Wednesday, March 13, 2013


Last night, a friend sent me a link to a screenwriting seminar/networking event and asked for my opinion on it, and if I thought it was totally BS. I formed my opinion before even clicking on the link.

I am cranky, cynical and skeptical about all of these screenwriting seminars and networking events. Yes, they often have some decent speakers with solid credits who offer some useful information. But most attendees will not be networking with these people; they will be attending their lectures. The vast bulk of the meet and greet will be done amid desperate, aspiring screenwriters. I know that I am being negative here on one level but I have to think that I am being realistic. Yes, Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Paul Haggis got his first writing job by connecting with a classmate in an L.A. screenwriting class but that story is by far the exception rather than the rule.

I am reminded of the scene in Adaptation where Donald asks Charlie for money to go to a Robert McKee screenwriting seminar:
              (muffled by pillow)
          Screenwriting seminars are bullshit.

Kaufman pulls a copy of Variety, open to a photo of Margaret,
from under his pillow. He gets lost in the picture.

                    DONALD (O.S.)
          In theory I agree with you. But this one
          is highly regarded within the industry.

          Donald, don't say "industry."

Donald, now in the sweater, appears on all fours in the
doorway. Kaufman puts the paper back under his pillow.

          I'm sorry, I forgot. Charles, this guy
          knows screenwriting. People from all
          over come to study his method. I'll pay
          you back, man. As soon as I sell --

          Let me explain something to you.

          Yeah, okay.

          Anybody who says he's got "the answer" is
          going to attract desperate people. Be it
          in the world of religion --

              (indicating his back)
          I just need to lie down while you explain
          this to me. Sorry. I apologize.
              (lies down, stares at ceiling)
          Okay, go ahead. Sorry. Okay. Go.

          There are no rules to follow, Donald, and
          anybody who says there are, is just --

          Not rules, principles. McKee writes:
          "A rule says, you must do it this way.   A
          principle says, this works... and has
          through all remembered time."

          The script I'm starting, it's about
          flowers. No one's ever done a movie
          about flowers before. So, there are no
          guidelines, and that's good because --

          What about Flowers for Algernon?

          That's not about flowers. And it's not a

          Oh, okay, I never saw it. Go ahead.

          My point is, those teachers are dangerous
          if your goal is to do something new. And
          a writer should always have that goal.
          Writing is a journey into the unknown.
          It's not building a model airplane.

There is plenty of information to be had there but, for the most part, I don't hear about anyone making it in the film business as a result of going to a seminar. Most people make it by:

1)doing really well in film school + hustling really hard to get a foothold in the business
2)already having connections who are working in film
3)making an eye-catching low-budget indie film

The guy who directed the upcoming remake of the Evil Dead is from Uruguay. He got hired to direct this Hollywood feature film based on the strength of his five minute short that became a viral sensation after he posted it online.

Many big directors got their start on tiny, tiny films with budgets in the low-mid 6 figures  --- Bryan Singer, who does the X-Men movies, first made a splash with The Usual Suspects but before that film, he had a Sundance hit with Public Access which was probably made for $50K. James Mangold, who directed Walk The Line, Girl, Interrupted" and 3:10 To Yuma started out with a little indie called Heavy.

There are lots of paths that people take. Right or wrong (but backed up by years of research and tons of anecdotal evidence), I have always seen #3 as my path but there are even more options out there. I love to sit around and write screenplays but I also recognize that plenty of people (Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Woody Allen, David Koepp) have parlayed their success as writers into opportunities to direct films. I also put myself out there as a screenwriter. At this point, in my market, people know me via word of mouth/self-promotion. People often sometimes ask me to write for them and I do, hoping that they can put their film together, get it out there, be successful and find some recognition. So, screenwriting seminars and networking events? For now, no thanks, the next screenwriting seminar I go to will be the one where I am being paid to have people listen to me.