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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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.

Creating Worlds & Rules - Game of Thrones, Wind River, Peaky Blinders & Matrix

There's a fine line between introducing a writer to a new world or ruleset and spouting exposition. We’ll break down how writers created the fantasy world of “Game of Thrones”, the frigid winter of WIND RIVER, the digital dystopia of THE MATRIX, and the 1919 England of "Peaky Blinders".  

Stage 32 Presents: COVID-19 - A Conversation with Industry Professionals of the Current State of the Entertainment Industry

Founded in 2011 by Richard "RB" Botto, Stage 32 is the world's largest online platform connecting and educating film, TV and new media creatives and professionals worldwide. Stage 32 works with over five hundred industry professionals and executives who provide education, instruction and professional opportunities for members of the platform. Stage 32 currently has over 1,200 hours of exclusive film, television and digital craft and business education in its library. Stage 32 members use the platform daily to build their network, take online webinars, classes and labs, find work and cast and crew their projects. Stage 32 members range from students to Emmy, BAFTA and Academy Award Winners. Over the last few weeks, we have been working tirelessly to ensure that you know that Stage 32 is your online home to stay connected with over 600,000 creatives and professionals from across the globe. Now, we are looking forward to bringing you another virtual event to help you stay up-to-date about the state of the entertainment industry featuring some of the top professionals in the business. In this special event webcast we presented a virtual panel featuring some of the top minds in the Stage 32 community to discuss the current state of the entertainment industry as we are all faced with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our Stage 32 Managing Director, Amanda Toney, hosted this incredible lineup, where you will hear the point of view of a production company (Andrew Fried of Boardwalk Pictures), a lender (Viviana Zarragoitia of Three Point Capital), lender counsel (Carolyn Hunt of Barnes & Thornburg LLP), a talent representative (Tracy Christian of TCA Management), all moderated by producer and production company counsel (Elsa Ramo of Ramo Law PC). Stage 32 is proud to be putting the "social" in #SocialDistancing. Please share this event on your social media and tag @stage32 on Twitter and @stage32online on Instagram.   

Stage 32 TV Animation Lab: Build an Outline and Pitch Deck for Your Animated Television Show in 5 Weeks

Sorry, this lab is fully sold out. Keep checking back for upcoming labs and other education! Animated television is currently experiencing a boom like we’ve never seen before. Since it’s possible for the bulk of the work to be completed from home or while socially distanced, animation has been flourishing as more players are turning to this format. New shows like SOLAR OPPOSITES on Hulu, CLOSE ENOUGH on HBO Max, FINAL SPACE on TBS and BLOOD OF ZEUS on Netflix are hugely popular, and this is just the beginning. Scores of upcoming animated shows are in the pipeline and just around the corner. Considering this appetite, it doesn’t look like this trend is fading any time soon. And more interest in animation means there are more opportunities for your own project to get noticed and get picked up. The opportunities may be extra plentiful right now, but you still need to have a dynamite show to present if you want to be noticed. This means a great concept, a fantastic pitch deck, and a knockout pilot script. And all of these elements don’t need to just be good; they all need to lend themselves to the format and industry that is animated TV. But if you can ace all of these elements, you may have just found your way in and the piece of material that will fire you off the launch pad. Let us give you the guidance to make your animated pilot as good as it can be and help you springboard your writing career. Mike Disa is an accomplished director, producer, writer, and artist who directed on shows like the hit Netflix series PARADISE PD and has been in the animation industry for over twenty-five years. Mike found success working with studios such as Dreamworks, Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, and many others. Over a fascinating career, Mike has worked with some of the greatest and most infamous people in Hollywood including Steven Spielberg, Eric Goldberg, Ralph Bakshi, Glenn Close, Steve Oedekerk, David Tennant, Amy Poehler, Adam Sandler, Jeffery Katzenberg and Roy Disney. A favorite and fixture among the Stage 32 community, Mike is deeply entrenched in the world of animated TV and knows better than most what it takes to get an animated show off the ground. In this lab, you will be working directly with Mike in a virtual class setting and also during one-on-one online sessions to hone your concept and build your pilot outline and pitch deck for a fantastic, market-ready animated pilot. Whether you are interested in creating a “prime time” adult comedy series, action, dramedy, or children’s animation, Mike is here to help you. He will guide you through creating engaging characters, building your world, perfecting your structure, constructing an outline and building your bible or pitch deck to sell your show. If you already have a concept, or even a completed pilot, Mike will use the same tools to help you hone and sharpen your material.   Throughout the course of this exclusive online lab, you will have direct access to Mike as a mentor by email and via video conferencing as you develop your animated series. Students who sign up for this lab with Mike will be eligible to participate in a Level 2 Lab where Mike will continue to mentor you in writing your pilot!   WHAT TO EXPECT By the end of this 5-week writing lab, you will have a polished pilot outline and pitch deck for your animated television series. Sessions will vary between 2-hour group settings and personal one-on-one Zoom meetings with Mike. You will be held accountable to take the lessons from each week and move your work forward. Plus, to keep you motivated and inspired, you will have access to a private, dedicated Stage 32 Lounge where you can communicate with your fellow classmates throughout the writing process. This lab will also come with free access to a previously recorded animation webinar led by Mike Disa for you to watch and use to work on your project. To see the full writing lab schedule, see below under "What You Will Learn".   PLEASE NOTE: This exclusive Stage 32 lab is limited to 15 writers and will be booked on a first come, first served basis. The opportunity to work this closely and for this long with a manager and an expert in the field is an incredibly unique and valuable opportunity. If you are interested, please do book quickly. Once the spots are gone, they’re gone for good. Payment plans are available - please contact Harrison at h.glaser@stage32.com for more information This lab is limited to 15 people  This lab is designed for beginner and intermediate screenwriters looking to build a pilot from scratch or expand on an existing idea or polish an existing pilot.    

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So you want to direct. You've been bitten by the filmmaking bug and now all you can think about is making a film. You've got a script (or the concept for one) and have envisioned exactly how you want to see it on the screen. And, now more than ever, with equipment more accessible, the costs of shooting affordable, the barrier of entry lower than it's every been, and the options for distribution growing seemingly by the minute,  you know the path from script to screen has never been more viable. We get it. As a director you are the lynchpin of a production and the commander of a creative army in service of your vision. But, in order to truly realize that vision, you have to know everything there is about development, pre-production, physical production, and post production. Even though you can clearly see the film in your mind that's only a small part of the process of being a director. It takes hard work, discipline, and wearing many hats to be able to execute every aspect of developing and filming a movie - and to do it in a way that holds the entire production together. What you do (or don't do) in pre-production will set the tone for the entire shoot, good or bad. How you command the set on the first day will determine whether your cast and crew put forth their best effort or zone out. You have to be cognizant of shooting time/days, your budget, and assuring that your are delivering on every promise. But you're not done when you shout "That's a wrap!" There's still more to do when you get to post-production, working hand in hand with your editor, colorist, sound designer and more. It sounds overwhelming, but we're here to tell you it's not only a manageable environment, but one you can thrive in. Stacia Crawford started as an actress, but had the overwhelming desire to manage and film projects. So, she moved into producing and directing. Last year alone, she had two feature films that premiered on Netflix and Lifetime. With the success of those films, she has been hired to direct two more features this year. Stacia has worked with NBC, The History Channel, A&E, AMC, Spike and more, and has used her experience to make sure she runs a tight and efficient set. She's a pro at managing a project from the script phase through seeing her work on screen and beyond. Stacia will guide you through the entire directing process so you can understand what your responsibilities will be through pre-production, physical production and post-production. She will help you understand what to look for in your contract before you even get hired. She will teach you best casting strategies, how to find and enlist the help of your creative departments, and how to choose the right DP and AD (beyond important!) You'll also learn how to prepare your shot list and how to confidently run your set by learning how to work with actors, producers and your crew and keep them all happy. She'll teach you about your dailies and picking up scenes if the schedule shifts. Finally, she'll take you through post-production and how to work seamlessly and diplomatically with your editor, composer and your color and audio team.    You'll be well-armed with all the pertinent and vital information you need to manage every aspect of being a film director. Stacia will remove your anxiety and fears by giving you the tools to succeed, thrive and have your cast and crew looking to work with you again and again.     "If you are thinking of going into the industry it was amazing, hit all the points, and she went above and beyond when she expanded on a lot of her points...like making sure you get your insert shots (which I've been a victim of.). Overall she was great, clear and to the point." - Ryan H.   I'm a screenwriter and always wanted to direct, but found the idea of it daunting. Stacia not only lifted my fears, but gave me so many "I can do that!" moments that I'm already kicking myself for not doing it sooner. She's a marvel. - Monica R.

How to Write a TV Series Bible

In the current, competitive TV landscape of serialized dramas, complex comedies, and sprawling genre epics, series bibles are becoming important selling tools to help writers illustrate their visions. A dynamic and intriguing bible can create interest in your project, and push your pitch or spec script over the edge to a sale. It’s your chance to lay out the larger arc of your story, list examples of future episodes, and explain the broad themes your show will explore. It conveys confidence to producers and executives by saying: “I've thought about this in the long run, and I have a slew of awesome ideas to explore in series.” Because there is no standard industry way to format your bible, they can be extremely confusing to create. Executives receive bibles as small as 4 pages (a mini-bible, really) and as long as 27 pages. Should it include your personal connection to the material? In-depth character bios? Visual motifs? Artist’s renderings of the setting and characters? Although bibles can vary greatly from project to project, there are some general rules and strategies to follow to make sure yours stands out from the pack as professional, polished, and powerful. Michael Poisson's career is one that has been filled with incredible ambitious drive and creative passion. He is a veteran television executive and is currently a writer on the hit Netflix series Raising Dion, as well as Adult Swim's Robot Chicken. But Michael’s story begins with his first industry job at CAA where he broke the glass ceiling for men everywhere and became their first ever male receptionist (before then, CAA had segregated based on sex: guys in the mailroom and girls in reception). From there he worked his way up to Rick Lefitz’s desk at CAA in TV Packaging, before jumping to Ryan Reynolds and Allan Loeb’s TV pod, DarkFire TV, for two years. He moved on to work as the Director of Development at Krysten Ritter’s company, Silent Machine Entertainment, where he worked closely with writers to develop their ideas to pitch to studios and networks. Michael has also had numerous successes as a screenwriter. In what has become an ultra-competitive environment, Michael will teach you the ins and outs of creating a compelling and willing TV bible. Starting with the proper formatting, how to introduce dynamic characters, and moving through how to include active and engaging episode examples, Michael will show you what grabs and keeps an executive's attention. Michael will also discuss artwork, articles and visual aids and whether your bible truly needs them or if they should be left out entirely. He will show you how to create and present carefully crafted, season long arcs that include strong and relatable themes. Always a challenge for writers, producers, and filmmakers putting together a series bible, Michael will teach you how to be clear and concise in explaining your direction for the series. He will spend quality time explaining and teaching the importance of a strong wrap up and closing beat and how to nail both. Michael will even teach you how to identify and decide which network or platform may be best for your show.   "Answered so many of my questions about bible writing. Took away my fears as well! I can't wait to get started." - Mia L.   "Demystification complete." Lorraine R.   "Michael has energy and knowledge to spare. Best investment I've made in years." - Regina K.   "There is so much mixed information on bible writing out there. It's confusing and, honestly, maddening. I appreciated Michael slowly, concisely, and thoroughly explaining what works, what doesn't and how to bring a winning series bible to life. Bravo." Angelo D.  

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