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Archive for the Category "Interviews"

Q & A with J. Michael Straczynski Part 2 May 25

In my last post, I provided you with some insights from prolific screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling, Babylon 5). Today I have some more from his Orange County Screenwriters Association Q & A on Saturday.

On making all of your characters well-rounded…

“We are all the heroes of our own narrative. The more time you can spend looking at the story from everyone’s point of view, the better your story will be.”

On the impact his age or TV experience had on how well his Changeling script was received…

Even though JMS had numerous prior television credits, his movie, Changeling (starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Clint Eastwood), was the first feature film he had ever written.

So when he started taking meetings with Producers around town no one knew who he was. And it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter what his background in television was, and it didn’t matter how old he was. No one cared.

“It comes down to the quality of the words on the page.”

The key to breaking in to Hollywood is writing a great script.

On getting a drama produced…

He said the three words he keeps hearing over and over again in Hollywood are, “Drama is dead.”

His advice, if you have a script that’s a straight drama, is to try to “package it to within an inch of your life.” Get a big name director or actor attached to the project.

“Packaging is more important today than ever.”

On refining your script…

“Start with everything you can say. Then cut it down to everything you want to say. Then finish with everything you need to say.”

On making it…

He feels his success in Hollywood is as “unlikely as it is inevitable.”

You have to follow your passions. “If you have a modicum of talent, put yourself out there and work really hard, it is achievable. You can do it.”

As Rod Serling once told him, “Never let them stop you from telling the story you want to tell.”

***

Are you following your passions? Writing the story you want to tell?


Need some help with your screenplay? Please take a look at my script services.

Q & A with J. Michael Straczynski Part 1 May 23

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a fabulous (and free) question and answer session with prolific screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski (Changeling, Babylon 5).

The Orange County Screenwriters Association (who hosted the event) provides the following introduction on their web site:

[JMS] currently has five films in production including “Lensman” for Academy Award winning director Ron Howard.

Emmy, Hugo, Saturn, Eisner and Bradbury Award Winner / BAFTA (British Academy Award) nominee.

In his nearly thirty-year career, JMS has worked for some of the top directors and producers in Hollywood. The breadth and depth of his screenwriting and producing career is vast; but his skills extend even further into novels, short stories, comic books, journalism – just about anything and everything you can imagine a writer to be, he is.

He’s actually more than I would imagine such a prolific writer to be — he was exceptionally funny (like stand-up comedian funny), comfortable in front of a large crowd, outgoing and generous with his time.

What didn’t surprise me, however, was how intelligent he was. What follows are some of his comments and tips that I found to be  insightful or interesting.

On his writing process…

“Get to know your characters so well that you can sit back and watch them.”

He discussed finding the the emotional core of your characters. “If your characters are emotionally true then the audience will buy it and accept it.”

“It’s not so important to know where your characters went to college.” You need to ask questions about your characters to find out who they are (i.e. “What frustrates them? Are they in love with anybody?” etc.).

“Find the emotional core truth.”

On “Failing Upward”…

“Failure is a necessary part of the process. Find out where the wall is on your abilities. What can I fail at?”

Every time he has pushed himself out of his comfort zone, and tackled something he possibly could fail at, something great has come from it. He “failed upwards.”

He spoke of “the tyranny of respectable voices.”

“You have to be willing to endanger yourself. A ship at harbor is always safe, but that’s not what a ship is for.”

The interviewer, Mark Sevi, mentioned a Ray Bradbury quote with a similar philosophy: “Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down.”

To which JMS humorously responded, “If you jump off a cliff, you might as well try to fly, you’ve got nothing to lose.”

On his admiration for Rod Serling…

In his opinion, Rod Serling was the best television writer of all time. When he reads Rod Serling’s work he feels like an amateur. He mentioned the following brilliant line of scene description, written by Serling, for the interior of an old lady’s home:

“Paneled walls polished by darkness.”

***

Are you finding the emotional truth of your characters? Pushing yourself to find where the wall is on your abilities? Reading scripts written by great screewriters?

More terrific stuff in Part 2 tomorrow!


Want me to read your script and let you know what I think? Please take a look at my script services.

Tales from the Script: Director Peter Hanson Mar 24

Dozens of acclaimed Hollywood screenwriters get the last word in the documentary, Tales from the Script, which is currently in limited release.

Curiously the Netflix average rating for the movie is a measley 2.3 stars (out of 5), while the IMDB rating is a stellar 9.3 (out of 10).

I don’t know what that means, but with interviews from John August, Frank Darabont, Shane Black, David Hayter, William Goldman, and many other amazing scribes, it’s on my must-see list.

The film’s director, Peter Hanson, was recently interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. I found some of his comments, refreshingly bleak. 🙂

Here are a couple excerpts from the article:

Writer/director Peter Hanson jokes that his documentary Tales from the Script is a “scientific study of the life cycle of a screenwriter, from stupor to carcass.” But there’s a ring of truth to his words. In Hollywood, it’s presumed that set designers know more about set design than anyone else on a film production, and a boom operator is the boom expert. But when it comes to a film’s script, everyone feels they’re as capable of shaping the story as the writer.

Hanson — an author and struggling screenwriter himself (he’s never sold a full-length narrative script) — said he wanted to give would-be writers a reality check about how films got made in Tinseltown. “I have seen too many friends flame out because they discovered the disappointments of this career in the course of trying to pursue it,” Hanson said. “As Paul Schrader says in the film, if you can’t be happy doing anything else but film, then it’s the right career for you. But if you could be happy doing something else…then why not be happy?”

For the full article, click here.

Interview with Scott Rosenberg Mar 14

Kid In The Front Row has a posted a great interview with screenwriter Scott Rosenberg (Beautiful Girls, Con Air, Things To Do in Denver When You’re Dead, Gone in Sixty Seconds).

Here’s an excerpt:

There’s a big myth for writers trying to get into the industry; who feel that to work on anything with a big producer or studio, means no creative control and constantly having to incorporate other people’s ideas – has this been your experience?

The script is always going to be co-opted. Because with a budget that big, it’s the only thing they can constantly tinker with; it allows everyone to sleep at night, knowing that, somewhere, someone is working on the script. I think you have to do your best work, and hope much of it flies. But you also have to be realistic: “SPIDER-MAN” or “GONE IN 60 SECONDS” or “THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER” -these are not the sad, sweet personal stories about my ancestors coming over from the Old Country. So I can be mercenary. I have to care. I have to make it deeply meaningful for me, so I can do good work. But I also have to divest myself emotionally. Because chances are good you will be re-written. My motto has always been: “Don’t Fuck With My Small Movies. Do What You Need With The Big…”

I highly recommend reading the full interview.

Photo: Jodi Hilton (Boston Globe)

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