Friday, December 31, 2010

... BRING ON 2011
New Year's Eve, Times Square
Another twelve months gone?  Seriously?  Just like that?  In a blink?  

So I flipped through my planner to see what I actually accomplished from January to December of 2010.  (I don't keep a journal anymore, just a daily planner to jot down events, meetings and experiences from the day.)  What do you know?  2010 was a fairly good year.

I blogged a lot more.  Hope you enjoyed it here.

I had my second play Extreme Green produced in Florida and New York City.  Fun times -- worked with some great NY theater folks at Thespian Productions.

I met or got to see in person some of my heroes: Edward Burns, Thelma Schoonmaker, James Taylor, Carole King, and Bono.  Not bad.

I worked out pretty regularly.  Surprising!

There was even an opportunity for travel -- from sunny Florida in winter to the southwest of Arizona in the spring to camping on the beach in the Outer Banks of North Carolina in summer to an autumn drive to the heartland of Indiana.  It was a great year for visiting family, enjoying the company of friends and road trips!

How about you?  Was it a good year?  Did you write that script yet or get closer to your dream of writing it?  I like looking back on my planner to see when I write most, the projects I worked on and the ebb and flow of my process.  There were some dry spells, but overall, I keep plugging away on some story, play or script.  Keep a record yourself -- to see when you're most prolific, and if not, what's getting in your way?

If you need some written inspiration, check out this website to read free screenplays online

And finally, with this being my final post for '10, I want to thank all of you for following The NY Screenwriting Life for another year.  Five years!  Big thanks to those readers who take a moment to email me with a shout out about the blog.  It's awesome to know you're all out there... and that I'm not writing in a void.

I hope all your dreams come true in '11.  That you have love, good health, success and passion. Who could ask for more?  Maybe a good agent would be nice.

Happy 2011, everyone!!  Toot your horn!  Sip champagne.  Now it's off to the madness of Times Square shortly.  I'll post video or pictures in the New Year!

Until next year...

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Creative Screenwriting: Understanding Emotional Structure is a new book out by Christina Kallas.  It will get you thinking about movies -- and your scripts -- in a fresh way.
writer/producer Christina Kallas
Kallas is a screenwriter, producer and academic.  She's also the President of the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe.   

She presented a lab recently held by the Writer's Guild of America, East. 

Kallas champions writing emotion and imagery in your stories.  Plot points are important, but so is  emotion.  We've all seen movies that were supposed to move us, but somehow didn't quite accomplish what it set out to do.  That's why movies rely so heavily on musical scores to manipulate our feelings -- have you really LISTENED to a romantic comedy lately?  Not watched it, but listened... the music takes our hand and leads us along to make sure we're getting the message.

Kallas suggests a writer excite his imagination by turning to Improvisation.  I know about improv when it comes to acting class or stand-up comedy, but screenwriting?

She gave a great example in the lab.  Two actors, male and female, were given key information about a scene. The information was a young couple was divorcing (the relationship), they have a three year old son involved in a custody battle (goal), and the husband has returned to their home to retrieve "his books" (action).  Haven't we all ended relationships and had to go divvy up all the books and CDs before parting ways?  Not a pretty scene.  Talk about emotions and subtext.  Kallas had the male actor leave the room and she told the female actor that her motivation (action) was to get the husband to get violent (for custody points).  The male actors returned and was told his key emotion was anger.  Begin scene...

What resulted was completely unexpected by us in the audience and Kallas.  The actors started out angry, bickering, name-calling, swearing, but then soon softened, joked easily and reconciled right before our eyes.  It was amazing.  The dialogue was rich, spontaneous and deeply emotional.  Actors have to remain truthful in order to reach an audience, as does the writer.  Emotion and truth.

The point of the exercise?  To be innovative, creative and open to your scene with actors (or friends) and see what develops from the main situation.  We tend to get to locked into our beat sheets, outlines and rigid notes. Improvisation is a way to see a scene come to life in an authentic way... you may use what you hear or toss it away, but you will get some direction from the actors interpreting your work.

In this example above, the husband was so set on getting "his books" because he revealed later that he's lonely staying in a hotel room twelve blocks away from his family... and reading is his only salvation under the circumstances.  The actress/wife quipped "Read the Bible".  It got a big laugh.  

I recommend Creative Screenwriting: Understanding Emotional Structure.  Be warned, it's not a breezy read -- you'll need to have read several screenwriting books before getting this one.  It refers to Aristotle, Plato and all the classic screenwriting mechanics and theories.  But, it should make it's way on your writing shelf along with books by Syd Field, Linda Seger, Michael Hauge and Robert McKee

The book is available at Amazon and at and www.palgrave-com in the UK and the rest of the world.

Go tackle your scripts with images, thematic richness and feeling.
Nice Guy Johnny by Edward Burns
Which reminds me...  one of my favorite filmmakers is Edward Burns.  I had the pleasure of meeting him this year at a Tribeca Film Festival event and he couldn't have been sweeter. Support his new indie movie Nice Guy Johnny (I liked it) -- it's available to rent this week only for .99 cents at iTunes!!
Here's the trailer.

Until next time.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

So, did you hear?  Anne Hathaway and James Franco will co-host the 83rd Academy Awards on February 27th.   Cool.  Maybe that's just what the Academy Awards needs... some new blood and fresh air.

It's the same with the movie industry... it desperately needs new blood and new voices.   I only think about "the Academy" (the one everyone thanks in their acceptance speeches) a few times a year -- about who will host the show, who they'll honor, who they'll nominate, and finally, who will they award those precious little statues to next year.

But, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences does many more things year round... especially for screenwriters.  Here is a compilation of sound advice from seasoned screenwriters about the art and craft of screenwriting.  These videos are produced by the Academy to inspire new writers.  Many more videos are available to watch on the Academy's website  The advice is insightful... writers who appear in this video were nominated for the Oscar or won.

One of my favorite screenwriters is Callie Khouri, whose first script won her an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1991...  she wrote Thelma & Louise. 

So check out the Academy's website now and not just in February when you download the list of nominees for your office Oscar pool.  The Academy is working hard to dazzle you, movie lovers and writers, not just on Oscar Night.

Enjoy, take notes... and start planning that Oscar party.  Who will you be wearing?

Until next time.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


"You're nothing but a radical with a rake!" a NYC land owner says to a young farmer who is caught trespassing on his vacant lot with hopes of planting a garden.

The play starred Michael Soldati (as Paul) and Cris Morales (as Adesh). This one-act comedy by playwright Janet Lawler and director Chrysta Naron received 3 performances as part of Thespian Production's Year End Event III.  The show was recorded on Joria Productions' Main Theater on November 6, 2010.

Enjoy some highlights from the performance..  and continue to  Dream Green!  

CLICK ON LINK BELOW TO WATCH VIDEO... (warning: some explicit language)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Scene from the one-act play Extreme Green by Janet Lawler

Well, I survived my play being performed and so did the audience.

Extreme Green premiered in NYC this past weekend in a Thespian Productions Showcase.  It went very well.  Whew!  Live theater is one nail-biting event.  So many things can go wrong (and right) and the playwright just has to sit there and trust his actors and director. 

Extreme Green is about a NYC land owner who deeply resents it when a young, idealistic farmer decides to grow vegetables on his vacant lot.  It's a social comedy... about the local food movement.

The audiences really related to it, especially about buying organic, local and cage-free and experiencing the recent food movement in our country as a revolution!  In the play, Adesh, the land owner refers to Paul, the young farmer, as a "radical with a rake".

The play was directed by Chrysta Naron, who did an amazing job.  The actors (Michael Soldati and Cris Morales) received great feedback, especially on their final show.  Thanks to them both for giving hours of rehearsal time and three performances.  With just twenty minutes together on stage, they convinced the audiences -- as extremely different as they are as characters/actors -- that they could unite for a better cause (growing an organic vegetable garden)... while also making a fast buck doing it.

Many people have asked me where I got the idea for the play.

I read about an idealistic group in NYC who were throwing seeds on vacate lots in the city (to grow flowers and beautify empty lots) but it was a problem when those lots didn't belong to them.  Did these do-gooders have the right to transform lots without permission from the land owners?

And, thus, the play was born.

What's next for Extreme Green?  Well, I just might shoot it as a short film come spring.  It will also be performed in more community theaters.  Somehow, I see the play moving forward.

It seems a play destined to bloom further.

Big thanks to all who spent their hard-earned "cash flow" on tickets to see my play (especially in these tough times) and for supporting Off-Broadway arts.

It was an incredible weekend in a tiny theater.

Until next time.

For those interested in Extreme Green for their theaters, workshops or student drama clubs please visit:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Thespian Productions presents:  

Showcase III: (Year End Show) NY
4 short plays featuring:

    •    Be More 282  by Rich Espey
    •    Don't Call it Returning  by Rosebud Ben-Oni
    •    Extreme Green by Janet Lawler
    •    The Majority by Darby Alexander

Friday, November 5, 2010 @ 8pm
Saturday, November 6, 2010 @ 5pm
Saturday, November 6, 2010 @ 8pm

Joria Productions
Mainstage Theater
260 West 36th St., 3fl
New York, NY 10018

Tickets are $15.00 through Brown Paper Tickets 1-800-838-3006
Or order online here
Tickets are also available $20 at door.
Purchase raffle tickets for a chance to win one of the 3 prizes. 

1) 1st Prize - Pocket HD Camcorder
2) 7.1 Mega-Pixel Digital Camera
3) Mini Digital Camcorder/Camera
Donations: $5.00 ea.
(To purchase online with show, enter 'raffle' in the discount field) 

Drawing on November 6, 2010 @ Joria Productions, 260 W. 36th St., NYC 

Winners need not to be present.
Winning Ticket numbers will be posted on this website.

Friday, October 22, 2010


What's that famous Andy Warhol quote?  "Soon everyone in the world will be world-famous for 15 minutes?"  Well, here's your chance.

Are you underrepresented in Hollywood?  Do the movies you see truly speak to you or do they seem like people in the film industry are from another planet?  Well, don't gripe about it -- do something.  Write.  Raise your voice and put it down on paper.  Now.  It could change your life.

There is an exciting, new screenwriting competition called The Next 15 Minutes.  It's NYC cutting-edge and straight out of Brooklyn.  This isn't your father's screenwriting competition.  It's for writers willing to write from the heart and without fear of telling their truth. 

The Next 15 Minutes is open to writers from groups not usually represented in Hollywood with respect to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation/identity or physical disability.
All genres are welcome.

Here's the deal -- submit your best 15 pages from your original script.  The winners will be chosen for a live staged reading on April 16, 2011.  Winners will cast, rehearse and direct the dramatic reading of their work (with guidance from the pros).  This competition is being sponsored by Final Draft.  Four winners will receive a copy of Final Draft software. 

This competition is presented by ActNow Foundation.  Celia C. Peters is the series creator and producer.  Kudos to her for getting the word out to us.

How much does it cost to enter your 15 page masterpiece?  Only $10.  Not a bad deal for this stuck economy and hungry writers.  Start writing fast, people.  No excuses.  The submission deadline is NOVEMBER 30, 2010.  For more info and to submit go to:

Go for it and Good Luck!  Pass the word.

Until next time,

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

James Dean from the movie Giant
We just returned from the James Dean Festival in the actor's hometown of Fairmount, Indiana (see video link below).

It was a great trip, especially since I'm a long-time James Dean fan.  I've always had a photo or two of him displayed somewhere on my desk or at home (there's one in our bathroom -- how's that for devotion??).

Dean was cool personified.  He had a hard life (losing his mother at age 14 and being raised by an aunt and uncle).  But, all that grief and angst didn't stop him from leaving a small Midwestern town and eventually conquering Hollywood.

James Dean died at age 24 in a car accident in California.  He lived life in the fast lane right up to his last breath.

Driving through Fairmount, where he was raised, it's easy to imagine him strolling the narrow sidewalks on Washington Street, studying drama at the local high school and dreaming big.  What was it that propelled Dean to leave this tiny Indiana town and head to New York?  What gave him the confidence to think he could compete for parts with New York actors?  Make it to Broadway?  Study at the Actor's Studio?

Talent and drive.  He had both.

James Dean only made three movies:  East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant.  All classics.  He also had parts in many TV shows and commercials from the 1950s.  He died before his last movie was released.  He died young, but sure left a mark.  Fifty-five years later fans still make their way to Fairmount, Indiana to pay their respects to their favorite rebel.   

Dean would be 79 this year if he had lived.  

We miss you, Jim!  

Enjoy the video, Bloggers.

Until next time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Come September, many of us return to class.

I'm not an official student anymore, but I attend a weekly playwrights meeting in Manhattan.  It runs from Sept-June and is worth attending at least once if you're in the city and a writer.  Professional actors -- from SAG and Equity -- also attend the meetings and do cold readings of new plays chosen for the night.  It's fun, exciting and theatrical.

In order to get your work read aloud at a meeting, you must first become a member of The NYC Playwrights group.  For $60 dollars, it's well worth it.  NYC Playwrights meet every Tuesday night on W. 54th Street.  It's a great way to network with fellow New York actors and writers and hear some interesting new work. For details, go to

During our latest meeting (and first for the season), I met a playwright who told me she just had her first full-length play produced by an Irish theater in NYC.  She's a professional chiropractor from New Rochelle, NY and usually writes poetry.  But she wanted to try to write a play and so she did.  Soon after a theater selected it for their major production.  First time out of the gate and she got produced.  She said she received a standing ovation after the show.  Talk about beginner's luck... or the luck of the Irish... either way, she had no idea what she was doing, but the "words and characters just poured out of me."

I mention this only because sometimes as writers we tend to box ourselves in and label ourselves.  Writers will say "Oh, I only write screenplays" or "No, I could never write a novel." or "I couldn't imagine ever writing a stage play."

Why not?  What's stopping you... but you? 

If you're one of these people -- drop, roll and reread the paragraph above.  Break out of your claustrophobic, self-imposed pigeon hole.  If you're a writer, don't be afraid to try all formats... screenplays, novels, plays, poetry, a blog, a short story... whatever you like.  Just try it.   

Dare to write whatever you like however you like.  

And that next standing ovation could be for you.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Outer Banks, NC   Photo by: Carolina Correa

Well, it's Labor Day and summer is unofficially over.

It felt like it the past few days when the weather in NYC went from hot and humid to breezy and cool.  Most New Yorkers will tell you that fall is their favorite season and for good reason -- there is nothing lovelier than autumn in New York.

I had a fairly productive summer as far as writing goes.  I've been working on my full-length play.  It's much harder work than I imagined, but I keep chugging along.  I've had a couple of short plays produced and sometimes even 10 minutes of hearing my dialogue seems "long" -- I can't imagine an hour or two of it!  The poor audience held captive in their seats.  I'm reading lots of successful plays  and those famous playwrights do go on and on... page after page... act after act... and the actors have a tremendous amount of lines to remember... but, hey, that never stopped Arthur Miller, Marsha Norman, David Mamet or Neil Simon.  Those writers are heroes to me and it's fun to read their work and to imagine that they too once stared at a blank page.  It takes courage to write -- to fail -- to be rejected -- and even to succeed. 

September has started off with a bang for my writing.  I got word that my short play Extreme Green is making its way finally to New York this November 5 and 6th, 2010.  It received a staged reading in Chicago at the Chicago Dramatists last year and then went on to be performed in Fort Myers, Florida by Thespian Productions -- and next up, it will come to the Big Apple with Thespian's New York productions.  It will be exciting.  I'm looking for a director and will cast it soon.

The next day I got word that I sold my other play NetFits (about a couple fighting over their joint NetFlix account) through

Production Scripts helps to market plays for playwrights all around the world.  Their website allows high school drama clubs, theaters and actors to find new plays to perform.  NetFits sold to a high school drama club... somewhere in Illinois.  It will be used for a workshop reading there.  How cool is that?  And I also get a $3.57 cent royalty too! 

Okay, so yeah -- I'll remain a starving artist in New York... but I couldn't be happier!

Happy Labor Day to you.  Keep reading and keep writing!

Monday, July 12, 2010


Can Twitter and Facebook help you sell your latest screenplay?


Screenwriter Michael Elliot said he found his manager on Facebook. 

In his second webinar from Los Angeles on July 11th, the screenwriter of movies "Just Wright" and "Like Mike" encouraged screenwriters to look at movies similar to their own script -- check out the producer credits on the DVD or online -- and then see if those same producers are listed on Twitter and Facebook.  If they are, contact them. 

Be patient.  It may take some investigating to find the correct person listed since 'Joe Smith' may turn up several results, but when you find the right person, shoot them off a brief, friendly message (you don't have to "friend" them first) and ask if they'd like to read your script. 

It's worth a shot.  In this digital age, think outside the usual box for queries.  It won't even cost you a stamp or a phone call. 

Social media and e-mail are allowing screenwriters like yourself to reach producers, actors and fellow writers easier and faster than ever.  It's often open access to VIPs online if you do some digging.  So take advantage of the opportunity to push your brand and that new script.

Keep cool.

Until next time.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Did anybody participate in Michael Elliot's live webcast on Sunday? 

It was a great new media experience for aspiring and seasoned writers.  I'll share here with you just some of Elliot's insighst and screenwriting tips.  The webinar had a solid amount of screenwriters connected judging from the instant comments and questions coming at the host throughout the 90 minute session.

There were technical glitches at the start with server problems and members not be able to see video, just audio, and trouble logging on... but it was soon resolved and Elliot remained calm and a good sport about what he couldn't control.  His job was content and he had that under control -- the web conferencing host Dimdim needs to get their act together making access much easier and keeping the conference online throughout the session.

Elliot has written and sold four screenplays: “MTV’s Hip-Hopera: Carmen”, which launched the feature film careers for Beyonce Knowles, “Brown Sugar”, a hip-hop love story, “Like Mike”, starring Lil’ Bow Wow and “Just Wright” starring Queen Latifah, Common and Paula Patton which is in theaters this summer. 

His advice to writers was practical.  It's clear to see that he's laser focused, dedicated and enthusiastic about what he does and how he does it.  He recommends writers think outside the box.  Don't be conventional when marketing your script.  Contact stars, producers, agents, directors, other writers (through the Writer's Guild of America)... reach these types through their assistants and hungry associates... Elliot says never count out a star from a decade or two ago either... they are hungry for a meaty role and comeback... those stars usually have producing partners trolling for hot material from new writers. 

Elliot advises writers to watch as many movies as possible for entertainment and education on how stories are structured and executed.  Read screenplays online (preferably the best).  Ready to tackle your screenplay?  GREAT, he said his process is to write out a short treatment of the story, then a beat sheet (outline of key scenes) and bang out a rough draft of the script in 10 days... 10 DAYS??... yes,  pound it out... ten pages a day, no matter what.  It will be a mess, but you'll have something to work with on paper.

He said to find movies similar to your script online and research who produced it, who starred in it and contact them to pitch your new idea.  Short queries too, not describing your entire script in boring detail... but comparing your script to other movies that made money in Hollywood.  Pitches are hell, but talking about previous successful movies and linking them to your script will get you noticed.

He said don't be afraid to offer to write for a star or producer for free to get your foot in the door.  The compensation can be worked out later.  I'd add make sure the person you're writing for has some real credits because everyone is looking for people to do their hard work for free.  Make it worth your effort and time, especially if you're doing it for free.  

Elliot has a laid back style and is generous with his time.  The first webcast was a hit with technical bumps and all.  I hope he does more.    

Until next time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Photo: David Lee
By Janet Lawler

My goodness.  A screenwriter can go broke keeping up with all the new books, seminars, Expos, movies, shooting scripts and how-to deals coming at us every day.

If you're like me, you want to be up on the latest in the business, but who can afford it?  Besides, don't you find that many writers sometimes rely on all these things... instead of just parking our butts in the chair and writing the script?  It's like doing research to avoid doing the actual writing.

As the Nike ads say,  the best way to still learn and achieve anything is by just doing it.  Theory and advice are helpful, but sooner or later, we have to deliver the script.  Writers write -- plain and simple.

Having spent tons of dough over the years on screenwriting books (my personal library keeps growing), screenwriting software (Final Draft is like Apple -- it comes out with a new version all the time), it gets expensive to keep up. 

Next weekend, however, I'm happily dishing out my $ for a Live "webinar" with screenwriter Michael Elliot.  Elliot has a movie out right now in theaters starring Queen Latifah called JUST WRIGHT.  Here is the trailer  It's a Cinderella story about a young woman who is always stepped over for the prettier girl until one day she catches the eye of an NBA star.  Elliot has done interviews lately discussing how he came from a down-and-out background and achieved success despite it.  He was homeless, abused and broke then, but he had one important thing going for him -- he BELIEVED in himself.  He believed he could be a writer and he did it.  Isn't that what holds most of us back from doing anything?  A Lack of Faith in Ourselves?  Self-doubt?  Procrastination?  I love this guy because he learned to be his own biggest champion despite the odds.

Elliot is giving a session online next weekend (JUNE 27th) to help writers.  He got his scripts read by not going in the front door, but finding innovative ways to contact producers and assistants.  He did whatever it took to get his work read.  His seminar is affordable too -- only $20 bucks -- whoa, thanks, Michael, for keeping the cost down for writers who can't afford to blow hundreds of dollars on seminars, online or otherwise.   I spend more than $20 going to the movies now in NYC, so this is $20 well-spent.  Even if I get one or two new tips, it's worth it.  And Elliot is currently working in Hollywood as a writer.  He's in the game.  

If you want to learn more about Michael Elliot, or sign up for his webinar, here is the link:  You can also read about Elliot in a recent edition of WRITTEN BY (the official WGA magazine) at  This article is a must-read!  Very inspiring.  Elliot's also on Facebook.  He gives his time through a group he founded called The Ladder which reaches out to help aspiring writers.  Check it out.  Also, 

Today's the first day of summer.  Make it a fun and productive Summer of 2010!

Until next time.

Janet Lawler

Saturday, June 12, 2010


I met one of my professional heroes today -- film editor Thelma Schoonmaker.

She was a guest panelist at EditFest NY this weekend. The seminar took place at the Director's Guild of America in Manhattan.  What is EditFest? It's two days of information, education and networking with some of the best editors in the movie and television industry today.  It's presented by American Cinema Editors (ACE) and Manhattan Edit Workshop.

Maybe Thelma Schoonmaker's name doesn't ring a bell, but trust me, you know her work.  She's a three-time Oscar winner.  She edited movies like Raging Bull, The Departed and The Aviator.  She won Oscars for all three.  Schoonmaker also served as Martin Scorsese's editor on Casino, The King of Comedy, The Color of Money, The Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, Cape Fear, The Age of Innocence, Kundun, and most recently, Shutter Island.  She's aces at what she does and she managed to stake her claim in a highly male-dominated field . Her successful collaboration with Scorsese has lasted over thirty-five years.  Together they have created some of the best American films ever put up on the screen. And it all began when they met at NYU as film students and she helped the then unknown director finish his project.  They get along so well that Schoonmaker also edits Scorsese's documentaries such as A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies.  They're working on one about British cinema next.  Schoonmaker knows a thing or two about documentaries even without Scorsese at her side.  Remember the 1971 documentary Woodstock?  She edited that and received an Oscar nomination.

So I was over the moon thrilled to meet her and have the chance to thank her personally for her work.  Many of her movies are on my Top Ten Movie List and probably yours.  After her panel talk, she stuck around to talk with fellow editors, both seasoned and aspiring, posed for pictures, signed autographs and answered personal and professional questions.  She said editors need patience above all else and should always get the job done no matter what.  At 70, she continues to learn new technology... now editing digitally on an Avid rather than with film... and although it took some adjustment to change, she loves the challenge and work.  She cautioned that all the tools in the world won't make up for a movie with a weak story.  It all comes down to basic storytelling in the end.    

The editors of Avatar (John Refoua and Stephen Rivkin, minus James Cameron) were also on hand.
They gave a terrific presentation about 3D film innovation, showing clips about the making of Avatar.  They were good sports when confronted with some audio-visual glitches during their high-tech presentation... like no sound on a clip... trouble using the DVD remote... and Rivkin's microphone repeatedly falling off.) When you see what these guys managed to do with Avatar, editing for over two years, fourteen hour days, seven days a week -- you quickly learn that editing movies is not glamorous and extremely stressful and a grind.  But the payoff can be grand.  Avatar has grossed over $3 billion dollars worldwide... and Avatar II will happen, the editors said.  Schoonmaker added that film editing requires flexibility.  Nothing edited is in stone. 

Directors, producers, studios executives, preview audiences all demand constant changes to a film... and like a screenwriter forced to do yet another rewrite on a screenplay... the best editors always find a way to dig deeper and come up with what it takes.

Special thanks to Rubenstein Communications, Inc. and Tessa Kelley for inviting The NY Screenwriting Blog to cover this event.   Photos courtesy of Carolina Correa.

Until next time.  Go enjoy a summer movie.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Review by Janet Lawler 

This is an amazing documentary.  It takes an unflinching look at the legendary comedian Joan Rivers and her forty year career.  Love her or hate her -- and this film probably won't change your opinion -- but it will give you an insiders peek at what makes Joan Rivers tick.

She's been ticking a long time in show biz -- since the 1960s when she performed in dive clubs in New York and eventually hit it big once Johnny Carson put her on The Tonight Show and said "she'd be a star".  Life changed overnight and she's never looked back... except at press clippings and reviews... but she keeps moving forward, no matter how many critics say she's done.  She has two words for those critics and it's not "just wait".

Ironically,  Rivers wanted to be a a serious stage actress in her youth, not a stand-up comic.  She created her comedy routine as a way to make pocket change and still be free for theater auditions during the day.  As luck would have it, her acting career sputtered... but her comedy routine launched her into fame and fortune, and sometimes, misfortune.

This documentary by filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (THE DEVIL CAME ON HORSEBACK) is a character study in ambition, insecurity, success, grief and survival -- Rivers is 77 years old and works around the clock.  She rarely turns down a gig.  Nothing is too big or to small for her to attempt.  She'll perform comedy on stage up in the Bronx at 4pm if that's what it takes to keep working.  She considers every open door "a new opportunity".  This might explain why though she has been knocked down on numerous occasions and counted out (canceled TV shows, her husband committed suicide, NBC blacklisted her from late night), she keeps reinventing herself better than Madonna and making a very decent living doing it.  She designs jewelry, writes plays, writes books, wins reality shows, keeps going... no matter what.  And hey, NBC, she returned to your network and won The Celebrity Apprentice.  Payback is a bitch.  That win put her back on top.

This film shows the results of our youth obsessed culture... on Rivers' face.  Comics call her the Queen of Plastic Surgery (she goes on camera here with no makeup -- daring, yes -- and sad -- to see what she's had to do to be accepted in print, TV, film where aging is a no-no).  Is this what an actress or a comedian is forced to do to stay relevant in America? Ask Kathy Griffin.  Rivers' comedy, like it or not, is still timely and edgy -- but it's hard to watch her keep jumping through hoops to please the public or herself.  She would have it no other way -- but  will she ever feel good enough?  Or successful enough?  Her daughter, Melissa, says there is a lot of insecurity there. 

The movie focuses on the star and business woman, but it gives a glimpse into her personal life too.  Her longtime manager keeps disappearing and so she eventually fires him, which crushes her.  She worries about her daughter following in her footsteps into show business.  It's a harsh industry, especially for women.  One of the tender moments comes when Rivers takes joy in simply holding her grandson's hand in the back of her limo... and delivering a meal to a former photographer who has AIDS on Thanksgiving Day.  Rivers also invites people, who are alone in her building, to come for Thanksgiving dinner in her apartment.

She is sharp tongued one second (don't dare call her an icon or say she helped open doors for women or she'll let you have it -- she's STILL opening doors) and vulnerable the next (when she cries about losing her manager/friend and other colleagues over the years).

Keeping with full disclosure here, I wrote jokes for Joan Rivers back in the 80s.  It didn't pay much, but it was thrilling to hear her say a few of my jokes.  I met her once and she was so kind.  Today, she says she plans to outlive and outperform George Burns (who lived into his 90s) and other comic legends because she will never RETIRE.  She will never quit.

I believe her. 

Joan Rivers - A Piece of Work is an IFC Films release.  It opens on 6/11/10.  Here is the trailer.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Always love when you readers reach out to me and let me know what's upcoming and a must-see.  I'm excited to find out that the playwright of "The Elephant Man" is about to deliver to us his latest work.

Bernard Pomerance's new play "Spinoff" is set for a reading on June 11th right here in Manhattan.   Pomerance, best known for writing "The Elephant Man," has won a number of awards, including the Tony, New York Drama Critics, Drama Desk, and Obie awards. This is the first reading of a new play by him in more than 20 years; it is entertaining, thought-provoking, and timely, and explores themes of identity in our television-obsessed culture. Award-winning film producer Jim Jermanok is directing.

The reading is a fundraiser for PS 10, the school Pomerance's granddaughter attends. PS 10 is facing severe budget cuts and cannot afford text books, art supplies or school lunches.  If you plan to attend, here are the details:

"Spinoff" a play reading 
Friday, June 11th, 2010
8 p.m.
$15 donation
Players Club
16 Grammercy Park South, 

between Irving and Park (adjacent to Grammercy Park)
Wine reception to follow
Please RSVP to Jessie at or 917.697.4111

This event is worth marking on your calendar.  I'm sure Mr. Pomerance will deliver an incredible new play and you'll be helping to support the students of PS 10 at the same time.  It's a win-win.

Until next time.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Most people fell in love with Michael Douglas when he played Gordon Gekko in Wall Street. I've had a crush on Douglas since his TV days on The Streets of San Francisco.  Back then, he was young and cool as the rookie California detective. His character spoke few lines each week, but Douglas held his own even up against his heavy-hitter co-star Karl Malden. 

Fast forward 35 years.  On Monday night, Michael Douglas received the 2010 Chaplin Award at a star-studded bash for his contributions to the film industry.  His wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones, accompanied him to the event, as did his dad, legendary actor Kirk Douglas, also on hand was Jimmy Buffet, Erika Christensen (a sweet person!) Danny DeVito, Tobey Maguire, Bette Midler, Ashley Olsen, Justin Bartha, Brooke Shields and many others.

(Photos by Carolina Correa)

Michael Douglas has starred in some of my favorites films and no doubt yours -- just take a look at some of his work:

Solitary Man
Wonder Boys
A Perfect Murder
Wall Street
The American President
Basic Instinct
The War of the Roses 
Fatal Attraction
Romancing the Stone
The China Syndrome

Douglas also produced One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in 1975.  He won an Oscar for doing so.  Cuckoos Nest won five Oscars that year, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay (based on the book).

Not long ago, he returned to TV for a guest appearance on Will & Grace.  Remember his sexy dance with Will?  Let's just say, Will got a taste of what it was like to be Sharon Stone and Glenn Close.

I still have a crush on Michael Douglas, only more so these days.  His new movie The Solitary Man is getting great reviews and we still have Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps to look forward to in the fall.

Hope you like all the pictures from the event.  It was an exciting night in New York.

Until Next time.

Monday, May 17, 2010


So you write that great script.  You sell it to Hollywood.  They shoot it with big-named stars and then it lands in the hands of a film editor.  With a delicate splice here, and a snip here, that film editor can technically rewrite your entire script.  It's the final step in the creative process of a movie and one of the most important. 

Editing is a crucial, yet the often overlooked craft and art in movies.  It's not a very glamorous job (a lot like screenwriting)... editors, like writers, get little credit... little recognition for their work... but are often the bookends to making a spectacular movie.  It's the talents of both the screenwriter, and the film editor, that make words meet images and create movie magic.

Do you pay attention to film editors when you see a new movie?  Who edited great movies like  The Graduate?  Or, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid?

The other night I attended a talk given by Bobbie O'Steen (author of The Invisible Cut: How Editors Make Movie Magic) and film editor John Gilroy (Michael Clayton) held downtown at 92YTribeca.  O'Steen has written about the art of editing and knows all about it firsthand.  She earned an Emmy nomination for editing Best Little Girl in the World.  She not only writes about this skill, but editing is  in her DNA.  Her father, Richard C. Meyer, edited the above mentioned classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Let's face it -- that movie is a gem not only because of William Goldman's witty one-liners and characters, but because of the way the movie is edited -- its pacing and style.  That movie grips us from frame one and never lets go -- right up until the iconic freeze frame at the end when Butch and The Kid come out with guns blazing.  The talk focusing on the editing of Michael Clayton showed what an essential role the film editor has in shaping the movie, assisting the director, and creating the tone and pace of the movie.

By the way, O'Steen's late husband, Sam O'Steen, edited The Graduate.  Not too shabby.  If you want to learn about film editing, I recommend you pick up her book.

It's often said that a movie is rewritten in the editing room.  A great script is rarely shot exactly as it's written on the page.  It can't be -- a director interprets it, then the actors, and finally a film editor.  Editing is often about elimination.  A good editor has an eye for what works and doesn't in a movie -- and just like with a script, usually less is more.  It's amazing how much can be cut from a script, or scene, or movie, and yet the story works even better.  Haven't we all seen movies that begged to be shorter?  A movie that would have had more punch if only the editor would have been allowed to do his job?

As screenwriters, we can learn a lot from great film editors and their collaborations with top directors.  Watch your favorite Martin Scorsese movie, but also thank his film editor Thelma Schoonmaker (pictured below), because she probably edited it (she won Oscars for Raging Bull, The Aviator, The Departed).

Or how about Dede Allen?  She edited many of Sidney Lumet's movies (Dog Day Afternoon and Serpico).  Ms. Dede passed away earlier this year at age 86.

Michael Kahn edited Steven Spielberg films (Saving Private Ryan, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Schindler's List).

How about Verna Fields who edited Jaws?  Wow.  We all remember the scary music... but also the visual pacing of Jaws kept us riveted to the screen.  Verna Fields won an Oscar for editing that one.  Women film editors have put their stamp on so many American classic movies we have come to love and cherish.

So the next time you watch a film, pay extra close attention to who wrote it... and yes, who edited it.  It's the delicate craft and art of words mixing with images that capture our hearts in the dark. 

Until next time.

Saturday, May 01, 2010


If you love the Arts, you must visit the Performing Arts Library in NYC.  It has a treasure trove collection of plays, screenplays, biographies and performance media.  You can watch classic films or taped performances of great stage productions.  The New York Performing Arts Library is located in Lincoln Center at 66th Street.  It's a beautiful library with rich resources for writers and other artists for research and to borrow.  Here is it's link for more info.

I've also found that the Museum of the Moving Image located in my neighborhood in Astoria has great films and panelists that are inspiring and informative.  I just downloaded a bunch of podcasts online from their Pinewoods Dialogues series.  The current one features actor Michael Caine that is worth a listen to at

My iPod is filled with free podcasts also available from iTunes... I download everything from Apple's Meet the Filmmakers to the Creative Screenwriting Magazine's podcasts.  I'm taking a long car trip soon to North Carolina, so I'll be able to catch up on many in the car.  Podcasts are great on airplanes... I listened to several on a recent trip to Phoenix from New York.  It passes the time quickly and drowned out the screaming kid sitting behind me. We're fortunate to be pursuing careers in the Arts now when so much priceless free material is at our fingertips through the internet.

So next time you're in Manhattan stop by the Performing Arts Library in Lincoln Center and have fun browsing the stacks.  There is plenty of space to find a good book and read or pop in a DVD and watch the masters at work. Then, after, stroll through Lincoln Plaza, see the recently renovated Revson Fountain (made more famous in that memorable scene where Cher meets Nicolas Cage for a night at the Opera in Moonstruck) and walk across the street for a burger at P.J. Clarke's. You should never be bored living in or visiting New York.

Until next time.

Monday, April 26, 2010


The Tribeca Talks: Pen to Paper "Authors at the Helm" event took place this morning. The talk was hosted by Barnes and Noble in Union Square in NYC.  Panelists included Nice Guy Johnny writer/director Edward Burns, Snap writer/director and playwright Carmel Winters, and comedian/novelist/screenwriter David Baddiel.  The author Susan Orlean moderated.

The discussion was about the artist's process of writing, directing one's own work and distributing it in today's world of indies and 3-D blockbusters.  All three of the panelists advised writers in the audience to write with a sense of discipline (every day if possible), to push through when you're stuck on the page (Burns suggested "write a bullshit scene just to keep going and then come back to it later and fix it, just don't stop.") and to write with your movie budget in mind.  Burns noted that for his first film he wrote five scenes to take place in Central Park because he could shoot there without a film permit.  That saved him money on his budget.  He suggested using what you have and locations you can use for free.  

After the talk, the panelists were gracious enough to stick around and give one-on-one advice . Burns was particularly generous with his time -- signing autographs, answering questions and giving tips on what screenwriting books to read (he likes Story by Robert McKee, Save the Cat by Blake Snyder; and books by John Truby).

There was a minor crisis when Burns misplaced his iPhone at the event, but it was quickly found.  (The audio-visual guy had removed it off the stage while cleaning up.)  Imagine if that phone wasn't returned?  Some poser would be speed dialing Christy Turlington or leaving Bob De Niro a text by now.  Burns is a down-to-earth, nice guy from Long Island who hasn't forgotten what it's like to be an artist looking for a break.  His new film Nice Guy Johnny is playing now at the Tribeca Film Festival.

(Photos by Janet Lawler)

Thanks to Ed Burns, the Tribeca Talks series and Barnes & Noble.  Great day.  Here is a clip of Ed giving advice about getting your indie film made. 

Until next time,
Janet J. Lawler