Topher Rhys-Lawrence is a Creative Executive at Atlas Entertainment, one of the entertainment industry’s premier film and television production companies. In this position, he is involved in the packaging, production and development of projects for both Atlas Entertainment and Atlas Independent. He also serves as the publicity and marketing liaison for the company. Topher was promoted to Creative Executive in January 2014. He began his tenure at Atlas Entertainment in July 2011 as assistant to producer Charles Roven, Founder of Atlas. While assisting Mr. Roven, Topher had the privilege of working on a variety of films in development and production, such as: The Dark Knight Rises Man of Steel American Hustle (nominated for 10 Academy Awards ® and winner of 3 Golden Globes ® including Best Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical) Topher began his entertainment career at Creative Artists Agency in 2009 providing creative and administrative support to multiple departments and eventually working for Emanuel Nunez in Film Finance. Prior to moving to Los Angeles, he studied at University of California – Irvine where he double majored in Economics and International Studies, graduating in 2008. Full Bio »
Every day a creative executive has dozens of scripts on his or her desk from agents, clients and colleagues. It is their job to find and uncover great talent to bring into the marketplace. If a creative executive is interested in a writer 100% of the time they will ask for more writing samples, so what exactly does that mean and how should you be prepared?
We have brought in Topher Rhys-Lawrence, a creative executive for Atlas Entertainment, a production and management company, which works on a variety of budgeted films such as 12 Monkeys, Get Smart, American Hustle, Batman vs. Superman and more. Part of Topher's job is to find the best writers for scripts on all types of projects… and within that comes a need for writing samples. In this exclusive Stage 32 Next Level Webinar Topher will go over what it means when a creative executive is interested in you as a writer, why your writing samples are important and give examples of types of samples you should have in your arsenal.
What you will learn:
Part 1: Understanding the landscape as as writer
Part 2: Types of Writing Samples
We will go over each of these various types of writing samples in detail. You will be armed with a clear understanding of what each sample should look like and how a CE uses this in his or her role:
Learn directly from Melissa Daykin Cassill, VP of Development and Production at State Street Pictures (Faster, Beauty Shop, Barbershop, Notorious, Nothing Like The Holidays)! You hear it again and again: “We’re looking for character driven drama/comedy/action/name your genre.” You may have a great plot, amazing action sequences, or the most hilarious idea for a comedy set piece but without great characters, you’ll be dead in the water. Why? Because everything should be motivated by your characters. What would The Godfather be without Michael’s change from the good man who served his country to a vengeful and tyrannical ruler? What would Star Wars be without the father son drama? Creating memorable characters is such an essential aspect of creating a compelling, sellable story, yet so many writers struggle with doing it correctly and fail to avoid the trap of stock characters that leave their scripts lifeless and weak. The Stage 32 Happy Writers is thrilled to bring you a 3-week online course Avoid Stock Characters: How To Create Memorable, Compelling Characters so you can learn how to create the memorable characters your story deserves. This class is taught by Melissa Daykin Cassill, VP of Development and Production at State Street Pictures, a production company with a first look deal at Fox 2000 Pictures. What Melissa loves most about her job is working with writers and developing exciting, compelling projects and she’s excited to be here teaching with Stage 32 to help you develop compelling characters in your story! In this class, you will learn how to set up a character arc so the character’s change is compelling, how to develop supporting characters who support the story and compliment your protagonists, how to avoid stock characters and scenes and how to adjust what you already have to make your work better. With interactive lectures and weekly homework assignments directly geared toward strengthening your characters, you will leave this class knowing exactly how to create memorable characters for your stories.
PRE-CLASS PREP - Read your syllabus and plan out your writing ideas. Begin to think about 1-2 ideas that might be a good idea for your drama pilot. Start to prepare for your pilot pitch. WEEK #1 – Introduction, Pitch Docs, Character This week we will cover the syllabus, your instructor's background and experience, your goals for this eight-week lab and launch into a discussion on creating strong characters for your pilot. We will discuss the types of drama pilots and how they differ from network to network. We will go over how to create effective loglines and pitch documents. Then we will delve into character – what makes for strong characters and weak ones. The assignment for this week will be to create a pitch document and write a detailed description (around half a page) on each of your series regular characters. WEEK #2 – Pilot Outline and Series Bible This week we will break down pilot structure, plot and subplots. Pilot structure varies depending on the type of drama pilot (procedural or serial) and the network (broadcast, cable, streaming, digital, etc.) We will identify what kind of network to target for your story idea and structure the pilot accordingly. We will also discuss the function of your series bible and what it needs to include to support your pilot. The assignment for the week is to complete a pilot outline and start work on your bible. WEEK #3 – Pilot Outline (One on One Consultations – No Online Class) This week will consist of one-on-one consultations regarding pilot structure. Each writer will send in their pilot outline in advance and will have a 10-minute call to discuss what works and what doesn’t. The assignment for the week is to address any notes given on the outline before proceeding with next week’s class and to continue working on your series bible. WEEK #4– Scenes, Beats, Dialogue, This week we will address the qualities of effective (and ineffective) scenes, story beats, and dialogue. The assignment for the week will be to write three complete scenes from your outline: the teaser/opening scene, a scene with heavy dialogue, and a strong character scene. WEEK #5– Acts 1 and 2 We will discuss both the four-act and five-act structure. You will decide which works best for the pilot that you are developing. This week we will go over all the necessary story beats that exist in acts 1 and 2 of a drama pilot, including exposition, number of scenes per act, traditional page count, inciting incidents, acts 1 and 2 breaks, etc. The assignment this week will be to complete Acts 1 and 2 of your pilot. WEEK #6– Acts 3, 4 and 5 Similarly to last week, we will cover the necessary story beats that traditionally exist in acts 3 and 4 of a drama pilot. If your pilot structure has five or more, as some broadcast network shows do, there will be time allotted for further instruction on how to proceed. The assignment this week is to complete the first draft of the entire pilot and to turn in your series bible. WEEK #7–Consultation for Revision (No Online Class) This week will consist of one-on-one consultations. Please turn in your pilot at least 24 hours before your scheduled call, and each writer will have a 10-minute call to go over notes. Your assignment this week is to address any notes. WEEK #8– One-on-one Feedback and Polish (No Online Class) This week will consist of 10-minute one-on-one phone calls as well. Please submit your revised pilot at least 24 hours before your scheduled call. Final notes and next steps for your pilot will be given. Payment plans are available - please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
You’ve heard that the opening pages of your pilot script are the most important – hook your audience early and they’ll be invested in your show, fall short and producers, managers and executives might not even finish reading your script. At many companies, your script will be handed off to a member of the development team whose job is to just read the first act, then decide whether to pass or flag your script for further consideration. Having a great first act isn’t just a good way to get your pilot noticed; it might be the only way. When you watch a pilot, though, whether on Netflix, HBO or ABC, it can feel like every show is so different, it’s hard to see a pathway to success. Or even if you master one aspect of your opening act, somehow it can still feel like you’ve not done enough. In a TV pilot, that crucial first act is the most challenging because there is so much you have to do really well, really quickly: you have to introduce your characters, set up your world, and launch your story. What’s more, the first act sets your pilot on solid footing – nail this section and the rest of the pilot seems to develop and flow easily. Get stuck on how to start, and you might never finish writing the pilot that could launch your career. You’ve probably watched outstanding pilots where 10-15 minutes in you’re already making plans to binge the season. What do all those pilots have in common? What techniques do experienced show creators use to give them that early edge? And what exactly do producers, managers development execs and other professionals expect to see in a first act? We have the answers to those questions and much more. Anna Henry is a Producer and Development Executive who has worked at CBS, ABC, Nickelodeon, and multiple production companies, as well as a manager at Andrea Simon Entertainment. Her clients have worked on shows such as THE DEUCE, POWER, IN CONTEMPT, TOMMY, VIDA, SEVEN SECONDS, HUNG, CHICAGO FIRE, FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, THIS IS US, and THE FLASH, and have set up projects at AMC, Amazon, Starz, HBO, Sony, Fox, EOne, ITV America, OddLot Entertainment, Corus, and others. Anna has projects currently in development around the world and is incredibly familiar with what goes into a great television pilot. Anna will analyze pilots more deeply so you can see the tools successful writers use to set their show on the right path from the start. She’ll discuss the ingredients of a pilot in general, including the basic structure, identifying the type or genre of your show, meta-themes, and crafting characters to serve as the audience's entry point. Anna will then delve into the key elements of a first act, as well as a great teaser or cold open, including using framing devices, and a strong out. She will go over tips to writing memorable character descriptions, using physical descriptions, elements of identity, and putting thought into how you name each character. She'll next focus on introduction scenes and using them to generate interest in your characters, using dialogue to establish their voices, and introducing relationships. A vital aspect of a pilot's first act is creating character moments, and Anna will go over effective examples of many different types of these moments, including meeting heroes, meeting villains, meeting supporting characters, establishing the right amount of backstory, and the benefits of having your characters argue. She will then discuss how to create exposition and communicate your world effectively, crafting a mystery and building the rules of your universe, as well as how to avoid overused crutches. Anna will then offer her take on implementing and incorporating tone and themes into the script and how to sneak them in subtly through details and character moments. She will finally lay out how to best use your first act to bring the audience into your story and world, where exactly your story should start, and how to launch your 'A' story and introduce your 'B' and 'C' stories. Examples will be used from one-hour and half-hour shows on network, cable and streaming platforms, PLUS! you will receive pilots for each after the class: THIS IS US - NBC ONE DAY AT A TIME - Netflix / Pop MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL - Amazon ATLANTA - FX KILLING EVE - AMC THE EXPANSE - Syfy / Amazon Praise for Anna's Stage 32 webinar: "The webinar was fantastic. I am writing my first one hour drama pilot so this webinar was packed with the exact information that I will be immediately putting to use in my rewrite. The slides were clear, concise and informative. The speaker was excellent at conveying the information I needed." -Bobby C. "It was really great information. Anna was a terrific host, very knowledgeable and shared a lot of information and tips." -Marla H. "Comprehensive, insightful. Combined a lot of material I had heard snippets of on character, world dev, etc. but artfully stitched together in one presentation." -James F. "It was amazing, enlightening - completely. I learned soooo much - especially as a feature writer who's been asked to turn a feature script into a pilot!! Thank you soooooo much." -Kristin G.
Unscripted (reality) television has burst onto cable and streaming platforms with a vengeance. In fact, reality seems to be everywhere these days with shows covering just about every subject imaginable. However, much has changed since the pioneers of reality TV came into people's living rooms (remember THE REAL WORLD and JOE MILLIONAIRE?). Gone are the days of simple formats allowing unfiltered access into the day to day lives of real people. Today, the networks and streamers are interested in shows providing a behind the curtain peak into all sorts of different subcultures. Mostly everyone can think of a time when they've thought "Wow, that would make a great reality TV" - But where do you start if you want to develop and pitch an unscripted show ? The challenges in developing unscripted/reality shows are lengthy. Unscripted shows don’t have scripts or actors, and they deal with real people and the personal conflicts they deal with in navigating their work and personal lives. And, just like networks and streaming platforms have mandates for scripted shows, they also have mandates for unscripted shows. So, how do you plan and develop the trajectory of a show if it's not scripted? If you have a great concept and cast, it's your job to function as a producer - read: therapist and gatekeeper - to prove that you can sustain the concept through multiple seasons. You have to make sure that you have a reliable cast that's on board with your vision. And you have to know how to sell that vision in a clear and winning fashion. This all begins by understanding what networks and the steaming platforms are looking for, who's programming what, what materials you will need to have in order to pitch, and how to put together a sizzle real and/or deck that rises above the rest. Catherine Keithley is the Vice President of Current and Development at Brian Graden Media. She produced Season 1 of INSTANT INFLUENCER with James Charles for YouTube Originals, Seasons 1 - 4 of ESCAPE THE NIGHT for YouTube Originals starring Joey Graceffa, the hour special also for YouTube Originals BAND TOGETHER WITH LOGIC and season 1 of MS. T'S MUSIC FACTORY for Lifetime. She's sold and developed a number of shows for BGM at various stages of development, casting, presentations, and pilots for networks like Lifetime, NBC, BET, POP, E!, Bravo, GSN, A&E, Fullscreen, & YouTube Originals. Catherine will teach you what makes a network interested in an unscripted show. You will learn how to pick "characters" that are watchable and whey they'd be attractive to a buyer. She'll go over the various genres that are produced for unscripted television and break them down by network. She will take you through what goes into development for each of the genres, including what materials you will need and what your sizzle needs to look like. She will even go into detail by network on who is buying what in unscripted - breaking down budget ranges so you're fully understanding on where your unscripted idea stands. Like what you heard from Catherine during this webcast? Send your concept to Catherine and speak with her for half-hour by clicking here. You will see what types of characters stand out to a network, what your pitch deck needs to look like and how you can hook someone immediately with your sizzle. Catherine will give you all the tools you need to make your unscripted pitch sing. "After working in unscripted selling to mostly all major networks, I'll help give you the insight into what it takes to pitch a winning unscripted idea that will get sold." - Catherine Keithley
A MASTERS OF CRAFT WEBINAR - ONLY ON STAGE 32! It takes a special person to be a screenwriter. It takes a lion's heart, discipline, patience and perseverance. It also takes a willingness to learn from those who came before, found success in their craft and developed the skills necessary to navigate the business. FIGHT CLUB. Need we say more? OK. How about JUMPER? Or the in development THE DESTROYER to be directed by Shane Black. And, of course, any number of scripts for which this legendary screenwriter has collected hefty paychecks on and which never have seen the light of day. (Oh, he'll be teaching about that as well.) Jim Uhls knows what's what. For over 30 years, Jim has been a working writer in the industry. He was there during bull market for screenwriters, through the independent movement, through the studio resurgence, and into the here and now of the indie renaissance and the dawn of digital and the streamers. Now Jim is bringing his extensive knowledge of the craft and the business to teach exclusively for Stage 32 and our Masters of Craft series. In this meticulous step-by-step presentation, Jim is going to show you how you can mine for great ideas and bring them to maturity. He will teach you how to bring unparalleled depth to your characters. He'll show you how to write by seeing the trailer in your mind. How to use stream of consciousness as a tool to outline your script and find your beats. How to use emotional logic to power your work and much more. How to make sure your material is as attractive as possible to managers, agents, talent, producers, and financiers. He's even going to show you how to adopt a book, using FIGHT CLUB as an example! Most of all Jim is going to show you how to channel the passion and remove the cynicism and blocks that were not present when you first started. "I've never quite met anyone like Jim. His skills are undeniable and revered in the business. But it's his approach, his consistency, his way in to the material and the characters and his ability to see the entire landscape in a clear, calm matter that sets him apart. He's a true original and an inspiration to so many including yours truly. I've learned so much from him." -Richard "RB" Botto - CEO Stage 32, Screenwriter This is a masterclass you will not want to miss. Jim will leave you laughing, full of energy, and ready to write!
4-PART CLASS (OVER 8 HOURS OF EDUCATION!) NOW AVAILABLE ON-DEMAND! 4 part class taught by Ross Putman, award-winning producer! Ross's accomplishments include: First Girl I Loved (premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival), The Young Kieslowski (winner of the LA Film Festival), Bad Samaratians (co-produced for Netflix/FOX), and he was the former creative executive at Ineffable Pictures! From Casablanca to Breaking Bad, the reason you remember these stories is because of the compelling protagonist at their core. Their journey is why we tune in, and the way they change is the reason we root for them to succeed (or in some cases, fail). But character can be a tricky piece of the puzzle for screenwriters, especially in Hollywood’s concept-driven environment. Ultimately, great cinema is based on great characters, and this 4 part class is intended to help you find your character, make them real, and build a story around their journey—all the while staying within the realm of commercial modern cinema. Stage 32 is excited to bring you the previously-recorded 4 part class: It's All About Your “Hero's Journey” - How to Write Memorable Characters taught by Ross Putman, award-winning producer. To find out more, click the "What You'll Learn" tab above! This 4-part class offers insight into case studies to help you as a writer form a comparison to inform your own writing. In addition, you will walk away with tools and techniques to apply to your own writing! On-demand classes are discounted and purchasing gives you access to the previously-recorded live class which has over 8 hours of education! Although Ross is no longer reviewing the assignments, we still encourage all listeners to participate to help continue to hone their own writing skills!