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  • …But I Thought Of It First!

    April 16th, 2012

    By Danny Manus

    There are no original ideas in Hollywood. How many times have you heard or said that?

    And generally, it’s kinda true.

    Case in point – the newly announced thriller project “The Tomb” starring Schwarzenegger and Stallone about a man who is imprisoned in the very prison he created and must seek help from a guard to escape – is pretty close in basic concept to the project I was hired to write a few months ago, which was registered and copyrighted and all that good stuff.

    Did this make me think twice? Maybe.
    Does it mean I stop writing it? No.
    Did they steal our idea? Not at all. This shit just happens.

    But it means once it’s done, my plan of attack for how I try to sell it will be different and the timing of how to sell it may change. Plus, it means I will have to come up with ways to make our script different and even more original.

    Another example – when I was still an executive at Clifford Werber Productions, we developed a project for a couple years called “Family Bond,” a family action film about a father/spy whose kid gets kidnapped and whose arch-enemy moves in next door in their suburb town. The SAME week we decided to go out with it to the town, another project was also sent out by a different producer called “Family Bonds” (with an S). Guess what it was about. Yup – almost the same exact fucking story.

    And there was nothing we could do. Yes, I looked into the chance that the idea was stolen from us after mentioning it in some meeting to someone, somewhere. But we’ll never know and it pretty much killed our project.

    Clifford and I sold a Wizard of Oz project to United Artists before two of the other Oz projects sold. Now there are FOUR other Wizard of Oz projects out there and ours is in turnaround because the others got going first (through no real fault of our own).

    There are TWO Snow White projects about to be released within a couple months of each other. Last year, No Strings Attached came out just months before Friends with Benefits.  And this is nothing new.

    Deep Impact and Armageddon came out in the same year. Volcano and Dante’s Peak.
    Antz and A Bug’s Life. Mission to Mars and Red Planet. Capote and Infamous. The Prestige and The Illusionist. The Score and Heist. Chasing Liberty and First Daughter. And The Back-Up Plan and The Switch, which funny enough also killed a sperm donor comedy Clifford and I were developing.

    They ALL came out within months of each other, which means they were all developed and green-lit around the same time as well. Did the writers of all of those movies scream and yell and wonder if someone stole their idea? Probably. But it didn’t stop them from going forward and making their movie.

    If anything, it should tell you that at least you’re thinking commercially – you’re just thinking commercially 3 months too late.

    And I can’t tell you how many times at a pitchfest I have been pitched the SAME exact idea 2, 3, 4 times in a day. If it DIDN’T happen, I’d be shocked.

    So for all you writers out there scared of pitching or sending out your project because you’re worried about it getting stolen – don’t be. Because it’s probably already been written by someone else. In fact, if you’re truly writing something that has never – in any way – been done before – there’s probably a reason for that.

    That’s also part of the reason studios like intellectual property – because they KNOW it’s not original material. They know that when they get the rights to a book, there isn’t some other writer trying to adapt it. They don’t have to worry about random writers suing them.

    This is not supposed to depress you – it’s supposed to make you realize that some things are out of your control. All you can do is write your story as originally as you can and study the market to see where you can and can’t sell it to and when the best time to do so might be. That’s the business, baby!

  • Keeping Logs in the Fire

    April 7th, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    You know what the number one key to being successful in this business is? Diversification! It’s about keeping as many logs in the fire as possible and knowing when and why one’s about to burn.

    You all know breaking into Hollywood isn’t easy. And it’s even harder to stay in Hollywood once you’re here. You can’t just write a script and sit back and wait. Writing usually isn’t anyone’s first career – and if it is, I can promise you it’s not their ONLY one.  But life experience (especially those hard knocks) is what enriches ones writing and makes the spoils of success that much sweeter. So I suppose my message to you is – most people have to do a lot of shit to be successful, so why should you be any different?

    While working on a feature project called “To Oz,” which I set up at United Artists (but unfortunately is currently in turnaround), I became a bit of an expert on L. Frank Baum, the writer of all the “Oz” books (15 in total). It was said in the book The Real Wizard of Oz by Rebecca Loncraine that, “Baum could never concentrate on one thing at a time. His ambition-driven multiple interests skittered through his mind, pushing him in many different directions at once.” 

    Today, he’d probably get diagnosed with adult A.D.D. But perhaps he just knew what some writers today seem to forget – you have to be doing different things to improve and promote yourself and your talents. If you want to be a screenwriter, writing screenplays isn’t enough.

    Would it surprise you to know that before he ever created a word of “Oz,” L. Frank Baum was an actor, a lubrication oil salesman, a photographer, an owner and player for a travelling baseball team, the owner of a general variety store, a writer of articles for several journals, creator of his own neighborhood printing press, and editor of a weekly paper?  And he didn’t sit down and start writing Oz until he was in his 40s.

    Ernest Hemingway was a reporter and ambulance driver before he started writing books. JR.R. Tolkien was a professor all his life who was in a writers group with C.S. Lewis, who in addition to writing Chronicles of Narnia and numerous other works, was a scholar, a teacher, and a noted Christian apologist. Before Lewis Caroll wrote Alice in Wonderland, he was a photographer, mathematician, poet, inventor, reporter, and studied for the priesthood.

    They were constantly working TO something, but the key is – they were always working. They were always trying out new things, hungry for more knowledge, even if it wasn’t the thing they were most passionate about. They did a ton of OTHER stuff which helped create and influence their penchant and talents for writing.

    Now I would never – EVER – draw any comparisons between them and myself, but I came out to Hollywood to be an Emmy winning TV Writer. And while that hasn’t really happened yet, in the more than eight years since my arrival, I’ve worked as an assistant, a development executive, a noted script consultant, a film producer, a production and post production coordinator, a casting assistant, a columnist, a teacher, and I’ve written over 115 articles in the last 2 years alone. Is it TV writing? No. But it all helps. It’s all stuff that develops my talents, gives me experience, and builds a name and a brand for myself – and that’s what you should all be doing.

    Not selling your scripts yet? Ok, no problem. How about getting an article published in your local paper or a magazine or a newsletter. Or starting a blog and promoting it through social media. Or writing a short story. Or a one-act play. Or acting. Or taking an Improv comedy class and doing stand-up (something else I still wanna do). Or volunteering at a screenwriting conference to make connections. 

    You got a script? Great – so do 50,000 other people. So what ELSE you got? What else are you doing before you make your big break to make you stand out?

    You need to find your niche. This is how you stay in the game. And you need to experiment with different things in order to do that.  Try different things and see which one elicits the most passion and love from inside you. I hated production coordinating – hated it – but at least now I know that and I take that experience with me.  I’m guessing L. Frank Baum didn’t love selling lubricating oil – but he did it and he grew from it.

    Knowing how to market yourself is really important whether you’re a screenwriter or a small business owner or a…dentist. You have to know what makes you different. And as I’m learning, it’s not just about doing what you like – or even what you’re good at – it’s about seeing the big picture and learning how to do it all.

    Being a multi-hyphenate is THE BEST WAY TO BREAK IN. I didn’t slip – that’s in caps for a reason. Many of today’s top acting, directing, writing, singing, dancing and producing talents are doing more than just ONE of those things.

    With screenwriters, it’s not just writing scripts – it’s rewriting, polishing, editing, pitching, meeting, networking, researching, acting, directing, producing, and knowing enough of the business to know if what you’re writing is worth it.  As I’ve learned with my own business, consulting isn’t just reading scripts and making notes – it’s also about blogging, teaching, lecturing, publicizing, advertising, tweeting, book publishing, contract negotiating, branding, web designing, connecting, selling, etc.

    And I ALWAYS have more than one log in the fire.

    So take a lesson from the masters – and from me – diversify. Keep as many logs in the fire as you can. Do, learn and experience every aspect of the business that you can, so that you are well-armed for when your big break comes.

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