Drew Goddard on how to make yourself useful in a writers room

We’ve had some fantastic events featuring phenomenal writers, but last night’s Writers on Writing with Drew Goddard, moderated by John August, felt truly special. Perhaps it was the easy rapport between the two writers, who we found out had first met during the 2007-2008 writer’s strike. Or it was that the night struck the gentle balance of humor and heartbreak which Goddard revealed to be a touchstone of his writing style. But really, it was both those elements, plus the sage writerly advice that our audience has come to expect from such established names.

August started the night by leading Goddard through his early years in Los Alamos, New Mexico and his pop culture influences. We found out that he was a voracious reader of everything from Douglas Adams and Stephen King to Sweet Valley High (“I would read whatever I could get my hands on,” Goddard said), and that his first film memories were of watching THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and BLADE RUNNER with his father.

Convinced he wanted to become a writer, Goddard moved to Los Angeles and took on a production assistant job on David E. Kelley’s show SNOOPS.

“This business was so foreign to me. I was so naive, but I was so excited,” Goddard mused. “I didn’t know anyone…I would stay and ask every writer, ‘What do you need?’ And that was the most important part because all of them needed to know how to print, and I was good with computers. That is the secret to my career: Just know how to print.”

Eventually, Goddard’s helpfulness, work ethic and affable nature drew the attention of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER showrunner Marti Noxon, who read one of his specs and hired him for the show. Goddard continued his career writing on Joss Whedon’s other show ANGEL as well as J.J. Abrams’s LOST and ALIAS. He later would go on to collaborate with both Whedon and Abrams in his transition to writing the feature films THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and CLOVERFIELD. WORLD WAR Z was next, followed by the Netflix series DAREDEVIL and his current credit THE MARTIAN, which has grossed close to $400 million since its October 2 release.

While he was clearly drawn to stories tackling themes of isolation and potential doom, Goddard’s writing style is marked by the ability to deftly inject humor, heart and optimism amid the zombies, monsters and the sheer loneliness of being trapped on a planet millions of miles from Earth. According to Goddard, his gut–and the need to protect what he loved about THE MARTIAN author Andy Weir’s story–informed most of his approach to adapting the e-book into film.

“Joss [Whedon] would always say, Nothing matters other than the emotional truth. Plot doesn’t matter,” said Goddard. “When I look at THE MARTIAN, this is a movie about optimism and loneliness and people constantly looking out for another without worrying about themselves. I put that on the board and said everything needs to be about this. If it’s not, it can go.”

Stay tuned for the full recording of the event. Check out more awesome writers at our upcoming events!

IMG_8071 IMG_8070

 

Scribble to Screen Hits the Savannah Film Festival

It’s our first time at the Savannah Film Festival, and we really couldn’t be more excited about bringing our Scribble to Screen panel and exhibit to such a fantastic celebration of film. We showcased some gems from the Library and Archive–including two scripts from our Billy Wilder personal collection, William Cameron Menzies’ 1933 illustrated screenplay of ALICE IN WONDERLAND and our copy of Lawrence Kasdan’s handwritten draft of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK–for a fun exhibit at the lobby of the Lucas Theatre.

IMG_7958

IMG_8049

Savannah College of Art and Design students pored over THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK notes as well as our collection of animation and video games scripts. Film fans in town from both coasts marveled over the SUNSET BOULEVARD and DOUBLE INDEMNITY scripts and ALICE IN WONDERLAND book (“Can we really touch it?” was the most overheard phrase all weekend).

IMG_7973 IMG_7981

[THE WOLFPACK director Crystal Moselle (right) and producer Megan Delaney soak in some screenwriting tips from our archive]

Alongside the exhibit, we also hosted a fun Scribble to Screen panel with BOB’S BURGERS writers/producers Holly Schlesinger and Nora Smith at the SCAD Museum of Art Theatre. The two spoke to a sold-out crowd about the process of writing episodes from the show’s sixth season, from the structure of joke pods to hilarious Standards and Practices notes. The audience was treated to a glimpse into scenes from the upcoming episode “The Horse Rider-er” and learned the staff’s internal name for the town where the Belcher’s live: Seymour’s Bay. Two lucky SCAD students also went home with a copy of Final Draft 9 after answering BOB’S BURGERS trivia questions.

IMG_8014

 

IMG_8021 IMG_8026

A huge thank you to the team at the Savannah Film Festival and Final Draft for making this Scribble to Screen series a memorable one!

Our Five Favorite Moments from Sublime Primetime

What do you get when you put eight Emmy-nominated writers on the same panel? At Thursday night’s Sublime Primetime, our annual event co-hosted by the Writers Guild of America, West and Variety, we got a mix of fun anecdotes from the writers’ rooms of some of our favorite shows as well as some insightful perspective on the changing landscape of the television industry.

Variety editor Cynthia Littleton assumed moderator duties and welcomed panelists Jane Anderson (OLIVE KITTERIDGE), Alec Berg (SILICON VALLEY), Joshua Brand (THE AMERICANS), Semi Chellas (MAD MEN), Stephanie Gillis (THE SIMPSONS), Elliott Kalan (THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART), Christine Nangle (INSIDE AMY SCHUMER), and Matthew Weiner (MAD MEN).

For some fab summaries of the night, check out these pieces on Variety and Deadline. Here are our five favorite moments from Sublime Primetime:

  • The Beginnings of the End: Weiner shared the ending of MAD MEN with Chellas right after she joined the show on Season 5. He had always envisioned the end with Don Draper meditating on a cliff at Esalen followed by a clip of Coke’s 1971″Hilltop” commercial. Kalan, on the other hand, did not get as advanced notice that Jon Stewart was leaving THE DAILY SHOW. He found out a few months before the last episode aired.
  • Damn you, Internets!: Comedy writers Nangle and Kalan opined on how online media and communities would overanalyze sketches or even scoop their jokes. Nangle was particularly funny in describing how her “You Can’t Go In There” sketch inspired a tome about gender relations in America. Kalan had us laughing as he described the competition to break jokes between THE DAILY SHOW and THE COLBERT REPORT, which occasionally got scooped by someone on YouTube. “It’s like getting hit by a bus as you’re running from a mob,” Kalan said.
  • What’s In a Name?: The writers shared stories of naming characters after relatives, friends and real people in their lives. Most were meant as compliments, except for Gillis, who named a villainous character on THE SIMPSONS after her mother’s not-so-nice former boss. Also fun fact: Gillis has a cameo on one of the season finales of MAD MEN.
  • Actors as Muses: Anderson credited actress Frances McDormand with giving the push she needed to write the screenplay for OLIVE KITTERIDGE. Berg also revealed that he leaves areas open in each episode’s script for the SILICON VALLEY actors to improv and admitted to writing in order to impress them.
  • A Writer’s Motto: Lastly, we loved (and plan to adopt) Weiner’s motto for upholding the value of his work: “You cannot let them use the love of your work against you, because all of us would do it for free.”

i-dz8gSft-XL

[From left, Variety’s Cynthia Littleton, Alec Berg, Jane Anderson, Joshua Brand, Christine Nangle, Semi Chellas, Matthew Weiner, Stephanie Gillis and Elliott Kalan. Photo Credit: Michael Jones]

 

Character Sketch: Glen Mazzara on the Anti-Hero

War, American society and culture, and the implications behind the distinctly male point of view taken by film and TV anti-heroes were some of the hot topics raised by writer and producer Glen Mazzara on Wednesday evening’s inaugural Character Sketch talk.

“The Anti-Hero is the American Hero–it’s an individual who’s willing to take matters into his own hands because he has a code that knows better and supersedes what we consider fundamental American ideals,” explained Mazzara, the creator and showrunner of the upcoming A&E series about the anti-Christ, DAMIEN. “We want a can-do guy who doesn’t give a sh*t what everybody thinks, who’s willing to go against the system. What makes him the anti-hero is that he kills people indiscriminately.”

As he traced the literary history of the American anti-hero trope, from its appearance in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking series in the 1820s and Westerns of the ’50s and ’60s to its resurgence in TV on shows such as GAME OF THRONES, BREAKING BAD and THE WALKING DEAD, Mazzara posits that the public’s fascination with morally complex characters and the often violent worlds they inhabit are a reflection of American society’s current anxieties, which, at the moment, includes anxieties about war.

“The warrior, the soldier is the predominant story we are seeing today because America finds itself in a constant state of war,” said Mazzara.

Mazzara’s thoughts on gender and race as viewed through the lens of the anti-hero’s predominantly white, male point of view particularly resonated with the audience. “This view of the American hero is tied up in white male identity and it’s being talked about as if the myth is real,” said Mazzara, who is the Co-Chair of the WGAW’s Diversity Advisory Group. “The dark side of the American hero/anti-hero is there’s a level of racism in that trope. It has a white point of view in which other people of color are either ‘savages’ or ‘noble savages.'”

Daring to venture into controversial topics such as the depiction of rape in film and TV, Mazzara encouraged emerging writers in the audience to be mindful when writing female characters and avoid plain old lazy writing. “There’s no reason for you to write ‘She’s hot but doesn’t know it.’ I don’t know why this is used to describe a strong character,” he admonished. “If I see it in a script, you’re not getting hired.”

“We have a responsibility as writers to look at the messages we are putting out there–the point of view and perspectives,” Mazzara said emphatically. “I’m trying to spark debate that I think is important; it’s something that’s infected my writing and hopefully this topic is helpful to people.”

Stay tuned for the full recording of Character Sketch: Glen Mazzara on Writing the Anti-Hero. Check out more upcoming Writers Guild Foundation Events.

IMG_2919

Photo: Glen Mazzara met and chatted with Green Room Experience ticket holders before the event.

 

 

Master Class Moments: Winnie Holzman and Jason Katims

Twenty-one years after MY SO-CALLED LIFE first aired (on August 25, 1994), the show’s creator Winnie Holzman sat down on Wednesday evening with fellow writer from the show, Jason Katims, to relive moments from the fiercely beloved yet short-lived teen drama for our Master Class series.

Holzman and Katims obviously have gone on to create and write equally memorable pieces of work–Holzman wrote the book to the musical WICKED and Katims was the showrunner of acclaimed dramas PARENTHOOD and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. But there was a magic behind MY SO-CALLED LIFE’s 19 episodes, which put a young actress named Claire Danes on the map and so astutely captured the angst-ridden teenage experience, that it remains relevant and influential more than 20 years later.

“That show was special when you watched it on TV, but the process of making that show was incredibly special,” said Katims. “You couldn’t help but feel that when you were a part of it.”

Winnie_Scripts

The pair read one of Katim’s favorite scenes from Holzman’s pilot and shared stories, such as the time AJ Langer, the actress who played Rayanne Graff, showed up on the first shoot day with chicken pox, forcing Katims to rework his entire “Life of Brian” episode.

“That day, it was the most horrific thing in the world. I was devastated,” said Katims. “You come to understand that it’s actually going to potentially make it better. It did with that episode and it’s happened so many times. Over time, as you keep doing it, you get less freaked out when something like that comes up.”

“I used to call it the ‘crisis du jour,'” said Holzman. “[Producer] Alan Poul called it that when he used to come to me with things. In a way it was sort of welcoming and relaxing. He made it sound like a dessert.”

Holzman spoke about her special, collaborative relationship with Danes, who played central character Angela Chase. “Unlike a play or a movie, you travel through time with people, and those actors stay with you,” she said. “It’s very much a give-and-take. There’s a way in which Claire was absolutely taking from me and a way in which I was taking from her. I can’t even quantify what that was–that was just natural for both of us. We never talked about it [at the time]. It was so real and deep that we couldn’t even talk about it.”

Holzman also revealed that in a very early draft of the pilot, the character Graham Chase, Angela’s father, worked at the airport, but she changed his occupation to a printer, just like her own father.

“I was having some trouble and I pulled something that brought me some emotion,” she said. “If you mention the words ‘printing business,’ my dad downloads. It gives me emotion and brings me to a certain place.”

Stay tuned for the full podcast of the Master Class with Winnie Holzman and Jason Katims.

WinnieJason

Related Items
Podcast: Writers on Writing with Jason Katims

New Podcast: Words Into Pixels Video Game Writing Panel

It’s been a while since our last podcast, so we’re excited to share this one from our recent sold-out event Words Into Pixels: Couches, Consoles and Creating Worlds, which was all about writing for video games.

Moderated by Neil Druckmann (THE LAST OF US, UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END), our panel included TJ Fixman (RATCHET & CLANK series), Marianne Krawczyk (GOD OF WAR series) and Tom Bissell (GEARS OF WAR: JUDGMENT). Listen for their insightful and very funny stories on:

  • The specific challenges and constraints of writing video game scripts
  • The most annoying parts of the job (Barks!)
  • What skills are important if you want to write for games.

Click here to subscribe to our podcast via RSS.
Click here to subscribe to our podcast via iTunes.

Music on the podcast is Electronic World v2 by FoxythePirateFoxPL

Master Class Moments: Meredith Stiehm and Pam Veasey Share Lessons Learned

Within the first few minutes of Tuesday night’s Master Class, HOMELAND executive producer and writer Meredith Stiehm shared her first failure: A spec script she had sold for NORTHERN EXPOSURE inevitably did not get produced despite her attempts at multiple revisions. The lesson? Get back up and do it again.

It was the first of many lessons shared by Stiehm, who parlayed that first failure to a staff gig on BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 and then NYPD BLUE, which she credits as the show that made her career and instilled in her an approach to writing for television.

“[NYPD BLUE co-creator David Milch] once said to me, ‘Television doesn’t demand quality, but it doesn’t preclude it either’ and that was back when network was really all there was,” said Stiehm. “That always stuck with me. If you’re doing it, why not do the best you can do.”

The event, moderated by CSI:CYBER showrunner and WGF board member Pam Veasey, offered more insights from what to expect when choosing a career in TV writing to tips on how to impress a showrunner.

“If you are considering television writing, you are not writing TV by yourself. If you are interested in being on staff, you will get your heart broken day after day if you think your scenes, your words are going to be preserved,” said Stiehm. “Your writer’s draft will not be the shooting draft. It’s a collaboration and you have to look at it with a little bit of reserve.”

Having both transitioned from staff writer to showrunner, Stiehm and Veasey offered tips on how to pitch your way into a writing job, among other practical advice.

“Start with what’s interesting is the first part of your pitch and having confidence,” advised Veasey. “Be sure, positive and unwavering about your idea. Let your characters take you through your pitch and know who you’re selling to.”

“I find it nerveracking and awful to pitch. I write a script and I refine it and memorize it and act the whole thing out to my cat,” added Stiehm.

When it comes to writing for HOMELAND, Stiehm embraced her role as the only female in the writers room, where she was naturally designated as the “Carrie Keeper.” “Claire [Danes] and I have an affinity. She likes the writing and we work well together,” said Stiehm. “I like being that person. That’s my big contribution to the show.”

Audio of the full event will be posted soon. Until then, enjoy some photos below and check out more upcoming events!

IMG_7347use IMG_7349use IMG_7352use

 

Words Into Pixels: Video Game Writing Panel Packs the House

The audience’s excitement was palpable well before the panelists hit the stage for Wednesday evening’s event, “Words Into Pixels: Couches, Consoles and Creating Worlds.” Students, aspiring writers, seasoned gamers and a smattering of proud moms, some of whom had driven from as far as Fresno, packed the WGAW’s Del Reisman Multi-Purpose Room to learn how to break into writing for the gaming industry from our lineup of writers, which included WGF Board member and moderator Neil Druckmann (THE LAST OF US), TJ Fixman (RATCHET & CLANK series), Marianne Krawczyk (GOD OF WAR series) and Tom Bissell (GEARS OF WAR: JUDGMENT).

The panelists certainly did not disappoint. From hilarious anecdotes about their respective introductions to the world of video game writing to practical details about the constraints and considerations behind navigating through a game’s complex script, the conversation deftly informed and entertained. Tom Bissell offered some clarity about what makes video game writing distinctive from, say, writing for film: “A lot of it is not writing scenes for actors to portray. A lot of it is coming up with solutions to production decisions. If they cut an entire level out, now you have to figure out a way to connect them that wasn’t apparent to you before.”

We’ll post the audio recording of the entire panel and Q&A soon so you can listen to every nugget of wisdom and each funny story. Until then, here are some photos from the event and audience responses on social media.

A huge thank you to Neil, TJ, Marianne and Tom for lending their time and sharing their tremendous knowledge and experiences with us!

IMG_2849

Tom Bissell on the challenges of marrying narrative with game play: “It’s this completely absurd set-up that you have to do in the voice of the character and make it seem normal. This is a form of writing that throws some real curveballs at you.”

IMG_2867
Marianne Krawczyk on an “a-ha” moment students reach in her video game writing classes at Loyola Marymount University: “You have to deal with a living agency within your game. Your character’s not necessarily going to do what you want it to do and you have to write from that angle.”
IMG_2865
A look at the video game scripts we offer at our Library, which includes THE LAST OF US, ASSASSIN’S CREED series and ALIEN series.
IMG_2868

Each panelist stayed after to answer individual questions and take pics.

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 12.03.13 PM

 

Last week, we celebrated women in writing

Last week we held a gathering in the library to celebrate women in writing – from the early days, when writers like Anita Loos, Dorothy Parker and Frances Marion reigned, to modern times, when writers like Robin Swicord (MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, LITTLE WOMEN) and Winnie Holzman (WICKED, MY SO-CALLED LIFE), Veena Sud (THE KILLING), Michelle Ashford (MASTERS OF SEX) and Terri Edda Miller (CASTLE) actually joined the celebration.

We’re always proud to celebrate the milestones made by writers of all stripes. In today’s industry climate, women are underrepresented in just about every profession, so it’s vital that the conversation continue.

And we were thrilled that so many writers and industry professionals showed up to help us celebrate. Take a look:

Georgia Jeffries, associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a member of the WGF board of directors, speaks to the crowd.

Georgia Jeffries, associate professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and a member of the WGF board of directors, speaks to the crowd.

Robert Nelson Jacobs, WGF Board President, also addressed the crowd...

Robert Nelson Jacobs, WGF Board President, also addressed the crowd…

 

...as did WGF Executive Director Katie Buckland.

…as did WGF Executive Director Katie Buckland.

The crowd in question. The library was packed from wall to wall!

The crowd in question. The library was packed from wall to wall!

Everyone came to celebrate women in writing.

Everyone came to celebrate women in writing.

Drinks were served by scotch ambassador Martin Daraz.

Drinks were served by scotch ambassador Martin Daraz.

We were also joined by Miranda Banks, assistant professor at Emerson College's department of media and visual arts. Miranda is author of the book THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD, and performed much of her research for the book in the WGF Archive.

We were also joined by Miranda Banks, assistant professor at Emerson College’s department of media and visual arts. Miranda is author of the book THE WRITERS: A HISTORY OF AMERICAN SCREENWRITERS AND THEIR GUILD, and performed much of her research for the book in the WGF Archive.

We also featured an exhibit of archival materials spotlighting women in writing - like Lillian Hellman's original application to the Screen Writers Guild.

We also featured an exhibit of archival materials spotlighting women in writing – like Lillian Hellman’s original application to the Screen Writers Guild.

...And this letter to Mary O'Connor from the office of Cecil B. de Mille.

…And this letter to Mary O’Connor from the office of Cecil B. de Mille.

 

The Veterans Writing Retreat – May 2 and 3

In any given year, we have a lot of highlights. Our award nominee panels. The Austin Film Fest. Our day-long craft workshops. Margaritas at Mercado on Friday nights. You know, the stuff that really satisfies us professionally.

But there’s one event each year that digs deep into our hearts and doesn’t let go: The Veterans Writing Retreat. That’s when 50 vets and about 25 to 30 mentors – drawn from the ranks of some of the most awesome film and television writers around – join us for a whole weekend of writing, learning, eating and chilling out. The vets and mentors do most of the writing. The staff does most of the chilling out. Hey, we just planned a weekend-long workshop! We earned it.

Seriously, though: Vets have a tough time these days. The health care system designed to address their needs is in dire straits. Vets are committing suicide at such an increased rate, the epidemic has its own Wikipedia page. And a substantial number of homeless people are vets.

We at the WGF can’t do much about those issues, other than write our congresspersons and support organizations that exist to help vets. But there is one thing we’re uniquely positioned to do: Give vets the tools to tell their stories.

We believe that one way to address the problems vets face today is to get those problems into the public eye – and one way to do that is to bring together veterans with the writers who author the culture we all consume. The benefits are twofold: Vets come a bit closer to being able to tell their stories to a broader audience, and our mentors learn more about the challenges and triumphs vets face every day.

If you’re a vet, we encourage you to apply. We can’t guarantee that it’ll be your path to fame and fortune as a writer; actually, the only thing we can guarantee is that you’ll have the opportunity to get feedback on your own work from writers who work in the industry every day. And you’re a heck of a lot more likely to Make It In Hollywood if you’ve got the ability to tell a great story.

Click here to download the application. Once you’ve filled it out, email it as a PDF to wgfvets@gmail.com by Friday, March 13, at 5:00pm. And if you want to learn more about the program, click here.

We wish we could accept every vet who applied. But the fact is, we’ve only got the resources to work with about 50 vets. There’s no secret to mastering the application – just answer the questions from the heart, and let us know why you want to tell your story. And anyone who isn’t accepted this year is welcome to apply again next year.