Thrilled to have Lee Jessup here on the site today – if you’re unfamiliar with Lee or her site, make sure you check out her bio and links at the bottom of this post or click her picture. Over to you, Lee!
1) If you could describe yourself in 3 words, what would they be and why?
Wow. Stumped right off the bat. I am much better talking about other people than I am talking about myself, which is why I love the work I get to do with writers; It’s all about figuring out THEIR strengths, and putting those to work. Being a gemini, I am of two minds about nearly every way I think to describe myself, so I have to get past the imperfections and arrive at the words that describe who I hope I am at my best: Generous. Dependable. Tenacious.
2) What’s your background?
I was born into filmmaking, albeit in a different time and a different place. My father produced film before I was born (in Israel) – once I arrived he took a job cutting news for a late-night news magazine, so I grew up spending afternoons with him in the cutting rooms of the TV station. When he decided to dive back into film production, he allowed me into that world, and so I was able to observe and participate in the process, from initial script development all the way through to putting together marketing materials. I was an eleven year old kid less interested in school and more enthralled by hanging out on set. My father generously allowed me to come to set every afternoon, and assigned me to work with different departments on every given day. Sound. Camera. Craft services. You get the picture. Whether they looked to make a good impression on the producer or took to a precocious kid showing genuine interest, I’ll never know. They were Israeli, though, so I can’t imagine they thought too much whether or not the producer was impressed.
Anyway, I always loved reading scripts, giving notes, and assumed that everyone had that skill set. After we moved to the states and I set out to make my own name, I discovered that this wasn’t necessarily the case. I worked a lot of productions, but the producers I worked with always seemed to be more interested in the script notes I had than any particular task on my plate. Eventually, I moved to development which, along with production, took me all over the world and got me working closely with writers and directors, and a few years later ScriptShark.com came, where I was installed as director, and stayed with the operation for over 6 years. My passion was always for teaching writers how to make inroads in the professional realm, to identify the right next steps once Fade Out graces the written page. With the sponsorship of The New York Times and in cooperation with Final Draft I launched a national Business of Screenwriting seminar series, and have been hooked on working with writers on the career side of things ever since.
3) Your website describes you as a screenwriting career coach … What does a screenwriting career coach do – and why for a “scrappy” screenwriter?
Career Coaching for screenwriting was something I fell into. From the seminar series I mentioned earlier, writers I first came in contact with in the room followed up with me after the fact, and asked me to provide career-development driven input to them on a more regular basis. An email turned into a phone call, a phone call turned into a session, and suddenly, I had a handful of clients I was working with on a regular basis. It’s to their credit that I do what I do these days – it was they who insisted that other writers would be interested in this sort of help.
Career Coaching comes to support writers beyond the screenwriting stage. It’s curious to me that crafts people and achievement-based professionals of every discipline – from athletes to chefs to fine artists – seek trainers, mentors, coaches and support systems to help build and illuminate their path – writers, somehow, are supposed to do it on their own, even though building a screenwriters is no small task. Exploring everything from brand to career trajectory, I work with my writers in a variety of capacities, all from a a business-driven approach. With one writer, my role may be as simple as holding the writer accountable to the deadlines we set in place; with another, I may help develop ideas and identify suitable creative development that is “in brand”, while identifying appropriate professional channels through which to expose existing work. With another, I may help identify effective ways for cultivating and reinforcing one’s professional network. My job is to provide my writers support, insight and industry guidance when contemplating and reaching out to representation and production companies, identify contests, and create ongoing opportunities for themselves.
It’s funny that you ask about the word “scrappy”; since I am a big believer in teams, I have one of my own in place, which gives me the insight, advice and support I need to push in the right direction both personally and professionally. When I first put together my business, my friend Kris who is PR/Marketing guru and a brilliant writer in her own right, asked my why the word Scrappy had to be so prominently and consistently featured on my site. The way I see it, a screenwriting career doesn’t build itself. Breaking into the entertainment industry is harder today than it’s ever been before. There are more writers trying to break in on any given day, while less movies are being made. Therefore, you can’t just wait around for your screenwriting career to happen. You have to be willing to bob and weave, sort of speak, to move and groove and get scrappy, become resourceful for your screenwriting career to really happen. Suffice it to say, Kris not only got it; she gave me her blessing.
4) What’s your top 3 bits of advice on the industry for screenwriters?
I only get 3? Hmmm… Let’s see:
Get to know the industry.
You are not working in a bubble. You are aiming to become part of a working, dynamic, ever changing thing. So read. Read a lot. Read industry news (there are a bunch of reputable sites that do email alerts and roundups for free, you just have to sign up). Read The Scoggins Report (another free resource) to find out what’s selling and who’s buying. Get to know the players in the space. Read scripts. Scripts for produced and still unproduced films. This is a critical part for any writer’s success in the industry. It should become part of one’s daily information diet immediately.
Content is king.
And it’s on you to create it. Never send anything out into the industry, not even to your agent or your manager, without it being 100% ready. A writer aiming to break into the industry should be getting at least 2 scripts finished every year. And by finished, I mean vetted. Written, sent out for notes, rewritten again. Get in the business of bringing scripts to an industry-ready shape every time. And getting notes is usually the fastest way to get there, painful through it might be. The other side of it is that the more you write (and by write I mean go through extensive rewrites for each of your scripts, as that is often where the “real” writing is done), the better you will be at it. Often, screenwriters just starting out ignore the fact that screenwriting takes a lot more than talent. Sure, you have a knack and an innate understanding for the cinematic format, but it is, inherently, a craft. The more you work at it, the better you will inevitably become. The worse thing a writer can do for themselves is sit on a screenplay from three years ago and instead of working on a new script wait to see what it will do for them.
Always develop on both the business and creative fronts.
Words like competitive and demanding are ones that I just can’t emphasize enough. A writer set on a screenwriting career just does not have the luxury of working on a screenplay for a year, than taking a year off writing to develop themselves on the business front. In order to be effective, the writer has to put forth efforts on both fronts. For both creative and business efforts to yield fruit, they have to be cultivated consistently, be it writing a screenplay or developing industry relationships. You have to feed both in order to see the results you want over time.
5) Describe a typical day for you.
One of the things that I love about my job is that no two days are the same, but if I had to describe one, it would go something like this: I have two kids, so I am an early riser. By the time my kids roll out of bed to start getting ready for school I will have likely answered any late night emails that came in and done any reading I need to do for meetings in the day ahead. I usually have roughly 3-4 client meetings a day, with both existing clients and new clients. Meetings take place either in person or over the phone/skype. My favorite place to work right now is a cafe in Culver City called Akasha – The staff is lovely, the music is great, and the environment is both relaxed and dynamic. The industry is a social “place” – you often hear of managers and execs taking meetings in coffee shops, restaurants, and bars, so it’s important for me to be able to assess my clients against this background. My days are usually broken with the prerequisite industry lunch – often with industry colleagues, producers and managers I’ve known for a long time and still keep in touch with. They can really help me keep my finger on the pulse, which is so instrumental for my clients! Afternoons are spent in more meetings, than home to the kiddos for dinner, playtime and bedtime. Once they’re down for the night, I answer any remaining emails from the day, and begin reading scripts and writing samples for the next day’s meetings. On the rare days when I don’t have back-to-back meetings, I spend my time working on my upcoming book What to Expect… Launching Your Screenwriting Career for Michael Weise Productions (the publisher who brought us Save the Cat and books from such greats as Michael Hauge and Pilar Alessandra). My deadline for the manuscript is May 1st, and these days it feels like I cannot write fast enough!
6) What’s the ONE thing you wish all screenwriters would do in their careers?
If there is one thing I would wish for all screenwriters trying to break in, it is that they approach their screenwriting as a career choice, regardless of whether or not it’s also the pursuit of a dream. Love it or hate it, this is a business for anyone lucky enough to work in it. And, on the industry side at least, choices are made based on what will amount to smart business decisions. Therefore, one should approach the construction and launch of their screenwriting career as a business initiative. Ask yourself, how do you make your brand, your product, most marketable, most appealing, most unique? How do you keep executives reading past the first 5 pages? How do you present a compelling and exciting brand? So many writers get precious about the work, where in fact it’s their brand they would benefit most from developing. A script, even when sold and produced, can only go so far; it’s the brand that serves as the backbone to a career. So solidify your brand, make sure it’s cohesive and clear. Give yourself the best chance out the gate by becoming an expert in your chosen genre. Don’t believe me? Look at the track record of other writers who broke in the last 10 years. Most chances they started writing in a single genre, than expended from there, once they’ve established themselves. Sure, you hear things like “don’t limit yourself” and “you should never read anything else in the field as it will only suppress your creativity”, but the reality is that such things are often said by either those who have not made it yet, rebels who were able to finance the production of their own works, or writers who broke before this last decade. Approach the construction of your screenwriting career as the construction of a business, with your screenplays serving as your products, and you, the writer, the ever-powerful brand.
BIO: Lee Jessup, the former director of ScriptShark.com, is a career coach for screenwriters who now guides aspiring and professional scribes toward long-standing and prolific screenwriting careers. Her coaching clients include Golden-Globe and Emmy nominees, as well as sold and produced WGA members and writers just starting out. Her national Business of Screenwriting seminar was sponsored by The New York Times and launched in corporation with Final Draft, and her book What To Expect… Launching Your Screenwriting Career will be published in early 2014 by Michael Weise Productions. To learn more about Lee and her coaching services, visit her website.
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