Monday, September 19, 2011

TV Just Keeps Getting Better
by Janet Lawler

How fun were The Emmys on Sunday night?  Jane Lynch did a great job.  I loved it when she said she was on "finger shooting terms" with Jon Hamm from Mad Men (gosh, that man gets better looking every year!) and Jane's nod to director Martin Scorsese in the audience.   Lucky Jane.

One very funny family
Modern Family won for best comedy series.  Every cast member delivers on that show.  Julie Bowen and Ty Burrel are terrific together.  Hats off to the writers for creating such amazing characters living out ordinary, yet hysterical, situations on Modern Family.

Mildred Pierce
Kate Winslet won for Mildred Pierce.  Yay!  I loved the original starring Joan Crawford and worried when HBO was producing this remake of Mildred and Veda, until learning Kate Winslet would play Mildred.  She's brilliant.

The Miniseries
I streamed the entire The Kennedys miniseries on Netflix and found it well done, even besides the bad press and Kennedy family giving it a thumbs down.  (I'm a Kennedy geek.  Anything Kennedy and I'm hooked. I can't wait to read Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy.)  Barry Pepper won an Emmy for his portrayal of Bobby Kennedy in The Kennedys.  He doesn't resemble RFK in looks at all, but he steals the miniseries with his multidimensional performance as the brash yet sensitive attorney general. 

TV comedies and dramas just keep pulling us in and keeping us home.  Television writing is sharp and as top notch, actually better, than any you'll find in a feature films.  Movies lack the character depth and dialogue found on television today -- shows like Mad Men, The Good Wife, Breaking Bad, Friday Night Lights don't disappoint.

Cheers to Julianna Margulies who won for The Good Wife and Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights. 

I'm off to set the DVR in anticipation of the new fall season.  I love this time of year.

Here is a recap of winners at Sunday's 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences:

— Drama Series: "Mad Men," AMC.
— Actress, Drama Series: Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife," CBS.
— Actor, Drama Series: Kyle Chandler, "Friday Night Lights," DirecTV/NBC.
— Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones," HBO.
— Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Margo Martindale, "Justified," FX.
— Writing, Drama Series: Jason Katims, "Friday Night Lights," NBC.
— Directing, Drama Series: Martin Scorsese, "Boardwalk Empire," HBO.
— Comedy Series: "Modern Family," ABC.
— Actor, Comedy Series: Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory," CBS.
— Actress, Comedy Series: Melissa McCarthy, "Mike & Molly," CBS.
— Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Julie Bowen, "Modern Family," ABC.
— Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: Ty Burrell, "Modern Family," ABC.
— Writing, Comedy Series: Steven Levitan and Jeffrey Richman, "Modern Family," ABC.
— Directing, Comedy Series: Michael Spiller, "Modern Family," ABC.
— Miniseries or Movie: "Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)," PBS.
— Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Kate Winslet, "Mildred Pierce," HBO.
— Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Barry Pepper, "The Kennedys," ReelzChannel.
— Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Maggie Smith, "Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)," PBS.
— Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Guy Pearce, "Mildred Pierce," HBO.
— Directing, Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special: Brian Percival, "Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)," PBS.
— Writing, Miniseries, Movie or Dramatic Special: Julian Fellowes, "Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)," PBS.
— Reality-Competition Program: "The Amazing Race," CBS.
— Variety, Music or Comedy Series: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," Comedy Central.
— Directing, Variety, Music or Comedy Series: Don Roy King, "Saturday Night Live," NBC.
— Writing, Variety, Music or Comedy Series: "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," Comedy Central.

Congratulations to all! 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Oprah-isms to Lift My Weary NY Spirits
by Janet Lawler
New York 
September 12, 2011 
Oprah Winfrey
It's been a crazy few months here in New York.  We survived an earthquake, a hurricane, floods, a terrorist threat and the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.

I don't know about you, but I'm exhausted.  Emotionally and physically.

We need to lighten things up around here.   So I'm turning to some O.  No, not O for optimism this time.  O for Oprah.

That's right.  I admit it.  I really miss Oprah.  Have you noticed since her show went off the air the world has gone to hell?  I miss O being a part of my day (on DVR).  The good news is her new nightly show Oprah's Life Class (yes, I am enrolled) begins on 10/10 on the OWN network.

But why wait until October?  That's like pumpkin season.

I need some life lessons now.  Pronto. 

It's like Oprah heard me.  She appeared on Facebook's new web TV show last week.  Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg interviewed Oprah for an hour.  It was just the fix that I needed to lift me out of my NY funk.  During the chat, Oprah revealed tips about her own success and life's journey.  (Hey, you know the word journey has to come up when talkin' Oprah.)

Watch live streaming video from facebookguests at

So.  What journey are you on these days? 

Do you have a plan or are you just winging it for the rest of your life? 

Well, one thing I've learned is that success leaves clues. So I took notes when Oprah appeared on Facebook.  Here's what I came away with from Professor Winfrey.  I'm paraphrasing, but you'll get the point.  Feel free to apply these to your own life.

Keep standing and keep moving forward.

Be your authentic self.  

Don't imitate others work. 

Be the highest expression of yourself.

Ask yourself, why am I here?  What is my purpose and intention for doing this job?

Always think about your audience.  What do you want the audience to get from this work? 

Don't produce something that gives energy to darkness (i.e., hatred, violence, etc.)

Move toward the light.  Enlighten your audience.

Elevate using your own unique platform, whether you're a writer, teacher, secretary, reporter, or an actor.  

Inspire.  Educate.  Inform.

Before doing something important, be still.

Don't do something simply for ratings or approval. 

Surround yourself with people who are "all in" with you.  If someone doesn't want you, YOU DON'T WANT THEM.  

Move on.

Compete only with yourself.  

Raise the bar every day.

Whatever it is you do, do it with service and honor.  How can you serve others in your work?

Use your talent as a service for your family, community, country and industry.

Let go of the past.  

You will become what you believe.

Oprah wrapped up the interview on Facebook by suggesting we think about our legacy before we leave the planet.

What will your legacy be?  O says it will be your "heart print" on others.  You don't need a TV show to do it.  Or a TV network.  Or even a book club, for that matter. 

Create your legacy starting now.  Today -- right where you are. 

Once you find your voice -- your truth -- go deeper and expand your reach.  Oh, and enjoy the "journey", where ever it may lead you today. 

Class dismissed. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Filmmaker Rashaad Ernesto Green

A Chat with the Writer/Director of the New Indie Film GUN HILL ROAD
by Janet Lawler

The title of this movie caught my eye before knowing anything else about it. I was born in the Bronx and grew up near Gun Hill Road. I always thought Gun Hill Road would make for a great movie title. Apparently, I'm not alone.

GUN HILL ROAD is a new indie movie by a writer/director Rashaad Ernesto Green. Keep an eye out for it at your local art house or soon on Netflix. Keep a closer eye on Green as a new director to watch. Gun Hill Road is Green's first feature film. The NYU graduate and Bronx native's film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January to rave reviews and became a finalist in the 2011 Jury Award.

The film is also a recipient of the Spike Lee Fellowship.

Gun Hill Road starring Esai Morales, Judy Reyes, and the breakout star Harmony Santana tells the story of a family in transition. It focuses on a young man exploring his sexuality in an intolerant and judgmental world and his exploration's impact on his relationship with his parents and himself.  Here is the movie's trailer

The NY Screenwriting Life recently asked Rashaad Ernesto Green about his new work and his creative process on Gun Hill Road:

How long did it take you to write the screenplay for Gun Hill Road?
From conception until final draft, it took me about a year and a half to write GUN HILL ROAD.

What is your daily writing process like? Do you write daily or binge write? Prefer to write during the day or at night?
I'm more of a binge writer unfortunately, and bit unorthodox I'd say. I come from an acting background and always left the writing up to someone else. Now that I write for myself, I usually burn the midnight oil before deadlines.

Filmmaker Ed Burns often says he considers himself a writer first. Do you consider yourself more a director or a writer? Which is your primary passion?
I usually enjoy the process of writing once I force myself to do it, but as far as passions are concerned, I'd say it's probably the last on my list. Acting is first, then directing, and finally writing. The trouble is... I have a lot to say, and the only way I have found that I can fully express it is by putting it on paper first.

You directed/edited/wrote several short films before Gun Hill Road. Do you recommend aspiring writers/directors begin with short films before taking on their first feature?
100%. Absolutely. A feature film is a beast. The best way to develop your craft and hone your writing/directing skills is by starting small and making short films.

What was the Sundance Film Festival experience like for you? How has it helped the film along the way?
Sundance has been wonderful. I had a short film at Sundance in January of 2009 when I began writing GUN HILL ROAD. Once you're in the family, they really look after you. I was really happy to return two years later with my first feature.

In this digital age, how can audience see Gun Hill Road if they can't see it at their local theater?
Eventually, the plan will be to release it on DVD and VOD. However, if they want their local theater to play it, they can go online to request the film at

When will Gun Hill Road be available on Netflix?
Not exactly sure. I'm guessing a couple months after the end of its theatrical run.

I have amazing memories of growing up in the 70s in The Bronx. How did growing up in The Bronx influence you as a filmmaker?
My earliest memories and images of the Bronx are so vivid and bright. The Bronx that I knew has never been portrayed in films, which is why as an artist, I have attempted to offer a different perspective on a section of New York that often goes overlooked.

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer/director now since making your first feature film?
Tell the stories in you heart that need to be told. We need them like we need water and air. Never give up, and always work with people you love.

What's next on your plate?
I always have a couple of pots in the fire. I'm working on my next script as well as reading many scripts to see if my voice vibes with someone else's.

Thanks, Rashaad, for taking some time out with us here at The NY Screenwriting Life.
Thank you, Janet! You can keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter at

Cheers for Gun Hill Road and let's support indie films as we head into fall 2011. It will open in many cities like Chicago and Miami on September 16th. Check the film's website for details.

Hope you all had a wonderful, productive summer!
Until next time.

PS -- Don't forget to follow The NY Screenwriting Life Blog on Facebook. Also available on for all you Kindle lovers.