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Friday, June 6, 2014

Notes from a Veteran Writer – A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer – Part Three* (P.J. McNeill) - posted by wonkavite

A Million Ways to Lose Money as a Writer – Part Three

 

When I first got to LA, I wanted to be a writer/director. I would later talk to a true-blue professional writer who would find that idea laughable. This guy, who was a staff writer on a popular TV show, was having a hard time convincing his agent that HE could be a writer/director. His agent had told him to “Pick a lane”; and this was a guy who had already made it. Well, I came to LA ready to drive on the median: I was going to do it all.

At the time, I had a short film I was sending around that I had written, produced, edited, and directed. It was doing well, but when I got to LA, I launched a BIG (and costly) effort to put it in some glitzy LA festivals. If you’ve ever entered film festivals (for screenwriting or otherwise), you know that it doesn’t take long for the entry fees to start piling up. Even if you do it smart and get all the early bird deadlines, it’s still usually 30 bucks a pop.

So, a couple hundred dollars later (not counting that in my loss), the film was entered in a handful of festivals in the LA area. THE. NEXT. DAY. I got a call from the head of one of the film festivals. The HEAD. This was the big time. I’d made it. I was talking to the HEAD of a film festival in LA. And LA = success, right? RIGHT!

She was downright hyperbolic in her praise of my short. She said it was “one of the best short films she’d ever seen”, and went on to tell me that I had made it into the festival. I was beaming. She went on to tell me about how the films would be shown at the AMC at City Walk, that there’d be a red carpet (with interviews!), and an awards ceremony. She told me I had to go to the awards ceremony, heavily implying that I was going to win an award. (Her assistant would later tell me “(The head) REALLY wants YOU in particular to go.”) And I could go: all for the low, low price of $200. Wait, what? I had to PAY to go to the awards ceremony? Is that how things worked in LA?

I asked if I could get a ticket on the house. “We can knock it down to $100for you. (The head) really wants YOU to be there.”, they explained again. Something just didn’t feel right about all of this, so I declined the ticket, really bummed out and unbelievably still thinking I was missing out on accepting my award. (Spoiler alert: I didn’t win the award.)

But this was going to be a fancy movie premiere at AMC, so I did spend money on a new outfit, a graphic designer to design a poster for the film, the poster itself (printed full size), and postcards of the poster to hand out (a total value of roughly $400). Not to mention, I lost a job offer because I told them I had to attend the premiere. (They just didn’t get it. This was an LA film festival! At a movie theater! You can’t just RENT those!)

After attending the film festival, I learned a new term:

Vanity film festival (n.): 1. a festival concerned more with glitz and glamour than the film itself   2. An absolute waste time 3. The Cinema City International Film Festival

The only people who attended the film festival were the other filmmakers. Everyone was there for themselves. And so when it came time for my film (which played dead last and started with no sound for the first 30 seconds), the theater was maybe ¼ full (originally packed). Everyone left early to get down to the red carpet to be interviewed (by YouTube’s “elite”). Everyone was just grasping for that feeling of what it must feel like to have “made it.” You see these kinds of festivals in screenwriting too, and you should avoid them like the plague. If a film festival’s justification for you entering is “But we’ve got a shiny award and a red carpet!”: Run.

I later found out that I was one of the only filmmakers who didn’t purchase a ticket to the awards ceremony. I had been smart and didn’t give them my money. I gave it to The Gap instead. And when I was on the red carpet, my interviewer – who didn’t know a single thing about my film- did say I was sharply dressed. So in the end, I…won?

About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew?  Email PJ at pjscriptblog@gmail.com. New to P.J. readership?  Click here for more articles!

** STILL not related to Seth MacFarlane in any way, shape or form.  Pinkie swear!!

2 Comments so far

1.

Mark Lyons
June 6th, 2014 at 1:24 pm

Hey P.J.

Thanks for sharing your stories. I’m really enjoying them. (Okay. Maybe not so much enjoying them as learning from them. :-)

2.

Henry Christner
June 6th, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Great series; I look forward to your Friday essays. This one is a real winner.
I remember how I felt some years ago when three poems of mine were “chosen” for publication in a prestigious poetry anthology: happy with life/acknowledged/validated/I’m on-my-way!/recognized as a serious artist. Then they sent me the bill.

P.S. This was 1965.

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