writer, teacher, traveler, and lazy gardener

Tag: deadline

DIY Ways to Learn About the Movie Business

UPDATED with screenplay link: 3/31/2021

I get this question a lot from my film students: what more can I do to learn about filmmaking and the industry?

The answer is multi-fold:

  1. Watch as many films or TV shows as you can. From indies to blockbusters, foreign films, in a theater, streaming, it doesn’t matter. The more content you watch, the more you’ll learn about storytelling and filmmaking techniques. (Although, I’m not a fan of phone viewing; all you get is the story and not the incredible cinematics.)

This seems pretty obvious, right? You’ll be amazed at the number of students I’ve encountered who don’t see anything. The reasons why are always the same: any extra time is spent texting, on social media channels or watching YouTube. I admit to falling into a YouTube cyberhole (Dr. Pimple Popper, stop feeding our popaholic addiction!) but I can pull myself out. For some, it’s practically impossible. Which leads me to …

  1. Prioritize your viewing. If you want to be a director, cinematographer, editor or production designer, watch all the films made by your favorites and analyze them. Go the extra mile: listen to their DVD commentary, read interviews and film criticism. You love Christopher Nolan or Gordon Willis? Dive into their oeuvre—it’s the best kind of personal film school.
  2. The same goes for being a writer, producer, documentarian. Immerse yourself and become that annoying film nerd … and I say this with the utmost affection.
  3. Also, for aspiring writers … not only should you watch movies written by your fave screen and tv writers, read the scripts. It’s easy to get caught up in the visuals of a movie, so reading helps isolate the written storytelling and structure. Scripts are available online. For free! (Read about the 2021  award season screenplays too.)
  4. Read the trades to find out what producers, directors, actors, and studios are doing what, what’s in development, what are the hot spec screenplay sales, ratings, studio wars, intrigue and more—this info is all there for the gleaning: THR, Variety, Deadline, Cynopsis, TV By the Numbers, to name a few.
  5. Listen to The Business on KCRW, hosted by Kim Masters, editor-at-large of the Hollywood Reporter, the weekly program covers an industry report then follows with interviews of mainstream to indie talent about their current projects. There are lots of insights to be had here.  Previous shows are archived.
  6. Listen to The Treatment, also on KCRW, hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell. In his weekly show, he interviews innovative talent from the entertainment industry. He’s such a film champion that he can always find something informative and positive to say about any movie. I may not agree with his tastes but I always get something out of his perspective.
  7. Practice, practice, practice. Write and shoot. Technology has made it so easy to shoot and edit anything, and it’s cheaper than ever. And there’s really no excuse not to.

Writing On Deadline Without Losing Your Mind

Writing deadlines are no fun. They can be crazy-making and cause your entire life outside of writing as fast as you can to grind to a stop. Now this post isn’t directed at journalists who thrive on the deadline rush. They’re a whole other breed, and I salute their stamina. It’s really a note to myself and to writers out there inclined to get freaked out while under the deadline gun.

Now I’ve written under deadlines for years. For the most part I’ve handled the task with minimal stress. I love the challenge of meeting a goal and, hopefully, doing a job well done. All that changed with a recent writing gig. It was a lot of work on a super tight deadline involving multiple stories on different topics, interviewing people for quotes and scrambling for photos. I had five days to do all this and edit several others writers’ work, who were also part of the project.

This assignment caused me to work myself up into an anxiety tornado. I cleared my calendar, let other responsibilities lapse, including marketing for the release of my upcoming book and other client work. When I wasn’t writing at Mach speed, I ran around the house like my hair was on fire. Can I mix in any more metaphors? Absolutely! Essentially, I made myself nuts. I met the deadline, but after it was over I had to take stock. Why did I do this to myself? I had never missed a deadline before. Sure this one was an extreme challenge, but there was absolutely no need for the self-created stress.

Next time I confront a killer deadline (one’s coming down the pike already!), I’ll remind myself of the following things. If you’re in the same situation, hopefully, these tips will help you, too.

Don’t panic

I remember hearing an interview with the amazing composer, Danny Elfman. He admitted putting himself through the same hell on every project he scores: doubting he’ll finish in time and thinking his compositions suck. He makes magic for every movie he works on so clearly, none of his insecurities are founded. Now, I’m certainly not comparing myself to a genius like Mr. Elfman. I get that panicking can be part of the motivational process. The key is not letting panic be the engine that drives the entire effort. A sense of urgency gets the work done. Too much is wasted energy, which is better spent on writing. Take comfort knowing you’ve succeeded in the past.

Schedule your time

Look at your deadline and work backwards. Figure out what you can accomplish in how many days and plan accordingly. Breaking the work into smaller, doable chunks won’t seem as daunting.

Sit your ass down and write

As long as you do this, the job will get done. Procrastinating will only prolong the agony. So stop web cruising and liking every goofy photo on Facebook. You’re a writer for God’s sake. This is what you love to do, so get cracking.

Pace yourself

Incorporate breaks as much as you can: take a walk, meditate for ten minutes, call a friend. (Friends can also help talk you down from the ledge.) Getting out of the writing headspace gives your mind time to recharge. And don’t forgo exercise. It’s easy to do when in a crunch. Exercise relieves stress, gets blood flowing into areas that have been hunched over a computer and gives you an energy boost. Every time I squeeze in a yoga class or workout I’m reinvigorated. The added energy helps me make it through the late nights.

Got your own deadline writing tips? Please share! I can always use more.

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