Want To Be A Screenwriter
...maybe its time to cash a reality cheque.
youve got a GREAT film or television script?
And you just KNOW that every word is perfect, and you wont
have to change a thing. People are gonna love it! Hollywood is going
to call with a half million dollar offer.
Well, maybe its time to cash a reality cheque.
For one thing, Hollywood is not in Canada, in case geography isnt
your strong subject, and the financial realities south of the border
are far different. In other words, even if you do get your work
produced in Canada, the money isnt going to pour in.
Photo Allen Gibson Actor/PR
Peter Wintonick, after the huge success of his
documentary "Manufacturing Consent" figured he earned
about a buck an hour for his years of effort.
Milo Addica, whos first screenplay became the hit
"Monsters Ball," was reduced to living on cat food at
times during the six years he spent trying to get it
"Dont expect your first job in TV is going to be as
a writer", says Kenny Lenhart. A staff writer for
"Boston Public", speaking at the Vancouver Film
Festivals Trade Forum, Lenhart says he took a big pay
cut to work as a production assistant- his job
included washing the series producers car -on a TV
series but he was "in," and his writing had a chance
of being read.
And that perfect script?
"Writing is re-writing," says Lenhart, "So if you dont
like re-writing, dont work in TV! It took me three years to really
feel like I was getting David E.Kellys voice on the
show. Oh, look - he kept a whole paragraph! Im getting it!"
Allan Hopkins sold his first television piece after he:
a.got a degree at SFU with a minor in film,
b.b: spent ten years hanging around the biz, making films for free with
a bunch of friends, taking whatever 2-day paying jobs he could get and
doing landscaping to pay the bills,
c.took an 8 week course at Video Inn to learn how to operate a camera
d.got a commission from a Native artist to produce his video and managed
to accidentally-on-purpose meet the executive producer of CTVs "First
Story" to pitch him on the piece.
e.Re-shoot some interviews and scenes at the
producers suggestion to make the piece "more
His reward for all that effort? Under a thousand
But, as is common in "the Biz", that first sale led
to more work. "First Story" kept hiring him; as a
freelance researcher and assistant.
"I was the only one of 5 or 8 freelancers who worked there who actually
met my deadlines. And thats why I got a job as a full-time producer."
Sean Diamond is 31. He spent years doing temp labor and various film jobs
while trying to break in to "the Biz," eventually writing a
comedy based on his experiences called "Temp TV."
The script was good enough to get $10,000 from Canadas Comedy Network
to develop a show. After shooting a pilot the normal way - which means
lots of friends worked on it for free- the network didnt want it.
So far, neither does anyone else.
Was it a failure? Not necessarily. Like Alan, his first project led to
more work. Sean is currently directing a documentary about porno entrepreneurs
in Canada - and still looking for a buyer for "Temp TV."
In Canada, most productions are made with the help of grants from various
government agencies. Randall Coles first grant for a short came
in 1996 from the Canada Council.
His debut feature, "19 Months," got positive reviews
from its premiere at Vancouvers Film Festival. One
paper went so far as to call it "the funniest film of
the year." The films quarter million dollar budget
was raised by the Canadian Film Centre, so Cole didnt
have to worry about finding money.
So did he have a smooth road to his current success?
"My parents didnt find the road all that smooth," he notes
wryly. "And I did graduate eleven years ago."
Twenty-eight year old John Pyper is representative of an emerging breed
of Vancouver filmmaker. John is determined to be independent of government
support, which, he feels, "takes a lot of time and energy away from
the creative process." He says it is easier to shoot a digital movie
where everyone is working for free than going through the complex government
Johns short, "Viewfinder," created a buzz at the
recent Toronto Online Film Festival, where the head of
Canadian channel Moviola, Romen Podzyhun, called it
"a powerful and satisfying short film. Johns
direction and storytelling should be mandatory viewing
for some feature film directors."
But how is John going to make money? His answer to
that is less clear.
"You gotta be looking at the States. I want to make
projects that are commercially viable, and thats the
model in the U.S."
How much would he get if The Sundance Channel in the
States, for example, thinks "Viewfinder" is
Likely around $2,000 - Canadian.
Movieola might air the film for between $600 to $1,400. Podzyhun says
the Indie filmmaker, will need more than ten paying venues to break
Johns response? "This business isnt run on logic. All
I care about right now are the number of eyeballs.
My goal is to do something that is successful enough
to let me do the next one."
Such is the logic of the dream factory.
Still want to be a screenwriter?
© Allen Gibson October 2002
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