Q & A with Marlene Sharp

Marlene.Sharp.Halloween.2019

Marlene Sharp is a creative and business-savvy entertainment multi-hyphenate who originally hails from New Orleans but is now a (San Fernando) Valley girl. Firmly ensconced in LA life, Marlene recently served as Director, Production at LEVEL-5 abby, home of YO-KAI WATCH and other hit video game-based franchises.

Formerly, as Producer, TV Series, at Sega of America, Marlene worked on much more than the Teen Choice Award-nominated Cartoon Network series SONIC BOOM. For example, her Hedgehog duties took her to the heights of nerd-dom as an official San Diego Comic-Con 2017 panelist.

 As a freelance journalist, Marlene concentrates on pop culture for buzz-worthy fan destinations, such as DOGTV, ToonBarn.comGeekified.net, and CultureSonar.com. As a short film auteur, she has snagged recognition at the Kids First! Film Festival, the Canine Film Festival, the San Luis Obispo Film Festival, and many more.

Marlene is the proud winner of 2019 LA Shorts International Film Fest Script Competition (an Oscar and BAFTA-qualifying fest), at which her backdoor sitcom pilot received a staged reading by The Groundlings. And as a human being, she loves dogs. For proof of the aforementioned, please see her website www.pinkpoodleproductions.com.

What’s the last thing you read or watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

I love Shia LaBeouf’s screenplay for his autobiographical film Honey Boy. The storytelling is clever! 

Podcasts are a relatively new obsession of mine, and there are a few standout wordsmiths. American Scandal (Lindsay Graham); Broken: Jeffrey Epstein (Adam Davidson, Julie K. Brown); Gangster Capitalism (Andrew Jenks); and Hitman (Jasmyn Morris) immediately come to mind.

How’d you get your start in the industry?

My start in the biz was almost my end in the biz. I was bitten during pre-K and subsequently began serious research on kids in show business. Sesame Street was the inspiration. It seemed like a neat place to be, and I wanted in. During grade school, I devoured library books about stage moms and such, and then told my mother that I needed an acting agent. She said ‘no’ and encouraged me to play with my Barbies instead, which I did in earnest. She continued tough love at every turn and for many years. When I declared a Drama/Communications major in college, though, it was time for the Sharp family to face the music . . . and drama! 

Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

If one is industrious enough, then one could self-teach. For today’s inquisitive, budding writer, there are so many resources (many are free or low cost): books, eBooks, seminars, writers’ groups, classes, online classes, podcasts, YouTube videos. Perhaps the best resource, though, is actual content consumption, especially in the genres that one loves best. 

What do you consider the components of a good script?

Relatable characters and story, clever dialogue, and an unexpected plot turn or two are elements of my favorite scripts. Good non-sequiturs also tickle me!

What are some of the most common screenwriting mistakes you see?

Spelling and grammar errors abound. They’re everywhere!

What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

I’m really tired of the deus ex machina that recur in garden-variety superhero/fantasy movies, such as the uber hero or uber anti-hero – with his/her signature moves – who appears at the eleventh hour. In my opinion, Joker is groundbreaking (and therefore entertaining), because it discards the usual cliches.

What are some key rules/guidelines every writer should know? 

1) Spell check

2) Proofread

3) Patience, and lots of it.

Have you ever read a spec script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, what were the reasons why?

Yes! A spec script for The Simpsons by my friend Adam Kosloff. The premise is absurd and hilarious. Adam and his writing partner nail Bart’s character; he becomes a grilled cheese celebrity chef. The humor is magical, laugh-out-loud funny. I’ll never forget it.

How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Definitely worth it! Such cost-effective personal marketing! Highly recommend!

How can people find out more about you and the services you provide?

1) My business website: www.pinkpoodleproductions.com

2) My script and bible doctoring services: www.wefixyourscript.com 

3) My CV: www.linkedin.com/in/marlenesharp

4) A few of my credits: www.imdb.me/marlenesharp

Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

A solid tie between pumpkin and chocolate!

pumpkin pie 2chocolate pie

Behold my awesomeness!

homer
A little ego indeed goes a long, long way

Time now for a question I’ve been pondering quite a bit lately:

When talking about yourself and your accomplishments, how much is too much?

Yes, you should be very proud of whatever success you’ve achieved. You want to have confidence in your writing and your abilities, but you also have to be careful about overdoing it.

It’s a fine line between “My script made it to the Nicholl semis! Yay!” and “My script made it to the Nicholl semis. Am I not amazing?”

Then there are the writers who continuously mention their success (“That reminds me of when I was working on my 2013 PAGE Silver-winning script…”), or even worse, exaggerate. I’ve read of a writer who touts having won a prestigious contest, when the truth is they won for their genre, not the overall grand prize. Two very different things.

Some people tend to forget that claims can easily be verified on the internet. So don’t lie, unless you enjoy the truth coming back to bite you on the ass.

I’ve had dealings with writers and directors who would rattle off their accomplishments without any prompting whatsoever, including one filmmaker who, during a 45-minute conversation, mentioned at least three times the fact he’d made three films and two mentions of how an A-list actor was interested in one of his scripts (a claim now several years old, and as far as I know, nothing has yet to come from it).

Counter to that, I’ve read updates from writers who, despite their success, remain relatively tight-lipped (“Sold a script today. Looking forward to working with ____ on it.” And that’s it.). I can appreciate that. You’ve said what you wanted to say, left it at that, and moved on.

Speaking for myself, I opt to keep quiet. If somebody asks, I’ll mention having some moderate contest success, but prefer to not be the instigator. I don’t mind tooting my own horn, but I don’t want it to drown out the rest of the conversation.

Scriptshadow Success Stories – part 2

image courtesy of Springfield Punx
image via Springfield Punx (http://springfieldpunx.blogspot.com)
As one of the multitude of screenwriters working on establishing a career doing exactly that, I’m always exploring different potential avenues to get that first break.

In recent years, the website Scriptshadow (and its moderator Carson Reeves) has offered writers the chance to submit their script for review and feedback. While most are sent back to their keyboards with suggestions of potential fixes for the next draft, once in a while a script garners approval, hopefully leading to continuing success for the writer.

Today’s spotlight is an interview with two of four writers who fall into the latter category: Matthew Ballen, whose script placed in the site’s recent Top 10 Amateur Scripts EVER, and Louise Ransil, whose script was a semifinalist in the 2013 Tracking Board Launchpad competition and was recently profiled in the LA Times (see below).

1. What’s the title and logline of your script?

Matthew Ballen (MB): FATTIESWhen a lonely masochistic chubby chaser is abducted by two fat lesbian serial killers, it’s the best thing that ever happened to him.

Louise Ransil (LR): MARLOWEBased on a True Story:  African American P.I. Sam Marlowe shows novice writer Raymond Chandler the realities of detective work, juggling gangsters, corrupt politicians and movie star Jean Harlow to find out who’s burning farms along the Arroyo Seco Canyon.

2. What did Carson think of it?

MB: Carson said he couldn’t put FATTIES down and that it was really memorable. I made a lot of unusual choices, and I think this clicked with Carson because he sees a lot of scripts that in his opinion play it too safe.

LR: Carson’s reaction was mixed. He was completely honest, saying the noir genre wasn’t in his wheelhouse. He seemed to enjoy the dialogue and elements of style, but was put off by the dense and complicated plotting. He suggested I streamline the plot.

3. Did you find any of the reader comments useful?

MB: Carson thinks FATTIES may be one of the most polarizing projects he’s had on the site. My favorite reader was probably the guy who said “It’s stuff like this that makes me question the fate of Western Civilization.” I found that strangely flattering. Fortunately, a lot of readers liked it though.

LR: Reader reaction was fairly positive. Carson has a very knowledgeable reader base.  Some commented on how the script’s style and structure fit classic noir. There was discussion on whether the genre was relevant to current audiences. I found the comments useful, and overall reactions reflected those I’ve gotten elsewhere.

4. What’s happened with the script since it appeared on Scriptshadow?

MB: The review couldn’t have come at a better time. I was up for my first major re-writing assignment, and the producer and director who hired me each saw the SS review on their own. I should clarify that I already had a relationship with these people, but I didn’t have any produced credits and they were taking a big chance on me. My Scriptshadow attention made everything feel a little safer for them.

I’ve since done a deep polish on FATTIES, and it’s attracted some nice attention from a couple of producers, but nothing concrete yet. I’ll probably wind up directing it myself when my writing gigs slow down, but I’m still interested in finding a home for it if something cool comes up.

LR: Since my script appeared in Scriptshadow, it was featured in a Front Page L.A. Times article. This created some buzz for it, so I’m now shopping it around.

5. What’s going on with your writing career now?

MB: I’m currently writing a screenplay adaptation for veteran Academy Award-winning producer Arthur Cohn. The project’s a complex period drama, almost the polar opposite of FATTIES, though I think unexpected humor and a certain humanity to the characters might be the bridge between them.

LR: I’m working on other scripts now.

6. How can somebody get in touch with you to inquire about this or other scripts of yours?

MB: If anyone wants to reach me about my projects, rewriting, script doctoring, or watching their pets when they’re away, I can be reached at ballen.matthew@gmail.com.

LR: *editor’s note – Louise has opted to not include her contact information.

7. Is submitting a script to Scriptshadow something you would recommend?

MB: Absolutely! I think Amateur Friday is one of the best ways to get attention and feedback on an amateur script.

LR: I definitely recommend Scriptshadow. It’s good exposure and a balanced critique.

8. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

MB: Fresh strawberry pie from a farmer’s market in June. Oh, and every other kind of pie.

LR: Pecan.

The twiddling of thumbs is strictly prohibited

How often have you read a scene with several characters in it, but the focus is only on two of them? Makes you wonder why exactly those others are there, doesn’t it?

The last thing you want is to have characters just standing around. Give them something to do!

Each scene has to move the plot forward, and every character, no matter how big or small their role, plays an important part in making that happen.  If there’s no purpose for them to be there, then they don’t need to be there.

Countless opportunities abound for what characters can be doing in addition to exchanging dialogue, thereby avoid the dreaded “talking heads” scenario. The important thing is to keep it relevant to the scene, and not just something random.

Maybe it’s providing (or at least contributing to) the conflict for that scene, or showing the latest development of the main character’s arc.

If you’re not sure what the characters should be doing, try to come up with several alternative versions that reach the same conclusion.

You know what the point of the scene is and what kind characters they are, so take the time to figure out the best way all of you can work together to get the best possible result.

Should of known better

I admit it. I’m a fiend when it comes to spelling.

It drives me crazy when I’m reading somebody’s script and find a misspelled word, especially if it’s something used on an everyday basis.

I can understand making a mistake with a 25-cent word more likely to be found in the SATs, but ‘their’ instead of ‘there’? Or ‘lose’ and ‘loose’?

Yeah, spellcheck is a handy resource, but it doesn’t know what you’re trying to say.  You’re going to have to rely on that eye-brain connection to see you through.

Not the strongest speller? Consider an extra tab/window on your screen featuring Dictionary.com, just to be on the safe side.

Don’t trust yourself? Find somebody you do, making sure to offer some kind of reciprocation in gratitude.

The industry is always looking for a reason, no matter how insignificant, to say ‘no’ to your script. Maybe they’re willing to overlook one misspelling out of the whole thing, but you better have a kickass script to begin with.

The more mistakes they find (spelling and otherwise), the more likely your script is toast.

Misspelling not only makes your script look bad, it makes you look bad. It shows you may not be taking this as seriously as you should.

Just to put it in perspective: a friend sends you their script, but you find at least four spelling errors in the first 10 pages. The rest of it probably looks like this as well. Would you want to keep reading?

-Movie of the Moment – A MONSTER IN PARIS (2011) An absolute charmer of an animated film.  Take elements of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, KING KONG and slapstick comedy, set it in 1910 Paris, add music, and this is what you get.