Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Monday, December 29, 2014

My Ten Most Popular Blogs


I've been writing this blog for quite a few years.  I decided to take a look and see what people were actually reading.  Here's the ten most popular entries, in terms of views:

1).  "Hidden Secrets" Revealed, Part 4, Production
2).  "Betrayed," or, I Was A Screenwriter For The FBI
3).  "Holyman Undercover," Part 1, Pre-Production
4),  "21 Eyes" - Now About That Nude Scene....
5).  "21 Eyes," a History, Part 1
6).  "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" released
7).  "Sarah's Choice," Part One, "In The Blink Of An Eye"
8),  "The Encounter: Paradise Lost" trailer
9).  RIP Darren Rydstrom
10).  "The Company Man" premieres

From the list, it is easy to see that my blogs about the making of my movies remain the most popular ones.  I still have plenty of movies to write about.  I have already begun writing the blogs about the making of "The Encounter," which is perhaps the most popular film I have worked on.  I plan to be as truthful as possible, as always, letting the chips fall where they may.

Right now, my "Hidden Secrets" blog remains the most popular, but the much more recent blog about my film "Betrayed" is quickly gaining on it.  Of late, my blogs concerning the films I wrote for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counter Intelligence Division, tend to be getting the most hits.  I was surprised that my blogs about "Holyman Undercover" and "21 Eyes" got more hits than the blogs about "Sarah's Choice," since "Sarah's Choice" is a much more popular film by any standard.   I was also surprised to see that my recent blog about the release of my book ranking so highly.  I was also particularly happy to see that my blog about the late cinematographer Darren Rydstrom is getting a lot of hits.  He was a great guy who deserves to be remembered -- even if my words fail to do him justice.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

RIP Director Joseph Sargent



Director Joseph Sargent died.  Sadly, he's never been counted among the greats.  They don't talk about him in film school, but he was a solid but underrated professional who directed one of my favorite heist films of all time:  "The Taking of Pelham One Two Three."  I can't tell you how many times I have watched that film.  Why it is so much better than the remake would be a great blog in and of itself.

The great screenwriter William Goldman once wrote a fabulous book called "Adventures in the Screen Trade."  If I were writing a book about my experiences in the film business, I would call it "Near Adventures in the Screen Trade."  And Joseph Sargent would figure in it.  I nearly had an adventure with him.

Back in the 1990s, a Washington D.C.-based producer friend named Carol Flaisher read my script "Then The Judgement."  She wanted to make it.  She sent it to another producer, whose name sadly eludes me at the moment, who had recently been the head of production for Morgan Creek back when they were really hot.  I don't if he ever wanted to make "Then The Judgement," but the script made him want to talk to me.  I met with him in Hollywood at Raleigh Studios where he offered me the opportunity to write a girl and her dog movie built around a seeing eye dog charity he supported.  It was my first writing assignment.  Sadly, I would have to do it for spec, i.e., no upfront money.  Now, at the time, I actually had an agent, but I never told him about the assignment because I didn't think he would let me do it for free and I didn't want to take the chance on losing the opportunity.  (Sucker!)

The producer dangled another enticement in front of me to get me to write the dog movie.  He said he was developing a series for Showtime about the stories behind various items left at the Vietnam Memorial.  He said it was going to be a writer showcase.  If I wrote the dog movie, I could write one of the episodes of the Showtime series.  Once again, however, I would have the write the episode on spec.  (Yeah, I know what you're thinking:  He was dangling a free job in front of me to get me to write another free job!)

Being young and inexperienced, I immediately jumped at the opportunity.   I was really quite pleased with both of the scripts.  If I had clear rights to the girl and her dog script, I bet I could easily sell it today.  I was also quite proud of the Vietnam script.  I interviewed a number of Vietnam veterans, including my late uncle Doug Sartor, about their experiences.  I wanted to know not only how they felt about being in combat in Vietnam, but I also wanted to know the sights, sounds, smells and tastes -- the entire visceral experience.

The producer never seemed really happy with the dog script and didn't pursue it.  The Showtime series never happened.   However, Showtime did produce an omnibus film on the subject called "The Wall" directed by the late Joseph Sargent.  They didn't use my segment, but I wasn't the only one left out in the cold.  They didn't use some of the other scripts I had read either.  (One of them was written by a writer also represented by my agent.  Don't work for free!)    Not only that, neither of the producers I worked with got credit on the project either....

That's Hollywood.

Had the series happened and my episode was produced, my career and life would have been totally different.  Since I am happy with my life as it turned out, I glad it didn't happen!  Still, I would have liked to have worked with Joseph Sargent.

Rest in Peace.

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Lee Bonner on Maryland Public Television



Since I went back into the vault with my appearance on a live morning news show in Milwaukee supporting my film 21 Eyes (then called Replay), I thought it was only fair to show this clip of director Lee Bonner being interviewed on Maryland Public Television by Rhea Feikin.   (Seeing Rhea always reminds of her late husband Colgate Salisbury, who was the dean of voice overs in the Baltimore/Washington area.  I had many memorable sessions with him back when I was but a boy advertiser.  He was always a pleasure to work with.)

Aside from being an award-winning commercial and episodic television director, whose credits include Homicide:  Life on the Streets and The Practice,  Lee was once the bass player and chief songwriter of the RCA recording artists The Lafayettes.  They were a very popular regional band who never really scored nationally in the United States.  Their records did better in Europe, where they topped the charts in some countries.  I was always delighted when I saw recording artists like Robert Plant, Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Eno mention the influence the group had on them.  However, I was truly impressed when I read the following passage on page 668 of Mark Lewisohn's new Beatle biography "The Beatles:  All These Years.  Vol. 1.  Tune In. "

"The Beatles' intense drive to stay one step ahead of every rival (and they were already at least fifty clear) was taken to extremes by Paul in July/August 1962 when sleuthing songs unknown or unconsidered by others.  A good find was "Nobody But You," a B-side by a group from Towson, Maryland, called the Lafayettes.  Beyond a mawkish introduction, this was a strong call-and-response number in the style of Kansas City. "

The freaking Beatles covered one of Lee's songs.

Way to go, Lee!

Below is the original version.  Sadly, no recording of the Beatles' cover is known to exist:



Here's the A-side, Life's Too Short, with facts about the recording:



Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Yours Truly Interviewed on WISN, Milwaukee



I recently went through some old tapes and discovered this clip.  I managed to do a couple of live television interviews when my first film "21 Eyes," then called "Replay," was on the film festival circuit.  Here's an interview I did on a morning show in Milwaukee.

There were hundreds of films in the Milwaukee International Film Festival.  Why did WISN decide to interview me?  Easy.  We made ourselves available.  Whenever we got an invitation to a film festival, we personally sent media kits to the newspapers and television stations in the market to introduce ourselves.  Always do that.  Never expect a film festival to specifically promote your film.

What's funny here is the confusion the film clip causes at the station.  "21 Eyes" has an odd perspective.  The audience only sees what two voice over detectives, who are watching security camera footage, see on a monitor.  When the detectives switch tapes in the film, the screen goes blue.  The tech folks back at the station obviously didn't realize that.  When the image on the screen goes blue, they think it is a mistake and instinctively start switching around.

Oh well.

Yours truly with producer David Butler
BTW, the Milwaukee International Film Festival was one of the best ones I attended.  Milwaukee is a great film town!

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.





Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday eBook Sale at TouchPoint Press



My publisher, TouchPoint Press, has all of their eBooks at 80% off from 12/18-to-12/24.  This is a perfect opportunity to pick up my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" and other great titles.  Use the promo code SANTA when checking out.

Here's the link:  TouchPoint Press Bookstore

Read what people are saying about my book here:  Amazon User Reviews


Monday, December 15, 2014

Writer Tip #11: Start Living Your Life Now!

My lovely wife and I out living our lives
I talk to a lot of budding screenwriters and filmmakers on the internet.  The underlying feeling I get in most of these conversations is that they are living primarily in the future.  That they feel that their lives won't really begin until they sell that script or make that movie.

Having a dream is a good thing.  Having a goal is a good thing.  Working toward either of them is even better.  But I have some advice for you.

Start living your life now.

Even if your wildest dreams come true and a major studio makes or picks up your film and it generates a billion dollars in worldwide box office, you will never be able to buy back the time you are living now.  Some people believe their talent is their most valuable commodity.  It isn't.  Time is always your most valuable commodity.  Take full advantage of it.  Each hour is equally valuable -- whether you spend it now in a grubby apartment or later in a Hollywood mansion.

Plus, there's no guarantee you will eventually succeed at your goal.  Or even live another day. Never forget that.

Here's another fact.

Making an independent film generally doesn't change your life.

Will it be fun?  Yes.  There is a thrill to being on the set.  It is fun working with actors you've admired for years.  Fewer things are more exciting than finally seeing your film on the big screen for the first time, but after all of the fuss and festivals and slaps on the back, one morning you're going to wake up and discover that you are still the same person who were before you made the film.  If you weren't happy with who you were before you made the film, you probably won't be happy with who you are afterwards.

So learn to be happy now.  Enjoy your life as you live it.  Be present.  Let "success" in the movie business be a bonus to a life well lived, not the all-encompassing goal.  Otherwise you will be disappointed.

Other Tips:

Friday, December 12, 2014

FD Automatic Video "Red Shoes"


I have had the good fortune to work with quite a few of the local rock'n'roll legends of my youth.   One of those legends was Face Dancer.  Capitol records released their album "This World" in 1979 and their single "Red Shoes" was on the radio constantly in Baltimore.  It is a lively and memorable tune.

I never saw the band itself during its prime, but I frequently enjoyed one of its offshoots, Growing Up Different, during the 1980s.  Recently, the band attempted to regroup and I had to good fortune to watch four of its original members, Scott McGinn, Jeff Adams, David Utter and Billy Trainor rehearse.  Sadly, the original singer, Carey Kress passed away but he was ably replaced by Steve Hancock.  The group certainly displayed the old magic, but the reunion ultimately didn't pan out.  Scott McGinn and Steve Hancock decided to continue the Face Dancer legacy and FD Automatic was born.

For their first release, Scott and Steve decided to remake the classic Face Dancer song "Red Shoes."  They recorded the remake in Ross Hancock's studio.  Scott played the bass, with a pick I must add.  (An important detail to me since I am learning the instrument myself.)  Buffalo Lee Jordan played drums.  Aaron White and Robert Fiester played guitars.  Steve sang, obviously.  I attended the session with Timothy Ratajczak.  We were invited to participate in the backing vocals.  Fortunately for the sake of the recording, we had to leave before they recorded those vocals.  Personally, I like the new recording better than the original.  It has a rawer more enthusiastic sound.  There was only one thing it needed:  A video!

Yours truly, Teri McGinn, Scott McGinn, Timothy Ratajczak
The making of the video was a reunion in and of itself.  My fellow Towson alumni, and co-writer on so many films, Timothy Ratajczak was slated to direct.  He asked me if I was willing to edit.  I said yes.  Then he asked another one of our Towson alumni David Butler to shoot the film.   David usually works as a director but he was happy to get behind the camera to work on the video.  It was a fabulous Towson State reunion.

The video was shot in one day against green screen using a Red camera.  Then it was my turn.  Tim and I edited the video over a couple of weekends.  I must confess that I learned quite a bit about After Effects during this edit!  In the end, David jumped back in do the final visual effects, color correction and mastering.

Here's the video:




The project was a pleasure to work on from the beginning to the end.

Download the album on iTunes Here:  FD Automatic
Or Amazon here:  FD Automatic
Or CDBaby here:  FD Automatic

And, as always, be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

Some other fun videos I edited:
Crack The Sky: Mr. President
Greg Kihn: Horror Show
Nils Lofgren: Alone

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

"Open My Eyes" premieres in Florida



My film "Open My Eyes" premiered in Florida last night.  Neither I, or my co-writer Timothy Ratajczak, were able to attend the screening.  However, from what I have heard and seen on social media, it seems like a great time was had by all.

The faith-based feature film was directed by Gabriel Alfonzo and stars Dominick LaBanca, Jeannie Garcia,  Sharon Oliphant and  Heloisa Alves.   I want to applaud the talented cast and crew for all of their great work and I look forward to announcing news regarding it's release and distribution in the very near future.  I, for one, can't wait to get a copy.  I saw a rough cut of the film, but I haven't seen the final, color-corrected version yet.

Here's the teaser trailer:



Check out the film, and also check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It makes a great Christmas gift -- all year 'round!

The Catholic Review recognizes "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God"



I was raised Catholic and my mother was a subscriber to the Baltimore Catholic Review.  I always read the movie and music reviews.  (Although I must confess that I often sought out the films that they condemned.  Sorry.)  Therefore I was quite flattered when they recently gave my book a nice blurb last week in the numbers and names section.

Thanks!

Glad the Catholics are stepping up.  Now where are the Protestants?

You can buy the book here:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God





Writer Tip #10: Make It Real

Ernest Hemingway on safari in 1934.
The old adage goes:  "Write what you know."

That's true.  When I am approached by a budding writer who works as a policeman during the day, I advise him/her to write a police thriller.  When I am approached by a budding writer who works as a doctor during the day, I recommend that he/she write a medical film.  Not only will their specialized expertise enhance their story, it will make it easier to sell.  If you don't have any previous credits or awards to tout, your personal experience on the subject matter will give you credibility in the eyes of producers or publishers.

However, you shouldn't take "write what you know" too literally.

You have got to admire a writer like Ernest Hemingway.  He was a man's man who lived a big, exciting life.  He went to war.  He went big game hunting.  He ran with the bulls.  And he wrote about it.  Writing about what he knew didn't limit him.  However, sadly, most of us writers don't live those kinds of lives.  Our lives are boring.  No one wants to spend ten dollars to see our stories.  After all, if you are good writer, you spend most of your time staring at a flashing cursor on a computer screen.  Therefore, we have to rely on our imaginations.  And that's a good thing.  It would be a boring world if only policeman or criminals could write crime films.  Or only astronauts could write sci-fi films.  However, you still have to make it real.  You have to make it personal.

This is particularly true if you write on assignment.  Oftentimes, I have been asked to write projects outside the realm of both my experience and interest.  I have found that the key to making such a story interesting to both myself and my audience is making it emotionally true.  In a sense, I put myself through the same kind of emotional preparation that an actor goes through upon receiving a role.  Even if the story is outside of my personal experience, I always find something emotionally true to me to lash onto to make the project real to me.

None of my films are autobiographical, however, if you were to read my memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" and watch my movies, you would see definite parallels between my life and my movies.  Considering how guarded I was emotionally prior to my near death experience,  I am shocked about how much of myself I reveal in some of my movies.  For example, In addition to writing "The Encounter," I also edited the film.  I remember sitting stunned after Jaci Velasquez gives her monologue about her suicide attempt.  The events she described were based on an incident in my own life which I never discussed with anyone -- changed to suit the character and circumstances of the film.  Strangely, I didn't find it too self-revelatory when I wrote the scene on paper, which would only be seen by a couple dozen people. but it was another thing entirely to see it performed for the world to see.

Do I regret it?  No.  In some ways "The Encounter" is my most successful film in the way it engages the audience.  In fact, based on audience reactions -- both observed and read --  I have discovered that the more emotionally personal the script is to me, the more emotionally involved the audience becomes.  That fact encouraged me to believe my memoir would find an appreciative audience if I wrote it.  And it has.  It hasn't been a bestseller -- so far -- but it seems to have deeply touched many people who have read it.

As a screenwriter, you will find yourself in a particularly good place if the script also resonants deeply with an actor.   That was the case with part one and part two of the "Revelation Road" films (they were actually one film and broken in half in post.)  Brian Bosworth really found some life-changing emotional truth in his role.  His performance, which I believe is his best as an actor, is the locomotive that powers the film.

Here is Brian discussing the film and its implications in his life:



When you write, make it more than just words.  More than just a story.

Make it real.

Other Tips:

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Suzanne Shepherd: A Gift of Fire" premieres



A documentary film I edited, "Suzanne Shepherd: A Gift of Fire" debuted last week in New York City.   The film is about Suzanne Shepherd, a gifted character actress who is also an influential acting teacher and theatrical director.  Suzanne is perhaps most recognizable in roles as mob mothers-in-law.  In "Goodfellas," she played Ray Liotta's Jewish mother-in-law.  On "The Sopranos," she played James Gandofini's Italian mother-in-law.

The film is a definite labor of love by writer/producer Wendy Sayvetz and features interviews with a wide variety of Suzanne devotees including Alan Alda, Danny Glover, Joan Allen, Bebe Neuwirth, the late Jill Clayburgh, director Larry Arrick and South African playwright Athol Fugard.  Wendy started filming footage in 2000.  While in Baltimore shooting the film "A Dirty Shame," Suzanne mentioned the prospective documentary to her director John Waters.  John Waters immediately recommended Steve Yeager to direct the film.  Steve had already won the audience prize at the Sundance Film Festival for his documentary about John Waters called "Divine Trash."  Steve brought me onto the project and the rest is history.

Producer Wendy Sayvetz with yours truly working on the
film in my dining room.  You'd be surprised how many
films were born or finished there!
The film was extremely well-received in New York by an audience studded with Academy Award winners.    Sadly, my lovely wife and I were unable to make the premiere since I had to spend the day locked safely away in a communications secure location in Washington, DC, working on my next film.  A pity.  It sounded like a great party and people loved the film.  I look forward to seeing the film next on the festival circuit!

Here's an extended sneak peak:



Be sure to read my book:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Halloween Recommends



With Halloween fast approaching, I decided to recommend a few horror films for your viewing pleasure.  As you will see, my taste is rather conventional, but I hope you will find some hidden treasures on the list.  They are not listed in any particular order.

THE HAUNTING, 1963, d. Robert Wise

This is my current favorite.  It remains a chilling film despite its total lack of gore and deliberate pacing.  I grew up in a very haunted house.  If anyone asks me what it was like, I tell them to watch this film.  It's all about cowering under the echo of inexplicable bangings and footsteps at night, only to spend the day either denying what happened or doubting your sanity.   Avoid the 1999 remake starring Liam Neeson at all costs.

THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, 1973, d. John Hough

Essentially the same plot as The Haunting, however, this film, scripted by Richard Matheson from his own book, revels in everything the earlier film refrained from showing.  It isn't as good as The Haunting, but it is fun on its own level.  It remains a guilty pleasure that reminds me of my many days spent at the Arcade Theater on Harford Road.  (Why did my parents let me see this film alone?)

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, 1935, d. James Whale

This film best represents my childhood spent watching creature features every Friday and Saturday night.  I suspect that these classic horror films are too tame for today's cynical youth.  That is a pity, because  this film remains a masterpiece of cinematography, art direction, writing and performance.  Karloff is amazing.  He brings both tremendous empathy and menace to the monster.

THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, 1968, d. George A. Romero

I first saw this film on Super 8mm.  I didn't know what to expect.  The synopsis sounded corny to me, but the movie, with its gritty documentary feel, absolutely blew me away.  I literally sat stunned with my mouth wide open at the end.  

THE EXORCIST, 1973, d. William Friedkin

This film usually tops various internet lists of the scariest horror film, but I was actually quite dismissive of it for many years.  Initially, I felt it was cheap.  To me, it relied too heavily on shock effects and not enough on story and character.  I was wrong.  With the more people I have lost over time, the more the story of these two characters, a priest losing his faith because of his inability to save his mother and a desperate mother wanting to do anything to save her daughter, resonates with me.

I TRE VOLTI DELLA PAURA (BLACK SABBATH), 1964, d. Mario Bava

Not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but this omnibus film really scared me as a kid -- especially the third story:  A Drop of Water.  It remains a guilty pleasure, but now I prefer to enjoy it in its native Italian language.

PHANTASM, 1979, d. Don Coscarelli

If you truly analyze the script, you'd find it is a contradictory mess.  What really happened?  Still, coherence must take a backseat to mood.  I think Coscarelli manages to churn up some primordial fears concerning loss, death and the things of death, from the adolescent perspective, in this effective little film.

DAWN OF THE DEAD, 1978, d. George A. Romero

Everywhere you  look, you seem zombies nowadays.  I think you have to bless or curse this film for that phenomenon.   This film about four people trying survive a zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall skillfully mixed gore with subtle social satire about our materialistic society.  It has been all downhill for Romero as his social statements became more heavy-handed in his subsequent zombie epics.

THE NIGHT STALKER, 1972, John Llewellyn Moxey

A cynical newsman begins to believe that a series of killings in Las Vegas are the result of a vampire in this made-for-TV film scripted by Richard Matheson.  This film, which updated the vampire myth and placed it in a thoroughly modern context, has been an influence on my own writing.  In my opinion, this remains one of the best vampire movies ever.

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, 1970, Dan Curtis

I was a huge fan of afternoon gothic soap opera Dark Shadows growing up, and it remained a pleasant memory until someone gave me a DVD of some of the original television programs.  Sadly, I found them unwatchable.  This film, however, another fond memory from my ill-spent youth at the Arcade Theater, still works.  It does suffer from a little shorthand because the filmmakers expected the audience to be familiar with the characters, but it is a taut, well-directed horror film.  The TV soap actors successfully stepped up their game for the big screen.

THE SHINING, 1980, d. Stanley Kubrick

Stephen King hated Kubrick's adaptation of his novel, but it remains the best King adaptation.  It remains consistently creeping -- especially those little girls.  Kubrick tends to be a filmmaker with a chilly, cerebral approach, and horror is sometimes best served cold.

CARNIVAL OF SOULS, 1962, d. Herk Harvey

A woman emerging from a river after a car accident finds herself drawn toward a strange carnival in this genuinely creepy thriller made on a shoestring in Kansas and Utah.  I once visited the dancehall site on the Great Salt Lake in Utah that inspired the film.  It was as creepy as the film.

SPOORLOOS (THE VANISHING), 1988, d. George Sluizer

Technically speaking, this is probably a thriller or mystery rather than a horror film, but it remains a disturbing film that builds to a chilling climax that will stay with you for a long time.  In the film, a young man tries for years to find out what happened to his girlfriend who disappeared during a holiday in France.  Moved by his perseverance, the abductor makes contact with him.  Avoid the 1993 American remake starring Jeff Bridges at all costs!

HALLOWEEN, 1978, d. John Carpenter

Don't blame this film for all of the horrible slasher film that regrettably followed in its wake.  This innovative and compelling film still that introduced all of the tropes of the genre still works.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Crack The Sky: Mr. President


Over the course of my career as an editor, I have had the pleasure to work on a number of rock videos.  The highest profile artist I worked with was rapper Big Pun at the height of his career, but my favorites were recording artists with ties to my native State of Maryland.  During college I had some peripheral involvement with Timothy Ratajczak's videos for The Ravyns and Growing Up Different.  Later I had the good fortune to work with Greg Kihn, who had a couple of Top 5 hits in the 80s, and Nils Lofgren, who is now a member of the E Street Band.  However, I started at the top.  My first real video was for Baltimore's biggest rock heroes:  Crack The Sky.

I grew up musically ignorant.  I was obsessed with the movies, but my musical taste was very limited.  It ran from BA - the Bach keyboard pieces I learned on the piano - to BE - The Beatles.  Still, I definitely knew who Crack The Sky were.  The rock stations played their music incessantly.  My sisters had some of their albums, too.  What I didn't realize was that the band was essentially a regional phenomenon despite the fact that their first album was declared the debut of the year by Rolling Stone magazine.  It would be no exaggeration to say that, in Baltimore, Crack The Sky was as popular as The Rolling Stones.

I first got to know John Palumbo, the chief singer and songwriter of Crack The Sky, when he opened a recording studio in Baltimore.  My friend Victor Giordano started working there as an engineer and, in my capacity as a broadcast producer for Smith Burke & Azzam, I started doing some radio spots there.  I must admit I was a little nervous when I first met John.  To a Baltimorean, it was like meeting Mick Jagger.

We got to know each other pretty well.  He called me his "mortgage payment."  I hung out quite a bit at his studio flirting endlessly with Terri, his sexy secretary.  One boring afternoon at the advertising agency, I edited a video to The Beatles' song "The End" which illustrated the story of America's involvement in Vietnam in two minutes.  John was one of the first people to see the video.  He immediately hired me to edit a video for a local band he was producing.  It was my first step on a career that has enriched and sustained me for over twenty years.

When I first met John, the Crack The Sky had just released "From The Greenhouse," an album that got some pretty good airplay all around the country.  I remember when I went one of my winding, driving vacations that summer, I dutifully made note of every place and every time I heard the title song on the radio.  When it came time to release the follow-up album, "Dog City," my friend David Butler was slated to direct the video and I was slated to edit it.  Here it is:



It was a great experience.  It is always great working with David Butler, and we were fortunate to work with one of my favorite cinematographers, the late Tom Loizeaux.  I was also delighted to get my niece Natalie in the video, and Joel, the son of my friends David and Teresa Miller.

I only have one regret when I think about my work with John Palumbo and Crack The Sky, and it has nothing to do with the video.  When I did that first video for John Palumbo, I asked him how much he charged to produce a song.  He asked why.  I said I wanted to record a song with my band The Atomic Enema.  He immediately volunteered to do it for free.  Then the strangest thing happened.  I got cold feet, which was odd, because I was always willing to play my songs for anyone -- especially the darker, more sarcastic ones.  (Like this one.)  I offered up an excuse.  I said, "I don't know, my band is so out of practice.  We haven't played in a while."  John said, "That's okay.  We'll play all the instruments ourselves."  Here it was.  What I always wanted:  To have one of my songs played by a real recording artist that I respected.  But I chickened out*....

Oh well.

At least I got to work with all the local musical heroes of my youth.

Except Face Dancer.....

*Interestingly, although I was afraid to play my songs for John, we ended up playing on the same stage at a party.  John was scheduled to close the show -- backed up by some members of Bootcamp, another popular local band.  I was supposed to do my Elvis impersonation right before him.  However, after John saw me in my custom-made jumpsuit, he suggested that we change places.  And we did.  So, technically-speaking, John opened for me. (Big Al Anderson, of NRBQ, also "opened" for me that night.)

Check out my book:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God

Some other fun videos I edited:
Face Dancer: Red Shoes
Greg Kihn: Horror Show
Nils Lofgren: Alone

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

James Denton talks Black Rider on Fox & Friends

James Denton seems to be doing the circuit to support my new film "The Black Rider:  Revelation Road 3."  Thanks, James!  I appreciate it.   Here he is on Fox & Friends:  James Denton talks faith, dark new film.


Check out my book:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God

James Denton talks Black Rider on the Today Show

Here's James Denton, one-time sexiest man alive, on the NBC's Today Show talking with Kathi Lee & Hoda about my film "The Black Rider:  Revelation Road 3."  Thanks for getting the press, James!  Now I wish I went out to the set and met you!


Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


The film is now available on DVD at Walmart and fine Christian Bookstores everywhere.    Speaking of bookstores, you should check out my book.  Here's the link to Amazon:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

James Denton talks Black Rider on Access Hollywood

James Denton discussed his dark turn on my new film "The Black Rider:  Revelation Road 3" on Access Hollywood.  The film will be available on Blu Ray and DVD on October 6th.




Check out my book:  "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God"

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Death of an Amway God

Bill Britt - June 1980
Bill Britt is dead.

So what?  Who was he?

Bill Britt was the leader of a vast distributor empire that sold Amway products.  Some people called him a businessman.  Some people called him a role model.  Some people called him a leader.  But to people in his organization, he was much more than that.  He was a god.

I should know.  I was a member of his organization.  His word was law.  He wasn't just an authority on the Amway business.  He was an authority on all things:  economics, politics, relationships and religion.  More than that, he was also a liar, a charlatan and a cult leader.

I don't mean to say that Amway itself, or Amway Global, or Quixtar, or whatever it is calling itself nowadays, is a cult.  It is just a company that produces and distributes a wide variety of products.  If you become a distributor and practice the business as taught in the various manuals that come with your official starting kit, you would probably make a little money.  However, you would not achieve the riches that Bill Britt and his ilk promised you that way.  They preached a different gospel within Amway, and Amway, to its shame, never reigned them in.   I understand why they didn’t. At the time, my leaders (idols), Bill Britt and Dexter Yager, boasted that a third of Amway’s sales came through their organizations. If Amway got tough with them, they would simply start selling another product line. Amway would be crippled. As a result, Amway turned a blind eye to their excesses.

Before I go any further, let me give you my definition of a cult, which I culled from a number of books and resources. Here are the characteristics: A). A group sharing an all-encompassing “truth” outside of, and hostile to, mainstream thought. B). Strong, charismatic, unquestionable leadership. C). Isolation from outsiders. D). Use of mind control tactics to manipulate the followers. I believe Britt Worldwide met all of those characteristics.

The cultic mind control tactics began immediately. First was the love bombardment. When you joined, everybody wanted to shake your hand or hug you. They wanted to know your story. Your dreams. They were always willing to give you a ride to a function or help you out any way they could. They were your friends. They needed you, and, soon enough, you needed them, too. Why? Because as soon as your old friends found out you were in Amway, they’d run in the opposite direction!

“Murphy,” one of my friends warned me early on. “If the first word out of your mouth isn’t poker when you call, I’m hanging up on you!”

That reaction was not uncommon.

Then the isolation began. Your friends and family members who didn’t want to get in the business were declared negative or losers.   “Why on Earth would you want to hang with negative people who were trying to steal your dream?” our leaders would ask.

They’d say where you would be in five years depended on whom you associated yourself with now. If you wanted to be a successful Amway distributor, you needed to hang around with successful Amway distributors. They’re the ones who wanted to help you achieve your dreams. Keep away from the others. Even your family. They’d come around later, begging to get into the business, when you were rich.

Our leaders also used sleep deprivation. We were told the best information came out at informal sessions around four in the morning. Your goal at the massive weekend functions was to get yourself invited back to the hotel room of an Amway guru and discuss the business until dawn. My friends and I would find ourselves sitting cross-legged on the floor of cramped hotel room with twenty other people listening to a high-ranking distributor until we barely had enough time to get a shower and breakfast before the morning function. We prided ourselves on how little sleep we got.

They even tried to control the information we received. Amway seemed to be in the news quite a bit at the time. The big shots usually got a heads-up if there was going to be a negative story in a major newspaper, magazine or television program. We would be warned not to watch or read it. The stories were all lies.

When it came to isolating yourself, I got off pretty easy.  My friends Jim and Mike often found themselves in fierce arguments with their family and friends. Relationships were definitely damaged. I was much more low key. I wasn’t willing to sacrifice friends for the business.

One of the biggest accusations against Amway was that it was a pyramid scheme.   The online Free Dictionary define a pyramid scheme as "a fraudulent moneymaking scheme in which people are recruited to make payments to others above them in a hierarchy while expecting to receive payments from people recruited below them.  Eventually the number of new recruits fails to sustain the payment structure and the scheme collapses with most people losing the money they paid in."  I always rejected that claim.  After all, we distributors bought products wholesale and sold them to customers retail.  What I didn't take into account was the sideline that made Bill Britt and his henchmen their fortunes.

When my friends and I showed "The Plan" back in the early-eighties, our numbers showed that a "Diamond" distributor, an individual with six "Direct Distributors" in his organization under him, made $36,000 a year.  Then came the "nod-nod-wink-wink" part.  We were always told that Diamonds in the Britt organization made at least three times that amount of money.  However, they never really explained how.  I learned later it was through their "tool" business.

Our leaders were fond of saying that tools were needed for every occupation.  A carpenter needed saws and hammers.  A barber needed scissors.  A pilot needed a plane.  You get it.  What tools did a successful Amway distributor need?  Motivational materials:  Books, tapes, seminars and rallies.  The books were typical positive thinking books that you could find in any bookstore (but you always bought them from your direct distributor.)  However, the Britt organization produced their own motivational tapes and held countless seminars and rallies.  That's why the Britt "Diamonds" made so much more money than the normal Amway "Diamonds."  They made vastly much more money selling their books and tapes and staging their rallies than selling Amway products. 

And that's why it was a pyramid scheme.

At a rally in Virginia
The average Amway distributor could sell the official products he bought from his Direct Distributor to his retail customers.  That was the purpose.  However, educational materials that Britt Worldwide produced themselves have zero value outside of the organization.  They told you needed to buy the tapes and attend the seminars.  That it was impossible to succeed in the business without doing so.  They used every psychological tool in their arsenal to coerce, pressure or shame you into buying the tools.  Granted, in theory, you could return them if you quit, but I never knew anyone who did.  People who left the business were losers.  Most of the people who quit were so afraid of being stigmatized as losers that they simply slinked away out of the business with hundreds or thousands of dollars of tapes sitting in boxes in their basements.  (That's what my friends and I did.)  Those few people I know who tried to get refunds for the tapes were so stonewalled that they eventually gave up.

And to make matters worse.  They lied about it.

The direct distributors from Bill Britt on down swore left and right that no one made any money on the tools.  They were providing them at cost as a service.  But it was a lie.  Granted, low level people like myself perpetrated the lie unknowingly.  Britt Worldwide didn't initiate the chosen into the truth until they reached the level of direct distributor.  By then, they were generally too invested in the system, and too greedy, to complain or turn down a healthy stream of income.  I didn't start believing the rumors about people making money until an incident in our group.  A young woman joined and became an overnight success.  She reached the level of direct distributor, building an impressive organization, in just three months.  Then she abruptly quit.  When I asked why someone told me that when higher-ups told her about the books and tapes, she became disillusioned and quit.  Around that time, my higher-ups began a "Tape of the Week" policy.  They pressured everyone in the organization into buying a certain tape every week so that we would all "be on the same page mentally."  Now I recognized it for what it was:  A shameless attempt to milk their people for more money.  I wasn't surprised when the "Tape of the Week" was a more expensive double tape set.   Why sear the sheep for $3.50 when you could get $7.00.

Liars.

If you think I am being unfair to Bill Britt and Amway, read the details of a recent class action suit from California.   Here's the complaint:  Pokornmy vs Quixtar.  Here's an explanation:  Pokorny Amway Settlement Explained.

This illuminating internal memo, by Amway executive  Ed Postma in 1983, concludes that the Britt/Yager system was probably illegal:  Ed Postma Memo.  (That begs the question:  Why didn't they act?)

To make matters worse they cloaked their lies and greed under the veneer of Christianity.  Bill Britt and his crew of henchmen weren't content to be business leaders.  Their weekend rallies were held in sporting arenas that held 15,000-to-20,000 people and they all ended with a big church service on Sunday morning.  Who did the preaching?  The leaders like Bill Britt, of course.  After all, material success was all the proof you needed of God's blessing, so obviously the richest people in the room were most qualified to preach.   In Matthew 6:24, Jesus says:  "No one can serve two masters.  Either you will hate one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and money."  Not so!  In Amway, we combined God and Money together in the person of Bill Britt.

I will save my detailed analysis of the Prosperity Gospel for another day, but I will say that the thousands of dollars I wasted on the tool business were insignificant compared to that damage that the Prosperity Gospel did to my faith.  I came into the business with a strong relationship with God built on child-like faith, prayer and obedience.  The Amway gospel was different.  According to them, God had established immutable spiritual laws that gave us to have and do anything we wanted provided we used the right words when we made our claims and had sufficient faith.  Essentially, it took God out of the drivers' seat.  They taught you that seeking God's will was a cop-out for losers.  Our will was God's will.  They reduced God to a spiritual force to be used to achieve our desires.  I knew this was wrong.  And I resisted it.  However, constant exposure to these teachings and philosophy, through the required books, tapes and educational seminars, eventually took their toll on me.  Instead of serving God, I expected God to serve me.  Instead of me being obedient to Him, I expected Him to be obedient to me.  That didn't work out too well for me, and it took me years to exorcise this heresy from my thought processes.

Still, despite the damage the prosperity gospel did to me, when I think of Bill Britt, I primarily think of the general hatefulness that he and his henchmen instilled in me.  He divided the world into winners and losers -- and 99% of the population were losers.  Your value as a human being was entirely dependent on your net worth,or your attitude toward the Amway business.  You could be poor as dirt and still be a winner if you were in Amway. 

Pretending to be Bill Britt
Today, whenever I find myself judging a person based on the way they are dressed or the car they drive or house they live in, I see Bill Britt smiling.

Now he's dead.  When I posted the news on my Facebook page, one of my old friends who survived the business with me said that he hoped Bill was burning in hell.   I don't feel that way.  I don't wish that fate on anyone.  Even Bill Britt.

It doesn't take long to find glowing eulogies about him on the internet.  Amway distributors from all over the world praised him upon his passing.  That's not surprising. 

In the world of Amway, he was a god -- but with a small g. 

A false idol.

For more, read my book:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God


Friday, September 26, 2014

Trailer: "The Black Rider: Revelation Road"

The trailer for my next film, "The Black Rider:  Revelation Road" has been posted.  If you liked the first two action-packed installments in the Revelation Road series, you should enjoy this film, too.  It will be released on October 9th.



Here's the synopsis from the box:

The Rapture has come and gone, in it's wake is a famished wasteland filled with desperate scavengers and viscous bandits. Josh McManus (DAVID A. R. WHITE), a quiet drifter with a knack for fighting, finds himself in a dangerous border-town at the edge of the Wild Lands. The beleaguered local Mayor (JAMES DENTON) sends Josh on a vital mission to find the mysterious "Shepherd" (ROBERT GOSSETT). Is the Shepherd a true man of God or only a cult leader? With the aid of Sofia, a beautiful survivor (HILTY BOWEN), Josh will discover the truth in an action-packed adventure that will put his skills and his faith to the test. Also starring KEVIN SORBO as Honcho, the outlandish local lord of thieves. With special appearance by BRUCE MARCHIANO.

Be sure to check out my book "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."

"The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God" released!

The one sheet for the book.


My memoir, "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God," was released July 28, 2014 by TouchPoint Press.

I can't believe I am only blogging about the event now, but a dizzying series of social, professional and familial events have kept me away from the keyboard.  In a way I am glad.  The time has given me the opportunity to absorb the events.

I have somehow successfully worked freelance in the highly competitive and somewhat ruthless film business for nearly twenty-four years.  I have edited commercials, music videos, television shows and motion pictures.   I have written fourteen produced films.  I have won a wide variety of awards.  I have hobnobbed with celebrities.  I was blessed with the opportunity to live my dream, but the publication of this book surpassed them all.

Seeing the finished book for the first time.
Screenwriting is indeed my chosen profession.  From my earliest childhood, I have always loved the movies.  That said, when I first seriously considered the prospect of becoming a writer in high school, the thought of screenwriting never entered my mind.  That goal seemed totally out of reach of a goofy kid with bad 70's hair in Northeast Baltimore, but I still wanted to write for a living.  It was something I seemed to do well.  My English teachers were always very supportive and complimentary.

I started out as a journalism major in college.   Journalists actually got paid for writing.  One even lived across the street from me, and he seemed to enjoy his work.  He was a sportswriter, and I got to go to the press box at old Memorial Stadium while one of his sons did the box scores for the AP at an Orioles game.  That was cool.  Plus, I discovered that reporters got free food and drink.  Sweet!  However, I soon became disillusioned with journalism in college and switched over to film.  Still, I never imagined that I could become a screenwriter.  I never even took a screenwriting course.   I really had no idea why I was majoring in film -- other than the fact that I loved movies.  I never pictured myself working in the film business.  I was also taking computer courses.  I always assumed I would end up as a computer programmer at the Social Security Administration after college.  But it didn't work out that way.  I ended up in advertising instead.

At Smith Burke & Azzam, I learned the nuts and bolts of film production -- although the films tended to be a mere thirty seconds long.  It was a great apprenticeship, and my eventual position as a broadcast producer let me observe and participate in every step of the process:  From script to casting to production to post-production.  The only drawback to the advertising business were the inevitable layoffs when we'd lose accounts.  I was laid off six times in five years (and almost always hired back within a couple of weeks.)  During one of my brief semi-retirements, I wrote my first complete feature film script in less than a week.  I found it surprisingly easy.  My third script got me serious Hollywood attention.  My fifth script got me a well-known agent.

Yours truly at the book release party.
Despite the initial interest, it would be years before I finally saw my name on the big screen.  But it was worth it.  It was an amazing feeling to listen to an audience laugh at your jokes and become absorbed by your story.  In many ways my edgy first film, "21 Eyes," most accurately brought one of my scripts to the screen.  All of the principals share an enthusiasm for the concept and worked together to make it a reality.  Whether you love it or hate it, "21 Eyes" was exactly what we intended it to be.   Sadly, that would not always be the case.  While I am proud of a number of my movies, a few of them were twisted and bent out of shape simply to suit the ego needs of the principals.  Film is a collaborative endeavor, and I have certainly benefited from collaboration.  I can list many instances where actors, producers and directors have enriched the words I put on paper.  A well-known producer was once expressed interest in my script "The Long Drive" and guided me through two rewrites.  The man had great depth and insight.  Everything he suggested enhanced the script.  Sadly, those experiences are outnumbered by cases where the changes have damaged the film.  Rare is the screenwriter who doesn't cringe through the first viewing of one of his films.   After a while, it becomes a little disillusioning to have your name associated with things you didn't write up on the big screen.  It makes you wonder what it means to be a writer.

My mother with a copy of the book.  She didn't kill for
spilling all of the family secrets in the book.
I have no such misgivings about "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."  This was all me, and for the first time in years I felt like a real writer again.  It's one thing to engage an audience with all the bells and whistles a motion picture can employ.  When you write a book, you have to rely entirely on your own words to hold an audience.  That is the ultimate test of any writer.  Time will tell whether I ultimately succeeded, but, so far, the reaction has been great.

The fact that the book was autobiographical would have validated my writing and my life itself -- if I was interested in that kind of validation anymore.  This book was essentially the product of a near death experience that left me uninterested in any sort of external, earthly validation.  I wasn't telling my story to justify my life, but rather because I felt my experiences might help others.  But, whether I intended it or not, the book did validate me in a way.  It provided outside proof my story was worth telling, and therefore worth living.  The emotional climax of the entire experience came at the book release party held at my church.  People from every stage of my life showed up -- my family and my friends from kindergarten, grade school, high school, college and throughout my whole professional life.  It was a great summation.  And I am grateful to have experienced it.  The older I get, the more I believe what you do is less important than who you do it with, and I have been surrounded by a lot of wonderful people.

So what's next?  I think most writers work through the same deeply personal themes over and over again throughout their career.  I think that was definitely true of me.  In a sense, most of my work tried to disprove F. Scott Fitzgerald's contention that "American lives have no second acts."  Most of the scripts that won me Hollywood's attention dealt with characters beginning the second acts of their lives, living in the shadow of some momentous decision that shook their sense of self.  That was definitely true of me.  I spent many long years contemplating a decision I made in my own life that irrevocably changed my destiny.  Now that I have dealt with those demons directly in my book, I no longer feel the need to deal with them obliquely in my scripts.

With my grandmother.  I gave her a free copy,
but I told her she'd have to pay me to sign it.
I find myself in a strange place today.  In a sense, I have achieved all of my professional goals.  I wanted to make movies.  And I did.  I wanted to become an author.  And I did.  Fortunately, I do have more stories to tell.  I have started writing a follow-up to my book called "Unconditional" about my misguided attempts to find love during the 1990s.  I think it will offer some hard-earned insights into maintaining your values, integrity and self-respect while dating.  And, yes, I would also like to make some more movies, both as a writer and producer, but I am not excited about the prospect of doing anymore commissioned straight-to-DVD projects.  I am aiming a little higher now.  Time will tell if I succeed, and it really doesn't matter to me if I do or don't.  I'm content to put that entirely in the Lord's hands.  What would I really like to do creatively?  I would like to write some songs that got recorded by an established artist, but that's another story....

Speaking of stories, you really should buy my book.  It's pretty good, if I have to say so myself.  (You can read the first couple chapters for free on Amazon.)

Amazon:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God
Barnes & Noble:  The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God
The publisher:  TouchPoint Press Bookstore

(Feel free to print a review online if you liked it.  Even if you didn't.)

With my lovely wife and two of my siblings.



Thursday, July 3, 2014

4th of July Weekend Sale on "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."


This weekend from July 4th through July 6th, you will receive a 25% discount when you pre-order my coming of age memoir "The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God."  It is my inspirational true story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined.  It is a perfect story people who have loved and lost or wandered in the gray area between God's sovereignty and man's free will.

The book can be ordered here:  TouchPoint Press Bookstore.

You won't be disappointed.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

"Game of Pawns: The Glenn Duffie Shriver Story" wins two Emmys!



I am happy to report that my controversial film "Game of Pawns:  The Glenn Duffie Shriver Story," won two Capital Emmys.   It won in the Director-Post Production and the Informational/Instructional-Program/Special Category.  The film is currently playing on the Pentagon Channel.  You also see it in its entirety on Youtube.

Congratulations to everyone involved.



Saturday, June 7, 2014

Writer Tip #9: Nobody Wants To See Your Crappy Little Movie....


I have to be one of the most accessible filmmakers around.  I am very active on social media.   If you catch me when I'm not busy, I am usually happy to talk about the industry.  I have made a nice living working freelance in the film business for over twenty years.  I have written fourteen produced features.  I've had real agents.  I've signed real contracts.  And what I haven't learned on my own, I have gleaned from the experiences of other people who are further down the road than me.

I feel I have valuable advice to offer.  Sadly, most people who seek me out ignore it or say that I'm wrong.  Why?  Because I've been around too long to be starry-eyed about the dream anymore.  This business chews up dreamers and spits them out.  I have become a realist, and realism is the last thing dreamers want to encounter.

At least once a month I am approached by someone who has just written a great screenplay.  Or so they say.  Usually I refrain from reading the screenplays unless the request comes from a real friend, or I deem the writer to be sufficiently serious.  How am I able to tell if they're serious?  Easy.  If they tell me the script is soooo good that they're going to run out an shoot it for pocket change with a couple of their friends, I know they aren't serious about their craft.

I'm different than a lot of filmmakers.  I tend to put the well-being of the project ahead of my ego needs.  That's why, although I am certain I'd be a better director than some of the directors I have worked with, I never submit a script with the caveat that I must direct it.  Why?  Because I have also worked with directors who are much better than me, and, if I put the success of the project first, I want the best possible director working on it.  I also want the best production values, as well as a strong, bankable cast.  If I really believed in my script, why would settle for any less?  (Unless, deep down, I don't really believe in my script and I'm afraid to compete with the pros.)

Other people feel differently.  It comes down to your goals.  I always ask filmmakers two questions:  What are your goals?  Where do you expect this script to take you?

If your goal is to become a professional screenwriter, shooting the film yourself with a couple of pals will do less to forward your goal than having Paramount produce the film for seventy-million dollars with George Clooney in the leading role.  If your goal is to simply say "Hey, look, I made a movie," then go out and shoot it with your friends.  Sadly, your friends will probably be the only ones who end up seeing it.  Trust me, no one in Hollywood wants to, or will, spent ninety-seven minutes watching your crappy little movie.  They will never be dazzled by your witty dialogue or awed by your plot twist.  They will never see it.  Career-wise, it will be like it never existed.  Unless you get a serious distribution deal -- which is highly unlikely.

The odds have always been against the independent filmmaker, and they are getting much worse rather than better.  Back when movies were shot on film, it was expensive to make a movie and, as a result, demand actually exceeded supply.  The situation has become reversed.  Since the advent of the video/HD revolution, supply far exceeds demand.  Distributors, from the majors down to the bottom feeders, can afford to be very picky.  And, because filmmakers are so desperate to get their films out, they don't see the need to pay fair advances anymore.  Especially if you don't have any names in it. 

Think about it.  People make thousands of films a year.  More people apply to the Sundance Film Festival than to Harvard Law School -- and a lot of films that Sundance selects will never get real distribution.  So imagine the odds against the films that aren't good enough for Sundance. I wouldn't say that it is impossible, but I would honesty put the odds that you can make a film that will forward your career on a microbudget at about 2000 to 1.  And, frankly, that's being generous.

Your writing career could be better served by sending your script out to Hollywood, where it will probably be rejected, than making the film yourself.  The people with the power are much more willing to read an interesting script than watch an amateurish execution.  Scripts are vehicles of promise.  If someone gets caught up in your script, they will envision it unlimited by budget and featuring the most charismatic possible cast imaginable.  When they watch your micro-budgeted film, you will not be evaluated by your promise, but rather by the limitations of your production.  It's unavoidable.  Sorry.

That's not to say there aren't success stories.  I can point to my colleague Mike Flanagan.  He made a number of intriguing micro-budgeted films before he found someone willing to give him a real budget.  The result:  The hit horror film "Oculus" that has so far netted more than twenty-five million dollars at the domestic box office.  I also see myself as a success story, albeit on a more modest level.  My career certainly benefited from my little indie film "21 Eyes."  While we did not get a big name for the DVD box, we did spend money to hire some well-known character actors, and our delightful discovery Rebecca Mader become a regular on the TV series "Lost" right after the release of the film.  The festival success of the film, and the positive reviews, definitely enhanced my credibility.  However, I don't think I would have gotten half the mileage from the film had I not already paid my dues by getting an agent and getting good reads.  That's what really got me into "the club" -- not my indie movie.

Directors need to shoot something as a calling card to prove they can direct.  Actors need film as a calling card to prove they can act.  Writers don't.  Your script is your calling card.  You don't need a finished production to prove you can write.  If your script itself doesn't prove you can write -- no movie version of it is going to help you!

People often think I am being negative when I advise them not to make their films.  The reverse is true.  I am appealing to their self-confidence.  I am encouraging them to reach for the brass ring.  It is a lot easier on the fragile ego to make your own film in a safe, little echo chamber where all of your friends pat you on the back and say you're a genius.  Forget that.  Get out and take a real chance.  Be willing to compete with William Goldman, Shane Black, Tony Kushner, Mark Boal and Terence Winter.  That's what takes guts.

In all honesty, I think it is more beneficial for your career to get your script read, and declined, by the right thirty people in Hollywood than going for the immediate ego-satisfaction of making it into a movie that no one who can further your career will ever see.  Those rejections could lead to an assignment.  Plus, if your script truly is worth making, someone will eventually recognize its value.  I believe that.  Hollywood is always looking for the next great story.   Talent will out -- if you give it a chance.  Too many people don't.  They often feel like time is slipping away and they have to do something NOW. 

They do.  They have to keep writing.

And keep pitching, too.

That's what I do.

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