Category Archives: Screenwriting

What We Know

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We’ve all heard, “Write what you know.” Most of us have also heard that this is crap on a cracker. Because really, who knows what it’s like to be a Jesus figure with a princess twin sister in a galaxy, far, far, away? Or a queen that was born shooting ice from her fingertips?

What I’ve found out about my own writing is more disturbing than writing what I know. I write who I am.

If someone had told me that writing who I am is how I would access my ability to write quality scripts I would have smiled, nodded, and hoped it didn’t look like I thought they were stupid.  Writing who I am is too painful, too limiting, I would have said. And I would have been right. Sort of.

It’s important to write who I am, but through characters without my face or history. I have told the emotional story of my history with race relations in the 1990s through an ex-slave lawman in the 1870s. Of being hurt by relationships through a fat white woman who’s had sex with more men than I’ve kissed, and my struggles with fitting into society through a serial killer’s love for a model with an ugly face. Their emotional truths are all part of who I am, but I don’t know any of them.

I think I will always be a little scared of writing who I really am. Even now too many of my first drafts consist of me giving a stiff arm to my emotions. They’re there at the edges, smooth, shiny, but not quite real. Only when I rewrite, holding the script to my emotional soul like a babe on a teat, does the script seem to connect with my readers.

Writing it down feels like it makes it real. But it already is real. All those hurt, rough places, and the mean, unforgiving places, share a part of me with the awesome joy I hope to exist in most of the time.

Be brave, tell me who you are. Be an artist, tell me through a world you’ve never known.

 

My Interview

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This interview was a really fun experience for me. Danielle and I talked for over two hours so a lot of what we talked about had to be trimmed. That is why sometimes it sounds like I start talking about something random but it all connects. Really happy with the way it turned out.
All the resources I talk about and more are on my Info For You page on this blog.

Earth and Fire

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I’ve never told you you’re a bad writer. That you are wasting your time and ink on reams of paper. I never have, but someone will. Whether they’ve seen your writing or not, someone might tell you this. Someone has told me this but I didn’t listen. I didn’t listen because I know who I am.

I am a writer.

Whether anyone ever buys a story of mine or not I have to write. That’s my truth. That is the ground I stand on. I had to learn to dig my toes into the dirt and let them grow roots so I can stand on my own even when others try to push me over.

Most of you that have met me know I laugh loudly and share freely. I’ve been told I’m trying too hard to be happy and personable when the truth is, I wasn’t trying at all. I was just being me. Unfortunately, when I’m around someone I admire I get quiet. I suppress all the bouncing and blurting in an effort to seem normal, only to amplify my awkwardness. The entertainment business, especially in LA, will try to tear you down for your differences. Don’t let it. Know who you are and what you’re willing to do. Stand in that truth and never let the fire in your belly, your passion, consume your humanity.

Fire can burn off the old to make room for the new. It can also, attract people to its warmth or send them running in fear. The earth can feed you, comfort you, and be the foundation to build on. But if you let others chip away at it, erode it, it will bury you.

As I talk to all of you, my fellow aspiring screenwriters, I talk to myself. I know these things I’ve shared with you these last weeks, but I have not lived them. There have been times I have let my fire be snuffed, stood still as dirt was shoveled on top of me. I don’t want to do that again. I know I have learned my lesson, but now for the scary part, to live it. I am preparing to live it. I will live it. This is my year. Is it yours too?

I wish you all luck but more than wishes I urge you to be prepared. Not only with your craft but with your soul.

This is the last of the life elements I’m posting. It took me so long to post this one because it scares me the most. I am still figuring out where I draw the line, and how far I’m willing to color outside of  it. I will treat myself gently if I fail. I will forgive myself and try again.

Try again.

 

 

 

Water

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My beloved fellow unestablished creatives, watch this video of Ava DuVernay’s keynote speech. No really. Watch it now. Link doesn’t work? Cut and paste the URL at the end of this post. I’ll wait. If you don’t have time for the whole thing watch from minute 6:45 to 21:30.

If you’ve ever been to an event with people who are where you want to be in the industry, you know what’s she’s talking about.

At times, desperation has clung to me like wet clothes. I’ve been around people who have power in the business where I’ve felt like I’ll drown if that person doesn’t give me a hand up. Sometimes, I’ve let myself drift away with the current because I’ve felt unworthy of their regard. Other times, I’ve flailed and splashed hoping to get their attention. When I finally did, I realized I had only succeeded in making them think I’m not OK in the head. There are times when I thought I was being safe, a fly on the wall. I’d go still at the fringe of a conversation and stare as I listened. I realize now I’m too damn big for no one to notice me. I was more like a dead body floating by than someone you’d want to invite to swim with you.

Some of us realize we’re doing it but don’t know how to stop. Some of us never realize how bad we stink of desperation. And for too many of us at the core of the desperation is failure. Sadly, we believed we failed to sell our script or make our movie because the right person has not seen our talent and championed our greatness. But really we’ve failed because we just aren’t good enough yet, and we will only be good enough by doing it again and again.

For so long, I’ve noticed that Hollywood runs from desperation. I’ve never quite understood why until I watched that video. I thought, don’t they see this person’s passion? Their commitment? No. What they see is that they will have to put their energy into that person with no guarantee of getting back success. There is only so much energy anyone can give. Lifeguards won’t carry you where you want to go, so why should the industry elite?

Learn to swim in the pool so that they know if they give you a flotation device you’ll be able to survive in the ocean on your own.

 

http://theblackboard.blcklst.com/forums/topic/ava-duvernays-filmmaker-keynote-address-at-2013-film-independent-forum/?utm_content=buffer51b8f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

Air

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A story can contain a world, or a single heartbeat. A sad story can fester in your soul and break it, or shared with others, it can make us whole. A happy story can make us fly on wings of endless possibility, or cry to give release to the swelling of our being. Stories are so important to understanding our past, our present, and where we want to go in our future.

A story is life. One life. All life. Breath.

We all have the power to be tellers of stories, but some of us are blessed. Some of us are storytellers. Some of us storytellers have chosen screenwriting as our medium, and I want you to understand what that means to me.

My beloved fellow emerging screenwriters, I want you to succeed. I want you to know that if I tell you to use standard formatting, or to cut your script down from 300 pages, I am not trying to stifle your creativity, I am trying to help you have a better chance of sharing your story with the world. It hurts me when I see some of you fighting so hard to make it while shooting yourself in the foot. I want to help you. I admit, sometimes I express this too passionately. Other times, I suggest it in a wounded voice filled with concern.

I’m not sure if it’s because of how I feel about story, or my compassion for people, but I know I care too much. It’s odd that many of the men I know who care too much cover and protect their hearts with umbrage and sarcasm. Me, a heaviness blankets me. I get quiet as I mourn my failure to make you understand.

So, I implore you now, LISTEN. Does the person talking to you have your best interest at heart? Do they come from experience you don’t have? Wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others. Be wise, listen.

Is the example you’re holding onto the exception to the rule? That one guy who sold a script written in crayon on the back of reams of recycled paper is one in a billion. Don’t you want to do everything to increase your odds? Don’t you want to make it as easy as possible for someone else to read your story?

Don’t you want to make it easy to help someone else breathe?

I’M MAD at the lessons you’ve taught (pt 2)

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When I was at the Austin Film Festival a professional screenwriter hit on me. He asked me if I would be moving back to L.A. and I said yes, when I sold one of my screenplays. He sighed and said that’s never going to happen and walked away. At the same time I was reeling at how horrible his  game was, I pondered what made him think that I would never sell a screenplay? He had never read a single word I had written. The only thing he had to go on is my appearance and somehow my appearance said to him that I would never make it. Why?

At every turn screenwriting requires me to be more than who I am. I am not a natural salesperson. In my life as a woman, I’ve worked hard to learn that if a man doesn’t want me, I don’t want him either. One of my problems making it in the industry is I don’t care who you are. It would be nice if I was a gold digger. They are despised by a lot of people but they get things because they know how to make themselves valuable to people who can get them what they want.

Most women, are taught to be the best person we can be and then wait for someone else to see our value. Since birth we are taught not to sell ourselves. To stay off the pole and to save ourselves for someone who loves us. We are taught to understand passion and inspire passion but never to sell ourselves.

When I am passionate about something that I know I can do I will run myself into the ground making it happen, but I don’t know how to prove that to you. I’m trying to learn how to be more aggressive about selling myself but most of my attempts come out awkward and desperate, much like as if I was forced to sell myself on the street corner. (I’m telling you I would be the worst whore ever.)

For me, the solution is that if you see that I am passionate about something, but I don’t sell you on it that well, give me a chance anyway. I won’t disappoint you.

I’M MAD at the responsibility (pt 1)

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I’m Mad! I’m mad at you and you and you and especially, more than anybody else, I’m mad at me because I’m having a hard time letting the noise go.

In the last couple of weeks I haven’t wanted to be a screenwriter. Ironically, it’s because of all the talk of underrepresentation of women and women of color in the entertainment industry.

We… and this is part of the problem, we are thought of as a we. We are expected to write certain things. We are expected to deal with our issues and yours too.

Unlike a man, when I tell a story of a human being I am supposed to represent all human beings in a fair and equal manner. Well guess what? Fair and equal is boring. Fair and equal is not the human story, is not anyone’s human story.

In one of my thrillers, the woman starts out weak and adrift because she wants to turn her life over to any man, even if he’s an asshole. This is the kind of woman I want to slap in the face in real life but in the story she has to start there to grow. But, as a woman, I am forced to think  what it means that people see this squishy limp noodle as a representation of women. Am I harming women by acknowledging those like her exist?

When I began my western I spent days trying to force women into the narrative. It’s based on a true story and if you’ve ever researched the 1870s the mentions of women that aren’t simply listed as the wife are a thousand to one. I had to travel to Arkansas to purchase a 713 page out of print book to find a single page of a woman who was not mentioned as someone’s wife or daughter. History represents us little more than walking uteri, so how do we balance that with what true life was? I also have to worry that I haven’t been able to find a voice in this story because there is no white hero. Can I make a movie with a black main character without a white hero? Outside of blaxploitation films it has never been done before. I get nervous and fight with myself over the truth of it. The only thing I should have to fight with are that there are no heroes in this story at all, there are no solutions either. It’s only a man struggling with who he is and how that fits into the world around him. In a western that should be enough. But I am a black woman writing this so will people except that it’s enough from me?

Every time I choose not to make a main or supporting character black or a woman I wonder if I am failing my people. I switched from prose to screenwriting because I was an actor searching for parts. In an interview, John Leguizamo said as a person of color if you have the ability to write it is your power, your way to break in. He did it, Whoopi Goldberg did it, and so could I. When I became disabled and was no longer able to act the stories I wanted to tell were so much bigger than movies I could star in. The color, weight, sex, of the person depended on the history they needed to be in this spot on this day.

I get mad that I’m a stereotypical woman writer who does not do giant stories where the goal is to blow up as much stuff as possible. I love those movies but I’m no good at writing them.

How do you get more women in the business? Stop telling them why we need them in the business. Forcing us to be the hopes and dreams of billions of people is too much.  I can’t take care of everyone else, I’m too busy trying to take care of myself.

Maybe all this talk of more women is as simple as considering us for a project when you think the writer being a woman, or black, or disabled, is not needed. As writers, we are already asked to deliver a story that will speak to the human race. Even though we may choose to, we shouldn’t have to speak for the subset of millions of people we belong to as well. Consider us because we are writers and we have stories tell and not because you think you know what those stories are.