How to Avoid Potholes When Building a Writing Career

Hosted by Lee Sternthal, Director, Producer & Screenwriter

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Lee Sternthal, Director, Producer & Screenwriter

Webinar hosted by: Lee Sternthal, Director, Producer & Screenwriter

TRON: LEGACY, THE WORDS (starring Bradley Cooper)

Lee Sternthal is a screenwriter, director and photographer. Lee has written screenplays for every major studio, including TRON: LEGACY for Disney, as well as scripts for Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson and many others. His film, THE WORDS starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons was an Official Sundance Selection. It was bought by CBS Films and is currently the #2 romantic drama on Amazon Prime. He is a Sundance Institute Fellow, having attended the Screenwriters' Lab, and his work has appeared on The Black List. In other areas, he has worked as a photo journalist for the Trace and Vice covering urban gun violence. Lee had his first one- man photo show at the Soho House in West Hollywood in June, 2018 and taught a Master Class in screenwriting/directing at Swarthmore College and at Stage 32 in Los Angeles. Full Bio »

Webinar Summary

It’s the dream of many to have a career as a writer for TV or film, to be able to make a living creating worlds and telling stories. Just ask almost anyone at any coffee shop. However the life of a writer, even the most successful, isn’t always easy. The career path is fraught, unpredictable, and inconsistent. Every writer breaks in (or doesn’t) in different ways, and as a result, there isn’t a singular roadmap for aspiring writers to find the success they’re looking for. That said, having a keen understanding of the industry you’re trying to break into and a wherewithal of potentially helpful steps on your journey is vital in finding your place and advancing in your career.

The truth is there’s so much more that goes into being a writer than just writing. Creative chops alone won’t save you. You are creating art for a market and therefore need to understand how the market operates in order to work within it. And while every writer’s career is unique, there are still commonalities and patterns among them and mistakes many have made that you can avoid by learning from them.

Lee Sternthal is a screenwriter, director and photographer who has written screenplays for every major studio, including TRON: LEGACY for Disney, as well as scripts for Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson and many others. His film, THE WORDS starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons was an Official Sundance Film Festival selection and was later bought by CBS Films. Lee is a Sundance Institute Fellow, and his work has appeared on The Black List. Through his journey in this industry he has seen it all - the good, the bad and the ugly - and has come to Stage 32 exclusively to tell you about it.

Lee will reflect on his own career as a writer, the mistakes he’s made and the successes he’s found, both in the indie space and the studio system, to give you the perspective, lessons learned, and strategies to better navigate your own writing career. He’ll begin by focusing on writers just starting out and will discuss whether new writers need a manager and whether they need an agent. He’ll then talk about the pros and cons of having a writing partner and what to expect if you join forces with someone else. He will discuss Sundance Film Festival and reveal what actually happens if your film gets accepted. Lee will also discuss the insider Hollywood script survey the Black List from and illustrate what happens when your script appears on this list. He’ll then delve into screenwriting services, how they can be helpful, and how they can be harmful. Next Lee will then share his own experiences, both writing for a studio for the Disney film TRON: LEGACY as well as writing for the independent project THE WORDS to give you a sense of what those experiences are like from the inside. He’ll discuss how to know how much you’re able to take on and how to grapple with the doubt and Imposters Syndrome that is incredibly common among writers starting to find success. He’ll then go over the best ways to continue to pay the bills as a new screenwriter. Finally, Lee will give you his insider knowledge of the industry, including how to understand who “The Players” are and how to navigate them, what “The Venues” are and how they operate and how to work different rooms.

 

Praise for Lee’s Webinar:

 

“It was great to hear about all of Lee’s different experiences. I feel like I have a better sense of what to expect and what to do moving forward to keep on writing!”

-Dennis G.

 

“Lee was great! This was such an interesting webinar!”

-Betty H.

 

“I’m so glad I saw this! Lee has so much knowledge to share.”

-Terry C.

 

“Lee definitely answered a lot of big questions I’ve been asking myself about getting into writing, and now I’m excited to take some next steps. Thanks!”

-Gwen D.

What You'll Learn

  • Starting Out as a Writer
    • Do you need a manager?
    • Do you need an agent?
    • Should you have a writing partner? If so, what to expect.
    • Sundance - what really happens if you get accepted.
    • The Black List - what really happens if you get on it.
    • Screenwriting services - the good, the bad and the ugly.
      • Lee’s own case study that will blow your mind.
  • Getting the Job and What to Expect:
    • Case Study - Writing for a studio: TRON: LEGACY - what I learned
    • Case Study - Writing independent: THE WORDS - what I learned
    • Making THE WORDS as a Writer/Director and how to navigate when an “Independent” movie becomes a studio movie
    • How much can I take on?
    • Eternal doubt - Am I a fraud? We'll go over how to answer this plaguing question.
    • Day Job/Night Job - what is the best way to pay the bills as a new screenwriter?
  • Insider Knowledge:
    • Understanding "The Players" and how to navigate them
    • Understanding "The Venues" and how they operate - The Peninsula Hotel, The SoHo House, etc.
    • Understanding the different "Rooms" - studio, production company, agencies, etc. and what you should or should not do.
  • Q&A with Lee

About Your Instructor

Lee Sternthal is a screenwriter, director and photographer. Lee has written screenplays for every major studio, including TRON: LEGACY for Disney, as well as scripts for Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson and many others. His film, THE WORDS starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons was an Official Sundance Selection. It was bought by CBS Films and is currently the #2 romantic drama on Amazon Prime.

He is a Sundance Institute Fellow, having attended the Screenwriters' Lab, and his work has appeared on The Black List.

In other areas, he has worked as a photo journalist for the Trace and Vice covering urban gun violence. Lee had his first one- man photo show at the Soho House in West Hollywood in June, 2018 and taught a Master Class in screenwriting/directing at Swarthmore College and at Stage 32 in Los Angeles.

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Q: What if I cannot attend the live webinar?
A: If you attend a live online webinar, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the webinar. If you cannot attend a live webinar and purchase an On-Demand webinar, you will have access to the entire recorded broadcast, including the Q&A.

Q: Will I have access to the webinar afterward to rewatch?
A: Yes! After the purchase of a live or On-Demand webinar, you will have on-demand access to the audio recording, which you can view as many times as you'd like for a whole year!

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Other education that may be of interest to you:

Creating Realistic Characters for Television and Film

Whether we’re talking about a comedy or drama, sci-fi or horror, a film or television series, animated or live action, short-form or long-form, having good characters is essential. There’s no escaping it. Even a script with everything else going for it, if it doesn’t have strong, compelling characters, it’s not going to work. Great characters connect the audience to your world and ground it in humanity. They provide stakes, bolster your plot and keep it moving. It’s therefore crucial to understand what make an effective character and how you can create that in your own project. Unfortunately there’s not a step-by-step guide to crafting the perfect character. There’s no secret formula and there’s no surefire algorithm. Good characters are complicated and hard to define because so are people. Good characters hold a mirror up to reality and let the audience see themselves or someone else they know in them. And all of that might be fine and good in theory, but what does that actually mean in practice? If you’re a writer how can you create a character who serves as a mirror, who will stick with audiences long after the movie or show ends? And if you’re a producer or director, how can you recognize a great character from a mediocre one through the written word? Lee Sternthal is a screenwriter, director and photographer who has written screenplays for every major studio, including TRON: LEGACY for Disney, as well as scripts for Johnny Depp, Mel Gibson and many others. His film, THE WORDS starring Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana and Jeremy Irons was an Official Sundance Film Festival selection and was later bought by CBS Films. Lee is a Sundance Institute Fellow, and his work has appeared on The Black List. Through his writing career, Lee has spent more time than most considering the art of character and using that to aid his own career, as well as writers he continues to mentor and champion. Lee will walk you through the power of character and how to create great characters for your own project. He’ll begin by discussing why exactly characters are so vital to story and will teach you the key differences between a TV character and a film character. Next he will give you a brief history of character in storytelling and reveal the one fictional character from history that all other characters draw from. Lee will then discuss the difference between heroes and anti-heroes, as well as help you determine which of your characters is the driver and which are the riders. He’ll then delve into the art of a great antagonist and why an interesting adversary is so crucial to a successful story. Lee will help you frame your story through the clarity of need, both in character and in story. Next Lee will go over the classic Hero’s Journey and slightly re-imagine it for modern times. He will give you strategies and exercises to better understand and develop your own characters, including his “What’s Their God?” and “Changing A Flat Tire” games. He’ll then teach you the concept of revealing character through behavior and hiding character with words. Next Lee will delve into the idea of how your characters fit into your world, including how the environment might change your character. He’ll teach you the Shakespearean approach to character and compare it to the Balzacian approach, and will also discuss the difference between neuroticism and human comedy. Finally Lee will go over the dance between plot and character, illustrating how the two should work with and against each other to create a feedback loop that’s necessary for any great script.        Praise for Lee’s Webinar   “Great insight. Really helped me in moving forward.” -Martin R.   “I really enjoyed Lee's perspective on script writing. The examples he provided were very helpful. I'm very appreciative that he would share his knowledge, some of his techniques and be so generous with his encouragement.” -Simone L.   “Lee had a great way of explaining how to get a feel for the character and why they have the traits they do. Lee did a great job of covering a lot of character related topics which I am glad I have been exposed to.” -Karl H.

Understand Global Filmmaking: Hollywood & The Foreign Markets

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Robert Mckee Presents: Storynomics - Exclusively for Stage 32 Masters of Craft

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How To Pitch Your TV Pilot To Cable Networks

Cable networks all have their niche. For example, AMC has really honed in on intense dramas, such as The Walking Dead, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men; USA focuses on character driven mystery dramas such as CSI, House, and NCIS; TBS centers around comedy sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Ground Floor, and Cougar Town; ABC Family focuses more on sitcoms relating to family, such as Melissa and Joey, Baby Daddy and The Fosters. Knowing how to tailor your pitch to a specific cable network opens up immense opportunity for your TV pilot. Every cable network can be a real home for your work - it’s just a matter of the how, when, and why. Knowing how to appeal to multiple networks gives your pilot a better chance of getting picked up! In this Stage 32 Next Level Webinar, host Jordan Barel will teach you both how to pitch your pilot and how to tailor your pitch to the right cable network. In addition, he’ll go over what kind of shows live on each network currently, and what may be the right fit for you. You will walk away with a clear understanding of how to pitch effectively as well as a clear understanding of how to make your pilot what each network is looking for. Your host host Jordan Barel is a writer, producer and lawyer for Loaded Barrel Studios. Based in LA, he's worked for New Line Cinema, AMC, Verve Talent Agency and was recently named in Variety's Hollywood Movers and Shakers list. He worked for Paul Scheer through his producing deal at FOX, working on development with his projects as well as bringing in new writers for him. Jordan also works at Abominable Pictures in their comedy and TV department. Previously, he worked as the Television Coordinator for Verve Literary Agency, producing the company's staffing video which lead to a 200% increase in the company's staffed writers. While there he also vetted all new TV and film clients. Jordan knows what will make your pitch stand out and is here exclusively for Stage 32 to help guide our writers toward success!

How to Finance Your Film By Co-Producing with Europe

With the gap between independent films and studio films constantly growing, it has become quite a challenge for independent producers to finance their films. As a result, more and more producers are looking outside of their home territories for additional sources of finance. Europe, in particular, is very attractive for international producers: not only does it have diverse landscapes and excellent crews, but the different European countries offer fantastic funding and tax incentive schemes that can be accessed by foreign producers to finance their films. More and more filmmakers, producers, and even screenwriters are expanding their worldview by tailoring their projects and stories to make them more attractive for a potential European production and co-production. The fact of the matter is there is gold to be mined in this approach. Over the last few years, co-productions with European countries have not only become more common and successful, but the financial incentives have grown tremendously. Finding the right partners and understanding the landscape is not as difficult as one might thing. In fact, the information is readily available for those willing to put in a little legwork. Anouk van Ghemen is a freelance financial consultant with an emphasis on film funding and tax incentive schemes in Germany and the rest of Europe. With her company ONE FOUR FILMS she works for both national as well as international clients, such as Sony Pictures Releasing, Radical Media and Wild Bunch Germany. Overall, Anouk has been involved in more than 40 film and media projects. Anouk holds a B.Sc. in International Economics and Management from Bocconi University in Milan. She began her career in the film industry working as Assistant to Producer in Berlin and Paris and later became responsible for the funding and financing of a Berlin-based company‘s international films. Notable projects include the Indian-German co-production Don 2, the French-Canadian TV series Transporter, and the Korean thriller The Berlin File. Anouk will take you into the world of European co-productions with great detail and flair. She will start by explaining European vs. international co-productions, bilateral vs. multilateral co-productions, co-production treaties and cultural tests. She will discuss the pros and cons of co-productions and how to identify whether your project fits with the upside potential for a European co-production. She will dive into the important aspects of your script and overall budgetary needs including story, locations, crew, overall costs and more. Then she will get into the most important questions: How do you get the money, how much money can you get, and what will make your application for funding and incentives get approved above all others. Anouk will also teach you how to find, approach and close the right partners to assure your European co-production is a winning one!   "A complete eye opener. I had no idea these options were available to me. It's like moving from a room where the walls are closing in to an open field. The possibilities are endless." - Steven C.   "Invaluable information." - Valerie L.   "I have 3 projects in various stages of development that have all but stalled. All 3 could certainly be rewritten or tweaked to fit a European co-production model. We'll be starting on doing just that tomorrow." - Ricardo C.   "My job as a producer just got easier." - Patricia M.  

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So where do you begin to look where others aren't, expand your prospects and give yourself a competitive advantage? Well, right here, of course!   For many, navigating the international market presents a black hole. Where can one find producers, financiers, representatives and development execs who serve these markets? How do you know what the trends are and how you may best serve them? How do you know the mandates of streamers, distributors and sales agents? Do you have a story already in hand that can be tweaked to serve an international audience? You may be surprised.   We could fill 20 paragraphs with what Alexia Melocchi has achieved in her 25 year career in the entertainment business. Alexia is an accomplished entertainment industry professional with a long proven track record of success within both the domestic and international arenas. A vital contributor to the LITTLE STUDIO FILMS brand, Alexia Melocchi's expertise and footing in the entertainment industry began in the international marketplace, as both a sales agent and buyer’s representative for eleven territories, giving her diverse exposure to all types of films and functions in the entertainment industry. As a consultant she currently uses her professional relationships and expertise by providing screenplay development, packaging films, securing co- productions and arranging for US and international distribution for her clients. A regular participant at most major film and television markets as well as festivals around the world, Alexia Melocchi still pursues international acquisitions and uses a global film marketing approach for the projects of her clients as well as the films she has and is producing under the Little Studio Films banner. During her tenure as a sales agent she sold more than 50 movies to profit on behalf of her producer clients, and acquired more than 100 major studio and independent films on behalf of the Distributors she has ongoing relationships with in Italy, Greece, Latin America, Spain, France, Germany, Japan and Scandinavia. She recently handled territorial sales for Unstaged, the Duran Duran live concert film directed by David Lynch, the Italian American film American Fango directed by Gabriele Altobelli and the Australian feature Bathing Frankie directed by Owen Elliott.   Alexia will teach you everything you need to know about the international marketplace and how to use your English speaking talents to get paid as a director, writer or author by international companies. She will give you an overview of the global film business including trends and how to tell global stories for a global audience. She will take away the fear and anxiety and the time suck of figuring out how to find, meet and engage international producers and financiers. She will explain the film markets and explain which ones to attend and which to skip. She will teach you the proper cultural etiquette when dealing with international decision makers. Of monumental importance, she will show you how to pitch yourself and your projects to the international marketplace and how your pitch may differ from U.S. targets.   Plus, you will get a handout of resources and links for foreign resources Alexia goes over in her webinar!     This is a comprehensive look at the international market and how to navigate the landscape toward opening up the world for new possibilities as a filmmaker, screenwriter, author or producer.       Praise for Alexia   "Great information. She covered a lot of ground and it was one of the most informative Stage 32 webinars I've attended. Thank you!!" - Debbi M.   "Concise and to the point, great information on international markets, I will apply this knowledge to my debut film's development." - Francisco C.   "Great advice. She really demystified a lot of what's involved. Thank you Alexia!" - S.J.   "A lot of great info, but also a new way of thinking, a fresh perspective to help advance my career! Thank you!" - John E.   "Great energy and to the point info. Loved it." - Sebastian T.

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