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How To Balance Your Personal Life And Screen Writer Career

By: Stan Popovich

Here are a few suggestions on what a person in the entertainment/screen writer industry can do to balance their personal life and their career.

1.Set goals for yourself when you manage your career.
When you go to work each day, try to set some goals for you to accomplish. For instance, let’s say your goal for today is to finish a project for your manager. At the end of the day, you will feel better about yourself knowing that you were able to finish that project. When you accomplish these smaller goals, you will feel happier, more confident, and less stressed.

2.Delegate part of your responsibilities.
If you try to do everything, you will get stressed and anxious. A person can only do so much in a given day. Do not do everything. Learn to manage your responsibilities. If you feel like you are doing too much, then take a break and evaluate your situation.


3.Try to do things in terms of their importance.
Determine what needs done right away and do those particular tasks in order of importance. Sometimes it is best to write down on a piece of paper the things you want to accomplish in a given day and then do those particular tasks.


4. Remember To Have Fun
It is important to have fun even if your career becomes difficult to manage. A person needs to take a break from their profession so they can learn to relax. This will help you to refocus and be better able to deal with your problems.

5. Separate Your Career And Your Personal Life
Many people make the mistake of making their career their social life. This is can cause problems in the long run. It is best if you keep your personal life separate from your profession because this will reduce the chances of anything bad from happening to your career. Set some time aside to be with your friends and leave your career separate.


6. Don’t Neglect Your Health
Many entertainers sacrifice their physical and mental health over fame, money, and success. Try to focus on what life will be like when your fame disappears. Managing your stresses and anxieties in a positive way is very important for your long term health. A person can’t enjoy their successes if their health is in bad shape.

BIOGRAPHY:

Stan Popovich is the author of "A Layman's Guide to Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non Resistant Methods" - an easy to read book that presents a general overview of techniques that are effective in managing persistent fears and anxieties. For additional information go to: http://www.managingfear.com/


How to Deal with the Stresses and Anxieties in the Entertainment Industry

By: Stan Popovich

Stress and anxiety are very common in today’s entertainment industry. As a result, here is a list of techniques that a person can use to help manage the daily stresses and anxieties of their entertainment industry profession.

Sometimes, we get stressed when everything happens all at once. When this happens, a person should take a deep breath and try to find something to do for a few minutes to get their mind off of the problem. A person could take a walk, listen to some music, read the newspaper or do an activity that will give them a fresh perspective on things.

When facing a current or upcoming task at your entertainment related job that makes your anxious, divide the task into a series of smaller steps and then complete each of the smaller tasks one at a time. Completing these smaller tasks will make the stress more manageable and increases your chances of success.

Sometimes, we can get anxious over an event that we will have to perform in the near future. When this happens, visualize yourself doing the event in your mind. For instance, you have to perform in front of a large group of people in the next few days. Before the big day comes, imagine yourself doing the event in your mind. By doing this, you will be better prepared when the time comes. Self-Visualization is a great way to reduce the fear and stress of a coming situation or event.

Another technique that is very helpful is to have a small notebook of positive statements that makes you feel good. Whenever you come across an affirmation that makes you feel good, write it down in a small notebook that you can carry around with you in your pocket. Whenever you feel anxious, open up your small notebook and read those statements.

Remember that no one can predict the future with one hundred percent certainty. Even if the thing that you feared does happen there are circumstances and factors that you can’t predict which can be used to your advantage. For instance, you miss the deadline for a project you have been working on for the last few months. Everything you feared is coming true. Suddenly, your manager comes to you and tells you that the deadline is extended and that he forgot to tell you the day before. This unknown factor changes everything. Remember: We may be ninety-nine percent correct in predicting the future, but all it takes is for that one percent to make a world of difference.

In dealing with your anxieties at your entertainment job, learn to take it one day at a time. While the consequences of a particular fear may seem real, there are usually other factors that cannot be anticipated and can affect the results of any situation. Get all of the facts of the situation and use them to your advantage.

Our anxieties and stresses can be difficult to manage in the entertainment industry. The more control you have over your stresses and anxieties, the better off you will be in the long run.

Biography:

Stan Popovich is the author of "A Layman's Guide to Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non Resistant Methods" - an easy to read book that presents a general overview of techniques that are effective in managing persistent fears and anxieties. For additional information go to: http://www.managingfear.com/


How To Deal With The Stress Of Finding A Talent Agent

By: Stan Popovich

Stress and anxiety are very common when finding a talent agent. As a result, here is a list of techniques that a person can use to help manage the daily stresses and anxieties of finding a talent agent.

First, get all of the facts and necessary information to make the right decision of finding the right talent agent. Find out the necessary facts of the situation and study all relevant information. This is important because you do not want to miss critical information that could make a difference in your decision.

Get advice from your friends. It is important to consider other viewpoints other than your own. Ask your friends and relatives on what they think that you should do. These people know you and they can give you additional insights that you may be overlooking.

Take a deep breath to help relax in making your decision. If you still feel stressed, then get some fresh air or do something fun to help relax. You will feel better and gain a fresh perspective on your current situation. This will make it easier to make the right decision in finding a talent agent.

It would not be the end of the world if you made the wrong decision. You can always re-evaluate your situation and do something different. Do not put a lot of pressure on just one decision. You will have other opportunities to correct the situation.

If things do not go right after picking a talent agent then the next step is to learn from your mistakes and go from there. Learn from your mistakes. The key is not get so worked up that you do not know what to do. Do not let your fears get the best of you.

Finding the right talent agent does not have to be stressful. Consider all of the facts and your interests when making a decision. This should help in finding the right talent agent without a lot of stress.

BIOGRAPHY:

Stan Popovich is the author of "A Layman's Guide to Managing Fear Using Psychology, Christianity and Non Resistant Methods" - an easy to read book that presents a general overview of techniques that are effective in managing persistent fears and anxieties. For additional information go to: http://www.managingfear.com/


2011: FILMS AND SCREENWRITING

2011 had many interesting trends in screenwriting. If you look at the top 10 box office films they are dominated by sequels. What does this mean? It means in a tough economy the studios are going for safety. There is not much financial risk by producing the final Harry Potter sequel or the Hangover ll. But as most of you know sequels do not often equal quality writing.

The top 10 boxoffice films were:

 

1            Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows     

2            Transformers: Dark of the Moon            

3            Pirates of the Carib.: Stranger Tides        

           Kung Fu Panda 2             

           Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn              

6            Fast Five            

7            The Hangover II              

           The Smurfs        

           Cars 2                 

10          Rio

 

Of these cinematic masterpieces I enjoyed Rio the most followed by the final Harry Potter. The rest were a mishmash of killer robots and virgin vampire brides (go figure). One could argue the only original story and a whole bunch was the animated film Rio.  Again, this list has to do with economics but writing a blockbuster does not mean sacrificing originality and quality.

For example--

I thoroughly enjoyed and was creeped out by the Rise of the Planet of the Apes film.  As rendered through computer graphics, Andy Serkis did a magnificent job catching the nuances of this conflicted character. You follow his journey from naïve chimp to betrayed adult. Even though he will take over the human world and enslave us in the next film you root for him. That is the excellent lesson in screenwriting for all.  If you have an engaged hero that is conflicted, put upon and given enormous obstacles to overcome your audience will respond. The same goes for Harry Potter and the captured exotic bird from Rio.

In a rare misstep PIXAR released Cars ll.  I was never a fan of the original cars but this one left me uncaring about the lead car, Lightening McQueen. It felt forced and was missing a deep emotional investment that is de rigueur for Pixar masterpieces such as Toy story(s), Ratatouille and Finding Nemo.

Also notable are the flops.  Cowboys & Aliens was intended to be an enormous tentpole but was DOA at the box office. Why? It felt like screenwriting by committee. The script was never more than a pastiche of genres and clichés - screenwriting by the numbers.

The mission on page 19. Done!

 "Ingenious" midpoint . Done!

Lowest moment dutifully rendered for the Act lll battle. Check that!

 Rote and boring.  It did everything "right" but everything wrong. All the story elements were there by originality was stripped bare. Gird your loins Battleship the movie is coming in 2012!

However, the biggest box office flop of 2011 was Mars Needs Moms. Whoever green lighted this bizarre and creepy motion capture "family" film is beyond me. It's too scary for children and too dumb for adults. It depicts Martians forcibly kidnapping moms to bring to Mars - not exactly a cuddly premise. (Do Earth moms breastfeed aliens?)  It's a flop with a lesson. Before you execute make certain your premise is sound and you have a sense of who your audience will be; without this foundation your script crumbles.

A movie junkie, I saw approximately 72 films this year. It's amazing that in a country which does not support the arts, and getting a low-budget film made is a major miracle, ( I know -- I'm going through it right now) it's astonishing to see cinematic voices breakthrough the fog.

I truly enjoyed Tom McCarthy's Win/Win. It was smartly written with complex broken characters and it proved you can make a phenomenal movie for a miniscule amount of money.  Mr. McCarthy always surprises including, Station Agent, Up (story), The Visitor etc.  He writes vibrant and exciting characters that you root for.  Rent it on DVD.

Also, it was heartening to see a true American master back at the top of his form. For me, Midnight In Paris was my favorite film of the year. I liken it to a soufflé: light, fluffy and delicious. Though the film was a confection is also brilliantly stated theme: live in the present and not the past. That's one of Woody Allen most brilliant qualities. He writes theme without hammering it home. Bravo Woody!

Here are my favorite films of the year and not a sequel among them.

Midnight In Paris

The Artist

50/50

Win/Win

The Descendants

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tree of Life

MoneyBall

Contagion

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Bill Cunningham's New York (Doc.)

 

There is so much to learn from these scripts. I have posted two of them for your reading pleasure: 50/50 and The Descendents on the Featured Script tab.  Each beautifully written and possessing a subversive black humor throughout.  Enjoy the free screenwriting lesson.

Finally, I bought a tablet this year. No, not an iPad, but the HP Touchpad which was firesaled from $800 down to $150. Tablets are wonderful; use them as a Kindle, e-mail stations, web browser, Angry Birds player etc. However, what I most enjoy is reading scripts on PDF anywhere I wish. But with this plethora of technology I find my writing time shrinking.  My New Year's resolution is to commit again to a solid block of writing time each and every day. Though I love running this organization, I consider myself first and foremost a screenwriter. And when time gets bargained away by work, family, relationships it gives me an artistic frustration which, frankly, sucks.

So as I re-commit to my writing, I hope you do the same. Follow your passion and I guarantee the rest will follow.  

Happy new year and remember - keep writing.

Steven Arvanites

Founder, NYC screenwriter.org

  



NYCscreenwriter      PitchFest WAS A Huge Success


                                                                                       
 
             thank you: Scott/kishori/peter

I truly thank you all for making it so.   It sold out in 10 days with 16 writers on the waitlist. And, as a fly on the wall, I had a unique perspective to hear a majority of your pitches.  First, I must say you all did an extraordinary job in participating and putting yourself out there. Furthermore, whatever the outcome, many relayed that the experience was invaluable.  (This is a preview of pitching in LA and beyond).  All were nervous.  And, sometimes, nerves are good.  They feed into the "energy" of the pitch.  No one was overwhelmed and all were able to complete their pitch with aplomb.

 

 

OBSERVATION: Those writers who had a "plan" and were prepared did very well.  By prepared I mean they knew their pitch and story inside out.  When an exec. asked for more story details the writer had an answer at the ready.  Scribes who fumbled or didn't have a "plan" struggled.  When the story wasn't thought out in detail, or they didn't know how to express the essence of the story, it went awry.

CONCLUSION: Know your story and know your pitch.  Rehearse it like it's a monologue etc.  So if nerves go awry you can coast on "auto-pilot".

OBSERVATION:  One exec. said, "I see your script more as a comedy and not a thriller".  The writer replied, "No, you are wrong.  It's definitely a comedy!"  That shut down the conversation.  If the exec. expresses interest go with their enthusiasm.  Does it mean you will have to rewrite according to their plan?  Probably not. Does it mean you forge a relationship you can build for future projects?  Absolutely!  But if you are really determined to see your script only as a thriller then, perhaps, you are pitching it all wrong.  Re-think and retool; try it again at your next opportunity.

CONCLUSION: It's all about relationships. You are in it for the long-run.  It's a cumulative journey to success.

OBSERVATION: (NOTE TO STEVEN) when scheduling the next PitchFest include a wee-break.  Fair is fair!  
  
CONCLUSION: Increase 9 minute wee-break to 13 minutes. 

Thank you all for your kind "post-mortem" emails.  You mentioned, again and again, that it was professionally planned and executed.  My team and I worked hard to make sure it ran smoothly and professionally.  We did several dry runs. The only thing I forgot was a stapler.  Not too bad.

Overall, the evening was a triumph.  Seven writers were contacted.  All who were contacted please keep me posted! 
Though the most complicated event I ever produced, I truly enjoyed the experience.  If all goes well there will be a Spring PitchFest.

Stay tuned.
 
Keep writing!

-------

CO-HOSTING THE      HBO SUMMER FILM FESTIVAL
IN
BRYANT PARK



As a film lover, what better job can you have in the world than speaking/lecturing about movies to eager film buffs. To that end, I was very lucky to be selected as co-host for REEL TALK for the HBO Summer film Festival. Every Monday, from now till the end of August, a classic film is screened on a two-story screen in front of the Bryant Park lawn.
 
Hysterical YouTube videos show thousands of eager picnicking filmgoers scrambling to claim their
spot on the lush lawn then wait hours for the movie to begin. They spread out their blankets and illegally pop their wine, savor their brie and smear their lox.
 
So far, what I've enjoyed most about the experience is watching a film analytically: breaking down each scene, character and plot twist then sharing with the audience.
 
Furthermore, this all helps me as a screenwriter as I carefully internalize the machinations of the
featured screenwriter. This was especially relevant in the first two films that we screen: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The 39 Steps.
 
With Cuckoo's Nest the theme of who was really insane permeated the Oscar-winning script. It was remarkably rendered by the director, Milos Forman, and expertly acted by the two Oscar-winning actors, Jack Nicholson and Louise Fletcher. At times, in the film, the true insanity was generated by the staff and the inmates their pawns.
 
Thematically, Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, embracing the theme that the director would return to repeatedly throughout his illustrious career: a wrongly accused protagonist and the capacity for man to
survive against incredible events.
 
All this has really been a pleasure with my co-host Scott Alderberg. Besides being a swell guy he is truly a film aficionado and enthusiast. It's really great being the Ebert to his Siskel.

 
Lastly, one of the best parts of the evening is the trivia and giveaways. People take winning a jar of peanut butter or a bag of pretzels very seriously. Audience members shout over one another so they can be picked first and win the coveted prizes. It's too funny. However, I'm very grateful to all participants - and they keep growing. That's a testament to the program and the work that my co-host and I put into each film lecture prior to the Monday evening screening.
 
So please join us every Monday night at 7 PM at the Reading Room on the north side of Bryant. So enjoy a free movie with friends. learns its relevance to cinema. And above all, yell the right answer and win a bag of pretzels or warm Coke!
It don't get better than this!

Keep writing!
 


__________ 




 ATTENDING THE DC SHORTS
 FILM FESTIVAL




I immediately accepted the screening invitation to the DC Shorts  Film Festival. To get into an East Coast festival was a goal, and I did not have to fly our unfriendly skies.  I decided to try my luck with Mega Bus out of Port Authority. The coaches are luxurious and WiFi is included free. The only drawback was the woman sitting across, peeling oranges and using the floor as a trash bin.

The DC Shorts Film Festival is very different in that, for the first time, I was supplied with complimentary housing. No hotel expense! Nice.

 I trudged to the "host address" and discovered my "host family" were a newly married lawyer couple decades my junior.  Josh and Emily were really lovely, their condominium spacious and well appointed. (cute cat too!) However, being a suspicious New Yorker I don't know if I would've opened my home to strangers, but I'm glad they did, handing me the key, giving me unfettered access. I was very grateful and truly impressed. (And, no, I didn't go through their drawers!) After I settled in I immediately dashed to the opening night reception.

Beside the complimentary accommodations there were catered buffets at every reception. It makes all the difference when you are treated cordially. At previous fests, I met the Programming Director for a precursory "hello", and then never spoke again. This was not the case with festival director, Jon Gann.  Jon treated everyone like a wedding guest and made sure we were taking care of - that included a really cool gift bag and a DC Metro card good for unlimited subway rides. Take that Metro Card!

The premiere of Helium Man was very well received. You can listen to the edited Q&A on the accompanying video. The question I usually get most is how do you make your actors fly? Making them fly was easy part -- the real challenge was digitally erasing the 10 steel foot pole jutting out of their back frame by frame. That required an enormous amount of computer hours. I can only imagine what went into the making of Avatar; gave me a headache just to think about it.
One of the highlights of the festival was the gala. I hung out with Pres. Obama, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Abraham Lincoln and Morgan Freeman - all Madame Tussauds wax figures, but it's a start!



I also met a real-life filmmaker and Oscar-winner, Roger Ross Williams. He won the best short documentary For Music by Prudence. (If you have not seen it, please rent at Netflix.) It is a truly inspirational short film and it is a must-see.  Additionally, you may remember Roger on the 2010 Oscar telecast as the winner who "Kanye West-ed" by an overzealous female producer who stormed the podium mid- acceptance speech. Ah, show business! He gave some amazing advice to emerging filmmakers and his interview is included on the accompanying video.

Overall, attending this festival was one of my favorites. It had two things going for it: Organization and consideration. Everything was organized down to the smallest detail. Every filmmaker was made to feel valued and "spoiled". It doesn't take much to make filmmakers feel included and the DC shorts definitely succeeded.

There's always a possibility of another festival for Helium Man, but I'm pretty sure it has ended its circuit run. After being accepted to four short film festivals: Ft. Lauderdale film Festival, Atlanta film Festival, Beverly shorts film festival and, of course, D.C. Short Fest, I'm very proud of our 8 minute featurette and all who were entertained. Now it's your turn!

Keep Writing

HOLLINS M.F.A 
SCREENWRITING PROGRAM




In the summer of 2009 I was invited by the Hollins University screenwriting summer program director, Dr. Klaus Phillips, to teach two workshops.  My topics were: Reaching Your Creative Goals and How to Pitch.  Both were successful and the students enjoyed learning how to pitch their scripts.  Afterwards, Klaus took me to lunch and offered me a teaching job for the following summer's screenwriting program.  I immediately accepted.  This would be a great opportunity to expand my teaching credentials and to spend the summer on the bucolic campus of Hollins University in Roanoke Virginia.



After two delayed flights on United Airlines -- The Greyhound Bus of The Sky -- Klaus picked me up from the airport.   Before checking into my housing he took me to lunch.  Has anyone ever say no to free food?  In reflection, I think Hollins works so well because his leadership.  He's not only generous and magnanimous, but he knows exactly how to make students and faculty feel at home, and at ease to do their best work.  In other words, a Mensch!

I wandered the sprawling Hollins campus with its antebellum buildings coupled with their state-of-the-art Visual Arts Center and the magnificent $14 million Robinson Library. (It would become my "office" for the summer.) My housing was located across the Highway, but centrally air-conditioned, and had a brand-new TV/DVD player thanks to Klaus.

That evening I met the other members of the faculty.  It was serendipitous for we got along extremely well.  The other faculty was: Tim Albaugh, Christa Maeker, Joe Gilford, Stephen Prince and Seth M. Donsky (who will be teaching a workshop for NYC screenwriter in October).  All talented teachers; and great fun too!!

My class was intimate, only five students.  I had three women and two men.  The requirement for my advanced class was the first-year basic screenwriting course. Each student had their own unique voice and great stories to tell.  However, we got off to a slow start due to Logline Trauma.  It is amazing how difficult one sentence can be to create.  But after some rewrites the students quickly caught on and we flew for the rest of the term.   In the very first class, I laid down my Rules of Critiquing. In previous teaching situations writer comments were dismissive and non-constructive.   I determined it was not going to happen again. This class needed to be a "safe place" where students can make mistakes and not only learn from them, but flourish.  The first round of criticism must be entirely complementary. 

What did you like about the writing? 
What did you like about the characters? 
Are there particular moments in the writing that delighted you?


Then we did our second round of critiquing -- the criticism. Criticism is not a dirty word.   It is vital to receive criticism in order to make you a better screenwriter.  Surprisingly, my class had a difficult time in praising and an easy time criticizing. But soon all balanced out and everyone's script was better for it. 

Each student was required to write seven pages a week.  Next a short movie clip demonstrating "High-Concept". E.g. - Liar, Liar -- the lawyer's son makes a wish that his father must tell the truth for 24 hours.   Please click on my VLOG for an expanded definition. 

Also, I was a worksheet monster.  Each session had at least one in-class worksheet and several informational take-home worksheets.  The three hours usually flew by and so did six weeks.

However, teaching only occupied a minority of my time.  With the help of my wonderful and talented friend Hillary Homzie (a professor on the children's literature side) I accepted a personal challenge and wrote a script in two weeks entitled,Mafia In A Dress. I needed new material for the CineStory Writers Retreat (co-sponsored by the Academy Awards) in September.  Location: Idyllwild, California.

I had written a High-Concept script, Mafia In A Dress, two years ago.  The concept was great.  My execution stank.  Not wanting to abandon such a good idea, I rewrote 97% of the original screenplay.  I trudged to the library every day (with the heat hovering at 100° it was a no-brainer) and to my favorite computer terminal and turned out the pages. It was the ultimate Butt In Chair Time.  In two weeks I was finished.  I'm ecstatic at the finished script, and eagerly anticipate my CineStory mentor's critique.

Another benefit of the Hollins M.F.A .screenwriting program are the informative workshops offered.  My lecture was: How To Make A Film for under $10,000 and Win At Two Film Festivals.  I'm officially in love with PowerPoint!




Among the other lecture guests was Scott Kosar the screenwriter of:  The Machinist, Texas Chainsaw Massacreand The Crazies. What a fascinating story on how, The Machinist got made via the connections he fostered through his UCLA masters degree.  Additionally, screenwriting guru Lew Ackerman spoke about his famous book and his newly published novel; and, finally, Peter Riegert of Animal Housefame.  The cumulative experience was a 24/7 screenwriting paradise! 

Should you get an M.F.A. in screenwriting?

If you have any aspirations to teach it's definitely of enormous benefit.  Also, it marks you as someone who is dedicated and serious about the craft.  Additionally, it opens professional doors through your teachers and mentors.  This is especially true for screenwriting programs at UCLA and USC, and Hollins too.  However, you can win an Academy award with only a G.E.D. high school diploma.  It's all about your passion and dedication to the screenwriting and the wacky business.  But if you are looking for a higher degree I definitely recommend Hollins.  It has much to offer.

In conclusion, I grew as a writer from by teaching, learning from my students and the plethora of guest speakers.  For you are constantly exposed to ideas, structure, dialogue and character development it eventually seeps into your own writing.  That was true for me.  Thanks for listening and see you at the next event.

Remember, keep writing!


ATLANTA FILM FESTIVAL


After being a winner Atlanta screenplay competition last September, I knew I wanted to submit the short film I co-wrote, Helium Man --what happens if you sucked too much helium and floated away -- to the their film festival in April. Started in 1977 it was now one of the premiere annual festivals in the US. After much nail biting, the acceptance arrived. I did my Happy Dance and off I flew to ATL.





Again, the first thing I noticed about Atlanta is its vibrant, multicultural population and thriving arts scene. It is clean, new and very accessible city, however the traffic is thick as grits and, at times, I felt like I was driving in LA.  It's an incredibly livable city and I thoroughly recommend a visit.

The fest kicked off with the world premiere of the documentary Freedom Riders at the Carter Center.  It was a harrowing exploration of a dark time in our country’s past where the south was Jim Crow segregated and, through the actions of a few brave African-Americans, broke the “color line” and sat at the “white only” lunch counter in Selma, Alabama. And even more wondrous is that several of the freedom riders that were featured in the documentary attended the screening.  It is truly moving to hear their stories and exhilarating to see them honored with ovations and accolades.

For the rest of the screenings, the organizers projected the films around a single venue -- the Midtown Arts Cinema.  It is a state-of-the-art movie complex showing the sixty chosen films and shorts.  In the lobby was the proverbial “red carpet”.  In turn, each filmmaker, was interviewed by local press.

Full disclosure: I've always had a red carpet fantasy and it was finally fulfilled! I can knock one off my Bucket List.

 Before Helium Man screened I viewed nearly 16 short narrative and documentary features.  I especially enjoyed the documentaries including Racing Dreams and The Mormon Proposition.  Each skillfully told and thought-provoking.  Most of the narratives were well done and very intuitive. Others were incomprehensible and had no idea why they were chosen. Oddest Observation:  some films come with a “buzz” and, like a freight train, you can’t stop the film even if it is terrible. Some chief filmarazzi anointed the project and it became the “it” feature no matter how bad; I likened it to the emperor’s new clothes. But again, in our shared business is all about perception. Good luck gettin’ “the buzz”.

My fav thing about attending festivals are meeting my fellow filmmakers.  I really tried to see as many films as I could to support each and every artist.  I think it vital. It’s brutal out there and we can, at least, do that for each other.

Parties are another fest staple.  It's a great time to drink, drink and drink some more but also network and enjoy other filmmakers who are sharing your journey.  On the gifting side, film fests have great sponsors and Atlanta was no exception.  I've never drunk so much Fuse and Ocean Spray cranraisins in my life.  

Since no man can live on film alone, I rented a car and took a trip to the Atlanta History Center.  Enclosed was a pocket museum with civil world war relics and ephemera.  I was struck by how small the soldiers of the 1860s were compared to the size we Americans are now.  We are fattening!  Also, on the grounds was Swann House, an opulent turn-of-the-century mansion with all the gilded age trappings.  I sure beats living in a minuscule studio in Times Square!

The final evening of the festival was the award ceremony.  It was catered by amazing BBQ restaurant that specialized in pulled pork.  It was worth the trip to Atlanta just for that mouth-watering food.

Ironically, several of the winners in each of the categories were not present.  It became an open joke that you could only win an award if you DID NOT show up.  But there were several winners in attendance and each accepted with humor and profuse thanks to the many people who got them to the podium.  

Helium Man was very well-received and the audience was truly entertained. It's really a fantastic experience to see your name on the Big Screen and your audience cheering and laughing at the words and situations you helped to create at your computer 3am in your underwear during a bout of insomnia.  I highly recommend shooting a short film and jumping on the Film Fest Express. 

In conclusion, going to film festivals is an excellent way to expand your career by networking with other filmmakers who actually do and not complain about their craft.  It's an amazing way to create more work, through partnerships, or inspiration from fellow creatives.  


Remember, keep writing.

~~~

BEVERLY HILLS SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

Helium Man, a short film I co-wrote, was recently accepted to the Beverly Hills short film Festival.  The fest took place in the epicenter of LA, therefore rife for networking.  I immediately contacted my good friend and the director of the short, Nick Piper, and told him, "I'm on my way!"  However, serendipity intervened as his sister was getting married in the United Kingdom the same weekend of the festival.  He was gracious enough to offer his beautiful Santa Monica home for the length of my stay; adorable dog included.






With my limited LA experience, I learned Santa Monica is the perfect place to live. It is an ideal location: cool breezes, close proximity to the beach, and best of all, the unbearable car traffic always seems to go your way.  I booked my flight on United (airline from hell) and headed west.  The three hour time change made me look younger.
Since I was house-sitting, I extended my stay to two weeks.  Taking advantage of my extended visit, the manager I'm working with set up a meeting at William Morris Endeavor.  My script, Smell Me, got positive coverage and generated a meeting.

WME is a behemoth agency with buildings all around Beverly Hills. (They will physically consolidate some time next year -- I think.)   As I strolled through the lush office, I passed a corridor of 27 assistants, answering phones and fetching bottled water.   All I could think is that Entourage got it right. But my experience couldn't have been better. The agent was extremely gracious and was very positive about the script and Helium Man.   Me likie WME.  Cross your fingers.

The BH fest had an amazing screening location - Raleigh Studios.   It is the historic studio founded by Charlie Chaplin nearly 100 years ago.   An active studio lot, it is the production home of The Closer and several other episodics.  I always make a point to see as many films I can to support my fellow filmmakers. That meant  sitting through 20 hours of films and a very sore ass.

The quality of films ran the gamut from sublime -- To Comfort You, the eventual winner of best film -- to the absolutely dreadful - - Virgin Mary and Joseph trying to have sex as Jesus watched over them critiquing!  I was not offended religiously -- rather it was so poorly written and executed it made me cringe.  They broke the cardinal rule of comedy: Thou Shall Be Funny.  You must have a strong concept and central idea and exploit it, exploit it, exploit it.  That was one of the biggest hurdles for the screened shorts - -coherency.  Especially, the science fiction shorts.  You must establish the Rules of the Magic and stick to them.  You could be writing about a galaxy far far away, or how a nuclear power plant operates -- The China Syndrome.   You must see how it works properly first then blow it up.

Helium Man had a full-size movie poster courtesy of my best friend Patrick.  So there was a buzz at the festival for our short.  Again, no one had seen it but the perception was that it was great. Why?  Because of the really great poster! Hollywood doesn't care about you so much as a writer than it does as a perception of you as a writer.  It's ludicrous but true. 
Thank you great poster.






My heart skipped a beat when I saw my name in the closing credits.  I'd never seen my name on the "big screen" before and it was thrilling. There were hearty applause and many compliments following.  The after Q&A was a lot of fun, and the question I got asked the most was -- how did you make him fly?  Though we do have great special effects I believe it's the protagonist that people truly rooted for -- he's goofy and endearing.  All essential.

Conclusion: A short film is the best way to have your work seen and exposed.  It does not have to cost $1 million but it does have to be well scripted and have a point of view.  Again, the shorts that worked best were the ones with a solid script and characters you truly care about.  Jeez!  Doesn't always start with the script?

Keep Writing.


~~~

ATTENDING
THE DARK RIVER
FILM FEST




Being accepted to the Dark River film fest for my first feature, I Killed You 'Cause I Had To was an honor; and having my film selected from over 90 entries was mind boggling. Dark River is an inaugural showcase for truly independent filmmakers. Wanting to make the most of the experience, I gladly planned it down to Louisville Kentucky -- United Airlines and its ever-present delays be damned!

I was fortunate that one of my producers, Mike Voss, recently bought a house in a nearby rural suburb. After fetching me from the airport, we drove to his lovely Tara-like new home on 23 acres where he invited several friends for an "opening night reception." Far from the stereotypical "rednecks", we, New Yorkers, love to mythologize about, Louisville is filled with a vibrant art community and patrons who enjoy culture and raising thoroughbred horses for the nearby Kentucky Derby.  The Louisville Bat Museum rocks!




The screenings began the following day (Saturday) at 11 AM.  Due to a wacky hour time change between Louisville and Columbia County, we had to leave three hours prior to be there two hours before.  The time change is antiquated, maddening and meant a hell of a lot more driving time.  (There are sure a lot of morning cows roaming off highway-210!)


The venue for the screenings was a converted leather factory which is now called The Pointe which contains the Art Sanctuary where all films premiered.  It is a cavernous space which houses many art organizations for the local community.  Aside the usual jujubes and soda pop, the venue had a liquor license which came in handy because the heat had yet been fully incorporated and the booze helped us all stay warm and toasty.

The director of the festival, EC Sharp, is also a filmmaker and envisioned the festival as a showcase for up-and-coming independent filmmakers so their voices can be heard. He poured his heart and soul into the venture and did amazing job producing the fest but, just as important, making sure all the films could technically be heard and seen.


Over the next two days we watched 20 odd films and shorts.  Several were well executed, entertaining and had a clear "mission" and "cleanly" rendered.  Many of the features that did not succeed had a common thread of an underworked, unfocused script.  One lesson learned -- you must have your script perfectly tuned before you invest blood and treasure in creating a film. Time and time again, I found myself leaning over to my producer asking: What just happened? What does the hero want? Why is she praying in a New York synagogue when she was set up as a Mother Superior in Calcutta?  A clean, coherent and tightly edited script is an absolute.

Film fests are superb platforms to meet other artist entrepreneurs who are succeeding.  An unexpected treat was meeting my fellow filmmakers; Jeffrey Engelson (Coming Soon) and Chris Sullivan (Mopeds From Heaven) were two writer/directors who created excellent shorts for Dark River.


Several days after I returned home, I got the news that my film, I Killed you 'Cause I had To, won best feature horror/thriller.  It is truly an honor after the blood, sweat, tears, arguments, highs 'n lows of writing/directing my first narrative feature. I'm thrilled for my cast, crew and my team of producers; we can all proclaim we are now award-winning filmmakers!

Final Lesson: Green Light Yourself!

Write a script, audition, crew up, shoot it and market it.  Don't have the resources for feature?  Write a short.  You can render a film on your home computer and use the web as your theater.  Grab some popcorn and --

Keep writing!

PRESS: Louisville Mojo.com
The movie, “I Killed You 'Cause I Had To.” involves Leo, a parking garage security guard, uses his video camera to film new next-door neighbor Sima, a beautiful Indian girl. Leo films her at different moments, telling her that he's making a documentary when in fact he's on a train wreck of delusion. Events erupt when he's invited to her “engagement party” and meets her fiancé. Take creepiness and instability to the nth factor and you barely begin to cover this “docu-reality”-shot feature. It is the most uncomfortable movie I've watched in a long time (to which the director responded, “Then I did my job.”)


MY ATLANTA
FILM FESTIVAL WEEKEND




After so many rejections, it's astonishing to get that e-mail with the subject reading: "Congratulations from the Atlanta Film Festival!" I was fortunate enough to be chosen, along with five other writers for a weekend of mentoring and spoiling in the Peachtree capital of the world, Atlanta, Georgia.

2009 Screenplay Winners

Grilled Cheese Virgin by Steven Arvanites (New York, NY)

Gurus by Homa Mojtabai (Atlanta, GA)

Highway to Nowhere by Lanre Olabisi (New York, NY)

Horror Comic by Stephen Hoover (Baton Rouge, LA)

The Jerusalem Syndrome by Caveh Zahedi (Brooklyn, NY)

Wajda by Haifaa Al Mansour (Dhahran, Saudia Arabia) 

Leaving my packing for the morning of my departure (I had plenty of time -- right?), I learned from airtran.com my flight was canceled and I needed to catch an earlier flight. I wished the Guinness Book of World Records were in my living room because I literally packed, showered and dressed in 11 minutes! I later discovered I forgot to pack underwear but that's another story.

Friday the 13th was a blistery day compounded by the threat of torrential rain. I soon discovered upon arriving at LaGuardia, Gate B30, my newer flight was also canceled. I was two for two! But the writing gods were with me and I got on the third, newer-er flight which was serendipitous because my fellow winner, Lanre Olabisi, was booked on the same flight.  A really great guy and extremely talented writer, we chatted our way down to Atlanta.

We were greeted at the airport by Dan Krovich,
Festival Director, and the most organized man in the world. I wish he was in charge of a federal deficit --  we'd be in the black matter of a few years!

We were put up at the Midtown Hotel. Upon entering room 213, I noticed a funky smell but thought, it's a Hotel room, they're all smell funky. I showered, put on the same underwear, and headed for the reception at Straits owned by the rapper Ludacris.

It is there where we formally met our mentors:

Amy Dotson, Producer
SWEATHEARTS OF PRISON RODEO, Deputy Director for IFP

Rob Long, Writer/Producer
CHEERS, GEORGE & LEO, Host of KCRW's Martini Shot

Nate Kohn, Producer
ZULU DAWN, SOMEBODIES

Robert Orr, Writer
UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS

Monty Ross, Producer
MALCOLM X, DO THE RIGHT THING, CLOCKERS

Jay Wade Edwards, Producer/Director/Editor
STOMP! SCREAM! SHOUT!, AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE


Each professional commanded acute knowledge of the biz proving an invaluable resource to, we, the chosen writers.

After mingling, laughing and discussing NPR with the dynamic and very funny executive director, Gabe Wardell, we crunched-munched our way through delectable hors d'oeuvres (my favorite - the baby chicken legs encrusted in sesame seeds - gruesome but delicious) and too many cocktails.

Bedtime! Upon returning to 213, the funky smell turned into a nauseating poop odor. Bad news: repacking. Good news: upgraded to a junior suite - room 216.

Wearing the same underwear (thank god this blog is not scratch-n-sniff), Saturday we were caffeinated at 9 AM and joined our mentors at the Margaret Mitchell House. The front apartment houses the personal collection of celebrated the author who penned, Gone With The Wind.  It is buttressed by a prodigious gift shop where you can buy everything from T-shirts to miniature Mammy figurines.

After a series of introductions and fun icebreakers, we paired off with our mentors and hunkered down on the upper porch. My first mentor was Jay Wade Edwards, the producer/editor of Aqua Teen Force @ Adult Swim. A terrific guy, he imparted invaluable notes to improving my script, Grilled Cheese Virgin. The lesson: keep your antagonist as a constant threat to your protagonist's adventure. Don't merely imply the threat but include a present physical danger. Having vetted the script dozens of times, I missed this lesson.  I am now executing a "villain rewrite."

My afternoon mentor was Robert Orr, the scribe of Underworld 3: Rise of the Lycans. His advice skewed from the perspective of a seasoned and successful screenwriter. He provided a practicum on how to survive the Hollywood system by choosing your battles well; sometimes, the big picture is more important than the fight at hand. Also, the skill of to pitching your script successfully; you'll fail but once in a while it all clicks and get yourself a sale. Both gentlemen offered excellent device and I am extremely grateful.

After a quick break, we were off to the visitor center at the Margaret Mitchell House where nearly 100 Atlantans attended to hear excerpts from all the winning scripts. It's always frightening and exhilarating to hear your words out loud. PS: I immediately re-wrote the scene that was read aloud!
Full Disclosure: I loved being the shared center of attention for a few hours!  Guilty as charged!

After, we were whisked off by the unflappable driving genius, Paula Martinez - Managing Director, to Magic Mushroom Pizza, where we hungry writers and staff devoured 13 pies. All delicious! But the evening wasn't over yet! We were ferried to the Claremont, Atlanta's most famous burlesque stripper bar. It's main attraction? 60-year-old strippers! Yes, you heard me right! I now know what my mother looks like naked and it's not a pretty sight!

The next morning, I put on the same underwear for a final time, chugged my custom order of Starbucks, and participated in an invaluable roundtable with the mentors and writers. It was an extraordinary conversation and I gleaned an incredible amount of insight.

LESSONS:

It is a marathon not a sprint.
Guard your material's integrity but also know how to accommodate the "suits."
Rest assured talent is always discovered!
Never pack when you're harried or you'll wear the same underwear for days.
Have three actor "showcase moments" in your script.
Have "product" to sell. After you finish one script have the next one ready to pitch, arming yourself for the inevitable question -- "what are you working on now?"
And most important -- it's all about relationships.  Your fellow writers are allies not competition.  When you help another you help yourself!  Word!

CONCLUSION:

It's a difficult and exasperating profession but, if you truly love it, the obstacles will melt away and you'll be assured that your life will have both inner and outer value.

Keep writing!



Hi Y'all from the
Austin Film Festival!



Arriving in Austin the first thing I noticed was the city and its inhabitants were nothing like my preconceived notion of what Texas should look like.  Instead of 10 gallon hats, cowboy boots and Y'all's -- I discovered tattoos, nose rings and grunge T-shirts. Austin is a progressive, isolated hamlet that is really not part of the greater conservative state. It is ironic that it is the state capital.  Besides the festival, there is Austin City Limits and the University of Texas. Longhorn football rules!!!



The epicenter of the film festival was the historic Driskill Hotel. Complete with ghosts, ornate ball rooms and magnificent stained-glass (former President Bush liked them so much she had 'em copied and brought to his ranch in Crawford -- golly!) there you picked up your photo ID badge, strung the lanyard around her neck and you are good to go!  (A quick note, the Producers Badge provides carte blanche access to all events. Though pricey it really is the one to get as you can go to any panel, event or organized party.)  The festival is so well organized that you can pre-plan your schedule online.  Nervous not to miss a thing, I plotted everything down to the last party in the final hour.  But soon found out that the best part of the festival is its unexpected surprises.  It's just best to go with the flow and not try to preordain.

Another fantastic aspect of the festival is its accessibility.  At the official BBQ, I courageously strode over to Oscar-winning director Ron Howard (Opey!) and "demanded" a photograph.  The kind man put his hand over my shoulder, said "sure thing!" and the picture was clicked.  However, I had on my Kodak in the wrong setting and the picture result was blurry and washed out. The Choice: keep the cruddy picture or ask again.  So, I asked again.  I must say the gentleman is one of the nicest.  Approachable, congenial and always smiling the director took dozens of pictures with festival goers and was genuinely humbled throughout.


The Austin was my first ever film festival so I had expectations & anxiety.  I was kindly invited to be a panel moderator and had a lot of homework.  For the three panels, I needed to be fully knowledgeable on the subject -- my three topics were: Breaking into the Business, Art of the Pitch and Getting Past the Reader--included in the three panels were a total of seven industry guests.  Not to look like a dope, I thoroughly researched each executive, producer and agent.  My thorough preparation paid off, as the panel were lively, informative and most importantly fun.  In planning my questions, I wanted to incorporate several of the concerns that I am frequently e-mailed from my membership.  I was relieved by some of the responses and surprised by others.

Question: Do you need live in Hollywood to be a screenwriter?
Answer:  No. You could live in Montana, Michigan, Zimbabwe or the North Pole. What is really is essential is excellent writing.  However, there is a definite advantage to living in LA; it is the networking.  It is the connection that you make at a chick LA party, coffee shop or AA meeting.  But it is not hopeless if you do not live in the epicenter of film.

Question: Is age a factor in succeeding in a screenwriter?
Answer: No. It really comes down to the age of your ideas not the age on your birth certificate.

Question: As an unrepresented screenwriter can I send you my unsolicited material?
Answer: No!  Repeatedly producers and executives and said they could not accept unsolicited material for legal reasons.  Lawsuits are common.  Their advice was to get an agent and submit it formally?  How do I get an agent/manager?  Keep writing and writing and eventually the cream rises to the top. Also network.  If you store your script in your computer one will see your writing!

Question:  What are writer "bad behaviors" after you hire them?
Answer:  Besides a writer not being, at the very least, congenial the answer given most was don't be defensive when given a "script note."  Listen, process and know there is a difference between winning the battle and winning the war!   And, after given vetted notes the writer returns six weeks later, they are not addressed and something totally different has been re-submitted.  The writer is usually fired and replaced.  It was repeatedly offered that if you want control write a novel.  If you want $$$-- write a screenplay.  Finally, spelling and grammar errors - HIRE A COPYEDITOR!  I know an excellent one -- ask me!

Question: after turning the title page, when do you know a script is bad or good?
Answer: The first page!  Harsh but true. Execs., readers and agents know if someone can write by the first page. That is why it is so essential to get your script in as great a shape as possible before releasing it to the industry.   Also, it is a craft -- learn it.

Question: How do you find screenwriters?
Answer:
(1)   Festivals
The festival is an extraordinary way to network and solidify connections.   Personally, my script was requested by three managers and agents.   They need new material and want to discover the next "it" screenwriter.

(2) Competitions
By winning or even placing at the right contest, you could definitely garner attention.  The Nicholl Fellowship, of course, is the granddaddy of them all.  I was lucky to have on my final panel the head of the Nichol Fellowship, Mr. Greg Beal; he's an affable guy who loves to talk about the competition.  He let slip that next year, most likely, all submissions will be via the Internet and PDF.  He shared that his readers, at first, resisted reading screenplays on screen, however, when the process was finished they vowed never to read a script on paper again.  He shared how the Nicholl can change a writer's life.  For example, the writer of Finding Forrester and The Skeleton Key.  But also as some Nicholl winners are older, they have secure, well-paying jobs and have no intention on uprooting and moving to LA.  And finally, a fun fact: the greatest number of screenplays entered by one participant-- 112 scripts.  To my recollection, Greg relayed not one got into the first round!

(3) Internet
Many in the industry troll the Internet for competition winners, blogs and most importantly, shorts of the films.  A lot of writers are found on YouTube when they make a "trailer" of their script or o a video blog.  It is also a great marketing tool to get your material read.

The Films:

I was so busy with my panels and networking that I found little time to see films. However, after partnering on an upcoming short, Helium Man, directed by the crazy talented Mr. Nick Piper, I went to see several shorts programs and, in essence, "checking out the competition."   Some were extraordinarily produced mini-extravaganzas!   The acting, cinematography, direction and production values were excellent.  I wondered how much these shorts cost?  $100,000/400,000?  However after viewing nearly 20 shorts my favorite had none of these qualities; it was poorly shot, grainy to look at and the editing negligible.  What it did have?  A great script!  The audience laughed and cheered and voted it audience favorite.  The Story: a wheelchair-bound teenager struck with cerebral palsy struggles for the attention of a beautiful girl while on a rock collecting high school science trip.  It was touching and most of all hysterical!   Again, as you all know, it always comes down to the script.  I did see one feature-length documentary entitled, Tales of the Script.  It was hilarious, depressing and very true.  It tracks the trials and tribulations of several successful screenwriters of films such as Ghost, Go Fish and Willy Wonka and how they are treated and mistreated in Hollywood.   William Goldman, also in the film, summed it all up in his one infamous line -- Nobody Knows Anything.

One of my favorite things at the festival was the Roundtables. Literally, at a round table, eleven writers sit and an industry guest takes the remaining seat.  For 25 minutes you ask the panelist questions.  Most execs were charming and chatty, some more on the defensive as some writer's social graces were lacking.  They usually blurted the First Question -- "Will you read my script"?  At one Roundtable, I had two "writers" cross chatter constantly as the panelist tried to speak.  One Luddite even whipped out a camera and snapped away.  The executive was so riled he excused himself from the table.  I was reminded of that ol' saying -- "you get more bees with honey than vinegar".   If you honestly engage them you'll find it much better and productive experience then pushing your personal agenda.

Awards Luncheon:

After Ron Howard made a very funny and touching acceptance speech for his award, the screenplay competition winners were announced.   Some were genuinely shocked and others were moved to tears.  It was thrilling to see other struggling writers achieving the high point in their career.  The physical award is killer!  It is a brass typewriter mounted on a wooden disk with a scroll of "paper" jutting from the roller. Jeff Williams who won for best drama, Pure, accepted his award and made a heartfelt speech and then sat down at the next table.  He just kept shaking his head saying, "I can't believe it!" over and over again and staring at his award.  It's what dreams are made of.



Conclusions:

What I did right at the festival was to enjoy every possibility to make an industry connect - whether through moderating panels or plain old approaching a guest and introducing myself.  What I didn't do is actually relax and enjoy the fun part of AFF -- go to all the parties and hang out with other writers.  Next time, I'll do more Starbucks super-chatting with the other screenwriters.  For the most part those attending were respectful, interesting and extraordinarily talented.

Finally, the best piece of advice that I got from the festival is that you must keep writing.  It is a process and you cannot expect to master by writing one, two or even three scripts. In his book Malcolm Gladwell said that you must dedicate 10,000 hours to something before you become truly great at it.  Think about it.  It's true.

Screenwriting is a craft like any other. It is sometimes not thoroughly respected -- one writer told me that he his heart surgeon said, "I'm gonna take up screenwriting after I retire. The writer replied, "yeah, and I'm going to take up angioplasty after I retire."

But if you truly love the craft and accept the financial rewards may be a long time, if ever, in coming and truly love being a writer then continue to follow your bliss and inevitably you will succeed!

Remember, writing is rewriting!

Founder, Steven Arvanites


~~~~~

An M.F.A in Screenwriting




Roanoke,VA.

I recently conducted two screenwriting workshops at Hollins University in Roanoke Virginia.  The University campus is over a hundred years old.  It began as an elite boarding school for girls and now has morphed into a diverse liberal arts all-female undergraduate campus.  

When strolling the manicured grounds you feel like you're in the antebellum South with grand columned verandas and rocking chairs under magnolia trees and horses trotting past; Hollins has one of the largest equestrian programs in US.  But though old and storied Holland is a very 21st-century up-to-date campus with a state-of-the-art award-winning library and visual arts center with its own museum.  Ii is the best of both worlds: bucolic and tech savvy.

Just 20 minutes away is the town of Roanoke Virginia.  As we drove into town my preconceived notion of a sleepy Southern Hamlet was immediately eradicated by the Taubman Museum of Art (a/k/a Art Museum of Western Virginia) not only houses works of art but is itself a work of art.  The striking contemporary building which features Frank Gehry-esque design combines permanent and temporary exhibition galleries, an auditorium and other educational facilities.

This world-class architecture belies its immediate turn-of-the-twentieth century brick-and-mortar environment and town square famer’s market.


The M.F.A screenwriting program was started approximately 10 years ago and is the vision of Dr. Klaus Phillips.  As true with any business or grassroots organization leadership comes from the top.  And Dr. Phillips is by far one of the most intelligent film historians and kindest people you'd ever want to meet.  Instantly upon meeting him I knew it was going to be a wonderful time because of his generous spirit and warm welcoming.  And it surely didn't hurt that he didn't stop feeding me at the local restaurants.  From Indian buffet to IHOP it was all magic to the belly. However, I must say grits are not my favorite and never will be.  But when in Rome --

My first workshop was Friday evening and it was entitled, "Achieving Your Creative Writing Goals". It is attended by approximately 25 graduate students and staff. They were very receptive to the work shop and accompanying work sheet.  It was heartening to receive so many supportive and wonderful e-mails attesting to the inspiration derived from the workshop.

The next day after a hearty breakfast, THANKS SANTA KLAUS, I did a script pitching workshop.  It was a brand-new experience for the graduate screenwriting candidates.  Though story and structure are rigorously taught, little is included regarding the business of screenwriting.

It was great to see the writers, at first terrified, walking to front of the student body and in sitting on the "hot seat" in front of "three executives."  Each one succeeded and it was very satisfying to see their eyes light up when they successfully pitched their screenplay in a cogent and immediate manner. Many of the stories were wonderful and would make fantastic movies!

I decided to stay the rest of the week to visit my writing partner and artistic soul mate Hillary Homzie.  Hollins University also has one of the premier children's literature programs; she is a visiting professor for a vaulted program.  It's great to spend physical time with her as she lives across the country.  After shopping at the local Wal-Mart we put together semi-feast of pork chops and bok choy, invaded the extensive DVD library collection and watched the Swedish vampire film, "Let the Right One in".  It is one of the best if not the best vampire film I've ever seen.  I recommend all of you to see it and enjoy its subtlety, power and message.  It’s screenwriting at its most potent.

As I was sitting on my return flight home another Hollins workshop presenter, Professor Joe Gilford -- who will be speaking to NYCscreenwriter in September -- and I reflected on the wonderful experience and luxury of eradicating the outside world in a serene and supportive setting concentrating solely on screenwriting.

Though an M.F.A. in screenwriting does NOT guarantee you a job as an M.BA. would (well maybe not even in this economy) it does provide you with the opportunity to create material under the tutelage of experienced and passionate teachers in a safe cocoon.

I felt a twinge of regret that I never received this degree but count myself fortunate that I enjoy our craft and I am able to share it with others.  Please check out Hollins University if you have any aspirations to earn a higher creative writing degree.  More education is never a bad thing and is only tempered by the cost of tuition.  Wouldn't it be great if higher education was subsidized as it is on the Continent?  Perhaps it's something we Americans can aspire to. What’s the number of my local congressman?

What I gleaned from the experience is that it is so important to create, B.I.C. time (butt in chair) time and a "sacred space" to do your craft.  If you have to get up at 6 a.m. before work to get in your pages in so be it or if you're an after midnight writer all the better!  Also, carve out that special place where all you do is write. It could be a closet, basement attic or the legendary map room in the New York public Library on Fifth Avenue.  Claim it as your own and jealously guard it.

Finally, I valued my own experience because it validated my gift for teaching and lifted my spirits to see so many students dedicating their finances, time and gumption to our craft.

Thanks and remember keep writing!


 



TEACHING AT THE NORTHWEST SCREENWRITERS GUILD

 


 

 




Recently I was invited to teach a Creative Goal Workshop at the Northwest Screenwriters Guild in sunny Seattle. After a delayed flight from hell -- please never fly United Airlines, no better than a Greyhound bus in the sky and no free snacks -- I was picked up at the airport by one of the Guild members and shuttled to their meet up location.   The Guild is fortunate enough to partnership with Clear Channel and utilize their lush facilities for events. After downing my congealed hamburger I immediately stepped into my Q&A. It was hosted by Guild co-president Aadip Desai and attended by proximately 60 plus members. A pattern in the questioning emerged: How do I make my script better?How do I sell my script? How I do I get an agent?  It was oddly comforting to realize screenwriting questions are universal from New York to Seattle and that we are all in the proverbial “same boat”.  All were earnest and wanted to know about the craft and business. If you want a snippet of the evening please watch the accompanying goofy short video above including advice on e-querying your script. Jet lag closing in, I settled for a long winters nap then an early morning breakfast: a piece of dry toast and black coffee = $32.79 in the hotel restaurant.  I was picked up for my Creative Goal Workshop @ 10 a.m. A quick note the weather was again sunny and bright. (I think they make up the” bad weather myth” to keep people from moving to the area.) I had approximately 26 participants and like my Q&A it was informative in its own distinct way.  I found the issues haranguing the writing goals of the Seattle participants were: procrastination, family interference and time management.  Again, nearly an exact match on the east coast; everyone has the same challenges. Conclusions reached through the workshop included carving out a precious one or two hours in the morning or evening to write, biting off small chunks of your script instead of the entire 100 + pages and finally communication with spouses, significant others, children or whomever else regarding the sanctity of your writing time. There were some therapeutic breakthroughs and all seemed comforted and satisfied that they (we) are all in it together. Also, many seemed inspired and I felt gratified that I assisted. I too was re-focused by being a part of the “conversation.”  I outlined my next script on the return flight to NYC. With ”work” over my generous hosts (Betty Ryan & Aadip Desai) took me to   historic Pike’s Place on the Puget Sound. There I experienced fish mongers tossing fresh fish and the original Starbucks (aka Mecca!) storefront. In fact, you can't go more than 40 feet and not run into an independent coffee shop. The residents of Seattle take their fresh brewed artesian java very seriously.  I think it’s the most over-caffeinated city in the US! The next day I bid farewell to my groovy hosts and grabbed a flight down to Napa California where I took a week of much-needed R&R. I visited my writing partner Hillary and her beautiful family. If you've never visited the Napa valley it is truly paradise on earth should not be missed.   With Hillary's husband as my host I was able to generously sample varietals of several different Napa and Sonoma wineries. Getting buzzed was never so much fun! Viva Vino! I really enjoyed my trip to Seattle especially hearing writers’ professional struggles and triumphs just as we all do right here at NYCscreenwriter. I Hope you enjoyed my travelogue and please check out the Northwest Screenwriters Guild on the web for an amazing amount of resources and scheduled events. 

KEEP WRITING!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Answer to the Financial Crisis?

                                            WRITE MORE!!!

 

I officially started NYCscreenwriter on March 22, 2008.  When I embarked on this enterprise I do not know if anyone would even show up to the inaugural meeting.  Well you did and I profoundly thank you for that.  In fact, before the bell tolls at midnight, ringing out 2008, NYCscreenwriter will receive its 4,000th hit.  I attribute this to two things: your support and acceptance by voting with your attendance and my dedication to the group by working diligently to create interesting workshops and value-added guests.
 
At times the whole operation does get overwhelming but the sense of satisfaction in providing a meeting place, learning center and networking community for my fellow New York screenwriters is the ultimate payoff and well worth the concerted effort.
 
There is something that troubles me and undoubtedly the rest of you:  The state of our economy. 
 
Who knew as the lazy days of summer drew to a close that the final third of this year would be tumultuous, upsetting and unnerving.  Recently I've been flooded with e-mails expressing member's fears, trepidations and abrupt plans to postpone their writing goals, dreams and aspirations.  As I read your e-mails and listen to your concerns I am reminded of one of the great leaders of our country, F.D.R., and his inauguration address in 1933, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
 
Now more than ever it is paramount to embrace your artistic dreams and hold on tight as if your coddling your first born or your wedding day spouse.  If you let fears, economic or otherwise, supplants your hopes, dreams and aspirations you place your artistic soul on lay- away by compromising the one thing that gives you the most pleasure.
 
Cautious in spending is now the new black!
 
Do I really need a pair of shoes? 
Rotten tomato meter on that movie is only 27% should I go or see what's on my Netflix queue? 
Chuck or sirloin steak or Spam? 
 
These are legitimate concerns for occasions to economize, however the one place in our lives that we can splurge is on our artistic ambitions.
 
Think of it -- as you dine on spaghetti and ketchup you simultaneously create characters of unbelievable wealth with limitless budgets or create a rich fantasy world where there is no stock market to weigh down your character's goals/mission.  As you have the artistic license to do anything and go anywhere, I suggest you embrace even indulge in your artistic cornucopia -- for free --  and create most of all for yourself and eventually, with discipline, for that agent, manager and producer.
 
The time is now to expand your artistic daydreams of innovation and success.  As you ready your writing expansion campaign in 2009 you will be far smarter than the stupid screenwriter who contracts, shuts down and retreats into his shell waiting out the economic crisis.
 
With the law of averages you can only increase your chances of success.  I guarantee the over 6,000 entries to the Nicholl fellowship last year will be only 4,500 or less this coming spring.  Now is the time to put in that "butt in chair time" and create that script which will propel you from a job that you tolerate to one that you truly love!
 
Try this -- visit to your own "creativity bank" and take out a loan for a million artistic dollars.  Then lavishly "spend" them with abandon on your career and thoughts.  And every time you start to worry take money out of your artistic account and pay yourself.  You might think this a stupid exercise but I believe in time you will train yourself to negate worry and embrace opportunity.  We have all chosen a high-stakes profession with odds that are against us so why not ignore and refuse to feed into the zeitgeist and instead turn those energies inward to create.  It's free and far more satisfying than opening your mutual fund statement, vomiting and spasmodically counting the number of Cheerios left in your cereal box.
 
I too struggle to follow this advice but inevitably I am reminded that my focus and purpose is to create whether by writing, acting or directing and realize artistic creation is truly part of the human spirit and one of the basic joys of living.
 
Thank you for letting me share all good thoughts in the new year --
 
Fade out:
 
on a lighter note here are my --
 
Favorite Films of the year:
 
Slumdog Millionaire
Milk
Wall-E
Man on a Wire
Frozen River
 
My Best Screenplays of the Year:
 
Slumdog Millionaire
Milk

MY FIRST FILM FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE


Eerie Horror film Festival was my first.  I did not know exactly what to expect -- would it be full of sales agents with Harvey Weinstein swooping in and buying up films?   Or would the fest be populated with dedicated organic-loving filmmakers talking about the new “mumblecore movement” in independent cinema?  I bought my video camera for the ride and dove in. After being delayed for six hours courtesy of Continental Airlines and missing Adrian Barbeau talk about The Fog – damn it.  I arrived in Erie, Pennsylvania.  A staunch blue-collar town which has fallen on hard times who wears its old world Rust Belt charm with pride. All films in competition were showing at the restored turn-of-the-century Erie Playhouse.  Across the street stood the very conveniently located Avalon Hotel with its 70s décor, gum stained carpets and cathedral high ceilings. After getting my all access pass as part of my prize package, I ventured into the Expo.  The participants ranged from twenty-something-gore-loving-pot smoking slackers to twenty-something-gore-loving-pot-smoking slackers.  I felt a bit out of my element but went along for the thrill ride.  The Expo consisted of 15 or so vendors.  The highlights were meeting actors still making a living off their Dawn of the Dead and The Hills Have Eyes roles decades later. And the pieced résistance was meeting Dee Wallace Stone, the mom from E.T.  She did a Q&A on her epic film Cujo.  She told a lot of funny stories especially how the dogs were just damn lazy and didn't want to bark, growl or maul.  It was also interesting that a woman who was in one of the biggest films of all time was now in a horror film festival selling autographs for $10 apiece.  I don't judge -- more power to her -- but I couldn't help thinking - why isn’t Steven Spielberg here?  Ohhh!  ‘Cause he produced and controlled the property. There’s a lesson! It seems the most popular films being sold at the Expo DVD tables were a combo of horror porn, bloody entrails and breasts.  I’ll Slap You To Death, Bitch was my personal fav.  It had a National Organization of Women endorsement sticker on the cover. That evening the bar was full with several filmmakers who had shorts and features in the competition.  Jason Mewes of Jay and Silent Bob fame held court in the bar while women gladly offered themselves to the self-professed pot and cigarette chain-smoker.  He was delightfully obnoxious, goofy and entertained all through the chilly night. The next day I toured Erie with my friend Patrick and was especially enthralled by the actual lake -- named Erie.  It did not seem at all like a lake but rather an ocean with 40 mile gusts and biting cold that soon drove us back into the Expo seeking out the most female degrading semi-porn horror flicks that we could snatch up on DVD. The awards ceremony was far from formal and was much laid back with the founder Greg Ropp as the Emcee along with other festival programmers. As they mispronounces my name I stood up and wondered if this is what Oscar winners felt like in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion during the Academy ceremony.  I'm flattered and very grateful that my screenplay was singled out over hundreds of entries and receiving my fifteen seconds in the Erie cinema spotlight.  Another unexpected highlight: I was gifted two “congratulation” beers after from a drunk twenty-something-horror- loving slacker from Scranton, PA. To sum up the whole experience, it was wacky, interesting and made me thoroughly realized that horror is the only genre of film that requires no star other than blood splattering, organ eviscerating an ample breasts.  I love horror! There were no distribution deals or wheeling dealing but rather a homey feel that entertained for the weekend and that I recorded faithfully with my camera. 

Enjoy the video!

 

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What I Learned
Directing /Writing My First Feature

 
I directed my first feature film last month.  Looking back at the experience I am reminded of what Madonna said when she arrived in New York City: “If I knew how hard it was to make it I never would've tried.”  Ignorance surely was bliss.

  The thing that I was most unprepared was the physical stress that directing entails.  Most of the shoot days were typically 12 to 16 hours.  Besides being director/ writer I was also served as transportation coordinator, script continuity supervisor, costumer, grip, lighting designer and a thousand other things.  (We all did!)  Great learning experiences all but I hope the next time I get to wear no more than one or two creative hats and sit down more than three minutes per shoot day.  As part of my preparation I read several established director’s advice.  What turned out to be the most viable advice was – “Where comfortable shoes.”  Oh, how right he was! By the final day I was Jell-O on sticks. So for the next film I will definitely drop 225 pounds and get a vitamin B12 shot in the ass before I yell “action!”

 Another lesson learned: you cannot scrimp technically on a film. You must be able to see it and hear it to enjoy it and sell it!  If any of these elements are missing it siphons from your final artistic endeavor and marketplace product. 

I cannot say enough about my producers. They are a pair of generous and like-minded gentlemen and NEVER scrimped or said no -- except to my digital wireless HD 17” monitor that I thought was essential to my artistic vision and enlightenment.  In fact, they were generous to a fault.  But we did not get a full-time director of photography nor a professional sound mixer.  Again, this decision was borne out of ignorance.  We just thought, what the heck, we could do it ourselves!   We are now in the process of hiring a sound mixer (for who know$how much) to correct the audible mistakes we committed during principal photography.  It is amazing what you manipulate during editing but it only goes so far.  Technical issues should be left to technical experts.  New York City has a plethora of seasoned and qualified talent.  A Craig's List ad or asking someone who knows someone who knows someone yields excellent results. 

 The most striking lesson of this wonderful experience -- I am truly blessed with great friends and supporters who never hesitated to offer their services, time or expertise to the project.  Whether it be as a PA , actor, finding locations or composing original music people were exceptionally generous in spirit and never hesitated to help.  And if you do decide to use our wonderful city of the location definitely go to the outer boroughs.  We found the citizens of Queens bent over backwards to help.  Just the idea of a being part of a film was novel and exciting.  We even got free lunch (veal not included) for over 12 actors and crew members.  Try that in Manhattan!

 Finally, never try this at home.

 It is impossible to do it all yourself.  When an opening credit of the movie reads: A film by (insert name). it infuriates me.  Filmmaking is an entirely collaborative process.  To me it is a film by…everyone! It is an total team effort and if you falter you have the comfort of knowing that someone will pick you up and fill-in till you are back on your feet. I was extremely fortunate having my two producers, who I now count as excellent friends, as go-to guys who always made me feel confident and supported. Even when I added dancing pipe cleaning people to the script they bought me a box of multicolored pipe cleaners and never asked any questions! 

 I Killed You Could I Had To was rushed edited last week to meet the Toronto film Festival final drop deadline. Our strategy is to apply to the top film festivals and work our way down.  After we get a final edit we will commence post production then submit to Sundance and finally Berlin by the end of the year. We are now searching for a film rep to shepherd the film through the indie film Festival jungle. Of course, our goal is to get distribution and parlay that success into our next project which is already in the works.  Hint: think Porn with a smile! Getting our film “in the can” was a tremendous learning experience for me personally and professionally.  I literally learned more in one month than I could have been taught in three years at a directing writing program.

  I made mistakes – plenty of ‘em!

 But I'm a firm believer in learning every time you screw up.  And I've learned!  But most of all I am proud that I got it done.  I liken it to writing a script.  You have to commit to the Butt-In- Chair time to get the words on the page.  Whatever the outcome, whether the film becomes a success or a paperweight, I can say unequivocally say I did it!

And now it’s your turn -- what you waiting for?

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


SO IT BEGINS

I've never been an entrepreneur.  There, I said it.  


I am excited, anxious and most of all I hope I spelled checked everything.  Screenwriting has been an intimate journey for me.  After professionally acting for many years I was frustrated by the immense "up hill battle" to get work.  Then I had a eureka moment. Write our own stuff, dopey!  In fact, I had been doing just that for years but never realized it.

It began in Tottenville H.S. (go Staten Island!) where I wrote and starred in our Spring show.  Lacking confidence, I created the humble role of Mizeron, Lord-God Emperor of the Universe.  I'm glad I started small.  And it was a hit; but still it was all about the acting.

Then I joined a sketch comedy group, Rubber Feet, and at the end of six months I was creating comedy material for the entire cast.  We played the downtown comedy clubs and morphed into enough of a success that my partner (Hillary Homzie - brilliant children's author and creative soul mate) ventured off Broadway, forming the comedy duo HA!  We attracted crowds and had a blast.  Our sketches were laughed at and applauded but still I didn't think of myself as a writer.

Then a decade ago I bought Scriptware (yes, I'm the only one who did!) and got started.  The first few were dreadful.  They will only live in my hard drive under a security password.  But gradually the pieces fell into place.  Winning my first writing contest (the prize was Final Draft -- LOL) was a great affirmation.  We, as human beings, need approval even if it comes in the form of software. But when that small triumph arrived it was a watershed moment.  I began to think of this as a career.   And now, I do consider myself just that -- a writer.  I guess ya can't rush evolution.  It's taken awhile but I am happy in my own creative skin. 

However, like all reading this blah-blah, I sometimes sit at my blank screen and stare at that @%$&* white page.  Fear, anxiety, end-of-the- world thoughts bubble up but I stick with it and put in my BIC time.  Some days the pages flow; others I type my name over and over again.  But it's the long term, "Big Picture" commitment that gets me to the next CUT TO:.

Finally, I've discovered the joy of teaching.  Whether it is another wacky worksheet or hearing the first five pages of a new writer, it's tremendously fulfilling to see the "light bulb" moment as another piece of the screenwriter puzzle falls into place.  But I get as much from my membership too.  I get those same "ahh-ha" moments also as I listen and learn from y'all.  It's a labor of love but I believe all good things return to sender. 

I have been teaching for three years and I love the challenge of communicating ideas.  Inspiring the potential in each student is the most important quality a teacher can possess.  Patience is crucial.  Each in her/his own time.

Thanks for reading my premiere blog babble.  Poke around and welcome to my minuscule part of the WWW.

Thanks for reading and welcome to NYCscreenwriter, where screenwriters meet.  I thought of that tag line all on my own.  Now if I can assemble that Ikea dresser sitting in the cardboard box since November I'll be complete!
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