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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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.

The Write Now Challenge: Write a Scene of Dramedy

In this challenge, you were asked to use The Breakdown Webcast: What the *&%$ is a Dramedy? as a guide to write a short scene (1-5 pages) that uses all of the principles discussed. Make sure to watch the Breakdown Webcast for those tips! You can find that by clicking here. We received some excellent submissions that all attempted to ride that fine line of truly being a "Dramedy." 

How to Navigate the Film Director / Producer Relationship

History is littered with the bones of many failed films which fell apart due to conflicts between the director and producer. While you'll often hear how important it is for a filmmaker to have relationships with all the vital players and department heads on his or her set (and it certainly is), the reality is that the relationship between the director and the lead producer is the one that will begin the earliest and last the longest throughout a particular project. A healthy, cohesive relationship between the film director and the producer will show the cast and crew that a united front has been formed and that everyone is pulling in the same direction. An unhealthy, bifurcated relationship will put the cast and crew on their heels, which will inevitably hurt the project.  Directors and producers are often people of vision and power. Harnessed correctly and collaboratively, that combination can bring out the best in everyone and help to make a project stay on time, on budget, and on message and voice.  Harnessed incorrectly, ego and hubris take over. It may seem obvious that communication is the key to assuring that the relationship flourishes, and that's not totally untrue. But the key to a productive and positive relationship between the director and producer is understanding all aspects of what needs to get done, recognizing what the other person's needs are, defining what's worth standing up for and what's worth letting go, and recognizing that at the end of the day, you're both fighting for the same result. As President of Production at Zero Gravity Management, Tai Duncan oversees film projects from inception to completion encompassing all aspects of development, casting, finance and production. Zero Gravity is a production and management company based in Los Angeles that boasts a strong client list of screenwriters, directors, actors and financiers for feature films and television. Tai recently produced PROUD MARY for Screen Gems starring Taraji P. Henson and HOW IT ENDS for Netflix starring Theo James and Forest Whitaker, HONEST THIEF starring Liam Neeson and THE MARKSMAN starring Liam Neeson. Zero Gravity produced the Warner Brothers, Ben Affleck starring action/thriller THE ACCOUNTANT, the drama A FAMILY MAN starring Gerard Butler and Willem Dafoe and Executive Produced the hit Netflix television show OZARK starring Jason Bateman.   Needless to say, as an on set producer, Tai knows a thing or two about the director/producer relationship including the pitfalls and the paths to glory. Beginning with pre-production, Tai will take you what steps you will need to take from moment one to forge a productive relationship that will last through post and beyond. Tai will talk about the steps you need to make to assure you are communicating clearly and effectively. He will talk you through script notes, casting, hiring crew, location scouting and scheduling. Moving on to production, Tai will teach you how to keep things smooth on set, how t manage disagreements, scheduling and money issues, and the push and pull between what a director wants and what he or she has in the can. Tai will then move on to post, and how to manage expectations during the assembly cut and the director's cut. He will discuss scoring, sound and color, sales and marketing, festival approaches, and even distribution strategies so that everyone is fully communicating and staying on the same page throughout.   "Don't allow a failed relationship, miscommunication or misplaced ego sabotage all the work and effort that's gone in to putting a project together. Cohesiveness begins at the top and must continue throughout the project. I'll show you how to get it done." - Tai Duncan  

10 Things Every Filmmaker Needs To Know About Lighting

Learn directly from David Landau, 30 year Lighting director and Director of Photography. The story could be the greatest in the world, but if the lighting is poor viewers will assume it’s amateurish and not take it seriously. Good lighting makes things look real, while real lighting often makes things look fake. Good lighting supports the emotional moment of the scene, contributes to the atmosphere of the story and can augment an artistic style. So, no matter how good a script, how good a director, how good the actors – the lighting needs to be as good if not better. The fact is, we can’t usually make good pictures without good lighting, no matter how good the newest cameras are. Yes, we can sometimes get lucky. But while shooting under available light gives exposure, it often lacks depth, contrast, contour, atmosphere and often separation. Well-crafted lighting helps establish the illusion of reality that is necessary for the viewer to forget they are watching a screen and get lost in the story. In this Stage 32 Next Level Webinar, host David Landau will go over the ten things all filmmakers need to know about lighting, sharing some of the techniques to artistic and effective lighting that he has learned both from working with a wide range of cinematographers and through his own career as a Lighting Director and Director of Photography. David will demonstrate live from the Fairleigh Dickinson University sound stage lighting techniques that will make your images shine like a Hollywood feature without a big Hollywood budget. David Landau has over thirty years of professional lighting experience working on feature films, TV shows, sit-coms, game shows, commercials, documentaries, industrial films, music videos and direct-to-consumer DVDs. David worked as one of the gaffers on the TV series Project Runway and is a five-time Telly Award winner for lighting and cinematography. He is a member of IATSE Local 52 (gaffer) and the University Film & Video Association and Media Communications Association International. He also is the author of the new book Lighting for Cinematography: A Practical Guide To The Art And Craft Of Lighting For The Moving Image from Bloomsbury Press.

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After reading well over 1,000 screenplays over the course of my career, from both professionals and amateurs, I can tell you that I have a solid idea of what makes a good story. Also, as someone who has been a professional reader, I can show you through a reader’s eyes where a story becomes flawed, and how those stories can be improved to prevent you and your script from getting the dreaded PASS on coverage notes. The Dirty Secret of Story Structure will take a meticulous look at the art of building dramatic structure within your story by learning how to do it in individual scenes. Each and every scene in your script should serve as an opportunity to move the story forward. If it is not doing that, it’s not serving its correct purpose within the world of your story. Just as your overall screenplay has a beginning, a middle and an end, so too should each scene. Within each scene should be a character who wants something, and another character or entity that is trying to stop her. Developing a structure within each scene to determine how those events transpire is just as important to telling your story as making sure the Act I to Act II transition happens somewhere between pages 25 and 30. However, the notion of dramatic structure has been misinterpreted for years. Dramatic structure is not necessarily what you think it is, and when it is re-examined, the thought of fitting a story within the confines of dramatic structure becomes less daunting. This webinar will provide detailed examples on how to build solid dramatic structure within your scenes, as well as within your overall screenplay.

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