Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The 2012 Austin Film Festival

The 2012 Austin Film Festival takes place October 18-25. Panelists include all kinds of awesome writers and producers, from Damon Lindelof and Aline Brosh McKenna to Paul Feig and Marti Noxon.

A script of mine made it to the Second Round/Top 10% before being eliminated, meaning I'm offered some kind of TBD discounted admission. I've always heard that Austin is a very writer-friendly festival & conference (plus, I feel like nobody there will judge me for stuffing my face with macaroni and cheese). Is anyone going? Have you gone in the past? Would love to hear some feedback in the comments.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Should Aspiring Screenwriters Join Twitter?

Marisa writes: I have been hearing that writers trying to start their career should take to Twitter to help in developing their voice and also to help them get discovered. Do you have any tips on how writers should approach Twitter? For example, are there things they should definitely tweet about and things they should avoid?

This is a fantastic question. I'm on Twitter, and I like it a lot. I'm able to connect with blog readers, follow my favorite screenwriters, and see headlines from my news outlets as stories are reported. I've even become "Twitter friends" with some industry people I've later met in real life.

Still, like all internet fun, Twitter can be a distraction. Whenever I hit a tough spot in a script I'm writing or get bored by a script I have to write coverage on, it's easy to click over to Twitter and procrastinate. Nora Ephron was definitely on to something when she suggested temporarily blocking your internet access to focus on your work.

Also, many writers fail to think about the consequences of what they Tweet. If you write that you hate a certain movie, you've permanently stamped it on the internet. What if you meet that movie's producer for a meeting someday? Would you want him/her to Google your name and see this insult pop up in the results? (I've blogged before about being aware of your internet presence - and the related question, "Should I start a blog?".) I'm sure this doesn't happen that often, and I'm not saying we should be super paranoid and self-censoring, but I try to ask myself if anything good will come from something I've Tweeted/Facebooked/blogged/etc. Is it worth it? Also, since I'm a new writer, I don't feel like I really have the authority to be bashing things (it's a little different when a screenwriter with 20 produced credits sends off an opinionated tweet). I'm not saying you shouldn't have opinions - just think before you put them all on the internet.

In terms of getting "discovered" on Twitter, it can happen - mostly for comedy writers. Many up-and-coming stand-up comedians gain popularity by tweeting hilarious one-liners. (Just make sure you save some jokes for your routines and scripts.) Also, you might consider tweeting in the voice of a specific "character" or concept in the hopes that it could become a show. CBS' now-defunct sitcom Sh** My Dad Says began with a Twitter account - and CBS also bought scripts based on Twitter accounts Dear Girls Above Me and Shh Don't Tell Steve. I think the key with this stuff is focus and specificity. These people aren't tweeting "OMG delicious breakfast! Time to work on my script!," you know? All their tweets are through a specific lens and concept. Also, for what it's worth, I don't think there's a drama equivalent of turning a Twitter account into a show (feel free to comment if you know otherwise).

You'll have to decide if you want to use your real name or stay anonymous. I use my name since I want people to be able to find me - but obviously, all my Tweets are then connected to me. If you're tweeting anonymously or under a "character," there's a little bit of a barrier in connecting your account to you as a writer - but I suppose if people loved your concept and wanted to contact you, they could send you a direct message (which isn't for public viewing). If you want to have more than one Twitter account, you can - you just need additional email addresses to open the accounts.

There aren't any official DOs and DON'Ts of Twitter, but here's my advice:

DO tweet things that you think other people will actually find interesting
DON'T tweet anything you wouldn't want people to find in a Google search for your name
DON'T tweet so often that you're super annoying
DON'T be afraid to tweet at your favorite writers, producers, etc. - but immediately asking, "will you read my script??" is probably not going to win them over

Lastly...perhaps this seems obvious, but don't think of Twitter as an easy way to skip the process of studying shows and writing good scripts. Twitter might help get you noticed, but I doubt you'll get very far without some solid writing samples.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Top 5 Reader Questions

I recently asked my Twitter followers if they had any burning questions, since I feel a bit like I'm out of new things to discuss. Kiki asked: What are the top 5 questions people ask?

I definitely get a lot of emails about the same things. Using the super scientific method of memory, here are the top 5:

1. How do I get an agent/manager?

The general answer is: write a bunch of awesome scripts while you simultaneously meet people who know (or will know) agents and managers. One way to do this is to get an assistant job (like I did), which will help you make connections and also teach you a lot about how the industry works. Once you have contacts, you can ask your new friends to refer you, since querying is not very effective. You can also enter contests, fellowships and studio-sponsored writing programs (like the Nicholl Fellowship for features or the Warner Brothers Writers Workshop for TV), since this will get you noticed by reps.

2. How do I get a writer's assistant job?

It's a hard, hard job to find, but you can find more info here.

3. Do I need to move to LA? 

Yes. Go ahead and ignore this advice, but all the people who move to LA have an advantage over you.

4. I'm in high school or college and I'm interested in film/TV writing and internships - where do I start?

I recently cataloged posts geared toward students under the heading High School and College Students. I also have a category for posts specifically about Internships.

5. Does it matter if I have a degree in film/TV? 

No. Going to film school can be great for screenwriting classes, internship connections, etc., but it's not essential. I'm glad I studied screenwriting in school and came to LA for a semester program (I think I was a bit "ahead" of people who didn't), but you don't need any specific kind of degree to A) get an assistant job or B) become a writer. Please don't go into massive debt for an arts degree...but if you get a scholarship or have supportive parents, film school can be fun.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Writing advice from actors: Creating challenging roles

Your characters aren't just characters; they're roles. Creating challenging roles will strengthen your screenplay and also increase your chances of getting an A-list actor attached (which can help enormously in getting your project read and getting your project off the ground).

I usually look for interviews with screenwriters, but lately I've been noticing that actors have been (inadvertently) offering some great insight for writers in explaining why and how they pick roles. Certainly different stars have different career goals and agendas, but I think the overriding theme - from the following two interviews, at least - is that actors want to be challenged by characters who are both unique and exhaustively fleshed out.

On Tuesday, July 24, Matthew McConaughey appeared on The Daily Show to promote his movie KILLER JOE. Around 18:20 in the interview, he explained his current thought process behind choosing his roles: "The scripts I was getting about two years ago, everything I read, I was like 'Okay, I've done a version of that before,' or, things that I read that were new, I was like, 'you know what, I could do that tomorrow.' And that's not a bad thing, but hang on a second, let's go back, work on the family, make some other things stick, and take the time away until I get something that sort of arrests me a little, scares me a little bit.  And these five independents kinda came back to back to back, and all the roles were very different. They were all characters that really don't pander or placate to anybody's rules but their own. They were very singular-willed characters that I was a little bit scared of - but I was excited to say, 'I'm gonna dive in and come out the other side and figure out who that guy is. And they were all with great directors who have very strong points of view. None of these directors were gonna say, 'Well, let's bring it back to convention, let's play it safer.'"

Jessica Biel also gave some insight about choosing roles at Comic-Con, where she discussed her role in TOTAL RECALL:

"If Len [Wiseman] didn’t care about a female character that was equally smart, cool, tough, kick-ass and emotionally vulnerable, emotionally sensitive and actually a woman, a real person, then you’re dead in the water. Because he, in the end, is the only person who has the ability to put it all together, and on this one particularly, he cared about letting this person be this well-rounded and real -- in a heightened sense, but a real woman."

The Hollywood Reporter: How tough is it to find genre or nongenre movies that you feel like offer you a well-rounded character to play? Is it a matter of you simply transforming whatever you take on to make it challenging, or does it need to be on the page from the get-go?

Biel: "No, it’s always a concern because if it’s not on the page, it’s a real question mark. The movie is made on the writing, the movie is made on the set, and the movie is made on the editing table -- you can do whatever you want emotionally onscreen, and then someone can just cut it up and chop it up. So the best possible way to start something feeling confident that you will have a well-rounded experience is for it to just be there, if possible, on the page. Because I’m not interested if something is a surface thing; unless I’m passionate about it for some other reason, I’m not moved by it. And I want to be moved. I feel like I can’t be moved unless I believe that this person really exists and the arc makes sense and where they go is interesting. But if it’s a really well-thought-out person, that’s what is exciting."

The Hollywood Reporter: Is there any difference for you between taking on big movies like Total Recall and smaller ones? Kristen Stewart recently said she learned through the process of making Twilight that you don’t necessarily have to take an independent project to be able to feel passionate or develop something independently. Has that gap narrowed to where it’s no longer like, “There’s my Sundance movie, and there’s my summer movie"? 

Biel: "Yeah, I think it has narrowed a bit. It really does depend on who your director is. There are some people who are able to do both really well, and they are some people who just don’t, and sometimes you find yourself in an experience where you feel like you do need to go do your independent Sundance movie. But I do feel like the maybe the gap has closed a little bit. I think that’s also because the audience requires a thought-out situation. It’s not just like, 'Oh, I can just watch a bunch of action and not a real plot and no real character.' It just doesn’t work like that."