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April 1, 1998 2:00 AM
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So You Want to be a Screenwriter?, Take 2: Live First, Write Later and Take 3: Get it in Writing

So You Want to be a Screenwriter?, Take 2: Live First, Write Later and Take 3: Get it in Writing

by Aaron Krach




You don't learn to be a screenwriter by sitting in an auditorium
listening to panel discussions. This revelation came to me while sitting
in an auditorium during the IFP's Script to Screen Saturday panel,
"Point of View: What's at Stake in Indie Films." It was a sincere
attempt to discuss how to keep one's political views honest in a
commercial industry. The panel included successful screenwriters, Zack
Sklar, writer of "JFK", Steven Starr, writer/producer/director of "Joey
Breaker
," Richard Stratton, writer/director of the Sundance-winning
"Slam" and Annie Nocenti, editor of Scenario magazine. Each one had
stories to tell about overcoming obstacles on the road to finishing a
film. And each one had an exciting former life before they wrote their
first script.


Stratton, the "hottest," commodity on the panel following his Sundance
success, was in prison for many years on drug-charges, started Prison
Life magazine
and continues to be an activist today. Sklar was a book
editor before he ever got involved in screenwriting. Nocenti wrote comic
books. None of them had any secrets; they were just living their lives.
Roland Legiardi-Laura, Director of the Fifth Night Screenplay Reading
Series in New York tried his best to wrestle a discussion from the group
but was unable to move beyond the panelists current frustrations. Each
of them was currently struggling to get another project off the ground
and perhaps in as much need for advice as the paying members of the
audience. What they did have was life experience; the nuts and bolts of
which could be turned into a story. And none of them would have had
anything to say, if they hadn't been out there getting arrested and
published in other formats.


If Saturday was a disheartening look at the frustrations of filmmaking,
Sunday was a redemption. A discussion called, "Let's Make A Deal:
Seducer or Seduced?" concerned very practical information on the
business of screenwriting. Professionally moderated by Scott Macauley,
Editor of Filmmaker magazine and producer of "Gummo," advice was given
regarding contracts, options, points, rights and handshakes. The panel
didn't pretend to have any information about how to make the audience
better writers. But once the script is written, they can help you out.
Roz Lichter is definitely the lawyer you want on your side. Crisp,
clear and direct, she warned the audience to get everything in writing
and protect your idea and yourself; in that order. Erica
Spellman-Silverman, an ex-agent and now a producer and professor, urged
people to find an advocate, either an agent or a lawyer, but someone who
will help and protect you through the gauntlet of independent
filmmaking. Paige Simpson, a producer, had plenty of warnings about
friendly agreements and handshakes. The entire panel agreed that even if
its your best friend who options your script, write something down (even
if it's just a couple of lines on napkin.)


The IFP means well in coordinating a conference for screenwriters. The
collection of talented individuals that were assembled was commendable
and impressive. But unlike the IFFM in the fall, where filmmakers have
already made there films and are sending them out into the world, there
is little opportunity at Script to Screen for screenwriters to actually
do something with their scripts. The enthusiasm for screenwriting, as
evidenced by the race, age and gender diversity of the attendees, is an
untapped creative resource in the film world. Any effort to reach out to
that group is honorable.

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