Category Archives: film biz

Hit n Strum Wraps… on to PitchMarket 2010!

Last week we wrapped on Hit n Strum… for the most part. There are still a few minor scenes that need picking up, but for the majority of our team, it’s time to move on. Other gigs are calling, our spouses and loved ones want to see us, and the volunteer members of the crew are down to their last boxes of cereal.

I have to say this was one of the best things I have ever done in my life and I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in the editing room. Half scripted, half spontaneous guerrilla shoot, and all magic.

HS crew photo

Stunt Day Crew Photo

See the older couple on the far left? Those are the director’s parents. His Dad drove the cast and crew around. And his mom (in the sunglasses) made the crew breakfast every morning during the shoot. I’m gonna miss her.

Oh, and that’s their CAR… the one we used in our stunt. They were pretty good sports.

Reporter Glen Schaefer from the Vancouver Province was there on Stunt Day. CLICK HERE for the great article he wrote about our shoot. Very nice spread.

AND NOW…

In addition to getting back to editing my latest feature script, I’m the Program Director for PitchMarket 2010, a professional networking and pitching event happening here in Vancouver on March 6th and 7th. CHECK IT OUT! It’s going to be great. Register now, cuz the first 50 registrants get extra special bonuses you won’t want to miss.

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More Behind-the-Scenes of Hit n Strum

The Vancouver Province featured a nice spread on Hit n Strum, which has just completed day 19 of 24 of principal photography.  Last week was a big week for us, because it was stunt week. The Province’s Glen Schaefer was there to observe, so click the link above if you’d like to read more about that. All I can say was that I was very proud of our team that day.

Much of our film has been guerrilla-style on the streets of Vancouver, primarily Gastown. One of our more glamorous locations has been the lovely Georgia Viaduct.

our core team gathers as cars rush in and out of the city

our core team gathers as cars rush in and out of the city

While location scouting, the director and DOP found a make-shift “condo” there and decided this would be the place our leading man would call home.

Our leading man, sick in a rainstorm. Art imitating life.

Our leading man, sick in a rainstorm. Art imitating life.

danika in the rain

I’m the one who does all the scheduling… and we needed one day of rain to do our rainy day scenes. This is me feeling pretty smug about arranging that… if you schedule it, it will come… lol.

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The Accidental Novelist becomes the Accidental Assistant Director

Oh where, oh where, has Danika been??

About a month ago I “accidentally” became the 1st A.D. on a low budget indie feature film.  If you know anything about feature film-making, then you know I have not had any life outside of the film since then. It means 14-16 (even a few 18 )hour days and that my “day off” is never really a day off.

Being a low-budget indie also means we have no 2nd, 3rd, or 4th AD’s… so I’m it in the AD department. It means being the contact person on and off set, creating the shooting schedule, call sheets, keeping everything moving on set, and being the director’s right hand woman.

I’m having the time of my life. I’m exhausted a lot of the time, but not stressed, because behind it all is the thrill of doing something that I absolutely love. It’s chaotic and magical at the same time. It’s also extremely collaborative due to the nature of the shoot. This is why I like indie filmmaking… it tends to be less hierarchical and people tend to take on multiple roles.

Our heroes:  Stephanie (Michelle Harrison) and Mike (Kirk Caouette - also the writer-director)

Our heroes: Stephanie (Michelle Harrison) and Mike (Kirk Caouette - also the writer-director)

This is the first time I’ve been this hands-on in the creation of a feature film. It’s better than any film-making program I could have attended.

I have never been any level of AD on a feature film. The reason I can do this job is because I have been on set in many capacities and I used to produce events for a living. During the events I was always the only person who knew what was going on in all departments, what was going on behind and in front of the scenes, and I acted as the point person for everyone.

The film is a little gem, too. A great crew, a great cast, a great story. There is a musical aspect to the film and the songs are quite lovely. A sort of Cat Stevens feel to them. I know the CD will be beautiful.

The guerrilla aspect to our filming creates a bond that one might not get on another set.

The film has a WEBSITE with PHOTO GALLERY and a blog if you’d like more info.

Pieter Stathis (DOP) and Me (AD)

Pieter Stathis (DOP) and Me (AD)

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Training for the CyberSpace Open: A script per day!

When I started my 10 day screenwriting challenge the other day, little did I realize how this might get me in shape for one of the most interesting screenwriting contests I’ve seen:  Screenwriting Expo’s CyberSpace Open.

The contest is set up in round-robin (elimination) style. Each round the participants must write a five page short script around a specific premise. You can write from anywhere. To win you need to survive 3 rounds, each with a tighter deadline than the last.

In the final round, the top 10 writers have only 90 minutes to write a 5-page script. Whew!

logo

I’ve been writing a short script per day for the past 7 days. I missed one day, so I only have 6 scripts. I was hoping to write 2 today, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

I may actually keep doing it for 2 weeks. We’ll see if I run out of steam.

I will post my favourite script of the 10 (or 14) right on this site. :-)

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Filed under Calls for Submission, contests, cool poop, film biz, industry poop, screenwriting, serious play, writing exercises

Blake Snyder – R.I.P.

If you haven’t heard yet, screenwriting guru Blake Snyder died of a heart attack yesterday. He was best known for his Save the Cat books and workshops.

The news is so strange to me, so unexpected. First of all, he was still pretty young. I have many friends around his age. But also, he has been so present in conversations lately. I just saw him at the PitchFest in L.A. and we were talking about brining him up to Vancouver for PitchMarket. He was one of the most popular screenwriting teachers out there.

save the cat

save the cat

I had some personal differences with some of the things in he said in his book, but he had some excellent pre-writing and writing exercises. He also inspired thousands of writers and not many out there can say that. He was also a genuinely nice man.

Someone on his website commented that they would dive with renewed passion into their own scripts in his honour. I will do the same. Here’s to you, Blake!

Best wishes to his family and friends. Losing a loved one is never easy.

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Script Creative Launched

I’ve been over at the OTHER wordpress (.org) for the past few days — the one that allows you to keep your own url and has more bells and whistles. What fun. (You can also screw up your site easier because it gives you access to the code — whoops!)

I JUST launched Script Creative, my new story editing / script development services, and I’ve got a hot summer deal. So hot I’m sweating.

It’s fun to procrastinate productively!

Now… back to that rewrite… :-)

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Pitching Tips from Pamela Jaye Smith

A great article on INKTIP (a great resource for screenwriters):

7 Pitching Tips from Ancient Myth to Modern Media

reel scrpt

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G.A. Pitchfest Pt. 3 – So What Happens at a PitchFest?

The pitchfests I have been to were a cross between pitching and speed dating.

You line up for the company you want to pitch to and when you get into the room, a bell goes off, giving you 5 minutes to find your table and make your pitch. When the five minute bell goes off, you leave so the next person can sit down.

cartoon director

Some of the newbies at The G.A. PitchFest were concerned about those five minutes. The thing is, if you have your pitch down tight, it shouldn’t take you more than a minute or two (genres are usually faster/easier to pitch, drama takes a bit more time). That means you can take 30 seconds to introduce yourself at the beginning and get comfortable, and take some questions at the end.

Tell what your story is about… not everything that happens in it (that takes too long). You can’t tell the story as well as your script can. The key is to get them intrigued enough to read it and find out for themselves.

When you’re done they’ll either want to see it or they won’t. If they don’t, let it go and move on. So what if you thought your story was perfect for them, they didn’t.

If they do want to see it you generally leave a one sheet, not the actual script, and contact them later. If you think about it, it makes sense. If they take 60 pitches that day and want 10-15 scripts, well, that’s a lot of scripts to be lugging around. I never print off scripts for pitchfests, only one-sheets.

There are some pitchfests where you pay PER appointment/pitch. I don’t recommend these. For instance, I paid $250 for G.A. and got to pitch to 12 companies, my friend pitched to 14. So let’s say $250 / 13 pitches = less than $20 per pitch. You’d pay more than twice that amount if you paid per individual pitch.

clapper

CONCERNS GOING INTO A PITCHFEST:

Make sure the people taking the pitches are actual DECISION MAKERS, not assistants of decisions makers, but people who are actually a step along the way to getting the film made. One of my complaints about G.A. was that I pitched to two assistants. One looked so uncomfortable I felt sorry for him. It seemed like he’d been in the industry for 2 weeks. I had absolutely no confidence in his ability to pitch my story to his higher ups.

This doesn’t mean that assistants aren’t valuable or able to suss out good stories. It really depends upon the assistant. If an executive has had an assistant working with her for 5 years and this person has been involved in development, that’s great. But it’s really hard to tell that from a profile. So just be aware.

If you read the profiles, it SHOULD tell you what the person’s position is. Look for terms like President, Director of Development, Development Executive.

Make sure the festival will give you a PRINTED BOOK of all the company/DM profiles. This year at G.A. they decided to cut corners and give out CD’s with the information and you could pay for a book if you wanted them. I’m sure they meant well, but it was not a good move. Having a printed book with you is VITAL because you can make notes in the margins and can do some quick changing if a line is too long or a company doesn’t show.

The Great American Pitchfest in Los Angeles last month had about 115 companies available to take pitches for one day. Supposedly the Hollywood Pitchfest has 200 over 2 days. The Hollywood Pitchfest is more expensive and they claim to ONLY have DM’s, no assistants. Perhaps next year I’ll try them.

The thing is, you can only pitch so many times whether there are 50, 100, or 200 DM’s. I pitched 12 times in 6.5 hours and there were usually 3 or 4 people ahead of me in line. That means the there was a good ratio or participants to DM’s.

PitchMarket West (happening this November in Vancouver, BC) will have far fewer DM’s, but the same ratio, meaning you’ll never have to stand in line for more than 15-20 mins (unless it’s a HUGELY popular company like Dimension or Miramax Films, which happens). I decided not to stand in long lines, but go for the numbers.

BTW – I am co-producing PitchMarket West, so if you have any questions, let me know.

More pitching DO’s:

RESEARCH the company you are pitching. Sometimes at pitchfests you don’t get all the information regarding a company until the last minute. Even so, do the best you can to look up the company on-line so you can learn something about them (i.e. tone, audience, budget). Then make sure you READ the profile they turned in for the pitchfest. They may have just completed 5 action films but are now looking for comedy.You’ll look pretty dumb if you don’t know this and it’s right there in their profile.

PRACTICE your pitch. I hate doing this. Most writers do. But it helps, it really does. Over the days before we pitched, my friend and I would take turns pitching to each other and asking helpful questions.

The most difficult question I got at G.A. was “So how is this story different than all the others?” (I was pitching a fantasy adventure). It sounds like an easy question to answer, but it’s not. Practice.

And have fun.

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Joss Whedon’s Equality Now Speech

Introduction by Meryl Streep. Whedon’s speech begins at two-minutes. Very cool.

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G.A. Pitchfest Part 2

The Do’s, Don’ts, Myths, Facts (around the industry, pitchfests, and pitching)

This post is a collection of things heard straight from the pros mouths and from my own observations of what I consider “bad behavior” – meaning things that will  make you annoying and appear difficult or amateur.

The last thing you want to do is appear difficult to work with or ignorant of the industry. I don’t care how good your script is, if people decide off the bat that you are going to be a pain in the ass, you’ll never get your brilliant script read. You are asking them to invest precious time, energy, and money in your project, working with you for many months, even years… if you don’t sell yourself first, you certainly won’t sell your script.

reel scrpt

Do NOT…
… pester executives / decision makers at networking parties. The first thing out of your mouth when you meet someone at an industry event should not be a pitch. How do you know you even want to work with this person if you don’t get to know them?
… carry the DVD of a movie you made around with you trying to show it to everyone you meet.
… go to a pitchfest if you are not a serious screenwriter. Serious screenwriters have more than one script and many more in their heads. Serious screenwriters have spent time on their craft. They know how to edit and they know how to take criticism. They understand that filmmaking is a collaborative process. If you aren’t in it for the long haul (and it is a haul), you’ll be wasting everyone’s time.

reel scrpt

Myths

-NO ONE IS GOING TO STEAL YOUR IDEA. If you are afraid to pitch to an executive because you think they’re going to steal your idea you need to get over it. First off, they are professionals. If they got caught stealing ideas, their reputations would suffer. But even more practical than that… the portion of the budget that goes into the script/writing is minimal. It makes more financial sense for them to buy your idea from you than risk going to court.

(BTW – When I was teaching a screenwriting course, one of my students didn’t want to share her story with the rest of the class because she thought they might steal it. First of all, if you took that idea and gave it to 10 people, they’d end up with 10 different scripts. Second, after they wrote it, they’d have to spend months/years polishing it and pitching it and somehow get someone to produce it (where it would be changed again). Sounds like a lot of effort to me towards someone else’s idea. But also – you’ll never get the feedback you need if you don’t share your script.)

-Whoever has said your script won’t get read/made if over 100 pages is misinformed. Keeping it tight is a must (i.e. 130 page scripts tend to put people off), but if it’s a tight script at 115 pages, and it’s a great script of course, people won’t care. A great script is a great script.

-Big agencies are not always better. They could be too big for you. They might not have the time to really work with you. They are really looking for the NEXT BIG SCRIPT. You may be better off with a boutique agency.

reel scrpt

DO!

-Network!  Get to know people and get to know the people that you know. You don’t have to know a lot of executives to get assistance in the industry. Start with the people you know already. If you have a friend who is an assistant director, take them out to lunch and ask them for advice. People are suprisingly more helpful than you might think. You just need to ask.

-Take chances and be flexible!  Don’t be married to your ideas (could the protagonist be the magician rather than the orphan?) or with your vision of what your career looks like. If someone asks you to write a commercial for a petstore and you think this is beneath you, you could be missing the opportunity to make a good impression on people who might offer you more work.

-Love what you write. Whether high concept or art film, it’s going to be with you for a long while. Everyone can smell inauthenticity in a script written simply because you thought you were following some formula for a blockbuster.

-Enter reputable contests. Although not the “golden key” to production, they will get you noticed and management companies do care. BE CAREFUL of scammy contests with no professional merit or valuable offering for the winner. The Reel Breakthrough panelists all mentioned Cinestory, Fade In, and the Nicholl Fellowship. One panelist said she entered a contest and didn’t win, but one of the judges optioned her script.

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Filed under contests, film biz, industry poop, random poop, screenwriting, serious play