On the weekend of November 20-22, four writers gathered in Hollywood for an exciting event: The fifth Black List Mini-Lab. The writers — Corey Bodoh-Creed, Chloe Hung, Sabrina Siebert, and Mary Unser — had been selected on the basis of scripts they had uploaded to the Black List website and a personal statement about the story they were writing and their creative aspirations.
Over the weekend, they hung out with the Black List team including Franklin Leonard and met one on one with mentors Jessica Bendinger, Tonia Davis, Eric Heisserer, and Kelly Marcel to discuss their scripts, then participated in two workshop sessions with me as group leader. They also attended the Black List Live! stage reading of “El Fuego Caliente” at The Montalban Theater, written and directed by Ben Schwartz and featuring a cast of terrific guest actors including Don Cheadle as well as the after party.
Here are some reflections about their individual and collective experience from the weekend they spent together. Their observations are both illuminating and inspiring.
I can’t thank Franklin, Scott, Megan, Kate, and Terry from the Black List enough for including me and my screenplay, “Reckless Hearts,” in the Los Angeles Mini-Lab. It’s hard to describe the entire experience succinctly. Comparing it to a tornado that snatches you and your house and all of your cows up in a chaotic wind, only to gently set everything back down again a few hours later with your livestock thoughtfully rearranged in some kind of feng shui harmony seems like the only appropriate analogy.
The opportunity to meet and brainstorm with our mentors was so amazing. These are people who really know how to craft compelling narrative and rich characters, and the chance to really refine things with such experienced craftspeople was so valuable. Each mentor had some distinct micro-notes, but the real difference here from your average writers’ group were the larger macro-notes. In one way or another, I heard essentially the same thing from each of the mentors — which basically all boiled down to, “Where is the heart of this story and what do your characters want/need?” — and over the course of a few hours with each of them, we were able to find some tangible, actionable ways to refine that core essence of my script so that it will truly sing. I was also able to run some other story ideas past them and Franklin, which was invigorating and incredibly useful in calibrating my creative compass.
On the last day of the Lab, our meta-mentor, Scott Myers, gathered the other Lab fellows and I together to really hash out the tidal wave of notes we’d received from the mentors. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have gotten to know and work with Chloe, Sabrina, and Mary. These are some of the smartest and most creative people that I have ever met, and it was astounding how much they genuinely wanted to help me refine my work. They approached it as if they had written the script themselves and I now have a very clear plan going forward with my project.
We were also really fortunate to have the Black List Live! featuring Ben Schwartz’s El Fuego Caliente mixed in with our mentor sessions (if Paramount doesn’t produce this script, then they’re a bunch of damn fools, I tell you!). We were introduced around as fellows of the Lab, which was an incredibly validating feeling. To have a prestigious group say, “Hey, kid. Out of a thousand entries, we picked you. You’re with us now,” well, it just adds a little juice to your creative battery.
I really can’t express how appreciative I am to have had this experience. My scripts have done well in a bunch of different competitions, but nothing has provided the same jolt as the Black List Mini-Labs. Basically, it was a totally bad-ass way to spend a long weekend.
The Black List’s mini-lab was an incredibly helpful, humbling, and encouraging experience.
We first had a great session, the four of us, with Scott Myers. Scott had us answer some questions about our own work in preparation for our one-on-one meetings. These questions (including what inspired us, what are the strengths of the screenplay, the weaknesses) helped give me a framework for what I felt I needed to work on. It would help to then see what was similar or different in how others perceived the areas I wanted to work on.
My mentor meetings in order were: Kelly Marcel, Tonia Davis, Jessica Bendinger, and Eric Heisserer. Each mentor focused on a different topic of discussion, building on the previous. Kelly, being the first, spent the most time on story goals and story logic. Tonia, being the only non-writer of the four mentors, spoke most about the protagonist and what resonated with her and what didn’t; she helped me craft the steady progression of the character’s emotional arc. Jessica, then, focused on developing the supporting characters and the details of the world I was writing in. Eric, being the last mentor, helped me parse through the others’ feedback and added his own suggestions and variations on certain themes and characters.
Each mentor gave specific and insightful feedback. I was struck by the level of detail and care through which they all spoke about my screenplay. They wanted to help and they certainly were a great one at that!
We ended the lab with a group workshop led by Scott. Together we sifted through the feedback we had been given and then added feedback for each other. Scott took us through some writing techniques, strategies, and theories. I found his notes illuminating and helpful in clarifying questions I had about all the feedback I was given over the course of two days. I valued the opinions of my lab-mates immensely. They threw in many suggestions that built on the feedback from the mentors. It’s a lot of feedback so it was very helpful to have the opportunity to unpack it with Scott and my lab-mates. It was a safe space for us to explore all these new ideas.
I am so grateful to Franklin Leonard, Megan Halpert, Kate Hagen, and Terry Huang for bringing me into the Black List family and making me feel welcome. They were all so kind and organized a great weekend for us. We got to see a live read of Ben Schwartz’s screenplay El Fuego Caliente, which was hilarious and thrilling.
I came into this experience with a fresh screenplay. It was the first draft and I knew it needed work so I was thrilled to get the chance to have so much feedback. Eric advised me to step back for a little while and digest before going back to rewrites. He told me to see what thoughts and ideas stick and go from there. As a writer, the lab gave me the opportunity to get several reactions to a story. I was able to see what worked and what didn’t. I learned a lot about what makes a screenplay work as both a potential film and as a piece of writing. I am so grateful for this experience and I am excited to get back to writing.
Thank you for giving us an opportunity to give our thoughts about this past week’s mini-lab in your blog. My part will be brief, but that’s only because I’m on a roll with my rewrites and can’t concentrate on much else, so please take that as a testament to the success of the lab.
To the Blacklist crew and mentors; I, or rather we (because I think the others would agree), owe you a huge debt of gratitude. You gave so generously of your time, wisdom, friendship, and ongoing support – not to mention rolling out the red carpet food and drink-wise…and you did it all for four complete strangers who have nothing to offer you in return.
Now I believe in selflessness, but only in certain insects, so I kept thinking, these labs must exist because you all stand to gain something in the end. And it’s true; in a perfect world we, the recipients of your generosity, feel so compelled to make you proud of us that we work twice as hard, take all the advantages you’ve offered, do whatever it takes to become a success…then on the day we all win our Golden Globes we’ll tweet #oweitalltoblklst and get our four grillion followers to donate to the website.
You guys stand to do very well in that scenario. But in reality, if it’s funding and free publicity you want, I think we all know there’s a million better ways to get it than relying on an LA writer to rise from obscurity.
That leads me to believe what you guys get out of this is something less tangible, like knowing that you fostered talent…encouraged art…provided guidance to those of us lost within a bewildering and inhospitable industry.
There is always the hope that someone you discover will be the next big thing – why not, that’s thrilling. But I came out of the weekend with the impression that I had been among true teachers, people who took genuine pleasure in seeing their influence mold better writers, if not create superstars. It’s not an entirely selfless motive for these labs, but it’s a noble one. It was certainly invaluable to me.
Thanks again to all of you, with all my heart.
The Los Angeles Blacklist mini-lab weekend allowed me to learn more about my script and meet new colleagues in an easy-going, supportive atmosphere — which is precisely what I was hoping for.
Franklin, Megan, Kate & Terry, each more brainy, funny and driven than the next, answered all questions, texts and calls for berry crumble with grace, wit and an avalanche of information (and opinions) about the film and television.
Scott Myers set an easy, respectful tone for the writers that allowed us to be open and honest, focused and purposeful. It was clear everyone spent time with each script and was offering their best. My only suggestion would be to lengthen the final session (or add one more) so the writers can ask as many questions as necessary.
The mentors — all targeting different aspects of my script — had nothing but astute, careful criticism. It was a pleasure to meet each one and hear about their journeys as well as how they approach their work.
I left the weekend pondering all the input in a very positive way — not in that ‘My God, what do I do now?’ way. I have a few more smart people in my corner and a new perspective and fresh ideas to dig into my rewrite.
Thank you all.
Corey, Mary, Sabrina, Chloe
and some photobombing hippie in the back
Speaking for myself, this is the 7th Black List screenwriters lab I’ve been involved with, and each has had its own unique feel. This group – Chloe, Corey, Mary and Sabrina – exhibited the very best in writer qualities: talent, passion, curiosity, flexibility, honesty, commitment, openness, and most of all creativity. As with all of our labs, both Franklin and I emphasize the value of them continuing on as a writers group. I have no doubt this quartet will follow through on that.
The next Black List mini-lab is scheduled for February 18-19, 2016 in NYC at Barnard College as part of the Athena Film Festival. There are plans for other Black List screenwriter labs next year, so be on the lookout for them.
For more information about Black List workshops, go here.