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By Marcus on Wednesday, January 14, 2009
John August publishes the best posts on screenwriting I've seen. His blog is one of my favorites.
1. Don’t quit your day job — until you have to.
Before writing this post, I asked a dozen working writers for their recommendations, and this was by far the most-often made point.
The natural instinct is to immediately quit your crappy day job once you’re hired to write something (or sell a spec). After all, isn’t that the dream? Isn’t this why you came to Hollywood? Every waiter and barrista in
Los Angelesconsiders himself a screenwriter, so quitting your day job is an important way to distinguish yourself as a True Screenwriter, the kind who gets paid actual money to push words around in 12-pt Courier.
But don’t. Don’t quit your job right away.
Even if you sell a spec for $200K, it will be months before you see a cent. The studio will sit on your contract as lawyers exchange pencil notes about things you can’t believe aren’t boilerplate. When I was hired for my first job,1 it took almost four months before I got a paycheck. I was living off of money from a novelization, but when that ran out, I had to ask my mom for help paying rent.
Nearly every screenwriter I speak with has a similar story — you’re never as broke as when you first start making money.
Beyond the initial delay in getting paid, keep in mind that there’s no guarantee you’ll have a second writing job. I haven’t seen numbers, but my hunch is that a substantial portion of new WGA members aren’t getting paid as screenwriters two years later. A career is not one sale. As one writer friend says, “I always think of myself as six months away from teaching community college.”
If all goes well, the needs of your career will eventually force you to give up your day job. You’ll have meetings at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday, and no more excuses to offer your boss. Or you’ll be hired on a TV show, which is at least two full-time jobs. So don’t panic when it comes time to quit. Just try to leave on good terms, with back-of-mind awareness that at some point you may need to get a normal job again.
Here’s how the transition happened for my former assistants:
Rawson finally quit working for me because the movie he was directing (
Dodgeball) was in preproduction. He went from being an assistant to having an assistant in less than a week.
Dana had a movie greenlit and another script under a tight deadline.
Chad met with Aaron Sorkin on a Tuesday morning — and got hired in the room. He had to start working on Studio 60 that afternoon.
Each of them left, but only after the needs of their writing career made it impossible not to. In the meantime, they had regular hours and health insurance. That last part is especially worthy of attention, because it may take months to get WGA health insurance started after making a sale.
2. It’s less money than you think.
We’re used to getting paychecks that have all of the taxes and expenses taken out. Maybe you’re bringing home $850 per week. The math is relatively straightforward: you know how much you need for rent, food, utilities and whatnot. And next week, you’ll get another check.
Screenwriting is nothing like that. You get paid in chunks, from which you have to pay taxes and percentages to all the people working for you. The money shrinks at an alarming rate. Worse, you have limited ability to predict when you’ll get paid again.
To see the rest of the post, read Money 101 for screenwriters.
By Marcus on Thursday, January 08, 2009
Some important tips that can make your short film the best it can be
Here is a list of some of the most important elements to keep in mind when making a short film. Following these guidelines will help you avoid the more common pitfalls. While these are only suggestions, they will almost certainly improve both your film and your filmmaking experience.
Make sure you have a story worth telling
Would you sit through the short film if someone else had made it? The answer for a surprising number of shorts is No. Ask yourself this question before you even start writing the script.
Don’t start production without a budget
Films, no matter how simple, cost money -- and money is always limited. By making sure you have a budget (a simple spreadsheet will do), you can decide in advance where you want to spend whatever money you have. Without a budget, you can almost guarantee that you will either spend more money than you plan, or end up without the finished film.
Get all clearances before shooting
You need, need, NEED releases from actors, music/artwork contributors, and anyone else who produces content that appears in the film. Getting clearance signatures before the shoot is simple and takes you moments. After the shoot, it can be difficult to impossible. Don’t get caught, do it now.
Make the film shorter than you want
Writer/directors always often leave things in the movie that the audience can really do without. It’s so painful to trim away things that were difficult to shoot. Make sure you do it. Your audience will thank you.
When using non-professional actors, cast with personality
I believe bad acting is so common in short films because people are asked to play characters that don’t resemble their personalities. A dirt-poor professional actor can portray the swagger and confidence of a billionaire – but most amateurs can’t. If your lead is an anal-retentive tightwad, don’t cast a slovenly slacker to play him.
Invest in good sound
Bad sound makes many short films (even ones with good stories) unbearable. There are no real replacements for a decent boom mike. Beg, buy, or borrow one and it will triple the chances your film will be watch-able.
Fix it now, not in post-production
Digital Domainor WETA working for you, most post-production fixes don’t look/sound very good and take A LOT of time. If you have a mistake in framing, dialogue, or anything else that can be fixed on the shoot, do it!
Don’t zoom in a shot
Don’t touch that zoom switch! A really good cameraman can make a zoom look OK. In almost all cases, though, using zooming is the hallmark of a sad effort. If you need to push in on a subject, use a dolly, camera glider, or a cut.
To see the final two tips, visit Dan's page.
By Marcus on Thursday, January 08, 2009