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
Q: What is the format of a webinar?
A: Stage 32 Next Level Webinars are typically 90-minute broadcasts that take place online using a designated software program from Stage 32.
Q: Do I have to be located in a specific location?
A: No, you can participate from the comfort of your own home using your personal computer! If you attend a live online webinar, you will be able to communicate directly with your instructor during the webinar.
Q: What are the system requirements?
A: You will need to meet the following system requirements in order to run the webinar software: Windows 7 or later Mac OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) or later.
If you have Windows XP, Windows Vista and Mac OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion): The webinar software does not support these operating systems. If you are running one of those operating systems, please upgrade now in order to be able to view a live webinar. Upgrade your Windows computer / Upgrade your Mac computer
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!
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.
You’ve heard the phrase “the content gold rush” get bandied about much these days, but as it relates to TV, it’s never been more true. Drama television is at it's peak with such iconic shows like OZARK, KILLING EVE, BETTER CALL SAUL, THIS IS US, THE HANDMAID'S TALE, MR. ROBOT, STRANGER THINGS, BLACK MIRROR, BIG LITTLE LIES and so much more. With the influx of networks and streaming platforms either moving into or expanding their original content libraries, the demand for dramatic TV ideas and pilots has never been greater. Thanks to streamers such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max and others, over 600 shows were greenlit last year and some industry experts are predicting we may see as many as 1,000 television shows greenlit per year by 2025. But not only is the quantity increasing, so is the quality, as companies are funneling an unprecedented amount of money, resources, marketing and talent into their shows. And the impact of COVID-19 is even having an impact that could benefit writers all over the world as many shows are planning to implement virtual writer’s rooms. In short, there has never been a better time to write for TV. Now it’s just a matter of breaking in. The opportunities are plentiful and the prospects have never been more exciting, but if you want to write dramatic television you need to prove that you have the chops, and to do that, you better come armed with a great pilot script sample. Something that shows that you have what it takes; something that shows that you understand the structure and craft that goes into a good teleplay; and something that shows off your own unique voice and sensibility. This is your calling card, your way in, the piece of material that will fire you off the launch pad. The intention of this lab is to help you create that piece of material that stands out, gets you the right meetings, and, ultimately, gets you representation, meetings with decision-makers, and/or a coveted seat in a writer’s room. Spencer Robinson is a literary and talent manager at Art/Work Entertainment who's been in the industry for over twenty years. His clients have been in films with directors Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Clint Eastwood, Gore Verbinski and more. In the TV world, his clients have been regular cast members on shows for Netflix, The CW, Cinemax, CBS, NBC, FX, Starz, Nickelodeon, EPIX, and TBS, to name a few. His writing clients work in both features and television on broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. He currently has a client writing on two Netflix series, and another client who just sold a show to Amazon. He also reps a writer who currently has a project at Aggregate Films, which has a deal at Netflix. Spencer has taught numerous webinars, classes and writing labs for Stage 32 and remains one of our most popular and in demand educators. In this lab, he will be working directly with you in a class setting and also during one-on-one sessions with the goal of helping you write a fantastic, market-ready pilot. To do so, Spencer will guide you through picking a concept, creating engaging characters, perfecting your structure, constructing an outline and, finally, writing your pilot. If you already have a concept or even a completed pilot, Spencer will use the same tools to help you hone and sharpen your material. WHAT TO EXPECT By the end of this 8-week writing lab, you will have a completed drama television pilot script ready to be shown to reps, development execs and other executives and professionals. Sessions will vary between 2-hour group settings and personal one-on-one Skype meetings with Spencer. 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. To see the full writing lab schedule, see below under "What You Will Learn". PLEASE NOTE: This exclusive Stage 32 lab is limited to 10 writers and will be booked on a first come, first served basis. The opportunity to work this closely and for this long with an executive 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 Amanda at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information This lab is limited to 10 people ***only 1 spot remains*** 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. Praise from Spencer's previous Stage 32 webinars: "Spencer will get those who are ready on their way to a kickass first draft that you can send for coverage, which is what I did. 2 Considers and I'm in rewrites now to move that needle. This was my first ever TV pilot!" - Erika N. "Spencer was amazing!" - Summer K. "Enjoyed the class. Spencer was a good teacher and I appreciated his insight!" - Stephen C. "Had a great time learning and progressing my knowledge of the craft of writing and working directly with a mentor who is a professional in the industry. Spencer was fantastic to be taught by! Thank you!" - Natalie A. "Spencer's teaching style is the best! His patience and easygoing approach is ideal and unique to him. Kudos to Stage 32 and to Spencer!" - Armando O.
To kick off your directing career with Roger Ebert calling your film "One of the best films of the year" you can pretty much be assured you're on a path to success. We are proud to present to you the director who has done just that - Michael Polish. After his Sundance darling Twin Falls Idaho garnered Roger Ebert's critical acclaim he has gone on to direct over 10 feature films including: The Astronaut Farmer, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Virginia Madsen Northfork, starring Nick Nolte and James Woods The Smell of Success, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Tea Leoni & Ed Helms Hot Bot, starring Zack Pearlman and Danny Masterson Stay Cool, starring Winona Ryder and Sean Astin (Nominated for best feature at Tribeca Film Festival) Big Sur, an adaptation of the Jack Kerouac novel starring Kate Bosworth For Lover’s Only starring Stana Katic (CBS’s hit show Castle) 90 Minutes in Heaven, starring Hayden Christensen Amnesiac, starring Wes Bentley The upcoming Sharon Tate biopic adapted from Greg King’s book Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders Michael will be teaching the 2nd installment of our Stage 32 Masters of Craft series - The Indie Filmmaker's Toolkit: Maximize Your Resources, Creativity and Profits. In this online event Michael will share with you how a professional director approaches a film from inception and carries it through to post-production including a discussion of available distribution options. The goal is to give you the agency to make your films without the necessity of the Hollywood studio system (though this information will be handy if that's your path as well). He will go in-depth about the director’s process from finding superior scripts and setting your priorities in pre-production to the challenges of running your set, leading your crew and balancing the demands of your producers. He’ll explain how to interact with everyone vital to your film’s success from producers and film executives to actors, cinematographers, and editors to get the best version of your film. Finally, Michael will share insider knowledge on effective methods to market and distribute your film that will give you the power to maximize your profits. From his experience writing and directing 10 feature films, he’ll share his war stories (like losing vital funding in the middle of a shoot) and his strategies for dealing with any obstacle that arises. You’ll be better equipped to deal with mishaps and avoid filmmaking pain points. If you want to make your film and you want to know where to start, how to proceed and how to ensure you walkaway with a masterpiece, this is the webinar for you! You’ll leave with a comprehensive understanding of what is necessary to succeed as an indie director and gain control over the direction of your career.
One of the most useful things a writer can do is to team up with a mentor to help them on their journey. Too many writers try to navigate through the script writing process without guidance. Wouldn't you want a mentor that develops and sells material for a living to help you take the mystery work out of your journey? The most successful writers in the industry have their own mentors to make sure they are going in the right direction - do the same for yourself. Stage 32 Happy Writers is thrilled to bring back our 8 Week Working Writer's Lab. This is one of our most hands on, prestigious and talked about labs and we only offer it a few times a year. To find the perfect teacher we go through our rolodex of 400 executives and hand pick an executive that is one of the most raved about from our writers. Your teacher for this lab will be Patrick Raymond, creative executive at Mandalay Pictures! Patrick has assisted a number of our writers on strengthening their scripts and he is excited to help you bring your concept to life. With interactive lectures and weekly homework assignments directly geared towards bringing your concept to life, PLUS ongoing contact with Patrick in between classes, your experience writing has never been easier. Under The Guidance of Patrick Raymond you will: Pick a unique and commercially viable concept. Craft engaging, unique characters that pop off the page. A solid structural skeleton that successfully carries your concept. Cinematic set pieces that will give your story that much-wanted theatrical feel. A fully realized outline highlighting every major plot point in your script. The Objective of the Lab is: To take the mystery work out of picking a concept that can sell. To match you with an executive that will assist you with making sure all your script's elements is as strong as possible. Give you an experience on how development executives develop projects that are now on their company's slate. Class ScheduleWEEK #1 – The Story of Me; Your Questions; Your Stories General class overview. Patrick's history and experiences. What Patrick loves writing about and why. What he looks for in a good story/screenplay. Any initial queries raised in the pre-class questionnaire. NOTE: Given the online format, Patrick will use this week’s “office hours” to more personally respond to/discuss the ideas you are contemplating working on during the Lab. WEEK #2 – Character Creating strong, unique memorable characters. How to have them best serve your story, the genre, themes, etc. Dialogue and voice. Patrick will cover some examples, including personal experience. WEEK #3 – Act I; Premise into Story How to make the leap from basic premise/concept and characters into a full-blooded story. Where to start. What to include in Act 1. Where does Act 1 end and Act 2 begin? Creating a world and setting a tone. Patrick will discuss examples of strong (attention-grabbing and/or smartly-chosen) and weak (meandering, overstuffed, unfocused, etc.) beginnings. WEEK #4 – The Story So Far (Consultation) No on-line class this week. Instead, you will submit premise, Character Bio(s), and Act I outline for review; Patrick will discuss the materials individually in 30 minute phone calls and advise any changes/concerns. WEEK #5 – Act II; Structure and Plotting Plotting and development of your story across Act 2. Examples of structure (midpoints, end of Act 2, Internal/external conflict, etc. WEEK #6 – Theme; What’s it All About? How to ensure that your script isn’t just an escalation of events, but is a rich narrative experience that is hopefully actually about something. Topics to include Theme, Topicality, Relatability, Universality. WEEK #7 – Act III; Sticking the Landing Why 'when and how' to achieve a strong finish is arguably one of the most difficult parts of writing a screenplay. Examples of scripts/films that have accomplished this, as well as those that have not (and why). WEEK #8 – The Completed Outline (Consultation) No on-line class this week. Instead, you will turn in your completed outline for review; Patrick will then discuss with you over a 30-minute consultation. About Your Instructor, Patrick RaymondPatrick Raymond is a Creative Executive at Mandalay Pictures, Peter Gruber’s decades-old production company responsible for films such Sleepy Hollow, The Score, The Jacket, Into the Blue, When the Game Stands Tall and Horns. At Mandalay, Patrick gets to work on his passion every day: cultivating amazing stories and working with great writers.Prior to joining Mandalay, Patrick studied business and film production at the University of Southern California. He worked in the financial services industry for four years before transitioning to entertainment, where he worked as a production assistant in television for four years.After that he transitioned to working at Gersh in the production department but he also gained exposure to the literary world, working with writers and story. He then moved over to LD Entertainment for three years, where he was a Creative Executive, working with writers and helping build scripts and acquire ideas for new projects. Here he had the opportunity to work for Tate Taylor on a James Brown biopic entitled, Get On Up, and learned about assembling large studio films. He has since transitioned to the Creative Executive position at Mandalay Pictures. Patrick was born in Alaska and raised in Seattle prior to moving to LA.
This week, Jason speaks with producer Natalie Qasabian, who has forged a successful career producing independent films which have had tremendous commercial success! Natalie began her career producing three films for the indie film duo the Duplass Brothers, including Duck Butter directed by Miguel Arteta, Natalie went on to produce All About Nina starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Common. Later, Natalie produced Searching, a thriller starring John Cho and Debra Messing which was acquired by Sony at Sundance in 2018 and went on to gross $75M at the box office! Currently she's producing Run, starring Sarah Paulson for Lionsgate as well as the sequel to Searching for Sony. Natalie talks about starting her career as a Line Producer and Production Manager, and how that allowed her to make independent films for a modest budget. Natalie shares her insights on the effectiveness of proof of concept videos, how first-time filmmakers can attract financing, and the inside story of how she sold Searching to Sony at Sundance!
Networking. The mere word puts a chill up the spine of many creatives, especially when you may not even know anyone or know where to start. But if there's been one thing that's been proven time and time again, it's that we work in a relationship business. Winning champions of you and your work is as important than creating and honing the work itself. Whether you're introverted and have a distinct fear of putting yourself out there, or if you're an extrovert who isn't getting the results you're looking for in your relationship building efforts, we're here to help. Let's start by merging the idea of networking with the mindset of relationship building. The truth is relationship building can be a fun exercise you'll want to tackle every day. It's all about setting a positive approach, embracing a long term mentality, and building upon every success. The most successful people in film, television and digital media have spent years cultivating relationships, and remember, they all started without knowing anyone. They've understood that by being likable, selfless, and collaborative that people are going to not only want to help them succeed, but work with them as well. This is why the tribe mentality is so prevalent. And it's why the people who put relationship building strategies into practice every day are those who have found longevity in the business. Industry veteran Jessica Sitomer has over 20 years in the industry as a development executive, producer, writer and career coach for the Cinematographers Guild. Through the years she has perfected the art of relationship building - helping creatives grow their networks from one to two people to hundreds to thousands. When she moved to Los Angeles, she knew two people and one of them moved the day after she got to LA. She made it her mission to learn how to survive and thrive in the creative industry. And survive and thrive she has. Not only is Jessica's network huge, but she has also written three best-selling books on the subject of networking and relationship building, And… Action! Powerful, Proven, and Proactive Strategies to Achieve Success in the Entertainment Industry, The Greenlight Coach and You Got This: For Those Who Work Hard and Play Hard - How to go From Burnout to Bliss. Here Jessica brings her unique brand and boundless energy exclusive to Stage 32 to help you get to the next level by giving you concrete steps and tools to build relationships that lead to roles, jobs, reads, financing, and more. Jessica will show you how to best approach social media and how to utilize this valuable tool in a way that takes away the intimidation factor to meeting people. She will show you how to be more collaborative, to check your ego at the door, and to make sure you're communicating in the right fashion. She will tackle live events and how you can make sure you get the most bang for your buck. She will teach you strategies to help you grow as a communicator and collaborator. She'll even teach you how to reach out to those you may have previously thought untouchable and show you that no one is off limits! This is a comprehensive overview of how you can take your networking and relationship building skills from good to great. You will learn everything you need to know to step up, stand out and change the course of your career. I've been following, reading, and listening to Jessica for years. It's little wonder why she's been so successful. This webinar challenged me to put all my self-made BS to the side and just let myself go. And the results are already speaking for themselves. She's a superstar in every sense of the word. - Miriam P.