Wishing you all an abundant New Year filled with love, joy, and success! Twenty days into the New Year, I’ve taken stock of where I’ve been, where I am right now and where I want to be. I have decided that lamenting the past and worrying about the future is a huge waste of time and being a septuagenarian, one does not have the luxury of squandering a moment.
That made me think about my relationships with family, friends, and colleagues. Doors will remain open to family, no matter how difficult they may be. In those instances, I will love them from afar. For friends, my doors are always open. The changes I am making this year are with colleagues.
I am proud of what I have accomplished as a screenwriter and novelist, beginning my writing career after retirement, but I am not happy with the results of doors opening and closing. I have up until this point believed that one should never shut any doors but leave them ajar. Those were the lessons I learned working for top executives in profit and non-profit organizations as a young woman in Manhattan. No doors were ever shut. Either a deal was done, or it wasn’t – hands were shaken, well wishes were sent and if the deal could not be done, the message was always “maybe next time.” So, it was natural for me to approach my writing career, doors ajar.
When I began my screenwriting studies, advice from one of the many books about the art and craft of screenwriting I read dealt with what happened once a project was completed. The suggestion was to ask everyone they knew if they had contact with anyone in the movie business. I did and discovered a friend of a friend of a relative had a son who went to school with a boy whose aunt worked in a movie studio. Bingo! I called her and at her suggestion sent her my first script. Unbeknownst to me she bundled it with a project of her own and submitted it to a major studio. My first thrilling experience was when I received a phone call from her and heard the words, “Congratulations, you made it through door number one.” I had no idea how many doors there were to get through nor what that meant except that it was a good thing.
Several weeks later, she called and said: “Congratulations, your project made it through door number two, mine did not.” That’s when I found out about the bundle. As she was my only contact, I relied on her for information and while she was disappointed about her project, she seemed happy for me and assured me we were now like family. I was excited and devoted, now that we were family. She was set to receive a finder’s fee had my script been produced. Sadly, it never made it through any further doors. The family disintegrated and the contact ceased to exist. No money, no love. She closed the door. That’s when I realized that every creative endeavor, is, after all, a business. If one wants their work to be seen, heard or read, one must sell their talent. As the Internet grew, my networking increased and I met the loveliest creatives in all phases of movie-making, some with whom I’ve established long term relationships.
I was so blinded by the fact that my work was receiving attention, that I neglected to do my due diligence and check out the people with whom I was developing relationships and sharing my work. Generally, an option is a contractual agreement between a potential film producer and the author for an exclusive, but temporary, right to purchase the screenplay for a period of time with the goal of making it into a film.
My screenplays have been optioned and placed in development. Here are examples with three producers who over-promised and under-delivered.
My first option was with a producer I met through a monthly script service. I was assured they did their due diligence and certified all professionals listed on the site. The producer who contacted me gleefully announced he was about to receive a pot full of money and would I be interested in having my script produced for the big screen? Would I? Then the calls from the producer began. Not for plans to develop the project, but complaints about how he was being taken advantage of with promises not kept, etc. The money pot was shrinking, and “he” was being victimized. He played on my sympathy. He could no longer commit to the project. I left the door open.
Development activities by a producer usually include polishing the screenplay to ready it for production, preparing a budget and preliminary casting to help obtain financing for the project. When I won the Golden Palm Award at the 2012 Beverly Hills International Film Festival for best screenplay, doors opened, and I happily skipped through them still blushing from my red carpet and paparazzi moment. I was immediately contacted by a well-established producer with several projects in development. He was going to educate me about the business and add my script to his roster. He soon complained that we didn’t have a director so we couldn’t proceed. Wait a minute! I’ve been networking. I brought him a director – we didn’t have original music, I obtained original music, we didn’t have actors, I accessed actors. Every challenge he tossed my way, I met and gathered eager, committed cast and crew in front of the camera, behind the camera and off-camera so he could focus on securing funds. The process was thrilling.
Unfortunately, the money the producer supposedly had access to wasn’t quite available despite the on-going meetings with his bankers/investors. Our project crumbled. I was embarrassed and disappointed and after a significant amount of time, we parted company. I left the door open.
The third producer was vulgar. He cursed like a madman and screamed instead of speaking. It reminded me of my work in New York’s garment center, sans the cursing. Nobody talked, they yelled. He apologized and begged me to understand the pressure he was under. “I work with animals all day!” he cried. I am not an animal and like to resolve things in a calm and mature manner. So, after an extended period of time with many promises and no movement forward, I ended our relationship and for the first time, shut the door.
This year, I shut all those doors. We are all dreamers and I let my hope of seeing my work on screen blind me to the realities of business with which I am so familiar. While I believe there is no expiration date on one’s dreams, I will no longer share my work for a pittance and a promise or waste my precious time with people who are engaged in game playing. Either we have a deal, or we don’t. There is no need for endless unproductive meetings, unfiltered drama, and vitriol. I will check out every so-called player (IMDb, LinkedIn, and Stage 32) who wants to work with me as I hope they would check me out. For me it’s all about the work.
So Happy New Year to you all. Be realistic, courteous and clear. Don’t give anyone power over you. If your work is good and ready to be produced and you are collaborating with trustworthy, capable professionals, a deal will be done, and all involved will be paid and recognized for their contribution. I urge you to listen to your gut and your brain. Stretch and reach for the stars, but make sure there is something to hold onto.
Award-winning screenwriter/novelist Beverly Gandara has written several screenplays and two novels. Beverly's comedy script, Rent Money won the Golden Palm Award for Best Screenplay at the 2012 Beverly Hills International Film Festival. Her Five Star Readers’ Favorite, debut novel Concrete Wings: A Tale of Tyranny and Freedom, earned the Literary Classics Seal of Approval with a recommendation for school and home libraries and Honorable Mention at the 2017 New York Book Festival and the 2018 Florida Book Festival. Her Five Star Readers’ Favorite second novel, Soaring in Silence: One woman’s Triumph Over Fear, a psychological thriller was released in 2019. Her third book, Women, Work and Triumph is a compilation of interviews with a diverse group of women and focuses solely on their careers; it will be released in 2020. Beverly lives in the southeast with her husband Armand, whose experiences inspired Concrete Wings. For more information about Beverly and her work, please visit www.bevgandara.com.
Thanks to George Atoroya Simonov, Alef Vinicus, Hans Eiskonen, Dima Pechurin and Diane Helentjaris for use of their photos.
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