Interview with Don Vasicek
March 11th, 2004
Interview with Don Vasicek (credits: WARRIORS OF VIRTUE, and THE CROWN)by: Christopher Wehner
So far you've been involved with two films, "Warriors of Virtue" and "The Crown". How have those experiences been for you, and what would you do differently if you had the chance?
They proved what I had heard it would be like to work on studio and independent projects and to sell scripts. Each project was totally different. Warriors of Virtue was a $56 million MGM project. I became one of nine writers on the project a few weeks after responding to an ad for writers in The Hollywood Reporter. The Crown was an independent project. Incline Productions, Inc. called me a year after I sent the script to them via an ad in The Hollywood Reporter and made an offer to buy the script.
With the Warriors of Virtue project, all nine writers, after in depth and intense interviews and negotiation and signing of contracts, we brainstormed the producers story idea on one weekend. We were treated very professionally and paid very well. Out of that weekend, the producers chose two of the nine writers to write the script. They called me about eight months later and asked me to rewrite the script written by the two writers. Rewriting included a massive amount of notes, phone calls, cell phone calls, faxes, meetings, lunches and dinners. The rewrite was accomplished in two weeks. It was an impressive professional experience. Concurrently, the producers took my rewrite back to the original two writers. They rewrote it and it became a $56 million movie. They received screen credit and I am now referred to by the producers as a writer/consultant on the project.
With The Crown project we negotiated the price of the script and the terms of the contract for the purchase of the script through my lawyer and Inclines executive producer. The contract was signed and I was paid. Included in the contract was a clause that gave me single card screen credit for writing the screenplay. I did three rewrites early on with the director. The director was then let go because of creative differences and we talked briefly about me directing the movie. The script was given a read by a major studio writer. From that point forward, Incline went in a different direction with the script. Little information was given to me about its progress. The last I heard was that post production finished in May and that I would receive a video of The Crown in June.
The only regret I have about Warriors of Virtue is that I was unable to clearly see what two of the producers really wanted out. The other two were very clear to me. They liked what I wrote and fully supported it. The other two did not. A fifth producer cast the deciding vote in favor of the two producers who were opposed to my draft. If I would have clearly identified what they wanted in my rewrite, I would have gotten screen credit for Warriors of Virtue.
With The Crown, I feel that I should have been more clear about what I wanted during negotiations. Incline clearly loved The Crown. They told me that they had read over a thousand scripts before The Crown jumped out of the pile at them. I should have been more perceptive about that and could possibly have negotiated the job of directing the film.
How did you become a consultant for "Warriors of Virtue"?
I responded to an ad for writers in The Hollywood Reporter. One of the producers called me. I meet with him at his home. He filled me in about the Warriors of Virtue project. I gave him my thoughts. A few days later, he called me in to be interviewed by himself and three other producers. Once that was accomplished I went to a cocktail party at the first producers house where I met eight WGA writers. After that, the eight writers, myself and the four producers brainstormed the Warriors of Virtue story line. We were treated professionally and paid well.
After that the producers chose two of the writers to write the script. Several months later, the producers called me and asked me to rewrite the two writers draft. I did and was paid well for it. It took a fifth producer to break the deadlock over who liked and who disliked my draft. It ruled in favor of the two writers. They received screen credit for Warriors of Virtue. I am referred to by the producers as a writer/consultant on the Warriors of Virtue project.
What events or changes in your life lead up to getting involved in your first major film?
I was writing screenplays when I found out about a casting call for extras for Die Hard II. I, along with about 10,000 others, filled out application forms. A guy working for 20th Century Fox, the production company for the film, spotted my application because I was a screenwriter. He called me in, interviewed me and I was hired as an extra for Die Hard II.
Your experience with "The Crown" strikes me as an odyssey, how has your experience with this situation helped you?
You have identified my relationship with The Crown perfectly. The Crown has opened a number of doors for me. Screenwriting recognition (Sundances Screenwriters Lab Pool finalist; Houstons WorldFest International Film Festival, finalist; The Writers Network semi-finalist; Chesterfield Film Companys Writers Film Project semi-finalist; and fifteenth out of 633 submissions in the Writers Digest Scripts Competition. Representation. Options. Mainstream contacts. Work. A sale. I have good karma with The Crown and I suspect that it will help me in the future.
Why filmmaking, movies, writing, whatever? When did you know you wanted to be involved in making movies?
A personal tragedy impelled me to do something to communicate my passion to the masses. I started by writing poetry, evolved to writing novels and finally to screenplays because of the massive numbers of people movies reach.
The web has slowly become a small player in how some (mostly independent) movies get made. A writer (anywhere in the world) pitches a screenplay to an agent, the agent signs the writer, the agent takes the script to Hollywood and sells it. Or the writer pitches directly to an independent producers via email. You had some success with this, please elaborate.
I respond to ads on web pages and postings in the screenwriters newsgroup, and to send e-mail queries to agents, managers, entertainment lawyers, producers, distribution people, investors, directors and actors. This has resulted in getting people interested in reading my scripts, offers to option my scripts, offers of representation by agents and managers, offers to executive produce one of my scripts, writing offers and referrals.
This success had led to the expansion of my contact list. I utilize my contact list in many ways. One way is to send out holiday greetings with a little blurb about what I accomplished in the past year and what is on the burner in the coming year. Although the list has in excess of 200 hundred names on it, it proves time and again to be invaluable in that people are kept aware of who I am, what I have done, what I am doing and what I will be doing. Requests come back from them to read my latest scripts. One major studio even called out of the blue last January and requested that I send one script of mine to them. They liked it and are interested in working with me to get it into development. Ir has worked so well I am now thinking about sending out a mini-newsletter half way into each year as well.
E-mail is fast and efficient. What has enhanced my ability to attract people with my e-mail query is a draft I utilize that Mr. Christopher Wehner shared with us in one of his recent columns. It is remarkable. You should check it out.
How do you see the web developing? Soon we'll be watching movies, maybe even collaborating on the internet. We already know writers collaborate on the internet, how do you see collaboration on the internet developing, especially in the filmmaking side and the development side?
I have poor vision when it comes to the web. Im a creative person and have difficulty in understanding the technical workings of the web. I do see, however, that it is massive and is leading toward the day when we can sit at home and never leave. We will be able to live our lives, if we choose, with the simple click of a mouse. Actually, the mouse will become obsolete. We will be able to sit back and give voice commands to a screen in front of us and have anything and everything our hearts desire.
As for collaboration on the internet, Ive already written two feature scripts in collaboration with two other writers, one in Michican and one in California, without ever having met them. The scripts are now being marketed. We did utilize regular mail, talk on the phone and use faxes, but the bulk of the collaborations were done via e-mail.
As for filmmaking on the internet, there is no reason why the same thing cant occur. Technology is enabling us to make films on the computer. I am not that technically-adept, so I am unable to support that statement with examples, but my point is that we are now able to watch movies on the internet, so we should be able to make movies on the internet. George Lucas is teaching us something about that. Just feel the force and you get an idea of what is possible.
As for development, the internet provides rapid and efficient means of communication. We can send e-mails, faxes, make phone calls, do conferencing and transfer images via the internet. I am presently developing a feature film I wrote via the internet. It has resulted in attracting an offer from a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer to executive produce the film and to become my personal manager, and we know each other only via e-mail. I am also exchanging e-mails with investors, directors, actors, distributors, DPs, crew people, script consultants, location scouts, composers and etcetera to find the right mix to help me make my film.
Based on my basic experience, I see great potential for the web as a writer/filmmaker. It saves a great deal of time and money and helps me accomplish things that would otherwise take weeks as well as costs thousands of dollars to accomplish.
What would you recommend to a writer who is fairly new to the web?
Writers should keep their minds open to the web. They should explore the vastness of it and how they can utilize it to help them accomplish their goals. As short as five years ago, I used to have to stop writing in the middle of a scene and dash off to the library fighting traffic to do some research. Now, a couple of clicks with the mouse, and enormous amounts of information so massive that I cant spend the time reading it all, scrolls out on the screen in front of me.
Writers should spend time getting to know the web. They should check out all the resources available to writers, and take their time doing it. They should go to writer newsgroups and read postings and make postings. The newsgroup is a vast resource for information for the inexperienced writer. Utilize newsgroups. Theyre awesome.
After a certain period of time in researching the web, you will begin to develop an intuitiveness about it. You will know what web sites offer what of the best and what is legtimate and what is not legitimate. Just do your homework first, and have fun doing it.
By doing your homework and developing a nose for the web, you will be able to identify the pitfalls. If you have difficulty with this, then, do not get yourself involved in anything that seems to be too good to be true. It most likely isnt.
Pitfalls of the web?
Most pitfalls on the web circulate around those who are trying to get something from you for nothing. If you feel that something is too good to be true, it usually is. You should be cautious and check backgrounds before you expose any aspect of your writing to others on the web. Dont be afraid to be direct and ask questions.
For example, posting a logline, synopsis, treatment and/or a script or scripts on web pages for others to read as a way to market, find out who reads the web page you are thinking about posting on before you post on it. Many times you will discover that about the only people who read these web pages are other writers. It doesnt make much sense to market your work to other writers so youll probably want to pass on posting on those web sites.
There is a way to market your work without putting it in jeopardy. It amounts to skillful writing. You can begin to get an idea about what I mean by checking Chris Wehners past column on writing e-mail queries. If you want more help, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What kind of a strategy do you use when you email producers, and such? Any tips for us?
If you want to get people interested in your work and yourself, you must have the ability to market yourself. It is part of the territory you inhabit as a screenwriter. You must sell, sell, and sell. This comes in the form of hooking those you are selling to, creating interest in yourself in the minds of those you are selling to, creating desire for you and your work in the minds of those you are selling to and calling those you are selling to, to action. It can be no better illustrated than in Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson and Christopher Wehners e-mail query.
Finally, what's coming up for you? What do you hope the future holds?
The Crown is about through post production. Incline is planning on getting it on the film festival circuit. So, I am looking forward to that along with seeing the film for the first time.
I am writing, directing and producing a documentary film about exploited animals through my film company, Olympus Films +. A major motion picture star has expressed interest in narrating it. It will be finished in about two months. We have some distribution in place, but are seeking international distribution at the present.
I have also been researching the feasibility of writing, directing and producing a documentary film about the Columbine High School tragedy. I live a few minutes from the school, I coach Special Olympics basketball and interact with faculty, parents and kids, so I have some very personal feelings about what we can do to save lives and help kids in the future.
I am also marketing a feature script I wrote titled Catching the Fall. It is an edgy drama about a screw up who sets out to restore his son back to normal after the boy goes brain dead. It takes on a subject matter youve never seen before. It puts the audience in-the-know about the human neural growth factor and pushes the envelope into the new millenium.
Catching the Fall has already gotten interest from a major studio along with a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer who wants to executive produce it. I am seeking an equity partner and overseas financing. We are trying to get this script to Joe Fiennes, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Will Smith.
My goal is to write and direct feature films. I do believe that I will acomplish these goals, so I am not only hoping for this in the future, but I am excited about how dynamic, challenging and wonderful it will be when it happens. In the meantime, I will be writing more feature scripts. A zany teen comedy is on the burner as I speak.
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