Sunday, November 05, 2006


Sorry for the lack of blogging lately. This semester has been kicking my butt -- between three classes and travel for film festivals and other things, I'm just flat-out exhausted and getting very little work done.

I did make time to apply for summer financial support to work on my next film. Rejected by the University. It's not the rejection itself that bugs me; what bugs me is finding out from a colleague on the committee that, essentially, the committee feels as though this is "just part of your job description" since I teach filmmaking. Now, I can buy that they expect professors to do research/creative activity without extra support. But when they OFFER extra support, specifically for research projects and creative activity, this just smacks of a major double standard that ticks me off. So it's okay to give money to so-called "scholars" who are working on their next books, but not to the filmmaker working on his next film? At the risk of sounding whiny, it's the worst kind of academic elitism. And not for nothing, but it takes a major investment of time and money to make a feature film -- much more than it takes for a book. I'm not saying a film is more valuable than an academic book, but this double standard makes it clear where my "liberal arts" oriented colleagues stand. Not that I know any of the colleagues on this committee. With nearly 1000 faculty at the university (including lecturers and temporary faculty), how could I know all the people I need to know to be taken seriously???

In other news, the film has been doing pretty well, having just played at a semi-major film festival. At the moment, there are no other fests coming up, though I'm waiting to hear from a few. I have finished another script for my next feature, and I have two short documentary projects I'm about to embark upon, if I can pull everything together. So there's no shortage of creative ideas, but a serious shortage of funds and time.

Nevertheless, I'm moving forward with everything. It's nice to have ideas and to feel like I can make them happen, but I admit it would be nice to have a little travel money!

P.S. -- Is anyone still reading this blog? If anyone is still out there, please leave a comment. I'm not in any way pressuring or trying to pull people out of their comfort zones. I'm just really curious if I've lost all my readership after the recent long layoff(s) from blogging.


At 4:05 PM, Blogger Dani said...

I still read.

At 4:27 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

thanks, dani.

At 5:08 PM, Blogger AJG said...

I just started reading your blog, actually. I stumbled upon it whilst daydreaming of quitting my office job and becoming a screenwriter. I was hoping you might offer some advice. While I'm realistic about the unlikelihood of a grain of sand standing out in a vast desert, the optimist in me can't seem to let that dream die.

I'm 38, so I'm off to a late start in this endeavor. I have a reasonably strong English background (thanks, Mom), but my education consists of an Associates degree in Radio & TV Broadcasting that I've done nothing with since 1990 - not exactly an MFA from NYU.

Therefore, I ask you - How important is an arts degree to a budding screenwriter and does the film school one attends play any role in whether a reader turns to page one?

What would you recommend I do to get started, assuming I choose to tread this foolhardy path of rejection, disappointment and misery?

Best Regards,

At 5:17 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

The degree means exactly zero.

Well, okay, that's overstating it a BIT. But it really doesn't mean a whole lot in terms of getting someone to read your scripts.

I understand your optimism. Every budding screenwriters has it, and you need that to keep going, because times are going to be TOUGH, believe me.

If you really want to pursue this thing, I'd find a way to get some education in screenwriting, not to get an MFA (unless you want to teach), but just to know how to do what you want to do. Go to workshops, or UCLA extension, or whatever (I don't know where you are, so what you do is dependent on that, of course). The main thing is -- learn the craft.

Don't worry about your age. I mean, it's definitely a drawback in Hollywood, but if your writing is terrific and your story ideas marketable, it won't matter a whole lot. Location will matter more -- I'm not in L.A., and that has caused me no end of troubles, I'll tell you.

Anything else I can help you with, email me.

At 5:34 PM, Blogger AJG said...

Thanks very much for the info. So, can I interpret that as meaning that workshops will do as much as film school with respect to learning the craft? I've got a few books on the subject (one of which spends its first chapter trying to talk the reader out of pursuing a career in screenwriting), so I've got a pretty good idea of the downside, including the whole "good luck finding an agent" thing. I'm brushing up on format now and I've recently ordered Final Draft for further motivation.

I understand the importance of location, but I doubt I'll ever be a west coaster. I presently live in the Tampa Bay area, but have plans to relocate to Delaware in the next couple of years, just a stone's throw from NYC. Will that do?

I'm sure every writer believes he/she/it has great story ideas. All I know for sure is that mine can't be any worse than what's being greenlighted these days.

Best of luck with your film! That's got to be exciting for you.

Thanks again,

At 7:14 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

You can interpret that as saying that the right workshop and the very dedicated student can substitute for film school. And keep reading the books and the websites -- many of them say the same thing in different ways, and much of it is worth reinforcing.

Format is important, but story is moreso. Being close to NY certainly isn't a bad thing, but the industry is really in L.A., so if you're not there, it doesn't matter that much where else you are. There are a few companies in NY, but not many.

As far as your ideas not being worse than what's being greenlighted, I encourage you to think about it more fruitfully. What you're saying is what screenwriter Terry Rossio calls "crap plus one"

Read his column at: CRAP PLUS ONE

In fact, read all his columns.

Here's an excerpt from that column: "My writing partner, Ted Elliott, points out the fallacy of this thinking. "To look at the crap that's out there, and aim for just better than that, isn't much of a goal," he says. "'Crap-plus-one' isn't really worth aspiring to. And it's not much of a career strategy." Better to be inspired by the classics and aim for that level, he says, even if it's never reached.

I agree, but for another, more practical reason: a film you see in the theater tells you nothing about the original screenplay that propelled that film into production.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger AJG said...

I have actually been reading those columns for the past hour or so. Wordplay is a gold mine. I read "Crap-plus-one" aloud to my wife and cannot wait to read more.

I understand LA is the place to be and I'm fine with going out there to pitch and whatnot as long as I don't have to live there.

I keep reading about competitions. Are these types of awards as valuable as they are made out to be?

At 3:28 PM, Blogger AJG said...

Ok, I realize I'm a newbie, so bear with me if this is a stupid question. From what I understand, the consensus is that every scene must have conflict. What is the screenwriter's definition of conflict? It would seem to me that there are scenes in every film without conflict. Where's the conflict in a love scene? Children playing and laughing? Can you clarify this for me?


At 2:13 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...


Sorry for the delayed response. Lots of grading underway right now.

Every scene has to have conflict of some sort. The level of that conflict might differ. People and their goals in a scene might be in conflict. In a love scene, it might be a simple "physical" conflict of struggling to get your clothes off (or the struggle between the two participants as to who is "in charge" of the lovemaking). If there's no conflict inherent in the scene, it's just window-dressing and doesn't need to be there (even a love scene -- after all, the lovemaking itself can be implied in its aftermath, and we can stay on the conflict).

That's not to say films don't have scenes without conflict. But they shouldn't.

Even a scene like Dustin Hoffman walking down the street in drag for the first time in TOOTSIE has conflict. On the surface it seems like a simple reveal -- big crowd of people, then we see a woman, then we realize it's Dustin Hoffman in drag (and, presumably, we laugh). But as he walks down the street, he struggles to stay upright because of his high heels. Physical conflict. Small, but present nonetheless.

Look at a scene in terms of conflicting objectives. What does each character want, and how do those things come into conflict?

At 7:55 PM, Blogger AJG said...

A broad definition, then. I see.

One last thing and I'll stop pestering you (for a day or two). Is it best to work on one project at a time, given that there may be non-productive periods, or would it be beneficial to work on two or more, allowing time away from each story so the brain can come back refreshed?

Thanks again for your insight.


At 7:19 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...


Personally, I tend to do better when focused on one project, all the way through to completion.

OTOH, when like is really busy, sometimes it's good to be able to jump into whichever project you are feeling inspired by.

I guess I'm currently juggling about three different projects, but that is more a product of academia and the need to keep several projects in the "pipeline" so I always have something going, depending on which one gets funded or "happens" at any given time.

At 8:30 PM, Blogger AJG said...

I appreciate all of your input. I think I'll start with the story I have the most interest in, put the first draft in the closet, write two or three other screenplays, then dust it off and do a rewrite. I've got to get it on paper now, though, while my brain is pumping out ideas for it. I wouldn't want my best story idea to be stunted by my inexperience.

Thanks again for the information. You've been most helpful.

Best Regards,

At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Chuck said...

I'm back. Missed a couple of entries, but catching up.

At 8:43 PM, Blogger TerminalMFA said...

i missed many myself, with all the time off from posting... thanks for coming back, chuck.


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