Bri Castellini: Dream Bigger – @brisworld

by Bri Castellini

A few months ago I did a podcast called The Other 50%- Women in Hollywood, hosted by Julie Harris Walker. As you can probably guess, it was on the subject of being a woman in the entertainment industry (and relentless self promotion). Near the end of the podcast, Julie asked “what’s your big dream?”

“Honestly, just to be able to support myself with my art.” I told her. “Whether that’s in the independent sphere, creating my own production company and running it like that, or getting to be a staff writer or a showrunner on a TV show. I want to be able to not have a day job, to not have to worry about side hustles and freelancing and stuff like that. To be able to say ‘I am a professional filmmaker’ and be able to live a simple existence.”

After a pause, she responded “You can dream bigger.”

I’ve been thinking about this exchange a lot recently. In the podcast I joked “is that not bigger?” because at the moment, it feels insurmountable. Last weekend I discovered $45 in my checking account while applying for a job that would pay me $20 to read a few sentences on camera. Thankfully I had savings for this exact purpose, and thankfully my job at Stareable is slightly more stable now, but it scared me a lot.

I have not been shy these past few months about what a rough time I’m having recently, and part of that has been me rethinking every decision I’ve ever made. It’s easy to make jokes in college and grad school about how I’m gonna be famous any day now, about how if I work hard I’ll make it in the art world. But the likelihood of that is so, so slim and there’s no way for me to determine whether I’m actually on the right path or not, because there IS no right path. It’s not like becoming a lawyer- there aren’t necessary steps (college, LSAT, law school, BAR, the rest of your life). You just kinda…. do a bunch of things and hope something eventually connects.

Daydreaming about fame and fortune is easy, but actually making that happen is hard, and it’s scary, and it seems insane, especially when I have to decide what ply of toilet paper I can afford to buy this week. I love my work at Stareable, and I loved my job at MTV, but sometimes I have to remind myself that I have two writing degrees and all I’ve ever wanted to do was tell stories. Five year old me didn’t dream about moderating a forum or casting a Southern Belle fashionista who currently lives in New York City. Five year old me dreamed of characters I wanted to hang out with, eight year old me learned about metaphors and how stories can mean more than one thing, thirteen year old me wrote a 35,000 word novel in a year, seventeen year old me only applied to colleges with strong creative writing programs, and twenty-two year old me moved across the country, away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known, with no plan except an acceptance letter to a graduate school that would teach me how to write for TV.

I’ve had tons of jobs, part and full time, over the past few years, and I’ve liked some of them quite a lot, and I’m incredibly lucky to have not had to work in the food and retail industries for long. But at the same time, every single one of them, at the end of the day, is not what I want to make a career out of. I write scripts while I’m waiting for emails, I film web series and movies on the weekends, I send query letters to agents, I consider moving to LA every other damn day, and I dream of the moment when my night and weekend work- which I spend equally as much time on as my “day jobs”- aremy day jobs.

I’m 25 years old. I feel old as fuck when I talk to my four-time web series creator pal Jules who’s starting college in the fall, and I feel young and vibrant when I remember the eleven years separating me and my pal Pablo who just created his first web series last year. Plenty of people were successful at ages far below my own, and plenty of people found their place in the world many years later, but I’m impatient, so the fact that I’m not already vacationing with Mindy Kaling is a constant thorn in my side. Dream bigger? I’m staring down the barrel of my empty bank account and a new job where SEO trumps stylistic comma choices. I just wanted to tell stories.

But ok. Dream bigger. Big dreams. What does that look like?

I want to work in a writer’s room for Amy Sherman-Palladino, Mindy Kaling, and Bill Lawrence. Eventually, I want to be the showrunner of my own show, probably about superheroes or zombies or ghosts. I also want to own my own indie production company, where I write, direct, and produce my own web series and short films with my friends without a network dictating every other word, and help produce their content as well. If that part of the business takes off, I’ll leave traditional TV behind forever, but I’m perfectly happy doing both.

I want to build a life where my success means the success of the people I love and respect. I want to give my actors a platform to experiment and show their chops, I want my writer friends to write without worrying about budget, I want my camera, sound, and tech friends to get to consistently work on supportive, well-run sets, and I want to make a living from it. I used to hate group projects, as most of you can probably sympathize with. But when I started filmmaking, a funny thing happened- I realized it wasn’t people I hated, or working in groups. It was working with people I didn’t choose who I didn’t respect and who didn’t respect me back.

I don’t know if that’s big enough, but today it feels like Everest, so today it’ll have to do.


Bri Castellini is an indie filmmaker and Community Liaison at Stareable, our favorite web series hub. This article was originally published on her blog! Watch Bri’s award-winning web series, BrainsHERE!

“WHAT-IF” PHENOMENA

by David Perlis

 

“What-Ifs” are big these days. Maybe they always were. What if we had lost WW2? (Man in the High Castle.) What if plummeting fertility rates threatened our society? (The Handmaid’s Tale.) What if 2% of the human population suddenly vanished. (The Leftovers.) One of my professor’s at UCLA lauded the What-If. “That’s your hook,” he’d say. No arguments here. I’m convinced. But I’ve decided there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it. Here’s the issue: What-If’s are often about building worlds—but drama is about building characters.

Doing it Wrong

I had high hopes for last year’s The Lobster. From the trailers, it looked right up my alley. Here’s the hook: “What if singles were rounded up, and forced to find a partner, else they be turned into animals?” It’s almost Kaufman-esque with its magical absurdity. I loved the concept—but found the movie a total bore. Why? It spent more time building a bizarre world than it did giving me a character I actually wanted to follow around for an hour and a half. The stakes were high. The whimsy was spot on. But I never felt engaged with this world from the POV of a unique character who helped bring the concept to life. Why was I following this guy, and how did this world affect him in some meaningful way? Frankly, I just felt stuck on the ride, and I wasn’t impressed. Some will be quick to say, “But it was nominated for Best Original Screenplay!” Yup—and maybe if it had characters to care about with unique needs, it would have won.

Doing it Right

I’m a big fan of graphic novelist, Brian K. Vaughn, first stumbling upon his brilliance with his epic space opera, Saga. But before that gem, he wrote a What-If called Y: The Last Man. The premise? “What if every man alive suddenly died—except for one.”

Now your protagonist is clear—it’s the last man! And every protagonist must (absolutely, must!) have a dramatic need. What does our last man want? It’s absolutely brilliant. In a world where he is the only man left, his big quest is to reunite with his girlfriend, who is halfway across the world, and doesn’t even know he’s still alive.

And from this need, Vaughn creates a world that opposes our hero again, and again, and again.

Here’s another What-If, which focuses less on building a re-imagined world, but still creates the right character for the journey: What if the world were literally controlled by evil corporations? (“Dude…that’s not a what-if…that’s reality.” Again, no arguments here—but that’s really another post altogether.) Anyway! Sam Esmail’s Mr. Robot doesn’t work because he created a world based around the Evil Corp concept—it works because the protagonist is a socially anxious, schizo hacker, bent on fighting it.

I’ve been slacking on my homework, not having yet watched The Handmaid’s Tale, but I read the book, and I’m just guessing the show has a spot-on start, with the POV of a Handmaid. And The Leftovers? I just re-upped my HBO account yesterday to see how they’re tackling that one. Frankly, I’m not yet sold on their angle (Justin Theroux’s copper, What-his-name), but I’ll give it a chance, and save my praises or my boos for another post, another day.

Here’s your super surprise shocker-ending to keep you all going “ooooo!” I’m working my own What-If. Won’t disclose it here, but just know, it’s an awesome idea—or, it will be, once I find the right character to tell the story. Stay tuned.


David Perlis is a screenwriter and former People’s Pilot Finalist doing his best to break into the even Bigger Time. This post first appeared on his very helpful blog.

Troy DeVolld’s Reality TV Pro Tip Grab Bag

by  Troy DeVolld

Hi, all.  Gee whiz, it’s been a while… I feel like a ghost on my own blog.

Thought I’d pop by with a grab bag of pro tips that aren’t long enough for their own features, but that have been hard-won lessons along the way.  Enjoy.

A 44-minute docusoap typically keeps its pace best at 12-15 scenes.  Don’t overload it.  More is not more.  More is too much.

You can’t tell five stories in an episode with a cast of five people.  People can participate in others’ stories, but it’s best to keep to an A,B,C and maybe single-scene D story.  Yes, if you have a one-scene nonsequitur moment that you want to use (maybe because it’s funny), it probably belongs at the top of Act 2.

Get somebody in the room who hasn’t seen the edit to watch down your rough cut.  You know the material and your brain fills in the gaps in logic and story based on that familiarity.  Let fresh eyes that you don’t have to answer to get a look.

Stick up for the show, not just your ideas.


Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy, former senior story producer of Dancing with the Stars, and all-around true master of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

Unblocking John Ostrander!

 

Do you recognize this man? How about his name? Does it mean anything to you? Just wonderin’….

by John Ostrander

A sad fact of a writer’s life is writer’s block. That’s when you sit down and look at the blank page or the empty screen and go “I’ve got nothin’.” Some form of that can happen every time you start to write. The really bad version can go on for a long time, maybe for years. Not only do you not have an idea, you feel that you can’t write, that you could never write, that you will never write, and what the hell were you thinking when you thought you could write.

There are things you can do when the malady strikes, some less useful than others. Crying, swearing, cursing, screaming are all options but you eventually run out of energy and then you’re back at square one – the damned blank page or screen.

Not all solutions work for all people and what work’s in one situation may fail in another. That all said here are some things that I’ve tried that sometimes work.

Do not panic! Seriously, calm down. It only feels like life and death. You’ll write again. Relaaaaaax.

Do something else. Staring into the abyss (a.k.a. that blank page or screen) until you’re cross-eyed only hurts your vision. Go do something else. Something physical. I’ve been known to wash dishes when I get desperate. Go for a walk or a run. Don’t read, watch TV, play video games, text or call someone. You’re looking for something that will shift your mind into neutral. Something that will silence the chattering monkeys in your skull.

Work on something else. I generally have three or four different projects working at the same time. If I get jammed up on one, I’ll go to another. If I get jammed on all of them, I revert to the rule above. Play with a cat. If nothing else, it may amuse the cat.

Check the basics. If I stall out on a plot, it generally means I’m making a Writing 101 mistake. I haven’t done the basics regarding plot construction or building a character. I tell myself that I’ve done this for so long that I can skip a step or two. That’s hubris talking and hubris is a lying bastard. Or maybe I’m so late with the deadline I don’t have time for all that. Wrong again. When you’re running late you only have time to do it right once. Take the time. Do the work.

Write about it. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing here. I sat down to write this week’s column and had nothin’ so I wrote this column about having nothin’. A rather Seinfeld column. Seriously though, as a writer you put into words that which exists only in your mind and heart. It’s most likely will be nothing you will ever read again or show to anyone but the physical act of putting words – any words – down can be therapeutic. Yes, it most likely will be crap. Let it be crap. Write it and flush it.

Get paid for it. At one time, I thought I had a serious case of writer’s block. Had it for years. Nothing came, nothing worked. Then Mike Gold offered to pay me for a story (my first printed work, as it turned out). Boy Howdy, that block just evaporated. Funny how motivating a paycheck can be. Knowing someone will give you the real coin of the realm for your writing can be awfully encouraging.

I hope all this has been a little help to some of you but – hey, I’ve got this week’s column so I’m good.

See y’all next week.

Unless I hit a block.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Troy DeVolld’s Tips for Climbing the TV Success Ladder

by  Troy DeVolld

As a newbie to television seventeen years ago, I used to come in for a 7pm to 3am night shift in the late afternoon. When a producer asked me why, I said, “Because otherwise, you’ll never know who I am.” So began three straight years of employment.

A large part of success is hitting that sweet spot between simply busting ass and staying visible. Take cues from your superiors. If your boss is brassy and bold, he or she might enjoy you meeting them at that vibration. If your boss is super chill, take note of that and adjust your approach accordingly.

There’s also a third approach, which is figuring out who you are in the menagerie and playing that part well. I’ve been the “adult in the room” guy fairly often, balanced against bigger personalities and younger hires with a load of enthusiasm, but maybe in need of reassurance.

Personally, that’s how I like to staff. Kind of a rainbow sherbet of types. I don’t just want yes men/women, and I don’t just want bulldozers, as both types are valid and work just fine.


Troy DeVolld is a Larry Brody buddy, former senior story producer of Dancing with the Stars, and all-around true master of the reality TV genre. This article originally appeared on his Reality TV blog. And while you’re thinking about him, why not buy his book, Reality TV: An Insider’s Guide to TV’s Hottest Market?

The Most Complete Review You Will Ever Read of ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’

We’ve presented one view of War for the Planet of the Apes, and asAs longtime fans of writer/critic/thinker John Kenneth Muir, we’re very happy we found this one to pass along as well:

The Films of 2017: War for the Planet of the Apes
by John Kenneth Muir

(Spoiler Warning: Details of this film are extensively described below).

It is a welcome surprise to report that the new Planet of the Apes franchise has gone three-for-three in terms of quality.

This saga — consisting of Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes(2014), and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) — has proven to be a dramatic high-point of modern, reboot cinema.

In short, all three of these science fiction films are better, merely as stand-alones, than we have any right to expect, given Hollywood norms.

But the most delightful thing about the trilogy, as proven firmly by War, is that the series also coheres beautifully as overall tale, or large-scale narrative.

War for the Planet of the Apes not only dramatizes a satisfying and emotional story about Caesar, with resonant, and powerful characters all around, it also weaves the whole saga together in a successful, artistic manner.

And then, finally — with laser-like focus — it aims that saga straight on course for the 1968 Planet of the Apes film, which is set in a future 2000 years hence.

But here’s the thing of import:

I did not hope or expect for War for the Planet of the Apes to fit so ably into or establish the continuity of the original Apes franchise.

I did not even know, at this point, that I wanted such a thing.

I suppose that I am jaded or cynical enough about Hollywood, at this point, to have given up on that particular dream of an Apes continuation.

Yet War for the Planet of the Apes succeeds in forging that link, and it does so in ways that appear unforced, effortless, and smooth.

So War for the Planet of the Apes is a remarkable standalone adventure, a brilliant apex for the reboot trilogy, and, finally, the “perfect” bridge between the 1960’s and 1970’s Apes chronology, and this 21stcentury one.

To complete and contextualize the Gospel of Caesar — which is really what the three films amount to — War for the Planet of the Apes relies on antecedents such as the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, and the film, Apocalypse Now (1979).

But what truly makes this 2017 film remarkable, I believe, is not the “origin story” of the Caesar’s apes arriving at their home (a Garden of Eden beyond the Forbidden Zone-like desert), but rather the film’s sad, haunting commentary about the way that man loses his supremacy of the planet.

We live in an age of so much shouting, don’t we?

So much blind, stupid rage, and hateful yelling. It is an age not merely of hatred, then but loud, noisyhatred.

In War for the Planet of the Apes — as though punished by God for his wicked, savage tongue — mankind irrevocably, permanently goes silent.

This is apt punishment, given the nature of the film’s humans, particularly the villain played by Woody Harrelson.

I found this “fate” to be a terrifying but appropriate justice for man; for so foolish and self-destructive species.

With this film, the war is over, and man goes into that good night without even a whimper of protest.

We did it, finally, to ourselves.

War for the Planet of the Apes is the best franchise film of the summer of 2017, and one of the best pictures I’ve seen this year. It is the origin story of a people (the future apes of the Schaffner ’68 film) and simultaneously a poignant elegy for the human race….

Read it all at John Kenneth Muir’s blog

Peggy Bechko on Writing Without Boundaries

Um, it’s a map, without borderlines. Get it? An outline without boundaries.

 by Peggy Bechko

All right screenwriters, TV writers and writers of all stripes. Have you ever thrown all concepts of structure to the wind, all outlining directives out and just written something on the fly?

Really. I recommend it. For a while forget the novel ‘structure’, forget the 3-act structure. Forget all those rules and directives you’ve been told and have been following.

Just sit down with an idea and write…and write…and write.

Complete a short story, a script, a novel without restricting yourself.

Result might be great! Could be crap.

But here’s the thing. It’s a very freeing thing to do. I’ve done it many times and many times from that effort sprang a published book or in a couple of cases an optioned script. Yes, I had to go back to tweak the said piece of writing.

I had to do a thorough edit and find all the places that things kind of went off on a track of their own. But the core was good. It was solid and the story great. And I was winging it the entire time through the first draft. Whohoo!

Only notes I had were ones I’d made along the way that let me keep track of characters, what they were doing, their appearance, their goals. No outline other than a rough sketch of a story idea that evolved as I wrote. Writing this way made the characters clearer in my mind. The story fell into line with what was, for me, amazing ease. This is the ultimate spill your guts onto the page with no restriction.

In the end it might not be something you can use. But, then again, it just might. And writing like this is a way of breaking all the rules and opening up new gateways for yourself. It’s a draft after all. And remember the first draft is usually (I know, some say always) garbage. But the first draft really is the place it all begins. It’s where the story is hung from sturdy limbs. And the characters step out from cardboard cut-outs into real live people with pasts, problems and desires.

Seriously. When we begin writing at the start of our careers we look for all kinds of tips and hints. We might hook up with a mentor. We search the web now for all sorts of tips from all sorts of resources. After all that, sometimes it’s best just to take our idea, sit down and write!

All the help you got from a mentor, all those tips and helps you collected before will come together as you write.

It might not be the best way to go for every project. It would probably trip you up if you’ve been signed on to write for a series on TV or maybe a series of novels since a formula will be in effect. It might make you nervous, typing those first words onto a blank screen without an outline or whatever method you’ve used to prepare.

And I know a lot of writers will gasp in horror. (Am I looking right at you, TVWriter™ Bossman Larry Brody?) But, take it from me, writing like this can be an amazing tool.

When you’re done, when you reread, the flaws will jump out at you. After that, I’m willing to bet molding the story into the form it must have to succeed will be an exciting adventure.

Go ahead and try it. And don’t forget to leave some comments on how it went and what you think.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.