The Mail I Get – Advice Edition

59_bigPeople are always writing me for advice about TV and publishing, not that I have any great wisdom to impart. But that doesn’t stop me from replying anyway.

Hello Mr. Goldberg:
I was referred to you by a friend of your friend XYZ…I am 64 years old and I have a screenplay that desperately needs a place to go, and your name was delivered as the unquestionable favorite.  Please let me know if you might be able to provide me any guidance or wisdom. Should you not be able or interested, (she tries to put away that big pouty lip), your suggestion of someone else would be greatly appreciated.

Unfortunately, I don’t have good news for you. In fact, I have very discouraging news for you. Everybody in L.A. has a screenplay they want to sell. You are one of thousands…and you’re competing with them all, inexperienced and experienced screenwriters alike. I’m neither an agent nor a studio exec, so there’s really nothing I can do for you. I don’t know of any agents who are taking on new clients (they are having a hard enough time selling the scripts written by the experienced clients they already have).
The best advice I can offer is for you to contact the Writers Guild of America to see if they can give you a list of signatory agents who are accepting unsolicited screenplays. The other thing you should be aware of is that ageism is rampant in Hollywood…and if you haven’t already established yourself in the business by 30, you are considered elderly and out-of-touch with popular taste 🙂 I’m 54 and feel ancient when I go into meetings…and despite my extensive credits, it’s still a hard sell for me. I’m just telling you this so you realise that you’re facing a very steep, uphill battle.

I am sure you get a lot of emails and maybe this may not reach you, but here’s hoping. I am an aspiring actress/model and went to a meeting with XYZ at Culver Studios last week. He claims to have been a director/producer for NBC/Universal but the IMDB just doesn’t seem legitimate. He also claims to be married to actress XYZ but there is hardly any information on her either.
He says he wants me to come and work for him and learn the business to become an assistant producer and star in his upcoming movies, but things just aren’t adding up. I called NBC Universal and asked them if his name was on the employee list and was not.  Due to all of the scams and human trafficking which he spoke a lot about, I want to be safe. Do you know how I can navigate safely through this industry and or have any advice for me on how I can obtain legitimate information and backgrounds on producers and directors?

Well, it sounds like you already checked this guy out and learned that something is very fishy. His picture on Imdb also seems amateurish to me… as if by standing beside the studio gate, which anybody can do, he’s trying to confer legitimacy on himself. I’d steer clear of him. Keep in mind, anybody can rent studio space. Just because their office is on a movie studio lot does not mean they are legitimate. In addition to imdb, you can check out producers with the PGA (Producers Guild of America) to see if they are members… or, if they are writer/producers, you can check with the WGA (Writers Guild of America) to see if they are members (or if their companies are guild signatories). You can find out if a director is legit by contacting the DGA (Directors Guild of America) and seeing if he or she is a member. If they are offering you acting jobs, check them out with SAG (Screen Actors Guild) to see if they are signatories or if there are any issues with their company that the union knows about. Lack of produced credits on imDb and non-membership in one of those guilds would raise a big red flag for me.

Stick With Me Kid

One of my favorite TV experiences was my time as a writer/producer on an obscure little detective series called STICK WITH ME KID back in the early ’90s. It was created by Peter Jay Hume and executive produced by Daniel Petrie Jr, two of the nicest and most talented writers I’ve ever worked with, and was shot in London for Disney. The show was about a teenage, deductive genuis who is brilliant at solving crimes…but no one will take him seriously…so he convinces a pompous, out-of-work actor to be his “front,” the great detective Grant Logan. The series aired in Europe but, as far as I know, never aired in the United States. Now someone has posted beautiful transfers of most of the episodes on YouTube. Take a look at them now before the studio finds out and has them pulled. They are great fun…but ignore the summaries, they contain huge spoilers. 

Men Living as Dogs: May I Sniff Your Butt?

I came across this bizarre story in The Guardian today about a documentary on men who like to dress up as dogs and behave like pups.1700

Secret Life of the Human Pups is a sympathetic look at the world of pup play, a movement that grew out of the BDSM community and has exploded in the last 15 years as the internet made it easier to reach out to likeminded people. While the pup community is a broad church, human pups tend to be male, gay, have an interest in dressing in leather, wear dog-like hoods, enjoy tactile interactions like stomach rubbing or ear tickling, play with toys, eat out of bowls and are often in a relationship with their human “handlers”.

I wonder if they like sniffing butts and peeing on hydrants, too. It’s only a matter of time before these dog men end up in a novel or TV show. Heck, if I was still writing MONK novels I’d find a way to use it in my next book. Can you image how Adrian Monk would react to one of these guys? I guarantee you it will show up in TV series next fall (the new shows don’t go into production for a few more weeks).

Here’s the cringe-inducing trailer for the documentary.

The Mail I Get – Lame Pitches Edition

Direct-Mail1People are always hitting me up with lame pitches. Here’s one:

Hello sir Lee, how are you ? It’s a pleasure to write you and I’d like to ask you something that my future might be depend on.  I have up to 8 scripts.  I have done the pitch and synopsis of all but unfortunately I don’t have enough resource to do the screenplay of all but I did the most important part of the screenplay of one of them called American DictatorsAmerican Dictators is not a political movie.  It’s a comedy I’m which America will be ruled by dictators for the first time, the first lady has a little daughter and her daughter is so important for her up to spend 80 millions of dollars at her daughter’s birthday but one guy will try to overthrow in order to create a new world order.. .  I’d like to submit to centropolis but they told me to find an established agent.  Sir Lee I’d be very glad if you help me.

I wonder what you mean by “I did the most important part of the screenplay for one of them.” I’m assuming you mean the title page. I’m not clear what help you are looking for from me. Do you want me to complete your screenplay? Find you an agent? Whatever it is, the answer is NO…and that wail you hear is me, running away screaming.

Lee, I see that you are a TV Producer.  Would you have an interest in looking at my novel that  I recently self published on Amazon/Kindle?  It’s XYZ.  It has received excellent reviews from Kirkus Reviews.  Might work for a movie or TV Series?  I await your reply.

That’s not much of a pitch, is it? Why would anyone investigate further based on that lame query? I did, but only so I could ridicule you. The first thing I noticed is that the “excellent reviews from Kirkus Reviews” was actually one review from their paid review service, meaning you bought a positive notice. That screams desperation and, frankly, stupidity. And since you only have two reader reviews, both from “An Amazon Customer,” and your book is ranked in the millions, it tells me that no one has actually bought your book except, perhaps, you or two members of your family (a review that says only: “The best book I have ever read. I couldn’t put it down. I loved it” is a dead giveaway). I didn’t look at the sample because, frankly, there’s only so much punishment I’m willing to inflict upon myself for procrastinating. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that no, it won’t work as a TV series. Unless it’s on a network in hell.

A Great Interview with David Levinson

virginian-titleThe good folks at the Classic TV History blog are doing God’s work. They’ve just done their second, in-depth interview with TV writer-producer David Levinson, whose many credits include THE BOLD ONES: THE SENATOR, SARGE, CHARLIES ANGELS, HART TO HART, NIKITA and scores of other shows. It’s a long, detailed, terrific interview filled with fascinating anecdotes about the writing and production of the various series that he’s been associated with over his long, varied career. It doesn’t matter whether you know the shows that he’s worked on or if you liked them — this is gold for anybody interested in TV history or in a career in television.  I loved every word of the interview. Levinson has been around a long time and he’s got some great stories, like this one about an episode of THE VIRGINIAN…

Oh, this is good.  By the way, I was a total asshole about this.  This is my second season on the show as a producer.  I’m like 27 years old.  I’d done like four episodes the season before, and I wanted desperately to do a show about black cowboys.  I talked to a writer by the name of Norman Jolley, and we’d come up with a really good story about a cowboy who had worked his whole life to save up the money for his son to go to college, and then he got ripped off.  In order to get his money back, he falls in with a bunch of rustlers to steal the cows from John McIntire’s ranch, and bad things happen.

Nowhere in the script did it mention that the father and son were black.  Just the character names.

Everybody liked the script, and I go in to see the executive producer, and he says, “Who are you thinking of casting?”

I said, “I want to cast James Edwards.”

There’s this long pause, and the executive producer – who, by the way, was the nicest fellow you’d ever want to meet: Norman Macdonnell, who had produced Gunsmoke all those years – looked at me and said, “Isn’t he black?”

I said, “He was the last time I saw him.”

Very gently, he explained to me that we had a primarily redneck audience and you just couldn’t cast a black man as the guest star in one of the shows.  I said to him, “Well, listen, you’re the boss, and if that’s the way you feel, that’s what we’ll do.  But I feel it only fair to tell you that I’m going back to my office and calling The New York Times and The L.A. Times to tell them about this conversation.”

He came up from behind the desk, and he was a big guy.  His face was totally flushed and he looked at me and said, “You little cocksucker.”

I said, “Yes, sir.”

And we cast Jimmy Edwards.  The show went on the air.  There were no letters.  Nobody fucking noticed that there were two black actors playing the leads in this show.  But shortly thereafter I left The Virginian.

No surprise. But the real pleasure of the interview with Levinson aren’t dramatic moments like that but the meat-and-potatoes stuff about the making of TV. I strongly recommend the interview… and everything else on the Classic TV History blog, especially their incredible Oral History of THE SENATOR, which is better than a lot of TV books that I’ve read.

The Mail I Get – It’s About Time Edition

Direct-Mail1It’s been a looonnnggg time since I opened up the mailbag and shared it on the blog. But I’ve been saving some of the best for you (or is it the worst?). Here’s are two recent queries I received:

Would you ever consider working on a graphic novel?  I’m an illustrator that can work on spec.  I  have a couple ideas … Idea B: Anne Frank: Demon Hunter.  It turns out she and Kafka and Hitler all faked their death.  Kafka and Anne’s plans to make a golem and prevent the awakening of the King of Demons and a Norse giant were encoded into her journal, also mystical power boosts for telekinesis and martial arts.  So Hitler races them to the annex to fight over the journal and fights Kafka and Anne there, as the golem fights the norse giant and Demon King.

OMG. How unbelievably awful is that? But what’s really astonishing is that for some reason he thought I would be the right guy for that story. Did somebody steer him my way?

Anne Frank, Kafka and a golem in a kung-fu battle to the death with Hitler? Oh yeah, Lee Goldberg is the guy you want to talk to for that. It’s just his kind of thing.  But you might want to make the golem a talking dolphin instead. That’d really excite him.

I think my brother Tod must have put him up to it. Here’s another query I received.

Dear Professional Amazon Reviewer,

Amazon gave me your details so that I can provide my new book for review.I understand that you may wish to be on the Vine reviewer list. I want to help if you let me. I would welcome an honest review of my free ebook being published today on Amazon. I am aware that, once you are a Vine official reviewer, as Amazon CEO explained to me, you will have access to the top amazing hardware available around for free. I want to help you get there. I have 18 books for review on Amazon but only one every month. So there is plenty of opportunities to offer me a reasonably worded honest potentially powerful clear review on the material I write. This is the way Amazon judges a potential Vine reviewer. My books are non-fiction.

Let’s join forces. The book that I need a review for is based on EFT, tapping techniques, also called emotional freedom technic. In a generic mode, EFT uses acupuncture points also known as acupoints, to release stress, to reduce addiction, to eliminate phobias and in general terms, to rebalance the psychological health of a disturbed individual. If you can rewrite this essence, you are worth the Vine badge.

Pretty sleazy, huh? His books are ranked in the millions, meaning not even his mother ever bought a copy. I wrote back to this guy. Here’s what I said:

You should be ashamed of yourself for misleading people into thinking that writing a review of your books will prove to Amazon that  “they are worth the Vine badge” or will lead them to Vine membership. You clearly have no understanding of how the Vine program works…or you do and just want to mislead people. Writing and posting review of one of your obscure books will have negligible, if any, impact on the likelihood that a reviewer will be selected for the Vine program. But I can understand why you’ve engaged in such desperate measures, given how poorly ranked and badly reviewed your books are…if they are even reviewed at all, which is rare. I have passed your solicitation on to Amazon to alert them to your misleading campaign.

I never heard back from him, of course. I think Tod sent him to me, too.

It’s a Good Idea to Own The Rights to a Book Before You Film It

James Franco
James Franco

Actor James Franco made big news in the Hollywood trades when he began pre-production on a movie adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s BLOOD MERIDIAN that he was slated to write & direct. He got Scott Rudin on board to produce, lined up IMGlobal to distribute the film, and managed to cast Russell Crowe and Vincent D’Onofrio, among others. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Except that Franco, the distributors and the producers forgot one niggly detail: they didn’t acquire the rights to Cormac McCarthy’s book. The Hollywood Reporter revealed the embarrassing story earlier this month.

I was astonished. You’d expect something like this from amateurs…but from experienced professionals and a major international distributor? I can’t imagine how the movie got this far along without anybody in business affairs double-checking that someone had actually secured the rights to the book. What makes this even more unbelievable is that Scott Rudin produced the adaptation of McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN…and yet he was apparently unaware that no deal had been made with the author.

But that’s not all. It turns out that Franco shot 30 minutes of test footage several years ago, you might call it his own fanfic adaptation, with Luke Perry and Scott Glenn among the cast in an effort to snag the rights…but McCarthy didn’t bite. So did Franco just decide to make the movie anyway and hope that McCarthy would end up being okay with it?  It’s mind-boggling.