Monday, July 9, 2007

The Business of films!

It is easily the most frustrating business one can be a part of. I have, in the recent past, been interacting with some of the leading lights of the Hindi (Bollywood) film industry as well as working on scripts for some Hollywood based production companies.

Here are some of the observations. Most are true for Bollywood but I was surprised to find a lot of them were true for Hollywood as well.

1. Most producers are illiterate. This was served first up and was the most shocking truth. Many of the producers I have interacted with have no concept of reading a script. Nearly everyone I have met has asked me for a script. But these scripts have never been read. They are carried from shoot to shoot, from office to home and back to office in the morning. But none of the producers who have personally requested my scripts have got around to reading it.

2. Some of the producers have readers who read scripts and write comments/coverage. This is supposed to be the ‘pipeline’ that ensures a steady of quality scripts are processed upwards. However this is only in theory. Being illiterate the producers seldom read these comments. Scripts with glowing recommendations lie around waiting for the producer to say yes. This part is especially true for big studios where lame scripts are developed by hacks for delusional acting talent that’s on their payroll.

3. Most readers are wannabe writers. While they wait for their big chance they read and write coverage in order to survive. Nobody understands the frustrations of a script writer more than they do. Not only do their script go unread their coverage too is totally ignored.

4. The only way to get a producer to make a film out of a script is for him/her to ‘own’ it. The producer must believe that this is the one story that needs to be told and s/he must tell it. The story must connect at a very basic level. Either it works off the one page synopsis or it doesn’t get made at all.

5. Nobody has the time for great cinema. Most producers/production executives are happy with very basic level of scripts. Great writing means different things to different people. Producers don’t see writing in the same way as we do.

6. Above anything else the story you are pitching must have been done before. There should be a definite ‘model’ that the producer can identify with. So it is okay for a story to be a bit like ‘Godfather’. If the story is not like a successful film you are in deep trouble. A clear path to recovering the investment is necessary. Producers hate to get involved with scripts that need them to take a chance.

7. Most independent producers, even those with impressive credits, do not have access to movie stars. In the last 6 months I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “it is a good story and we would like to get into it, do you have a star?” Producers love nothing better than a ‘sealed deal’. If I were a drinking buddy of George Clooney I wouldn’t need to knock on producers doors. A small fact that they seem to miss.

8. Being a drinking buddy to a star gives you a much better chance of getting a film made than having the best crafted script in the world. Twice I have been told to ‘sell’ my script and let a moron director do the film. The moron director was doing joints with a major star while I was just typing a bunch of words on an old computer. That he didn’t have a script was the only stumbling block for him.

9. Bollywood special - Producers never say no. That they don’t say yes either means that you as a writer keep hanging on forever. Recently I have asked for my script back from 7 different producers, some had the scripts for as long as 18 months. I had to be rude to some of them but I guess it is okay. All 7 scripts have come back to me in pristine quality. Almost as good as new. Proving once again that they had never been read.

10. Formatting doesn’t matter in the least bit. Recently I’ve had two Hollywood based producers send me stuff to rewrite that was all over the place in terms of formatting. Their concerns were mostly about the story and how it moved. The only format Nazis I’ve come across are mostly wannabe writers stuck in minor details.

11. All the “Vice Presidents” and "Head” film development in the business collectively cannot mount a film. I suspect they may not be able to even buy toilet paper for the office without a committee having to ratify their decision. This is a pretty awful indictment of the way this business is run. But anyone who is in the business will tell you that it is true. The minute you see a card that proclaims “VP” or “Head” it should be your cue to excuse yourself. It took me between 6 months to a year of dealing with half a dozen of such professional to figure this one out. Films are made by guys whose card reads “Producer” or “President” or “CEO” or “Chairman”. Everyone else in the development process is just pushing paper.

So what is the way forward? I don’t know, keep at it I guess. Keep going till you find that elusive breakthrough. But be aware that you could die trying.