Posts tagged #Film

Eric Garcia: Novelist & Screenwriter

ERIC GARCIA is an internationally bestselling novelist and screenwriter, behind such books and films as the Ridley Scott-directed MATCHSTICK MEN and THE REPOSSESSION MAMBO, which was made into the film REPO MEN, starring Jude Law and Forest Whitaker. His comedy noir ANONYMOUS REX series (Anonymous Rex, Casual Rex, Hot and Sweaty Rex) was made into a TV movie, and his novel CASSANDRA FRENCH’S FINISHING SCHOOL FOR BOYS is in development as a TV series, which he is writing and executive producing. He is presently at work on his next novel. As a screenwriter and producer, he is currently in post-production on the Brian Cox-starring psychological thriller THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE, and in preproduction on his adaptation of John Searles’ STRANGE BUT TRUE. He lives in Southern California with his wife, 2 daughters, and more pets than are probably necessary.


Name: Eric Garcia

Age: 43

College & Majors/Minors: Went to Cornell as an English major, transferred junior year to University of Southern California as a Film major, then switched back to the English Major. Ended with a major in English and a concentration in Creative Writing (sorry you asked?)

Current Location: Outside Los Angeles

Current Form of Employment: Novelist/Screenwriter

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I’ve been very fortunate to have a career as a working writer, which is good because I don’t have any particular skills that lend themselves to anything else. I guess I cook relatively well, but if you threw me onto a line in a professional kitchen I’d be bleeding and scalded within minutes. I used to be a fairly proficient guitar player but nobody wants me in a studio. Oh, I’m crackerjack at hunting down random things on the internet. Does that count? Does that pay?

These days, I work primarily in film and television as a writer and producer, though I began as a novelist and continue to work in that world, as well. My actual projects depend on the day, factored in order by what’s most pressing, what’s most interesting, and what randomly seems like it might be fun to try out. 

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

Well, my first job ever wasn’t writing-related at all—it was teaching test prep for Kaplan. This was right after college, and I needed a gig while I worked on my first novel. Fortunately, my wife graduated from college a year after me and went into teaching, which, along with parental assistance, helped pay the bills. 

Anonymous Rex
By Eric Garcia

My first writing-related gig came when I sold my first book, Anonymous Rex, a few years after I graduated. I’d been working on it for a year or so, showing it to a few friends here and there, getting notes, rewriting, making tweaks, and then left it in a drawer for a couple years. Finally, on advice from a friend (the classic “it’s not doing anybody any good sitting in a drawer”) I decided to find an agent. Since the book was… odd… I figured I’d have my best shot at finding someone who also repped other odd bits of fiction, so I went through my bookshelf and picked out the books I thought fit my style the best. I then called the publisher of each and finagled my way into finding out who the agents were (sometimes I’d ask for the spoken word rights, which are usually reserved by the author). Got a list of five different agents who repped the various books, sent out some queries with a sample chapter… and waited. 

Three of them I never heard back from (I’m still waiting! It’s only been 18 years!), one of them sent a polite no thanks, but one wrote back to say she loved the chapter and was eager to read more. I printed out the rest and shipped it off and two weeks later got a phone call from the woman who would become my first agent. Barbara gave me some (excellent) notes on the book, and while I implemented those, she began talking to editors and, long story (not so) short, a few weeks later she’d sold it to Random House. Aside from Barbara’s excellent salesmanship, so much of it was an amazing mix of luck and timing and specific needs, and I’ll always be grateful that it all happened as quickly as it did. I was 25, and just assumed at the time that everything would always be so easy. Ah, the folly of youth…

From there, I continued writing novels while slowly getting into screenwriting, starting with the script for the Anonymous Rex TV pilot (which eventually got shot a few years later as a 2-hour backdoor pilot for SyFy, rewritten by a different guy), and then slowly transitioning into a half-and-half career as the screenwriting started to take up more of my time. 

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

So I accidentally lied on that last question—my first paying job was not teaching test prep. I had two paying gigs when I was a kid that were both tangentially writing-related. First, in sixth grade, my friend Josh and I would dress up as Alvin and Theodore Chipmunk (Simon was “sick at home”) and do rockin’ birthday party entertaining for younger kids. We wrote the scripts ourselves, workshopped them as we got feedback, and made some cash while having a great time. I still do an excellent chipmunk impression, by the by; ask me about it if you meet me. Or maybe I’ll Vine it one of these days.

My second job, also writing-related, came about summer of my junior year of high school, when my friend Mark and I created a business called Up A Creek. Keep in mind, this was Miami in the late 80s, so there were old people and VCRs in abundance (and cocaine, too, I guess, but that’s not germane to this story), which meant that there were a lot of elderly folks who had no idea how to set up and program their equipment. We’d put out flyers, they’d call us, and we’d go to their homes, set up their devices with big bright stickers we’d place over the various buttons, and I’d write each one a customized manual on how to do whatever it is they wanted done—record their favorite soap opera, set a weekly reminder, etc. It was technical writing of a very simple sort, but more than anything else it helped teach me the need to be clear, specific, and concise (and, fine, I clearly haven’t learned the ‘concise’ part well, but cut me some slack here).

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

I’d always planned on being an English major, and that was my intent when I went to Cornell. The English degree there had a lot of interesting core classes with some fascinating higher-level writing courses and workshops as well—but I ended up leaving Cornell during the winter of my junior year to transfer to USC. This was partially to join the USC Film program, as I’d decided that I wanted to get an education in screenwriting as well, but also because I simply couldn’t take the oppressive winters at Cornell any more. I was born in the tropics, I live in the desert. I need my sun. So at USC I was a Film major for a bit—before pivoting back to English, partially because I decided that I wasn’t all that interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking, and partially because T.C. Boyle was teaching the upper-level workshops for English/Creative Writing majors. I’d always been a huge fan of his work and was excited to have him as a mentor. His advice and guidance led me back to prose, and without a doubt set me back on a path to writing novels. 

My freshman year at Cornell, I’d been in an improv group called the Whistling Shrimp, but soon felt the call toward what I really loved, which was sketch comedy. Having been a huge Python/Second City/SNL fan for many years, I was missing the snap of a perfectly planned and executed scene. So I formed Cornell’s first sketch comedy group, called—probably unfortunately —the Skits-O-Phrenics. Yes, I’m aware the name is insensitive at best. Yes, as a student I was adamant that we not change it. Yes, I look back on it now with an eye-roll. But: we were all responsible for writing our own sketches, then bringing them in where we’d talk them out, refine them as a group. Sometimes they’d go up, sometimes they’d get trashed, sometimes they’d be reworked into something completely different. But we made sure they worked before we put them up on stage. If the experience did nothing else, it taught me the benefits of collaboration—especially when you don’t always agree with everyone else in the group. How to navigate those waters, how to take conflict and make it benefit of the work. That’s something I do every single day in the film/tv world (and to some degree as a novelist, though that really is a much more solitary profession until the editors get involved). 

Also, while I was at USC, I interned at production company called The Ruddy Morgan Organization, headed by Godfather producer Al Ruddy and his producing partner Andre Morgan. I started by answering phones and making coffee (which I only did twice because I was terrible at it, and they preferred another intern take over), and moved up to reading scripts, writing coverage, and doing whatever else they thought I might be good at. During the years that I worked at RMO (a summer and a year as an intern, then a year as a part-time paid hire), they produced a number of features, and it was fascinating to watch the process from beginning to end. The failures were probably even more instructive than the successes—how does something go from a fantastic 120 pages of paper to turn out… as something less? And this, meanwhile, under the guidance of a fantastic producer like Al. Some of it was in the writing, no doubt; some of it was in the filmmaking. Some was just the process itself. 

Finally, I also took the time I had during college and just wrote. Mainly short stories, a few scripts, but the point was that I felt like I had time to just write and not worry about the rest of it. I always felt older than I was, was always worried that time was passing me by—that’s my own personal anxiety folder—but I knew that college was a time when I could find my voice and get down on paper (mid-90s—we still printed things out) whatever I wanted to without fear of judgment or loss. 

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Write, write, write. Don’t stop writing. I know, everyone says it, but that’s because it’s true. Whoever you are, whatever your age and station, find time to write about whatever interests you. DON’T WORRY ABOUT SELLING IT. That will come. If I worried about selling my work when I started, I would have ground down all the weird, oddly-shaped edges—and I believe it’s the weird, oddly-shaped edges that sold it in the first place. The projects that have done the best for me have been those that I’ve created as a labor of love; the commerce came afterward.  

Immerse yourself in a bunch of different worlds, by the way. As a typical English/Theatre geek I took a lot of literature and drama courses, and assumed I wasn’t all that interested in science—but when I had to take a science course to satisfy some core requirements at USC I was fascinated and have now become quite the lay-science nerd—my feeds and flipboard are filled with subs and follows of all sorts of science-related matters—and I incorporate ideas I find in those subjects into so many of my projects. 

Obviously, I’ve been fortunate enough to use my English major as a foundation for what is clearly a writing-heavy career—but I really can’t stress enough how important I feel an English degree is to nearly any career that’s not specifically technical or engineering-realted. Proper communication is key in every aspect of every job out there—and in this day and age, written communication is more important than ever. 

Plus it’s fun. Did I mention that it’s fun?

You can follow Eric Garcia on Twitter


Posted on April 13, 2016 and filed under Writing, Screenwriting.

Leslie Nelson: President & Creative Director @ VisualConcepts.tv

Name: Leslie Nelson

Age: 49

College & Majors/Minors: English major/interdisiciplinary (English, History, Art 1850-1945)

Current Location: San Diego, CA

Current Employment: President/Creative Director of VisualConcepts.tv, LLC

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I currently run a video production company, VisualConcepts.tv, LLC in conjunction with my husband, Mark Nelson, who is a director of photography. I act as account executive, putting together estimates for video shoots and coordinating them. I also manage post-production, working with video editor and motion graphic designers.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different). 

Since I had studied overseas in Oxford for a year during college (my entire junior year) I was quite obsessed with Britain so I secured a work permit and went back after graduating. I had a neighbor that worked for a publishing company and she had asked me to help edit a grammar textbook for her over that summer. This was 25 years ago, so it didn't require sophisticated computer skills, but I really learned a lot about grammar in the process of editing this book. After this, she also gave me the opportunity to write about five entries for a children's encyclopedia that I could send back from England and get paid as a freelancer. I wrote about topics such as the Commonwealth and the Industrial Revolution. This was a great experience to learn how to write in an easy to understand manner.

So though I had this income, the publishing company wasn't paying me much so I sought out an internship. I proceeded to get a paid internship working for a small ad agency with four men who had all worked for the big ad agency J. Walter Thompson. It was not easy. I had interviewed at the many of the ubiquitious London temp agencies and gotten nowhere and I had been to numerous restaurants without a hint of interest from anyone. One of my friends from Oxford told me about a start up ad agency. I got to work under the creative director. He didn't throw much my way, but he did let me give him some ideas and taught me how to sell through copywriting and I also got to watch him design. I also spent time talking with the partner that did the marketing research and he explained how market research was done in places like Africa and other international locations. The other two partners included the technical numbers guy who processed the marketing research data and then the president who was more apt to be dishing out Bloody Marys in the morning and hosting plenty of lengthy client lunches at the Cafe Fleur down the street.

I think they wanted to have their agency filled with bright young people because that was what they were used to. However, they had all of their big agency habits, and after 3 months, the stationers came by wanting payment for their letterhead one day and shortly thereafter, my checks started bouncing. So I headed east and became a waitress in Bath, England in a cafe working for Canadians. I finally was able to collect on bounced checks with help from my new employer. This experience and learning to be persistent on getting this payment was one of the most helpful experiences to prepare me for small business.

After working as an intern at the Museum of Photographic Arts in San Diego and for a three-person marketing consulting company in San Diego for about six months upon my return, I decided to start doing freelance copywriting and start my own business. I was 23. Over the course of eight years, I wrote sales letters, ads, business plans, wrote and designed brochures, edited manuscripts and enjoyed working with graphic designers. I learned a lot about how to write sales-driven copy that generated results. Then, after meeting my husband, I had the opportunity to work on a video production, so I dove in and read all the books I could on video scriptwriting. With time, he started his own video production business and shortly thereafter we merged our two companies into one. That was 15 years ago and we're still going. We no longer do print work and my writing goes as far as video scripts, proposals, emails, and web content.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career? 

Some of the summer jobs and internships I had helped shape my direction. My junior year of high school, I worked for San Diego Home & Garden Magazine. I got to work under the copy editor, where I learned to edit, and then spent some time talking with the amazing editor, Peter Jensen. He really helped me learn how you could use the English language to tell a compelling story in a very natural way. He was a great writer, and could take his readers to different places with such ease. Part of the internship enabled me to write a published article. So I learned how to do a photo scout, seeking out homes in San Diego with attractive, well designed game rooms. I learned which homes had the visual interest in order to be featured in the magazine, and then I got to interview different homeowners and sought out the best content for the article, and ultimately wrote a solid article. The time I spent talking with Peter really helped me understand how important his philosophical love of the written word affected the magazine's content and the company's culture.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

In college, I participated in a lot of intramural sports. I played ultimate Frisbee and tennis at Stanford, and then in England, I participated in Cuppers (the British word for intramurals) rowing, ballroom dance, and swimming and just about any other college sport that I had a change to participate in. Once I returned from England my senior year, I proceeded to organize an Oxford-type ball like they had in England at Oxford University's different colleges. It was no simple task, but we put on a great event in the end and I learned a ton about event planning.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Being an English major opens up a lot of possibilities and it's up to you to start cracking open the different doors and peering in to see if there's anything attracting you behind the doors as you consider different career options. Try things out that interest you. Go to a professional association meeting if you want to know more about a particular field. Talk to people working in areas that you are interested in. Offer to take them out for a quick lunch or coffee and see if you share any passions. Read books and blogs about areas that you want to learn more about. Call people up and talk to them and ask them what they do and what they like about their job. Listen and watch those who you admire. I think I learned so much from George Stock, the creative director in England, just by watching him work and listening to him and also from Peter Jensen in the discussions I had with him. Nowadays, I learn a lot listening to my husband explain technical information on camera and lighting gear. This is how you gain direction with a major that is extremely broad. Find out what types of samples you need for your niche or any technical classes you need and then get going and sign up. Also, check back with people you met in the past as you gain new experiences. You never know what new opportunities may open up.

Visit VisualConcepts.tv to learn more about Leslie's work, and take a look at one of their demos!

Posted on May 19, 2014 and filed under Communications, Copywriting, Filmmaking, Freelance, Self-Employed, Writing.

Dan Moyer Jr.: Screenwriter

DearEnglishMajor_DanMoyer

Name: Dan Moyer Jr.

Age: 26

College & Majors/Minors: English, minor in Philosophy

Current Location: Los Angeles, CA

Current Form of Employment: Screenwriter

Where do you work and what is your current position?

Simply put: everything and anything. That’s what it takes to make a living as a freelance writer. Someone need a review written? I can do that. Need a product description for a catalogue? Sure, I can do that, too. Every job you get makes it easier to get the next one. Work your way up the ladder. I truly believe the adage: “Do what you have to, so you can do what you want to.” Living that way has taken me some pretty interesting places.

For example, I got to tour with one of Randy Jackson’s recording artists on Warped Tour in 2012. I lived on the bus, did a lot of partying and drinking with bands like Yellowcard and New Found Glory, and all I had to do was blog about our adventures. Basically, I got to live the Almost Famous life for 33 days. Now, I live in LA. I work from home, for myself, as a screenwriter. I’ve adapted novels. Done re-writes. Written biopics. I’m still not at the point where I can to do everything I want to do, but I’m still climbing. Still hustling. Because it’s not enough to be a good writer. There are thousands of good writers out there. You have to be a good salesperson, too. You have to sell yourself.

What kind of projects have you been working on recently?

Unfortunately, I've signed an NDA for most of my recent work, so I can't talk too much about it. But here's what I can tell you:

  • I recently wrote the synopsis and character one-sheets for actor Matthew Modine's upcoming project, The Rocking Horsemen, which he plans to direct.
  • My original TV pilot, The Edgelands, was highlighed by The Black List this month. The Black List is a list of the top unprodcued screenplays in the industry.

Tell us about how you found your first job— what was the process like?

After I graduated (and after a drunken conversation on the beach), I moved to LA with a friend of mine who was going to be attending USC’s engineering school. He said to me, “You’ve always wanted to go to Hollywood, right?” A few days later, I signed a lease for an apartment on the other side of the country (in a city I had never been to, mind you) and the job hunt began! I applied for every internship I could think of. Every opening. I lined up six or seven interviews for my first few days in LA, and luckily, I got one. It was with a small film acquisition company in the NBC building. Exciting at first, but the long hours, cold calls, and commission-based pay got old— fast. But they happened to be down the hall from a small development company. I just walked into their offices one day and told the boss, “Look – I went to school to be a writer. Not a telemarketer. I have this script…” He read it, liked it, and hired me as a staff writer to polish some screenplays they had optioned. That job gave me all sorts of insight into the industry. How scripts get made. How they get bought, sold. Turned into movies. I attended premiers. The American Film Market. Eventually, I learned enough to know that I could make more money as a freelancer, jumping from project to project, company to company. And so – here I am.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

I’ve done a lot of editing over the years (even though I’ve always considered myself a writer first, speller second). A lot of blogging, too. I did both for an energy company that was based out of Singapore. Found the job through a Craigslist ad. That side-job helped pay my bills in between scripts. It’s always important to have a side gig. A lifeline. Can’t put all your eggs in one basket, because what happens then? Someone doesn’t pay on time. You can’t make rent. It’s you who winds up getting evicted— not them.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life? 

You know how they say college isn’t for everyone? I always felt like that. I didn’t need college, I thought. I hated going to class. Hated taking classes I didn’t care about. But I stuck with it. Got my degree. And thank God I did. I had a brief internship in New York City working for New Line Cinema in the Merchandising Department when I was a sophomore. It was a good learning experience – got to sit in on a few product integration meetings, plus I got a lot of free stuff – but what I learned most was that the “9-5, commute to the city job” wasn’t for me. I just wasn’t happy. 12-hour days. Filing. Half-hour lunch breaks. Groan. I quit after a month or so.

The lesson? If you aren’t sure what you want to do with your life, keep crossing things off the list until you find it. For me, it was screenwriting. Always loved movies. Loved writing short stories. But it wasn’t until I opened my college newspaper one day and read an article about a one-week student film competition that I put it all together. They gave me a camera, Macbook Pro, final cut, tripod – you name it. My friends and I spent the next week skipping class and staying up all night working on our film. I loved every second of it. Even the painful ones. For the first time, I loved the process of something. We made the top 10 that year. I dropped every education class I had (I was going to be an English teacher) and enrolled in every film and screenwriting class I could. The next year, I had two films in the top 10. Year after that, I was in LA. Things move quickly once you’re inspired. In the meantime, just keep crossing careers off your list.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

My advice would be this: never settle for anything in life. Don’t just become a teacher because you’re not sure what else to do with your expensive education. No, I don’t make a lot of money, and yes, some months are more stressful than others – but you know what? I’m my own boss. I love the hustle. And I haven’t woken up to an alarm clock since I graduated. That, to me, is true happiness. So whether you’re reading this and you’re in a good mood, or you’re depressed because all your friends seem to have their futures so “figured out,” remember this – the people who think they’ve reached the end of the line in their twenties are usually the ones who’ll have a mid-life crises. So keep searching for that dream job. Learn to take “no” and move on. Successful people are built on the rejection of others.

Posted on April 9, 2014 and filed under Writing, Self-Employed, Freelance, Blogging, Filmmaking, Screenwriting.

Christine Stoddard: Writer/Filmmaker, Co-owner & Creative Director of Quail Bell Press & Productions

ChristineStoddard.jpg

Name: Christine Stoddard

Age: 25

College & Majors/Minors: Virginia Commonwealth University, School of the Arts (VCUarts)—Film B.A., English/Creative Writing B.A., Product Innovation Certificate, and minors in French, Spanish, and European Studies.

Current Location: I go between Greater Washington and Richmond, VA, but I also travel frequently, depending on where work takes me.

Current Form of Employment: Writer/Filmmaker, Co-owner & Creative Director of Quail Bell Press & Productions

Where do you work and what is your current position?

I am very lucky to write and make films. Most recently, I co-wrote the book Images of America: Richmond Cemeteries (Arcadia Publishing) with Misty Thomas. The book has a companion documentary that I am directing called Richmond's Dead and Buried. Richmond's Dead and Buried centers on the stories of Richmond's cemeteries, including a developer's controversial proposal to build a baseball stadium over a slave burial ground. The documentary will be released later this year. 

While at VCUarts, I studied under experimental filmmaker Mary Beth Reed, a student of Stan Brakhage, and have since become fascinated with the process of experimental stop-motion animation in particular. This spring, I will be showcasing some of my animations and experimental shorts at the New York Transit Museum in Manhattan and the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond. Many of my writing and film projects fall under what I call the Quail Bell umbrella, after Quail Bell Press & Productions. That is the arts, communications, and media production firm I run with Kristen Rebelo, an illustrative graphic designer. We work directly with clients and also creative original projects. One such project is Quail Bell Magazine. That is our fairy punk magazine dedicated to the imaginary, the nostalgic, and the otherworldly. I am the editor and Kristen is the art director.

Previously, I have done work for the Smithsonian Latino Center, WashingtonPost.com, WETA-PBS of Greater Washington, Teatro de la Luna, Virginia Living Magazine, Maryland Women's Journal, Washington Life Magazine, and others. I am also a proud AmeriCorps alumna.

Tell us about how you found your first job, and how you found your current job (if different).

I guess you could say that my first job was as a freelancer writer and collagist. I've been getting paid to do what I love for a while now, thanks to hard work and a network of great mentors. In high school, I wrote for different online clients, especially AssociatedContent.com. I also won poetry, playwriting, and essay-writing contests with cash prizes. Every once in a while, I made illustrative collages for 'zines and private clients, too. Those collages became the basis for the animation work I do now. I tutored regularly, as well: Spanish, French, and English composition. That tutoring experience became very handy later on when I applied for AmeriCorps and eventually a contract position at Writopia Lab. My first big break came when I was 16. Editor Betsy Franco selected my poem for publication in her book Falling Hard: Love Poems by Teenagers (Candlewick Press). And what do you know? The New York Times gave the book a positive review. These early opportunities and accomplishments formed the basis for a successful freelance career.

What was another writing-related job that was important in your career?

Definitely anything I've done related to film and television production because it's helped inform my written stories. But also teaching. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, I served at a Title I elementary school my last year of college. Everyone—even the smallest of children—has stories, and these stories matter.

What did you do in college to prepare for your post-grad life?

I chose what I wanted and I pursued it. I knew that I wanted to keep writing and get into filmmaking, so I thought strategically about how I could achieve such things. I actively freelanced, interned, contributed to university media, and sniffed out undergraduate research and travel grants. The library, the student media center, and the editing studio were my on-campus havens. I also did an independent study two semesters in a row with the aforementioned Mary Beth Reed. That being said, I was also selective. I generally knew when to say no. I tried to participate in activities I knew would be genuinely worthwhile.

What is your advice for students and graduates with an English degree?

Take an academically rigorous workload, but balance those courses with professional experiences that will build your real-world skills. Read and read a lot—just don't end there. Start engaging with your campus and your community your freshman year. You'll regret waiting until the semester you graduate. Sometimes you'll have to make the hard choice of doing what you have to do versus what you want to do. Baking Club might be fun, but unless you want to become a food writer, your time might be better spent on the library committee or on staff at the school paper. 

If you have to work to pay for school (and the reality is that most students do), try to take work that will lead to the sort of opportunities you want after graduation. If you want to teach English in a foreign country, for instance, get teaching experience now. Tutor in the campus writing center or at the neighborhood elementary school. If you want to get into publishing, see if a faculty member or local author will pay for proofreading, clerical tasks, or social media promotion. Be resourceful and don't be afraid to ask your professors for guidance. Most of them want to help. You just have to take the initiative. You'll find that some of them won't let you give up! When you're taking 18 credits and wondering how you're going to pay your expenses one semester, that encouragement will fuel you. Treasure that encouragement because if you think school is hard, the real world is harder.

Christine's portfolio of work can be found online: