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Posts Tagged ‘Dana Fox’

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten.”
Richard Foster
(Quote often attributed to Bill Gates, but I believe Foster wrote the line years before Gates wrote or said it.)

Screenwriter Dana Fox was 2 for 2 when she followed her career trajectory question to Rob McElhenny on Scriptnotes episode #299 with a question to writer/director Rian Johnson about his career trajectory that led to writing and directing Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

“I was never good or smart enough to get industry work before I made my first movie. I basically wrote Brick right out of college and essentially tried to get it made through my 20s. I didn’t make it until I was 30, but the whole time I was trying and kept almost getting there and it kept falling apart. But I was working some really wonderful jobs like I worked at a preschool for deaf kids for a while, I worked at the Disney channel producing promos for like Bear in the Big Blue House—really good jobs but nothing that was like I was making money doing what my sights are set on. So when I started doing it it was starting with this really personal thing and then I was very, very lucky and able to just kind of keep doing it.”
Writer/director Rian Johnson

It’s also worth pointing out that Johnson graduated from USC film school (same school Star Wars creator George Lucas attended) where he made short films, and continued to make short films after school. When he finally got Brick made for $500,000 it won the   the Special Jury Prize (For originality of vision) at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, and won Best First Film at the Austin Film Festival in 2007. He then followed that success with The Brothers Bloom (2008), Looper (2012), and directed the  Ozymandias (2013) episode of Breaking Bad, before given the Star War reins. A good example of being persistent and building on small successes that brought him to the intergalactic stage.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“I never saw myself as a sitcom person, but I was waiting tables and I was like I have to figure out something and I wrote this script that was super dark, but when I put it into Charlie’s [Charlie Day] hands or Glenn’s [Glenn Howerton] they made it funny and I realized this could actually be a sitcom. But the truth is I never had any aspirations to get into comedy writing at all.”
Writer/actor Rob McElhenny on the initial concept for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

The following exchange from Scriptnotes podcast #299 lasts less than a minute, but it belongs in the Scriptnotes hall-of-fame. And it’s the drum I’ve been beating in the 9+ years of writing this blog. And a classic example of “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Screenwriter Dana Fox: What was your trajectory to get you where you are right now?

Rob McElhenny : Well, mostly desperation. I was working in every bar and restaurant in New York City and I was just acting—or I was auditioning, and not getting any jobs, and complaining about every script that I read. So I was encouraged by my agent to stop bitching and write something for myself. I got the Syd Field screenwriting books, and William Goldman [Adventures in the Screen Trade] and just tried to understand [the basic principles of writing]. The first thing I wrote was not a comedy at all, it was really super dark. Really dark because that was a time in my life when I was very dark. 

That script got optioned and led to Rob working with Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) for six months. And while had to be an incredible opportunity itself, took Rob further into the deep forest as the project fell apart and ultimately didn’t get made. Rob stopped writing and decided it was time to leave New York.

Rob McElhenny (con’t): I moved out to Los Angeles and I decided to write again. I said I want to write something very simple so I don’t have to give it to somebody else. I want to go shoot it myself. So I wrote a little short film that was very dark but I brought it to my friends Glenn and Charlie and they thought it was funny so I just hitched my wagon to those two and held on for dear life. 

I didn’t really know anything about filmmaking, but I didn’t know anything about writing I just got all the books and watched as many movies as I possibly could. And so I just went to Best Buy—I didn’t have any money, but I got one of their credit cards with the high interest rates and I bought a prosumer camera and I got Final Cut [editing software] and learned how to cut and we shot it and I cut it together—and it was terrible. Like terrible, terrible. But I realized it was terrible and I re-wrote it and I shot it again. That was also terrible. And then we shot maybe three or four iterations and then I realized, wait, maybe this isn’t so bad. 

It not only wasn’t so bad, but it was so good that it paved the way to co-creating It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (with Glenn Howerton) which is now in its 12th season, and if it continues through its contract will end up being the longest running live action narrative TV program in the history of television. (Surpassing The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriest which ran for 14 seasons.)

Scott W. Smith

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Before Dana Fox was named by Variety in 2007 as one of the 10 Screenwriters to Watch, she was Dana Fox from upstate New York. (Because she’s a relatively new writer it’s hard to find many interviews with Fox, but one implied she spent time on a farm as a youth, which is always a nice contrast to Hollywood. Besides I needed another F-word for my title.) Fox got her undergraduate degree in English at Stanford and then earned her master’s at the Peter Stark Producing Program at USC. That’s when she first tried her hand at screenwriting and set her on course.

She spent two years as a writer’s assistant for Al Gough and Miles Millar who were creating the TV show Smallville, and also worked with screenwriter John August (Big Fish). Her first film was The Wedding Date in 2005, followed by What Happens in Vegas (which starred Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz and pulled in $80 million) , and earned a co-writing credit on Couples Retreat starring Vince Vaughn.

I first read the phrase “The Fempire” in a 2008 article by Peter Howell describing the self-designated title of screenwriters and friends Diablo Cody (Juno), Lorene Scafaria (Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), and Fox.  (Playwright-turned-screenwriter Liz Meriwether is a recent addition.)

I heard a screenwriter recently say that you have to buy your way into Hollywood one way or the other. In Fox’s case it was a combination of an education that included Stanford and USC which I’d guess was between $150,000-200,000. in total expenses, which put her in a position to be a low-paid writer’s assistant where she could get coffee for the writers for several years.

“I’m a believer in paying your dues. I won’t say, ‘I have two degrees; I shouldn’t be getting your latte.’ Because I paid my dues when I got to the table, I actually had something to say.”
Dana Fox

The Wedding Date may not be at the top of your Netflix choices, but that’s what launched Fox’s career and I know more than one writer that would like to see their name in the credits with Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney.

Scott W. Smith

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