Friday, March 30, 2012

Hollywood Game Plan by Carole M. Kirschner


As a former agency assistant-turned freelance script reader, I was impressed with Carole M. Kirschner's advice in Hollywood Game Plan. She explores a lot of topics not covered in other industry or screenwriting books: the awkward-but-necessary practice of networking, finding a mentor, finding a job, taking a meeting, etc. I am constantly getting emails about these topics - so readers, take note! This book is best for college students, current interns, or people who are looking to get that first internship or assistant job.

One thing I disagree with is Kirschner's notion that you can
get a reader job by calling, and that "being a reader is one of the 'easiest' ways to get into the business." All readers I know got experience reading for free via an assistant job (or at LEAST an internship). Why would a company want to pay for the opinion of someone with no experience?

The book is straightforward and easy to digest, and her exercises will prove valuable for job seekers and new assistants. I also thought that her quotes from current assistants, executives, etc. gave the book a fresh perspective. The advice is generally not outdated, as I thought it might be - and she offers tangible steps to take in your journey. Kirschner helps readers to understand that breaking into Hollywood is not easy, but still possible.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Script Frenzy 2012

Script Frenzy 2012 begins April 1!

It's the largest script writing event in the world--about 30,000 participants from around the world are expected to participate this year, including K-12 students. The challenge: write a 100-page script in 30 days during April. Here are the rules:

1) To be crowned an official Script Frenzy winner, you must write a script (or multiple scripts) of at least 100 total pages and verify this tally on ScriptFrenzy.org.

2) You may write individually or with a partner. Writing teams will have a 100-page total goal for their co-written script or scripts.

3) Scriptwriting may begin no earlier than 12:00:01 AM on April 1 and must cease no later than 11:59:59 PM on April 30, local time.

4) You may write screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, comic book and graphic novel scripts, adaptations of novels, or any other type of script your heart desires.

5) You must, at some point, have ridiculous amounts of fun.

Some writers criticize Script Frenzy for emphasizing quantity over quality, but I think anything that gets you cranking out pages on a regular basis is a good thing - and might be exactly what you need. Ideally, you'll have an outline you've created beforehand (or work on an outline during the Script Frenzy period), so that your second draft won't involve "Select All" followed by "Delete." But especially if you've never finished a whole script, Script Frenzy is a great way to prove to yourself that you CAN do it!

Who's participating this year?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

James Erwin: the lucky man who was ASKED to become a screenwriter

Most of us aren't as lucky as James Erwin, a 37 year-old software manual writer from Iowa who posted a story on Reddit and ended up writing a screenplay for Warner Brothers. From Wired:
As Erwin scanned Reddit, a question caught his eye. It was posed by someone calling themselves The_Quiet_Earth: “Could I destroy the entire Roman Empire during the reign of Augustus if I traveled back in time with a modern U.S. Marine infantry battalion or MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit]?” Erwin clicked on the question and a lively comment thread unfurled. Hundreds of people were whipping hypotheticals back and forth, gaming out the implications of a marines-versus-Romans smackdown. What’s the range of a Roman spear? How would the Romans react to a helicopter? What would happen when the Americans ran out of bullets?
In response to The_Quiet_Earth’s question about time-traveling marines, Erwin started typing. He posted his answer in a series of comments in the thread. Within an hour, he was an online celebrity. Within three hours, a film producer had reached out to him. Within two weeks, he was offered a deal to write a movie based on his Reddit comments. Within two months, he had taken a leave from his job to become a full-time Hollywood screenwriter.
While James Erwin was doing his best to keep the mob happy, a man in Beverly Hills named Adam Kolbrenner happened to be scanning Reddit. Kolbrenner, who at 37 is the same age as Erwin, runs a literary management and production company called Madhouse Entertainment. He represents writers and writer-directors, along with developing projects for film and TV. The Denzel Washington/Ryan Reynolds movie Safe House is a Madhouse project, and one of its clients scripted Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg. What excited Kolbrenner about the Reddit thread wasn’t so much the idea as the writer. All it took to convince him of Erwin’s ability was the very first post—that first 350 words. “He can handle character and storytelling,” Kolbrenner says, “very, very difficult things to just be able to do.” Plus, he adds, “it got such an incredible response. I knew it was something special, because it wasn’t like he took three months to do this. This was quick quick quick, and it was all good.”
Two weeks after that fateful lunch hour, Erwin learned that Warner Bros. had made an offer for him to write a treatment—a condensed version of a screenplay—and a first draft of a full screenplay.
You can read the whole story at Wired. If only we could all be discovered and ASKED to write a screenplay, right? While I usually claim that managers and agents are too busy to be scouring the earth for new material, they're always on the lookout for fresh voices and good ideas. Congrats to James! You can follow him on Twitter at @jlerwin.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship Info Session in LA

Want to learn more about the Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship?

Hosted by the Hollywood Writers Office Assistants, a one-time info session will feature program directors Frank Gonzalez and Ollie Ashtari-Larki. Get your questions answered and kickstart your application, which is due May 31, 2012. (Applications will be available online starting May 1.)

When: Wednesday, April 4 at 7:00 PM
Where: Busby's East
5364 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90036

For more about the Disney/ABC writing program, check out this recent article from The Hollywood Reporter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Writing advice from Geoff LaTulippe, GOING THE DISTANCE writer and future St. Patty's reveler

GOING THE DISTANCE screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe needs your help with his new project, an epic St. Patrick's Day comedy. Go to StPatricksDayMovie.Com to submit a video or photo of your St. Patrick's Day celebrating and you could be part of the movie!

Geoff, who is active on Twitter as @DrGMLaTulippe, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the project - and offer some writing advice!


How did you get the idea for this St. Patrick's Day Movie?
I've always kind of known that I wanted to do something surrounding the Holiday. It's my Xmas. I love it more than any other day of the year, even though I've forgotten more about it than most people will ever remember (thanks Jameson!). As far as this project specifically, I had been kicking around the SPD idea more and more last year; at the time, I was working on a TV project with the ladies at Grady Twins (writer Marti Noxon's production company) and, coincidentally, they ALSO wanted to do a SPD movie. So we put our heads together and came up with something that worked. We hope. We pray.

What do you think is the most important thing in a mainstream comedy feature?
Tough question - totally depends on the type of comedy you're going after. For me, so far, the most important thing has been realism and a universality to the story that stays far away from being overly broad. I think real life is funny as hell, so I try to reflect that in what I write. I think an audience relates to an observational comedy far more if they feel they've gone through something similar; you feel good knowing you're not the only one who's thought that thought or had that argument. That means pulling no punches, which often means I write about my own faults and shortcomings. Of which there are billions. So maybe honesty is the most important thing? I'm still figuring this out. I think we all are.

What's one piece of advice you would give young writers? 
Read all the scripts you can get your hands on. Produced scripts, unproduced scripts, good scripts, bad scripts. Pay attention to the differences between the good scripts and the bad scripts, the produced scripts and the unproduced. And always always always write first what YOU'D want to see. Something you're passionate about. Something you love. Because you'll always write that to the best of your ability.

What would you consider your first success in screenwriting? 
GOING THE DISTANCE was not the first thing I'd ever written - I'd made a few aborted attempts prior - but it was the first thing I'd ever "put out there". I developed it with New Line exec Dave Neustadter, whose long-distance relationship the script is based on. When we finally submitted it to New Line, it kind of took off unexpectedly. I didn't have an agent OR a manager, and my lawyer had been my lawyer for literally four minutes when the script was sold. It was all pretty ridiculous. Still is. I have no clue what I'm doing. But now I have a bunch of smart, talented people surrounding me. Which is never a bad thing.

Thanks, Geoff! And happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone. I know the rain in LA will MAKE IT COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE TO HAVE ANY FUN, but I'm going to try.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Can a 29 year-old state school grad get hired as an assistant?

Howard writes: I'm 29, late to the game in LA, having graduated college (+1 year of grad school) into the recession. I've been here almost 2 years and have a few industry jobs under my belt - I was an assistant to some independent film producers, though really it was supposed to be an internship, but they lost money on their last film and couldn't afford to pay a real assistant, and they didn't want anyone to know they were poor. I was rolling calls, making huge agency contacts, putting together cast, directors, crew lists, setting up casting sessions, filming auditions, uploading/distributing them, writing script coverage, doing cast research and tech support, hiring more interns, just everything. 

After 7 months, I was borderline homeless with no pay in sight, so they hooked me up with a job in post that came and went. Before that, I had 2 years as a HR admin assistant in my home state, a year at the Apple store, I won several awards running my university's film committee, ran the entertainment section of the school newspaper, and, coming out of prep school, I had a perfect verbal and writing SAT and was accepted to several top tier universities with some merit scholarships, but had to settle for the free state school ride. In my spare time I travel to film festivals, from SXSW to TIFF, write freelance film coverage, and volunteer with film organizations. Clearly, I'm competent and I love film.

I want to be an office PA/assistant in TV or Film, a real paid one, and not a single job I apply to will even bother with me for an interview. My hunch is that they are not impressed with my college, and I see many postings say "Graduate from top college ideal." I tend to win every job I get in the room to apply for, but I can't even get into the room anymore. Other than dropping an additional $125K and losing 2 more years to even have the opportunity to interview for entry level jobs I've been capable of doing successfully for a decade, do you have any advice? Other than lie on my resume? I'm a few years older than I'd like to be, but I'm hardly 50. I worked in HR and fielded resumes from applicants who wanted to work in my free full-time PA position, including students from top tier schools, so I have a feeling my cover letter and resume are in line with appropriate expectations, but maybe not. Or is 29 the new 50?

I'm sorry you've been having so much trouble. I don't think it has anything to do with your age; it's just a really competitive market and there are a lot more applicants than there are jobs. Many of these applicants also probably have better personal connections than you do, and I know it's hard to compete with that.

A 35 year-old exec could feel awkward having a 55 year old assistant, unless this assistant was a career assistant/secretary who had no aspirations of doing anything else (usually only studio presidents, heads of agencies, etc., have assistants like this.) But 29 is not old. One of my best friends is a 32 year old assistant because he had an entire marketing career before coming to LA. And he's definitely not the only one.

The only way this age thing might hold you back is if you're giving off a vibe of "I'm too old for this" and you act like doing assistant work is beneath you. If you seem to have a chip on your shoulder, you won't be hired. But it's rare that people would want an inexperienced 22 year old over someone with as much experience as you do. Try your best to come off as eager and not annoyed/desperate.

As for your college - sure, some people who went to USC and Harvard won't be impressed by a state school far from LA - but I know plenty of people who went to state schools and non-film schools who got jobs in the industry. The "top college" thing is new to me. I don't think this is what's keeping you back - and even if it was, there's not much you can do about it except go get an MFA from USC (and that's financially crazy for you).

I know you were just trying to show me that you're a smart person, but I would also be wary of talking about your SAT scores, prep school accolades or student film experiences. That stuff was 10 years ago - you need to move on. Only talk about your professional experiences. I doubt you would bring this stuff up in interviews, but I thought it was worth mentioning because I have met a few people who continue to talk about college exploits long after they should.

Other than that, just keep trying to meet as many people as you can, and apply to anything you can get your hands on. Tell everyone you know that you're looking for a job, and remind them every few weeks that you're still looking. Also, asking for specific things can be helpful - I found that asking people "do you know anyone at an agency" yielded me better results than saying "let me know if you hear of jobs." You also might get a non-industry job for a while just so you can feel financially secure until the good industry job comes along. I've had friends who really enjoyed working at the Apple store. I myself found a tutoring job on Craigslist that has been great. Sometimes if your plan isn't working out, you need to try a new plan for a while.

Skip the cover letter (unless the job posting asks for one) and use a succinct cover email when you apply. Also make sure your resume looks good, clean, etc. Keep it down to one page. If you still have a non-LA cell phone number, include your address so people immediately know you're local. I don't think you need to lie - but you can spin things and make things sound more impressive. For example, don't say your independent film assistant job was unpaid. Also, use parallel structure when listing the duties of your jobs.
Hang in there - good luck!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

What actually goes in a query letter for a literary agent?

Meredith writes: I recently wrote a TV comedy pilot with my best friend that we're very excited about. From my research on the internet, it looks like the next step is to send out query letters to agents to try and get representation. However, when we researched what the content of a query letter should be, we found very different information across the sites. I was wondering if you could possibly give me some advice on writing a query letter?

I guess I haven't tackled this one yet! I don't think there's a hard and fast rule for query letter format, but I would write something like:

Dear Ms. Jones,
My writing partner and I are seeking representation. We have written a pilot called MARCHING BANDITS, a GLEE-meets-21 JUMP STREET comedy about fugitive criminals who take cover as high school band members. If you would be interested in reading it, you can reach us at (310) 555-9874 or marchingbanditos@gmail.com .

We look forward to hearing from you!

Best,
Meredith Smith and Jane Smith

Make sure the tone and genre of your script are clear. If the script has won a contest, you can also include that - but unless it's a prestigious contest like The Nicholl Fellowship, agents won't care very much. The agent I used to work for would say, "anyone can win a contest," and having done some reading for contests, I can vouch for the poor quality of contest submissions.

You might also consider writing "I graduated from USC with an MFA in Screenwriting" if that's true - but again, that won't necessarily impress people. As an assistant reading query letters, I remember thinking "didn't they teach you at USC that very few writers get representation from query letters?" Use your judgment about whether you think your school sounds impressive. Most don't.

Remember that your query letter will go to an assistant, not the actual agent. Don't do anything to bore the assistant or annoy the assistant and make him/her recycle the letter immediately. I used to get really annoyed when people would ramble on and on about their lives. I don't care that you're a butter sculptor from Tarzana! I have shit to do! If you write comedy, you can try to be funny (and I hope your logline sounds funny)...but don't go on and on. Avoid jokes altogether if you are not funny.

Also remember that most big agencies have policies requiring assistants to send query letters straight to business affairs, where another assistant will generate a letter telling you that the agency does not accept unsolicited material. Even if you manage to avoid this (very occasionally, some people ARE looking for new material), you will probably get thrown into the recycling bin. Please read all my other posts on query letters to understand why querying is largely ineffective.

In your email you said you've finished one script. Keep writing! You may not be ready for representation.