Q & A with Christopher Lockhart of WME

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Christopher Lockhart is the Story Editor at WME, the world’s largest talent agency. He has produced several feature films and is an adjunct professor in screenwriting. He earned his MFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He is a member of the WGA, PGA, and the Television Academy. He moderates a screenwriting group on Facebook called “The Inside Pitch.”

What’s the last thing you read/watched you considered to be exceptionally well-written?

Because I deal with writers and filmmakers, I tend not to answer these kinds of questions. I’d never want anyone to think I have favorites. I’ll say that I’m lucky because I get to read the very best screenplays circulating town. In my personal life, I tend not to share my opinions on these kinds of things. For instance, I rarely recommend a movie to anyone – even if I loved it. I guess because my work day involves having to share my opinion with others (or force it upon them), I’d prefer to keep my opinion to myself when I’m off the clock.

How’d you get your start?

I wrote and taught for a decade until an opportunity arose to interview at talent agency ICM as the story consultant to Ed Limato, one of the industry’s most powerful agents. He ran his own fiefdom within the agency and needed someone to comb through the vast amount of material for his client list, which, at that time, included the likes of Mel Gibson, Richard Gere, Steve Martin, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Denzel Washington. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but met with him for the hell of it. It was a short interview and afterward I found myself being escorted into a tiny office piled high with screenplays to read. I was hired on the spot and didn’t seem to have any say in whether or not I wanted the job. I had no interest in the agency business but figured I’d give it a chance until the end of the week, and if I hated it, I’d quit. I was asked to read a particular script for Mel Gibson, who was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. On my second day, I was called into the boss’s office to discuss my thoughts. And Mel Gibson was there. We spoke about the script, and it was exhilarating. This is a business where there’s lots of talk and wheelspinning, but these people weren’t talkers, they really made movies, and I could have a small voice in that process. It was pretty cool. There’s been all sorts of ups, downs, and changes since then, but I’m now in my 21st year in the agency business.

Your official title is Story Editor. What does that job entail and what are your responsibilities?

In some ways, I do what a dramaturg in a theater does.  I’m sort of a matchmaker – looking to match projects with a handful of A-list actors. I read a lot, do research, share my opinion and recommendations, give story notes. I work with writers and directors to develop and focus their material. I work in post with filmmakers (like in the editing room) to help them crystalize their story. My whole world is story, and I do anything and everything I can to serve writers, actors, and filmmakers in reaching their creative story goals.

Follow-up – what does the Story Department at an agency handle?

A Story Department is the screenplay hub in an agency, studio, production company.  Generally, it oversees the “coverage” of material (judging the creative value of the work) through a cadre of story analysts. It also looks to bring material into the company.

When you’re reading a script, what about it indicates to you “this writer really gets it”?

The way conflict is utilized. The way it’s used in the concept, the characters, the plotting. For example, in screenplays creating complex characters doesn’t mean layers of backstory and psychology. It means how conflict is used to create the complexities. When a writer is adept at using conflict, I know she gets it.

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

I don’t look for good writing. I look for good movies. And there’s a difference. I read lots of scripts that are well written but will never be movies (for a variety of reasons), and they serve no purpose for me. Good writing can win you attention, get you representation, lead to writing assignments, and so on. But that’s not the business I’m in. I’m looking for movies for movie stars. In Hollywood, good writing is subjective, of course, so each person defines it in whatever way suits her needs. While there’s some subjectivity in what I do, I’m also dealing in facts. For example, maybe an actor doesn’t want to play a particular kind of role. That eliminates certain scripts, regardless of their quality. I think the recognition skills you ask about are both taught and learned. When I started reading scripts I was armed with what I was taught in film school. But in the 30 years since, I’ve read over 60,000 screenplays, and I’ve absorbed a lot of knowledge about what works, what doesn’t work, and – most importantly – why. My head is a filing cabinet of stories and story elements, which gives me a large dramaturgical perspective. That stuff I learned.

What do you consider the components of a good solid script?

I take a holistic approach to judging material.  I have to read and swallow the whole script. Scripts can often work in spite of themselves.  The one component I see missing from most scripts – especially scripts from new writers – is the story purpose. This is that singular goal your hero pursues through the story. More often than not, there is no goal. If there is a goal, it’s vague or not substantial enough to sustain 120 pages (or our interest). Another component is conflict (drama). A strong story purpose should create strong conflict. Many stories do not seem to be conceived in conflict. They’re born from themes, ideas, ideals that lack conflict; they  are not dramatized.

What are some very important rules every writer should know?

I guess my previous answer covers this question. I don’t believe in rules, per se. Rules only apply to bad writing. If you’ve written a great script, no one will quote you the rules.

Are there any trends, themes, or story ideas you feel are overused? “Not this again.”

Because I’ve read so much, nothing is new to me. I have seen it all. Georges Polti gave us The 36 Dramatic Situations, which he claimed covered all possible stories. Others theorists have reduced them to 12 or even 3. In theory, everything has been used and will be used again. Ideas are only overused in the hands of inexperienced writers. Great writers with unique voices will take the old and dress it up in a new, refreshing way.

Follow-up – are they are any cliches or tropes you’re just tired of seeing?

I try not to judge those kinds of things until I see how they’re utilized.

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

I’m not much of a pie eater.  I only ever ate apple pie – baked by my great-grandmother. When I moved to Los Angeles, she would write me once a month and enclose a five-dollar bill to buy a frozen apple pie to remember her. I was low on funds in those days, and that money would often find its way to buy other things like a few gallons of gas. She’s been gone 25 years, but on the rare occasions I eat apple pie, I remember her.

apple pie

A slight course correction

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For the most part, my involvement with this year’s big contests is more or less over. Top 15 percent for Nicholl – not too bad. Total whiff for PAGE again, which makes me 0 for 4. Not expecting much out of Austin.

Results from some of the smaller contests are about the same. Semifinalist in one, quarterfinalist in another, and a few not-at-alls.

A bit on the disappointing side, but all is not lost. On the contrary. It’s actually helped force me into making a pretty important decision.

After much self-evaluating, I’ve opted to drastically cut back on contests for next year and ongoing. Most likely, I’ll keep it limited to just the big three mentioned above. And even entering those isn’t a certainty. They’re the ones that hold the most potential for getting the ball rolling on a career – not guaranteed, of course – but the most potential.

No delusions of grandeur. I’ll continue to take my chances and see how things go. If I do well, great. If not, no big deal.

And just for the hell of it, maybe one or two smaller ones every once in a while. Might as well have a little fun.

Moving forward, the focus now shifts to improving my writing skills and making my material better. Reading a lot of professional scripts, especially those in the same genres as the ones I’m writing, shows me my level of expertise isn’t where I need it to be.

If I want to make this work, I need to get better. No other way to put it.

It’ll be tough, but I’ve come this far and the final objective continues to feel a little bit closer with each new draft.

I’m fortunate enough to know a lot of savvy writers, along with more than a few quality consultants, so getting constructive feedback and guidance can only work to my advantage.

As a colleague once told me, “It’s not about contests. It’s about Hollywood.” Sure, contests are fun and all (especially when you win, or at least place highly), but I’d rather focus on writing quality material and getting them in the hands of people who can actually make something happen with them. Representation. Assignments. Rewrites. A sale. I’m not picky.

My long-term goal has always been to become a working writer, and I think I can still do it. It may not happen as soon as I’d like, but hopefully by really buckling down and pushing myself to keep at it, I’ll have a better shot at turning that goal from a dream into a reality.

Wish me luck.

Just the pep talk I/you/we need

pecan pie
Where else could you find comfort, reassurance, and tranquility, all on the same plate? 

(Author’s note – I wrote a lot of this earlier in the week, but circumstances of a confidence-instilling nature have occurred since then. I considered scrapping it and starting over, but thought the content was still relevant, so opted to stick with it. Enjoy.)

Let’s face it. Trying to make it as a screenwriter is an almost impossible task.

Emphasis on “almost”.

It can be done. Remember, every single writer whose name is up on there on the screen had to go through a lot of the same things you and I have. Probably even more.

The sad truth is that you will have to endure a lot of frustration before you start to even come close to achieving the results you want. And that frustration can easily lead to anger and depression and feeling like you’re wasting your time and this is never going to work out.

I say this because I’ve been that writer. Many times. This week was no exception. Several writer colleagues had some truly awesome things happen for them, and deservedly so.

Still, I can’t help but feel a slight pang of jealousy about it, but that’s all on me. In no way would I ever intend to divert the spotlight away from their success. They earned it, so they are more than entitled to enjoy it.

As for me, sure, I might wallow in self-pity for a little bit, but time and experience have helped me “get over it” faster, but the hurt does tend to linger.

Writing might be the last thing I want to do, but it’s actually been pretty therapeutic. Shifting your attention to another project – maybe one you haven’t worked on in months – helps with the emotional recovery process. Sometimes I’ll vent to another writer; usually someone who’s been through the exact same scenario.

Once I get all of that out of my system, the drive to succeed once again takes over, I get back on the horse and pick up where I left off – because the only way I’m going to make it is to keep trying, and that the only person who can make it happen is me.

That’s how it is for all of us. You’re not alone.

There will be so many situations where things don’t go your way. In the beginning, it feels like somebody’s stomping on your soul. But you eventually learn to accept that it happens, which helps toughen you up for the next time, of which there will also be many.

So on that note…

There will be a lot of times you just want to give up, or feel like the only word you ever hear is “no”, or have it seem like you’re the only writer on the face of the Earth not making progress.

Corny as it may sound, the best piece of advice I can offer is to keep at it. You will definitely hear “no” a thousand times before that one significant “yes”, but you won’t get it at all if you don’t keep going.

This is not a career path for the easily-defeated or the thin-skinned. I’ve had people tell me my story ideas were stupid and my writing was awful. One memorable character even thought my script was so terrible they were certain it was some kind of practical joke. Comments like that sting, but only temporarily. You learn to ignore them to the point they don’t even faze you anymore.

I’ve had the good fortune to make lots of connections with very talented people, many of whom have been more than willing to help me get closer to that goal.

I’m still here, still trying, determined as ever. And I sincerely hope you do the same.

One goal, lots of strategies

to do list
Step 1 – plan. Step 2 – execute. Step 3 – repeat Step 1.

Last time the subject was how we did, writing-wise, during 2017. Today, it goes beyond simply what you’re hoping to accomplish to “So what are you doing about it?”

Just a few days into the new year, and how much writing have you done? Are you adhering to the guidelines you set up for yourself? Making the most out of the time you have available? Are you saying to yourself “No more Youtube! No more (insert preferred form of social media here)! I got me some writing to do!”, followed by actually turning off that unwanted source of input and applying proverbial pen to digital paper?

Jeez, I sure hope so.

Repeat the process on as close to a daily basis as you can get, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the results. You might have more time to work with during the day than you realize, so why not make the most of it?

Long-term goals are all fine and dandy, but continuously crossing the finish line for smaller (and some might say more realistic) ones can also yield some solid results. It’s one thing to say “I’m going to write four scripts this year!” and another to say “I’m going to write three pages today!”, and you’d have to admit the second one is just a little bit more achievable.

Additionally, if you stick to that schedule and maintain the same kind of daily output, you could potentially hit at least some of your long-term goals a little sooner. Write three to four pages a day every day, and within a matter of weeks (or maybe a little more than a month), you’re the proud parent of a completed draft. Sure, it might need a lot of work, but the important thing to remember here is : YOU DID IT.

As 2017 wound down, I knew what I wanted to happen for me, writing and career-wise, in 2018. Now that we’re almost a whole week in, I’ve been making an effort to try and get something done on both fronts every day.

For the writing, it’s anything and everything, running the gamut between outlining, rewriting, editing, proofreading, or even just jotting down an idea for a scene in the under-construction outline for a story I haven’t looked at since April. Working with some very quality notes for two scripts, I’m actually ahead of schedule with rewriting one, and gearing up to dive into the second when that’s done.

For the career, it’s about finding more avenues to get myself and my scripts out there. I’m not just pitching stories; I’m pitching a storyteller as a potentially invaluable resource. There will be plenty of “no”s along the way, but all it takes is that one “yes”, right?

And once again, let’s tout the benefits of networking; making and maintaining your connections. You never know which one could lead to something.

While I’m still doing some of the things I’ve always done, there was also that feeling that new and different approaches were necessary. So as I work my way through all the assorted processes involved with writing scripts, I’m also navigating the awkward transitional phase of a few readjustments.

No matter what, the end goal remains the same. As always, fingers remain firmly crossed that this is the year it happens.

The guides behind the guide to being truly Epic!

james & ann
Mssrs Moorer (l) and Kimbrough (r)

Writers James Moorer and Ann Kimbrough have teamed up to promote the Be Epic Journal, a guide to helping you set up goals and figure out what steps you need to take to achieve them.

Tell us a little about your writing backgrounds. How’d you get started? Apart from the Be Epic Journal, what else are you currently working on?

James Moorer (JM): I am a multi-optioned screenwriter and published author with several properties in various stages of development. I’ve been hired for numerous writing assignments since 2009 for a number of production companies. I got started writing for the screen while producing music for fitness competitors and bodybuilders under my company Jamesong Music, back in Ohio. I’ve always wanted to be a writer since I first read a Truman Capote story in Esquire magazine. Currently, I have two other novels in development as well as my two shorts I’m producing and a feature film which will be my directorial debut.

Ann Kimbrough (AK): I’m a working screenwriter, with my first paid gig in 2012. I currently have three films in different stages of development and do rewrite assignments on the side. As anyone on the screenwriting path knows, we have little control over the production side. I wanted to take on more control in some aspect of my writing, so between writing assignments I branched into books. First, I turned one of my spec scripts into a romantic suspense novel that was published with Short On Time Books, “Scarlet Revenge” under pen name Ann McGinnis. That gave me the publishing bug and I started to publish my own books. The first journal I did — “The 100 Script Challenge” — was to create a book I wanted but could not find. (It’s about reading 100 scripts, keeping your notes in the journal and having all you learned from reading the scripts handy to review.) Then I made “The Idea Journal for Screenwriters.” It’s another journal I wanted as a screenwriter. I don’t know about you, but I write little notes everywhere with story ideas. The journal keeps me from losing them by having them all in the book. I can then look over my notes, connect them with other little ideas and build them into high concepts. (It’s also full of idea building tips.) From there, I teamed with other creative friends like James Moorer to create fun and useful journals — like “The Be Epic Journal.” Presently, I have eight journals published.

What does it mean to “Be Epic”?

JM: To Be epic, to me, is to step into your TRUE SELF, completely and confidently aware of your God-given ability to become your greatest self, realizing that this is not a happenstance, but how you and you alone were given a specific gift to help move the world toward being a more incredible place, and to inspire others to do the same.

AK: Being Epic is being the best you. It’s cutting out anything that’s holding you back from your dreams and shining! The best part of the whole Be Epic movement that James started is how focusing on our dreams and making our life better eventually leads to making someone else’s life better. But it has to start within you.

What was the inspiration for the Be Epic Journal?

JM: For me, it has always been a way of combating the negativity, fear and doubt in my own life. When I began to realize that I had fallen into a self-fulfilling spiral, I recognized it was my own words and beliefs about myself that lead me there. But it would also take changing my beliefs and speaking to what I wanted to be was how I truly came to discover who I was inside. That lead me to understand this was bigger than one person. This truth was universal.

AK: James is the spark! I have enjoyed his Facebook posts about Being Epic for a long time. They really lifted me up, but then he didn’t post as many. I asked him about it and pretty much told him to get back to posting. (I’m certain I wasn’t the only one.) I also said it would make a great journal! Luckily, James agreed.

How does the Be Epic Journal work? What should a writer who uses it expect?

JM: The Journal works like a PLAYBOOK, helping the writer recognize and engage in daily practices that they can build upon in creating a confident approach not only to their work, but to their life overall. They set a single targeted goal and the steps by which they will accomplish them. The beautiful part is that there are no right or wrongs as everyone is unique, but the daily diligence leads them to greater performance, greater awareness of their own ability and destroying the doubts and fears before they take root. The reason it works is because these are steps that THEY THEMSELVES have created, so these steps have greater meaning to each writer, deeper significance, and opens their thinking to being even more creative.

AK: The Be Epic Journal is a 3-week process, and a writer should expect to pick a goal that can be accomplished in three weeks. So, it’s not about curing cancer. It’s about engaging in a goal you’ve probably had hanging around for awhile. For a writer that could be completing a book or screenplay. The 3-week process helps anyone breakdown their goal into three steps and work on one step each week, plus taking time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t. It can be done around your normal schedule. It’s full of motivation from James and is very much a workbook to reach a specific goal. It’s set up to do one goal and then move onto another. The journal also includes a free 16-page download code for more instructions and goal setting tips. Soon — we will have a Kindle book that will be a great companion piece to the journal.

Is the Be Epic Journal specifically for writers, or can anybody use it?

JM: We created this journal for everyone. Writers are a community Ann and I are very familiar with, but the same lessons learned here can be applied to any aspect of life, any career, anyone who desires to embrace their most powerful self. The Journal is also meant to be a stepping stone; the first step in anyone’s Epic Journey.

AK: Anyone can use it. We are currently running a test group on Facebook for the journal, and while all of our participants are writers, half of them did not pick writer kind of goals. One person is cutting out sugar — yikes! But she’s doing it! Others are working on completing half-finished writing projects.

How can somebody get their hands on a Be Epic Journal?

JM: Amazon is our friend!!! They can order the journal here. We also have a 16 page pdf to give people an idea of what the program looks like for free.

AK: Thanks for asking! It’s on Amazon and if they’d like to know more about the whole process they can get the free 16-page download now. It also puts them on our email list, but we promise to only send out useful stuff — like when the Kindle is released and motivational infographics. The link to the 16-page download is

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

JM: Given my choice, I fancy a Peach Cobbler. But as you know, my love for pancakes has me searching for that perfect union of Cobbler and Pancakes. Just never ask me to choose between the two.

AK: My favorite pie is apple. But it has to be the one I make, which is from Trisha Yearwood’s recipe. Google it. You make it in a cast iron frying pan in your oven and it’s worth every calorie! Yum. Dang. Now, I’ve got to go make one.