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Breakfast with Sharks: A Screenwriter's Guide to Getting the Meeting, Nailing the Pitch, Signing the Deal, and Navigating the Murky Waters of Hollywood (Anglais) Broché – 25 mai 2004

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Descriptions du produit


Section 101: Introduction to Tinseltown

Overview of Hollywood

There's an old joke about the studio exec who has read a script and someone asks what he thought of it, and he says, "I don't know. I haven't talked to anyone yet." The jest works on two levels: Hollywood is a startlingly tiny community, and in L.A. everyone plays the "six degrees of separation" game to figure out how you already know each other, as in "You just sold Matt at Sony? Ohmigod, I pitched him on Ninja Clown Posse six months ago. We gotta have lunch." As for the second part of the joke, ideas may be king in Hollywood, but this place is not about reinventing the wheel. "Uniquely familiar," a phrase coined by veteran producer Joel Silver (The Matrix, Lethal Weapon), is the stock and trade of Hollywood. In other words, you should think outside the box, but don't try to bring your own box to L.A., because over the past hundred years or so, Hollywood has developed a way to do business and make movies that it is quite comfortable with, thank you very much. The system works in an imperfect way, but it does work. So there's little use in trying to force the town to do things your way. The logic behind the Hollywood development process for a motion picture goes something like this: no matter where you are making movies in the world, if you are producing a product for a mass audience, the various funnels through which your story (the entertainment you are creating) must pass will narrow in order to appeal to the most people waiting on the other side. Typically, mass audiences reduce characters to white hat/good guy and black hat/bad guy. Consequently they like the familiarity and comfort of a twice-told tale. As we shall see, the trick for the successful Hollywood writer is to create a script that is intensely personal, yet still manages to resonate with a mass audience by virtue of its universal themes. A quick scan of the American Film Institute's list of "America's 100 Greatest Movies" shows a number of masterpieces that have accomplished this difficult feat. These are films like Casablanca, The Graduate, On the Waterfront, Schindler's List, All About Eve, Raging Bull, Midnight Cowboy, Rebel Without a Cause, Rocky, Platoon, Easy Rider, The Apartment, Goodfellas, and Pulp Fiction.

While most of us are uncomfortable judging, say, Japanese calligraphy or a Wagnerian opera based on our limited exposure to those art forms, we are all experts on Hollywood simply by virtue of having seen hundreds or thousands of movies in our lifetimes. Few moviegoers have qualms comparing and contrasting The English Patient with, say, Scary Movie. But from inside Hollywood, what you see is an imperfect system that contains vast armies of smart, usually young people in their twenties and thirties, working tremendously hard to make mainly mediocre movies. Why? Because moviemaking looks deceptively easy, but is, in fact, very, very hard. It's a highly collaborative endeavor with dozens and often hundreds of people involved. Perfecting your craft to work in tandem with other craftsmen can and does take many years. That's why even great fiction writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker were never better than mediocre screenwriters.

What Does Hollywood Want?

"I think film schools serve as a good training ground, but there isn't really a replacement for doing it."
—Brian Glazer, Producer, Imagine Entertainment

This book isn't about teaching you how to write. There are lots of other sources to help you with that part of the process. I will state, however, that the fastest, most time-honored way to learn structure and form is to take a favorite movie and, as you view it, type it out into a script. But if you're reading this book, I assume you have already achieved the laudable goal of completing a screenplay. Congratulations on having written a movie on paper! Now you're ready to ask the next logical question: "What do I do with this thing that I've written?" How will you realize your dreams of making a living as a writer in Hollywood with a chance to see your work on movie screens all over the world? That's what this book is about.

One of the first realizations that arrivals to the movie capital of Planet Earth make is that despite having the world's biggest stage, Hollywood is an amazingly insular place. Catch-22s abound, such as that "no one important will read your work unless you have an agent, and you can't get an agent to read your work unless you are referred to them by somebody important who has already read your work." So, as soon as you get here, intent on befriending anyone with access who will read your script, you discover that everybody seems to be a producer or working on a hot deal. You feel as if you're chasing your tail as you deal with some of these people, because, although they promise the moon, from them you see very little in terms of money or the all-important access to the real players of the town. It's so hard to find out who is really who. Believe me, you will get frustrated as you try to cut through the miasma--"What's the deal with this !%*$ town? What is really going on?"

I know exactly how you feel because I've been there, and I want to tell you right now that if you learn from your hard-knocks experiences and persevere, these early days in Hollywood will become war stories that you can share and laugh about later. As mentioned in the introduction, during my first ten years in the film business, I have co-produced one movie, sold outright one screenplay, taken on four production company and studio assignments, and optioned or "rented" my work to producers five times. What follows is my very first war story.

"What Just Happened?"

I arrived in September and, several weeks later, landed my first pitch meeting at a production company based at Warner Brothers. The company had made two successful films in the past two years, one of which is still considered a minor classic. Initially I had used my film school alumni contacts and then the big-budget script I had just completed as a sample to get a meeting with the senior vice-president of the company. The VP told me right away that although they really liked ("loved!" is the way the exec put it) the script I'd written, the project was well out of their budget range. However, they had German funding for a science-fiction project in the $2.5-$3-million range for which they believed I might be perfect. So I was asked to come back in a week with three ideas based on the one-sentence "concept" for a story they had given me. To be honest, I have forgotten what the concept was, but I think it involved a single location in a futuristic, postapocalyptic society--people hiding in a warehouse with a killer android/alien/mutant on the loose. Something like that. Later I was to learn that a week is actually quite a lot of time by Hollywood standards, but back then it seemed incredibly cruel and short. Working frantically for five days and nights straight, I turned in my best three stories on time, then went home to bed and waited. And waited. One week and then two excruciating weeks of silence followed. And then, finally, the call came. It was early November. I suppressed tears of joy as the VP told me over lunch that they wanted to go forward with one of my story ideas. In fact, the contracts would be submitted to the production company's business affairs department that very day; and I should anticipate a "deal by Christmas" that would pay me a total of $30,000 up front, in addition to an opportunity to earn a production bonus if my script was made into a movie. The VP smiled and said he intended to fast-track this project. We would get started as soon as the contracts were signed, most likely right after the New Year.

"Nope. It will never happen," said the jaded veteran director who lived in my building. I had already lined up a young, aggressive entertainment lawyer to handle things from my side, and all was right with the world. A few days later my fiance and I were on our way out to celebrate our good fortune when I ran into this director in the parking garage. "I know the chief accountant for the company. They're dead broke over there." "That isn't what I've been told," I said haughtily, while wondering to myself what this guy's problem was. "We're fine, so you're fine," was the gist of the phone conversation I had with the VP the next morning. I hung up feeling silly, but in the back of my mind I wondered if I had detected just a whiff of something in the executive's power pep talk. Sure enough, the VP began to avoid calls from the lawyer and me in the ensuing weeks, before phoning me one morning in early December to say that no projects were going forward at this time. In fact, he was leaving the company, but he hoped we could find something to work on together where he was going. That was it.

Postscript: My deal never got off the tarmac, and the production company closed shop soon after, but the exec and I did indeed find another project to work on. Through this I learned the valuable lesson of never celebrating before he check clears, as well as to be a little more low-key (and a little less public) about any "success" I might have. I used to run into that director long after moving out of the building. "Hey, Mr. Deal by Christmas!" he would shout at me from across a crowded restaurant, guffawing and mock-toasting me with his water glass. (Avoiding his level of cynicism was another important lesson.) Later I discovered that the scenario of a production company promising more than it can deliver is well known to nearly all veteran screenwriters. But such a situation is hard to imagine until you've gone through it.

Effort, Access, Timing

The old saw that you must "know somebody" in Hollywood to succeed isn't completely untrue. Having a famous relative does help, at least initially. Sooner or later you'll be judged on your own merits. "Talent always wins out" my old film professor used to say. Success in Hollywood can be boiled down to a trilogy of components: Effort, Access, and Timing.

Effort is the diligence you exercise by writing every day, as well as by pursuing all the various career opportunities that may come your way.

Access comes from continually educating yourself about the process, then finding the right decision-makers who may be interested in your writing, and immersing yourself in their world.

Timing is about having the talent and skills to seize opportunities when they are presented. If you can combine timing with effort and access, you and your work can be in the right place in the right time.

Here's a story of how I used and then failed to use these components. In my first year as a Hollywood writer, I worked long into the night to finish a new script (my second "Mr. Professional" project). This script incorporated everything I was learning about the craft, post-film school. That diligence paid off when I attended an industry screening of a new movie, and met an ambitious young assistant to a well-known director whose work I had long admired and felt very passionately about. That introduction or "access" led to drinks with the assistant whereby I pitched my new project. Not only did he like the pitch, but he agreed to read the script and liked that, too. Another hurdle was overcome a couple weeks later when the assistant called breathlessly one Friday morning to say, "I just pitched your project to my boss, and he's interested. Get me a two- or three-page synopsis tomorrow so we can make his weekend reading." Talk about great timing! But I had never done a truly professional synopsis of a script, and I didn't have one ready with this particular project. So I struggled mightily over the next seventy-two hours to boil my movie first down to twelve, then six pages.

Early Monday morning I faxed a four-and-a-half page synopsis--two pages too long and two and a half days too late, as it turned out. When I called the assistant, he simply said, "Michael, you're not ready for this," and hung up. He was slow to return my subsequent calls, and then stopped all together. Clearly my efforts, while noble, were undercut by my inexperience. Thus I had failed to fully take advantage of an opportunity when it was presented. Of course, it's quite possible that the director would have passed on the script based on my synopsis, but at least I would have been one more step further in the process. In the end, I at least took comfort in the fact that responsibility for this failure clearly rested on my own shoulders. That meant it was a lesson to heed and something that I could address. I spent the next two weeks writing formal synopses for all my preexisting work.

Make no mistake--it takes a certain kind of person to follow his or her dreams here in sunny California. Aside from cloudless skies and chronically pleasant weather--the thrill of pumping gas into your Ford Festiva while standing within ring-toss distance of Al Pacino, who does not drive a Festiva--Hollywood is a very tough place to make an easy living. The cost of living rivals New York and San Francisco. Many people have more than one job. Meanwhile, the craft of filmmaking is difficult to perfect--the results can be very unforgiving. And if the craft is unforgiving, the industry is even more brutal.

My First Hollywood Lessons

1. Attend screenings and premieres where I might meet industry contacts.

2. Know the market and make sure I'm offering a suitable project to my potential buyer.

3. Follow instructions and recognize the importance of making my deadlines.

4. Recognize my mistakes and take the time to correct them.

Passion vs. Pa$$ion

Some writing that we writers do for the market may be less than satisfying creatively. However, no writer should feel compromised artistically just because he or she must pay bills or dues. Conversely, some writers can develop pa$$ion for a paycheck by writing exclusively what they think studios want to buy at the expense of fully realizing their craft with themes that resonate or ambitious characters that are fully fleshed out. While Hollywood screenwriting can be very lucrative financially, solely running to the whistle of money will guarantee neither career longevity nor satisfaction. That's where passion comes in. Passion (not pa$$ion) is still caring about the end result even after you've completed draft after draft of a project. Passion means that you're willing to "go back in" one more time to get it right. When financial concerns dictate what most studios and movie producers are willing to make, the most direct impact is on the filmmaker. First, we creatives delight in spinning words into images. Telling visual stories is our particular passion. And passion is what agents, producers, and executives alike seek out. It is a powerful ally in choosing the kind of projects you want to do and the kind of career you want to have. Passion is the manna of inspiration from heaven--a currency passed from writer to producer to executive, then director and actor, down the line from key grip and best boy to editor, on to the promotions department and, ultimately, to the viewing audience. And therein lies the rub.

Présentation de l'éditeur

What They Didn’t Teach You in Your Screenwriting Course

Screenwriters, listen up! Breakfast with Sharks is not a book about the craft of screenwriting. This is a book about the business of managing your screenwriting career, from advice on choosing an agent to tips on juggling three deal-making breakfasts a day. Prescriptive and useful, Breakfast with Sharks is a real guide to navigating the murky waters of the Hollywood system.

Unlike most of the screenwriting books available, here’s one that tells you what to do after you’ve finished your surefire-hit screenplay. Written from the perspective of Michael Lent, an in-the-trenches working screenwriter in Hollywood, this is a real-world look into the script-to-screen business as it is practiced today.

Breakfast with Sharks is filled with useful advice on everything from the ins and outs of moving to Los Angeles to understanding terms like “spec,” “option,” and “assignment.” Here you’ll learn what to expect from agents and managers and who does what in the studio hierarchy. And most important, Breakfast with Sharks will help you nail your pitch so the studio exec can’t say no.

Rounded out with a Q&A section and resource lists of script competitions, film festivals, trade associations, industry publications, and more, Breakfast with Sharks is chock-full of “take this and use it right now” information for screenwriters at any stage of their careers.

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Amazon.com: 4.4 étoiles sur 5 23 commentaires
14 internautes sur 15 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 One way to fish through the crowd 20 janvier 2005
Par Tennille A. Wright - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
As a beginning screenwriter I know the competition is fierce especially for those like me without film school, living outside of Hollywood. That's why I bought Breakfast with Sharks. There isn't a screenwriting resource out there like it. Sure, I've bought a few screenwriting books but most of them say the same things, how to write a screenplay and a query letter. This book delves into the business of screenwriting, if you don't have a father in the business you will need to learn the business and Breakfast with Sharks is a way to do it. I found the book also enjoyable to read with personal stories of Hollywood misfortune and finally success. Breakfast with Sharks rises above the competition with a unique purpose and helps you to write above the competition with what many others forget to bring to Hollywood, a plan and a unique voice.
10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
4.0 étoiles sur 5 After you write the screenplay, then what? 1 août 2009
Par Davalon - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I bought this book at the Screenwriters Expo 2007, but I didn't read it until this year. What's unfortunate is that I didn't read it when it first came out (2004), and, what's more unfortunate is that it wasn't available when I first got involved in scriptwriting in 1997.

"Breakfast with Sharks" is a very honest assessment of what it takes to sell a script in Hollywood. The author, although not associated with "big" movies" (in fact, his IMDB profile only lists one film, "Cashmere," as writer), nonetheless has obviously gone through the ringer and had the meetings, done the pitches and written the assignments -- and lived to tell about it in a clear (and occasionally hysterically funny) fashion. BWS is NOT about how to write a screenplay, so do not buy it for that purpose. But for what it offers, it is an excellent read.

What I liked most about BWS is that Lent suggests a five-year plan to "make it" in Hollywood. He realizes (and points out) how this type of "dream career" can wreak havoc with "real" life (relationships, marriages, family, "real" jobs) and takes on the role of a helpful older brother who points out what awaits us if we decide to wade into the undertow of Hollywood's enticing waves.

Lent also is one of the few writers who addresses the harsh realities of "older" writers who try to sell their scripts. He doesn't hold back on anything and tells it like it is. At least he respects older writers and I appreciate his concern and sympathy for them.

In addition, he obliterates all the fairy dust and sparkle by pointing out what the handful of working screenwriters earn (85k/yr), making it clear that the idea of writing a script and becoming an overnight millionaire probably only happens in the movies (there... an idea for your next script!).

He has occasionally scathing observations, and I did sense that he was somewhat jaded and bitter -- although I do not blame him, because Hollywood is the cruelest town on earth. He's had his ideas stolen from him, he's had major projects placed in his lap -- then had them canceled at the last second -- he's taken assignments so he could survive, and not because he necessarily wanted to -- and he's dealt with the egos, the fakes, the phoneys -- you name it, he's been there, except, it seems on a major motion picture; again, I do not hold that against him. One doesn't have to be associated with a major motion picture to understand what it takes to write and sell a screenplay, and he clearly does. And he makes an excellent effort to guide the clueless and the misinformed through the muck so that they can sell their screenplay (or at least understand why they may not sell it, no matter how good it is).

He encourages people to make several short films and to have several scripts before coming to Hollywood or before hitting the pavement, and I couldn't agree with this advice more. So many people have stars in their eyes that they think the brilliance of their "high-concepts" will have them in their penthouse above Sunset before the sun sets. Highly unlikely, and Lent makes that clear, too.

The only thing I would criticize is that he mentioned a friend of his who worked the midnight shift at a copy shop so that he could have his "days free" to take meetings and write, etc. He mentioned this about three times, I'm not sure why. If you are working 12am-8am, you are going to have to sleep and it is not healthy or productive to imagine that you can have your "days free" to pursue your dreams. The only thing that has worked for me, personally, is to stop working (except for once a week gigs) and dedicate huge chunks of time to finishing my script(s). Now I can say my script is almost done because I had the time to focus on it and hardly anything else. That is a luxury, I know, and Lent makes suggestions for jobs you can do while you're trying to reach your star. To that I would say: If you say you are a writer, that's what you are. If you say you are a "personal assistant," that's what you are -- you become who you say you are, and others view you that way. Just a tip to keep in mind that I have learned the hard way.

Overall, thumbs up on this book.
10 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Every Serious Screenwriter Needs This Book! 29 juin 2004
Par planetclark - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I've been a fan of Michael Lent's column in CREATIVE SCREENWRITING magazine for years. Now he's distilled his experiences into a book like no other. Learn to write elsewhere -- learn to live and manage your screenwriting career right here.
What's the difference between an agent and a manager? How can you turn a spec script into a writing assignment? Why do 90 percent of all scripts fail to get a "Pass" grade from readers? What's the best LA map to have in your car? This book answers questions about being a screenwriter that other books don't even ask. Highly recommended. And I hope Three Rivers Press plans to publish updated editions.
8 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 THE REAL DEAL 10 juin 2004
Par viir - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
How many screenwriting books have a foreword by a studio chief like Mike Medavoy who has over 300 films and a bunch of Oscars under his belt? I don't know of any others. And I notice that veteran producer Linda Obst has this book listed on her website. Those are people from the other side of the Hollywood desk and that tells you a lot. The book is long on Here's How to Do It ... and short on pie-in-the-sky theory. If you're a writer starting to get your career going the book is kind of a well-organized reference source of strategies for many situations you're likely to encounter in Hollywood. Lent is a magazine columnist, too. His breezy, sometimes mischievous style comes through on the page. He's realistic about the difficulty of the movie business but still manages to give you hope. It's a good read that you can digest in a couple of nights but the substance sticks with you.
8 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
5.0 étoiles sur 5 Breakfast with Sharks! 31 mai 2005
Par Chris Mundell - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Wow! Full of sound advice from experience. Michael Lent is clearly someone who pays attention to the whole process. The best part is he shares it with the rest of us! This book is fun to read from start to finish. Lent constantly encourages the reader (screenwriter) to adopt an attitude of, what I would call, "strategic humility" in their business dealings. How rare!!! This stuff helps in life too! I've never written a feature length screenplay, but I still found this book efficacious in learning the ins and outs of this goofy industry. And I know goofy - [...]
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