Saturday, August 31, 2013

Hanging out with Actors? I'm Dead Serious!

There I was having lunch with a fellow corporate zombie when he suddenly asks, “you are going to write about us in your blog, aren’t you?”  As we gazed into each other’s eyes over a laminated table and a plate of bad chicken chow mein we slowly dissolved into flashback…

Okay, melodramatic nonsense aside, I was approached some time ago by said corporate zombie, who also happens to be an actor, with a proposal. He and two actresses were looking to take greater control of their careers by generating their own content, specifically by making a web series.

All of them were “older” actors (as in not 18-21 and straight out of film school) with full-time jobs and they were willing to pay for good scripts. It seems they were tired of auditioning for the unpaid student film grind and being overlooked for younger actors or, egregiously, models that had a “certain look”. They intended to approach three writers in what amounted to a tender system. They would then pick the successful candidate.

My initial response was, “hmmmm, no, not so much”. Without sounding vain (okay, maybe a little vain), I wasn’t going to “bid” for a web series. Besides, now that I’m working again, time is of the utmost premium and I have a feature script to work on.

However, as I’ve known this actor a while and he’s a good guy (don’t let this go to your head, Leon!), I said I would meet with them, listen to their ideas, and if they wanted, I could write a one to two page proposal (for a fee). If they agreed to explore it further we would talk.

The meeting is set and it’s in the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel in the early evening after everyone has finished their work commitments. “Pretty upmarket”, I think, more used to cafes and pubs as the standard meeting environment.

I don’t know one of the actresses and the other one only by work she has done on another web series. I make an early faux pas by ordering alcohol only to watch everyone else order tea. Okay, not that sort of meeting then. But, damn it, I’m a writer!

Introductions are made, small talk conducted then it’s time to get down to business. What is it they want? Now, for actors, I found the initial discussion fascinating. They were talking about where the series would be set. Related to questions of budget and how they would finance the series and all these types of things. Then it hits me, they will also be the producers if it’s their money they’re putting up. Little warning bells go off as it means I would be writing for them while also, technically, working under them.

Anyway, I finally get around to asking, “yes, but what would the web series be about? What do you want to say?” This launches us into a discussion about things I’m on much more solid ground about – theme and story and character and tone.

Now, I can be pretty charming and engaging when I want to be and we’re all hitting it off in fine style. So much so that by the end of the meeting it appears I have been “hired” and the tender process scrapped. I have no real idea what this thing is yet but everybody seems positive.

The next meeting is on home turf – the big Dome in East Vic Park. I’m still not sure what the series is about as the ideas so far (based on the actors’ suggested locations) seem very dry. But then that magic all writers crave happens – someone says something in passing and my screenwriting brain jumps about 23 steps and suddenly I know what I want to write. I pitch this new idea – a subversion of what they originally proposed – and it is enthusiastically embraced. Now I get excited which is absolutely vital if I’m going to write this thing as possibilities open up all over the place. I have a sense of tone and place and possible storylines and characters.

The next meeting and a director is in attendance. Likes the idea, speaks very well, has interesting stories to tell. Another little warning bell goes off in my head as the actors are talking crew and equipment and marketing and all sorts of other things and I am yet to write a single scripted word. But passion and enthusiasm isn’t necessarily guaranteed by all parties working on a project so there’s that at least. What is far more relevant to me is how many episodes and of what length. The initial response is 10 episodes of 5-7 minutes each.

Later I am asked for an idea of my fee and we agree on a figure to write a “bible” for the series and then a per episode amount. I am mindful that this is their own money and I am appreciative that they want to conduct this as a professional transaction.

Plans are being made for a website and marketing tools and ancillary content, all manner of things. But that’s not my concern. My first task is to produce the bible by 1 October – character breakdowns, story arcs, episode guides, themes, the world of the series; basically everything I need to write the episodes.

I haven’t gone into specific details of the project as that is the actors’ province to announce when they are ready. There is a working title, a tag line, a whole lot of early notes, and a slowly coalescing idea in my head of what this is…

I’ll know a whole lot more in a month’s time!

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