Beyond Words: Celebrating 2015’s WGA-Nominated Screenwriters

February 6th, 2016 by

The Black List’s Kate Hagen (@thathagengrrl) attended the recent Beyond Words 2016 event sponsored by the Writers’ Guild of America, West, the Writers Guild Foundation, and Variety.

As awards season continues chugging along, the WGA-W, the Writer’s Guild Foundation, and Variety gathered together to celebrate 2015’s WGA-Award nominated screenwriters.

Andrea Berloff and Jonathan Herman (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON), Aaron Sorkin (JOBS), John McNamara (TRUMBO), Charles Randolph and Adam McKay (THE BIG SHORT), Matt Charman (BRIDGE OF SPIES), Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy (SPOTLIGHT) and Drew Goddard (THE MARTIAN) took the stage at the WGA Theater to discuss their creative processes, what scenes they had to cut from their scripts, and how to approach script structure when dealing with real-life characters.

Photo credit: Variety

Even with original screenplay nominees Taylor Sheridan (SICARIO) and Amy Schumer (TRAINWRECK) unable to attend, the stage was packed as John August (this year’s recipient of the Valentine Davies Award) joined the 11 writers on stage to moderate. August told the audience we’d being seeing a lot of lightning round questions to keep the conversation moving.

August first asked the writers: How long was the production process of the film from initial conception to theatrical release?

THE MARTIAN: Three years

SPOTLIGHT: Four years

BRIDGE OF SPIES: Three years (11 months from pitch to production, an incredibly fast turnaround time)

CAROL: “Eighteen effing years,” as Nagy put it.

THE BIG SHORT: Five years

TRUMBO: Eight years

JOBS: Three years

STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON: Five years

Ah, the long, lonely life of a writer. Since all of the nominated scripts besides CAROL and THE MARTIAN were based on real people, August then asked the panel about how they approached integrating real life into their work. For Berloff and Herman, having access to Ice Cube and Dr. Dre from day one was hugely beneficial in shaping COMPTON, as they were able to draw on interviews and transcripts to make the film feel authentic. Sorkin told the crowd that meeting Jobs’s eldest daughter, Lisa, and John Sculley helped him find the emotional through line of the story, despite Jobs’s death three weeks prior to Sorkin’s start on the script. McNamara and Charman echoed Sorkin’s statements, saying that meeting Dalton Trumbo’s daughter and James Donovan’s son, respectively, allowed them to shape TRUMBO and BRIDGE OF SPIES.

For the writers of THE BIG SHORT, it was a split decision on meeting their real-life inspirations: Randolph “didn’t want [those people] in my head” while writing, but McKay had to meet the actual folks to help his work as director. McCarthy and Singer also relied heavily on research for SPOTLIGHT, spending six months interviewing anyone and everyone to help construct their story about the Catholic Church’s abuse of power in Boston. Both SPOTLIGHT writers praised the journalists who are the film’s core for their collaborative efforts, and their help in shaping scenes up until filming began.

Since their scripts were not based on real people, both Nagy and Goddard were thankful for the freedom that their fictional source material offered. For Nagy, who kept only the basic characters and ending from Patricia Highsmith’s novel THE PRICE OF SALT, having the freedom to craft Carol and Therese’s story totally on her own was invaluable. Likewise, Goddard, who has a long resume of TV credits, said that not having to rely on expository dialogue, as is often the case in TV, allowed him to craft his characters based only on their actions in the film.

For the rest of Kate’s take on the event, go here.

Variety’s 10 Screenwriters to Watch (2015)

November 25th, 2015 by

Out yesterday. Here’s the list with links:

Emma Donahue

Josh Golden

Jonathan Herman

Mike Le

Meg LeFauve

John Pollono

John Scott III

Bryan Sipe

Alice Winocour

Yared Zeleke

I encourage you to check out each writer’s page in the Variety article. Nice background on each and some insight into their creative process.

For my 2014 interview with Josh Golden, go here.

Also I’m in the middle of a rolling email Q&A with Mike Le which is super interesting. Look for that in early 2016.

Congrats, writers!

“Agents’ Advice for Young Screenwriters: To Begin, Be Great”

November 26th, 2014 by

The advice to writers — Be Great! — may seem it comes from the Obvious Agency, but it’s worth remembering. A bit more insight from this Variety article:

The glory days of the spec script selling for millions are long gone, according to Julian Rosenberg, Circle of Confusion literary manager and producer. “There’s less development money out there and studios are looking to tighten their belts,” he says. “They aren’t looking to go out and acquire seven specs a month and see what works. They’re looking for movies.”

They’re looking for movies. I have a writer friend who says that. “Don’t write a script. Write a movie.” What’s the distinction? In the context of the comment above, give the buyers something they can see as a movie. Not developed for two or three years, but ready to go. Tall order, yes. But with “less development money” around, it’s becoming an increasing reality.

Verve agent Tanya Cohen, who specializes in burgeoning writing careers, says the spec now escorts the author down a different path.

“Once in a blue moon, you’ll find that script that sells for a million dollars: the one with the great hook, or the four-quadrant tentpole movie,” Cohen says. “But to be honest, really breaking these young voices, we’re having a lot of success with stuff that’s a little ‘left-of-center.’” A lusty Catherine the Great epic, for instance, or a Carl Sagan biopic.

In both cases, she says, “the execution of the writing, a writer with a really unique, fresh voice, is what seems to be getting everyone excited.” The Catherine scribe was offered a job adapting a young adult novel for Warner within a matter of weeks, while the team on the Sagan biopic sold a tentpole pitch to Fox. Their original works may never get made, but opened doors for them.

…the execution of the writing, a writer with a really unique, fresh voice, is what seems to be getting everyone excited. This combined with a “little ‘left-of-center'” suggests there’s an interest in writers who are more different than similar.

Also note that the two writers discussed above did not sell their calling card scripts, but used them as writing samples to get into the room and pitch themselves. Worked in both cases. This speaks to the value of a spec script, not only as something that can sell, but also sell the writer.

Bottom line: Each of us has to aim to write a great script.

For the rest of the of the article, go here.

Video: “The Seamless Look of Birdman”

November 6th, 2014 by

Birdman is a fantastic movie for multiple reasons, one of them being a central narrative conceit: Make the story look like it is one continuous shot. Variety’s Tim Gray interviewed digital colorist Steve Scott to explain how they did it:

It’s an amazing piece of artistry, but that’s only part of the brilliance of Birdman, a story that manages to be a comedy, drama, satire, and fantasy, all at once… and work. The writing is great, the acting superior. You should definitely Declare Your Independence and go see this movie in theaters NOW!

HT to First Showing for the link.

UPDATE: Check out this ‘trailer’ for the 1992 ‘movie’ Birdman Returns:

That’s pretty awesome!

On The Rise 2014: 13 Screenwriters To Watch

August 21st, 2014 by

Although I’m not personally a fan of these type of lists — seriously, how does one determine who is on / not on the list — the fact they shine a spotlight on particular screenwriters is, I think, a net plus for screenwriting in general. The latest entry comes from The Playlist (Indiewire). The thirteen writers on their 2013 list:

Matt Charman
Lucinda Coxon
Morgan Davis Foehl
Lisa Joy
Dennis Kelly
Barbara Marshall
Olivia Milch
Tess Morris
Patrick Ness
Justin Simien
Andrew Sodroski
Polly Stenham
Oren Uziel

The feature does a nice job providing an extensive overview of each writer. Obviously I can’t quote them all, but here is one as an example:

If screenwriting is a wildly male-dominated field, genre screenwriting is doubly so, but Lisa Joy is one of a number of writers who look to be causing a minor revolution in the next few years. Joy (or, to give her full name, Lisa Joy Nolan: she’s married to “The Dark Knight,” “Person Of Interest” and “Interstellar” writer Jonathan Nolan) started out in the corporate world (she worked for Universal Studios for a while), before returning to law school. Having written poetry for years, she took up screenwriting in what little spare time she had, and just as she started work with the firm that funded her tuition, a “Veronica Mars” spec she’d penned saw her offered a job on the writing staff of Bryan Fuller‘s cult show “Pushing Daisies.” Though she had several years of what she describes as “indentured servitude” at her employers, she followed her dreams, having to pay back her tuition in one chunk almost immediately, but was soon at work on ‘Daisies,’ racking up four credits before the show was cancelled in 2009. Joy didn’t skip a beat, moving over to spy favorite “Burn Notice,” eventually becoming a co-producer on the show’s fifth season. Joy left after that, having co-written a pilot with Fuller (who soon went on to run the exceptional “Hannibal“) called “Mind Fields,” about reclusive, romantic scientists, and also developed a show at Fox called “Headache,” based on her own graphic novel, published the previous year, about a young girl who turns out to be the embodiment of the goddess Athena in the present day. Neither project moved forward, but another TV show did: Joy and husband Nolan co-wrote the upcoming HBO series remake of “Westworld” for J.J. Abrams Bad Robot with a stellar cast including Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, Thandie Newton, Jeffrey Wright and Miranda Otto rounded up for the pilot. After that project sold, Joy became pregnant with her first child, but used the time to pen spec script “Reminiscence,” a sci-fi noir about a man who runs a service allowing them to relive their memory. It’s a terrific read, and became an immediate hot property when it went out to executives: it placed tenth on last year’s Black List, and became one of the biggest spec sales of the year when Legendary Pictures picked it up for a whopping $1.75 million. There’s been no news on the project since, but Joy’s going to be busy regardless: she’s writing the female-centric “Spider-Man” spin-off for Sony, which is targeting a 2017 release, and will be showrunning and executive producing “Westworld” if it moves forward.

You can learn a good deal about these writers from the article. Plus it notes many other writers in a More Screenwriters To Watch section.

For the rest of The Playlist list, go here.

As it turns out, I have interviewed several of the writers featured in the article. Links to those interviews below:

Stephany Folsom

Lisa Joy

Stephanie Shannon

Chris Sparling

And for further reference, here are Variety’s “10 Screenwriters to Watch” lists from 2008-2013:

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

Night in the Writers Room: Comedy Panel

June 19th, 2014 by

Via Variety, a panel with TV comedy writers: Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town), Matthew Carnahan (House of Lies), Marc Maron (Maron), Rob McElhenney (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), and Matt Warburton (The Mindy Project).

“End of an Era for Daily Variety”

March 20th, 2013 by

Yesterday marked a transition point in Hollywood. Or perhaps not. Maybe Variety’s move to stop its print publication is simply an acknowledgement that the world has moved on. Excerpts from the LAT’s take on the development:

The decision shows that Daily Variety has had to grapple with the forces reshaping the industry it covers. Just as the entertainment business has had to adapt to changing media consumption habits, so have the outlets that cover it.

“They’re getting out of the buggy whip business,” said Stan Rosenfield, a veteran Hollywood publicist whose client list includes George Clooney and Robert De Niro.

So Variety is doing what all aging Hollywood stars do when they want to feel better about themselves: It’s getting an expensive makeover. The website has been redesigned and is now free to access. Starting next week, a revamped version of the 108-year-old weekly edition of Variety will make its debut.

The Hollywood Reporter already made the big move a few years back, shifting from daily to weekly publication and retooling its web presence. Of course, there’s Deadline.com, TheWrap.com, and many other online sources of coverage about Hollywood the so-called “trades” used to handle. So what will be the new Variety’s angle?

Whereas the Hollywood Reporter tries to appeal to both show business insiders and those who love the glamour of Hollywood — a recent cover story was about stylists to the stars — Variety plans to keep its coverage focused sharply on the inner workings of the entertainment industry.

I’ve subscribed to Variety for years, but confess I’ve relied on it less and less with my Twitter feed giving more focused information on a more timely basis.

What about you? Will you miss the daily print version of Variety? Are you happy you can now access it free online? Will their shift change how you go about getting news about Hollywood?

And while we’re here, a question: How do you go about sourcing information about the movie business? What are your go-to resources. Perhaps there are a few that some folks don’t know about.

For the rest of the LAT article, go here.

10 Screenwriters to Watch (2012)

November 29th, 2012 by

For the last 14 years, Variety has put an annual spotlight on 10 screenwriters to watch. Here are this year’s writers:

Patrick Aison

Reid Carolin

Derek Connolly

Katie Dippold

Bill Dubuque

Rajiv Joseph & Scott Rothman

Kelly Marcel

Ted Melfi

Chris Terrio

Ken Scott

For the other annual Variety lists I’ve covered since GITS started:

2008

2009

2010

2011