Corey Mandell screenwriting/TV writing workshops – highly recommended

Can’t see the video? Open it here.

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years shopping for film and television writing coaching. I’ve taken workshops, I’ve had professional coverage, I’ve read a hundred books and countless blogs.

Of all those possible learning resources, the only one I’ve ever recommended is the workshop series offered by Corey Mandell and Talton Wingate. Corey and Talton will again be offering the first workshop in the series, Professional Screenwriting and Television Writing, in September. It’s an 8-week class with live remote 3-hour workshops held once a week. Full-on lectures in Week 1 and Week 8: lecture, new concepts, writing exercises, and individual feedback on homework the other 6 weeks.

Go take it. Then take the Conceptual Intensive, which is a non-required class that you can take between the first workshop and the advanced class (which I just completed and absolutely loved).  The CI is the single hardest class I’ve ever taken as an adult, a firewalk with a mountain of homework and a sense of push-to-grow that reminded me of my Clarion experience, or the 41 stories I wrote in 41 days on behalf of Clarion West a few years ago.

(To illustrate this: I got laid off from my 2-year contract job along with 28% of the rest of the company last summer during the final week of the Conceptual Intensive. My first response was Oh, shit. My second response was Well, I’ll have time to do my homework now. And I did. It was totally worth it. That class scared the bejesus out of me, and I loved it.)

As you move through the workshop series, you’ll get to work with Corey, Talton, and their colleague Lauren “Tough Love” Ludwig (no, I don’t think that’s the middle name her parents gave her, but it should be). All of these people are smart, funny, expert, generous with their coaching, and every single one of them will learn your little ways as a writer and tell you to carry on, or to stop that shit.

I think it helps to have some writing (prose or screenwriting) experience going into these workshops, but it’s not essential. From my perspective, the people who have the toughest time are those who want to argue that the concepts being taught, or the feedback on their work, are completely wrong. I have seen a couple of people get very mulish in a way that I see in emerging prose writers as well: If you really understood what I’m doing you would totally see how perfect it is! Pro tip: don’t be that person, ever. It gets you nowhere.

If you want to learn more about screenwriting, have the will to grow and aren’t afraid of being truly workshopped – of hanging your ass out for everyone to see so that you can learn – then go check out the website and the class. Bring your growth mindset and your absolute willingness to embrace feedback, work your ass off, provide support to your workshop cohort, and get over the need to be perfect. Because the need to be perfect is the enemy of growth.

And if you decide to go for it, do let me know. I’d love to hear about your experience.

Because: Buffy!

What does it mean that I read this entire fabulous post ranking every single episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer from worst to best in detail? And found myself nodding or making the Dude you are so wrong in your wrongness here frowny face? You tell me ::grin::.

I miss Buffy, and Firefly (heartbreak!), and I wish they would make Sherlock faster. What about you? What jazzes your TV world these days?

Also, I am testing a new plugin that automatically posts to Facebook and Twitter. Scary! We’ll see how it goes.

Enjoy your day.

The Closer

I hope everyone with a TV will watch tonight’s episode of The Closer on TNT (9 pm Eastern/8 pm Central). It’s directed by the awesome Nicole Kassell, who is the director of my movie.

Nicky directed The Woodsman with Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, so I’m especially interested to see her work with Sedgwick in a completely different role. Have you seen The Woodsman? I highly recommend it. It’s a difficult subject beautifully handled — totally non-gratuitous, totally unsentimental, a very light touch on what in other hands would be material so heavy that it would be unbearable. It’s a tough movie that doesn’t flinch, doesn’t tolerate cliches, doesn’t tell you what to think about any of the characters, and includes moments of joy, hope, recognition, the world turned upside down and then beginning to come together again… I am excited that Nicky’s sensibility, control and obvious love of character is part of my first screenwriting experience.

So go watch some TV. Enjoy Kyra Sedgwick and the always-cool Tom Skerritt (guest-starring), and raise a glass to the minds and hearts behind these stories — the director, the writer, the producer, the crew who help bring it all to life. They’re just as invested, just as stone in love with story, and just as jazzed to see it on screen as any of us who look forward every week to watching our favorite shows.

I want to see us big

Well, the whole big world has a lot of little girls in it, too. And not all of them are princesses — and the ones who are princesses have plenty of movies to watch.
And even many of them who do aspire to be princesses are mixing their princess tendencies with all manner of other delicious things. Their tiaras fall off when they skin their knees running at top speed; they get fingerpaint on their pink dresses; they chip their front teeth chasing each other in plastic high-heeled shoes.
— Linda Holmes, from her open letter to Pixar

What she said. Go read Linda Holmes’ entire “Dear Pixar” letter on the NPR website. Then come on back and let’s chat.

I’ve talked before about how much I want to write great roles for women, especially those of us who never see stories on screen in which people like us — over 40, not runway models or heiresses or sad lonely spinsters waiting for the right man, but simply smart, competent, interesting women — are the heroes. And in those stories, we won’t be heroes because we are tigress-mommies or loyal resolute spouses who suddenly kick ass to save our families. We’ll be heroes because we are human beings in a situation where heroism is required, and so we step up.

Why is that seemingly so hard for so many writers, producers, directors, and studio executives to imagine? Especially when we have a few shining examples of how much it rocks when a movie gets it right: Ripley in Alien, Sarah Connor in Terminator, Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis in Thelma and Louise, Geena Davis in The Long Kiss Goodnight (okay, she was a tigress-mommy too, but first she was an assassin, so she was by god no cliche).

And a hero is not only someone with killer biceps who leaves no bad guy standing. The hero is the person at the center of the story who must overcome challenges, face their deepest fears, lose their most precious things or people or dreams, strive and fail and still keep on going. Is it really true, as so many industry insiders seem to think, that men can only identify with those experiences if another man is having them? I am inside the hero all the time regardless of whether I’m watching Tom Cruise or Sarah Michelle Gellar. Does having a Y chromosome really restrict that kind of identification?

I don’t believe that. I think if a woman on screen is a compelling, non-cliched human being having big experiences, struggling with big feelings, making big choices, then any of us can identify with her.

This is a big screen issue for me. Television is a veritable paradise of Strong Women Characters in comparison to films. Buffy, Faith, Anya, Willow, Tara, Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Zoe, River, Kaylee, Sookie, Tara Thornton, Tara Gregson, Debra Morgan, the list goes on. All different, all with strengths and flaws and their own particular voice, and their own fabulous stories — complex and deeply human and universal.

So why can’t we do it big?

Well, let’s just imagine that we can. What would you like to see women characters doing on the big screen? I’d love to hear your wish list!

Kick the twilight out of him!

From video remix artist and media activist Jonathan McIntosh comes this fantastic video that puts clips of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (okay, Freudian moment, I just typed Vampire Spayer…) together with footage from the movie Twilight, in which vampire Edward Cullen falls hard for a human girl but won’t, you know, bite her or anything, because that would be too much like teenagers having sex, and we know that never happens.

In this remixed narrative Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’™s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a visual critique of Edward’™s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’™s eyes some of the more patriarchal gender roles and sexist Hollywood tropes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed in hilarious ways.
— Jonathan McIntosh, from his commentary on Buffy vs Edward

McIntosh’s remix is beautifully edited, funny in places, genuinely creepy, and pretty searing in its commentary on what many fiction writers and screenwriters (and directors and producers and readers, not to mention scadillions of teenage girls and boys out there) think constitutes “romantic” behavior between people. If you know a teenager, or a so-called grownup who acts like one, park them in front of this video and tell them the only part of this dynamic that is remotely okay are all the parts where Buffy takes care of herself. And then beat them on the head until they understand that she shouldn’t have to.

You don’t need to be a Buffy fan or know the Twilight story to follow along…



Slings and Arrows

I’ve been meaning for months to rave about Slings and Arrows because it is absolutely fabulously awesome (and available on DVD). It’s Top 5 television for me, along with Deadwood, Buffy, Firefly, The Wire, and Battlestar Galactica. (Okay, that’s six. Oh, well.)

I have a degree in acting. At one time, I wanted more than anything to be a professional film and stage actor (and if I can become a go-go dancer at 47, then I am sure as hell not giving up on acting just yet). I tend to fall in love with television that seems like Big Fun for Actors. I care about movie performances, of course — but a movie is a novella, if you will, whereas television series are novels. The best movies give me a chance to be part of a story, an experience with a specific emotional arc. The best television gives me a chance to be part of a world, to live over time with people, to go on and on from one emotional space to the next. I love that. It’s the only reason I watch television (unlike my sweetie, who adores educational programs and South Park).

And so I love Slings and Arrows. I love the people. I love that the acting and the writing are so good. I love that it’s about theatre. I love that it’s funny and gutsy and passionate and smart.

And there’s some kickass Shakespeare. I’ve done Helena (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) onstage, Lady Mac in my heart, Hermione (A Winter’s Tale) in auditions, and Ophelia’s mad scene in a bikers’ bar (but that’s another story). As well as being about life, love, and the chaos and joy of being creative, Slings and Arrows is also about the genius of Shakespeare, about finding one’s way into the words as living text rather than historical magnificence or high school torture. Absolutely brilliant stuff.

Here’s a long-ish (about 4:30) trailer for the show.

And here’s the scene that made me want to write a movie for Paul Gross one of these days.1 Because he does the best damn Ophelia I’ve ever seen.

1Oh, and I’m also dying to write for Frances McDormand, Jodie Foster, Laura Linney, Robert Downey Jr., Alan Rickman and Johnny Depp. Because they are all so interesting.