Saturday, July 12, 2014

Introducing Chicks Who Script

This will be my last post for a very long time. Maybe forever. Not because I'm going silent, but because I'm changing with the times and migrating to a new platform.

I love listening to podcasts. I listen to a lot of them while I walk dogs. My favorites are The Nerdist, How Did This Get Made, and The Broken Projector. I also listen regularly to Scriptnotes, Quick and Dirty Tips: The Dog Trainer, Stuff You Missed in History Class, Talking Comics, and The Business.

So a few months ago I attended a live recording of Scriptnotes - the one about superheros - and I mentioned on Twitter that I was disheartened by the lack of female participation. One woman was on the panel, although she didn't talk nearly as much as the men, and no women asked questions at the Q&A session.

But Emily, you may say, why didn't you ask questions? Well, I was trying to think of one, when two women stood up and got in line. But the people in front of them took so long because they began telling their life stories, that both women got tired of waiting and sat down. Then the show ended.

So as I commented on Twitter about this sad state of affairs, someone asked if there were any screenwriting podcasts run by women. Not exactly. There are some movie business podcasts (The Business being the best of them) and there are a couple of okay podcasts that talk about screenwriting some of the time, but none that can compete with The Broken Projector or Scriptnotes in popularity or production value.

I have not yet had a chance to listen to The Moment, so forgive me for not including that one.

Anyway, somehow this conversation led to three of us agreeing to put together a podcast called Chicks Who Script. We'll be posting our first episode next week.

So from now on, that's where I'll be, along with Lauren Schacher and Maggie Levin. We'll be discussing screenwriting from a female perspective, and we will have a guest each week. It won't always be woman-centric, but it will always include the female voice in the conversation.

So if this kind of thing interests you, please check it out.

Twitter: @CWSPodcast

Thanks for reading. Here's a cat picture for the road.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

How Annie Hall helps me cope with rejection

Doggieane Keaton

Yesterday I posted about the fear most of us share that we will never reach our lofty goals. I got a lot of support, and I thank you all for that.

So as a sort of follow-up, I thought I'd add something that helps me sometimes when I face another round of rejections:

I hate Annie Hall.

I'm sure a lot of you are judging me right now. Maybe you're thinking you were too hasty in your support of me yesterday. How can I hate Annie Hall? Everybody loves that movie for a thousand amazing reasons. You're probably questioning my taste level.

This isn't an opportunity for me to explain why I hate Annie Hall. I have my reasons. It's not an opportunity for you to convince me to like Annie Hall or give it another chance.

The point is, it's a mantra I repeat whenever rejection gets me down.

I hate Annie Hall. Everyone else loves it.

So every time I put a script out into the world and someone doesn't like it, I remember how much I hate Annie Hall. Just because one person doesn't love something I create, that doesn't mean it's not a valid creation. That doesn't mean someone else won't come along and get it right away.

You have an Annie Hall. There is some movie that everyone raves about and you can't fucking stand. If that script had come across your desk you would have set it on fire, but somebody read it and believed in it and made it and the world loved it. You may not get it, but a lot of people did.

So if one person doesn't love your work, that's okay. Maybe it's Annie Hall.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fear of failure

Time for some brutal honesty.

If you decide to be a teacher or an accountant or a lawyer or a doctor or a construction worker or most jobs in this country, you have a clear order of operations to make that happen. You go to school. You get an entry level job. You work your way up. You have a career.

It doesn't work that way for screenwriters. There's no prescribed degree that will qualify you for the job. There's no entry level position from which to work your way up. You have to wave your arms to get noticed, and then you have to hope that what you offer is what someone else is looking for.

I've been writing since I figured out what a pencil was, but here I am, a full-grown adult, and still not a paid writer.

Sure, I've been validated. I know I don't suck. I've been repped and won a highly rated contest and met with producers who tell me how much they like my writing. But that doesn't make me a professional writer. It makes me a talented hobbyist.

It's so easy to get demoralized. Half the time, you have no idea why you've been rejected, so you start to second guess everything. Did they think I was a comedy writer? Is it because I'm a woman? Are they looking for something more commercial? Do they not like my snazzy writing style?

Or the worst one of all, the one we all have to face down at regular intervals: What if I'm not as good as I think I am?

What if you're the kid at the American Idol audition who talks about how amazing he is, then opens his mouth and wails like an angry goat? What if every person who ever told you that you were any good was just trying to make you feel better, or trying to make you shut up, or had no taste themselves, or was making fun of you? What if you are just wasting your time?

You could throw in the towel and go back to looking for a job where your resume and an interview are all you need to get hired, where you won't be told constantly how amazing you are by people who won't hire you. It would be so easy.

People do it every day. They leave Los Angeles and go back home, often swearing to return once they've gotten their shit together. But they almost never do. Most people take one shot at this, and when it's over, they fold up their tent and get an office job.

I think about it sometimes. I was a good teacher. I didn't hate teaching. What if I just went back and made it my career and stopped trying to be something else? That wouldn't be so bad.

But I'm not there yet. I still think something is around the corner.

I've wanted to be a writer my entire life, so every time I think about throwing in the towel, I think of Little Me and what she'd say. She'd tell me to shut the fuck up and get back to work on the next script, because Little Me apparently had a foul fucking mouth.

So for now, as I seek new management, I put my latest script, Nobody Lives Forever, up on the Black List site. I'm very proud of this one. It's an action script with a white male 30-something lead and a strong hook with an emotional core. It's got bromance and fight scenes and a female villain. I believe in it. It's probably the most sellable thing I've ever done. And while I wait for the downloads and the reads and whatever they may bring, I'm going to keep working on the next thing.

Because I'm not ready to give up, no matter how many times the bastards try to get me down.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Confessions of a Veronica Mars Kickstarter Backer

One of these beefy gentlemen is my husband.
 I'll explain how this photo happened in a minute. But first-

Veronica Mars is one of my top five television shows of all time. I never missed an episode when it aired, and in the summer between seasons one and two I kept an unhealthy level of obsession with who was at the goddamn door. I watched the kissing scene on the balcony like a thousand times. I think "A Trip to the Dentist" is still one of the greatest episodes of television ever made. Every time I see a yellow Nissan Xtera, I still say "Hey, it's Logan!" 


When the third season ended, Veronica had just ruined her father's reputation through her own reckless behavior. Her entire college campus had seen her naked in a sex tape filmed and distributed without her consent. Her ex-boyfriend beat the tar out of a mobster who threatened him with certain death, and her current boyfriend still refused to cut his stupid hair. And suddenly, that was it. No more story.


 You may not love Veronica Mars. You may never have understood it or even watched an episode, but at some point you've probably loved a show that was canceled. The vast majority of my readers are screenwriters, and I refuse to believe a screenwriter does not love a single show that's been canceled. If you haven't, you're either extremely lucky or you haven't loved enough. And if someone wanted to continue your favorite story and give it an ending, wouldn't you be excited?

I'm lucky to have loved shows that had a rebirth - Farscape and Firefly chief among them. I'm still waiting for Samurai Jack to go home or a Pushing Daisies... anything.

When Firefly was canceled, fans offered to pay for a second season. That would have been unrealistic even if Kickstarter had existed then, but the intent was there. If it's money you want - we have money! We will give it to you if you give us our show!

And we do pay for content. We pay for Hulu Plus and Netflix and Amazon Prime and cable and satellite and other services that allow us to watch the things we love. And I loved Veronica.

So when Twitter buzzed with the news that Rob Thomas had launched a Veronica Mars Kickstarter, I did not hesitate to check it out. I watched the video a million times because this is the most Veronica Mars we'd gotten in years. I read the fine print. I studied the rewards list. I made my choice and gave my money.

And ever since, people have given me shit.

Not me directly, but VM Kickstarter backers as a group have been sneered at by a lot of folks who think they know better how we should have spent our money.

According to some, anyone who contributed is a sucker who gave a studio money and only got a T-shirt in return.

Here's what I say to that:
Jog on.

I wanted a Veronica Mars movie. Without the Kickstarter: no movie. With the Kickstarter: movie. It was that simple. Is this setting a bad precedent? Is it going to make studios run to Kickstarter to fund all their movies now? First of all, not really, and second of all, that's not my problem. That's not Rob Thomas' problem. Rob Thomas wanted to get this movie made, as did we all. This was the way.

A friend of mine used to bring me to these Battlestar Galactica viewing parties with cast and crew members, and at one of them I told a director I was making a short film. He handed me $20 and wished me luck. I never saw him again. And that happens all the time in this town - the support for creative endeavors from other creatives is enormous. We all want to see good stories get told.

So yes, I gave my money. And when I did the math, I probably paid maybe $20 more for the items I got than I would have had I bought them independently. I'm okay with that.

Because what I really got was a great movie. The advantage all the naysayers weren't considering was that by circumventing the studio system to a degree (isn't that what we all say we want to do?) Rob Thomas was able to make a movie for the people who funded it - the fans. Instead of getting note after note and making a film that had to appeal to a broad audience at fan expense, he was able to indulge us in everything we loved about the series.

This film was exactly what I wanted. It's what I paid for. And I proudly wear my shirt and look at my poster, and when the Blu Ray comes I will watch it repeatedly.

The cast and crew knew how much trust we placed in them, and they didn't take it for granted. At the Paleyfest panel, they showed a documentary about the fans, and in every frame, as well as in the panel discussion that followed, there was a respect and love for the people who helped make this film happen. Yes, extras usually get paid to be in a movie and here were people who themselves paid for the privilege. But you know what? For professional extras, it's work. For these people, it was a chance to be part of something cool that they wouldn't otherwise get, and they don't regret it, so why should you regret it for them?

The guy in the picture up top in the red pants? That's Eric the Trainer, who trains tons of celebrity clients, including one Jason Dohring, AKA Logan Echolls. Through a mutual friend, I was able to go see the movie this week with Jason up there. He was polite and friendly (and I ain't gonna lie, handsome as hell in person), but when I told him I was a backer, he jumped up and hugged me and engaged me in conversation. It made my fucking day. I'm also pleased to announce that I did not embarrass myself, despite my internal squealing.

The entire time they made this film, the cast and crew knew exactly who they were making it for. You can see it in every frame of film. Is it a perfect movie?  Of course not. Is it everything I wanted as a fan? Fuck yes it is.

Here's one last thing. I never gave to Kickstarter before the Veronica Mars campaign. I have now given to nine funded projects in all, including comic books, short films, documentaries and a project that allows terminally ill children to write their own books. I think that's a pretty good precedent.

So don't you worry about how I decided to spend my money. You worry about your own spending habits. I chose wisely.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Be the Change

"The world is round, people."
(Yes, I know it was a Woody Allen movie.)
Sometimes in the morning when neither of us has anywhere specific to be, Beefcake and I lie in bed while I read interesting news articles on my phone. This morning, I read an article about a bill in Iraq that would make it legal for men to marry 9-year-old girls and illegal for women to refuse sex with their husbands. Then I read an article about the Pakistani 17-year-old who set herself on fire to protest the release of the leader of the five men who kidnapped and gang raped her. Then I read an article about the new law in Michigan that requires women to purchase special "abortion insurance" if they think they might be raped. Then I read about Terry Richardson. And we all know about Woody Allen by now. And of course, we can't forget about Roman Polanski.

This is about culture.

In each of these cases, someone in power sanctioned this behavior. Celebrities pal around with Terry Richardson all the time. They defend Woody Allen and Roman Polanski. Governments and police forces support laws that keep women suppressed and abused all over the world. And all of that speaks to a culture that subconsciously (or in some cases, consciously) believes that women deserve what they get.

We as artists have the power to instigate change. Making movies isn't like curing cancer. It's not "important work." Or is it?

A recent study showed that the MTV series Teen Mom helps to reduce rates of teenage pregnancy.

There are no statistics to back it up, but many believe that the magnificent David Palmer, the black president on the TV series 24, helped Americans open up to the idea of a black president. It seems likely that Will and Grace made being gay a more acceptable part of our society.

Art begets change. The Jungle changed the way the government handled meat processing in this country. Look what happened to fast food menus after Super Size Me. Black Fish is already having an effect on our perception of animals in captivity.

We can make a difference with what we write. We don't have to, but we can, even if we write the silliest B movie to hit VOD.

When every black person you see on film is a thug, you are more likely to believe that black people are plotting to shoot you. When every gay person you see on film is a sexual predator, of course you believe that the gay community is coming for your children. And when every woman you see in film is a wife/mother/victim, you're far more inclined to believe that we're not capable of anything more.

This is why I write female protagonists so often. I don't write them just because I'm a woman. I write them because I want to SEE women - women I can relate to, women who aren't just running scared or trying to please the male lead.

This is why Frozen and Hunger Games were so successful this year. Girls are starved for female characters who carve their own path. And guess what? Boys watch this stuff too. Yes, boys are capable of enjoying films about girls.

One year when I was a teacher, the Big Read chose The Joy Luck Club as that year's novel. I volunteered to lead the related activities at our school. As the English teachers were meeting to discuss our plans, one of our male teachers protested teaching his students this novel. "I don't think the boys will be interested in reading a book about women," he said.

Before I could even begin my angry response, the teacher beside me handled it much more simply. She said "Why not? Girls have been reading books about boys forever and they don't complain." And in my classroom, I had no such complaints. I taught a room full of first-generation Americans, and even those without immigrant parents could relate to the parent/child relationships raised in the book. There's more to being a woman than having a vagina. We have a lot of the same thoughts and feelings as men do. And sometimes, we have a different take on those thoughts, one worth hearing.

If you're a boy who can't dare to watch a movie about a female protagonist, you're a fucking idiot.

You don't even have to write a female protagonist to have interesting women in your film. Most writers default to male. The only characters who get to be women are the characters who MUST be women. But when you change a character's race or gender or sexual orientation to something other than the default, cool things happen in your story. Your characters suddenly become more interesting.

So do this for me today: find a character you defaulted to male and make that character a woman instead. Most likely, you don't have to change anything else. Don't make her a love interest or somebody's mom or a murder or rape victim. Just make her a person. Give her some good lines to say that have nothing to do with her gender.

If we all do this in every script, imagine the difference we could make together over time. Imagine the fate of the celebrity rapist. Imagine the rape victim who at least knows that these men are buried so far under the prison that they will never touch another girl again. Imagine the woman who doesn't have to carry her rapist's baby to term because she failed to buy "abortion insurance." Imagine the women who will know it's okay to stand up to their abusers. But most importantly, imagine the courage we give to girls all over the world to become the best version of themselves.

It kind of starts with us. People all over the world watch movies. It's the easiest, most subtle way to send out messages, to influence culture. We have that power.

It's not just words, you know. It's a decision that you make every time you write: BE THE GODDAMN CHANGE.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Rep Relationships: An Insourced Post

See, the rabbits are the managers in this scenario.

Let's talk about managers some more. Just managers today, not agents, since for most screenwriters, this is the first stop.

In the beginning, you're just so excited that someone wants to read your script, you don't care who it is. And if someone wants to rep you - hot damn, now you're off to the races!

But it doesn't really happen that way. Having a rep can open all kinds of doors, but it is not a guarantee of success. And sometimes the rep you pick ends up not being the right one. That's okay. There are so many in this town that if one doesn't work, you try another. The comparison to a romantic relationship is absolutely apt. You go in hoping to make it work, but sometimes you have to know when to walk away.

I had a manager who was on her own, between firms. You'd think she had a ton of time to devote to me if she was basically her own boutique with few clients, but that wasn't the case. She was busy trying to find a new place to settle, and I was left wondering what to do.

I had a manager who was part of one of the biggest firms in town, and he was always attentive. He called me regularly, put me in rooms, returned my phone calls and emails right away. I feel fortunate to have worked with him. So the size of the company doesn't matter. Only the person matters.

And sometimes, even the best person doesn't work out. It's like a guy you know is really great and nice and wants to marry you, but you're just not feeling it. You have to walk away.

Many new writers get conflicting information on this, so I'm going to clear  it up right now: You must leave your current manager before finding another. Yes, it sucks. Too bad. Agents might be different, but no manager worth her salt will poach another's clientele. And that means you have to be confident that you'll land another before you leave the one you have. That's the part that's scary.

I'm in that process now - seeking new management. Now that I'm a little more experienced and have more confidence in the scripts I'm carrying around, I've gotten very picky about who I want to work with.

Managers are as individual as writers, and they all have different styles of operating, so you have to figure out which one works for you. This is what I do:

I watch TrackingB and The Tracking Board, both Internet script tracking sites. What's the difference between them? TrackingB is less flashy and more devoted to straight reporting of information. You can check out archived posts for free and decide if you like the format, and it boasts a widely respected contest whose goal is to get you repped. Disclaimer - I was a finalist in TrackingB's contest in 2011. Meanwhile, Tracking Board has a lot more going on than just script tracking, with the Hit List and a forum and its own contest. They just put out a comprehensive book looking at the past year's spec market.

Anyhow, I check the boards and the annual Black List (the list, not the site) and The Hit List, and if I see a great logline, I'll check out the manager associated with the writer of the project. I look for other projects that manager has gone out with. I check his IMDB Pro page to see who else they represent. I go to Done Deal Pro and search his name in the forums to see what others have said about him. I go to Deadline and check on what kind of news he's made. If I recognize a client's name, I'll contact the client and ask about what the manager is like to work with.

I do all this before I even ask them to read a script.

There are things to be aware of as you search. Tracking Board frequently reports options as sales, so often a manager looks like he's sold a ton of projects, when in fact, he's negotiated options galore and not so many outright purchases. There's nothing particularly wrong with that, but beware that sometimes the managers with the most glamorous looking record are not as amazing as they seem. You also frequently see managers who go out with a lot of specs that never sell. In that case, could be those managers believe in using specs as writing samples and concentrate on getting their clients assignment work rather than a splashy spec sale, or it could be they just throw everything at the wall. Deadline is helpful in figuring out which managers are more interested in looking for material to produce. But these are things you need to be aware of when you decide which kind of manager you want.

Then there's the level of participation you want from a manager. Some are completely hands on. They want to go over your ideas with you, give you notes, consult with you before all major decisions. With some - you hand them a finished script and they decide what to do with it. There are many in between. You decide what you want your working relationship to look like and then find someone who matches up.

In the end, it all boils down to trust. You trust this person to handle your career, and in return, she trusts you to write good work. You'll disagree sometimes, but as long as you trust each other, that's okay. If you're honest and open to ideas but not a pushover, you'll be fine. And if there comes a time when you no longer feel you can trust this person, move on. If you feel you are being neglected, move on. A successful screenwriter once told me "A manager who never calls is not your manager." Remember that. Don't cling to hope like a neglected wife; Just pack your bags and go.

For more on this topic, I recommend you read Craig Mazin's recent post on the subject over on Done Deal Pro.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Rep Relationships: Outsourced Post #3

After receiving this question about rep/writer relationships:

 Is it true that managers and agents will only do something for you twice---after you give them the first spec they like and if that doesn't sell then if you are generating income for them----otherwise they won't do anything for you because they have 35 plus other clients (managers) or (70-80 for agents)... Would a new writer get lost in the shuffle at a big management company like Anonymous Content or Benderspink if they aren't hot right away...or is it better to go with a medium manager who's a hot spec seller.... How do you figure out which managers will take time to develop material and build a new client's career from ones that are strictly going for the one off quick deal?

I asked several of my writer buddies to help out by giving their perspective, since every relationship is different and I haven't had that many. You can find Part One HERE and Part Two HERE 

Writer #5 is just getting started, but after a high profile introduction his script got passed all over town:
I have both agents and managers. Fortunately, I love 'em. They're exactly the people I thought they were. They work their asses off, and they fight for me. However, the road to figuring out the question of representation was full of hiccups. It was very challenging. My situation was fairly bizarre.
I was fortunate enough to have a few options, which was wonderful and surreal and humbling. It's also taxing and stressful and terrifying. As someone who wasn't based in LA, I wasn't able to meet the majority of the reps in person. This only complicates matters. It's hard to really read someone based off a Skype session, a phone conversation, etc. I encountered a wealth of intelligent, incredibly talented, and admirable people. This only made things more difficult. A large part of the equation is figuring out who genuinely believes in you. Will this agent/manager work hard for you, not just in five minutes, but in five years? Because ideally, that's what these partnerships will be: long term ones.

A manager is your creative partner. Let me correct that - a good manager is your creative partner. As the industry has shifted, some agents have found footing in the managerial world. These people are plenty talented, but in some cases, their strong suit is not in the development of material. For me, that's the purpose of a manager. A manager is the person you're in the trenches with through every step of the creative process. They are your sounding board. They are someone with whom you're incredibly vulnerable, as you share your most embryonic ideas and early drafts.

For those lucky enough to be in a situation in which you're forced to choose between agencies or managerial firms of various sizes -- the behemoths and the smaller, boutique shops -- like everything in our business, there is no concrete rule to guide you here. So much of this comes down to your gut. You must absolutely be mindful of your agent/manager's client list, the size of their company, and how you fit into the equation. Do you want someone who is hungry? Always. Unfortunately, the hungriest are also, most often, the youngest. However, if you believe that Giant Agent/Manager X from Big Company Y, with a client list full of established writers, adores your writing and truly believes in your potential, that person may be the right rep for you.

I'd be lying if I said I haven't heard the horror stories. A talented young writer signs with a big agent/manager off the strength of his/her script, and then finds themselves marginalized over the next year as their "heat" fades. The phone rings less. The inbox isn't as full. The rep senses that you won't cash a check in the very immediate future, and backs away. Hell, I once met a rep who said something astounding. When our conversation shifted to a discussion of a young writer, who had broken in with a massive spec sale just three months earlier, the reps words were: "well, what has [the writer] done since?" With the wrong reps, Hollywood can become a business of "what have you done for me lately?". If you don't immediately sell the next spec, or land the OWA you've been chasing, the attention you receive can dwindle. It's important to note that this can happen anywhere. This type of behavior isn't restricted to the largest agencies & firms.

With the right agent/manager, you'll find someone who isn't utterly inconsolable when your spec doesn't sell, or you lose out on that big studio gig. You'll find someone who understands that the next opportunity is right around the corner, because at the end of the day, talent does win out. ( least that's what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.) You won't feel like you're in this alone, because you won't be. That person -- the sherpa that will guide you up this mountain -- may work for a behemoth of an agency/managerial firm. That person may also just as easily may work for a smaller boutique.

Make an informed decision. If you're unsure about a rep, try to find someone who has worked with them. Hollywood is an incredibly small town. Seek out a fellow writer, or an exec. Ask them about their experiences. Listen to everything, and dismiss nothing. Don't let one overly enthusiastic or aggressively negative opinion sway your decision. Another useful little trick: read their clients work, and see if it speaks to you. There's no one trick to the trade. Do your research, and then follow your instincts. After all, they've carried you this far.

 Writer #6 is a TV and film writer who's had a lot of success and steady work over the years:

ME: Do you have a manager or agent or both?

Both.  These days, much more common.  One quick advantage of having both - when you're trying to get an actor or director on your script, an agent will be offering their own clients.  A manager works with all the agencies, so has more flexibility in trying to attach talent.

ME: What is that relationship like?

I think the underlying question here is "what should my relationship with my rep be," and people are trying to judge based on what pros do.  The truth is, I've been through three managers and probably ten different agents (I've been at the same agency for a long time, but agents move/teams change), and every relationship is different.  Some want to get involved and read drafts and give notes, some want to "sell it, don't smell it."  Some are behind you and keep fighting when they believe in you, even during cold streaks - some are heat seeking missiles.

I feel a rep is better than no rep, by a long shot. If you're a new writer and you get an offer, unless the person is a fraud, go ahead and give it a shot.  You can always change reps if it's not working out.  If you have multiple offers of representation, just listen to their pitch, ask what you can expect, and choose.  If you're wrong, it's not forever.

And thus ends the outsourced part of my post. Next time, I'll give my own answer, since this question has become increasingly relevant to me of late.  Thanks to all the writers who so graciously participated in this posting series. I know your insight has been very helpful to many.