I am horrible about posting here. Since I made the Black List in 2013 I’ve been steadily working for the studios, which has been a crazy fun ride, but my blogging has been spotty at best. So in an act of shameless self-promotion, it looks like I made another list this year: The Young And Hungry List: Top 100 Writers On The Verge. Not sure what I’m on the verge of (hope it’s not a cliff), but it’s always nice to be recognized. Happy to be among such a talented group.
If you’re around Hollywood on Saturday, November 22nd, check out the No Budget Film Festival. I’ll be speaking on a panel with Black List CEO and Founder Franklin Leonard and 2013 Black List writers Meaghan Oppenheimer and Geoff Tock. Come on down and chat with us!
Here are the details:
Every year a list of the best unproduced scripts, voted on by an industry’s worth of tastemakers, is released to the public. Since its inception 10 years ago The Black List is easily the most surefire and reputable way for writers to be discovered. Join writers whose success on the Black List has translated into real life progress in their career as they talk about the process, inspirations and what pushed them from writing in a vacuum to pursuing the next phase of their careers. Black List CEO and Founder Franklin Leonard will be on hand with 2013 Black List writers Meaghan Oppenheimer, Geoff Tock, and Stephany Folsom to discuss the list’s role in their journeys. From first getting representation, to being staffed on TV shows, to being hired by studios, to having their scripts read aloud in Black List Live by the likes of Nathan Fillion, Alison Brie, Clark Gregg and more, to the holy grail of Black List-dom: getting your unproduced script produced, get the low down from the people who know it best.
Whenever I run across some good storytelling advice, I always want to pass along what I’ve learned. I recently reread Cut to the Chase: Forty-Five Years of Editing America’s Favorite Movies. I’d forgotten how much good stuff was in this book. It’s a transcription of the last interview with legendary film editor Sam O’Steen. For the uninitiated, Sam O’Steen edited The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Catch-22 and more. Basically, Sam O’Steen was a badass editor that had mastered his craft.
I highly recommend reading his entire interview, but below are a few of my favorite bits of wisdom (and even though Sam is talking about editing, I think a lot of it applies to writing). Check it out:
“Movie first, scene second, moment third.”
“As long as you’re always conscious of where the audience’s eyes will be (what’s in motion, etc.) you can cheat, so they aren’t looking at the mistakes.”
” (A good storyteller is) someone who can tell a joke. The timing is right and he tells just enough.”
“You have to be organized. That’s the life of it. If you’re not organized, you can’t keep your head clear. Then you can be totally involved when you cut, you can concentrate, which is the name of the game. You have to have total concentration and I do.”
“I go by my first instincts. The film basically tells me where to cut, so I make very quick decisions about what I do.”
“If I start editing a scene and if it’s not going right, I’ll put it away and come back to it later.”
“I’ve always been into puzzles and that’s what it’s all about.”
“Until the money’s in your pocket, it’s just talk.”
And finally, we have Sam’s philosophy on how to put the film business in proper perspective:
“It’s only shadows on the wall.”
On June 14th, 2014 the Black List and the Los Angeles Film Festival hosted a live reading of my script 1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY OR: HOW KUBRICK LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LAND ON THE MOON. Kathryn Hahn, Jared Harris, Thomas Sadoski, Lance Reddick, Clark Gregg, Aaron Staton, Rich Sommer, Shannon Woodward, Tessa Ferrer, Troy Ruptash and Cooper Thornoton performed to a packed audience of over 700 people.
It was amazing, it was thrilling and it gave me a whole new appreciation for live theater, which is f-ing hard. There are no second takes on the stage.
So how the hell did I end up with a fancy live reading of my Black List script at the Los Angeles Theatre in downtown LA?
Franklin Leonard, the mastermind behind the Black List, contacted me back in May. He read and was a fan of 1969, which had landed on the 2013 Black List, and he wanted it to be the first in a series of Black List Live! events. Powerhouse casting director Deb Aquila and her associate Lisa Zagoria would wrangle the talent. And I would be granted an opportunity to direct the show. Of course, I said “yes!”
Deb and Lisa worked hard to bring together the perfect A-list cast for the read, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.
The night before the official event, we brought the cast together for the first time to rehearse. I couldn’t believe I was hearing actors I’d admired for years bring my words to life. It was intoxicating… and then I sobered: the dialogue was playing well, but a film script does not easily translate to the live stage.
All the tricks of the screen trade: montages, cross cutting, action sequences, visual transitions, match cuts… none of them work in a live venue. In a movie, all the fancy scene descriptions are transformed into engaging visuals. If the scene descriptions are only read out loud, they slow down the dialogue and ruin the pacing. I suddenly understood why Jason Reitman only used produced screenplays in his live reads — you already had a visual reference for the scenes. Unproduced screenplays don’t have that luxury, which is why Quentin Tarantino blocked out the live reading of his new script THE HATEFUL EIGHT.
Given the cast’s hectic shooting schedules, we had no time to stage the scenes in 1969. So how was I going to turn my film into a live theater experience? By not sleeping.
I spent the entire night rewriting the script, removing and changing scene descriptions so that it would work in a live venue. Megan Halpern, event director extraordinaire for the Black List, helped me collect archive footage, photos and music to give the reading more of a cinematic feel.
On the day of the live read, I was stressed and sleep deprived, hoping the added visuals and editing the script would bring the show together.
By the time Franklin introduced me to the audience, I could barely see straight. Seriously, I have no clue what I’m saying here:
When the show started, I sat in the back of the theater and held my breath. Then, the cast started to read my script…and it worked. The audience was laughing and clapping in all the right spots. Somehow the whole thing came together. We put on a really good show.
Would I do a staged reading of one of my screenplays again?
Probably. It’s a good way to find out if your dialogue works.
I would do it all again without hesitation.
Sending out a huge thank you to Franklin Leonard, The Black List and the stellar cast for making the fantastic reading of 1969 possible. I’m thrilled to see what BlackList Live! does next.
If you’re in Los Angeles on June 14th, then you’ll want to see the Black List Live Read of 1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY. I’m over the moon (pun intended) that we have such an amazingly talented cast on board.
Kathryn Hahn of Parks And Recreation will play the lead, Jared Harris of Mad Men will play Stanley Kubrick, Thomas Sadoski of The Newsroom will play NASA Public Affairs administrator Julian Scheer, and Shannon Woodward of Raising Hope will play Kubrick’s assistant, Kara Downs.
Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers, Trust Me) will be in the role of Richard Helms, Director of the CIA. Aaron Staton (Mad Men) and Rich Sommer (Mad Men) will play the roles of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, respectively.
On June 14th the Black List will host its first live staged reading at the LA Film Festival…and they are reading my script. Extremely honored to be part of this. Exciting cast announcements and ticket info coming soon!
Here is the press release:
A first time event taking place at the Festival this year is The Black List Live! A Staged Reading. The Festival is teaming up with The Black List to program a staged reading of an unproduced Black List script. Join us for this one night only reading of Stephany Folsom’s 1969: A Space Odyssey, or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon about a White House public affairs assistant who convinces Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing, just in case something goes wrong during that one small step. The event will take place on June 14 at 7:00 pm at the Los Angeles Theater.