Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I should wrap gifts... but one more page.
Here's hoping this year was a terrific writing year for you!  It's always difficult to find time to write if you're balancing a full life... work, family, pets, kids, errands, the Internet... but somehow, we writers manage to block out some time to pound the keys... scratch the paper... send out the next draft.

In 2012, I wrote a Christmas screenplay HARK AND HAROLD with my writing partner, Chris Keller. We made it to the semi-finals of the Page International Screenwriting Awards.  It was super exciting and we received great feedback.  

We're working on a brand new draft and will send it into the world in early 2013... may it someday be part of your holiday tradition to watch HARK AND HAROLD.  
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and blessed New Year in 2013.  Keep writing, following your dreams and believing that you have something worthwhile to share with the world through your written words and images.  Keep the faith.

Merry Christmas and have a Happy, Prosperous 2013!
Janet Lawler
The NY Screenwriting Life Blog
New York City 

Thursday, December 13, 2012


The 70th Annual Golden Globes were just announced.  There are movies and television shows you'd expect to be nominated (Lincoln, Argo, Homeland, Breaking Bad, etc.), but there are a few surprises too...

Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor!

They're nominated for Best Actress and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and deservedly so.  Did you see Salmon Fishing in Yemen when it came out early this year?  Probably not, not many people did.  I did (and reviewed it below for this blog).  It's a delightful movie that didn't stick around long in theaters -- probably because of its title -- but both actors are terrific in it.  It has a fresh story.  Kristin Scott Thomas is a riot as a foul-mouthed British press manager.

Lets hope the Golden Globe nomination for Blunt and McGregor will make this fishing movie the catch of the day.

Rent it if you can before the awards.

by Janet Lawler
February 22, 2012

Who knew fly-fishing could be so heartwarming and fun?

Salmon Fishing in Yemen, the new movie, definitely hooked its audience last night at an advanced screening here in Manhattan.  The romantic comedy stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, with a terrific supporting role for Kristin Scott Thomas.

The story is a fish tale -- about a Middle Eastern sheik who wants to bring the sport of fly-fishing to his country.  Money is no object... and so, Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor join forces to make it happen.

It's a romantic comedy (with a tricky title for a movie) that make both lead characters endearing to the audience as well as to each other.  Blunt brings her familiar wit and charisma from "The Devil Wears Prada" but adds a delicate touch to the dramatic scenes.  Ewan McGregor is adorable in every scene -- I can't say much more -- he's simply adorable to watch.  He makes you root for the fish too.

Kristin Scott Thomas
Kristin Scott Thomas gets plenty of laughs throughout portraying a fast-talking Brit press manager/mother-of-three.  Her line telling her son to remove his "hoodie" is golden, but I can't repeat it here.  Go see the movie for yourself.  The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom -- well-paced, enticing, with stunning shots of Afghanistan,  The screenplay is written by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Paul Torday

After the movie, I heard several people raving about it outside.  One movie-goer said to her friend "I'd  go see that again!".
Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor
I would too.  It's a good one. Go catch this movie, you won't be tempted to throw it back.

"Salmon Fishing in Yemen" Here is the movie trailer http://fishingintheyemen.com/ 

Until next time.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Debra Winger in The Anarchist
Janet Lawler
New York
December 6, 2012

Debra Winger made some great movies.  Remember her in "Urban Cowboy" with John Travolta?  She was unknown, but stole screen time from then red-hot Travolta.   

Next, she stood toe to toe with Richard Gere in "An Officer and a Gentleman" -- he lifted her off her feet and carried her out of that paper factory -- making movie history -- but it was Winger who in the very last frame of the movie put on his naval cap to make a statement -- 

She took control -- just ask Shirley MacLaine, her costar in another fave "Terms of Endearment".   Soon Hollywood said Winger was difficult.  Winger said she didn't care.  She just wanted to make good movies.  Good parts for women.

Those good parts dwindled and Debra Winger left the movies.  She married actor Arliss Howard and resided to upstate New York to raise her family.  She wrote a memoir "Undiscovered" in 2008.  She resurfaced on screen again in "Rachel Getting Married".  She did some TV -- namely, Law and Order.

She's currently making her Broadway debut in "The Anarchist".
Playwright David Mamet

It's a new play written and directed by David Mamet.  I saw it recently in previews -- it stars not only Winger, but legendary actress Patti LuPone.  Both women in a new Mamet play? I couldn't dial the box-office fast enough...
Patti LuPone and Debra Winger

Unfortunately, the play didn't live up to my excitement.  The actors are fine -- but putting LuPone and Winger in a two-character play and never experiencing any true DRAMA between them is a waste.  Instead of fireworks on stage we got a fizzle of conflict. 

A dud.  Sadly.

The NY Times just announced that the play is closing.  It opened December 3rd.  It will go dark by December 16th.  Sad.  Imagine all the work, rehearsing, investing that went into this play?  But the reviewers were dreadful and worse on social media.  The play runs like 70 minutes... without an intermission.  The audience felt cheated.  (Let's not even mention the wardrobe and hair the actresses had to endure).

Can't blame Winger or LuPone.  It's the playwright who let us down.  David Mamet - famous or not -- gave us a play he never fully developed.  The characters never evolved.  I didn't care about either one or their predicament.  It was a Q and A between a prisoner and a warden (or parole officer).  The audience kept waiting for the pay off... a big secret revealed by end?  None.  A memorable moment between two powerhouse actresses?  None. Crackling dialogue?  None.  Not even a Mamet F-bomb to wake us up.

And then lights out.  WHAT?

We wanted to stand and give an ovation to the actresses for being punished before our eyes -- and not just because they were in a prison play.  We felt their pain.  We were imprisoned in our seats -- that cost a pretty penny.

We poured onto W.45th Street after the play scratching our heads.  It was barely 9PM and the play is over?  I heard one guy say "Is it really over? Now what do we do?  Go have a drink?  Walk around Times Square?"   To me, it felt like the play never began. 

So my search for Debra Winger goes on... (see the documentary Searching for Debra Winger http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-GALaD2kuE)

I'll support her next book, next film, or play.  I'm happy she's back and working.  She still has it... that deadpan delivery of a line... that she used with Travolta, Gere and MacLaine.  The raspy voice that, unfortunately, David Mamet didn't fully take advantage of this time.

The Anarchist is playing at the Golden Theatre in New York City.  http://theanarchistbroadway.com/

Until next time.

Friday, August 31, 2012

by Janet Lawler
August 31, 2012

DeVon Franklin, VP of Production Columbia Pictures
In early August, I had the opportunity to chat with DeVon Franklin on the phone.  DeVon is an inspiration.  He has done so much for such a young professional.

DeVon started his film career as an intern for Will Smith's film company.  He worked on films like "The Karate Kid" and "The Pursuit of Happyness".  He climbed the studio ranks as an executive to his current position of VP of Production at Columbia Pictures. 

He also just released a new book "Produced by Faith".  It advises how to look at your life like a movie and to be true to your own voice.  I have read it and recommend it.

DeVon is also a Christian minister and motivational speaker.  How does he have time to do all this and do it all so successfully?  Let's find out.  The last person I watched interview DeVon Franklin was Oprah Winfrey.  Wow.  I'm honored to interview DeVon here.

Janet:   Hi, DeVon.  I really appreciate you doing this interview for The NY Screenwriting Life.

DeVon:  I appreciate you doing it.

Janet:  I saw you recently on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah on the OWN network.  I watched your interview with Oprah twice.  It was so inspiring.

DeVon:  Wow.  You watched it twice?

Janet:  I did.  What is the reaction since you sat down with Oprah?

DeVon:   It's been good.  Definitely.  A lot more people are finding the book, getting the message.  We've had a lot more interaction.  It's been really, really good.  Everything that has come out of it has been incredibly positive.

Janet:  I bet.  I see Super Soul Sunday is doing well too.  So it was a good match for you.

DeVon:  Oh yeah.  The show is really finding its footing.  The audience is finding it.  So it is good, it's really good.

Janet:   Terrific.

DeVon:  I was just blessed to be on it.  To be honest.

Janet:  Oprah's one of my  heroes.  I love what she does.

DeVon:  Me too.  For me to be able to meet her was just unbelievable.

Janet:  So your book deals with faith and overcoming obstacles.  How can a writer stay positive in the face of rejection, since that's such a big part of writing and creativity?

DeVon: Once you understand that rejection is a part of the process, it becomes easier to deal with.  When you understand that as writer not everyone is going to get this point of view that I have.  Maybe not even necessarily get it, they might not want the story.  They might not want the story that I have to tell.  That's okay. There is the right audience, the right person out there who will be responsive to your story.  I think the way to have hope is to work on your craft, to continue to perfect your story.  I mean, one of my favorite books is How To Write Screenplays That Sell by Michael Hauge.  Another one is The Moral Premise by Dr. Stanley Williams.  When you look at these books, you see that we can always fine tune our work.  Sometimes when we get rejection it can be a good thing because it highlights something in your work that you might have otherwise not known.  It can give you ideas on areas to change or to make your story better.  So my encouragement is that you have to keep going.  Rejection is part of it.  Don't fear it.  You need feedback.  No successful movie ever happens in a vacuum. 

Janet:  Rejection gives us a chance to grow.

DeVon:  Absolutely.  And that growth is key because that growth will help you to become a professional, working screenwriter.  It will help you do what you want to do, which is write and sell screenplays.

Janet: In your book you talk a lot about conflict, especially growing up in your early years.  Your father died when you were young.  I related to that because my father died when I was 14. So I know a little bit about what you went through in dealing with loss.  But our love for movies can lift us and inspire us through tough times. 

DeVon:  Yeah.

Janet:  You work in Hollywood yet keep your faith a priority.  Do you find a writer can use his or her work as, say, a service?  Even a service to God?

DeVon:  Oh absolutely!  I would say God is the master storyteller.  Now when you look at the Bible it is filled with incredible stories and incredible characters, who go through tremendous conflict, and yet somehow against the odds, are able to succeed in most cases.  So the idea that God, through His word, would encourage us through stories... we absolutely respond through stories.  We can relate to them.  Yes, so the idea of being able to use the craft of screenwriting as a service to Him is absolutely necessary and possible.  When you look at stories in the Bible, a lot times people think those stories are totally sanitized -- they're not.  There is murder, espionage, bertrayal, adultery... all of these things that go into making the story more compelling.  Like the story of David.  Here is a man who was after God's heart yet was very flawed, but you had to understand his flaw in order to root for his redemption.  I think if you look in the Bible that way, in that context as a screenwriter, it's an incredible opportunity to use your faith to help you craft incredible stories that will change the world, essentially.

Janet: We see examples of how film and television impact our daily lives.  People often say when they've been down and out, sick, or unemployed... and they turn to TV or movies to lift their spirit or take them out of their daily problems, their world.  It can spark somebody to keep going forward.

DeVon:  Absolutely.

Janet: You started as an intern with Will Smith's film company.  He always says his work ethic is really what drives his success in all areas of the entertainment business:  music, TV and films.  Did you see a lot of examples of that on a daily basis being around Will Smith in the office?

DeVon:  Oh yes, oh yeah.  He's just tireless.  He's fearless.  I mean, especially when we were working on scripts.  Will can start in the morning and go all night.  He certainly sets the standard that we're all trying to reach.

Janet:   Right, and working hard every day obviously to reach goals.

DeVon:  That's right.  Every.  Single.  Day. (laughs)

Janet: Is there a market for faith-based scripts in Hollywood?  Is there an appeal for those today?

DeVon: Oh yeah, definitely.  There is always an appetite to find films that work for an under served audience.   Movies that are inspirational or that bring hope, there is an appetite for those kinds of movies.

Janet: Good to hear.  As an author and as a studio exec, do you recommend screenwriters take advantage of social media to promote themselves and their work?  Besides a Facebook page?

DeVon: Yes, social media is key.  Spread the word.  Get the word out there.  Getting feedback, yes.  Social media is incredibly important.  I would find various online screenwriting communities to join.  I know Dr. Stanley Williams... Through the Moral Premise Blog http://moralpremise.blogspot.com/  has one.  I think Michael Hauge has one http://www.storymastery.com/.  I would advise becoming a part of really good educational screenwriting blogs and networks online because you're only as strong as your resources, you know.

Janet:  Sure. 

DeVon:  And as a screenwriter, it's important to use all of your resources available to you to help you tell better stories.

Janet:  Right, and it's a great way to reach out to new people.  Because through social media and online communities, you can get in touch with just about anybody these days -- to help your career.

DeVon:  Yes, absolutely.  I find it to be important.

Janet: Your new movie is Sparkle -- to be released this summer. 

DeVon:  Yes, I'm excited about it.

Janet:  How's the feedback and the tracking been?

DeVon:  It's been good.  So far so good.  We're in a really good place and still have a long way to go. 

Janet:  A lot of people want to support the film for a lot of different reasons, but also to see Whitney Houston, as this movie is her final work.

DeVon:   Right.  It is.  When people see it, they're really going to be amazed.  She is so incredible in the movie.  And what I love about the film is that it's her legacy.  It's a part of her legacy.  This is really what her life was about.  This is what she spent her last time with us doing -- which is to help produce and star in a movie about hope and faith... and using your gift in the right way.  So it's exciting to be able to put that out there.  So that the world can see it.

Janet:  I'm sure people will enjoy it.

DeVon:  I hope so.  Storm the box-office.  (laughs)

Janet: (laughs)  I hope it's a big hit.  DeVon, again thank you, for doing this.  For taking my questions for the blog.  It will be a big inspiration to writers everywhere across all formats to keep working hard and to keep the faith. 

DeVon:  It's a blessing to do it. 

Janet:  Thank you.

DeVon:  Thank you and God bless.

Janet:  God bless you.  Take care.

                                                             SUMMER SIDE NOTES...

I hope you've all had a great summer and got some writing done between visits to the beach and backyard BBQs.  I'm working on a new script and finishing a play. 

Update on The Page International Screenwriting Awards:  my writing partner, Chris Keller, and I placed in the Quarter Finals.  We didn't advance to the semi finals, but it's okay... we got super feedback and high scores.  Now we begin marketing Hark and Harold, The Christmas Movie.  It's a fun family holiday comedy.  International appeal.  So onward and upward.

Farewell, summer 2012.  Here's to an awesome Fall 2012!

Until next time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

by Janet Lawler

You know those people who are just born lucky?  You know the type.  They win card games, hit the jackpot at Atlantic City and beat you at Words With Friends all the time?

That's not usually me.  I've won a couple of things in my lifetime... once, I won free Final Draft software when I answered questions correctly about Oscar trivia.  Oh, and I did win once at Wheel of Fortune in Vegas... like about $350... just before leaving for the airport.  That was sweet.  

But other than that... oh, and I did win about $400 at roulette in Atlantic City.

So I guess I'm kinda... quasi-lucky.

As for winning screenwriting contests?  I've only entered a few.  I guess deep down I always questioned their authenticity -- were they really legit or just cashing in on starving writers?  Let's face it -- screenwriters are dealing with rejection around every corner -- sometimes a contest is our last life line.  It's like an actress entering a beauty contest -- shouting "For the love of God, will someone recognize me... my talent... my swim suit!"

Hey, it worked for Michelle Pfeifer.  That's how she was discovered by a Hollywood agent - in a beauty contest. 

You have to put yourself out there any way you can.  Take a risk -- a gamble.  Screenwriting contests provide that platform.

I co-wrote an original screenplay this year with Chris Keller.  It's a family Christmas movie called HARK and HAROLD.  It has international and domestic appeal.  It's got great characters (elves).  I loved writing it.  It made me happy to sit down every day and spend time in the world of the North Pole.

Chris is a marketing genius.  I'm not, so much.  I love writing, but hate marketing my scripts. I think most writers are like that.  That's why we have agents and managers.

So I was thrilled to learn this weekend that Hark and Harold, the Christmas movie made it to the quarter-finals in the 2012 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards.  YAY!  Here is the link of the announcement:  http://pageawards.com/past-winners/2012-winners/2012-quarter-finalists-2/

Really, this cynical New Yorker asked?  How is this possible?  Among over 6,000 scripts submitted we're still alive?  Still in the game?  WOW!  Awesome.  It was thrilling getting past rounds one and two.  Now I'm caught up in the suspense... the possibilities...

It's like American Idol -- next the judges decide our fate on AUGUST 15th. Where's Jennifer Lopez  when I need her?  Will we make it to the semi-finals?

At least I don't have to sing to win.  We just had to write a good script.

As cynical as I've been about screenwriting contests -- some are prestigious and legit -- and open doors to top producers, agents, and studios.  So it's worth it to roll the dice.  To spin the wheel.  As they say about the lottery, you have to be in it to win it.

Chris Keller and I wrote a screenplay that is now in the Top 10% of those voted on by judges.  We have to compete against 664 other scripts to WIN the contest.  Our script is about Christmas... and miracles... and happy endings... so I'm keeping my fingers crossed... and keeping the faith. 

Lady Luck knows where to find me.  I'm in New York and on Facebook.

Until next time.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

by Janet Lawler
July 10, 2012
Hark and Harold: The Christmas Movie
So it's summer... and I'm enjoying deliciously ripe fresh fruits.. papaya and blueberries.  All from our neighborhood fruit stand right here in Astoria. 

Also taking time to celebrate the fruits of our labor.

Our screenplay has advanced to the next round of competition! Congrats are in order for my writing partner Chris Keller and thanks to The PAGE International Screenwriting Awards for recognizing our efforts, Hark and Harold: The Christmas Movie!

Here is a snippet of the email we received from the PAGE Awards committee yesterday:
The Judges have now finished evaluating all of this year's entries in the First Round of competition. Only scripts that received a score of 60 or higher (approximately the top 25% of all entries) advanced to the Second Round, and based on your Round One scores, we're very happy to inform you that you have advanced to Round Two with:  Hark and Harold, The Christmas Movie.

We find our Sunday if we advance to the Third Round. Let's put good energy out there to make it happen.

Hey, the world can always use another family Christmas story. A Christmas tale has international appeal and is a timely subject EVERY year.  Kids love Christmas as do adults.  It's a holiday and story about faith, hope and the magic of Christmas.

I'll keep you all posted. 

Upcoming soon here at The NY Screenwriting Life: author/studio exec DeVon Franklin.

We have studio executive and author DeVon Franklin of the recent hit book "Produced by Faith" dropping by next week for a chat.  Don't miss it.  His recent interview with Oprah had big ratings... he talks about looking at your life like a movie in development.  If we embrace its ups and downs, conflicts, twists... we'll grow as "characters" and our life story will get the green light into production.  Amen!

Until next time,
Write on!

Friday, June 22, 2012

by Janet Lawler
June 22, 2012

Photo by Carolina Correa
It's that time of year for sunblock.  It's better than writer's block.

June, July and August are a great time for recharging our creative batteries.  Maybe slowing down our pace.  Eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies.  Reviewing where we're at half way through this year...

I just completed writing (rewriting) a family Christmas movie screenplay with my writing partner Chris Keller.  It took us over a year to get the script just right and now we're ready to market it.  Our story is called HARK and HAROLD and it's got three great lead characters -- we see it as an animation movie -- but it could be live action (with a big budget and big name stars).  It's got international and domestic appeal -- since Christmas is celebrated in the USA and all around the world every year. 

Last fall, while writing the script... I took a weekend away to hike in the woods... Carolina and I were walking in New Paltz on a quiet trail when she noticed something in the leaves.  She walked over and picked it up -- it was a tiny Christmas elf.  Green with a red cap.  He's grinning. 

Okay, talk about writing omens.  We're in the woods and find an elf just when I happen to be writing a Christmas story?  Could that really happen?

It did.

Coincidence maybe, but that elf sits now on my desk.  I was meant to find that little elf, and he me, I believe.

So enjoy your writing days... or lazy summer days... I'll be back in a couple of weeks with some interviews and new content.  We're off to North Carolina soon to enjoy the Outer Banks, the ocean, and seafood. 

It couldn't come at a better time.

Oh, and I recommend two new books on the scene for writers... pick them up or download them for your summer read... one is Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield and the other is Produced by Faith by DeVon Franklin.   Both will get you motivated through the heat.

Keep cool... relish that summer breeze while it lasts and have a spectacular new summer!

Until next time.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Chat with "Girl in Progress" Screenwriter: Hiram Martinez
by Janet Lawler
May 22, 2012

1. Hi Hiram, thanks for stopping by The NY Screenwriting Blog and congratulations on "Girl in Progress". What inspired you to write this coming-of-age script?
Thanks for the congratulations, Janet. Greatly appreciated! I wish I had a sexier answer for what inspired the script, but the truth is the idea of a kid coming of age while orchestrating her own coming-of-age story was just really funny to me. Plus it felt like a fresh way to approach a very familiar genre. But the thing that finally got me to sit down and write the script (which I find is often separate from the inspiration) was the opportunity to explore the notion of “slowing down” when you’re a kid; when I was little all I wanted to do was grow up, but now that I’m (somewhat) grown up, I would kill to have those sunny days back, when the only thing on my agenda was running around the backyard without a care in the world. My Dad always told me to treasure those early years more and I wish I’d had the smarts at the time to listen.

2. In 2009 you were a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship for your script "Ansiedad", is that the script that evolved into "Girl in Progress"? How many drafts did you do and what changed overall?
“Ansiedad” is in fact the script that became “Girl In Progress” (now in theaters!). The biggest overall change is that the script went from being an “R” rated story about a kid for adults, to a “PG13” story about a teen for teens, so a lot of darker elements had to go to accommodate that. There were several small rewrites along the way, and then one major one right before production with me in a hotel room for a week turning the script into what the director wanted/needed it to be.

Eva Mendes and Cierra Ramirez
 A Teen Blooms
3. You have other writing credits - for the feature Four Dead Batteries, CBS's "Life with Girls" and working on a script for Jon Hamm & Jennifer Westfeldt's production company. What were those experiences like?
“Four Dead Batteries” I wrote and directed years ago so I could experience what it’s like to make a feature. It was made for very little money on DV, but it showed me what the process of translating words into images was like. The things I learned still help my writing today. One example? Don’t be precious -- the edit room is brutal and you can save yourself a great deal of pain if you drop an unnecessary scene or two at the script stage rather than during the shoot or in post. Better still, don’t write unnecessary scenes!
The CBS project never got past the studio level, unfortunately, but it was my first experience pitching to a roomful of executives (slight exaggeration, there were two, and they were lovely). For Jon and Jennifer I did my first adaptation work, turning Cusi Cram’s play “Dusty and the Big Bad World” into a screenplay. It was also my first time working for someone other than myself at the writing stage, but Jennifer and Jon are just about the loveliest people you could hope to collaborate with. And they’re both decent looking.

4. How excited were you to hear Eva Mendes would be cast as the co-lead in your script? What was the table read like on the first day?
Put it this way, I was so excited when I heard Eva was onboard I literally can’t remember what I did or where I was when I got the news. Total blank! It’s possible I was at work at MSNBC at the time and if I was I probably ran down the hall hyperventilating on the phone or hid in a bathroom stall silently screaming. Alas, I was not at the first table read as I felt that’s the director’s time to make the movie his or her own and I didn’t want to be “in the way” in any way.

Screenwriter Hiram Martinez
5. How would you describe your writing process?
Five pages a day. That’s what I aim for. Sometimes that’ll happen in one sitting, sometimes multiple short sittings throughout the day broken up by errands. Either way, my target is five pages minimum when I’m writing a first draft, with weekends off. The time off is actually incredibly important, as I find it keeps me from getting myopic! I keep a calendar nearby and check off “5” every day I’ve made my page count; if by some miracle I’ve done more than 5, then I happily note that as well. Small triumphs are integral! If I haven’t made my pages ... well, part of being a professional is you always make your pages, so even if I’m up late into the night, gotta reach “5”. Then between scripts I’m incredibly lazy until the next idea hits.

6. Do you plan to direct your screenplays? Which is more your primary passion, writing or directing?
I got into writing so I could one day direct. Which takes time. People are paying me to write and that’s an incredible thing I wanna appreciate, but when the climate’s right, making another feature, with a real budget this time, is my ultimate goal.

7. Do you recommend screenwriters enter contests? It obviously worked out well for you.
I can’t speak to contests, plural, because I only entered one -- the Nicholl Fellowship. It’s run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences and it’s incredibly well organized. I was a finalist in 2009; they put me on a plane, got me a wonderful hotel room, handed me a cash envelope (no lie), and booked panel after panel of amazing industry insiders, from high-powered agents to producers to working screenwriters. But more importantly, Nicholls is THE contest Hollywood monitors. If your name is announced among the 10 finalists, expect calls or emails from most agencies, many managers, and a train-load of producers. Being on that list puts your name in front of the people you want your name in front of.

8. You've seen your script develop through many stages, make it into production and finally premiere. What is that experience like -- seeing your work on the big screen?
Hard to believe. As I write this, I can walk by a theater where a movie I wrote is playing! How crazy is that! It’s a happy feeling I try to hang on to for when the going gets rough (and it does, often). But nothing beats seeing the movie with an audience and hearing them respond. The reason we do this crystallizes in that moment, and all the hard work and stress takes a backseat to a kind of paternal pride. Or maternal, as it were.

9. What filmmakers inspire you to create?
Kubrick, Wes Anderson, David Fincher; Alexander Payne, Woody Allen, Paul Thomas Anderson -- Vince Gilligan, Soderbergh, Spielberg, Matthew Weiner, and JFK-era Oliver Stone. And David Cronenberg when he’s super economic.

10. Any tips for screenwriters looking to get that first script sold?
Move on if it doesn’t sell. Reworking that one script is the quickest way to limit your chances. Work on finding an original voice across a number of scripts rather than putting all your eggs in one place that holds eggs. If you wrote something wonderful once chances are you can do it again, and hopefully again and again and again, which, if things work out, will actually BE your job -- to do something great on cue, again and again and again. Also, get comfortable with rejection; it’ll be the most common thing you experience early on. But all it takes is one “yes” to make everything worth it.
A million thanks, Janet, for your taking the time to talk to me! Greatly appreciated.

Thanks, Hiram, and much success with Girl in Progress.  It's playing in theaters now.  Here is the trailer link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCqzkNl2gXIYou can also follow Girl in Progress on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/GIRLINPROGRESSmovie

Until next time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

by Janet Lawler
May 14, 2012

Oprah & Gaga on creativity
What gets your creative juices flowing?  Your second wind?

I found it fascinating when Lady Gaga discussed her "creative process" with Oprah on OWN recently.  Lady Gaga said she has to go deep -- block out the world -- to find inspiration, to open the doors of her mind, open them, pound on them, hammer them down -- so something fresh (a message, lyrics, inspiration) can come through.

Gaga cancels out the noise around her (and let's face it, right now Lady Gaga creates a lot of noise and buzz).  By being isolated and still -- she taps into whatever has given her two hugely successful albums and many hit songs that resonate with her fans, her little monsters.

Is it a muse?  Divine intervention?  A gift?  What causes creativity in us?  Where does the energy and process come from?

I admire singer-songwriters -- especially Adele, Stevie Nicks, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Paul McCartney, Sheryl Crow, Rob Thomas, Melissa Etheridge,  Annie Lennox, Pink, Elton John, Billy Joel, Dido, James Taylor, Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, and on and on.  Their music, their words, speak to me... and their unique way of presenting it... making it fresh.

How do artists tell a full story through song in only three minutes or more?  Some do it better than others.  Some singer-songwriters reach us emotionally and that song becomes the soundtrack to whatever we're experiencing at that time -- our graduation, a breakup, a new relationship, a new job, moving to a new city, or getting married.

Words.  Lyrics.  Story.  Emotions.

Here are how some of the above artists say they create:

James Taylor
James Taylor:
 "That’s the way it comes out. It’s a cliché, but that’s because it’s true to say I don’t have any real conscious control over what comes out. I just don’t direct it. I wish I could say, “Oh, that would be great to write a song about.” But what I am doing is assembling and minimally directing what is sort of unconsciously coming out. It’s not something I can direct or control. I just end up being the first person to hear these songs. That’s what it feels like, that I don’t feel as though I write them."

Sarah McLachlan
Sarah McLachlan
"It was mainly secluding myself, being away from society and being away from everything. I locked myself up in a cabin in the mountains and stayed there for seven months. It was just an amazing time for me to really focus on a lot of stuff that had sort of been lurking behind the scenes in my brain, but never had the time to come out. Or it kept being put aside, because there were so many distractions. Also I think, I got incredibly in tune with the earth, with nature, like I hadn't before. I couldn't write a thing for three months. My brain was eating itself. It was terribly cold out and I couldn't do anything creative. I was just frozen.

Everything was churning around inside but nothing would come out. Then spring happened and everything totally opened up. I was blossoming as well. Most of the songs—I had written four previous to going to the cabin—were written then, about seven of them, between April and May. The place that I got to in myself of feeling calm and peaceful and also for the first time in my life, feeling I'm happy now. Not 'I would be happy if . . . ' There was always that going on with me. I finally got to a place where I was totally happy and peaceful and living in the present tense instead of in the future, you know and projecting things."

Stevie Nicks
Stevie Nicks:
"I usually see something or hear something. Something inspires me and that causes me to have a little bit of a vision and I try to write it down as quick as I can."

Alanis Morissette
Alanis Morissette (from her website www.alanis.com):
"Regardless of which part of the brain (and heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears n fears :) leads the way, it is usually an intensely focused Short amount of time.
usually a song is written within 20 minutes.
i find that if i need to drag out the process, the process is not fluid enough to be the kind of song i enjoy listening to
i love the combo: effort-full and engaged, but Fast!
i don’t believe in writer’s block.
i simply stop if it’s not coming….seeing it as a sign that i need to distract myself or focus on something else.
usually i need to go get a sandwich or relax with friends and take a break.
100 percent of the time, when i listen to that impulse to take a break, i come back fully inspired.
i also have to make sure i care deeply about the content, or there will not be enough fuel to have the song come through quickly.
in the end, the writing process requires me to be open minded, open hearted, fully engaged and awake, and to take on the role of being the humble scribe…taking dictation, and getting out of the way.
what that means is “no censoring, no editing, until later, if at all.”

Alanis releases a new single "Guardian" on May 15th on iTunes.  Be sure to listen to her latest writing efforts.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCBIG28On0o

Tap into whatever process works best for you to get you to the pen or laptop to create the NEXT big thing.  Go with the flow of your instincts, ideas and hammer open the door like Lady Gaga. 

 Until next time.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Back to Work


The adage goes writing is rewriting. 

That is the painful truth.  My writing partner, Chris Keller, and I finished our second draft of our animated movie script "Hark & Harold: Christmas Crisis".  Yay!  It's a family animated movie.  The ink is barely dry on it, but it's way too long for a screenplay... the script should be about 90 pages and we came in at 131. 

Yikes.  It's not a novel... how did we manage to write so much?

The funny thing is it seems lean and like nothing can possibly go, but of course, that's never the case with screenwriting -- or any writing.  Something can always go.  Lines can be trimmed.  Scenes shortened.  Those precious moments don't hold up on the fifth reading -- so out comes the red pen.

But with feedback due soon from trusted readers, we will slash and delete scenes, dialogue and action descriptions.  The story is solid, the characters memorable, lines funny -- but the overall structure can  be firmed up and plotted more efficiently.

The goal with Hark & Harold is to capture the reader and gets this script sold AND PRODUCED.  It's hard for busy Hollywood folks to sit down and read your stuff -- (I have a ton of unread books, articles and scripts on my desk that I keep meaning to get to -- but time flies by, weeks disappear and the calendar flashes by.  Is that the same with you?)... so imagine some hot shot reader or producer with a stack of scripts, getting yours to add to the pile. 

Is it worth the time?

A first or second draft coming in long is okay, but don't send it out to the pros until it's at its "fighting weight".  Lean.  Fit.  Ready.  Nothing drives agents and Hollywood readers crazier than getting scripts with the writer noting "I know this script needs work, but hey, waste your time and read it anyway."

Don't disrespect the professional willing to open the door for your work.  Be ready.

We have to make sure the script is as ready as it can be.  Of course, once someone wants to buy it -- they will change it or make revisions galore -- but it's still important to present yourself as a professional writer.

You wouldn't sell your house by calling up a top realtor and saying "Come on by, my place is a mess and needs repairs and a new roof, but check it out anyway." 

Good luck on that sale.

Same goes with any writing project.  Present it only when it's ready to be shown.  Not a moment sooner... or we blow the opportunity.

Carolina and I are currently renovating our New York apartment -- and it reminds me of rewriting.  Every time we're finished with one room -- we see where changes can still be done, getting rid of this and that, eliminating clutter, discovering less is more, etc.  It's the same with scripts. 

So spring cleaning continues here at home... and soon, spring cleaning on our Christmas script so that it comes in 30 pages or more less. 

Writing is rewriting.  No kidding.

Until next time.

Friday, March 02, 2012

by Janet Lawler
March 2, 2012
My Kind of Guys
Don't miss the play reading of 8 this weekend. It's free. It's online. It's got George Clooney and Brad Pitt in it. They lost out on winning the Oscar last weekend... but who cares, these guys have more important things to worry about... like gay rights.

Mark your calendars for Saturday night March 3rd at 7:30 PM Pacific time/10:30 Eastern. V
isit http://www.youtube.com/AmericanEqualRights and watch the live streaming of the play 8.

Clooney and playwright Dustin Lance Black
8 is about the recent court case overturning Prop 8 in California.

The play is by Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black ("Milk"). The cast is solid -- including Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Lynch, Kevin Bacon, Martin Sheen and many more.

It's also a fundraiser for American Equal Rights. Now you may think this play is way too political... too one-sided... too propaganda... maybe so, but tune in anyway. It's a play worth hearing no matter where you stand on gay rights today. It's the issue defining our times -- in our military, churches, states and in our families. It's history in the making.

Hopefully it's a good play. Good plays make us think. Ponder. Question.

So tune in. Who knows? Maybe Angelina Jolie might make a surprise appearance as the court clerk.


Until next time.

Friday, February 24, 2012

by Janet Lawler
February 24, 2012
Angelina Jolie - Truly Statuesque
The Oscars are my Super Bowl Sunday.  Forget the BBQ wings... TV commercials... and beer.

It's time for Movies... Popcorn... and the Red Carpet!

Oscar Sunday is that one time of year when we all get to be part of the magic of moviemaking -- even if just sitting on the sofa and watching.  Who needs a gown to have fun this weekend??

Oscar Sunday is now an international event -- tuning in early for the pre-pre-pre-red carpet coverage (who will wear what and say what), how will the show's host do (two words this year - Billy. Crystal), the opening of the show (will it soar or bomb?), that audience filled with jittery stars, and of course, the winners making long-winded speeches.   What's not to love?

Unlike the Super Bowl, there are plenty of winners on Oscar night.  Not just one. We can root for many favorites to take home an Oscar... we can join the office Oscar pool.  (My co-worker says we can't fill out Oscar ballots until Saturday to prevent cheating.  Whut?? She thinks otherwise people will do research online before making their picks.)  So what!  It doesn't matter -- research or not -- there are always big surprises on Oscar night.  That's why we watch.

I recall so many thrilling memories of the Oscars.  In the 70s, I remember Jane Fonda winning for "Klute" ... and as she walked to the podium... what would she say??  Something political?  Anti-war?  She didn't.
A message from Marlon Brando
And when Marlon Brando won for "The Godfather" and sent Sacheen Littlefeather in his place to tell Hollywood to go shove it on behalf of Native Americans.  Wow.  Or when screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky chastised Vanessa Redgrave for her political speech after she won for Best Supporting Actress for "Julia".   Classic moments.

Other memorable moments... the naked dude running across stage and David Nevin noticing his "shortcomings".  In 1985, Sally Field crying to Hollywood "you like me, you really like me"!  She won her second Oscar that year for Places in the Heart.  She already had another for Norma Rae.  In the 90s, Jack Palance doing one-arm push ups on stage.  Silence of the Lambs sweeping the Awards, the film was the third film to win Oscars in all the top five categories: Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Jim Cameron winning for Titanic and screaming "Whooohoooo... I'm King of the World!" 

Note to Self:  Be Humble When Accepting Awards
Oscar week is a great time for movies and for moviegoers.  And now we can't escape it -- there are Oscar blogs, Oscar Apps, Oscar Trivia, an Oscar Channel on YouTube... yup, a little over kill... but who cares?  It's glittery, harmless and fun.

Who won last year anyway?
As this year's nominee Gary Oldman said about all the Oscar hype... "It's a fairy tale and I'm going to enjoy it."

That's the spirit, Gary!

And the Oscar goes to...

Your guess is as good as mine.  Make your picks early... don't listen to my co-worker.

Until next time.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

by Janet Lawler
February 22, 2012

Who knew fly-fishing could be so heartwarming and fun?

Salmon Fishing in Yemen, the new movie, definitely hooked its audience last night at an advanced screening here in Manhattan.  The romantic comedy stars Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, with a terrific supporting role for Kristin Scott Thomas.

The story is a fish tale -- about a Middle Eastern sheik who wants to bring the sport of fly-fishing to his country.  Money is no object... and so, Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor join forces to make it happen. 

It's a romantic comedy (with a tricky title for a movie) that make both lead characters endearing to the audience as well as to each other.  Blunt brings her familiar wit and charisma from "The Devil Wears Prada" but adds a delicate touch to the dramatic scenes.  Ewan McGregor is adorable in every scene -- I can't say much more -- he's simply adorable to watch.  He makes you root for the fish too.

Kristin Scott Thomas
Kristin Scott Thomas gets plenty of laughs throughout portraying a fast-talking Brit press manager/mother-of-three.  Her line telling her son to remove his "hoodie" is golden, but I can't repeat it here.  Go see the movie for yourself.  The film is directed by Lasse Hallstrom -- well-paced, enticing, with stunning shots of Afghanistan,  The screenplay is written by Simon Beaufoy, based on the novel by Paul Torday

After the movie, I heard several people raving about it outside.  One movie-goer said to her friend "I'd  go see that again!".
Emily Blunt and Ewan McGregor
I would too.  It's a good one. Go catch this movie, you won't be tempted to throw it back.

"Salmon Fishing in Yemen" opens on March 9th.  Here is the movie trailer http://fishingintheyemen.com/ 

Enjoy the Oscars on Sunday, February 26th on ABC

Until next time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January 24, 2012
By: Janet Lawler
New York

I went to the movies with Madonna last night.

Okay, let me clarify... I didn't exactly share popcorn out of the same bucket with the singer... but I definitely was in popcorn-throwing range of the pop icon while watching the premiere of her new movie W.E. at the Ziegfeld Theatre on Monday night.
Madonna about to enter premiere Photo: Carolina Correa
How was the experience?  AWESOME! Not so much the movie... but watching Madonna watch her own movie... priceless.
Madonna at the Ziegfeld
Madonna directed and co-wrote the film.  She wowed the audience wearing a drop-dead gorgeous black velvet Marchesa gown. All eyes were on her like lasers.
Her movie is about Wallis Simpson and King Edward VIII.   King Edward had an affair with Mrs. Simpson and caused a major scandal back in the day. Rather than end the romance with the then-married woman, King Edward abdicated his power. After Mrs. Simpson's divorce became final, Wallis and Edward (thus, the title W.E.) married and became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

W.E. is beautifully shot (in New York, Paris, London, and Queens!) -- telling two stories -- one set in 1998 in Manhattan about a woman stuck in an unhappy, abusive marriage who becomes fascinated with the auction at Sotheby's focusing on the Duke and Duchess; and the second story focusing on the historic events in the 1930s and 40s. The two stories intertwine nicely for awhile, but unfortunately, not effectively overall. I could have done without two stories. Simpson's story is fascinating enough to watch, as is the actress who portrays her Andrea Riseborough.

The director asks -- why do we only think King Edward sacrificed everything for love? What did Wallis Simpson have to give up? What was her life like after Edward left the throne to be with her? Was it a fairy tale romance? Not exactly. Go see the movie to see why.

W.E. just picked up an Oscar nomination for costume design. Madonna will need a new gown to wear to the Academy Awards next month.

Before watching the movie last night, Madonna walked to the front of the audience, picked up a microphone and spoke about making the film against all odds. I liked when she said her passion in all her work is story telling. It doesn't matter if it's a music video she makes... a new song she writes... a film she directs... story remains key to her. It's what connects us all...

We all have a story.

The writer/director thanked her mother. As most know, her Mom died when Madonna was a child. Madonna whispered into the microphone, "W.E. is the journey of the female soul... and my mother gave me life... and, enjoy the film!"

Madonna took her seat with the rest of us as the lights went down... and her movie hit the big screen in New York City -- the city she most loves.

Lights up... movie over... but Madonna's story continues.  Next month it's the Oscars to attend... but first, her flashy gowns come off and she performs live at the Super Bowl on February 5th.

Um, move over, Lady Gaga... this pop icon is far from retired yet.

Here is a link to Madonna's speech last night http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rjWfrfVbInU.
Don't forget to follow The NY Screenwriting Life on Amazon if you have a Kindle and on Facebook.

Until next time.