Monday, August 13, 2012

Vancouver Solitudes Saying Goodbye

Vancouver Solitudes will suspend publication.

 For those who enjoyed reading the posts on the blog over the past year and a half, you can read more posts under Michael Shandrick .

Thank you for reading

Michael Shandrick

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Girls In Dark Places

It was dark except for the police lights on the crime scene, as well as the  flashes popping from the crime photographer’s digital camera. Booze was on nearly everyone’s breath, except the dead native girl. Her face was slashed in dull red marks across a bruised inert face. The girl’s black thong panties were tied around her neck. Her breasts were scarred with still more cuts of dried blood. Jenna squatted next to the girl and wiped the sleep-sand and tears from her own eyes to get a better look. The constables stared at the dead girl’s breasts. Jenna pointed to the black body bag.

“She’s all yours, boys. I’m taking a walk,” Jenna said taking a Zoloft and walking toward the water. She waited for the rattle to hum. She pulled out an empty Marlboro package. Looking around she saw a young girl on the pathway, a curious on-looker walking in stiletto high-heels kinda wobbly.
“Got a smoke?” Jenna asked the girl.
The girl gave Jenna a cigarette and lit it for her.  They let the smoke waft.
 “You work these parts?” Jenna asked.
 “You got other options, you know.”
“I’m not stupid.”
“Just saying.”
“Yeah, it could happen anywhere.”
The girl, all of 15, white skinned and freckled, yawned and walked away as Jenna patted her on the shoulder. It was a token act of care but Jenna didn’t want to redeem the girl or even know her name. They all had a way of breaking your heart. The girls had names like Mandy, Angie, Dixie, Smiley – happy names for sad stories.
Jenna grew up with the lost girls. Just a slip here and there and she’d be just so much flotsam like the scores of native girls who came to Vancouver and got lost.  Save for a guiding hand here and there Jenna could be among those who drowned in shallow waters off Vancouver’s eastside streets. But genes made Jenna pretty, street-smart and clever enough to create a better life off the reserve.

Jenna watched the tankers sitting on the water like cats on a warm sidewalk. The birds sang their song as the first hint of spring came to the trees nearby.  Things were getting better. Maybe it was the Zoloft. Jenna wondered how many pay grades it would take to live on the other side of the water. She’d never been inside a luxury house in West Van. Beads of sweat broke out and a wave of nausea washed over her.  Maybe the first pill was wearing off already. Or maybe it was something instinctive that rebelled when she saw a tall shadow walking toward her. The chief detective held out his hand. 
“Hello, Sir.”
They sat down on a bench and looked across the bay.
“She one of yours?”
“No. But thanks for asking. “
“We like to stay involved. So, you see anything?”
A pimp got out of control. Trying to make a statement. Not one of ours.”
The Detective seemed disinterested in the crime scene.
“I wanted to tell you personally. There’s a two pay grade jump into an office with a door and better hours for starters. I’ll toss in more school time. No more of this early morning shit.”
“Isn’t that when the bodies start washing up?”
“You’ve done your time. I need investigators.”
Jenna sat quiet, waiting a moment for the Detective to pull the string.
“Look, Jenna, you guys are undergoing a review and I hear you will staff down. I’d like to make a place for you on my team.”
 “My work’s not done. Still more girls. Plenty, in fact. I’m not much of a team player. ”
“Well, maybe so. But you can’t save them from themselves.”
“Maybe I’ll turn up something that will save one or two girls down the road.”
“Come and see me in a couple of days, after you’ve thought it over.”
 “I can’t just say yes. Too much water under the bridge.”
“Well, just take some time to think about it.”
“You mean that?”
. “Take your partner with you.”
 The Detective nodded to Jerry standing a few yards away then walked back to the crime scene with his hands in his pockets.
 “What about Jerry?” she asked.
“We only have room for one desk, Jenna.”
Jenna sat for a moment then waved to Jerry, standing a respectful distance from her.
“Jerry, we’re taking a drive.”
“Over there,” she said pointing to the other side of the water. “We’re taking the rest of the day off. First, breakfast.  The brass is paying for everything.”

After breakfast at a swank West Van eatery Jerry parked the grey sedan that had “cop” written all over it.  Jenna got out of the passenger seat, freeing her dark hair so that it flew like a flag in the wind. “Come on. Hurry up.”
Jenna ran down to the sandy part of the beach and took off her shoes.  Jerry was wearing his raincoat and his black cop shoes.  He watched Jenna pull her dress up to her thighs and let the breeze fly through her nether regions. Jerry wished he’d brought a blanket and chilled wine.
 “Take off your coat. It won’t rain. I promise,” Jenna said. “It’s supposed to be hot today.”

Squinting into the sun Jenna soaked up the rays. She sunned while Jerry read the newspapers. She let the warmth pour over her.  By noon Jerry finally began to relax enough to pour sand out of his shoes. Together they walked the promenade to the far end and back. Jerry was sunburned. Jenna turned and walked backwards, carrying a wide smile, one Jerry seldom saw.
“Never saw you this happy.” Jerry said.
“We’re good. It’s all perfect.”
Jerry looked at his watch. “So?”
“So… I’m hungry. There.”
Jenna tugged on Jerry’s arm and pulled him toward a tourist restaurant overlooking the water.”
“We’re still on the clock?”
“No way. This is a jailbreak.”
“I’m in.”
Jenna hooked her arm in Jerry’s and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “It’s a date. Can you handle it?”
“I can handle it.”

From their table on the deck of the restaurant Jenna and Jerry sat watching sailboats, tankers and yachts on the bay. Jerry broke a long silence, speaking like he didn’t want to hear the answer.
“So where does this leave us?”
“The Detective wants me to take a desk.”
“Yeah.  I figured. You bailed them out big time.”
Jenna pulled his arm toward her.
“No, it was you and me. We were partners. We’re still partners. We got each other through that. We’ll always have that.”
They walked back to the beach holding hands.
“Let’s watch the sunset and then I’d like to take a drive downtown,” Jenna said.
“Why spoil the day?”
“One last time,” she said with a grin.
 The sun was setting when Jerry turned down the familiar dark, lifeless streets off Hastings. He parked where they had done their surveillance on many occasions.  “You believe this?” Jerry asked, waving his arms toward all the construction of the posh hotels and condominiums under construction. New luxury towers were being built alongside trendy coffee houses and specialty stores.  A few flop houses were still open and dark figures scuttled to and fro looking for a fix. Jenna and Jerry walked slowly past them.  Near the last remaining junkie dens and strip joints girls stood in small knots smoking, telling war stories and killing time.
“A whole new batch of kids just rolled in from the prairies. Can you believe it?” Jenna asked. “Don’t they know?”
“They don’t know because the only ones who could tell them the truth are dead,” Jerry snapped.
Jenna knew the pretty whores were doing well so long as the construction boom held out in the city. The better looking girls got paid a living wage to take their clothes off on a stage. Most of the dead native girls worked well past their due date. They weren’t so pretty and roamed even darker streets and disappeared.  In spite of all the warnings new girls still came to deliver the goods.
Jenna stared at a pack of young girls skulking in an alley.
“It’s time to move on,” Jenna called to the girls.
“You don’t have to be responsible any more,” Jerry said.
The girls flipped Jenna off.
“I know, but it’s hard not to say something.”
On the street they walked past a couple of snitches in dirty jackets. They pushed past Jerry and gave him a friendly wink and nudge. They were high. Sometimes they helped him, like the time they led him to a farmer in a pickup truck. It was him who confessed to Jerry he had killed so many girls back at his ranch he forgot how many he sawed up in his pig feed grinder. Maybe it was sixty or more girls before he lost his memory. When Jerry and Jenna got to the farm all they could find were pieces of bone. It took the Jenna and Jerry all of 18 months of searching the farm before forensics found the DNA off a missing girl’s inhaler. Now the pig farmer was sitting in prison.
 “You want me to drive you home?” Jerry asked.
“I’d like to walk some. I’ll take a bus, thanks,” Jenna said, putting her hand in Jerry’s. “You don’t mind?”
 “I’ve turned old in this job,” Jerry said. “You tell the girls they got choices, but you have a choice too. Don't look back. We move on.”
Jenna smiled and gave Jerry a kiss on the mouth and waved good-bye. She hid her eyes as Jerry got in the car. Then Jenna walked back to say something to the girls. Jerry followed Jenna in the car as she walked to the intersection and waited for the light. Jerry rolled down the car window at the crosswalk and yelled out.
“Do me a favor, pal. Walk that way,” Jerry said, pointing to the tall buildings in the business district. The lights were coming on.
 “Go where the lights are. I want to remember you that way. Enough time in the dark.”
Jerry’s car pealed away from the intersection and headed to his family in the suburbs.
 For a moment Jenna stood under a street light on the sorriest piece of real estate in the nation. Jenna, too, had once fallen for losers with wide smiles, just like the missing girls. Who could blame the dead? Tomorrow she could have a desk near a window looking out on the side of town where no one went missing.
Jenna began walking then paused. She looked back and hoped some of the girls lurking in the shadows would dare to follow her out of those dark places.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Writers and Producers Together, The Sequel

Writers, being writers, are excellent observers. Not always pragmatic, they watch every nuance, listen to every phrase to glean an idea how their story may take root with a producer.  Most of the writers who attended the writer’s and producer’s night were not WGA guild writers. Many do not have the coveted screen credits nor the backing of the cinecrats nor a powerful organization to make sure they get paid well for their ideas in either television or film. WGA status puts writers at the head of the long, long lines.

Many writers who attended that night had probably written dozens of drafts of scripts on spec. Of those, few scripts have seen the light of day. A very lucky few perhaps had a producer who may be very interested in ‘developing’ a script and asked to see it.

 A handful of writers among the nearly 400 may have had an actual screen credit on a major Canadian or American cable or television network. In any event, they were there because they believed they were already ‘fresh, original and unique’. Young and old, these writers have learned over time to live in equanimity with their battle scars. But the awful truth is that these writers know that even with talent, a dazzling script and a good work ethic they are a long shot in getting anything produced. 

They were here to observe the current crop of BC production companies,  a feral breed in the best of times. Some had moved back here from LA or Toronto, the source of the “great sucking sound”, which takes most of the available quality content for its maw.

BC is kept in the game because by day producers work for the Americans as below the line talent and by night they dream up deals that will allow them to make a film that will get them a shot at the big time. These producers depend on deals they put together with distributors, co-production partners, exhibitors, private equity funding groups from large international investors, and government agencies who broker tax credits, anything to cut costs and earn them a credit. Producers constantly look for ways to hire staff, keep the lights on and find enough money to pay below the line commitments until a pending deal goes green. But in fact most deals are always in some form of stasis. This is their job. 

Producers here have a chance to find a niche and they do this by asking for a script…well, any writer’s story….with the idea that it will be re-written many times. If a script is optioned or goes into development, every word will be altered to make the deal happen. The structure will be changed, along with locations. Male characters will become female and all side characters may be either animated or turned into friendly dragons. A story that was once historical fiction fantasy will become a sit com.  An original idea for a television drama will be turned into a docu-drama aimed at the non-scripted (reality) market. So much for original. And as for unique, well, in this context, any writer will tell you that the term is redundant.  

Then there is the new breed, the writers-for-hire-writers. They are young and able to live on peanut butter and nachos while writing to get a screen credit for about $5k. These writers will get a credit they can put on the IMDB database, where they can then get their other scripts up a notch. That is, if these writers can survive long enough to prove themselves in a genre by writing back to back scripts on very tight deadlines for a foreign cable series. 

 In the meantime, producers dream of a producer’s credit on a big series and must grind out direct-to-video for small foreign distributors or international cable. They want to produce a film in which everyone whispers “Oscars” while they sort through hundreds of horror, thriller scripts crossing their desks. Producers will tell the press they are working on a drama but are really cranking out documentaries. Like writers, producers will keep doing what they do until a lucky star shines on them.  

Lurking somewhere in the boxes where the writers put their script ideas may be a story that will break through the clutter for both the writer and a producer. It will survive countless re-writes and development hell and a heart breaking collaborative process in which the original writer has long since been replaced, along with a producer or two. The story will survive the marketing people who want to make it a thriller when it was originally a family drama. The story may actually be featured on the big screen and become enshrined as a classic.

Or, more likely, the work will be made into a reality play on the shoppers channel, just like the investor wanted all along.

NOTE: Since the night I put my scripts into the boxes I have heard from two production companies who said they are not interested in my material… I also received a curious phone call from a woman who took the time to tell me over the phone they weren’t interested in my work… I have heard from two more producers who said that they would be back in touch when they caught up with their mail…Finally, I was able to get a historical drama  with Canadian content into the hands of a producer who read the material and liked the story with compliments, as had two directors who read the script earlier…What the story needs now is an international distributor so that the script can be funded so that the script can be developed and talent (actors, directors) can be hired. Stay tuned.

My Available Stories

Bio: I have written seven feature film spec scripts (historical romance, thriller, family and drama) with one script being a quarter-finalist in The Austin screenplay Festival (historical romance). I have also written six short scripts, with three stories being selected for Vancouver’s cold reading series with professional actors.


La Demoiselle / Marguerite’s Isle
A historical drama set in early Canada follows a young French woman who is taken to New France against her will and abandoned on a remote island where she must learn the ways of the indigenous peoples in order to survive the oncoming winter.

Hot Potato
In this sci-fi / action set in a post-apocalyptic world, an AWOL commando captured by a female war droid must persuade her to help him kill an evil warlord with plans to destroy the world. 

In Search of the Ancients
In a coming-of-age tale set in medieval times, a lowly squire with magic abilities must reluctantly unveil his powers to fight dark forces threatening the world.

Sweet Crime
A thriller set in today’s world of corporate espionage a female hacker with a price on her head goes to a former adversary for his help on one last job.

Harmonica Blues
An ex-con turned musician struggles to make it in the rough and tumble music business but must fight against being pulled back into a life of crime when a former gang member returns to town. (Now being prepped for shooting in Dublin.)

Nite & Day
In this quirky supernatural drama, a single dad and his adopted teenage goth girl strive for a normal life during the day but must yield to their true natures that come out only at night, especially when the moon is full.  (TV Series Concept).

The Duke and His Duchess:
Based on a true story and an award-winning biography, a prince being pressured to marry a royal woman for political reasons defies his family to marry for love and picks a feisty debutant from America. (Quarter-finalist, Austin Film Festival) Based on source material, an international award winning biography. (TV Mini-Series Concept)

Shiva Burns
Set against the Himalayas of Nepal, this action adventure follows a man who discovers he has a price on his head and must turn the tables on a powerful business mogul to clear his name. (Based on a completed novel.)

Men In Action:
In current day America, this story is about six retired military friends who are targeted as terrorists by a rogue paramilitary police force and decide to fight back in a battle to the death in the Southern California desert. (Based on a completed novel.)

Friday, February 3, 2012

Writers and Producers Together?

FADE IN on sheep dogs trying to corral a herd of cats.

Called the “Writers and Producers Together” an event was held in a 400-seat theatre in the posh SFU\Woodward's building in downtown Vancouver Wednesday night December 7th,  2011.  

To anyone outside the screenwriting community this event lacked the expected spark for such a glamorous business. But it was historic. Rarely do two such disparate types ever meet. I was there out of curiosity, like a lot of other writers. Throughout the evening I kept wondering “why?”

The producers ranged from small quaint indies on the Gulf Islands to fully staffed production offices who have major American network and distribution deals.  One producer brazenly established how high the bar was  by saying that they were only looking for writers with top credits in A-list films or television shows. It was enough to eliminate most writers in the room. Other producers talked about their slate and then told the crowd they were looking for writers but only if their work was “fresh, original and unique”, a bromide that was oft repeated throughout the night.

The subtext of the event is that any one of the writers would give up their first born to take any job to get their script made or get a screen credit. That’s why they were there and the producers knew it.

It was a rare evening for producers as well. By stepping out on the stage the producers finally gave writers a face to their names. The producers stood in the key light at the podium and looked out at a mass of hopeful expectations. It was like speed pitching, only it was a crowd.

That this was a first time event illustrated what a strange business filmmaking is in Vancouver. Neither writers nor producers get together much.  At core it is an unbalanced and often dysfunctional relationship. Writers need producers. Producers hire gatekeepers to keep writers in harness.  On rare occasions producers will court writers, especially if the writers have credits, have their script with "top talent" or who own "source material".  It is a one-sided relationship of unrequited romance. Producers always have the last word,  “I’m just not that into your story.”

Also it was evident that most of the producers were not prepared for so many writers to show up. More than one producer told the audience that they expected 30 or 40 writers. This alone should put to rest the idea that the two worlds are somehow in synch.

In fact, nearly every seat in the theatre was filled with a writer. It was the first gathering to my knowledge where writers as a group were actually invited to meet producers without having to pay an amount equal to a month's rent for the privilege.  This speaks volumes.

In sharp contrast to producers, writers toil in ignominy on quiet back streets for years until they have a draft. Producers, even with direct-to-video credits or cable reality shows, are sometimes seen in the limelight promoting their latest film at festivals and having their photos taken on red carpets beaming with bright winning smiles and wearing the latest fashions.  It’s not difficult to understand why writers are drawn to producers like moths to a flame. 

At the Writers and Producers event, the producers gave their talk and invited writers to put a one-sheet into a small inbox. This single sheet of paper could list their story ideas or their completed scripts with loglines, along with any credits. This would be about as close as writers would get to a producer during the evening.

Without much of an opportunity to pitch a producer face to face those fragile pieces of paper held more than loglines and pitches. They held the unrealistic hope that keeps writers writing stories they hope will one day make the big screen, but so rarely do.

Since the event in December, some production companies have been sorting through the one-pagers. For most writers they can expect to receive the inevitable email.

Thanks for your submission, but your project does not appear to be suitable for our needs at this time.  Best of luck and continued success with your writing.

This will lead writers to ask the inevitable question: “What exactly are your needs?”

Again, the refrain, “Something fresh, original and unique.”

Even for producers who are in control of the process, theirs is a fickle world. Neither party has guidelines or a paint-by-numbers plan how to succeed in such a subjective business. But somehow they were there, together. For the first time.

To be continued….