Writer, Director, Professional Gambler
I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!
Arnold Snyder is one of blackjack's best known, and most prolific writers. He has a new blog called Write-aholic, which is not about gambling, but is about writing and book reviews. I read a post today on his early days of hack writing. You can read it here - Hack Writing. This brought back many memories of my own hack writing, although my writing was not in the trenches of porn; it was the low budget world of action, and martial arts movies.
My friend Joe owned a low-budget film company called PM Entertainment. I went to his office one day, we sit, he says,
"Kickboxing. It's very hot right now. Have you seen Kickboxer with Jean-Claude Van Damme?"
"Uhm, no havn't seen that yet."
"I want you to do a movie for us. Kickboxing. We start shooting in February."
Wow, this was December so there were only 2 months to prepare. "I'd really like to do it, but that isn't a lot of time. Can I read the script?"
"Right, you have two months. You better start writing."
Two months is not a lot of time to write a script, let alone, write it, cast it, and do everything necessary for preproduction. I called my brother Jake in Chicago, and told him I would be home in a week. He should rent every kickboxing movie he could find, and we had two weeks to write a script. I said, "With only two weeks we need a story that works. We'll steal from the best. Romeo and Juliet...with kickboxing!"
In writing porn, Arnold talks about the "flip strength." The flip strength means that a buyer has to pick up the book and flip to any page and find sex. Film producer Joel Silver had the equivalent for action films. "You have to have a whammo every 10 minutes. An explosion, a car chase, a fight scene, to keep the audience interested." At PM Entertainment we thought 10 minutes was far too long to wait. More fighting, less talk.
Some day I'll write much more about Ring of Fire, but we did write it in two weeks, shoot it in February, and screen it in June of that year. My favorite review was from a smart-ass critic who wrote, "What foot through yonder window breaks."
What happens next in the film world is the owners take their films to market. Film markets are just like fish markets. You tell the buyers how fresh yours is, they say they want a bigger fish or a different kind, you tell them why yours is better, and eventually you haggle out a price. Joe and George (the head of marketing) went to the big market in Milan, Italy where the buyers are there to buy the rights to films for their country. These buyers offer helpful advice for your future films.
The French: More sex, less violence.
The Japanese: More violence, less sex.
The Korean buyer: Dreams are very important to my people. Especially the dream of Dragons.
The Scandinavian buyer: Many people die from bullets. Maybe you could kill someone with a harpoon, or bicycle pump.
Joe and George come back from the market, and now we have a meeting that is like entering the Twilight zone.
JOE: We have to rewrite the script. It needs more sex and less violence.
GEORGE: Yes, and much more action, but not too much sex.
JOE: We're going to do it in Las Vegas and have a big stunt in the beginning like LETHAL WEAPON.
GEORGE: Yes, yes, and maybe our star could kill somebody by taping his mouth to his exhaust pipe and the guy fills with gas and his body explodes.
JOE: Right, but the fumes from the gas make him have a dream about a dragon.
Like porn - no jokes allowed. What is funny to us is not funny in Korea or Germany. It's only the meetings that are funny. But when you watch a low budget movie in the future, and you say to yourself, "Why does that cab driver have a scuba tank and spear gun in his taxi?" You can bet that some bad guy is getting shot through the eye with the spear gun, and someone's cab will explode when that scuba tank gets hit.