Thursday, May 31, 2012

Film Selection

After my last post,  Adam asked if I might explain the film selection process in more depth, so here goes...  This is my process, and is probably different to the way other film programmers go about it, so don't take this as being the only way.

The films that play in cinemas are supplied by film distributors.  These are the people who hold the rights to the titles and decide where each film will play and on what terms.  Many of the major distributors are affiliated with a studio (Fox, Paramount, Sony) and will handle the films produced by that studio.  I do deal with the majors, but because mine is a niche cinema, I tend to deal more often and more successfully with smaller distributors.

The distributor makes an offer of a title and outlines the terms.  Terms include what percentage of the box office takings the cinema pays to the distributor in exchange for the right to screen the film.  For a big blockbuster title, this can be 55% or more in the first week.  The percentage goes down the more weeks you play a film.  A big part of my job involves negotiating the terms.

The terms will also include the number of sessions per day the film is expected to be given, and the length of the run.  It's always a challenge when you're sent terms that include a 4 week run of 2+2 (2 daytime sessions, 2 evening) because basically you're committing to dedicating one screen entirely to one film for 4 weeks.  This is particularly hard if the film does not perform well in its opening weeks because you really don't want a film that's making no money taking up screen space when there are other titles getting minimal sessions that could be making more.

As to how I actually choose the films, well, I watch them.  Not every single film I program of course - I wouldn't have time to eat - but the majority of them.  Some I watch in the cinema on film, others I watch on my computer on DVD.  I watch them to see if they are enjoyable.  I watch them to see if there is some specific market or interest group that could be targeted.  I watch to see if there will be an audience for it.

I have very diverse taste, personally, but I know I am more drawn to dark, complex human stories, so I have to temper my own reaction to films that are outside my own taste.  Generally, I know if I loathe a film, it will do well; if I love it, it probably has an audience of 3.  But I recognize that, and will program the films I hate, and might turn down a film I love (although I really hate doing that).

Often I see films that would work in my cinema, but I can't get the distributor to give it to me.  There is a lot of competition, and for smaller titles, playing 7 cinemas in the local area just means no one makes any money.  

I hope that answers your question, Adam.  Is there anything else you'd like to know?  Anything anyone wants to know?

Monday, May 28, 2012

What do I do?

A while ago I asked you, my lovely blog readers, what you'd be interested in hearing about and Adam wanted to know more about my job as a cinema manager.  It's a big job, and I could probably write numerous posts about the various facets of it, but I'll give you a brief overview for now.  If anyone has anything they particularly want to know about, I can dedicate a special post to that...

My actual title is Cinema Operations Manager, which basically means I'm in charge of everything.  The cinema I run is part of a small chain, but each location is different so we can't run like a traditional chain in that respect.  Mine is a niche cinema.  We run 8-9 film festivals per year and will host up to four or five events per week.   These can be anything from fundraiser screenings to live music events or conferences.  This week's bookings include live music from Ireland, a schools' Shakespeare festival, the beginning of the gay and lesbian film festival and a three day conference for an environmental organization.

And that's on top of running a diverse film programme.  Wonder why I never have time to write???

I choose the films that play here, and while that may sound glamorous, it's not really.  It's hard work and there is almost as much disappointment involved as there is with querying a novel.  Every time I approach a distributor about a title I'd like to play, I risk rejection.

I have a fantastic team working for me, but they are all (with the exception of my two projectionists) casuals who have lives outside the business.  This can make rosters difficult at times, but we scrape by.  Whenever I find I'm struggling to fill shifts, I hire new people.  At peak times I can get 60 resumes a week, so there is never a shortage of people wanting to work here.

So there is film programing and staff management involved.

We also have a bar which we often rent out for parties and other functions separately from the theaters.  And of course, the bar and candy bar side of the business involve stock control and ordering.  And then there's the reporting.  And serving people.  And cleaning theaters.  Painting.  Maintenance work.  Newspaper advertising and other promotional activities.  Publicity and marketing is a huge part of my job, and one which I struggle to find enough time for.  I write weekly newsletters for a mailing list of over 2500 people and keep the website updated along with Twitter and Facebook for the cinema (although I do have a guy who helps with this).

Phew!  I'm tired just looking at all that.  And I feel like it only scratches the surface of what I actually do...  Is there anything you'd like to know more about?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Time and finding more of it

I'm getting frustrated.  I want to write.  I want to write a lot.  I need to write a lot.  But there are not enough hours in the day or the week to get as much done as I want to get done.

The last three or four weeks, I've had to work both Saturday and Sunday which has cut into my writing time a bit.  This week I have to work Thursday night and go to a screening on Wednesday morning.  Wednesdays are the one day I can count on getting a lot of writing done because I don't work and my younger son is at daycare while my older one is at school.  I can usually guarantee myself at least 3 hours of uninterrupted writing time.  But not this week.

And not next week either because I will have to take son #2 to a school visit.

So I'm pretty much limited to mornings (before 7am) and evenings (apart from the 3 I work) for the next couple of weeks.  And that just isn't enough.  This story is demanding to be written.  It wants to be poured out onto the page.  I'm afraid if I don't purge it, it'll get lost somewhere, or stagnate.

How do I find more writing time?  As it is I survive on about 5 hours a night sleep.  I don't think I can cut that down any lower without losing my mind.  But then, if I don't write this story, I'll probably lose my mind too.  There are many out there who will say I already have...

How do you find enough time to write?  What else could I sacrifice to get myself a little more?

Thursday, May 24, 2012


I have a long history of obsession going back to childhood.  In fact, it's unusual for me not to be in the throes of one obsession or another.  Sometimes it's a book I'm obsessed with, or an actor, or musician, or film.  Sometimes it's even an idea.

At the moment my obsessions are all about the new book I'm writing.  The external things I'm obsessed with (a specific album by one incredible guitarist) are tied up with the story I'm writing, which I'm also very much obsessed by.  It's interesting, because the two things are feeding each other in a way I've never experienced before.

Perhaps this is why this particular book feels like it's writing itself.  All the stars are aligned right, at least for this first half of the book.  I'm a little afraid to dive into the second, because the things that obsess the characters in that part of the story are not things I want to become obsessed with.  Been there.  Done that. Got the scars to prove it.

But a little darkness never hurt anyone, right?  I have to plunge forward, allow things to get messy and dangerous for my young lovers.  It's all part of getting to that happy ending.  Or in this case, bittersweet ending.

Do you get obsessed by things while you're writing?  Do you fill your writing space with photographs and trinkets that represent your themes and characters?  Am I verging on insanity because I do?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A question about sex

As you know, I'm working on a new book.  It's going very well and I'm really loving writing it.  But I'm a little concerned about the pacing and timing of events.  So I thought I might just ask all of you for your opinion on a pretty serious plot point in the book: the first time my MCs have sex.

It's YA.  She's 17; he's 19.  She's a virgin; he's not.  They don't fall in love at first sight exactly, but there is a definite attraction from the first time they meet.  If they have sex 3 weeks after they first meet, is it too soon?  There are mitigating circumstances, but in general, do you think that's too quick?

The general feeling I've gotten from friends and associates is that it's not, but I want to be sure before I commit to keeping that scene where it is.

I'd love to hear your opinions and reasons why it may or may not work, so let me know.  Thanks!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Always a critic

It's funny how doing something for a job or taking things seriously changes the way you look at them.  I watch films for a living (well, part of it) and doing that has completely changed the way I look at movies.  I find it really hard to just sink into a film these days and just enjoy it.  I'm always thinking about who the audience will be, and how easy it will be to sell.

It's the same with reading.  I find I'm far more critical of what I read now because I can't turn off my inner editor.  Little things like repeated words or mis-used commas really bug me.  If a story becomes too unbelievable, I can't suspend my disbelief and go with the author.

I miss the days where I could look at cinema or read without critiquing, but my eyes have changed.  My perception has altered.  I have become far more discerning.  A film has to be pretty fantastic to provoke a positive reaction from me.  Most just get a 'meh'.  A book has to have me totally gripped, dying to turn the next page for me to ignore the little niggly things that bug me.

Do you find it hard to turn off your inner critic?

Friday, May 18, 2012


I know music is really important for a lot of writers and they make playlists to map their books, or need to listen to certain songs or albums to write certain scenes.

I can't listen to music while I write.  Well, not music with lyrics in English.  I can listen to classical music, or jazz or stuff like Sigur Ros that have lyrics I can't understand, but anything else distracts me.  And that's proving a problem with my new book because it is about music.

I have numerous songs that have inspired me and musicians whose signature styles are informing my characters, but I can't listen to this stuff while I'm writing.  I've put together a playlist of songs that are templates for the ones the band in my book play, and have a very definite idea of the style and tone of the songs the guitarist writes as opposed to the one the singer writes.

I've been listening obsessively to this playlist when I'm not writing, and certain songs have been trapped in my head for days.  But I can't listen to them while I'm writing.

Do you listen to music while you write?  Do the lyrics distract you?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


In the interest in keeping myself accountable, I figure I should give you some indication of my progress on my new WIP.  Plus, it's going so remarkably well, I feel like I need to document it somewhere, so when I get stuck I have evidence that there was a time I was going well...

So here goes.  I started on April 30th.  I now have just under 21K written and am just starting chapter 12. I feel like I'm racing through, but just sketching in the story.  I love my characters and enjoy visiting with them every day.  It's going to get harder from here on in though, because from this point, things are going to start going seriously wrong for young Sacha and Dylan.

I have quite a bit of writing time this week, so I'm hoping to have cracked 30K by the end of the week, and to have reached almost the halfway point.

If I keep this up, I will have finished the whole draft by June.  And I'd given myself until the end of July!

How's your writing going?  Are you speeding ahead, or have you hit a roadblock?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Bumping Off People

No, I'm not talking about murder today, even if the title of this post does sound that way.

I've been thinking a lot the past few days about the way people move in and out of your life.  The book I'm working on at the moment is probably the most personal I've ever written, and one of the main characters is based on someone I knew a long time ago.  I couldn't even really say we were friends, but for about six months, we hung out in the same circle.  Then he moved away and we didn't see each other again except for a brief conversation about fourteen years later.

Knowing this person, even briefly, had a profound effect on me.  I've never forgotten him.  And I realized how often people cross your path and leave you changed.

Or is this just me?

I've moved all my life.  Every two to three years, new country, new school, new friends.  I'm used to people being transitory and even after I stopped moving so often, I've still transitioned through friends.  I've always assumed this was natural.  As you grow and change and your interests move, the people you surround yourself with also change.  But some people manage to have the same friends throughout their lifetimes.  That kind of impresses me.  I don't even know anyone I went to kindergarten with anymore, let alone remain friends with them.  Even people I went to high school with.  People I worked with five years ago.

Perhaps I'm just a hopeless correspondent and any of these friendships could have been maintained had I made the effort.  But communicating goes both ways, right?  No, I think friendships and relationships of any kind run their course, and once you've moved on, there's no way back.  So the most important thing is to value whatever you've got out of the relationship, be it knowledge, emotional support, bragging rights, whatever.

Do you have people you've bumped off briefly that have left you changed?  Do you still have friends from kindergarten?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Something to Aspire to...

There is a fantastic children's bookshop near my house.  Called simply The Children's Bookshop, it is full of everything from picture books to upper YA and I love it.  I go there so often the owners and all the staff know me by name!

The other day they hosted a book signing by Australian writer Andy Griffiths.  He's a wonderful writer of boy books and both my sons love the vulgarity and humor in his stories.  Their favorite books are The Day My Bum Went Psycho and the two sequels, Zombie Bums from Uranus and Bummageddon.  I did mention my kids are boys, right?

Anyway...  We headed off to the book signing, along with three of my son's friends who are also fans.  It said the signing started at 4pm, so rather than going straight from school, we went home first to drop schoolbags off and pick up books for signing.

Bad mistake.

I had failed to realize how many other kids also love Andy Griffiths' books.  By the time we got to the store, the queue was out the door.  I made half the kids wait in the line while I took my oldest to buy a copy of The Bad Book which he wanted to have signed.  I always feel like I have to buy a book when I'm at a signing for some reason, even if I do have that authors' books at home.  There's something weird about presenting an already-read copy to be signed.  Is that just me?

It took over an hour for us to reach the front of the line, and by the time we left, the queue behind us was as long as the queue in front of us had been when we arrived.  Poor Andy's hand must have been aching from signing so many volumes.  Yet he still had a smile on his face and time to chat to each kid as they reached the table.  He drew funny cartoons and personalized the inscription to each person.  He even posed for photos until the store owners suggested that it was taking up time he didn't have to spare.

I was awed that so many people would show up for and event like that.  He wasn't even reading from his books, just signing.  I said to my son as we were leaving "I hope one day I have this many people show up when I have a book signing."

I now have something to aspire to.

Is this something you would add to your list of aspirations, or does the idea of signing books for three hours or more make you want to tear your own intestines out?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fast Writing

A few posts ago I asked you, my loyal readers, to let me know if there was anything you wanted me to post about.  T.F. Walsh asked how I manage to write so fast.

Now, I don't feel like I write all that fast.  My friend Jolene, now she writes fast.  My friend Kelley too.  They both seem to be finishing projects every two weeks or so, while I tend to struggle with mine for six -nine months.

That said, the new project I'm working on (tentatively called The Sidewalk's Regrets) is going fast.  I started it nine days ago and have written almost 15K.  Why is this one going so quickly?  I don't know.  I haven't written an outline.  I found the story about six days before I started writing it, and it's just bursting through me.  I know exactly what happens, the whole arc of the story from the get go, and writing it has been very easy.

I set myself word limits to make sure I get the most out of my writing time, which due to work and kids is pretty limited.  I know that when things are flowing, writing 1500 words or so in an hour is very possible. I know I usually get 5 nights a week to write in, plus one longer stretch on a Wednesday.  While it's tempting to set myself a 10K per week goal, I also know it's not always realistic, so I set myself a 7K a week goal.  Since most of my first drafts are around 70 000 to 75 000 words, that's 10 weeks to finish the draft.

Then I let it rest for a while, usually a week or two, depending on whether I have something else I want to work on or on work commitments.  Then revising starts.

And maybe that's why Tania thinks I write fast.  I never post chapters of my WIP for my critique groups until I've finished the first draft.  My first drafts are messy and chaotic and the chapters are sketches more than full scenes.  But having that skeleton of a book, makes it easier for me to fill out the details and ensure the pacing is correct.

So once I start revising, it is fast.  I usually set myself the challenge of revising one chapter per day, so once I get on this cycle, I post about one chapter per day to my critique groups.  Most of my books are around 30-35 chapters, so the revision process usually takes me another 4 or 5 weeks to complete.

And of course, once my critique partners have torn through it, there's usually more revising and rewriting to do.  So all up, if everything goes smoothly, I think it takes me on average 6 months to 'finish' a book.  Which is probably why I managed two books per year, and have done for the last three years.

Do you write fast?  What's your process?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Dust it off - Part 3

So, this is a super cool idea!  Cortney Pearson has set up this fantastic bloghop to get us to look back at shelved manuscripts.  In this third and final part of the blogfest we need to talk about what we've learned from that shelved MS.

In my case, I would have to say: everything.

When I finished Assignment 9, I knew nothing about queries, agents, critique partners, beta readers and publishers.  I wrote THE END and figured I was done.  Um...  yeah.  Right.

I entered the book in a contest which, unsurprisingly, I didn't win.  While searching around for other contests to enter with it, I discovered and joined.  This began my learning curve.  I joined a couple of critique groups and through them, I learned so much about what I was doing wrong.  I learned to accept that my writing wasn't perfect, and that fresh eyes are so, so valuable.  I learned about revising and revised the book extensively.  Many times over.

About a year later I was ready to send the book out into the world, for real this time.  I wrote some bonecrushingly awful query letters and received a lot of bonecrushing rejections.  I did some more revising and entered the book into the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  Surprisingly, I made the semi-finals which buoyed my hopes.

I wrote more awful query letters and got more rejections.

I did more revising.

I entered ABNA again and this time got cut in the second round.

By this time, I'd written two more novels, each better than this one.  After 34 rejections and 3 contest losses, I decided Assignment 9 needed to be trunked.  It will always be a story I love, and the characters are some of my favorites I've ever created, but it's not a great book.  It's YA, but the protagonist is 18 and at college for part of the book and 10 for the other part of the book so it doesn't fit easily into the age-group.

But even if no one else ever reads it, I will always be grateful to this book for teaching me how to navigate the publishing world, and most importantly, for introducing me to my wonderful critique partners.  I cannot imagine my life without them.  So thank you Casey, Mark, Alan, Jason and Rick for making that journey with me.  And I'm sorry I've locked you away in the depths of my hard-drive.  But sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Dust it off - Part 2

So, this is a super cool idea!  Courtney Pearson has set up this fantastic bloghop to get us to look back at shelved manuscripts. For the second part of the challenge, we're posting 300- 350 words of the MS.  It was hard to choose what section to post because there are a lot of moments in this book that I love.  The book as a whole, maybe not so much, but there are definitely sections that work. This is one of them....

Will paced back and forth, his face red with fury.  Alan stood still, a stubborn set to his jaw.
“I won’t let you!”  I heard Alan even through the hands clamped over my ears.  He turned and stepped through the kitchen door.  Willem caught him by the shoulder and started to pull him back.
“Let me go.”  Alan’s voice was cold and hard as he shook free of Will’s grip.
“Don’t you ever walk out on me!” Willem’s voice matched Alan’s.  Alan was as tall as Will, but Will was bigger, strong from working as a builder.  You could tell from looking at him.  So, when Will swung at Alan, I was convinced he would kill him.  But Alan hit back, and within minutes the two of them were fighting in earnest, fists flying.  I cowered in my spot by the couch.  I trembled, and tears rolled down my cheeks.  I couldn’t make a sound though.  I tried to scream, but nothing came out of my mouth.  I’d never seen them fight before.  They argued all the time, but I’d never seen them hit one another, and it petrified me.  Alan drew back his arm to punch at Will again, but Will saw him and grabbed hold of his forearm, hauling Alan off balance so he crashed against the doorframe.  Alan yelled and slid down the wall to lie on the floor.
“Get up!”  Will still looked furious, his face red and twisted to a point I barely recognized him.  Alan was white, his gray eyes huge.
“Get up!”  Will repeated.  He took a step forward and leaned down as if to drag Alan to his feet.
“Don’t touch me!”  Alan spat through clenched teeth.
Will took a step back, his eyes widening.  “What is it?”  He sounded uncertain, still mad, but scared now too.
“Just leave me alone!”  Alan’s voice shook, but I didn’t think it was with anger anymore.  Willem wiped at the side of his mouth where he was bleeding, then stared at the blood smeared on the palm of his hand.  He looked back at Alan and turned.  He saw me huddled on the floor by the couch and froze.  Glancing back at Alan one more time, he ran past me, out of the house.

What do you think?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dust it off Bloghop

So, this is a super cool idea!  Courtney Pearson has set up this fantastic bloghop to get us to look back at shelved manuscripts.  Since I have several, it's kind of hard to choose, but I think I have chosen.  For the first day of the hop, we're supposed to post our pitch.  So here's my pitch for my shelved novel (and ABNA semifinalist in 2010) Assignment 9.

Serially abandoned as a child, Casey struggles with relationships until she meets the equally damaged Mark in her creative writing class. An autobiography assignment leads her to acknowledge the roots of her fears and gives her the strength to let him into her life.

Tune in on the 5th for a sample from the MS.

And thank you to everyone who made suggestions about what I should post on in the future.  I will cover all those topics, and more, very soon!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What now?

Now that the A-Z challenge is over, it feels weird not posting every day.  But really, I don't think I have enough interesting stuff to say for everyday posts.  So we'll go back to the every 2 day posting schedule I was on pre-April.

But I'd like to involve all of you, the people who read this blog. Is there anything in particular you'd be interested in reading about?  Anything you've been curious about?  Any burning questions you'd like answered?

Let me know.  I'm never sure if the brain vomit that makes it onto the screen is worth reading, and I feel a kind of responsibility to those of you who take the time to pop by.  So just leave me a note in the comments, and I'll address whatever you request in future posts...  Providing of course, it's something I know about.  If you ask me to post on nuclear physics I'm not really qualified to do that.  I'm not even 100% what makes nuclear physics different to regular physics, so....