A Dream Client: She Yearned To Go Pro And She Did!

A Dream Client: She Yearned To Go Pro And She Did!

Hollywood code is universally understandable, but not everybody can adapt to it. Fluency is relative to aptitude. Cinderella could go to the ball because not only did she look the part, she played it, because that’s who she truly was – a heroine not a victim. In other words, Cinderella went “pro”.

Did she bring her childhood trauma with her to the ballroom? Did she mention all her prior hardships and lack of opportunities? Was she intimidated or distracted or critical when her stepfamily showed up at the ball? Think about the way she expresses herself – in a situation she’s never been in before, in a privileged world where she has no place. Yet, telepathically, she knows the appropriate, coded behavior.

Hollywood code is very often non-verbal on the one hand, then ultra verbal on the other. A typical discourse isn’t just about expressing literary knowledge that is skills and rules based, but laden with opportunity to openly validate any experience-driven understanding of the meaning inside that knowledge. In Hollywood, ‘meaning’ is a technical and industrial term that refers to the meaning of life…regardless of genre… even in silliest comedic terms. Subsequently, patterns of interactive role-playing are deeply institutionalized in those still standing corridors of Hollywood power master scribe William Goldman talked about. Those corridors may be more accessible than you might think…entre is all about your focused ability to adapt while staying authentically yourself…like Cinderella.

Ask A Literary Agent

If You Want Screenwriting Career Tips, Ask A Literary Agent

I ask every class I teach: “What does an agent do?” And wait. There’s silence until someone finally volunteers. Typically it goes like this:

“They make calls.”

“They make deals.”

“They’re gatekeepers.

Many people seem to think of agents and writers as being in some form of doctor/patient relationship — a dreaded necessity due to an illness or injury that requires professional intervention. It seems to be a lot easier to trust a clinician’s skills than your average literary agents. Not so with managers, who generally receive a hearty thumbs-up. “They really care about you” is the comfort meme, while the conventional sentiment “agents only care about the deal” won’t go away.  

All the managers I know personally or professionally care just as much as the agent and the client about the deal. Managers also care about the essential role agents play. Yet, unless that manager was once an agent, even the manager often considers (along with the client) the literary agent’s playbook to be as mysterious as a magician’s hat. Everybody knows for certain that lit agents zero in on high-profile media buyers in order to broker high-end intellectual properties. While they’re hanging out in the media-marketplace, they can also secure gainful literary employment for their clients. But no one is exactly sure how they do it. It would take several hundred pages to explain how and why literary agents do what they do. 

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Kathryn Bigelow directing 'Near Dark'

How Kathryn Bigelow & Eric Red Gamed the System to Launch Their Careers

Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red not only delivered an exceptional screenplay to their agents, but along with it, equipped us with a real world plan of attack. This made “Near Dark” an exceptional setup. I was head of Gersh’s Literary department, itching to sherpa my clients up Everest. Kathryn and Eric’s tactical scenario offered the kind of dynamic activism agents live for.

We didn’t have a big meeting or even work out details over a fancy meal. Kathryn and Eric’s determination to overcome conventional industry-wide resistance to anyone outside the insider directing pool was palpable. When I signed Kathryn, I could see she was someone who was determined to not only even the odds against her achieving her goal – but not by kneejerk jumping at a single opportunity. Instead she was prepared to exercise discerning conduct aimed to promote a long and productive career. She was very smart to understand the difference, which led to sometime in 1986, when Kathryn and her writer/director friend Eric Red, whom Melinda Jason represented, made a pact.

Melinda had her own literary agency, but in many ways, she was my mentor. She’d gotten her start in the industry in the legal department at Fox features doing personal service contracts right after getting her law degree from USC. After a few years, she segued into becoming a literary agent. Over the course of working at a few mid-sized companies, she made a lot of friends who were agents. When she was able to start up her own company, she kept those friendships even though her friends were also her competitors. She knew there was a bigger, badder enemy out there we needed to protect each other from, by sharing information and sometimes, clients.

She reasoned that as independents there was safety in numbers to neutralize the predatory practices of corporation-sized companies – both agencies and studios. She also knew there was enough to go around for everyone. Perhaps it was because she’d grown up in a family with deep roots in the golden age of the entertainment business — her uncle directed “Rebel Without A Cause” and before that, her great uncle was president of the Directors Guild, having directed “Top Hat” and many other Astaire films — that fueled her positive expectations.READ MORE

Memo to Women Screenwriters: Man Up!

Memo to Women Screenwriters: Man Up!

Why do so few scripts written by women receive high ratings on The Black List? This is mainly a problem for feature scripts, but highlighted television pilots also project a dim ratio.

As a service, The Black List has consistently been ahead of the curve but presently, it’s right in sync with 2013’s bleaker-than-usual, dismal “celluloid ceiling” report. Is the shrinking percentage of women screenwriters now seen as just business as usual, a reflection of our societal malaise? Or are women screenwriters actually doing something to fuel the inequity?

I doubt an old school research tool like listing all writers by their first initial would change the numbers much. It’s the genre-skirting “logline” that gives the women away, demonstrating what separates the girls from the boys. These self-congratulatory summaries border on dimorphism which, in the animal kingdom, distinguishes between male and female appearance.

An illuminated “premise,” on the other hand, has to work to gain advocacy with lasered, clear-cut genre as its engine. Agents prefer the term “premise.” A solid premise indicates something durable that actually has a shot at getting across the Hollywood player minefield, while a weak one won’t make it through the many hoops it takes to get all the way to the bank.

The Bechdel Test launched 1,000 righteous infographics illustrating the tried-and-true — and sometimes false — business model of male-centric “programmers,” clearly labeling blame on male decision-makers. What if those charts and graphs were interpreted another way? What if they were seen simply as stats for a losing team? If that were so, why wouldn’t that team re-think its overall strategy? Instead of a self-pitying document, why not make the annual Celluloid Ceiling report an occasion for a call to arms?READ MORE

How Screenwriter Terry Southern Prepared Me for a Career in Hollywood

How Screenwriter Terry Southern Prepared Me for a Career in Hollywood

Some people debate the value of film school. I’m not one of them.

Terry Southern’s NYU master screenwriting class was held on Tuesday nights at Remington’s Bar, a basement dive on Waverly Place. Trudging through the ice-hardened sidewalk, I noticed his beat up Ford Mustang with the broken canvas top barely covering up the snow from the storm night before. I always wondered how he’d made it back to Connecticut in that thing.

Terry was one of a kind, a truly badass screenwriter. Even in the revolutionary times of the 1960’s and ‘70’s, the author of the geared to shock novel, Candy, also wrote screenplays for Dr. Strangelove, Easy Rider, Barbarella, and many other films that scored bull’s-eyes at shaking up the status quo.

I nodded to my classmates, who each nursed a coke or a beer at the counter. In turns, we sauntered over to Terry’s table, where he presided in kingly fashion, and gave insights into the magic of professional filmmaking. There were six of us, so we got roughly half an hour each. By ten o’clock, Terry was in a world of his own, yet still adept at letting us in on Stanley Kubrick insider stories and cool anecdotes about the scenes behind the scenes of Easy Rider.READ MORE