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 »
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
Lee Sternthal, Director, Producer & Screenwriter
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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.
This webinar includes a downloadable resource sheet that goes over a podcast checklist, equipment needs, platforms and voice over resources! Podcasts are hotter than ever with hits like HOMECOMING, 2 DOPE QUEENS, and DIRTY JOHN and are a great way to get your film or TV idea noticed. Podcasts are much less expensive than shooting your pilot or making your film on spec so they help you test the waters with storylines and characters, while figuring out the tone of the show and even building a loyal fan base for an eventual film or TV series. If you’ve got a great film or TV idea and are stuck trying to figure out how to get the right eyes, then you need to consider turning your idea into a podcast! This is such a new frontier, so it’s difficult for many to know where to even start. How do you tell the story you’ve imagined visually, through audio? Where do you even pitch a podcast? Not to mention, many creatives underestimate the power of audio, and making use of intimacy and soundscape to inform a story. Have you thought about getting into the podcast space? Or are you stuck with a film or TV idea that you can’t seem to get off the ground or have anyone pay attention to? With the guidance of someone who has found great success turning film and TV ideas into highly-coveted podcasts, you’ll be able to give your ideas a life you have yet to imagine! Podcast producer Caroline Slaughter's recent iHeartRadio podcast ASTRAY was ranked Top 15 nationally and is now being developed into a TV series. She is currently working on podcast TOM SLICK with Andy Samberg. She is also executive producing the podcast TOM SLICK: MYSTERY HUNTER with ANDY SAMBERG and screenwriter JEB STUART (Die Hard, Vikings: Valhalla) attached, which will launch in Spring 2022. Her next non-fiction podcast in BODY TRADE in collaboration with Trailblazer Studios and Reuters News. There is no one better than Caroline who knows what it takes to teach you how to create a successful podcast! Praise for Caroline's Stage 32 Teaching: "What a great teacher. Really. I learned so much from Caroline and did not even realize the potential for success from podcasts." -- Thomas W. "Informative. Effective. To the point. And friendly. Caroline is a great teacher who has loads of knowledge to give to her students." -- Christian M.
Learn how you can build a career as a television director from a director who has worked on hit series including IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, A.P. BIO, YOU'RE THE WORST, and more! Most people have a general idea of what a director does, but that idea usually pertains more to feature films. Directing television can be a separate beast altogether. Successful TV directors need to be adept at navigating inherent contradictions associated with this role. Unlike in films, TV directors have to both have a vision and still fit in with the overall feel of the series. And they need to be in charge despite often only coming in for an episode or two. These are tough lines to straddle, but doing so and honing your craft can lead to a successful and exciting career. Pursuing a career in directing in any medium is rife with challenges: there is no set path to success and finding insight into the inner workings of directing is challenging. Television directing is an even more specific specialty within the world of directing. Several ways of working and behaviors that would be ideal for a feature director are not compatible with the way television is produced. In addition, the path to breaking in as a television director is quite different from that of a feature director. If your goal is to direct television, it’s vital to understand the way television is produced and the role that the director plays within that specific production environment. Heath Cullens is an accomplished television director who has directed episodes of TV shows like IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, A.P. BIO, GREAT MINDS WITH DAN HARMON, and FX’s YOU’RE THE WORST. Heath’s other notable credits include IDIOTSITTER for Comedy Central, DEADBEAT for Hulu, and BLACK JESUS for Adult Swim. In addition to directing, Heath also produced the Lionsgate feature ARMED RESPONSE, starring Cary Elwes, Ethan Embry, and Alan Arkin. A recipient of a Drama League Directing Fellowship and a member of the Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab, Heath is well-versed at the art of TV directing and will now share what he knows exclusively with Stage 32. In this exclusive Stage 32 on demand webinar, Heath digs into the specifics and craft of directing for television and will reveal how to pursue it and how best to do the job once you get it. Heath will first explain how best to pursue work in TV directing, including discovering the type of TV is the best fit, how to find your ‘in’, developing a reel, shadowing, and working with established creators. Next he will delve into the vital relationships you’ll need to maintain as a TV director, including with the EP/showrunner, the crew, the cast, and the network or studio. Finally Heath will go through the major challenges you should expect in this role and tips on how to navigate. Along the way, Heath will share challenges and experiences from his own career. The role of a TV director can be enigmatic and often eclipsed by feature films, but Heath will give you the rundown so you can be equipped with the knowledge and advice to pursue this route on your own. PRAISE FOR HEATH'S PREVIOUS STAGE 32 EDUCATION: "Sometimes one signs up for a class not really knowing what to expect. This class I could never have anticipated! Heath went above and beyond any expectations I might have harbored. This was one of the best classes I have ever taken on Stage 32 or any other platform. I walked away with so much information, confidence and respect for the role of the director. My heartfelt thanks to Heath." -- Angela R. "This was a phenomenal class. Thank you for providing a class of this caliber. Heath was informative and engaging." -- Angel M. "Heath was extremely knowledgeable and a great teacher. He had a perfect combination of facts and passion. He invested a lot of energy into, not only, teaching the class, but he also went above and beyond to inspire the class. Very grateful." -- Rainy K. "I found this course so relevant. The content and the presentation were amazing. I especially liked that Heath gave us the ability to look for the big ideas when directing not taking just one or two nuggets. Thank you for always bringing the best instructors and relevant content." -- Susan L.
Learn directly from Adam Matalon, award winning executive producer, show runner, director and creator who's worked on over 20 projects on cable and network television. The unscripted and reality genres are becoming more and more fragmented and producers are forced into more and more niche areas of expertise. This is creating a vacuum in which producers wanting to step into showrunner roles are unable to do so because they lack the overview expertise. In this Next Level Webinar, Adam Matalon challenges that notion and investigates the role of the showrunner in today's current climate of television. As more and more networks and production companies are struggling with staffing their leader, there are fewer and fewer opportunities. We will discuss the reasons for this and how storytellers, producers, writers, and directors can best prepare themselves for leadership roles in the fast evolving television and digital space. Adam will break down the process of taking a project from presentation, through production and on to delivery to the network; something that is vital for all aspiring showrunners both in the reality and unscripted space as well as a scripted space. Adam will also touch on the best ways for building an environment that will make you more employable, how ‘storytelling’ is utilized in a reality show and the various documents needed to accomplish the task of getting the 'greenlight.'
With the tremendous box office success of CRAZY RICH ASIANS, BOOK CLUB and THE BIG SICK and the streaming successes of SET IT UP, SIERRA BURGESS IS A LOSER, and TO ALL THE BOYS I LOVED BEFORE, romantic comedies are making a huge comeback for all types of audiences. Variety called Rom-Com's the "Hottest genre" for 2018 and beyond. If you have been sitting on a Rom-Com script or been thinking about writing one, now's the time to learn about the current marketplace for romantic comedies.
This month, Jason is excited to welcome producer Regina Lee into the Writers' Room Pitch Tank! Regina's resume is very impressive! She has sold pilots to HBO, Starz, FOX, BET, as well as multiple TV pilots at 20th Century Fox TV Studios. She produced two TV movie thrillers that aired on Lifetime. As a production company executive with a deal at CBS Network, she was on the team that sold multiple projects to CBS and The CW, getting a show on the air at CBS. She began her executive career at Universal Pictures, where she was the primary executive in charge of American Wedding and Curious George. She was a studio executive in charge of movies such as The Good Shepherd (Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Robert DeNiro), The Fast & the Furious 3, Bridget Jones 2, The Cat in the Hat, Seabiscuit, and Red Dragon. Over an hour and a half, Regina and Jason listen and critique pitches from Writers' Room members and offer advice on how to help your pitch break out in a crowded market!