Category Archives: screenwriting

More background on the connections between my novel manuscripts

I do expect to get back to more detailed editing of the novel “Angel’s Brother” within the next week.

But I wanted to make some more notes about the connection between this novel document, which continues from some notes on July 3, 2014.

First, let me give some history.  To the best of my knowledge, “Novel 2”, or “Tribunal and Rapture”, as started first, in the summer of 1999, after I had been to Europe and my mother was more or less recovered from bypass surgery.  (I did not go back from Minnesota but for about a week, but the whole situation then was stressful.)   I believe a draft with most of it was finished by early 2000, all while I was living in the Churchill in downtown Minneapolis. As I note, the story is largely told through the viewpoint of someone other than myself, a retired Muslim-American FBI agent, with considerable military experience, and with a largely secular, modern life (Dubai-like), including a UFO abduction.  He has no conflicts over scriptural religion and modern individualsm, and tends to believe that all three major Abrahamic faiths have more in common than their differences.  I met Muslims like this in the 1980s and 90s during my career and never gave any thought to terrorism.  The book is apocalyptic, ending with the “evacuation of the angels” to a colony on Titan, a moon of Saturn.

I apparently started the “Novel 1” (“Rain on the Snow”) in the summer of 2000, after a vacation and then a minor crisis at work.  The first part, which presents “Bill” getting invited to a “re-education” Academy (in west Texas) to get to join a doomsday prepper squad (the whole “There is no ‘they’” thing), his getting involved with a mysterious youth Matt who comes across as a Clark Kent, and his being jailed after effectively being framed for Matt’s “death”, ending with his escape with the help of his other minions, and climatic ritual at the end of the book, preparing him for a new world.

When I went to Europe at the end of April 2001, I thought about the idea of deploying the novels.  I remember an afternoon in a hotel in Toulouse, France, having a debate with myself, and thinking about “Rain on the Snow” as the logical choice because the events happened first.

Well, not exactly.  I had written a lot of backstory passages for “Tribunal and Rapture”, which also explained some of the setup of “Rain on the Snow”.  I remember a weekend in July 2001 (about two months before 9/11) when I drove from Minneapolis to the Northwest Angle, and gave a lot of thought to the sequel, “composed first”.  I remember “Frankie and the Path Pit”.  (Frankie is one of Bill’s old boyfriends, who becomes a kind or archangel at the Academy.)  I began to think that this background material needed to be put into “Rain on the Snow”.

So between late 2003 (after I returned to Virginia, because of Mother) and 2005 (in the heart of my substitute teaching) I fashioned a new structure for “Rain on the Snow”, as a kind of Opus 111   The original story center at the Academy and then jail – itself a two-act structure, turned into the “Theme and Variations”, and the entire backstory became the Sonata form, the first movement.   But many of the individual passages and summaries had been proposed as passages in the early chapters of TR (like the “Nighthike” scene at the very end became an erotic backstory insert into Chapter 8, when A;I reads the story of Bill’s escape.)   In TR, I had also played with the idea of lumping much of the backstory material into one prologue (as Clive Cussler and Irving Wallace would do).   I called these passages the “Lumps”.

Finally, I made an Access Database of the enhanced “Tribunal and Rapture” but I applied the stages of screenplay analysis  (Hague, see Feb. 3, 2016), to each of four major characters (most of all Bill) separately.  Later I’ll figure out how to get this analysis into WordPress.

The character Ali has been taking training in remote viewing in a manor in Virginia that is probably modeled after the Monroe Institute.  Some of the materials he views are essentially “The Book of Bill” (rather like “The Book of Eli” (2010)), and some have been stored on optical (EMP-proof) CD’s.

But in “Angel’s Brother”, a major element of the setup is Bill’s duopoly of novels.  The plot builds up to another Nighthike-Initiation-Immolation scene before the “real” Armageddon and evacuation of Earth by the chosen.  But CIA agent Randy has to figure out whether what is in “The Book of Bill” is really fact or fiction (like the 1998 indie sci-fi film “The Last Broadcast” about the Jersey Devil).

In “Tribunal and Rapture” (Novel 2), the protagonist, Ali Mogul, is depicted as mixed-race (about the same as president Obama, perhaps).  So the story is told through the eyes of a minority person (who includes his son, Amos, who gets in trouble with the law with computer hacking, at at time when hacking was just getting started). But in “Angel’s Brother” I move back (that is, regress, from the viewpoint of social and political correctness) to making the primary character subjects white males, both attractive, one gay and one “straight” (sort of), one college age and one entering middle age, in the late summer of life. That makes erotic tension buildup through the first two thirds of the novel possible.   (I’ll have to do a Hauge analysis soon. )  I was drawn back to this viewpoint by my interest in shows like “Smallville”, “Everwood”, etc.  with “attractive” late teen or young adult male character leads.

One can imagine a movie franchise based on all three novels, each of which encapsulates its prequel.  Perhaps the sequence would be called “Tribunals”.  Maybe it could be a Sci-Fi cable series of about three seasons, 8-10 episodes each.  I’d be game for it but I couldn’t do all three alone right now.

At the end, it seems that there is an “evacuation” from an Earth that is going to see its way of life challenged.  (That’s also true of “Epiphany”).  I know how this will come across to some people:  I don’t have room onboard for “losers” (as Trump would see them).

(Posted: Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017 at 11 PM EST)

A little lesson in Kickstarter and in screenplay selling

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Screenwriter Ashley Scott Meyers of “Selling Your Screenplay”  interviews director/writer Jody Wheeler from “The Dark Place”  (my Blogger review was here  ) (See also April 18, 2014 here) with executive producer Steve Parker.

Wheeler does talk about getting jobs writing screenplays for other people’s projects. One of these turned out to be a script that the production company could modify to make two movies, one for a heterosexual and one for a gay audience.  You seem to have to get outside of your own narrative to “write what other people want”. But in “Dark Place”,  one of the selling points of a “mainstream mystery” with gay male characters was that the characters are likeable and inspire rooting interest.  The film is closer to Truffaut than Hitchcock.

He does talk about the Kickstarter process (or similarly Indiegogo) which he says works best for budgets under $200,000.  More than that amount you need to find investors who feel they are accomplishing something by helping you with your project.

In the second video above, actor Timo Descamps “pimps out Kickstarter” for this film (released in late 2014).

Here’s a glossary of all the personnel involved in film production.

On Sunday, March 20, the Washington Post Business Section ran a story bt Asha Bhattrai, “Crowdfunding by day, cleaning by night“, about freelance artist Brianna Mercedes Weidner.

(Published: Friday, March 18, 2018 at 11 PM EDT)

“Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany”, detailed outline and screenplay structure

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I have recently completed a shooting script for “Do Ask, Do Tell: Epiphany” (formerly, “Conscripted”). It is quite detailed except for the secondary backstory flash scenes. The script notes in Final Draft 9 are quite helpful with tracking the details.  I had explained this on Blogger Dec. 30 here.

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Although the July 30 post is still a fairly accurate overview of the story, I have changed some significant deals in how the story progresses.  There is only one visit to each of the “ashrams” until near the end, so the physical journey around the space colony has been simplified.

I think it’s useful to review Mchael Hauge’s “Screenplay structure: Five Key Turning Points” link and map the screenplay onto his outline.

Introduction: Setup:

Bill (me) gradually regains consciousness in a dark room in bed, and feels like he is in a “paralysis of sleep” state.

Two other young men, both tall, Brutus and Randy, watch through a one-way window and try viewers (similar to the idea in “Strange Days” (1995, Kathryn Bigelow). .  Elmo, the geek arrives, and does some shell scripting on an older-looking computer terminal to set up “remote viewing” levels for the other arrivals in the space station.  The other young men don’t exactly know where they are either, but can look out on a landscape that resembles Titan, a moon of Saturn.  Gradually, some other young men from Bill’s life arrive, including “Tompom” and Aaron.

Bill relives his own fictitious screenplay, called “The Sub”, where a precocious student comes on to him (when he is teaching), and where he sinks into legal trouble.  The fiction is shown in black and white. Past real incidents that fit the screenplay occur in color.  Bill momentarily experiences a fleeting memory “before anesthesia” of returning home from a party and concert (Elmo had been there) and being surprised to find his mother returned from hospice, before getting a mystery email and leaving the house. But the memory disappears, like a dream that is hard to remember.  The other guys, especially Randy and Brutus, practice reading Bill’s fictitious mind/

The Turning Point occurs when Nolan arrives (“Opportunity”).  Though he resembles the other young men, he seems to be in charge, and is regarded as an “angel”.  As Bill completely regains consciousness, Nolan escorts Bill underground through some chambers to a subway system called the “Mobius”.

The Opportunity first shows Randy checking into a hotel, having trouble checking his social media, but looking up a former mentor, Tobey, on line, and learning it takes time for posts and messages to process.  He has dinner with the other men, who have similar experiences.

Bill checks into barracks of what are called “Ashram 3”, with technology of about 1900.  He meets Tovina, who looks about 40 but who hints he dated her in the past and took her to the Senators’s last baseball game. Bill has to learn the housekeeping and cooking chores, sees an unusual garden. He finds a piano that doesn’t work on more modern compositions.  He plays some yard and board games with the kids and finds gravity is a bit weird.

Bill meets Richie, about 50, an old nemesis from his social life years ago in the City.  Richie continues to “domesticate” or “feminize” Bill. Randy arrives, and explains the rules for using the Mobius Metro.  Other college kids “Wechsler” and “Kip” arrive. Wechsler stays “overnight” in the Ashram to monitor Bill, who starts noticing the days seem like a perpetual twilight, like summer at the North Pole.

Bill travels by Mobius to Ashram 4, which looks colonial, mid 1700s.  He learns piano tuning and glassblowing, and finds out that he can’t even play Mozart on the “fortepiano”.  He meets (“Change in Plans”) a former music chum from his days at William and Mary, “Jonesboro”, with whom he refreshes his memory of how he got into music (which got “into his blood”).

In the “Progress” stage, Tompom, Kip amd Wechsler set up a stage play at Ashram 1 (based on year 2001) after traveling from Ashram 3.  Then they put on the play, showing what went on behind the scenes to get Bill “fired” when he was subbing after the school found out about his screenplay.

Bill visits the low-gravity softball field and plays some workup, and has chest discomfort.

In the “Point of No Return” Bill gets a keyhole heart treatment, which will not be disruptive, in the “City” near the hotel, under normal gravity.  Then Sydney (also from William and Mary) visits him.  Elon trains Bill in managing the software that controls the access others have to his own “telepathic broadcast” which more or less replaces social media.

Bill is recovered enough to visit Ashram 5, which shows a village as it might have looked at the time of Christ. He learns how “money” works in the ashram, and among angels (where there is a galactic “bitcoin system”). He interacts with Sydney, who confronts Bill about what used to make him tick. Bill learns he will choose a “messiah” among the other young men there.

At “Ashram 2” (1960) Bill helps build a recital hall where his music will be performed.

In “Higher Stakes” Bill travels back to the City, gets a nanobot injection to help with his memory, and sees the setup: much of the colony is set up as a cylindrical rama with artificial gravity, perpendicular to Titan, so when on it there is a Coriolis effect.

He returns back to Ashram 3 and gets some practice in “just living” before the young men assemble and trade stories as to how they got there. The travel together by “train” to Ashram 1 to re-enact the story of Bill’s 1960 expulsion (although that could have fit Ashram 2 better!)

They travel to Ashram 2 (now!) to do the concert.  As a Setback, some of the music still doesn’t work. But the Nanobots start to work, and Bill finally remembers how they got there

In the “final push” Bill plays his music (with Elmo’s help), and the “tribunal” ritual (“Climax”, quite literally) starts.  Brutus stimulates Bill, who impregnates Tovina.  The ritual poses the question, what in people really should matter?

(Aftermath):  Bill returns to the world, which has been placed in upheaval by repeated power grid failures, while accepting that UFO’s are real because they have been seen publicly.  After Tovina gives birth to Bill’s child, he can return to the spaceship and join on a journey with the angels to other planets.

The people on Earth will rebuild, another cycle of history, but for the next couple hundred years, doomsday preppers (like “Survival Mom” on Facebook) will take over.  History will have many up and down cycles before man is ready to move to the Stars.  Only the chosen few seem to go now.  Oh, please, how do you deserve to be “chosen”?

The “City” on Titan should look like the art work in this video of Alexander Scriabin’s Symphony #1 in E, with the “famous” choral conclusion.

Play the grandiose ending!

(Published Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 10:30 PM EST)

I do have copies of the screenplays “Adaptation”, “Good Will Hunting” and “Storm of the Century”

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As I prepare to revamp my major screenplay (“Do Ask, Do Tell: Conscripted”) and tidy-up at least three other works, I took a look at the printed screenplays I had purchased from Amazon years ago, probably when I was living in Minnesota. These appear to be “shooting scripts”.

The most important of these is “Adaptation” (2002) directed by Spike Jonze and written by Charlie Kaufman, from Columbia.  I saw this film in a large complex in suburban Edina, MN.  As printed, the script runs just 100 pages, but there is a lot of commentary in the appendix.

This film is remarkable in that it is a “meta-film” — that is, a movie about writing a screenplay to adapt a book to film.  The book is “The Orchid Thief”  by Susan Orlean.   The main screenwriter (and actual writer for “Adaptation”) is Charlie Kaufman.  Now Kaufman has developed writer’s block and hates formulaic screenwriting. So do I!  He finds out that his twin brother (a doppelganger invented for the movie) has sold a horror movie screenplay “The 3”.  Both brothers are played by Nicholas Cage, but the effect in the film is more like that of other doppelganger movies like “Enemy” (Jake Gyllenhaal) and “The Double” (Jesse Eisenberg).  Gradually the film shifts from being about the screenwriting (and ideas in the industry like “spec script”) and the actual events in the novel, leading to a chase in the Florida Everglades and to murder, almost as in a Hitchcock film.  This movie was well liked by critics,

The screenplay draft follows all the industry standards, and doesn’t show the layering.  I have that issue in my own work, and find I need to set up a relational database and number the scenes on the database, and tie them to the draft.

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This film is sometimes said to be a sequel of “Being John Malkovich” (Jan. 8, 2015).

The second film to discuss here is the uplifting “Good Will Hunting” (1996, Miramax), directed by Gus Van Sant. Matt Damon (then 26) plays the undiscovered math prodigy Will Hunting, Ben Affleck is his best friend in South Boston, and Robin Williams plays Will’s therapist. Will is very determined that his talents won’t be misused by the government (most of all, the NSA).  This was a very inspiring film when I saw it.  Remember the line, “It’s not your fault.”  This script is longer, 156 pages.

The third is Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century“, a six-hour miniseries on ABC in 1999.  King did not publish this as a novel, just as the screenplay, 376 pages for the equivalent of 3 films.  A monstrous visitor Linoges (Colm Feore) takes over Little Tall Island off the coast of Maine as a record-setting President’s Day weekend blizzard shuts down the town.  It is true that February is the most likely time of year for this kind of Noreaster. Remember the line “Give me what I want and I’ll go away”.  But what he wants is mysterious, and has a lot to do with the lost colony off Roanoke Island, NC back in the 15th Century.

(Published,  Monday,   March 9, 2015, about 12:15 PM EDT)

 

Writing Screenplays, Part III: Dangerous Shorts

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To continue the discussion of my rogue screenplays (link in previous posting), I want to go over a few of the “short films” on the directory that were published before the fall of 2005.

Do Ask, Do Tell: Pilot”   presents a situation where I am a substitute teacher and one of the students has read about me on the Internet.  So I tell the story of my William and Mary 1961 expulsion in graphic detail.  An earlier version of the screenplay also included one charismatic student giving “Bill” a back hug.

Conflict of Interest” presents Bill as being sent to a client by a placement company.  The client discovers Bill’s controversial activity on the web through search engines.

Conflict of Interest 2” presents Bill as being hired onto a team to develop a system to screen job applicants for objectionable Internet activity.

Baptism” presents a situation where he is in a “reeducation” academy and has a fix on one of the instructors.  He finds that the initiation ceremony has erotic overtones.  This screenplay was submitted by my attorney to the COPA trial in 2006, but I hardly see that it really has any HTM materials.

Prodigal Brother” presents a situation where a gay man is cut out of a will, where everything goes to the brother.  But then the brother gets kidney failure and the gay man is a match.  Even so, he has to toe the line afterward.

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Beware of EMP” presents how a neighborhood comes to the realization that the power is out for good. They hope the attack is local and not nuclear.

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In “Nightcall” an older computer programmer is set up to solve a dump without help.  But then aliens come out of the computer terminal.  In one version of this screen play the programmer goes into work in his pajamas at night unawares.

In “Exposition for Dogs” some of the problematic situations in Bill’s life, including eldercare, are strung together for all to see.

Golf Course Hole 13” was an exercise for the screenwriting class.  A homeless man wanders onto the golf course during a storm.

Surprise Planet” presents Bill and his boyfriend at a hotel and a gay disco on Titan, the lively moon of Saturn.  It’s cold outside, unless you’re hot.  They exchange bodies, literally, at least according to mirrors.

Handymen” was an earlier version of “Baptism”.

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The Sub” was the most controversial item in the set.  I wrote it in October 2004 but didn’t post it until February 4, 2005 according to my records, after the first major substitute teaching setback (post here http://www.doaskdotellnotes.com/?p=214 ).  When Bill goes to a substitute teaching assignment, he is told to be prepared for special education assignments.   He get a music theory class and meets a charismatic high schooler Clyde,  The next day he gets a physical education class at the last minute.  heart attack and Clyde saves his life with a defibrillator.  In the hospital, Bill refuses coronary bypass surgery but recovers anyway.  Clyde comes to visit and invites Bill to his house one evening to record some music.  With parents gone, Clyde dupes Bill into helping him make a fake id card.  Soon Clyde shows up at a local disco and gets involved with Bill in a bizarre ritual on the dance floor involving a barber chair.  A security guard gets suspicious and asks them to leave.  Later, Bill has PE again, a swimming class, when the police show up and arrest Bill.  The district attorney will let Bill off with probation but would make him register as a sex offender.  Bill goes to jail, has another heart attack, and has surgery and dies on the operating table.  Clyde, however, plays Bill’s compositions in public concert and Bill becomes famous as a composer posthumously.

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The screenplay stayed up until late April 2006, but I’ll explain more why in subsequent postings.  I use it now as a sub-layer of a feature screenplay that I will also discuss in the future.  There are no sexually explicit scenes in the usual meaning of the concept in the script.

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The following school year, in 2006, Fairfax County Public Schools started to install defibrillators and a training film demonstrating application on a real male student.

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First published: Wednesday March 5, 2014, 11 PM EST

“Project Greenlight” (Miramax and LivePlanet) sponsored three screenwriting contests a few years ago; my 2004 entry was “Baltimore Is Missing”

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In 2002, while still living in Minneapolis but after my “career-ending” layoff, I took part in a screenwriting contest called “Project Greenlight”.

The contest was sponsored by Miramax Pictures (before the breakoff from The Weinstein Company) and Live Planet, with the help of Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Chris Moore.

There were actually two contests, a writing contest and a director’s contest.  The writer’s contest consisted of a standard-formatted screenplay, which had to be written in either Screenwriter or Final Draft and submitted as a PDF, with a limit of 120 pages (about two hours).  The directors’ assignment was to make an 8-10 minute video that used a particular prop and specific script line.

I entered only to judge the screenplays.  Typically, the system would assign a screenplay randomly (or you could choose from a few titles). To rate the play (and give comments) you had to pass a T-f quiz of seven questions (not missing more than 2), submitted by the author.

The “Greenlighters” became quite a community online, with forum discussion boards on all kinds of topics.  The contest effectively became a social networking site in the days before Myspace and Facebook. There were plans for a Greenlighter’s party to be held in the Hollywood Hills (I considered a weekend flight), and people were going to hitch rides and bring sleeping bags.

The winning script was “The Battle of Shaker Heights”, by Erica Benney, which I do remember seeing on cable.  The film is about high school student in Ohio who takes on a bully by his artistic skills reenacting war scenes.  Shia LaBeouf was in the film.   The first contest had been won by Pete Jones for his script “Stolen Summer”, about a little boy who takes a priest’s advice literally and tries to help someone get into Heaven.  I recall seeing that film in Minneapolis, I think at the Landmark Lagoon.

In February 2004, on a Sunday morning, after I had moved back to northern Virginia to look after my mother, I caught sight of Ben Affleck announcing another Greenlighter contest. This time I decided to enter a script.  You also had to participate as a judge if you entered a script.  This time, it was suggested that the film be suitable for a PG-13 rating if possible. The contest winner was “Feast”, by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, directed by John Gulager, about people trapped in a rural bar when it is attacked by alien monsters.  I would see this at a special screening at the Landmark E Street in Washington.  The film would be followed by a couple of sequels, including “Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds”.  I note that the second film in the unrelated gay “Eating Out” franchise is called “Sloppy Seconds”.

The making of “Feast” became an HBO series on Project Greenlight, in 30-minute episodes, with all kinds of crises in trying to produce the film for under $1 million.

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My entry was a sci-fi script called “Baltimore Is Missing”.   (The word “Missing” refers to a missing value for a variable in programming languages!) The idea for the film had come to me in a dream sometime after 9/11.  The character “Bill” is the protagonist.  In the early scenes, he gets criticized in a DC disco for gawking at only younger men.  On nightcall at work, he gets a call for an abend that may be caused by a forgotten logic bomb in his code; be goes into work to fix it forgetting he is in his pajamas.  He gets fired, but not before wild rumors about a huge solar storm circulate on the Internet, and not before he gets a strange call inviting him to Baltimore where he will undergo some sort of cleansing tribunal.  He boards the Amtrak train, but after it goes into the Harbor Tunnel, it never emerges.  Or if it does emerge, the whole city of Baltimore is missing and there is some sort of alien, arid and cold landscape.  He boards another train and explores this world, finding himself trained to fit in to a world with a simpler lifestyle.   He meets some of the people he admires, and some of them come from flashbacks in earlier periods of his life.  The film, in these flashbacks, recreates his “William and Mary Expulsion”, and in meta-storytelling, even recreates a scene where one of his best friends auditions for  a key part in movie about the expulsion.  In the meantime, he is paired off with a young woman who is to become his wife.  He gradually develops affection, even physical attraction for her, which surprises him.  He gets a view of what life in a homestead cottage on this alien planet in some other universe will look like.  (Is he in the afterlife?)  He undergoes his tribunal, and then is confronted with the fact that he has become a toy in al old nemesis’s model railroad. At the end, he gets a glimpse of Earth under siege from the Sun (maybe black holes can transmit video to other universes through X-rays or gamma radiation).  He settles down to a simple life as a toy with a toy spouse.

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The script mentions some other oddities, like the idea that someday male doctors and male nurses may have to epilate their hands and arms as part of infection control.

The reviews, to put it mildly, were mixed.  One reviewer was confused by the flashbacks and multi-layer plot.  One thought that a scene where he rides in a boxcar (sort of like the train on John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars”) was an inappropriate use of the Holocaust, but I hadn’t even thought of that when I wrote the passage.

As I look at it now, I still think a film like this can work.  But it probably can’t be made for under $1 million.

The treatment document for my screenplay, which in turn links to the PDF script, is here.  I did register this screenplay with WGA-West.

I can remember finding an essay by Matt Damon, then about 30, in the site telling people who want to enter the movie world, “Don’t do it.”

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Update: July 27, 2016

The startup company “Adaptive Studios” seems to have picked up Project Greenlight.  The slogan is “Reimagine everything”.

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