Larry Brody Department: Submit Your Script To The 2015 Portland Film Festival!

PortlandFilmFestCaptureby Larry Brody

The Portland Film Festival, Portland’s leading film non-profit – but not the Northwest’s because not only do we need know how “leading” is being defined in this situation but, hey, we’ve got the Port Townsend Film Festival, in Port Townsend, WA, the director of which used to live right across the street from yours truly (She didn’t move. I did. So it goes.) – wants everyone to now that it wants you/me/us to submit our scripts to it so that…well, I’ve got no idea what the submission is going to be for because the “Submit your script” page doesn’t say.

And, yes, I find this annoying. Because TVWriter™ and I personally are all about helping new writers find new opportunities to develop their talent and show it off and make oodles of $$$ or at the very least change their lives by feeling proud of themselves and what they do–

And I have no idea if the Portland Film Festival’s Submit your script (why aren’t Your and Script in upper case, I wonder) page is going to help with TVWriter™’s and my above stated goals.

Oh well, maybe someone can actually submit a script (or Submit a Script) and let me know?

The Portland Film Festival will run from September 1-7 of this year, and its website is HERE. On that page there’s a link with yet another spelling of the page to which you can submit your script, which is “Submit your Script” (see what they did there?), and  you can go straight there by clicking HERE.

Oh – the Portland Film Festival also wants you to “Submit your Film,” but from what I can tell isn’t spelling out exactly why about that either.

Nuff said.

Not by the Portland Film Festival but by me.




MAD MEN Boss Matt Weiner on Making It – and the Struggle Thereto

One of TVWriter™’s all-time heroes speaks in the new book Getting There: A Book of Mentors. (Which also includes a ton of other successful people, most of them not in showbiz, but still – you probably ought to buy it HERE…and no, clicking on that link won’t get us any money. Damn it.)

mad men stuffby Matthew Weiner

I remember studying Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s poem “Kubla Khan” in high school. According to Coleridge, upon waking from a deep, opium-induced reverie, he recalled a vision and immediately wrote the 54 famous lines. But when we started doing the poetic analysis, it became clear that there was no way this poem came out all at once. It has this amazing structure. We learned from letters and notes that had been discovered that it was likely Coleridge had not only worked on “Kubla Khan” for several months, but that he also sent it to friends for feedback.

Artists frequently hide the steps that lead to their masterpieces. They want their work and their career to be shrouded in the mystery that it all came out at once. It’s called hiding the brushstrokes, and those who do it are doing a disservice to people who admire their work and seek to emulate them. If you don’t get to see the notes, the rewrites, and the steps, it’s easy to look at a finished product and be under the illusion that it just came pouring out of someone’s head like that. People who are young, or still struggling, can get easily discouraged, because they can’t do it like they thought it was done. An artwork is a finished product, and it should be, but I always swore to myself that I would not hide my brushstrokes.

Writers were revered in my home and I wanted to be one since I was a kid, but when I went to college, I could not get into a writing class. I went to Wesleyan, a very small liberal arts school. The classes had only 12 to 15 people, and you had to submit writing samples to get in. Mine, apparently, were just not good enough. I was rejected from every writing class. I ended up convincing an English teacher to do a one-on-one independent poetry study with me. When I finished my thesis, I was extremely proud and wanted others to see it. I gave it to a humanities professor and he invited me to his house to read the work out loud. After the first poem, he told me to get out a pen and take notes. He began, “The infantile use of . . . The puerile . . . The childish use of . . . The cliché awkwardness . . . ” It was one humiliating cruelty after the next. And I had to write these insults down myself. I literally went through hours of this, poem after poem. He finally leaned over to me and said, “I think you know that you are not a poet.” I said, “I was not aware of that.”

While being battered always hurts, an important survival mechanism I’ve acquired over the years is to both thrive on rejection and hold on to compliments. Rejection enrages me, but that “I’ll show you!” feeling is an extremely powerful motivator. I’m at a point now where I’m afraid that if I lose it I’ll stop working. On the flip side, there’s nothing like a meaningful compliment from someone you respect. In my youth I was a miserable student and rarely did my homework. My fourth grade teacher once pulled me aside and let me have it. She said, “Talking to you is like talking down the drain; you don’t hear anything. You think you are going to make it through the rest of your life because you are charming. You think you don’t have to do all the work—but you do.” I remember looking up at her after this tirade and saying, “You think I’m charming?”

After college, I attended film school at the University of Southern California, where I finally started doing some narrative writing. There were contests for the films that the school would actually make, and my material was never selected. I finally said, “I am going to make a documentary,” and made one about the paparazzi. It stood out, and I became known for my editing skills and sense of humor. Upon graduation, I set up meetings everywhere in the hopes of getting a job. In three months I got nothing. I couldn’t even get a meeting with an agent.

So for the next three years I stayed home and wrote spec scripts. My friends had day jobs, but I didn’t. My wife, Linda, worked hard as an architect and supported us. I attempted to shop my material around, but nothing sold. I got very bitter, seeing people I didn’t think deserved it succeed. It was a dark time. Show business looked so impenetrable that I eventually stopped writing. I began watching TV all day and lying about it. My mother would call me to drive my brother-in-law to the airport. That’s the kind of crap I was doing instead of being a writer. I felt like the most useless, worthless person in the world.

Then one day I saw the low-budget movie Clerks. It inspired me to get off my ass and make my own independent film: a small, quirky comedy where I played myself—a failing screenwriter. I used my wife, my apartment, my car—basically everything I could to finish the film. Making that movie was a transformational experience. It had trouble getting into festivals and never sold, but I had set out to do something and had gotten it done.

A friend of mine from college had a pilot in the works that needed punch-up. Punch-up is a bunch of comedy writers sitting around the room making a script funnier. I didn’t even know there was such a job, but I got to drive onto the Warner Bros. lot and sit in this room with all these professional writers. It turned out that I was pretty good at it. Everything I said was included in the script, and that felt great. The showrunner came up to me afterwards and offered me $600 if I could stay through the end of the pilot. I was like, “Oh, my God. Yes. I’ll be here.” I would’ve done it for free just to be able to drive onto the lot again. That show quickly went off the air, but word had gotten out that I was funny. Another showrunner took me to lunch and hired me for his show. One job leads to another, but you have to start somewhere. It was my first paying job in show business and I was 30.

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Leesa Dean Tells Us About “Setting Web Series Goals”

goalsAdventures in Digital Series Land – Chapter 100
by Leesa Dean

So I’m deep in production on the new series. Last week I recorded and edited all the voiceovers. Actually did ’em twice.  First time around, something just wasn’t clicking. I raised the mike height, which gave me more room to physically act out while I was recording.  It made all the difference in the world.

This week I started lip-syncing. In case you don’t know what that is: it’s the process syncing the lip/head/jaw movements of an animated character so they correspond with a recorded vocal track.  Ever see really cheap Hong Kong movies from the 60’s and 70’s where the voice comes after or before the lip movements?  That’s cause the voiceover track wasn’t synced properly.

It is REALLY tedious and tough work that ultimately is incredibly  rewarding. At the end of the day, you get to see a character come to life. Which is very cool. But mostly, it just takes a long time to do. Yes, I’m back doing 14 hour days. Six days a week.

When I started, I found I didn’t have time to write afterwards which was killing me. After a full day of lip-syncing, I was drained, exhausted, plus it was late. I’m determined to finish a 30 minute spec pilot for a new series and was stressing that I’d have to back-burner it till I finished production (about two months away).

My solution: getting up earlier and writing every morning for 2-3 hours.  I’m not used that rhythm. I normally like to write a little later in the day. But guess what? I not only have I been making progress, but it’s helped me become more specific and goal oriented. With my writing, I mean. And it has given me LIFE!!

Right now, I’m doing the beat sheet (for those who don’t know, it’s a list of plot points). Because I have limited time, I forced myself to set a writing goal each day, which I’ve met. And because I only have a few hours, I literally can’t wait to jump into it the next morning. Every morning, it seems like I’ve been given a new opportunity to attack the script from a fresh perspective. It’s great. Nothing feels tedious anymore.  I just feel like I’m banging stuff out. Which I am.

Tomorrow I’m taking a break and going to the Tribeca Film Festival.  Can’t wait.


Great Martian War cap

Holy H.G. Wells, but this is brilliant!

This kickass lesson in video making is brought to you by PLAZMA

CRISTELA’s Creator gives her perspective on the show’s 1st Season

CRISTELA, created by Cristela Alonzo, is an ABC series that is – how can we put it? – so much better than its ratings that it makes us doubt the sanity, let alone the intelligent of U.S. television viewers. We think that ABC would be crazy not to renew the show, but we can’t say for sure that Cristela feels that same way. Here, however, is what she does feel about the show’s premiere season:

A Possible Goodbye: Cristela Season Finale
by Cristela Alonzo

Dear Supporters of Cristela,

Hi!  It’s April 17, 2015 and I find myself sitting in the middle seat of a full Southwest flight on my way to Nashville.  Tonight at 8:30/7:30 PM, ABC will show the season (and possibly series) finale of a sitcom that I put my heart and soul into.

I want to be realistic and honest about things.  I’m not sure if the show is coming back. It worries me and not because I want to be on TV more. It worries me because I think this show gives a voice to people that haven’t been given a voice before.

Cristela isn’t a flashy show. It’s not a slick single-cam that looks like it’s a movie shot on a weekly basis, it doesn’t have voiceovers telling you thoughts the characters are currently having and it certainly doesn’t use crass and edgy things to tell its stories.  That was my choice to not do any of those things.  I wanted to take a harder path, a path that really isn’t taken on TV anymore.  I wanted to make a TV show like the kind I grew up with, the kind that looked like a play, the kind that made the live studio audience we tape in front of, just as important as the cast because they are as important.

We shot twenty-two episodes of this show and yet hardly anyone knows we’re on the air.  The viewers we have are so loyal. They watch our show every week because they remember we’re on, not because we have so much promotion.

I know for a fact that the cast is so grateful to have had this opportunity.  We live-tweet the episodes every week and try to interact with the people watching the show because we want to. We want to be part of the experience with the people that are watching.

You know, it’s funny.  I never really pay attention to the criticism of the show.  The only time I hear any of it is when people tag my on social media, which I don’t understand why anyone would do that but whatever.  I guess since tonight could be the last episode of the series, I’ll address a couple of the criticisms and tell you why the show is the way it is. I’ll start with the most popular one:

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Herbie J Pilato Muses on MURDER, SHE WROTE

by Herbie J Pilato

murder_she_wrote_-_nvy_mens_3_3You never really want Jessica B. Fletcher to pay you a visit because, well, your life just might be in danger.

At least your fictional life…if you were a fictional character, as is Jessica, who was portrayed by Angela Lansbury, the ever-grand dame of the performance world, for 12 seasons on the classic television mystery series, Murder, She Wrote (CBS, 1984-1996).

As a professional mystery-novel writer and a (not really) amateur sleuth based in the fictional Cabot Cove, Maine, Jessica journeys the world conducting research or seminars, making personal appearances, attending conferences, hosting book signings, or just visiting colleagues, friends and relatives on the apparently very successful salary she earns as a writer (go, J.B.!).

Unfortunately, wherever she travels any one individual that comes within three feet of her parameter usually ends up six feet under. (Oh, no, J.B.!)

Be that as it may (or as they lay?), Murder, She Wrote remains landmark programming in the vast landscape of television history.

Produced by Universal Studios, Murder, She Wrote was created by Peter S. Fischer, William Link, and Richard Levinson (the genius writers behind so many other classic television shows, such as Columbo).

Murder, She Wrote was one of the last series to be produced as a nonprocedural program, with a beginning, middle and end to its storyline, which was wrapped up nice and neat (and yes, with a periodically-featured hug or smile between Jessica and a guest or semi-regular character).

Although the series would present the occasional two or three-part episode (as many shows have done since television’s inception), there were no continuous story arcs that would last an entire season (or throughout the entire series, as many such new programs do today).

And unlike many contemporary drama/mystery shows, the lighting was always bright, allowing viewers to actually see the actors performing (unless their characters were supposed to actually be in the dark of night, in a dingy, candle-lit room, etc.).

Two of the more popular semi-regular characters on the show were Cabot Cove’s Sheriff Amos Tupper, played by Tom Bosley; and Dr. Seth Hazlit, as portrayed by William Windom (both of whom have since passed away).

Bosley (not to be confused with the similar-in-look David Doyle who played a character named “Bosley” on Charlie’s Angels) was best known as Mr. C. on Happy Days, and later the lead in his own mystery show, The Father Dowling Mysteries)
William Windom was a renowned actor of countless films and TV shows, including the unique sitcom, My World and Welcome To It, the original Star Trek series, and numerous premiere anthology shows from the 50s and 60s.

On Murder, She Wrote, Tom’s Sheriff Tupper and William’s Dr. Hazlit were pivotal residence members in Jessica’s beloved home base of Cabot Cove, a cozy seaside community…which quickly began losing its population…apparently…because Jessica lived there.

In other words, the people of Cabot Cove were always getting killed off in the behind-the-scenes big-picture scheme of things because Jessica needed inspiration for her murder mystery novels. As the show continued, however, and became a massive hit, its writers needed to expand Jessica’s horizons – and their own creative mind fields.

And there is the rub…the conundrum.

While the Murder, She Wrote wordsmiths would mix things up a bit by frequently plucking Jessica from Cabot Cove, and sending her around the country and the globe, the charm and old-fashioned appeal of her hometown episodes were lost in the process.

Certainly, not every episode of the series could be based on Cabot Cove. That would be like Star Trek never allowing Captain Kirk to “boldly go where no (one) had gone before,” and just setting every episode on the Enterprise in constant “bottle shows” (as certain such Trek segments were known to be called). (I know: second Trek reference).

The countless non-Cabot Cove episodes of the series are indeed fine pieces of TV. But the viewer can always count on the Cabot-geared stories to be some of the show’s best. Even segments like, “Indian Giver,” from 1987, which featured more on-location shooting than usual are optimum showcases; as the best Cabot Cove episodes were filmed and stationed on the Universal lot with fabricated interior and exterior sets (which merely added to the “cozi-feeling” and general presentation).

Some Cove segments also later featured a stable of regular female friends of Jessica’s who she met up with at the beauty parlor (including the iconic Julie Adams, of Creature from the Black Lagoon feature film fame).

But without a doubt the essence of Jessica’s character and Murder, She Wrote in general rested in Cabot Cove, the small-town/community feel of which so intrinsically added texture to the ambience of the show’s core appeal. Ultimately, that is why the Cabot Cove-based segments remain superior.

So, in closing – the moral of the story analysis is this:

TV writers should always create a welcoming sense of community between all of the characters they create, be the characters stationed in one small town or in the large scale, transient big picture scheme of things.

Herbie J Pilato is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about him HERE.