Screenwriting from Hollins University. Hollins University Screenwriting & Film Studies is a low residency MFA/MA program that meets for 6 weeks each summer in beautiful Roanoke, VA. The program’s international teaching faculty is comprised of professors from leading universities as well as industry insiders.
We’re advised to read as much as we can and then write twice as much. Reading scripts and screenwriting books is definitely important, but we should look for inspiration in everything: from poetry and fan fiction to op-ed’s and biographies. This article from 1996 about David Lynch’s creative process from The NY Times has recently resurfaced. Take a look to get a small glimpse into a creative mind and maybe even find some inspiration for yourself.
But seriously, you are. It’s a hard thing to try to get better at something so subjective and difficult to measure, but I promise, you’re doing great! ScreenCraft agrees. They’ve put together this handy checklist to occasionally measure yourself up to. Even the best screenwriters deal with rejection and feelings of inadequacy because there’s not a simple way of knowing that you’re actually getting better. But if you’re looking for some positive validation that all of your hard work is paying off and making you a better screenwriter, here it is:
TV is living its best life with a nostalgic resurgence of old favorites like “Roseanne” and “Will and Grace”, as well as bold new shows like “The Good Place” and “This is Us.” If you’ve ever had an idea you’re afraid may be too out there, TV is the right medium for you. Take a look at this in-depth guide for writing a pilot that will do more than sit on your hard drive collecting e-dust.
If you’re like me, you sat sadly at your computer all weekend, e-stalking your friends and wishing that you too were in Austin, TX for the film festival. If you’re one of the lucky ones who got to experience it this year, watch out because I might be roping you into giving us a full report with pictures for the blog.
But whether you’re planning to go next year, wishing you had gone this year, or dealing with the crash from jet lag and overstimulation from your experiences there, here are some resources to help you with your FOMO or help you relive some of the magic.
If you went to, or are still at, the Austin Film Festival this year, please let us know some of the highlights! Festivals are a fantastic way to hone your craft, find inspiration, and make connections that can help you along the way. I hope to see you all there next year!
A couple weeks ago, fellow Hollins screenwriting student, Melanie Moses, flew to Hollywood to work on a real live set. She was kind enough to share her experience. In her own words:
“I remember being five years old, dressed in a tutu, telling my kindergarten teacher that someday I wanted to be famous and make movies in Hollywood. Fast forward thirty years (I know, I can’t beleive I’m a day over twenty-one either), and I’d nearly finished my MFA in Screenwriting at Hollins andhad several scripts under my belt, but Hollywood still felt like a far off dream.
During my final summer at Hollins this year, I talked incessantly about my vision for creating a web series, and about how excited I was to meet Hunter Phillips and Robyn Paris who created the web series The Room Actors: Where Are They Now when they came to speak to us in July. When the event came, Tim and Amber Albaugh introduced me to both Hunter and Robyn and afterwards suggested that I reach out to Robyn about the opportunity to help with Season 2 of TRAWATN. I was a little nervous. Who would want someone on set who’d never done anything like that before? But Robyn was incredibly gracious and said she’d love more help, and she asked if I’d like to come to LA and help as a Production Assistant (PA) for this shoot.
So, in late September, I found myself on a flight to Los Angeles for the first time. I spent a few days sightseeing (yes, In-N-Out is really that good and no, the Hollywood sign is not that impressive) and visited with friends. Robyn texted me and asked me to run a couple of errands the day before filming began and I quickly learned that in Los Angeles it takes at least an hour to get anywhere- the myth about LA traffic is for real, y’all. Nevertheless, those errands got done, and things just got busier from there.
That night we were sent the call sheet. I’d never seen one before and therefore had no idea how to read it, so I sent my amazing fellow PA (turned Wardrobe Designer- you go girl!) Ashley Stratton a message and she walked me through it. The call sheet covers who in the cast/crew needs to report for work and at what time. It also covers the addresses and any pertinent information for each location being used that day, and the schedule for shooting. Basically, it’s your bible for the next day.
The next morning we were required to be on set to start preparing for our first day of filming. My anxiety made a cameo, but I rolled up on time and with the gear I was asked to pick up the day before. There was no time wasted- as soon as people began arriving, work began in earnest. Within twenty minutes I was asked to run to Target to pick up some additional wardrobe items and props. And then again. And one more time.
Being a PA basically means you have a hand in every role on set. You have to be ready to rush out on an errand, help out with craft services (“crafty” for those of us in the biz…ha), clean up, haul equipment, whatever is needed. So my job for the four days on set was constantly changing and evolving. For someone like me, who is a “helper” according to most personality tests, this is an ideal role, and it’s a great way for an industry noob to learn about the filmmaking process.
Throughout our four days of filming, each workday about twelve hours long, I ran errands, picked up lunch, ensured the set remained secured and quiet, assisted with creating props, and even served as an extra in one of the scenes. I got to watch the process of setting up cameras, staging shots, perfecting the wardrobe, managing props, running sound and lighting, directing the scenes, and working as script supervisor. I tried to ask questions while scenes were being reset or while we broke for lunch, and everyone on set was incredibly gracious and helpful in explaining their role and what was going on. At times it was overwhelming to take it all in, but the good news is, working as a PA on set is a LOT of sitting around waiting until you’re needed to help in a hurry. It gave me a chance to process and observe, and it was incredible to see everything coming together.
Another benefit of working on TRAWATN was that I was able to meet a lot of talented people. In the four days we were shooting, we became a small family. You have to have a lot of trust in other people to do their job and to do it quickly (and expertly) in order to make this work. There’s a little bit of a learning curve at the start but it amazed me how quickly we settled into a rhythm and a pattern to get everything done right. I built relationships with people on the set who work in the film industry full time, in art departments, as script supervisors, writers, producers, actors… and we’ve stayed in touch! I talked to them about my writing, projects, and goals, and now that I have this network, I have a lot more people in my corner to make sure I achieve the things I dream of.
The experience I had working for Robyn on TRAWATN was really incredible. I learned more than I expected, I made important connections, and I gained confidence in myself that my dreams really are possible. Beyond that, the connections I’ve made at Hollins have led me to many places I never expected. I’ve gained so much from the people I’ve met there- students, faculty, and guests. Take advantage of that! Go to the events, gather the courage to speak to the guests about their projects and don’t miss the opportunity to pitch yours! You never know what will come of it.
PS- Did you check out The Room Actors: Where Are They Now yet? If not, here’s the link!
And don’t forget to check out Season 2 when it drops very soon! You don’t want to miss my big break! ;)”
The talented and beautiful PAs of TRAWATN between shoots.
TRAWATN2: Between scenes with the legendary Mindy Sterling, Emmy winner Patrika Darbo, and Kyle Vogt from The Room!
TRAWATN6: Behind the scenes shot of Ashley and I as extras in a bar scene with Robyn.
As screenwriters, we get rejected a lot. If you haven’t, you’re either very lucky, or very new at this. Submitting your work and having it ignored (if you’re lucky) or ripped apart (if you’re not), doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Learning from rejection is a time-honored rite of passage for all aspiring creators. Harry Potter was rejected by publishers a solid twelve times, sometimes with harsh words, before our favorite boy wizard inspired seven books, eight films, and three theme parks.
If your pitch, story, or screenplay is turned down, congratulations! You thought of something, made it, and showed it to someone else. That is something to be commended and celebrated. Use this time to pat yourself on the back for being brave, but also use it as a time to see where you went wrong. Improve your structure, take another look at the dialogue, tweak and tighten, so that when you submit it again (which you definitely will), it’ll be that much harder to turn down.
And while you may be discouraged, take heart in the fact that some of our favorite movies of all time were passed over before finding their way to the big screen. See some shocking examples here, watch Brian Grazer’s words of encouragement here, and share in the comments something you’ve learned from rejection.