This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 027: An Interview With Screenwriter Gordy Hoffman.
Ashley: Welcome to episode 27 of the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screenwriter and blogger, over at sellingyourscreenplay.com. In this episode’s main segment, I’m interviewing Gordy Hoffman. He’s the founder of the Blue Cap Screenwriting Competition, and he’s also a screenwriter and teacher. His screenplay, Love Liza, won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance in 2002. He’s a real artist and very inspiring so stay tuned for that.
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So now let’s get into the main segment. This week I’m interviewing screenwriter and Blue Cap founder Gordy Hoffman. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome, Gordy, to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show.
Gordy: Thanks a lot. It’s good to be here.
Ashley: So to start out, I wonder if you can give us a quick overview of your career in the entertainment industry and kind of how you got to where you are today?
Gordy: Well, I think it started probably back about almost 20 years ago when I started writing a screenplay in Chicago and for a long time I struggled with the idea of starting to write—I mean, I don’t know what my problem was—there were a lot of signs from the universe that I should write a script, and I had sort of a catastrophic event happen one summer. It wasn’t catastrophic, but it was sort of a life-altering thing, and I just sort of said okay and I sat down and wrote Love Liza in about two-and-a-half weeks. I wrote the first draft, and I went home to visit my mother. And my brother was there too which was very odd. It was like Labor Day weekend, and I showed them the script because I thought it was awesome. And I almost thought that I would want to play the lead character. I let him read it, and he was like I want to do this. This was September of ’96, and he hadn’t shot Boogie Nights yet so that’s how long ago it was, and what happened, he had worked with Paul on Hardy and then he was working with him that Fall and he showed Paul the script, and Paul liked it and sent it to Michel Satter who still, to this day runs the feature lab there on the development labs. She’s great, and I ended up as a finalist; I didn’t make it into the lab, but that started my journey. I came out to LA shortly thereafter, and we fought a few more years to get the movie made. I signed William Morris after I won the writing award at Sundance and wrote a couple specs, went out, had some meetings. I directed my own independent feature which was already in development before any of the Love Liza stuff happened so I finished that film. Now I’ve just finished another short, and I really moved away from chasing writing for hire because I realized my ultimate goal was to direct. I want to direct what I write. I want sort of Woody Allen’s job and Paul Thomas Anderson’s job. So I just sort of re-calibrated everything and sort of went back to what the game plan was for that so I’m finishing a short right now, and I’m going to write a feature with an actress, Abigail Spencer, who starred in a number of things. She’s one of the stars of Rectify on Sundance, and we’re planning on shooting that next year. Once I sort of pulled away from writing for hire and always sort of chasing that, it sort of helped. I realized that I wasn’t getting any younger and the fact is I just wanted to make my own films. Most of the problems that I’ve had in terms of collaboration and stuff was when I had to sort of share the authoring responsibilities with somebody else or have somebody be in charge of the story instead of myself, and that was uncomfortable so that’s sort of how I—I wish I had known that fifteen years ago but I’ve had a great career. I have had so many wonderful things happen and I wouldn’t trade it.
Ashley: So let’s talk about that. I remember when Love Liza came out, and it was very well-received. I thought it was a great movie. What does a screenwriter’s career look like after they have kind of a—maybe a huge commercial hit, certainly a critical hit—you said you signed with a big agency, what did your career look like. The final part of that is why did you decide to stop chasing these paid jobs. Was it because you were spending a lot of time trying to get them and not getting them or you were getting a few of them, and they just weren’t artistically or meaningful to you?
Gordy: Well, going back to Love Liza, you know the industry’s changed. That was like a lifetime ago really in terms of the industry, maybe even three lifetimes ago in terms of the industry, and it was a weird year because 2002 Sundance was right after 911 so it was a weird Sundance. Nonetheless, Sony Classics bought it, and we started a relationship. I think Sony Classics released four of my brother’s films, and Love Liza was sort of the first one. To this day I still have a relationship with them, and they’re just great guys there. It was a different time, and I’m not sure how things would translate now, but when I came back from Sundance, I thought that I won the Waldo Salt; I was one of the buzz films. We got distribution, all the things I had sort of the perfect Sundance. For me as an artist, it was like you can’t really get anything else. Most of the people I had meetings with didn’t even see the film, and I remember writing another spec right after that. It was a very black comic spec, and I got a lot of relationships that I still get and still have a couple of those relationships to this day. People still remember the spec. I mean, they still know who I am and stuff, and they still haven’t seen Love Liza. They never saw it and so a lot of what happens in my experience with Sundance doesn’t really translate, and Love Liza didn’t do well in the box office. It was up against a lot of huge things at the end of that year. It was one of those learning curve things where I think now they know to release a movie like Love Liza in maybe September or October and let people get a chance to see it instead of just kind of putting it where it was at the end of the year. It’s weird. You know you’ve seen the perception of when something like that happens is you think, Oh, my god, I thought I was just going to come back to LA, and they were going to pull up with the Brinks trucks. The guy that was Rob Carlson’s assistant is Micah Sola, and he’s one of the biggest very successful agents, and he sells specs. I used to be on the phone with Mike. Those relationships that I have because of Love Liza are the people that I can call on if I needed them are there. So that is invaluable. I mean, you build that sort of institutional industry thing, that institutional memory that you have with people. People do remember if you write something special. For me I wrote a spec that was really fantastic. Basically CAA was like we will send this out. It was very difficult to even get the actor to read it. It was just those issues, and I understand there are a lot of different things that if I were to say I’m a director, and I’m a writer but I watch Woody Allen’s and Paul Thomas Anderson’s jobs so I think if you’re just a writer, you’re going to be able to apply yourself. I had a meeting with a manager, very successful, really nice manager. He liked my script and he wanted to develop something else, the same traditional route that a lot of people take which I encourage people to do. I mean, if you want to get somebody the span of what you can do, develop an idea with them and they know the marketplace and they can go out. It wasn’t appealing to me because I realized that I didn’t want to have to go through—it wasn’t appealing anymore. I realized that I—the money or anything, I would rather teach and run Blue Cast and do smaller things and build the directing as opposed to chasing that sort of—because ultimately the spec, ready for hire and doing those jobs was ultimately a day job to leverage into directing. So I realized I needed to kind of scrap my model, and I encourage anyone who ultimately wants to direct, that you should just direct. If it is a 300-dollar IPhone; if it’s a vine, just start there and move forward and only direct. I just think there’s such an investment in time and focus. It’s like saying like Coby’s to make money I’ll play baseball. I think for some people they’re blessed or whatever, they’re in the right place, the right time, and I’ve been in the right place at the right time too. But I think that if you want to be a writer for that, a writer for the studios and you want to write for hire and you want to do a professional screenplay, then that whole investment is going to be there and there is a track for that. But trying to facilitate and nurture that track, meanwhile if you want to direct, ultimately it was like it didn’t make sense to me anymore, and I realized that most of the time that I had flare, any kind of conflict or any kind of rough or painful things were involved with writing for other people and then getting in the creative issues with them and realizing that I don’t want to do that. And I think that’s something that pro writers sort of are able to facilitate that and fight for what they want, that’s that animal.
Ashley: If you listen to the John August and Craig Mazon Podcast script notes, they’re exactly what you say. You never hear them talking about spec scripts they write. They’re always writing for hire, and they always are basically working for the producer or working for the director and facilitating those ideas. And I totally agree, a lot of people getting into screenwriting, they don’t realize what screenwriting really entails. It’s not about your vision, it’s about helping facilitate other people’s vision even though the vision oftentimes originated with you.
Gordy: And that to me is—you know—and I think it’s the fault of the fact that I have read so many scripts, and I’ve learned so much about writing and how to fix things and it causes me consternation because I do see that. I’m about writing the best story and impacting audiences, and that’s different. That’s not necessarily the same thing as making money in Hollywood as a writer. That’s not the same; there might be some overlap, but it’s not the same. I mean, I think the John August podcast is awesome, and people talk about it all the time and they love it. But it’s they’re sharing experiences on how to make money in the studio system. It’s their experiences, and so some of their experiences aren’t going to even jive with other professionals that are not even listening—they don’t have time to listen to that podcast to disagree with them or get on the board and disagree with them; they’re busy doing it. A lot of things they do obviously are going to overlap. I always tell people that yes, you can love their podcasts but understand that they’re sharing experiences on how to make—they’re not necessarily talking about writing the greatest movie because really, like you said, if you’re servicing a director or producer or studio, your instincts are going to be ultimately sublimated to somebody else’s, and your instincts might be violated in what you think would be a stronger emotional experience for your audience and have a more original movie or anything that you think. Your voice is going to be marginalized in that process. A lot of people are like I want to make money in the studio system; tell me where to go, where to sign up. I know for myself that that’s not my end game. The money from Love Liza is long gone, but I had a high school student write me six months ago who said they had their poster on his wall, and he loved the movie because he had had problems with suicide and his teacher in school had shown the movie. And he wrote me; that’s priceless. To me, I know what do I want. The million dollars, you’re going to spend the million dollars, but you want to make movies that are going to last with people and people are going to still be able even if it’s hangover and people love hangover, whatever it is you want to make movies that last with people. Both of those guys have written those types of movies too.
Ashley: I think this is a treat discussion. I wonder if we can take that next step because I have thought a little about this too. What can a writer do. You mentioned someone like Woody Allen. I’m not sure how you go about getting that career, but for yourself, what are the steps you’re going to take to try and accomplish this, basically building a tribe of people that like Gordy Hoffman movies and creating that thing. What are some of the steps you’ve thought about to sort of facilitate your career in that direction?
Gordy: What happened with Woody Allen is he wrote a feature. It was produced; he hated how they changed it, but it made a ton of money so they came back to him and they said we want to be in the Woody Allen system, and these guys were like he’s not going to do that again. He has to direct. They were like okay, and then they did and he made enough of a profit and then kept going. So his story is very traditional too. Screenwriters write a very successful movie and then they’re giving themselves a crack at directing, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The transition is not necessarily—you know, there’s Copola and there are other people in terms of being able to write for somebody else and then move on. Now what was the second part?
Ashley: What are some of the steps that you’re taking to try to facilitate your—
Gordy: This is the thing. People need to understand that even in the—you know, it gets lost on people. They think everybody works under the assumption that they’ve written a product that is in demand, but most often screenwriters have not written the product that is in demand, meaning they don’t like your script. The thing is we’re always talking about the underlying incorrect assumption is that everybody’s got a moneymaker sitting right there on their hard drive. Now we’re always talking about the labyrinth to get there so I always emphasize for me, I know that I believe that I can get right now, me writing this feature for this project that I’m doing, the sky’s the limit. I have the capacity if I work hard enough to make something that is—I mean, you look at it every year. People write small pictures, Daoist Buyers Club was a tiny film. I was made very low budget, under duress, the money running out, the story of how—you should have that guy maybe try and get Craig Bordon to talk because he’s got a great story about that. He’s fantastic. I could hook you up with him. He probably would talk about this. It’s an amazing story, but ultimately the story and what they created with the script attracted talent, and then it got an audience. It sounds like sort of a weak answer, but it’s the correct answer. Love Liza fans are from what I created. It’s really from what I wrote, and people did like it or didn’t like it from what I wrote. Right now my short is like people like my short. I worked really hard on the script and so I was able to attract a really good DP and now I’m attracting really good editors that have worked on studio pictures to work on my tiny thing. So ultimately it goes back. I know that the power is in the script, and people are often stop around the 20-yard line. Then they start to shop, and they start to send their queries and they send them to the Blacklist service or whatever to try and figure this out. It’s really all about everybody around you wherever you are has to say that’s the best script I’ve read in a year. And then when that happens, then the market will find you. All you have to do is start to—that’s why scripts slide all the way from Illinois and Virginia all the way to the system and all the way to the blacklist because once they make something that just pops, then everybody has a brother-in-law that works at an agency in LA in all across the country. The thing is I’m not making this up. This is what’s happened. I’ve seen it happen. The fact is that as scripts come to the top of the pile on Blue Cap, they all want to read the top scripts from Blue Cap and two out of five of our finalists are already signed. We only send it to people who have sold material to the studios in the last twelve months. I mean, that’s our list. So the people who have signed on are the doing the deal and are working. So that’s really what it is. I think the focus needs to go back on craft. That’s not new. The reason things have happened is that people write an astonishing spec script that makes people crack up or it just blows them away or whatever, and those are the things that—you know—one of our winners in 2001 and 2006 wrote the Rodham spec script that was on the black list and it’s being made now and everything. Who would think to write a period Biopic of Hillary Clinton from 1972 and think that that was going to solve your studio problems or like I want to get a professional career as a screenwriter. I’m going to write a period script about Hillary Clinton. But he wrote it; he’s such a great writer, it was number four on the black list so it was like everybody loved it. It was really focusing on I want to make this great. It took off regardless. I mean, if you had something that was even an accessible high concept or something, but he even had that. And it was just the power of what he created. No one wants to hear that. Everybody wants to hear something else. Nobody wants to be told you’ve got to work harder, but the fact is that it’s so gratifying as you push that script to a better place, and when everyone around you is like I don’t know what to tell you, that thing’s great. It’s hard to give notes to your script, then you have something that’s going to be unstoppable because other people are going to feel that way.
Ashley: Okay. Let’s talk a bit about your teaching career. You mentioned that you had taught at USC. You do seminars and workshops around the country. Maybe you can talk just a little bit about that and give us some of the general tips and common problems that you see, and I guess this will speak to what you just said in terms of writing a better script. What are some tips and common problems you see from all the teaching that you’ve done?
Gordy: I think the thing that everybody struggles with and I struggle with, movies that win the Oscars—and I look at them and I see that those scripts struggle with being emotionally available in your writing and making the strongest choices for being sort of emotional content. You know when we write confrontations, when we write heartbreak, when we write tragedy or we write anything, even really good comedy hurts like bridesmaids, it’s so uncomfortable. It’s so hilarious but it’s like cringe-worthy because it’s so honest, that’s the work of writing. I mean it’s so easy to get it out, and there’s a lot of big filmmakers that you would not say are personal. They’ll tell personal stories; you don’t feel like they’re accessing their person to share with us because it’s so difficult; it’s so demanding and who wants to sit down and crack your heart open and tell you what I really know about these certain things. I think that audiences love those. My brother was so—that’s how my brother operated. That’s why people were so devastated because they felt so close to him because he always operated by that sort of commitment to I don’t care what this looks like, I’m just going to like tell you what this is, and I feel like that’s the thing that I always—I think writers just dodge that stuff. They just write around those scenes. It’s hard to sort out specific examples, but honestly it’s like that’s what I find. It’s like people are just sort of a little bit tepid about their choices, and they just don’t sort of know. In Argo, it won best picture, but we never really understood what made that guy tick, really why he needed to go back and get those hostages. He made that—I’m going to get those hostages, and we’re like okay, but I was like we want more. If we had more about why you feel a need to do this and show that sort of the despair and the broken—something of the fact that he can’t relate or why his marriage failed or some more stuff that we would connect to, then the emotional payoff of Argo wouldn’t be about releasing the tension over our anxiety over we’re going to get beheaded or something. It would have been even more gratifying because we would have felt more connected, and I feel like even in a movie like that, they just didn’t—there could have been more there. Obviously Twelve Years a Slave didn’t have that problem. They were all in, and they were not trying to diminish or compromise any of the emotional truths of any of that, and that’s why some people just—who wanted to watch that movie. It was very challenging, but ultimately it was very gratifying to watch because we felt like there was something cathartic about watching it because it was part of our nation’s history and our people’s history. That to me I think is really the deal breaker is if you can ask yourself about your script. How can I bring more of myself, not autobiographical. I’m not saying there needs to be a scene where people are crying, but just what is the—because some people translate emotion into something like melodrama. But I’m just saying it could be anything; it could be humor, it could be action. It could be anything, but how can you bring more and expose yourself more and what you know about the emotional language of your script. That’s where I think that’s the work of writing. I feel like getting into that head space of your characters and the moments and being able to write that. It’s very difficult because often it’s very uncomfortable, but I think that’s the big deal breaker with a lot of scripts. There is a lot more that I could talk about. We could go for a few hours.
Ashley: How can you as a writer access that stuff and get to that honesty? Do you have any tips or exercises? How can a writer do that?
Gordy: I think obviously one of the things is you want to make sure that you love all your characters, that you have compassion and you love all your characters. A lot of people, they put that filter on their script and they’ll find that half their characters, they don’t even like them because they’re sort of the bad guys. So once you sort of have compassion for all of them, then through that compassion you start to understand each character and the way that I can see how they would make that decision. That will start to imbue all your characters’ actions and will probably start to shift what they say and do and your story will probably start to shift it to a more human and a more realized picture, a more big picture, a more Shakespearean picture—I always say that Shakespeare didn’t dislike any of his characters. That’s why he wrote some of the greatest—you know—Lady Macbeth because he felt for them. He understood where their madnesses had gone. I think that you looking in each moment and being like what would really happen if I was there. I mean, a lot of people write scripts, and they’re like I’m writing a movie, I am trying to write something to sell, I’m trying to write a spec, and the fact is when we settle back into what would I do or what would really happen here, and just don’t worry about what it looks like. I mean, how many blogs, podcasts, and interviews do we have to read about people who win Oscars, people that go well, I just decided to write what I wanted to write. It’s like everybody has those stories; we’ve heard them too many times, but we forget. It’s like just write what you care about. So those are the things that I would sort of start looking at. Your relationship to the characters, where are you and are you actually looking because those emotional truthful moments will happen if you actually ask yourself what would really happen or am I just writing movie BS because I’ve seen so many Ben Stiller pictures, and I really like Ben Stiller. He’s a very successful businessman and he does a lot of things, but clearly—and he’s probably as frustrated as we all are—and sometimes he goes God, that’s silly. But if you’re on the other side, the thing is the spec script has to be special. If you want to attract somebody, then something else starts to happen, but that would be the thing is I would just use your head and be like what would really happen and what do you know? Is there anything that you know about this.
Ashley: You mentioned when we started the interview, you mentioned Love Liza and some personal experience. Do you think bringing in these personal experiences—did you have some experience with someone who had suicide, sniffed gasoline.
Gordy: It was really more of a choice of I had an idea about a guy who starts to sniff gasoline and he’s sort of normal. And then I thought what would make a person do that and then I thought that maybe this suicide of a wife. But then you look at it later in your life well where am I in it. What I did was that when I was writing Love Liza, I let it go where it was going to go, and you can sort of tell it has this journey deal. And I said what would happen? What could happen? What would be the next moment. I mean, Love Liza is a very different piece from a lot of things that we might see in that it’s a character piece, and it’s just driven by the actions of a guy in a certain chapter of his life. It’s easier to write organically and it’s like what would he do next. That was really what I was thinking was like what’s next, what’s next, what’s next and not thinking beachie. I was really just about like well, if he did this, he would do this next and it capped my voice in there because of my experiences I guess with maybe being sober or not being sober or whatever. So I think that that’s really what it was. I mean, it’s a good example because people don’t have to—it doesn’t act like I did not know anybody who committed suicide, and I had never attempted suicide myself. I never really huffed gas and so you can imagine a lot of things and create a world of stories, but you can still bring your own sense of truth into these moments.
Ashley: So let’s talk a bit about the Blue Cap Screenwriting Competition. Obviously that’s a big part of what you’ve done. Can you kind of give us a two-minute elevator pitch on that competition and sort of how it runs and what that’s all about?
Gordy: Okay. We got over five thousand screenplays last year, one of the top screenplay competitions in the world. We accept features and shorts. We have pretty sizable prizes, $15,000 for the feature winner, $10,000 for the shorts winner and then we—the one thing that’s a long-standing tradition at Blue Cap is we give everybody a set of written analyses of your script so if you send a shorter feature, you’re going to get between 400 and 600 words approximately of feedback. So a lot of people use this for that and they get that. Basically that’s it, but we have had a really good track record of because I’m a writer and I teach writing and I’ve been judging Blue Cap the whole time. I have always been able to—we’ve had a good track record, and we have a long list. You can do research on us and every year going back we have a lot of the Aaron Guzakowski wrote Prisoners was one of our finalists when he was struggling. So we’re able to identify and nurture and support people so we have a good eye for material and the industry looks out for what they always look for our top scripts. We are for the writer; I’m a writer. That’s one of the only competitions you can find that’s won by a writer who has experience and also teaches. All those things sort of make people comfortable with Blue Cap, but a lot of other competitions are great too—Austin, Sundance, Nichols, of course and others.
Ashley: So one of the things which impressed me, I was on your about page and just this sort of transparency. I really liked the fact that you listed some of your readers. I wonder if you can speak about that. How do you find your readers? What are their qualifications, and what is the specific process? Does a reader always going to read the entire script, two readers read, what’s sort of the process of once someone enters the things? What is the vetting process look like?
Gordy: We screen everybody initially through their resumes and make sure that they have either professional experience or a film degree and that just cleans out a lot of resumes. The next thing we do is we give them a test script, and we basically have them do what we want them to do for Blue Cap. So I have read the test script, and I look at their analysis and it’s up to me. So basically I’m looking for people who have a very high standard. They come from everywhere, but as long as they’re up to my standards and we have evidence of those standards working. Each script gets read by a reader and they read obviously the whole thing. Again, we’re one of the only competitions that—other major competitions—I would trust all of them to have read, but we actually provide evidence so you know that your script has been read by someone completely. Then all the scripts are read and they’re given scores. At the end of the day we sort of start moving them on and eliminating. That’s basically how it is, but Blue Cap is transparent.
Ashley: What does the score card look like? Is it a thumbs up, thumbs down? Is it a rating?
Gordy: It’s a rating of ten on six different things such as character, story, dialog, clarity, originality, description. There are six things. We don’t share the scores with the writers because we did that a few years back for a second and everybody started to become obsessed with scores. It’s an internal thing for us to help us, but we want people to focus on writing. We want people to look at their notes, and we don’t want them to look at I got a six. It doesn’t do anything for the development of the writer. That’s not Blue Cap. It helps us to organize things, but ultimately—
Ashley: I mean, unless you have ratings of other scripts, your ratings in a bottle have no meaning whatsoever because you don’t know—I mean, a 5 might be good; it might not be good. It depends on what the other scripts got really.
Gordy: It’s just like getting film reviews. I got rave reviews for Love Liza and I got total pans and neither of them, all they were, were just personal feelings about the movie. I mean, it’s not a masterpiece. You can’t go anywhere with the numbers. Oh I got a nine, oh, I got a two, both of them are sort of damaging. It’s like you don’t really want that. You look at the notes and just move on.
Ashley: I kind of get a sense of what you’re going to say to this, but I wonder if there are any tips you have for people entering contests, the Blue Cap specifically or anything? Do you find that some scripts fare well in competitions but maybe they’re not production—you know—maybe not fare so well at a production company, but they might do well at a contest or just write the best script you can write. I’ll give you some examples. I think the black list is a prime example. There have been some scripts on there, and you read them and it’s like this is great writing. I’ll give you one example. The Beaver was one, and Crazy Stupid Love. Those are two scripts that I read. I didn’t see the movie, The Beaver, but it didn’t do well. But Crazy Stupid Love was one I read, and I went and saw the movie and the script is fantastic. It’s like the guy is really a great writer, but I watched the movie and it was okay. It was perfectly good, and I don’t think this is an example of where the studios destroyed the script. It’s just an example where sometimes good writing doesn’t mean good movie. Great writing doesn’t always mean great movie. It was a good movie, but it was not a great movie. But the script was awesome.
Gordy: The problem is this, people are putting in their scripts emotional language and great writing that’s creating a feeling when you’re reading it that’s not able to be shot with a camera. I have looked at some blacklist scripts, and you start reading them and the people love the scripts. All I have to do is read a page and you can see that the language in the description and how things are sort of being played, we’re not going to see any of that on the screen, but it’s creating an experience for the reader that’s very positive. You’re right to say I don’t think the studio ruined the script. It was just it wasn’t a script that was not—that doesn’t make any sense. The fact is that probably how he wrote it, it just had this appeal in the way that he was expressing it. But when you actually shot the actions of the story, the narrative, and you actually produced it, it lost a lot of its power because of the language that the writer was employing in the script. That’s what’s happening, and when I see that happening in a script, it doesn’t advance in Blue Cap because there’s some magic going on here with the writing, but it’s a dysfunctional screenplay because it has to be shot; you only click things in that can be shot in a screenplay. When a writer gets author-like and the writer with a W, and there are those little things, a lot of people go and it’s only because they’ve read it. They’ve sort of been intoxicated and charmed by the expression on the page. It happens like that, and I think that’s what it is. I think that when readers and blacklist scripts and sort of sexy scripts get—people go oh, my god, read the script. It’s like take a second look and make sure that there’s not some other thing that’s going on in the writing. Sometimes the writing will tie or connect the dots in the script for the audience in a way that’s really kind of like a wink, things that make it fun to read, but ultimately it’s death. It causes great dysfunctional problems when it actually is produced. I think that’s what the difference is. Scripts can get really popular, and professionals in this industry, people don’t necessarily know that that’s happening. They don’t see that stuff, and if you are thinking in that way—and I think it’s my experience in teaching and reading and teaching and reading and talking to people and thinking about things that I’m able to kind of realize it’s like okay, some of this is happening. It used to be like oh, that was a great script and the producers ruined it. I think the scripts might have been written—strip away everything; you’ve just got to make sure that’s just story. The writer’s ego can’t be found in a screenplay; it’s just not that forum.
Ashley: Well, this has been a great interview, gory. I really appreciate it. You’ve dropped a lot of knowledge, very, very informative. I know I’ve learned a lot as a screenwriter. What’s the best way for people to keep up with you and contact you if they want to just follow along with what you’re doing?
Gordy: Well, just go to the Bluecap website. If you just Google Bluecap, it’s bluecapscreenplay.com. Any workshops that I do, we have a blog, and you can sign up for our newsletter. Our newsletter is great. You just click tips, and tips, and tips, and script downloads. You can join the newsletter on our site. It’s one of the best newsletters. People often say that; I’m not just saying that, but people often say that. It’s fantastic so we work really hard. We just like to be there. The Bluecap site is where they can find—
Ashley: And are you on Twitter too. Do you want to give your Twitter handle?
Gordy: It’s a weird handle. I made it back in the dark ages of Twitter before I realized I should have just had my name or something.
Ashley: You know what, I can put all of this in the show notes.
Gordy: I haven’t been tweeting in the last few months because of what happened with the loss of my brother, and it felt awkward so I don’t have a lot of activity on there, but it should probably start to pick up a little bit. I can start talking to people there. If they want to write me at the Bluecap site and ask me any questions or anything, if anything I said was confusing or whatever, I’ll get the email. Just write me.
Ashley: Well, thanks again, Gordy. As I said, this has been a great interview. You’ve been very informative and have given us a lot of great information.
Gordy: Okay. Thank you so much.
Ashley: I’m going to be running another online class called Writing a Great Second Act for your Screenplay. Many scripts die quickly in the second act even after a very promising first act. Having a terrific second act is what separates the novice writers from the professionals. So if you’re struggling with your second act, hopefully this class can help you. The live class will be July 12 at 10:00 AM Pacific time. Just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/classes. If you can’t make it to the live class, don’t worry. I will be recording the class so you can listen to it later on. In fact, all the classes that I’ve done through Sys Select are recorded and are available to Sys Select members to watch any time they’d like. The two most recent classes are How to Make the Opening Pages of your Screenplay awesome and how to write a Killer First Act for your Screenplay. So this class on the second act is following along in that series. Sys Select members get access to all the old classes as well as the live classes each month. To learn more about Sys Select, just go to sellingyourscreenplay.com/classes.
I also run a general screenwriting Q&A before each class so if you have any screenwriting-related questions, anything really, I’ll be available to answer those questions a few minutes before the class.
Once again, I want to thank Screencraft for sponsoring this episode. They’re currently accepting submissions for their comedy screenplay contest. They have a great lineup of judges, some of the best comedy producers in the business. The deadline for entry is August 1. Check out screencraft.org if you have a comedy screenplay you’d like to enter.
In this week’s Writing Words section, I want to talk about a few things that Gordy said. I hope everyone who listens to this is as inspired by that interview as I am. Gordy really gave us some great information and some great inspiration. What’s ironic is when he talks about making sure we as writers have an emotional connection with our audience, he’s actually having an emotional connection with me which is fantastic. This idea of having an emotional connection with your audience really resonated with me. I recently taught a class in the Sys Select program where I analyzed the first five or six pages of several great screenplays. This scripts I looked at are Legally Blonde, Shawshank Redemption, Natural Born Killers, and Lethal Weapon. I had seen the movies and probably even read some of the scripts, but when I just sat down and read the first five pages of each one, it really struck me how well these writers were able to evoke some real genuine emotion from me as a reader. I recorded the class so you can go back and listen to it through the Sys Select. Even if you don’t, go and read the first five pages of these screenplays. All the scripts are available for free in the Sys script library. I totally agree with Gordy, establishing this emotional connection with the audience and really evoking some genuine emotion in them is the most important thing you can do as a writer. Forget about structure or character or dialog or anything else, if you can evoke some real genuine emotion from people when they read your work, you’ll be very successful as a writer.
I want to move on to another point that Gordy made, and that was about focusing on what you really want and going after that instead of spending time pursuing something that you are hopeful will eventually lead to what you want. In some cases this might work, but as a rule, I think Gordy is absolutely correct. Spend your time pursuing the exact thing you want. His decision to spend his time trying to be a director is a great lesson for all of us. I struggle with this myself. My last film was a low budget martial arts action film and suffice it to say, it wasn’t art or even close, and writing that short a film isn’t why I wanted to become a screenwriter. Many of the writing assignments that I’ve been talking to producers about lately are just sort of genre film. It’s pretty schlocky. I always rationalize to myself that I just need to do this and hope that one of these films breaks out or is at least a modest success so I can get my career to the next level and hopefully pursue the projects that I want to pursue. But realistically I’m not sure that’s ever going to happen. I should be writing the types of scripts that I want to write and that I’m passionate about and not schlocky genre films. It really starts out with figuring out what you want. Gordy seems to have done that. He’s crystal-clear on what he wants out of this career. He wants to have a career like Woody Allen, and that’s important because once you know what you want, then you can figure out the best way to do it and to get to that place. Hopefully you can push all the distractions aside and really go for it. Again, I struggle with this myself so I know it’s not easy. There are a million very good reasons to settle and take the path of least resistance. Interviewing Gordy reminded me of why I wanted to be a screenwriter in the first place and hopefully I can put at least some of that into practice and hopefully sooner rather than later. Hopefully others can too.