Thursday, September 29, 2011

Do the BLACK SWAN interns have a case?

The New York Times reports:
Two men who worked on the hit movie “Black Swan” have mounted an unusual challenge to the film industry’s widely accepted practice of unpaid internships by filing a lawsuit on Wednesday asserting that the production company had violated minimum wage and overtime laws by hiring dozens of such interns. 
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Manhattan, claims that Fox Searchlight Pictures, the producer of “Black Swan,” had the interns do menial work that should have been done by paid employees and did not provide them with the type of educational experience that labor rules require in order to exempt employers from paying interns. 
“Fox Searchlight’s unpaid interns are a crucial labor force on its productions, functioning as production assistants and bookkeepers and performing secretarial and janitorial work,” the lawsuit says. “In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees.” Workplace experts say the number of unpaid internships has grown in recent years, in the movie business and many other industries. Some young people complain that these internships give an unfair edge to the affluent and well connected.

Many Hollywood types instantly criticized plaintiffs Alex Footman and Eric Glatt for complaining about having to fetch Natalie Portman's coffee. The general attitude among execs and assistants is: we had to be interns once, too. Suck it up.

However, as I blogged about in April of last year, an internship must be "similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational institution" and "for the benefit of the trainee" to be legal, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Another stipulation that likely makes many Hollywood internships illegal: "The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the trainees, and on occasion the employer's operations may actually be impeded." While Footman and Glatt may be seen as having poor attitudes or questionable work ethics, they may also have the law on their side.

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25 Insights on Becoming a Better Writer

Check out these 25 great tips from Margaret Atwood, Zadie Smith, Chinua Achebe & more. They range from philosophical to obvious-but-hard: Zadie says, "Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet."

(Thanks Joey!)

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

...and have you seen UP ALL NIGHT?

I know I have some of your questions to get to... but I'm swamped with new shows!!

Created by Emily Spivey, UP ALL NIGHT tells the story of a fun-loving couple who realize they can't maintain their crazy lifestyle when they have a new baby. Maya Rudolph co-stars as a Tyra-ish talk show host who thinks she's Oprah. The second episode aired last night, and it was pretty hilarious.

UP ALL NIGHT airs Wednesdays @ 8 on NBC.

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Premiering tonight: WHITNEY

At just 29, Whitney Cummings is the co-creator of new CBS sitcom 2 BROKE GIRLS and stars in another sitcom she created, WHITNEY, which premieres tonight, September 22, at 9:30 on NBC. “I don’t think that these shows are on because women are the stars of them,” she told The New York Times. “The shows that just happened to be the best this year happened to be centered around women.” In another NYT profile, the comedian said she was inspired to write the show because she “didn’t see anything on TV for young, sexy, smart women to look at and say, ‘Yeah, I relate to that, I’m like her.’ It’s time. It’s time.”

I'm not in love with the laugh track, but I do love Whitney Cummings. The insurance forms were my favorite part of this pilot. Check out a preview:

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Premiering tonight: NEW GIRL

Written by Liz Meriwether and starring Zooey Deschanel, NEW GIRL is a comedy about newly single woman who moves in with three dudes she finds on Craigslist. From an interesting New York Magazine profile of Zooey:
The New Girl script came her way at a time that Deschanel was a little weary of the indie-film circuit. She’d already taken most of 2010 to tour with She & Him. She hadn’t thought seriously about doing TV—she’d never found a character she wanted to play for such a potentially long stretch. Jess, though, she liked. The show’s I Love Lucy sense of high jinks, too. Plus it was a chance to work with a female writer, which she’d hardly ever done, and to show off her ­physical-comedy skills, which in later episodes will include fending off an 11-year-old suitor on a wedding dance floor and leading a group of troubled youth in a hand-bell choir, impromptu choreography by Des­chanel. “I guess I felt like there was stuff I could do that nobody knew I could do,” she says. “It’s rare that the ladies get to be funny in that particular way.”

Check out a preview of the show, which premieres tonight, Sept 20, at 9/8c on FOX:

You can also watch the entire pilot episode online right now!

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Premiering tonight: 2 BROKE GIRLS

Kat Dennings & Beth Behrs star in CBS' new comedy 2 BROKE GIRLS, about 2 waitresses at a diner in Brooklyn. The show is one of many female-centered comedies premiering this fall; Kat told The New York Times: “Women are supposed to be mysterious, and there’s a veil you don’t cross, but vagina jokes are just gold, man."

Check out a preview of the show, along with some insight from EP Michael Patrick King:

2 BROKE GIRLS premieres tonight, Sept 19, at 9:30/8:30c on CBS.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pitching advice from the pros

Pitch season is here, and a realization dawned on me: we can read lots of professional scripts to learn about writing, but what can we do to learn about pitching? It's not as though we can sneak into professional pitches to watch how they're done (at least not without pissing off some studio security dudes). So I figured I would look 'round the interwebs to see what the pros have to say. Here are links to some helpful articles I've found, along with some of my favorite snippets of advice:

How to Pitch a Pilot or Movie by Ken Levine
Rule number one: Be enthusiastic. This is a killer idea! You’re passionate about this one. To say, “I see a lot of vampire movies are selling. Why I don’t know but anyway here’s my vampire movie” is to say, “Hi, I’m wasting your time and mine.”

No, I said "Pitching" by Jane Espenson
Now, everyone likes to pitch differently. Some people read their pitch, others have no notes at all, most are somewhere in between, with notes that they consult, but don't read directly from. I'm an in-betweener myself. I like to have practiced the pitch, but not to the point where it's lost all meaning.

But wait! There's more! by Kay Reindl
Our product -- our idea -- has to have that "why didn't I think of that" element. It has to be familiar enough, yet different enough. It has to fill a niche, but not create one. It has to be, in essence, a simple solution to an everyday problem.

TV Executive Roundtable: AMC Chief Defends 'Drama' Around Matthew Weiner, 'Mad Men' Negotiations
Here's some insight from the executive and producer side about what people are looking for. It's trying to find something that you're not developing "out of the box," just to be out of the box. Modern Family is a great traditional comedy. There are many elements about it that feel fresh and original, but it's not reinventing the wheel -- it's just executing a comedy in an incredibly special way. Glee is a bigger swing, but again, it's telling high school stories, coming-of-age stories, just with this incredible twist. [Warner Bros. TV president] Peter Roth used to say, "A great series is a conventional idea with a completely updated twist." I think that is right.

Writing: The Pitch by Jon Rogers
You are not just telling a story: you are selling a story. To be blunt, people, you are asking some strangers to pay you. A lot. You must both exhibit competence and inspire confidence. And that word is pretty important, as you figure out how to pitch your story: "inspire." To me this is important, because it is very, very easy to get lost in overly detailed plot point pitches.

How to Pitch by Craig Mazin
Write your pitch before you pitch it. It’s intuitive, right? We’re writers. We are paid to write words for prettier people to say. Pitching is our moment on the stage. Why shouldn’t we script it first? Write the whole thing out. Nnnnnoooooo, you’re not going to recite the damn thing like a school play. No, you’re not going to memorize it. Here’s what I do. I write it out. By writing it in my own voice, I quickly start to get a grasp for how I’m going to tell the story.

The Writers Making "Characters Welcome" at USA Network - article by Sandra Berg
From Steve Franks, creator of Psych: "The pitch itself actually started with me talking about my relationship with my dad and my dad sort of secretly training me to be a cop from a very young age.” Development executive McGoldrick was sold on the idea after Franks told him a story about how his father would take him to get ice cream as a kid, but before he would let him eat it Franks had to close his eyes and tell his father what the four people in line behind them were wearing.

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Finding a writers group in LA

J writes: I was wondering if you had good suggestions on where to look for/how to find a good writer's group. Are there listings somewhere? I'm pretty new to LA and doing a Google search just brings up too much different stuff. I'm a young gay aspiring TV writer, and if there's a group like that, great. Otherwise I'm assuming that most of today's Hollywood writers are pretty tolerant and open to gays and some gay action in the writing.

There is an LGBT-centered Hollywood networking group called Homotracker, so I encourage you to check that out! Perhaps you could start meeting some other writers at one of their events. Your instincts are right, though -- all the Hollywood writers I've met are tolerant and open to all kinds of people. I would imagine most writers would be thrilled to consult people with differing experiences and points of view...though you may get sick of the straight people turning to you and asking you to weigh in on behalf of the entire gay community. Then again, I enjoy telling a group of men the definitive female point of view on something. :)

I'm not in a writing group anymore, but my group started when a like-minded blogger emailed me and some other people she found online. Reading blogs is definitely a good place to start to find someone at your level - and if other LA writers are looking for a group, feel free to use the comments section here to get in touch with J.

I know it can be awkward to chat up strangers, but you can also try meeting people at events at the WGA and the Paley Center. The latter is hosting free fall TV preview parties this week, and I'm sure plenty of the attendees are aspiring writers. FYI, there are parties in NY too. JHRTS, a networking group for Hollywood assistants, also holds mixers and panels. I try to post about other notable events held at places other than these usual spots. Maybe you could start trading scripts with just one person and eventually meet more people to form a group.

You could also meet potential writers group members through classes at UCB or UCLA Extension.

Lastly, I'm not a big fan of expensive screenwriting seminars, but I would imagine you'd find plenty of aspiring writers at those too.

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