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.