Fade In Fade Out – Screenwriting School in Atlanta with Michael Lucker

Mike Lucker

It’s no secret that Georgia is getting into the game when it comes to film.  When I started learning about what’s going on in film in Georgia over a year ago, I found that we were ranked at number four in the list of states for film making.  This year, I found out that we inched our way up to number two, right behind Louisiana.  The South is doing big things in film and this is so exciting!  But how can we Georgians distinguish ourselves truly as a film making town?  I believe it begins by having the educational facilities here that improve the skills of local talent to be able to meet the demands of this growing market.  This summer, Reel Focus will be showcasing educational blogs that relate to various facets of film and film making.  We are kicking off the season with a local opportunity for screenwriters and I have joined forces with a very prominent leader in the screenwriting community in Georgia – Michael Lucker – to tell us more about this unique form of writing.  For those who don’t always know the name behind screenplays for a film, Michael Lucker has brought to us films like “Vampire in Brooklyn,” “Mulan II,” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.”

 

Mr.  Lucker, I first learned about you from the Atlanta Film Festival website.  You were listed as one of the mentors for the screenwriter’s portion of the festival.  Aside from your involvement with the Atlanta Film Festival, tell us more about yourself and what you do in metro Atlanta.

ML:  Well, first and foremost, I am a screenwriter.  After ten years in Hollywood writing for DreamWorks, Disney, Paramount, Fox, Universal and anyone else who’d pay for my groceries, I happily returned home to the tall trees and green grass of Atlanta.  Here I have found a tremendous appetite for learning the craft of screenwriting and feel fortunate to pass along to the growing film community the lessons passed on to me by some of the best minds in the business.  The folks at the Atlanta Film Festival have been terrific and kindly offered to have me be part of the festival and to host my weekend workshops.  Atlanta has also served as a great home for me to write, direct and produce a good bit of television.

In your opinion, how critical is the screenwriter to Hollywood?

ML:  Of course, there wouldn’t be anything without the screenwriter.  It all starts with the idea.  However, the ability to bring that concept to life in an engaging, emotional and marketable 120 pages that will appeal to millions is where the real work takes place.  Mastering that craft takes a very talented, disciplined and passionate lot.  Once a student of mine asked “Does the screenwriter write what everyone says?”  I said yes.  “And what everyone does?”  Yes.  “And the story and all the scenes?”  Yes and yes.  To which he asked … “Then what does the director do?”   Everyone laughed, but it’s true.  We provide the roadmap.

Almost everyone’s advice regarding stardom in Hollywood involves going to LA or New York.  Is this always the case for screenwriters or can screenwriters get a start wherever they are and build from there?

ML:  You can write from anywhere.  But once it’s written, it is indeed important to have your boots on the ground in Los Angeles and New York to hock your wares to the commercial producers, networks and studios.  Agents are looking for writers to represent that haven’t just written one script, but are interested in writing script after script.  This requires them to be available to meet on a fairly regular basis with the buyers.  This is especially true for new writers building a reputation and a career.  That said, the Indy market affords writers the opportunity to base elsewhere, but then they’re faced with the task of pounding the pavement locally to find producers or financiers themselves.  Either way, you need a solid pair of kicks.

Why did you decide to develop your business here instead of LA?    

ML:  I love Atlanta – enjoy living here.  And, I like waking up to Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio.  And frankly, there are a lot of incredible screenwriting instructors in LA — most of which I’ve learned from.  There are not a lot of great screenwriting instructors in Atlanta.  However, there is a wealth of creative talent here.  I’ve always dreamed Atlanta could serve as a home for telling great stories in cinema.  And with the incredible boom of production here now, hopefully that will be a reality someday soon.  If I can somehow play a small role in helping southerners tell their stories, better, faster and share them with the world, I can sleep better at night, knowing perhaps I made a small difference and done a bit of what I was sent here to do.

Tell fellow screenwriters how they can get more training through your school.

ML:  Right now we’re offering a weekend workshop that offers all the nuts and bolts one needs to know to write a great screenplay.  Our next workshop is May 24-25.  I’m also available for private consultation should anyone be interested.  Hope to see you soon.

 

 

 


FILM DISSECTION: Wolf of Wall Street – A Writer’s Perspective

Wolf of Wall Street

Many screenwriting books and technique guides will take great measure to emphasize the importance of the first 10 pages when you’re writing a script. In fact, many writers, will obsess over these opening pages. If you can get someone to read your script, your goal is to hook that reader and get them to read the rest of your script that is just as dynamic as the first page.
These key pages have to not only movie the story forward and hook the reader but according to thescriptlab.com, they should accomplish five things: “establish the tone/genre, introduce main characters and their flaws, clarify the story, present the theme and set up the drama”. With each script page representing about a minute or so of screen time that doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

In Wolf of Wall Street, the writer, Terrence Winter, does an excellent job of accomplishing all of the above. In the first 10 or so minutes, you learn a great deal about the main character, Jordan Belfort. You also learn a lot about money, sex, and drugs, which are recurring themes throughout the story.

Within the first two minutes, you see that Belfort was raised by accountants and learned the art of making money at a young age. The audience also learns a little about his seedy mentor, Mark Hanna, portrayed by Matthew McConaughey.

Winter uses voice over, which is director, Martin Scorsese’s signature style. Leonardo DiCaprio who portrays the ruthless broker, Jordan Belfort, toggles back and forth between voice over and talking directly to the camera. Throughout the movie, Jordan is telling the Jordan Belfort story.

Winter was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and actually used some of the dialogue and wild adventures right from the book written by the real-life Belfort.

Winter’s style of comparing the world of investing to a jungle was a jarring open and set the pace for this fast moving and raucous film. I found myself chuckling, embarrassingly so, at an early scene where a dwarf wearing a helmet is swung toward a dollar sign on a Velcro dartboard. Winter uses the scene as a setup mechanism to represent the tone of the chaotic, desensitized and ruthless lifestyle of that industry.

From a writer’s perspective, the Wolf of Wall Street script draws you in and succeeds at mastering the 10-page hook. Some pen perspective for you, Winter has penned scripts for The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. So, it’s safe to say the guy knows his stuff.


FILM DISSECTION: Wolf of Wall Street – An Overall Perspective

 
Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor
 

For someone that hasn’t watched The Wolf of Wall Street, the storyline unfolds very similar to these scenes that I photographed as I was watching it:

The Wolf of Wall Street

Scene 1 – Man on top of the universe

Scene 2 – Man down

Scene 3 – Man judged

Scene 4 – Man sentenced and humiliated

Scene 5 – Man jailed

~The End~ 

This is basically the storyline; however, one important element that I failed to mention before is that this is a Martin Scorsese film.  That being said, you and I both know that this film is anything but as simple as this storyline is.

Needless to say – Wall Street is a wild place.  One can see this every day on any given news channel:   when the bell rings and the floor opens, it is filled with brokers making calls, running around, shouting and engaged in all types of commotion.  This is the sophisticated Wall Street that we see on CNN, CNBC, Fox and other news networks.  Mr. Scorsese brings us into his world – his genius mind translates the unseen world of Wall Street as only he could imagine it.  Sex, drugs, lies, intrigue – everything sordid you can imagine is included in this film; everything except murder, unless you would like to consider ruined reputations as murder.

One of the first things that piqued my interest as the film opens is the lion strolling around the office.  For me, this symbolically lays the foundation of who Jordan Belfort would become to his constituents – a lion in charge of his pride.  Ironically, the director chose the title of wolf to describe Jordan, which is the same description in the title of the book. The opening scene, which is in stark contrast with the title, implies to me that even though Jordan may have seen himself as a lion or a regal, charismatic person before his pride; the outside world saw him as a vicious wolf leading a pack of vicious wolves. After this opening scene, came countless scenes of wild, reckless and carefree behavior, all at the investors’ expense.  Nobody was safe or innocent in Mr. Scorsese’s interpretation of Wall Street, except maybe Jordan’s young children.  Everything and everyone else were savages who basked in the essence of greed whether it was Jordan’s father – who was a co-conspiring accountant who tried to cover up his son’s wretched lifestyle in order to protect the family name; or Jordan’s wife’s sweet ol’ aunt who was just as much a shady villain, helping him launder money in offshore accounts.

I could go on and on about the good, the bad, and the ugly on Wall street; however, this is not my aim in this blog.  Everyone can draw their own conclusions about the largest and most powerful “invisible” trading firm in the world.  Instead my focus is on how Mr. Scorsese took the taboo nature of what he believes goes on behind the scenes on Wall Street and turned it into an ongoing extravaganza of drug induced chaos, not just on the business floor but in how these people live.  The rogue characters, the wild music, the abrupt changes in scenes all really give you not only the visual cue that this is a crazy world but you can also feel that this is a crazy world.  It is an incredible 3 hours of satire and propaganda at its finest and it’s no wonder that it racked up on Academy Award nominations for the following: Best Picture, Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Adapted Screenplay (Terrance Winter), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and Best Supporting Actor (Jonah Hill); and has gone on record as Scorsese’s highest grossing film to date.

 

Photos taken by Mel from screen shots of The Wolf of Wall Street.


Females Successfully Playing the Hollywood Game – Spotlight on Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola
Sofia Coppola

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

Bling Ring ● Marie Antoinette

Somewhere ● Lost in Translation

If you connect the dots, it will lead you to a surprising conclusion and that conclusion is that a man did not write, direct, or produce these films. These phenomenal films were actually written, directed, and produced by Sofia Coppola, one of the most accomplished women in Hollywood.

There are millions of writers around the world and millions of outlets for writers; but the crème de la crème of the writing world, most would agree, is writing for Hollywood. It is by far the most competitive and one of the best avenues for successful writers to earn a lot of money for one single piece of work, if lucky. So, it comes as no surprise that there are not many successful women writers in this world. Likewise, there are not a lot of producers or directors who are women, either.

Sofia Coppola is one of those anomalies that has defied the odds and has shattered the glass ceiling to become a highly accomplished writer, producer, and director in the world of Hollywood. This blog will analyze her film, Lost in Translation, to determine how we as women can follow in her footsteps to create successful films.

Lost in Translation (2003) is a film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two love interest who remain just that – love interests. Both of them are married but disinterested in their marriage for one reason or another. The yearning between the two is what propels the storyline forward. This very simple story earned this film an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2003; a Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture; and several other awards and nominations. It also grossed about $120 million with only a budget of $4 million making it a phenomenal success.

So why was a film as simple as this such a remarkable blockbuster? Let’s look at some critical clues that I think made this film work and can also be useful advice for us women seeking success in this industry.

Clue # 1 – It is a romantic comedy.

I believe that anytime you can effectively appeal to the human emotion of happiness through laughter or love through romance, a film is destined to be a blockbuster. In this case, this film combines both.

Clue #2 – It has cute, romantic flirtation that never gets raunchy.

Obviously sex sells so most people use this as a way to sell products, including films. Sofia never opted for sex as a sales technique in the film. Instead she kept the sexual tension as the focus without actually having the lead characters give in to their desire. Hence you have a film that remains innocent with only a hint of sexuality.

Clue #3 – There is great cinematography.

I must say that the cinematography was spot on. The great thing about the cinematography is that it mirrors the tension in the film. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) are both married to someone else which creates a major part of the tension; but another part of the tension is their age difference – he being substantially older than she is. The cinematography mimics this tension in that some scenes we see city life in Tokyo and in other scenes we see the beautiful green landscapes of Japan. Also, in some scenes we see wild behavior and drinking and in other scenes we see Buddhist monks worshiping.

Clue #4 – It’s focused on the two leading actors’ dilemma, not subplots.

Most films have a tendency to start with the main actors and delve into the other subplots of supporting actors and actresses. In this film, Sofia keeps the focus entirely on the two main actors to avoid confusion of the plot. She could have delved into the story behind Charlotte’s husband’s secret life which seemed to be full of scandal and cheating but she did not. She could have even developed more around Bob’s tension between his wife and their marriage that was getting stale but she did not. Instead she opted to hint at the fact that both of these characters’ significant others were losing interest in them; hence, this was the key driving force that sparked Charlotte and Bob’s interest in each other. Once these two express an interest in each other, everything in the plot wraps around their little coy love affair.

So based on all of these clues from analyzing Sofia Coppola’s film, what can we discern about how to successfully play this man’s game?

Add humor to our storyline; it’s the best medicine.
Avoid outright immodesty. Just because we are playing a man’s game doesn’t mean we can do what men do.
Focus on the beauty of film and what the human eye absorbs, not just the dialogue between characters.
Don’t get lost in subplot after subplot; focus.

Stay tuned for more articles in which I will discover keys to success based on analyzing the works of other successful women in Hollywood.

 

Photo of Sofia Coppola retrieved on August 19, 2014 from http://bit.ly/1yXbz9M


New York Film Academy – Training the Stars

Al Pacino

 

Since the advent of film and television, there has been a need to educate film professionals in the trade.  One such school that understands this need and understands the need for affordable film education is New York Film Academy.  In order to tell us more about this unique institution that is located not just in New York but around the globe, I have teamed up with Frank Pasquine, Director of Social Media at New York Film Academy in order to tell us more about this school.  Frank is no stranger to the industry.  He is a freelance writer and  award-winning screenwriter – his work having been featured on ABC’s Good Morning AmericaHuffington PostRotten TomatoesScreenRantPaste Magazine and more. His most recent comedy script, Rusty Trombone, won Best Feature Screenplay at the All Sports LA Film Festival.

Frank congratulations on your most recent award for your screenplay and thank you for joining us.  Tell us about New York Film Academy and what it does for students?

The New York Film Academy is a premier hands-on school that focuses on the visual and performing arts with short-term, long-term and degree programs in filmmaking, acting, screenwriting, producing, animation, game design, musical theatre, cinematography, broadcast journalism, digital editing, photography, graphic design and illustration.   Since its inception in 1992, the New York Film Academy has not only expanded its programs, but also its locations around the world, offering courses in Los Angeles, South Beach, Disney Studios, Sydney, Gold Coast, Abu Dhabi, Florence, Moscow and more.

Is financial aid available to those who qualify?

The New York Film Academy offers FAFSA and a Need Based Tuition Discount to all qualifying students. We also have a financial aid staff to assist students with their potential financial aid availability.  In addition, NYFA is a military-friendly school with many of its programs approved for GI Bill benefits, including the Post – 9/11 GI Bill. Both the New York City and Los Angeles campuses are approved for the training of veterans and eligible persons under the provisions of the GI Bill. Those who are not fully covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill funding will receive a 15% discount on tuition.

Is it possible to take classes online?

The New York Film Academy offers an online course for those interested in learning the craft of screenwriting.  Those interested should refer to the following site:  https://www.nyfa.edu/online-screenwriting/

As you have said, NYFA is located in many places around the world.  Is there a possibility that it can expand into the Atlanta market?

While the New York Film Academy is open to expand its locations domestically and abroad, there are no current plans to open a campus in Atlanta.

Students 1

 

 

 

 

Students 2

 

 

 

 

 

Student 3

 

 

 

 

 

For more information about New York Film Academy’s programs and admissions, visit www.nyfa.edu.

 

Photos courtesy of Frank Pasquine.

 


EDITORS’ FACE OFF – 87TH ANNUAL OSCAR PICKS

Academy-Awards-645x370
Photo courtesy of http://yhoo.it/1DcLbhi.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Editors’ Collaboration Blog – Carletta Hurt & Melisha “Mel” Childs

The Academy Awards is a few weeks away and Women in Film and Television Atlanta would like to build momentum for our Oscar Party by providing our readers with fun blog posts leading up to the event. This blog post is called “Editors’ Face Off,” in which Melisha “Mel” Childs and Carletta Hurt, editors and bloggers for Women in Film and Television Atlanta, present our individual choices of who we think will win this year’s Academy Award. We hope that you too will play along and add your own commentary.
***Remember to mark your calendars for February 22 and join us at 6:00 pm dressed and ready to impress at Studio No. 7 for the Oscar watch party.

 

Best Motion Picture of the Year
CH: Selma
MC: American Sniper

Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
CH: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
MC: Bradley Cooper, American Sniper

Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
CH: Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
MC: JK Simmons, Whiplash

Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role
CH: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
MC: Julianne Moore, Still Alice

Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
CH: Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
MC: Meryl Streep, Into the Woods

Best Animated Feature Film of the Year
CH: How to Train Your Dragon 2
MC: Song of the Sea

Achievement in Cinematography
CH: The Grand Budapest Hotel
MC: Birdman

Achievement in Costume Design
CH: Maleficent
MC: Maleficent

Achievement in Directing
CH: Birdman
MC: Imitation Game

Best Documentary Feature
CH: CitizenFour
MC: Finding Vivian Maier

Documentary Short Subject
CH: White Earth
MC: Joanna

Achievement Film Editing
CH: American Sniper
MC: American Sniper

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
CH: Ida
MC: Ida

Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling
CH: The Grand Budapest Hotel
MC: Guardians of the Galaxy

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score)
CH: The Theory of Everything
MC: Mr. Turner

Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Song)
CH: Glory
MC: Glory

Achievement in Production Design
CH: Interstellar
MC: Interstellar

Best Animated Short Film
CH: The Bigger Picture
MC: The Damn Keeper

Best Live Action Short Film
CH: The Phone Call
MC: The Phone Call

Achievement in Sound Editing
CH: Unbroken
MC: The Hobbit: The battle of the Five Armies

Achievement in Sound Mixing
CH: Unbroken
MC: Birdman

Achievement in Visual Effects
CH: X-Men: Days of Future Past
MC: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Adapted Screenplay
CH: American Sniper
MC: American Sniper

Original Screenplay
CH: Birdman
MC: Birdman

 

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Spotlight on Film in Atlanta – Atlanta Screenwriter’s Group

Logo
Logo courtesy of Martin Kelley

 

 

You may be one of many people who live in Atlanta who has a dream of getting into film or television but you are not sure of how to get started. Well, rest assured that you are not alone and that there are some people around town that are in the same predicament as you. However, rather than simply dreaming and wishing they can be in the industry, these people are doing something about it.

One such group that has formed and is spearheading stardom for several Atlantans is the Atlanta Screenwriter’s Group. This group, under the leadership of Martin Kelley, is a group that meets twice a month, providing support to screenwriters who are paving a way to Hollywood from Atlanta. Martin Kelly, is no stranger to Hollywood. He has and is still achieving success without a California zip code. He is not only successful in his own right, but is also helping other screenwriters in Atlanta to achieve success.

Thank you Mr. Kelley for taking time to share your group’s story with Reel Focus. Congratulations on your success as a screenwriter and most importantly, thank you for reaching back to show other aspiring screenwriters how to achieve success in the industry. First, tell us what is your background in the film and television industry?

I’m a screenwriter and producer primarily but I have worked on independent film sets for over 15 years now in nearly every capacity except cinematography. I have had six feature scripts produced and released; my last two Immigration Tango and Step Off were released by Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate respectively a couple years ago and enjoyed a nice run on cable since then. My latest feature film blackhats will be released later this year so I hope everyone will be on the lookout for that. I founded the Atlanta Screenwriters Group let’s just say “over 10 years ago” to help screenwriters connect and help each other improve.

Photo 2
Photo courtesy of Martin Kelley

What was the motivation behind developing such a group?

The original goal was just to connect with people who shared an interest in screenwriting in Atlanta. We started as five guys meeting at a bar in the Highlands and have grown into an organization that has had hundreds of members attending throughout the years. Early on, we decided that the best way we could help each other is by offering a workshop environment designed to allow writers to improve their craft through a supportive group that was willing to give constructive feedback.
Over the years, that commitment has paid off for many writers. We’ve had a lot of success stories in terms of script sales, contest winners, and members getting their films made and released. But I think the main testament to our success is that we’re still going very strong after “over 10 years”. We meet twice a month and attendance is consistently solid.

Photo 1
Photo courtesy of Martin Kelley

Paint a picture for our readers. What is it like to attend your meetings?

At most meetings, we have a table read for a feature length screenplay – all the parts assigned to different readers and someone responsible for narrating the action. After the script read is completed, we provide feedback to the writer. The feedback is structured to address aspects like Characters, Dialogue, Structure and other considerations. The feedback is designed to be constructive and related to the script that the writer has set out to write rather than give the writer opinions on what they should have written.

Where do you see your organization in the future as it relates to this booming local Atlanta industry?

Well, our organization will remain a valuable resource to writers who want honest and constructive feedback on their work in order to improve their craft. How it relates to the current boom in production in Atlanta isn’t clear. In fact, there are likely no correlations to be made as long as the GREENLIGHT power for content remains in Los Angeles and New York. What will make a difference and has for some of our members is if creative content originates from Georgia. The more we get content creators like Tyler Perry to headquarter their production companies here, the more likely local writers will have access to getting their material in front of the creative executives. Otherwise, it remains a pretty daunting task to make waves in the industry from Atlanta. It’s certainly not impossible but the degree of difficulty is higher. Should Atlanta continue to grow in that area, the prospects will certainly improve for local screenwriters.

For more information about Atlanta’s Screenwriter’s Group, visit http://www.atlscript.org.

 


Women’s History Month – Women Breaking Through Barriers in Hollywood

378_Susan_B_Anthony1Elizabeth Cady Stanton Olympe de Gouges

 

 

 

 

Michelle Paradise
Photo courtesy of Michelle Paradise

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

Susan B. Anthony…Elizabeth Cady Stanton…Olympe de Gouges…Michelle Paradise?

Yes you read the list of names correctly. Michelle Paradise is a part of this legacy of strong women too listed above and reasonably so. Just as these other women broke down barriers and created opportunity for women that followed them, Michelle is doing something very similar for women entering Hollywood. Everyone in this industry knows that this is a difficult industry to break into whether you are a man or a woman but it’s always great to know that there are women who are paving a way for other women to follow. In celebration of Women’s History month, I invited actor and writer Michelle Paradise to Reel Focus blog to tell us more about a topic that will never get stale on Women in Film and Television Atlanta’s site: women successfully making it in Hollywood.

M.C:  Thank you Michelle for accepting my invitation. I first would like to begin by allowing you to tell everyone about your more popular roles that you have played either as an actor or writer in Hollywood. Ie. What would people know you for?

MP:  I’m probably best known for the series Exes & Ohs, which ran for two seasons on Logo in the U.S. and on Showcase/SuperChannel in Canada (it’s now available via iTunes, Amazon, and Netflix). It was based on a short film that I wrote and acted in, and I also wrote and acted in all the episodes of the series itself. It was an amazing project to be part of, and the fact that I got to wear so many hats – writing, acting, and producing – was a great experience all the way around. I’m currently writing on The Originals, which airs on the CW and it is one of the network’s biggest hits, so some folks might know me from that. Of course, if you look at my face and feel a sudden compulsion to brush with Crest toothpaste then it could also be that you recognize me from my commercial work (I’ve done dozens of commercials as an actor).

MC:  Tell us more about Michelle Paradise – the “outside of Hollywood limelight” woman? What do you do to “normalize” your life off set?

MP:  I’m not sure how to answer that, actually. My life is incredibly normal. I go to an office every day – but in my case, the office just happens to be a large room where the writers for our show gather to talk about the stories for the season or the particular episode we’re working on. It’s a normal workday with fairly typical hours and then I go home to my family, spend time with my daughter before she goes to bed, that sort of thing. The only time that we, as writers, go to set is when the episode we’ve written is being filmed. The Originals shoots near Atlanta, so we fly out there for our episode and help oversee the process of prep and shooting. On our show, we’ll typically write or co-write 3-4 episodes per season; other than those times, we’re in the Los Angeles office working with the other writers.

MC:  What was it like for you to break the glass ceiling in Hollywood and make your mark?

MP:  I’ve certainly had an unusual career path (not many people get their short film turned into a television series!) but I don’t feel I’ve broken any glass ceilings along the way. The fact that I’m a woman working in this business at all is thanks to the many talented and determined women that came before me. Writers like Frances Marion and Anita Loos, directors like Dorothy Arzner, comedians like Lucille Ball. They all paved the way many years ago but there are still plenty of women who are paving the way today… Kathryn Bigelow, Laverne Cox, Shonda Rhimes, and my own boss Julie Plec, just to name a few. The fact that these women have proven so successful makes it that much easier for those of us coming after them.

MC:  What advice do you have for aspiring actors/writers? What advice do you have for career changers who are thinking about quitting their current jobs and getting into Hollywood?

MP:  The best advice I can give is to hone your craft before leaving your current job. Acting and writing are both skills that must be learned (and the best actors and writers never stop learning, even after they’re doing it professionally). Take classes, attend workshops, study great performances and/or great scripts. If you want to be an actor, audition for local theater productions, student films, or indie films; take a scene study class or an improv class. Don’t rush to get an agent. Get the training you need so that when you do get an agent or an audition for a big project, you’re ready. If you want to be a writer, write. There are great books on screenwriting that can help you along the way (just do a google search and you’ll find them). Start watching films or television shows with a critical eye. Find a writing class, get involved in a writers’ group. Ask friends to read your work who will give you honest – if hard to hear – feedback. And again, don’t rush to get an agent. You might only get one shot at having them read your material so make sure your material is ready to be seen. Lastly, you’ll need to decide if you want to stay in the Atlanta area or move to Los Angeles or New York. As an actor, there are so many productions shooting in and around Atlanta that a trained actor can probably work fairly steadily – but keep in mind that the larger roles are almost always cast out of L.A. or N.Y. Whether or not to move is a question of balancing career goals with lifestyle choices, and only you will know what’s right for you. As a writer, it depends on whether you’re interested in film, theater, or television. For film or theater, it doesn’t matter as much where you live; for television, there are a handful of writers’ rooms in New York but the vast majority of them are in Los Angeles. It’s also worth noting that acting and writing are both highly competitive industries. The harsh reality is that most actors and writers in Hollywood are out of work at any given time, so if you want to change careers – and possibly make a move – I’d strongly suggest having a solid job opportunity before doing so.

 

Photos left to right: Susan B. Anthony courtesy of http://yhoo.it/1DPeqpY; Elizabeth Cady Stanton courtesy of http://yhoo.it/1BR2mXP; and Olympe de Gouges courtesy of http://yhoo.it/18i92Ah.

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An “Empire” of Her Own

Attica's Photo
Photo courtesy of Jenny Walters

Written by Melisha “Mel” Childs, Senior Blog Contributor

I’m sure most of you have heard of the new hit series on Fox called Empire and you may be familiar with some of its characters – Lucious, Cookie, Jamal, Andre, and Hakeem. But one person you may not be familiar with is Attica Locke. Lucious and Cookie may be the face of the hit series but Attica is one of writers for the series. This week, Reel Focus will explore one of the geniuses behind this phenomenal new series and will focus on how she built an “Empire” of her own.

Attica thank you so much for talking to our Reel Focus readers. We all of course are excited about your recent success with the new show but I want us all to go back down memory lane and get to know Attica Locke. How did your writing career begin?

AL:  I have always been writing, even as a child. But somewhere around high school, when I saw Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, something clicked inside me and I wanted to be involved in film. I started writing scripts. I went to film school at Northwestern University in Chicago and then moved to LA as soon as I graduated. I wrote scripts exclusively at that time, but I was only thinking of them in terms of being a path to directing. I wasPleasantville a fellow at the Sundance Institute’s Feature Filmmaker’s Lab and came out of that with a movie deal, which collapsed shortly after. It broke my heart. I was 25 years old. I knew I could write but was not certain at that time that I would ever get my own movie made, or that Hollywood was interested in my kind of black stories. So I became a studio screenwriter. I made a lot of money writing scripts for every major studio. I did it for years, but nothing ever got made. I grew bored and disenchanted and decided to write a book. That was three books ago.

What is life like for you outside of Hollywood?

I am someone’s mother. So that’s mostly my life outside of Hollywood. Soccer games and play dates. And I read A LOT.TheCuttingSeason

I myself am a book writer and screenwriter and so I’m going to ask this question on behalf of me and other fellow novelist and screenwriters. How did you make the successful transition from a book writer to a screenwriter and what advice can you give to the ladies of Women in Film and Television Atlanta?

 As you see above, I was a screenwriter before I was a novelist. I came back to Hollywood because TV has gotten really interesting over the last decade or so. All the stuff I was doing as a feature writer – character dramas, political thrillers, etc. – has all moved to television. It’s hard to live off book money in Los Angeles, so I went to my agents and said I wanted to exploreBlackWaterRising TV. I went in with an idea for my own show, but I also told them I’d like to look at the pilots that were going to series, and I wanted to take meetings. I had never done TV, so I was stepping waaayyyy outside my comfort zone. But I kept saying to myself, almost like a mantra, “I’m willing to be uncomfortable.” When I read the script for Empire, I knew I wanted to be part of it from the first page. It took a lot of meetings, but then I got the job!

My best advice is always to write, write, write, and be willing to stretch yourself. Reach high and stay ambitious. And believe in the power of your own voice.

Finally, the moment we have all been waiting for. Let’s talk – brag about your involvement with Empire. According to IMDB, you have co-produced 11 of the episodes of the first season and have written one: “Our Dancing Days.” I will let you share what you like to about this episode or about the show in general.

I love the show because it’s so fresh, so unprecedented. I’ve never seen these characters on TV before. I’ve never seen a Cookie on TV, though I’ve known them in my real life. I’ve never seen a Jamal on TV before, though I know young men like him in my real life. It’s all a breath of fresh air. And I love the fact that the show lives in a kind of high, low place. We do big soap opera turns and crazy plot twists, but we also deal with social issues like homophobia, mental health, race, and class. My favorite part of the episode I wrote was when Cookie took over the stage and gave the speech to investors in Lucious’s place. It was pure Cookie.

 

 

For more information on Attica Locke visit http://www.atticalocke.com

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Behind the Scenes with Screenwriter Tyger Williams

Photo credit - Tyber Williams
Photo credit – Tyger Williams

We are just days from the highly anticipated film “The Perfect Guy” starring Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut and Michael Ealy.  I don’t know about you but I was intrigued by the trailer; intrigued enough to find out more about the movie and about the man behind the screenplay for the movie.Menace to Society

We know Tyger Williams best for his screenplay “Menace II Society” which was one of my favorite African American films from back in the day.  Tyger was among many of the African American writers of the 1990s that put African American culture on the map.  Now he is about to do it again, with something a little different – still keeping African American people center stage but focusing on the theme of obsession.

Tyger, thank you for accepting this invitation to share more about your career with Reel Focus readers. Of course we want to know more about the film but first I want to start with a little bit of your background in film.  Tell us how you became a screenwriter.

It was watching Star Wars as a child that made me fall in love with movies. I started writing short stories in middle school and high school with no intention of writing screenplays. In college I studied production and marketing with the intention of becoming a producer. While interning for a production company and doing lots of script coverage I read a book that said writing was the easiest way into the business and so I started writing screenplays, the third of which was Menace II Society. I ended up selling it before graduation. My advice to anyone wanting to become a screenwriter is to read TONS of scripts, rather than all those books on how to write. The more you read the more you recognize what works and doesn’t, and why. You also get a sense of all of the different styles and voices. This is invaluable in terms of figuring out your own identity as a writer.

What have you been doing since Menace II Society?

Lots of writing. I wrote a bunch of scripts for all of the studios, most of which ended up stuck in development. I also wrote a few TV pilots that never materialized. It was lucrative business but not entirely creatively fulfilling because nothing was getting made. I eventually connected with the Sundance Institute and began serving as a creative advisor to their Screenwriting and Directing Labs, which I continue to do still. That led to me teaching screenwriting at U.S.C. and all the while I’m still writing my own screenplays. Because that’s what a writer does, right? We write and write and continue to write.

Tell us more about “The Perfect Guy.”  What made you want to write such a thriller and what do you think it is about your screenplay that attracted such top-billing actors and actresses?

FOR FIRST USE IN USA TODAY - SNEAK PEEK ON JUNE 4, 2015 Sanaa Lathan (background left), Morris Chestnut (center) and Michael Ealy (right) star in the Screen Gems motion picture THE PERFECT GUY. Credit: Dan McFadden, Screen Gems ORG XMIT: Michael Ealy (Finalized); Morris [Via MerlinFTP Drop]

The Perfect Guy is a thrill ride. It’s romantic, sexy and scary all at once. I had been working with Screen Gems on another project for a couple of years. When that didn’t work out they asked me to write The Perfect Guy. I was intrigued and challenged by the idea of writing a thriller, and especially interested in writing a role specifically for Sanaa Lathan. I’d been a fan of hers for years and just knew it’d be a great fit. I also knew that nobody else in Hollywood was writing a movie like this for her and saw it as a great opportunity to present adult, out-of the-box roles for African-American actors. And then Michael Ealy and Morris Chestnut showed up!

Finally, what’s next for Tyger Williams – in film and in life in general?

I’m currently writing and producing a limited series for ABC Signature Studios and busy developing other projects, one of which I may end up directing. And I’ll continue working with Sundance and U.S.C. as long as they’ll have me because I have a great need to “give back” and be part of an artistic community. Life is good in general, the best approach being to enjoy each day.

 

the-perfect-guy

 

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