February 22


WGA EVENT (Classic Post)

While we’re rebuilding the site, thought I’d mention this. If you live in L.A. and haven’t signed up for WGA Foundation mailing list, you should. Here’s the link: http://www.wgfoundation.org.

Here’s the latest event in the words of the WGA:

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“Writers on Writing” with James L. White (“Ray”)

When: Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:30 pm

Where: Writers Guild of America, west; 7000 West Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048

Who: James L. White, who wrote the highly acclaimed biopic, “Ray”, which is nominated for six Academy AwardsTM. White received the 2005 Golden Satellite Award for Best Original Screenplay, and is also nominated for a BAFTA Award from the British Motion Picture Academy. Prior to “Ray”, White had penned several projects still in various stages of development. This includes “Red Monkey” for Sidney Poitier and Columbia Pictures, “The Bo Jackson Story” for Fox Television and producer John Davis and “The Harlem Six” for MGM. He has also written an episode of the series “American Dreamer” for HBO and Danny Glover. The program will include an audience Q & A.

F.X. Feeney, film critic and essayist, serves as moderator.

What: This is a monthly series presented by the Writers Guild Foundation where writers talk to moderator F.X. Feeney about recent work, the development of their careers, their approach to their craft, artistic challenges they’ve faced and tactics for survival in a challenging industry.

TICKETS: Tickets can be purchased on-line at www.WGFoundation.org or by calling 323.782.4692
Admission prices: General public-$20, WGA members and academic faculty-$15, full-time students with I.D.-$10.
Special discounts available for Foundation donors.

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July 24


READING ABOUT WRITING (Classic Post)

Seeing into the minds of actively working successful screenwriters is often insightful. Two such screenwriters currently have books out in which they discuss their theory and process of screenwriting.

Blake Snyder, whose credits include “Blank Check” and “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot”, is still actively writing and selling specs to Hollywood. His book, Save The Cat: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need, is a breezy, feel-good how-to-write-scripts-any-studio-executive-must-buy book. At 195 pages, it is a quick and painless read. And it has a few good ideas. Anyone who actually regularly sells scripts to Hollywood must have a few of them. His forte is conceptualizing the story through title and log lines, the so-called “high concept” theory. He distinguishes the principal with complete clarity and leaves the reader feeling he or she can also come up with these crisp, saleable ideas, and thereby have a writing career. He then breezes us through his story theory, from his ideas on structure to building dramatic tension to resolution. This material is less convincing, in part because he could easily have spent three times the pages discussing it – he barely touches on most areas – and in part because his theory feels as if it has enormous holes in it. If you match it up to your most respected mainstream box-office successes, you may feel it just does not hold up. On the other hand, if you look at Snyder’ body of work, his forte is definitely clean, crisp conceptualizations, not depth. Based upon his strong explanations about how he achieves this clarity, the book is worth adding to your arsenal. However, it should be but one of many arrows in your quiver – and not “The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need.” (He also has companion software, discussed below.)

Writing Drama: a comprehensive guide for playwrights and scriptwriters comes from European television and motion picture screenwriter Yves Lavandier. His book (translated nicely from French to English by Bernard Besserglik) is, in a sense, the antidote for Snyder’s. It is thoughtful and detailed, rethinking traditional Aristotelean story theory in modern terms, fully updated with loads of contemporary examples from both American and European cinema. Most Americans will be unfamiliar with some of the foreign examples, but the concepts are sufficiently laid out that this should not be a hindrance. Lavandier covers all of the key areas of story theory – including act structure, dramatic irony (a key element missing from the work of many beginning writers), how to build proper obstacles, characterization, dialogue and more. It is a complete course in writing. His ideas on the purpose and uses of the third act differ somewhat from most American theorists and the book does have a broader perspective on film that the strictly Hollywood point-of-view, but different perspectives are important and the basis for doing what you must ultimately do, namely painstakingly develop your own clear and effective story theory, something that happens only with experience and a strong drive to perfect your craft. Lavandier’s work is a fine addition to your writer’s library and a terrific tool towards developing your own craft. The book can be hard to come by in the United States, but can be ordered from the publishers, Le Clown & l’enfant, who were kind enough to send me a review copy.

As mentioned above, Blake Snyder has companion Save The Cat story development software, which includes templates to force you to conceive a title and logline, the “Blake Snyder Beat Sheet” which includes a series of preliminary beats he believes every story must have, and a story board where you fill in the rest of the beats and play around with your story. I spent several days conceiving a story using his software just to get a feel for it. I enjoyed the exercise and might press it further. If you have sixty bucks to spare and enjoy computer toys (as I do), it’s worth playing with. If you’re a starving writer, buy index cards instead.

Enough. Now go write….

February 8


WHO ARE YOUR CHAMPIONS? (Classic Post)

Champion GifAs a screenwriter, you like to work inside your head. That’s where you’re the most comfortable. It’s where the creative process ferments. You often see your task as effectively getting onto paper what you develop inside your head.

Unfortunately, that is only half of your task. And just as you must master that half of the task to be appealing to those who would hire you, so to you must master the other half of your task – getting in front of those who would hire you. How do you master this latter half of the task?

You enroll champions. Champions are those people who believe in you as a writer and will work to promote you. They are not limited to agents and managers – who sometimes make you believe they are champions when, in fact, they may not be. Champions are also producers, development execs, assistants to development execs, Hollywood readers, receptionists, mailroom jockeys at the studios and agencies, writing professors, anyone who, if motivated, can get your script into qualified hands. The producer/studio side of Hollywood moves surprisingly fast – today’s receptionist is tomorrow’s president of production for Universal. No one is too low on the totem poll to be your champion.

If you are overlooking the task of enrolling champions, you are not doing your job. It is no excuse that you live in Iowa. It is no excuse that you don’t know who to call. You have a cell phone, don’t you? You will not even have to pay the long distance charge.

So how do you enroll champions? By being a human being. Pick out your favorite production company, call the receptionist, tell him or her who you are and what you are up to. Ask him or her who at the company might be willing to look at your script and tell you what they think of it. If the receptionist does not know, find out if the receptionist is working his or her way up. If so, ask the receptionist to read your script. You would not be the first person in Hollywood to get a break because a receptionist mentions to her boss that she is reading a mind-blowingly awesome script. That’s how people move up in Hollywood; they find good material and bring it to their superiors. You, with your cell phone and your internet (to research the companies), can begin enrolling champions today, right now.

The key to enrolling champions is to be normal, intelligent, professional, and friendly. You may make many calls without success before enrolling your first champion, but you will enroll them. Do not be dejected by the ones you do not enroll – and by all means do not alienate people who are not interested. They may well be interested tomorrow or, worse, remember you when they can hurt your career. People in the industry want what you want – they want to work with nice people who can do their job well. That’s all you need to convey in a conversation to begin enrolling champions. And the way to convey it is by being it – not by saying it.

So, now that you know what it takes, don’t complain. Just do it.

Go enroll champions….