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Posts Tagged ‘The Black List’

“Over a century and a half to the present day…you see the evidence of slavery as you walk down the street…The prison population, mental illness, poverty, education.”
Oscar-nominated director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave)
2013 New York Times Interview by Nelson George

“In the vast majority of stories, the hero’s overall change moves from slavery to freedom.”
John Truby
The Anatomy of Story

One of the roots of this blog is steeped in African America culture. Annye L Refoe, Ph.D., was my creative writing teacher in high school. It was in one of her classes I first wrote a dramatic script and directed a video. As a black woman raised in Sanford Florida (yeah, same place where Trayvon Martin was killed) she opened up a new world to a class of white students via the writings of Zora Neale Hurston (Their Eyes Where Watching God) and showing us the film version of Lorraine Hansberry’s play A Raisin in the Sun.

In my very short stint playing football at the University of Miami I heard stories of black players raised in Overtown during Miami’s riots , as a photographer in L.A. I did photo assignments in Watts and Compton and heard gang stories, and I’ve been in prison chapels where blacks made up 85% of those in attendance and heard some of their life struggles.

At the same time, some of the scariest situations of my life were racially centered. Being cornered by four black youths in Florida when I was ten years old, taking a wrong turn on the South Side of Chicago after midnight, and being yelled at from two feet away for having a video camera on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica (which at the time had a higher murder rate than Haiti).

I’ve at least seen the view from both sides of the street.

It’s said that many white Americans can go through a whole day without encountering a black person, but the opposite is not true for most black Americans. I don’t pretend to fully understand the struggle of black people, but as a human being I am sensitive to the issues.  It sticks with me when actor Jamie Foxx told Oprah Winfrey, “I was called a nigger almost every day in Texas.” For many whites the Civil Rights of the 60s is old news, and slavery of the mid-1800s is ancient history. Look, “We even have a black president now.”

Yes, there have been great strides on some levels. Heck, the biggest home I’ve ever been in was NFL great Deion Sanders’ 28,000+ square foot house in Dallas where I did directed a video shoot a couple of years ago. Tyler Perry’s net worth of over $400 million makes him according to one website the fourth financially successful filmmaker in America. But only he and Oscar-nominated writer/director John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) are in the top fifty.

There are still wide gaps in our culture. And we still live in a world of much racial tension. Some have called 12 Years a Slave “Oscar bait.” If Steve McQueen wins Oscars for best director and/or best picture there will be those who say it’s because he’s black. And if he doesn’t win in either category some will say it’s because he’s black.  There’s lot of wisdom in that  William Faulkner line from Requiem for a Nun , “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” One of my favorite all-time book titles is taken from a Yeats poem by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe for his book Things Fall Apart. 

Pick any period of world history and you’ll find Koyaanisqatsi—The Hopi Indian word for “life out of balance.” (See Godfrey Reggio film Koyaannisqatsi.) We can go back and forth on the political, economic and spiritual solutions to finding peace and harmony in a world where good and evil exist. But it’s hard not to at least metaphorically agree with the thought that,  “We are reminded daily that we live outside the Garden.”

“Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”
Simon (Danny Glover)
Grand Canyon written by Lawrence Kasden & Meg Kasden

This whole global quest we’re all on for equilibrium is why I love storytelling in general, and films specifically. Artists are like those people waving large finger pointer signs at auctions telling everyone where to look. Movies at their best stir up questions and offer hope.

Here are 25 links from this blog over the years centered around blacks and filmmaking:

The First Black Feature Filmmaker

Martin Luther King Jr. & Screenwriting –I happened to be in Atlanta the week  Coretta Scott King died.

First screenplay, Oscar—Precious

Martin Luther King Jr. Special –A multi-media project I produced with artist Gary Kelley

Screenwriting & Slavery

Blacks in Black & White “We’re a great country. We’ve got great stories. And for the most part, the great stories of people of color have not been told.”—Spike Lee

Memphis Story Wins Oscars

August Wilson’s St. Paul Roots

Lynn Nottage & her Play “Ruined”

The Kindness of Strangers

Obama, Drama & D.C. Movies

Filmmaking Quote #10 (Lee Daniels)

Nelson Mandela, Robben Island & Nudging the World

“I Have a Dream” at 50

“Super-Serving Your Niche” (Tyler Perry’s advice to Edward Burns)

Shrimp, Giants & Tyler Perry

Jackie, Spike & Sanford, Florida 

Off-Screen Quote #26 (Jackie Robinson)

Screenwriter Ernest R. Tidyman  Though white he explains why he wrote Shaft (1971)—It was time for a black winner [in movies], whether he was a private detective or an obstetrician.”

“The Help” Smackdown

Chris Rock & Adult Movies

The Father of Film (Part 2) Touches on Spike Lee on D.W. Griffith

Postcard #51 (Cotton Fields)

40 Days of Emotion Touches on the whipping scene of Denzel Washington in Glory

The Black List Annual Report (2013) Franklin Leonard

And let me give a shout-out to Brian McDonald who writes The Invisable Ink Blog.  I believe he’s the only black writer to have written a few books on screenwriting; Invisible Ink, The Golden ThemeInk Spots.

May the stories you tell—to borrow Oscar-winner Tom Stoppard’s words,  “nudge the world a little.” And may they nudge it in the right direction.

P.S. I know there are efforts being made helping minority screenwriters and welcome you passing those websites on to me in the comments or via email at info@scottwsmith.com

Additional links:
Writers Guild of America, West Diversity Department
CBS, Writers Mentoring Program
Deadline article about Warner Bros. diversity connection with The Black List ““For a black kid from Georgia, I’m acutely aware of the access issues the industry struggles with, and I’m excited to be part of a first step toward addressing this.”— Franklin Leonard
The Black List Newsletter Follow the links for Warner Bros Submission requirements
Fox Writers Intensive (FWI) “The Intensive is designed to introduce experienced writers with unique voices, backgrounds, life and professional experiences that reflect the diverse perspectives of the audiences Fox creates for to a wide range of Fox showrunners, writers, directors, screenwriters and creative executives.”
Diversity in Hollywood, NAACP
Universal Pictures’ Emerging Writers Fellowship,Seeking New and Unique Voices
In the While Room With Black Writers “There’s this thing in Hollywood, a ‘diversity staff writer.’ Most every writing room has one…”—Beejoli Shah
Organization of Black Screenwriters, West Hollywood
BuzzFeed interview with Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave“I’m from a small town in Wisconsin, but even when I’m in New York and I’m working for MSNBC or CNN, you’re used to being the only black person in the room. You spend your life in this space where you’re constantly seeing people who don’t even know perhaps they’re being a little dismissive of people of color, let alone the ugliness that you hear on a daily basis. So at times when people say that [racism] is bubbling up, it’s just bubbling up to a level where they’re aware of it.”

Scott W. Smith

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I couldn’t help but smile yesterday when I saw The Hollywood Reporter headline:

‘Holland, Michigan’ Tops 2013 Black List 

The Holland, Michigan script written by Andrew Sodroski received 46 mentions from film executives placing it at the top of the pile of the best unproduced scripts kicking around Hollywood.

While I know more about the town of Holland, Michigan (it’s a lovely place in Western Michigan with heated sidewalks downtown) than the script of the same name, here’s the story’s logline:

When a traditional Midwestern woman suspects her husband of infidelity, an amateur investigation unravels. 

Not a killer logline, so the script must be killer.

Collider reported that Holland, Michigan “will be directed by Errol Morris and stars Naomi Watts.” Deadline stated that the screenwriter Sodroski is a Boston native who has a MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University and repped by CAA And the LA Times added Sodroski is “a former Harvard medieval history major who now lives in Kosovo.”

Kosovo? Talk about screenwriting in unlikely places….

(Though honestly, both Harvard and Columbia are well-traveled paths to Hollywood—see update below. Having degrees from both is a good sign that Sodroski is a smart cookie. But that Kosovo is a curveball.)

On days like this it’s really fun to have this little niche in the screenwriting world. Cheers to Sodroski, and all the screenwriters who made the 2013 Black List.

I’m sure we’ll all be learning more about Holland, Michigan the movie and Andrew Sordroski in coming months. Until them feel free to learn more about the town Holland, Michigan via the Internet and enjoy the Sufjan Stevens song Holland from his album Michigan. Brooklyn-based Stevens was born in Detroit and attended Hope College in Holland, MI. (H/T to Indiewire for pointing out the Holland song.)

P.S. Holland, Michigan’s Tulip Time Festival held each year in May has been called by Readers Digest as the “Best Small Town Festival.”  A couple of years ago the town of 35,000  was listed as the second (behind Boulder, CO) Healthiest and Happiest Places in America.  And you may be surprised to know that Holland, Michigan (which sits across Lake Michigan from Chicago) is known for sailing. My Holland, Michigan based production friend John Grooters directed the documentary American Sailors.

Update: Found a link to the 2011 Harvardwood Writers’ Competition where Sodroski, along with co-writer Raven Burnett, were runner-ups for their feature script Dark Ops. Here’s the logline for the action thriller that reads better than the logline for Holland, Michigan:

When a team of American soldiers occupies a mysterious Afghani monastery, they suddenly find themselves battling enemies beyond their comprehension. 

Harvardwood helps connect Harvard Alumni and students to those established in the arts, media and entertainment. A nice perk if you’re connected to Harvard. Hollywood may be a small town (or a big high school) but it has more than a few Ivy Leaguers in general, and former Harvard students specifically; Darren Aronofsky, Matt Damon, Ron Bass and Terrence Malick just to name a few. Here’s a list of Darthmouth Alumni in Entertianment in Media, and you can follow the Yalies in entertainment at Yale in Hollywood. Oh, and Princeton University (Ethan Coen, David E. Kelly, Bo Goldman) has Princeton in Hollywood. 

Even if you can’t or didn’t attend an Ivy League school, if you live near Cambridge, New Haven, Hanover or Princeton you can still make friends at those schools. Work on student films, go see guest lectures they bring in, and get creative being a part of the culture there. In the case of Harvard, you can become a Friend of Harvardwood if referred by a current member.

Related posts (Note; Michigan and Boston come up time and time again on this blog):

Michigan related posts:

Screenwriting from Michigan
Michigan’s Sam Raimi & the Guy with Greasy Hair
Rejection Before Raiders
Saul Bellow & Unlikely Places
Start Small…But Start Somewhere
Elmore Leonard
From Ann Arbor to Smallville (David S. Goyer)
“Life of Pi” Screenwriter David Magee
Kalamafrickin’zoo’s Talent Pool
Screenwriting from Grand Rapids (near Holland)
Writer/Director Paul Schrader

Boston related posts:

Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood
Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
(Yawn)…Another Pulitzer Prize
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
Screenwriting Quote #42 (Brad Anderson)
Screenwriting Quote #3 (Charlie Kaufman)
Screenwriting Quote #179 (Chris Terrio)
Screenwriting Quote #148 (Edward Zwick)
Writing “Edward Scissorhands”
Writer Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

Scott W. Smith

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“[Franklin] Leonard grew up in Columbus, Ga., as one of a handful of black students in his high school, which he says has always helped him identify with outsiders.”
Rachel Dodes
The Wall Street Journal

"Screenwriting from Iowa...and Other Unlikely Places" readers in 2013 represent 116 Countries

“Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places” readers in 2013 represent 116 Countries

It always seems to come back to Juno.

Yesterday I came across the The Black List Annual Report for 2013 and it’s fun to look at just because it’s so well designed by Glen Charbonneau. I also learned that the first script on The Black List to win an Oscar was Diablo Cody’s Juno. The same movie that inspired the launching of this blog because it was written by an outsider. Cody was Chicago born and raised, received her college education in Iowa, and lived and worked in Minneapolis when her writing on the side got the attention of a Hollywood insider.

But beyond the design and glance at the history of launching the first Black List in 2006 the report also gives a sweeping overview of the work they are doing. If you are unfamiliar with The Black List check out The Wall Street Journal article, For Budding Screenwriters, a Way Past the Studio Gates

Franklin Leonard’s had an interesting journey on his way to being the founder of The Black List; Raised in small town Georgia, degree from Harvard, analyst at McKinsey in New York, agent assistant at CAA, and creative executive at Will Smith’s company is Los Angeles.

The Black List has morphed and grown over the years and now includes Scott Myers’ Go Into The Story as its official blog and a forums section, The Black Board, with Shaula Evans as the Keymaster. I see The Black List as a place that celebrates talent, fosters community, and is doing its part in providing a pathway for screenwriters and producers to connect.

And while the bulk of the screenwriters connected with The Black List are in the Los Angeles area it’s also nice to see that they are providing a door to people in unlikely places all over the world.

P.S. On a similar note check out the Reddit poster “profound_whatever” who is a script reader who has also put together a nice screenwriting graphic that offers some insights into where scripts come from and some “recurring problems”the ones he reads has—such as “The story begins too late in the script.” That’s the most common problem I see when people ask me to read a script. Many times I’ve told writers the same thing, “I read ten pages and nothing happened.” And the most common answer I get back  is, “Well, I’m setting up the story.” Go watch Kramer Vs. Kramer and then Winter’s Bone and see how long the filmmakers take in setting up the story. (Spoiler: They both come out of the gate like horses at the Kentucky Derby. Granted ever script doesn’t need to have a scene one inciting incident, but I think the less established you are the sooner your story should start.)

ScreenwritingGraph

P.P.S. Going back to a quote by CodyI first read in ’08, “Just put your stuff out there and see what happens,” I get a kick that since its inception this blog has been read in more than 85% of the countries , regions, and dependent areas of the world, including BurndiMacau, Suriname, and Yemen. Thanks for reading wherever you are in the world and best wishes on your writing finding an audience.

Related Posts:

The Outsider Advantage
The First Black Feature Filmmaker
Screenwriting Quote #180 (Justin Kremer)
The World Outside of Hollywood (Buck Henry quote)
One of the Benefits of Being an Outsider ( Robert Rodriguez quote)

Scott W. Smith

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“Actually the really cool thing about being more and more gimpy is I really don’t care about my hair loss at all.”
Screenwriter Scott Lew
(Who has ALS, known as Lou Gehrig Disease)

Today on Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places we’ll learn about an unlikely place not tied to geography.

My last post was on Franklin, Tennessee so it makes a nice segue today to have a Franklin Leonard inspired post.  It helps that I just read this Retweet from @franklinleonard (originally from @theblcklst) :

Next time you even think about complaining about how hard it is to be a screenwriter, watch this. Watch it now too. http://buff.ly/1aKU9n8 

The link is for an artcle at The Atlantic with a video about Scott Lew who wrote the Sexy Evil Genius (2013) screenplay.

“Lew has ALS, a degenerative disease that causes gradual loss of movement, and he can currently control only a few facial and eye muscles. He depends on infrared technology and an assistant to put his words to paper.”
Katherine Wells
The Atlantic/ The Creative Process of a Paralyzed Screenwriter

Scott W. Smith

@franklinleonard

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“Just focus on the writing and everything else will fall into place.”
Aaron Guzikowski

While the name Aaron Guzikowski may not roll off the tongue as easy as saying Diablo Cody,  there are similarities between the two screenwriters . Cody is a writer with Chicago/Iowa City/Minneapolis roots who worked a regular (non-creative) job at an advertising agency until her writing got the attention of a Hollywood insider. Guzikowski is a writer from the greater Boston area (Brockton), who had been living in Brooklyn, NY and working a regular (non-creative) job in advertising until his writing got the attention of a Hollywood insider.

Both had been writing since their youth and followed that path through college. Cody studied media studies at the University of Iowa and Guzikowski studied art and film at the Pratt Institute. Cody’s Juno made The Black List before it got produced and became a well reviewed movie and a box office hit—and she won an Academy Award for the script. Guzikowski’s Prisoners also made The Black List, and though just released in theaters it has been well reviewed and is on its way to being a box office hit. (It finished #1 at the box office this past weekend.) Time will tell about any Academy Awards.

One of the big differences between the two writers is Cody was discovered while writing a blog, while Guzikowski via an old school query letter sent in the mail. Cody says she wrote the first draft of Juno in six weeks, and Guzikowski said he took two years to write Prisoners. Regardless, if you’re looking for contemporary success stories of screenwriters who were once living outside of L.A. and working regular day jobs then Cody and Guzikowski (one female, one male) are as solid  examples as you can find.

And they both did it not by writing a great script but by writing material that had a voice and connected them with people inside Hollywood who could help develop that voice. The great scripts and the great movies—and the big money— came later.

“[Guzikowski] finished the screenplay for Prisoners while working at an ad agency in New York – getting up at 5 a.m. to write most workdays, penning his thoughts whenever he could at work, then coming home again to write.”
Maria Papadopoulos
The Enterprise

Back in 2009, I wrote the post called The Breakfast Club for Writers where I pointed out how Elmore Leonard, John Grisham, and Ron Bass all once got up at 5 AM to write before their day jobs. So I guess Guzikowski’s in the club.

But the real take away from Guzikowski is the commitment to craft.

“When it comes to submissions, the only thing you want to stand out is the writing, so it pays to adhere to industry standards. As for competition, there’s not much point thinking about it. Just concentrate on the story you’re trying to tell….I signed with my manager first (through a query letter), worked with him for two years developing Prisoners, then after I completed it, I signed with my agent. You don’t really need an agent until you have something that’s ready for market. In terms of how hard it was, working on the script was the hard part, and if you pay enough dues on that end, then securing representation — even without having previously sold anything — becomes a lot easier.”
Aaron Guzikowski
2009 Q&A/Limite Magazine

P.S. The Boston area sure has a solid history of producing excellent screenwriters.

Related Posts:
The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70)
The Idea is King (Focus not writing the great script, but the “right script”)
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Will Simmons’ Road to Hollywood (Black List writer who was delivering pizzas in Boston a few years ago.)
Writing “Good Will Hunting” These former no-name writers won an Academy Award for their first produced screenplay.

Scott W. Smith

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“After graduating in 2007 [University of Miami], I knew I wasn’t ready to move to LA. My chops as a writer weren’t sharp enough to survive the Hollywood meat grinder. I needed time to hone my craft, so I moved back to Boston and worked at an Italian restaurant delivering pizzas. The best part about living at home was that my expenses were minimal, so every cent I earned went toward my wagons-west-fund. I wanted to make the most of this interim period, so I dove headfirst into writing feature specs. I wrote nonstop. Most of the scripts never saw the light of day, but my skills evolved with each completed draft. I was finding my voice.

During this time, I also made five short films. It was startling how much my directorial endeavors informed my writing. Listening to actors breathe life into your dialogue is a humbling and instructional experience. You start to understand how conversations translate from the page to the set, and how to craft dialogue with a naturalistic ear, while still retaining the narrative thrust essential to story progression.”
Screenwriter Will Simmons (His script Murder City made The Black List in 2012)
Go Into the Story interview with Scott Myers

P.S. Often we only read interviews of writers after they’ve received a measure of success in the films they’ve made or after their first film has been a box office hit. What’s great about the six-part interview Will Simmons did with Scott Myers is it shows us a screenwriter in mid-step. Though none of Simmon’s feature scripts have been produced, he does have deals in the works at Warner Bros.  and is repped by UTA and Energy Entertainment. It’s important to point out that Simmons made a couple short films in college, and five short films after graduating. And his early writing in school led him to an independent study in screenwriting during his senior year of high school. So while he’s a hot young writer now, keep in mind that his writing journey so far has taken 10+ years. As screenwriter Bob DeRosa wrote, “There are no shortcuts. There is only hard work. Perseverance. Luck. Craft. Failure. Success. Mistakes. And yes, dreams that come true.”

In his Go Into The Story interview Simmons said, “I have sort of an old-school, blue-collar mentality when it comes to work ethic, so instead of making excuses I just write nonstop.”

Will Simmons on Twitter @willsimmons_

Related Posts:

The 99% Focus Rule (Tip #70) “99% of your effort should go to writing a good script. “—Michael Arndt
Screenwriting from Massachusetts
Don’t Quit You Day Job
Beatles, Cody, King & 10,000 Hours
Writing “Good Will Hunting”
Screenwriter Scott Rosenberg
Why You Should Move to L.A.
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
Screenwriter’s Work Ethic (Tip #2)

Scott W. Smith

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“Write something unique that showcases your voice. Readers read so much – at times four or five scripts a day. So many of those scripts become one blob in your head – a singular voice. It’s the scripts that really strive to do something unique, whether it works or whether it doesn’t, that stick with you. As long as you’re writing something that is representative of your voice and your experience, I think you can’t go wrong.”
Justin Kremer (Whose script McCarthy in 2012 made The Black List)
Go Into The Story interview with Scott Myers

Related Posts:
Meet Your First Audience (Tip #36)
Finding Your Voice
Four Year Anniversary (features Diablo Cody quote: “Here’s my unsolicited advice to any aspiring screenwriters who might be reading this: Don’t ever agonize about the hordes of other writers who are ostensibly your competition.  No one else is capable of doing what you do.”)

Scott W. Smith

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