Writers Guild Foundation – Breaking In At Any Age

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by Kelly Jo Brick

The Writers Guild Foundation recently partnered with the Academy Education and Nicholl Fellowship Programs for a special event on how to break into the industry as a writer of any age.

Panelists including Ronald Bass (RAIN MAN, ENTRAPMENT), Douglas Jung (STAR TREK BEYOND, CONFIDENCE), Peter Landesman (CONCUSSION, KILL THE MESSENGER), Meg LeFauve (INSIDE OUT, THE GOOD DINOSAUR) and Linda Woolverton (ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, MALEFICENT) shared their breaking in experiences and discussed the challenges up and coming writers are facing.

BREAKING IN

At the very beginning, there’s no pathway to this stuff. There’s no permission slip. It’s about understanding when an opportunity strikes and a door slithers open and really just not hearing no for an answer. — Peter Landesman

You just never know where it’s going to come from. It can be out of your hands in a certain way. I think that’s actually a good thing. — Douglas Jung

Do you want to write or do you want to be a writer? If writing is what you do and you’re excited about it, you get up early in the morning and you just lay it out there and you get to write, then you really got a shot. It will see you through it so many bad times, so many insults, so much failure, because you get to do it. If you hate doing it, but you just think you can make a good living doing it or get to hang out with actresses, have people know who I am or whatever, do something else. You’re doomed. — Ronald Bass

BUILDING YOUR SKILLS AS A WRITER

One thing that I got from film school that continues to help me still today is the idea of how to take criticism and how to give criticism. It seems like an easy thing to do. To have the skill set, to be able to do that and to separate your emotions and the natural defenses you have. That was really big. — Douglas Jung

How are you going to learn? You go and get 50,000 scripts of films you’ve seen and writers you admire. You read them and you steal them. You steal the ideas, the techniques, the decisions they made. That’s how you learn, because then you’re teaching yourself. — Ronald Bass

I think the best way to learn to write is to write as much as possible. Write eight scripts and write five, six, seven, re-writes of each of those eight, because by the sixth re-write you’re going to be like, “Oh, this is what I’m doing.” It’s going to take that many rewrites to even know what you’re doing. And read as many scripts as possible. That is the ground zero of learning to be a writer, doing it and writing and reading as many scripts as you can. — Meg LeFauve

TAKING MEETINGS

It’s really important to be curious about the world and to have a hunger. What’s in this room that’s drawing your attention; that makes your brain light up? That makes me think that you’re more than just this particular story you’re telling me right now because you’re trying to impress me. Is this a person who has a fluid mind? Are you hungry and want to know more about the world and tell a story about it? That person I want to be around, I want to share the energy of that human being. — Linda Woolverton

The best thing as a writer is if you can engage that executive in a conversation. You have to stay open in that meeting and not just walk in and be, “I’m pitching my story,” because it will flow and move around. They’re going to ask you questions. If you stay open and be honest about what you’re interested in and passionate about, you’ll find someone like-minded. — Meg LeFauve

PITCHING

It’s an absolute skill we should be teaching in classes, because you have to feel the room, you have to feel your audience. I did a lot of performing for kids. The performances for kids really helped me with the pitch, because I can feel, with kids, they don’t care. I have to keep them, I have to lower my voice, get them to lean forward. All that stuff I use when I go out to pitch. — Linda Woolverton

You have to be genuinely enthusiastic with the story you’re telling. You have to find the part of it that you love and the part of the performance that you love. You have to say it a million times to yourself so that you can say it in a very relaxed, conversational way, but you know, like a performer, where the notes are, you know where you want to hit it and really make them believe you love it, because you do love it. If you don’t love that story, don’t go in and pitch it. — Ronald Bass

A pitch is like a song and it’s gotta be musical. Leave your notes at home, I beg you. Here’s the thing, you have a few different versions of the song in your head. If it’s a warm room, you do the opera. If you gotta get the hell out of there because it’s bad, you do the one minute ditty. — Peter Landesman

WRITING AT ANY AGE

If you’re older, the bar is really high in terms of your work. It has to be really, really good, because it’s a young industry. They like young voices. They want freshness, but if the work is great, they don’t care. — Meg LeFauve

Screenwriter is my fourth career, directing is my fifth. And I found that I just rattle less easily about little things. I get nervous less. I have children and perspective and I’ve seen death and I traveled all over the world professionally before I became a screenwriter. I think it’s like anything else, it’s perspective and context. Everybody in the industry wants to feel safe, meaning they’re safe in your hands, you know you’re safe in their hands, they’re safe with story, they feel safe because they think you know what you’re doing. I think that level of maturity is an exponential additive to that. — Peter Landesman

CREATING A STRONG NARRATIVE DRIVE IN YOUR SCRIPT

What does character want and what is the hurt that is driving it?  What are in the obstacles in the way of it? What are they going to learn about themselves in the process that’s going to move us as an audience that we can relate to? — Linda Woolverton

The most important thing a writer needs to do is understand what their story is. What they’re dying to say about their world, their life, about living. If you can find that, then that will inject whatever you write with the kind of energy that is musical and infectious and good. — Peter Landesman

What are you afraid of? Push into the script where you feel the most resistance, because there might be amazing juice under there. — Meg LeFauve

RE-WRITING

You have to expect that the story that’s in you is going to take ten drafts, so get going. You’ve got ten drafts to write before it starts to really get good and gel. — Meg LeFauve

There’s an internal clock that tells you when you’re not really changing it in a way that’s improving the script for you and it’s kind of where you want it to be. Keep writing new scripts also. If you write several different things, you will learn, you will have more ideas, more things to sell, more confidence as a writer. Too many people stop at the first thing or the first two things and don’t keep generating new ideas. — Ronald Bass


The Writers Guild Foundation regularly hosts events that celebrate the craft and voices of film and television writers. To find out more about upcoming events, go to wgfoundation.org.