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  • Screenwriting Expo 2010: Recap and a Recurring Problem with Writers

    October 12th, 2010

    By Daniel Manus

    This past weekend was the 2010 Screenwriting Expo, where writers from all over the world come to congregate, learn, network, get inspired, pitch, and try to break into Hollywood the old fashioned way – by paying for it.

    Before I get into my recap of the weekend, I’d like to congratulate my friend and client Tracy Reilly for WINNING the Expo’s 30 minute TV Script Category, beating out hundreds upon hundreds of other scripts and scoring the $1000 prize! It was a hilarious script and it deserved to win! And I’d like to congratulate my two other clients who were semi-finalists in the feature and short categories, respectively. Nice job guys! No Bull clients are making waves!

    Now, I’ve learned not to bite the hands that feeds me, but the Expo has changed significantly over the years. I personally had a great time, met some great new clients, writers, fellow teachers and friends and got to have a nice chat with great screenwriters Shane Black and Bert Royal (“Easy A”). And I sold a good amount of copies of my book over the weekend. But, it definitely wasn’t the Expo of old.

    I’ve been coming to the Expo every year since 2003 and haven taken pitches at every expo until 2009. Back in ‘04, the Expo had almost 5,000 writers and took over the LA Convention Center with big names like William Goldman, Aaron Sorkin, Paul Attanasio, Dean Devlin, Joss Whedon and Syd Field, had a pitching hall filled with about 80 companies ready to speak to writers, and an exhibition hall that felt like a convention within itself.

    This year, the Expo had about 700 writers (and that’s being generous), had John August and Shane Black speaking to a muted audience of 100 writers each, had only 35 companies taking pitches, and took over parts of 2 floors of a hotel near the airport. And the exhibition hall featured the Writer’s Store, CS Magazine, John Truby, and only about 6 other companies.

    There were reasons for the low turnout this year, though. Yes, the economy.  But there was also an unfortunate strike of hotel workers that caused the WGA, who had been supported by those hotel workers during their strike, to send out 2 letters to its members saying not to attend or speak at this year’s Expo. So, planned special guest speakers like David Milch, Jennifer Salt and William Goldman, stayed away. And this isn’t the Expo’s fault – it was the Hilton’s. But, the Expo certainly paid the price for it.

    But here’s the thing…without all the big name speakers and the huge list of companies to pitch to, the Expo turned into what it should have been all along – a chance for writers to LEARN something. But, once again, writers did themselves a disservice and didn’t show up because this year, there was less of a chance of them meeting a celebrity or landing an agent.

    And this is what is wrong with most wannabe screenwriters today – thousands of you that try to break in every year – you all want to be lazy about it.  You all want it to come easy. Many of you want to write a script in 2 weeks, sell it 2 weeks later, land an agent by Thursday, quit your job by the end of the month and trade your life in to party at the Palms. You don’t go to film school, you don’t take the courses or the seminars, you don’t move to LA and suffer as you work your way up, and you don’t attend events unless you think you can SELL YOUR SCRIPT.

    And it’s not JUST at the Expo. At the Great American Pitchfest earlier this year (whose overall turnout turned out to be higher than the Expo’s), there were about 450 people there taking FREE classes on Saturday, but over 1000 pitching on Sunday! I like to call the 500 some-odd people who just thought they could show up and sell a script – HOPELESS.

    There were some great classes at the Expo this year – including my 3 classes. And while mine were very well-attended on Thursday (in part because there were only 3 classes being given all day and writers from out of town were already there), the rest of the weekend found most classes half full (or half empty if you’re a pessimist). Yes, star speakers like Pilar Allessandra and Michael Hauge had some packed rooms (don’t get me started on the advice Hauge gives on pitching), but I don’t think any class had over 75 people in it. Years ago, most classes were standing room only (as my pitch class was on Thursday afternoon).  

    I sat in on some of these other classes, and I had my little spies around all weekend telling me who was worth seeing and who wasn’t. I’m not going to bad mouth anyone, but I will say I was highly impressed with new speaker Corey Mandell’s class. It was the only one where I actually took out my pad and pen and wrote stuff down. Pilar is always entertaining and engaging and knows how to grab an audience and make them feel like they are really leaning something. James Jordan is a No-Bullshit guy like me, and I respect that. And Hal Croasmun’s class was very informative.

    Yes, there were a few classes and teachers that had no business being there or who weren’t very informative or entertaining, but hey – that’s why you have a choice of 10 classes to attend every 90 minutes.  

    I know the problem writers have with the classes is that there is SO much conflicting information – everyone has their own style, their own opinions, their own formats, tricks and rules for writing and pitching – that it all gets confused and writers don’t know who to listen to. Well, I can’t tell you who to listen to (listen to me), but I can tell you that getting every perspective and deciding which works for you is still much more valuable than staying home and getting none of them.

    If you are serious about this business, then you need to LEARN this business! You need to do your research, you need to network, you need to become the best writer you can be. And you can’t do that sitting at home typing away and reading a 20 year old copy of Robert McKee’s book. You can’t. So, even if it means you’re not going to get famous in one weekend, you should still be attending these conferences and learning what you can. If you learn 3 things that make you a better writer and make you see your script in a different way, then it was worth the money!

    I hope to see you there next year! Thanks to Bill, Danny, Tee and everyone else who helped put on a fun event!

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