Friday, June 05, 2009

WGA seminar: Movies That Matter

I went to this WGAw inspirational seminar today. It was useful in that it helped inspire me again and a bit, and was entertaining to watch and listen to a couple of the writers who appeared and spoke, i.e. Paul Haggis and Billy Ray. However, there was not much new material for me other than Billy Ray’s Venn diagram of screenwriters and studios, which is mostly self-evident but was humorous nonetheless. Anyway, my notes…

I attended the opening session, then sessions 3 and 1, and skipped the final session. (By then I had a headache that was bad enough to massively distract me from the discussion, and I can always watch it later on DVD in the WGA library.)

The theme of the seminar was “Theme”, finding it and expressing it. The day started with this but these professional writers generally agreed it was too difficult and too dangerous to establish a theme and then write around it. By “difficult” they universally acknowledged that if they had a theme going into a writing project then it was rearranged or redefined by the end of the project. By “dangerous” they all meant that it is impossible to state the literal theme to the studio at the beginning, and it must be slipped covertly into the story so the studio doesn’t recognize it. Also, overtly stating the theme was too heavy handed, and would be too obvious and amateurish.

Jane Anderson: Humor and objectivity will save you (when you get in a spot from which you can’t get out).
Billy Ray: Don’t think of it as art, think of it as work.
Billy Ray: If you do a great job in storytelling, THEN you will make a statement.
Billy Ray: The story’s scenes and dialogue should be loaded with subtext. This is what the actors use to act with, and it is communicated to the audience.
Billy Ray on “notes”: When people read your story and give notes, listen to their questions and their problems but not to their solutions. The solution they tell you is probably the solution to/in/from another movie.
Billy Ray: Start with a story idea, a character idea, or a theme idea.
Billy Ray and all the others: The stories you have in your head that you want to write are a much larger number and span of subjects than the studios want to make. The studios look at what is in the market right now (profitable or not) and want to make those. So currently, in Summer 2009, they only want comedies and some action movies and anything with Will Smith or written by Judd Apatow, and anything that is an existing franchise, preferably with capes. (Update: A look to McG’s wikipedia entry shows that he is currently making an update to 20,000 Leagues under the sea, with Will Smith.)
Billy Ray: They are saying they’ll never make dramas. But the business cycles, and dramas will come back.
Paul Haggis: Talked about how much research he did to construct the characters for Crash.
Paul Haggis: Also wrote the Bond movies Casino Royale, and the first draft of Quantum of Solace - but then the strike happened. He turned over the draft to the producers and they went into production. When the movie came out he hardly recognized anything in it. Robert Nelson Jacobs asked him “So who rewrote it?” and his reply was a shrug of the shoulders and they both looked at each other knowingly.

WRITING MOVIES THAT MATTER: Finding and Expressing Your Theme
Saturday June 6, 2009
Writers Guild of America, 7000 W. Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048

+ Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash)
- Winnie Holzman (TV – My So-Called Life, Once and Again)
+ Kimberly Peirce (Boys Don’t Cry, Stop Loss)
~ Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat, Waterhorse: Legend of the Deep)
~ Bruce Joel Rubin (Ghost, The Last Mimzy)
~ Robin Schiff (TV – Ten Things I Hate About You)
+ Tom Schulman (Dead Poets Society)
+ Robin Swicord (Little Women, The Jane Austen Book Club)
~ Dan Jinks (Producer -- American Beauty, Big Fish, Milk etc.)
- Jane Anderson (It Could Happen to You, The Baby Dance, Normal, The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio)
+ Billy Ray (Shattered Glass, Breach, State of Play)
~ James Uhls (Fight Club, Jumper)
+ Nick Kazan (Frances, Reversal of Fortune, Fallen, Bicentennial Man)
~ Stanley Weiser (Wall Street, W.)
- John Sacret Young (China Beach, Thanks of a Grateful Nation)
~ Albert Berger (producer - Election, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Children)
~ Nathan Kahane (producer - Juno, Stranger Than Fiction)

9:00 am: Registration, continental breakfast
A panel of experienced, produced writers will discuss in depth the stories that matter to them, and how they view their job as storytellers. Is it possible for movies to change the culture or do they just reflect it?

Jane Anderson, Dan Jinks, Nick Kazan, Billy Ray, James Uhls Moderator: Bruce Joel Rubin

11:30 am Coffee break
Three break-out groups, each led by two or more experienced writers: Choose ONE group. Panelists will engage in a more intimate discussion with smaller groups. You have two precious hours to talk to the world. What are you going to say? What matters to you? How do you allow your deeper self to break through into your writing? Explore strategies for discovering what you really want to say.

(1) Bruce Joel Rubin, James Uhls, Robert Nelson Jacobs
(2) Jane Anderson, Nick Kazan, John Sacret Young
(3) Winnie Holzman, Tom Schulman, Billy Ray

1:30 pm Lunch Break
Three break-out groups, each led by two or more experienced writers: Choose ONE group. Panelists will engage in a more intimate discussion with smaller groups. What’s the difference between ideas, concepts and themes? How do you layer themes into your scripts? How do you get the audience to feel your theme without having to state it overtly? What makes an audience care?

(1) Robert Nelson Jacobs, Paul Haggis, Albert Berger
(2) Winnie Holzman, Kimberly Peirce, Tom Schulman
(3) Robin Swicord, Stanley Weiser, John Sacret Young

4:00 pm Coffee Break
Identifying studio execs or production companies who share your passion. How does one navigate the system while holding on to why you wanted to write the movie in the first place? Can a movie that matters still make money? Can you make a tentpole that matters? How do you get what matters to you made?

Albert Berger, Paul Haggis, Nathan Kahane, Kimberly Peirce, Robin Swicord, Stanley Weiser Moderator: Winnie Holzman

6:00 pm – 7:30 pm Wine and Cheese Reception in the Shavelson-Webb Library

No comments: