everyone who reads it pretty much loves it.  Therein, however, lies the bad news, as well.  Everyone pretty much loves it.  And that "pretty much" makes all the difference.

It’s nothing fundamental, like the premise isn’t interesting or the plot is lacking or the characters aren’t real and engaging.  No, everyone really likes all of that.  In fact, the universal response is that this is a great, solid script that is beautifully written (gosh…thanks, folks).

The problem is that I made a decision for one of the main characters at the outset of writing the thing, and that decision is proving to be potentially fatal.  It has everyone who reads the thing saying, "In the end, I loved it.  It made perfect sense, and I was really moved and entertained.  But in the beginning, I wasn’t so sure about where you were going with that Henry character.  I was afraid to like him.  I was afraid that I was going to be sorely disappointed and hurt later if I put my trust in him."

I get it.  Oddly enough, it was that specific reaction that I was looking for when I sat down to write the Henry character.  My assertion was that it’s important for him to be something of a cypher and for us to question his motives.  It heightened the impact of the eventual reveal, I thought.

And all that is true.  People get that.  But it still gets in the way of the experience of the read.

And it’s getting in the way of people committing to the script.

So I have to fix that.  Problem is, something that integral to the structure of the story has implications throughout the entire script.  It has tendrils that burrow into several scenes, which must be ferreted out and contended with.

My solution was to go back to Screenwriting 101.  Break the script down beat by beat, which is represented by the scribble on the page at the top of this post.  The only way that I can make certain that the issue is adequately addressed and resolved is to tear the thing down like an engine.  Line up the parts on the floor; take a look at each and every one.  Identify which ones require polishing, and which ones require replacing.  Then put the thing back together.

After I am done, the thing’s gonna look kind of different, but my hope is that this baby hums like it ain’t never hummed before.

But right now, all the parts are still scattered across the floor.  I am feeling a little overwhelmed and a lot under pressure (mostly of the temporal variety).  I am somewhat behind the 8-ball in getting the new version to the people who want to read it, and I have to get it out the door sometime next week.  At the latest.  And so the rest of my life is, at the moment, at a virtual stand still until I can find the best and most creative way to put all these pieces back together.

We’ll see what happens.  For now, I feel most bad for Robbye, whom I knows misses her husband.

Don’t worry, Baby.  Good news is the work is paying off.  I had a burst of inspiration yesterday, and I think I know how do this now.  Keep a beer handy; I’ll be emerging from the garage soon.

Dr. Jones and me

Ijhat_2
I was down at the New Amsterdam staring at this
yellow-haired girl
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation with this black-haired flamenco dancer
She dances while his father plays guitar
She’s suddenly beautiful
We all want something beautiful
I wish I was beautiful
So come dance this silence down through the morning
Cut Maria! Show me some of them Spanish dances
Pass me a bottle, Mr. Jones
Believe in me
Help me believe in anything
I want to be someone who believes

–Counting Crows

First, I need to tell you this: a friend of Robbye’s and mine invited us to a sneak preview of the new Indiana Jones movie yesterday.

Second, I need to assure you that there zero spoilers in this post.

Third, I need to tell you that what I am writing here should, in no uncertain terms, be construed as a review of the film.

And finally…Fourth, if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I would suggest you click away to some other site, like this one (cuteoverload.com).  Spend a moment in your happy place.  For, regardless of my assurances, if you read on, I believe that the experience of watching the movie could be spoiled for you.

That’s the last thing I want.

Okay…is the coast clear?

Good.

‘Cause if you’re not gone by now, I’m not gonna listen to any "Bill ruined the Indy movie for me" nonsense.  Got it..?

Word…

For those of you left, I’m really not going to review the movie.  That’s not my place.  That’s for the likes of my friend, Colin, who covers that base quite superbly already.

This commentary, I would like to be clear, is a reaction–my reaction–to watching the movie.  And I think that there is a more-than-credible argument for why that is different animal.  I, for one, don’t care if you watch the movie.  I, for one, am not trying to sway you either way.  And I have no intention of supporting my position by discussing the relative merits (or lack thereof) of the movie in any great detail.

That said…anyone still here?

One…two…ah…three..?  Okay.

For now, all you need to know is this:

Did I like the movie?  No.

Was I disappointed in the movie?  Sorely.

Here’s why…  It had less to do with the kludging pace and lackluster energy; less to do with the absolute lack of focus, much less story; less to do with sub-par special effects and editing than it did with the absolute lack of creativity demonstrated over the course of the 2 hours and 4 minutes of my life I will never get back.

Okay…whew!  I can’t believe I just said all of that.  Because I gotta tell ya, being more or less a newly minted professional screenwriter, I feel like putting an opinion like that out on these Internets for the whole world to see is, like, a possible career-limiting move.  Like the title of this post should, more appropriately, be How to Ruin a Screenwriting Career in 1400 Words.

I am, however, trusting the movie gods.  That they are just and forgiving.  And that they will, somehow, appreciate my humble words.

Because I am not here to trash the gods.  I am, actually, here to honor them.

But they need to know this…

Guys!  10 years..?  10…years?  And that’s the best story you could come up with?  That’s the best you could do?  That hackneyed, bumbling affair?

I don’t know what to say.  I mean, for Pete’s sake!  You’re Steven Spielberg and George Lucas!  And no offense to David Koepp, either, but…crap!  If I had handed in a draft that rough, it would’ve been soundly and utterly rejected.  Overall, I’ve seen better and more compelling storytelling from babes stumbling around in the proverbial woods.

I don’t get it.  If I was them, I don’t know if I’d be able to sleep at night.

Good, bad, or indifferent, it doesn’t matter.  Paramount and Lucasfilm and the other stakeholders will all be fine in the end.  Per a story in Reuters today: "Even critics underwhelmed by the latest Indiana Jones venture conceded that it would make little difference in terms of box office, which they predicted would be strong."

And therein lies the problem.  Not that I begrudge Paramount and Lucasfilm and the other stakeholders making money off the movie.  God, no!  Quite the opposite.  And I pray with all my might that I do the same someday soon.  The problem is embodied in a specific word in the Reuters article: venture.  Not ADventure…just plain venture.

I feel like Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas lost their connection to the innovation, emotional center, and kinetic excitement that inspired people to gladly lay their money down time after time and place them atop Mount Olympus in the first place.  It seems that it’s no longer about the music.  It’s no longer even about the show.  It’s about the venture–ergo, the transaction.

Well, don’t worry, Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas, we’ll show up again.  We’ll lay our money down again for a few more moments with Indiana Jones, even if they are ultimately disappointing and unfulfilling.  We’ll do so based on past merit alone–of past movies (even though many of them, quite frankly, faired no better than this one) and, of course, of yours.

We will climb in bed with you one last time and go through the motions because of our longstanding relationship.  Because of our history.  We’ll know, however, that you’re really not present anymore and that the whole affair is a hollow and empty version of what was.  We’ll know we’re clinging onto thin air.  And because we love you, we’ll do it, even though you’ve abused our trust.  Because, quite honestly, we pity you, so we just sigh and tell ourselves it’s okay if your better days are behind you.  Whaddya gonna do?

In the same Reuters article quoted above, Harrison Ford asserts that he won’t read reviews for this movie because, he says, "it’s for the people who pay to get in, and whether they are getting satisfaction for their dollars spent."  If that is truly your assertion, Mr. Ford (because your very active involvement in this movie from its inception would indicate the contrary), would you please do us all a favor and tap Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas on the shoulder and clue them in, too?

Alright, enough grousing.  I mean, if I was Messrs. Spielberg and Lucas, I’d be ready to throttle me by now and screaming, "We get it!  But what do you want us to do about it!?!"

I think I have a very simple solution: stop trusting the opinions of the people immediately surrounding you.

Let me explain…  Though I am certain the people immediately around you are great and talented people, I am assuming that they are either a.) your employees, or b.) people who want to impress you.  That, and you guys are Steven-fucking-Spielberg and George-fucking-Lucas!  Who is going to disagree with you, regardless of how lame your ideas may be?  Gentlemen, I have lived in Corporate America; I know how the dance goes.  No matter how much you preach "open door" and "okay to dissent", no one’s gonna do it.

It is, by the way, not their fault, either.  It’s the way things are.  I gotta tell ya, if I had to stand in front of either of you and deliver a critique of your work, I would be shaking in my boots.  I’m not sure I’d be up for it.  In fact, I am shaking in my boots simply for posting this commentary!  For the possible backlash it might have on my own career.

You have to find some other way to test your ideas because the current way is clearly not working.

My suggestion?  Listen to dissenting critics because they’ve got it pegged pretty well, I think.  And more important, listen to your fans–the ones who have been there with you all along.  We’ll guide you through.

Because we believed in you.  We trusted you.  The two of you are almost entirely responsible for creating the most important–screw icons!–idols of my generation and the next.  For heaven’s sake, "Jedi" or "Jedi Knight" was identified as the 4th largest religion in England’s and Wales’s 2001 census, beating out Judaism and Buddhism!  Me thinks that says it all.

Just so you know, we’re not going anywhere.  Again…no need to worry.  So fuck the venture and return to the adventure.  Go back to the basics of the game.  Have fun again, and let us have fun with you.  Get back in touch with us…us!  We miss you, and our taste and our opinion, after all, paved your way to the top of the mountain.  …Right?

Trust us.

That’s all we ask.

Because our belief in you inspired many of us to believe in ourselves once upon a time.

And we want to believe.  …Again.

We need it, in fact.  Now more than ever.  Please don’t let us down.

I can’t stand up (for falling down)

Shit.

That’s about all I can say.

Right before dinner last night, I zipped upstairs to my office to hit send on an email I forgot about.  Click, went I.  Whiz-Bang, went the message.  Pop, went my inbox.

That’s when I saw it.

It was a message from a production company executive I’ve been working with toward developing a particular book series as a mini-series for a major cable network.  I opened the message, hopeful for good news.  Good news, it seemed, had taken the day off.

From his email: Also, finally heard back from MANAGEMENT FIRM re: TITLE and there are apparently two
offers (one real, one not so much) on the table now.  Also a writer, he didn’t
tell me who, that is making a play for it…
Not great news, but at least you know what’s happening with it.

Damn it!

It sucks because mere months ago, I had checked in with the management company.  The rights were available–free and clear.  There was another producer I’d been trying to interest in the project.  Yet, though I caught his attention and he’s been very generous with his time and consideration, he’s also up to his eyeballs with his own wildly successful cable series and its impending follow up.  Go figure.

Last month, as I sat in this other exec’s (who is a really cool guy, as well) office, it occurred to me that I should mention the property and what I knew about it.  And he did sometime no one else had done to date: he pricked up at the mention of it.  He got up, went immediately over to his computer, and Googled the series title.  One peek at the Wikipedia entry, and he was in.  He was, in fact, kind of excited.

We parted with a commitment from him to verify the rights availability.  If they were still clear, then it seemed he was interested in making a offer for them.  Most important, he seemed committed to letting me adapt the thing, which would not only have been amazing fun, but a great and steady gig for at least the next two years…maybe even longer if somehow the thing could be leveraged into an ongoing series.

Not a bad position to be in, eh?

In the feeding frenzy of gobbling up rights to virtually every book, blog, TV show, and magazine article known to humankind, I was amazed when the word came back that the rights to this series–which is quite popular and well known in certain circles–had reverted back to the author’s estate.  I had, it seemed, found the golden egg that rolled under the bed, overlooked by the scavengers.  I tried to hurry.  I tried to not tip my hand too overtly.  I knew that it was only a matter of time until someone lifted the dust ruffle and discovered my little secret.

And so it came to pass.

I know I shouldn’t be upset.  I know I shouldn’t let it get to me.  And it won’t…not in the long run.  Tomorrow I’ll wake up and reset and be okay.  It’s who I am.  It’s what I do.

But today I am pissed off.  Today I feel bad.  Today I just wanna curl up and cry.

The problem is that I broke the cardinal rule of the movie business.  I am nearly as upset about that as I am about the project dying on the vine.  I feel like a neophyte.  I feel like an amateur.  I feel stupid.

The problem is that I let myself get excited about the possibility.  I built a tower of expectation, forgetting that such things are unstable in the extreme and prone to collapsing without warning.  But I built the damned thing, anyway.  And I climbed clear on up to the top without the slightest thought to the cuts and bruises I’d earn for my trouble if the thing went down.

Because it was a cool idea.  Because it coulda worked.  Because it came to me unexpectedly in the first place.  And because I’d secretly harbored a dream that maybe I would be the guy to turn this book series into a movie since I was a kid.

HHHHHHhhhhhhhhh………………………

Bummer.

Silly.

Stupid.

Me.

POSTSCRIPT:  When I got home from my lunch meeting today, I got a really nice hug & kiss from Robbye and then discovered something had come for me in the mail.  A box.  An Amazon box.  And inside, this…

Planet_of_the_apes_tv_4a871
Very cool!  But I didn’t understand.  I hadn’t ordered it.

After some sleuthing around on the packing invoice, I found a little message: To: Bill From: Mike  Happy Birthday, lad!  Feel free to do the simian step as you return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.

Huh.  Sweet!  And heads above the 4 Questions thing I recently received from him.  Whadda guy..!  Thanks, Uncle Mike!

And suddenly, between that and the nice greeting I got from my darling wife, my day started looking up.