Monday, April 29, 2013

Splitsider Presents debuts with experimental screenwriting film - go to the premiere for $5!

We live in a bold and frightening future, one fraught with tweets, pokes and #yolos. But with that bold future, we're also starting to see new and exciting ways to find, distribute, and watch films. Splitsider Presents, the newest initiative from comedy site, aims to debut comedy features, docs, and stand-up into the ever-growing field of independent digital distribution. If you're an aspiring writer, widening avenues of developing, producing, and distributing scripted content outside of the studio hierarchy are good news, especially in cases such as Splitsider Presents.

Their website explains: "because we're selling directly with no other partners, we're able to give a majority of every sale price right back to the comedians and artists behind these projects." 

Splitsider Presents' debut feature shines the spotlight on screenwriting. A hybrid narrative/doc about a fractured troupe of NYC comedians who come together to write one last experimental film, The Exquisite Corpse Project (directed by Ben Popik) is a continually engaging, funny, and touching screenwriting meta exercise. In the film, each comedian writes 15 pages of the same film, with only the preceding five pages from the last writer to inform his segment. The result - a schizophrenic, yet oddly cohesive funhouse of a movie - examines screenwriting principles, collaboration, and friendship in disarmingly incisive ways.

Check out the trailer:

The Huffington Post raves: "The concept is wildly original and consistently entertaining."

Even better news: The Exquisite Corpse Project is premiering in LA this Weds night, with a special deal for Aspiring TV Writer and Screenwriting Blog readers. Simply visit and use the promo code amandablog to get $5 tickets! You'll also be treated to a Q & A with filmmakers.

Date: Weds 5/1
Time: 7 pm
Location: The Silent Movie Theatre: 611 North Fairfax, near Melrose
(Note: The movie is NOT silent.)

Screenwriting links: Monday, April 28

'Star Wars: Episode VII' screenwriter Michael Arndt is having trouble writing [Vulture/Funny or Die]

Buffalo-born screenwriter is not in Narnia any more [The Buffalo News]

Getting through Writer's Block [BBC Writers Room]

NYTVF: Home for Comedy Voices [ThePit NYC]

The 27 Stages of Getting Addicted to a TV Show [Buzzfeed]

Salman Rushdie Turns Screenwriter for Midnight’s Children [Vulture]

Interview With Screenwriter, Derek Haas; The Formative Years [HuffPo]

Thursday, April 18, 2013

5 Questions with a comedy showrunner assistant

Scott Brody works for comedy writer-showrunners Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen. He was kind enough to answer 5 questions about his job:

1. How did you get your job?

I think the same way most people end up getting jobs.  Timing, luck, having a good relationship with past employers, and a smidgen of balls.  I glued myself to the trades and created a spreadsheet of development and pilot news (something I didn’t realize at the time was already doing for me).  I wrote down any connection to any pilot that I could possibly string out, no matter how remote, and started emailing friends and former colleagues.

One such connection was from my time working as an assistant at a production company that had developed something with Andrew Reich and Ted Cohen.  I remembered chatting with them and figured they might be nice enough guys to pretend they remembered me, too.  So, I emailed my old boss at the production company and asked if he might reach out to them on my behalf.  The assistant they had lined up had just fallen through and they happened to need someone urgently.  I got called on a Thursday, interviewed Friday, and started the next Monday.

2. What are the basic duties on a typical day of your job? Do you have time to write?

My job has changed in nature a few times.  When Andrew and Ted were doing two pilots at once, my job was a lot of scheduling and coordinating.  Then when Work It got picked up, I got to/had to read tons of scripts from writers at all levels for staffing.  That was also an opportunity for me to give some input and show that I have a brain.  Opportunities to prove you have a brain are important as an assistant.  You want to make sure your boss doesn’t end up just thinking of you as Assistant-bot 5000, or “that dude who fixes my iPhone.”

In series, my job was a lot of “shadowing": always following my bosses around so that I was there if they needed anything, but trying not to get in the way or generally say anything stupid.

Finally, when we transitioned to development, my job became more flexible and I’ve had to be game for anything from scheduling to proofreading scripts to picking up my boss from the mechanic when his car was getting serviced.

I have had time to write, and I’m sad to say I didn’t always take advantage of those opportunities.  But ultimately, I learned how to be productive in the stretches of down time I had and quickly shift gears when necessary.

3. Have your bosses read your stuff/helped you at all?

Yes.  And I think that probably most bosses, if you work hard for them and take the time to develop a good relationship, will want to help you out even if it is just in some small way.  Andrew and Ted have been amazing in this regard, and have mentored me through the process of writing a fresh spec.  They’ve been really hard on me at times, even asking me to do a page one rewrite at one point - but it has very much made me a better writer, and I was able to eventually get that script to a place where they were really happy with it (and so am I).  With any luck, it will end up being a good and useful writing sample for me.

4. What's something you learned about writing or the industry from your job?

Don’t pitch problems.  Pitch solutions.  You’d be amazed how many writers forget that.

Also, the thing that seems like the most important thing in the world to you is probably pretty low on the list for just about anybody else.

And make sure you earn your favors, whatever they are, through your relationships with people.  Nobody is going to help you if you haven’t given them a chance to get to know you (and ideally like you) first.

Along similar lines, as an assistant, make sure you are absolutely certain it’s okay for you to be pitching something before you open your yap.  It will be frustrating at times. (I know it was for me, as the former kid in class who always had his hand raised.  Shut up.  I liked school.)  But, pitching at times you shouldn’t be pitching is a big no-no.  Until you know for sure when it’s okay, better to play it safe and run your pitch by a writer on staff who you trust, in private.

Also, the other assistants are not out to get you.  That is in your head.  Probably.

5. When you had to read lower-level staffing submissions for your bosses, what did you look for? What were common mistakes writers made?

The most unbelievable thing was when a script had bad typos, weird formatting, or seemed just plain unfinished.  I don’t think there is anything worse than coming away from a script thinking that either the writer or the rep was lazy, or that some kind of mistake had been made with what file was sent over.

The most important thing in a script was just that it was good.  Funny, clear characters, clear voice, engaging story, well know, good.  I don’t think it’s as important to match the exact tone or style of a show you’re being submitted for.

One thing I think is important to keep in mind for low level writers submitting for network comedy in particular, is how difficult it is to execute a good original pilot script.  And the reality is that the skills involved in writing a good pilot aren’t necessarily the skills you’d need as a staff writer.  Whereas the job of writing a spec episode of an existing show closely aligns with what you’ll likely need to be able to do as a staff writer.  It will vary from showrunner to showrunner, but I know that during my experience, at a certain point we told agents to only send us specs for staff writer level submissions.  So, in the great debate of spec vs pilot, I think the only real answer is both.

If you are lucky enough to get called in for a meeting, be sure to show off your personality and really be yourself.  Probably 90% of the meeting at that point is whether or not you mesh with the showrunner and they could stand to be around you for 14 hours per day and until 3 am if necessary.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

30 Female Screenwriters to inspire you

According to a recent study from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, of the 250 highest-grossing films last year, only 14 percent were written by women, while 38 percent of the films employed one or no women in roles such as producer, director, writer, editor, or cinematographer.

"There is inequality going on, and it's institutionalized, and it needs to stop," says Diablo Cody. She also covered the topic in a different interview: "I didn’t know it was that bad. I’d have to say visibility and representation are important. The women that have power need to be vocal and not complacent. I have seen very successful women and they don’t speak out because they don’t want to rock the boat and they simply want to stay quiet and be part of the boys’ club. I understand wanting to protect your career, but I’m willing to be outspoken and obnoxious."

In a recent Broken Projector podcast, writers and critics wondered if a lack of visibility exacerbates the issue. If women don't see a lot of women writing and directing films, does that discourage them from doing the same?

I think it does. Sitting at this year's all-male panel of WGA award nominees, I couldn't help but feel disappointed. Where were the women?

There are plenty of women writers and directors out there - but perhaps, like Diablo suggests, they're less outspoken, working hard under the radar. Ladies, you're not alone. What's encouraging to me is that it wasn't hard at all to find great female screenwriters to highlight. Get inspired by these 30 kickass women:

Lorene Scafaria

Tina Fey

Katie Dippold

Annie Mumolo

Gina Prince-Bythewood

Leslie Dixon

Lucy Alibar

Karen Croner

Robin Swicord

Mindy Kaling

Lena Dunham

Kourtney Kang

Dana Fox

Kelly Marcel

Julia Hart

Kirsten Smith

Karen McCullah

Dee Rees

Elizabeth Meriwether

Laeta Kalogridis

Vanessa Taylor

Nancy Meyers

Lisa Cholodenko

Sarah Haskins & Emily Halpern

Michelle Morgan

Melissa Stack

Diablo Cody

Jennifer Crittenden & Gabrielle Allan

Liz W. Garcia

Stacie Passon

Thursday, April 4, 2013

5 Questions with a cable drama writers' assistant

Aaron is a writer's assistant on a cable drama. He was kind enough to answer 5 questions about his job:

1. How did you get your job?

Years back, I was an assistant at a TV production company and was able to make a good impression on a veteran writing team that was attached to one of our projects.  They were pitching the project to every cable and premium network in town within a matter of days, and I had to schedule all that, coordinate everyone in our pod, adjust for last minute changes, etc. Kind of a heavy plane to land, but it all went well.

Two years later, I had left the business to assistant manage a restaurant (more money, more time to write, etc).  It turned out being a restaurant assistant manager is a nightmare.  Everyone - customers, staff, vendors - everyone shits on you.  That's what you're there for.  So there I am, pack a day, trying to decide between buying a gun or starting Paxil, when I get an email from that writing team:

"Just wanted to know what you were up to and if you have any interest in being put up for an assistant to a showrunner?  If you are, send us your info..."

I hadn't had any contact with these people in almost a year...

So I met the showrunner, we hit it off, and I got the job.  Miracle.

I'm still working on the same show and have since been moved into the writers' assistant position.

2. What are basic duties you have to do on a typical day? 

I have two basic duties. My first and primary duty is to keep the room notes.  That's just about writing down everything the writers say and then organizing those thoughts into an easy to read document.  That organizing step can be time consuming.

The second big thing is research.  The show I'm currently on aims to be as realistic as possible.  So if someone pitches a crazy idea about a killer rapist dolphin, I pull up all the dolphin research I can to see if there are any facts to support the idea.  Or alternatively, the research is done as a first step and the room starts drawing story from the research.

3. Do you have time to write? 

Sometimes the work schedule/demands are very intense and sometimes they're easy, so it varies, but even if it's very intense, I make time to write every day even if it's just a half hour in the morning.  Have to.

4. What kinds of things have you learned from your job?

The coolest thing I've been shown is the value of immersing yourself in what you want to write about.  If you want to write about cops, but don't know anything about cops - call the cops.  Visit a police station.  Walk up to a cop on the street.  Find out if you've got a cop stashed in your social network somewhere and then go ask him/her questions.  Anyone - lawyers, paraplegics, local politicians - if you approach them and say, "Who you are and what you do fascinates me, would you please talk with me for a minute?", what are they going to say?  "Go fuck yourself"?  Maybe, but probably not.

5. What advice do you have for people who want to get a job like yours - and succeed?

It took me 5 years to get a job near a writing staff and I was pretty lucky when I did, so... But I think I got this writers' assistant job because I worked hard as the showrunner's assistant.  I got that job because I worked hard as an executive assistant.  I got that job because I worked hard as a receptionist, cleaning out the toaster and shit.  I got that job because of Craigslist.

A lot of my opportunities have come from unexpected people.  People I didn't realize were watching, were watching.  And luckily I was doing a decent job when they were.

So my advice has to be:
Let everyone know where you want to go.
Take pride in your work.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Attend an ABC/Disney Writing Fellowship informational event Tues 4/23 in LA

Meet the the directors of the ABC/Disney Writing Fellowship, Frank Gonzalez and Ollie Ashtari-Larki! Learn more about the program, get your questions answered, and kickstart your application. One night only.

Date: Tuesday, April 23
Time: 7-9 PM
Where: Busby's
            5364 Wilshire Blvd
            Los Angeles, CA 90036

Monday, April 1, 2013

Launch Your Own Script Frenzy

Update: one site aiming to take the place of Script Frenzy is the April Screenwriting Sprint, aka 120 in 30.


'Tis the season, people. Time to take stock of our endeavors, pin our hopes, fears, and insecurities into submission, and race to weave them all into one cohesive document. Nope, it's not our taxes, it's Script Frenzy, the international screenwriting event that challenges writers to complete 100 pages of scripted material during the month of April. Those familiar with NaNoWriMo probably get it, right? Yeah, you get it. Technically, the official Script Frenzy competition was canceled after 2012 - but we like the idea of the challenge. Why not start your own Script Frenzy? Especially if you haven't finished your first script yet, or if you've been struggling with a specific project, it can be a great motivator.  

The rules:

1) You must write a script (or multiple scripts) of at least 100 total pages.

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. 

Last year, 16,500 people took part in Script Frenzy, racking up a total of 85,000 participants since its debut in 2007. And while plowing through 100 pages in one month isn't always advisable, with the right prep, self-imposed deadlines like Script Frenzy can produce breakthroughs for writers who need to shake up their process, or newcomers ready to get that first "vomit" draft out of the way. Sometimes you just need to know that you CAN do it.

Since you can't use the actual Script Frenzy website anymore, perhaps you can tally your work with another site or app. A simple Excel doc also works!