Chance Encounters

It’s a Relationship Business: Sebastian Twardosz

sebastion twardoszLast 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.

Screenwriting:

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.

Producing:

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.

Why?

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/

 

 

The Art of Finishing: Sonay Hoffman

Layout 1You probably haven’t heard the name Sonay Hoffman lately, but you’ve most likely heard the name Shonda Rhimes. You know–the woman who owns ABC on Thursday nights, creator of the hit shows How to Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Private Practice, and Grey’s Anatomy. Like the credits state, Shonda did create all of these shows–but she didn’t write every episode single-handedly. During Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy, Sonay Hoffman was working as a production assistant when she and the rest of her fellow production assistants were offered the opportunity of a lifetime–they could write and submit an episode of Grey’s Anatomy and have the opportunity for it to actually be made. This turned out to be Sonay’s big break.  Out of all of the production assistants Sonay’s episode was chosen, not because it was brilliant, but because she was the only one who finished a script.

“All you have to do is finish one thing and you set  yourself apart from a lot of people.”

In this case, Sonay set herself apart from the handful of production assistants, and in actually being chosen to write an episode of Grey’s she set herself apart from thousands of wannabe screenwriters desiring to be paid to do what they love–to write. Now Sonay has an incredible resume and a job as a writer on another television show. But she says that those other production assistants are basically in the same place.

“You have to be ready for your windows, that one shot.”

I was able to meet Sonay at a networking event last month where she not only shared incredible advice for aspiring writers, but her personal story. Sonay grew up in South L.A. and was raised by a single mother who had three vices: drugs, alcohol, and men.  She left home at the age of 17, graduated from Crenshaw High, and didn’t know if she’d make it through college. But then she found theater and through it a group of people who understood real hardships. They wrote short plays together and acted them out and when she saw an opportunity to work for David E. Kelly Productions, she said, “I can do that” and she went for it. This mentality of “I can do that, and I can do it well” and then actually doing it has gotten Sonay to the point she is today.

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Sonay at an event supporting the non-profit, Writegirl.

No matter what it is you want to do, whether it be screenwriting, starting your own business, or anything else that seems impossible, Sonay says to consider where you’re at as a stepping stone, to listen and pay attention to everything, and to work diligently even if that means smiling after fetching coffee for the tenth time today. And while you’re doing this, you write or whatever it is you aspire to do–just go do it, finish something, and then celebrate that victory.

“I firmly believe that this is the difference between making it and not making it. Just finish it.”

What do you need to finish today? What phone calls do you need to make? Research you need to do?

Go do it and be ready for your window, because you might only ever have that one shot, and it might be that the one thing that pushes you over into the net, that makes you stand out, is the fact that you’ve persevered and finished something. Anything. Even a blog post.

Blood and Guns: A Man Named Ni

imagesY0KY7XVPGunfire is a common occurrence in Hollywood films, but it’s not something I had ever personally experienced before today when my grandpa took me to the shooting range. We all have images in our heads of our favorite actors looking like models as they point their guns at whoever or whatever is opposing them—people like Jennifer Lopez, Matt Damon, Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr., and Harrison Ford. Even young, cute Chloe Grace Moretz has gotten a piece of gun action in a couple of her films.

So holding and using a gun must be really easy right?

Right?

I was really afraid to go shooting today, but I went anyway. It’s not what I thought it’d be like. The gun is heavier, louder, brighter, and more powerful than my gentle spirit was prepared for. When my grandfather (who is ex-navy and ex-army) was trying to help me shoot because I was too afraid to hold the gun on my own, he cut himself and started bleeding profusely, which, you can imagine, didn’t lessen my fear.

While my grandpa was cleaning up his gash and I was standing alone on the verge of tears (it was a lot of blood guys) the man at the counter started talking to me. I didn’t ask him any questions but he seemed to answer them anyway: Was I a total loser for being afraid to even be near a gun? Was I a complete failure for allowing my fear to get my grandfather hurt?

The man at the counter’s name was Ni. From what I can remember in my fragile state, Ni said he’d been training policemen, SWAT teams, and other law enforcement groups on how to shoot for over twenty years. At first Ni was shaking his head at us in disapproval, but then he realized I was shaken up and started to comfort me in his own way. Ni said three things that I’ll share with you:

1. If you come in here, you’ve never shot a gun before, and you’re not afraid, you’re not human.

2. Shooting is easy for me; I’m not afraid of using a gun, but I absolutely would not teach my son or anyone how to drive. I also will never jump out of an airplane because I’m afraid of heights. Guns I can do; planes and cars I cannot.

3. It’s okay to be afraid, but you come in and try it, and if you don’t like it you don’t come back. At least you tried.

I apologize if this is the lesson you learned when you were three and your mother told you to try zucchini and that if you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to eat it, but Ni was really cool and I want to recognize him. He realized that everyone is not like him and that everyone is not good at everything, and he reached out to me so that I didn’t have to feel like a failure even in failure.

Sometimes I think I need to be amazing at everything, but Ni knew the truth:

I can’t be perfect.

And that’s perfectly alright.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'”

–2 Corinthians 12:9

Who can you extend grace to today?

A link to Ni‘s shooting range: http://www.lpfr.com/home.html