Tag Archives: LGBT

How POWER UP & FACEBOOK changed my life …

… and to be totally honest, changed my son’s life, too.

puLogoBy definition, POWER UP is the Professional Organization of Women in Entertainment Reaching Up, the only 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Film Production Company & Educational Organization for Women and the GLBTQ Community. Before Alec was born, I had been planning on moving to SoCal to work in the film and television industry. His birth put that plan on hold for a few years. I continued to write screenplays, produce films and teach filmmaking to keep my inner fire alive. I taught 3D animation and learned to composite animated and live action elements to find new ways of telling my stories.

Alec grew up to love film as much as I did and decided he wanted to work in the industry, too. He worked in a post production house in Manhattan for three years to hone his skills. A confluence of events and it looked like we were both going to be wanting to head west to find our fortunes in LaLa Land. Our network in LA was quite small, so I started working on an idea for how to widen our circle of friends and increase our chances of success. How to do that? I felt like Winnie the Pooh … think, think, think.

Then, I recalled my friend had told me about this organization in LA that helped women be successful in the film industry. I had checked their website out years earlier and decided to revisit it. There I discovered the lists for the annual POWER PREMIERE. The Power Premiere is an annual event honoring the ten most amazing gay women (and, now, men) in the film and television industry. I read the biographies of all those women, starting searching the internet and trades for anything I could find. These were the people I wanted to be working with, the people I wanted to be meeting.

I started reading about the POWER UP events and knew I’d be able to meet some of these extraordinary people at these events but there were two problems. The events were every other month or so and I wanted a more enduring, continuing connection. So, I looked up all of the “power people” on Facebook. I could find most of them. So, I figured, what the heck, and sent a friend request.

When I started this process, most of my friends on FB were family, friends, students, fellow faculty, other indie filmmakers AND the folks I’d been meeting at the Sundance Film Festival since 1996. So, I had a good group of creative, artistic, productive friends … just very few that were inside the established industry.

priest_mI was pleased that many of them accepted my friend request. Suddenly the day-to-day professional LA conversation started to be in my daily world. There were several friends and family members (like my son) who were dubious about my plan of action. Then, one day, VFX Exec Producer Jenny Fulle accepted my friend request. (I later looked her up in IMDb and was amazed at her body of film work!) I noticed that people often teased her about her SCRABBLE prowess, accused her of memorizing the dictionary and things like that. So, one Sunday morning, Jenny sent out Facebook general distress call. She wanted to know if anyone was willing to play Scrabble with her. I accepted the challenge and was stomped into the ground. We kept playing. I asked her how she won so often and how her scores were so high. To her regret, she told me, and now I stomp her as often as she stomps me. We do have a blissful Scrabble relationship.

During our games, we conversed about our impending move, Alec’s career goals and my film aspirations. We arranged a brunch to meet face-to-face. Jenny has a son, so I felt completely comfortable bringing Alec along to the meeting. We all hit it off great and a great friendship was formed. A couple weeks later, Jenny called Alec to tell him she knew of a potential PA job on a good film. His resume was tweaked, his dress suit was dry cleaned and an interview was set. Less than two days after moving to LA, Alec had a job working on PRIEST, a multi-million dollar VFX film. It was amazingly lucky.

jennySombreroHe loves his job. The hours are long and the work is hard. He doesn’t care, he loves his job. He loves the people he works with. He loves what he is doing. Night before last, the PA’s on the film got to dress up and be extras on one of the city scenes. You never know which pieces of film they’re going to use in the final edit so Alec may not appear in the film. He said it was cold shooting all night and the shoes were uncomfortable but, I could tell, he was happy with his tiny little moment on film.

Without POWER UP, I never would have known Jenny existed. Without Facebook (and Scrabble), I never would have had the chance to develop a friendship with Jenny and she never would have met Alec. I thank heaven every day for Jenny Fulle and POWER UP. They changed both of our lives forever. Tomorrow, how POWER UP changed my life.

Your Script Can Get You a Meeting w/ Liz Sarnoff

183If you have a GREAT script that you’re ready to get in front of someone who can make a difference in your career, you now have one of the best chances in the world!

The 501(c)3 non-profit organization POWER UP recently held a 2Day TV Writer/Producer Intensive and, as part of that workshop, participants and other interested screenwriters have been offered the opportunity submit a script for review. The top FIVE screenwriters will get a 30-minute, face-to-face, one-on-one with LOST Executive Producer Elizabeth Sarnoff. Thirty minutes to discuss your writing and your career with a professional writer/producer who has written for NYPD BLUE, DEADWOOD, and LOST.

And, as contests go, the odds on this contest are pretty good. There were only about 50 writers in the workshop. If your script is good, your chances have never been better.

To put these odds into perspective, a record 6,380 scripts are in contention for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 24th annual Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowships in screenwriting competition. They will award FIVE fellowships in November. That’s right, five (5) out of 6,380 will win. Of the thousands who submit to the Sundance Screenwriting Fellowships, four (4) are chosen.

So, if your script is ready … if you are ready … the POWER UP Screenwriting Entry is online. Deadline is 15 October 2009. Submit your PDF online.

Fundraising Season

With the turning of autumn leaves comes the yearning for all things green. Money, that it. As in our greenbacks. Perhaps it is the approach of year’s end and the reminder of tax season’s approach that has so many charity events scheduled for the fall. Some folks suggest it’s the season of giving and gratitude that brings them out. Some even say it’s because the kiddies are back in school. Whatever the reason, I’ve got THREE big fund-raising events I’m wanting to attend. The 9th Annual POWER UP Power Premiere, the OUTFEST Legacy Awards 2009 and the 2009 LAGLCC Gala.

PowerUpLogoThe POWER-UP event (1 November 2009) will be honoring Honoring 10 Amazing Gay Men and Women in Showbiz. Female honorees include : RACHEL MADDOW, KELLEY McGILLIS, CAROL LEIFER, Harriet Newman Leve, Sharon Isbin, Patricia Resnick, Angela Courtin, Megan Cavanagh, Liz Feldman, and Susan Miller. Male honorees include GUS VAN SANT, DON ROOS, Silvio Horta, Lance Bass, Paris Barclay, Graham Kaye, Bob Cohen, Mark V. Olsen, C. Jay Cox, and Will Scheffer. Contributions range from $125 to $500. If you’re interested in attending, you can get more information at 323 463-3154.

outfestThe OUTFEST Legacy event (30 September 2009) will be hosted by BRUCE VILANCH and will honor ALAN POUL. LAURA LINNEY will be presenting the award. Of course, I do adore Laura Linney AND it’s for a good cause: the preservation of LGBT films. The event will be held at the Directors Guild of America. Contributions range in price from $125 to $500. If you need more information, you can call 213.480.7088 or go to OUTFEST.org.

laglccThe Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (LAGLCC) Gala (4 October 2009) will be held at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. It will be hosted by QUEER AS FOLK’S Hal Sparks with appearances by Daniella Sea, Jennifer Elise Cox (Jan Brady of the Brady Bunch), Kate Linder and Adam Bouska. They will be honoring the “Business of the Year”; “Corporate Partner of the Year” and the “LAGLCC-Raytheon Community Advancement Award Winner” as well as awarding two scholarships to “Young LGBT Business Students.” Contribution is only $100. Purchase tickets at www.LAGLCC.org.

The Front Runner Becoming a Movie!

TFRbannerTHE FRONT RUNNER was an amazing book that touched me profoundly in my tender teen years. While working on my script today, I discovered that the book is being made into a film that is scheduled for release in 2011. The film is being exec-produced by Greg Zanfardino (Alliance Filmworks/Moniker Entertainment) and produced by Tyler St. Mark (nephew of Kathy Bates).

Written by Patricia Nell Warren, The Front Runner was published in 1974. It’s the story of a cross-country coach who works at an obscure college because of his controversial personal history. Three terrific cross-country runners come to his school, one who may be Olympic material. The coach falls in love with that runner (as a former professor, this plotline is always difficult for me because of the whole ethical, imbalance of power thing but, that is my issue). The relationship is touching and the challenges as meaningful back then as they are now. The story races adroitly to a difficult resolution. I remember crying like a baby when I read the book. It was one of those “touchstone” moments in my life.

TFRscriptSo, needless to say, I was delighted to see the book is coming to mainstream culture. There were no casting announcements on the website or IMDb.

Alliance Filmworks / Moniker brought QUEER AS FOLK to the U.S. and are slated to release a second film based on another Patricia Nell Warren story. ONE IS THE SUN is the story of an Indian woman who was also a chief. Obviously Alliance/Moniker and Warren seek stories for the under-represented cultural factions. I’ll be watching for more info on both films.

In The Know with JD Disalvatore

If it’s gay in LA, you can be certain that JD Disalvatore knows all about it, is letting everyone know through her website The Smoking Cocktail and, if it’s an important event, either be attending or hosting the event! She’s got the pulse on everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING) that’s happening in town.

JD Disalvatore Honored by GLAAD

JD Disalvatore Honored by GLAAD

Recently she started The Top Ten Gay Stories of the Week on her blog. Fabulous.

Did you know they’re making a biopic of LIBERACE’s life starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Did you know Ilene Chaiken is casting for her new show? Did you know openly-gay Neil Patrick Harris is hosting the Emmy’s? Bookmark JD’s blog and you’ll be in the know, too.

How did I come to know about JD? When I was getting ready to move to SoCal, I was trying to figure out how to meet people in film and television. I was looking for GOOD networking opportunities. I was looking for a break, the inside track, and a good time.

Serendipitously, I stumbled on a flyer about the monthly Smoking Cocktail LGBT mixer JD hosts at the OBar in WeHo. It’s the third Wednesday of every month, come rain or shine or shooting schedules. So, I decided to attend. I was still living in Phoenix at the time but decided to chance the trek for one of JD’s mixers. Alec and Elisa graciously agreed to accompany me for the six-hour (each way) journey. When we got there, JD discovered we had just crossed the desert (in July) and didn’t know anyone. She hauled us around and introduced us to everyone. We met so many fun people. People on boards, people from studios, people who do indies, people who laugh and have a good time. It was soooo worth it.

As time has gone on, I’ve been to more mixers and more events. JD is always there with camera in hand. She fills the room with a good-natured, infectious throaty laugh that gets everybody going. There’s always a buzz around JD. She’s a committed filmmaker (doing God’s work, as she likes to say), an ardent activist, and a perpetual explosion of activity. As Jon Lovitz used to say, “Get to know her.” You’ll be glaad you did.

Why You Should NOT Read the POWER UP Summaries

I am now two days post POWER-UP workshop (not postal, just POST, you know after) and I am still going like a house on fire. I am so glad I did this workshop and, I am realizing, that reading about the workshops so pales in comparison to actually attending the workshop. It’s the difference between having a thimble full of water versus a gallon of water when you’re trying to cross the desert. It’s the illusion of survival versus actually thriving. If you are really committed to being successful, you need to get your butt into the chair, your name onto the list, your face into the crowd. It’s just what’s so.

Don’t get me wrong, the event was FLIPPIN’ FANTASTIC. I took 21 pages of notes. That’s right, twenty one pages of notes. And I didn’t capture everything but I sure as heck tried. (I wish the event had been recorded but that’s another story). I’ve summarized a lot of the key points in the previous posts but, as you can imagine, it isn’t close to 21 pages of content. I just don’t want to type that long and I don’t think most of you will really read it.

BUT, even if I did write it all, even if I wrote everything I thought I heard or remembered, it wouldn’t be the same as you being there. You just can’t network in abstentia. You have to get into the room. Prior to the workshop, I sent POWER-UP co-founder stacylisaStacy Codikow an email asking if this workshop was going to give us “real information AND real access.” She was polite in her reply (I might have ripped me a new one). “You’ll get out of it what you put into it, she said, “It’s up to you.” And she pushed everyone all weekend to get to know not only the presenters but the other people in the room.

Stacy was funny. Half mother hen and half drill sergeant, pushing, prodding, driving us on. She was also the “closed captioning for the new-to-the-industry-impaired.” The presenters would be talking about a pivotal moment in their career and Stacy would point to the important (and often obscure underpinnings) of the interaction. We learned how to handle a general meeting, a pitch meeting and a dinner party (never, ever pitch at a party). She also had the delicate job of pulling a couple of “guard dog” attendees off everyone. There were a few folks that, I swear, attacked any potential connection with such ferocity that they were destroying every chance they might have to succeed. Stacy delicately tried to rein them in, help them succeed in spite of themselves.

I was so delighted to hear Stacy had worked on CAGNEY AND LACEY. I so loved that show and writer Barbara Avedon was one of the first screenwriters to ever read my scripts seriously and help me along. Not only that, when Heather was pregnant with Alec, we were watching Cagney and Lacey when the contractions started. It’s always near and dear to our hearts. And I loved PROFILER and D.E.B.S. (I actually paid $50 for a ticket at Sundance to go to the premiere AND Alec got the final DEBS trading card from director Angela Robinson on a shuttle bus for me.) Weird little touchpoints.

During the course of the seminar, a woman kept standing up to comment on copyright and legal issues. I thought, who is this buzz saw in the back corner? Turns out that POWER-UP co-founder Lisa Thrasher used to work for FOX (as I recall) in the legal department. This chick knows her stuff. Apparently she does a producing workshop that focuses on making sure you get your film made and avoid as many legal pitfalls as possible. I’ll probably go to that and you are sure welcome to read about it but, if you’re smart and committed to your success, you really should get your butt in the chair. I’ll post when I know the dates.

So, now that you’ve probably read THREE blog posts on the POWER-UP event, why am I telling you NOT to do it? Because you’ll get a heck of a lot more out of it if you attend them personally instead.

POWER UP Workshop – Day Two

After an amazing first day, the question was, could the second day of the POWER UP 2Day Writer/Producer Intensive be as good as the first. The day was starting with someone I’d never heard of BUT, to be honest, she knocked my socks off. Day Two totally rocked!

laurenLAUREN IUNGERICH (pronounced YOU-KNOW-RICK) came in all bouncy with her blonde hair and her luscious vanilla-scented lotion that wafted through the room (did I mention I hadn’t had time for breakfast?) and she set the room on fire! There were the questions about her college years and internships and all that. It got really interesting when she started talking about a spoof movie she had done called SKäNK. The film was about several Scandinavian supermodel lesbians who had become directors. The models-cum-directors were named Inga, Molle, Hanna and Inga 2. They had SKäNK hats made that they distributed, posters they put up and a website … that studio officials were calling after the festival to get more information and hire these supermodels … I mean directors. Funny, irreverent, bawdy, subversive and totally hooked in to what is appealing to the market, Lauren schooled us in how to generate pilot ideas, create powerful tag lines, and how to handle yourself in a pitch meeting. Like the presenters from the previous day, Lauren affirmed that you need to connect with your material on a personal level to make it work.

Of greatest value to me was how Lauren revealed how the process works from beginning to end. First, someone reads your work and appreciates the ORIGINAL VOICE; voice is everything. Then, you’re referred to and invited in for a “General Meeting” … a get to know you soiree where everyone takes a look at what it would be like to work together (because there are long hours in television). If that goes well, a “Pitch Meeting” will follow. If one of your ideas is appealing, you will be PAID for the idea and be asked to write a pilot. Then, most likely, the idea will go no further and you’ll be out pitching another pilot idea. But, hey, you’re getting paid along the way.

Lauren’s list :

  • One of the most important elements of the pitch is how you connect with it personally.
  • NEVER leave anything behind at a pitch meeting. Your presentation should leave an indelible image in their mind and make them want more.
  • When creating your pilot, join the story in motion. Show the audience who the characters are and what they’re struggling with in their current circumstances.
  • Never rely on others. Rely on yourself. Work with effective producers.
  • In television, they buy your story and they’re buying you, too.

CarolWriter/comedian CAROL LEIFER not only wrote for SEINFELD, we hear she is the inspiration for the character of “Elaine.” While in college, Leifer was dating (then unknown) actor Paul Reiser which brought her into a milieu populated by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Leifer loved both performing stand-up comedy and comedy writing. She shared that David and Seinfeld thought the funniest things happen in real life. Any Seinfeld story based on real events was preferred. In fact, we discovered that the “Marble Rye” episode had happened to Leifer. She went to a dinner party in which the host forgot to serve the bread and the guests snuck it home with them. Leifer also affirmed that this business is all RELATIONSHIPS, you must be a pleasant person who is easy to work with. And, you must network assiduously. With a deadpan seriousness, Leifer said she still had every phone number she’d ever been given.

Carol’s suggestions :

  • You must be your own biggest fan. Always.
  • Mine the moments of your life.
  • Writers write. No one can stop you. Tell your stories.
  • Don’t hide from what you are … when you lie about your age (or whatever) the terrorists win.

lizI was so excited about the final presenter at the POWER UP event … the executive producer of my favorite show, LOST. The weekend was winding down but our enthusiasm was mounting by the minute. ELIZABETH SARNOFF started her presentation by saying she totally disagreed with what screenwriter Josh Olson had said in The Village Voice about being unwilling to read screenplays. Sarnoff said she loves original work! She said that when hiring writers for a show (like LOST), the skills AND personality of the writer come into play because you have to choose “people you want to spend 9 hours per day with, involved in a steel cage death match.” I think she was kidding. A little. Sarnoff shared a writing exercise she got from David Milch. While working with Milch, she learned to write for no less than 20 minutes, no more than 50 minutes, a scene with two characters and no setting. Just two humans deeply involved in human connection. Then, we were told to put it away for six months, come back later and discover what stories are at our heart and core. I tried the exercise and found it very useful. To be honest, I didn’t last six months. I maybe waited six hours before I read it again. And I liked it.

Liz’s tips :

  • Don’t think about writing when you’re not writing. Thinking about writing is totally ego-centric. Writing is like prayer; ego disappears.
  • Actors, when stripped of preparation, become generous, adaptive creatures.
  • More people crumble under success than failure. Success is complicated.

With POWER UP, success is still complicated but it gets a helping hand.

For more information on this event, you can look at JD Disalvatore’s blog. For more information on POWER UP, visit PowerUpFilms.org.

POWER UP Workshop – Day One

I’ve been looking forward to this workshop for weeks and, holy cow, was it worth the wait. The POWER UP 2Day TV Writer/Producer Intensive Seminar/Workshop (could they have made the title of this workshop any longer?!) was FANTASTIC. I’ve only been through one day and it’s already been worth it (and it wasn’t cheap).

ellensELLEN SANDLER, the co-executive producer of EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND was the first speaker of the day. A Jewish woman from Sioux City, Iowa (there’s a sitcom right there), Sandler went to New York to work in the theatre. Working as a READER for the legendary Joe Papp, Sandler learned how to write concise summaries with explanations of her opinion on the particular piece she was reading. After she moved to LA, she wrote a one-act play that starred Rhea Perlman (who was dating a lovely fellow named Danny DeVito who was working on a show called TAXI). Danny brought all of the TAXI folks to Rhea’s play. Afterwards, writer/producer James L. Brooks approached Sandler about writing on his show. And, as they say, the rest is history. POWER UP founder Stacy Codikow made a point that Sandler’s play was one of several that evening but she was the only one who “had the goods” when Brooks was present. She had the combination of a strong piece and the serendipitous good fortune of having Rhea Perlman in her play.

Sandler’s tips :

  • Remember that the industry is a FEUDAL SYSTEM and everyone serves the Lord. Forget it and you’ll be unemployed.
  • Get your words into the mouths of actors who have friends.
  • You’ve got to have some personal connection to the material to make it work.

janAfter lunch, JAN OXENBERG the co-exec producer of COLD CASE, consulting producer on PARENTHOOD, and writer of MY DARK PLACES and LONG ISLAND CONFIDENTIAL, shared her experience entering the industry. She was wearing awesome yellow and white tennis shoes with pale blue and white striped socks. I was lost in her shoes for a while. I’d wanted to meet Jan for a very long time. She’d worked on a lot of shows I really liked and she’d worked with Michael Mann and Ami Caanan Mann. Jan talked about how every episode of COLD CASE was a period piece and also an effort to raise social consciousness. She talked about how it is more common for producers to read an original piece of material (feature script or stage play) to get a sense of your writing ability than a series spec script. Most of all, she said everyone wants something original with a unique point of view and a strong character that just “pops.”

Oxenberg’s advice:

  • Many of the most successful TV writers have never had a show produced.
  • Television is a writer’s medium. Meredith Stiehm came from the “John Wells” school of filmmaking which means writers are taught to be producers, they have the authority and they are responsible for getting that episode made.
  • Being successful is a combination of opportunity, skill and relationship.

claudiaShowrunner CLAUDIA LONOW had the challenge of bringing up the end of the day. We were all excited but weary. Claudia came in and she was hysterical. She has an acerbic wit, dry delivery and moderately shocking observations that perked the whole room up quite quickly. I wasn’t surprised to discover that her stepdad owned The Improv and that she’d spent her entire life around comedy and comedians. I was surprised to learn she had been on KNOT’S LANDING in her teen years. After that, she fell out circulation for a while. Years later, she pitched a television series based loosely on her life. RUDE AWAKENINGS was purchased and Lonow returned as a showrunner. Lonow spoke a lot about the resilience necessary to survive in this business. Her new series (for which she is, again, the showrunner [aka top dog]) is ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE and stars Jenna Elfman.

Lonow’s list:

  • Get humor in your pitch. Don’t bore them with the story. Give them the premise, the characters, the story line.
  • Get Blake Snyder’s book SAVE THE CAT and study it.
  • When you’re looking for an agent, make sure you find one that is a FAN of your work and that you know some of the same people.

Tomorrow, I’m really excited that LOST exec producer ELIZABETH SARNOFF will be one of the guest speakers. Also, CAROL LEIFER (the inspiration for ‘Elaine’ on SEINFELD) and someone I’ve never heard of before … LAUREN IUNGERICH, a woman who has sold eight pilots! I can hardly wait.

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