Monthly Archives: January 2014

I love strong independent women. I’m married to a strong woman. I have two wonderful daughters who are strong women. No, none of them are going to win an arm wrestling contest. But if you could arm wrestle by sheer will, they’d wipe out all comers.

I am proud that they are not defined by their gender or their jobs (although all of them do very well there, too) or who they're married to. They’re defined by their strength of character, something that shines through the way they live every aspect of their lives.

All of our female friends are strong independent women, as capable of handling anything the world throws at them as any man. They aren’t afraid, or subservient, or incapable, or weak minded, or dependent, or shallow, or stupid. (Things I see way too much in scripts lately and hate.)

All these women are complex, exciting, and fun. And, I believe, representative of most women.

All this begs the question:

Why the hell aren’t women represented this way in film?

I’m tired of watching films where the female characters (as few as there are sometimes in some films) play second fiddle when the filmmaker could have opened up the story, making it more complex and more genuine by having capable females doing in film what they do every day in real life.

I love writing strong real female characters. They’re actually, to me, more fun to write because of the natural much more complex thought processes compared to men. (sorry if this sounds sexist, but to me, women often do better than men in this category.)

So today my challenge is to look at the scripts you’re writing and turn them on their ear, if you need to, and write female characters that rival your male ones.  Don’t let your female characters continue to be the underused or stereotyped 50% of the population they’ve been. Make them reflect real life. Don’t make them weak and dependent. Don’t do what I see in a lot of scripts these days. Don’t marginalize them. Don’t make them second class citizens in your stories.

Try writing a script with a strong female protagonist or antagonist. The comedy I just optioned through the Black List has just that. A female antagonist for the ages, I think. So does the company that made me the deal. They told me she was reason they optioned it.

This rant was courtesy of a spec script I read last week that I thought was an insult to women because it completely ignored them, when as way of writing a much much better story it should have been embracing their contributions to it. It was that blatant and that BAD. And it pissed me off. Thanks for letting me vent.


I’m constantly amazed by attempts at what they think is networking by writers trying to break into the film or TV business.

A few Sundays ago at about Nine PM (at night!) my cell phone rang with an LA area code. Now, on Sunday night I do have a tendency to not answer my phone if it’s somebody or a number I don’t know. But this time… I answered it.

On the other end was a female voice that said, “Hi Bob, I’m sure you don’t remember me.”, then proceeded to give her name. She was right. “You acted in a film with my son about ten years ago.” She then named the film. That didn’t help either. I remember the film (I just got a 4 cent residual check from it), just not her or her son.

My answer of “Uh. Ok.” didn’t faze her in the least. She plowed ahead.

“Well anyway, we were watching a Hallmark Christmas film last night. You know, the one with the Elf.” (Yes, I know it.) “And we saw your name on the credits. Are you the Bob Saenz who wrote it?”

This then became one of those moments where you can say, “Nope. Must be another Bob Saenz. Sorry.” and hang up the phone and go back to watching Punch Drunk Love on cable with your wife.

OR… you can say, “How the hell did you get my number? It’s Sunday Night. SUNDAY NIGHT!”

OR… you can say, like I did, “Yes, that was me.” and open a Pandora’s Box of requests from the owner of the phone on the other end.

That night’s requests from a woman I do not know:

1. Can you please give me your complete list of contacts/producers that I can send my script to? (Uh… no.)

2. Who could I possibly get to read my script and then get it to people who would buy it, make it, and cast it with the actors I have in mind, and pay me a million dollars, all immediately? (ok.. this wasn’t exactly what she asked, but this is the subtext version)

3. Why aren’t you jumping at the chance to help attain my dreams? (again, subtext)

4. Help me Obiwan Kenobe you’re my only hope. (begging is so ugly)

I was polite, firm, and because my wife was sitting in the room, understanding. I told the woman about the Black List, InkTip, Trigger Street, and Zoetrope. Places to post her script and get feedback, if she wanted to pay or trade reads. Again, she didn’t understand. Why wouldn’t I just give her my contacts or read her script?

I excused myself, thanked her for calling, and hung up knowing it wouldn’t be the last call, tweet, or email on the subject and she wouldn’t be the last one to try this. She wasn’t the first either.

There’s an art to networking. Well, not so much an art as an integrity. Only if you want to do it right. And doing it right is the only way it works.

Networking is all about building honest relationships with people. Yes, they are people in the business you wish to be in. Yes, they may have some influence (unlike me who at this point in my career, have little). Yes, if you have something of value to offer they may take a chance and help you. But this all happens after they LIKE you. And getting people to like you isn’t something that instantly happens.

It’s about developing friendships and relationships that are meaningful to all concerned. It doesn’t mean you have to hang and party and name your children after them. It can purely be on a professional level, but it does mean the person you are trying to network with doesn’t think you’re trying to USE them to get what YOU want. A one way street that only you go down.

It means that sometimes when you communicate with people you’re networking with it has nothing at all to do with you.  You call to ask how they are. You ask about their family. Their accomplishments. You read something about them or hear something about them and send a congratulatory Email, because you are GENUINELY happy for them and expect nothing in return.

When I was acting, I met all kinds of people on set. All kinds of sets. Film. TV. Commercials. Industrials. I developed relationships through friendship before the topic of my writing ever came up and sometimes waited until they asked ME if they could read my work. Or asked me to pitch my scripts (which, thank you most always led to reads). And yes, of course I asked people to read or asked to pitch, but only after it was clear there was no one way street.

I’ve met all kinds of people online. Directors, other writers, editors, DPs, Producers… at IMDb, DoneDealPro, Twitter, even on Facebook… and developed real lasting friendships. Real honest friendships.

Have these friendships led to successful work relationships? Yep. Some have. Some have been amazing (I won’t name any names Jeff Willis) And in some cases, I have tried to help people I've networked with because I WANT TO. Something friends do for each other.

Networking takes time. It takes being genuine in your efforts. It takes patience. It takes not being selfish.

I have true meaningful relationships with people in the film business that started with networking and grew to be so important to me that if I never had any business relationships with them, I would still want them to be my friends. You all know who you are.

OH… one more thing. If your scripts aren’t GREAT, networking doesn’t work no matter how well you do it.

I’m going to step back for a moment and thank a couple of directors who calmed my nerves and helped me get ready to direct this short film. Elise Robertson, a wonderful LA director, who told me if I didn’t direct this she’d kick my ass. And one of my closest friends, my collaborator, experienced director, and film directing professor at Chapman’s Film School, Jay Lowi, who loaded me up with all kinds of knowledge I had to cram into my head in about three days. He was the one who told me to edit each scene in my head as I shot it so I wouldn’t forget a shot or to find a shot I hadn’t conceived of to complete what I imagined to be the finished scene. It was brilliant simple advice and it worked.

I spent the few days I had before shooting getting my shot lists together and breaking down each day's shooting schedule. I also looked at the film as a whole to decide what tone, overall look, and recurring themes I would use to advance the story visually. I broke down each character so I could communicate to the principle actors what I wanted each one to distinctly portray.  Again… there was NO SCRIPT, just an outline so this was important.

I was unbelievably fortunate to get such wonderful actors who were open to my sometimes strange ideas and spur of the moment concepts. This film wouldn’t have turned out so well without the great performances and the special things they brought and added on their own.

I’ve also been fortunate to be on sets with some iconic directors as a minor league actor. Coppola (twice), Ron Howard, Clint Eastwood (twice), David Fincher… the thing they all have in common, that I could see, is that they hire good crew people, tell them what they want, and LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS. I saw no micro-managing and that freed them up to direct. To do their job and get their vision on film. Yes, the buck stops with them, but it’s a less crazy buck. I attempted to do the same thing in my small way on this film. And it worked. You trust people and mostly they respond with their best work.

But what I really loved about directing was the rush I got from it on set. How it just opened up floodgates of creativity in everyone. How as a director you can see something in a rehearsal or a first take and that makes you come up with the one thing that makes that scene special. Something you would have never thought of writing the script. This was an eye-opener for me as a writer. And will help me in the future throwing out my preconceived notions and personal ownership of my own writing and trust other directors do what they need to do with it. It was a GREAT letting go of ego lesson.

Once we were done shooting, I realized my job was not even half through. Post production, editing, sound effects, reshoots (yeah, reshoots), original music, titles, color correction, who knows what else.

Editing is surprisingly fun, especially if you have an amazing uber-experienced editor that has been recommended by a great director (who actually puts in a very good word for you with the editor).

Rick LaCompte is that film editor. Not a short film editor. His CV is filled with successful films. The posters from those films cover the walls of his huge work space. He even said, “I don’t usually do short films.” Again, I am amazed and grateful for my good fortune. Thank You God.

He proceeded to give me an eye-opening education on the art of editing. And it is an art. He is patient, understanding, endlessly creative, and honest. It didn’t take but about half a second to trust him completely. He didn’t let me down either. He has an uncanny talent for looking at all the footage for a scene as a whole and then effortlessly manipulating it to make it look better than you pictured it. And then building from there, remembering the smallest things he’d done in past scenes to achieve the tone, the look, and theme threads I told him I wanted for the film. An artist. I cannot recommend him more highly.

Yes, the reshoots. Even though I thought I was so careful with everything, I did not get two transition shots I needed for the final action sequence. Bad me. No one’s fault but mine. The film doesn’t work without these shots and as much a magician as Rick is, we couldn’t work around it. So, in the next three weeks I’ll shoot the scenes. Thank goodness the actors and the DP are game. When you miss shots you recorded on a Red camera, you can’t just film them on your IPhone and hope no one will notice. So I have to rent the camera again for a day, too. I complained to Jay Lowi about my stupidity and he laughed and said, “Happens to everybody. Just chill and go do it.” He’s my hero.

Until the reshoots, I can work on sound effects with Rick and original music with my composer, Thomas Tissot. And baby, am I lucky to get him. He’s a creative, fun musician and I can’t wait to see what he’ll come up with. I’m getting him now before I can’t afford him anymore. He’s got a BIG future. And I’m meeting tomorrow with a title effects guy to do something special with the main title. We’ll see if he can do what I want and how much it’ll cost if he can.

This small experience as a director is going to make me a better writer. It already has.

I had time to do all this because for the last two months, I’ve been unemployed and it afforded me the time to get a lot of the post-production done. Well, unemployed until yesterday. Got word from a production company that a script I wrote with my good friend, Jeff Willis, is heading for production and they need a rewrite. Now. So, after we get the notes next week, we’ll be starting on that. And I’ll leave the composing to Thomas and free up a day to reshoot what I missed while we write.

My goal is a finished film by March first. Ok. Mid-March. (I don’t want to scare Thomas) And to have a director sample I would be proud to show any executive. I think I will.

I’ve spent most of this week editing my first short film. How it happened is a story by itself and since you insist…

I was in LA with my manager at a production company office for a meeting. The head of the company, the head of production, my manager, another producer, and yours truly were there to talk about a whole lot of things, not the least of which, for me, was which of my scripts they wanted to option as part of a whole slate they were considering.

It was a good meeting, very loose, very casual, and the head of production (who is no longer there) remarked about one of my smaller slice of life scripts, saying it was not only a great story (thank you) but very visual and did I have any interest in directing.

Here’s where we speak again about dreams you have coming true. My manager was quiet and looked intently at me because I think he was interested in the answer, too. Now, I’ve thought about it many times and imagined what I do as a director, but never been asked by a production company. So I kept my cool, jumped up, and yelled, “Hell Yeah!!”

No, I didn’t. But inside I did. I did say, “Yes, if the opportunity arose for me to direct one of my scripts, I would love the chance to do that.” The head of production smiled and asked if I had a sample of anything I’d directed. The balloon deflated as I thought about what my director’s reel would look like:

1. A cable commercial for a tape that fixes leaky pipes.

2. A short promo film about a teen after school “say no to alcohol” project.

3. Another cable commercial for the leaky pipe people for their new product that fixes holes in camper shells.

Not very impressive. I wouldn’t let me direct traffic with that CV. So I hung my head and said, “I don’t have one really.” and the subject dropped stone cold dead. Wasn’t mentioned again the rest of the meeting.

On the way out, my manager, who as I’ve mentioned before, scares me a little because he has biceps like tree trunks, said something to the effect of “Let’s not talk to anyone about directing again until you have a short film example to show.” And then he told me to write a short and direct it. And do it well.

So once I was home, I began to work on ideas for a short film. The only short films I’d written were two for my friend Tomas for the 48 Hour Film Festival a couple of years in row a while back. But when you have to write a short film in two hours, then start the film production on hour three, they usually aren’t all that good. I’ve rewritten other people’s short films. Consulted on short film scripts. But I’ve never really come up with one that I’d want to direct and use as a sample that fully represented me, both as a writer and a director.

And then… nothing. I mean… nothing. I was as blank as a summer vacation school chalkboard. Then… thank You God, the phone rang. It was my friend Mitch Costanza, who had produced and cast me in a fabulous short he’d written and my other friend Andre Welsh had directed. (It’s called The Process. Find it on the net and watch it, it’s amazing.) Anyway, Mitch wanted to talk about his next short which I had helped him with a few weeks before, working on his story outline.

He was agitated. He’d fired his director (not Andre, who is GREAT) over “creative differences”. I said I knew a bunch of local directors who might be good on short notice. He said, “No. I was thinking you might want to do it.” Heavenly lights shined down on me. Choirs of angels sang. This was the golden chance I had waited for. So I said, “Give me 24 hours.” instead of “YES!!!”. Then I called two very good directors I know in LA and asked them if I was ready to do this on such short notice. Both said, “Idiot. Go do it.”

And it was very short notice. One week’s notice. It was cast. The crew was set. Locations locked down. All I had to do was come in and direct it. Well…

There also was no script. Since Mitch wanted this to be a silent film, almost a cartoon with live people, all he had was the outline we had worked on. The other director’s storyboards were worthless (no wonder they had creative differences).

So I created a shot list, met with the AD, met with the crew, cast a couple of friends who are good actors in roles I added, met with the DP a few times to reiterate that she needed to tell me if the shot I wanted was BAD or didn’t work and to be honest. (She ended up being good at that.) And I decided to trust myself and my creative ability.

Four day shoot. Red Scarlet camera. Zeiss Primes. A crew of 24. All the permits we needed to close the streets and sidewalks in Berkeley and Oakland. Crew was on top of everything. There were no missing props. The wardrobe I’d picked for the actors was there with extra sets. Grip truck was there. Food. About 70 extras over the four days. And me, scared to friggin’ death.

We shot on a steep hill in Petaluma, inside a fancy restaurant, one street in Berkeley, four different blocks of sidewalk in Oakland, inside a townhouse, and in a park in Berkeley. We shot a lot of people riding and crashing on ice blocks down the steep hill, a runaway shopping cart, a snow cone disaster, put our protagonist through the human version of a dog agility run, shot a gratuitous crossdressing scene (size 12 heels are surprisingly easy to find), had an actress get hit multiple times in the face with a cloth napkin, and staged a car stunt.

I put the camera/DP on the ground multiple times, rolling around once on the grass of the steep hill, inside a speeding shopping cart, inside a sno-cone truck, on a rolling wheelchair, had the camera jumping up and down, put it on the top of a ladder, and under a car. I edited each scene in my head as we shot and that helped a LOT.

Exhilarating. Exhausting. Wonderful. I had a ball. By day four I was able to unclench a few muscles and take in the fun of it. I had a great crew and trusted them do their jobs. They did them and it seemed to all work. And a few days afterward, got the whole film on an external drive. Next… on to editing.



When I was young, all I could think about was being involved in making movies. All I ever wanted. As a kid I would add a child’s part to every movie I saw in my head, so I could daydream about being in it. Didn’t matter what kind of film. To that end, I started acting as soon as I could. From Elementary to High School, I did every stage show I could from the time I was about 10, moving to professional theater at about 16 until I was 22. Mostly musicals and comedies.

I was in the middle of a long run as El Gallo in the Fantastiks, when I met my wife. You know, in movies, where the guy meets a woman and cartoon hearts float in the air and his eyes roll back in his head because he’s smitten? It really happens. And like that… I was done with the theater (where poverty is the norm) and acting. I was now thinking about marriage, picket fences, and supporting a family.

She’s an amazingly beautiful woman, too. You should all be jealous. Way too sweet and way way too good looking to be with me. (People still see us together, look bewildered, take me aside, and ask, “How?”) Smart, empathetic, very funny, very sexy, a great mom to our kids, and unbelievably supportive. I was a solid businessman making a better than good living in sales and marketing until one day when I went to her and said, “I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to try acting again and maybe screen or play writing for a living.” Once I picked her up off the floor, she said, “Ok, you got two years.” That was twenty years ago. Told you she was amazing.

And that’s how I got to go to “The Don Johnson Film School”.

I did have to take a circuitous route to get there.

I got my SAG card right off the bat on the Disney Film, “Angels in the Outfield”, a miraculous occurrence that is a whole blog by itself. I then entered into the wonderful world of film extra work. By the way, while I’m on that topic… EVERY SCREENWRITER NEEDS TO DO THIS A COUPLE OF TIMES just to see what it’s like to be the lowest person on the filmmaking totem pole. You think writers have it bad? Try being a film extra. I once heard a producer refer to extras as “Props that eat.”

Right after Angels, I got a 23 day gig as a “featured extra” (where they cut my moustache off and shaved my head, making me look like a Moon Pie) on the film, “Murder in the First” playing an Alcatraz prison guard. Negligible film time, a ton of fun, I got to hang with Gary Oldman every day, and it made me a zero in the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game. And, I found out, if you spend 23 days on a big film set and pay attention you can learn a whole lot about how movies are made. It was nothing like I imagined.

Wasn’t kidding about Gary Oldman. On one of our first bumpy ferry boat trips out to Alcatraz, he was looking a little green around the gills and I gave him a Rolaids. From that day on he’d find me, get his Rolaid, and we’d sit and talk and laugh all the way over and back every day. And on the set. One of my prize treasures is the picture he insisted his assistant take of the two of us on set, even though I was still in Moon Pie mode.

The experience with Gary Oldman also played into my getting accepted into the Don Johnson Film School. As an “extra”, you are told… Don’t talk to the stars, don’t make eye contact, don’t don’t don’t. After my Oldman experience, I, like an idiot, thought that those rules didn’t pertain to me.

(Note: Between Murder in the First and Nash Bridges I did a three week stint on the Michael Bay film, The Rock, but that deserves a whole blog someday by itself, too.)

Right after Murder in the First I got booked as an extra on the very first day of shooting on the TV series Nash Bridges, as an SF cop. Only one of two extras that night. So, like an idiot, I sidled up to where Don Johnson was and engaged him in conversation, made him laugh a couple of times, and was never used as an extra that night. Later on the set an AD came up to me and said he saw me with Don. He read me the riot act for talking to him, saying I’d never work on the show again. I felt terrible.

Next thing I know, I get a call from Extras Casting saying that the Nash people asked for me specifically and wanted me back to be in the Nash Bridges police station as a cop extra. I won’t bore you with the details of everything, but I ended up doing 122 episodes of the show as that same character. Even got a name (Carl Hoskins) and a promotion (to Sergeant), in season 1 episode 8. Did a few episodes over those years in that character as a principal, but was mostly a “featured extra”. Meaning, I was just an extra.

Those 6 seasons gave me an opportunity I could never have gotten in any regular film school. About halfway through the first season I went to Don and asked him if, when I was there working, I could have free run of the set to learn about every department, exactly what everyone on the crew did and how and why they did it. I got a big smile and pat on the shoulder and he said, “How do think I learned? You have my blessing.” I did it every season for 6 seasons. Not only has it helped me immensely as a writer and fledgling director, but it led to some meaningful lifelong friendships.

I learned about electric, lighting, the camera department, (even got to put on the steady-cam), props, set dressing, effects, sound (thank you Aggie), stunts, unit production, you name it, I asked them about it and sucked up untold amounts of priceless knowledge. I watched the directors. I saw who was good, who was bad, and learned from it all. I found out where to put cameras, where not to put cameras, what lens to use where and why, about coverage, rules of thirds, lines of sight, you name it… I learned it. And everyone was GREAT about it, too.

And my understanding of what it takes to make a film and what things cost has helped me beyond words, again, as a writer. I can speak with knowledge in production meetings and not illicit rolled eyes. Truthfully, it has been a Godsend in working with directors and producers because I understand what it takes physically to make a film.

Now… a word about the man himself. A lot of things have been written and said about Don Johnson over the years, a lot of it not so complimentary. But to me he was nothing but gracious, kind, and the one of the smartest guys I have ever seen on a set. That man knows. He doesn’t miss a thing. And I owe him a debt. He paid me to go to film school while I was writing my first scripts. I was able to network with the people on that set which led to my first options and boatloads of great contacts I still use today. I wouldn’t have the writing career I do without Don Johnson. THANK YOU, Don.

A couple of months ago, I got to put a lot of what I learned on the Nash set to uber practical use. I directed my first short film, “Ice Block Love”. It’s being edited now and I’m very happy so far. Not your typical short either. In the four day shoot (on a Red Scarlet with Zeiss Primes and a fabulous crew of 18 people), we closed streets in Berkeley and Oakland (had permits), had about 30 extras (who were treated GREAT) on one day and about 25 child extras on another day. We staged car stunts, a runaway shopping cart stunt, a sno-cone truck stunt (with live sno-cones), weaved our star through people like dog poles, invaded a very posh restaurant instigating a cloth napkin fight, there was gratuitous cross dressing on public streets, and we had multiple people riding and crashing large ice blocks down a very steep hill.

I used everything I learned on the Nash set. Everything. Including that you hire good people and let them do their jobs without micro-managing. The crew was beyond great. The actors, wonderful. I think I got wonderful performances out of them. The DP did ask, “You want me to put the camera where?” a couple of times, but saw the method to my madness afterward.

My point? If you ever have the chance, go to film sets. Stay there. Watch everything. Ask questions. Be an extra if you have to. Watch more and learn. It will open your eyes and make you a better film writer.