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Interviews
 
Lawrence Turman, Producer
Monday, Sep 5, 2005
Author: Will Plyler
 
Lawrence Turman has produced more than 40 films for the big screen and television, and was voted into the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame.  His producer credits range from The Graduate to American History X.  He has spent the past 14 years directing a two-year master's program at USC whose graduates include the creators of such films as Silence of the Lambs, Napoleon Dynamite, Dodgeball, and television shows including Six Feet Under and Smallville.  He has guest-lectured at FEMIS in Paris, the Triangle Conference in Rome, Equinoxe in Bordeaux, the Polytechnic in Singapore, a Ford Foundation-sponsored workshop in Vietnam, the Producers on Producing Conference in Stockholm, AFI, UCLA, and NYU.  He has been a juror at the Flanders Film Festival and the Ivy Festival at Brown University.  In his book “So You Want To Be a Producer,” published in September 2005, he answers the question, What on earth does a producer do? (September 2005)

What was your start in film like? What got you into the industry and ultimately producing? (And what attracted you to producing?)

I always loved films, theater, literature.  After college I was working in my dad's tiny wholesale fabric business; the idea of doing that for the rest of my life really depressed me.  I wanted to get out, but to what?  Well, Hollywood's a company town, so showbusiness it was.  I wrote a half-hour TV script, but didn't have or know anybody to even show it to.  Although born and raised in Los Angeles and having gone to a local university, UCLA, I still knew hardly anyone in show business.  But I hustled those I did know and scared up an interview with a studio exec at Paramount and a producer at MGM.  It didn't do me any good, even though I offered to go to work for nothing.  Someone then suggested I be an agent.  I said I didn't want to be agent.  But they said it was a great way in.  Not a week later, I read a Variety ad: “Experienced agent wanted. Box 2.”  I immediately wrote a letter: “Dear Box 2.  I have no experience but am full of energy and will work cheaply.”  They called me in for an interview and hired me on the spot, for $50 a week.  I was in pig heaven.  I loved it.  I was trying to sell Christopher Plummer instead of 100 yards of periwinkle blue satin lining.  Like many fields that do not require specific knowledge that brain surgery or engineering do, once you're in, you're in.  The rest is up to you.  And that led directly to me becoming a producer.  One of my producer clients, Stuart Millar, an eating and tennis pal, liked my energy and enthusiasm working on his behalf and asked me to be his partner.  I was actually invited to become a producer.  Which is what I wanted in the first place.  Not bad, huh?  It only took 4 years.

What attracted me to producing was my egocentricity.  As an agent, I sold a couple of scripts or books to studios or producers, and damned if nearly every time I felt I knew better how to make the story into a film than they.  I was wrong, of course, because one of the producers was the famous John Houseman, Orson Welles' one-time partner and the producer of many fine films.  But my misplaced confidence was my motivation.  And I'll bet a lot of other producers share that same emotion, neurotic though it may be.

What does a producer do in relation to a screenwriter? In other words, what should screenwriters understand (better) about how to work with producers, what they need, expect, and are responsible for?

I’ll bet every producer works differently with his or her screenwriter.  When I was starting out as an agent, I became friendly with producer/director Otto Preminger (Carmen Jones, The Man With The Golden Arm, Porgy and Bess, Anatomy of a Murder), who told me he always accommodates himself to the writer.  I think that's damn sound advice.  A producer wants the very best a writer has to offer.  Thus (much like a director with an actor), create an environment, a relationship of confidence, trust, and, yes, gentle candor.  I think it's a producer's job to understand how to work with a writer, learn what a writer needs, expects, is responsible for, rather than the other way round, especially as it's the producer who has chosen and hired the writer.

Writing is thinking, and some creative thoughts come quickly and some slowly.  I got a magnificent script in six weeks for Pretty Poison from Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Parallax View), and it won the New York Film Critics best screenplay award.  On the other hand, William Rose (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) took one year to deliver the screenplay for The Flim Flam Man, a film I produced at Twentieth Century Fox starring George C. Scott.   Both are superb writers, one just more facile than the other.  I myself don't care how long the process takes, as long as I'm happy with the result.

Communication is critical.  From the beginning, I want to know that the writer and I are on the same page about the story we're telling and the ultimate film we want to make.  I want the writer to question me, even contest me, on any story or character point they disagree with me about.  I don't, however, want a writer to be intransigent.  To sum up: a producer's job is to help the writer realize his intention… especially as, and since, the producer and the writer agree on that intention at the beginning.

What's a typical day like for you?  How many scripts did (or do) you get a week?  What is your process like in reading and evaluating them?

There is no typical day for me, except I'm on the phone a lot.  A typical fun day is sitting in a room with a writer, either kicking around possible story ideas or going over a story or script, big strokes first and ultimately line-by-line.  But that's me; I'm a bit of a control freak and punctilious.  There are producers who spend a large part of their time and energy romancing movie stars, or big-time directors who can attract movie stars.  That's not my forte, because I believe my script will get both the director and stars.  I think it was Barry Diller, the very smart mogul who has run studios and now an empire, who said, “Any really good script will see the light of day.”  I truly believe that, and I have operated on that principle my entire career.  Mind you, I have a couple of scripts I love but never could get the financing for.  Which de facto corroborates my undeserved cockiness contained in my answer to the first question.

How many scripts a producer gets is often a function of how “hot” that producer is.  Today, Jerry Bruckheimer and Brian Grazer get a lot more scripts than I do.  But I have been in their catbird seat.  Some weeks I got a ton of submissions, other weeks barely a few.  However, and this is a discouraging comment to aspiring writers, most of what's submitted is what an agent wants to sell but I don't want to buy.  Except I have more respect and trust in some agents than others, and do read their submissions personally.  Thus it behooves you to find an agent who is a conscientious, hard-working straight-shooter, who hopefully also has at least a modicum of taste... and I mean taste congruent with your own.  I know, I know, it's not that easy, sometimes you have to take what/who is available.

There is no “process” how I read and evaluate scripts.  If the story, the script, hasn't captured my attention by the first act curtain, say a third of the way through, I’ll set it aside or jump to the last 5 pages to see how it ends.  My stomach does the evaluating; oh, and my heart too, but not my brain.  It's like choosing who to date or marry, and it's rarely by the brain.  When I read the novel “The Graduate,” I was immediately struck by the Pinter-esque dialogue, which was very funny and yet nervous-making at the same time, plus the powerful visual images of a boy in a scuba suit in his own swimming pool and that same boy, disheveled, shirt-tail out,  with the girl in a wedding dress on a public bus.  That's why I optioned the book with my own money.  And that's why unconsciously, psychologically I was, am, Benjamin Braddock.

After you option or buy an idea from someone, what happens from there on out?  Who do you call first? Why? What are the steps you go through? How do you find writers to develop the story? How many do you meet with?

What I do first is celebrate, because I'm so darned happy I got my hands on a story that makes my blood race.  Then, as a Broadway producer I know had to explain to his unsophisticated mother, “A producer is a fella who knows a writer.”  So I first think of a writer I know, or a writer whose work I know and like.  Casting a writer is no different than casting a director or actor.  Horses for courses.  Evan Hunter skyrocketed to fame with his very first book, “Blackboard Jungle,” so he seemed an obvious choice to write my movie “Gang” (Universal, in their infinite wisdom, changed the title to Walk Proud).  The late, great William Rose was the first and only writer I met for the long-ago The Flim Flam Man, because he said something so penetrating in defining the basic story that I instinctively and immediately said, “You've got the job.”

I often call the writer personally if I know him or her well, but generally through the agent.  I also sometimes call an agent who I particularly respect and ask for suggestions, and of course read the work of the writers recommended.  How many writers I meet is no different than how many girls do you meet before you fall in love.  Sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince or princess writer.  Other times you get lucky on the first or second date.  Nothing is more important than having the right nose, the right instincts, the right feeling, the right smarts to hire a writer with whom to develop the story.  The script is the bait to catch the director, the actors, the financing.

How have you found most of your material?  Do you work only with agents and managers? Or do you find the material yourself via queries?  Are you open to new writers? “Unproven” talent? Why or why not?

Everywhere and anywhere.  If I really knew exactly where to find gold, I would always go there immediately – I would never pass Go and collect $200.  Books have been my mainstay.  I produced three in a row from novels: Pretty Poison (which won the New York Critics Best Screenplay award for Lorenzo Semple Jr.), The Flim Flam Man and The Graduate.  I love the theater and have done the movie version of several plays with great success: Gore Vidal’s The Best Man, The Great White Hope, and Tribute, the latter two from having read but not seen before convincing a studio to buy them for me.  For pleasure only, I saw Mass Appeal off-Broadway and was so moved I left a note backstage for the author, Bill C. Davis, to please call me.  He did, and I produced the film version, starring Jack Lemmon.  I've discovered gems in spec scripts.  David McKenna’s American History X is a provocative good example.  Sometimes I come up with an idea and give it to a writer, as I did with Caveman, written by Carl Gottlieb and Rudy DeLuca.  I've done television movies based on newspaper stories and from a personal tragic story that a family friend told me about herself.  I'm always open to new writers, yet there's not enough time in the day to read “unproven talent.”  I rely on agents for that.  Essentially, I depend on myself to find material, voraciously reading Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, book reviews out of London, New York as well as LA.  If a story strikes my fancy, if a writer is oozing talent, I'm on the trail.

And what do you like to see in a good query letter? What elements should they have to grab your attention?

A good query letter should be succinct, informational, direct and candid.  You've heard ad nauseam that you should be able to tell your story in a couple of sentences, and it's true.  Most agents, producers and executives are ambitiously harassed and have very short attention spans.  Rehearse by telling your story to a pal in clear, brief fashion.  A writer should put himself in the position of the potential receiver of his query and assess what kind of letter would get his own attention.  Be yourself.  Don't try to outguess the recipient.  It's also risky and difficult to be cute and funny to get attention.  I recommend you don't try.

Unfortunately, query letters are generally tossed.  That's discouraging to hear, and they indeed are often necessary as a court of last resort, but it's a little bit like me trying to get a date with Drew Barrymore, who I do not know.

Should someone interested in being a writer look to go the pitch route?  Or should they focus on getting scripts completed?

No, not the pitch route, unless of course you're on a first-name basis and have access to any number of producers, directors and/or studio executives.  Someone who's interested in being a writer should write.  Ideally a script, because that's the finished product.  But at least a treatment or outline if you have a strong, unusual idea or premise that leaps off the page.  That could sell, but you run the risk of not being hired to do the screenplay.  You have no credits, no script to show your talent, so the person who buys the treatment will likely hire a tried and true screenwriter.

Do you have a list of writers you like to work from and with? And if so, how did they get on that list?

Of course I have a list of writers I like to work with. I think every producer does. Further, as my pal William Goldman says, “Bury me with a puncher,” meaning pick someone who has already had some knockouts. That's why Hollywood has an A List – the same studios, the same producers keep going back to the same writers. Obviously some new ones crack through – they always have, they always will. Therefore, if you believe in yourself, your talent, keep writing. Great playwright Arthur Miller, when queried by The New York Times on what it takes to become a successful playwright, said, “the hide of a crocodile.”

In an option, what terms should writers keep an eye out for? What should they be wary of?

Generally, a producer wants the longest possible option he can get for the least amount of money. Writers, of course, want the most money and generally, the least amount of time. However, too short a time can hamstring a producer or even a studio. It's a slow, arduous process to get a film made.  An enlightened writer wants a producer who's energetically motivated to stay the course and not be discouraged by one, two, or even a dozen rejections. So it behooves a writer to give a producer or a studio a long enough option to go to work to entice the creative elements – director, actors – to get the project made.

How many pitches are you hearing a week? How many ideas are you sent?

How many pitches I hear a week is dependent on two things: #1, how hot a producer I am at the moment, and #2, are the studios collectively in a mood to want to buy pitches or, as they are from time to time, do they only want a seemingly pre-sold property like a book or a play. In point of fact, over my entire career I have heard very few pitches. I'm a guy who's very clear about what subjects interest me, what kind of stories I like, so that often in a pitch I know early on something I have no interest in, even if it's a good idea from a good writer, so I then have to be professional and polite and sit through the entire pitch. Ideas are very important, but they're not the end-all and be-all. Richard Rodgers, the famous half of the Broadway teams of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rodgers and Hart, was once asked, “Is such-and-such a good idea?” Rodgers’ answer? “Who's doing it?”

Writers wonder about turnaround time -- why does it take so long?

Turnaround means you're starting from scratch. Find new financing or new director or new actors or new something. It takes time. I optioned The Graduate in early 1964 and didn't produce the movie until 1967. I'm afraid that's par for the course.

What makes a good script for you? As a producer, what are you looking for in terms of story, characters, potential casting, and budget? In other words, what are you most focused on? What elements are most important? What makes you want to buy or option a script?

I'm sure there are many producers who look for a particular genre story or one that would suit a particular star, but I am not one of those.  A particular studio might have a gap in its release schedule or the time is ripe again for a Western or World War II story.  As Chief Justice Brandeis of the Supreme Court famously said, “I cannot define pornography, but I know it when I see it.”  I have no idea what I'm looking for, but I sure know it when I see it.  My pulse starts racing and I want to make sure no other producer or studio beats me to it. Essentially I focus on character and strong narrative drive.  Overall, I like a story (and I think most audiences do as well) about someone, usually a young guy (me) who wants something very badly and has to overcome obstacles to get it.  When a Life magazine interviewer asked me about the title character of The Graduate, I answered in smart-ass fashion but with the truth, “That's me.”  The reporter looked surprised and said, “Damn! Mike Nichols said the same thing.”

Aspiring screenwriters are always trying to figure out how to get an agent or manager.  But often the advice given out is for new writers to focus more on finding a producer to champion their work, and then the representation will come.  Do you agree? What course of action do you think is best for a new writer to get their work read?

I do not think the answer is either/or.  You should go after everybody aggressively and at the same time. If you can get directly to a producer, great. The cold query letter is a long shot.  In the old days, it was a big deal for a writer to get his first sale. These days, it's that hard to get an agent. Getting a manager is much easier, and I would go that route if one is choosing, because that manager could then obtain an agent for his writer client. But I say don't choose – go after an agent, go after a manager, and go after a producer.  And you needn't go after the biggest, most prominent agents or managers.  Within their office they often have a junior person, and it's really great to have an advocate inside an agency, studio, or management company.  Use someone else's ambition to help your own.

What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of producing by writers? What should writers be aware of in terms of working with a producer and what the producer is ultimately trying to achieve in terms of rewrites, changes, etc.?

A writer's no different than any other crew person, be it a makeup artist or an electrician... hardly anyone really understands what a producer does.  The producer is the person who starts the movie, pushes it along, sees that it gets made.  He or she is the first one on and the last one off.  First and foremost, a writer should make sure he and the producer want to tell the same story, make the same movie, have the same tone.  So communication is paramount.  The producer may have needs that the writer isn't aware of; for example, building up a particular role to get a particular star that the studio wants or the producer has a relationship with.  Also, and this is a hard one emotionally, the writer must recognize that he is an employee and the producer is the boss.  Therefore, the writer should speak up and fight any idea the producer has the writer doesn't like, but ultimately the writer's job is to serve the producer's needs.

How do you work with a writer?  Face to face? Telephone? What do you prefer?  Also, what do you expect from a writer who is writing for you?

I only work with a writer face to face. There have been rare occasions where the writer lives far away and I will annotate a script in great detail as to my thoughts, after which we will have a telephone conversation to clarify any particular point.  But I want to see the whites of his eyes and he mine so we can really engage in the most productive, creative partnership.  Any writer I can push around I don't want to work with.  I want someone who has a strong sense of himself and his creative ideas.  A writer very often will win battles with me.  If I feel strongly, I may revisit the battle scene once again.  What I expect from a writer is that he or she will give it their very best shot and always be candid and honest with me, whether it's about the work or delivery time.  Even about how I work vis-a-vis that writer.

How do you keep up with trends and what people are looking for? Agents? Managers? Executives?  Do you find yourself scrambling to meet a whim that seems to be floating around, or do you stick by what you have?

I do not keep up with trends and don't care what people are looking for.  I'm interested in what I like, stories I want to tell.  The eminent sociologist David Riesman said there are two kinds of people: those who are “other directed,” meaning they want to buy a Mercedes because their neighbor has one, or “inner directed,” people who want to buy a Mercedes because it's the best value, gets the best mileage, whatever.  I am inner directed, and like to deal with and work with inner-directed people.  I stick with what I have.  I'm not fickle.  What I like in the beginning I like forever. Sometimes, of course, I can't get other people to like what I like.  But that comes with the territory.

One of the earliest films you produced was “The Graduate.”  Calder Willingham adapted Charles Webb’s novel, but Buck Henry came in later and rewrote the script.  Not only with “The Graduate” but also other scripts, what's it like adapting a novel for the screen? What are the problems you face? Are there advantages? And also, how was it bringing in another writer like Henry to rewrite Willingham’s draft?

Ernie Lehman, one of the great Hollywood screenwriters and great adaptors (West Side Story, Sound of Music) told me, “Sometimes the best adaptation is changing everything, and other time changing nothing.”  That helps a lot, huh?  The problems in adapting a novel are twofold:

1) Selectivity.  A screenplay is usually 120 pages and lots of blank space whereas novels are much, much longer.  The screenwriter must winnow down, but what?

2) The novelist has the advantage of being able to explain what a character is thinking, whereas in a screenplay you must show that in action and dialogue.
Buck Henry, in point of fact, did not rewrite Calder Willingham’s script, but adapted from the novel itself, as did Calder Willingham in the first place.  Calder, who I believe adapted his own novel, “End as a Man,” into a screenplay, said, “Adapting your own novel is like performing an appendectomy on yourself.”

And along the line of the prior question, what should screenwriters know about being rewritten?  What should they keep in mind in terms of their egos, pride, and their “art and vision”?

I very much believe any and every screenwriter should know/be informed if he or she is being rewritten.  It's just common courtesy and professionalism.  Naturally, not all studios, producers, and directors do inform the writer, but I surely think they should.  We all have an ego and it hurts to be rewritten.  But the only way a writer can maintain his “art and vision” is to write a novel or a poem.  Even in the theatre, where the Dramatists League protects the writer's control, many writers have been muscled by powerful directors, and producers, to make changes.  That includes Tennessee Williams for Kazan on “Glass Menagerie” and “Streetcar Named Desire.”  Screenwriters should write to their highest art and highest vision but never lose sight of the fact that they are a hired gun.

Hollywood seems to be pumping out more and more remakes and adaptations of TV shows.  You produced a remake/updating of “The Thing” as well as “The Getaway.” What was the process like in terms of working with John Carpenter and Walter Hill & Amy Jones, respectively?  What challenges did you face?  Also, what are your feelings in general on remakes?  Is Hollywood being too unoriginal?

Yes, Hollywood is being too unoriginal.  For a good (in my not-so-humble opinion) reason... money.  There is perceived safety in doing the tried and true, and the studios believe it is easier to market to an audience that already knows the product they are getting.  However, it sure does dampen creativity.  I myself find very few movies I feel like seeing on any Saturday night.

The Thing was brought to my then partner David Foster and myself by an outside producer, Stuart Cohen.  I really loved the original, and it was made a generation ago, before movies could do all their technical magic.  Bill Lancaster wrote the script and I think he did a wonderful job in the first half, but in the second half, for my personal taste, it didn't make a lot of sense.  However, John Carpenter is really good.  As is Rob Bottin, who did the scary make-up stuff.  So, for many in the audience, the second half worked on scares alone.  But not for me.  I like a film to make more sense than The Thing added up to.  David Foster produced the original Getaway with a different partner than me, so he spearheaded the remake.  Walter Hill is a really smart pro; I go back a long way with him – he was second assistant director when I produced The Great White Hope.  Amy Jones is a smart, tough-minded writer.  But, good as they are, it was essentially the same story as the original, except I didn't think it added up to be as good as the original film.  Mind you, the original Getaway is an absolute classic.

Many writers are worried about their “baby” being ruined.  They wonder why they weren't more involved and think they could have saved the film if only people had listened to them and stuck with what they wrote.  Do you agree with this?  What are your feelings on writers being involved in production? What should aspiring writers be aware of in terms of their involvement?

Producers also worry about their “baby” being ruined by a strong director who sees the film in a different way than they do.  It's the rare director who wants a writer involved, looking over his shoulder, perhaps criticizing the way the director is filming a scene or letting an actor modify dialogue.  I hate it myself.  But that's the situation that obtains.  If a writer doesn't want to risk having a script “ruined,” he should do what Sylvester Stallone did with Rocky – not sell it unless he played the lead role.  Or, in a writer's case, not unless he or she is the producer.  The problem is, the studio will put on another producer anyway, plus the director could still screw it up, from the writer's point of view.  I will bet, however, there have been an equal number of cases where the director, or director and producer, have improved the writer's work.  I myself often like to bring the writer back to view the first cut of the film, as I did with Gore Vidal with The Best Man.  The finished film, even in rough form, tells you something, and a smart writer can give an opinion that often is worth listening to.

Along these same lines, people frequently like to say, “Oh, I could have done better than that” or “I could've written that script with my eyes closed.”  What should writers (and everyone else) know about “bad” movies?  Why do films turn out poorly?  As people like to note, no one sets out to make a bad movie, so what should writers in particular keep in mind?

I myself am a bell-curvist.  Meaning, every endeavor, be it movies, restaurants, cutting hair, or car salesmen, has a handful who are terrific, an equal handful who are horrible, and everyone else somewhere on a spectrum in the middle.  Nobody sets out to make a bad movie.  You've heard that before, but it's actually true.  But everybody has different tastes, and they like to reflect that taste, whether it's the clothes they wear or the movies they make.  And even the very top artistic directors are sometimes victimized by an actor who says, “I wouldn't say this line of dialogue,” not realizing he's not saying it but the character the writer created is saying it.  But that actor might have the muscle to do it his way, and that is one piece in a mosaic that can create a downward artistic spiral.

Writers should write and not worry about the other stuff.  It's easy for me to say, and hard to live up to.  But what choice does a writer have?  You sell your house, you have no control over what the next owner is going to do with it.  Neither do you with your script.

Why did you choose to start teaching at USC in the Peter Stark program?  What drew you to do that?  What have you learned, if anything, from actually teaching about what you have done for so long?

This question's easy.  Because USC asked me.  I guess off my career success, but who knows.  At first, I wasn't even going to take it.  But then I thought that running the Peter Stark Producing Program would be fun and interesting.  And it is both, and wonderfully satisfying.  But, as a producer who thinks the story, the script, is the be all and end all, I emphasize script analysis and script development, and make every producing student write a full-length screenplay.  I want them to know how hard it is to write a script and know better how to communicate with and respect the writer.  In the process, I've turned out a number of successful writers, including John August (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish), Al Gough and Miles Millar (Smallville creators, Shanghai Noon), Josh Goldsmith (King of Queens, What Women Want), and more.

It's not what I've learned from teaching but what I've learned from producing movies that I try to teach.  Number one on that list is integrity, ethics, and professionalism.  But I've learned everyone is pretty well formed by the time they're 20 years old.  So, although I teach them about all the paints in the paintbox, it doesn't mean I can make any of them a painter.  That's innate, and depends on how badly they want it, and what talent is in their soul.

You have a new book coming out soon called “So You Want to Be a Producer.”  What prompted you to write this book, and what perspective does it offer that you feel other books about the business do not?

The questions are getting easier – I was also asked to write the book. The New York Times did a big story about the success my Peter Stark graduates have had, so an enterprising literary agent asked if I would like to write a book about producing.  I was so flattered, I immediately said yes.  But then I learned the hard way you actually have to write the damn thing.  But I did do it, and as you read this, my book “So You Want To Be a Producer” is in the bookstores right now.

It would be presumptuous of me to say what perspective I think it offers that other books do not.  Perhaps none.  But I tried to write from the heart, as honestly as I know how, what a producer does, what it takes to be a producer, and why it's a noble profession, slings and arrows notwithstanding.  And, of course, about many of my personal experiences.

Do screenwriters need to live in LA to break in and make it, in your opinion?

Ah, now a harder question.  Screenwriters do not need to live in LA to break in.  However, it's a huge advantage to do so.  It helps make a writer savvy about what the business really is.  He or she can get body-heat from other aspiring writers, and indeed aspiring directors and producers too.  Most important, if the writer gets himself out there, he will meet some agents, managers and producers to take up his cause, which will then enable him to not live in LA if he chooses.  A successful writer, of course, can live anywhere, because his office is in his head.  But, starting out, LA is the place, with New York a good close second.  There is great creativity throughout the country, but I'm talking about the commercial marketplace if you want to get a toehold.

Over the last 20 years or so, interest in being a screenwriter (and being in the film business in general) has grown and grown.  There are hundreds of TV shows, books, and websites devoted to film and TV, and everyone and their mother has a script or at least a great idea for one.  What are your feelings on so many people wanting to break in as writers?  What should writers be more aware of while trying to break in?

I agree that interest in the film business has grown tremendously and continues to do so.  I see it in the number of applicants to my Peter Stark Producing Program, and in the high level of applicants from the top of the class of the top universities around the world.  The plain fact is that with any high-profile business, be it movies, politics, being a rock-star, playing in the NBA, many more people want to get in than there's room for.  Therefore, the number one attribute is desire... one has to want it more than almost anything.  And I say go for it, because it's worth it.  The only thing is, one has to be aware of the size and ferocity of the competition, and thus you don't want to be an aspiring screenwriter or producer in your mid-40s after having tried it for 2 decades without success.  Ultimately, and this is a definition of maturity, one must reconcile one's dreams with reality.  There's no business, no field more rewarding, more satisfying, more exciting.  So I repeat, encouragingly, “Go for it.”

 


 

 

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