2015 Screenwriters Roundtable (8 Part Series): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 10th, 2016 by

An extensive screenwriters roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here are links to all eight parts of the conversation:

Part 1: “Marvel has just been my complete world and life and I have been sleeping there. It’s just been 24/7 writing of Thor 3. I can’t talk too much about it though, because working for Marvel, they’re like the NSA of movies.” — Stephany Folsom

Part 2: “I’m lucky enough to be working with an incredibly talented cast and a fantastic crew [on Westworld] – and I’m co-showrunning with my husband, Jonathan Nolan. So it’s been a labor of love to work on it.” — Lisa Joy

Part 3: “One of my favorite stories is this HBO show I was doing. Like I said, it’s about a midwife and abortion doctor and I pitched on it and got the job when I was four months pregnant. And all of the producers are women and all of them are mothers.” — Julia Hart

“Ten years ago, when I was a young executive, I think I probably used to judge women differently. I judged mothers, or women, or breastfeeding in general like that until I went through it.” — Lindsay Devlin

Part 4: “We live in the most political town. It’s run like a weird oligarchy. It’s a very old school power structure, and they’re very reluctant to do things to change that.  Studios and agencies are constantly making decisions that are against their best interest. It’s very odd.” — Jessica Bendinger

Part 5: “Women have a niche perspective because we’re 50 percent of the population which apparently is niche. I wanted to bring that up as one of the many narratives around women in this business that drives me nuts.” — Liz W. Garcia

Part 6:”I’ve been being paid to be a writer in this business since I was 24, and I only recently really understood in my bones that this is a craft.” — Liz W. Garcia

“Obviously, not every writer wants to direct, but for me it was huge… now when I’m writing a scene I’m picturing myself in the editing room cutting it. And it’s made me a much more efficient writer.” — Julia Hart

Part 7: “Nobody told me that a large part of being a screenwriter, other than all the craft you have to be amazing at, you have to be a little bit of a politician. That was a learning curve for me.” — Stephany Folsom

“You can’t win from within when you’re dealing with people who are inherently biased or sexist or fucked up. You have to find your people.” — Lisa Joy

Part 8: “Who are you as a writer? What do you want to write? What’s your point of view? Not as a diary but as a craft. How would you tell that story?” — Jessica Bendinger

“It becomes this… echo chamber of terror… I need to remember what we would say to somebody just coming into this business: just fucking write.” — Lindsay Devlin

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

Many thanks to Wendy Cohen for logistical help with the roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 8): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 7th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 8 continuing a discussion about learning from mistakes the writers have made:

Jessica:  You can totally lose your voice when you are playing what I call My Little Pony.  At least I do. I have to watch becoming a performing pony because I’m skilled. I can do what you want me to do. I can do that note. I can try and make that note as great as possible, but ultimately that’s not my voice. That’s me interpreting what you want.

If you can get in touch with who you are as a writer, this is huge. Who are you as a writer? What do you want to write? What’s your point of view? Not as a diary but as a craft. How would you tell that story?

Tell those stories in your own echo chamber, and tell many of them. Just keep writing, writing, writing, writing, writing. I think that is so critical. We do get caught gazing at the one holy thing we think is going to be our ark and save us sometimes. It gets too precious. Don’t be precious. Share your work. Show your work.

Lindsay: I have to take my own advice because I would have said the same thing, but right now I’m at this precipice where I’ve become weirdly precious about what I want to do next. Like I need to come up with one great thing.

My husband is also a writer. He keeps telling me, “Don’t do that. Don’t just put all your eggs in one basket.”

The more time goes by, the more I get in my own head in my own way. I’m finding it really debilitating. I’m sure we’ve all gone through this, there’s different evolutions as a writer.

In the beginning I was super‑precious because I was terrified, and I didn’t think I was any good. Now I’ve become a victim of, “Oh, I had a movie made” or “I’ve sold some things. Now everyone’s expecting XYZ from me,” or “I need to rebrand myself” or “As a woman, I need to do this.”

It becomes this, as you guys were saying, an echo chamber of terror that I’m creating for myself. I need to remember what we would say to somebody just coming into this business: just fucking write.

I’m listening to all of you guys. I’m really inspired by how many things you’re all working on, but I’m honestly sitting here being like I’m staring at a blank screen.

Liz:  Lindsay, can I give you advice from my mother? That’s right. My mother.

[laughter]

Liz:  Because my mom is an art teacher and also a creative. She teaches creativity to people who are blocked. What she has said to me many times, and it always works, is, “Do the thing that’s naughty. Do the thing that nobody wants you to do, that you feel is bad.”

Jessica:  That’s right. Love that.

Liz:  That’s key. You one where you’re thinking, “No one’s gonna like this. It’s my own little secret. I’m compelled to do it ’cause it’s so naughty.” That will lead you to a good place.

Stephany:  That keeps my sanity through everything. I always have one project that I’m working on in the background that I really don’t care if anybody ever sees or if it ever gets made. Of course, I would love that to happen, but it helps me keep my sanity.

It’s my little passion project I can work on in the background. If nothing ever happens with it, that’s fine. There’s no pressure. It makes writing fun because there’s so much BS you have to put up with.

Lindsay:  I think that’s the thing. We’ve all got little passion projects that we’d “rather be working on,” that we feel like nobody would want to read or that aren’t as commercial. I have to remember that, first of all, I don’t need to do one or the other. We should always just be doing both. I think that’s such an important to thing to do as writers, is not fall into this trap.

Liz was saying about being pissed off, that people just assume women don’t want to do the pasteurized, whatever that analogy was. I’ve been hearing that for the past year. It drives me crazy. They’re like, “Well, women are auteurs, and they want to do these Sundance films. They don’t want to go direct action or whatever.

We want to do both just like men do. There’s no reason we can’t do both. I watch both of them. I want to write both of them, and of course I would want to direct both of them.

That’s my long‑winded way of saying this call’s been very inspiring. I need to take your advice, my own advice, Liz’s mother’s advice…

[laughter]

Lindsay:  Thanks to Scott for facilitating it because it’s really important to do.

Scott:  Thank you! I hope you all get in touch and go out and do things.

Lindsay:  I would love that.

Liz:  I would love to.

Jessica:  Let’s keep this conversation going over some wine, ladies.

[laughter]

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Part 7, here.

A great conversation and I hope we can make this an annual event!

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 7): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 6th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 7:

Scott:  I want to be cognizant of time. Wendy, you had a question.

Wendy:  Is there a mistake that you may have made early on in your career, or something you’ve learned the hard way, which you could share with aspiring writers to help them avoid a similar challenge?

Jessica:  All my ex‑boyfriends dot com.

[laughter]

Scott:  OK, avoid bad boyfriends.

Jessica:  No, you should have bad relationships. As many as possible, they’re very instructive.

Stephany:  A mistake that I made is being polite, nice, or anything like that. Often, it was seen as a lack of confidence or a sense of weakness.

When I was really starting out, I would go into a pitch and I would do everything that I do now but I didn’t go with it with as much as “I’m the only person that can do this. I can do this job, it’ll be great.” I feel like, once again, we live in a fear‑based business and so, you have to make everyone around you feel comfortable and like they’re going to be taken care of and everything’s going to turn out great.

It’s a skill set. A large part of what we do is going into a room and communicating with people.

You have to instill them with a confidence and comfort, and I think that younger me, I would have liked to have been like…lead with confidence, which I do now.

Scott:  Yeah, hitting their comfort level. It’s huge.

Stephany:  Completely, I feel like mothering, being a mother. I don’t have children yet, but I feel like being a mother is a screenwriter’s job whether you’re a male or a female.

The movie hasn’t been made yet, and it’s in this format where no one is quite sure exactly what it looks like yet and you have to make sure that nobody kills the baby, the script baby, and everybody takes care of the script baby.

Jessica:  The diplomacy thing is a big point. Look, not everybody carries the archetype of mediator, or psychologist or diplomat. That’s a learned thing. If you can figure out where you are, that’s a good start. Meaning if you’re not naturally diplomatic, figure out what you’re good at. Maybe you’re a better listener. Or maybe you’re a better at acting like a reporter and asking questions. Maybe you’re a better investigator than empath. Use that completely.  Lean in to your investigative skills. That’s better than trying to pretend to be something you’re not. Because you’ll get found out.

I heard an agent say once that if you are a liar, Hollywood will allow you to be a liar if that’s who you are. If you’re not a liar? And you’re faking it? You’ll get found out because everybody hates a faker. It’s really weird.

It’s true that people want you to lean in to your strengths. I’d say find out where you can learn to communicate and connect. Figure out what’s naturally your strength in the room. That’s the hardest thing for writers, that communication and negotiation piece.

We’re worried about writing, delivering and synthesizing different opinions into something coherent. So it’s not like a Frankenstein, or a monster. So it has a smooth finish.

It’s such a narcissistic culture. People need to feel heard and seen and sometimes coddled. I hate to use that verb but let’s be honest. This is a business where Q4 and Q1 are all about self-congratulation. That’s what this business is built around. All the awards!

[laughter]

Jessica:  Keep that in mind and learn your diplomacy skills. Writers who become successful producers are master diplomats and relationship nurturers. They can make you feel they are respecting you and implementing notes at the same time.

I’m not that. I’m more direct, Midwestern, “What do you want, let’s do it, this is blunt.” People who like that, like me, but, man, I wish I’d learned how to mediate.

[laughter]

Stephany:  Nobody told me that a large part of being a screenwriter, other than all the craft you have to be amazing at, you have to be a little bit of a politician. That was a learning curve for me.

Jessica:  Huge.

Lisa:  On the subject of diplomacy – there are alas some specific situations where all the diplomacy in the world won’t help… especially when you’re starting off as a screenwriter and as woman and as a minority, you want to be liked. Everybody always agonizes over their own work and over, “Is it good enough? Am I good enough?”

There’s an echo chamber of self doubt and it’s inevitably enhanced by a lot of people out there who are happy to echo that echo chamber…

[laughter]

Lisa:  One of the things that can be really dangerous, especially initially when you’re starting out ‑‑ because, frankly, there is sexism in this town and there is all sorts of prejudice and discrimination ‑‑ is that if you start off in the wrong place with the kind of people who will never take you seriously because of who you are, what sex you are, what race you are… you’ll hit a wall.

And the danger is the part of you that wants to make sure that you’re doing a good enough job will try to keep banging against that wall, thinking, “Let me prove to you that I’m good enough… You’ll see, you’ll see.” You start to engage in a debate that, frankly, with certain people, you will never ever win.

You can’t win from within when you’re dealing with people who are inherently biased or sexist or fucked up. You have to find your people. And it’s definitely not me saying, “Give up.” It’s me saying, “Don’t attack that way.”

There are certain times when the battle isn’t lost. It’s just never going to start. They’re just not going to do it. Certain people will never give you the chance.   And that’s not your loss. It’s theirs.

For me, one of the greatest parts of this career has been finding my people over the years, finding women and men that I adore, whose talent I admire, and having these relationships with them both professionally and personally where I’m, “Oh, those are my people – my creative community.”

If I go to this meeting and some guy is telling me something totally crazy, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from because I got these other people – decent, talented people — whom I’d rather work with anyway. It gives you a strength to focus on the real question which is, “Hey, is my script any damn good?” Cuz satisfying your own echo chamber of self doubt is hard enough!

Liz:  You’re lucky. That’s a hard thing to find.

Stephany:  It’s extremely hard to find. Liz is absolutely right. Finding your type is absolutely important. It’s just finding the right people that will say yes and will help you and will work together to make this visual work of art, which takes a whole team of people to get a TV or a film done.

What Tina Fey said, which I thought was so brilliant, is that someone always has to work for someone else. If that first person says no, maybe the person above them will say yes. Everyone has to answer to somebody else, and it’s just about finding that one person that will say yes to you. I thought that was just fantastic advice.

Liz:  All sorts of mistakes. I already talked about my mistake of not concentrating on my craft as much and using screenwriting exclusively as my therapy. The other thing I would say is do not put all your eggs in one basket. A lot of people do this where they’ve got that one script.

They keep rewriting it, and they keep rewriting it or they’ve got the one movie that they’re going to get made, they’re going to get made, they’re going to get made. Don’t stop putting new work out there.

You might love and treasure that one script, but you cannot control when that one script is going to get made or when it’s going to get you an agent or when it’s going to get you a job. You have to keep working on your craft and keep writing and keep writing and keep writing new stuff.

Lindsay:  Yes, I totally agree with that.

Jessica:  I so agree. As somebody with five pieces of spec material that I’ve worked on over the last few years, this is critical. You have to write stuff for yourself. Especially with all this diplomatic shit we’re talking about.

Stephany:  Totally.

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Tomorrow: Part 8 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 6): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 5th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 6:

Scott:  I want to get to a little more writerly craft type questions. Liz actually had an interesting thing. If I can just paraphrase this, looking back from this year, and beyond, did you have a breakthrough, or realization about how to approach the craft, or it’s something sort of new thing? You want to expand on that a little bit, Liz?

Liz:  I did, and it’s embarrassing to say this because I’m 38 years old. I’ve been being paid to be a writer in this business since I was 24, and I only recently really understood in my bones that this is a craft.

For many years, I viewed screen writing as my personal vehicle for expressing my vision which it is, but it’s also not just my diary, not just my chance to exercise demons, or write the things that come out easily, write the things that are made up of the parts of my life that I’m dying to process.

I have really needed to buckle down, and understand the bones, but also the tissue, and the cells of this craft, and that was how I was going to get better at it. For all of the years before, I was really chasing jobs, or the opportunity to write in a way that served both my ego, and my psychology.

Now, I figured out there are some things I write that are deeply personal, and I get to exorcise those demons, and then there are other things that I write that are more of intellectual exercise where I’m really concentrating on structure, and craft.

I avoided that for too long because I was trying to put myself on the page. It was actually freeing to go, “I didn’t go to grad school for this, and so maybe I never learned the specifics of the craft in the way that I need to to get to where I want to be. Now, I’m going to do it,” and it’s felt really good.

I was really curious if any of the rest of you had had moments like that where you reevaluated the way you were approaching the work, or your career, or had tips?

Stephany:  For me, the big thing, being under such a pressure crunch with deadlines lately… I’ve always been a very much of a work horse where I would just show up, and do my pages every day.

I feel like I’ve lost some of the fear that something isn’t going to come to me. When you show up to that blank page, and you’re just sitting there, and you have to make something out of nothing. I’ve learned to have faith. As long as I sit there and keep doing it, and keep writing, that eventually something will come and will be good, and I’ll be OK.

No longer having a luxury of time, to do things at my own pace, has made me just realize that as long as you show up and do the work, you’ll eventually get to a place where you have something good to show. That’s been a little bit of my journey in the past year, learning to take leaps of faith.

Lisa:  One of the things, that’s been interesting, is I’ve been working in some feature work and also in TV work, at the same time. One of the things I can speak to on the TV side, that has been truly fascinating, is unlike features, where you write your script and then let it go unless you’re directing it yourself…

The interesting thing about TV is it allows you to be in a little accelerator of craft where you’re literally writing the pages and then you’re seeing it shot and then sitting there with it in the editing room.

You get to see, immediately, critically, what on the page works when it comes down to the final execution. What ended up getting on the cutting room floor.? What, when I was on set, did the actors really have trouble connecting with, and what does that mean as a writer?

Does that mean that you have to dig deeper? Does that mean that it’s too expository? It’s like being paid to go to school, a little bit.

[laughter]

Lisa:  Your own mistakes are your teachers and you’re flying to catch up with them.

For me, that has been invaluable in learning craft. I used to be a lawyer and so, for me, starting in this industry was like, “I don’t know how to transition into writing. I got the break of a lifetime to staff on Daisies off a sample I wrote but what am I supposed to do now?” I had no idea.

TV was a very fast teacher. But it’s been cool learning to let go of some of that, for feature writing, and say, “Well, you know, there are some lessons I can apply,” but some of it is you’re going to see what the director does, work with them, and hope for the best.

Julia:  I had a similar epiphany this year with directing my first thing. Directing this movie which I also wrote was the best writing lesson I’ve had all year, especially the editorial process. Editing the film, it was enlightening in terms of what I’m now applying at the script level.

Obviously, not every writer wants to direct, but for me it was huge to see how the… I have a tendency to over‑write dialogue. My dialogue scenes end up being way too long. I’m now picturing when I’m writing a scene I’m picturing myself in the editing room cutting it. And it’s made me a much more efficient writer.

Stephany:  I’d have to say the same, too, because this is the first movie I’ve been on, that’s going into production. While I’m writing, they’re storyboarding everything out. Once you see what was just on a flat page start to come to life, it’s a huge learning lesson. You’re like, “Oh wait, that doesn’t, visually lay out well, and that actor reading that line was just awful. I can’t believe I wrote that.”

You learn so much by actually seeing it come to life.

Julia:  One of the worst things for a writer to have to do is watch a movie that they wrote. I had that experience, too. I had my first movie that I wrote come out. I was like, “Oh God! Did I really write that? Is that in the movie forever? Like, can I just change it, real fast?”

Jessica:  There are three different movies, as the saying goes. There’s the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you cut. They’re all iterations and different forms. A friend of mine who created a show had a movie idea. He was like, “Can I go over this with you?”

I was amazed at how plotty his movie pitch was. I said to him, “You know what? Here’s the difference. Your movie has to be about something. A movie is not a plot. What’s it about? What is it about thematically?”

There’s a symbolic language in movies that works the unconscious. It’s the synthesis of being able to tell stories  symbolically. Meaning is a rich thing we synthesize in movies and screenplays. That can be done in TV as well, because TV takes a longer view and writers have the luxury of time.

In film you’ve got to do so much heavy lifting in such a short period of time…

Stephany:  Got no time.

Jessica:  Right, the economy you have to use, it’s haiku. You have to trick people. You have to work their subconscious without being obvious. I’m always amazed when people think screenplay format equals a movie.  Whether they’re writing for TV or movies. It’s like, “I did the format, therefore I know how to do it.” No, it’s beyond the format of Final Draft. You have to do all this heavy lifting in every single thing you’re putting on the page.

That’s what always blows me away, year after year. Oh my God, I’m really learning how get all the juice into that drop, so it’s so rich on the page. Then it will unfold into the beautiful expanded version of the movie. You’re expanding it out in the process.

It’s a process of concentration and expansion, like frozen orange juice. The screenplay is this concentrate. It has to be distilled down to its’ essence, yet still be robust enough to sustain inevitable interference as it gets made.

That’s what blew. That process is so educational, painful, and illuminating.

Each day this week, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: Julia Hart. Julia’s 2012 Black List script  The Keeping Room was produced in 2014 starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. She co-wrote and directed Miss Stevens starring Lily Rabe which debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March of this year. Other projects: The movie Beautiful Disaster and the TV mini-series “Madame X”.

Julia Hart

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Tomorrow: Part 6 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 5): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 4th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 5:

Scott:  How about the TV side of things? I just posted something the other day where there were 409 scripted series on TV in 2015. Is there something going on there in terms of development that may be opening things up wider in Hollywood?

Liz:  TV feels like an encouraging place to be right now, because there are so many more outlets. And there are older places like say Lifetime where because of all the new guys on the block, they wanted to rebrand themselves, and so they put on this amazing strange bold show on Unreal, and it worked for them.

Or there are some smaller streaming outlets that are willing to take chances on an original voice. And this is starting to solve what has always been a puzzle for me: I like intimate stories, but that’s not rewarded by the culture of Hollywood, at least in features.

However, television is intimate, simply by virtue of delivery mode, right? Right into your living room, or your laptop. And now, when you have television networks or outlets that don’t have a lot of money for big budget shows, but want something of quality that will pop, then suddenly you have an opportunity if you’re an original voice. Someone like me has an opportunity to make something that’s not screaming with Sci‑Fi elements or whatever. You’re seeing more, and more distinct, auteur voices pop up on TV as the kind of Bruckheimer model – and I say that with love because I participated in that model for very many years — as the Bruckheimer model that was these shows that were like machines, with big formulaic paradigms, fades away.

Jessica:  I totally agree. I think Mr. Robot on USA was like this extraordinary moment. I don’t know if you saw it, but I loved it. In TV, I’m going to use industrial dairy, and the homogenization metaphor, and pasteurization metaphor versus artisanal.

Liz:  Do it.

[laughter]

Jessica:  Great TV is like an artisanal cheese right now.  Think of a popular niche cheese like Midnight Moon. You can be a nice little operation like Cypress Grove – started by a hippie and two goats – and do really well.  Independent cheese producers may have stinky bacteria in the cheese, but people want it.

[laughter]

Jessica: When it comes to movie making, it’s like they want to have Kraft singles. Going through the process feels like they are going to filter out any unfamiliar bacteria because that’s the studio process.   Because of this “process-by-committee” IF they all agree, and IF they all sign off on it, they are protected. It’s a consensus model,  therefore none of them can get fired.

The homogenization of the development pipeline at the studios is burying other profitable genres.  Studios are making tent pole movies but audiences are hungry for artisanal point of view. You have the most sophisticated audience in the history of consumers and audiences.

I might be combining studies but this is interesting. I read that Google ran mathematical models testing pre-internet saturation.  They estimated there were approximately five exabytes of information between the “dawn of known information” and 2003.  By 2010 we were running through information at a much higher rate. So what was the difference in exposure for a consumer of narrative in 2010 vs. 1998?  How much more narrative do you think consumers were exposed to in ten years? Just take a guess.

Liz:  My guess is 400 percent.

Jessica:  400 percent, OK. Anybody else?

Stephany:  Yeah. At least that. It’s just gone through the roof.

Jessica:  2,000 percent.

Stephany:  Holy crap.

Liz:  Wow.

Jessica:  That’s how sophisticated and saturated consumers are. With “Call of Duty” and all the gaming out there, those are all storylines. Those are all narratives. Think of all the access people have to storylines, whether it’s in gaming, on Facebook, on TV or movies.

I can’t even picture that. I can’t even picture what it’s like to get through that big a shift in such a short period of time. In TV,  point of view is what gets through. You need a sharp, clean voice to get through all that excess. TV does that better than the studio movies because it allows point of view to shine through.

Movies just aren’t built for that right now, and development isn’t built for that. That’s why indie movies are thriving.

Liz:  Can I bring up something related to the dairy model?  I just want to say what I hate is when I hear people saying that women don’t want to participate in the industrial dairy model. Do you know what I mean?

Stephany:  Oh, completely.

Liz:  Of course, all artists don’t want to think of themselves as the person who owns the industrial dairy, but when the industrial dairy means you get to say direct a Star Wars movie, then that’s a positive thing.

In a way, this polarization of what a movie that Warner Brothers is going to put out looks like, and how much it costs, and what a true artist is going to make let’s say in the indie model, because indie films have gotten so much affordable, has meant that because women are not going to get shoved into the, “We trust you so much. We’re going to give you a film that costs $100 million for production alone”, we get shoved into the indie model.

What you hear about that is women have distinctive point of views so can’t be running the industrial dairy. Women have a niche perspective because we’re 50 percent of the population which apparently is niche. I wanted to bring that up as one of the many narratives around women in this business that drives me nuts.

Stephany:  That drives me nuts too. I’m working in the industrial dairy model right now. [laughs] I have to say, we need to get more women working in the industrial dairy model because that’s where the money is. Where the money is unfortunately is always where the power is.

We need people to realize that we can be trusted with millions and millions of dollars, and these huge budgets, and that our voice, and what we have to offer deserves to have that kind of money, and power behind it. We need to get more women working at the Marvel’s, and at the Disney’s, and in the Star Wars, and everything else.

Each day this week, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: Liz W. Garcia. Liz is an American television producer and writer. As a writer, her credits include “Dawson’s Creek,” “Wonderfalls” and “Cold Case”. With her husband, actor Josh Harto, she created and produced the TNT series “Memphis Beat”. Liz wrote and directed the 2013 independent feature film The Lifeguard starring Kristen Bell and is in pre-production to direct the movie One Percent More Humid which she also wrote. Other film projects to which she is attached as writer: Sisterhood Everlasting and French Women Don’t Get Fat.

Liz W. Garcia

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Tomorrow: Part 6 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 4): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 1st, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 4:

Scott:  Does it seem to you that maybe in the last couple of years, that we’re approaching a tipping point, and there’s a lot media exposure to this stuff?

I interviewed Darnell Hunt who’s at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, and he puts out that Hollywood diversity report every year. The numbers are just atrocious.

Jessica:  It’s embarrassing.

Scott:  It does seem like now that’s getting through people’s consciousness somehow, or am I misreading?

Stephany:  I don’t know. My personal experience is that I’m usually the only woman in the room most of the time.

Liz:  There’s more of a mainstream conversation, and so maybe what I’m hoping is that a mainstream conversation eventually becomes a little bit of a guilty twinge for some of the offenders, which is a place to start. The offenders then feel obliged to add women’s names to the lists, which again, is at least a place to start.

Julia:   I feel like people really love talking about it, but there’s no en masse actual practical application of these ideas.

Jessica:  I agree.

Stephany:  That’s spot on.

Jessica:  I completely agree. There’s a lot of talk. I’m not a football fan, but for anybody who knows football, there’s the Rooney Rule in the NFL. It was to encourage desegregation in hiring coaches. Basically, they have tried to mandate diversity hiring, and it actually has worked.

Similarly , there was a This American Life piece, called THE PROBLEM WE ALL LIVE WITH. It was about how desegregation in public schools actually works, and the data is so robust.  The evidence undeniable, but it’s such a hot topic politically that it’s impossible to pass these mandates.

We’re in the same boat. We know desegregation works, we know women and diversity hires work. They can do the work as well, but nobody politically is willing to put their feet to the fire.

You have to have a lot of political clout to do this kind of stuff. We live in the most political town. It’s run like a weird oligarchy. It’s a very old school power structure, and they’re very reluctant to do things to change that.  Studios and agencies are constantly making decisions that are against their best interest. It’s very odd.

Stephany:  It’s also because there’s so much fear‑based decision making too that goes on.

Lindsay:  It all is.

Stephany:  Anything that seems different automatically makes the decision-makers wary of it.

Liz:  This is what the ACLU, and EEOC are working on with their investigation, is finding, “Well, how do we make this diffuse problem solvable, really?” Given that they can’t build a lawsuit because no one is willing to, as you said, put their feet to the fire, and be the poster woman for this cause, they’re asking, “How do we build something concrete out of what we know is the problem, but is a problem behind closed doors?”

Hopefully, they will find a way that involves, I guess, mandates. Something concrete.

Scott:  Because it’s crazy. 52 percent of the audience, women, we see consistent financial success…

Jessica:  But the way they do comps, Scott, is so out of step with what’s available. I wrote about this on my blog. I don’t know if any of you ladies know Terry Huang who works with the “Black List”? I know Scott knows him.

Scott:  Yes.

Jessica:  He was an analyst for Google, and I basically said, “Terry, can you run the numbers on this?” If I hear comedy doesn’t travel one more time, I’m going to blow somebody’s brains out.

[laughter]

Jessica:  It’s just not true.  Of course, he ran the numbers, and guess what? Comedies perform better than most genres. Sci‑Fi is the only genre that beats comedy.

Seriously. Better than action movies, or something crazy, and unexpected. Look at Warner Brothers passing on Straight Outta Compton. There is no universe where you would even just go to Google, and search Straight Outta Compton, and your search results wouldn’t tell you, “Hey, there are a ton of people that probably want to see this movie.”

Even if you did it three years ago, Warner Brothers puts it in turnaround for New Line. It gets made elsewhere, it’s a huge hit. What else did they do that with? Ride Along. That is such a smart niche. If you’re a studio executive, those are movies with a robust audience.. Either of those movies, and they’re not doing it. Sure, they made a piece of profits without bearing the brunt of the cost, but there is a net/net to the exemptions in their decision-making that is hard to ignore.

It’s not just women’s movies. It’s all kinds of niche comedies. They just don’t have the bandwidth or the correct data to get the right answers, or they’re old white guys, and they just can’t relate.

Stephany:  The marketing formulas are just insane, and I think you’re absolutely spot on. It’s about the comps, where they compare the data and financials of a released movie that seems to have similar characteristics to the movie you are in the process of making. They are using data from the past to project the future success of your project.

They’re dealing with data that’s often inaccurate, and outdated, and that’s why we are in the position we’re in now. Marketing essentially runs everything in the studios.

Jessica:  Yeah, and they hide behind that data.

Stephany:  Oh, completely.

Jessica:  They can’t argue it, because if there’s nothing to argue.  Sometimes, it’s just a math problem. They can’t do the calculus and so they say no.

Stephany:  Yeah.

Jessica:  They just want the math problems so they can say no.

[laughter]

Scott:  Jessica, you mentioned you wanted to talk about problems inherent in development currently. This is kind of in that territory…

Jessica:  Yeah. This is it. You’re right smacked up in the middle. The geopolitical decisions to me, and forgive me if I sound like I’m playing Stratego right now. Studios are these very old-fashioned systems where the people who get work are politically advantageous to the people hiring them.

It’s these political, decision-making strategies in place, and the power of the agency. The agencies have all this power. Huge, vast amounts of power.  As we saw with what was the recent Angeline Jolie, Brad Pitt movie, By the Sea. Reportedly, Warner Brothers is saying that movie cost one thing and it’s rumored to have cost double that. Who benefits or loses if stars can’t open movies anymore? Well, the talent agencies take a huge hit.

If you can’t open with Angelina and Brad, who does that hurt? It doesn’t hurt writers and directors who want to do original content. It hurts the agencies.  It hurts their commissions and it impacts their power to leverage.

Stephany:  All the packaging that they base everything on.

Jessica:  Correct, so it’s like the crumbling of this old, 1950s mindset of, “I have the biggest stick in the room. I’m CAA. I want this to happen. Therefore, it will happen. Because I said so.”  Versus, “This is the best movie. We know there are hungry audiences who want to consume this kind of content. We know, because we’ve implemented robust and rigorous analytics to figure that out.” They could be using endless amounts of available data to support talent, and move potentially profitable and diverse projects forward, and they’re not doing it.  Artists sometimes have an allergy to data, but it’s not going away.  It serves you to know exactly what your data is and how your analytics translate.  You shouldn’t have to audit iTunes or Netflix to get your numbers. They should be accessible all writers and directors and actors and – ideally – we should be able to use them on our own behalf. Real transparency with the companies could be revolutionary for creators. Not to mention revolutionary for the agencies.

Each day this week, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: Lisa Joy. Lisa Joy got her start as a Hollywood writer working for the ABC television series “Pushing Daisies,” then as writer-producer on the USA series “Burn Notice.” She wrote the spec script “Reminiscence” which made the 2013 Black List and sold to Legendary Pictures for a reported $1.25M. In addition, she co-creator with her husband Jonathan Nolan and co-executive producer of the HBO series “Westworld” which will debut in 2017. Finally it was recently announced Lisa is writing a movie reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

Lisa Joy

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Tomorrow: Part 5 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 3): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

June 30th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 3:

Scott:  As long as we’re here, Lindsay had mentioned this in an email, and I thought, because four of you have got young kids. Lindsay mentioned the unique stresses and pressures, even disadvantages, perceived or otherwise, about being a working mother. Anybody want to weigh in on that, what your experience has been so far?

Liz: What I found most challenging is having to become someone who writes only when you have child care. I don’t have the luxury of deciding it’s going to be a morning writing day, or it’s going to be a dinnertime writing day because it has to be when someone’s watching the kids, and it can’t necessarily be on the weekends unless I can negotiate that with my husband, and what he has to do.

That’s hard when you’re a creative person, when you have bad days, but it happens to be a day when you have childcare so you’ve got to get it done, or you have a great day when you’re feeling really alive and inspired, but you’ve got two little kids on your hands. That’s a bummer.

Julia:  I’m always amazed by how many writers, directors there are of us who are new moms, or moms, period. I feel like we need to get this conversation out there because I do feel alone, and I think a lot of us think there aren’t — I forget who said it — models, women to look up to, and to aspire to career‑wise. I’m sure they’re out there, but I don’t see a lot of them talking openly about motherhood. I think some women in our industry are afraid to talk about being moms because of messed up perceptions about what that means for their work. I have never been more prolific or efficient or inspired as I have been since I became a mom. We need to change the conversation.

One of my favorite stories is this HBO show I was doing. Like I said, it’s about a midwife and abortion doctor and I pitched on it and got the job when I was four months pregnant. And all of the producers are women and all of them are mothers.

And then when my son was two weeks old, they all came to my house. One of them was pumping. I think I breastfed at some point.  And then we went in to HBO, when my son was two or three months old and sold it.

It was just awesome. It was like, “Oh, this is working because we all are in this together, and supporting each other.” I think building that community is so important.

Lindsay:  I participated in a roundtable for a movie last year where I was the only woman. There were like 10 men and myself, and it was a really long day. I was three months postpartum and I needed to pump.

I was like, “How am I going to tell this table of men? Excuse me for 20 or 30 minutes.” I was dying. I was leaking, and it was like…I don’t know what to do. I truly didn’t know in that moment. I wanted to be all feminist. I didn’t want to be embarrassed about it, and yet it felt like a true disadvantage to take myself out of a conversation for 30 minutes.

Julia:  You should’ve been able to just do it. I hear what you’re saying, that we haven’t been invited. We haven’t been given permission to just do it. That’s what was so awesome about sitting in my living room with these moms. Doing our jobs. And being ourselves. We all just got it, and it was safe.

Lindsay:  I’m just curious. Anybody who has done TV, have you pumped or seen other women pump as a staff writer? Is that something people do? Because the writers room is still such a man’s world from what I hear.

Julia:  That’s a real good question.

Lisa:  My last show, I was the only woman, so there was definitely none of that going on. On the show before, I don’t think that there were any women who were parents on the show.

In Westworld, I remember I started writing it when I was pregnant, and then we were scouting for the pilot when I was like nine months, and I was a big nine months, man. I ate for two.

[laughter]

Lisa:  We were scouting these buttes in Utah and I’m just sitting there huffing, and puffing, and sweating, but it was glorious because my baby was there with me, all through it. When we were filming, after she was born, I brought her on location, and we had a hotel room for her and Grandma so I could still see her in the evenings and mornings.

As fortunate as I am to have help from grandma and other childcare — it’s still really hard to balance all that stuff, but I’m optimistic things are changing just by virtue of the fact that we have all these great voices like you folks on the phone who are starting to change the landscape out there in a positive way.

One of the coolest moments of doing this show was having an audition for actors – and it just so happened a couple of them had recently had babies and needed a place to pump – and I was like – “I got a whole setup in my office.   So do what you’ve got to do. No one’s going to look twice, because if they look twice at you, it means they would’ve looked twice at me, and I would’ve never hired someone who did that.”

Scott:  Isn’t that the thing? If more women are in positions of authority, at the studio or network level, or series, with them becoming a more understanding type of environment for people working on staff?

Jessica:  I don’t know. There’s a generation gap. There’s a patriarchal, a very 1950s culture at the studios. Old school media. Hollywood is an old media business. It has not moved ahead as rapidly as we’d all like, and I think one of the cultural hangovers of that is what you’re seeing. There’s a huge discrepancy and disconnect between the amount of writers and available talent there are for jobs, and what’s actually happening. It’s changing slowly.

I did this Meryl Streep lab she financed for screenwriters over 40. The mentors were talking about the big elephant in the room for us, as female mentors over 40, was that a lot of the problems we encounter are from women. Women in power at the studios and at the networks.

They have a covert history of being the worst offenders, and we all felt very shady and shaky sharing that, because it feels like you’re throwing somebody under the bus who should be an ally. That was the net-net of that lab. We all looked at each other in the eye and were like, “Here’s the problem nobody wants to talk about.”

Scott:  Is that a generational thing, do you think, Jessica?

Jessica:  I hope so. Lena Dunham called it out. She said, a lot of these women — some call it second wave feminism — they become like the men. They’ve had to fight so hard to get where they are, they’re like, “I want to be the only chick on the life raft.” I don’t know, I can’t speak to what they’re all going through, and I think what they say publicly, and what the forward-facing language is, is very different than what we’ve experienced.  I also know it’s complicated.

Stephany:  I have to say that the younger generation of female executives, I’ve found them to be extremely supportive. One of my first studio writing jobs was at Warner Brothers, and I got hired because of a female executive there.

It gives me hope. This sounds horrible, but I have, with women from older generations, encountered that kind of stigmatism. I feel there’s a new crop of women executives coming up that really get it, and that gives me a little bit of hope for the future.

Lindsay:  I would agree. I also think with social media, there’s been a sort of normalization of things like breastfeeding, and the conversations around motherhood, the work-life balance… 10 years ago, when I was a young executive, I think I probably used to judge women differently. I judged mothers, or women, or breastfeeding in general like that until I went through it, but now, it’s just, I don’t know. It’s become more normalized, and you see high powered executives doing these things. You guys have probably all seen the image of the woman at the U.N. who brings her baby every single day.

Julia:  Oh my God, she’s so amazing.

Lindsay:  So amazing. Those kinds of images are really powerful. We need motherhood not to be seen as a negative, or a vulnerability, or a weakness, and just part of female empowerment going forward for new generations of women.

Each day this week, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: Stephany Folsom. Stephany’s script Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb made the 2013 Black List. Other movie projects include Missing You and the Disney/Marvel sequel Thor: Ragnarok.

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Tomorrow: Part 4 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 2): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

June 29th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 2:

Scott:  Sticking with HBO, Lisa, why don’t we jump to you? You’ve got Westworld. Isn’t that debuting in 2017 on HBO?

Lisa:  Yeah. Really looking forward to it.

Scott:  I know you can’t talk a lot about it, but you were a staff writer on Pushing Daisies, which was on a broadcast network, and you were with the USA series Burn Notice. Now you’re show‑running Westworld. What’s that like?

Lisa:  The show’s really ambitious and working on it has been fulfilling, challenging, and deeply rewarding. I’m lucky enough to be working with an incredibly talented cast and a fantastic crew – and I’m co-showrunning with my husband, Jonathan Nolan. So it’s been a labor of love to work on it.

We got to explore basically every idea that we’d been kicking around both separately and together for several years in terms of the story. There’s artificial intelligence, there’s exploring tropes of the Old West in a new way. It’s just a fantastic opportunity, so it’s been fun and exhausting at the same time. As I said, someone please take me to a movie.

Scott:  How old is your daughter?

Lisa:  Two.

Julia:  We should definitely talk, because I have a 19‑month‑old and my husband and I work together, so maybe we can leave the babies with the husbands and go see a movie.

[laughter]

Scott:  While we’re talking about TV, Liz, you’ve had extensive background in TV. Wonderful, Cold Case, and Memphis Beat, which you co‑created, but you’re currently working on a movie, as I understand it. Sisterhood Everlasting, which is the third in that series of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?

Liz:  Yes.

Scott:  What’s going on with that?

Liz:  I just thought I was finished with it, and I’m not, apparently.

[laughter]

Liz:  It has been a really positive experience which I find that these studio feature assignments usually are not. They’re something that I do to make money, and because I feel compelled to operate in that world for some reason. Usually there comes a point where I flame out and I can’t deal with the notes anymore and I have no idea what we’re writing.

But with Sisterhood Everlasting, it was brought to me like, “You wouldn’t want to do this, would you?” I was like, “Yes, actually, I’m going to stop pretending I want to do highfalutin’ stuff and I’m going to admit what I really want to do, which is just write about women.” I just want to write about women wherever I get the opportunity, and so I took the job and really enjoyed it.

They were very patient, because I was pregnant with my second kid when I got hired, and was slow because I had a little baby. It was a really rewarding experience, and now what’s interesting about this is that the first two films were made by a studio and distributed by a studio, but this film is being pieced together.

It’s an indie film. I’m doing a number of drafts, the actresses are very involved, and then Ken Kwapis is directing it, and the producers are going to take it around town to find someone who will finance.

Scott:  Liz, good luck on that. Lindsay, you had the horror thriller Devil’s Due, which came out in 2014, and several things in development including, Sleeping Beauty.

Lindsay:  Yeah, my movie came out two years ago, it was a thriller about pregnancy, and ironically I found out I was pregnant as it premiered. My last name being Devlin, we had the little pun of Devil’s Due and Devlin’s due.

I had written a pilot for ABC, and an adaptation of a YA novel for Fox 2000, and all of that got turned in when I was close to giving birth. I thought, “Great, I’ve turned in my projects. I take some time as a mom and then get back to writing in a few months,” not realizing how all‑consuming mothering would be. I was able to work on a few pitch and spec ideas but honestly, that first year was just about survival as a new parent, and making time to be creative became a new challenge.

I don’t know about you ladies, but I’m best under deadline. It’s harder to start something from nothing, especially after some time away. But I’ve got renewed energy and determination, and will just need to find that balance that so many working parents struggle with.

Julia:  Can we please start a baby mama screenwriter support group?

Lindsay:  Yes.

Julia:   I am so amazed that there are so many of us. As you said, finding the balance is difficult sometimes. There’s something about needing to be creative vs. being a nurturer that butts up against itself at times.

Liz:  It is a vital conversation to be had, because it’s something I know that when I didn’t have kids, I was looking around like, “Where are the women who have the career that I want, who also have kids? I wish I knew more about that, because I’m so scared I don’t know what I’m getting into, and I don’t know if it’s going to be OK.”

You just hear, “Oh, it’s impossible to have a personal life in this business.” A, that’s not true, but B, that’s a little bit of a male luxury to say that. “Oh, I just don’t take my personal life as seriously as my professional life.” If you want to have kids, you have to.

Each day this week, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: Lindsay Devlin. After heading up the Creative Group while working at CAA, Lindsay spent time as a production executive with Wolfgang Petersen, then Jordan Kerner’s company. Branching off into her own as a producer, Lindsay eventually started writing and her first feature length movie Devil’s Due came out in 2014. She is also involved with other movie projects including Sleeping Beauty and Reboot, and a TV project “Beta”. And in a deal which just closed, Lindsay is working on a feature adaptation at a major studio.

Lindsay Devlin

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Tomorrow: Part 3 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 1): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

June 28th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 1:

Scott:  Welcome all. I’d like to start with something easy. 2015 was another good year for some quality movies. Actually it seems like we’ve had a good run of it since 2012. Maybe to start off, are there one or two movies you saw last year that really stood out for you?

Liz:  Mad Max really moved me and I found it extremely exciting both as a feminist parable and piece of filmmaking. What an incredible accomplishment. I cannot imagine how George Miller pulled that off…but I was really encouraged by it and very moved by it.

Scott:  His wife, an editor who had never done an action movie, edited it.

Liz:  I thought it was flawless.

Stephany:  I would second the Mad Max. I was blown away by that film. It was the first movie, in a long time, where I left the theater talking about everything that I loved about it instead of what upset me about it. It was such a fantastic visual, visceral experience and Charlize Theron was amazing in it. It was a blast.

Julia:  I agree on the Mad Max front, especially as a new mom, seeing that gorgeous, fully pregnant woman being a total badass was so inspiring. Also, 45 Years has really stuck with me. The performances and the writing were pretty extraordinary.

Scott:  That’s the one with Charlotte Rampling?

Julia:  Yeah. It’s this filmmaker Andrew Haigh. He made a movie a couple years ago, called Weekend that’s also really special. He’s definitely a really exciting filmmaker.

Jessica:  I loved Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Stephany:  That was great, too.

Jessica:  It’s extraordinary they made it for half a million dollars. The emotional nuance they use to investigate this really complicated age in a young woman’s life and the circumstances is crazy. She did an amazing job.  I also loved to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Brooklyn.

I thought Brooklyn was just this delicate, lovely movie. The tonal tightrope it walks is genius: it has to slog through all our cynicism and a sea of jaded, sophisticated audiences. The job it has to grab you is monumental. It does so with such confidence and assurance. I felt like I went through some kind of unjading and anti‑cynicism douche.

[laughter]

Scott:  That’s great. They should’ve gotten you for one of the blurbs.

Jessica:  I’m in the Academy, so I’ve probably just tilted my hand with my votes, but yeah.

Lindsay: I really enjoyed Ex Machina. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was an extraordinary, cerebral experience. I went to Norway this year, so I connected to that landscape as well. I also really loved Spotlight.

Julia:  Oh yes, Spotlight. So good.

Lindsay: Yeah, the performances and the direction were restrained in such a lovely way. The subject matter is so powerful that I think it could go to such crazy melodrama, and it didn’t. It really just let it be powerful on its own.

I know two of the producers, two women who killed themselves the last ten years on this project. It’s really wonderful to see they’re getting so many accolades for this movie.

Scott:  How about you, Lisa?

Lisa:  I’m sitting here racking my brains about what movies I’ve seen this year. Because unfortunately, I haven’t seen a lot of them because between having a two‑year‑old and the show (Westworld), I feel like I never get out of the house. So please, one of you ladies, take me out of the house.

[laughter]

Lisa:  I’ve seen three movies this year and I enjoyed them all. I saw Mad Max, and like you ladies, I loved it. I adored Star Wars. J.J. [Abrams] gave that incredible franchise a wonderful jolt of energy and heart, not to mention some fantastic new characters. The Martian, I saw and I loved. I thought it was funny and inspiring and hilarious and great.

Jessica:  Yeah, Drew Goddard who wrote The Martian really killed it. I’m a huge fan of Cabin in the Woods, which is – if any of you haven’t seen it –  it’s an absolute joy and pleasure to see a great writer taking an AK‑47 to a genre. He does that with The Martian, too. It’s really kind of miraculous…he’s very facile. It’s great, right?

Scott:  And he made science sexy.

Stephany: Totally.

Scott:  Hopefully, the whole generation of young kids out there would see that movie and go, “Hey, science is cool. I’m going to go do that.”

Why don’t we segue into some projects you are all developing and working on, and hopefully they’ll be hitting screens, big and small in 2016 and beyond. Jessica, why don’t we start with you. I was in L.A. in November and you told me about this musical you’ve written called “Psyched”. What’s the back story on that and where does it stand?

Jessica:  I’ve been working on it for five years, and it’s a passion project. It’s a comedy about mental health. It’s a comedic musical of all things. I don’t even know how to describe it, I guess Breakfast Club meets Orange is the New Black. You’re going into the worlds of these six characters.

You get into their problems through song. I’ve been unhappy with the way mental health gets treated, and I want to wrap the medicine in some candy and have a destigmatizing look at this stuff.  It’s not the end of the world.

There’s so much heaviness around mental health.  I thought it would be a fun challenge to bring some levity to the table in moving the conversation forward. So I’ve been working on that and we’re casting right now and trying to raise the money to make it.

Julia:  That’s so cool.

Scott:  Excellent. Jumping to Stephany here. Just recently got into the trades that you’re doing ‑‑ it’s the third in the Thor series. Is that right?

Stephany:  Yeah, it is. Marvel has just been my complete world and life and I have been sleeping there. [laughs] It’s just been 24/7 writing of Thor 3. I can’t talk too much about it though, because working for Marvel, they’re like the NSA of movies.

I’ve been working a lot with the director too, Taika Waititi. He worked on Flight of the Conchords.

Scott:  Flight of the Conchords? Really?

Stephany:  Yeah, and he did What We Do in the Shadows, which is a great little Indie film if you guys haven’t seen it.

Scott:  That’s great. Good luck on that. Julia, you’ve followed up their movie The Keeping Room, which was based on your 2012 Black List script, with a project you wrote and directed called Miss Stevens. Wasn’t that based on, and in some ways inspired by, your years as a teacher?

Julia:  It was. Inspired by is a better way to put it than based on.

Scott:  Inspired by.

Julia:  Fine line.

Scott:  How was that experience?

Julia:  I was on the set every day for The Keeping Room and it made me really want to direct the next one myself. And I’m glad I did, it was an incredible experience.

I had a 10‑month‑old at the time and missing him was the hardest part of making the movie. Otherwise it was smooth and fun and inspiring.

[Note: Miss Stevens premiered at the SXSW Festival to strong acclaim and is being released in September by The Orchard.]

Scott:  Congratulations. Working with a 10‑month‑old or working with an actor, which is more difficult?

Julia:   Actors.

[laughter]

Julia: No, actually, that was just for the laugh. The truth is that I love working with actors. I found that to actually be one of the easiest parts of directing.

Scott:  You’ve also got “Madam X”?

Julia:  Yeah, I’m writing a miniseries for HBO. It’s based on this absolutely incredible book called “My Notorious Life” by Kate Manning, and it’s based on ‑‑ or I should say, inspired by ‑‑ a real life midwife and abortion doctor who was living in New York and practicing in New York in the late 19th Century. That’s with Anna Paquin and Jack Black, and I’m super excited about it.

I’ve been balancing, doing post production, being a mom, and writing that. It’s been an interesting year.

Each day this week, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: Jessica Bendinger. Jessica is known for her work on Bring It On (2000), First Daughter (2004) and Stick It (2006). You may watch a Writers Guild Foundation Q&A with Jessica here, here, here, and here.

Jessica Bendinger

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

Tomorrow: Part 2 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Interview: Julia Hart (2012 Black List)

May 11th, 2016 by

One of the best ways to learn the craft is read what professional screenwriters have to say about it. To that end for the next few weeks, I will be featuring interviews I have conducted with Black List screenwriters.

Today: Julia Hart’s original screenplay The Keeping Room put her on the Black List in 2012. The movie was released in 2015 and stars Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, and Sam Worthington. Julia went on to direct Miss Stevens from a screenplay she co-wrote and the movie debuted to wide acclaim at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival.

Hart Julia

Here are links to the six installments of my February 2013 interview with Julia:

Part 1: “If you really believe in it despite what conventional wisdom says, just write it.”

Part 2: “I deeply love women and in this type of movie, in an active thriller, the intimate complexity of female relationships is rarely explored.”

Part 3: “The first draft was 65 pages. I was like, ‘I think I’m done, but this is really [laughs] short.’”

Part 4: “I think the one thread thus far is that they all have complex female protagonists. I love writing about them. I love figuring out what they do and what they say.”

Part 5: “Character development for me is all through dialogue. I think about the idea of who this person is, what their job is, where they live, what they look like… figuring out what they say and how they say it.”

Part 6: “Story is ultimately innate. And being aware of what’s innate, I think it’s so important when it comes to writing.”

Julia is repped by WME and Anonymous Content.

[Originally posted February 24, 2013]