Writing is often a lonely life, but this weekend, September 27-29, 800 plus writers gathered at the Hyatt Century City. They came from around the world including such far reaching places as Moscow, Poland and Turkey.
Two simultaneous conferences took place at the hotel -- The Writer's Digest Conference for novelists and non-fiction writers and the Screenwriters Conference. Being that I do both, it was a hard choice to make, but one can only be at one place at a time.
Early on Friday, script aficionados were treated to several boot camp sessions. Award winning Jacob Krueger talked about Fix Your Pitch. A crucial session since most of the writers would be pitching to producers on Saturday.
Jon James Miller followed up with Adapt A Script To A Novel. Because novel writing is so different than screenwriting, it requires a totally separate thought process to each, but it can be done. (In fact, The Writers' Store, one of the sponsors, is now having a contest to get your screenplay made into a novel.) Producers often like to see things from 'source' material - that is anything with a prior following. Having your script as a novel or visa versa, gives you a step up.
Pilar Alessandra from On The Page followed giving advice about The Craft. Her words, helpful even to the advanced writer, encouraged us to write our passions.
Laurie Scheer of Media Goddess and author Josie Brown gave us words of wisdom on what happens when a novel becomes a TV pilot. Too many authors have a false notion of the glory, fame and money it brings, but don't expect to control your story. It's an interesting process, nonetheless.
The official opening of the program was Oscar award winning producer Edward Saxon, who discussed some of the new genres and new platforms out there for writers. "US dominates the media and story telling is one of our best exports. China might have the money now, but they don't have the talent." At the same time as the keynote, Pilar Alessandra gave students keys on Pitching while script consultant and teacher Corey Mandell talked about Writing The Spec Screenplay. Agents, he says, don't want to read scripts of new writers, which is why you need a good manager or producer to go out on the limb for you and give you credibility. Most scripts, he told us, do not not authenticity behind them. He instructed us write what you most want to write about. You are not writing to sell, you are writing to blow people away.
The A-B-C's of Writing For TV , led by Andrew Guerdat, Erik Bork, Tim Meltreger and D. C. Fontana gave the low down on what it meant to do a pilot or a spec and how one broke in (usually from the ground up as an intern, writer's assistant and then a staff member in the writer's room.) It's very hard for a newbie to write a pilot and expect it to get produced. Even if it is, you probably will not be in control as the studio will hire a showrunner to do that. You'll be lucky to stay attached to the project. The goal, however, is not to just sell a script, but to develop a career.
Daniel Manus instructed the writers on how to do query letters, loglines and leave behinds while Erik Bork talked about writing the spec TV script. The tendency now is to want to see original pilots to determine if you can capture the essence and story engine. However, It's still important to do a spec script of an existing program to see if you can fit in with the character and voice of that show.
Jeanne Veillette Bowerman of Script Magazine, Robbie Fox, Doug Richardson and Tom Schulman gave us Tips and Tricks of the Trade, telling us that as writers, we can always reinvent ourselves and how important it is to make friends with the assistant or the secretary. Scripts lose momentum and often sit on the shelf for a while. You can change the title and pretend it's a new script.
Saturday was the day of pitching for many. Some of the companies represented were Zohar Films, Warner Brothers Television, Voltage Pictures, Thruline Entertainment, The Asylum, Suntar Entertainment, Stonelock Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation, Silvermine Entertainment, Samuari MK, Safehouse Pictures, Pterodactyl Productions, Pincipato-Young Entertainment, Pretty Bird Pictures, Poscimur Studio, Pop Art Film Factory, Phoenix Pictures, Paradigm Agency, Outlier, New Wave Entertainment, Motion Theory Films, Moniker Entertainment, Momentum Entertainment, Metamorphic Films and Management LLC, Masimedia, Marilyn Atlas Management, Manus Entertainment, Mandeville Films/Television, Longitude Entertainment, Kopelson Entertainment, Informant Media, Hays Media,LLC, Greenstem Productions, Empire Pictures, Electric City Entertainment, Eclectic Pictures, Echo Lake Management, Cross Creek Pictures, Cortez Brothers, Code Entertainment, Cindy Cowan Entertainment, Chicane Group, Chernin Entertainment, Caliber Media Co, Chaos Productions, Burn Pictures, Blackout Films, Beneficial Entertainment, Beachfront Films, Applause Network TV, Apothrosis Media Group, Angaelica, American Biograph Films/ Hankcranked Pictures, Amasia Entertainment, After Dark Films and 34th Street Films.
The day started for many with the Pitch Panel staring Kathie Fong Yoneda, a consultant, Richard Botto, the CEO of Stage 32 (an industry internet site), Pamela Jaye Smith, a mythologist and Mylo Carbia of Zohar Films. "Everyone makes mistakes," Yoneda said, "so don't beat yourself up." They stressed that pitching was selling yourself as much as selling your product. The producers want to see if they can work well with you or not.
Another panel simultaneous and led by Jeanne Veilette Bowerman was titled "What I Really Want Is An Agent." Daniel Manus, Timothy Hays of Hays Media, and Marilyn Atlas, a manager gave writers advice on the fact that the big agencies don't really want newbie writers. They want to take someone on that is already established and enhance their careers. You're better off finding a manager or entertainment attorney to send out your material or at worse go with a smaller agent. Often it is the writer's own networking that gets the jobs.
Also occurring that morning was the panel, "Develop & Pitch TV Shows." Paul Chitlik, whose great book on Rewriting was later talked about, joined William Rabkin, Andrew Guerdat, Wendy Willis of Mosaic, and Barney Cohen of Pterodactyl Productions. It's harder than ever to get shows on, but on the other hand, they cheered us with the fact that cable has made more stations available. However, if you want to remain boss on your show, the only way is to do an internet or web series yourself since you will not get to be the showrunner. (The showrunner, who, as the name says, runs the show, deals not only with the writing and stories, but must deal with hiring and firing actors, dealing with the studio and overseeing the budget among other things.) "If you do work on staff for a show," Chitlik says," make sure your showrunner is in a happy marriage because then you will have decent hours."
Two of my favorite classes were the Mini Boot Camp: Dialogue taught by Karl Iglesias and the class on character taught by Michael Hauge while Viki King ended the day with "The Inner Movie Inventory-A Smart Sheet For Writing Your Movie."
Some of the take aways from the dialogue class were that 80% of dialogue just sits there. It doesn't advance the plot, it's not active. Karl gave us excerpts from his popular book, "Writing For Emotional Impact" which has several ways a writer can spruce up his words According to David Mamet, "No one says anything unless they want something." Many writers get the note that their character isn't likeable. Karl's class on writing the emotional core, also gave us tidbits from the book, on how to make our characters more human and likeable. Comparing Finding Nemo to Shark Tale - one from Pixar and the other from Dreamworks - it was easy to see why one succeeded and the other failed. He also told us that the use and misuse of commas can really distract from the reading script and instructed us to read the article "13 Rules For Using Commas Without Looking Like An Idiot."
While Michael's class went to the heart of the character development as he talked about the layers each character must carry and the inner and outer wants and needs. He talks more in-depth on it in his recent DVD - "The Hero's Two Journeys" and how to unite the outer journey of the plot with the inner journey of the character arc.
Getting Past the Reader was another popular panel with Jeanne Veillette Bowerman, Kathie Fong Yoneda, Richard Botto, Karl Inglesias and Brian McDonald who reinforced that we writers are handing in a reading copy of the script. The reader should be so immersed in the story that they continue turning the pages. Page count - no longer than 110, plenty of white space, a balance of description and dialogue - without any excessively long paragraphs -- and smooth transitions were what they all wanted. Any spelling or grammar errors, any directions to the director, took them out of the story and caused them to stop reading. Marking the copy right sign or the WGA registration number on the cover page marked you as a amateur and caused them to look at your work with a different perspective.
Rob Edwards gave hints on "Writing for Animation", which isn't all that much different than writing for live features and Dinah Perez Esq of Dinah Perez Law gave us the low down on the law for writers.
Those interested in the video games were covered, as well, with the panel on Writing For The Video Game Industry with Haris Orkin, Sande Chen, Seth Hudson, Jeremy Bernstein, and Tom Abernathy.
And Breaking Into Hollywood featured Bari Evans, a consultant with Big Ideas, Lee Jessup, a career coach, Michael Tabb, Adam Finer and Chris Soth, who's Million Dollar Mini Story Method has broken many a story.
Because web series are becoming so popular, it was impossible to leave them out. Kathie Fong Yoneda, along with Ed Robinson, Courtney Zito, Julie Smith, Laurie Scheer and Leon Acord gave the advice that if you wanted to keep control of your story, the web series was the best way to start and to help you with breaking out.
Everything that is written is eventually rewritten. There's probably no such thing as the perfect script and even if there is, the executives will find a way to have it rewritten, says Paul Chitlik in the panel Writing Is Rewriting. He was accompanied by Daniel Manus, Pen Densham and Ruth Atkinson.
While these sessions were geared for screenwriting, nearly everything learned here applied to novels, as well because a good story is story.
Sponsors for the weekend included Final Draft, Michael Wiese Productions, Stage 32, Abbott Press, Ingram Spark, Jungle Software, Pubslush, Editorial Freelancers Association, WattPad, Comparison Reads, Wise Ink, Wave Cloud, Movie Magic Screenwriter, Greater Los Angeles Writers Society, With Pen and Paper and Script E.R as well as L. Ron Hubbard's Writer's of The Future Contest. Many of these assisted writers with self publishing and/or script work.
For more information about next year's conference, keep in tuned with reading Writer's Digest Magazine and books from the Writer's Digest Press. For taped copies of the this year's sessions, which are on special sale til the end of October, go to the Writer's Store. (use code VIDS1013 for the sale price)