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Crime Writers weekend in L.A

It’s coming up on 20 years now that my UK partner in crime, Chris Jones and I, sat in a British police cell and came up with the idea for The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook. We had found ourselves in a crazy situation, with absolutely no idea what we had done wrong – other than having made an independent movie. And guess what? That was exactly why we were in jail. Our tiny little low budget movie was playing at the UK movie theaters and we had a few weeks earlier been interviewed on the equivalent of Goodmorning America. Normal promotion you would think (in fact excellent promotion for a little no-budget film), however this interview ended up making us subjects of a CID (Central Intelligence Division) investigation. Three months of being under investigation while we were traveling the world, having been invited to accompany our movie to international film festivals. Then on our return, a dawn raid by the police. Our fake movie prop guns being seized by the police, searching our garden beds for where we must have buried our laundered millions…it was all quite a spectacle. We soon discovered what had happened and why we were suddenly such a big catch for the police to have spent all this money on ‘bringing us down’.  On our first time on prime national TV promoting our movie, our interviewer had confused us with another film of a similar title and assumed that our little film was raking in the money in America. Instead of correcting her, we played along thinking perhaps she knows something we don’t – this is live TV after all! And not wanting to sound negative, we took her praise. When questioned repeatedly how much we had taken at the box office, and having no option but to say something so she would move on – the words $2 million came out. Little did we know there was a tax man who had just seen our accounts the week previously watching the morning show while having his breakfast. He assumed that we must be telling the truth as we’re on TV (of course!) and that we must be lying about how much money we’re taking in…and hence the investigation began and so did our now successful series of books – The Guerilla Film Makers Handbooks
 
One of the main reasons for such a strong reaction was that access in the UK to information on the reality of filmmaking was extremely limited. No one who worked in the industry wanted to share what they had learned over the years, there were no books for UK filmmakers and the internet didn’t exist. We wanted other filmmakers to learn from our mistakes (there were many in making our indie films – many of which could have been avoided if someone had just given us a few minutes of their time), but also to give them access to other industry leaders so that filmmakers such as Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead), who used our books, could have a base from which to build. 
 
Flashing forward to the present and living in Los Angeles, one of the things I love here is how open people are in the industry to giving advice. What do you expect from a town where everyone likes (needs, really) to toot their own horn? The big obstacle here is finding the people and getting in the door. And that is why we set up Filmmaker Junction – our live event division of our book series, that connects talent and provides access to those in the know. All of our events – The Documentary Summit, The Hollywood Field Trip, our From Script to Screen series and now our Crime Writers Weekend – are designed to bring the up and coming filmmaker, producer or screenwriter an opportunity to break down that door and get those golden nuggets of information.
 
Hearing from other screenwriters and seeing it for ourselves, there seems to be one big area which is lacking access – law enforcement. It’s no secret that police procedurals are popular TV and film mainstays. They have a built in mystery, they can have ticking clocks adding to tension and drama and the characters, the villains are usually cool and interesting. But something that frequently falls flat for our writers is the authenticity of how the police speak, act or perform. Unless you’ve had your own brush with the law, or you grew up around, or you know cops, it’s in a world of its own. Our screenwriters would show cops in their screenplays leading a generic life – divorced, an alcoholic.  Many times the action would be unrealistic or derivative of other shows.  We thought we could help dispel that notion and give full on access – and so The Crime Writers Weekend was born. 
 
Keeping with the book series tradition, we are bringing screenwriters, novelists, producers and directors in contact with actual law enforcement professionals so they can hear what’s true, what’s junk and hopefully get some stories that will generate some unique stories, scenes and dialogue. The event is set up with five one hour panels on each day with a different member from two of the biggest law enforcement entities in the US: the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Country Sheriff’s Department. The sessions will either be moderated or straight presentation with a Q&A built into the time. We have experts from SWAT, Gangs, Narcotics, Homicide, Murder for Hire, Working Undercover and several other topics that frequently pop up in stories. It’s a brilliant opportunity to get advice straight from the source and if you need any more, you can set up consults with any of the speakers after the weekend is over. 
 
Looking forward, we plan on doing this conference on an annual basis as there are loads of topics that we want to cover. But we also know that law enforcement has it’s polar opposite – criminals. And that’s why we will be doing a version of this seminar in the fall that focuses on ex-cons: Law and Disorder if you will. Stay tuned for those and we hope to see you out on April 13-14, 2013 in Santa Monica for the CWW!
 
The Crime Writers Weekend
April 13-14, 2013
John Adams Middle School, Santa Monica, CA