Monthly Archives: November 2014

Thanksgiving. One of my personal favorite holidays. Being thankful for our family and friends and work and eating. Love the eating part. And as I use the treadmill in my office and actually try to shed some of this poundage in advance of next year’s grueling schedule, (Thank You God), I am mindful that I have to eat and drink less. But not on Thanksgiving.

So, in that spirit, I present my let’s be thankful, writing edition.

I am thankful for:

My wife and family for their support over all the years I made zero money doing this. Enough said. I’ll tell them the rest in person.

This year. It has been amazing for the friends and colleagues who have supported and believed in what I do on the page. The Development Execs who trust me with their assignments and rewrites. To take their notes and implement them, still keeping the integrity of the story. The directors who were open to my thoughts about story.

The producers who actually like my stories enough to pay me for them whether in an option or a sale, you have no idea how wonderful you are. Now make the films, ok? :)

Jay Lowi. You are a frickin’ saint. And I loves you man.

My manager, John McGalliard. In and out of the hospital this year and taking calls and making deals in the recovery room. The man is a monster. Now get me some more jobs. :)

Jeff Willis. Production Company Exec and my sometime writing partner. And good friend. We sold a script and the film got made this year. A miracle we got to see and get paid for. Plus it turned out to be a good film. It’ll be out next year.

The BSides – Ok... not writing but the rock band I play in. My great friend Dave. Tom, Gary, & Stew. May not be writing, but playing music keeps me sane. Plus, it gives me an excuse to buy new guitars.

Andre. My friend. Brother. Uncle. Weirdness. Enough said.

The writers I commiserate with. Old friends. New friends. You know who you are. You are indispensable to me. Don’t change. Don’t go anywhere, except up. I wish all my writer friends nothing but success. And for the ones already successful, continued upward success.

I’m thankful I was talked by friends into writing this blog. They thought I had something to say about writing. And people have responded with nothing but positive messages back. Thank you for that.

To the people who have reposted and supported the Blog this year. Scott Myers, thank you. Paul Zeidman. Jeanne Bowerman. Ben Kay. To name but a few.... thanks.

I’m thankful for work. Right now I’m rewriting an original script I sold from a pitch. And this part of the blog should be instructive. I gave the pitch in a meeting, promptly forgot about it when I heard nothing back for months. Heard even later from the Production Company that they loved it and wanted to buy it. I had no notes, no story, no nothing. And I had four weeks to write the first draft.


Ten months later the company had me in for a notes meeting with my Development Exec, who is GREAT by the way. Yes, it took ten months from my four week deadline to get back to me. And... She was very positive that my script needed some tweaking. Like throw it out, keep the premise, and rewrite the whole damn thing tweaking. From a whole other angle. It was a spirited meeting and she, of course, was correct. And by the time we were done with the meeting I was thinking that all the notes were my ideas anyway.

This leads me to my point, which as I think about oyster dressing and pumpkin pie, has taken me a while to get to. Not all notes are bad. Many of them are good. Some of them are excellent. These kinds of notes can make you look like a better writer if you’re open enough to realize it. Being an open minded collaborative writer will win you a career in this business. They’ll want you back because you understand the process. This is important.

You will also get crazy, insane, what the hell did you just say, notes too. But as I’m sure you heard before, it’s important even with these kinds of notes to try and find the note behind those notes. What they’re really saying. So you, as an incredibly creative writer, can implement the spirit of those notes rather than the exact story killing note. (or implement the other notes so well, they’ll forget they gave you the crazy one you ignored).

Plus, if you are perceived as a cooperative writer, you can argue your side of any note. You can’t be afraid of doing this. And knowing your story inside and out and all your characters so well that you can say what they’d do in any situation, even one not in your story, goes a long way to you being able to argue against a suggested sex scene that would ruin the film.

However, if they are paying you, they always have the last word. So make it a good sex scene if you have to. If you don’t they’ll just hire me to. And remember, I want you to succeed.

So... I wish you all a wonderful Thanksgiving. Eat, drink lots of wine, hug your family and friends. Then on Friday, instead of fighting the thousands of crazies out shopping, go write. And be thankful that you’ve got that desire.

Let’s start this rant with a truth. There are no shortcuts to screenwriting success. There are no shortcuts to getting a film you wrote or a movie idea you have sold and made. There’s an old saying that any film that actually gets made is a miracle. Well, that’s true, too. In fact, it’s a damn miracle.

I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard, “I have these movie ideas that are better than anything out there. How do I get them to a studio so I can collect my millions?”

Movie ideas. When I was working on the set of Nash Bridges for those six seasons, everybody had an idea or script. The guy who watered the plants, the dolly grip, the extras (especially the extras), the boom operator, the set decorator (I read his script, it wasn’t bad)... you name it, they had a script or worse, an idea to sell.

Now, to be truthful again, I also had ideas and scripts then, too. And I was also trying to get them to anyone who would pay attention, like everyone else. So, I’m not denigrating the people who want to see their films made, ok? That I understand.

What I don’t understand is the non-willingness to work for it. I was just exposed to a person who had “the best ideas for films Hollywood’s ever seen, but I just want to sell the ideas, because writing a script would be too much work.”

I was happy to tell this person how they could do that. “First”, I told him, “you have to go to Fantasyland.”

What he was looking for was a shortcut to success. He’d think of an idea, one or two sentences of a story idea, then the studios, who have bags of money just lying around, would dip into those bags and give him untold millions and send him on his way while they hired a writer to write his fabulous idea and a director to direct it. And then he’d come back and have approval over all of it, to make sure they did “his” story justice. See what I mean about Fantasyland?

Everybody everywhere has a movie idea. I run into people with movie ideas all the time when they find out what I do for a living. I tell them what I will tell you: NOBODY BUYS IDEAS. NOBODY. They buy the execution of those ideas. They buy YOUR hard work turning that idea into a wham bang script.

Yes, writers sell pitches. (This is always the first thing I hear after I say NOBODY BUYS IDEAS.) But the people who buy those pitches are buying the writer who pitched it as much as the idea. They KNOW this writer can take that idea and make it something special because he/she has a track record of doing just that. Hell, I’ve sold a pitch. But I sold it to a Production Company I had already sold a script to and had done multiple writing assignments for. They knew what I could do with the idea. I earned that right with years and years of hard work.

If you want to sell an idea, write the script. Do the work. Do the research. Do the outlining, if that’s the way you do it. Write it. Then rewrite it. Then rewrite it again. And when you’ve done the work to get it ready to read, do the work it takes to get it out there. Get it vetted. Have people you trust to be honest with you read it. Listen to their notes. Then rewrite it again. Then query/network it. And if you get reads... know that patience is what you’ll need. Lots of patience.

The average time it takes from finishing a script to having that script made (again, a miracle) is eight (8) years. Eight years. Average time. Jeff Willis and I wrote (finished) The Right Girl in 2007. It got produced this year. Only seven years. Not bad. Better than average. Not much better, but better. The script I sold from the pitch that I’m rewriting now gets made middle of next year. I looked it up. I pitched it in 2012 and wrote the first draft last year. So, that’s three years. Again, not bad.

My big theatrical that gets made middle of next year? I looked it up and got a little sick. Wrote it in 1999. Sixteen years from when I wrote it originally to production. Sixteen years. Oh My God... sixteen years?

Ok... I’m fine now. Martini helped.

Ok, so it’s taken sixteen years. In between time, I did nothing but work my ass off, writing, writing, and marketing myself and my work. And learning hard truths.


There is no coming up with ideas and waiting for the cash to flow in. Doesn't happen. You want success? Do the hard work, execute those ideas brilliantly, and make miracles happen.

And above all, be patient.

(follow me on Twitter @bobsnz)

A while back I wrote a Blog about Expectation vs Reality when it came to what your script would look like after it’s been through the Production Company/Network development process versus what it looked like when you wrote it. I wrote about how much it would change and used as an example the film (The Right Girl) I wrote with my cherished friend and colleague Jeff Willis.

I also talked about how Jeff and I did six paid rewrites with multiple Production Company notes and made huge changes (monstrous changes) with even more notes from the Network with even more changes and even more notes from Production Execs as it got closer to production, and then finally, the director notes. To say the script was extremely different from the original script we wrote is way way too mild. It still has our stamp on it, but the movie we wanted to see originally from our idea and the movie they wanted to see were night and day. And we had to please more than a dozen people we ended up getting notes from before the film was made. All who wanted to put their stamp on it somewhere, too. And YOU, as a writer, better be ready for this and OK with it because that’s reality. Because if you’re NOT ok with it, they’ll hire someone like me to rewrite the way they want it anyway. Cold and brutal truth.

Ok... semi-old territory. Now... new territory. The Production Company sent us copies of the director’s cut of The Right Girl this week. So now we get to talk about the difference between YOUR final production script and what ends up on the screen.

Here, I make a confession. I was able to go to the set for a full day early in the shoot to watch, so I had an idea of what was coming. I had worked with the director many times before (he’d directed two of my other Cable Movies). I met him originally when he directed two episodes of Nash Bridges a lifetime ago. So I know how he works and like it and like him. I also got to meet some of the actors who were playing the characters Jeff and I had created.

Attention writers: Here is where I tell you what you don’t want to hear - - - YOU DO NOT GET TO CAST THE FILMS YOU WRITE. They may ask you who you had in mind, but when it comes to actually casting, you have ZERO SAY. None, Nada, Nyet. That’s Producer and Director Territory and YOU AREN’T ALLOWED. I know it hurts to hear, but it’s fact.

You can be happy when you hear who’s been cast, or sad, or confused, or angry, or you can say, “Who?”. But you have NO SAY. Beside the one film I wrote I’d like to disavow because of the final cut and the, in my opinion, questionable casting, I’ve been super fortunate to get wonderful actors cast in my films. This time was maybe the best.

There on set, I immediately fell in love with Anna Hutchison (Cabin in the Woods, Spartacus), who was playing our main character. Not only is she a sweet, just jaw droppingly wonderful person, she was stunning in character. She WAS our Kimberly. It was amazing and kind of an out of body experience to watch. I would use her again as an actor in a second. Add in Costas Mandylor (Who I also knew from Nash Bridges. He pointed at me and said, “Hey, I know you.”) and Gail O’Grady, who was also there that day, and I was a happy camper at what I witnessed.

I wish Jeff could have come with me, but he was in Brazil doing humanitarian work while I was hanging around the Craft Service table, showing me up once again. I’m not kidding. He was in Brazil building houses for the poor or something. An amazing man who puts his money and time where his mouth is.

So I got the film and I popped it in my computer to watch...  And once again it was a HUGE LESSON. A lesson to writers everywhere. It’s never what you expect, even when you watch it being shot.

When you as a writer have your finished written script, you see it in your head, or should. You see the scenes play out. You hear the line interpretations the way you want to hear them. But you’re not the director (unless you are, then ignore me) nor are you the actors, who bring their own skills with them. Skills, if they are good actors, you cannot fathom until you see what they do with your dialogue and action. Things you never even THOUGHT of. There were times in the film I was stunned at how wonderfully the lines were interpreted and how differently than I had heard them in my head. Better differently.

The direction was solid, but then I expected that. Some great camera use that really moved the story well. Zero problems with the way it was shot. Great sets, costumes, and production design. And the edit was good too. A little long, but it’s a director’s cut.

But since these are YOUR characters and you know them inside and out, you sit and pray for them to be what you envisioned. Good actors bring their own life to your characters you can’t anticipate. Again, Anna was a revelation in the cut. Just astonishing. The character of Kimberly, as we wrote her, is a very vain and arrogant (and funny, we hoped) person at the start of the film. We knew the actor playing her would have to be able to skate a thin line to not make her so unlikeable that the audience didn’t care about her journey. Anna did it with a classy ease that brought layers of dimension and humor we couldn’t have dreamed about. She was what I had pictured Kimberly to be and much more.

But then, a lot of the time, what you picture doesn’t happen. Costas’ interpretation of his character was nothing like we had pictured. Where our written character was lighter and more comic relief, Costas brought a serious twinge to him, too. Gravitas that we didn’t expect in the character. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it. A lot. It was terrific. I never saw it in the character. He did. And Gail O’Grady was more sophisticated and urbane that we wrote her character and it worked too. Well. Dorian Harewood brought his considerable skills to his character, too, playing him exactly the way we imagined him. Overall,  all the acting in it was first class. And I thank these pros from the bottom of my heart.

A lot of the scenes were word for word what we wrote (AND THEY WORK) and I can’t tell you how exciting that is. You’d have to experience it to understand.

Sometimes you get really lucky... And sometimes you scratch your head... at the same film.

There's a whole big scene neither one of us wrote in the middle of the film. Smack in the middle. A scene that wasn’t in our final draft. It wasn’t bad. It just doesn’t add anything to the story. It’s there and I have no idea where it came from or why it’s there... one of those surprises you have to expect as a writer. And the choice of the producers and/or the director, because in the end it IS their choice and not yours.

And the last scene is completely different from what we wrote, too. Not a bad ending scene at all, I like it, just not close to what we wrote. A different direction yet again. A new ending that they rewrote while making the film. Something that happens every day, by the way. And as a writer you have to shrug and understand because, again, it’s not your decision to make.

Jeff called me after he saw it and we talked for quite a while. Are we happy with the film? You bet. Very happy. And our names are in the titles in BIG letters, right before the Director’s. You can’t beat that.

Is it our script the way we pictured it? Well, no. IT NEVER IS. In this case, I’m happy to say I think it is just as good and in some places better. That’s not always the case. You need to understand that, too.

I’ve watched The Right Girl three times now and get happier each time. I’m also starting an Anna Hutchison Fan Club.