Steve Kaplan Solves the Comic Equation

Steve Kaplan

Steve Kaplan

Over the span of several decades many concepts have been presented with the help of a hypothetical (and other-worldly) alien; also known as Blank Slate. True to form, our little green friend has recently touched down on Earth (interestingly enough in Kansas) and his first act of exploration, after reading TMZ and eating nine jars of Nutella, was to watch a load of pandering sitcoms and comedies having nothing to do with Judd Apatow. Despite his numerous funny-bones (his people are  born with five) his only utterance during his “comedy” marathon was a flatulent hazelnut induced gas cloud.

If our interplanetary traveler would have aimed about 12oo miles due east and a couple of decades earlier, he might have found himself at Steve Kaplan’s Manhattan Punchline Theater laughing his second tukhus off (albeit without “the peanut butter of the gods”). This is the very same theater where Steve honed his comedic tools while developing writers like Peter Tolan (Analyze This), Tracy Proust (Ugly Betty, Will & Grace), and Michael Patrick King (Sex and The City, Will & Grace) among many other soon to be successful writers and producers. His former students really stink up the joint having been nominated to win over 43 Emmy Awards, 3 Golden Globes, and an Oscar for good measure.

“Coincidence?”, you ask. Not even close. Steve applied some serious science for a funnyman and broke down what was working in his comedy shows and why. He developed and refined his comedic tools like “Winning”, “The Non-Hero”, and “Straight-line / Wavy-line.” These techniques were integral to his 40 week masters’ class on comedic performance. And while the Manhattan Punchline Theater and his 40 week course  are no longer around (apparently bills can’t be paid with just laughter) the lessons Steve forged in Manhattan are the foundation of his two-day seminars appropriately titled, Steve Kaplan’s Comedy Intensive. His next class is January 24-25 in Los Angeles.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Steve. His ability to deftly move between his quick wit and the underpinnings of comedy exploration had me engaged from the start of our call. One of my favorite things that he said on the podcast was actually a quote he attributed to John Cleese that I think perfectly sums up the intuition Steve developed about comedy all those years ago in Manhattan.

John Cleese said something like this, “When we started Monty Python, we thought that comedy was watching someone do something silly. We came to realize that comedy was watching someone watch someone do something silly.”

Hey! Who wants to watch me watch an alien eat some more Nutella?

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Linda Seger Loves You and Your Script

International Script Consultant and  Screenwriting Coach Dr. Linda Seger

International Script Consultant and Screenwriting Coach – Dr. Linda Seger

If Dr. Linda Seger was the Wizard of Oz, she would bypass all of the other gifts and only hand out heart-shaped clocks. In the movie, the Wizard tells the tinman,  “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but how much you are loved by others.” And if you only had Linda Seger to love you and your script, your heart would be held in very high esteem.

Linda is a legend in the business of script consulting. She is widely regarded as the person who invented the industry. In 1981 she started her consulting business after writing her dissertation on her method for analyzing scripts. And just like how the Wizard of Oz shared his secrets, Linda has helped people inside and outside the film industry look behind the mysteries of great story telling. Before Linda started her business, many believed that people either did have or did not have the talent for screenwriting. She made it clear that great writing can be taught. It’s not an easy path, and the road is not necessarily paved with yellow bricks, but if someone has enough courage to use their heart and brains, the path to success is illuminated.

She has worked with Peter Jackson, Roland Emmerich, and Ray Bradbury, and she will work with you too. Linda Seger is an accomplished author, having written nine books about screenwriting and a half-dozen more about spirituality. This blended focus of hers is evident when you talk with Linda. She cares about you and your work. Linda is encouraging, intelligent, and she understands the need of writers to be inspired to write something great. This is why she offers a specific one on one session for writers at her home in the Rockies. Linda can also work as your personal development executive if you so choose. She will coach and guide you to write the best possible version of your script and make it ready to shop around Hollywood.

As writers we don’t want our work to be judged because innately we believe it is a criticism of us as human beings, but filmmaking is a collaborative sport. At some point we must wear our hearts on our sleeves, and allow our writing to be judged no matter the outcome. And yes, your writing will be judged on how much it is loved by others. Thankfully Linda can show you what is behind the curtain and give you the gifts you need to succeed in this fairy-tale town.

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The Denial of Corey Mandell Launches a Hollywood Screenwriting Career

Screenwriter Corey Mandell

Screenwriter Corey Mandell

“This script will launch your career.”

Encouraging words from Corey Mandell’s writers group. Corey thought his script was ready to go.

“It’s one of the best scripts I have ever read after teaching twenty years at UCLA.”

Validating praise from a UCLA professor, to be sure. Corey was gliding and he KNEW his script was ready to go .

Corey let the manager he was interning for read his script, almost as an afterthought, as he was leaving to pick out his black 911 Carrera from the Porsche dealership down on Rodeo Drive. The manager read it and told him, “It’s not ready to go. It’s a dirty first draft at best.” 

The manager packaged deals all day long. He knew what was selling and he knew that Corey’s script wasn’t good enough.

The manager continued,“You certainly don’t want to show that to anyone in the industry. You’ve got some strengths and weaknesses, but you don’t know what they are. This script is going to take a lot of work. I’ll help you, but I have to know that you will really work hard on it because I don’t want to waste my time.”

It was at that moment that Corey’s pats on the head stopped and he got a kick in the ass instead. Up until that point he had won awards for his plays and impressed his peers and even some of his professors, but it wasn’t until he was brought back to reality by someone actually working in the movie business, that he knew the hard work was just beginning.  He told Corey to hire three working studio readers, pay them out of his own pocket, and get their coverage. They all came back with a pass. Not as in, “Hey, nice job, you passed the test!” But as in, “There is no way in hell I would stake my reputation on this script!”

Corey put in the hard work over the next year and more and finally got the script to the point where the studio readers all gave it their stamp of approval.

The story continues in the podcast, but (spoiler alert) it doesn’t get any easier. Meg Ryan is attached at one point and it looks like the project is ready to go, but then a change of direction. Corey sells a pitch to Ridley Scott. He works on the script with Ridley in London (on Ridley’s dime of course, or sixpence) and then a change of direction. But at this point Corey has been getting his REAL education. The type of education that teaches anyone who is paying attention and willing to learn, that life and careers are never as easy or perfect as we dream, but as challenging as they need to be until we succumb to truth.

It’s what it took for Corey Mandell to become a working screenwriter in Hollywood over the last decade and a half.

What Corey can teach you in his classroom about screenwriting is about an authentic writing process that utilizes specific professional tools to help you write material that will get noticed. What he can teach you about perseverance and the ability to embrace humility in the pursuit of excellence is his real lesson.

 

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004 – Curious About Filmmaking: Film Producer Barri Evins on Big Ideas, Zen Pitching, and Finger Puppets

Barri-Evins-

Producer Barri Evins

Barri Evins LOVES big ideas. She was molded early in her career by the likes of Ray Gideon and Bruce Evans. You may have heard of some of the movies they wrote and produced; Stand By Me, Assassins, and Mr. Brooks. During our conversation she made it a point to say that she is not a screenwriter and would never want to portray herself as such, she has too much respect for screenwriters and the difficulty they face when completing a script. She can however, shine the light of clarity and insight on writers and their screenplays  as a successful film producer. There is an oft-quoted maxim among those giving advice to would-be screenwriters, and that is. “Write what you know.” And its sister statement, “Don’t chase the market.” These old chestnuts have their truth, but you can’t have former port-o-potty delivery drivers breaking into the film business by following this advice unless you want to see more shitty movies. Barri goes in a different direction and the guidance she gives to writers in her workshops and one on one sessions cuts through the noise.

Barri’s approach is this… start with a BIG IDEA. That doesn’t mean follow in the footsteps of Michael Bay, rather it is a practical and real world truth of a film producer who has not only seen dozens of films packaged and sold, but has done the pitching, packaging, and selling herself. Its important to remember that there are a lot of paths to building a career in Hollywood as a writer, but one of the items you’ll want to check off your list sooner than later is to sell your work. The quickest way, according to Barri, to write and sell a script is to start with what she calls, a “hooky” idea. This is how Barri describes it in one of her blog posts:

A Hooky Idea immediately intrigues us.  It makes you want to know more; it gets you hooked and sticks with you.  In a few sentences, or even a few well-chosen words, a Hooky Idea floods our mind with images and emotions. When you hear a Hooky Idea, you know what the movie will FEEL LIKE.  Right off the bat, you know if this is a movie that you wanna see.

I shared with her the concept of the script by Derek Asaff titled, WHEELMAN to see if she thought it was “hooky.” The gist? A Drivers Ed teacher is forced to become the getaway driver for a group of bank robbers. Listen to the podcast to get her take on it. (And to learn about those finger puppets!)

Barri is a warm, energetic, and insightful person and I can understand why her students love working with her. Her pre-writing outlining methods have worked incredibly well for many of her students in conjunction with her ability to teach them how to break down story structure.

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003 – Curious About Filmmaking: Glenn Benest on How Working with Wes Craven Launched His Career

Glenn Benest

Glenn Benest

Making a living, not a killing, was ironically on writer and producer Glenn Benest’s mind when he decided to pursue screenwriting over being a playwright. His concern about being able to live well and pay the bills eventually led him to writing two high profile screenplays for horror filmmaker Wes Craven: “Deadly Blessing,” starring Sharon Stone and Ernest Borgnine and “A Stranger In Our House,” starring Linda Blair and Lee Purcell.

Having grown up near Los Angeles, Glenn saw the film industry for what it was and is, a business. That’s not to say that his desire to write came from a dispassionate place, rather it was ingrained in him at an early age that it would take dedication, hard work, and connections to start and build a career as a writer in Hollywood. His passion to help others succeed is evident in his private screenwriting workshops where small groups of determined writers meet over a period of weeks to hone their screenplays into work that is ready for the marketplace. Read on to learn more about Glenn’s workshops taken by people like Melissa Rosenberg, writer of the screenplays for the Twilight movies.

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001 – Curious About Filmmaking Podcast: Robert McKee on Writing Professionally, Screenplay Competitions, Guardians of the Galaxy and Much More

Robert McKee

Robert McKee

Robert McKee’s impact on the film industry is undeniable. Over 100,000 writers have have taken his STORY course (also a book)  which was partially re-enacted during the Oscar nominated film, ADAPTATION written by Charlie Kaufman based on the book ORCHID THIEF by Susan Orlean. Robert’s on screen persona was deftly acted by Brian Cox. His focus on being true to genres and teaching writers how to approach writing as a serious profession is sometimes overshadowed by his infamous reputation as a world-class curmudgeon. I found him to be nothing of the sort. He was gracious, knowledgeable, and funny during our approximately 60 minute conversation and Q&A with over 400 teleconference listeners.

My favorite part of the interview happened during his comments on the box office smash, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY. His insights on that movie are alone worth listening to this podcast.

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