Tuesday, July 31, 2007

God Forbid

I've been thinking about this since the other day.

I read this great article.


And I really believe this clip illustrates my point.

If you are a parent - you have been subjected to Chucky Cheese. And those crazy robots sing the worst songs. And sometimes it makes you want to pluck your eyes out and shove forks in your ears.

But not when they sing Ms. New Booty.
In fact - now - it becomes must see TV.

This article drives home a point that sickens me.

You can write a great script.
You can make a great film.
You can get all the critics lined up behind you.

Still doesn't make people give a rats ass.

I know.
It's really heartbreaking.

Unless you write 100% blockbuster entertainment - its a really bitter pill.

I love the small film. I love the movie that others don't. The challenging one. The one you gotta watch two or three times to start to get it all.

Most don't.

I wanna have the unlikeable guy as the lead. The girl that is so annoying - you almost can't take her. The family with the biggest flaws and problems. The guy who can't remember anything so he has to tattoo everything on his body.

And sometimes - the movie ends and they are worse off than they started.

Everyone else want Transforming Robots.

And don't get me wrong - I loves me some Transforming Robots.

But I'd like to think there's still a place at the table for the little guy. The challenging guy. The one no one thinks is gonna make it - but somehow triumphs.

And what does it say to us writers who are out there trying to tell those stories?

What if you throw a party and no one comes?

Now - on the other hand - the makers of "Once" have to be happy. There has been thousands of article written about them. The music is everywhere. The reviews are glowing. They have made back over 15 times what it cost to make. Everyone associated with that film will work again.

But will they ever make a film as good as this? The one everyone loved but no one came to see?

Story is a strange beast.

I love Story. All kinds of it. But most do not. You can see when you talk to that person who asks you what you're writing. If it doesn't have a lot of Robots Transforming -their eyes start to glaze over...

Yeah... that sounds nice.... and they disengage.

Its the story of an Irish busker who sings on the streets....


Great story. Engaging Characters. Great music. Universal acclaim.

No audience.

Where does that leave you and I?

Oh it doesn't affect me... everyone wants to hear my story about the homeless guy who became president....


It affects us all.

God forbid we actually write a great story. Get money. Get great actors. Get critical acclaim.

And listen to the crickets.

Maybe if they just sang Ms. New Booty...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Lots of employee issues the last few days.

I spend my time putting out fires.

And if you must know - here's a really funny one:

After spending four months on my latest show - that we finally got approved after months of trying - and I have recently sent out over 12 versions to different stations -

We found out today we needed to do another change.

It seems the repercussions of a certain American Starlet who has once again found herself in a difficult situation needs to be removed from our show and replaced with yet another starlet. Which means: Recut, remix, rewrite, retranslate, resubmit for approval, redo all versions.

Hmm.... a butterfly flutters its wings in California and changes the face of the programming in China.

And all I really wanted was a doovde...

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Not even sure what to say bout it. Just watch it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

It's a Chinese thing...

You wouldn't understand.

I've spent a lot of time in Asia. Starting as a kid - and continuing professionally as an adult. Every couple years or so - someone will find me and get me back over here doing some kind of film or TV work.

Not that I complain.

The majority that last 10 years have been in China.

Growing up I was in Taiwan and Hong Kong - and I thought there would be a lot of cross over between the two.

Not the case.

As a human being with natural curiousity - and as a writer - I am obsessed with people's thought processes. Why is it we do what we do? What were we thinking when we did it? What steps led us to believe that doing this was OK - or that we really had no other choice? Why do people who 90%of the time behave one way - suddenly decide to right turn and do something different?

This is even more interesting when applied to another culture.

And China operates as its own thing.

I've been here working on a show for quite some time. After making the companies, lawyers and clients happy in two different countries - we still had to pass a regulating board who has very specific rules that apply to the type of program we do.

After a back and forth of about 5 submissions - we got our approval. Two pieces of paper with big red stamps on them - one that was the letter of approval - one that is the script - showing nothing can be changed.

I immediately got a call from the Chinese office asking if I could go back in and replace some stuff that got cut out so that we could get approvals.

I asked "Isn't that wrong?"

Well - they will never know. And the approval doesn't talk about the shots - just the script. So how will they find out?

I've been fascinated with this back and forth ever since. When I asked them if they thought this was wrong to do - there was a lot of nervous laughter.

I asked my editor and graphics person if they thought this was wrong. They said yes.
I asked my assistant - and she said yes too - but also that "its just how it is."

When I first came to China - I was working for the Discovery Channel. I was negoitiating a shoot at Cho Ko Dien where the first Peiking Man bones were found. I sat down - all of 23 - in my shorts and T shirt - at a table with 7 smoking men all in their 50's and in suits. They tried to get me to pay $10,000 to film the bones.

I knew, like anyone who might have done even a second of research, that the real bones had sunk in a French ship back in the early 1900's. They wanted to see if I would pay that much to film replica bones I could buy anywhere for less than $100.

It's very easy to judge here by our western standards of honesty and ethics. But just cause you're trying to cheat the system - does that make them bad people?

It does make them harder to trust.

But I always try to look at things from their perspective.

Would the other shots make the show better? Probably. Would it be stronger? Yes.

In America - we're raised to believe one person makes a difference. Here - well - you remember that famous shot of the one person standing in front of a tank? And what happened to those people?

To get things done - you have to follow the cultural rules. Does that mean bribes? Yes. I haven't had to do it. But people around me have.

I was told - when you have a baby here - you give the doctor a "gift." One foreigner didn't want to do it. But the closer he got to his delivery - the more worried he got. What if something went wrong? What if the doctor was mad and didn't perform as well as he might have?

He gave a gift.

Part of the group think here is that as a society, we are cheated. We have been held down. Now we have a chance to get some - and we are going to do whatever we can to get it - and if that involves bending the rules - we shall bend them - because they were bent against us. It's a "everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't I" type of thing.

Please know that these are the ramblings of a white man trying to make sense of something that he really knows not of which he speaks. This does not apply to all Chinese and is not meant to be some sort of blanket accusation of the culture.

But there's something here. Just not sure what.

I used to call it a short term disease.

In the West - we try to be honest in our dealings and give people a fair deal so that we can do future business. We take a long term view that if I do you good now - you will be back and we can continue to do good in the future.

Here - there is no future. Only now. So I better get what I can.

It's not about whats right and wrong - just about what I can get away with. And the rules are constantly in flux. I was told repeatedly when I got here - we don't break the rules - we bend them. There is the law - and there is what you can get away with.

You can see why its so hard for a lot of American companies.

I don't like to lie. But I know I do. I don't like to cheat. But I know I do.

Heck - I break the speed limit every time I get in the car.

I want to be an honest person. I want to be trustworthy in my dealings. Especially when I represent a company bigger than me.

I didn't change the shots.

But if that was the right thing to do or not?

Beats the hell outta me....

Friday, July 20, 2007

Thrilla in Manila....

Talk about living the dream.

And people said it couldn't be done - but the Filipenos don't take no for an answer.

Who cares that they were in prison? Who cares that their idol should be as well. And if they didn't have a girl for the lead? Well - improvise, be-otch...

Anytime the man tries to keep you down - just take a look at this video and see how 1500 asian criminals respond to anyone trying to stop them from reaching for the stars.

How insanely cool is this?

Especially today.

On Harry Potter Saturday.

Even here in China - it's Harry Potter Saturday. There's a bookstore near here - and I think they'll actually have copies of the book. I'm going to go see today.

Woke up this morning - and had a nice little "lay in bed a bit longer and think about the story" morning. I've been noodling around with a non-linear idea for a month or so - just characters and themes that I like - jotting down scenes and places to go - but not at all sure yet what form the story takes place in - or what is actually going on.

Started out with a couple scenes this week. They felt good. Started to write themselves a bit.

Then I had a nice breakthrough today. Just laying there thinking about how all these people tie together - and it hit me.

I had the open.

So now I gotta write it.

Which gives me two things to look forward to: Harry Potter. Writing. No work. And another Video game party tonight.

So that makes four things.

And I'm going to be home at this time next week. Five things.

So if I find myself getting down or depressed?

More Thriller baby... :)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

End of Week Two

Friday here. End of week Two. Only one more week till I go home.

7 more days.

I can make it. I think. Just a bit more.

We have one show down - and one more on its way. We're getting closer.

But that still means I'll be back here in August. Still means I'll probably be here in September. We keep moving forward - but the progress is measured in inches - not feet. Certainly not in miles.

Wanted to write last night - but had a little video game party here at the house instead. It was supposed to be a little intimate group of my two assistants - but one of them invited her sister - who invited a co-worker - who invited a friend. And one of them brought their dog.

So it turned into something more.

It was supposed to start at 8. One came a little early. The next two came at 8:45. The next two came at 9:30.

One left at 10:30. The next two left at 12. The last two left at 1:30.

I just wanted to sleep at that point.

I'm sure my neighbors did too... :)

Strangely enough - as Iwalked one of my assistants out - she told me she's been really worried recently. She's a girl of all of 21 years old. Very smart - speaking two languages - Chinese and English - fluently.

She thinks she might have breast cancer and told me today she is going to the hospital with her mom. Not being an expert on the disease - I did tell her that she seems quite young to have this - and it doesn't seem like she should worry about it until she goes to her doctor.

But she was almost crying - and my heart was breaking for her. I told her I'd pray for her. Called my wife - who was on the road driving to Virginia to see her sick mother - and asker her to say a prayer for her as well.

Our bodies are a strange thing. Something we take for granted until they start acting up on us - and then sometimes we ignore the warning signs. A couple weeks ago - my wife started worrying that she had some form of arthritis. After a doctor visit and a blood test - it turns out she is fine. Thank God.

I pray that my friend will have similar news today.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Those were the days....

Note: Please excuse all the spelling mistakes on this blog. For some reason - China doesn't like blogger and doesn't like me to log on to blogger. The only way to get here is through a proxy site in Germany or Amsterdam - and as such - everything is in German. I click and guess my way through the interface. When I go to spell check something - everything is listed as a mistake and all the suggested fixes have umglats in them... so... sorry... :)

Ooops. I did it again.

Although my glory days certainly never reached Brittany's heights - my fall has been quick and desparate.

I played basketball yesterday afternoon.

My old high school buddy who works in China called me up and asked me to come play ball. It's only about 10 minutes from the edit suite - so when we finished up - I went to join him.

Big mistake.

One: Outdoor court in the insane Chinese heat.
Two: All college guys and us.
Three: I suck.

At first - I was on a good team - meaning I had other people to carry me - so we won a few games. Quickly that changed and for the next 2 hours - I never won another game. Ever.

My knees hurt. I was tired. And even at my best I rarely if ever made a lay up.

Pitiful. Sad. And the reality of Middle age begins to stare me in the face.

By the end - the best I could do was get out of the way of the rest of my team.


On the way home in the cab - the AC was cranked so high - I got a cold.

But I did get two and a half hours of exercise. And I did hit a couple nice shots. Enough to want to go back out and do it again.

After playing basketball for 20+ years - with all my injuries - it all comes back to what my coach said in high school about me and my friends...

"I see you guys playing basketball over there everyday. Don't see you getting any better..."

How true. But it does nothing to diminish the love for the game.

I was so inspired in my completely exhausted state - that I finally came back to the apartment and did some writing. Can you believe it? I can't.

And I actually like it. Don't know where its going - but that's usually my favorite part.

Now lets see if I can Lather. Rinse. And Repeat.

Off to edit....

The decomp room

I spent the 90's in the morgue.

I thought about this today as I got in the cab here in Beijing.

Let me explain...

For close to 10 years I did crime. Crime shows that is...

All in all - I did a heck of a lot of murder shows. We would travel all over the country interviewing people about murders - then come back to the studio and recreate them.

I went from nightmares and intense revolusion to insane curiousity. How are we as humans capable of such atrocities? And after we're gone...what happens to the bodies?

Sometime in the middle of the different series - we started going to the morgue. Interviewing the coroner. So that means you gotta get some B-roll to introduce them. And that usually involves dead bodies.

At various times I have been locked in the freezer with the bodies, locked in the drawers the bodies slide out of, been zipped up in body bags that they swore to me were unused, and lifted out of coffins.

I've helped a coroner shave the arms of a dead man to look more feminine because there weren't any dead ladies there when we needed to film.

I seen things. Things I don't want to talk about.

And smelled things.

First time I went in a decomp room - I was in Texas. Decomp rooms are usually in rural areas where they have a lot of unused land. When a body sits out in the sun for a few weeks until someone stumbles upon it - they usually head to a morgue with a decomp room - because the smell is so bad - no one wants to take it to the morgue.

I was interviewing a Coroner who was a piece of work. She would come to work in shorts and sandles - and do all her autopsies that way - making sure to spray her legs off when she was done to get rid of all the bits of blood and brain and bones.

The story we did had a body found after three weeks in the Texas heat. So we shot her in the Decomp room. And did her interview there.

When she open the door - I felt as if I was hit in the face by putrid decay. I don't think I've ever smelled anything like it in my life and would be happy to never smell anything like it again.

My sound guy immediately turned around and vomitted.

The doctor just laughed.

And she told me something interesting. She said that the brain is pretty amazing. That if we just stood there breathing - in a couple minutes - we wouldn't even notice the smell.

I found it hard to believe. My sound guy never came in - I had to set his stuff up.

And sure enough - after a couple minutes - I didn't notice the smell. Maybe cause I was too distracted by the bodies in various states of decay....

But I thought of this today as I got into my cab.

For some reason - a lot of Beijing Taxi drivers almost live in their cabs.

And when they don't have customers - they eat something full of onions and garlic...and the stink that fills that cab - especially when its hot out and they turn the air on and lock that smell in - cooking in the sun...

I thought of the decomp room.

And I closed my eyes. Vomitted a little bit in my mouth. And breathed.

And it worked. :)

Thank you, decomp room...

Monday, July 16, 2007

All work and no play...

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.


Good news, Bad news day.

Good news is we finally got approval from the governing commercial body of China that our first show can air. I am sitting here with the letters of approval to show for it.

Bad news is I still have two shows and two spots to go.

I'm at a point of total minutia. There is nothing left to do on the show except pick at it like a vulture. Change this color. Let's try this word instead of that word. Let's move this sentance here...

Just little picks... little tiny bites... and I feel as if they are eating slowly away at my very soul.

I need to be writing. I need to have something new to take me away from this silliness...

But instead I choose to play Godfather:Blackhand Edition on the Wii... I just moved from Capo to Underboss - and now I need to attack the compounds of the other four families... :)

And I watch bad movies. Like the Reaping. Or Captivity.

And decent TV like the Dresden Files.

No word from our offer to the big star... but I expect we will here this week. i watched one of his films this week. He's only done three or four...(He's a big name outside the film business...) and he really started kinda weak... but that was the character. He got better and better and actually had a couple really strong scenes. If he says yes - it will be a huge challenge... but if he pulls it off - he is really gonna have a career... So I guess I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If he says yes - it will really be a strange thing.

If he says no.... well... we make another offer.

And so on.

My fellow producer continues to rake in big credits. He has a trailer on Apple.com that he is an executive producer on - and it's no little film. Currently he's doing reshoots of a big film in New Mexico. He's trying to convince me that's where we should film.

I should be so lucky.

My wardrobe girl came to our weekly meeting last night. She is currently on a big Addidas commercial here. They are shooting 18 days for a 60 second spot. Go figure. Features have been shot in less. She was talking about how hard it was to get a good assistant. Everyone wants to be in the film business - but few are willing to put in the work and hours to actually do it.

It really is shocking to see how much work everything is. Down to the tiniest color tweak. It's almost like hazing for a frat. When they tie your junk to a rope - and the other end is a big rock and they throw it over the edge.

It takes a certain type. And we know how to recognize you. Except in LA - cause there are a lot of posers.

More and more - you come to realize that this is a craft. A craft that costs millions of dollars and its not at all about the parties and the stars - its about sweat and hard work and a lot of discipline. If you're not willing to put it in - we have no place for you.

On the other hand - its the greatest job in the world - and you can work with the coolest people in the world. All you have to give up is any semblance of a life and your soul.

Ok... maybe not all of your soul.... :)

Just most of it...

Now... I must write. I can write. I will write myself out of this hole...


Friday, July 13, 2007

How to get an Agent

Ryan wrote out an email to our little writer's group the other day asking what was the best way to get an agent.

I've seen this question asked time and time again by people over and over. Before I had one - I asked it. Sad to say - out of our little group - while I am the most undeserving - I am the only one who has an agent. And I barely have one at that.

I remember coming out of film school and thinking that it would be easy to get an agent. After all - I was brilliant and it was only a matter of time before everyone else realized it. All I needed was an agent to tell the world.

I was a director - so I brought my reel and went to every agency I could find in LA and dropped one off. Never had a call. One place had me in for a meeting - and that was it. Nothing.

I went to meeting that had the writers of Batman Forever at it. People kept asking them how to get an agent - and they said - don't bring us your scripts. Just write something brilliant and the agents will come to you.

Arrogant dorks. The movie sucked and they sucked. I understand their point - but I completely don't believe it. If you have to be brilliant to get an agent - then how did I get one?

Truth is - for me - I wrote a script. Got it to some people I know. Started getting my own money behind it - and that made people pay attention. But not much. Then we ended up getting some attachments. I got a manager who was a friend from Film School who worked at a high profile company with two Academy Award winning directors. Even still - I couldn't get an agent. My manager had another writer repped by CAA - and told them who was attached to my script - and they still wouldn't read it. No one really cared.

And then an assistant to a development VP at Lion's Gate got my script. He loved it. And he asked if he could pass it to a couple of agents. And he did. And they started chasing me. They tried to get me work. And they did a good job. And finally I had agents.

But it wasn't my brilliant script.
It wasn't the money I had to do the film.
It wasn't my manager.
It wasn't the stars.
Maybe it was a combination of all those things.

But my point is that it wasn't just one thing...It ended up being a very round about way... and believe me - it wasn't about talent. Although that helps...It's just about the hype. If you can get people talking - then you can get an agent.

It's all air in Hollywood.

So how do you get an agent? I don't really know. Have my agents helped me? I don't really know....

It's chicken and egg.

Like anything in this business...you have to have something for them to sell. And not just something - it has to be something that people want. Or they think they want. And really - in my case - I still have to do most of the work.

If I wasn't a producer - pushing to get the script to people through my other producer - the movie wouldn't go anywhere.

Last month - my agents ignored my calls and emails. This month - once they heard that stars are reading it again - they called me 5 times. Now they have all sorts of "new ideas" for the script... :) go figure.

So if you think an agent will save you - forget it. An agent is great once you are a commodity that people want. It's your job to make people want you. You write the great scripts. You get people talking. You make the contacts that get you out there... and then the agent is perfect - cause so many people are chasing you that they can weed out the ones you don't wanna talk to and take all the credit and percentage of your sucess... :)

Or - if you're like me - you blow all the good will of your opportunities and go to China to do skin care commercials.

To be fair - my agents got me into 20+ meetings with various companies and studios. They got me chances to do takes on 4 different projects - and they could have had my film set up at a couple different companies.

But I had my own ideas.

Like toiling away in relative obscurity... :) But hey - I'm big in China...

So not to burst anyone's bubble... but the truth is - getting an agent is only one step. Getting your stuff out there is the first step. You hear time and time again that someone read something and wanted to buy the script - but the writer didn't have an agent and so the studio recommended someone - and then they got an agent.

The key is to make friends. Something that comes hard to writers. Make friends with people who are in the business. And get them your stuff. And keep going. Keep writing. Have a good group that screens your stuff first who help you make it the best it can be - and then get it out there. And don't wait. Keep on writing - cause the best part is that you can only get better... each script is hopefully a bit better than the one before...

So write.
Make Friends.
Get your stuff into as many peoples hands as possible.
And keep going. Don't quit.

And maybe one day everyone beats down your door and you make it big.

Or you end up in China...

Either way - as my dad says - there is no silver bullet. Everyone has to make their own way.

But don't give up. If an idiot like me gets an agent - you can too....

Actually getting paid to write?

That's a whole nother story....

Friday, July 06, 2007

Live Free...

Now - with a new fourth verse!
(Language warning for those with sensitive ears...)

It's been wonderful being home for a week - and as each day ends I actually dread going back over to China more and more. I am really tired of being in that little room making tiny changes...

But it pays the bills and I don't want to seem ungrateful. But I am hungry for something new...

Yesterday and tonight I got to hang out with my good friend Shawn. Not only is he like a brother to me - he is, in fact, my brother in law. When we met, he was a punk kid and I was an older punk - and now we're both married with two kids.

We went outside my parents house yesterday and shot baskets - talking about how we used to play sometimes up to 4 or 5 hours a day. Now we got winded shooting... :) Granted - he still hits all his shots...

We went and saw Live Free or Die Hard tonight. After a bit of a slow start - I thought it was a blast. The movie rides entirely on the good will we have put into the John McKane character for three other movies - but who cares? Justin Long was great - and Bruce Willis was awesome. Three of four nice stunt sequences and a load of incredibly nonsense - coupled with the shortest drive times since 24 - and the movie was a heck of a lot of fun.

The theater wasn't too packed - so we had even more fun making comments through the whole thing like a couple of giggly schoolgirls.

With this and Transformers - I feel as if my childhood is returning.

All and all a great night.

One the movie front:


We got turned down by the star we made our first offer too. Not sure if it was the money or the script - probably both. But today - we made another offer - and apparently the management of this new guy is really excited about the project.

We shall see. It's all funny that there is interest again in the show. Between the actors and a couple big production companies trying to track me down - I do get a bit excited... but I remember what it was like waiting for the phone to ring for two years and having the whole thing crash and burn around me...

So I ain't quitting my day job...

But it is nice to be in the game again...

More as it progresses....

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

More than meets the eye....

How cool is it that cars transform into giant robots?

That is a real simple idea that just has such resonance. So stinking American that it took the Japanese to think of it...

I remember actually being in college and coming back to the lobby and watching the cartoon - back to back with GI JOE between classes. I thought it was hilarious... and fun.

When my son needed to be potty trained - I found a transformer - and each time he took a dump on the toliet - we got a new transformer. Now - years later - he has a ton of them and is still just as obsessed. We own every season on DVD and we still watch them.

While we were in China - we picked up the 20th anniversary of the the original Transformers Movie. He still laughs everytime Grimlock bites Megatron on the butt.

We have a thing about not letting our kids see movies till we've seen them first - unless they are PG or G. It was a bit of thing - the Transformers movie being PG-13. This kid has been following the development of the film for the last 2 years... so we broke the rules.

I woke up at about 7 last night. Jet Lag. My wife and kids had gone off to the park for a birthday of a friend. I called the theater to find out when the movie started today - cause I figured out we would head that way... but then I find out - they had shows on last night.

We all grouped up and headed over...

Sadly - there was problems with the projector and we didn't get to see the Cloverdale trailer. That sucks.

And my son was going crazy. Can't they just start the movie already? We waited about 20 minutes and then they finally got it going.

My boy was sitting with his mouth open for the whole thing. He would call out the names of each of the Transformers - often getting them wrong - cause they changed them so much - but he didn't care. He was so excited and happy...

He didn't want it to end.

My daughter - who only likes Transformers by proxy - said it was the best movie she had ever seen.

Me? I thought it was fun. Really fun. Shia is incredible. He is the real thing.

The robots are amazing. The way Jurrasic Park was amazing.

My son? This was his Star Wars. He's already ready to go back. He says he can't wait for part two.

I think I enjoyed watching him watching more than the movie. To see his amazement was way more than worth the price of admission... :)