Screenwriters today will never be able to squire Carole Lombard around Hollywood as Robert Riskin did in 1935. Nearly none will equal him by winning an Academy Award for one of their scripts.
But while such lofty achievements are beyond their grasp, the current crop of screen scribes can make a decent living through writing screenplays. I was proven that yesterday by watching the work of a Facebook friend of mine who didn't start writing until his forties.
His name is Bob Saenz, and I currently envy him. Not so much for his acting credits (he has 22, mostly in bit parts), but for his work as a screenwriter. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists him with 13 -- many of them that Hallmark staple, holiday TV movies. However, his most recent released work is the antithesis of such frothy fare.
"Extracurricular Activities" is a dark teen comedy about a brilliant high school student who finds inventive, "accidental" ways to kill the high-pressured, hypocritical parents of his California classmates (think of "Kind Hearts And Coronets"). His principal foe is a police detective who notes his ties to the victim's children, then seeks to outwit him with disastrous (for him) results.
Neither Colin Ford, who plays the teen, nor co-star Timothy Simons are household names. But both have numerous acting credits, appearing in the likes of the CW's "Supernatural," HBO's "Veep" and other TV series and films. The rest of the cast has similarly extensive resumes.
The film had its southern California premiere this weekend at the Monica Film Center in downtown Santa Monica (that's Saenz at left with director Jay Lowi at opening night Friday). It culminated a longtime dream, since this was the second script he'd written, some 20 years ago (it was unsuccessfully optioned eight times until 2017). He refers to it as a good "calling card" to producers, leading to his association with 14 projects -- all of them, like this one, with budgets below $5 million.
"Big-budget spec sales just aren't happening," Saenz said in a recent interview (https://www.scriptmag.com/features/career-features/interview-bob-saenz-screenwriter-of-extracurricular-activities-discusses-breaking-in-rewriting-for-hire-and-much-more?fbclid=IwAR0rmYha2vvCwfKLF7GyppQfGEggPjS_kWybcqj-qsf8mxq5Y8LaqH42GEo#.XOAv5CjJLH8.facebook) "They don't sell because there are only about six entities that can buy one and make it, and those six entities aren't buying spec scripts."
However, low-budget genre fare, whether it be romantic comedy, thriller or horror, can be sold and made -- if the script is really good and "something that can be [produced] in that price point," he added. If A-list actors show interest, and many enjoy appearing in indie fare, then the budgets can increase.
To boost his or her chances, a writer needs to think like a producer and make a project cost-effective...the industry isn't known as "show business" for nothing. "Just write art for a budget," Saenz said -- and he knows budgets from his many years as a furniture wholesaler, when he was an actor and not a writer. (Below is Bob from his days on the Don Johnson police series "Nash Bridges"; Saenz refers to his work as being a "glorified extra.")
And such work pays off; Saenz tweeted Saturday he had just received a "Surprise call. Surprise opportunity. ... Man, I will say this again, write one great script and doors will open. You can do this. It's just work."
Something I hope to achieve as I look to keep my potential budgets reasonable. Despite the obvious special effects that would be required, a project such as my rom-com "Stand Tall!" could be made for $5 million.
For more on "Extracurricular Activities" -- which will run in Santa Monica through Thursday -- visit https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6012446/ and https://twitter.com/hashtag/ExtracurricularActivitiesMovie?src=hash. Read a review and see the trailer at https://elementsofmadness.com/2019/05/13/extracurricular-activities/.