Language and Voice in the Election Aftermath

My friend and fellow writer Dre Ryan sent out this beautiful letter after the election, and it’s too good not to share. It’s a reminder that writers and artists have an important role going forward. We have a voice that can make this world a better place.

Hello Friends and colleagues,

I wanted to reach out in the aftermath of the assaultive, violating, repudiating result of the election and say I’m thinking of you, your families, your reactions and our shared experience as we begin to navigate this new reality. 

As artists and writers I think our role going forward is clearer and more urgent than ever. We are not merely in the entertainment industry where our thoughts, ideas and voices are meaningless fodder for mindless consumption. We help shape meaning and culture in our country and the world. Our voices and our language matters. Our projects and endeavors matter. We are not rendered powerless or worthless despite the caustic, dangerous rhetoric and vehement intolerance imposed on us. We have power and responsibility. We have language. We have our creative voices. We have the stories that remind us all of our values and who we are and who we want to be. We have agency and political clout through our work. It is essential that we understand and not lose sight of our responsibility to be an impactful, positive force for good in the world for others. You’re already doing that. Thank you.
Best,
dre

Go Into The Story Screenwriters Roundtable

I loved doing this roundtable back in December 2015 with these amazing women: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy. Check out the serious writing knowledge these fantastic women drop on Scott Myer’s blog. Glad to have been part of this group.

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Interviewed by IndieWire

I recently had a fun chat with Shirpa Gupta at IndieWire. She did a fantastic article on the live script reads in Los Angeles. I feel so honored she chose to interview me along with Jason Reitman and Elvis Mitchell. Check out Shirpa’s full IndieWire article Why the Live Read is Here to Stay.

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On a Panel with Some Talented Folks…

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:

Tales from the Black List

Saturday November 22nd 2:15pm-3:00pm – Mack Sennett Small Studio

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.

 

Words of Wisdom From Legendary Film Editor Sam O’Steen

 

Cut To The Chase

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 MoviesI’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.”

 

Surviving a Live Reading of Your Screenplay or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Deliver a Good Show

Photo by Kurt Kuenne.

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

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 GreggAaron StatonRich Sommer, Shannon Woodward, Tessa Ferrer, Troy Ruptash and Cooper Thornoton performed to a packed audience of over 700 people.

Photo courtesy of The Black List

Photo courtesy of The Black List

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?

Fancy theater in downtown LA.

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

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.

1969 Live Read Cast

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.

Photo courtesy of The Black List

Photo courtesy of The Black List

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:

Photo courtesy of The Black List

Photo courtesy of The Black List

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.

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

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.

Would I do it in a high-pressure event where my unproduced work is compared to Jason Reitman’s and Quentin Tarantino’s (WTF)?

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.

 

1969 A Space Odyssey’s Live Read Cast

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.

 

1969 Live Read Cast

1969 A Space Odyssey