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.

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) 

We’re Not Listening. LaLaLaLaLa!

As the debate around writing better diverse characters continues, one group is taking things to heart and refusing to make an effort: white male creators.

Yes, hashtag not all white male creators. Certainly of those refusing to write better diverse characters, they make up the lions share of examples.

Some notable examples include the Game of Thrones writers refusal to accept criticism of the way they wrote the arcs of female characters in S5; notably the gratuitous use of rape from a male character perspective for shock value and an utter lack of examining the female experience apart from… You guessed it: shock value. Some notable critics refused to continue reviewing the show after this.

More recently, Rob Liefeld, Marvel comics artist and creator took to Twitter after NYCC to defend the casting of a white male as Iron Fist because “the character is historically White.” Never mind the numerous fans both White and Non-White saying not making him Asian was a missed opportunity for diversifying the current MCU, Liefeld was adamant in his defense of historical accuracy. His exchanges with fans on Twitter are both smug and extremely blind to his own white privilege. While I think it is a stretch to argue his views are racist, his inability to accept criticism is certainly ignorant. Iron Fist can be whatever race and it’d have no impact on his character! Comics have changed the races and even genders of characters numerous times to positive effect.

While not as controversial, HBO’s new show Westworld also includes gratuitous rape and damsel in distress tropes to fuel its plot. This in spite of being co-written by a woman, Lisa Joy. The show is run and created by her husband, Jonathan Nolan. Variety noted in its review of the show “drama writers continually resort to rape, assault and murder of women to provide inciting incidents, or to make a show seem ‘edgy’ or to ‘raise the stakes'”

That writers continually rely on these tired tropes are precisely why many are so resistant to change. Why change something which works in their mind? Is it lazily employed, sure. But that’s neither here nor there so long as people are consuming your product by watching as viewers. The problem is it is already starting to get tired and thus uninteresting. And as people begin to criticize this style of writing as not only sexist but as lazy that is when writers ought to especially take notice.

Whether a criticism is about the poor portrayal of women or stereotypical portrayal of non-white characters, the reason many may not want to listen is because their job is hard enough. These writers may very well care about diversity, but in practice they don’t make the effort to address criticisms and in fact double down on the use of harmful tropes and stereotypical portrayals because it is what they’ve long gotten away with and made money from. They react defensively because they are merely trying to defend their work against any criticism. If they acknowledge the criticism, they will be expected to make changes and when you’re on deadline and up against a whole host of other more pressing story issues, diversity concerns will always take a back seat.

Is this fair? No. Of course not. It’s not a valid excuse so much as it is the likely one given — at least on a subconscious or internal basis. Writers, producers, creative executives who are largely white and male are probably not going to take the extra step toward assuring that their product is diverse or presents women in a better light. They just want to turn around their projects and sometimes that means hacking the storylines and arcs of its women and POC.

In 2016 this attitude toward defending hack jobs is unacceptable. Writers should always be striving to improve, to accept criticism and grow from it. Those who do not have clearly lost a big part of what it means to be an artist or writer.

Finally, we need to make moves to hire more women and non-white writers to writers rooms. Currently you’ll get one or two diversity slots and many times creators and White male EPs treat their input in a hostile manner — again not wanting to address their concerns. This was recently the case when an Adult Swim executive in charge of hiring writers noted in an interview that he won’t hire women because “they’re prone to conflict.” Good! Writers rooms shouldn’t be an echo chamber. In spite of addressing the criticism toward his sexist views, he doubled down on his remarks in an AMA on Reddit.

The entire industry needs to diversify to where no single person is strung out for daring people to be better. We need diversity initiatives across the board, from above and bellow the line, to the agencies, to the executive suites– we need more diverse perspectives! The face of America is changing, as is the world around it. You can either listen to their criticisms, or continue to ignore and condemn it. The choice is indeed yours, it’s your future. Try to be on the right side of it by being a better writer and creative tomorrow than you were today.

Mentorship Is The Key To Diversifying Hollywood

Today I tweeted about mentorship being one of the greatest barriers to entry for young women in the business. So I wanted to expand on these thoughts a bit.

Whereas men hire men that remind them of themselves, women are rarely in the position to offer them the same level of mentorship. Frankly, it needn’t be the case that women exclusively mentor women. The prevailing power structure in Hollywood, white men, need to do more to mentor women.

I briefly had a white male mentor. He was and still is a producer. I’ve no explanation for why he no longer speaks to me. I can’t think of anything I did. He hasn’t worked in a few years, perhaps it is that. All that aside, I know how much it meant to have his advice and feedback. I very much wish I still had it.

Unfortunately, White men still get most of the opportunities in this business. This is a statistical fact supported by numerous studies. Regardless of talent, the pattern of white men hiring other white men and mentoring other white men leads to an industry full of white men.

Before it seems like I am blaming my former mentor for contributing to these numbers, I am not. A Google search will reveal past assistants of his that were female, including a woman of color who now owns her own indie production company. Sadly few of his peers have a similar track record in hiring diversely.

One thing is clear, when women are given mentorship opportunities, they do better than those without the same opportunities. All of his former female assistants are still in the business in varying capacities.

If we want to assure that more women are given chances as writers, actors, development execs, directors or producers — white men need to hire them and groom them the same way they would with men. If women cannot even stick a foot in the door without such mentorship then all the money thrown at diversity will fail to change the makeup of the industry because women are not given the help they need at the outset of their careers. Currently the same women are hired over and over again. What needs to happen is the industry must do more to recruit, mentor and hire young women.

Diversity needs to be more than a buzzword. If Hollywood studios and production companies truly want to “read more women” or see more films directed and staring women, they need to turn their focus to the outset of the process. The PAs, the young woman with internships and experience looking to take the next step, the female writer who placed in a contest or shows ability young. You know, the young men with the same abilities and experience that get pulled up the ladder first. If you’re a white man it stands to reason that promoting the next female talent could also be a very lucrative effort if you take the studios at their word — that they want to hire diverse talent.

While I think it’s important to continue to gear diversity efforts towards women with experience, such as those already qualified to direct and write features, too much is already geared toward such efforts. The next step in the diversity conversation must be about mentorship and recruiting young talent. Nobody in this business has made it alone. Somewhere along the line they had a mentor, a friend, an ally in the business that gave them a chance. Without that initial chance women’s numbers will not increase. If that is a key part of the diversity initiative, we must acknowledge what must come first not just what comes ten steps down the line.

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

White Diversity

The Night Of has taken social media and critical circles by storm. The powerful crime drama takes a hard look at social issues, including Islamaphobia and how Muslim Americans are treated by the media and our justice system.

I am going to proceed with the understanding that readers are familiar with the show, and have already seen most if not all of it. So spoilers ahead.

My main problem with this show is that it seems to highlight a familiar problem in Hollywood, diversity as shown and told by White creators. We’ve all seen the dismal numbers for writers/directors, how most are still white men even after the uproar of Oscars So White and an ongoing ACLU investigation. The Night Of despite a well-intentioned show concerned with diversity is no exception. It it is written by two White men. The executive producers too are nearly all White men.

And it shows.

The show centers around the events that unfolded around Nasir Khan, and how he wound up in the wrong place, at the wrong time and is now charged with murder. Instead of Naz being our primary character, we are quickly introduced to his oddball lawyer, John Stone. It is he who overtakes Nasir as the main protagonist. While Nasir remains the one in a bind, the one we care about, the show focuses on this turmoil largely through the perspective of John Turturro’s character — not Riz Ahmed’s. It focuses on this small time lawyer who got the case of a lifetime, and will now try and save his co-star.

The character of John Stone feels a lot more well developed than Nasir Khan. That’s not too surprising considering the show was originally a vehicle for the late James Gandolfini. A pilot was even shot starring the actor portraying John Stone. He remains credited as executive producer. With that understanding, it’s fair to say this show was likely devised as a show about this lawyer and added in the Muslim arc to give the story a social conscious in post-9/11 New York City.

Instead of exploring the Muslim community, and Khan’s family, we are only given a superficial glance at it. Most of what we see in terms of Islamaphobia is reacted to by the White cast. While Nasir initially takes issue with the Black men and their racist joke in the pilot, White people step in the rest of the show. It is John Stone who speaks for the Khan family and Nasir, describing them as “American as baseball” when the prosecution says he could flee to Pakistan (a country Nasir never visited). It is the White female lawyer, who briefly hijacks the case from Stone who stands on the courthouse steps and doesn’t allow Mr. Khan to speak.

Just as soon as we seem to be getting into the Khan families internal struggle we cut away. Most of the time, we just see them silent, our White cast talking over them. When they are alone, we get a few plot-driven scenes, but none of true introspection. We never really see the Khan family digest what has happened in a way that feels truly revealing. They mostly just mope about throughout the episodes, letting the White cast interpret events for them.

I can’t help but imagine that if we had a muslim POV in the writers room, the Khan family and their diverse community would have had a more dynamic role. I am not faulting the White writers for this, it is a cultural blind spot. I am sure they wanted to portray this family struggling with their identity, but in their cultural blindspot they failed to let the story unfold in a way that truly explored the Muslim identity. That’s because it is an identity that they don’t really understand. They can’t understand it, no matter how well researched. So instead it was largely John Stone and others reacting for them. It was other characters taking us through a world that still treats Muslims and Middle Eastern Americans as second class citizens and perpetual suspects. The show is textbook “White Diversity,” a diverse show obviously and transparently written by White people.

I’ll still take White Diversity over no diversity on screen. However, sometimes it is not White people’s story to tell. This presumptive idea that diversity only happens before the camera is false (sorry Matt Damon). As writers we need to be mindful when another POV is necessary, and other times know when to back off in acknowledgement that another POV may be better. Otherwise, all we get are shows and films which lack a true cultural representation; we get a superficial analysis of a problem or theme which requires greater introspection. Sometimes, if not most times, that introspection is better provided by those who best understand the problems/themes at hand.

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For those writers who want to write better depictions of people of color, please check out this post written by Asian American writer Mari Naomi.

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