Sunday, May 5, 2024

COURAGE AND DIVERSITY IN HOLLYWOOD


Dear Hollywood,

This is an open letter to industry friends and colleagues.

We often pat ourselves on the back for having the courage to tell stories that are bold, different and focus on diversity. The idea is that somehow that what makes us different will unify us, as if unification was ever the goal. We live in a self-congratulatory bubble that doesn't often align with the rest of the country, but hey, at least we dare to tell stories that others won't tell!

But are we really that courageous? Or are we actually continuing to tell the same types of stories over and over again with the same themes and messages -- the very ones that our overlords in Hollywood have pre-approved for audience consumption. The very ones that continue to fracture audiences along ideological lines. Are we really free to share our deeply held values and beliefs, or might doing so get us cancelled if they don't align with prevailing orthodoxy? (I don't know. Ask James Woods.)

I have always believed that true diversity is the diversity of thought and ideas rather than immutable characteristics that tell you absolutely nothing about a person other than their chromosomal makeup or melanin levels. (If that gives you an idea what side of the political spectrum I'm on, so be it.) But I don't believe any one ideology has the cornerstone on great ideas.

That said, this is my clarion call for true diversity in filmmaking -- for the sharing of all ideas through film and television, even if our betters in the upper echelons of the Hollywood hierarchy don't approve. That might mean pushing to produce content through more independent means, and it may also mean getting cancelled by those who claim to represent democracy while simultaneously trying to blacklist those who don't agree with their point of view.

True courage in filmmaking will come when filmmakers start producing and disseminating content that doesn't align with prevailing political and cultural doctrines. That means making statements based on high moral truths and common sense values, something sorely lacking in our society today. True courage in filmmaking is not an echo chamber for the Hollywood elites, but sharing ideas they disagree with when you know those ideas are worthy, even if it means being shunned by those elites.

This is my plea for true courage and diversity in Hollywood, one I'm taking on myself, starting with this very
letter.

Mark Heidelberger

Sunday, March 24, 2024

THE CHICKEN & THE EGG


Many filmmakers have struggled with the conundrum of attaching star actors who bring financial value to their pictures when they don't have any money to offer. Financiers have been known to say, "Hey, if you get that actor, I'll put up the money." And then most of us reply, "Why don't you put up the money then so I can get that actor?" Excuses abound, many of them feeble, but the honest reason is that most of these alleged financiers are full of shit. They either don't have the money or have no real intention of giving it to you.

So here we are, the old chicken and egg scenario. How do I get the money without the cast, and how do I get the cast without the money? A quandary indeed. But I think I have an answer as I navigate this same minefield that all indie producers navigate. And the answer is... Illusion. Both sides need to believe the other side is in play. What do I mean by that?

Well, on the one hand, you need a legitimate investor, so that requires some vetting. They may not be ready to part with their money now, but you have to be certain they will if you get that elusive star. If they're not willing to put the money in escrow, at least have them sign an LOI with their intention. Something, anything in writing is better than a handshake.

Simultaneously, you need to make offers to those star actors for specific work dates and you have to make the agents believe those are offers are pay-or-play (meaning the actor gets paid whether the movie gets made or not). If the offer amount is high enough, you'll often get a call from the agent wanting to verify certain things -- first and foremost, is the film fully funded?

But that's not really what they want to know. What they really want to know is... Is my actor going to get paid? They could give a shit if your movie gets made. They just want to make money. So your answer may very well be, "No, it's not fully funded. But this offer is pay-or-play and your actor will get paid whether it gets made or not."

Once you have an email from the agent stating an agreement to the key terms of the actor's deal, it's time to have your financier step up to the plate. No more excuses. You delivered on your part, and now the money needs to go into escrow. See, agents want to make sure you're not out raising money on the actor's name. The reason is that if enough producers are doing that and can't raise the money, it starts to devalue the actor in the eyes of the industry. ("What?! They can't get financing with him attached?!")

I'm playing this scenario out right now with two different features that are temporarily slated for production later this year. The in-roads I've made have been fantastic, with serious A-listers interested or in talks for key roles, but whether the strategy works out is a chapter yet to be written.

Of course there are other factors in closing a deal with a star, like script approval, director approval, compensation and the like, but I find that the risk of having to back out of a deal is likely worth the upside of pulling off the illusion, especially in an industry that has no problem trying to fool you with illusions at every turn. All of Hollywood is built on illusions, so you're just using an old trick from the same playbook. While this may sound like a cynical view, it's also a practical one that cracks the chicken and egg conundrum wide open.

Sunday, February 4, 2024

TWO NEW ARTICLES

Happy 2024! I hope the first month of the year has been as productive for you all as it has been for me. Today, I'd like to share links to two articles I wrote that were published in WritersWeekly recently:

"10 Screenplay Competitions That Are Worth Your Money"
https://writersweekly.com/marketing-secrets/10-screenplay-competitions-that-are-worth-your-money-by-mark-heidelberger

"The Impact of AI on Screenwriting in Hollywood"
https://writersweekly.com/this-weeks-article/the-impact-of-ai-on-screenwriting-in-hollywood-by-mark-heidelberger

The first is to help screenwriters navigate the competition circuit by suggesting contests that can provide a real return on the entry fee if the script does well. The second is me pontificating on the proliferation of AI technology in Hollywood, addressing in particular issues that were at the heart of last summer's WGA strike. Hopefully you'll find these articles enlightening.

Ciao for now!

Sunday, December 17, 2023

                     10 THINGS I'M GRATEFUL FOR THIS HOLIDAY SEASON


As we head into the holidays, it got me thinking -- as a Hollywood denizen and lover of all things Christmas -- what I'm truly grateful for. Here's my top 10 list for 2023...

1) That I still say "Merry Christmas" and haven't been cancelled by the PC police.

2) My clients who continue to find value in my opinions, knowledge and abilities, even if they're often paying me to tell them how much I disagree with them.

3) No-shell chili roasted pistachios.

4) Netflix for helping me find "Suits" four years after it finished it's run. (Harvey Specter, you're my hero.)

5) My wife for all the nonsense she puts up with, including (but not limited to) pulling the bed covers off her in the morning when she's already cold, beating up her Boo slippers, and telling her a food item is not spicy when it is and then watching her go into a full bore panic after she eats it.

6) Passing my first colonoscopy exam with flying colors, even if the anesthesia ran me two bills.

7) The Philadelphia Eagles for giving me yet another season where we might almost win a Super Bowl.

8) The Good Lord for taking my ailing father to a better place and giving my mother the strength to start a new chapter of her life without him.

9) Stock market dividends.

10) Cinephiles who shell out their hard-earned money to watch the content I create, and moreover, reach out to me with kind words about how inspired they now are to create their own content.

Thanks for reading. See you in the new year! Merry Christmas! :)

Sunday, October 8, 2023


Today, I want to share some passing thoughts about the strikes that have hammered our industry this year. Not all of these ideas are going to be the most popular, but they've been weighing on me, and I feel they need to be said. So this might be as much for me to vent as it is for you to read.

- Yes, streaming has significantly changed our industry, and writers and actors deserve a reasonable share of the revenues based on their creative contributions. But blaming all AMPTP companies for obscuring the data that allows for successful decision-making and project greenlighting is unfair considering most studios and networks have been very open throughout their existence about releasing box office figures, program ratings, and other key metrics. In other words, pure streamers like Netflix bare most of the responsibility for obscuring transparency.

- There's something laughable about multi-millionaire actors calling multi-millionaire studio heads "greedy." Just like stars, top execs (like Bob Iger, for instance) are paid enormous sums because of the money they are able to bring in -- their leadership leads to billions of dollars in returns for shareholders, making them worth their high salaries.

- AI is a legitimate issue in the entertainment industry, but overhyped concerns about a Terminator-style coup that will destroy humanity is a page out of Hollywood's fantasy playbook. AI will have its uses if we reign it in and use common sense in its applications. It should be a resource to help humanity do things better, not a replacement for what we already do. Creative work has heart and soul and intangibles like emotional intelligence that the best AI just can't replicate (yet). Plus, courts have already ruled AI can't own intellectual copyright, so the original creator of the source material the AI is using to generate new work is still considered the author for legal purposes, as it should be. AI is not going away, so let's figure out how to use it to our advantage.

- SAG is crying that they need an 11% increase in wages to keep pace with raging inflation. Ironic though how such a rabid "progressive" organization as SAG admits no responsibility for helping create the wretched economy we're all suffering through now by their support of left-wing policies (like printing more money to fund endless spending bills) and their endorsement of Democratic politicians like Joe Biden and Chuck Schumer who have caused the inflation we're experiencing in the first place.

- Actors and writers need to make a living wage. But mandating productions hire a certain number of actors or writers for a certain number of weeks is Marxian at its core, playing on the idea that the studios are greedy capitalists who are oppressing the "working man" unless they acquiesce to untenable union demands for minimum guarantees. Of course this is nonsense. Acting and writing are skills, and like any job, only the most skilled will be hired. If too many actors or writers can't find work, perhaps it's because there are TOO MANY actors and writers. Just wanting to be an actor or writer doesn't mean others have to hire you. Studios will hire people for roles based on their needs -- which projects they want to greenlight based on things like audience and budget, and what the staffing needs of those projects are.

- It's easy for multi-millionaire actresses to post videos telling the membership to "stay strong" and "don't give in to the studios" and "keep marching" on those picket lines. Why? Because one of their residual checks is more than most of their colleagues will make in a year. And whether scale rates go up 5% or 11% won't affect a $10-million-per-picture star one iota. It's easy to virtue signal when you have no real skin in the game. But it sure makes you look like a "good guy."

- Strikes certainly have their place. But the fact that the majority of outspoken individuals, publications and organizations have demonized the same studios they count on for their business while heralding the supposedly arduous plight of the unions shows a lack of understanding of both sides of the issue and belies the notion that such people have ever run their own business before, had to make a payroll or had to show their investors a solid ROI.

- The industry is going to face some significant changes as a result of this strike, from how it measures and reports the success of streaming programs to the further consolidation of studios and platforms to the number of people a production will hire (paying significantly higher wages to writers means less writers will get hired). One thing we can all count on, though, is that the end of the strikes don't simply signal that everything has been figured out, but rather that many more changes are coming. And soon. 

MH

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Dear Readers,

I thought it might be a nice time to share some recently published articles that I either wrote or that were written about me and my work.

1) My article "6 Online Resources to Help Get Your Screenplay Seen" was recently published on C. Hope Clark's Funds for Writers, a website with 27,000 subscribers that seeks to help writers make money from their craft. Some of you may find it useful...

https://fundsforwriters.com/6-online-resources-to-help-get-your-screenplay-seen/?hilite=Mark+Heidelberger


2) My project "Will to Win," adapted from Jim Stovall's book of the same name, was recently written up in Variety when producer Jhane Myers joined as an EP. Jhane recently produced the hit Hulu movie "Prey." Trying to get this one in production next spring...

https://variety.com/2023/film/news/prey-jhane-myers-will-rogers-baseball-film-1235620374/


3) Those who know my proclivity for the outdoors may also know that I enjoy writing about travel, fitness, hiking and points of interest. In that vein, Outdoor Socal recently published my "glamping guide" for the town of Ojai, a cool little spot about half an hour south of Santa Barbara. Check this one out if you love the outdoors, but still want that touch of "luxury" while you experience it...

https://www.outdoorsocal.com/posts/ojai-glamping/

More to come soon!

Mark

Saturday, June 24, 2023

DEVELOPMENT HELL GETS SOME AIR CONDITIONING THIS SUMMER


Thought it was time for a little status update on some of my pet projects in development:

American Saviors: A "dark road trip buddy action comedy" script written by the talented yet undiscovered Jim Christell. We secured a coordinator at WME to help us attach the right director to the project. With the writers' strike going on and a potential actors' strike to follow, we hope to land someone in this position quickly followed by notable cast as we seek to capitalize on a lack of competition in the marketplace. (Side note: Jim has been prolific lately. He also finished his fantasy period drama Between the Stairs and we've started developing a new comedy show called Del Rey Park.)

Worth the Fight: We locked 9-1-1 star Oliver Stark in the lead role. He read the script right away and loved it. Nice validation for the years of development we put into it. We have also secured a coordinator at UTA, who I hope can help us package other stars alongside Oliver. Director is Sean McNamara (of Soul Surfer fame).

Will to Win: This adaptation of a Jim Stovall book of the same name centers on a Native American high school girl who seeks help from her spirit guide, Will Rogers, when she makes the boys' baseball team. Prey producer Jhane Myers just signed on as an EP and is helping us take the project to talent and studios. Here's an article about it that was recently posted in Variety: https://variety.com/2023/film/news/prey-jhane-myers-will-rogers-baseball-film-1235620374/

The Pillars of Dawn: My very talented writing client, Athena, wrote the TV adaptation of her own novel series, which we have recently been developing with the help of writer/producer Kamran Pasha (Sleeper Cell, Nikita). Numerous actors have expressed interest or attached themselves, too, including Erica Cerra, Arnas Fedaravičius, Benjamin Stone and Phaedra Nielson, with Jane Seymour circling. We put together a sizzle that I think does a great job teasing the story, the tone and the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2F5PPqdgiI

Icon: My newest client, James Jimenez, has been working on his own script about a rock star who goes missing and the wife who seems to be the local sheriff's number one suspect. Our goal is to have this one ready to shop by year's end.

More to come as I work to bring these and other projects to fruition.