Join the Writing Pad community!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

So I Married A Screenwriter: Robbie Fox Talks About Staying Committed To The Craft

By Courtney Kocak

If you want to study screenwriting, study with someone who knows. And if anybody knows, it's Robbie Fox. Not only is he funny and well-connected, but his resume speaks for itself. He's sold over 60 pitches and scripts to the major studios and has written over 12 produced films with credits such as So I Married An Axe-Murderer, In The Army Now, and the recent worldwide release Playing For Keeps starring Gerard Butler and Jessica Biel. Robbie also has done uncredited rewrites on My Girl, Little Giants, Revenge of the Bridesmaids, and the Disney animated Mickey Mouse short Runaway Brain.

Constantly reinventing himself, he wrote (and is directing) the upcoming Lost In Coachella for MPCA and Still Life, to be directed by Bruce Beresford. In hopes of gleaning the method behind his brilliance and staying power, I recently caught up with Robbie for some tricks of the trade. 

What makes a screenplay great?    

Easy to read. You know, fun, entertaining, not a homework assignment. Something original with a unique voice that doesn't look like a money grab. Something that makes the reader say, "This person knows and cares what they're writing about" – then they will care. A page turner would be great, and the shorter the better. People hate to read in Hollywood, worse than they did in high school because they don’t read for fun, they read to buy, and more often, they really just read to cover themselves, so if it sells elsewhere they can say they were on it. 

I read Moby Dick a few years ago. It took forever, so I carried it with me for whenever I had some time to kill. Every time someone from the business saw my copy they would undoubtedly ask, “Are you doing an adaptation of that, or––?” Reading for fun would be otherwise inconceivable.

Did you write So I Married an Axe-Murderer with Mike Myers in mind?

So I Married an Axe-­‐Murderer in my head was always "Annie Hall, but what if Annie just might be a murderer". Before I went off to write it (I sold it on a pitch), the studio executive at Columbia Rob Fried told me to write for Woody Allen, not that we would ever get him, but at the time, all the actor we envisioned for this movie were playing some form of that. (Billy Crystal, Garry Shandling, John Candy, Danny DeVito, and Chevy Chase were all interested at one point.) 

Then out of the blue, Woody Allen's manager called and said Woody wanted to do it – no kidding. I was so excited, I had our first lunch together 16 times in my head, "No, please you're embarrassing me, Wood-man, you really liked it?" Of course, that lunch never came to be. As it was told to me, he asked for 7 million dollars, Columbia offered him 5. They had a Mexican standoff for about 2 weeks. Then he did Scenes from a Mall instead. (For 5, apparently.)

Writer's block can be career-crippling. Tell us how you've been able to break out of a rut.

Like anyone else, I have trouble concentrating sometimes. But I can't afford writer's block. Mastercard and your children's private school will not buy the "writer's block" excuse. My suggestion is: accept bad dialogue and bad ideas as part of the process. You're not having writer's block, you're just sifting through all the ideas on your way to the right ideas. Some writers sit around and wait for inspiration and then write, but the pros that I know go to their computer – just like a plumber goes to the sink – and begin working.

Set specific hours. And don't take phone calls and don't look up old girlfriends on Facebook and don't check sports scores. Imagine if you were a lawyer on trial. Would you start looking up adult sites during the duller witnesses? It's a real profession. Treat and respect it as such.

But sometimes you do need to take a break, to let the well fill up. True story: The summer I was turning 30 I had gone in and out of a bunch of relationships and I was feeling very unsettled. I decided the answer was in Aix En Provence. I don't know why – I liked the name and that book "A Year in Provence" had just come out. I didn't read it, but it just sounded right.

I checked into this awesome hotel that no one knew about yet and I stayed there for 6 weeks. While I was there, I wrote in my journal every day. I was bored at one point and I sent a fax to a friend of mine who was the president of Disney at the time. He returned my pre-Internet fax with a fax of his own saying, "Hey I'm coming to France, I'll visit you."

Me and the studio president drove for a week around Europe and thenwhen we got to Germany, he said he was meeting friends in Greece, would I please join. I said, "Dude, I'd love to, but I'm over budget on my trip by at least triple and I have to get the hell out of here." He really didn't want to journey all the way to Greece alone, so much so that he said, "If you come with me, I'll guarantee you the Pauly Shore Army movie we're going to film in February." So then I had this dumb awkward moment where I'm thinking "Pauly Shore? Mikanos? The Parthenon? Army movies?" 

Anyway, I told him I couldn't and headed back to Los Angeles that night. But when I got home, there was a script sitting at my door saying, "This is the first draft of the Army movie, it needs a rewrite, if you want it its yours."

The lesson is: It's a relationship business, treasure and protect your relationships. And, even if you're in France, take the time to drop your pal a note.

That's a great lesson! Any more where that came from?

You'll hear a lot more in my class, but here's one to tide you over. I had a meeting a few months ago at a production/management company. This was one of the manager's offices – 

If this pile tips over, you could be the first person ever to be killed by 3,000 unsold scripts. I guess one of the most important lessons you can teach anyone is to show them this picture and tell them, "Once you're in this pile, it's time to make more copies." That's the whole goal, create relationships, so that you can make your script sound interesting enough – and then write your script so that it actually delivers on that – all with the intention of keeping it out of this pile.

Writing Pad is pleased to host two classes with Robbie Fox, Business Time: A Screenwriter's Survival Skills Workshop on February 5th and the multi-week Dream It, Write It, Pitch It: Screenwriting Bootcamp starting on February 11th where an A-list producer and former studio president will assist in the choosing of your idea, and in return be the first person to read your script once it's finished with an eye towards producing it. The Bootcamp also includes the option of having Robbie read your entire script and meet with you to give you feedback on it once the class is over. Click the links above to sign up before they are full! 

Monday, January 28, 2013

A 99 Day Writing Experiment with Courtney Kocak

Writing Pad student Courtney Kocak is nearing the end of her 15 article series for xoJane, and we caught up with her to get a glimpse of how the process is going. 

How did you come up with the idea for your article series and how did you get it published?

Well, I didn't have much in terms of writing credits going into this, but I'd gotten the idea for "99 Days at the 99¢ Store" over a year ago. I live across the street from a 99¢ Store and I always think that they sell so many different kinds of items that you could almost live exclusively off those purchases. Every time I was hurting for money, I would think, "Damn, that's such a good idea." 

I tried to find a home for the project a couple different times, but I was looking in places that weren't true to my voice as a writer. I wound up taking Margaret Wappler's one-night query letter class at Writing Pad to really give it another shot. I went in with a really solid draft of the letter and Margaret was able to give me a couple notes to convey the goal of the experiment in the clearest way. She said it sounded like an xoJane piece and boy was she right! I pitched it as a weekly series and that's what they took – 15 weeks worth.

How soon after the class did you get the gig?

So fast! I sent out the revised pitch letter the morning after the class and I heard back the next day. A week later the paperwork was all finished and I was all set to start the experiment. 

What have you learned so far?

The most valuable lesson has been about making myself the center of the experiment. Since I'm the guinea pig, I've committed to making a HUGE change in my life for 99 days, which I'm learning is a pretty lengthy period of time. The readers are great, but they also keep you honest and accountable – I think about them literally every time I make a purchase. I've been having a blast and am eternally grateful for such a cool opportunity as I'm just kickstarting my freelance career, but next time I might think twice about putting my spending habits and finances on full display.

We wish Courtney the best of luck in surviving the remaining 31 days of her 99 Days at the 99¢ Store experiment. We're really enjoying all of her wonderfully written articles! Check them out here.

If you have a passion project that you'd like Margaret Wappler (Editor of Dame Magazine, Freelance Journalist for LA Times, Rolling Stone, etc.) to help you find a home for, or if you just need a refresher on how best to approach editors with story ideas, Writing Pad is hosting three upcoming classes with Margaret to set you on your way: Getting to "Like": Crafting a Compelling Blog on February 5th, Query Letter Clinic: Writing The Pitch That Sells Your Story on February 11th, and Hook Ups, Break Ups, And Missed Connections: Writing The Relationship Essay on Tuesday nights starting March 5th.

Writing Prompt: Live Your Dream in 2013

My preferred workout: lounging.
By Marilyn Friedman

It's January and gyms are packed to the gills. My favorite cafe is crowded with writers tapping on their iPads. The reason? It's New Year's resolution time, and I refuse to be left behind. My alarm is set to ring an hour earlier than usual so I'm forced to write a little bit before I leave the house for an early morning exercise class. To be honest, I'd rather just sleep in till 10 a.m. or spend the day lounging around, snacking on tasty food like I did when on vacation in Vietnam last month (see picture on the left--hey, I have my sneakers on!), but I've got some serious writing goals I'm itching to reach this year, like finish my memoir and get a travel piece published.

Luckily I have Writing Pad to help me reach my goals (which is why I started the school almost nine years ago--for my own writing development). I've signed up for our Memoir Bootcamp and Travel Writing classes to help me get my writing projects done with mentoring from uber successful writers. I invite you to join me in one of these two classes or one of our other wonderful Creative Writing, Children's Writing, Fiction, Journalism, Writing for Performance, Publishing or Screenwriting classes to help you fulfill your 2013 New Year's resolutions.

Has "write a travel piece on my trip to Thailand that focuses on diet and longevity" been on your wish list for the past 4 years? Want to hold your head high at your high school reunion this year, bragging about the coveted TV writing job you landed or script option you sold? Or maybe all of your friends have been bugging you launch a riveting blog about your snarky musings on "Dance Moms" but you'd like to find out how to turn that blog into a book deal or freelance writing career? Come to Writing Pad, and we'll help you reach all of your goals this year by giving you the tiny push you need. We want to help, really.

Get started on your 2013 writing practice by looking through the fabulous class options below and then scrolling to the bottom of this blog post for your free writing prompt! See you soon.

Note: classes with an asterix (*) will be held at our new, posh Westside location in Westwood!
You in 1200 Words: Writing and Publishing The Personal Essay (5 WK)*
Hook Ups, Break Ups, And Missed Connections: Writing The Relationship Essay

Playwriting and Writing for Actors
Story Time: A Performed Essay Workshop
Get Into Character: A Character Monologue Workshop   

Dream It, Write It, Pitch It: Screenwriting Bootcamp*
Structure, Structure, Structure: Building The Foundation For A Killer Book or Movie*
Punch It Up: Polishing Your TV Pilot (or Spec Script)
Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: Crafting Your Webisode Calling Card (1 DAY)*
Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: The Ten Page Workout*

Out with the old routine of eating chips on the couch, in with the new!

Pictured above: Writing Padder and Pilates Instructor Extraodinaire Kit Rich whose essay (written in Taffy Brodesser Akner's class) was just published in Self Magazine! Congrats, Kit!

Writing Prompt:
Make a list of 3 personal, professional, or emotional changes you vowed to make in the past (or a fictional character vowed to make). In what areas did you (or your character) improve? Where did you (or your character) make empty promises? What happened? Look at the list you wrote and choose your favorite change you did or didn't make. Brainstorm two specific ways that affected your day-to-day – maybe you were able to better taste the smoky chile spice of your favorite Enchilada sauce once you quit smoking cigarettes or a new jogging routine made your morning commute all the more vivid with bright yellows and reds and sweet honeysuckle aromas from the plants on your route.

For ten minutes, write a scene where a character based on you makes a big shift. Explore the consequences that shift has on his or her life.

I am going to write about how my 2012 commitment to go to three to five trampoline classes per week allowed me to slim down, fit back into my jeans, and helped me stop walking around the world with a cloud of stress and resentment over my head. To be honest, I totally fell off the wagon over the last two weeks and haven't exercised at all, but I'm about to resume my trampoline regime tonight. What are you going to write about?

For ten minutes: write about how a character fulfilled or didn't fulfill a a New Year's resolution. Share the results of your ten minute write in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Break Free Writing Prompt

Reuinification Palace, Ho Chi Minh City
By Antonia Crane and Marilyn Friedman

Relieved the holidays are over? Not so fast. Where did you go for your winter break and why? More Americans than ever drove their cars instead of flying this year and Antonia followed suit. At the last minute, she decided to cancel her flight. She took a 12 hour road trip with the boyfriend up the coast to northern California through pouring rain, enchanting wine country and then a winding, dark wet forest towards the beckoning waves of Samoa Beach. Antonia spent the holiday season hanging out with her family,  devouring crab in a boatyard where her Step dad restores ships, and playing blackjack at an Indian Casino.

Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat
Marilyn and Jeff went to Vietnam of all places (a 15 hour flight away from LA that was well worth the pain). They leapfrogged all over this vibrant country and even spent two days in Siem Riep, Cambodia to visit one of the seven wonders of the world, Angkor, a complex of 200 stone Khmer temples made well known to Americans by Angelina Jolie's "Tomb Raider" (the Ta Prohm temple was used as a location for that movie).

When she wasn't scaling stone temples in her flip flops or visiting palaces with computer rooms that reminded her of the "Wonder Woman" TV show, Marilyn walked through a sea of whirring mopeds to reach street restaurants in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hoi An, Phu Quoc island, and Dalat, Vietnam. She didn't get run over, but she was terrified every time she had to cross the street for a meal and had to hold onto Jeff (Mr. Writing Pad) and stare at the ground so she wouldn't be alarmed by all the mopeds zipping around her like bees swarming a beehive. Now that's foodie dedication! Marilyn says that it was worth risking her life because she feasted on the best pork bun, Banh Mi sandwiches, and grilled meatballs that she has ever tasted and usually only spent a $1.00 on lunch!

Best Banh Mi Stand in Hoi An

Glorious pork buns in Hanoi
It seemed like every square inch of Vietnam sidewalk was used for moped parking and impromptu restaurants with short, plastic furniture (see below). It was challenging to find any sidewalk to walk on, and Marilyn had to get used to mopeds and taxis careening by her as she walked in the street. But Vietnamese drivers are cautious and went around her so it was actually safe. Marilyn highly recommends that you consider going to Vietnam on your next vacation. It's a wonderful, delicious place!

Impromptu restaurants and moped parking in Hanoi
Now that we all have returned from our holiday time off (sigh), it's time to roll up your sleeves and get back into writing projects or kick start your writing practice for 2013! Lucky for you, we have a ton of classes to help you do that, and Marilyn will be partaking of several of them along with you.

This coming weekend, you won't want to miss DAME editor and former LA Times blog editor Margaret Wappler's "Getting to "Like": Crafting A Compelling Blog" to help you take your blog to the next level or start a blog that will stand out in cyberspace. Also, we are very excited about "YA Character Collage" with multi award-winning author Sherri L. Smith for your aspiring young adult writers, The Art of The Short Story with award-winning fiction writer Merrill Feitell, and Ideas Clinic For Magazines and Newspapers with successful journalist Taffy Brodesser-Akner who has helped 24 students get published and sell their essays so far!

Note: classes with an asterix (*) will be held at our new, posh Westside location in Westwood!

Stories That Sell: Ideas Clinic For Magazines and Newspapers*

Children's and YA Writing
It's Playtime: Writing for Kids (5 Week)

Creative Writing and Multi Genre
So You Want To Be A Writer
Finishing School*
Literary Games: Crafting the Conceptual Story*

Fiction, Memoir, and Romance
Memorable Memoir Bootcamp: Make Your True Tales Thrilling 
Cabinet of Curiosities: A Surreal Fiction Workshop
A Novel Approach: Tackling The Long Format Writing Project
Writing In Series: Crafting Stories That Keep On Telling
Structure, Structure, Structure: Building The Foundation For A Killer Book or Movie*
Literary Games: Crafting the Conceptual Story*
I Love You Silly: Crafting The Perfect Romance
Fiction Bootcamp: Mastering The Art of the Tale Tale*

Journalism, Personal Essay and Web Writing
You've Been Featured: Writing For Magazines or Newspapers* 
From Cheng Du to Timbuktu: Writing The Road Less Traveled (3 Day Intensive)
So You Want To Be A Freelancer*
Hook Ups, Break Ups, And Missed Connections: Writing The Relationship Essay
Query Letter Clinic: Writing The Pitch That Sells Your Story
You in 1200 Words: Writing and Publishing The Personal Essay*

Playwriting and Writing for Actors
From The Page To The Stage: A One-Person Show Workshop*
Say It Isn't So: A Storytelling Class*
Story Time: A Performed Essay Workshop

Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: The Ten Page Workout*
Business Time: A Screenwriter's Survival Skills Workshop
Dream It, Write It, Pitch It: Screenwriting Bootcamp*
Structure, Structure, Structure: Building The Foundation For A Killer Book or Movie*
Punch It Up: Polishing Your TV Pilot (or Spec Script)
Dr. Ed's Development Bootcamp: A Script Doctor Workshop*

Dragon Boat, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Writing Prompt: Where did you land this Christmas and New Year's? Did you go home or avoid home at all costs? Did you go on a fabulous overseas vacation or thrilling road trip? If this year was a bust, make a list of 3 memorable Christmas/New Year vacations. Pick one. Write down three specific details of the trip that you will always remember (e.g. For Marilyn it was: pork buns, sea of mopeds, computer rooms that looked like scenes from "Wonder Woman").

Write for 10 min. about this memorable vacation, including the specific details. Then post your ten minute write in the comments of this blog to get entered into the contest for a free class!

What did you do this winter vacation? Write about it in the comments of this blog to be entered in the contest for a free class!