Dr. Mae Jemison

The first African-American female astronaut — how many people know that?  Right.  So the next time you hear someone bitch and whine about why there is a Black History Month remind them of people like Dr. Jemison who did what no one ever thought she could.  Remind them of her quote:

Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imaginations.

And while you’re at it, remind yourself.  Because that goes for emerging screenwriters, too.  Never limit your voice because of what someone else says.  If you want to write an extended science fantasy opera then do it.  There may be no takers on the front end, but if it is done well someone will want it… somewhere.  Or if  you want to write a hip-hop musical about Alexander Hamilton starring a culturally diverse cast… forget it, it’s already been done.  But you get my point.  Dream your dreams without fear, then go make them come true.

CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH by remembering someone who did what others said they couldn’t.

 

In a country that looks for any excuse to have a holiday from the traditional religious and secular occasions to days of recognition like National Find A Rainbow Day (April 3rd) or Responsible Dog Ownership Day (third Saturday in September) it should come as no surprise that January 5th is National Screenwriters Day and yes, this a thing.

HISTORY

National Screenwriters Day was founded by ScreenwritingU.com, as mostly a marketing ploy to get more people to sign up for their program (yikes – that slipped out.  I mean– ahem, in my opinion) but more than that, its purpose is to recognize the many talented writers who go unrecognized for all the hard work it takes to churn out the pages for screenplay and television scripts in the entertainment industry. The Registrar at National Day Calendar declared National Screenwriters Day in July of 2016.

It’s a cool idea and a way to remind audiences and loved ones that movies and TV shows do not write themselves.  Considering it is less than two years old, there may not be a lot of people celebrating this year.  School is still open and there will be mail delivery, but you have to start somewhere.

HOW TO OBSERVE

Go to NationalScreenwritersDay.com to find out the latest updates and see interviews with working writers. Look up the origins of your favorite movie and see who the screenwriter is. Send a shout out using #NationalScreenwritersDay on social media.

Join National Day Calendar & ScreenwritingU.com for #NationalScreenWritersDay Twitter Party on January 5 @ 10 AM PT Noon CT for a chance to win ScreenwritingU.com prizes.

Every day is a good day to watch a movie and hug a writer, but on National Screenwriters Day a lot more people may join in.

 

Girl power is getting a boost this award season with three major female-driven films. Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig and Patty Jenkins may not have crashed through the glass ceiling but they have certainly added some major cracks to a played out metaphor.

Dee Rees with Mary J. Blige

Yes, of course I am happy to see talented women thrive in the film industry. It is fantastic these wonderful films were made by wonderful directors who are wonderful women, but is it really the start of a flood of girl on girl films or are they token representation from a besieged white male establishment wanting to show progress so everyone will shut the hell up for a while?

Mudbound, Lady Bird and Wonder Women are additional proof that women directors are equal to their male counterparts in the storytelling task. And they made a shit ton of money (which is what matters most). I am jealous of their success. There, I’ve said it. And while I would never begrudge anyone earning their place at the table, I want my shot, too. My beef is that opportunities don’t come to everyone, no matter how talented, deserving or earned their inclusion may be.

Patty Jenkins with Gal Gadot

Women at the top are often called Queen Bees (sorry, Beyoncé  fans – she didn’t invent the term) because once they rule the hive there is no room for another female in command. It may be unfair to judge all women in a position to mentor or assist those coming up the ladder as being less than enthusiastic, but let’s face it – it’s true. It may be something as simple as highly sought after hardworking women are so hardworking they don’t have the time to donate to lower level women. Maybe they are not secure in their ranking and need to keep working to keep up with the fellas. Or, most disturbing, they relish their position as the only gal on the game and keep any competition off the field. *See Omarosa  and the kerfuffle over her White House career.

So what to we do?

Lower down the ladder of success the opportunities for us to rise are not about earning a seat at the table they are about making life easier for someone higher up. Can you or your project make them money? Can you give a company positive publicity or a higher Q score? If so, then you are in. That is all it takes, my worker bees.

Forget about the sisterhood, there ain’t no such thing. It is nice to see big fish like Ava DuVernay or Shonda Rhimes talk to young women and girls about boosting each other but, come on now, you know in reality survival is every person for themselves. That is true equality. There is no special treatment for anyone. All that matters is if you can earn your place with a project that makes money. Once we get that through our heads we can get to the business of moving forward.

Fact #1

Is it is harder if you are a non-white male. Once we accept that as truth we can focus on selling ourselves as who we are with the stories we tell. Developing a relationship-connection-acquaintance with someone who respects your work goes a long way. People want to work with who they know. It is important to nurture even a fleeting email relationship with someone in a position to help to improve the chances of a project moving forward. If you got to ask JJ Abrams a question during a Q & A once, then see Star Trek it couldn’t hurt to drop him a line saying how much you loved the movie. Create a bond.

Fact #2

No one, repeat: NO ONE, will help you or mentor you out of their own good will unless there is something in it for them. You may get lucky and find a successful mentor who gives you her time, encouragement and/or use of her contacts for nothing up front. Savor that and be prepared to pay her on the back-end with points, credit or a straight payment. If you use gender, age, race or sexual identity to get up the ladder, I would suggest to nurture a genuine relationship with someone with whom you have something in common. They know what you want and are not fooled by the obvious flattery. Take the time and be real which will pay off in the end. Any butt-kisser can establish a career, however how long will that friendship last? There is an old saying, “Be nice to people going up the ladder because they are the people who will be nice to you as you’re going down.”

Fact #3

Minority women over 40 have some amazing stories to tell but need to work harder to get them heard. This is about sex and perception. What is attractive to the establishment? I submit that a confident 25-year-old with hot pants and a shitty script will get more meetings that a worn down 50-year-old with the female Rocky. So women, after you are sure your script kicks ass, take a look in the mirror and make sure you are someone no one is embarrassed to be seen having lunch with. Sexism aside, we are dealing with people who go with their gut and their crotch when opening a checkbook. As vile as that is, we need to be mindful of it. Besides, if your script is great it will find a home– eventually, as long as you keep working hard and never give up.

Greta Gerwig

I am off to see Lady Bird at my multiplex now. Not because I’m supporting the sisterhood but because I’ve heard it is a fabulous film that deserves to be seen. There is room for all of us as women in film in whatever capacity. We need to keep pushing for equal time, but remember when rising up the ladder you are selling to a person who wants to work with you and make money off your project. Don’t assume because she’s a woman she’s going to help and don’t give her an excuse to say, “No.”

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual.

~Henry David Thoreau

 

 

If you have something special you are thankful for this year, I would love to share it.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL EMERGING SCREENWRITERS

THIS IS A RIP-O-MATIC

Also called clip-o-matics, mood reels or tone reels, these handy tools are used as visual aids during pitch meetings.   Rian Johnson shows in the reel above what the movie Looper would look like.  A rip-o-matic is a mash-up of clips from produced sources a filmmaker uses to help sell a story by getting the viewer to understand to basic mood, tone, structure or energy of the project.

“But I’m a writer.  Why do I need one?”

Do you know how many writers have stories?  Good stories?  And great agents?  Who are connected to power players who can make a green light happen over a trip to Starbucks?  Yes, that many.  And who are you again?

Just the writer.  With few credits and a good – excuse me – great script.  You need a visual tool to help your story stand out in the mind of who ever you pitch to.  A one sheet was enough back in the day.  As long as it came with a referral and an executive with the courage to champion a favorite project.  Not anymore.

You’re on your own, kid.  You need to make your mark by making your mark.  Create a video presentation in any way you can to show the executive, agent or producer what they’re buying and why they need this story, or (more importantly) why they need you.

A pitch document is a start, like a leave behind with more pages – especially for a series that requires multi-seasonal arcs and episodes.  But the overall effect – the Wow! factor  is how you want your project to be the one the execs can’t stop thinking about.  What they play on a loop.

These days most pitches include a video presentation – a sizzle reel – for the buyers to get a sample of the finished project.  This is frequently for reality TV, but common to all areas of media production.

The rip-o-matic is the easiest to create when you have no money to produce your own trailer, sizzle pitch or concept video.  Yes, technically you are stealing work product from the studio, network or copyright owner.  Normally, I would say don’t steal ever, but in this case executives and producers know this reel is to help them visualize the final project and if it gets them excited about working with you they don’t mind using the clips.

I’m in the process of making a rip-o-matic for a producer I’m pitching to.  I’m not going to lie, it’s a bitch.  The steps are simple enough. All you do is create a trailer of your project whether it is a feature, series or game. Write it, storyboard it they way you would if producing a real trailer, then the hard part.  Scour every resource you have to find images to fit the trailer.  Adding voice over helps to make the reel your own as opposed to just a bunch of clips. Include inspirational music as long as you are only using this reel for pitching purposes.  Remember, this is a tool for your pitch not for public consumption.

There is affordable editing software to help you cut it.  I’m using Adobe Premiere.   It’s a tedious process, but worth the effort.  I hope.  I’ll let you know how it goes.  If you have a rip-o-matic story or reel you’d like to share, please pass it along.  This is all new for emerging screenwriters and we need all the tools we can get.

In the mean time here’s another rip-o-matic to inspire you.

My very good friend Consuelo Mackintosh lives with her boyfriend who happens to be a dead ringer for Javier Bardem. One night, Javier 2.0 invited a group of people over who became loud and annoying. It actually drove Consuelo out of the house. She decided an evening movie would be a nice way to kill some time before going back to the rabble invading her home and went to see mother! – an artistic exercise masquerading as a film about rabble invading a woman’s home. Consuelo chose this movie because it stars the original Javier, but it is also Jennifer Lawrence’s latest effort to prove her Academy Award was not a fluke.

I had no intention of seeing mother! – Maybe because it received both cheers and boos after its premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Maybe because it received an F on CinemaScore which measures audience’s reactions immediately after seeing a film on the first night of wide release. Or maybe because I just don’t appreciate titles that require punctuation. Whatever the reason, I was not interested until Consuelo called it artsy crap only film students can appreciate and not worth the price of admission for anyone else. What can I say? I think fifteen dollars is a small price to pay for artsy crap.

And that is just what mother! is – artsy crap. Emerging screenwriters often make the mistake of trying to produce their own art.  We say we want our work to be polarizing because at least people are talking. It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you. The movie was written and directed by Lawrence’s real life paramour Darren Aronofsky, a big cheese in the film biz. Everyone knows him. His filmography includes Noah, Black Swan, The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. I mention so many to give you a sense of where this guy’s head is. So polarizing is good, but for the tested and certified successful writer/director like Aronofsky. You, me – not so much.

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This week, Hurricane Harvey rampaged through the Texas Gulf Coast. Any natural disaster that strikes causes devastation to thousands of people and international relief efforts are necessary to help victims get through a struggle that could take years to climb back from.  Now, more than ever it is important for those who can, to give aid and comfort in any way to those fellow human beings and animals in crisis.

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Be prepared.  This is a longer post than I usually write.  I got carried away. Apologies. Maybe because it’s back to school time that these first few paragraphs may seem like a classroom lesson, but if you keep reading I promise it gets better.  I suggest you pack a lunch or read it in sections; stretch first we’ll be awhile.  Okay, ready?  Ahem… Stories give a narrative account of events either real or imagined. Those events involve characters. The characters the audience relates to are the heroes we root for. We want them to win. We are invested in their character arc as they journey from one place to another, learning something, transforming internally and improving their lot in life along the way. It is understood in most stories that after trial and tribulation the main character chalks up a win. This is similar to the way Americans believe in success. That if you do the right thing, if you work hard, if you don’t give up, you will eventually get what you want. It’s America’s Promise which can be summed in the equation

Talent + Hard Work = Success.

In screenwriting, heroes’ arcs go up because of good behavior and after several losses they end winning what is most important to their journey. In a negative character arc, the anti-hero’s journey is the result of bad behavior and choices that hurt others and eventually themselves because they end losing either their life or what is most important to their journey.

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Image result for fourth of july picnic and fireworksIn between the picnics and fireworks, I hope all emerging screenwriters are using this long weekend to get some writing done, but also to remember why you write and make it worth something to yourself and to your audience.

I believe in America because we have great dreams, and because we have the opportunity to make those dreams come true.– Wendell L. Wilkie

Here’s to making all of your dreams come true.

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY!!!