Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mind Your Business!

There are two kinds of books about screenwriting. One kind tells you how to write a screenplay. Of these, there are probably about five that are worth anything (Start with Blake Snyder’s “Save the Cat” and Christopher Vogler’s “The Writer’s Journey”). The rest may give you some of the basics of screenwriting, but nothing you can’t get in much better and clearer detail from these core books.

The other kind tells you how to sell your screenplay. There are some tips on how to write one as well, of course, since Rule One for selling a screenplay is: Have a great screenplay. Rule Two is: Have several more great screenplays. Writing one of these books seems easy, right? Just compile a bunch of these rules: Have a compelling story that comes from your heart. Have an interesting protagonist that we care about. Give the executives something familiar, but with an all-new twist. And yet, despite books full of these simple to understand rules, many writers, talented ones even, are unable to crack the Hollywood system. What’s the problem?

What’s great about Michele Wallerstein’s “Mind Your Business” is that she doesn’t just tell you what to do, she tells you what NOT to do, and that may be much more important. Michele has compiled twenty-five years as a literary agent watching the rise and fall of countless screenwriters, and she has given you, the budding screenwriter, the chance to not make the mistakes that those other screenwriters made, mistakes that ended careers, many before they even began.

I wish I had Michele’s book ten years ago, when I started on this journey to Hollywood screenwriting glory. I would have known to watch out for “fringe” players. I would have known that you need to scrutinize any potential agent to make sure they are right for you, and that once you get one, you have to work just as hard as they do (if not harder) to get your career going. I would have known the eleven rules to live by when writing spec scripts. And a lot more.

Fortunately, since I’m confident my career skyrocket is just around the corner, there’s still a lot of great information I’ll be able to use. Stuff like what to do in a meeting. Yes, it’s the common sense things that you would think of for any interview, like proper grooming and hygiene, but it’s also crucial information like who to address in the room and how long to stick around.

Most importantly, it’s clear this book is a labor of love. Rather than reading like a “get famous quick, I’ll show you how” scheme, you can tell that you are reading a work by someone who truly cares for all her clients, and for every gifted writer out there struggling to navigate the fierce winds of Hollywood. If you’re still trying to get a grip on the business side of this screenwriting game (and I know few writers who aren’t), I definitely recommend “Mind Your Business.”

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Super Bowl Recap

No need for anxious hand wringing, here’s my annual Super Bowl recap, right on schedule. Looking back through the archives, it looks like I somehow failed to recap last year’s historic New Orleans Saints victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Was it that I was still suffering a letdown after my Jets faltered, one game away from their first Super Bowl in 40 years? Well if so, I have a chance to redeem myself this year. The Jets again came tantalizingly close, and I think their failure this year hit me harder because expectations were higher. Will the Jets be second best in the AFC every year? Will they even be back? Well, at least they thumped the Patriots.

But, today was not about my beloved Jets, it was about the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the greatest spectacle of all of sport, the Super Bowl. So here it is, my recap of Super Bowl XLV.

The Pre-Game Show

I’m sure not too many people watch the 6 hours of Fox Pregame entertainment, and with good reason. It was mostly a concert intermingled with ads for current Fox properties like the latest Adam Sandler movie, and of course, some appearances from the increasingly creepy E-Trade Baby and Frank Calliendo (Calliendo’s not creepy, but his shtick is getting a little tired, isn’t it?). However, if you suffered through it, you did get presented with a fairly interesting interview with Obama by Bill O'Reilly, with Obama gamely smiling through O'Reilly's digs and editorializing to give thoughtful answers to relevant issues of the day.

The Commercials

It’s all about the commercials, right? I think this is getting to be less and less the case, for two reasons. First, I think people are getting more knowledgeable about football. It’s been a long standing joke that the guys come to the Super Bowl party for the game, and the ladies come for the commercials. But where I saw the game, everyone was focused on the action on the field, male and female, football newbies and veterans alike. The other reason is the Internet. All those people who used to show up for the commercials can now just dial them up on YouTube after the game (or even before the game!) That being said, I think the real winners in the commercials department were the promos. As a sci fi enthusiast, I was geeking out much more over trailers for Captain America, Thor, and Cowboys and Aliens than for the various animals getting the better of humans in corn chip and car ads. But the top promo and hence winner for me was this gem from FOX and Hugh Laurie, paying homage to perhaps the most iconic Super Bowl commercial of all:

Here’s the original, for you newer fans:

The Game

Yet another good one! While Green Bay jumped out to what looked like it could be a rout, the Steelers dug deep and made a game of it, and the outcome was in doubt up until the final minute. You can’t ask for much more from a Super Bowl game.

The Winners

Sorry Steeler fans, but I think this year The Pack was the sentimental favorite, this year’s Saints. They’ve got a humble quarterback who stood patiently in Brett Favre’s shadow for years waiting for his turn, they’ve got “Lombardi” playing on Broadway, and they’ve got a team owned by the fans. The Steelers have cemented themselves as probably the best football team of all time with their 8 Super Bowl appearances, but this year belonged to the Green Bay Packers.

The Halftime Show

The halftime show may have taken the place of the commercials with respect to water cooler talk and controversy. This year the Black Eyed Peas had purists up in arms, and other fans cheering for more. You’ve got to keep in mind that any halftime show needs to be sanitized for your protection and accessible to a wide audience (wardrobe malfunctions notwithstanding). Given that, I think they did a pretty good job. I mean, the halftime formula is to pair a contemporary artist with an aging rocker. The Black Eyed Peas are still kind of hip, and when your aging rocker is Slash, I think you’re doing okay. I couldn’t complain.

OK, that’s what I got for this year. Coming up, probably some stuff about writing for a change.