I really believe that you can't complain about the state of the industry if you don't actively work to improve it. It's sort of like voting. Don't complain about the state of the world if you can't be bothered to do your civic duty by casting a ballot, you hoser. As a result, every once in awhile I try and do "community outreach" by volunteering as a judge for screenwriting competitions and film festivals. Being a good storyteller is sort of like having a natural singing voice. You can train with a vocal coach all you want, but if you don't have the pipes, you'll never sing at the Met. There are plenty of talented writers out there, grinding away at their kitchen tables, not because they see writing as their ticket to big bucks, but because something inside them compells them to write.
I love finding these people. I never, ever get tired of discovering new writers. It actually gives me tremendous satisfaction to know that I'm reading this new, fantastic writer FIRST. I'm addicted to this novelty. That, and I'm a sucker for the Cinderella story. I'm proud of the fact that every year, I break someone into the club of Industry Professionals. Plucking people from obscurity is such fun. It actually makes me believe, however briefly, that I am really good at my job.
To this end, last night I allowed myself to be roped into being an "industry professional" at the New York Film Academy Pitch Fest for the 4th year in a row.
I know what you're thinking: NYFA is one of those schools that advertises in the back of craft magazines. I think it's the word "Academy" in the name that makes this institution sound suspiciously like those schools that promise to teach you radio broadcasting or how to play the guitar in three days. Or a beauty school. Or a clown college.
Thankfully, it's none of the above. It is, however, and extremely expensive film program, taught by actual screenwriters, out of the 5th floor of a non-descript office building right next to Warner Brothers in Burbank. And, since it's so ding-dang expensive, the tiny student body is unusually focused about their work.
I used to do more volunteer work at screenwriting conferences and film festivals, but this lead to no good writing connections and a ton of stalkers. (I actually had some creepy guy, who looks so much like Nosferatu that the F.W. Murnau estate should sue, track me down at the office and ask: "Did we have a moment together?" Since the only thing I could remember about him is how he made my skin crawl and not his screenplay idea, the answer would be NO).
But back to the NYFA Pitch Fest. Since I occasionally teach a seminar on "The Business of Screenwriting" at the school, I know that with this event, I'll only have to listen to about 10 very practiced pitches from students who are smart enough to know that I'm there to help them hone their pitching skills, not to give them a three picture deal. I help 10 students but don't have to sit through 40 different pitches about bounty hunters or reality shows about out of work screenwriters trying to break into Hollywood with their reality show idea. Still, I left the Fest after 2 hours of listening to pitches, totally exhausted from being nice. I don't know how Paula Abdul does it. Being upbeat about less than professional performances takes a lot of energy. Even when she's telling someone that his singing sucked, she's so positive about how she expresses her criticism, "It's not that you're voice is just terrible...it's just terrible right now."
Not that I'm comparing myself to Paula Abdul. I think it's clear that I'm way more like Simon.