“I have this idea…”
I missed posting a blog last week because I was working in a small project as an actor. Weak excuse. When you work on a film as an actor you have nothing but time. True. You spend hours waiting in a trailer or “honey-wagon” (look that one up) for the set PA to come around and say they are ready for your scene. And you are ushered to “set” to work as an actor.
But because I’m basically lazy (both as an actor and writer) I didn’t really take advantage of the down time to work on this blog. I gave it some thought of course, a couple of minutes then took a nap.
So, what I wanted to explore a little this week is how people stumble into this business in the first place. The question I’m most asked after “how did you get into movies?” Is — “How can I get into movies?” Well, the easy answer is — “be very rich and have enough money to finance your own film.” That actually happens occasionally. I knew a really bad screenwriter from New York who’s father owned about a zillion parking lots in the Big Apple. Money? He had boatloads. And so the “kid” (he was in his late 30’s then) decided to become a film director. He had some of his drinking friends rough out a script about a ‘heist-gone-bad’ got his other drinking friends hired onto the project, hired some good crew people for twice their normal rate, found locations, hired a casting director (who in turn hired expensive film actors) and he shot his movie.
I saw part of it once. That’s all that had gotten edited. About 20 minutes. Because that’s the only part of the story they shot which actually made some sense. The rest of the film is still sitting on his closet shelf I assume. Never saw the light of day or the light of the projector. He was ‘absolutely convinced’ this was the next “Wise Guys” that he was going to write, direct and star in it. Success that way happens very seldom anyway. But there are a lot more “writer/director/actors” than there are rich kids with bathtubs of cash. My point is this, every time someone corners me at a party or restaurant or some other unhandy place with their great “idea” for a movie I always plead bladder problems so I can wander off and find a restroom to hide out. (Of course, not unlike Paul Newman once, I’ve been accosted in the can as well…)
“I have this idea…” is how it starts. “This could be a really great movie — then I hear the Reader’s Digest version of the story (if I’m lucky) and it invariably ends with… “how can I get it made?” So I first ask them the “are you rich?” question. Oh, you aren’t? Well, that’s the best way to get it made. Find someone with money who will invest in your “greatest-idea-since-sliced-bread” movie. You see, having a wonderful idea is good. Especially if it’s what we consider “high concept.” But getting others to believe that (and more importantly invest in it) is miles away from the beginning of having the idea. We’ve all read how many times great ideas were ‘passed on.” That’s how it’s termed in Hollywood-ese. Passed on your project. We love it — we’re gonna’ pass on it.
How about the ideas that are good? Same story. There are thousands of good stories in the world. Maybe millions. One of them maybe from your barber. It’s not the good story that sells it usually, it’s the good “pitch”. Your ability to “tell” your story so well someone wants to write it (and eventually make it if you write it).
I think I have seven exceptional scripts just gathering dust. All of them are mine. I’ve had them read (and unread) but hundreds of people in positions to get them financed and eventually made. But they aren’t in your local theater. Why? WEll, it’s not because the writing is bad or the story isn’t gripping. It’s because these stories aren’t “what Hollywood is buying right now”. You could fill an auditorium on what Hollywood ISN’T buying. But that’s another column for another day. The point is “I have a great story” only works if you want to write that “great” story and then work your buns off trying to get it made. Will you be successful? According to the percentages, about 8% of the time.
So if you have a great story work at it. Write it. Get it out there and then see what happens, because as Vince Lombardi said, “The only place success comes before work — is in the dictionary.”
Good luck to us both…