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"Selling to Hollywood"-- Screenwriters Shmooze at Motivational Conference

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire August 24, 1998 at 2:0AM

Conference
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Conference

by Michael L. Trent



Graced by two large bronzed lions and two bubbling water fountains, the
11th Annual "Selling to Hollywood" Conference took place at the Red
Lion Inn, in Glendale California, from August 7th to the 9th. Compared
to other screenwriting conferences and symposiums that I have attended,
(e.g. Austin Heart or Script to Screen), the "Selling to Hollywood
Conference" was not only accomplished in what it offered (for $500
dollars for three days or $175 for Friday & Sunday each; $200 for
Saturday), but was refreshing in the kind of people who came and shared
their lives, dreams, and passion in a very difficult industry. Started
11 years ago, the conference is the offspring of the Writers Connection,
an organization based in Northern California which offers information,
resources, and seminars to all writers. Directors Steve and Meera
Lester, husband and wife team (he's a publisher; she's a writer) saw a
need for the conference after forming the Writers Connection back in
1983. "We realized early on that there was a great need in Northern
California for resources and information particularly for the
screenwriting community and so when we decided to develop a large
conference format it was real clear that screenwriting would be a good
area to do that," said Steve Lester.


So it happened. For the first four years, the conference was held in
Northern California creating a "Hollywood North" effect, as Lester put
it. But the conference soon moved to Southern California because
surprisingly a similar entity did not exist. "It was really the turning
point of the conference," said Lester. With the move, it gave Meera and
Steve the ability to expand the conference with direct access to
speakers and a great location, giving attendees the opportunity to stay
for a couple days and perhaps "do lunch" with an established contact.


The focus of the conference was "information, contacts, and
motivation." Each day offered various seminars with one formal
networking event. This aspect makes the "Selling to Hollywood" unique
compared to other festivals and symposiums where participants are forced
to A.) trip over a person on the way up competing for a spot, B.) find
that producer or agent is inaccessible, does not want to see you, does
not like you, and is going home, or C) leave without gaining the
opportunity because of the amount of people and the lack of time.


The conference counters this chaos with private consultations. "In an
addition to networking, for those who come out for the full conference,
we schedule a private ten minute appointment with a faculty member for
them. So this is their chance to really have some private time with the
speaker, to get some questions answered, practice a pitch, to get some
feedback," said Lester.


It may not seem important at first, but food was also a big plus for
this conference. Friday and Sunday mornings featured a buffet to put
you to sleep and Saturday's lunch and dinner entrees included everything
from fresh halibut to prosciutto chicken. These meals also gave
attendees another opportunity to network with fellow writers and
panelists in a very relaxed, but sometimes loud atmosphere.


Two of the best panels at the conference were the "Opportunities in
Independent Film" on Saturday and the "Hollywood Producers Roundtable"
on Sunday, which featured several African-American women producers -- a
definite surprise, even in Los Angeles.


"Opportunities in Independent Film" stressed that "writers should think
as producers." "How can one produce his or her work on their own?" The
panel included: Tony Blain, entertainment attorney/manager (named in the
Top 100 People in Hollywood You Need to Know," FADE IN: magazine);
Bette Chase, VP of Production at Prosperity Productions ("Public
Access");writer, producer, director Travis Fine ("The Thin Red Line");
Peter McAlevey, President of Production of Thunderbird Pictures
("Killing Zoe"); and independent producer, Ariel Enrique Wapnir ("The
Black Stallion Rebels"). All agreed that having at least five to ten
minutes of a script shot could increase a writer's chances of breaking
the Hollywood labyrinth. But also, Peter McAlevey reminded the audience
the reality of independent filmmaking, stating that 50% of the Sundance
winners never find distribution.


Andy Fickman, Senior Vice President of Productions for Middle Fork
Productions
("Saving Grace"), moderated and introduced the "Hollywood
Producers Roundtable" panel, which included among others: Lisa Ellzey,
Vice President of Development at Sonnenfeld/Josephson Entertainment
("Wolf," "The Craft"); Andy Cohen, President of Grade A Entertainment
("Fried Green Tomatoes"); Tajamika Paxton, MTV Films and Spirit Dancer
Films
("Party Over Here"); Carolyn MacDonald, head of Danny Glover's
Carrie Productions ("America's Dream"); and Karen Kaufman, Vice
President of Development for Carl Franklin and Jesse Beaton's Monarch
Pictures
("Boomerang").


Each producer spoke about their background, their current projects, and
the type of material he or she is seeking for their companies. This was
followed by questions from the audience. One attendee asked, "If there
was material being accepted for the Latino market." Both Tajamika
Paxton and Caroyln MacDonald responded quickly, nearly fighting for the
mic.


"I have particular interest in the Latino market," said Paxton. "I
think economically it would be an expense not to be in it. . . . This is
a business overall and if one looks at statistics ? by the year 2010,
over 33% of this world will speak Spanish ? it does not make any sense
not to be in that business, so I'm very interested in those stories."
She further mentioned she would like to see material beyond the dance
and music aspect-stories and beyond the stereotypes which illustrate
Latinos 'to be like everyone else.'


MacDonald added that Carrie Productions would enjoy seeing Latino
material because of the "richness in history" and the "richness in
culture" in the Latino community. However, Kaufman had some
reservations about the Latino market. Overall, she felt the Latino
market was so diverse (Puerto Rican, Mexican, Costa Rican, Cuban, and
etc.), that it would be very difficult to find that much-desired niche
market.


The conference concluded on Sunday with a motivational and therapeutic
talk from Jeff Arch, who wrote the spec script for "Sleepless in
Seattle
." He encouraged writers to be writers. "How can you get two
people in Holland to hold hands after a movie?" In other words, how can
you make your stories universal and send a message that anyone can
understand, without the barrier of language. He posed this question to
challenge audiences to stay dedicated to the craft of writing and
stories with substance. He further stated "Don't chase the money. . .
You got to create yourself, to create your characters, to create your
fantasies, to create your success."


Contact The Writers Connection at:

PO Box 24770, San Jose CA 95154-4770

email: writersscxn@aol.com

www.sellingtohollywood.com


[Michael L. Trent is a screenwriter in Boston. His screenplay,
"Martin's Horn" will be in the 1998 Independent Feature Film Market this
Fall.]