Sunday, March 17, 2019

March 17th, 2019
Los Angeles, CA

Happy St. Patrick's Day!  🍀  May the road rise up to meet ya today and always.

I attended the AFF in LA all-day session this weekend.  This is the fourth year for this popular writers gathering.  Even in the middle of Los Angeles, the AFF shines with Texas charm.
The day's focus was Guiding Your Writing Journey.
Writer Chuck Hayward answers industry questions
In the morning, writers gathered at roundtables with industry pros Karen Kirkland, Adam Kolbrenner, Chuck Hayward, Jayme Lemons, Eric Tovell and Gesumino Rulli.

These intimate roundtables are always high in demand and fill up fast, so if you decide to attend AFF in LA next year -- sign up early!  Some other folks chose to only attend the afternoon session (panel talks).  Trust me, the roundtables are worth your time and extra $.

Some key takeaways from industry pros to writers:

-Have"stand out" writing.
-Have a unique voice.
-How does your life inform your writing?  Personal insights will add authenticity to your work.
-Stick to your themes and brand yourself as a writer.
-Be social and get out there to meet people, other writers (this AFF event, for example.)  Don't stay isolated writing in Starbucks with headphones on forever.  Get out there!
-Less is more.  Be cognizant of your page count.  Don't overwrite.  Revise.
-Build a community of writers (writer's groups, online connection, meets ups.)
-Be massively ACTIVE and never quit.
-Write consistently and not just when you feel like it.  Consider it like a job.
-Write fast.  Get drafts done.  Set deadlines for yourself and KEEP them.
-Write with emotion on the page and tap into universal themes.

The afternoon panels were excellent.  Topics: Finding The Time (To Write) and Overcoming Obstacles.  
Moderator Karol Hoeffner and writers Carly Wray and Wendy Calhoun
Panelist/writer Wendy Calhoun (writer for TV shows EMPIRE, JUSTIFIED and NASHVILLE) advised TV writers to be problem-solvers, have manners in the writer's room, be kind and friendly to EVERYONE in the room (don't be a brown-noser), know why YOU are at the writer's table.

Writer Carly Wray (Co-EP of the upcoming adaptation of WATCHMEN, formerly of Mad Men and Westworld) suggested writers never shoot down another writer's pitch without having something strong to replace it with and to remain collaborative.  Be positive in offering your opinions to other writers and constructive.  Calhoun added, "be the glue in the room".  In other words, be a team player and be known as a fixer, not a disruptor.

Oscar at Linwood Dunn Theater
Finally, there was a Networking Reception (writers love a good mixer!)  Thanks to the Academy Education Program and Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting for the complimentary drinks and Mexican food.  We networked and ate/drank in the lobby of the Linwood Dunn Theater, with Oscar literally towering over us.  If that doesn't inspire you to finish your script, nothing will.

Until next time...

The AFF Screenwriting Competition deadlines are coming up:
Early - March 29th
Regular - April 19th
Late - May 15th

Academy Nicholl Fellowships Competition Deadlines
Early - March 7th
Regular - April 10th
Late - May 1st

Sunday, March 03, 2019

 February 2019
Blake J. Harris and Joseph Chen
I love attending local events at my library here in Burbank, CA.  The Buena Vista Library Branch often invites top authors and filmmakers to discuss their latest creative projects, sell and sign books, and meet with the community.  Young students attended with their parents, getting school credit and meeting authors face to face. 
Blake J. Harris' new book
Recently Blake J. Harris stopped by to promote his new book The History of the Future: Oculus, Facebook, and the Revolution that Swept Virtual Reality.  He chatted with Joe Chen, one of the first employees at Oculus VR about the early days of that company.  Chen worked on the hardware development as Product Lead and led non-gaming developer relations. Chen brought along early prototypes of the VR hardware to show the audience.

The History of the Future book delves into the real-life story of a  teenager named Palmer Luckey, living and working in a camper trailer parked in his parents’ driveway, and how he created a device that could deliver a high quality immersive and affordable virtual reality experience to fellow gamers.  Luckey’s revolutionary device, the Oculus Rift went on to enormous success. 

Within two years, Facebook bought Luckey's company for over $2 billion dollars.

I was sure to get my signed copy of The History of the Future.  It was great to chat with Harris after.  He lives in my old neighborhood in New York City (Astoria).  Small world.

For more about Blake J. Harris, check out his website at

Q & A
Joe Chen one-on-one
While you're at it, check out your library's monthly calendar of events and support these talks with writers, filmmakers and other storytellers.

It's a win/win.

Until next time...

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Friday, February 15, 2019

The NY/LA Screenwriting Life
February 15, 2019

Calling all movie geeks and movie lovers!

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® official pop-up shop at Hollywood & Highland is now open and thriving the week before the 91st Academy Awards.

You can load up on unique Oscars merchandise (Oscars hoodies, T-shirts, mugs, candles and really nice Oscar Thank You Note Cards (that say "I'd like to thank....").  It's a terrific place to buy gifts for someone who loves movies.
 You can also take fun pictures with a Panasonic movie camera and Oscar statue signs.

Panasonic Movie Camera on Display
The Oscars Pop-Up Shop is located near the Dolby TheatreOpen now for a limited time.

Meanwhile, outside, Hollywood preps for the Oscars in the rain.  We can't complain in Los Angeles -- we need the rain.  Let's hope the sunshine returns in time for the red carpet event.

Hollywood and Highland
Viewing Area for Oscars
The Dolby Theatre
Here is the link for more info about the Oscars Pop-Up store:

Enjoy the show on Sunday, Feb. 24th on ABC! 

Until next time.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


I love this new cover for The New Yorker magazine.  The writer's life.  Says it all.  

Keep writing & creating out there, even with all the madness in the world.  Find your quiet corner and get the work done. 

I received some good news this summer.

My drama spec feature ABSOLUTION made it into the Second Round at the Austin Film Festival 2018 Screenwriting Competition.  Congratulations to all those who advanced to the Second Round, as well as the Semifinalists!  AFF is one of the great festivals (and competitions) dedicated to screenwriters out there. The festival begins October 25th in Austin, Texas.

Actor Henry Winkler
Congratulations to actor Henry Winkler on winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his performance as the acting coach on HBO's "Barry".   Well-deserved.  One of the nice guys in Hollywood finishes first.

Summer officially ends tomorrow on the calendar.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention the passing of the prolific playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon last month.  Mr. Simon is the reason I wanted to become a writer -- I devoured his plays while in high school and watched all his movies on TV.  Seeing "Barefoot in the Park" and "The Odd Couple" changed my life. Neil Simon showed me New York (my hometown) on the big screen. I loved his urban wit (his characters sounded a lot like my family members) and there is nothing like New York timing when telling a one-liner.  I also liked the way Neil Simon described the writing life, it sounded pretty nice -- (I'm paraphrasing here) you get to work alone, on your own terms and play tennis in the middle of the day.  Wow. Sounded good to me.

The first play I ever wrote, NetFits, was an homage to Mr. Simon's "Barefoot in the Park".  I love every line in that play (his, that is).  Thank you, Mr. Simon, for all the wonderful works you wrote and shared with us. Thanks for the laughs, sir.
Playwright Neil Simon

Until next time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Los Angeles, CA
Janet J. Lawler
July 24, 2018
Jason Michael Webb, Stephen Bray, Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Michael A. Kerker
As a member of the Dramatists Guild, I received an invite to attend "In It Together: An Evening with the Music Team Behind The Color Purple” at the Garry Marshall Theatre in Burbank, CA. 

Having no desire to write a musical, or even a song, I almost didn't go.  Wow, I'm so glad I did attend.  What a wonderful evening about music and the creative process.  And, I found it of great professional interest -- since writing a song is a lot like writing a screenplay.  It requires character(s), tone, pacing, an arc, and hooking your audience.

It turned out to be a lively panel with The Color Purple songwriters/composers.  They covered team collaboration, creating in new mediums, embracing technology, and how writing of any kind (novels, scripts, plays, songs, musicals) is all about... REWRITING.  

Sorry, folks, there's no escaping it.  Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite!
The Color Purple team consisted of Grammy-winning Stephen Bray, Allee Willis and Brenda Russell.  Each songwriter had success writing pop songs prior to writing The Color Purple: 

Allee Willis, a Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee, wrote hit songs like September, Neutron Dance, Stir It Up and the TV theme song "I'll Be There for You" for Friends.  (Cool songs and lady!) 

Producer/drummer/songwriter Stephen Bray wrote songs for Madonna including "Into the Groove" and "Express Yourself".  Stephen knew Madonna from Michigan before her mega success.

Singer-songwriter and keyboardist Brenda Russell also has hits, including "Piano in the Dark" and "So Good, So Right". 

The three composers (none had written a musical before, never mind a Broadway musical!) joined forces on The Color Purple, checked their egos at the door and labored on the show for over five years.  

They said often after having created a song they agreed was perfect, the director or producers would ask them to rewrite it, or even worse, completely "throw it out".  Their tenacity paid off as each co-wrote the Tony and Grammy-winning Broadway musical, The Color Purple.  

As a screenwriter/playwright, I found this question to the panel "How is writing a theatrical song different than a pop song?" of particular interest.

Each songwriter agreed that writing a song for the stage requires a story -- an arc -- just like in a screenplay -- the character should change or evolve -- where as in a pop song, it's more about the melody, chorus and hook.

Special shout out to music director Jason Michael Webb for also taking part in the evening and to the Society of Composers and Lyricists (SCL) SongArts LA for sponsoring the event, in association with The Dramatists Guild. The evening was moderated by Michael A. Kerker, director of musical theatre for ASCAP.  
Hmm... I might just have to go off now and write a song.

Until next time.


Monday, June 04, 2018

AT&T SHAPE REACHES OUT TO ARTISTS AND AUDIENCES IN INNOVATIVE WAYS: with guest speakers Sean Combs, Issa Rae and Ava DuVernay.  
by Janet J. Lawler
Los Angeles 
Actress/Director/Writer Issa Rae
The 2018 AT&T SHAPE tech and entertainment event recently took place in LA.  Tickets sold out fast.  I highly recommend this event, having attended it now two consecutive years.  It's a fun time focusing on tech trends (blockchain, immersive entertainment, 5G) and entertainment breakouts (trends in storytelling, data marketing); it's a well-sponsored and organized two-day event held at the historic Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.
Warner Bros. Studios in Los Angeles
There were exhibits and vendors featuring everything from smart phones to virtual reality to the latest gaming trends.  Participants were able to stroll the Warner's lot  (free guided VIP Warner Bros. Studio Tours also available).  We toured sound stages for hit shows like ELLEN and THE BIG BANG THEORY, which was cool.

This event is also a great place to network if that's your thing.  One filmmaker I met with had driven from Utah to LA just to network here.  His goal was to connect with as many creatives as he could and also catch some of the top-notch speaker/panel events. 
Some highlights were co-host/filmmaker Ava DuVernay discussing her early work as a filmmaker, to screening the AT&T Film Finals (short films) in front of a live audience.
Director/Writer Ava DuVernay and David Christopher
Other highlights included a one-on-one interview with Sean Combs, Chairman and CEO of Combs Enterprises.  Sean Combs discussed his early venture into hip hop music, a clothing line, to Revolt TV Network, his music-oriented digital cable television network.
Sean Combs, CEO Sean Combs Enterprises
I was thoroughly impressed with Sean Combs.  He spoke from the heart about his mother being his role model. She held four jobs when he was a boy. Sean also credits his mother for his strong work ethic that today has turned him into a multi-millionaire and successful entrepreneur.

The main takeaways from Combs' talk:
 *  Get busy.
*  Know your purpose and it should have a greater good than just serving yourself.  Help others.
*  Always follow through on what you do.  Go the extra mile to stand out and complete your projects.
*  Learn your craft, whatever it is, be the best at it.
*  Know and utilize social media to brand your voice or unique talent.
*  Do what you can to get the information out to the world about what you're selling or creating.
*  Take advantage of the doors opening during this "black renaissance" that's going on with the mega success of films like Black Panther and creatives like Issa Rae,  Ryan Coogler, Michael B. Jordan, and others.
*  Be fearless.
*  Keep God in your life.
*  Join others with your goals and have power in unity.
*  And his BIGGEST advice, OWN something you create!  Or OWN your own business.  There is power in ownership and Sean credited his strength in that belief.
Creatives Khadi Don and Issa Rae
Another inspiring (laugh-filled) panel featured actress/writer/web series creator Issa Rae.  Issa joined interviewer/comedian/filmmaker Khadi Don for a chat.  Issa Rae talked about her unusual path from  web series creator (starting in college) up to her current success with her  hit TV show INSECURE on HBO (Season 3 kicks off on August 12th). 

Issa's advice to struggling artists is to "stay in your lane" and "don't compare yourself to your peers. " Her trajectory took time and had many setbacks before finding success. Issa suggested knowing your strong suits and to focus on those (your voice, your audience, your themes).  Issa worked for other TV shows where it turned out not to be such a great fit.  She feels optimistic about new opportunities for diverse creatives as many new doors are opening with a demand for original content.
Thanks to AT&T SHAPE for bringing these successful speakers and panelists to share their passions and information with a passionate community of writers, producers, filmmakers, gamers, coders, and artists looking to make their mark.

Want to see the video sessions?  Here is a link to all the available AT&T SHAPE sessions mentioned above.  Enjoy and keep creating!

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Until next time.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Creator Steven Bochco

Steven Bochco was my generation's Shonda Rhimes.  

The multi-talented writer/producer had numerous hit network TV shows on the air in the 70s and 80s and was changing viewer's expectations about how we watched traditional television dramas.  His shows often presented profanity, some nudity and oddball characters who had deep flaws.

You couldn't watch the Emmys back then without knowing Bochco would walk away with a slew of them -- which he often did for his shows like Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.  

Bochco changed the face of TV and impacted today's dramas (giving glory to realism and the anti-hero).

Days before hearing Bochco passed away, I caught an old Columbo episode on one of those nostalgic TV channels.  The episode by chance was "Murder By the Book" and starred the actor Jack Cassidy (that's right, David's father).  It was only the second episode of the detective series (1971).  Great episode of cat and mouse between Cassidy and Peter Falk as Lt. Columbo... it wasn't until the credits rolled that I realized Steven Spielberg had directed it and Steven Bochco wrote it.  It was Spielberg and Bochco's early days at Universal.  Talk about nostalgia!  
 RIP, Mr. Bochco.  You inspired me to be a better writer and to take risks on the page.  And more importantly, I hear you were a very kind man to work with and to know.  We salute you.

Until next time.