Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How to watch TV these days

I wrote this whole rant about Dish Network and AMC and how much bullshit it is that I pay so much money a month and they're not going to air one of my favorite shows because of a spat the companies are having and it's an outrage and all, and then thought about rape victims in Burundi and decided I sounded like a fucking asshole so I deleted it.

So I'm just gonna say, I hope they resolve this shit soon. It's not good for either company.

I've also gotten way into Strike Back, which is why I now have (with the exception of AMC, Sundance, WeTv and IFC) ALL THE FUCKING CHANNELS. I added HBO when I got into True Blood. I added Starz when I got into Spartacus, I just added Cinemax because of Strike Back, so I figured I might as well throw Showtime onto the pile since there's bound to be something I want there too. Now I can finally get into Homeland.

I like stories.

With this whole kerfuffle over AMC, I'm thinking of switching to the online model, but I'm not sure it's ready yet. One day everything will be customizable and online, but that day is not yet here.

So how do you watch your TV?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Presenting Game Night, a short film

After years of not really doing anything with the short film I produced/co-wrote/directed in 2007, I finally posted it to YouTube. Everyone in the credits knows more than I do, so I thank them so much for contributing their expertise, and I apologize for being such a lousy producer.

I'd change a few things if I were to shoot this now, but I'm proud of the work we did, and I learned so much about the whole process from start to finish. Nothing teaches you more about filmmaking than making a film.

So here it is, after years of hiding on my shelf, Game Night.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What happens after you get the Manager?

How I feel about a certain someone
After my last post about what a relationship with a manager should look like, Paul asked a question:

what happens once you're signed in terms moving forward? Do you just need one good script?...or do they expect you to follow up with another right away? Are you working with producers to do a free spec...or do they have you go out and try to do assignments? Most of the info out there is about how to get in...but not a lot explains where to go once you get a rep and become a working writer, not just a repped non-working writer.


Everybody's career trajectory is different, and everybody's relationship with their rep is different. You can land a rep with one script, but they certainly don't expect that to be it. You should always be working on the next thing.

Most reps will want a list of ideas you're working on. I've heard of reps who demand X number of ideas per week. I don't know how common that is, but I do know that once you're signed, your rep is going to want to choose the perfect next script. He may reject everything you've ever thought of. If he truly loves your first idea and tells you to go write it, I envy you.

While you're working on your next project, your rep is likely doing two things: 1) Trying to get your movie made. This is where agents are extremely useful. And 2) Setting you up for meetings.

You will do a crapton of general meetings. At some of these meetings, you will be pitched an idea. If you like the idea, you will send the producer a treatment for your take on that idea - sooner rather than later - and then chances are good you will never hear from that producer again.

Will you have to do free work? Depends. It depends on your rep and his relationship with the producer, depends on how much you love the idea, depends on the likelihood that there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It's really up to you. The rep gives you advice, but he's not your boss. You make the choice of how much free work you're willing to do.

It's a hustle, pure and simple.

Some people *cough* John. *cough* walk into a room, open their mouths, and land a job. I've been to so many meetings where a certain someone's name comes up and every fucking producer is like He was just here and he sold me a project it was so great OMG isn't he fantastic don't you wish you were him I love him so much blah blah blah fuck off. Seriously, I've been to THREE meetings where he was literally on the same couch like half an hour earlier and pitched something for like a bazillion dollars. I've started to feel like I'm just following that guy around picking up his leftover water bottles.

That's extremely rare, and if you meet a person like that, you should knock him out and steal his identity.

Anyway, the important thing is to ask your rep for advice. That's part of his job - to guide you so that you make both of you look good. And then make your decision. You have to figure out what's best for you.

One piece of advice, though: I don't recommend doing anything behind your rep's back. If he doesn't like the script you want to write, either write what he wants you to, tell him you're going to write it anyway and see if he is willing to help under protest, or find a new rep. But don't deceive him. He can't help you if you don't trust his expertise.

Good luck.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What a relationship with a manager should look like

I got a little busy catching up on TV shows this week. You know how that goes. Everything else just stops until you've caught up to the present episode.

Anyway, I've noticed that on the Done Deal Pro forums, a lot of people show up to ask about what a relationship with a manager should look like. Many of these people have been "signed" and don't know whether or not their relationship is normal.

So what does a normal relationship with a manager look like?

First of all, a disclaimer. I've worked with two managers. One, a couple of years ago before I was totally ready and when that person was in a transitional period, so it wasn't the ideal pairing. The second, my current manager, who is wonderful and gets me and has made me a happy girl. Both great managers with good reputations, but only one that was right for me.

I am speaking partly about my own experiences, but also from stories I've heard other writers tell.

Here's what a manager does:

He has a plan of attack for your work.
He listens to your ideas and tells you which ones he can work with.
He reads your scripts and gives you solid notes.
He gets your name out there as successfully as possible.
He sets up meetings.
He keeps you posted about goings on.
He keeps reminding you about how awesome you are.
When you're ready, he helps you find an agent.

Some managers do a lot more, but they shouldn't be doing less. And of course, there are those who also produce.

And some managers, for whatever reason, sign clients and then forget about them.

You see it all the time in threads on DDP: People asking if it's normal that they haven't talked to their manager in three months. Once, a guy said he hadn't talked to her in almost a year. Honey, if you haven't talked to your manager in almost a year, she ain't your manager.

You should be talking to your manager about two to four times a month at least. They should constantly be working on the next step in your career.

Meanwhile, you should be working, too. Their job is to get your reputation started. Your job is to give them something with which to work, and to show up for meetings prepared and perky.

If your manager gives you no notes, sets up no meetings, never calls you, or seems to have forgotten you exist, it's time to move on. A manager who never calls you is not your manager.

The thing is, most people in this town do not want to reject you. They'd rather you slowly fade away so they never have to face the confrontation. So if your manager stops responding to your emails, or emails back a sentence about how busy they are to every request for an update, or they don't seem particularly interested in your latest project, or they haven't set you up for a meeting since you met.... you don't have a manager.

And if that's the case, you have to throw out the security blanket and go it alone. I know, it's really nice to tell people you're repped. It makes you feel safe, like you've gotten over some kind of hurdle. But if you're sticking with someone who does nothing for you, you're doing your career more harm than good, because the whole time you're with them, the people who would actually push your career forward can't find you.

Only you can decide whether or not your relationship is working out. Your manager has to be someone you trust, someone you're not afraid to ask when you have a question or call if you need an update. A good managerial relationship is really important, especially now that selling a script has become so much more of a challenge. These are the people who navigate the waters for you.

And one more thing: If you go to an Industry party and mention your manager's name and nobody knows who he is, he's not worth having.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Why I Left The Classroom: Part 2

This is a Teaching Post. It is likely to be my last, since I have left the classroom after - well, after a good long while. I was good at my job, but I left.

Part One was about why I became a teacher in the first place.

And here are the reasons why I decided to call it quits:

1) Writing is my first love, and I came to California to write screenplays. Teaching was always temporary. I felt like this next year could be huge for me and I don't want to have to quit in the middle of the school year and leave the kids with a string of subs, which is just about the worst thing that can happen to a class.

But that alone wouldn't have been enough, because that's really risky and there was a lot about teaching I loved.

2) I was displaced this year. See, most school systems operate on a "last hired, first fired basis" they call "seniority". The newest teachers get fired first. The less-new teachers don't get fired, but they get moved to another school. They call that "displacement." When the economic crisis started, I was smack in the middle at my school as far as seniority. About three years ago they started to lay off and displace teachers, and eventually I dropped to dead last. Think about that. That means HALF of our English department was removed from our school. This was going to be my year, and that means that after several years working to build a school that, quite frankly, was a disaster when it opened my first year here, I was forced to go elsewhere. I don't want to go elsewhere. I love my little ghetto school. I love that student population. Not every teacher can handle a school like that, but for me, it was the perfect place. I would have died in Malibu, not that those schools had openings. It's the poor schools that lose all their teachers.

Why do the poor schools lose their teachers more? Because those are the schools that got the newest teachers. I was more experienced than most other teachers when I came to this school, but I was out of state, so I had no seniority, and that meant I got placed at a school nobody wanted. So the teachers who stick it out, who work hard in those less desirable schools, they get kicked to the curb while the older teachers stay with the rich kids. We also lost almost all of our arts programs because once our band/choral/dance/art teachers get laid off or displaced, they don't usually get replaced. So once again, rich kids get the arts programs and the poor kids get... I don't know. I know they still have the yearbook because my replacement adviser was willing to give up a planning period to teach it.

3) I don't like the direction we're headed. My methods are a little unconventional. I do what I want most of the year, and then two weeks before the state test, I cram the kids with test taking skills, and show them how to answer multiple choice questions. This is something I'm exceptionally good at - figuring out what sounds like the best answer when I have no idea what it is - so I spend two weeks showing the kids how to do that. If you check my test scores, you'll see that my kids fare as well on the test as most kids who spend all year prepping. But my kids also know how to think for themselves and didn't die from boredom.

It's obvious to me, however, that I won't be able to get away with that anymore. The district brought in this guy last year -  I'll call him Data Guy. Data Guy spent ONE YEAR as a math teacher, so naturally he knows all about our jobs. For some reason he was put in charge of the English department, where his job became fixing our test scores. His idea? Get rid of novels completely and replace them with short pieces followed by multiple choice questions. No more abstract thought.  What purpose do novels serve if you can't easily break them down to A-E answers? You can't quantify a novel, so we don't want to waste our time on them.

Right before the state tests, we were all given a series of lessons to give. As in, Data Guy guy sent us our lesson plan for the day and we were supposed to follow it, then test the kids, then send him the tests so he could see how we did. I didn't follow his lessons. I did the test the first two weeks, and when my kids did better than most of the other classes, I decided this was stupid. I threw the rest of the lessons and tests in the recycling.

But that's where we're headed. The end game is for every single teacher to teach the exact same lesson on the exact same day so that a kid can go from one class to the other and not experience anything different.

Data Guy explained it to me this way: If one teacher is better than the other, then the kid with the bad teacher has an unfair disadvantage. If every teacher covers the exact same material the exact same way, the kids are all on equal footing.

I am not kidding you right now. This is his reason for making us all follow the same lesson plans day after day.

I can't do that. I refuse to do that, and if I had stayed in the classroom I would have been fired. I might have punched someone in the face by the end of the year. But there was no way in hell I was going to follow an English lesson plan designed by a Data Guy who spent one year teaching math in some other school. He, of course, told us we'd all come up with our ideas together. He said this right before he came up with all the ideas.

I still remember what he said when I asked him if he was serious about ditching novels, because that would mean a kid could get to college without ever having read one. "I had never read a novel when I got to UCLA," he said. Then he thought for a minute and added, "Although I did have a lot of trouble in English that first year."

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Why I Left the Classroom - Part One

This is not a post about screenwriting, other than to mention that it was inspired by a really good documentary I just watched called American Teacher.

This is a post about teaching. More specifically, about why I'm not anymore. And this post turned out to be super long, so I split it into parts. I'm just warning you so you can bow out now.

First of all, this was a really great documentary. It gives a good glimpse of what teaching is really like from the perspective of teachers who are dedicated to the profession. There is a section where some who have quit gave up their reasons for leaving, and it made me want to share mine. I have this forum here, so...

My mom was a teacher and she always told me I'd be a teacher too, so naturally I wanted to do everything except teach. Wait, I should amend that. My mom wasn't just a teacher, my mom was THE teacher. At my class reunion, half my former classmates asked how she was doing. Everybody loved my mom, and I mean EVERYBODY. She was the kind of teacher you remember forever, the one who inspires you to do better with your life. At my last game as a member of the school's marching band, when I was supposed to be getting cheered from the crowd because I was a senior, your parents came down to stand next to you and share the honor. There was no sharing. Everybody in the crowd was so happy to see my mom, I don't think they noticed I was there.

The thing is, I never minded. It was actually a great way to make friends. I'm her daughter, which automatically made me interesting and sometimes cool.

I'm telling you, she was that good. It's been a lot for me to live up to.

I say "was" not because she's dead, but because she retired. She probably would have kept going, but she saw the same things I see in the system. We both left for many of the same reasons.

I was going to be a reporter, except it turns out that I hated being a reporter, so I started teaching because it was a job I could do and not hate, and it would give me an income while I figured out a new plan. I never intended to be a lifelong teacher. When I found screenwriting the next year, I was absolutely sure I would leave this horrible profession I'd chosen as soon as I could.

Because there is one truth every teacher will agree on: Your first year as a teacher will be the worst damn year of your life.

These kids like to test you, and you don't know what the hell you're doing, so they win all the time. My very first day - I looked like I was about 12 at the time - a girl who was now taking freshman English for the third time gave me attitude. I asked her if she wanted to take the class for a third time.

"You ain't gotta be sharing my business like that!" she said.

I told her if she was ashamed of failing classes, she should stop failing classes. And for some reason, she decided she liked me after that. She ended up passing English that year.

That's how I roll, kids. No crap in my classroom. You meet my expectations or you don't get the grade.

But I still remember that first year with horror. I bribed them with playtime on the football field.

That was in North Carolina, which is a non-union state. Now, people have different feelings about unions, but I'll tell you what I know. In North Carolina I had to pay extra for dental and vision insurance, and I made a starting salary of $24,000 a year. In California I made well over twice that much (which comes to proportionately more even when you add in standard of living)  and my benefits were terrific. So, you can rag on unions all you want, but I appreciate being able to get contact lenses so I can actually see the board. Also, eating is nice.

Anyway, time rolls on. I took over the school's yearbook and I loved it. Then I moved to California and took over that school's yearbook too.

American Teacher makes a big deal about how much time teachers spend working, and that's certainly true, but it doesn't have to be as bad as the film makes out. I certainly graded papers at home and stayed after a lot, especially in the early yearbook years, but by my fourth or fifth year I learned how to get things done so most days I could walk out the door at the bell. I loved teaching yearbook, I loved teaching English, I loved my boss, I loved my room, I loved my kids. It was fun - talking about my favorite subject every day with these really wonderful teenagers. I have a picture over my desk even now of my favorite group of seniors crushing me at the senior picnic, all drenched from a water balloon fight. I loved every class I've ever taught. The kids are amazing.

So why did I quit? That's part two, which I will post tomorrow.