The Black List Interview: Jac Schaeffer

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Today, we talk to Jac Schaeffer. Her script THE SHOWER made the annual Black List in 2014, and is our next script for Black List Live! in LA (tickets available here for the 6/13 reading at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood!) We talked to Jac about how the past, present, and future have shaped her journey as a writer.

The Past:

What was the first film that had a major impact on your life?

THE NEVERENDING STORY.  It blew my little mind.  So many worlds all trapped inside one VHS tape.  It’s the movie that showed me that cinema is a place of unlimited imagination.

Was there a single film that made you want to be a screenwriter? How else did the decision to pursue that career evolve?

I wanted to be a director before anything else.  I wrote my first feature so that I’d have something to direct.  It wasn’t until after my film came out that I started taking meetings as a writer.

Once I really started paying attention the craft, some of my favorite movies suddenly became miracles to me. How did John Hughes make every line quotable in the THE BREAKFAST CLUB? How did Nora Ephron define a genre with WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…? How did Christopher Nolan write MEMENTO backwards? How does Charlie Kaufman do anything he does? And then there’s JAWS. I mean, JAWS, you guys. Three perfect characters, three perfect acts. For real.

Most writers have to have “day jobs” in order to stay afloat. What was the strangest job you ever had before becoming a writer?

It’s not that strange but I was a tutor for little kids. The only weird thing that happened was one 7-year-old girl asked me what I looked like naked. I then asked everyone I knew what the proper response to that question in that context would be. My favorite answer: “cold.”

The Present:

How do you find ideas and how do you choose which ones to work on?

I love movies that tell regular stories about regular people but I have a hard time writing straight. It’s often flat. So usually the kernels come from an odd observation: “I’m on my way to this baby shower and I really don’t want to go… wouldn’t it be awesome if the world ended right now and I didn’t have to?” I need a weird situation and then I try to put authentic characters having truthful reactions inside the weird. Also, the weird needs to be a commentary on something (in this case, birth and motherhood culture in our country). The ideas I see through always begin with “what if…”

Walk us through a normal day of writing for you. Any special habits to keep the muse happy?

These days it involves a lot of breastfeeding. The muse loves breastfeeding. Get on that, guys.

Which films are keeping you inspired at the moment?

MEAN GIRLS and BRIDESMAIDS for my wheelhouse, THE BIG CHILL for each ensemble player getting a complete arc, LOST IN TRANSLATION for simple yet meaningful moments, THE ABYSS for real people in an unreal situation, WORKING GIRL for romcom format with integrity, BULL DURHAM for grown up romance and dialogue, DIRTY DANCING for my inner 14-year-old, CODE 46 for an utterly convincing future world, LOVE ACTUALLY for the good feelings, 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY for mood, MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD for the details, GHOSTBUSTERS for the laughs, STEEL MAGNOLIAS for the tears, LAUREL CANYON for the sexy, MIRACLE for the big win pay off, GOODFELLAS for the can’t-not-watch-it-when-it’s-on.

Recent movies that I admire: WHIPLASH, OBVIOUS CHILD, NIGHTCRAWLER, THE ONE I LOVE, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

The Future:

If you could make one film, with no restrictions in place, what would that film be?

I’d like to make a STAND BY ME for girls. I don’t know if I’m the writer to do it but I would want to support that type of project making it into the world and achieving commercial success.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I would be a casting director or a therapist. Similar professions, really.

Dinner with three of your favorite writers and/or filmmakers, dead or alive. Who’s coming to dinner? Who picks up the check?

Nora Ephron, Steven Spielberg, Billy Wilder. I would say Kubrick or Hitchcock but I want to enjoy my dinner. And I would pay (with my firstborn, obvi.). Can Julie Delpy come too?

The Black List:

How did you first hear about The Black List?

Whispers on the wind. I can’t remember the first time but it was always a secret dream to be included.

Since making The Black List, how has your career been impacted?

More meetings. It’s been terrific, honestly. People perk up when they hear that accolade. It seems like they are more interested and more inclined to read my work or consider me for a job. I feel very fortunate.

Bonus: it’s something to tell my parents. If you write a script that receives attention but never gets made, no one outside the industry knows about it. Folks in the real world get promotions or performance reviews, students get grades, etc. This is like that. It’s proof of good work done. I’m bona fide.

Any tips for writers interested in getting onto the annual list?

Write your voice. Write how you talk, what you think, and what you feel. Also, write to entertain yourself and your friends. Everything else is noise.



A Cliff or a Rolling Hill

A while back, I wanted to look at how important opening weekend was to total box office revenue. My theory was that it’s more important to crappy movies — i.e. movies that are reviewed poorly. My rationale is that if you’re releasing a bad movie, word of mouth will drive down future box office and your opening weekend will account for more of the total.

So how does quality of a movie affect the box office drop-off from opening weekend?

I wanted to create a chart that could help me pinpoint any trends. I came up with a grid which can help gauge how much of your total box office dollars you can expect to receive in your opening weekend by Metacritic score.

Up front to be honest, I’ll say that in the end, I’m not sure how useful the chart is, but we can gather some insights from it and confirm the general trend that better movies rely less on opening weekend.

How To Read the Chart

How-to-read

Left to Right – threshold for opening weekend as a percentage of total box office revenue decreases. As you move right, there is less reliance on the opening weekend; and by definition the % of movies that meet that threshold will increase to 100%.

Top to Bottom –  the better the film is reviewed (as judged by Metacritic).

Color – the darker the box, the more movies meet the designated threshold at the top. Color corresponds to the % in the cell (darker being higher %).

So a darker green box, more left, means that a higher portion of films rely more heavily on the opening weekend. By definition, the cells will be darker on the right.

Continue reading



The Black List Interview: Shawn Boxe

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Today, we chat with Shawn Boxe, writer of BLEACH, TOMMY, and THEY CALL ME CECIL. Shawn’s pilot BLEACH was discovered on the site, and produced by Issa Rae for her Color Creative initiative, and was also featured in our TV Staff Writers Book. We talked to Shawn about how the past, present, and future have shaped his journey as a writer.

 

The Past:

What was the first film that had a major impact on your life?

E.T. was that movie for me. I was at that age when movie magic was real and life changing. My Mom reminds me that I cried but I think she was mistaken.

Was there a single film that made you want to be a screenwriter? How else did the decision to pursue that career evolve?

I don’t have a single film but I caught the cinema bug while working a summer as an usher in a movie theater. The first scripts I ever read were THE MATRIX, AIRPLANE and MEAN GIRLS. Mean Girls had a fun tone and I thought that I could write something similar. My first script was a romantic comedy in a spy vs. spy world. The more I wrote, the more I realized that there is a lot at play in a well written script.

Most writers have to have “day jobs” in order to stay afloat. What was the strangest job you ever had before becoming a writer?

I discovered screenwriting well into my Information Technology career so I didn’t have any crazy jobs while pursuing this.

The Present:

How do you find ideas and how do you choose which ones to work on?

I LOVE watching trailers. Trailers motivate me because I realize that not all great ideas have been taken.  Most of my story ideas pop in my head when I’m in motion. Driving, walking, and hot showers all help. I constantly pitch ideas and story worlds to my friends. Based on their reaction I can tell if I have something to develop further.

Walk us through a normal day of writing for you. Any special habits to keep the muse happy?

I have deadline / grind writing that usually happens on my kitchen counter and I take turns standing and sitting on a stool. I crank up to 15 pages in a day with just enough food to keep me awake.  After, I have Final Draft “speak” what I wrote so that I can hear if it makes sense. This only happens when I need to bring in pages for my writing group or I need to submit a draft for a contest, agents, managers, etc.

Then there is normal writing that occurs with the TV on, or in a coffee shop. I make a ton of phone calls to my friends and other writers to establish proper procrastination. If get out 2 solid pages, I’m happy.

Which films are keeping you inspired at the moment?

I watched FURIOUS 7 at a 4DX theater and it was a blast. I’m currently into fun movies and shows that are ridiculous but have enough drama to keep it grounded. On the TV side, I really dig THE LAST MAN ON EARTH show. It’s such an original idea for a comedy. EMPIRE had me screaming at the TV like I’m watching sports. As a writer, I never want to lose sight to keep the audience entertained and these shows and films do just that.

The Future:

If you could make one film, with no restrictions in place, what would that film be?

I would make a billion dollar comedy set 40,000 years in the future. All jokes aside, I would make something action-packed but witty, tentpole but emotionally engaging, edgy but PG-13 so that everyone can watch it

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?

I have a sweet spot for computer animation so I would give that a try.

Dinner with three of your favorite writers and/or filmmakers, dead or alive. Who’s coming to dinner? Who picks up the check?

I’m eating with James Cameron (I almost majored in computer animation because of THE ABYSS), Nas (a fantastically detailed story teller and poet), and Quentin Tarantino ( he has moments in every movie that I study over and over again).

Cameron picks up the bill. I’ll finance the tip.

The Black List:

How did you first hear about The Black List?

I read on a screenwriting forum that Franklin had created a website. I was already following the year-end Black List so was excited to check it out.

Since using The Black List, how has your career been impacted?

I met many producers that found the script on the site. It was a boost of confidence to find people who were serious about my writing as I didn’t have an agent or manager at the time. I ended up shooting my pilot – Bleach – with Issa Rae’s Color Creative production company and signed with 3 Arts and Paradigm. The script / pilot has opened the doors to meet a lot of people in the industry.

Any tips for writers interested in the site?

I would only put up a script that you have done several drafts on. Treat the Black List website like an on-going contest. If you can break through with high scores, then great. If not, take the script down and start writing something new while rewriting the old. That way, you will not get too attached to one project.

 



The Black List Interview: Suzanne Allain

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Today, we chat with Suzanne Allain. Her script MR. MALCOLM’S LIST was just chosen as the finalist from our most recent partnership with Warner Brothers. Suzanne has signed a two-step blind deal with Warner Brothers as a result of opting her script in on the site. We talk to her about how the past, present, and future have informed her journey as a screenwriter.

 

The Past:

What was the first film that had a major impact on your life? 

STAR WARS.  Also, MY FAIR LADY with Audrey Hepburn.  I saw the latter on television when I was twelve or thirteen, memorized all the songs, and would sing them in the worst cockney accent you’ve ever heard.  But I also thought the costumes in that movie were incredible.  Every outfit Hepburn wore was a masterpiece.

Was there a single film that made you want to be a screenwriter? How else did the decision to pursue that career evolve?   

I never even considered becoming a screenwriter until I was in my thirties, though I’ve been writing since childhood.  After my first novel was published, a reviewer mentioned how great the dialogue was and that she could really see it as a movie. That was the first time I thought:  “Hmmm, maybe I should switch mediums.”  I loved writing dialogue and struggled with writing description, so screenwriting seemed like a good fit for me.

The first screenplay I wrote was an adaptation of my novel, MR. MALCOLM’S LIST. I entered it in a screenplay contest in 2009 and when it didn’t place, I gave up on the idea until I stumbled across Amazon Studios’ contest two years later.  It was after learning I was a semi-finalist in that contest that I seriously started to think about a screenwriting career.  I began diligently studying the craft, and fell so in love with it that I stopped writing novels and switched solely to screenwriting.

Most writers have to have “day jobs” in order to stay afloat. What was the strangest job you ever had before becoming a writer? 

My first job was at an ice company when I was 16.  I dispatched truck drivers over CB radio, telling them where to deliver the bags of ice. First and last time I’ve ever used a CB.

 

The Present:

How do you find ideas and how do you choose which ones to work on?

I’m a fast reader and I read a lot.  I’m constantly surfing the net, reading magazine/newspaper articles, etc.  I actually waste way too much time doing that, but occasionally I find something that sparks my interest. As far as choosing ideas, now that I’m repped I’m finding a lot less time to work on my own ideas; I’m so busy with ideas generated by producers.

Walk us through a normal day of writing for you. Any special habits to keep the muse happy? 

It involves sitting at my laptop in my pajamas soon after I’ve finished breakfast, before finally showering/getting dressed mid-afternoon.  The shower sometimes restarts the muse.  Also, if I’m working on something historical I sometimes listen to music from that period.

Which films are keeping you inspired at the moment? 

I just watched MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD again recently. And the soundtrack from the 2005 version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE always inspires me. I also like a new documentary series on Netflix called CHEF’S TABLE. The cinematography is excellent, though it makes me hungry.

 

The Future:

If you could make one film, with no restrictions in place, what would that film be?

MR. MALCOLM’S LIST.  I’ve actually considered making it myself. But if we’re talking about something other than my own work, I love these romantic adventure novels by Madeleine Brent (which was a pseudonym for Peter O’Donnell).  I’d adapt one of them, probably MOONRAKER’S BRIDEOr I’d make a series of films based on the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books by L.M. Montgomery.

The short answer is: I’d make a historical romantic adventure (or comedy) with amazing costumes, a beautiful/exotic setting, and a happy ending.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? 

My dream job would be acting. Or teaching.

Dinner with three of your favorite writers and/or filmmakers, dead or alive. Who’s coming to dinner? Who picks up the check?

Baz Luhrmann, whose first film, STRICTLY BALLROOM, is one of my faves; Joe Wright, who made another of my favorites, the aforementioned PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; and Keira Knightley, who is neither a writer nor filmmaker, but since this is my fantasy I get to change the rules.  Baz and Joe could fight over the check, as I’m not sensitive about gender stereotypes and think it would be nice of them, as gentlemen, to offer to pay.  (And they both have a lot more money than I do.)

And since Baz and Joe are paying, I’d also invite Lindsay Doran and Peter Weir.

 

The Black List: 

How did you first hear about The Black List? 

On the forums of the site Done Deal Pro.

Since using The Black List, how has your career been impacted? 

I have a career. Before using The Black List, there was some interest in my work but no paying jobs. I was about to give up completely on screenwriting; I felt I’d wasted enough time (and money) on a fruitless endeavor and I couldn’t afford to keep doing so. But I decided to give it one last try and uploaded MR. MALCOLM’S LIST to the site.  Not only did I find representation, I also got a blind script deal through The Black List’s partnership with WB.

Any tips for writers interested in the site?

I have a few:

  1. If you do try The Black List, don’t overreact if you don’t get the score you think you deserve. The first screenplay I uploaded to The Black List scored a 6 and I was convinced that it deserved a much higher score.  I still think that script is good, (and actually a 6 from The Black List is not a terrible score) but after I uploaded MR. MALCOLM’S LIST it consistently scored in the 7 to 9 range, from multiple readers.  Now I sometimes use The Black List as an objective critique of my work.  Of course, if you firmly believe your review was inaccurate, you do have the option of contacting The Black List’s customer support and pleading your case.  But I strongly recommend you take a deep breath and re-read the review; there’s usually something there that you can use to rewrite your script and make it better.
  1. Use positive comments/high ratings you get from The Black List reviewers in queries. This got me read requests at a few production companies before I had representation. Even low scoring reviews have positive remarks in the “Strengths” section.  No need to mention the score, just use a short excerpt from the reviewer’s comments and query away.
  1. If you have a high score, don’t remove your script too soon. I made the mistake the first time I uploaded MR. MALCOLM’S LIST of taking it down at the end of the first month.  I didn’t realize that it hadn’t yet gone out in the email blast to industry pros and that once it did, no one who received that email could read my script.  I’m not saying you have to continue to host your script for years, but it might be a good idea to do so for more than a month or two.
  1. Opt in to the opportunities on the Black List. The Black List has a revolving list of partnerships/deals.  Even if I hadn’t ended up winning the blind deal at WB, the actual exposure I received by being a finalist was helpful in generating buzz and getting representation.  So if you qualify for any of the opportunities, definitely opt in.  That being said, you probably will need to have a high enough rating to be selected (i.e., an 8 or above.)

Thanks Suzanne!