Wednesday, May 25, 2011

2011 Writing Fellowships/Workshops

Deadlines for the 2011 writing fellowships, workshops and contests are almost here!

Warner Brothers Writers Workshop - Weds June 1

ABC/Disney TV Writing Fellowship - Weds June 1
NOTE: This year, ABC requires two recommendation letters from industry professionals. Don't forget!

NBC Writers on the Verge - Thurs June 30

Austin Film Festival - Weds June 1 (late screenplay deadline and teleplay deadline)

Final Draft Big Break Contest - Weds June 1 (late deadline Weds June 15)

Need notes on your script? I am knocking $5 off my usual prices. I am also available to do rush notes for a small fee. Click here for more info.

Good luck!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Get a Job as a Script Reader

Leslie writes: I'm very good with story development, and I'd love to read for a living. Do you think it's possible to work as a script reader from Atlanta? And, how in the world would I go about this?

I've gotten a number of emails from people who'd like to be script readers - and unfortunately, it is not an easy gig to land. There are a lot of experienced coverage writers floating around LA (and beyond), but the demand is shrinking. Many companies that used to use freelance readers now simply farm out the work to assistants and interns. The Bitter Script Reader has blogged more extensively about this. Even with years of experience, he has trouble finding enough work to sustain him. I was working as a reader for two different companies, but one recently decided to focus on their current development projects instead of looking for new ones. No more books for me. Luckily, my friend who works at the company passed my coverage samples on to a friend at another company who was looking to replace a reader who quit, so I may have a new gig. There are some jobs out there, but in my experience, the only way to get them is through friends and word-of-mouth. You're not going to find these jobs posted on websites anywhere. They generally don't even make it to tracking boards (email groups that Hollywood assistants and execs use to share information). Similarly, my other reading job came about through a friend I used to work with at the agency.

Script reading can pay decently, though many companies have not raised their rates in several years. My writing mentor says that I get paid about the same as what she was paid as a reader in the mid-90s. Also, it's unlikely that you would get enough work to make it more than a supplemental income. The majority of my (small) income comes from working as a tutor and exam proctor, and I also do some paid blogging (which is also a hard-to-find, low-paying job).

On a practical level, there's no reason that you couldn't read from anywhere. You can get PDFs by email and send your coverage by email as well...but I'm not sure you'll be able to find a reader job from outside of LA, unless you have some really solid contacts here. I think companies will want to see that you have some kind of industry experience that informs your coverage. You might be able to identify strong dialogue and a fun concept, but do you know how much it would cost to make? Do you know if there are similar development scripts floating around? Would actors want to attach themselves? I think it would be hard to know what companies are looking for in a script if you haven't at least had an internship in Hollywood. (My coverage has certainly improved a lot since my first internship!) So the practical, short answer to the question is: Be an intern or assistant first.

For more about script coverage, check out my post How to Write Script Coverage.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why you need to go see Bridesmaids

You need to go see Bridesmaids this weekend. For serious. The fate of women in comedy depends on it.

Sounds hyperbolic, but I assure you it's not. How many comedies starring women have been released in the last 5, even 10 years? Look at the wide-release comedies of 2010, not counting animated films:

(Note: it's not an official list; I left off some movies that seemed to hover between comedy and drama, like Life as We Know It.)

Leap Year
Youth in Revolt
Tooth Fairy
When in Rome
Cop Out
She's Out of My League
Our Family Wedding
The Bounty Hunter
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Hot Tub Time Machine
Why Did I Get Married Too
Date Night
The Back-Up Plan
Sex and the City 2
Get Him To The Greek
Knight and Day
Grown Ups
Dinner For Schmucks
The Other Guys
Scott Pilgrim
Vampires Suck
The Switch
Going the Distance
Easy A
You Again
Due Date
Morning Glory
Love and Other Drugs
How Do You Know
Little Fockers

There are some solid female roles in there, to be sure; I loved how real Drew Barrymore and Justin Long's relationship felt in Going the Distance. However, this list is really heavy on romance, and many of the films feature only women paired with men. Are we only interested in women when they are playing wives, mothers or girlfriends? I like romances, but I hate the idea that I can ONLY write romances if I want to write about women. Are we uninterested in female careers, friendships and misadventures? Let's look at the comedies that feature women without a male protagonist or equivalent two-hander male co-star:  Sex and the City 2, Easy A, You Again and Morning Glory. SATC2 is largely dismissed as movie that "doesn't count" when it comes to discussion of female-driven comedies because it's based on a huge TV that leaves us with three. Three out of 32. How about R-rated female-driven comedies? Just Sex and the City 2. Apparently women swearing or getting raunchy really fucking scares people.

Why? Here's one theory: In 2002, Sony released an R-rated comedy called The Sweetest Thing starring Cameron Diaz and Christina Appelgate. It made a disappointing $9 million in its opening weekend - and when I worked at an agency just two years ago I heard executives continue to use it as an example of how audiences don't like R-rated female comedies. Wha?? It's not as though Land of the Lost's disappointing box office numbers prove that you should never make movies based on TV shows (again, SATC). It seems crazy that one single movie could have such an impact on an entire genre, but for better or worse, that's already happening with Bridesmaids. Actress/writer Jamie Denbo explored the issue in her Huffington Post article "Why Bridesmaids is Important":

But here's why it's actually important to see Bridesmaids. On opening weekend. (Twice if you can afford the admission, time and babysitters). I don't know a female screenwriter, TV writer, actor or comedienne who hasn't heard this statement in the past few months with regards to future projects: "Well, we'll see how Bridesmaids does..." 
That sentence means that every creative, brilliant, funny woman in Hollywood is (unfairly) being held hostage to a single film's opening weekend box office. Meaning no studio is likely to take any sort of chance on any new projects perceived to be "female driven comedy" unless they have proof that it can perform. And perform well. (Breathe, Kristen.)
If you support Bridesmaids on opening weekend, you may very well soon have a whole bunch more options to entertain you in the very near future. Because there will be undeniable, financial proof that chicks can be funny to everyone.
What this all boils down to is that Hollywood believes - or at least thinks moviegoers believe - that women aren't funny. The Wrap's Sharon Waxman has been blogging on the subject with a series called "Why Women Aren't Funny." First, she disproved the theory via Tina Fey, who wrote in her hilarious memoir Bossypants that sexism has pervaded TV as well as film. In Fey's first week on Saturday Night Live, someone was needed to play Sylvester Stallone's wife - and although Cheri Oteri really wanted the part, "somebody thought it wuold be funnier to put Chris Kattan in a dress," Fey writes. "I remember thinking that was kind of bullshit." Luckily, Fey says that "By the time I left nine years later, that never would have happened. Nobody would have thought for a second that a dude in drag would be funnier than Amy, Maya or Kristen."

Fey says she's adopted Amy Poehler's response to being told what kind of comedy is appropriate for women: "I don't fucking care if you like it." From The Wrap:
This follows a story she recounts when Amy Poehler had a similar reaction to being told that she was the wrong kind of funny. Poehler turned on Jimmy Fallon in the writer’s room of Saturday Night Live when she made a joke that was “dirty and loud and unladylike.”
Fallon told her the joke was “not cute.” Amy, writes Fey, “went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. ‘I don’t f----ing care if you like it.’
Poehler is another female who has heroically overcome her gender disability to be unfunny. Fey was not only was a head writer at SNL but now runs and stars in 30 Rock. She has some serious comedy bona fides. In her book she concludes thusly about those (men) who believe that women are inherently not funny:
“Unless one of them is my’s irrelevant. My hat goes off to them. It is an impressively arrogant move to conclude that just because you don’t like something, it is empirically not good. I don’t like Chinese food, but I don’t write articles trying to prove it doesn’t exist.”
Fey and Poehler are proving that comedy and breasts aren't mutually exclusive each week on 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation - a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by Bridesmaids producer Judd Apatow. "It’s the glory days for female comedy right now,” he told Waxman. “At Saturday Night Live, the women have dominated the show for almost 10 years at this point... I mean, the women who get fired from SNL are brilliant! Seriously!”

Waxman also posed the question to Community creator Dan Harmon, who was challenged by then-NBC president Angela Bromstad to staff his writers' room with half men and half women.
“It’s harder; there are less women looking for work. It’s easier to have an all-white male writing staff,” he said on Tuesday. The reason, he said, is the same for why Hollywood writers room are predominantly white.
“There’s no active discrimination,” he said. “But historically, this is a proactively insular (industry). When I get a pile of scripts, I have to dig extra deep to find funny women. Because there’s a lot more men. I had to find geniuses who happened to be women -- which is harder. You have to read a lot of crap.”
Based on my own networking experience and the emails and script notes submissions I receive, it certainly seems that more men are pursuing comedy writing careers than women. Maybe it's because Hollywood keeps trying to tell us that we're not funny?

So tell Hollywood that we are. Go see Bridesmaids. Somehow, the movie's earned an 89% on Rotten Tomatoes, despite the fact that there are a bunch of women in it.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

NATPE Pitchcon 2011

This year, I will be attending NATPE Pitchcon, which takes place June 9&10 at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood.

From their website:
PitchCon 2011 is the premiere Hollywood destination for independent content producers. This high-caliber 2-day event is a catalyst for launching you to the next level of your career. We offer industry panels, master classes, hands-on advice and access to a network of influential media execs. PitchCon features the well-respected Pitch Pit where you can pitch your show ideas in guaranteed 1-on-1 meetings with 50+ top level agents, broadcast, cable, digital and studio development executives.
The price for admission to both days of the event is $295 if you purchase by May 10 ($345 after). With the promo code PCAspiringWriter, you'll get over a 20% discount from regular rate of $345, or $70 off, bringing registration to $275. There are also student rates for much less. You guys know that I am affluence-challenged, so I realize not everyone can afford this...but do know that NATPE is a non-profit organization focused on education and networking. I've also been assured that as a pitcher, you will be pitching your ideas to actual executives and agents, not just assistants who have been sent on behalf of their companies. (I'm not knocking assistants at all - plenty of them can bring in projects and pass them up the food chain, but we can probably meet these people through our own jobs and friends, so I'm not sure that would be worth the admission to a pitchfest.)

"Catcher" companies include big agencies like CAA and WME, networks like MTV, Bravo and TBS and production companies like Lakeshore. The event also includes panels and master classes; for the confirmed speaker list, click here.

If you're like many writers, pitching scares the shit out of you. I get it! You feel most comfortable when you're alone in your apartment with just your overwhelming brilliance and the serene glow of your laptop. Can't you just write the script and send it to people? You can write as many specs as you want - but eventually you're going to have to actually speak to other humans. You'll have to make them like you and your ideas. It's something we all need to practice, and I'm hoping that pushing myself out of my comfort zone with Pitchcon will make me a better pitcher.

I'll keep you guys updated on how my pitches are coming - and you can also look forward to a blog recap/review after I've attended the event. In the meantime, take a look at the chapter on pitching in Chad Gervich's book Small Screen, Big Picture. Last year, I sat down with an experienced TV producer to talk about some of my ideas, and what she told me about the pitching process is pretty much exactly what's in Chad's book.

Do you guys have any pitching stories or advice to share?

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