Thursday, July 27, 2006

Networking 90210

Thanks to a heads up from Jeff Gund's invaluable resource, Infolist, I attended a Women In Film event in Beverly Hills. The speaker was screenwriter and director David Ward, winner of the Academy Award for The Sting. If you are in L.A., sign up for Jeff's list, which notes similar upcoming events, job openings, and other industry-related news. And, no, you do not actually have to be a woman to participate in the WIF's networking series.

David spoke not only about his own career in Hollywood but also where he saw the business going, for better or worse, in the future. Some highlights:

He started in an apartment in Venice writing out his first screenplay, Steelyard Blues in longhand. Across the street from his apartment was a vocational school, where he would take his pages to be typed by students learning typing skills. David got his first representation through an instructor at the school, whose wife had been involved in a fender bender with a literary agent. Before that, he would take his scripts to casting calls, pretending to be an actor. In the audition, he would give the script to the producer and director (all of whom promptly never called him back again). Not necessarily the most efficient or likely to succeed method for finding an agent.

The development system today more than ever encourages the screenwriter to be limited to a specific niche. David encouraged the writers to avoid limiting themselves to one type of film and not fall into the trap of thinking, for example, that only women can write "women's" movies or that only men can write action scripts. Not only because showing range is good career advice, but also because it forces you to be a better writer, break out of your comfort zone, and not trod over covered ground. Also, in case anybody still harbored illusions, don't try and time the spec market. By the time you come up with This Year's Wedding Crashers or The Next 40 Year-Old Virgin, it is probably too late. Which is not to say don't keep up on what is generally selling and what is not. But just to write something that you would like to see and in a unique voice that hasn't been heard before.

Stay current. Along the lines of breaking out of boxes, it was David's opinion that a writer today should have their ear to the ground of popular culture even if they are not targeting the youth demographic with their work. In his words, although he probably would not write or direct a teen comedy at this point in his career, neither would it be possible (or desirable) to fix his stories in the period of his own youth. And if there are things about "those kids today" that you just don't get, perhaps all the more reason to work out what you don't understand through your writing.

Although I didn't stick around to schmooze much with the other attendees (having no real schmooze material to foist on anyone at this point), I will be keeping an eye on the WIF and Infolist websites for details on the next event. The evening series is on hiatus for August but starts up again in September, I believe.


  • Nice wrap up! Do you do coverage? *joking*

    I always enjoy your posts, Chris, sorry about the fellowships, just remember: cream rises.... :-)

    By Blogger The Film Diva, at 8:30 AM  

  • Thanks Ms. Diva,

    And actually I am looking to get into doing coverage. So if you have any piles lying around that need read, feel free to shoot me an e-mail.

    I'm not terribly worried about the fellowship stuff at the moment. Although I did have a sort of epiphany that the learning curve for screenwriting probably interesects with the success curve for fellowships somewhere right around the point that you start getting good enough to be able to sell scripts independent of contests. So that by the time your work is good enough to rise to the top, it will probably be good enough to let you circumvent the whole fellowship route entirely. We'll see I guess.

    By Blogger Chris, at 4:37 PM  

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