Monthly Archives: May 2012

One Fish Always Breaks the First Night


The longer I’m on twitter the more screenwriters I meet, both established and brand new.  Sometimes it astounds me how little the newbies know.  Instead of doling out resources 140 characters at a time I’m going to send them to this post.  I will update this post whenever there is something else I think they should look at.

NONE OF THE FOLLOWING IS GOING TO MAKE YOU A WRITE A GREAT SCREENPLAY but hopefully they will make you better.  If you read, pay attention, and practice they will help you understand screenplays and screenwriting better.

For more experienced screenwriters reading this, please let me know if there is something I should add.

Internet Resources is a search engine just for basic questions about screenwriting. has a ton of information about screenwriting from a current working screenwriter’s perspective. is an online news magazine on what’s happening in the business of film and television. has information, advice, news and listings of events, all geared toward  screenwriters. to learn about the union you will have to join if you become successful. By far my favorite internet resource is Go Into the Story which is the official blog of The Black List. (If you don’t know what The Black List is you must go to their website and click the about button.) Lessons on everything from dialogue to taking meetings can be found in the archives of this blog.  Start with this post and go on from there.

One of the greatest things I ever did for my screenwriting career is taking Jeanne Veillette Bowerman’s  Breaking in Outside of Hollywood webinar.  She opened the world of internet networking to me.

For Scripts for info on visiting the Writer’s Guild Foundation script library

Networking Sites

On twitter, I would recommend following a mix of established screenwriters and struggling artists like yourself.  Also screenwriting information feeds are great.

Here is a short list of @’s that regularly post advice or news to follow.

@Gointothestory @Jeannevb @Stage32online @johnaugust @thescriptlab @screenwritingU @theblcklst @scriptshadow

@scriptquack @LaFamiliaFilm @FluideyeFilms @onthepage @networkISA @writersguildF @scriptmag @bittrscrptreadr

@dannymanus @xanderbennett @unkscreenwriter

Books to Read

The Save the Cat books focus on making marketable Hollywood movies. Personally, I think Save the Cat is interesting but it doesn’t give the specificity and practical applications of its two sequels.

The Syd Field books are older but still talked about because of their focus on three act structure. The Screenwriter’s Workbook was my very first screenwriting book and did help me understand what all the other books were talking about.

Robert McKee’s Story is another staple in the industry.  Though most of the examples in the book are from movies Story is a book that does not focus on screenwriting exclusively but storytelling of every kind.  There is a lot of controversy over Robert McKee’s Story Seminar.  It’s a very expensive four day lecture with some audience participation.  I say if you have the money go.  I have attended and liked it very much. The first day is a  review of the concepts in the book and the following days are lots of knowledge.


Writers as Real as their Characters


This week, there’s been a flurry of writers who have shown that they are not lost in the facades that Hollywood is so great at creating.

I’m only going to highlight three of these writers ’cause I’m stingy that way.

Much like a kid, it usually takes about eight years before aspiring screenwriters really have a grasp on something of the industry world and their place in it.  We need advice. We need guidance. We need to know that there are people out there who believe in us and want us to do our best.

First, as the 2012 Newhouse Convocation Speaker, Danny Zuker, Executive Producer and writer on Modern Family, lays down Seven Rules from the Writer’s Room.

Listen to his entire speech here.   When in doubt about how to be successful or at least how not to stand out in a bad way apply these simple rules to all Hollywood jobs and life in general.

  1. Smell Pleasant (have good hygiene)
  2. Don’t be a Jerk
  3. Be The Hero (volunteer to go the extra mile)
  4. Don’t Pitch Problems without Pitching Solutions.
  5. Sometimes it’s OK to be Silent (take time to listen if you’re not contributing)
  6. Don’t get Married to Your Own Ideas
  7. No Clams Ever (have original ideas/take risks)

Second, Aaron Sorkin was the speaker at Syracuse University’s commencement.  His speech, which you can find here, was a little bit harder to summarize.

  • He teaches that you are just at the beginning.  You will fail but you must get back up again.  Even if you have strayed a long time, you can have a fresh start if you are not afraid to try.
  • Your life experiences are precious and you will use lessons from those experiences throughout your life.
  • Take risks, dare to fail.
  • Lift the human spirit by tolerance, kindness, and respect.
  • How you live matters.

Both of these writers hit on some of the same points.  Take risks.  Be a nice person.  The third writer I’m going to talk about is doing just that.

Scott Myers made an announcement this week that you can read here.  The Quest is a 24-week Screenwriting Master Class intensive in which four lucky aspiring screenwriters will get to attend for free.  This is an amazing thing for screenwriters as he is teaching and becoming a mentor and intermediary to the industry to four people.  He is risking his time, his connections, and his finances.  Why? Because he wanted to give more people an opportunity to succeed.  He’s being a good person.

To fully comprehend what The Quest could mean to the aspiring screenwriting community please take a look at the article that Bitter Script Reader wrote about it.

There are relatively few people who make it in this industry.  To have those that do share their knowledge is a great thing.  We thank you.


Neil Gaiman’s Commencement address to the University of the Arts is a little different perspective for students of all kinds.

It Only Hurts as Much as Childbirth


No, I haven’t had any kids but the faces the women make on those TLC shows look about right.  National Autoimmune Arthritis Day is this Sunday, May 20th.  So I thought I’d annoy you all with tales from the hurt locker.  I know that’s combat lingo and I’m legally 4F (at least according to my understanding from It’s a Wonderful Life) but I think it’s appropriate.

When I tell people I have arthritis they don’t understand what that means.  Many minds conjure up images of their grandma’s osteoarthritis with swollen fingers or knees worn down from years of usage.  Unfortunately, autoimmune arthritis is not your granny’s arthritis.

When I was 16 years old, I was at a  six-week math/science summer camp staying in a dorm at a community college not far away from my home.  One day, we took a break from classes and went to an amusement park for the entire day.  I had a great time walking around the park, riding the rides.  Happy from a day of sun and fun I strolled into my dorm room with my five roommates and closed the door.  Laughing on my way to put my things on my bed, a spear was suddenly trust down the line of my spine.  I screamed and I fell to the floor.  I was being sliced in half.  “Help me.”  The other kids just continued their conversation in full view of me.   I pleaded, explaining that I couldn’t move and they all said I was fine.  As I clawed and dragged my way to the bed, I wondered why no one was helping me and if this is what it felt like to die.   Minutes later, I had made it to the bed and did what has saved me a great amount of pain in my life.  I fell asleep.

They pain was on and off.  At the end of the camp, my evaluation concluded that I faked illnesses for attention and to get out of work.  I argued but it was put in that elusive permanent record anyway.  A few months, and just as many doctors later, I was diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and Spondoloarthropathy.  My body had decided that the fluid in my joints were a foreign body trying to invade.  It attacked those joints with the same force, and as much success, as the Ebola virus.   One half of my junior year and three-fourths of my senior year were spent in bed using my super power of sleeping through pain.

As an adult, I lived in remission for ten years.  Then, the joy of not noticing my body stopped.  When the remission first ended I was desperate to regain my independence and continue working.  I tried drug after drug.  When I was young the best thing they had was small doses of chemo therapy that I injected once a week.  Now, biologics are the rage.  Petri dish concoctions made of mice cells and drug companies profit margins.  Hours of sitting in a room hooked up to an IV getting an infusion that cost thousands of dollars an ounce.  My insurance was paying 10 to 20 thousand dollars a month for those drugs that healed my body but attacked my mind.

For months, I couldn’t read, write, or drive.  My mom had to be with me when I took a shower to make sure the dizziness didn’t land me ass up, sucking on the drain.  Facing these severe side effects, I became suicidal and was forced to choose between my mind and my body.  I chose my mind.

It took me months to accept that I wouldn’t be able to go back to work.  During the three years it took for my social security “government safety net” to kick in, I lived off my mom’s retirement fund.  After catching my mom crying over finances, I swallowed my shame and embarrassment about accepting food stamps.  I loved the freedom to buy food but I hated it as well.  My inability to move had contributed to me gaining 80 lbs.  I was thrust into the stereotype of a fat young black woman with no job on welfare.  I was angry.  I had always been a person who changed my situation if I didn’t like it.  But I had lost control.  Arthritis had taken it away from me. Took me almost four years and countless therapy appointments to accept where I am now.

I write and I sleep.  I try not to worry about not having any real arthritis meds to stop my body’s attack.  I try not to think of it spreading to my lungs, to my heart, to my eyes, like it has for other people with uncontrolled autoimmune arthritis.  I try to be grateful for getting pass the times when I didn’t want to go on.  The autoimmune arthritis online community has a couple of people each year that don’t make it through one or the other.  We mourn these people we only knew through pain and pray that things will get better for us all.

This is not your grandmother’s arthritis.  This is a disease with no cure.

I am 34.  My diagnosis is the dual arthritis of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylitis.  My dream is screenwriting, and my hope is understanding.

I’m the Pink Pineapple in the Relationship


I once went to a WGAF event where the speaker asked if anyone had ever felt like they were from an alien planet.  I raised my hand.  Surprisingly, so did a lot of other people.  Writers are weird.  I have accepted my weirdness as  part of me and embraced it.  I am convinced that a lot of my weirdness comes from having to grow up so fast ’cause I was smack dab in the middle of so many social issues.   The biggest area that this infection of weirdness has broken out on me is in my ability to make friends.

I read, a lot.  I used to choose what I read by what grade I was in.  If I was in fourth grade and your book was titled Tales of the Fourth Grade So and So, or The Fourth Grade Blank I devoured it off the shelves of my local library.  No matter what books I read, even the outcast kids always had a best friend. (Well, with the exception of Robert Cormier.  Compelling writer but that guy’s a downer.)  I never had a friend that came over to my place and vise versa until I was in college.

The first Friday night of Freshman year, I went into the hallway of my dorm and it was deserted.  The quiet was startling.  Because of my disability I had a single handicap accessible room and no one was forced to talk to me because they were my roommate.  I was so out of the loop that I had no clue as to where everyone went.  As I stood in the hallway contemplating the likelihood of a mass alien abduction where the gimps were left behind, another head popped out of a room far down the hall.  A tall blonde woman with a crooked nose (which I love that she loves) came out lamenting how she was surprised how many people went out to drink at house parties.  Of course, she had been invited but she was a “good girl” who didn’t believe in drinking before 21.  So that night, we went to the brand new dry dance club on campus and that’s where we were every weekend night (running the place since we were the only ones there) until they shut it down for low attendance.  Our senior year, we became roommates and continued to hang out after college.  For a short time anyway.

I don’t know what happened but a weird distance that had started to grow between us when we turned 21 became too much.  She started to drink socially on a regular basis and I was still dry, mostly because I can’t dance well when not sober.  A few months after graduation she stopped calling me back.  It hurt but I was used to being alone.  All these years later, I finally figured out it must have been because she thought I judged her drinking.  I didn’t care that she drank.  I just didn’t want to.  The one night I did decide to get drunk, I ended up crying on the bathroom floor of the club.  As I’ve noted before, ending up on a public bathroom floor is never a good thing.

When I moved to Los Angeles I left my family behind, knowing no one but a dude from my acting class who I drove across country with (a story of epic proportions that I will tell at a later date.) Being in LA I thought what the hell, I’ll change from writing prose to screenwriting.  Should be easy.  Yeah, I was stupid.  By the time I wrote my first screenplay, I was working as a courier on a studio lot.  I asked around about who I should give it to.  Unknown to me at the time, they sent me to the VP of film development’s assistant.

I gave her my screenplay and about a week later we met for lunch and she handed me back notes from a studio reader.  She had changed my name on it so I wouldn’t be passed on for life, which I am eternally grateful for.  The notes were three single-spaced pages telling me how much my screenplay sucked.  When I finished reading them I laughed.   The rage that came out in the writing of that reader because she had to read my crappy crap was hilarious to me (sorry reader, wherever you are.)  I had thought I was so great, but having my ego throughly pounded into the ground was a good experience.  She looked confused and relieved at the weird girl sitting across from her that was so jolly about getting a trouncing.  We ate lunch and talked about things I could do better.  I visited her office more and more during my lunch breaks.  I don’t remember exactly when I wanted her for a friend or when we started hanging out outside of the office, but I counted myself very lucky and wanted very badly not to screw it up.

Not being great at making real friends, I constantly worried that I would do something to get her to abandon me.   At work, I hid in the corner trying to be invisible when her boss was around, and almost got into a fight at Starbucks over a drink that she asked me to get for Leonardo DiCaprio.  (Ahhhh! That woman is stealing Leo’s drink! Doesn’t she know it’s Leo’s drink?!)  Outside of work, I monitored my phone calls and visits to her, constantly worrying if they were too much or too little.  When she caught me at it, it cracked her up.  She told me to relax and I did.

She has so many friends from all periods of her life that I didn’t think it would make a big difference in her life when I left LA headed home.  Then one night when I was crashing at her place on a visit she told me that she had been devastated that I had left her at that time.  I thought, What?  Me?  I’m weird, awkward and don’t know how to be a friend like the ones you’ve had for years. It made me feel super good that she was still my friend after I messed up so bad.  Also, I liked that she missed me even though I wish she had told me sooner.  I might have stayed.   Even though I still worry every once in a while that I will lose her, I feel blessed that she calls me her friend and I call her mine.

So if you’re weird, and awkward, and lonely, don’t worry.  There is someone out there who will take all that in and still think you’re pretty neat.

Can’t We All…


Damn it.  Almost reached 100 followers on twitter then I have to go and write something like this.  The mass exodus will begin at the end of this post.

Sometimes I wonder why we all can’t get along.  I know it’s been 20 years since the LA riots when Rodney King called for peace with those words but I think it’s as true now as ever.  Being part of the Internet screenwriting community has been a blessing for me.  I’ve learned so much and laughed pretty darn hard. It’s amazing how funny professional writer’s can be in 140 characters.  But people can use that same small space to be cruel and vicious.  I’m not saying not to disagree with people but even on Deadwood they never said cunt this much.

Now, I understand anger.  As a non-religious, poor, black, bisexual, disabled, woman, I am hated on and/or misunderstood by someone or a groups of someones at all times.  I’ve gotten so angry at things said I’ve screamed and cried and yelled until I’ve locked myself in my room hoping for the world to go away. I’ve learned over the years, and with a lot of therapy, that most of that anger stems from hurt.  We lash out at people because they hurt us.

Increasingly, Americans don’t listen to or converse with people who have differing opinions, perspectives, or socioeconomic backgrounds than themselves.  News stations and websites have been created so we can continue to consume the world through the skewed lens through which we already look.  There are studies that say that when we debate with people who have differing views from our own we become smarter, more productive and more articulate people.  Yet we only fill our social circles with people who share our views and not only shun, but mock those who do not.

During my first year of college, I took a rhetoric class.  I didn’t have a clue what the class was going to be like when I signed up for it the summer before.  It turned out to be one of the things that defined my freshman year.  Almost every discussion commenced with a woman, we’ll call Kathy, (not because I’m trying to protect her identity I just don’t remember) and I on opposite political sides.  I enjoyed debating her.  We never would change the other’s mind, but the conversations were stimulating and respectful.  Then near the end of the year we were talking about something, (don’t remember that either ’cause after Kathy’s next sentence my head exploded) and she said that the reason black people don’t make anything of themselves is because they don’t work to do anything with their lives.  Like I said, my head exploded.  I told her that I was sitting across from her at the same school, in the same class, participating just as much as her, how dare she say I wasn’t trying to do anything.  Well, I yelled it, then stormed out of the room.  I was so hurt and angry that this woman who I had spent all this time respecting as an intellectual opponent had been dismissing me because of my race.  Despite days of broken heartedness I went back to the next scheduled class.  I kept my mouth shut for most of it, but I went back.  Out of the four black students that started at my college I was the only one that survived after that first year.  I graduated from that same college, the darkest one to walk across the stage.

I’ve chosen and had no choice but to go back into uncomfortable situations my entire life.  Too many of us do not and hurt ourselves by not being willing to be uncomfortable.  Risk an argument, risk being hurt, risk learning from someone you have nothing in common with.  Risk being a better you.