Me and My Nine Iron

October 5, 2011

Screenwriting Expo

Filed under: For your pleasure — BJ @ 4:55 pm

Last month was the annual Screenwriting Expo at the Westin LAX Hotel, the biggest gathering of (aspiring) screenwriters. You have to pay at least $110 to have the right to pay $6 each for 90-minute seminars, and I definitely would not have gone had they not offered a work-for-a-pass program. You commit to a 7.5-hour volunteer shift for the Basic Pass plus free seminars. I even came up on my shift, finishing in six hours, and more importantly, spending that time at the Pitchfest, but more on that later.

I went every day to the 4-day conference and really came out of it with a lot more than I expected, and I met some cool writers along the way.


I went to two seminars by Danny Manus, the script consultant who I actually heard speak at The Great American Pitchfest a few months earlier. He basically prepped those who were going to pitch later in the weekend how to pitch and how to make loglines, query letters and one-sheets.

At the end of his second seminar, he thought it would be a good idea to read everyone’s logline on the spot, which not only was an absolute bore to listen to almost 100 loglines, but the ideas that some of these people come up with and seriously think that these could be commercial movies are laughable. He read two straight loglines about cannibals and told us that one of the craziest pitches he ever heard was about a man who was walking along the shore as he was about to lose his beach home when a huge wave washed ashore a seal. The seal raped the man, and he had an epiphany on how to save his home. True story.

Later that night, I heard Kurt Wimmer speak. It should be noted that Guest Sessions help a writer the least, as they’re mainly filled with interesting industry anecdotes but nothing directly fruitful to one’s learning or breaking in. Wimmer, like many professional writers, was quite a character, with a ponytail, cowboy boots that would put John Wayne to shame and tattoos on each of his fingers.

He talked about his directorial debut and how no one from the studio once asked him if he had ever directed before. He spent some time discussing Salt and how what he felt to be the most emotional scene was cut from the movie because the studio thought it would’ve made viewers have a negative reaction towards the protagonist. Just another example of studios thinking they know the movie better than writers, or anybody; that and the studio’s decision to make Salt 2 to Wimmer’s reluctance.


I went to another pitch seminar by Chris Soth, who I had heard in a teleseminar before and sells himself on his $750,000 spec sale from his USC thesis screenplay, Firestorm. Soth, who wanted Sylvester Stallone running around with fire everywhere in a $120 million blockbuster, ended up with Howie Long as his lead, who he didn’t even know, in a $19 million budgeted flop – it made $8 million at the box office. Soth, who would make a great high school teacher with his energy and humor, wrote Outrage released in 2009, which turned out even worse. “Those who can’t, teach.” (I’ll save that for a whole ‘nother post.)

I heard producer Dan Goldberg share some stories. He talked a lot about his first screenplay and one of Ivan Reitman‘s first directorial films, a 1979 flick with Bill Murray called Meatballs. But he also spent some time on The Hangover franchise and Due Date. Again, more fun than anything.

The next two seminars were probably the most helpful from the weekend, and they were on how to write studio quality action lines and dialogue by Michael Ferris and Robert Flaxman, general formatting you could read in books but nothing like the way the pros tell you it has to be. Ferris co-wrote Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, Terminator Salvation and Surrogates. He was a Make-a-Wish Kid and to pay it forward, created Script-a-Wish, where as part of his consulting service, if your script’s good enough, he’ll forward it on to his industry contacts. A touching story and a good man who sincerely wants to help others succeed and personally responded to my email on some specific formatting questions.


Instead of a door monitor, I traded with someone to help out at the Pitchfest, the main event of the Expo. Over 20 entertainment, management and production companies came to hear 5-minute pitches in a speed-dating manner. You pay about $20 for each company you want to pitch to and sit at a table – just you and the exec. A pretty intimidating setting, and although, I didn’t pitch, it felt good being in the room and taking in the whole experience.

Afterward, the volunteer coordinator told us we could attend the networking reception that night. It was a $30 value, and I ate some good Souplantation-style pasta, but the event was mainly filled with other writers, not who the people there want to network with.

Before then, I heard Shane Salerno speak, and he genuinely seemed to want to help people break in. The writer-producer talked a lot about his movie coming out next year, Savages, an adaptation of a dark novel directed by Oliver Stone, with an amazing cast headed by Blake Lively and John Travolta.


I had a fun seminar with Terri Zinner, Senior VP at Gallagher Literary, on story coverage and what not to do. It felt like she was one of the few working professionals leading a seminar, which is always a plus.

I rounded out the Expo with two comedy seminars by Steve Kaplan, and I must admit it was pretty disappointing. Along with Evan Smith‘s comedy seminar which I caught half of the day before, it might be deduced that comedy is something you can’t teach. Both instructors showed hilarious movie clips and essentially said, “See what they did right?” It was especially disappointing because Kaplan’s a pretty big name, and those same seminars I took drawn out over two days goes for $375. But then again, I’d never pay for these courses.




  1. Hahah. You said that about the last Pitchfest I went to also. If you’re ever in the area, I’ll be sure to ask you if you want to roll with me to upcoming events.

    Comment by Bryan Jeon — October 7, 2011 @ 10:40 am | Reply

  2. Man, this sounds fun. I would’ve totally gone.

    Comment by Chris Le — October 6, 2011 @ 7:20 pm | Reply

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