Last month I went to what I thought was going to be an hour and a half long lecture on how to sell your screenplay in Hollywood taught by Sebastian Twardosz, which turned out to be a four hour long workshop on the ins and outs of the entire Hollywood film industry. Saying it was an overwhelming amount of information would be the understatement of the semester, but I’m so grateful that I chose to attend the class rather than Pepperdine’s annual tree lighting ceremony.
Sebastian Twardosz is a professor at USC who has been working with leading companies in the film and television industry for over twenty years. His short film, Silent Rain, won the student academy award in 1993, and he then went on to work on the first two Mission Impossible movies with Tom Cruise. More recently Twardosz co-produced an indie film called Small Town Saturday Night and he is also currently hosting a weekly show called The Insiders which aims to shed light on the “behind-the-scenes world of Hollywood” for aspiring filmmakers.
If you want all of my notes I would be glad to scan and send them to you, but for now all I’m going to write is some basic, but crucial information on screenwriting, producing, and a bit about the Hollywood film industry.
There are only two ways to become a writer. To write and to read. Read a script a week and read scripts you haven’t watched.
Consider writing your screenplay as a play or a novel first. It’s a bit safer and can make you more money.
You have to have an agent. And if you live in LA there are probably only two degrees of separation between you and an agent at CAA or WME. Work it.
Studios read 100 a week and make 12 a year. A lot more scripts get bought but get lost. Hollywood buys a lot of books. So you can write a screenplay or a book—and there’s a lot to be said for this. If you write your own book you’re your own boss. No rules in books. Lots of rules in screenplays. Majority of movies are based on preexisting material. Writing screenplays are important because they’re closer to production and also about voice—screenplays are all about your voice as a writer. You can write really bizarre indie scripts and get plucked to do blockbuster films—Rian Johnson, who’s doing the next two Star Wars movies—did Looper and Brick. They just want to know that you can write—they’re not genre specific. What’s important is that you write in a good voice and have good structure.
Producer Skill Sets:
- Creative—good notes on scripts etc; came up the ranks at studios
- Packaging—get directors and actors and attach them to a project; former agents
- Finance/Money (who knows where they got their money)
- Nuts and Bolts/Line Producer/UPM—physically know how to actually produce a movie-know what a C Stand is.
- Power—actors and directors (whoever becomes famous)
YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE ALL OF THESE THINGS.
Ideally you have two or three.
Who’s the least important?
Nuts and Bolts.
You can hire people to make a movie, but all the other things you can’t hire.
Far more important that you have access to a good script or book or a good relationship with an actor.
The Industry: High School with Money
Be nice to all assistants because they’re the next VP of Paramount.
Hollywood’s the last vocational town. No one cares about your degree in these companies. Having an MFA tells people that you care and are passionate about what you’re doing. An MFA degree isn’t gonna get you a job but it’s building the personal relationships that counts.
Speaking of personal relationships here’s Sebastian’s spiel:
Some of you will be successful and some of you will be less successful—it’s a numbers game, but regardless of the stats, you will likely fail if you don’t help each other. (I’m not sure I agree about it being a numbers game–I think there’s room for everyone at the top if they have the right skill sets and pursue knowing the right people but…I’m not the expert and I’m bound to be optimistic.)
It is all a relationship business and what goes around comes around.
Here’s an example: One of the biggest management companies was started by a USC student who just said, “okay I’m gonna represent everyone in this room.”
“Try never to burn a bridge.” Know about their kids, go see their plays.
It’s High School with money so don’t give the mean girls a chance to direct their hatred toward you. You don’t have to be them but you have to be their friends because it’s all just a relationship business.
Link to The Insiders website: http://thelip.tv/show/the-insiders/