Thursday, January 19, 2006


Writergurl from Atlanta had an encounter with Ilene Chaiken from the L WORD. It got me thinking about a post on meeting celebrities. (NB: I am assuming that you aspire to work in Hollywood, or with someone who does.) I know, I know, I'm a cannibal. I'm pulling this from a post I made on her blog….
Rule #1: Have a plan. If you are going somewhere specifically to run into someone do some research: the name of the company (if the celeb has one), the names of execs and assistants at the company, the studio or network the company’s deal is at, the agency the celeb is repped by, etc.. Once you know why you want to talk to the celeb, things will make more sense. I’m going to do a post on this later as well.

Rule #2 Be a peer, not a fan. You will not become friends with this person. Forget that. It happens, but it’s like winning the lotto – you can’t tell your landlord that’s how you’re paying this month’s rent. If you admire and just want to gush, go ahead, but usually, talented people know they are talented. They appreciate the adoration, but after a while it becomes part of the background noise. They’ll notice it when it’s gone. Until then, compliments are great, especially when they are brief. In fact, probably the most awkward conversations are the ones with people are merely fans, not with other filmmakers who are interested in gaining insight into the business. After all, everyone enjoys the company of their peers. Some celebs do like people to gush over them or feel slighted when you don’t, you’ll know who those are as soon as you see them. There are also a good number of younger celebs who expect it, demand it, and misbehave if they don’t receive it. Be ready for that too. The people who are most likely to impart some wisdom to you think of themselves as craftsmen. They work. All the time. And that’s a good thing to learn.

Rule #3: Obey conventional rules of courtesy, but don’t forget your plan. Introduce yourself. Have a business card with your basic contact information ready. Be prepared to ask for and write down any contact information from your celeb. Have a specific comment about some aspect of craft you appreciate in his/her work (e.g. if your celeb is an actor, “You always find such interesting business for your character work.” If your celeb is a director “I dig your compositions because of the way you use blocking to describe the frame, is that a happy accident or do you do it intentionally?”). Don’t rely on things you (and he or she) can read in a review. This speaks to your craftsmanship, your level of understanding. Keep the comments brief, you don’t want to be one of those geeks who gets off talking about frame rates, (unless the celeb is also a geek), but you do want to show that you are talking the work seriously enough to study it.

I don't advocate stalking celebrities, however, YOU, as an audience member, support their lifestyle. It's sort of like you voted them into office. They aren't demi-gods, or even policy wonks for that matter. When they aren't on-screen they are just civilians, like the rest of us. Get your money's worth. Don't be rude or crazy, but don't forget to get your hustle on either. Think of it like Telemarketing - you are constantly cold-calling to sell your product. You can't give up because the customer is hostile, rude or holier-than-thou. Move on to the next name on the list. You do have a list, right? :-) You don't want to come across as someone to avoid, but you do have to start somewhere. So, if George Clooney was nice to you at a party, or you miscredited your favorite writer to her face, big deal. Show you understand the mechanics of what he/she does, the craft mastery that they demonstrate and you'll be fine.
Rule #4: Random sightings are a great occasion to pursue your questions because celebrities are off-guard and more likely to respond to you on a personal level. At a function, they have an agenda, even if it’s just to get through the evening without talking to random yahoos.

Rule #5: The follow-up is easy – if you asked a craft question, it’s fine to send a short note/postcard reiterating your gratitude for the time, reminding them of the event (not “I was the guy in the purple paisleys” but more “I met you at Sundance at the Skyy Vodka party”); if you asked if someone at the company would read your script, contact the office for a release form, and let them know you were specifically told to submit. Get to know the assistant, receptionist (I’ll write a little bit more about this later). If you asked for comments on specific agents and managers, send a thank you note, and be sure to follow up if you do have success getting representation or a read (e.g. “Last year you told me Bender Spink was a great place for baby writers, you were right!”) spread the news. Updates are nice. Some people toss ‘em, but some people don’t.

Remember: it’s a numbers game. The more at-bats you’re up for, the more chances you have to hit the ball….

Good luck to you. Send me questions, or comments. I’m new at this, so your help is appreciated by me!

Thursday, January 12, 2006


That is from one of my favorite crunk blogs. And it describes how I feel today.

OK, I've got issues. I know it. But you spend any amount of time in this business and trust me, you'll end up with issues or a drug problem. Maybe both. So, before I decided to leave the world of the studio and cast about in the darkness as an indie writer/producer, I knew what I was giving up and what I was (hopefully) gaining. Maybe the biggest thing I left behind was sitting through meetings begging for non-White writers, directors, actors, and crew. I'm a fighter. If I believe in something I will (and have) gone down in FLAMES. I know if I were to back off and sweet talk "you catch more flies with honey" and all that crap. There is still a LOT of prejudice and misinformation and, in general, ignorance to deal with on a daily basis. What's a sista to do?

I'm not saying that there aren't wonderful people in Hollywood whose life experience has either not included race-coding everyone they meet, or has led them to a life of inclusion. I'm not saying that at all. In fact, most of my friends are people who have a clue.

There are, however, a number of people who don't have a clue, don't want a clue, and/or aren't even aware clues are necessary. Those are the fools who boil my blood every gotdang day. It helps if you have a strong support system, or just stay out of mainstream Hollywood altogether and just do you. I want to make big movies, though, so that doesn't really work for me.

When I feel like this I try to stay away from everyone. I return a minimum of phone calls, dig into my reading, focus on telling the stories that I want to tell, that I think will help or change or illuminate things. Because that's why I'm here. Not to go to parties, and hang out and know celebrities, I'm here because there's nothing more exciting than to see something you fought for -- two characters from different cultures bridging the gap, a man and a woman resolving their conflicts -- put up on a big screen, diffuse through the culture and create a hunger for difference and understanding in the lives of people everywhere. It's a lofty, silly goal. I know. I remember when I was in college a girl a few years ahead of me was graduating. She was from an extremely wealthy family and I asked her what she planned to do after school. Her reply? Move to Italy to learn how to make glass beads. I was floored. Glass beads? Black people have real concerns, WTF? How was this heifa gonna throw away her parents' money and go make some dang glass beads. Not for a living. Clearly.

Those glass beads have stayed with me. They inspire me to dream, a little, but mostly they get me through those inane, ignorant meetings. There are plenty of people in Hollywood who came from nothing and need to make it. There are also a lot of rich kids who are here making glass beads. Learning to tell the difference, Ah, there's the thing.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Screenplays, writing, storytelling and a little black tape recorder...

I was reading one of my favorite blogs tonight, Complications Ensue: The Crafty TV and Screenwriting Blog. and he was talking about telling the story out loud. This is very important, especially for writers who are still trying to establish themselves in the business. I'm going to repost a comment I submitted there (cheating, I know, but I've got some writing of my own I need to get done!).

Practice telling the story into a tape recorder like you are telling it to a member of your audience (e.g. if it's kid's movie, you're talking to a kid, if it's for young men, etc.) and then listen back. Usually if it's working, the listenng back part is great, if it's not, you will immediately scream for mercy, beg for release from your pain, and then once the slosh in your stomach has settled down, you'll narrow down the problems and get back to work.... :-)

Fundamentally, we are in the storytelling business. If you can't track down a member of your target audience and get them to listen to you recount the the story no one will buy your script. Also, if you don't know who your audience is, this the time to find out. People often worry that someone will steal their idea. It's a legit concern, but it really doesn't happen as often as you'd imagine, and you're only under threat of theft from someone who is unscrupulous and also a writer -- better to find out how to sniff those people out early.... That's my view anyhow.

On New Year's Eve, I also had an interesting conversation with a writer about getting work when all of your latest "samples" were written under contract and you can't show them to anyone.... More on that one in a bit, I'd planned to follow some sort of orderly progression, but I also like to keep up with the blogosphere when possible....