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Craft & Career

Issue 12                                                                                               June 30, 2010

Dear Writer,
Welcome to Issue 12. 
One year. 100,000 words.  12 Craft Articles.  Can you believe it?
I am in the middle of production, but I wanted to spread some A-List Screenwriting love.  For the first time ever, I have created a five-minute video excerpt from my video Killer Endings just for readers of Craft & Career.  Together with the original short piece below, the video will expand on one of last month's topics: dilemma.
Julie Marsh updated her article from last year to bring you The Screenwriter's Guide to Comic-Con just in time for you to prepare for the July event.  If you need a great script consultant while I am shooting my movie, check her out.
I share some more Facebook musings at the very bottom with my temporary mini-column - Things I learned about Screenwriting While Directing.  
Check out the Champion Corner for the details on a new prize for which you are eligible by simply entering. 

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Jim Mercurio
Jim Mercurio 
It's summer so I hope you are having some fun but take a few minutes to check out this s
hort video excerpt from Killer Endings on Youtube. Haven't looked at this video for a while, but apparently I really wanted to give A LOT of myself.  I have since lost 40 pounds.  Yikes!  
If you want to purchase a DVD of the entire Killer Endings presentation, check out the Purple Column to the right.
A modern example of how much work that has to be done to build the "other side" of the dilemma in a love story is Brokeback Mountain.  The story is a period piece, whose story begins in 1963, and it's set in a conservative part of Wyoming and it involves two men who are married (and at least one of them has children).  And as if setting the story in a more conservative time wasn't enough (and actually, it's not), the writers place the male lovers into a macho subculture that values traditional masculinity more than any other culture: that of cowboys.  Without the historical, geographical, societal and cultural attention to detail, the story would struggle to put up a worthy opponent/obstacle to their love.  That's why this is a hard story to tell well and one that would be almost impossible for a first time screenwriter.
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Jim Mercurio
 I wrote a joke for a comedian that went something like this:
"I woke up with four women in my bed ...I don't know if I should be embarrassed or proud."
We played around with some alternate punch lines:  
"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?"
"Should I be embarrassed or proud?"
He tried the joke out and it was sort of funny, but what he did was make it sort of rhetorical, and his very first attempt seemed a bit clichéd.   The subtext was "I'm kidding about the embarrassment; of course it's awesome that I had a fivesome."
I guess that might work for a Russell Brand-type character, but I wanted the performer at least to consider that there is a deeper meaning that could be reached with that joke, that could inspire or hone the spine of his entire act. 
In one-man shows or stand up acts, to be great you still have to boil down the thesis of your "story" to one theme, one idea, one central dilemma.  Don't believe me?  Ask Tim Allen if the unity of his "Men are From Venus, Women (and Al) are from Mars" thesis paid off for him?  Syndication.... Grunt grunt!
The way to angle the delivery and performance is to play it as if the comedian/character is REALLY torn between whether to be proud or embarrassed.  A storyteller of any sort must find the underlying truth or powerful dilemma at the core of his story in order to connect with an audience.   You can't build an A-List routine around, "Isn't it cool that I can get hot girls?"  or "I have a lot of sex," but you can build a meaningful thesis around, "I am a guy stuck between the bullshit idea of masculinity that says conquer, f--- and enjoy on one hand, and then on the other hand, the dawning epiphany that my sexual prowess and the resulting conquests have left my life empty."  I am not saying that that is the right dilemma for that character or that there isn't a different dilemma that aligns with the joke, but do you see where I am going?
It might seem like I'm turning this joke into a more serious drama, but at the core of great comedies is a really strong dilemma.  You can do some of your own homework on this one, but you should be able to find a strong core in There's Something About Mary, Annie Hall, Sideways, When Harry Met Sally, My Best Friend's Wedding and, if you can ignore some of the cheesiness (and 1800s sexual politics), Pretty Woman.  People identify with and relate to characters that are in horns of a dilemma. The dilemma doesn't necessarily have to be a choice that the audience finds difficult, but it absolutely has to be difficult for the character. 
The 2010 Screenwriter's Guide to
Julie Marsh
Comic-Con in San Diego is an event I've always felt pays much respect to writers, screenwriters, and content creators.  This year, planners have officially declared 2010 "The Year of the Writer."  The massive annual fete at the San Diego Convention Center starts on Wednesday, July 21, with Preview Night, and runs through Sunday, July 25.  The fabled comic book convention is open to the public, and is devoted to marketing and developing intellectual properties for the entertainment business.  Attendance has swelled to 125,000 in recent years, feeding its status as Ground Zero for pop culture in America.
If you work or aspire to work in genre film or television, the trek to San Diego is perhaps the most effective way to actually meet the market you need to target to succeed in several competitive niches.  Proximity to Los Angeles also means the creative teams behind Con-friendly projects are usually well represented at the show, which makes it a great opportunity to learn and network. 
The long weekend features panels, showcases, classes, and an enormous Exhibit Hall.  Media categories represented include film, television, animation, web, video games, role playing games, art, all manner of toys and licensed merchandise and, of course, comic books.  Among the onsite events are the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the CCI Independent Film Fest, the San Diego International Children's Film Festival, and four days of Anime screenings.  Comic-Con is the most important marketing platform of the year for the studios.  Last year, James Cameron debuted a stunning 25 minutes of the previously unmarketed and highly secret AVATAR a full six months before release, to an awestruck, standing room only crowd.  Thus opened the marketing campaign for a film that has become the single highest grossing movie of all time, by nearly a billion dollars, in about six months.
The range of enterprise featured at Comic-Con is as remarkable as the scope.  Hall H is the domain of tentpoles like AVATAR and, this summer probably TRON LEGACY and GREEN LANTERN.  It's where studios make announcements, preview production footage on hotly anticipated projects, and strut out major talent, so there is no real access to the panelists between programs.  Mid-sized panels, though, for companies like Lionsgate or Dark Horse Independent, often feature well-known writers, producers, and executives alongside the stars, so while fans clamor to shake hands with some WWF dude who was stunt cast in their latest horror film, you can often walk right up to the development execs or the President of Production after a panel and warm up an acquaintance, or make a cold introduction.  At the same time, mini-mavericks like Fewdio can be found in booths in the Exhibit Hall, manned by principals peddling their high-power horror shorts. 

The Descent

The orgy of fan-meets-maker can be overwhelming for the first-time attendee.  This symbiotic feeding frenzy occurs on a scale that boggles the mind, where noise and visual chatter create a physical environment that is just plain exhausting.  Costumed attendees are peppered in among the t-shirted throngs and spontaneous theatrical displays of otherworldly combat may cause human traffic to jam a quarter mile down the concourse.
The 2010 convention has been sold out for attendees for months, and even professionals have had to jump through hoops earlier than in past years, since they eliminated on-site registration last year.  Pro registration opened in March and guests of professionals were capped at the number who attended in 2009.  Let's not even get into booking hotels, which began in March.  If you're not already registered and would like to attend, I suggest you set your calendar to remind yourself in February of 2011.
Professionals have a love-hate relationship with Comic-Con.  Most creative people hate networking and few writers I know enjoy giant crowds, but there is no denying the "cool" factor or the immediacy of "What's Next."  Ideas and inspiration seem to circulate through the air system in the same way that bona fide creative geniuses are dispersed in the crowd, hoping to be wowed by their peers.  It's not that you should be looking for your next idea on the floor of the convention so much as trying to intuit "What's Next-After-That."  To conceive of what comes after AVATAR, it helps to have seen the spectacle six months before everyone else, because if you stand in the right spot at the right moment, sometimes you can actually see beyond the future.
   The Top 10 Reasons Screenwriters
 Should Attend Comic-Con
Network With Your Peers: 
Comic-Con is a non-linear, fairly non-hierarchical social environment, especially if you can get a Pro Pass.  If you're effectively working the business side of your career, you'll undoubtedly find people you know going to Comic-Con.  It's a great way to connect and reacquaint with peers at all levels who share your interests.  Reach out to your network ahead of time so you can enlist their help and contacts, especially if you have specific goals for the weekend.  Onsite, even though there are enough people to populate a town, it's a relatively small, high-density town, compared to Los Angeles.  I never fail to run into old friends, clients, classmates, former co-workers, and the occasional legend I always wanted to meet, from Ray Bradbury to Robert Smigel.  Stay open to meeting new people and don't forget your business cards.
Marketing Valhalla: 
Thrill and awe at the best entertainment marketing money can buy.  Companies pull out all the stops to wow this crowd, which is not easy.  Giant installations and billboard-sized banners beckon from across the Floor.  If you're prepping a pitch package, take some notes.  If you're shopping for a publisher, you can see how they market and support their titles.  Just because you're trying to sell something doesn't mean you're there hat-in-hand.  You're scouting collaborators and naturally, you want align yourself with partners that make sense for your project.  The nice thing about doing market research at a booth, where a publisher has all of its products in one place, is that you quickly realize whether or not they're a good fit.  What kind of books do they publish?  What genres and sub-genres are represented?  Do they already have competing titles?  How well do they market their products?  All good to know.
Network Upward: 
Check out the mini-major film showcases and CCI Independent festival to meet creative and production execs afterward from companies like Lionsgate, Focus, Summit, etc. and other folks with whom you'd like to take a meeting.  Hit the parties off-site to meet the LA entertainment crowd, if you can get invites through your employers or your network. Another good way to get a few moments to actually talk to these pros is look for them wherever you go.  They want to see panels, too, or may pause in the Industry Lounge.  Research your Hit List carefully and mine IMDBPro for photographs of those you want to meet to put faces with names.  Stalker-ish?  Perhaps.  But Chaos = Opportunity, and Comic-Con is controlled chaos.  Certain bars in the vicinity are more likely to host rogue creative types, especially those who maybe don't want to be there, but must to attend with their per diems.  Buy them a drink. 
Listen To The Experts:
Even in years that are not thematically devoted to honoring writers, writers do seem to get their due at Comic-Con more so than on an average day in Burbank, especially writers and creators who are considered "Con Friendly."  The written word is revered here and some of the most successful novelists, graphic novelists, game writers, and screenwriters of our time are featured on panels.  Naturally, science fiction and horror genres are best represented.  One of the best panels I ever saw had Orson Scott Card with a quorum of top science fiction authors discussing the future of the genre, which they agreed would be heavily "wet tech."  Screenwriters are often featured on movie and TV panels and those ever-convoluted development tales are often recounted for your entertainment and edification.   
Peddle Your IP Wares: 
If you have an intellectual property in any medium that you want to pitch, you can make a hit list based on the panels and booths as soon as the schedule is posted online.  The Program Schedule was not posted as of this writing, but the searchable schedule of events goes live in advance of the convention, so you can plan your weekend or day trip to connect with as many executives and peers as possible.  I'm not suggesting you attend Comic-Con to pitch tent pole movie ideas (unless you're, say, Zack Penn).  Nor should you expect to hand someone your screenplay.  Focus on making contacts to follow up with AFTER the convention.  If you're an author or you have a comic book you want to sell as a feature or TV show, you can certainly make great contacts at this event, so come prepared with business cards.  If you have pitch materials you'd like to distribute, realize that attendees are deluged with postcards and marketing detritus, most of which gets tossed.  If you feel you must distribute something, make sure it's professional-looking and copyrighted. Business card, postcard, or buck slip-sized items are ideal.  You're in a slick marketing environment and anything amateurish won't even stick to the bottom of their shoes.  Always ask for a business card and don't expect the other guy to follow up for you.
Thank A Legend:
Comic-Con is a pretty efficient place to actually meet the people who inspired you to become a writer in the first place, whether it's Frank Darabont, Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon or Ray Bradbury.  Pay your respects.
Study The Super-Fan Phenomenon: 
The fervor fans express for their favorite stories is edifying on many levels.  You might think, "Wow, those TWILIGHT fans are crazy," but on the other hand, their devotion imparts a high level of responsibility.  Is your villain worthy?  Will these people identify with your heroine?  Is your subtext worth reading, or have you underestimated your audience?  And what are the rewards of executing your craft at the highest level?
Educate Yourself:
So, you've got a film degree or two.  What do you actually know about the business side of video games?  How do graphic novels end up in Borders?  How many artists does it take to make a comic book?  Hundreds of panelists at the top of their careers can illuminate these questions for you and can help you up your game, maybe even find a sideline.
See The Future:
Comic-Con features many exclusive peeks at pilots and features not yet released.  Are you polishing a spec pilot, or specing a DEXTER episode that you'd like to remain fresh past September?  Get a look at the competition and at what the networks have produced from those pilot scripts you tracked down to read earlier this year.  Adjust your tack accordingly. 
Waiting for 2009 Dexter Panel - Ballroom 20
Dexter Line at Comic-Con

Scout A Job:
This fluid, relaxed environment can be a helpful step in job hunting, if you want to be staffed for a creative position in one of the mediums represented at Comic-Con and/or in PR, marketing or advertising.  If you successfully "Network With Your Peers" and "Network Upward" you just might be in the right place at the right time.  People want to work with colleagues who share their interests.  Comic-Con is a great, informal place to network, so it's a good idea to have your resume and writing samples ready to e-mail from your phone. 
Artists' Alley:  Comic artists have stalls where they display and sell examples of their work.  If you're writing a graphic novel and you're in the market for an artist, this is a good place to start looking for someone who would be a suitable match for your project.
Camping:  Attending less popular panels in the same room ahead of high-demand panels in order to get good seats for the main events, since the halls are not cleared between panels.  Fans will set up camp in Hall H early in the day when a big event is anticipated, but this is sometimes more essential in the smaller rooms that can fill up very quickly.
Projects in any medium, and with any budget, that have genre appeal, particularly comic book action, horror, science fiction, some fantasy, select comedies, and anything based on Internet buzz.  Legends like Stan Lee and Ray Bradbury will be fixtures at the event as long as they live and probably long after they've gone.  Personalities like Kevin Smith and Jack Black (who has been known to play Comic-Con with his band, Tenacious-D) wear their "One-Of-Us" status proudly, therefore, anything they touch is automatically Con-Friendly.  Occasionally, a straight drama or thriller that doesn't seem to fit the profile, like A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, will generate good panels because it happens to be based on a graphic novel.
The Floor:  This is the main Exhibit Hall, a stadium-sized diorama of the entertainment market place and possibly the most over-stimulating environment on earth, where all the booths and merchandise are located.  The layout is set up on a grid with addresses to locate specific vendors for making the rounds and for all your shopping needs.  This is also where you will find the big installation pieces for the major companies, like the giant mecha props from AVATAR, which Cameron previewed last year in. 

Hardware from Avatar - 2009

Crossing to specific locations on the floor is another matter.  The hall is often so packed, especially on Saturday, as to be unnavigatable.  A lot of professionals attend only Thursday and Friday, if they can, to avoid the worst crowds.  Expect the back of your shoes to get deflated repeatedly as you shuffle along with the crowds.  Wednesday's Preview Night is worth it, if you can make it to the convention that early and want to spend time communing with the exhibits and vendors in relative peace.
Hall H:  "H" stands for both "Huge" and "Hassle."  It's the largest of the non-exhibit convention halls where most of the major studio events are held in the 6,500 seat capacity theater (capacity is greater with standing room).  Numerous giant screens hang from the ceiling and allow for good seats in every part of the hall.  That said, getting in for the most anticipated events is not easy and may require time-consuming camping.  Also, expect long waits in theme park-like lines.  You can often attend three panels in smaller venues for every one event you get to see in Hall H, so choose your battles wisely.
The Grid:  The quick-reference, pull-out with one page for each day of the convention found in the back of the Event Guide booklet you get when you get your badges.  You can also get daily updated versions in the Industry Lounge or at registration desks.  Handy, considering the Event Guide itself is nearly 200 pages long and is subject to late announcements.
Industry Lounge:   Pro Pass and Press Pass holders' room with tables where you can find relative quiet, a space to work, meet up, plug in your laptop and breathe.  It's like attending a wedding; there are a lot of people with whom you probably have something in common, but have never met, all seated at communal banquet tables.  It's a friendly place and it's fairly easy to make or renew acquaintances.  But, alas, without the open bar.  However, courtesy beverages are usually available, though the coffee is often in short supply.  The volunteers are quite helpful and you can get updated grids daily.
Kiddiecorp:  I'm not sure why I was surprised to find that they actually have quality, professional childcare onsite, but they do.  $11 an hour for infants and down from there as age increases.  Pros can register multiple youths for free, so you can bring the family, and still conduct business.
Preview Night:  On Wednesday night, four-day pass holders, Pros and Press get a sneak peek at the Exhibit Hall which can mean an early shot at limited and exclusive merchandise (read: Tweet-fodder and Ebay-ecstasy).  This year, they screened premier previews of Warner Bros. television pilots, though this was only the second time ever that such an event was featured on Preview Night.
Pro Pass:  If you have creative or producing credits on IMDB, or are published in some other media and can prove credits to the satisfaction of the nice people at ICC, you may attend the four-day event, plus Preview Night, for free. They even throw in an additional free adult pass and a number of youth passes.  Visit the Professionals page of the website to find out if you qualify.  Pro Registration line is separate from the regular attendee line, and usually starts from outside "Ballroom D."
Weapons Check:  Should you choose to arrive costumed as Darth Maul, you'll need to check in with security to have them certify that your light saber is, in fact, non-working.  Yes, you are required to have your fake weapons checked if you want to carry them into the convention. 
Julie Marsh has over 15 years combined experience in the entertainment business as a development executive, story editor and a story consultant.  Her lecture, "GENRE WORKS: The Screenwriter's Guide to Horror," is available for sale.  Learn more about Julie's consulting services at www.YourBestDraft.com.  
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Every entrant who enters more than three features in the 2010 Champion Screenwriting Competition will be entered into a random drawing for a seat in one of the Champion Labs that take place in Los Angeles in December.  (Resubmission category doesn't allow the same script to be counted twice.)
If there are more than 100 writers who qualify for the drawing, I will award a second seat.  Co-writers of scripts each get credit for one entry.  But if you qualify because of co-written script(s), send us an email to make sure we dont miss your eligibility because of the way the database stores writers' names.
The three-day master class was as lively as it was invaluable. Seeing a movie - or better yet, your own script - through Jim's eyes is like playing a round of golf with Arnold Palmer. Moves you never imagined are revealed, and techniques you thought you knew cold are plumbed to greater depths. And on the 19th hole - Kung Pao Kitty's on Hollywood Boulevard - Jim will replay the round with you over a steaming bowl of Mu Shu.
                                                      - John Dummer
 Champion Screenwriting Competition's more than $40,000 in prizes is made possible because of the generous support of its sponsors: Virtual Pitch Fest, Julie Marsh, Truby's Writers Studio, The Writers Store, Rhona Berens, Ph.D., iScript and Its on the Grid.  Stay tuned for more information about the contest or our sponsors.
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Jim Mercurio
Movies I studied in the past 30 days. Suspiria, The Thing, The Ring, Let the Right One In, Vacancy, The Strangers, Rec, Quarantine, The Blair Witch Project, Alien, Cannibal Holocaust, Welcome to the Jungle, HellraiserTCM, Martyrs (Check it out!), Rec IIHostel, Saw franchises, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Hallloween and Bambi
KNOW THY GENRE. Make sure you know what's been done and what's the norm. More people die in the first 15 minutes of the most recent Friday the 13th than in the entire Halloween film.
 Blink Test.  I was watching the awful animal-snuff film Cannibal Holocaust.  The movie is supposed to be made from "found footage" like Blair Witch.  I watched five seconds of a scene where the character was holding the camera but then panned in anticipation of another character's line, i.e., before he actually spoke.  **INSERT BUZZING SOUND HERE **  Blink test.  FAKE!  If I wasn't studying it, I would have turned it off.  Lesson: Keep it real!
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In This Issue
Killer Endings on Dilemma
Dilemma in Action: The Awesome Fivesome
2010 Screenwriter's Guide to Comic-Con
The Champion Corner: New Prize

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A-List filmmakers with billions of dollars in box office have relied on Jim and his DVDs. 
But more importantly for you, Jim will be offering classes in a few cities across the country where students watch the DVDs on their own and then come for an intense 2-3 day follow-up workshop.
Want to be ready for a class?  Want to host one in your city?  Grab these DVDs and stay tuned!




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