|Michael Blaney is a songwriter and screenwriter born in Syracuse, New York. He received a degree in producing/engineering music from the Recording Workshop in Chillicothe, Ohio in 1995. Blaney has recorded three independent albums, which were in regular rotation on several popular radio stations. He also had his own contract with Ticket Master and toured in numerous cities up and down the East coast. Blaney moved to Los Angeles in early 1998 and since then has worked on several screenplays with various producers, such as Michael Meltzer and Bill Badalato. Blaney is currently represented by Brad Rosenfeld at Preferred Artists. (August 2003)
Where are you from and where did you grow up? Where do you live now and even why?
I was born in Syracuse, New York. And I moved to Damascus, Maryland with my grandfather when I turned fifteen, then back to Syracuse when I graduated High School. From there, I have lived many places, Ohio, Los Angeles, Florida, Texas. I really like moving around, I hate sitting still. Currently, I am living in Palm Dessert this summer to focus on my writing.
Let's put it this way. I am a New York boy at heart and I really do not like Los Angeles. But, I know I have to be here if I want to be taken serious. This summer I really wanted to concentrate on my writing. The best place to do that was in Palm Dessert, because there is nothing really keeping me from getting down to the writing and learning more.
And any young writers who want to be successful have to either live in Los Angeles or be willing to make the trek. Producers and executives want to be able to put a face to the writing. And if you are going to ever be up for writing assignments, it's just the way the cookie crumbles.
I am not too far away, but far enough that I can do what I love and that's write.
When did you first start writing scripts?
I started in the music business. I wanted to write songs and play music. Through my teen years I had learned to play the guitar and I wrote something like 4,000 lyrics before I turned 18. I had joined several bands and was the lead singer. And when I graduated High School, I just really focused on my music, but being a songwriter, I realized I had this gift for telling stories in my songs, and I would sometimes take my lyrics and actually turn them into short stories or scripts. But I never really took writing scripts seriously, and I never through it would be something I would want to chase after. Before I realized it, I had well over 30 short stories and a handful of screenplays and I was 24. But I kept them all to myself. I found writing to be my way of working with problems and it was awesome for escaping. I was a huge movie buff. And just liked creating characters that were fun and could do things that I could not.
I just really learned writing from going to a bookstore and reading a few pages of a script at the time. I was not really trying to be a writer in my younger years. Music was my driving passion. I loved writing lyrics but writing stories was a way for me to expand my lyrics into stories and screenplays. Writing for me has always been something that I enjoy; and I love story telling. I can't even tell you the name of the script I looked at, it was one of those scripts that gets turned into a book. I was really just fooling around for the fun of it. It wouldn't be 'til a year later when a friend I knew would tell me to pursue this and she hooked my up with my Entertainment Attorney in 1998 -- the same guy I have now, Jay Kenoff.
How did you learn to write scripts? Classes? Books? Seminars?
People hate me when I say this. I really did it the backwards way. I met this girl Cory Oliver who was an actress when I came out to Los Angeles to live in 1998. I wanted to explore my music. And she had this nifty idea and wanted to find a writer to help her with it. I met her with her manager Gayle Max, who at the time was a friend of mine. Cory and I hit it off and I helped her shape her script. I loved the experience so much, that I actually wrote three screenplays that following week, right in a row. Yup. I said it. Three screenplays right in a row. And two of them got me attention. I worked slowly, on this one called "Saving Grace" with a producer Michael Meltzer. And I sent the second one "Empty Glass" to Jay Kenoff my now entertainment attorney, who fell in love with it. The third I actually I just finished an overhaul on and it is going out sometime this year and that ones called "Andy's Secret." But the only script I had ever read before I wrote these three was Cory's rough draft. And she let me borrow her screenwriting program, movie magic, which I skimmed through the manual and pretty much-figured things out for myself. I do not recommend this to writers. You should go to seminars, Devorah Rubenstein has several you can go to. She owns Noble House Entertainment and works one on one with writers to help them learn their craft. She used to be a studio executive. Personally, I learned mostly everything I know just by trial and error.
What was your first script like?
My first screenplay that I really did that I can say was a screenplay was "Saving Grace." And I loved it. I still do. Like I said I was working on it with Michael Meltzer a producer. But I realized after time, that the scope of the script was not getting me any attention from anyone. It was just this really awesome idea with great characters. It was a beautiful script, but it was not some huge ideas and huge ideas get made. Small ideas get kicked around and if you sell a huge idea and it gets made, people will then listen to your little ideas. If I was ever to direct, that would be one of two of my screenplays I would want to direct.
Can you tell me a little bit about the story?
A twenty year old nun, whom has never seen the outside of the convent, is persuaded by the Bishop to take a task, forcing her to the outside world. Against the wishes of an over protective Mother Superior, Grace discovers not only her world, but her true self, as she tends to the care of a dying young man.
And that script really, really is one of my favorites still. Michael Meltzer, a producer, and I worked in it for a few months. I really enjoyed the experience, he taught me a lot.
The story came from nothing but just really thinking about what it would be like to be confided from the rest of the world and to have this spiritual side which people on the outside lose. I think everyone can identify with the lead character, Grace. She really is a wonderful spirit and through her, people. This is the script I want to direct if I ever decide to venture down that road.
What is your writing process like? Do you use cards? Do you use outlines? Why or why not?
I write each script different. I have written now, over 100 screenplays and tons of treatments. I can pump a first draft out in a few days if I sit down and feel confident in the story. From there, I really edit the hell out of it. I like having the whole screenplay in my face so I can shape it. A producer friend of mine said that I do the hard stuff easy and the easy stuff hard. It took me awhile but I think I know what he meant by that. I know story. I know my characters. And usually, my first draft set up is right on target. But the little things, which I hate, like spelling, grammar, and small things, I usually zoom over. And to all those writers out there, beware. Producers, agents and managers are looking for every reason to put a script down. Remember they get a ton of them. So no matter how good your script is, there could be three more that are better sitting on their desk. So comb your script for as many things that would trigger them to put it down and fix it. Take your time. Do not rush a good idea. Hollywood is always looking for a good idea.
Now I do use cards on some scripts. I am currently working on a hilarious concept comedy and I really am just plotting it out first. I will work on this for a week with notes before I sit down and write it. I love my agent Brad Rosenfeld at Preferred Artists and I respect him. The guy is really smart and has no time for games. He respects my writing and I respect him. But he does not want nor have time for someone with quantity scripts. He wants quality. And I am hoping to someday give him both. So I am using cards on this new script, because I really feel that I can find any fatal flaws before I start writing. And it helps me to get to know the characters first. If you know your characters like you know yourself and you know your story, you have 70% of the battle licked.
What is your writing day (schedule) like? What kind of environment works best for you?
I work everyday on something. Even if I don't want too. It keeps me grounded to my writing and helps me practice. I like working at home, and I like working in environments where I can watch people. Noise does not distract me. When I get up in the morning, I usually see what scripts the day before sold. I look around and see what actors are doing what. I try to watch interviews with actors and see what kind of material they like. For instance, I heard Josh Hartnett wanted to do character pieces and I think he would be perfect for this script my agent just sent out Friday called "The Human Condition."
By early morning, after my research is done. I decide if I am going to work on a rewrite or a new one.
I work anywhere from 9 to 16 hours a day - 7 days a week. I am constantly looking up movie reviews, what stars are attracted to what roles, how much money movies made, what scripts are being sold by what agents, studios, managers, and producers. I am constantly trying to learn everything I can.
And when it comes to the writing part that is the most crucial part, I have a workbench that I work from. And I have a PC and a laptop that I use. If I go out, I have been known to write in the most fancy places, go on trips out of town, motels, hotels, bars, deli's, coffee shops, food courts at the mall and I used to write in Airports when you could get in.
I like surrounding myself with people and seeing their interaction from afar or to something I might be out of context. I have been known to act crazier than Jim Carrey to cause a reaction. After all, real people are where most of the ideas that work come from.
Who do you rely on for feedback? Why?
I rely on Brad the most. But I also rely on some studio and producer executives. Brad Luff who was at Original Films and is now the President of Morgan Creek. I sometimes pitch him things before I write it to see if it is even a good idea. I also rely on Suzi at Imagine Entertainment. She is awesome. Despite what people say, I found most executives to be smart and well read. Writing is a judgmental thing. And if you are going to write a script and want it read, you better be ready for whatever people are going to say. That is part of it. good or bad. And bad can help you find your voice for the script. So listen to what everyone says. If they are willing to talk to you, they might see promise in something you have written. But it is up to you to hone in on your talent. And you have to rely on everyone. But the first person you need to rely on is yourself. Second is your team that you decide to go with.
How do you approach rewriting your work?
Fearfully. You can get sucked into rewriting a script a million times. everyone has an opinion in this town. everyone. So you have to kinda pick and pull out of the air the similarities everyone seems to be finding wrong with the script and go with that. If everyone says your lead character is flat, you have to look at the lead character and find out why. No one is going to tell you why, that is your job. But if you a handful here and a handful there telling you they don't like this or that in the script, that could all come down to personal taste. As a writer you need to know when the feedback you are getting is for the scripts own good and when the rest of it is personal views. Not everyone loved "American Beauty." Not everyone likes Jack Nicholson. For writers, I think they have to step out of the ego box and realize there are people who are going to love what you are doing and some who could care less. But at the end of the day take all the feedback you get and use it wisely. There is no shame in reworking something by yours or others standards if it helps.
What have your experiences been like with receiving notes from others on your projects? How do you work with them? Deal with the comments?
I am fine with notes. I like them. As God is my witness, Brad and Jay have given me the best notes I have ever had. But they understand my writing. And if I come to them with a half-baked idea, they usually will cut me off at the pass and tell me. They know me and my writing. I listen to everything they have to say, and honestly, I have used 100% of what they suggested.
Brad will email me his views and if he is not busy he will talk to me on the phone. Jay will talk to me on the phone or if he loves the idea he will meet with me and discuss it.
Do you have any "big" do's and don'ts when writing a script?
Not really. I go with the flow. I think if you pressure yourself too much, you will not get the best results. So I don't kill myself when writing the script. I usually kill myself afterwards, when the scripts done and I am waiting for feedback. That's when I am in panic mode. Like I said, I have written 100 screenplays. I don't always write to have them seen. Some of them are amazing, and I won't let anyone look at them now, some were just for practice. But I have a good ten that I think are really, really good and that I do circulate. My biggest mistake is forgetting that I am a good writer and not letting the material speak for itself.
How did you find your first representation and what did you learn from that experience?
I had just made some cold calls this last time. And I don't know, from day one when I heard Brad's voice on the phone, calm and sincere, I turned to my roommate and said I want to work with this guy. That was before he ever read anything. I knew we clicked. Lucky enough he read a script and loved it. I had been talking to and meeting with a handful other people. And Brad was honest and doesn't pull any punches and he does not make empty promises. He says what he believes and he does not say, this is going to sell. He did email me one day and say you're going to be huge. And when he said it I just took it in stride. Brad is, to me, the best representation I have had, and I have had a few. But you need to stick with someone. I made the mistake of picking agents before, just thinking I needed too. You need to wait and find someone that works well with you. It is a team. And you need to make sure you both are on the same page. No matter how big the agency. William Morris can sign you, does not mean you are ever going to be read. You need to find someone who is passionate about you. And Brad is me and I am him.
What genres do you write in?
The ten million dollar question. I write all. In every combination -- sci-fi, comedy, horror, thriller, period pieces, drama, romantic comedy, spoofs. But you have to pick one or two and stick with them. You can't be all over the place or people will not take you seriously. I have chosen thrillers/dramas and comedies to work on with Brad.
Have you pitched much? If so what have your experiences been like? What would you recommend to others about pitching & pitch meetings?
Yup. I have pitched a ton. But I only pitch screenplays I have written and see if there is any interest in people reading them. I did pitch "The Human Condition," everyone's favorite script of mine, to Suzi at Imagine Entertainment before I wrote it. I wanted her feedback and I respect her. She said I like the idea. You should write it. And I did. And believe love it. And Brad is just sending it out now.
Pitching is really only a tool for me to talk about my scripts. I will go in and either pitch something I want to write to an executive so I can meter if this is something I should pursue. I am currently talking to 3 executives about a new idea I want to write. One liked it a lot. If I get another one who says I liked it, I will write it.
I have not yet come up with that genius pitch like a lawyer who can not tell a lie. Which later turned into "Liar Liar." That sells it self. If you are going to pitch, you really need to know your characters, story arc and have fun with it. You have to be a bit colorful, just telling it like an empty phone conversation you might have with your mother over whether or not you got your oil changed after driving cross country is not enough.
If it is a comedy, make the listener know it. Nothing worse than pitching a comedy and making the listener want to stick a fork in his eye.
My methods work for me in the sense that I usually get an idea of whether or not the idea is worthy or shitty. But I also write scripts and ideas to keep my in practice.
You wrote a script called "Best Enemies,"" which was a teen comedy. What happened with that due to 9/11? Will you ever shop it again?
"Best Enemies" is a funny, funny, funny script. I love that script because it is real. And it works on so many levels.
The script went out a week before 9/11 and Lynda Obst's company, James Jacks company, Michael Meltzer and a handful of others wanted to do something with it. everyone liked it. But when 9/11 hit, my manager who sent it out thought it would not be in good taste to push these people into doing anything with it. And to be honest, setting something up was the last thing on my mind. everyone thinks selling a script is going to change your life. But, that day, it would not have done anything to me. I was so numb from what happened and felt horrible to the people who lost their lives, someone could have offered me a billion dollars and I would have seriously not taken it. I wouldn't have wanted to work with anyone at that point, I was so distraught. I am from New York so that really hit home for me.
I am currently finishing a rewrite of "Best Enemies" and getting it back out there, yes.
The story is about two teens who are best friends and compete to take a girl to the Valentine's dance. And I am telling you this idea is funny and the characters are friggen hysterical. I love, love, love, love this script. I wrote it in 2000 before I saw "American Pie" because I am not a teen comedy fan, and when I saw "American Pie," I was very happy to know that the two scripts are nothing a like. I really think "Best Enemies" has a life of its own and it really is a classy, funny, rip-roaring comedy.
I have watched friends read it and fall out of their chair laughing. This script is that funny and that realistic to what goes on in High School.
The idea came from nowhere. I really just sit around and think about things that would make me laugh if I am writing a comedy, make me scared if I am writing a thriller and make me cry if I am writing a drama.
The development, was… (Laughs) I wrote it in three days. And seriously it was taken very well in the industry, even over my well written "Connect the Dots"/"Riders of the Storm," which I got high marks for, "Best Enemies" lives on as this enigma.
Also in 2001, the writers strike and an "unprofessional" agent halted a script you were sending around called "Riders of the Storm." You rewrote and sent it out again this year as "Connect the Dots." What happened with all of this? Why? And what did you learn from this whole experience?
In early 2001 I did have a screenplay go out called "Riders of the Storm" and my agent at the time was not the most professional person around, no. He sent the script out on a Monday and never came back to work. He had worked for the agency for a number of years and he never came back. So there was no one to really push it. But, oddly Hyde Park, Collision and Jan De Bont's company were all loving it and wanting to do something with it. There just was no agent.
I overhauled "Riders of the Storm" and what came out of it was this amazing butterfly. I was shocked. The screenplay was so awesome. It was a top-notch first rate on your edge big concept high-character thriller. And it was 10 times better than "Riders" was and it was fun. But it was like a ghost town when it went out. Not one solid bite; I got more meetings from the writing. But the amnesia part of the script had been overplayed. Though my idea was 100% original, "Bourne Identity," "Memento," "Mulholland Dr.," tons of amnesia TV movies this year were coming out and no one wanted to touch a script that had anything to do with amnesia and I completely understood.
The biggest thing you can learn from this experience is know your market when you are writing. And if you have a good idea, ask your agent to find out if anything similar was purchased or set-up recently or coming out anytime soon. You have to have insight to some of these things. But, overall I am not upset, or hold and grudges to how the first agent sent out "Riders" and what happened. Or the fact no one took "Connect the Dots," seriously. You can't. You have to keep going. If this is what you want, you have to learn and move on.
What's "Riders of the Storm" about?
A severe car accident jars the world of a New York attorney, leaving him with all his memory except who the woman was in the car with him. As he tries to uncover the clues, he becomes involved in a heavy-duty cat and mouse game. When the secret to the woman's identity is revealed, the game becomes a match for his life.
I wanted to do an amnesia movie that was smart, classy and had a double twist and this one does. This script was a hell of a lot of fun to turn around from "Riders" to "Connect." And let me tell you the new version to me, is very Alfred Hitchcock and I had readers say that I nailed the Hitchcock genre with "Connect the Dots". It was a real treat to hear those words. But unfortunately you have to really remember that the writing is part of it, the other part is what is in development that may be similar and what films out where in the same category. And if you are going to write something about amnesia, virgins, aliens, things of that nature, you better be ready for those words "We have something like that in development."
You are currently shopping a script called "The Human Condition"? Tell me a little bit about that and the choices you are making as to where to send it and why?
This is my favorite question so far. "The Human Condition" I wrote two years ago and would not let any agents take it out. My lawyer Jay kept telling me that is such a sellable piece. I had many, many fans who read it and said this is the one that will put you on the A-list. There has been so much commotion behind this script. When people compare it they say "American Beauty" meets "As Good As It Gets." And I am honored to be mentioned with either. It is a script about real emotions and real life and it is very organic.
"Human Condition" rocks my world. (Laughs) I really am proud of this script. It really is something unique. The story is really just about a misfit family with a twenty something odd ball character who is a statistic freak. It is hard to really pitch this. You'd have to read it. There is a story about the pitfalls of life and making them work. And the characters are all very, very, very unique and larger than life. There has been a buzz about this script before Brad sent it out. We just sent it out and are waiting to hear back from people. This one has me sweating up a storm, because it is a very, very well written executed piece and it really has a lot of heart.
Brad didn't want to spec it 'cause it is not some huge concept. There is no concept. But honestly, when you read it, there is a concept overall. It's about life, excepting it's pitfalls and love. There is a very strong message in this script. And all the characters play off each other so well. I will let you know what happens with this one. This is my pride and joy. But like Brad said, it needs a smart producer and we currently have it out to smart producers.
You have been repped by Paradigm, The Agency, Epstein and Wycoff, and even Kristine Kupp? Why the various changes? What would you say to other writers about doing all this?
Kristine Krupp was with her own agency and my first real agent. I went with her because she believes in my writing. But she was out of state and it made it really hard. She lived in Northern California and I was in New York. So I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles for my second time. Where I ended up with Epstein and Wycoff. I loved the woman I worked with there. But I made the big mistake of sniffing around for something better, and I ended up with Paradigm. And the guy there as great, but I felt no chemistry. And that is important, so I moved to The Agency, which was, well a huge learning time for me.
The various changes were I was trying to find all the things I felt I needed in an agent, and I was not getting. Agents have a lot of writers you are not their only focus, not at all. So you have to have to have to have to have to remember that. And you have to like your agent, and you have to want to take their calls and listen to what they say and they have to be willing to listen to your views and you have to come together in the middle. 'Til I met Brad I was never ever, ever met half way. And I believe that a team is what works. Not just someone who blindly throws your script out there and does not care if it sells or not.
I would say to other writers. Do your research on an agent and an agency before you sign or go with them. Very important! To you and them. Don't just go with someone 'cause they want you -- find out about them. Their track record. There are some amazing agents and there are some shitty ones at high power companies. As well, as there are some shitty writers that are selling all the time. So it is a double-edged sword, but having the agent that works with you is half the battle of being a Hollywood screenwriter.
What are you currently writing?
I just finished a rewrite of "Andy's Secret" a family thriller I really love. And I am just finishing another thriller called "Coma Black," which I am writing for a female lead. And then it is time to do my comedy I have been slowly working on. This is going to be a fun script and I really, really am taking this script very seriously. This is going to be a good journey. I am excited about this one.
"Andy's" is a script I originally wrote about a kid who thinks his dad is an assassin and that the whole town he lived in was run by a devil-worshipping cult. I later took out the cult part and just left it as a kid who thinks his dad is an assassin and he might have that family gene and it scares the hell out of him. Andy's came from personal things about my own dad, a man I never got to know to well.
"Coma Black" is kinda hush hush, an executive told me if I write this correctly, it would put me over the top. It really is a very stylish thriller for a leading lady. I am finishing a new draft as we speak.
You are currently repped by Preferred Aritsts? How did this come about?
Brad Rosenfeld, yes. I just called Brad like I said and he is sincere and real. I had some other offers on the table, but Brad said look, I am in this for the long haul, and you are a good writer. And I knew.
I am lucky. Brad and Jay are the greatest guys in the world. Anyone would be lucky to work with them. I ask them both the dumbest questions in the world, and I can hear their eyes roll back in their heads, but they answer me, I think they know that I am serious and I also know a lot of industry people and I am always wanting to learn. And that is important. I still have things to learn and I know it. Brad and Jay are pros.
You also have had two different managers? What was it like working with them? Why did you stop? And do you recommend that a writer get a manager based on your experiences?
First manager was good. Left on mutual terms. I still talk to him. He is a good guy.
Second manager was a nightmare. In four months I called 5 times and never got a return phone call. Promises were made and never ever, ever, ever, ever were lived up too. I was treated badly. Very badly. I mean I felt like I was walking on eggshells the whole time. I wanted out, 5 months before I left, but my attorney and agent had said try it out. So I did. I really put my best foot forward and was treated horrible. Come to find out the manager had lied to my attorney and had been canceling meeting after meeting. And several other people had said I did "the right thing by leaving." Let's leave it at that. (Laughs) I am still getting over that horrible relationship. My friends were even telling me to get away.
If you have an agent that will work with you on material, and will talk to you about things. You don't need a manager right away. Brad develops with me. He is a manager in an agent. At the time, the manager gave me no notes but typo remarks. Brad is amazing, I would give the guy 30% be really puts his all into your work. We argue, we have differences of opinions, but we talk through it and usually he is right.
Obviously you had to deal with some disappoints when scripts didn't sell or shop well. How did you and how do you deal with that? How have you turned any negatives into positives and not get discouraged by it all?
I have met over 60 studio executives and producers. And I have never had a bad meeting. I have liked everyone. I just met Megan over at David Ladd Films recently and I want to work with her badly. I loved her. There is no discouragement, because now I am in the drivers seat. If I was to sell a script to a studio and or producer and I never met them I would be nervous and not know how the work relationship would go. Now I have a heads up.
I also met Karen at Landscape and I would die to work with her, or Aubrey at Senator. So in reality, I feel blessed that my writing got me a meeting so I can meet these people so I know what I can expect from them and now they know what to expect from me. This town is about good material, but more importantly it is about relationships. And I have no bad relationships with any producers or studios.
What's the one thing you wish more writers knew or recognized about themselves, about writing in general, and the industry?
That they are important to the thread of filmmaking. That they have one of the hardest journeys but at the end of the day, it really is worth it if you believe in yourself. It really is about hard working, learning as you go and taking chances.
I have no regrets about anything. A lot of writers sell something quick and are never heard from before. I have a library of scripts that have been reviewed by some of the best and I can say I am proud of them all. I really know from my heart that I have story down, there are some things I need to work on as far as execution goes, but this is all a learning process. You can not and I mean, you can not survive in this game if you have an ego, 'cause you are only as good as your next script. And even then, some things on paper do not translate well on screen, like "Gigli." I really like Martin Breast. I think he is smart. But, he movie did not do what it was suppose to do from script to screen. You just have to move on.
What are your favorite scripts? What do you think new writers should read?
I just started reading screenplays a year ago. And I would have to say "Moonstruck," "The Graduate," and "You Can Count on Me" were among my favorite scripts. I like reading character pieces the most. I recommend reading them.
I also recommend reading bad scripts. You can learn from everything. I have no one to really say that I have learned my style from. I just found my voice in the last few years that works for me. Ultimately, what is going to make you a survivor in this competitive rat race, is finding that thing that makes your story telling unique.