Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Leigh Scott on...Leigh Scott

I've gained a bit of a rep for striking back at people online who mock, talk trash, or are general trolls about my films and filmmaking skills. It's fun, funny, and slightly therapeutic. Additionally, my online antics have actually led to several online friendships and expanded my fan base. All in all, not a bad strategy and one that I do not regret.

An uber fan recently sent me a photo of himself posing with a DVD copy of every film I've ever made (he even had a German version of my first movie, BEACH HOUSE, which has never been released in the US). He asked me to sign a DVD, which I did, and then asked a simple question: "You don't really like all of your movies do you?".

Of course, he was responding to the fact that I've defended much of my work online. As a fan, and one of the few people who has seen them all, he can judge the strengths and weaknesses of the works, individually and as a whole.

So, here is my answer, no Todd, I don't like them all. Not in the least. If you comb through the IMDB and other assorted sites, you will see that I only defend certain films while I've never commented on others.

In watching Leigh Scott movies, you have to understand that I don't take everything very seriously. If you're watching something and it could either be a joke or simply a stupid mistake, it's probably a joke. I'm a big fan of Joss Wheedon and love inside humor. My first two movies were comedies. Of my past films, I'd say only two or three are deadly serious. The others should be viewed in an "Army of Darkness" sort of fun way.

So here are my thoughts, movie by movie. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.


Art House
-My second film and an official selection of the US Comedy Arts Fest in Aspen, Colorado. Notable for its Adam Carolla cameo and hilarious performance by Chris Hardwick.

Frankenstein Reborn
-A well received and inventive film. Like all low-budget films, it has its flaws, but the acting is solid, effects are good and the story puts a modern spin on the old story. And, fyi, the drug and sex thing was a reference to Shelley's real life and the era in which she lived. They're not there just to get in some lesbianism and shocks.

The Beast of Bray Road
-It's a comedy. I was never happy that the film was re-edited to move around some of the deaths. I felt it worked better as more of a mystery that led up to a savage reign of terror. Jeff Denton is great in it.

Dracula's Curse
-A personal favorite. I love the complexity of the world and the colorful characters. Eliza Swenson, Rhett Giles, Sarah Hall and Tom Downey are great in it. Again, budget kills you, but you do your best. I just watched it the other day and I still enjoy it.

The 9/11 Commission Report
-One of my few "serious" films. It's slightly conservative bent turns some people off, but again, I'm very proud of it.

Chrome Angels
-You haven't seen it yet...but you will.

The Dunwich Horror
-Another film you will soon see on the Sci-fi channel, this one is tough. Lovecraft is a beast, and the purists are relentless. But, as with Frankenstein, you read the work and try to capture the "essence" of the story more than obsess about the details. The acting in this film rocks, and the cinematography and locations are a huge step up from my previous work.

Exorcism: The Possession Of Gail Bowers
-My cheapest film (budget wise) but one of the best. Simple, straightforward, and creepy. The 20 minute exorcism at the end was one of my favorite shooting experiences.

The Hitchhiker
-A dark, dark movie. I'm still not comfortable watching it. I guess that means I did a good job. Oh, and watch for the Jay Ferris death scene, one of the best effects EVAH.

Something got lost in the translation on these movies. They started off with good ideas....and then went somewhere else.

-Call it Robot Wars, fix the CGI and fix the audio, then come talk to me. And hey, if it came out in 1987 I would have won an Oscar

Flu Bird Horror
-Well executed, but its just silly. It was a great experience making it though!

-Needed more locations...and a decent Dragon. Eliza's witch character and Matt Wolf are great though...they just deserved a better movie.


Ok, no excuses...I fucked up.

Hillside Cannibals
-What is this movie? Ok, I'll admit it, I was prepping Dracula's Curse and didn't really care. There really wasn't a script. We sort of made it up as we went along. I've never actually seen it all the way through. I didn't edit it and I feel asleep during the mix. Sorry. I know, I'm a schmuck.

Pirates of Treasure Island
-Ok, this one pissed me off. We started off making a "fun" pirate movie that slowly decended into comedy. The producers didn't watch the dailies until day 10 of 12. They called me and said "Oh, um, hey, this can't be a comedy...fix it!" Oh, and they wanted giant CGI bugs in the movie. I give up!!! One day I will find a way to release my edit of the COMEDY that we made so people can watch that instead of the bizzare, cheap, non-sensical film that you can rent today.

King of the Lost World
-So close, but so far.... This movie is sunk by more lame CGI and a script that alternates stupidity with boredom. A lot of fun making it though! And the actors really did try their best. It was just far too ambitious for the time constraints and budget (which could be said for a lot of these movies).

So, there you have it. My honest feelings about what I've done....Do you agree?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hey, this guy proves my point!!!

Check out this video by a SAG actor...

This guy is the middle actor that I described in my prior post that details the three levels of actors in Hollywood. The point of his video is that the entire entertainment industry is moving towards the internet. Since the other guilds have allowed non-union work on "webisodes", he claims that webisode production has boomed as a way to avoid the guilds.

Maybe. But the internet is not a proven market. I was recently discussing a project that would be a web based series based on one of my films. The amount of money to do 20 3 minute webisodes did not translate to the amount of money we spend on Sci-fi channel originals and their ilk (about 20k per minute for network TV versus 3k per minute for the webisode). How can one define the cost of labor, or the value of the product when the marketplace has yet to shape up and define a profit? Making a webisode, of any budget is a huge, huge, risk. So to say that someone is getting ripped off here is pretty naive and myopic.

I don't blame the guy. This thought process, or lack thereof, is spreading around the country like wildfire. Look, he's an actor, not an accountant and certainly not an entrepreneur. He doesn't understand the business, nor the fundamental structure of capitalism and risk of investment. For many independent films and webisodes, the sad reality is that these union members who are bitching about their rates and residuals are the only people who DO get paid. The investors, producers, and other creative folks who pour much more time and effort into a project to make it happen often walk away with nothing. And sure, sometimes these films and shows hit the jackpot. Sometimes a bunch of kids from New Jersey make a movie in the 7-11 where they work for 20k and it makes 20 million. But those stories are needles in haystacks. More often than not, it's a couple hundred thousand dollars thrown down the money hole, with actors, grips, camera guys, prop guys etc. being the only ones to walk away with a few measly bucks. Trust me, I know. Before I got smart and sold out doing genre films I made two independent comedies that still haunt me to this day. I can't count the thousands of dollars and countless YEARS of my life spent with these projects. The net result for me was experience and a bit of exposure. But every actor, on both projects was paid at least SAG scale with their pension and welfare, OT, etc.

And here is the other dirty little secret the socialists and unionists don't want to tell you. What would happen if the unions did all go away? Would actors be paid like Walmart Employees? Well, if they we working for me, the answer would be yes. No, kidding. Here's what would happen, and I know this because I have real world experience to prove it.

Actors as a whole, on average, would be paid much less. But individual actors would be paid exponentially MORE. Why? Because right now there is no bottom line incentive for producers to hire no name actors and pay them any more than we have to. The buyers across the board don't really care who your cast is outside of the "names". We, as producers, feel like we are getting ripped off by having to pay someone to be the bartender $500 for eight hours of work to deliver two lines (and in many cases, producers ask us writers to cut out parts to save money, which creates EVEN FEWER ACTING ROLES). So, how good you are or how aggressive your agent or manager is becomes irrelevant. Unless you have a name, I'm paying you scale. BUT, if there was no scale, if I could pay people whatever I want (within federal and state minimum wage laws mind you), it would free up a ton of cash. We would have more parts and, if an actor that blew us away came in and we really like them, we would negotiate and pay them more to do the show. Remember, just because a breakdown says the pay is $25 a day doesn't mean you have to do it. I routinely turn down directing gigs because the money isn't what I want it to be. Should the Leigh Scott market enter a downturn, I would change my tune and work for less if I needed to.

What's more troubling about this video is the notion that somehow the unions "allowed" these productions to exist. Webisodes are booming because a lot of the other markets are drying up and people are looking to be the first to stake out some online real estate. They would exist regardless of what SAG, IATSE, WGA etc. say or want. The notion that one private entity can dictate terms to another private entity is un-American and wrong. I hire SAG actors because the name actors stand in solidarity with the union. There would be no other reason for me to deal with the incompetent and ineffectual organization known as the Screen Actors Guild without this caveat. Unless you are in a similar situation, or have a predisposition to support organized labor, the choice to go union or not should rest 100% in the hands of the people taking the financial risk.

Payment, residuals etc. must be based on the market and by determined by the people putting up the money. Period. After all, why stop at scale being $500/day? Why not make it $1000/day? Maybe $10,000/day? Hey, if the rates get good enough, a lot of us producers might just pack it in and become actors.

And when we all do, who's going to be left to produce the movies and cut the checks? This my friends, is the core principal of capitalism. THE FREE MARKET. It's what made our country great!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Actors...Now is Your Chance!

The Screen Actor's Guild is in a bit of turmoil these days. They recently pulled some legislative maneuver to fire their chief negotiator. Additionally, I keep getting emails from different "factions" in the union. One is led by the guy who looks like Anthony LePaglia and the other is the bad guy from Highlander. Or at least I think that's how it shakes down. They might be on the same side. I don't know.

Problem is that the whole argument comes down to money. That's it. And that, my friends, is counter-intuitive to the hopes and dreams of individual actors.

Unions for creative things are a bit strange. The UAW, as an example, guarantees certain benefits for employees based on their job classification and experience. They know that the UAW isn't going to pay wild amounts for a single employee based on their performance. The employees are widgets. That's why it makes sense for them all to stand and negotiate together.

Actors, directors, and writers are different. While the WGA minimum for a screenplay may be 40k, many, many writers are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for their scripts. It doesn't make much sense for the guy who writes Schindler's List to stand side by side with the guy who writes Sci-Fi channel movies. Ok, ok, I know all about the touchy feely concepts behind this, but in a pure economic sense the logic falls apart.

SAG was started in 1933 to combat the Studio System and protect the rights of actors. Back then, actors would sign contracts with the studios. There were no rules governing their hours, pay, conditions etc. For contract actors, the bulk of working actors at the time, it made sense to band together and fight for better pay and better conditions.

As time progressed, the studio system gave way to the system we have today. Agents and managers and casting directors now serve as the gateway between actors and their jobs. It's now a freelance system, and not a monolithic operation controlled by the five or six major studios.

I have lots of friends who are actors. They fall into three basic categories...

1)The waiter/waitress, bartender, editor, sales agent, temp, substitute teacher who books a handful of movies, shorts, and commercials each year.

2)The actor who makes a living doing commercials, guest spots, and bit player movie roles.

3)Actors with "name value" who never work for SAG scale. They do a variety of television and film jobs and make six or seven figures per year.

Now, groups 1 and 2 benefit greatly from SAG minimums and from residual payments. But group 1 can't make a living at it, so they end up, invariably working on non-union and freebie projects.

Group 3 isn't really effected by the SAG rules. They negotiate everything for themselves through their agents. They could care less what the "standard" rules are because they are above them.

So only Group 2 really lives and dies by what SAG does.

But, the huge majority of the 120,000 or so members of SAG are in Group 1. They pay dues, have a vote, and often loose out to work because they are SAG members (actors are terrified by SAG. I've never seen a group of people so afraid of something that exists to "help" them)

With all of this in mind, actors should band together to force their union to negotiate for things that will help them achieve their ultimate goal i.e. not working at PF Chang's. To do that, more actors need to move from category one to category two and three. But this is tough because the industry (despite the union) prevents much of this mobility due to its complex and nepotistic structure.

Here's what SAG can do to help actors get more jobs. THIS is what SAG should be doing, not threatening a work stoppage over DVD residuals (especially when DVD sales are down 30%!!!!)

1) All SAG signatories must submit casting data that shows a set amount of SAG auditions per role. This quota should be based on the number of roles and the budget of the films. This would ensure that casting directors aren't lazy and that producers and directors get to see more talent. I once did a show where the part was described as "Female. All ethnicities. 18-25, hot, slutty type. Quick wit. No nudity." After seeing about 20 actresses and unhappy with all of them, I asked the casting director to see more. She said that that was it. No one else responded to the breakdown!!!! Really? In LA? I see more than 20 at the bar on Friday night.

2)Cap the number of roles per show that can be cast from the same agent or manager. This stops "packaging" which provides for bad actors to get bigger roles because they know somebody at an agency. Again, this opens it up for more actors to get parts and get auditions.

3)Require SAG signatories to accept submissions from SAG members WITHOUT an agent or manager. Each SAG member has a number. This goes on the front of the envelope along with a description of the actor and the role that they are interested in. I can hear it now "That's chaos!" We will get millions of submissions. Not really. Let's go back to my hot chick example above. If there are 120,000 actors, maybe 30,000 think that they fit the part. Of the 30,000, 10-15,000 have representation already. Of the remaining actors, less than 10% have the resources and motivation to submit themselves so we are talking about 1,000 submissions per role, tops...Big deal. And think of all the jobs created. Extra casting assistants, more postal delivery, head shot photographers and printers. Damn, I just created more jobs than the Nancy Pelosi "stimulus" bill.

4)Create SAG training programs that are free to members. Why should producers go SAG? Well, because that's the only way to get "name" actors in your show. That's shitty. If I'm going to pay someone a minimum of 30/hr (and that's on low budget movies) they better know how to read a call sheet, show up on time, hit a mark, act to an eye line etc. If SAG actors represented a more technically proficient bunch, producers would feel like they are getting their monies worth. I hate to break it to you, but I've worked with many a non-SAG actor who smokes SAG actors. This is especially the case in regions outside Los Angeles.

5)Create tougher regulations to get into the union. There are simply too many SAG actors. Period. Do away with the voucher thing for extra work. Require three or four Taft-Hartleys, not one. BUT, do create a program where non-union days count towards your SAG card. Just like the other unions do. I know that a union editor has more experience than a non-union one. They have to put in the hours to get their card (unless the union pulls the unethical "show flip" thing, *cough, cough*). Actors, not so much. If you have to do five Asylum movies to get into SAG, you know you are serious and dedicated to the craft!

6)Adopt a residual system like the one musicians have through ASCAP and BMI. Instead of attacking just the studios and producers, lower the amounts, but spread the payments out over many people. If a restaurant or bar has a TV, they should pay $50/month to SAG. If a website, like Youtube, features SAG actors on its clips, they should pay a nominal fee. Sure, it's harder to monitor and collect, but it will translate to more fairness and more money at the end of the day.

All of the above would greatly help the rank and file actor. By changing the royalty structure, you will see more independent production and all actors will make more money. By opening the gates to more talent, the more talented actors will rise to the top which will create more compelling films and television shows. That in turn will create more demand for SAG programming, so reality shows can go back to their little hole in the ground. The onus for picking talent will once again rest with producers, casting directors, and directors and NOT agents, managers and PR people.

But, SAG really isn't interested in helping YOU. Everything I mentioned would make more work for them and casting directors. It would cost agents and managers a lot in lost revenue and diminished power. The only people who would really benefit are actors, directors and to a lesser degree producers.

Hmmmm. Makes you think. At the end of the day, who's side is SAG really on?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

There's No Rhyme or Reason to Hollywood....

Let me spin for you a tale. Some may call it a cautionary tale. To do so, however, would place a moral judgment on individuals that I would not make. Instead, let's just call this story an example of the odd, bizarre, unpredictable and downright crazy world of the entertainment industry.

As many of you know, I made my first feature film when I was 22 years old. I graduated USC on May 6 and begin full prep on May 8th. The film was called BEACH HOUSE. It was a throwback to my second favorite genre of film: the John Hughes teen comedy. It was full of Star Wars references, hot girls, and heady comedy. Unfortunately, it was before its time. It was very glossy and high budget looking. Not good for the era of CLERKS and SWINGERS. The film went nowhere. It was an adventure in filmmaking, lawsuits, broken promises and dreams put on hold.

I've kept in touch with some of the cast. With the exception of Chris Hardwick and Brooke Langton, few of the actors found the success of which they all dreamed. It has taken me fifteen years to reach a level where I can live comfortably and call myself a filmmaker; not a bartender who has some great ideas, but an honest to god industry professional.

One of the actors who I would sporadically run into in Los Angeles was Kelli McCarty. She was Miss USA a few years before the shoot and was an exceptional actress. She is very attractive, smart, and had actual acting chops (which can tend to be a rarity in the low budget world). Although her part was small, working with her stuck with me. When I was casting for my second film ART HOUSE, I instantly offered her a part. She passed on the project.

A couple of years later she found her way into the bar I owned in Westwood. We had drinks, talked about the film and the industry in general. She stayed after closing to continue the chat and we parted with plans of meeting up again. We never did.

Kelli ended up with a recurring role on the soap opera Passions. A few years later I caught a late night Cinemax movie with her in it. They don't call it Skinimax for nothing if you know what I mean. I was a little bummed. In my mind, Kelli was a better actress than that. As I watch morons fumble through roles in big films, I am always amazed that my friends and occasional collaborators don't fare better.

Today, I was doing the rounds of movie and Hollywood gossip sites. The trailer for my film CHROME ANGELS was picked up and spread like a virus in Paris Hilton's panties. Low and behold, I found an article about Keli. She is now starring in Vivid Video's latest XXX feature film.

I said earlier that this isn't a post about morality. It's easy to assume that pornography is some final stop on the express train to nowhere. Is she into drugs? Has she gone crazy? Abusive boyfriend/husband? Is she broke? Those are the easy questions. I am not in a position to assume that any of them apply to this actress who crossed my path nearly fifteen years ago. Nor am I the type of person who sees pornography as evil or immoral. There are far more evil or immoral things done by people in our industry without ever taking their clothes off. Besides, there are far worse stories of sexuality in Hollywood that don't involve porn. My actor friend who slept with a casting director to get on a network show. An actress who gave a handjob to an AD to get her SAG card. Just because cameras aren't rolling doesn't mean it ain't dirty.

If this is what she wants to do, if this makes her happy, then so be it. As someone who enjoyed working with her and respected her work as an actress and comedienne, I wish her the best of luck. Sincerely.

The point is that this is a strange industry, a daunting career path. It is not for the squeamish. Choose your moves wisely. Who knows, both of the actresses that did accept roles in Art House (Rebecca McFarland and Amy Weber) have enjoyed rather successful careers. Was my little movie a turning point in their careers in some way? Would Kelli have ended up a WWE girl instead of Amy Weber? Would she have gotten a sitcom? Who knows?

I couldn't get to where I am without every success I've enjoyed and without every failure I've endured. That's life. That's show biz. The best we can all do is do what we think is right, follow our hearts, and have fun!