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Archive for June, 2011

SWS Question 3: If a writer living outside of L.A. writes “the right script” do they really have a chance of creating heat in Hollywood? (And what if they live outside the United States?)

CHRISTOPHER LOCKHART*: If an out-of-town writer scores a local manager or agent, the writer can certainly see results.  However, because the business is so competitive, I think a writer really needs to be in Hollywood to maintain his professional status.  He wants to mingle with those who do the hiring.  He wants his face in front of producers and executives in order to create relationships.  It’s not easy to break into this business, let alone maintain a career.  Distance makes maintenance even more difficult.  Once you land on the “A” list, then you can pretty much live wherever you please.  But it might be difficult to get on the “A” list without spending some time in town.

But if you don’t live in L.A., believe it or not, your being in Iraq or France isn’t all that different from a writer living in Missoula, Montana.

Most communication between writers and Hollywood is through letters, e-mails and phone calls. Since you cannot attend parties to mingle and network, you’ll have to make contact in other ways.

Firstly, you must exhaust all your existing contacts. Be sure to squeeze them of any helpful information and leads.

Although many hate the dreaded query letter, they DO work in terms of getting someone to read a script.   Query letters are a way to let executives know who you are and what your script is about.

Although you’ll want to query production companies, managers and agents – your efforts might be best served by pursing management.

The likelihood of you being able to find the right production company for your script can be very difficult. Finding a manager might be a bit easier. Also, once situated with a manager (who will help guide you), he will come up with a logical strategy for marketing you and your scripts. Managers are a good choice for new writers who are developing their craft and business acumen.

In tomorrow’s post Lockhart will address loglines and querry letters.

* Christopher Lockhart is a film executive, educator and producer.   He is the Story Editor at WME, the world’s biggest talent agency, where he looks for projects for “A” list clients including Denzel Washington and Steve Martin.  He has an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU and lectures around the country.  His writing workshop “The Inside Pitch” was produced for television and earned him an LA Area Emmy nomination.    He co-produced “The Collector” (2009) and its sequel (in post production) “The Collection” (2012).  He wrote and produced the documentary “Most Valuable Players (2010),” which won the “Documentary Channel Audience Award” at the 2011 Nashville Film Festival and was acquired by Oprah Winfrey as part of the OWN Documentary Club for a fall 2011 premiere.   He has been a guest judge for screenwriting contests like Big Break!, The Wisconsin Screenwriting Contest and the UCLA Showcase 2011.  Christopher is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and SciencesThe Writers Guild of AmericaWest and the Producers Guild of America.

Lockhart’s blog is “The Inside Pitch”; A Hollywood executive discusses screenwriting.  The Inside Pitch; Selling A Script in Hollywood is available on DVD.

Related post: How to Get an Agent
Marketing Your Script (part 2)

Scott W. Smith

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One of the side benefits of this blog I started three years ago is it’s given me interesting connections that I didn’t even make when I lived in Burbank. Soon I will be posting interviews I did earlier this year with screenwriters Dale Launer (My Cousin Vinny, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) and Pen Densham (Robin Hood Price of Theives, Moll Flanders).

And today I’ll start by posting part one of a Q & A with Christopher Lockhart. While not posting much on his blog The Inside Pitch much is the last couple years he was on the forefront of helping screenwriters back in 2006, and there is a good of helpful information listed in his archives. There you’ll find his response to such timeless questions such as, What type of spec should a novice screenwriter try writing? (A question that I’m sure Thomas Edison was asked soon after patenting the first movie camera in the late 1800s.) Lockhart’s expanded bio reads:

Christopher Lockhart is a film executive, educator and producer.   He is the Story Editor at WME, the world’s biggest talent agency, where he looks for projects for “A” list clients including Denzel Washington and Steve Martin.  He has an MFA in dramatic writing from NYU and lectures around the country.  His writing workshop “The Inside Pitch” was produced for television and earned him an LA Area Emmy nomination.    He co-produced “The Collector” (2009) and its sequel (in post production) “The Collection” (2012).  He wrote and produced the documentary “Most Valuable Players (2010),” which won the “Documentary Channel Audience Award” at the 2011 Nashville Film Festival and was acquired by Oprah Winfrey as part of the OWN Documentary Club for a fall 2011 premiere.   He has been a guest judge for screenwriting contests like Big Break!, The Wisconsin Screenwriting Contest and the UCLA Showcase 2011.  Christopher is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, The Writers Guild of America, West and the Producers Guild of America.

SWS Question #1: What were your goals when you started your blog, “The Inside Pitch,” five years ago?

CHRISTOPHER LOCKHART:  There were plenty of blogs by professional writers and amateur writers and screenwriting gurus.  My goal was to present an opinion that was shaped by the talent agency business; a kind of opinion and experience that I’d hadn’t seen blogged about.   At first, I answered questions from the POV of my side of the business.  But then I also started to muse about my experiences in the industry.  A blog can be consuming, and it started to eat away a lot of my time.  Besides my job at the agency (ICM at the time), I started developing projects as a producer.  So, I put the blog to rest.  I revived it in a very part-time status about a year ago, but in order to develop a readership, a blogger must write regularly.

SWS QUESTION #2: It’s been said that most screenplays written range from bad to not very good, and that a great script will not go unnoticed. Do great scripts always open doors in Hollywood?

CHRISTOPHER LOCKHART: “Always?”  Of course not.  A writer must have access to the business.  What good is a “great” script if the right people don’t get the opportunity to read it?  Having a “great” script is only a percentage of what a writer must accomplish to evolve a career.

Teachers and purveyors of HOW TO books use “great” every chance they get. What else can someone say? “Great” makes everyone look smart. Writers are writing great scripts, and Hollywood is selling/buying great scripts.

And, in such a tough, puzzling business, “great” allows the writer to actively strive for something specific (so he thinks). He enthusiastically tells himself, “All I have to do is write a great script and Hollywood’s doors will open for me!”

But anyone who works in the business knows this is not entirely true.

I suggest writers write the “right” script.

When I started talking about the “right” script rather than the “great” script, I was criticized and lambasted.  But I still believe that lots of factors play a role in getting writers to the professional level.  For instance, “timing.” 

What make a script a “right” script?:
1) CONCEPT
2) EXECUTION
3) MARKETING

CONCEPT is king in the Hollywood spec market – especially for “tyro scribes” (that’s Hix Nix Stix Pix for “new writers”). I hear lots of concepts from new scribes and rarely do any resonate with the sound of a “Hollywood movie.”

Part of being successful in this business is having a good head for concepts. For instance, I like the concept for TWO MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT.   In this story, an obnoxious divorce attorney must find his kidnapped wife before he’s forced to pay the unorthodox ransom: He must kill himself.

I still believe that a new writer needs to develop a “movie” concept.  Most writers develop concepts that are neither dramatic nor cinematic.  They’d make great poems – but not great movies. 

So, a “right” script has to be great but it also includes other factors that some “great” scripts often lack.   

More tomorrow…

Scott W. Smith

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“She was known and loved universally as Gertrude Stein, born at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, in 1874, now rests in the cemetery of Pere Lachaise at Paris, along with Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Daumier, Beaumachais, Delacroix, Brillat-Savarin, and countless other writers, painters, and musicians.”
Bruce Kellner
Baby Woojums in Iowa 

Watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris and Kathy Bates’ performance of Gertrude Stein reminded me of a Stein quote that I have been familiar with ever since I moved to Iowa in 2003, but had never found a place to drop it in. So it’s now or never.

“You are brilliant and subtle if you come from Iowa and really strange and you live as you live and you are always well taken care of if you come from Iowa.”
Gertrude Stein
Everybody’s Autobiography (1937)

Gertrude Stein never actually stepped foot in Iowa. She had plan to give a lecture in Iowa City, but was prevented because of a snow storm. But undoubtedly she had met Iowans in her circle of writers and artists. Perhaps her quote was simply a reference to writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and who met Stein in Paris in 1913.

Scott W. Smith


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“Am I alone in struggling with vulnerability? No. So this is what I’ve learned. We numb vulnerability…We are the most in debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. You cannot numb emotion.”
Brene Brown
TedxHouston 

Vulnerable: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded
Merrian-Webster 

I just got an email from the Austin Film Festival linking to KLRU which has a 30 minute show called On Story featuring interviews from past Austin Film Festivals. A great free resource. Here’s a sound bite from the episode Northeast Front which features Shane Black. (That episode also includes comments from Randall Wallace and Lawrence Kasdan.)

“Vulnerability is seems to me is very important. Because vulnerability implies two things, you’ll see what the character’s really about if you glimpse those moments in which they’re most vulnerable, also it shows you what they’re going to try erect a wall against.  The ways in which they’re going to hide from you their vulnerable spots, their weak points is what’s interesting.”
Screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon)

“Kill people….Only thing I ever did good. When I was nineteen  I did a guy in Laos a thousand yards out.  Rifle shot in high wind. Maybe eight or ten guys in the world coulda made that shot. It was the only thing I was ever good at.”
Riggs (Mel Gibson)
Lethal Weapon

Here are some links to some great scenes in movies which show vulnerability in a character:
Seabiscuit: “I can’t see.”
An Officer and a Gentelman: “I got nowhere else to go!”
Jerry Maguire: “I came here to fire you Jerry.”

Can you think of others?

Scott W. Smith


					

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“Filmmaking is dictated by fear. By financial pressures, temporal pressures, career pressures. You really have to be with people who are close friends, who have the proverbial grace under pressure (and it’s easier with friends), and that’s one reason why some movies turn out better than others. I don’t know that anybody’s ever bothered to investigate, but you go down and look at the number of films that have been made and pick out what you consider are the good films. I’ll bet you in almost every case that the major people involved in making every good film—the cinematographer, the costume designer, set designer, director, actors, screenwriter—had worked together on several films and were close to each other. Strangers coming together for the first time rarely make anything good.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Robert Towne (Chinatown)
The Craft of the Screenwriterby James Brady
Page 430

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“I wanted to be a writer, but next in importance to being a writer was to make a living as a writer—very important to me.”
Sol Saks

“Go back to the Greeks, who had stories of gods coming down to Earth to live with mortals. There are stories in other cultures of angels doing the same. The only thing is, before ‘Bewitched,’ this basic tale had not been used as a TV series.”
Sol Saks

When I quoted Sol Saks yesterday I was not aware that he was still alive earlier this year. He died in April at the age of 100.

The New York Times reported that he was the creator of the popular TV show Bewitched and wrote the very first episode.  A show that starred Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York and originally aired from 1964-1972, but will be in syndication—somewhere in the world— forever. Saks credits include the feature Walk, Don’t Run (1966) that starred Cary Grant.

He was born in New York City, raised in Chicago where his father ran a paint store, and got his start in the entertainment business working in radio with Dinah Shore. When radio died in Chicago he knew he needed to move to New York or Califonia and chose to head to Los Angeles, “because it was a more intersesting ride.” As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

Sol was also told that in L.A. they were “dying for comedy writers.” But he didn’t find that to be true. William Morris was his agency in Chicago, but he couldn’t get any offers in Los Angeles. Evenutally, he lined up work with on The Red Skelton Show. “Then I could get into William Morris’ office—after I had a job,” Sol said on an interview at EmmyLegends.org:

Scott W. Smith

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“Identification is also a valuable tool in comedy writing. Used by writers in the sense of ‘to identify with,’ identification means the listener or reader can relate to your characters. This isn’t as circumscribed as it sounds. A middle-aged, white, automobile mechanic does not relate only to middle-age white mechanics. He may relate to a king, a black housewife, an oversexed elephant, or an oak tree, if it can talk or think. Just so long as the character has problems or dreams he has experienced. 

“When your audience can identify with the character, then everything that happens to the character happens to them. And you, the writer, have that omnipotent influence on the mood of others that all artists dream of.”
Sol Saks
Funny Business;  The Craft of Comedy Writing

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In light of the Dallas Mavericks winner there first NBA title last night I thought it would be fitting to find a quote from the teams controversal ower Mark Cuban—the Ted Turner of his day. As an entrepreneur who sold his Internet company vBroadcast.com years ago in a deal worth $5.7 billion, Cuban has a history of going against the grain and winning. Last night’s victory was the first NBA title for Mavericks in franchise history. On the film & TV side of things I can’t even keep up with all that Cuban in involved in, but here is an overview; In 2001 he launched HDNet, he’s part-owner in Landmark Theatres, and his IMDB credits are more than 20 films deep including the George Clooney directed Good Night, and Good Luck, the documentary Enron, The Smartest Guys in the Room, and Steven Soderbergh’s indie film Bubble. 

If you’re looking where everybody else is looking, you’re looking in the wrong spot…Wherever I see people doing something the way it’s always been done, the way it’s ‘supposed’ to be done, following the same old trends, well, that’s just a big red flag to me to go look somewhere else.”
Mark Cuban
What I’ve Learned from Mark Cuban by Mike Sager
Esquire

If you’ve ever seen the Magnolia Pictures logo come onscreen of a movie you’re watching—well, Cuban has a piece of that as well. On camera he was a part of Dancing with the Stars in 2007, and has appeared on HBO’s Entourage. Cuban’s home base is in Dallas, Texas and if he ever said he bought the Hollywood sign and was moving it to the Big D he probably wouldn’t be joking. Remember Ted Turner was laughed at back in the 1980 when he launched CNN saying that no one was going to watch a channel that featured news all the time.

Now that he has a nice addition to his trophy case, that won’t be the last you hear of Mark Cuban.

Scott W. Smith 

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According to IMDB, screenwriter David H. Steinberg entered Yale at 16 and earned a law degree from Duke University. After working in entertainment law in Atlanta and New York he headed to LA to pursue a career in film and went to USC graduating in 1998. And just for good measure it says that he’s also the great-grandson of Max Planck, the founder of quantum theory. I’m guessing he’s a pretty smart fellow.

I found this quote from him to balance out all the positive quotes I find;

“If I was going to break into the business now, I don’t know if I could do it because there are so few opportunities to sell a script or get an assignment.”
Screenwriter David H. Steinberg (American Pie 2, Miss Dial)
LA Times article by Richard Verrier
Screenwriters find work dwindling
July 03, 2010

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“The budget (for The Station Agent) was $500,000, and yeah, this being my first film did certainly make it harder to raise. Whenever you write an independent film that doesn’t read like a sellable Hollywood script, people get a bit nervous, and if it’s from a first time writer/director then people get nervous, and when you’ve got a dwarf in the lead role people get nervous. You put that combination together, and it doesn’t add up to fast cash. So, yeah, it took a while, but we were all pretty busy acting anyway – I was appearing on Broadway for a year, then I was doing a TV show for a year, so it wasn’t like we were just sat around in our living rooms thinking ‘Where’s the cash?’ When it actually happened, I was sitting with my agent, and I was like ‘Wow, that was easy!’ and my agent was like ‘Not really, it’s been three years’. I’d forgotten – it seemed like it just happened. I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to get involved because it is a lot of money, even though by movie standards it is pretty low, it’s a big gamble. We put together this financial package for the film and a friend of mine who is a banker and a lawyer structured this thing, and you read it and you get into the financial side of it all and you think ‘Why would anyone invest in any movie?’. It is just a horrible, horrible business. My brother is a financier and he was reading through it and he said ‘This is really well put together’, and he read the whole thing and was like ‘You’ve got to be fu@king kidding me! Who would invest in this stuff?’”
Writer/Director Tom McCarthy
Counter Culture Interview   

The Station Agent was an audience favorite at Sundance in 2003 and according to Box Office Mojo made more than $8 million worldwide.

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