by Jim Cirile
Writer/Director/Producer John Fasano has done something very, very few writers manage to do: forge a successful career in Hollywood and keep it going for decades. Fasano's ever-growing list of credits includes features like TOMBSTONE and ALIEN III as well as numerous high-profile TV movies like Tom Selleck's STONE COLD and The HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME starring Mandy Patinkin and Salma Hayek, for which Fasano was nominated for a WGA writing award. Perhaps even more impressive however are all the movies Fasano did not get credit on (see our article on the WGA arbitration process right here.) Throughout the 1990s, he did uncredited drafts and polishes on practically every studio action/adventure film.
All those years in the trenches have given Fasano an ultimate insider's perspective. So when we heard he was launching his very first workshop series for writers, we knew it was a must-not-miss. They say those who can't do teach, and one quick glance at the field of "experts" lecturing on screenwriting more or less bears that out. But Fasano's done it all, and he wears his battle scars with pride. Now he's ready to share his unique experiences, perspective and razor-sharp story chops in his Teaching the Craft workshops.
|They're your huckleberries.|
John Fasano: I come from New York where, inspired by Ray Harryhausen and John Cassevettes, I started making 8mm films in my neighborhood when I was seven years old. I studied art, writing, acting – anything that I thought could apply to making better films. When I graduated from SUNY Purchase college, I started doing ad campaigns for New York-based grindhouse producers. They gave me a chance to actually work in their films, and after re-writing one, I got the chance to write and co-direct ZOMBIE NIGHTMARE with Adam West and Tia Carrere. This led to a string of Canadian-made horror films like BLACK ROSES and THE JITTERS. I moved to Los Angeles in late 1988 to try and break into the film business. In January 1989 I sold my first spec script, TAILGUNNER, to Morgan Creek for $450K in a bidding war with Paramount. In 1990, my first studio gig was ANOTHER 48 HRS, which is still director Walter Hill’s most successful feature.
JC: You've been a working Hollywood writer for over two decades. What sort of changes have you seen in the Hollywood landscape that affect writers?
JF: The biggest change is the explosion in the cost of films. In the 1990s, the studio was willing to take a chance on a fresh idea in a spec because maximum budgets were in the high 30 millions. Most films were being made for less than that. Now tent pole pictures regularly cost $200 million, and even animated and comedy films cost nearly $100 million because of actors' salaries. Because of this, writers who want to work for studios are working on a smaller number of big films, all based on other movies, TV series, books and comic books. The studio is therefore turning to the people who delivered last year’s hit, so a handful of writers basically have the lion’s share of ALL studio writing assignments.
The GOOD side of the last decade is that their has also been an explosion of independent production fueled by filmmakers being able to get their hands on cheap digital cameras and equipment. Now a writer can see his movie made outside the system. Sadly, many chose to do parodies and horror films, while the real opening is for quirky dramas that no one would normally take a chance on.
JC: What's the secret to longevity as a working writer?
JF: Write. Have a good attitude when you work, show that you WANT to work with the producer and director to see the movie made, and people will remember that and hire you again. And don’t have down time between assignments. If you don’t have a paying gig lined up and the one you’re currently working is is going to end soon, MAKE a deal to get the next one going.
JC: There are a million ways writers can get screwed. What are some of your favorites?
JF: Giving their whole idea to an exec who doesn’t intend to hire them, then being surprised a year later when that company has made a similar film! .Overselling themselves in the room and then taking forever to deliver the script. Not being willing to take criticism – this is the biggest thing. Film is a collaborative process, so unless your family is putting up the money and you are writer and director, you HAVE to be able to make your partners happy while not betraying your vision of the project. Not easy. There’s luck and psychology at work in there as well. I’ve made some major mistakes – all of them, in fact. But I never let them destroy me or my career. What mistakes? I’m always glad to share them with people who come to me for advice.
JC: What do you hope to offer in your workshops to writers that they may not be able to get elsewhere? What's your special sauce?
JF: My secret is that I have had nearly ONE HUNDRED paid studio and network writing assignments, and almost half of them have been made. Most of the people who are out there teaching writing are teaching it on a theoretical level. I’ve had an average of two projects filmed every year since I arrived in Los Angeles.
From working with film companies and other writers for over twenty years, I understand the process, and my greatest desire is to let my writing students understand how to navigate the system without going crazy or losing themselves in it.
Everyone has a story to tell. I WANT you to tell the story you’ve got inside you. I don’t want to turn your story into my idea, I want to help you get your vision on page. It all starts there. It’s that beginning of the process, when your idea becomes story and story becomes script, that’s most vital. One you have that, the first draft screenplay will follow, and your producer and director can change it all they want, but if you got your original vision into your screenplay, they can never take that away from you. And that’s where my experience comes in – in guiding my students through the process of taking that script to market.
Fasano's Beginning Screenwriting workshop is June 1 + 2; Intermediate is June 8 + 9. To sign up, please visit his website right here. Don't forget to ask for your 10% discount for Coverage Ink clients.
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