Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Introduction - The Life and Times of Abigail Waller

I mentioned this project in a previous post as one of the projects I'm currently developing, spurred on by the DOA performance of Lupus Moon and my mounting frustration with the spec route in general. I'm excited about what I have so far and the potential this project has.

Background on the Project

The Life and Times of Abigail Waller began as an idea for a TV show in August 2008. I've had a few TV concepts over the years, and like the rest, I'd jotted down the basic premise and shoved it in an overflowing zippered binder with countless other ideas and concepts. My first love being writing for movies, TV writing was something I never gave a lot of thought to - primarily because I didn't know much about it. Writing a movie is simple in theory: sit down, write a 95 to 120-page story, promote it, rinse and repeat. Episodic writing was a whole 'nother animal. I also knew the only way to succeed in it was to move to Hollywood, and I wasn't ready, wanting or planning to do so. But I had some ideas, so I stashed them. Who knows? Might come in handy some day. Never say never.

The idea to do "Abby" as a web series came earlier this year, after attending an industry event where the creators of the web series Pink were on hand to talk about their series. Even before this event, I'd heard about people going the route of producing their own shows, but it just didn't click with me. I was too busy working on one screenplay or another. But after listening to their story, I was intrigued by the possibilities, so much so that I started rummaging through my mental rolodex of ideas for something that could be turned into a series. "Abby" was one of the first concepts that came to mind.

I was hot on the concept for a while - even coming home and jotting down quick notes, episode and promotional ideas and filling out a character bio sheet on the protagonist. But then I got sucked back into whatever feature script I was working on at the time (probably Lupus Moon), and Abby languished on the coffee table in my office for months. But now, thanks to recent events, she's front and center.

So What's It About?

The Life and Times of Abigail Waller (or "Abby," for intents and purposes) follows the adventures of a 31-year-old professional Black woman as she juggles work, family and relationships. I'm pitching the concept to people as "A Black Ally McBeal," but I could use a number of shows to get the point across. Throughout the life of the show, there's several topics I'd like to address, including women choosing bad men for relationships, the debate over natural versus permed hair (Abby will be natural, BTW), being a Black female in White male corporate America, dealing with messy and jealous “friends,” interracial dating, and self-image (“Oh, big lips are sexy ‘cause a white girl like Angelina Jolie or Scarlett Johansson has them, but they weren’t when the sistas had them? Suddenly big butts are sexy because J. Lo and Kim Kardashian made them so? I guess the millions of sistas throughout history were invisible”).

The show will be classified as a dramedy, and it will be shot here in Houston. I'm aiming for 7 to 10-episode seasons, with five seasons planned, but I'd love to do more if I can keep the show fresh and entertaining. The first season's episodes are planned out, along with several episodes in the following seasons. My target demographic is the very underserved group of Black women, age 22-50, and the working distribution schedule is one episode every two weeks, with vlog and blog entries from "Abby" in between - effectively doubling the length of the season while keeping the viewer engaged. To my knowledge it's something that hasn't been done, but there's a ton of web series out there and many have GREAT ideas. I've also put together plans for promotion, funding and tie-in merchandise, so I'm looking to do big things with this series. It's all a crap shoot - but at least it's my crap shoot.

Last Looks

There's a lot that needs to be done to get this project off the ground, but I'm enjoying each step of the process. If things go well, there's another web series or two I'd like to launch. Who knows, maybe the episodic format I was leery of all along was the one I was supposed to follow - the one that finally winds up opening doors for me...

I guess we'll see.


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Yet Another Rejection

Got another rejection today on Lupus Moon - this one from the Stone Manners Agency in LA (after I resent my original query due to an old address from my Winter 2008 Hollywood Representation Directory). This makes the sixth confirmed rejection out of the 50 queries I sent out and not a single request for the script. I've never had a script bomb like this before, and I'm not gonna lie - it hurts. It shouldn't, with me deciding to launch out on my own, but I can't help it. Here I am, with what I feel is my most commercial script, and it gets the biggest rejection. I wish I would've known this before I spent so much time on the script...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Change in Focus or: Time to Put Up or Shut Up

It's over. At least I think it is. For now. Maybe. I'm not certain. But I'm pretty sure.

Since 1992, my plan had been to sell 3-4 spec scripts to Hollywood, then either use the money the self-produce/direct the next film, or offer the next script to a studio for a deep discount in exchange for the chance to direct. Seemed like a sensible enough plan at the time. And it stayed that way for the next 18 years. Through that time, I settled for less out of life and directly/indirectly imposed the same on the woman I love in the quest for that dream. There were trips we could've gone on, furniture we could've bought, repairs to my car that could've been made (that might've kept it from getting stolen) and all matter of things that we went without because we didn't have the money. But I had the Dream. And that's what carried me through some of the darkest of times.

Now the Dream is dead. At the very least, on life support.

At 32, knocking hard on 33, I've gotten tired - sick and tired, actually, of not doing anything. None of my screenplays have sold, I've suffered through two horrible options, and because of lack of funds, I haven't been able to shoot a short the way I want to since 2007. I've since stopped calling myself a filmmaker when speaking to others, opting to simply go by "writer" or, occasionally, "screenwriter." And let's not mention all the other stuff that's been on arrested development (especially marriage to a certain person with patience rivaling anyone or anything in the known universe).

It's gotten to the point that I'm not even interested in going to film events around town. Last night a major event was held and, technically, I could've gone. But I didn't - chiefly because I couldn't stand to sit and listen to others cheerfully talk about their projects, the fun they had and what they had up next - while I had nothing to look forward to.

I thought I was good enough once. Good enough to break through and sell a screenplay to someone in Hollywood. I even had my list of projects to write and sell, vs. projects I wanted to direct myself. It was a happier time earlier on, before rejection after rejection began to wear on me and slow down my writing process, forcing to obsess over every single comma, semicolon, period and double dash. I've gotten compliments on my work. Even with my most recent, the reader told me my script was a "fun read." Yet it's translated into nothing. I thought for the longest I wasn't getting through because I was Black and so were my scripts, but after the cold reception for Lupus Moon, a mainstream-targeted (there's only three Black people in the script, and one of them, the heroine, is technically half-Black), tentpole-ready, franchise-able project, what am I left to think?

Truth is, though, I still think I'm good enough. Call it arrogance, seeing things through rose-colored glasses or just plain, good old-fashioned delusion, but I think I have what it takes. At least the potential. It just hasn't come together for me. And, for the first time since making The Decision in '92, I doubt it ever will. It's a humbling realization, and an emotionally (and ego) crushing one. It's one I've never allowed myself to give much credence to, but the time has come to re-think things. Everything.

So where does this leave me? The answer is at the same time empowering and terrifying:

"Fuck Hollywood. I'll do it myself."

Sure, it's easy to say, but astonishingly hard to do. But I don't have a choice. I love writing and filmmaking way to much to walk away; it's my life's passion. So, I'll have to strike out on the path that so many others have and focus solely on self-created content. It's a first for me, not having the comfort of the Dream to fall back on. And it's scary. VERY SCARY. I don't have the support system many other indie filmmakers have. I can't ask my family for money because I know their reaction (I often feel they believe less in me than I have at my lowest). I don't have an uncle or grandmother willing to invest $50,000 in my first feature, nor do I possess rich friends (I have a lot of people who call themselves friends and say they believe in me; I wonder how many of them will run or avoid my calls if/when I ask them for money). I'm not in with club and bar owners, and I don't happen to know somebody who knows somebody who's dad owns/has access to an office building or lakeside cabin. Basically, I have nothing. That's not to say it can't be done, but the odds are staggering.

I alluded to several projects a couple of posts ago that comprise my working slate. The only difference is that I won't also be working on a script for Hollywood. I had started a final polish of Lupus Moon spurred by my own feelings about the last draft (and incorporating notes from the coverage I received), but I'm shutting that down as of now (unless a positive response from the queries still out there prompts me to continue). I was also developing Deuce as the third independent feature, but I'm shutting that down as well (no need working on a script that far down the road right now). Moving forward is development on the short films Nisa's Solo and Revelation, as well as the military-themed TV pilot BRAT (working on that with a college friend), and a comedic webseries, The Life and Times of Abigail Waller. I'll be financing everything myself, so needless to say I'm looking for a good job.

I don't know where this road will take me. Then again, I guess I never did. All I had was a hope and a Dream. And though the Dream is dead I still have my hope and determination, which I'll use to shield myself as I traverse this newly-altered path to my ultimate destination - my GOAL.

I've talked about being a filmmaker for years, and I'm tired of it (I'm sure others are, too). Time for me to put up or shut up - for good.


Lupus Moon Update #20

Things aren't going as planned.

The queries for Lupus Moon have turned up nothing positive (well, that's not entirely true. I did learn that if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope with your query, it DOES increase the instances of agents actually responding to you). I sent out six email queries on August 2nd. To date, none of the bastards have responded. Now, I know agents are busy people, but I can tell you with the utmost confidence from my extensive experience in dealing with them (read: getting rejected), that it doesn't take this long to say "yea" or "nay" via email. So basically, they just chose to ignore me. Thing is, most of the companies I sent emails to expressly state they want their queries by email. So... why wouldn't they answer them? I've never had to wait this long before; I'm generally rejected within two days. Long story short - I won't be hearing from them.

The day after the email queries went out, I snail-mailed 46 queries. Within a week I had five of them back - two self-addressed envelopes (rejections - good news travels by phone or email) and three that didn't reach their destinations for various reasons. The addresses I had came from the Winter 2008 edition of the Hollywood Representation Directory, so I thought they'd be the same.


I'm leery of dealing with an agency that moves around too much, but a couple of these returned envelopes had SASEs in them, and I was determined not to waste them. So I looked up the agency addresses online, stuffed new envelopes with the SASEs and re-sent them. Since then, I've received three more rejections and had four more mis-addressed letters come back. That leaves plenty of others in play, but again, going from experience, if it's been this long, I might as well chalk it up as a pass.

So it looks as if Lupus Moon is dead in the water. I'm in Texas, so I don't have the personal connections that I might if I lived in L.A. - the type that could refer a script to a friend who happens to be so-and-so at such-and-such studio. It's also a bad market for specs; I read a report that Hollywood's bought half the number of specs that they bought at this time last year, and you don't have to be a film geek to see that Hollywood is serving up heaving helpings of (rehashed) familiarity in the form of countless remakes, sequels and movies based on obscure, but known properties (BATTLESHIP the movie, anyone?). So what am I going to do?

I have one more play for Lupus Moon. One more, before I shelve the project to be unearthed at some indiscriminate future date. I have a list of 10 companies I want to query, using an online service that guarantees everyone you send an email to will respond within five business days. Better still is that you can search each company in their directory and see what they're looking for. Oh, you're looking for action and horror scripts? Guess what, I have something for you. I've got this script called Lupus Moon... The only thing that's keeping me from setting it us is the cost - not a lot, but it's money that can be better allocated at this time. Until I get a job, that is (that's in the works).

There's other options, but I'm not up to investigating them right now. I could turn Lupus Moon into a comic book, or even a novel or series of novels. But the research and start-up on those avenues are intensive to the point that I could be working on something else within the realm that I'm readily familiar with. So, barring any miraculous turnarounds, looks like Lupus Moon is done - for now. I tried, and for what it's worth, I feel I have a pretty good script. That's something I can always be proud of.

So what's next? Glad you asked. Kindly read along to the next entry. In other words,