Tuesday, November 23, 2010


My dear friend Priscila asked me to blog about the indie film DESPERTAR that she is producing and trying to raise money for on indiegogo.com. Take a look:

"Despertar" a Work in Progress from Cristina Kotz Cornejo on Vimeo.

Click here for info about how to donate to the project.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

PROM Trailer!

My friend Lee worked on this movie so I'm giving it some love! It looks adorable.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Writer's groups in Chicago?

Frank writes: I was wondering if you know of any groups in the Chicago area that get together and read their screenplays or writings and help each other?

I'm afraid I don't - but please comment if you live in Chicago and are interested!

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Writing direct-to-DVD movies

Screenwriter Peter Harmon emailed me and I thought everyone might be interested in his experiences writing direct-to-DVD movies. Maybe that's not your ultimate goal, but it's Getting Paid to Write - and I know that's a short-term goal for a lot of us. Here's what Peter had to say:

My last year of college I heard of a program where I could get the last of my credits in LA in a semester program where I would take a couple classes, have an internship, and make short films. I re-wrote and directed a short called Jasper featuring Justin Grant Wade (aka Steve Holt! from Arrested Development.) Jasper premiered at a showcase for the shorts, it was well-received. A producer from a small production company approached me, gave me her information, and said that we should set up a meeting soon. I assumed that nothing would come of it, but she called me when I got back home to Maryland and asked when we could meet. I said something like, "uh, I'm in Maryland." She asked if I was working on a project, I said, "kind of" (I was packing). I told her I'd call her when I got back to LA.

A few days after I got to LA, I met with the producer and she offered me the job to write a feature screenplay for their company. Thus began my relationship with Black Christian Movies and Nu-Lite Entertainment. They specialize in religious African American movies, urban movies, etc. The movies I've written have been very low-budget (the budgets have increased as we've gone along though, and I'm excited for the next two which are coming out in early 2011) and I didn't make enough money to quit my day job. However, they led to me to my manager, who is actually a parent of one of my wife's students (she works at an elementary school).

Writing direct-to-DVD is kind of the wild west right now. If you have a good relationship with a distributor you have a lot of freedom with what you can release. The company I wrote for had a solid religious African American audience that it catered to, the kind of audience that was more forgiving of low production value and a lack of big stars if there was a certain message in the story. The company turns out movies very quickly; I wrote one in the summer of 2008 that was on the shelves in time for Christmas. The movies I've written have gotten better in quality, but since I am non-union the pay is low and there is no backend deal whatsoever. But writing for them led to finding a manager so I think it has been a worthwhile experience.

A question I get asked often is how, as a white guy, I wrote for Black Christian movies. It honestly never came up in the meetings. Thankfully I come from a diverse area on the east coast so it wasn't difficult for me, also I used to attend a church in DC that was similar to one I depicted in the Pastor Jones movie I wrote. We all have the same emotions and I wrote the stories based on simple family dynamics that were universal. I usually write more low key, quirky dark comedies when up to my own devices, but for these movies I went a little bigger and broader while still maintaining my voice and I definitely put in some really weird jokes that were funny to me that I'm surprised made the final cut.

Working for the particular company I have was an interesting experience, since all the movies I've written for them have been sequels. I never thought I would ever write a sequel - how can you think of a new story for characters who already had a whole movie devoted to them? The company would send me a DVD and I would watch them and outline a new story based on the characters, or a main character in the Pastor Jones series' case, or a theme in the Walk By Faith series.

I have pitched my own ideas to them and they seemed receptive so I think int he future if I write for them I could sell them a spec, but they've always had other scripts for me to write instead. If nothing else, working for Nu-Lite/ BCM has taught me so much about meeting with producers, pitching, outlining, writing on assignment, and now rewriting. This is going to sound very cliche, but it's literally been like a master's class in screenwriting.

You can read more from Peter on his blog.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

In celebration of stuffy British period pieces

I adore stuffy British period pieces. I seriously can't get enough of the barren countryside, the propriety and the soulful glances. These films make me want to lace myself up in a corset and run around accusing people of being impertinent.

Why do they work?
Interesting visual worlds. Costumes. Choreographed dances. Carriages sailing across the wilderness.
Thoughtful dialogue. People tended to choose their words carefully back then, or at least it seems that way in these movies. Small talk is always loaded with subtext and emotion. Letter writing is a slow, painstaking art. And when people finally do talk about their feelings, it's a big effing deal.
Themes of duty, obligation and forbidden desire. What one wants to do is almost always in conflict with what one must do. You can't just marry (or sleep with) whomever you want. You can't just get a job. And if you're a member of the royal family, you're probably miserable. Money and social status rule all.

And for whatever reason, the female characters are always interesting and well-drawn.

Here are some of the ones I've been devouring lately:

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