Words Into Pictures An Aspiring Screenwriters Dream Conference

By Thom Fowler
Posted 06/17/02 13:20:50

Lots of people dream of making it in the entertainment industry – that vast, amoebic distemperate beast with a thousand arms and a perpetually empty stomach. While there are so many ways you can create, produce, distribute and show your work as an independent on any scale, in order to be an International Superstar™ you’ve got to go Hollywood, baby. If only there was a black book that had all the answers, that showed you as concretely a path as your high school counselor, pointing from high school, to college, to three bedroom split level, so that you could just “walk the path of success” to the podium on Oscar night. If only … The best anyone can do is learn the math and work out the problem. But who wants to learn math? (Hint: people who want to go the moon.)

The Writers Guild Foundation so graciously invited me to test drive the Words Into Pictures conference and I was not disappointed. My best friends in the business never tell me anything. Everyone wants to keep their “inside” knowledge secret and hide all their connections from you. Don’t let this deter you because a) William Morris Agency is in the phone book and b) fuck your friends if they secretly harbor a wish to see you fail.

The Words Into Pictures conference is an orgy of information about issues facing writers working in film and television today. Development executives, Oscar winners, and even the editor of Variety came out to help you understand the many avenues to success in the entertainment industry.

You’d be lucky if just one of these people came to talk to your class just once while in school or could get them on the phone. There is something empowering about hearing first hand from people who have made it just how they got there.

And if you were crafty, persistant or just lucky, you might be able to get some personal advice, hand over a script, jot down the name of an agent or hook up with one of your many writer/actor/director/craft services peers.

After three days (I missed the pre-conference craft day where in one day you could get a cradle to the grave introduction to the craft of screenwriting), I came away with enough information and names connected to faces that I’m about ready to actually finish those three or five scripts I’ve worked on and start playing the game.

While it’s true that Hollywood is all about “relationships”, which means its completely nepotistic, you don’t have to be on the inside track to get your work in the pool. Getting a movie made out of your script is another thing alltogether. Very few scripts that are written are sold and even fewer get made into movies.

“It all starts with a script”, says Tom Schulman. Schulman wrote Dead Poet’s Society and is the current President of the Writers Guild Foundation. If you know you’ve got the talent, then you have to write the script. “Don’t be afraid to write poorly”, said Marc Norman, co-writer of Shakespeare in Love. “Your first draft will probably suck”, he continues. And then if it ever gets made it into a film, it may be rewritten ten times til Tuesday, anyway. So do your best work, in spite of it all.

While there is no one way to do it, here are the general tasks you will need to accomplish.

* Write a script

* Get anyone who can make a difference in your career to read it. An agent, an entertainment lawyer, the guy who works in the mailroom at Paramount. “Don’t just shoot for the superstars”, says Chris Moore, producer of American Pie and American Pie 2.

* Write what you believe. Write what you want to see. Write from your emotional connection to the story.

* Screenwriting is all about structure, so learn about structure.

* The more material you have, the better chance people have of discovering your talent.

* And if you get to the point where you are asked to make a pitch:
Never pitch before lunch and never pitch after lunch on Friday.
Pitching is not for the faint of heart, so if you need to do some personal growth work to withstand an ego-depleting tirade, then do so.

Think getting an agent is hard? Think again. If you’ve got it, flaunt it. The whole business is a farm system to find you. “Good scripts will be found” is the adage repeated over and over. You’ll need an agent to get you over to the other side of the world.

And here’s one hard pill to swallow, ultimately its just about being liked. Do I like you? So try to have a life, have some stories to tell.

As I like to tell my boyfriends, “wear something that turns me on, but be yourself, relaxed and comfortable.”

You have to trust yourself, believe in yourself and not take no for an answer to just compete.

So making it isn’t impossible, just damn near impossible, but if you know that’s what you want, then you’ll get yourself there one way or the other, no matter how long it takes.

And if that doesn’t work out, there is always Project Greenlight.

But if you are too cool for Hollywood and wanna just be your own thing, start a video short festival in your town, create a film society, build production facilities and have technical intensives. Get your third grade teacher and the lady at the laundromat to shoot some video and then let a story editor take over, perhaps someone whose training you oversaw at the production facility you created.

And then send out a press release to any entertainment editor you can dig up, anywhere. You don’t want to just sell tickets, you want to expand your possibilities by drawing attention to your uniqueness, your drive and your vision. Eventually you can sell DVD compilations when everyone discovers your own personal Buena Vista Social Club and savvy New Yorkers will want your piece of the puzzle in their personal collection.

Most importantly, don’t wait for anyone to give you permission. Just start.

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