Help send two female directors to Sundance 2016

September 29th, 2015 by

Cassian Elwes. Lynette Howell. Christine Vachon. Three producers who have a pronounced effect on the independent movie culture. Their producing credits include All Is Lost, Big Eyes, Boys Don’t Cry, Far From Heaven, The Place Beyond the Pines, and Dallas Buyers Club among many other notable titles.

For the second year in a row, they are promoting the Horizon Award:

What is the HORIZON AWARD? 

This award is part of the solution to a not just a growing problem in filmmaking today, but rather a systemic breakdown in who is being afforded the opportunity to get behind the camera. This year 2nd Annual Horizon Award will be given to  2 female directors who will receive an all expenses paid trip to the 2016 Sundance Film Festival where they will meet with producers, filmmakers, festival programmers and others in the film industry to help put them at the head of the line as for too long they have been forced to stand in the back. In addition to the trip and introductions, the winners will also each receive a $1,000 cash prize.

Why two women directors?

Gender Disparity in Filmmaking The simple fact is that there are not enough female directors in the film industry. A 2012 report published by Women In Film and the Sundance institute showed that of the the top 250 domestic grossing movies worldwide in 2012, women comprised only 9% of directors.

More recently, a  2015 Study was published and showed that of the top 100 domestic grossing movies in 2014, only 1.9% had a female director. The purpose of the horizon award is to confront this discrepancy by giving a female college student or recent graduate the opportunity to have their work seen by some of Hollywood’s most influential directors and producers and raise the profile of female filmmakers.

What We Need By donating, you are contributing to an important effort to provide opportunities for highly talented young female directors looking to succeed in the film industry. To make this possible, we need to raise $20,000 to provide travel, accommodation and other expenses for the winner. Cassian Elwes will personally match the last $5,000 donated towards the award. Any money above $20,000 that the campaign makes will a) help fund future horizon awards to make it an annual opportunity, and b) establish partnerships to create more opportunities for female film making.

One thing I have been about at Go Into The Story since Day One is to support more and different movies created by more and different filmmakers. We cannot control the major Hollywood studios and their obsession with remakes, reboots, and sequels. What we can do is support efforts to engender greater diversity among writers and directors in the hopes they will create distinctive stories which both entertain and speak to the human condition.

To support the Horizon Award 2016 like I have, you may visit their Indiegogo site here.

Story is the foundation of everything

September 4th, 2015 by

As we ‘celebrate’ Force Friday, where consumers are in a frenzy snapping up new Star Wars toys, it’s good to remember that it all starts with story. It’s no surprise that Disney – which owns Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilms – understands this. Check out Walt Disney’s organizational chart back from the days Walt himself headed up the company:

Notably missing from the chart is a big fat circle named MERCHANDISE. Nobody knows merchandise better than Disney and in one way of thinking, Star Wars is not so much a movie franchise, as a toy franchise.

Takeaway: Stories are intellectual properties which can literally reap billions of dollars of revenues for corporations like Disney. And if story is the foundation for everything, as evidenced by its pole position in Walt’s chart, that means storytellers are a critical piece of the puzzle. So when you see this:

Remember… that piece of merchandise was created by a writer and their words.

HT to Deborah Kawaguchi for sending this tweet my way.

Case Study: Female Driven Comedy

August 26th, 2015 by

Over at the Black List, among the titles the super bright Terry Huang has is Director of Data, and his latest post features some interesting… well… data.

I’ve been recently providing data to a screenwriter to help her pitch her new female-driven comedy and thought it would make an interesting case study. Basically, she’s going out to financiers to ask for money to direct and wanted help to make a financial case to back the film.

Here are two interesting charts of data Terry uncovered:

We were looking specifically at female driven comedies, so I wanted to look at what someone could expect to get for financing such a film.

This chart shows male versus female comedy budgets year over year.

Female = blue, Male = red

Female led comedies get far less money for production. The median budget for female led comedy is around $20 million. For reference, the median male comedies are given about $7 million more each year.

So I sort of knew how much a female comedy was historically financed at, but how did it the return compare to male driven comedies? Did male driven comedies warrant the higher production budgets based on their theatrical grosses?

The answer was not really.

If you look at the gross for male versus female, you find that even given substantially lower budgets, female performs in line with male comedy and sometimes outperforms.

Female = blue, Male = red

When you look at the median film for female comedies, it more often than not returns higher than the median male driven comedy (7 out of 11 years shown), even though if you look at the chart above the median male comedy gets again about $7 million more in production budget (as stated previously).

Terry’s conclusions:

So I went into it trying to figure out a way to make a case for the female driven comedy and it wasn’t that hard. It turned out that female driven comedy more often returns its budget.

It seems then that studios are probably overspending on male content and underspending on female content given the grosses. They should probably be more selective about the dollars they give out to male led movies and a little more generous to female led content.

Charlton Heston once said, “The problem with movies as art is they are commerce.” At the end of the day, someone has to pony up the cash to get a movie made. Hopefully armed with information like that which Terry has surfaced, writers and directors who are promoting a worthy female driven comedy will find more receptive financiers.

For the rest of Terry’s post, go here.

Farewell Friday: @MysteryExec

August 21st, 2015 by

By now, most of you have probably heard the news: @MysteryExec is no more. Arguably the dean of the whole Mystery Hollywood thing, I enjoyed his Twitter feed since way back in 2011. Almost two years ago to the day, I posted this: @MysteryExec calls out screenwriters:

I have no idea who @MysteryExec is. All I know is it’s been a blast tracking his lifestyle via his tweets which for long stretches of time have involved providing behind the scenes snark about his work environment and anything to do with the Valley, then heading out for play time which typically translates into consuming copious amounts of Chivas 18 while chasing female companionship in the watering holes of Westwood.

But in the last few months, something happened to @MysteryExec. Yes, he still pursues carnal knowledge bathed in scotch, but in a moment of what I can only imagine was akin to achieving “total consciousness” a la Carl from Caddyshack, @MysteryExec realized something: The Hollywood filmmaking community can do better.

In fact, @MysteryExec coined a hashtag to that effect: #BeTheChange.


For all we know, @MysteryExec may be some community college dropout working as a stock boy at a pissant Radio Shack in Pacoima, but when he goes into #BeTheChange mode, it doesn’t matter: He is a prophet crying in the wilderness, proclaiming the truth from high atop Mount Twitter.

Writers, heed @MysteryExec’s call!

Dig deeply into your characters.
Make them come alive and lift off the page.
Find what is unique about them that takes them beyond cliché .
Zero in on something about your characters that generates resonance for a reader.
Don’t be afraid to break with formula whether it’s plot, genre, gender, race or a character’s country of origin.
If a character surprises you with something they say or do, chances are they will surprise a Hollywood reader, too.

As it turns out, @MysteryExec is not a studio executive. He’s also likely not a stock boy at a Radio Shack, but apparently a screenwriter along with his partner in virtual ‘crime’ @MysteryVP, also a screenwriter.

So does this implosive development undercut the message ME has been promoting via social media the last 2 years? Some reactions from folks who work in the business:

And this from Franklin Leonard who I think says it best:

Let me close by saying this: Hey, @MysteryExec and @MysteryVP! If you can generate the heat you did with your @MagicalMysteryTrip, I would imagine you can probably write the hell out of a script. So why not emerge from your @MysteryCocoon and join your fellow screenwriters in the bright haze of smoggy Hollywood and beyond? We welcome you both with open virtual arms, a bottle of Chivas, and whatever meds ex-@MysteryVP happens to fantasizing about at the moment.

Son, it ain’t time to be knockin’ on heaven’s door. It’s time to be rockin’ in the free world!

@MysteryExec is dead! Long live @MysteryExec!

In Hollywood, It’s a Reboot by Any Other Name

August 7th, 2015 by

A NYT article I flagged from a few weeks back: “To Hollywood, ‘reboot’ is a four-letter word.” Indeed. The article provides a helpful list of “re”-terms:


Definition: Telling the exact same story as the original, with modern gadgets.

Example: “Poltergeist.”


Definition: Trying to recapture the glory of a dormant franchise.

Example: “Vacation.”


Definition: It’s really the same thing as a reboot.

Example(s): “Mad Max: Fury Road.” While promoting the film earlier this year, the director George Miller and the star Tom Hardy insisted it be called a revisit.


Definition: Acknowledges only the cherished entries in the franchise and ignores the others.

Examples: According to David Ellison, the producer of the recent “Terminator: Genisys,” it “is not a remake, it’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel — it’s really a reimagining based on the Cameron source material.” Best that we all forget “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines” (2003) and “Terminator Salvation” (2009).

“Jurassic World” also falls in this category. Even as early as the fall of 2013, the director Colin Trevorrow hesitated to use the word “reboot” while also saying goodbye to continuity from “The Lost World” (1997) and “Jurassic Park III (2001).”


Definition: New cast, same origin story. Needed when the previous entry is perceived to have failed creatively or financially. Skating by on brand recognition.

Examples: “Fantastic Four” (due in August) and “The Transporter Refueled” (set for September).


Definition: Altering the continuity order of a franchise, to the edge of all logical sense.

Examples: The “Fast and the Furious” films. “Fast & Furious” (2009), “Fast Five” (2011) and “Fast & Furious 6” (2013) all take place before the events in “The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” (which came out in 2006 and was the third film in the series). But “Furious 7,” which came out in April, takes places afterward. Not confusing at all.

Of course, all of these owe their origin to the Big Daddy of all the “re”-terms in Hollywood: Recycling.

Any of you happy with Hollywood’s “re”-whatever obsession?

For the rest of the NYT article, go here.

Spec Scripts: The Way It USED to be!

July 22nd, 2015 by

Some of you probably saw this Den of Geek article from last week, but even if you did, I think it’s worth the time to consider the way the spec script market used to be, back in the Go Go days of the early to mid-90s. To wit, this article: The fate of the $26m scripts Joe Eszterhas sold in the 90s.

That’s right. $26M. That figure alone should give you some sense of what the hell was going on two decades ago. Studio money was plentiful. Hype was king. And spec scripts were a hot commodity. How hot? Consider this list of deals Eszterhas set up in a few short years as detailed in the article cited above. I have divided them into movies which got made and movies which didn’t get produced:

One Night Stand: $4M
Made: Yes

Jade: $4M
Made: Yes

Showgirls: $3.7M
Made: Yes

Basic Instinct: $3M
Made: Yes

Sliver: $1M
Made: Yes

Reliable Sources: $2M
Made: No

Male Pattern Baldness: $2M
Made: No

Gangland: $1.3M
Made: No

Foreplay: $1M
Made: No

Original Sin: $600K
Made: No

Sacred Cows: $500K
Made: No

There was a point where Eszterhas was literally making multimillion dollar deals based on story ideas he had scratched onto a napkin over a lunch meeting. He was that hot. How did he get there? This:

Produced in 1992, Basic Instinct generated an astonishing $353M in worldwide box office revenues. I remember when the spec script went out. Here is P.1:


It is dark; we don't see clearly. 

A man and woman make love on a brass bed. There are 
mirrors on the walls and ceiling. On a side table, atop 
a small mirror, lines of cocaine. A  tape deck PLAYS the 
Stones "Sympathy for the Devil."

Atop him... she straddles his chest... her breasts in his 
face. He cups her breasts. She leans down, kisses him...

JOHNNY BOZ is in his late 40's, slim, good-looking. We don't 
see the woman's face. She has long blonde hair. The CAMERA 
STAYS BEHIND and to the side of them.

She leans close over his face, her tongue in his mouth... she 
kisses him... she moves her hands up, holds both of his arms 
above his head.

She moves higher atop him... she reaches to the side of the 
bed... a white silk scarf is in her hand... her hips above his 
face now, moving... slightly, oh-so slightly... his face strains 
towards her.

The scarf in her hand... she ties his hands with it... 
gently... to the brass bed... his eyes are closed... tighter... 
lowering hips into his face... lower... over his chest... his 
navel. The SONG plays.

He is inside her... his head arches back... his throat white.

She arches her back... her hips grind... her breasts are high...

Her back arches back... back... her head tilts back... she 
extends her arms... the right arm comes down suddenly... the 
steel flashes... his throat is white...

He bucks, writhes, bucks, convulses...

It flashes up... it flashes down... and up... and down... and 
up... and...


Winter in San Francisco cold, foggy. Cop cars everywhere. 
The lights play through the thick fog. Two Homicide detectives 
get out of the car, walk into the house.

An attention-grabber right off the bat. Here is how Den of Geek describes the way the Basic Instinct script deal went down:

Originally entitled Love Hurts, it became Basic Instinct on the morning its auction effectively began, as the screenplay was sent to every production outlet in Hollywood. The plan was to try and get them to outbid each other, to drive the price up. The plan worked.

The auction started at 10 one morning. “By noon”, as Eszterhas tells in his book, “we had offers up to $2 million.” The eventual winning bid? Carolco’s. It paid $3m to Eszterhas, and as part of the deal, it paid a further $1m to Irwin Winkler to produce the movie. “A New Era Dawns In Hollywood” read the subsequent Variety headline. And it wasn’t kidding.

Agents sending out a spec at an appointed hour. Agents hand carrying scripts to buyers, then insisting they read the script while supervised by an agency rep. Specs sent out with kitschy items to generate heat, like ticking clocks for the script “Ticking Man” which ended up selling for $1M… and never getting produced.

Yep, it was a whole bunch of fun there for a few years with spec scripts as the hot commodity in Hollywood. And no one reigned over that domain more than Joe Eszterhas.

The $26 Million Dollar Man Himself

Today? For sure, it ain’t like that. The studios, each of whom has been acquired by ginormous multinational corporations, have bent their business practices to the bean counters. Their obsession is more with franchises and repurposing preexisting intellectual property.

However the spec market, while not nearly at the level it was when Eszterhas was stomping around the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire, yelling invectives at CAA — he didn’t actually do that, just wrote an infamous letter which was faxed around town — is still a thing. Every year, a significant number of writers sell or option spec scripts, many of them outsiders using it as a way to break into the business. Even if a spec doesn’t sell, it can act as a writing sample which gets the writer representation, meetings, and possibly open writing assignments.

Plus there’s this: There are a lot more buyers around today than there were in the early to mid-90s. And many more platforms for scripted entertainment including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, YouTube and the like.

So while we can’t expect to jot down “Boy meets girl” on a napkin over lunch with a studio exec and have them whip out the corporate checkbook, inking in seven figures before we’ve had a chance to digest our kale and quinoa… but a spec script still is a powerful tool.

If you need a reminder of that fact, you need look no further than Joe Eszterhas.

For the rest of the Den Of Geek article, go here.

Walt Disney’s 1957 Business Strategy

July 1st, 2015 by

This is pretty amazing: Walt Disney’s 1957 business strategy for the company bearing his name:

What’s remarkable is how much this approach parallels Disney’s philosophy today. Swap out Disney Radio for Disney Magazine, add ancillary revenue sources such as video games and Broadway musicals, and basically what you see in this sketch represents how Disney, expert at repurposing content, goes about their business. And at the root of it all: IP. Intellectual Property.

That’s where writers come in. If you create content a studio like Disney believes they can exploit for profit, you put yourself in a position to reap some benefit from your inspiration.

Via @FilmmakerIQ.

Video: Why Are There So Many Remakes??

June 19th, 2015 by

Produced by PBS Idea Channel and hosted by Mike Rugnetta, this video explores a question that vexes many movie fans today: Why are there so many remakes? Yes, there’s the revenues. And it’s proven to be safer for the studios. But this video makes the argument there’s something else going on about Gen Xers and Millennials which makes remakes particularly resonant to those demo groups.

Industrial technological duplication as a cultural touchstone. What do you think of that theory?

What’s going on with mid-budget movies in Hollywood?

May 8th, 2015 by

Terry Huang is part of the Black List crew and one of his specialties is analytics. For example back in April, he took on the idea that has floated around Hollywood for several years — the highest budgeted movies are the ones which translate into the most reliable profits — and broke down some actual numbers in a Black List blog post to basically support that thesis.

Afterward I emailed Terry to see what he could dig up about mid-budget movies which have taken it on the chin relative to major Hollywood studios – the rise of behemoth blockbuster franchises has led to a precipitous drop in films in the $25-75M range.

So Terry went at it and came up with a post that provides what I believe analysts officially call a “shit-ton” of invaluable information. Here are some excerpts:

Why do we care about these mid-budget movies? Well, increasingly, studios have gravitated toward spending more money on fewer projects. These giant projects are largely, if not entirely, based on things like comic books, YA novels, or previous films. The mid/low budget space is pretty much the only place where original movies are being made. And this means that it’s the only space where original material is being bought.

Take a look at this graph that shows the breakdown of spend by different budget brackets over time:

As you can see, spend on $100 million plus movies has increased quite a bit over the last ten years. This has been particularly driven by $200 million plus movies, which has come to represent about 25% of total production spend.

It’s most noticeably the under $50 million space that has been declining over the past decade. This means that dollars are tighter and that there are fewer movies to split that cash. This also means to get a movie made in this space, it has to be a compelling proposition, even more so nowadays that a decade ago. A script needs to stand out in this space.

And this is just tip of the proverbial information iceberg Terry dug up like “Attributes of Very Successful Mid-Budget Films” including most common keywords in their loglines.

Here are three takeaways Terry came away with from his research:

These are scripts that are more likely to sell in this ultra-competitive space.

* Horror, comedy, romance, and sci-fi tend to do better

*Ignore MPAA rating. There’s little influence in return. And use of the F word is actually an attribute of successful movies.

*Women led movies will have a higher likelihood of financial return. Female protagonist is also a keyword that shows up in successful movies.

My takeaway: If you are writing a spec script for a mid-budget movie, you need to be smart. Really smart. Start with a strong story concept, one that has an undeniably evocative and compelling hook. Next, a roster of distinctive and fascinating characters, ones name actors would love to play. Also make choices in your plotting choices that put you more toward the $20-25M range rather than $70-75M. The more expensive your project’s budget, the less likely it gets bought or even repped.

That said, I honestly believe over the next 5-10 years, we’re going to see a renaissance of movies in the $20-25M budget range. Big enough to draw A list talent and have the sheen of a major motion picture, yet low enough in terms of cost so studios will have a decent chance to make a profit. Why do I think this? Three reasons.

* Audiences will grow weary of $200M franchise movies, especially superhero stories where the plot repeats ad nauseam the same damn threat: The potential end of the world. How many times can they keep dipping into that well? At some point, moviegoers will stop caring.

* There is a huge audience out there that yearns for mid-budget movies, namely Baby Boomers and Senior Citizens. I would argue even the 30+ crowd, depending on the specifics of the project. Movies that engage our hearts and minds, not just CGI eye candy.

* People want good stories. Shared universes, sequels, prequels, remakes, reboots and the like, they don’t lend themselves to quality storytelling. It’s more about servicing franchises. Moviegoers are smart enough to sniff that out. Over time, the wearying preponderance of those franchise films will feed the desire for original movies with great stories.

Five years ago, I started blogging that the cross genre Action Comedy would make a comeback… and it has. Now my crystal ball says mid-budget movies are primed to return to the stage.

Writers, if this is your area of interest, just be smart in your creative choices. You can start that education by reading Terry’s latest post in its entirety by going here.

Deal: “Controller” (Short Video)

April 25th, 2015 by

Hollywood’s mini-wave of short proof-of-concept videos continues with “Controller”. From Deadline:

Fox has acquired Controller, a project that Alev Aydin will write based on a concept written by Saman Kesh based on his short film… Pic is a sci-fi rescue film that turns the damsel-in-distress trope upside down. It is set in the homogenized future of New-Taipei, where an imprisoned young woman who has enormous psychic powers perpetrates her own rescue by taking physical control of her boyfriend, turning him into a helmeted Terminator. The film is a modern love story draped in blood, and Kesh went to Taiwan and shot the short film to demonstrate a potential third act for the feature.

Here is the video:

Movies are primarily a visual medium, so it makes sense to some degree that visual representations of stories have a certain cache now that digital technologies have made these type of short films possible for filmmakers. The key seems to be immersing the viewer in the atmosphere and feel of a unique story universe, conveying the story’s central conceit, and lots of eye-popping action.

What do you think of “Controller”?