Guest Post: Melanie’s Experience as a PA in Hollywood

A couple weeks ago, fellow Hollins screenwriting student, Melanie Moses, flew to Hollywood to work on a real live set. She was kind enough to share her experience. In her own words:

“I remember being five years old, dressed in a tutu, telling my kindergarten teacher that someday I wanted to be famous and make movies in Hollywood. Fast forward thirty years (I know, I can’t beleive I’m a day over twenty-one either), and I’d nearly finished my MFA in Screenwriting at Hollins andhad several scripts under my belt, but Hollywood still felt like a far off dream.
During my final summer at Hollins this year, I talked incessantly about my vision for creating a web series, and about how excited I was to meet Hunter Phillips and Robyn Paris who created the web series The Room Actors: Where Are They Now when they came to speak to us in July. When the event came, Tim and Amber Albaugh introduced me to both Hunter and Robyn and afterwards suggested that I reach out to Robyn about the opportunity to help with Season 2 of TRAWATN. I was a little nervous. Who would want someone on set who’d never done anything like that before? But Robyn was incredibly gracious and said she’d love more help, and she asked if I’d like to come to LA and help as a Production Assistant (PA) for this shoot.
So, in late September, I found myself on a flight to Los Angeles for the first time. I spent a few days sightseeing (yes, In-N-Out is really that good and no, the Hollywood sign is not that impressive) and visited with friends. Robyn texted me and asked me to run a couple of errands the day before filming began and I quickly learned that in Los Angeles it takes at least an hour to get anywhere- the myth about LA traffic is for real, y’all. Nevertheless, those errands got done, and things just got busier from there.
That night we were sent the call sheet. I’d never seen one before and therefore had no idea how to read it, so I sent my amazing fellow PA (turned Wardrobe Designer- you go girl!) Ashley Stratton a message and she walked me through it. The call sheet covers who in the cast/crew needs to report for work and at what time. It also covers the addresses and any pertinent information for each location being used that day, and the schedule for shooting. Basically, it’s your bible for the next day.
The next morning we were required to be on set to start preparing for our first day of filming. My anxiety made a cameo, but I rolled up on time and with the gear I was asked to pick up the day before. There was no time wasted- as soon as people began arriving, work began in earnest. Within twenty minutes I was asked to run to Target to pick up some additional wardrobe items and props. And then again. And one more time.
Being a PA basically means you have a hand in every role on set. You have to be ready to rush out on an errand, help out with craft services (“crafty” for those of us in the biz…ha), clean up, haul equipment, whatever is needed. So my job for the four days on set was constantly changing and evolving. For someone like me, who is a “helper” according to most personality tests, this is an ideal role, and it’s a great way for an industry noob to learn about the filmmaking process.
Throughout our four days of filming, each workday about twelve hours long, I ran errands, picked up lunch, ensured the set remained secured and quiet, assisted with creating props, and even served as an extra in one of the scenes. I got to watch the process of setting up cameras, staging shots, perfecting the wardrobe, managing props, running sound and lighting, directing the scenes, and working as script supervisor. I tried to ask questions while scenes were being reset or while we broke for lunch, and everyone on set was incredibly gracious and helpful in explaining their role and what was going on. At times it was overwhelming to take it all in, but the good news is, working as a PA on set is a LOT of sitting around waiting until you’re needed to help in a hurry. It gave me a chance to process and observe, and it was incredible to see everything coming together.
Another benefit of working on TRAWATN was that I was able to meet a lot of talented people. In the four days we were shooting, we became a small family. You have to have a lot of trust in other people to do their job and to do it quickly (and expertly) in order to make this work. There’s a little bit of a learning curve at the start but it amazed me how quickly we settled into a rhythm and a pattern to get everything done right. I built relationships with people on the set who work in the film industry full time, in art departments, as script supervisors, writers, producers, actors… and we’ve stayed in touch! I talked to them about my writing, projects, and goals, and now that I have this network, I have a lot more people in my corner to make sure I achieve the things I dream of.
The experience I had working for Robyn on TRAWATN was really incredible. I learned more than I expected, I made important connections, and I gained confidence in myself that my dreams really are possible. Beyond that, the connections I’ve made at Hollins have led me to many places I never expected. I’ve gained so much from the people I’ve met there- students, faculty, and guests. Take advantage of that! Go to the events, gather the courage to speak to the guests about their projects and don’t miss the opportunity to pitch yours! You never know what will come of it.
Write on,
Melanie
PS- Did you check out The Room Actors: Where Are They Now yet? If not, here’s the link!
And don’t forget to check out Season 2 when it drops very soon! You don’t want to miss my big break! ;)”
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The talented and beautiful PAs of TRAWATN between shoots.
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TRAWATN2: Between scenes with the legendary Mindy Sterling, Emmy winner Patrika Darbo, and Kyle Vogt from The Room!
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TRAWATN6: Behind the scenes shot of Ashley and I as extras in a bar scene with Robyn.

The Dreaded “Block”

Writer’s block.

We’ve all had it, we all hate it. If you’ve ever stared at a blinking cursor on your screen, or at a stack of empty note cards, or off into the abyss and thought, “I’ve got nothing,” know that you’re not alone. Even the greats find themselves in creative and motivational funks. But just because things may seem difficult or bleak, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way out.

Here’s a concise and action-centered list of things to do to shake off the gloom and get back into the swing of things. It also has a handy list of things that do NOT help with writer’s block (like reading and writing articles about writer’s block, whoops!).

But as every article, blog, and well-meaning professor or mentor will tell you, the only true way to get through the writer’s block is by simply writing. Writing crap, writing nonsense, writing something terrible and confusing and so off that it’s cringe-worthy. It doesn’t matter what you’re writing, so long as you actually do it. So stop dragging your feet, stop expecting perfection or inspiration or ease, and just write already!

How have you dealt with your creative blocks? Share any helpful tips or encouraging stories in the comments.

The Query Letter

You’ve brainstormed a concept, you’ve outlined and rearranged, you’ve written, rewritten, and then rewritten again, and you’ve got yourself a daggum screenplay. Congratulations! First, take a second to pat yourself on the back. Everyone’s got an idea for a movie, but very few people actually finish what they start. Once you’re done being proud of yourself, that sinking feeling sets in and you ask yourself this horrifying question: “what do I do now?”

There are countless ways to “break into the business” which can somehow make it seem more difficult to accomplish. But if you’re starting from scratch, the next best step is to get your query letter together.

A query letter in today’s world is an email with a casual introduction, a killer logline, and a polite sign off. That’s it. Take a look at this helpful article from ScreenCraft about how to construct the perfect query letter.

Free Access to Great Resources

Here’s a pretty neat opportunity for anyone eager to improve their writing skills. The Script Lab is offering a weekend of free access to over 40 of Hollywood’s top screenwriters, studio executives, managers, agents, producers, and world-renowned screenwriting instructors.

The weekend of September 22-23, check out The Script Lab’s Virtual Screenwriting Summit for some pretty exclusive and potentially craft changing information. There are a lot of great resources out there to help, and it’s even better when they’re free!

 

The Power of Rejection

As screenwriters, we get rejected a lot. If you haven’t, you’re either very lucky, or very new at this. Submitting your work and having it ignored (if you’re lucky) or ripped apart (if you’re not), doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Learning from rejection is a time-honored rite of passage for all aspiring creators. Harry Potter was rejected by publishers a solid twelve times, sometimes with harsh words, before our favorite boy wizard inspired seven books, eight films, and three theme parks.

If your pitch, story, or screenplay is turned down, congratulations! You thought of something, made it, and showed it to someone else. That is something to be commended and celebrated. Use this time to pat yourself on the back for being brave, but also use it as a time to see where you went wrong. Improve your structure, take another look at the dialogue, tweak and tighten, so that when you submit it again (which you definitely will), it’ll be that much harder to turn down.

And while you may be discouraged, take heart in the fact that some of our favorite movies of all time were passed over before finding their way to the big screen. See some shocking examples here, watch Brian Grazer’s words of encouragement here, and share in the comments something you’ve learned from rejection.

Giving Feedback

I was once told that to be a good writer, you have to read twice as much as you write. To be a good screenwriter, I think the rules are the same. Reading other scripts, and especially giving constructive feedback, is a skill that will not only help other writers, but can help us find the flaws and mistakes in our own work.

For those of us who are a little timid when it comes to confrontation, telling others what we honestly think of their work can be intimidating, but don’t let it stop you. Whether someone is resistant or grateful, honesty is the best policy and a necessary step for the betterment of all screenwriters.

Here’s a concise and spot-on guide for How to Give Feedback on Someone Else’s Work without losing friends and acting like a jerk.

Any additional tips or tricks you’ve picked up? Opinions on feedback in general? Any notes about this post? Share them in the comments.

Hollins University Web Series 2018: Failure to Adult

 

Failure to Adult-Cover Photo

This summer, the students in the Hollins University Graduate Screenwriting & Film Studies video production class will release a seven-episode web series, called Failure to Adult, that was written, directed, and edited by Hollins University students. The writing took place during the spring semester prior and the filming of all seven episodes took place during the six-week summer session. It really is impressive what was accomplished in that time frame.

As a member of this class, I was incredibly excited to learn the filmmaking process from start to finish and script to screen as a new writer and filmmaker (I can say that now!). It was wonderful to learn each phase of the filmmaking process and how each phase brings its own set of challenges. We had six weeks to cast, shoot, edit, and premiere the web series. In order to do this successfully, we really had to work together and take on our own unique roles outside of rotating between the crew positions of Director, 1st Assistant Director (1st AD, the person who manages the set), Sound, Gaffer (the person in charge of the lights), props master/craft services (free food!), Director of Photography (DP), and Script Supervisor (scripty). While some of us hunted locations another corresponded with actors while somebody else organized all of our necessary information so we could all stay on the same page. It was a whirlwind of a process, but we are happy about the outcome. The coolest (and most terrifying) feeling was sitting in a room with peers and friends as we watched and laughed at the show we created. We got some strong feedback and are hopeful about how it will be received.

Feel free to check out the series and share it with people you know. It will officially launch in September on Vimeo and YouTube. Stay tuned!

Click here to see more details: Failure to Adult: Official Facebook Page

Press from NPR: Hollins Program Cranks Out Hopeful Filmmakers

Twitter: https://twitter.com/failtoadultHU

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/failuretoadulthu/ 

 

Handing Over the Reigns

All good things must come to an end, and so it is with Amanda’s tenure as the official Hollins’ Screenwriting Blogger. She is off to bigger and better things, like agonizing over her thesis and job hunting with her fancy degree. She has kindly handed off the login info to me and trusted me with her baby. Ha! Fool!

Hi, I’m Amy. And I am a filmaholic.

At this passing of the torch, I was inspired to write about giving up control of our own babies: our screenplays. Our stories and characters are often things we’ve thought about for years. We feel a strong connection and sense of ownership over the tales that we tell and the progress of our protagonists. Sometimes, we guard these stories too much and they live out their lives in a folder on our laptops, never seeing the light of day. While it’s imperative that we have such passion for our work, it’s equally as important that we learn when to let go.

Writer’s groups, thoughtful professors, or just trusted friends are all important elements to creating a good screenplay. But collaboration isn’t the only reason to share your work with a trusted critic or observer. Here are three reasons why your creative work needs an audience.

What insights have you gained by sharing your screenplay with others? Share in the comments below.

Resume Advice for Screenwriters

Jacob N. Stuart, the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing, provides advice and guidance on how to create a screenwriter’s resume. He provides “12 Overview Points” about the who, what, when, why, and how about the information your writer’s resume needs to become gainfully employed as a writer in the business.

Read the full article here: A “HOW TO” GUIDE FOR WRITING THE “SCREENWRITER’S RESUME”

Want to Act AND Write? Markus Redmond Shares His Story

The folks at Film Courage sat down with Markus Redmond to discuss his professional journey how he broke into Hollywood as both an actor and as a writer. For those incredibly ambitious folks, pin this and watch it. Enjoy 🙂

Have additional insight? Feel free to comment, discuss, and share.

See the full interview here: How I Broke Into Acting and Screenwriting in Hollywood – Markus Redmond [FULL INTERVIEW]