How I Learned About the Entertainment Industry, Without Moving to Hollywood

My first foray into the entertainment industry began with Writer’s Block. I was writing a novel, but no matter how many times I tried, I couldn’t make it work. At about the same time I read two screenplays; Matrix Reloaded and The Piano. Since I had a general idea of how the format worked, I tried writing the story as a screenplay and it worked!

I had always enjoyed movies, but now I was hooked; I wanted real experience working in the industry. Fortunately, my first opportunity arrived a couple of years later while a stay-at-home parent for several months. Since my schedule was reasonably flexible, I was able to work as a Background Performer/Movie Extra for television series and made-for-television movies. That’s how I learned about Set Etiquette; as a Background Performer I was allowed to ask questions of the Production Assistants and Assistant Director, but I wasn’t allowed to speak to the Director. Observing how much was involved in shooting a single, ten minute scene, I began to understand why it’s so costly to make movies.

My next opportunity came, unexpectedly, through church. After moving to a large city, I spent several years as a Volunteer Video Camera Operator. It was a huge church (by Canadian standards) with three jumbo screens at the front of the auditorium and four Camera Operators for each service. It was a professional operation; when you arrived at the scheduled call time, you went to a production meeting, where the order of service was discussed. Once you were live, you followed the instructions of the Video Director, telling you who to focus on. With worship teams consisting of as many as six musicians, it could become quite demanding; panning, zooming, and focusing, on keyboards, guitars, drums, bass and singers.

Three books that I’ve found helpful in learning about the entertainment industry are; What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting by Marc Norman, On The Set: The Hidden Rules of Movie Making Etiquette by Paul J. Salamoff, and Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency by James A. Miller. I’ve also read over fifty screenplays. Although it’s tedious, if you really want to understand what’s involved in making movies, read a movie budget line by line.

I remain involved in the entertainment industry, as you do, by writing. After all, whether you’re a novelist, short story writer, playwright, or screenwriter, you’re a storyteller. And that’s really what the entertainment industry is all about; storytelling.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

Three Great Resources

Most of the writers I’ve met don’t have large marketing budgets for their self-published books. Writers who have their books printed by traditional publishers, find they have to take greater responsibility for the promotion of their writing. We’re artists, but we need to think like entrepreneurs.

A book by one of the stars of Shark Tank offers great advice and encouragement for anyone who is starting with few resources. One of the main themes of The Power of Broke (2016) by Daymond John is that if you start with little financial support, it forces you to be creative, searching for unique solutions to challenges, rather than just throwing money at problems. His life is an example of how focus, determination, and perseverance, can lead to unbelievable success. Daymond John offers readers a glimpse of the challenges he faced building a company from the ground up, while encouraging them to follow their dreams.

Another great book that encourages anyone striving to follow their dreams was written by the Producer of Shark Tank. Dare to Succeed (2001) by Mark Burnett, stresses how essential it is to take chances and be prepared to expect the unexpected. Today you know him as a very successful television producer, but after serving in the British Army’s Parachute Regiment, his first job in the United States was as a live-in-nanny. If you had just left one of the world’s elite military units, would you expect to find yourself taking care of children? His goal was to establish a life in the United States, and he was willing to do whatever it took.

I found it interesting that John Daymond sold clothing out of an old van in New York and Mark Burnett sold T-shirts on a beach in California. They both had direct sales experience early in their careers. What every writer can learn from the lives of entrepreneurs, is how essential it is to develop pitching skills. Daymond John had to convince musicians to wear the clothing he was designing in their videos. Mark Burnett had to convince companies to sponsor Eco Challenge. Likewise, writers are constantly pitching ideas to editors, trying to get them to publish our books, short fiction, articles, and essays. If you write screenplays, you have to persuade film companies to read them.

As well as reading these two books, I would highly recommend that you takes a look at Evan Carmichael‘s videos on Youtube, especially the Top 10 Rules series. Here you can find countless videos describing the principles used to achieve success by authors, business leaders, motivational speakers, actors, musicians and pastors.

Keep Striving. Keep Learning. Keep Writing.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

Even If You Love Writing Screenplays….

If you enjoy writing, and you also enjoy watching movies, writing screenplays feels like a perfect fit. It allows you to be involved in the entertainment industry, even when circumstances make it difficult for you to work directly for a film company. There are, however, some good reasons you should keep working on other other projects as well.

One downside to writing screenplays is that it limits how many people will discover that you’re a writer. Let’s say that you write a great screenplay, and after an online search, you find ten production companies willing to consider screenplays submitted directly from writers. If those companies don’t buy or option your screenplays, it may be that only ten people know that you write. Unfortunately, if it’s rejected by script readers, the ten people who now know you’re a writer, may not be directors or producers.

You can also enter screenwriting contests, but make sure you take the time to find out who will see your screenplay. In some cases, your screenplay will only be read by directors, producers and agents If your screenplay is one of the finalists, out of hundreds of entries. You’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it to pay the entry fee, for the possibility that it will be seen by someone who can help your career.

The dilemma is that you could be a gifted writer, but very few people know that you write. One way to overcome that obstacle is to write short stories. You can submit short stories to magazines, print anthologies, and literary journals (print and online.) Being published raises your profile as a writer, and you can include in your Bio, that you write screenplays. If talent agents or directors read your short story, they’ll know that you’re a talented writer AND you write screenplays.

Another way to raise your profile as a screenwriter, is to write articles and essays about writing and film, with the goal of establishing yourself as an industry expert. As always, include the fact you write screenplays in the Author’s Bio. Since a script reader or director may read hundreds of screenplays with similar themes, wouldn’t it be useful if they recognized your name?

I recently tried to raise to raise my profile as a writer, by starting a Youtube channel. I hope you find the video I’ve posted, “What If You’re A Really Good Writer?” amusing, despite the fact it’s a cringe-worthy early attempt.

Keep writing, the world needs to hear your voice, your passion!

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper http://www.jpaulcooper.ca

Is Your Idea Original Enough?

Many film companies won’t read a screenplay unless it is submitted by a talent agent or lawyer. If, however, you do find a film company that agrees to read one of your screenplays, they usually won’t read it unless you first sign a Release Agreement. One of the clauses in the Release Agreement will require you to acknowledge that someone working for the film company, or perhaps another writer like yourself, may have already submitted a concept that is similar. No matter how original you think your idea is, there may be other writers working on stories with very similar themes.

However, just because other writers may have similar concepts, shouldn’t discourage you from developing your story ideas. Consider these facts: White House Down and Olympus Has Fallen were both movies about an attack on the White House, and they were both released in 2013. Despite the fact Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 were both series about space stations, and they appealed to the same demographic, between 1993 and 1998, they were on television at the same time.

Although The Hunger Games, based on Suzanne Collins books, is the best known story about teens fighting to the death, it wasn’t the first one. The first Hunger Games movie was released in 2012. The Japanese movie Battle Royale, based on the novel by Koushun Takami, was released twelve years earlier in 2000.

So, how do you distinguish your story concepts from other writers? Characters: Gandolph in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies are both powerful, charismatic wizards, but they have very different personalities. Setting: Dragons are used in The Hobbit trilogy, the Harry Potter movies and The Game of Thrones series, but the worlds in which they live are unique. Dialogue: What accents will your characters have? Will they sound like they’re reading from a dictionary, or will they use slang?

You should do your best to avoid copying another writer’s work; some of the worst B movies ever made were the result of a Director trying to copy a blockbuster. There are, however, many variations on a theme. The Twilight Saga movies and the Blade trilogy both concern vampires, but they approach the subject from very different perspectives.

Here’s the key point to remember: It’s the writer’s voice and how he or she approaches a subject that makes a story unique.

The only question is: What are you going to write today?

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

Fascinating Trivia For Writers

The next time you’re looking at a book in a library or bookstore, or you’ve just watched a movie trailer, visit the Internet Movie Database and find out who the writers are. You’ll discover….

Actors Write Screenplays: Tom Hanks stars in the WWII drama, Greyhound (2020), and he also wrote the screenplay. It’s an adaptation of the novel The Good Shepherd by C.S. Forester.

It isn’t unusual for two movies to be based on the same source material: The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) are both based on the novel, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three by John Godey.

Sometimes writers adapt their own work: Aaron Sorkin wrote a successful Broadway play, A Few Good Men. He then wrote the screenplay for the movie A Few Good Men, which was released in 1992.

Narrative Non-Fiction books are popular with Directors and Producers looking for source material: Narrative Non-Fiction books present the facts, but describe the people and places surrounding events, so it feels as if you’re reading a novel. Ben Mezrich, Erik Larson, and Stephan Talty are examples of Narrative Non-Fiction writers finding success in the film industry.

The title of the source material may not be the same as the movie title: Some of the best examples are in the science fiction genre. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is based on the short story The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clark. Blade Runner (1982) is based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

One movie is all it takes: Once one book, play or short story you’ve written has been adapted for a movie, everything you write is immediately considered potential source material. Consider the Internet Movie Database listings for Philip K. Dick and Ben Mezrich; their careers are excellent examples.

Do you have a story idea that’s been rattling in your brain like marbles in a tin can? Perhaps today you should take some time to write. You’ll never know the full potential of your storytelling talent, until you start.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

Rolling The Dice

As I’m writing this blog post, an independent film company is considering one of my screenplays. I have no idea how many other movie scripts they’re reading. For all I know, they may be looking at hundreds of screenplays by more talented writers.   It’s easy to talk yourself out of submitting your writing, just by thinking about how tough the competitions is, but that isn’t fair to you or your potential readers.

If you say to yourself, I’ll never be able to write like Suzanne Collins, or J.K. Rowling, the only answer I can think of is, “Good.” Why would anyone want to read a book by a writer who is just copying a famous writer’s style, when they can enjoy the unique voice of another writer? Although I think The Hunger Games and Harry Potter series were both very well written, I love reading books by new writers (or at least new to me), and immersing myself in the worlds they create. The series I’m reading now is The Expanse series by James S.A. Carey, and before that, the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve.

Is your writing good enough? That’s a difficult question to answer, because writers can have perfect spelling and grammar, yet no one reads their books. What one reader considers a cliche, might be considered appropriate for the situation by anther reader. When I read The Meg by Steve Alten I thought it had too many cliches, but it was a bestseller, and it was adapted as a movie as well.

It’s really about style. My wife didn’t enjoy reading The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, she found his detailed description of every rock and shrub irritating, just too much detail. I didn’t finish reading The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis because it didn’t include enough detail for me to enjoy the story.

You, the writer, have a choice to make. There’s no guarantee the book you submit to an editor, or self-publish, will be a bestseller; but it may be. It’s likely that some readers won’t appreciate your writing style, but even the most popular books are disliked by a portion of the people who read them. Whether you choose traditional publishing, or self-publish, the only way to discover how much potential you have as a writer, is to keep submitting material; and roll the dice.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

 

 

 

You’ve Been Busy!

Come on, you can admit it; you dream of walking the red carpet, and accepting an award to thunderous applause. What you may not have considered, is that if you’re writing a short story or novel, you’re already creating a movie in your mind. And what’s really amazing, you’re the whole crew.  

First of all, you’re the Screenwriter, because the story idea originates with you. There’s no movie without a script. And, since you’re the person who initiated the process and are responsible for it’s completion, you’re also the Producer.

Another major decision is where the film will be shot. Because you, as the writer, is making that choice, you’re the Location Manager. Whether it’s being filmed at an outside location or inside a studio, someone has to make sure everything is in place to create the correct atmosphere for the scene being filmed. You’re responsible for what’s revealed to your readers, so you’re also the Set Director

Aren’t stressed-out enough by your hectic schedule?  When you make yourself a sandwich and brew a cup of coffee, you become the Caterer. If you’ve ever been on a film set, you know that the individuals who make sure Actors and Background Performers are ready when filming starts, are the Production Assistants. The voice in your head, telling you to get back the keyboard and keep writing, that’s you, the Production Assistant.

And last, but not least, someone has to bring all the elements together, and take control of the story. That’s you, the Director. So, if you ever find yourself exhausted after spending a couple of hours writing, now you know why….You’ve been busy! 

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

No Wasted Experiences

To begin, I want to make it clear I’m not implying that simply writing about an experience will make the pain and suffering disappear. What I do believe, is that the experiences we have, gives each of us our unique perspectives.

A writer who has lived in a war zone, has endured unimaginable terror. Having lived in a peaceful country like Canada,  I can write a battle scene, or perhaps a story about an alien invasion. What I can’t do, is inject the same raw fear that comes from the real life experience of someone who has heard bombs exploding around them, and witnessed the carnage of war. Their writing will have a much more powerful impact on the reader.

Have you ever won a trophy, or run across a finish line first? If the he answer is yes, then whether it was when you were twelve or thirty-two, the thrill of winning is burned in your memory. You can use that to your advantage, because when you write about a character that has just been elected President, you can remember the unbridled enthusiasm, and your description of her emotions will be genuine.

Recently, I used that same principle to write a short story, “An Appointment With Life.” In my case, it was the experience, many years ago, of being rejected by all the law schools I applied to, and watching a dream come crashing down. The good news is the story was accepted and published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of the Ambrosia Literary Review: http://www.ambrose.edu/ambrosia-literary-review. If you’re interested, you can download the issue in that website’s Archives section.

What unusual events have occurred in your life, that could be included in a novel or screenplay? There are over seven billion people on the face of the Earth, and not one of them has had exactly the same experiences as you. You’re a one of a kind person, which also makes you a one of a kind writer. Keep writing, because the world is a boring place without your voice, your passion.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps Now, Is The Time To Start Writing….

Many people are watching movies or Youtube videos, reading books or blogs, to relax and get through the Covid 19 Pandemic. Everyone is, to some extent, a consumer of entertainment. The question is: Do you find it satisfying? If not, it may be that you are a creator and need to express your ideas.  Perhaps, you are a Writer.

If you’ve just finished watching a movie, and immediately think, “wouldn’t if be great if….”, you’re probably a writer. It’s like when an Italian chef smells freshly cooked pasta, and starts imagining all the dishes she could prepare. If your mind is continually thinking of new story concepts, it isn’t something about yourself, that you should ignore.

Why is it important that you write? The world needs YOUR VOICE, because variety is what makes life interesting. Consider how many movies are based on established franchises, with the same themes and characters recycled for another release. Is it possible that you have a story concept that no one has every thought of before, but no one will be aware of it, until you start writing?

The world also needs YOUR PASSION. The entertainment industry has a significant impact on how people think. I remember many years ago seeing a young man walking along a street wearing a long black leather jacket, black combat style books and sunglasses. One glance, and you knew he was a fan of The Matrix series. How do you want to influence the future?

If you find the concept of writing intimidating, start by jotting down the main ideas, writing one scene, or describing a character. The main thing is to overcome the inertia and get started. All short stories, novels, and screenplays begin with an idea, and someone who is willing to start writing.

 

 

 

 

Reading Screenplays

If you’ve been trying to write a novel, but seem to be to be suffering from writer’s block, perhaps it’s because your story would work better as a screenplay. How do you learn to write screenplays? You read screenplays. Here’s a primer on how to get started.

Two Excellent Sources: The Internet Movie Script Database http://www.imsdb.com offers a huge selection of screenplays to read. You can search alphabetically or by genre; some of the screenplays are shooting scripts (the final script used by the Actors and Director), while other screenplays are earlier drafts. You can also find screenplays on the BBC Writersroom website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom. You’ll find them listed in the Script Library.

Which screenplays would professional writers suggest you read? Members of the  Writers Guild of America are the professionals that many Hollywood companies hire to write their screenplays, and they’ve voted on the best. Visit http://www.wga.org, go to Writer’s Room, and under the 101 Best Lists, click Screenplays.

To find out if a script is an original screenplay, or an adaptation, visit the Internet Movie Database http://www.imdb.com. Writers (both screenwriters and the authors of the source material) are listed below the Director.  Keep in mind that the title of the movie may be different than the source material. Blade Runner (1982) was based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

If it’s not an original screenplay, it’s better if you read the source material, before reading the screenplay, so you can see how the writer adapted the source material.  Since most extras included with DVD’s tend to focus on special effects, this will help you learn about the writing process. You can gain even more insight by searching for interviews with the screenwriters on http://www.youtube.com.

Movies create thousands of jobs, make actors household names, and earn studios huge profits, but it all begins with the story. It all begins with writers like you.

P.S. My short story, “Harold’s Muse,” was published in Issue #12 of Polar Borealis Magazine. http://www.polarborealis.ca.