Cinequest – Filmmakers and Film Fans Celebrate – March 6, 2016 on LaLaFilm.com
Today’s Writers Celebration is one example of what’s happening in the Silicon Valley this week at the Cinequest Film Festival. No semiconductor nor high-tech company talk today – it’s all about movies, all the way to March 13th. Below are some of the highlights of the wisdom gained from the panelists.
Part 1 – The Business of Writing
The Panelists: Ari Zudkewich – Magnolia Entertainment, Brad Rosenfeld – Abrams Artist Agency, Larry Shapiro – Luber Roklin Entertainment, Madison Wickham – Grandex Productions, Jordan Dershowitz – Grandex Productions
Moderated by Scott Sublett, Professor of Screen Writing/Film Studies – San Jose State University
There were so many tips for new and upcoming writers given. Turns out it takes a lot of talent, tenacity and a bit of showmanship trickery to get you and your script noticed.
A way to get your script optioned is to do a pitch session (sales pitch for your script presented, for example, to an agent). Most writers are writers for a reason though, as they like to stay in the background. And they are better at expressing themselves on pages rather than in-person. There are exceptions though. If you can pitch your story well enough to the right person, then do that. Again, that’s a hit-or-miss, as all the stars must be aligned for you to get noticed by the right representation.
Studios like films that offer aftermarket sales, such as through merchandising with toys, T-shirts, or action figures. You’re not just pitching a film – you’re pitching a franchise. Studios pick the movies that get made but they generally don’t like to gamble. When crafting a story, create characters that moviegoers will want to spend 90 minutes or so with. Be genuine no matter what the genre of your film.
After you have written your script, rather than shopping it around, try producing it yourself. Then, you will have an actual film credit and it can help you pitch your next script. It can be low budget, but it could be proof to some producer that you have the talent to write a blockbuster. All career seekers use networking to get their next big break, and the film world is no different. As a writer, you can use your skill beyond just writing a script. Your writing ability can be used to create your brand, such as via clever tweets on Twitter that promote you and your film. Through social media outlets, and there are many, just take your pick, you can broadcast your own commercial. It just takes the right person to see it. Great content will be found.
James Franco is set to direct a film that is based on a story that was told in 148 tweets on Twitter by Aziah Wells. It seems there’s no better way to find new talent than through real-time social media. The audience’s response is already proven.
If your idea of being a writer includes sitting in your cubby space, cozy next to your cat with your hands rapidly typing on your laptop, then your script is unlikely to go beyond the bounds of your living room. Today’s scriptwriters need to be hustlers who will pitch, market and sell. There is no script to follow. You are in control of your brand, but make sure the character you create for yourself represents the role you want to play. It’s hard to reinvent yourself once you put something out onto the internet, as nothing is really gone forever. Erasers went out when we stopped using pencils.
Part 2 – True Stories
Dana Nachman (Batkid Begins, The Human Experiment, Witch Hunt)
Bettina Gilois (McFarland USA, Bessie, Glory Road)
Moderated by James Dalessandro (1906:A Novel, Citizen Jane, Petrsino)
As an accomplished writer himself, James Dalessandro not only moderated this session of the Writers Celebration, he offered insight into the topic of true stories, as well. Again, authenticity is key as James credits real people’s stories as having a greater appeal than those of fantasy. As Mark Twain once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”
As Bettina Gilois and Dana Nachman also proved, you can give a voice to someone’s story that should be amplified beyond their circle of friends and neighbors. And in some cases, you can present a good cause or have an impact that even changes someone’s life. Dana Nachman’s Batkid Begins is notable as the real life story of how one child’s wish, granted on the streets of San Francisco, ended up engaging the world’s heartfelt emotions. Bettina Gilois’ McFarland USA displays the struggles of some small town boys who could have easily been overlooked but instead became cross-country champions.
All of them stressed the importance of staying true to your core idea or theme while remaining flexible with the small details. Sometimes a script can be ripped apart critically only to be put back together into what could become a masterpiece. Pretesting an idea is done for products, websites, and even recipes. It’s hard to share a creation and hold it up for scrutiny, but if you want your audience to include more than you, then it’s a good idea to expose it to others to see what they think. After all, theaters hope you will have a willing and paying audience.
Lastly, James explained that this is a business of exaggeration. He cited Hitchcock who said that “drama is life with the dull bits cut out.” Be true to your character, your real life subject, but delete the boring details and use only what drives the point of the story.
If you are in the Silicon Valley area during the upcoming week, be sure to check out the other great offerings at Cinequest. Last Sunday, I attended the kickoff of the festival that featured James Franco receiving the Maverick Spirit Award. The Palo Alto held event ironically is the town where James grew up. For sure, this local boy made good. He’s a multitasking and multi-talented actor, director, writer, teacher, and on and on, showing there are no bounds with a bright and curious mind.