Saturday, February 10, 2007


I had a quick thought and decided to jot it down here. I guess it's less of a thought and more of an experience I thought I'd share - not that I expect anyone to really care.

Normally, I feel compelled to post some ponderous entry and would never consider typing up some random musings that probably have very little significance. But I suspect that’s the real purpose of a blog anyway.

This is sort of twofold, since I did get a question wondering about the SHERWOOD OAKS EXPERIMENTAL COLLEGE. It asked: Have you ever heard of Sherwood Oaks Experimental College? I visited their website, and must admit, I was quite seduced. They proclaim that they'll give writers inside access to heavies such as Paul Haggis and William Monahan and Guillermo Arriaga. They have a two-day affair in June in which writers can schmooze with agents from ICM, CAA and Endeavor, among others. Is this a legit way to further myself?

Gary Shusett founded and has operated the “college” for a zillion years, and it is very respectable. Gary is a producer (MOON OVER PARADOR) and the brother of ALIEN screenwriter Ron. The sincere and ubiquitous Gary works endlessly to bring in guests to meet with writers. As one person put it, “Gary is like Chinese water torture. He keeps coming and coming until you have to say ‘yes.’” I was once on a panel he organized at the same place and time as the Oscar nominee lunch. And when unsuspecting nominees walked by his conference room en route to their celebration, Gary pounced like a trapdoor spider, pulling in his hapless victims and sucking their blood until they agreed to meet the writers. Overall, he provides plenty of bang for the buck.

But, in general, these events are rarely about career advancement, because they are packed with clawing writers fighting for the attention of just a few. It can be overwhelming for Haggis and Arriaga – like being the only fat guy with an invite to the Donner Party. It’s best to attend these events as an educational opportunity and a chance to meet other writers, which, by the way, is a very legit way to advance yourself. Keep your expectations realistic about making significant industry contacts at any of these gatherings. Of course, if you have the ability to sink your teeth into some producer or agent, by all means, dig in.

Earlier today, I arranged for a half-dozen of our Agent Trainees to meet with budding filmmakers at an event staged by the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. These trainees had never been to such an event, and I thought it was a good opportunity, so I took Gary up on his invitation for a Q&A between the hopeful filmmakers and the hopeful agents. (I didn’t partake in the festivities, since there's no hope left for me; I chaperoned and offered silent support from the back of the room.) This was a rare occasion for these up-and-coming agents to get a look at the faces behind those faceless query letters.

Gary is a good host, and I thought the agents-to-be did a great job, but they may have been a bit overwhelmed by the crowds of people. From where I was sitting, the trainees’ dais looked an awful lot like a banquet table, and the filmmakers resembled the hungry line waiting to enter the Panorama City HOMETOWN BUFFET on a Saturday night.

Anyway, after the event, quite a few writers came up to me and spoke about their various projects, going into all sorts of details. In a crowded room with lots of ambient noise, it was hard to concentrate. But one man came up to me and said, “I hear your wife is a chiropractor.” Suddenly, all the noise around me vanished. I could really hear this guy. Finally, someone wanted to talk about something other than just Hollywood! And I was listening. I thought it was a good approach – a way to break the ice and stand apart from all the other writers vying for my attention. After all, I hear the same sort of stuff twenty-four hours a day. “I won the ABC screenwriting contest…My script is currently with…I’ve got a high concept comedy… This would be perfect for Mel Gibson….” In this town, no one takes any personal interest in anyone. It’s all about, “What the fuck can you do for me?”

But this man asked about my wife.

It was surprising and quite thoughtful. I wanted to engage this man in a conversation. He handed me his card and I asked, “Are you a chiropractor too?” He said, “No, I’m a writer…And I have a high concept….” And I looked around the room, as the noise rushed back into my head and I thought to myself, “Of course you are…Of course you do.”


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