Monday, June 15, 2015



Most actors need to have a backup plan and a way to make a living just in case the career takes a bounce or two. In my case, I started as a writer. I dabbled, scribbled short stories, wrote three novels and then turned to screenwriting in-between acting gigs.

I wrote and stockpiled stories my agent couldn’t sell. My agent said I should turn a few of my screenplays into books. I thought the idea was funny and ignored his advice.

Movies were not married to TV when I started; that came later. TV didn’t pay well, so actors tried to make it in the movies. TV was strange in the beginning. You had AFTRA and SAG mixed. The crews were NABET or IATSE. Jobs were hard to find. I became a member of all four unions and guilds, believing when one career stalled; another would fill in the blank spots. I quickly learned building sets and doing the toughest jobs I’ve ever held wasn’t for me. If I couldn’t be in front of the camera making a living, I’d explore surviving behind the camera.

First you had to learn movie 101. It sounds like a joke, but in reality it’s the truth. Actor’s from all walks of life would meet on Sunset Boulevard or pick local coffee shops and trade stories. Friendships came and went, and sadly most drifted out of the business and went to work elsewhere. I’d learn where a low-budget film was about to shoot and volunteered to work free so I could learn how to do what I didn’t learn in film school.

I realized the list of actors doing small parts changed daily and large groups vanished. The chosen few chipped out a career and could make a living while the majority had to have outside jobs to survive. I came out of the tunnel with a bang. Joined the cast of the new TV soap opera called Days of our Lives. My first job was for two days but turned into a week. I got called back the following week and over the next two years had steady income.

I went from the soap opera to TV shows and then landed a 19-week job on Ice Station Zebra. While working on Zebra, I got the bug and learned Movies 101. Working on a big budget film gives you lots and lots of free time. The cast would play games, shoot basketball or visit other stages. I snooped around, followed the producer and director until I drove them nuts. Got introduced to the editor and fell in love working behind the camera. I loved the working actor gig, but employment was spotty. As my role in Zebra ended I assumed I’d learned enough to produce and direct my film. I should mention I attended film school, learned all the basics and remained unemployed. It took an acting gig to change that.

The week after the role on Zebra wrapped my agent sold my first screenplay. I was lucky. It wasn’t an option it was an outright sale. I got called back to the soap for more work and then was hired to direct the first of many films, TV episodes and commercials. That dreadful phrase, "jack-of-all-trades" paid off for me.

We started on film and graduated into video. Each step had a new learning curve. Special effects were crude and in many productions we did the unusual instantly by improvising. The independent filmmaker couldn’t afford fancy stuff, so we made our own. My producer friends and I built a ground up education, or as I call it Movies 101.

What followed was a mixed bag of making movies as a director, producer and sometimes lucky enough to include a screenplay. My work as an actor became fun, and each job was a blast, but I no longer depended on finding enough acting jobs to pay the bills.

Instead, I sold or optioned screenplays and was grateful for writing that pile I had been collecting. My agent kept me busy and landed me a TV series development deal at Universal Studios. It lasted two years. I wrote 13 scripts for the new show and then the plug got pulled. We never made the pilot show. It seemed as though it was all for nothing. A fortune was spent and “just like that” it ended. When I made rounds, I discovered because of my absence many thought I had left the business or worse. It was as though I was starting all over.

Movies 101 taught me many things. One of the most important issues to learn is to keep every script you write, even a bad one. Today I live in my filing cabinets. Now my old ideas are being developed, renewed and/or optioned.

Most produced screenwriters have optioned scripts to various production company’s or studios. Unfortunately, a large number of these properties never go into production. Sometimes, the options are picked up or renewed for years. The ones that didn’t get a green light go into the turn-around. The rights come back to the writer, and the producers end their interest in the project.

So, going back to Movies 101, what do you do with a script that had options to a studio but didn’t get the green light? It must’ve been good, right? Someone liked the work enough to spend money developing the script. In fact, the script might’ve gone through several re-writes before they dumped it and walked away.

That’s what is in my filing cabinet, hundreds of screenplays and developed treatments. I have copies of work I sold, copies of the produced projects and other great ideas that enjoy collecting dust. I remember my agent kept telling me to write books from my screenplays. He said I had enough material to last several lifetimes.

The Rollie Kemp Mystery series began life as a screenplay. I optioned this property six separate times to different producers and studios. There was hope of making several films around the main characters. When the films didn’t happen, the producers turned to TV and made several attempted to turn my script into a TV series. It had to be good, right? That’s what I kept thinking, but for whatever reason it never got the green light. Now that one screenplay has turned into five novels, and the sixth installment is in editing. The first two books are an introduction to Rollie and became Part I (Ghosts and Phantoms I – and Part II – (Ghosts and Phantoms II – of the on-going series. It’s complicated, fun, and non-stop action.

Let’s Sue ‘Em began life as a script and optioned twice. The producers said it would make a great film or an even better TV series. It finally went into turnaround, so I wrote the novel. The sequel is being edited. I tired of seeing a project everyone laughed out loud reading gathering dust in my cabinet. I just released the third version and included a sneak peek at the sequel –

My agent’s favorite script is Within an Inch of the Moon. He sold the option seven times, three to major studios and four to independent production companies. The rights would come back to me, and my agent would find another buyer. It remained in various options for ten years and suffered through 9 title changes. Now the new book release is one of my pride and joys:

Veronique and Murray, one of my favorite scripts is enjoying life as a novel. Veronique got optioned six times, 4 to major studios and twice to major independent production companies. Cast offers were written, locations picked, and even crew got hired, and yet it never received the much sought after green light. The book is making friends around the globe with a story that is ageless and a romantic fun mystery:

The movie business is tough and hard to understand. I don’t know why we missed going into production on many of the scripts I’ve written, but these are an example of what didn’t happen.
Thankfully, Movies 101 taught me never to throw out a great idea. There is an audience waiting, and it’s up to you to find them.

Timing is everything. I’m looking back in my filing cabinet, digging up another old script that will fit into a sequel for one book now completed. I’ll let you know what I find.

William Byron Hillman © 2015

NEW RELEASES – WITHIN AN INCH OF THE MOON – a romantic/suspense/contemporary fiction novel.

LET’S SUE ‘EM -  a romantic/suspense/ contemporary fiction novel

My new IAN page is:

Book Links:

Rollie Kemp Novels
Ghosts and Phantoms Part I:
Ghosts and Phantoms Part II
Hoax – Prematurely Terminated
In editor’s hands – Looting

Doug Hamilton Mysteries
(Over a Cup of Caramelized Chocolate – Completing Final Draft)

Romance/Suspense – Contemporary Fiction
Within an Inch of the Moon:
In development Veronique and Murray's Honeymoon
In development Noah’s Journey


Motion Picture Stories

Family/Youth Adventure
Quigley's Christmas Adventure
(Available in audio book soon)

My next feature film to direct is:
Quigley's Christmas Adventure
 (Sequel to the hit film Quigley)