In The Clearing Stands a JuntoBoxer

Forest Whitaker started following your project. Keep up the good work! Congrats--The JuntoBox Staff

Oh, what happy words to the ears of a young filmmaker, although in my case I use that term loosely on both counts. The point is, whether you are an Oscar-winning actor or a low level screenwriter with a dog named Oscar who is eighteen years old and waiting for some good news so he can go off and die in peace, a whole new Hollywood is happening online.

There used to be a smoke-filled office where a script like mine might have managed to make it onto the desk of some cigar-chomping fat cat who couldn't help but chuckle over a kicky line of dialogue here and there. "Who wrote this crap?" he'd demand of the nearest suck-up. "Julie Ann Sipos," a voice would croak from behind a tower of competing screenplays far more likely to reach the shredder than the screen. "Also known as Julie Goes to Hollywood. She has a blog." In the old days they called it a "column," and it turns out I began gathering an internet following long before anyone knew what to do with one of those. 

A relative newcomer to the digital space, Juntobox Films is an online community set up by Whitaker and his partners to mentor, fund and distribute micro-budgeted features among an open membership. Only dressed up to look like forward thinking innovation, it's actually an ancient concept to invite the folks in the cheap seats to make clear what does and doesn't interest us simply by virtue of showing up and making some noise. 

Though movies were born in a place called a "nickelodeon," somewhere along the way, your nickels stopped mattering. Filmmaking became so expensive that films evolved into events rather than on-screen stories, and only a bunch of rich guys deemed themselves equipped to determine what got made and by whom. Then the Red camera and the MacBook appeared, allowing the random penniless storyteller to get back in cahoots with the audience and make movies about people of all things. 

Next up for JuntoBox funding is a comedy, so if you find yourself on the planet with Internet access anywhere in the vicinity of your yurt, please consider logging on to support my film. Seneca Falls is a tiny little heist movie with big, universal themes like sex, death, love, loss, a bossy sister, an asshole brother and a bunch of small town relatives fighting over an inheritance too insignificant to be the point of any of it.

If none of that works for you, forget me and log on and vote for something, anything you'd like to see up on the screen. You may be one of my students, a longtime reader of this blog or that scary guy in his basement who got here trolling for porn using the search term "Linda Carter's big gold tits." If you love movies, yours is the hand on the greenlight and this is the smoke-filled office where dreams are made.

Random Things I Learned About Hollywood While Driving Across Country

While screenwriting should always be about telling a great story, it's probably a good idea to know a little something about the folks you're telling it to. Last week my friend B! and I drove a car from Florida to California, overnighting in Louisiana, Texas and Arizona and blowing through a bunch of other states comprising a good bit of the domestic box office. Here are some things about Hollywood I learned along the way:

Snark is a foreign language. There is not a lot of double talk among regular Americans, so there's no need to look for hidden meaning in every passing exchange. The waitress really is just a waitress, not a panty model with a flawed life plan and a bad attitude  When she asks how you want your burger, she really wants to know this, and is not in any way judging you for going with the full bun.
Fox News is a thing. We don't have to like it. We just have to accept that they like it. All day and all night they like it. If only my scripts featured more smiling fat guys talking to hungry former beauty queens about the whole country going to hell, they might actually sell.

Red is the new purple.  The entire Florida peninsula getting swept away in a hurricane is a popular sentiment on the typical Hollywood Facebook wall. It turns out they're posting about California crumbling into the sea when the big one hits. How can any of this be good for box office? Let's dial it back, folks. America, good. Natural disaster, bad. Texas, big. Really big. Do not mess with Texas, on or off screen.

Guns don't kill people, plucky heroines kill people. For dramatic purposes, gunplay is a good thing. Paraphrasing Anton Chekhov, guns are fun, when used properly, which is to say they come out in the first act and go off in the third. The last thing we need is for America to become disenchanted with good old-fashioned Hollywood justice, so let's keep violence off the streets and on the screen where it belongs.

People get old.  I don't know why we keep writing for young boys, since they are making their own movies now when they are not watching free internet porn and playing video games. Seniors have both money and time, so we should be charging them more for tickets, not less, and maybe even making some in which they exist, even if they are women.

We Hollywood types live in a tiny world, telling the same lies and chasing the same dream until it dies or kills us, whichever comes first. Our audience, on the other hand, lives in a big beautiful place full of big beautiful people, who often smile, free of charge, all the while relying on us to whisk them away somewhere better. I guess there's a reason they call it the heartland. I hope I can remember that, no matter how many times mine ends up broken.

Write Young, Stay Pretty

A former student called to tell me he's giving up. He's tired of Hollywood and frustrated with his night job editing scripted barbs for some low-rent "unscripted" show. Some guy he personally hand trained was promoted to day shift above him. This means big benefits, such as permission to sample the congealing Poquito Mas while clearing the crafts table. My guy is done trying to fight his way up, covets a vintage Mustang and wishes he'd majored in accounting. He's twenty-five years old, after all, and at this for nearly three years now.

I got here way back when the first Clinton was in the Oval Office and nobody suspected the rude kind of stuff he was up to in there. Around this time the little wiener on the phone was celebrating his first big boy birthday at Chucky Cheese. "Snap out of it!" I wanted to say. "Twice I took the name of the Lord in vain, once I slept with the brother of my fiance, and once I bounced a check at the liquor store, but that was really an accident," I would add, because that's another great Cher line from Moonstruck.

All of us doe-eyed Hollywood types arrived here convinced to the core we had that kind of gold to offer -- rightly or wrongly, judging from the mixed bag I've read over the years. It all feels so random, though, the way things turn out -- who made it, who didn't, who's been teetering so dangerously close to the edge for years. Who gave up and went home without so much as checking into Foursquare with a status update as the new Mayor of Nowhere.

In film school I knew a girl who didn't have the five dollars I was collecting to buy our teacher a class gift. "I'd have to give you my food money," she apologized. "For the week." She ended up marrying one of the creators of Lost, and picked up a few Emmy nods herself writing on The Office and Modern Family -- before selling her own series to ABC as part of seven figure deal. I'm pretty sure she has groceries now, though I doubt she does much eating. She's probably trying to lose her recent pregnancy weight with a celebrity trainer before turning a new baby over to the back-up nanny up in Bel-Aire Canyon.

A guy in my first writer's group wanted notes on some teenage alien script he was polishing. He became a big TV director before jumping to four-quadrant features and marrying the highest paid female screenwriter in history (for all those vampire movies), though not necessarily in that order.

My funniest collaborator ever, ironically, has had as tough a go of things as I have. After college, we did improv in a space rented from a downstairs tow truck company, and starred together in some TV commercials. For awhile he was Mr. Goodyear. Or was it Mr. Goodwrench? I don't know, one of the good guys. Meeting the other day across another wobbly coffee table over another slice of pie, it hit me that somewhere along the way we grew up. While I couldn't pinpoint the exact moment it happened, there's no real mystery as to how things are going to turn out for us. He's been married for twenty years and has a daughter studying abroad. I have a fairly useless master's degree, an on-and-off professorship and some kid calling to insist I make sense of the whole deal.

Given the gift of prophecy, what secrets would I have revealed to the earlier versions of any of us? For even the casual dreamer, I'd announce at one of those coffee houses bubbling with aspirations, Hollywood is the best game in town. For us there is no other game or town; there's nowhere else to go and nothing to do when we get there. Time passes. Everything changes. Nothing changes. And we are only young for now.