Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Black List website "success story" Justin Kremer reflects on how it launched his career

Mere weeks after the Black List website launched five years ago, an unknown writer named Justin Kremer became the first site user to be signed by representation. And this wasn't just any agency, it was with Creative Artists Agency, one of the biggest players in the industry.

I was an early supporter of Justin's work, but even by the time I'd posted my rave of his MCCARTHY, there was clear momentum behind it. Flash forward five years and MCCARTHY isn't in production, so I can imagine the cynics wondering what it all meant for Justin in the end. And what did it feel like to be at the center of the hype of the Black List's first success? Fortunately, Justin's here to take us through the last five years in his own words:

It was October of 2012 and I was fucking depressed. I’d spent the last six months lying on my couch, wallowing in self pity, as I searched for a job as a creative executive in the minuscule New York film community. I thought CE work was the best path toward the dream I had since the age of 16: becoming a screenwriter. But I had no prospects, no real plan, and absolutely no hope.

When I heard about the Black List’s new website. I didn’t think much of it. I uploaded a screenplay out of sheer boredom. I entered this experiment with no great expectations. I thought perhaps the site would reward me with a modicum of validation, in the form of a lukewarm/slightly positive review, at a time when I really needed a boost.

Forty-eight hours later, I was sitting in a friend’s basement when I refreshed my email, as I did compulsively those days (fine, I still do). It was Saturday night at 10 o’clock and there was no way a prospective employer would be emailing me, yet I persisted. I discovered an email from The Black List containing my review. It was positive. Very positive. My jaw hit the floor. I read it and reread it, convinced there had been some sort of mistake. This reviewer couldn’t have read my script, right?

Fast forward to the following Friday. I was sleeping when the phone rang. An agent was calling.

She was in New York City for twenty-four hours and wanted to know if I was interested in meeting.

I leapt out of bed, with a furor I haven’t matched since, and rushed to the train. I checked my email as I boarded. Another agency requested a call that evening. What the fuck. My head was spinning. I took the meeting, and the call, and suddenly I had offers of representation. When I returned home that evening, my friends and family surprised me with balloons and a cake. That was day one of the journey, but the euphoria I felt that day is a high I’ll chase for the rest of my life.

Forty-eight hours earlier, I was a loser with no direction. Suddenly, I was a loser juggling phone calls and meetings amidst the havoc of Hurricane Sandy, the greatest natural disaster New York had seen in ages. I spent much of the next two weeks in my car (the only place I could find a functioning electrical current to charge my phone), talking to folks selling me a dream. It was confusing. I’m a neurotic New York Jew terrified of disappointing people. Saying “no thanks” to potential reps was….a struggle. While I recognized that I was stuck with an embarrassment of riches, I was far more stressed than I was enthused.

How do I break the news to [insert rep here]?

Did I lead this person on?

And, most importantly…

Am I making the right decision?

Fortunately, I did, and found a wonderful manager in Adam Kolbrenner and the team at Madhouse. Adam's been by my side every step of the way, and I'd be lost without his sage advice.

The next step was a trip to Hollywood. I was a lifelong New Yorker, and hadn’t been to Los Angeles since I was a child. I flew in for a week of meetings and made the rounds, collecting Poland Spring from Burbank to Santa Monica. By the end of the week, a producer informed me that she’d like to “develop” an original idea of mine.

I was woozy. I heard the sound of a Brinks trunk. I had made it! I was a success.

…no, not quite. In fact, I was an idiot. I didn’t understand the meaning of the word develop. I didn’t understand the economics of life as a professional screenwriter. Hell, I didn’t make a dime for the first eighteen months of my career. Studios didn’t cut me a check just because I had landed reps and a spot on the Black List.

Life as a writer is full of false starts. One of the great challenges we face is in managing expectations, in finding a middle ground between overwhelming cynicism and bleary eyed optimism. Initially, I saw nothing but roses. Then, things took a turn. Every false start crushed me, and exacerbated my impostor syndrome. There was (and is) only one solution: keep writing.

Forgive the brief diversion here, but I’d like to share the most important thing I’ve learned about life as a screenwriter. When I first started, my happiness was solely dependent on my work. I set a goal, and I obsessed over it. First, it was: land reps. Next: make the Black List. Then: book a gig. I swore to myself that if I achieved this one thing, I’d be happy. I was lying. Each time I achieved something I felt a fleeting burst of joy, and then… nothing. I wasn’t happy. Instead, I’d just move the goalposts again. Onto the next goal. That’s the one that’ll really change your life. It took me years to recognize that I was the one who needed to change. I needed balance, to find happiness outside of my work.

I digress.

The Black List allowed to me to build the career I have today. It landed me representation and lasting connections. Two years after an executive downloaded my script off the site and emailed me to say hello, we worked on a project together. Four years after the site shined a light on my dusty old script, it was revived again, and is still kicking.

I look back at my Black List experience with disbelief and a hell of a lot of gratitude. As I write this, the sun’s peeking through the window of my LA apartment (yes, I moved, and you should, too, if you’re serious about this). I’m sitting at my desk, as I do every day, writing. There’s no greater gift than that. So thank you, Black List. Thank you, Franklin. Happy Anniversary.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Happy birthday, Black List site!

This week is the five year anniversary of the Black List website.

I was an early supporter of the website. In fact, I'm not only an advocate, I'm also a client. About a year after the launch I made a public show of putting my stalker thriller TOBY IS NOW FOLLOWING YOU on the website, and it resulted in my script being one of the Top 50 Downloads of 2103, and a manager taking me on as a client. (I'm no longer repped by that individual, who has since left their agency and the business.)

One of my favorite Black List related posts was when founder and CEO Franklin Leonard sat down with the puppet the week of the release and took some hard questions about the site's intent and mission. One of the site's strengths is Franklin's transparency. He doesn't hide from criticism and over the years has made himself available many times to me for interviews and clarifications. His kind of integrity is rarer than it should be in this business and I've never questioned his commitment as an ally to all writers, aspiring and professional.



I also have found the site to be a great way to solicit amateur scripts based on their loglines. Several times I've invited my readers to post their loglines within comments during a 24-hour period, with the result being I will weed out the best and read a half-dozen or so scripts. These days I don't have the sort of free time that allows for me to do this any time soon, but I enjoyed it while it lasted.

The site itself marked the occasion yesterday with a press release that announced in part:

Seven feature films have been produced from scripts discovered on blcklst.com since our launch five years ago: NIGHTINGALE (written by Frederick Mensch); ZINZANA (aka RATTLE THE CAGE, by Lane and Ruckus Skye); SHOVEL BUDDIES (by Jason Hellerman); EDDIE THE EAGLE (by Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton); KATIE SAYS GOODBYE (by Wayne Roberts); PSYCHOANALYSIS (by James Raue); and DESOLATION (by Matt Anderson and Michael Larson-Kangas.)

Countless writers have found representation, had their scripts sold or optioned, or made further advancements to their professional careers via site interactions -- read our series of screenwriter interviews on the Black List Blog for the stories of these writers in their own words.

Since October 2012, we've partnered with organizations including the WGA-W, the WGA-E, The Sloan Foundation, The Sundance Institute, Women in Film, UrbanWorld, Indigenous Media, and more, in addition to collegiate partnerships with schools like New York University, Columbia University, UCLA, and Chapman University.

Screenwriters have been able to submit their scripts for consideration in opportunities with Warner Bros., Disney, the NFL, Google, Women in Film, go90, FOX, Turner/TBS, WIGS, Studiocanal/The Picture Company, Symbolic Exchange, Cassian Elwes, and more. Additionally, annual screenwriters labs have been held by The Black List to provide mentorship and development for writers using blcklst.com since 2013 -- the fifth installment of the Black List Lab for Feature Screenwriters featured mentors Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith, Phyllis Nagy, Allison Schroeder, and more. 

 Later this week, I'll have a post from Justin Kremer, the Black List site's first "success story," and then hopefully another follow-up interview with Franklin Leonard.

While you wait for those, head on over to the Black List's site and check out this cool timeline of everything they've been up to since the launch.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Writer/director Josh Klausner (DATE NIGHT) debuts WANDERLAND at the Hamptons International Film Festival

A number of years ago, I interviewed screenwriter Josh Klausner about how he broke into the business and his work on SHREK FOREVER AFTER and DATE NIGHT. Today, Klausner's latest film WANDERLAND debuts at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

WANDERLAND is a low-budget film, written and directed by Klausner. It has musical numbers, but as he told the Village Voice, he doesn't think of it as a traditional musical.



Josh Klausner’s lively, lovely film, shot on a dime in and around the Hamptons, does not exactly have the trappings of what we think of when we think of musicals. Inspired partly by Martin Scorsese’s After Hours, partly by Homer’s The Odyssey, and partly by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wanderland — which premieres at the Hamptons International Film Festival this Friday — follows Alex as he drifts through a weird night trying to make his way home, coming into contact with a whole host of local oddballs. It’s a strange, atmospheric little film, occasionally hopping genres and always keeping us wondering as to where it’s all headed.

It’s quite a change of pace for Klausner, who made his name as a screenwriter on Hollywood films like Shrek Forever After and Date Night. But that was sort of the idea: He says that after years of working in the mainstream and studio world (he started his career as an assistant to the Farrelly brothers, eventually becoming a second unit director for them), he felt he was “creatively dying” and wanted to get back in touch with his own voice.

Coming from a regimented world of carefully placed plot points and clear, preordained through lines, Klausner embraced with this film a drifting open-endedness. “When you work for so long in the studio system, for better and for worse, you kind of know the pattern that works,” he says. “So as you’re writing, you basically know where you’re going at every moment. I wanted to have the experience of writing again when I didn’t know where I was going — to once again have that feeling of discovery. I tried to make an intuitive movie.”

The rest of the profile is worth a read here, and has me hoping it won't be long before WANDERLAND is available for general viewing.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Law & Order's greatest moment on gun control

Sandy Hook was the last straw for me. That's the point where I just flat out stopped pretending there's any reason to give consideration to the pro-gun rhetoric of the under-educated, trigger-happy degenerates who act like any regulation on guns is a far more violent injustice than a five year-old's head splattered open like a melon with a featured role on Gallagher's comeback tour.

(Gory? Of course it is. I think our only chance of escaping this nightmare is to not ignore the horror. Reduce these victims to a statistic and you dehumanize what was done to them. Think of them as people whose insides ended up on their outside and you'll never look at a gun defender the same way again.)

If you're inclined to argue with me, you're wasting your time, particularly with the same talking points peddled by scum like Fox News, Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh:

"Criminals don't care about laws so gun laws wouldn't solve anything." Yeah, and laws against homicide don't do a thing to stop the thousands of people to take the lives of others so let's just stop regulating murder too. And fuck you.

"Guns don't kill people. People kill people. People can kill with knives and cars too. Do you want to outlaw them?" Show me the knife capable of cutting 600 people in five minutes from a few under yards away and I'd demand it be outlawed to. And fuck you.

"SECOND AMENDMENT!!!!!!"  ...calls for a "well-regulated militia." So let's compromise and regulate gun ownership so much that you can't buy a starter's pistol without a five-day waiting period and a DNA sample.

And fuck you.

"Now is not the time to have the conversa--" Fuck off and die.

Columbine should have been the end of this. Virginia Tech should have been the end of this. Some degenerate shooting up a pre-school SHOULD HAVE BEEN THE END OF THIS. And every time we get the same bullshit talking points, fueled by a racist xenophobic hate group that gets to call itself a political party, and who scares their base into voting against their own economic interests every time with "They're gonna come to take your guns!"

We can't reason with these people. And it's time to stop pretending that there's any value in being the reasonable adults in the room. They've thrived not because of any adherence to legislature, or facts, or studies. It's pure emotion, pure rage.

Gun enthusiasts are creatures of ID, not intelligence. You don't find a middle ground with them. The slaughter at Sandy Hook should have been an appeal to the emotions of even the most ardent gun supporters. So how did they react? They embraced the claims of a nutcase who argued the entire thing was a staged false flag.  "More lies the libtards tell so they can take your guns!"

Bill O'Reilly called these mass shootings "the price of freedom," as if the needless deaths of hundreds is acceptable collateral damage that deserves not even a conversation about changing our ways. Mind you, this lover of freedom was incensed by expressions of the First Amendment when football players PEACEFULLY protested racial injustice. Maybe they should have taken out a couple toddlers. That seems to be what it takes to get a conservative behind a constitutional right.

So let's stop acting like these nuts can in any way be part of the solution. They won't be. We'll only solve this problem when we're strong enough to do this without them.

And make no mistake. The only solution IS taking all of the guns. There are international studies that show strong gun regulations have had a massive impact on the number of gun deaths. Banning automatic weapons, implementing a background check system, and requiring permits are all things that definitely work.

18 years ago, Law & Order took on the topic of gun control in an episode called "Gunshow." Jack McCoy attempts to prosecute a gun manufacturer for selling a gun that they knew was desirable for its vulnerability to being tampered with to make the firearm fully automatic. It's one of the best closing arguments in the history of the series.

I thought of that scene a lot yesterday when I heard about how the Las Vegas shooter was able to to hit nearly 600 people in a matter of minutes. What I wrote above is pure emotion. Without apologies. If it upsets you, good. It should. What Jack does below is a masterful presentation of how grotesque these weapons are, and what an abomination it is to defend their existence over the lives of the people they injure and kill.


Law & Order "Gunshow" (Jack McCoy's Summation & the Verdict) from Law and Order Diehards on Vimeo.