Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Just Do It!

Making Your Own Movie Is Easier (Much Harder) Than You Thought...

I wanted to tell you guys a little bit more about the first short being coproduced by Coverage, Ink. The film is called SHOWDOWN OF THE GODZ, script by myself and Aaron Schnore, and directed by Julien Calderbank, produced by John Reefer.

Aaron is a talented NYC writer who is hooked up in the NYC film world, and has had several exemplary shorts produced including RHYME ANIMAL, AVE X and WHITE CURE. In October he pitched me an idea for a comedy about a loser, the world's biggest Godzilla fan, who is challenged to a Godzilla trivia showdown with the soon-to-retire 84-year-old archivist from Toho Studios--the keeper of all Godzilla knowledge. If the loser wins, he gets the guy’s job. But meanwhile, the guy’s marriage is coming apart as he singlemindedly trains for this idiotic dream.

So we banged out a script together and looked to see what we could do with it.

I have been so programmed by years of being in the Hollywood trenches that the idea of mounting a production myself seemed ludicrous. No, I had to find some producer to buy/option the script, then sit back, hands-off, while the project staggered along through rewrites, only to inevitably crash and burn courtesy of some executive changeover, sending the project into turnaround. Hmm. Come to think of it, that sucks.

But Aaron actually MAKES movies. What a concept! So we set about the radical notion trying to do GODZ ourselves. But... how? Well, it’s easy. Sort of. Just do it. Kind of.

In a nutshell, we needed to find: A, money, B, a director (since neither of us were inclined/competent to do it,) C, a producer, and, oh, yeah, all the other stuff--camera package, actors, crew, locations, etc. Where to begin?

Believe it or not, we actually found our very talented young director Julien Calderbank through... Craig’s List. Julien had a sharp reel and by some amazing synchronicity was looking for a project to shoot in February. Even more astonishing, he brought a good chunk of the financing to the table. Aaron also set up our camera package through a director he met on Craig's List. Through free ads, we found the linchpins for the entire project!

Once Julien came on board, we did a polish on the script and set out finding Big Puzzle Piece #2--a line producer. We needed somebody who knew the city, was seasoned, and knew how to get things like permits and insurance and how to deal with SAG. Through Aaron’s connex we found the amazing John Reefer. In under 6 weeks from completion of the script, we had the team, the money (with Coverage, Ink kicking in the balance of the film’s $12K budget) and we were rarin’ to go.

Let’s face it, it gets damn frustrating sitting around waiting for Hollywood to buy a script from you. I’m lucky enough to have had a few things produced, but damn, my last feature was 9 years ago already. Thus it dawned on me right around Christmas--holy crap, we’re making a movie. Simply by placing an ad, making a couple calls, and getting off our butts to make it happen.

The last big piece of the puzzle: a *star*. Sure, we found a bunch of amazing but relatively unknown leading men we could get for a buck. But I know that one very big way to get people to pay attention to a short is to put a Name in it. While we couldn't afford the big salary of a Name name, we could certainly afford a well-known respected actor, if not a star, for the lead role--someone everybody knows, perhaps from some iconic TV role. Enter my friends at The Gersh Agency (this is where writing Agent’s Hot Sheet has its advantages.) They immediately hooked me up with ten terrific NYC actors. And now we are about to extend an offer to one of them (can’t say who yet.)

The point of all this? It’s been both incredibly easy, and at the same time tricky and unexpectedly time-consuming, to mount a short. But damn, has it been invigorating. I HIGHLY recommend it. All of you guys who are in the doldrums because your last spec got no play, or your fist is raw and bloody from banging on Hollywood’s razor-wired door, why not write something and go shoot it?

Of course, I know how hard it is to get your short into the bigger festivals nowadays. Don’t talk to me about that right now, Buzzkill! Right now I’m looking at actually having 15 minutes of film in the can soon. Allow me to enjoy the moment of empowerment. A year from now I’ll write you all gloom and doom about how having a short nowadays is worthless ;)

--Jim Cirile

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Save the Cat! and The Writers Store Join WOTS

To ice the proverbial cake on our Writers on the Storm prize package, we are pleased to announce new prizes from two majors in the world of screenwriting.

I was first turned on to Blake Snyder's best-selling, award-winning book "Save the Cat!" while at UCLA. Teacher Kris Young presented Snyder's beat sheet map, and I was struck by both its simplicity and its usefulness. I personally use "Save the Cat!", and so it was natural that I ask Blake to come on board the contest. While the world is glutted with screenwriting books, "Save the Cat!" is one of an elite few that Coverage, Ink recommends. A multiproduced screenwriter and world-renown screenwriting guru, Blake's offering up seminar admissions (a 2-weekend long workshop--he's currently touring the US!), copies of his book and the new Save the Cat! software, which I'm dying to check out myself. In fact, I just ordered a copy of it from our OTHER new sponsor...

The Writers Store! Yep, the one and only! If you live in LA and have any inclination towards writing, you've likely been to The Writers Store. It is the only place of its kind--a retail store just for screenwriters. Located on Westwood Blvd just minutes from UCLA, the Writers Store has the most amazingly friendly staff, and is about the only place I can find that actually carries Acco brand genuine brass brads! I went in there one day with concerns about which screenwriting software to buy, and a helpful staffer guided me through the pros and cons of all the major programs in no time. A very, very cool place, and their website ( is a must-bookmark resource. The Writers Store is offering gift certificates and -- brace yourself -- 10% off for all Writers on the Storm contestants! Holy cow!

I am now very proud to announce these two guys as Writers on the Storm sponsors. We now have a development and marketing-packed prize package that I don't think any other contest can even approach!

Check out their websites: and

And as always, let me know what you guys think!

Best regards,

Jim Cirile

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Monday, January 01, 2007

Get Popular!

Working Prodco Launches Script Development Service

by Jim Cirile

I recently chatted with Sean Sorensen and Tim Albaugh, the execs behind Hollywood production company Popular Films. Popular is on a roll, setting up a pile of projects lately, including Sealand at Warner Bros.; Hurricane Season, which Sean is co-executive producing with Adelstein Productions and State Street Pictures at HBO; Live Nude Girls Unite! which Sean is writing and producing at Reason Pictures, with Nicole Kassell (The Woodsman) attached to direct; Weasel which Sean and Tim are producing with Echo Lake Entertainment; and Croak which is set up at Hudson River Entertainment..

Now Popular Films, in alliance with Coverage, Ink, is now offering screenplay consulting services. I know of no other real, working production company that offers this. That means that anybody can now get the awesome consulting power of these smart execs behind their script. And unlike many consultants, these guys are actually on the front lines, working in the biz. Furthermore, Tim was my teacher in the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting, and I can attest to his top-notch story savvy. Simply put: you don’t get much better than these guys.

Unlike most other consultants, if Popular Films analyzes your script, they will actually meet with you in person (or by phone if you’re not in LA) for a 90-minute in-depth meeting about your script. For more info on this cool new service, click HERE


Jim Cirile: Tell me a little bit about each of you and how you got into the business.

Sean Sorensen: Ever since I saw Star Wars, I was hooked on movies. That was a galvanizing moment for me. I was only 4 or 5, but I knew I was going to be in the movie business. At first I thought I was going to be an actor, but ultimately I found my niche in producing and crafting stories. I have a pretty good eye for what makes a movie. My big break was when I got the rights to the Sealand project and then sold it to Warner Bros. I wrote the script and I’m executive producing the movie with Nick Wechsler (Drugstore Cowboy, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain.)

Tim Albaugh: I was on track to be an entertainment attorney in the Bay Area, putting together limited partnerships for independent films. My last quarter as an undergrad before I was going off to law school, I took a screenwriting class. I enjoyed it and wrote a script that won a major competition, wound up going to grad school at UCLA instead, and then wrote a script there that got me an agent, and that was also the first script I had produced (Do Me a Favor).

JC: Your folks must have been ready to strangle you—abandoning a lucrative career for one of likely destitution and poverty.

TA: (laughs) No, my mom is okay with it as long as I’m not doing drugs.

JC: So, how did you guys hook up?

SS: Well, you know, they have those ads in the back of LA Weekly…

(everyone laughs)

TA: Actually, I met Sean much like how I met you, Jim—Sean was in one of my (UCLA) Professional Program classes. I found him to be a good writer and very entertaining. I gave him notes on one of his scripts, and we talked about our situation. He brought one thing to the table, and I brought another thing; we decided to sit at the table together.

JC: Was Sealand the first project you guys had collaborated on?

TA: Sean had sold the pitch. He wrote the script, and we worked together on fine tuning it. I was there to give him guidance and notes and input.

JC: Whose idea was it to form Popular Films?

TA: Sean had already started the company, and then I came on board. Our roles are that Sean has nurtured the majority of the contacts on the business side, and I’ve nurtured the contacts on the creative side. I have constant access to new material, so my role is to find stuff and develop it, and Sean’s role is also to develop and then get it out there.

JC: And you both write.

TA: Yeah. Sean just finished an assignment for a company (Whiteout for Hudson River Entertainment).

SS: Producing is definitely what Popular Films is about, but I’m still out there as a writer.

TA: The ultimate goal of the company is to be a strong production company, a real force in town.

SS: Popular Films is a production company where we develop scripts in-house then set them up at studios or with independent financiers.

TA: And one of our strengths is that we are both writers and have been in the situations that writers find themselves in and can approach things from the writer’s and producer’s perspective. It’s a double-edged sword. We’re able to work with the writer and know exactly what writers may be struggling with, but more often than not we also know how to fix it because we’ve been there before.

JC: Tell me about some of your success stories.

SS: The first one (we set up) was Weasel.

TA: Weasel was written by a guy named Steve Bagatourian, who also had a film called American Gun produced, which is currently nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards. I’ve been involved in the development of a lot of his scripts. Weasel was one that he wrote in a class of mine. I continued to help him develop it, and then I introduced him and the material to Sean. We developed it with him a little more, and then we shopped it around, and ultimately Echo Lake Productions stepped up and acquired the script, and we’re producing the film with them.

SS: We’re out to A-list directors on that project right now. It’s very exciting. Weasel is gonna be a killer movie.

JC: So what else is going on with Popular Films now?

SS: We’re trying to get movies made. In fact, I’m in my car right now on my way to HBO to attach a writer to one of the projects we’re producing there. We have six movies set up, and have just acquired the rights to a couple more projects.

JC: So why did you guys decide to offer development services to everyone?

TA: Obviously, part of it is us looking for new material, but it’s also us wanting to help a writer get a foot in the door. We can offer something that most consultants can’t, which is that we’re actively involved in the business. So we know what people are looking for, and we know what works and doesn’t work. So our clients are getting notes from people who know what it takes. I mean, obviously, we’re not Jerry Bruckheimer and Brian Grazer yet, but we’re definitely up and coming. We’re accessible to people. And if people want to go along with us on that ride, that’s great. You can talk to anybody who we’ve set up projects for, and they’ll tell you that we’re on the up and up, we’re fun to work with, and ultimately there are results.

JC: There are a lot of consultants out there who have no industry cred, who are out there trying to take people’s money.

TA: Sure. But like I said, we’re on the front lines. There’s an opportunity to provide a service, backed by our proven track record as writers/producers. The idea is that we’re helping people, with the hope that we may also be able to discover someone who might be the next ‘something else.’ You’ve got to keep your ear to the ground, keep looking for people like that. There’s something exciting and satisfying about finding someone new and interesting who’s just breaking in.

JC: You guys were kind enough to read a few of the Writers on the Storm top ten from this past year. None of them were right for you guys, but we appreciate your taking the time to read them. For this year’s WOTS participants, do you have any advice?

TA: Jim, I read a lot of scripts through Popular Films and UCLA, and I know you also read a lot of scripts through your company. The thing I see a lot is people writing “documents” - not movies. I read too many screenplays that aren’t movies.

SS: You have to keep an eye on the marketplace, find a way to have a fresh, original take. That’s difficult to do, but it’s what’s going to make you stand out amongst the clutter.

For more info on how to get Popular Films behind your screenplay, check them out HERE. And remember, all submissions between 1/2/07 and 3/20/07 are automatically entered into Writers on the Storm at no extra charge.