Film Twitter Credits

 

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Ever watch a movie or read the credits and notice no less than a dozen producers credited on the film? It happens all the time, and more often than not those reading the credits have no idea who was the “producing producer,” you know the guy or gal who made the project happen from development to the moment you watch the movie on screen. This upset a lot of folks who put in hard work only to wind up squeezed into a credits roll with a bunch of people who may have done as little as write a check. In 2012 the PGA sought to remedy this with a special designation – the producers mark. The guild set a list of requirements so that the “producing producers” would have a PGA designation after their name in the credits, like “PRODUCERS NAME, pga.” So now with the producers mark, suddenly everyone would know which folks are the real players and who just cut the check etc.

On Twitter there are no such designations. In fact there may not even be a credit list. Yet young filmmakers put in their bio “producer” “screenwriter” or any number of above the line titles with no accountability all the time. This post is about why you need to stop this or just never do it in the first place.

Saying you’re a producer on twitter with a single small indie under your belt and no theatrical release is in my and many other’s eyes extremely unprofessional. Unlike those folks dog-piling behind those with a producers mark, you’re likely not making any money as a “producer” nor do you likely have a distribution deal or any viable way of making money on your film.

But you produced a film, you may say. That’s a very low bar to set. Literally thousands of films are made every year, but few ever see a theatrical release. Making a small film released direct to video does not qualify you as a producer. Merely having done something – the task of a producer – does not make you a producer. It does not qualify you as a producer any more than drawing a doodle in a note book qualifies someone as an artist.

Ok but you still might introduce yourself as such. So why is this unprofessional? Simply because relatively speaking, it looks like bullshit. You’re probably a small timer – like me. You not only lack PGA affiliation, you lack a list of **theatrical** credits to call yourself a producer. So when someone browses your twitter – maybe even a producer looking to hire you as an assistant – you look like an idiot. You throw up red flags because you look like the person who will exaggerate their station in life, and frankly Hollywood has enough of these people.

What distinguishes a producer, writer or any other above line title is theatrical credits — not dubious IMDb credits — a film that was actually released, aka produced credits. Something people could go and see in theaters – no matter how small the release.

So when is it acceptable to put above the line titles in your bio? Apart from produced credits, there are a few acceptable instances:

1. Promoting your work. Perhaps you want to draw attention to something you recently did, “director of FILM NAME” is fine. I think this only works when you’re actively promoting a film in release or are trying to raise awareness. Also, I would never put “producer of FILM NAME” unless it was a financial or festival success. After it’s been out and failed to gain traction, I would just leave it off the bio altogether in all cases. Nobody cares that you made a film no one heard of.

2. Writer v working writer v screenwriter. What’s the difference? Working writer is a good way to differentiate yourself from the legion of folks in the film twitter community who call themselves writers. It implies your day job is writing. Screenwriter in my opinion is also a professional designation and unless you have produced credits, optioned properties, i.e you write for the screen in a professional sense, I would not include that in a bio. I personally see the value of having writer in my bio, because I do write. For networking purposes it is important to introduce myself as such but I would never introduce myself as a screenwriter even though my primary medium is script writing. That’s because once you do so the next logical question is “what have you written” and unless you can reply with produced credits or optioned scripts, it doesn’t look good. Writer allows you to discuss your medium, genre and what your goals are in a professional sense without giving the impression you already made it.

3. Finally, actor or comedian. Actors/comedians need to put themselves out there in a different way. From headshots to reels, I think it’s fine to include these titles in your bio because you’re actively recruiting interest in yourself for networking purposes. I would still be cautious of adding dubious credits or unknown projects to your bio. Personally I’d rather see a cleverly written bio than “actor in PROJECT” every time. It also helps if you have reels or things to link to, otherwise you too may look like little more than an aspirant.

I think the key in all this is that perception is reality. You can really cost yourself reputation points trying to make yourself look more professional than you are. In an industry full of bullshiters, it’s quite easy to spot bullshit. Don’t look like the person who takes themselves too seriously, adding unearned credits to their bio. Be the person people want to work with. Tell a joke, let your personality shine in your bio. Don’t be another kid with “director/screenwriter” and a link to their Vimeo, they’re a dime a dozen and the key to this business is sticking out.

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What is Next for Gareth Edwards?

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Why has nobody been asking Gareth Edwards about his ‘Robot Star Wars’ original Sci-Fi film?

From recent Rogue One press conferences to a Twitter Q&A, the “what’s next for Gareth Edwards” is a question that hasn’t gotten much if any play in the press.

Gareth Edwards rose to prominence with his original science fiction thriller, Monsters in 2010. It was widely reported at the time to carry a $500,000 budget, and Edwards, a former VFX artist, was reported to have done all the special effects on his laptop.

That effort got the attention of Wanted producing-team Timur Bekmambetov and Jim Lemley. In 2010 fresh off the success of Wanted, it was revealed that they would be producing Edward’s next directorial/writing effort then titled Forever. However the project wound up on hold as Edwards went on to direct Godzilla.

The film has been described as ‘a robot Star Wars,’ a galactic adventure in which a young human child sought the origins of humanity in a world devoid of it. Producer Timur Bekmembetov in a recent interview this year (April, 2016) described the project as “a warm story” and expressed his desire to still make it. At the time, Gareth was still attached to direct the sequel to Godzilla 2.

In May 2016, Gareth dropped out of Godzilla 2 citing his desire to take a break from Blockbuster cinema and focus on smaller projects. Many journalists at the time speculated he might return to Forever, which is reported to carry a budget in the $35 million range. It was also alleged that Venom scribe Dante Harper had written a draft with Edwards, who also shot test footage for the film.

Since then, there has been almost no word on the project. The title is only available on IMDbPro, the paid subscription version of IMDb and it is not visible on the free site. A quick glance at the professional page reveals the project was again updated to script status on October 17, 2016. Of course the site is notorious for misinformation and it is unknown without verification from the filmmakers and producers if that is even the case.

What is clear is that despite it being the only other project in development on Edward’s page, nobody has seemed to ask him during the Rogue One promo “what’s next?” It is a question I and many others would like to see answered.

 

 

 

 

 

Bekmambetov and Lemley are represented by Mike Simpson (WME)
Edwards is represented by the Curtis Brown Agency (London) 

Breaking Bad v The Wire v The Sopranos

The Sopranos v Breaking Bad v The Wire

The heavy weight class of the great TV dramas. The Wire is often considered by many critics to be the greatest of all time. More recently its cult fans have named Breaking Bad the greatest. Somehow while it was among the most popular show of its generation, The Sopranos is less talked about today when considering “the greatest.” So I decided to form an opinion for myself and spent the last year watching the entire series run for Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and The Wire. So without further ado, my analysis…

Breaking Bad (my first rewatch of the bunch)

PROS

Style – By far the best cinematography of the bunch– even if it heavily copied TRAFFIC (2000). Its use of setting as character was wonderfully conveyed. The use of music to set themes was also very good. The way it employed flash forward as a foreshadowing technique was a very interesting stylistic narrative tool – think the pink bear; a meth lab explosion? Nope, a plane crash as consequence for White’s actions.

Plot – As far as its cumulative run is concerned, there is not an ounce of fat or filler in any season. Every episode builds without boring the audience. That is because it is a plot driven show and it works to propel things forward quickly (more on that later).

Characters – I should say character, because it goes without saying that Walter White is one of the greatest ever created. Everyone knows a Walter White, someone who is smarter than what they’re doing in life and is disrespected in spite of it. The entire show is his arc in breaking bad and for that alone it should be considered in assessing the greatest.

Inventiveness – It showed how you could make a TV episode look like a movie. If I were to pinpoint the moment when TV could stand up against film, it would be Breaking Bad.

CONS
Style – None. It is arguably the strongest aspect of the show.

Plot – A main issue with Breaking Bad is that it is a plot driven show. This means the plot events dictate the actions of the character and not the other way around. While that makes for lean story telling, it also makes for conventional story telling. Sure it’s fun to watch and exciting, but it doesn’t allow for much introspection or greater analysis of characters internal conflict.

Characters – While Walter White may be among the greatest characters of all time, he is the only character we get the internal conflict of. He propels the plot forward in many respects and a bunch of clever archetypes react around him. Hank is a hero/policeman archetype. Jessie is a bumbling sidekick archetype. The two wives, neurotic housewife archetype. The villains, Saul – archetypes as well. They are barely two dimensional characters. While we come to like them for their various quirks and personality, there is no introspection. They exist to react to Walter White and to propel plot forward, with some surface level examination of their feelings. Even Jessie, while he begins to have his own awakening toward the end is little more than a pawn in the game. This is Walter Whites show, everyone else is a piece on the chess board.

Inventiveness – It doesn’t really break new ground in the drama category. While it takes an unlikely antihero on a unique journey, the story is conventional. While stylistic, it doesn’t make up for the fact it’s a plot driven show without much introspection. So while it’s visceral and action packed, it is also been there before sort of fare.

CONCLUSION
A super fun show to tear through with memorable archetypical characters and a great central protagonist in an otherwise conventional Shakespearean tragedy. It is a very good action movie, but it is not the greatest of all time.

The Wire (last rewatch)

PROS
Style – The least flashy. It’s unique in the sense that it lacks any visual or musical narrative. It is more or less treated like a true crime docudrama. It is filmed with pure realism in mind and it works great.

Plot – Takes a while to build up but boy does it pay off. No show has done it before or since. It takes risk by focusing on a different element of the cities institutions and wraps all these threads up brilliantly. Everything pays off.

Characters – Too many! Yet at the same time we felt like they were all acting out of self preservation, we understood them even if they were surface level plot pawns. The ultimate character is the city of Baltimore and that like other cities it is run by imperfect people who perpetuate a deeply imperfect system. That the city is the greatest character is a testament of how brilliant this show is.

Inventiveness – It must be considered among the greatest for what it tried to achieve, to make a show about the imperfect nature of our government and society using a city as opposed to a central character.

CONS
Style – I get why they employ the minimalism they do, it just feels stale after a while. It could’ve employed a little bit more visual narrative.

Plot – Sure it pays off big in Seasons 3 & 4, even if 5 fell off a bit. But the first season was little more than cops and robbers. The second was boring and such a left turn that it made me want to quit. So while it is praised for how it all threads together neatly, the lack of any introspection among its characters or any visual narrative made it a slog to get through. A show cannot be considered the greatest because of two seasons of work, no matter how ambitious.

Inventiveness – Hurt it in the long run. It did a great job in its payoff but taking that long to build up hurt its earlier seasons and therefore looses points in my eyes. It juggles too much.

CONCLUSION
A very ambitious show that made a profound and lasting statement about how and why our government and society is ineffective and all about self preservation. It hits home in ways many others have not. That it juggled so much and took so long to pay off, I cannot reward it the greatest of all time because of a few seasons of work.
The Sopranos (second series rewatched)

PROS
Style – While not as stylistically flashy as Breaking Bad, it did a great job of employing visual narratives. Various objects and foreshadowing without insulting the audience by overly emphasizing them. The series is full of clever framing and use of objects as narrative symbolism. Because it didn’t over explain them, it worked brilliantly. The finale? The reaction POV shot sequence culminating in cut to black — “you never hear it when it hits you” — absolutely brilliant. The use of music was always thematically solid too, on par with Breaking Bad.

Plot – While it can definitely feel like filler at times, the characters are so well constructed that it pans out. This is a character driven show, and one where all characters are given time to develop into nuanced and non-archetypical beings. The analysis of various complexes and feelings about this world made it so much more believable and made us relate to all involved. How harrowing when they’d be killed by this world or others in it. It examined so many moral quandaries and still felt fresh after six seasons. This is not a show to binge watch, it is a fine delicacy to enjoy slowly as not everything is overly explained or spelled out (like in Breaking Bad) – David Chase appreciated the intelligence of his audience. If you found it boring, perhaps your taste is more conventional.

Characters – Tony is such a compelling character, a mob boss with a deep complex; a man in therapy justifying his sociopathy. All those around him are equally trying to justify their actions – especially Carmela toward the end, who seems to have an epiphany in Paris only to realize she can never quit this life. Even the characters we didn’t delve into felt larger than life with great humor and supporting roles. All of the main cast’s actions were a result of their internal neurosis or feelings. What a fucked up bunch but boy did it make for amazing introspective television. When the action ramped up, we were so much more invested in it because we felt like we knew these people on a deeper level. We liked them in spite of their sociopathy.

Inventiveness – It reinvented the mob genre. Sure it had all the standard mob fare but it also went a step further in psychoanalyzing the criminal lifestyle in the way Mad Men (created by Sopranos alum Matthew Weiner) psychoanalyzed the American Dream through ad men. It took great dramatic risks like employing dream states to really hammer home the neurosis. It brilliantly built up to the most debated finale of all time through carefully constructed foreshadowing. It left so much to interpretation that rewatching still reveals more.

CONS
Style – I almost wished there was a bit more flashiness. I felt while the visual motifs were solid I would’ve liked more flare. Then again that may have detracted from its realism.

Plot – Drags at times. Sometimes in its quest to say something grand it does fail occasionally. There are definitely some stinkers. After the actress who plays Tony’s mom dies abruptly, the show had to quickly adapt loosing a valuable thread early. It more than made up for some slow pacing with great characters and it would always build into payoffs well. I’d rather a show drag sometimes if it’s trying to take risks than rush along without saying much at all.

Characters – The strongest part of the show. There really is no con here and that is why it’s the greatest in my opinion, because no show has done more with its cast.

Inventiveness – It was a game changer. Nothing to add.

CONCLUSION
The greatest of all time for the sheer scope of it. It reinvented the genre and arguably kicked off the golden age of TV. Not only was Tony a great well-developed character, they all were. While it may have some more individual episode stinkers than Breaking Bad, it examines so much more, it says and does so much more. It is a brilliantly ambitious show and nothing in the gangster or action genre has come close.

MY LAST THOUGHTS

So I think while the other great dramas have a lot of things going for them, including some of the greatest achievements in individual categories, The Sopranos is the more balanced of the three. The Sopranos is firing on all cylinders where the others are excellent for how they do one or two things really, really well. The Sopranos is brilliant TV on a whole other level and I don’t care what critics say regarding The Wire or what fanboys say about Breaking Bad. It is my opinion and you are free to disagree. Overall – 1. Sopranos 2. Breaking Bad 3. The Wire

You Probably Won’t Make It

A few years ago, music industry blogger and critic, Bob Lefsetz asked “why does everyone think they can write?” He then went on to conclude “just because you know how to type and speak, please don’t believe you can do the same.”

Lefsetz’s piece still strikes a nerve with me today because he said what few are willing to: you probably won’t make it. It is a harsh truth for most, even for myself. While some of us may indeed still defy the odds, most of us won’t.

Unlike many other creative mediums, the accessibility of writing software and tools makes anyone think they can do it. The reality is that few can actually do it well — or at least well enough to be paid to do so. Instead of tempering the expectations of young aspiring writers, an entire cottage industry has popped up to say “you’ll make it — here’s how!”*

* for a small fee of course.

Snake oil salesmen preying on the hopes and aspirations of writers is nothing new. Much has been said about it. Their services have no demonstrable track record of success. If they were such brilliant writers and had it all figured out, wouldn’t they be working in the industry themselves?

Screenwriter John Gary coined the term “hope machine” to refer to this cottage industry of script gurus, consultants and virtual pitch-fests. He went on to say the only reason these snake oil salesmen exist is to feed the hopes of young writers who would rather laugh in the face of Lefsetz’s conclusion: you probably won’t make it.

Everyone thinks they will defy the odds. While I think  the “hope machine” term partly explains why this is, I think “participation trophy culture” is also to blame.

Millennials (myself included) have been made to feel like special little snow flakes from the moment they could walk and talk. A new emphasis on self-esteem building in the 90s resulted in everyone winning trophies, getting “A-for-effort” stickers and  being made to feel a winner — even the losers. In fact, my 3rd grade soccer team won a fourth place plaque.

When adulthood hits, these Millennials aren’t winning awards any more. The bare minimum effort no longer nets you a place in the win column. Instead of working harder, many shout “it’s just not fair.” They’re already convinced of their own brilliance and ability. So it is the system’s fault, not theirs.

Participation trophy culture has given way to a generation of entitlement. Everyone was made to feel as if their point of  view counted.  So it is natural to imagine that if everyone’s POV counts, then they should be able to write that POV and be paid for it.  The overemphasis on individualism  has led to an absolutism of personal opinion: that you can never be wrong. It is the feeling that your opinion is just as important as an expert on the matter, or someone who’s put countless amount of hours into a craft.

Those who think this way cannot even consider that a) their POV is not equally regarded and b) they can be wrong.

 

Just this past week on the Scriptnotes podcast, John August was interviewing a literary agent from UTA. The agent noted “everyone is a Nicholl semifinalist…it only matters to us if you win.” The Nicholl, the Motion Picture Academy’s writing fellowship is perhaps the most prestigious accolade you could be given as an aspiring screenwriter. While there are thousands of Nicholl semi-finalists, there are very few finalists and even fewer winners. So what this agent is saying is that he is not interested in reading work from people who won a bronze medal.

Sure these semi-finalists may be decent writers, but they’re not there yet. In my experience as a script reader, even the scripts we get from writers with representation tend to be pretty mediocre (passes, in industry parlance). Those without representation? Provided they don’t go right into the unsolicited materials shredder, 90+% of the time their samples are too awful to read beyond ten pages.

Just as many athletes can be talented, only a select few will ever make it to the pros. You can be good, but not good enough. In fact, this is where most people actually wind up.

So you’re probably not going to make it. I am probably not going to make it. The best we can do is continue working on our craft in the hopes we may. It’s important we temper our expectations and understand that even if we put in “10,000 hours,” we still may not be good enough. And for those who are beyond help, it’s time we tell them to move on to something else instead of taking their money and promising them “you can do it!”

There is nothing more unhelpful than to give someone the false hope that they’re good enough when they so obviously are not. We all have limitations. We all have a ceiling as far as progress goes. It is time that we acknowledge that and stop feeding the bloated egos of those who can’t put in the work, along with the snake oil salesmen that cater to them.

 

 

On Writing Science Fiction Well

All genres require diligent research on the part of the writer, but none more so than Science Fiction.

Working in development, one thing I look for in reading a script is how well-researched the writer is. If the subject matter is convincingly conveyed, then the story will generally flow better. Having a well-researched script or story is all about world building. In making your world more believable, your research should inform that world to make it more convincing.

With that said, I want to use this post to go over some reasons why this is more important with the Science Fiction genre, along with some common mistakes made writing it.

Science Fiction Done Right

As a writer of science fiction, you’re truly dealing with a blank slate. There is no template for which to build your world on, because for the most part that world does not yet exist. Yet, to make your world convincing it should still conform to a certain understanding of science available and trends that could impact such a future.

The best science fiction writers also use current and past events of cultural and political importance to inform their work. From Philip K. Dick and Isaac Asimov to Neill Blomkamp, science fiction writers try to dissect societal problems using the genre.

Philip Dick’s When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (the book that became Blade Runner) tries to address a future where artificial intelligence is a potential threat to humanity. Asimov is commonly credited with the “three rules of robotics,” which tries to dissuade fears of rogue AI by proposing a humane foundation for the basis of a sentient android; a subject which would be explored at length in I, Robot.

Science Fiction need not always inform the future. South African filmmaker Blomkamp is well known for his film District 9, which profiles apartheid through the POV of a government worker and the alien refugees he is sent to study in a segregated community. Blomkamp more recently worked on Elysium, which addresses how future technological advances could fuel wealth inequality.

What all these films have in common is a well-researched story that addresses something larger than the CGI effects it may or may not employ.

What separates these works from the kind I tend to pass on are three common mistakes…

Misunderstanding Science

A relatively new field in science and technology, it’s easy to see why misunderstandings could arise with science fiction subjects like artificial intelligence. Currently, most AI relies on machine learning. Most writers commonly mistake machine learning for full AI.

The difference is that machine learning is programmer-based, whereas strong AI is sentient and thus learns on its own. This is why many computer scientists use the terms AI vs. strong AI, sometimes also referred to as Artificial General Intelligence (AGI).

While machine learning is an important step to getting programs to learn on their own, it is not the final result. It is still reliant upon programmer input. Commonly, I see Machine Learning programs presented as AI, and vice-versa.

A good example of this done well is the movie Ex Machina. Writer Alex Garland does an excellent job of using actual industry terms and coding to show us what actually constitutes an artificial intelligence. Both the script and the final film are incredibly well researched and presented in a believable way.

HER is also a less technical illustration of AGI presented well.

As a writer, you should attempt a well-versed understanding of the field of science which you plan to write about. Half-assing the subject matter or avoiding it entirely is not a convincing illustration of your world. If you don’t know your topic in and out, it will show. Make the reader believe what you are trying to convey.

World Building Overload

Many people who try to write science fiction tend to imagine giant set-pieces and stunning visuals first and foremost. The problem with this is that it often comes at the expense of character or story, and it’s also EXPENSIVE. While visualizing the world is an essential component of the genre, it is important to keep it in perspective. Spending too much time on visualization detracts from critical space that could be spent building the backbone of the world: story.

We don’t need non-essential descriptions of a room. While this is the case in most genres, it also applies to science fiction. The more the writer tries to describe something, the more he/she may also fall into clichés. Keep it simple.

Where possible, a good way to enhance your world is to include unique devices or references that may touch upon familiarity.

A good example of both of these things can be found in Blade Runner. The Voight-Kampf machine plays an important part in the story in how it assesses whether someone is a man or machine, but it also reminds us we are far into the future.

The iconic skyline in the film doesn’t overly emphasize its height or darkness; it emphasizes its saturation in ads. Specifically, the ads are in Asian text. This was written at a time in the 1980s when Japanese electronics were dominant in the American consumer landscape. The Asian ad-saturation presented both a familiarity, but also a social anxiety at a time when Americans were concerned with the beginning of mass-importation from the Far East.

Remember that your script if made will eventually attach a director, cinematographer, FX producer and production design team. So try not to get too bogged down in the details early on.

Clichés and Stories That Don’t Say Anything

This is probably the most grating of all the mistakes I find when reading science fiction scripts: genre clichés. If you’re a writer, you should be giving me something new to read and imagine, not a re-imaging of your favorite films of the genre, or themes.

Some quick examples of clichés I find: labs in a far off place for no apparent reason, see also space settings because “Space!”; mad scientists/corporations bent on world domination; sentient computers/robots bent on world domination; scientist who fears his/her creations; post-apocalyptic climate dramas; military controlling new technology to weaponize it; Male POV – one day I’d like to actually read a script featuring a female.

In addition to clichés are the films which aren’t really films. There is no quicker way to loose me as a reader (of any genre) than to write something which lacks any apparent narrative – like a big bombastic CGI imagining. Ask yourself why you’re writing this. What is the apparent conflict? If the conflict is any of the clichés above, just don’t write it. It’s been done a million times, and probably better.

Takeaways

What makes science fiction such an alluring genre to read and watch is to experience something new, something unsaid – something futuristic. Having a passion for the genre will always show in the writing, and the research will come easier.

Science fiction is not for everyone.

It is a very difficult genre to write well, and to avoid clichés. If you’re going to write it, I hope this post is helpful. Just know that with any writing, conveying your topic with mastery is important, in science fiction it is essential.

What Does a Writer Look Like?

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So you’re sitting in the waiting room of a production company and in walks a writer. But how do you know they’re a writer, one might ask. Perhaps a few things might tip you off…

Maybe it’s the casual shirt, especially the ironic graphic tee worn underneath a button down. Maybe it’s the beard, with the optional hat. Dodgers hat or fedora? Or is it the Vans slip-ons that have started to wear thin around the soles? The jeans — you’re not sure what color they were meant to be when originally purchased, but that fade is definitely all natural.

So you’ve concluded they’re a writer. Writers may not all dress this way, but those who do more often than not seem to successfully fit the description. What they all have in common beyond their “I found this in a pile in the corner of my dorm room” sense of style, they’re all male.

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We would hire more women if they were as nerdy about the medium as some of their male counterparts.

About a month ago, I was talking to a friend of mine who is an independent producer based in the UK. We were discussing an initiative meant to encourage talent reps and studios to promote and hire more female writers and directors. My friend was in attendance when it was a woman working for one of the production companies who actually made the most controversial statement of the evening. She said, matter of fact, we would hire more women if they were as nerdy about the medium as some of their male counterparts.

Shocking, I know. However, she vocalized what a lot of people truly believe. It is assumed more often than not that men tend to be more interested in the sort fare that is voraciously consumed by nerds to the tune of hundreds of millions in box office. Males are assumed to be auteurs, whereas women are rarely if ever associated with that term. Male writers are seen as sensitive, brooding, intellectual — women are not often discussed in that way.

Of course, anyone who has spent any considerable time with female writers and directors knows this isn’t true. Last night, I helped out with NY Women in Film and TV (NYWIFT) to host a reading of several scripts apart of Meryl Streep’s Women Over 40 writers lab. The writers were a diverse group of women, on top of their game. Many had placed highly in contests, others have already produced work. All scripts were diverse in subject matter, and genre; including action and science fiction (both genres typically seen as the male domain).

Let’s go back to that writer who’s just walked into the production company…

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They created the writers uniform.

What does it say about our assumptions of what a creative must look like? The young white guy, who casually struts into a major production company for a pitch meeting in an un-ironed shirt and worn shoes — the ultimate nerd of the medium. It really is a statement of confidence to walk into an establishment dressed like you haven’t washed your clothes in three weeks. It shouts that this person is comfortable in their creativity, confident. They’re not worried about how they’re dressed, they’re a creative, their work will speak for itself. As a white guy, they will never be judged as harshly for their appearance. They created the writers uniform.

Now, I still think it’s important to dress to impress, male or female. However, there is this attitude by many male creatives that the casual crumple is apart of their very essence. It informs a certain subconscious bias when we think about “what does a director look like” or “what does a writer look like.” We think of a young white guy in a ball cap, or dressed in a faded tee over worn jeans. They are the nerds that woman from the UK speaks of when she thinks of who to give a green-light.

Why are you so dressed up?

Sitting in a major production company the other day, one such man walked in wearing an X-Men tee with faded jeans over old boots. He was immediately followed by his writing partner, dressed business casual. “Why are you so dressed up” the casual male asked his friend. The man replied that he was at a funeral. Shortly thereafter, an assistant came out and escorted them in, she too was surprised by the suit.

I was sort of dumbfounded by that statement, sitting in a form-fitting summery blouse, tight capris and designer shoes — I even had on jewelry. I too am a writer, and yet I often get made for a publicist or producers assistant. The women who attended the reading the other night, they also were impeccably dressed. That’s because despite wishing we were more nerdy, women aren’t  permitted to dress like those men. It’s not feminine. It’s not our uniform, even if I would rather wear my Led Zeppelin tee and walk around in my adidas shells, or Vans slip-ons — because hey I own those too!

Ultimately this is a very subtle but important observation. Subconscious bias is a huge reason for gender disparity in the industry. While the work should speak for itself, the way you dress for those meetings is essentially important. It is a small but essential component of how you work that room. When you can’t wear the uniform, or are judged differently for when you do, it’s essential points lost in that pitch.

So next time you spot that writer-type, ask yourself  What does a writer look like… and consider why it is you arrive at the description. Chances are, you’ve just uncovered a subconscious bias within yourself.

 

 

Desperation and the Diplomatic Pass

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Ever dealt with rejection? If you’re pursuing screenwriting, this is a rhetorical question. Of course you’ve experienced rejection. But you don’t care about rejection, you want to hear about how to get a Yes. However, whether you ever get a Yes will first be determined by how you handle No.

So I present the lesson of, desperation and the diplomatic pass.

When I started this blog, I was a ripe 24 years young, stary-eyed with wonder at the business, and more specifically the opportunity to have mentorship by a major producer. In my naive mind, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Nothing could be further from the truth. While this man gave me plenty valuable advice and feedback on my writing, the biggest lesson learned was when he ultimately walked away…

THE DIPLOMATIC PASS

You may have heard this term colloquially tossed around in the film industry. It is a very simple concept. In a word, it means NO. So let me repeat that for you, NO. Got it? One more time, it means NO. More specifically, no thank you.

However, No has a very negative connotation. Nobody likes to be told No, but it is an inevitability that it must be said on occasion. Depending on where you are in the business, No will be said in many different ways, but likely without actually saying No.

So much of this business is nuanced. It is the assistant telling you his/her boss is in a meeting when in fact they’re just screening your calls. It is the no-reply, months to a year after you sent that person your script with the mutual understanding that they’ve agreed to read. They read it, but they’re just not going to bother telling you that it’s a Pass. If you’re more established or friendlier with the person, the person may give you some notes and feedback without committing to help shepard the project. They may also say they’d like to help you out, but can’t because of XYZ project or a higher priority.

What all of these things have in common is that they mean No. However, they all avoid saying it directly because they would like to still keep the door open for the future and possibly maintain a working relationship down the road. It is the diplomatic pass, a try again next time.

The quickest way to assure you never get a next time? Not grasping that you got a diplomatic pass and taking this personally.

DESPERATION

Back to that producer mentor of mine. After reading the first script I sent to him, he gave me some feedback a month or so after I submitted it and encouraged me to try my hand at another. He would even check in on occasion with me, asking how I was doing. Several months to a year went by, and I had another for him. Several more months would go by again without hearing any feedback at all.

While I didn’t realize it at the time, after a rare second chance, he eventually passed on my second effort as well. He still followed me on Twitter (when he had one), he even subtweeted me a few times as well. That’s how we eventually got into a confrontation. I was angry that he didn’t reply to me. What followed was an hour long DM conversation that amounted to a few simple facts — A) it takes anywhere from 10-15 years to make headway in this business B) nobody owes anybody shit C) he was very kind to have mentored me and given me such a chance given my inexperienced and un-repped status.

I was desperate. I was emotional, and would continue to write passive remarks to him as I saw him continuing to keep tabs on my blogs and posts online. I was annoyed that he would take the time to read my writing, all while failing to ask me how I’m doing, or even send a simple text. I admired this man since I was 14. I wanted nothing more than to if not work for him, to at least be his friend considering all we had in common.

Desperation is ultimately a sign of weakness. Nobody wants to be in a relationship, whether romantic, platonic or professional with a desperate person. While it is easy to see desperation in others, when caught up in our own emotions, it is easy to dismiss the same behavior in ourselves.

You see yourself coming from an extremely valid place. But from an objective standpoint, you’re not. Nobody cares that you admire the person. Nobody cares that you mean well. Nobody cares that you feel that way. Why? Because a professional would accept the diplomatic pass and move on. A professional would accept the Pass, and continue to work hard toward a future Yes. Anything less than that reaction is desperate and even seemingly insane.

I can guarantee you I will never hear a Yes from Jim because of the way I acted at 24-25 years old. I am happy I learned that lesson young enough to correct my mistakes, even if it is unlikely we will ever have a professional relationship.

YOUR FAILURE TO GRASP THE DIPLOMATIC PASS COULD SPELL DOOM FOR YOUR CAREER

You not accepting No says a lot about how you might behave if given a Yes. Your inability to accept No for an answer shows that you are not self-aware. It suggests that you cannot accept criticism or critical feedback.

In the role of a screenwriter, your ability to accept feedback is critical to success because screenwriting is a highly collaborative process. You need to be able to take constructive feedback and put it to good use. If you act emotional, cannot understand No, how are you then supposed to be able to parse through an executive’s notes and make valid changes to the work? How are you going to react when you get re-written? Are you going to be a prima donna about it, or are you going to take it in stride and not allow disappointment to create a mental block?

There is no quicker way to no get work in this business, in any role, than by gaining the reputation of being someone who is difficult to work with. Someone who acts desperate, and emotional is almost guarenteed to be labeled difficult. A professional, no matter how much it hurts, is not going to allow disappointment and rejection to get to them. A professional is not going to obsess over a negative outcome or dwell in the past. No matter how poorly you are treated in the process, you cannot dwell on it because you cannot control others, but you can control yourself. So keep writing, keep positive and don’t act desperate. Understand that everyone gets the diplomatic pass. However, the only folks who get the Yes are those who take it in stride.

Happy writing! Over and out — MK

 

 

Music and Meritocracy: Witnessing a Legend

He strutted to the stage wearing bell bottom jeans and a loose fitted shirt. His dirty blonde hair down past his shoulders, a couple of tussled curls fell over his relaxed face; a youthful 24 years of age. Before him stood a crowd of those predominantly from the Baby Boomer generation, blown away by the young man’s talent. He has the likeness of Robert Plant if you squint your eyes, but more like Jimmy Page if you close them and just listen. His name is Tyler Bryant, and he is opening for Page’s Yardbirds companion, Jeff Beck at The Paramount, a modest converted movie theater in suburban Huntington, New York.

What year was this, you may find yourself asking. If you answered 1972, I would say that’s a good educated guess. However, the year is 2015, and in my late 20s, I was probably among the youngest at that show.

My generation is far more content to listen to Top 40, as is any generation in their youth. The difference of course is that Top 40 has changed significantly over the years, relegating the music of yesteryear into a niche. Joni Mitchell recently told New York Magazine that today’s music scene which she quit in 2007 is less so about the talent, and more so a look:

[producers] were tyrannical and trendy. They would have squelched my need for risk and invention. They would have straightened out all the quirks and oddities and steered me toward the dog race where the bigger profits were. It’s just gotten worse. Somewhere after 2007, around that time, I think, I heard on the radio, a record executive saying quite confidently, ‘We’re no longer looking for talent. We’re looking for a look and a willingness to cooperate.’

As I stared in awe at Tyler Bryant, melting the neck of his acoustic guitar in a blazing solo, I couldn’t help but wonder if this old soul was born to the wrong generation; a Hendrix reincarnate born into the times of commercialized Hip Hop, auto-tuned vocals and polished pop-rock. He is someone, I recall saying to my father (60) standing beside me, “[who] should be on the cover of Rollingstone, not Justin Bieber.” My father agreed, we both agreed, that if he had come up 40 years ago, he would be bigger than Bieber is today.

Though I doubt Tyler would agree with that sentiment. He was so incredibly humble, just happy to be doing what he loves  for a living. “Thank you for coming,” he said sincerely, “when I was young, I had posters of guys like Jeff Beck on my wall, so it’s an honor to be here.” He was gracious for all his opportunity; a story of young success, a prodigy who moved to Music City at the age of 17 only a year after playing on stage with Eric Clapton. Though I doubt he’d like the word prodigy either, and made sure to invoke his band (Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown) back in Nashville rather than make it all about himself.

After the show, Tyler greeted fans by the merchandise table. I can imagine so many other young men afforded the same opportunities would be fickle and elitist. Tyler was anything but. I quickly purchased his new tour-exclusive EP, Bombay B-Sides, and walked over to shake his hand and take some photos. Even though my father couldn’t effectively take the picture, Tyler was patient and offered to wait until we got it right (we did, sort of). He signed my EP, and after thanking him for coming to New York, I realized on my EP it was him thanking me — and others too. “Thanks, Tyler Bryant” the cover of the EP read, a musician who shared the stage with legends, a legend in the making himself, thanking his fans.

As I stared at the “Thank you” I realized that any sense of feeling bad about the fact meritocracy is seemingly on decline was misguided. I realized that this was someone just happy to be doing this. It is all too easy to complain about your circumstances, or the lack of perceived merit — “thank you” I stared at it again — “thank you” was signed by someone just happy to be on this ride.

We can’t control the record industry, or what Top 40 is. But we can support great talent. Please check out and support great talent, you can buy Tyler’s records on iTunes & check him out at his band page.

SNL 40 Years Later: How Gentrification Stole our Cities Creative Soul

Saturday Night Live after 40 years has quite a bit in common with your average 40 year old; cynical youth that eventually donned the suit they once so fervently despised.

I started watching last nights broadcast hoping to see some stellar performances from years past, the murky era of 70s politics that spawned the shows creation, the city that inspired generations of comics. Then about an hour in I realized this broadcast wasn’t going to be so much a nostalgic trip down memory lane as it was a highly visible corporate event aimed at ingratiating modern culture. Kanye had more screen time than Bill Murray, Chevy Chase and Eddie Murphy combined!

It was somewhere in between the skits about 70s era New York crime and Disney buying property in Hooker-dominant Times Square that I realized Saturday Night Live has become victim to gentrification too. In fact it was one almost forgettable line in the middle of the broadcast that cemented this arc, a paraphrased one-liner uttered in the mid-90s on gentrified New York:

“it’s like New York got married and had kids.”

Only the gentrification now is in hyper overdrive. While it may seem nice for politicians and investors to claim “we cleaned up the streets” they cleaned up something else too in the process: our culture.

What made SNL so brilliant in its early days was the culture of comedians and their diverse backgrounds. Ultra wealthy Chevy Chase aside, you had comics like Eddie Murphy who grew up in lower-middle class Roosevelt, NY. You had large swaths of the East Village devoted to punk rock and anti-establishment shows and comics. Chris Rock grew up in the ethnic enclaves of Brooklyn, inspired by Murphy’s performance on SNL. Louis CK although not a cast member, he struggled in New York when people could still afford to do so.

Communities of artists, comics and musicians made 70s/80s NY, while dangerous, a place which inspired creativity. That is the New York SNL grew out of, a diverse and wonderful New York with soul, spirit and a gritty edge. You had graffiti on the subways. Underground comic clubs and punk rock shows. Nickel shows and oddities and adventures around every corner. Some of this lasted through the early to mid-90s too, depending where in the city you were.

Today almost nowhere is unscathed by gentrification. Brooklyn is the most expensive area to live in the nation, and Manhattan as entire island is now completely unaffordable to the middle class. Even Western Queens is starting to gentrify as newer yuppies get displaced by rising rents elsewhere in the city. It is a tidal wave of sterile culture perpetrated by a class of artists who can afford $3000/month in rent.

When nobody from the lower and middle class can afford to struggle on a bar tenders salary to perform in New York’s night clubs or Broadway theaters, what you get is the same Point of View: the upper middle class, rich Point of View. This has become very apparent in modern New York, as convenience has taken a priority over culture. You have banks on every corner, chains in place of local establishments, high end eateries in place of local diners and shiny glass condos in place of graffiti stained walls of New York’s creative past.

New York has become the playground of the ultra rich, and with their money comes their taste preferences and the culture that caters to them. In a nutshell, CBGB’s is now a John Varvatos clothier.

When Spike Lee took to ranting about his neighborhood being “Bogarted” by a bunch of mostly white affluent transplants, he ranted at great length about how they took the neighborhood and made it their own – completely disregarding the areas past.

It is the folks who live in Greenpoint and Brooklyn who will tell you they are the artists, that they are the cultural backbone of our city. But this is bull shit, these people, these transplants who shell out $3000 per month in rent on average have never been to New York – because the New York I grew up in, the New York Spike Lee grew up in, the one Chris Rock and Eddie Murphy grew up in, died with the invasion of these self-described artists.

There is a whole generation of transplants who’ve never been to actual New York. And yet like Spike Lee said, they try and own the culture; to be a part of something they are NOT.

When the only cultural point of view is white suburban hipsters, that narrative becomes dominant, and it prevents other narratives from being heard. The entertainment industry is already hard enough to break into, but when the city-centers of media are at a record lack of affordability and entry level opportunities have been replaced by a revolving door of unpaid internships advertised at elite colleges – you are further restricting that point of view to the upper middle class, affluent and mostly white.

New York once prided itself on its cultural diversity. But that diversity is in danger now that gentrification has amped up and spread like a cultural parasite throughout our city. Banks replacing bodegas and shiny corporate theaters taking over comedic factories, sponsored by the bank next door.

As I sat through Saturday Night Live’s 40th anniversary special, I wasn’t just nostalgic for old SNL, I was nostalgic for old New York, real New York, the New York that inspired a generation of comics, artists and gritty cinema – and Saturday Night Live itself. And as that New York rapidly disappears under a layer of corporate sanitizing in the wake of gentrification, so too does the show and the soul of culture that made you actually feel at home – “Live from New York it’s Saturday Night,” only this was Sunday prime time, and it certainly felt like it too.

Through the White Looking Glass: How People of Color are Portrayed by Hollywood

Just this past week a well-intentioned look at racial relations hit the theaters, Black or White. No sooner did it make it’s critical review debuts than did people in the film community begin to take notice of its very white point-of-view. In her brilliant piece in Forbes on the film, and how it dangerously waddles into “white savior” territory, Rebecca Theodore (@FilmFatale_NYC on twitter) notes the following:

The movie is chock full of Black tropes and stereotypes…“Black or White” practices the same type of lopsided storytelling where Elliot’s alcoholism is contextualized with the death of his wife, yet the Black characters are devoid of any kind of complexity or humanity. While Elliot harbors very bigoted views, his thoughts and actions are still framed with a sympathetic gaze while the Jeffers family is essentially penalized for their own family dysfunction and deemed unworthy of raising Eloise.

When the creators tried to promote the film with the hashtag #LoveKnowsNoColor – many reacted with similar disdain, recalling how it is avoiding the discussion of color and resulting prejudice altogether. It is in avoiding this topic of race/color that creates so much discomfort and misunderstanding. To say there is no color is exemplary of how for whites, it’s not about color, because whites are not qualified by the color of their skin by society at large, they are not “people of color.” White people don’t fear being stopped by police, or having people lock their car doors as they pass, because for them, there is no color. To deny the topic of color is the epitome of white privilege.

And this is the problem, these well intentioned films get filtered through the White point-of-view. These progressives are essentially the white-savior types themselves, attempting to educate people on a topic they themselves barely understand. And it is in this misunderstanding that people like Ms. Theodore note is just as problematic as blatant discrimination and prejudice.

But how and why does this even happen? Simply because most films are written by White people, commissioned by White people, directed by White people and marketed largely by White people. More specifically, by White people who before their time in big cities home to many media companies, had very little interaction with the Black community.

Allow me to contextualize my own authorial bias. I am a native of the five boroughs of New York City. Unlike many of the Midwestern transplants and folks that come from homogenous White townships and counties to places like New York and Los Angeles, I grew up in an ethnic enclave of many races, religions and beliefs. Flushing, New York is probably one of the most ethnically diverse neighborhoods in New York City. I grew up with “Black friends” just as I did with Italian friends, Chinese friends, Irish friends, German friends, British friends …only I never called them my “black friends” any more than I called my Italian friends “my Italian friends.” I don’t think White people realize how ridiculous they sound when they qualify someone by their background in one context, but never for other white people.

The problem with onscreen representation of People of Color is not just that it is filtered through a White Point of View, but an ignorant one. I don’t believe it is intentionally ignorant, but until we have a serious conversation about race and how where we come from shapes that impact, I don’t believe we will overcome this racial tension and bias. You may be well-intentioned, but when you come from a small town with a >2% Black population in the whole county to Hollywood, you are unintentionally biased by your own upbringing.

“No, not me, I am racially tolerant!” folks may say. This is the problem, instead of getting defensive, try and listen for once, try and see the other point of view instead of looking at the topic through your own White looking glass defense. I want people to really question the way they view folks of color. I want people to really think about when they moved to the city, who did they hang out with? Other folks from the same state, probably from similar economic backgrounds, but most importantly: other White people. I look at these folks, and see people scared of their own progressive White shadow. They really have hid from the fact that they have no concept of what it means to be Black in America, or what growing up in a racially diverse community is like. They are White, their POV is White, they only know White – specifically 98% White.

This film should be a calling-card for diversity in Hollywood. We need to have more point’s of view behind the scenes in order to have a more impactful and sincere version of our diverse culture. We need more films written by POC, directed by POC, promoted by POC. The main force behind the film, the screenwriter/director of Black or White grew up in a town with a .91% Black population!  Not even 1%!!!! The producer grew up in suburban Alabama, which needs no introduction to race. The star, Kevin Costner, grew up in suburban (mostly White) California. All three men are middle-aged, and White. Their POV is middle aged and white.

Of course the other issue here is that you don’t want to typecast POC into only writing/sharing culture about themselves. Why is it someone who grew up in a town with less than 1% Black population can write about Blacks, but a Black man or woman is mostly reserved for “re-writing Black characters” or “Black comedies?” We definitely need to see a more authentic POV, but the other problem is in the way Hollywood typecasts career roles for one race, but not the other.

Lets get real about racial representation on film. The same goes for one-dimensional women, damsel in distress, rescued by smart man tropes for female characters written by guys. Diversity isn’t just common sense, it helps paint a more true/diverse picture of our greatest cultural export: film/TV. And oh, by the way, it sells pretty well too. If that cultural export is largely filtered through the White Looking Glass, then we are doomed to only be sharing a small sliver of our cultural bias: the White male POV. So today, whether you are a creative or not, step outside your comfort zone and ask questions, listen and stop getting defensive. Improving diversity begins with learning how to exit your own unrealized biases by taking those important steps toward understanding.