Monday, October 23, 2006

3: Dream Factory

Writing is a lonely thing to do.

But theatre is a quintessentially social art. In fact, even when I'm alone writing, I'm listening to a bunch of characters talking in my head. And then there's readings, rehearsals, shows, etc.

Nonetheless, it helps to know other writers who are trying to do it since often you need to kvetch about what's going on with those characters in your head, the rehearsals and the yaddie yaddie ya.

Even moreso when it comes to writing tv and film - arts that are social in a quintessentially different way.

Which is why, when I arrived in LA in September, I gave my old friends at the Writers Boot Camp a call.

A "school" that offers classes to help aspiring tv and film writers the tools to put together spec film and tv scripts, I was a Boot Camp conscript (to boldly continue their metaphor) back in my San Francisco days. To be quite honest, I thought there were many problems with the program, but it did help me accomplish my goals: I wrote a screenplay; I got an understanding of screenplay structure; I met other writers working in the form.

It was the meeting of other writers that I was after this time. Plus, any kind of connect to the Industry might be helpful - even if I had to pay for it.

It had been a full ten years since I'd taken a class, so it was eye-opening just how big they'd gotten in LA. The offices themselves were nestled in the refurbished warehouses of Bergamot Station in Santa Monica. The parking lot was thick with luxury cars and SUVs. Production companies and art galleries occupied spaces on either side of the WBC space - which itself was large, airy and loft-like.

I sat down on the Knoll-like couches in the lobby and waited for the Boot Camp representative whom I'll call "Dave" to come down and talk with me.

We passed a glass walled room filled with about thirty actors sitting in a U on our way to another classroom to chat. "We do full readings of some of our students work occasionally," Dave explained. I'd been to a Boot Camp event or two in New York where they have another office that was little more than a room with a desk.

Dave, who'd been a standup comedian at one time, was funny and genial. He told me that most of the offices in smaller markets like San Francisco had been closed. "We found that people who were serious about this tended to move here anyway to do it."

"We have two programs, a short course and an intensive program. The intensive is 22 weeks and $7200. It's the one I recommend for most people who are serious. It will help you get a script together, rewrite and get another script together. The shorter course tends to be filled with people who are still trying to figure out how serious they are about it."

They put tv and film writers together in classes. "The tools are the same for both," Dave said.

I told him that I wasn't sure I could handle the price tag - I already owe a lot of money for my MFA. He answered by saying that there are ways - through credit cards or lay-away - to work with my pinched situation.

What about after you finish? Is there any pipeline to the Industry?

"If you go on the Web site, you'll see we have quite a few success stories. And we're working on creating a production company as well."

It wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear, but it was true - the site was full of stories from alumni who'd gone on to bigger and better things - though I seemed to remember vague chat about the production company stuff 10 years ago.

Do you drop people who are no good?

"No, I can't say we do. Though you'll get a pretty strong indication if you're not coming up with stuff that's any good."

Again, I have to say, I was hoping to hear something else - that you'd get canned if you sucked. Especially since I'd gone to an advertising portfolio school where that's what they did. Because of that they were able to claim - at the time - to have a 99% placement rate if you actually graduated. Few did - but that was often because they found jobs before they had to pay for the final semester.

Here, however, I had to kick myself under the table. It was an unfair comparison on my part. The movie and tv industries were/are significantly different from advertising.

Dave inadvertently reminded me of that near the end of our conversation: "We can help you get a couple of scripts together and ready. Hopefully, what happens is you get those in a producer’s hands and they like you and remember you next year when you give them some new material. It's a long process."

We ended our interview with some conversation about the Dodgers. Dave's kids were big into baseball and he was heading off to go watch one of their games.

Eventhough I'm no Dodgers fan (I'm for the Evil Empire), it made me like Dave immensely.

This is the Writers Boot Camp logo. Only it's not the stars and stripes being raised, it's a pen.

No, really. It is.


P'tit Boo said...

Hey. Just want to say i came here via all the other theatre bloggers and i am loving what i've read !
Putting you in my rss feeds.

Cheers !

Malachy Walsh said...

Thanks so much.... and right back at you!