So You’ve Decided To Contact Me: A Guide

advice, Hollywood

I am a filmmaker, so people contact me all the damn time. Emails. @’s on twitter. Phone calls. Texts. Blind intros. Approaching me at cafes or theaters. Calling my reps. Periscope comments. Comments beneath my articles. Trolling (which is the 2015 equivalent of taking out an ad in Variety and hoping the person may notice).

I’ve given a lot of thought to all the reasons people contact me – and what they seem to hope to get out of it. Below are many of the reasons people contact me. I will feel free to update this guide as I think more about this.

1. You don’t know why you are contacting me. Not really. Not deep down.

I suggest you retrace your steps. What is your goal in this interaction? Thousands of years of history have trained us to believe that women are supposed to help others. Women are supposed to hide their own light, helpfully answer questions, support and encourage, obey and respect. If you have decided to contact me for any of the following reasons below, chances are you unconsciously want me to do that for you. You perceive that I seem to be moving in a direction you want to go in, and by contacting me, you may draft off and even use and overtake my momentum for yourself. None of this is conscious. Culture teaches us this is how it’s supposed to go – like I should be happy that I can help you by subtly transferring my extremely hard-earned momentum to you in a culturally sick exchange that seems natural only because it is mostly unspoken and has taken place over the course of most of human history. So, even though you either don’t know why you’re contacting me or have mostly good reasons at heart for doing so, really think about how you got to this point. Think about the systemic transfers of power and visibility and wealth that continually happen from women toward men. Consider therapy. Group meetings. Workshops. I hear Esalen is good and offers a “shared sleeping bag space” for a very low fee. There are any number of resources that will help re-set your compass that don’t involve me transferring anything I have of value consciously or unconsciously to you.

2. I have signaled that I don’t know my place. You feel called to put me back in my place.  

You’re right. I don’t know my place. That’s why I’m good. Go back to step one.

3. I attacked a Great Man. 

Part of what filmmakers do is express their opinions about films in public. I have noticed that when my opinion appears to be attacking a Great Man – a well-regarded white male director or screenwriter – I get dressed down by well-meaning prominent members of the film community. As if, unconsciously, they sense a threat to the Natural Order in me, and they feel called to shut me down. But in doing so, they are not stopping to think about the fact that younger artists attacking those who came before is how art gets made. Diverse artists attacking the establishment is the nature of art. Their instinct to shut me down is born of the corporatism that has turned the film community conservative and establishment-preserving. It’s why these Great Men are making bad movies that need calling out. Go back to step one.

4. I remind you of your mom. 

I am an extremely loving, nurturing person, but not everyone had loving, nurturing moms the way I did. Some people’s moms were withholding, others manipulative, others controlling. The truth is moms and all women are allowed the full range of behaviors and personalities that men express. If you are reacting to a trait you perceive in me that reminds you of your mom, you are almost certainly projecting a deeply ingrained picture that you see everywhere you go. It’s not anything in me you’re reacting to, it’s in you. Go back to step one.

5. I made you feel rejected by ignoring you / canceling drinks / otherwise signaling that I’m busy. 

I am busy and getting busier. I am not intentionally blowing you or anyone off, and I’m really not interested in hurting feelings. I just don’t fuck with pointless drinks anymore. If we have business to conduct — aka you can hire me — great. Take me to lunch or dinner. I am always down for free food at one of LA’s many fine restaurants. Or if we are dating — same. Otherwise, I have movies to make. I didn’t reject you, I’m just busy. Go back to step one.

6. I make you feel like you can’t be yourself around me. 

This is a classic expression talked about in Gender Studies departments. People say this when women “don’t know their place” aka when women verbalize uncomfortable realities that keep us poor, unemployed, disliked and subservient but that we’re not supposed to discuss because it makes the dominant group “feel like I can’t be myself around her.” If being yourself includes enjoying the spoils of my subjugation, then yeah, you can’t “be yourself” around me. Go back to step one.

7. I make you uncomfortable. 

Openly discussing the realities that inordinately help one group while taking the energies, resources, ideas and culture of other groups is not supposed to make you feel comfortable. It’s not safe. It’s actually dangerous in a business climate that’s totally dominated by mega-corporations. But great art does not come from a safe space. If you got into art to feel safe, good luck to you and the art you make. Go back to step one.

8. I need to be corrected. 

Men love correcting women. It’s like a battery source inflating your sense of ego and entitlement. Even if I’m factually, provably, demonstrably wrong, and you could prove it in a reputable scientific journal, ask yourself this: would you correct a dude friend in the same way you’re about to correct me? Worse, are you about to correct me on a subject that is mostly a matter of opinion or an issue that is widely debated or hard to prove? Don’t correct me you fucking idiot. Go back to step one.

9. I am employed. 

This is a big contact interface for a lot of people. In a town where 96% of studio movies are directed by men, there still seems to be a lot of anger toward me over the simple fact that *I have a job.* Like, the feeling is – “96%? We can’t get that to 100% What are we doing wrong here? Are we not intimidating and harassing our Womens JV Team enough?” There is visceral anger toward the idea of a woman being in charge. A woman creating the entire world of a movie in a screenplay. A woman ordering crew and actors around on set. People don’t like it, and they can’t even articulate why. But they certainly seem to want to contact me and do a little spitballing about why. Go back to step one.

10. People want to hear what I have to say. 

This is one of the most dangerous items on this list. One of the most revelatory changes social media wrought is a whole crew of women and people of color who were historically shut out of establishment media who found it easy to build audiences of their own because their voices were interesting, valuable and compelling. Without oppressive structures keeping us out, the democratic nature of platform publishing showed that people want to hear what we have to say. Of course, with more people listening — aka increased visibility — came increased harassment. Because the idea of one of the Others getting listened to is just intolerable for some people. Go back to step one.

11. You want to tone police me. 

Tone policing is when – instead of apologizing for oppressing someone – you let the other person know they are overreacting or too angry or their tone has upset you in some way, so now you are the victim, and they (your victim) are now victimizing you. For reacting emotionally. To a legitimately bad thing. Pretty fucked up huh? Go back to step one.

12. I am emasculating you. 

Men are just as much the victims of toxic masculinity as women are. Whatever standards or strictures of masculinity you believe are inside you are actually imprisoning you, by our culture. You deserve as much gender freedom as I do. Nothing I say or do can take qualities away from you. You deserve to feel safe. You deserve to explore the full complement of who you are as a human. You deserve respect as a human. As I do. Me reaching beyond my culture-set limits as a woman is not emasculating, it’s pro-humaning. You may want to consider setting down some of those masculine limits you’re holding on to so tightly. Go back to step one.

13. I am embarrassing myself, women or the cause. 

That is something you are feeling. I feel fine. Go back to step one.

14. I am embarrassing you. 

You don’t represent me. Go back to step one.

15. I don’t show enough respect. 

Showing respect is not how you make art, and it’s not how you make change. Go back to step one.

16. I am not subservient in the manner you prefer. 

I am not subservient at all. Go back to step one.

17. You are a feminist and what I say makes you mad. 

This is a favorite charge that gets thrown my way. I think that people – especially men – think that saying they are a feminist automatically makes them experts on a controversial topic that’s been a moving target since the days it was invented. Even if you really are a feminist, which is often debatable, it doesn’t matter if what I say makes you mad. That doesn’t mean what I say is invalid. All it means is you personally, who are probably uninformed or don’t understand what I’m saying, don’t like it. Go back to step one.

18. You will allow me a certain amount of success, exposure, visibility, agency, self-esteem, but beyond a certain point is too much. 

For some reason, people who are not me seem to be self-appointed experts on where the limits should be placed for me. These people always bend over backwards to assure me they are feminists too. I do not accept your limits. Keep those for yourself. Go back to step one.

19. I am threatening and scary. 

Ideas that truly challenge the status quo – especially if the status quo is illegal and immoral – will always be threatening and scary. If it doesn’t make you feel unsafe, it’s probably not fresh and challenging enough. Go back to step one.

20. I don’t care about your feelings. 

You’re right. I don’t care about your feelings. Go back to step one.

21. Why me? 

I have deliberately put myself in the position to succeed through a long series of calculated risks, directed action, trusting intuition and creative leaps. All the moves I have made are available to you as well. The answer to “why me” is because I made them. You can too. Go back to step one.

22. Who do I think I am? 

I have a healthy amount of self-esteem, not too much and not too little. But I frequently get accused of being a narcissist, just like almost every whistleblower who has attempted to pull back the curtain on controversial, secret and wrongdoing subjects throughout history. It’s easier to attack and tear down the messenger who is speaking (“who does she think she is?”) than attack the huge benevolent corporations who give all of us jobs (or those of us who are white and male anyway). Go back to step one.

23. You are jealous of me. 

As someone who also experiences jealousy and envy, I know what a bitter and painful feeling it is. What’s great is it’s actually a sign you’re on the right track. You are waking up. If before you were so numb to your own feelings you had no idea what you wanted – your compass was just spinning – now at least the needle is pointing in a direction. You have someone to point to and say “her. I want what she has.” Especially if you are a woman, this couldn’t be more important. When you don’t see anyone doing what you want to do, you are not likely to take those first steps down the path. But when there’s someone out there and you can be *jealous* of her … well now you’ve got something to work with. But here’s the thing – I know the feeling can be overwhelming and scary. But you don’t have to let me know about it. If anything, letting me know will make you feel worse because it will then make you feel like I know a secret about you. Instead, check out Julia Cameron’s brilliant book The Artist’s Way. She talks about how to use jealousy as a map to show you your own desires. Go back to step one.

24. I don’t deserve my success. 

This is one of the stupidest of many stupid reasons to contact me. Some day I will publish my memoir Adventures In The Peen Trade, and y’all will all understand exactly how much I deserve my success. Go back to step one.

25. I don’t follow the rules. 

There are no rules. Anyone who wants you to believe there are rules in Hollywood is an idiot who probably won’t last in this business. This whole town is a long con and those who excel at it are those most skilled at getting loose, reading the lay of the land, judging just how much play there is in any boundary, being able to judge where the real boundaries lie. There are certainly norms that people follow, but sometimes it benefits you to not follow the norms. The only real rule is knowing who the players are at any given time, and where you are in the game. Go back to step one.

26. I slut-shame. 

Only people who believe in and endorse patriarchal notions of sexual shame try to hit me with this bullshit. I start talking about some gross, predatory and sexist behavior on the part of a group of Hollywood men, then instead of everyone being like “yeah, that’s a deeply rooted problem that’s keeping a large group of people from moving forward in this town” they come at me for “slut-shaming.” Morons. Go back to step one.

27. I am not a perfect feminist. 

There is no perfect way to practice or espouse feminism. Men who have colonized feminism as yet another site for their self-aggrandizement and gain want you to believe that Imperfect Feminism is a legit reason to take a woman down. Go back to step one you terrible humans.

28. I am not a perfect human. 

The more imperfect the human, the better the artist. Go back to step one.

29. I am sexual.

Part of the way an oppressive structure keeps minority groups oppressed is by restricting access to the full range of human qualities they are allowed to exhibit. So for instance, black women are not allowed to exhibit anger without suffering consequences. All women are socially prohibited from exhibiting sexual behavior. Adhering to these prohibitions is a silent handshake with the patriarchy – a dark agreement saying “no, you’re right to restrict my life and expression.” Resisting the limits they place on us is a political act. Me showing off about being sexual is me getting political AND me using their vulnerability against them. It’s like jujitsu. The more freedom you exercise, the more freedom you get. Do not attempt to restrict the freedom of others. Go back to step one.

30. I reveal secrets. 

The more secretive the landscape, the easier it is to discriminate. Think: country clubs, Ivy League, Hollywood. Revealing secrets helps those who are being discriminated against. There is power in revealing secrets. If y’all know anything about me, y’all know I love power. I know secrets, and I’m good at knowing which secrets I can reveal, and which secrets it does not behoove me to reveal. Yet. More will be revealed. Go back to step one.

31. You are projecting into what I’m saying. 

Projection is when you find qualities in yourself so intolerable that instead of acknowledging them in yourself, you see them in others around you. Go back to step one.

32. You don’t understand what I’m saying. 

This is the cause of many difficulties I experience. I truly think some of you just don’t understand me. Go back to step one.

33. You are twisting or mischaracterizing what I’m saying. 

This happens deliberately to make me look bad, and it happens when idiots don’t actually follow the thread but pick out what looks like it may be the most controversial little strand and then grab it and start crowing about what a monster I am because — “look! The permanent black light we have set up over her entire perimeter exposed this tiny radioactive thread that looks like it could be deadly if we drag it through something deadly, like at the CDC or something.” Go back to step one.

34. You are an untraveled rube who has never left the country. 

Leave the country. You will gain perspective that will show you how backwards American perspectives really are. Go back to step one.

35. I am thirsty. 

Have you heard of the attention economy? Go back to step one.

36. I post too many selfies / opinions / too much about politics / not enough about politics / too much about how rich I am / too much about how poor I am / too much

An attention economy that privileges men over women will always punish women for taking some of that precious attention for themselves. Go back to step one.

37. We matched on a dating site so you sent me a long email. 

I match with everyone because I don’t have time to sit there and waste my decision fatigue looking at each profile and deciding whether to like the photo or not. I just swipe right on everyone then filter out later. The appropriate response to me not writing you back is to move on and not think about it – not find my email address posted online and send me a long email asking me to nurture your stupid baby feelings. Thousands of years of history are wrong: I am not required to caretake your feelings in any way. I do not care about your stupid precious feelings. Go back to step one.

38. You don’t like me. 

The logical thing to do if you don’t like someone is contact them, post about them ad nauseum, follow them from multiple dummy accounts after they’ve blocked you, invent stories about their job in the hope that may scare them and they may give up screenwriting. Go back to step one fool.

39. You feel confused about me. 

Chances are you are a mostly decent person who has just begun stepping down the path toward waking up. I do understand that some of the ideas I espouse seem challenging, hostile or scary at first. The more you work with them, the more you will see they are actually logical and natural, and it’s thousands of years of stealing-culture that makes it seem like women shouldn’t rise up and overthrow. No need to let me know you feel confused however. I am not a teacher. I have a job. Let the ideas work on you, and soon you’ll be working them on someone else.

40. I seem to represent change and that scares you.

Perhaps if you stop me, you can stop the threat that change represents. But arguing with change doesn’t stop it from happening. It’s like arguing with time passing. Go back to step one.

41. It’s slowly dawning on you that I might actually be more talented than you.

That doesn’t seem possible. And yet … ? How can we make this problem go away? Bully her online till she gives up and leaves Hollywood? Go back to step one.

42. You don’t like what I said on my periscope. 

Stop watching. Go back to step one.

43. You’re concerned about me. 

The term “concern-troll” was coined to describe people who try to infiltrate causes posing as supporters who are concerned about the group’s activities, while in reality the concern-troll is trying to derail and subvert the group’s goals. People have concern-trolls too. Go back to step one.

44. You think you can help me. 

This is a form of well-meaning concern-trolling that I call “help-trolling.” I don’t think help-trolls think of themselves as trolls. I think they genuinely think they are offering assistance. But I’ve noticed that help-trolls love to get in touch when there’s an appearance that things aren’t going well for me — aka trolls are spreading stories about me they completely made up in their imaginations. And then the help-trolls are right there ready to help out in any way they can (when in reality nothing is wrong except that I have a bunch of trolls making up weird stories about me). They’re like help-vultures. The trolls are able to spread weird stories about me when I’m in a space where I can’t talk about anything (in the middle of a project). When I’m busy talking about a new job, all is silent out there on the savanna. I think this is also a form of White Knight Syndrome. Go back to step one.

45. You want to offer me a job or opportunity. 

I am represented at UTA. The front desk there can help you. “I don’t want to go through your agents.” Then your “opportunity” is almost certainly not something I would consider an “opportunity.” But feel free to send me an email about your movie that just needs my help [to completely re-create] before it gets set up that I will barely skim at the gym and wonder what people are thinking before I never respond. Go back to step one.

46. You want to hit on me. 

Look, if you think we are well-matched, and I am single, then I’m open. There are a thousand ways to contact me. Do it. IF you sincerely think we are well-matched. Big if.

47. You think I’m not a good representative of my category and you want me to shut up / back down / go away. 

Why do I have to be in a category? Why do I have to fit within my category and you don’t have to stay within yours? Fuck you you fucking idiot. Go back to step one.

48. You are an activist and you don’t like how I represent the cause / my experience / myself. 

Tough shit. The universal is found in the specific. You don’t get to control how I represent myself publicly. You represent yourself, I’ll represent myself, and together we’ll present a diverse portrait of what it’s like here on the ground. Go back to step one.

49. You feel like I’m ignoring you online even though we are friends in meatspace. 

This one’s actually real. If I have missed liking your shit online lately, that means nothing for our real relationship or how I feel about you. It either means I haven’t been on, or haven’t seen your specific stuff, or I’ve been distracted. It means nothing about how I feel about you, whom I probably adore.

50. You have a question you could easily google — or a question you would literally have to pay someone to answer.

51. You have an extremely thin excuse for contacting me – apologizing for some imaginary wrong-doing, offering some tiny carrot of a favor that you know will be hard for me to ignore, etc. 

Sigh. I am busy and getting busier. Making movies is incredibly difficult. It’s complex. It’s draining. The process of actually making a movie is as difficult as the process of creating and working on the movie. Every time you contact me with some flimsy excuse, you are taking time and attention away from my movie. Does that make you feel good? Does that make you feel like we are becoming closer? Now, if you are contacting me for legitimate reasons, then I want to hear from you. If we are dating, all bets are off. If we are friends and making plans, great. Or if we are friends and haven’t connected in a while, glad to hear from you. If we are working together or may work together, then I probably always want to hear from you. Otherwise – my time and attention don’t belong to you. Despite what you may have heard, women aren’t obliged to caretake others’ needs all day. You are stealing my time and attention. Fuck off. Go back to step one.

52. You want to make my own joke back to me or explain it to me. 

This is a phenomenon all women online know about. Just assume that I do understand that I am making a joke – and that I got it when I wrote it. Go back to step one.

53. You assume that what I’m saying is about you. 

It almost never is. Usually, if I’m talking about you, you’ll know it. Especially if it’s good. Go back to step one.

54. You want to tell me someone’s saying terrible things about me. 

This one’s tough because on the one hand, I want my friends and periscope followers to know how much I love and appreciate them. I know y’all mean the best and are trying to help. But so often, I only hear about trolling from people close to me who mean the best. So it’s like “hey, thought you’d want this punch in the eye …”

55. I am not passive, submissive and demure. 

So many of the border clashes I experience online boil down to this fact. People have an unconscious expectation that women should submit to men. And when they experience behavior that flouts that expectation, they experience an urge to correct her. Go back to step one.

56. I take credit for my contributions, ideas and my work. 

Every person deserves credit for their contributions, ideas and work. Self-actualized people will stand up for themselves and take credit even if no one offers it to them. Our culture is so used to women giving credit to others, or hesitating to take credit for anything they accomplish, that seeing a woman unabashedly take credit for what she does makes people angry. Go back to step one.

57. I am comfortable taking attention in a climate that shits on women getting attention for anything other than sexual or gender-coded behavior. 

Part of how men have stayed dominant and in power all these years is by culturally enslaving women. Punishing them when they move outside submissive and supporting roles. Taking attention for themselves instead of passing it to others. Part of building a Hollywood career is building a network of fans of your work who will call you when they want to make a movie. When you see me taking attention for myself – and you have an urge to punish or shut me down for that – please know that urge comes from an overwhelming cultural history that needs women to be less so that men can be more. Go back to step one.

58. You want to tell me to be positive when I talk about marginalized, highly suppressed ideas. 

“Be positive” is code for “you are seriously bumming us out. Why can’t you just smile and be happy like the other girls? Life, as we dominant white men have enjoyed it for the past 10,000 years, is relatively easy. People constantly help you, so much that we internalize their help as a natural right and don’t even notice it happening. The help we receive is as natural to us as the air we breathe. So when the non-dominant groups around us complain they are not getting the same kind of help, and some are even getting policed, imprisoned and murdered … well that’s just a major bummer man. Can’t we all just get along? Be positive.” Go back to step one.

59. You want me to know that everyone has problems, not just women. 

There is no hierarchy of suffering. Me talking about the fact that 70% of the world’s poor are women doesn’t take away relevance from Great White Men dying of prostate cancer. You are unused to hearing a member of a marginalized group speak as if she were dominant. Get used to it, cuz this is gonna be happening to you more and more and more from here on in. Go back to step one.

60. You want my advice. 

This one’s tough because there is indeed a culture of advice-giving in Hollywood. I have certainly benefited from the advice of many more experienced filmmakers than me, and I am grateful to them. But sometimes people come to you asking for advice when really they want something else (see any number of the other points on this list). Or they may sincerely want advice, and if they are not far enough along on the journey, nothing I say will be particularly helpful. I get this sometimes in my periscope comments. I can be most useful with targeted questions from people making a sincere go at building a writing career in Hollywood. I’m not far enough along yet as a director to give advice, but I’ll certainly take some please.

61. You want us to collaborate.

I write alone. When you have an urge for us to collaborate, really you want me to do all the work (and most often I’m the one with the professional brand name too) and then you want to draft off that. No thanks. Go back to step one.

62. You want to work on one of my projects. 

I’ll call you. Go back to step one.

63. I am crazy.

Historically, men have called women crazy whenever they begin to gain visibility, power, voice. Whenever they start getting heard. It’s the most culturally powerful tool the patriarchy has to neutralize the threat we represent. Because how can you defend against people whispering behind your back that you’re crazy (so that no one will listen to or believe a thing you say)? You can’t exactly say “no I’m not!” If you care about resistance, if you care about suffering, if you care about seeing oppressed voices rise to be heard, please be skeptical whenever you hear an advocate called “crazy.” Go back to step one.

64. You want me to do the kind of unpaid, silent, invisible emotional labor that women have been trained to do for others for thousands of years. 

We are so conditioned to believe that it’s women’s nature to be better at feelings, to nurture others, to smooth over conflicts, to caretake, to do figurative and literal housekeeping, to serve and dote over — when in fact, studies have repeatedly found there is nothing in our nature to make us better at these jobs. Culture conditions us to think we have to do them, or we are consigned to keeping busy doing these roles when we are shut out of dominant roles. And the more we do them and see other women do them, the more we assume it’s our nature to do them. It’s not. Refusing to take on the emotional work people continually hand you will make people mad. People are used to people like you doing this kind of work for free and no credit! People getting mad is ok. Get used to it. That’s how you move forward in life. If you are coming to me hoping to conscript me in your personal army of admirers, supporters, caretakers, advice-givers, readers, nurturers, emotional housekeepers, well, think again pal. Go back to step one.

65. I am a hypocrite. 

Stupid people accuse you of being a hypocrite if you have ever showed signs of changing your mind, or if your position appears nuanced and grey in any way. “Hypocrite!” is also one of those Internet Debate tactics where it appears the other person is debating but really they’re just wearing you down by distracting you with some junk about debate they read on Reddit. Go back to step one.

66. I am difficult. 

It’s well known now that women filmmakers are called difficult just by doing their jobs. Most of the job of being a screenwriter and director (I am both) is having opinions, defending those opinions and asking others to execute those opinions. A woman defending and executing opinions – when millions are at stake – quickly gets perceived as “difficult” because humans have been socialized to believe that women should be obeying and respecting, not executing. This upset happens on a primal, visceral level. Then they call you “difficult.” Go back to step one.


67. You think I copied your idea. 

Filmmakers are always being accused of copying people’s ideas. Some are even sued for it. It’s well known in Hollywood that many ideas are just in the air at a certain time, meaning an idea whose time has come is usually being talked about in many different circles at once and reaches a tipping point or series of tipping points where it reaches the mainstream through a series of mediators who spread it to wider and wider audiences. It’s not the idea that matters, it’s the execution. Tarantino was a revelation when he brought his fresh vision to audiences in the 90’s (which recombined ideas of many other filmmakers), and then a slew of imitators followed. If your work is truly original, no one can copy you. No one can execute like you. No one remembers Tarantino’s imitators. No one will forget Tarantino.

68. You want to send me a pic of your dick. 

Your dick pics are always gross and laughable. Go back to step one.

69. You want to kiss me / fuck me / make me your phone girlfriend / fall in love with me even though you are not available to give me what I want.

You are stealing my soul. Fuck off. Go back to step one.

70. You must require that I not harass you further. 

This was the wording of a response to this original post. The person received it in her email and didn’t realize she had signed up for my email list and didn’t know this was a blog post. So she didn’t know why I was writing this to her. But I thought this phrase was perfect. This is how Hollywood feels toward outsiders, troublemakers, whistleblowers … anyone rocking the boat. They think they can just draw the curtain between First Class and Coach – say “we must require that you not harass us further” and speak of us no more. Too bad fuckos. It’s too late for that. Go back to step one.

71. I am over-dramatizing the story. 

People who are close to me IRL often accuse me of over-dramatizing the story. Like, if I told a story online and then they ask about it, I’m forced to admit “I may have oversold it a bit.” But did I really? I am a filmmaker. I am a compulsive storyteller. It’s what I do to pay the bills and it’s what I do to pay passage across this corrupt River Styx called life. If I convey information and provoke emotion or a reaction, have I really ever oversold a story? Is there such a thing as over-dramatizing? Or is there just dramatizing. And are we just numb to feeling. Go back to step one.



Ask Forgiveness, Not Permission

advice, Hollywood

Internet thinking and money is infiltrating Hollywood.

I found Venture Hacks’s advice for startups applicable to filmmaking — particularly the idea of giving team members freedom and responsibility over what they make. The idea is to let every person ship their work as fast as possible, then figure out what’s wrong and how to fix it with the feedback of initial users. Instead of getting stuck in internal review processes that result in layers of overview and never sending anything to market.


  1. Ask forgiveness, not permission
  2. Do what you think is right (and be right)
  3. S/he who codes, rules


  1. You break it, you bought it
  2. Sweat the details and corner cases
  3. Be real
  4. Own the result

Replace “codes” for “writes” or “directs” above, and I think this is a pretty good prescription for filmmaking. In filmmaking, there are plenty of reasons why some people may not be given freedom and responsibility that does not reflect on them. But I believe if you hire the right people, give them freedom and responsibility (or let them take it), the greatest results are possible.

All of these dictums are variations on freedom and responsibility. Netflix has a great presentation on the topic. So does ValvePeter Drucker probably wrote about it 50 years ago. 

Great Ideas Look Like Bad Ideas

advice, screenwriting, T.V. writing

If you come up with a new idea and you tell your agents and managers about it, or some executives or producers you know, or your friends, and everyone loves it, that’s a bad sign. That means it’s not fresh enough. That means it’s sitting too close to the surface, too obvious, too similar to what’s already happening in the zeitgeist, in the culture.

Your reps’ jobs are to hate your really great ideas. Because they are focused on what’s selling right now and what they predict might sell tomorrow based on that — in other words, yesterday’s great ideas.

But if your ideas are really good, they’re not going to look good to anyone at first. And that’s the magic window where — if you have the courage to follow your instincts and your gut — you can capitalize on the lag time between the moment that you know it’s good and the day the rest of the world wakes up to it.

Your job isn’t to follow the zeitgeist, it’s to make it.


Peter Thiel basically says the same thing in his class on startups:

“3. Secrets exist.

People don’t really believe in secrets anymore. But secrets exist. It’s just a matter of learning how to find them.

Risk aversion and complacency discourage people from thinking about secrets. Existing conventions are much more comfortable. But secret truths can be incredibly valuable. Importantly, they are discoverable; by definition, any answers to the questions in Lesson 2 above are secrets. Perhaps the biggest secret of all is that there are many more secrets in the world that are waiting to be found. The question of how many secrets exist in our world is roughly equivalent to how many startups people should start. From a business perspective, then, there are many great companies that could still be—indeed,are waiting to be—started.”


Seth Godin says the same thing:

“All good ideas are terrible

Until people realize they are obvious.

If you’re not willing to live through the terrible stage, you’ll never get to the obvious part.”

Every Artist Deserves Hope (and Everyone Is An Artist)


I had a really interesting conversation the other day with a guy who said: “Everyone is an artist.”

I had a twitter conversation last night with a lit manager that started cuz I was trying to warn newer writers away from paying for notes. Especially paying outrageous sums like $600 and up – which is a scam plain and simple. Like another twitter friend (hi Hisel!) pointed out: “Literally no one’s opinion is worth $600.”

Yes notes can be valuable, especially when you’re starting out. But the feedback you get from each other and from mentors who are a few steps ahead of you in the process are far more valuable than anything you could get by paying for it.

Where do you meet people who can give you notes? Everywhere. Coffee shops where writers hang out. If you live in a place where there aren’t a lot of writers, meet them online. On twitter, on forums and in the comments sections of blogs and video sites where writers hang. I live in the middle of Los Angeles, writer central, and I still meet most of my friends online. Maybe that’s due to my, er, personality.

Once you’ve figured your voice out, notes become less valuable and can even become counter-productive. Don’t get me wrong – notes are always part of the process in a professional setting, and I am grateful for sharp notes. But an experienced notes-giver will know how to give you feedback that heightens your intention, your voice, without diluting you. This is very hard to do. If you find a person who gives you these kinds of notes, stick to them like the ALIEN.

So in the twitter conversation last night, my lit manager friend’s point was that he doesn’t like the scammy notes-givers cuz he thinks they give people false hope. His business is deluged with bad material, and they don’t need to be encouraged by these one-man operations.

My point was: every artist deserves hope. And what all the reps and execs don’t realize is – they get their hands on artists after they’ve spent their entire lives developing their instruments. But if they had met them even a few years before that point, they would have dismissed them as another of the unwashed masses, with scorn and ridicule, the way I see them do.

And that is wrong.

Because while we are all born with talent (everyone is an artist) – no one is born knowing how to use that talent –

All artists deserve to be encouraged and nurtured. They deserve to be safe doing so. They deserve to not be preyed on, by the likes of bloggers trying to charge them $600 for their bullshit notes, the equivalent of which they could get from anyone they meet in the comments section on the same sites. Most of all they deserve to be protected and safe, not ridiculed by the very people making their living off them after they have devoted their entire lives to developing their instruments.

All artists deserve hope. Every great artist you can think of looked talentless to someone at some point. They just weren’t successfully dissuaded from continuing.

And by the way, the second part of this idea – that everyone is an artist? My friend’s point was that no matter what your vocation – you can practice it with art – with love – with intention.

You deserve to make art. And you deserve to be protected and safe so that you can continue.


How to Break Out of a Creative Rut
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Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy (Part 2)

advice, Hollywood

Hollywood © by Cynthia_x

A few people seemed confused by my last post on why Hollywood is wrong about piracy, so I wanted to clarify a bit.

I’m not suggesting anyone get rid of distribution. I am suggesting that piracy is not the threat Hollywood is making it out to be.

It’s best practices in many industries to give away a certain number of copies of your books or songs or images for free – because the more eyeballs that see it (or ears that hear it) – the more money it makes in the long run. This might appear counterintuitive to the kind of corporate executive who manages intellectual properties like commodities – who believes that media should be sold and managed like the goods on the shelves at Walmart. Reduce shrinkage. Prosecute shoplifters. Spend a fortune on traditional advertising, but show no one the actual product til they buy.

However, selling TV and movies is very different from selling a 24-pack of toilet paper. People are going to talk only so much about consumer goods like toilet paper – in person or online – no matter how good your marketing is. But people want to talk about culture. That’s one of the main things we talk about – we identify with what we like, we reference culture to signal we’re part of the gang who likes Bon Iver and Game of Thrones and Annie Hall, we use stories we saw in movies, TV or books to help us make sense of the chaotic mess that surrounds us in our own lives – we enjoy telling each other about what we’ve seen. It’s part of the fun of being human.

And Hollywood wants us talking about their shit. Because out of ten people – if two of them are talking about a movie they saw, the chances are far greater that the other eight may go buy a ticket. Or pay somewhere else down the revenue stream.

But to get more people talking about it, you have to seed the storm cloud a bit. They’re starting to catch on – like when they put Portlandia’s season premiere online before it aired and ratings in key demos jumped 81%. But that kind of thinking needs to extend across the entire industry, not just TV, which is used to giving its shit away for free.

Piracy achieves the same effect, though less formally. If Hollywood were to formalize the practice – legitimize piracy, make downloading titles fast and easy and inexpensive, none of this would be a problem. And yeah, certain distribution arms might have to change to accommodate this, but distribution always has to change to accommodate new technology. Outdated industry models will wither and die in the face of new technology and new consumer preferences. This is what market pricing is all about – letting consumer demand set prices. And if that’s readjusting prices downward, resetting what could be seen as a speculative bubble so that inflated movie budgets have to go away and huge marketing campaigns are replaced by good word-of-mouth buzz, then so be it. The industry will be healthier for it.

Why Hollywood Is So Dumb About Piracy

advice, Hollywood

Fireman Trying to Turn Off Broken Hydrant Under the Hollywood Sign, LA, 2006 © by exposo

Hollywood is always behind the times – whether being the last to know “oh no you didn’t” is not funny or the loudest objectors to new technologies (which they always say is going to decrease their profit, even though it always increases it) .

Most hilarious, though, is the way Hollywood is always first to pat themselves on the back for being cool, forward-looking, innovative, young (that just means they’re quick to hire young sociopath-douchebags with no track record then throw up their hands when they have no idea why the stuff they produce is such shit) –

But the fact remains, Hollywood is one of the oldest, whitest, crankiest-old-man businesses around.

The huge studios (which are all owned by enormous multinational corporations) are up in arms about piracy because they see themselves as the “authors” of their films and TV shows and think that anyone “stealing” their films and TV shows by downloading them illegally represents a dangerous threat to their bottom line. Or at least to the capitalist law and order system that has allowed their parent companies to rape and pillage our economies and natural resources for hundreds of years.

The biggest flaw in this logic is the idea that *money* is the greatest resource an audience can trade to the author of a film in exchange for the privilege of seeing that film. (That a corporation can be the “author” of a film is a debate for another day.)

Attention is a far more valuable commodity – one that Hollywood sometimes spends more money to acquire than they reap in money in return.

Which would you rather have:

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $10 million, but that no one heard of, no one talked about, no one cared about, or –

– A movie that cost you $5 million to make and grossed $5 million, but that everyone heard of, everyone’s talking about, everyone cares about?

I would rather the second. Because in the former case, you have a commodity with a limited afterlife. In the latter case, you have a commodity with a far greater afterlife, both financially and culturally. Benefits accrue to the studio and the creative professionals involved in the film that are not measured in money but rather in terms of how much impact a project has – how many people saw it?

During awards season, important people (people who might be voting in the big awards) receive free screeners of anything that stands a chance of getting an award. Studios want to make sure the important people – the tastemakers – have seen their stuff. Considering it costs nothing to allow important people to download video for free – why not let the important people’s families also have access? They probably have a lot of important friends who vote too. And they probably spend a lot of time talking about this stuff at boring holiday parties. And if we’re expanding the circle of who is important, why not make it certain zip codes, because I think we can all agree that most taste is made in a few central taste zones in Brooklyn and Los Feliz.

My point is this: everyone is important. Everyone is a tastemaker. Do I want some kid in a village in India to be able to watch my movie for free because he downloaded it illegally? Fuck yeah. Because that kid is important. And getting my movie in the hands of that kid is more important than the pennies I/we could make off him. Pennies we no doubt would never make because he would have never made it to the theatre.

A huge part of a movie or TV show’s budget – sometimes WAY more than the costs of production – is marketing and advertising. Imagine there was a system where the youngest, most independent-minded, most hooked-in online could access and see movies and TV (sometimes before they’re even released) and spread word early whether something needs to be seen to be part of the conversation or not. We have that system in place and that’s piracy – and it’s the fairness at its heart – the fact that Hollywood can’t just throw a ton of plastic Happy Meal toys in our landfills to make us see their stupid movies – that they hate. It means quality stands on its own, and that getting firehosed in the face with marketing campaigns won’t blind us to the shitstorm you just made.

The bottom line is this: Hollywood spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year on marketing to get people to see their stuff, trying to get them to talk about it – when the best marketing is and always has been – make something great and put it where people can see it.

Right now there is tension in the market between the way consumers want to consume their movies and T.V. – in my living room, with my twitter friends – and the way Hollywood wants us to consume it – in theaters, on the day and time they specify, on approved devices. However, it doesn’t serve them to continue resisting their own customers’ preferences. Just as the music industry no longer found piracy to be a major problem once digital downloads were widely available at the right price, so will Hollywood find this “problem” will go away once they get their heads out of their asses and wake up to the world we now live in.

Hypocrisy in Hollywood
Created by: Paralegal

Cults, Community, and The Heidi & Frank Show

advice, storytelling

The roar of my neighbor’s un-mufflered pick-up greeted me in the carport. She got out and told me she was going to a live broadcast of her favorite pirated internet radio show – The Heidi & Frank Show – at the Hooter’s in North Hollywood. She strongly encouraged me to come.

As appealing as that sounded, I had to regretfully decline. However, I was struck by her zeal in proselytizing on behalf of Heidi and/or Frank. I’m from the rural South, so I’ve been on the receiving end of my share of well-meaning invitations to church suppers, youth groups, baptismal founts and lock-ins.

It wasn’t till a while later when her truck roared up – backwards (she always backs in) – when I noticed a giant “Heidi & Frank Show” banner covering the entire back of her truck gate – that I realized the full extent of her Heidi & Frank conversion.

“Where’d you get that banner?” I asked.

“I had it made,” she said. “To support the show.”

This was like lightning striking me dumb, the idea that anyone could care so much about Heidi & Frank – who, from what I’ve gathered online appear to be a couple of profane idiot-whisperers (“Topics discussed on today’s After Hours: tweets out of context, downs, swollen lady bits, fly hair quests, and lit hickeys… it’s radio worth watching!”) who specialize in the kind of community-building first espoused by the Hitler Youth.

I was blown away by my neighbor’s banner – by the idea that anyone could care so much about a show, feel so identified with and invested in a *money-making corporate enterprise* as to spend her own money to help advertise for them – till she drove up a while later with her new Heidi & Frank mudflaps.

That’s when I realized – isn’t this a goal of anyone who makes stuff, who tells stories for a living and depends on the enthusiasm and support of others to help spread those stories around? Don’t we all want our listeners, our blog readers, our T.V. show watchers or movie watchers or novel readers to feel so invested in and identified with our stories they create their own mudflaps on their trucks, to extend those myths those mud-encrusted-rubber couple inches further into the world?

I guess we can all learn a think or two from Heidi & Frank, and not just about swollen lady bits.


I’ve spent all of 60 seconds studying this Heidi & Frank, but seems like they’re following the cult leader’s handbook:

  1. People are put in physical or emotionally distressing situations [Hooter’s in North Hollywood]
  2. Their problems are reduced to one simple explanation, which is repeatedly emphasized [I’m listening to Heidi & Frank.]
  3. They receive what seems to be unconditional love, acceptance, and attention from a charismatic leader or group [this is the logline of any radio show]
  4. They get a new identity based on the group [my neighbor feels so identified with the show she used her own money to make a banner for her truck to advertise for them]
  5. They are subject to entrapment (isolation from friends, relatives and the mainstream culture) and their access to information is severely controlled. [the more they listen to Heidi & Frank, the less contact they have with the outside world]



I’m reading


See Your Own Trouble Reflected

advice, storytelling

lynda barry card w/ purple paint spatters © by xinem

… [Lynda Barry] told a story about the neuroscientist V. S. Ramachandran, who helps patients experiencing phantom-limb pain. Barry discussed one patient who felt that his missing left hand was clenched in a fist and could never shake the discomfort — could never “unclench” it.

So Ramachandran used a mirror box — a compartment into which the patient could insert his right hand and see it reflected at the end of his left arm. “And Ramachandran said, ‘Open your hands.’ And the patient saw this” — Barry opened two clenched fists in unison. “That’s what I think images do.

“I think that in the course of human life,” she continued softly, “we have events that cause” — she clenched her fist and held it up, inspecting it from all angles. “Losing your parents might cause it. Or a war. Or things going bad in a family.”

The only way to open that fist, she said, is to see your own trouble reflected in an image, as the patient saw his hand reflected in a mirror. It might be a story you write, or a book you read, or a song that means the world to you. “And then?” She opened her hand and waved.

I read this article about Lynda Barry – who became a writing and creativity teacher when the market for her comic strips dried up.

I was pretty troubled in college – and whenever people (people like the other girls in my eating disorders recovery group, for instance) would suggest to me that writing was therapeutic for me – I thought this idea was bullshit at best.

However, I do think writing has a cathartic quality – not in a confessional, I’m-making-my-audience-my-therapists! way. Rather, in the way Barry describes above.

If something has caused you to close, cave in, get smaller – writing about it, creating around it, reflecting it in the world again and again – gets you bigger again.

via Cartoonist Lynda Barry Will Make You Believe In Yourself –

Don’t Stare At One Thing For Too Long

advice, screenwriting

I took this pic yesterday while writing at a Soho pub. This image feels so London.

One of the many bad habits I have is I tend to spend too much time staring at one thing.

I’m thinking of scripts and novels right now, but I’m also thinking of life.

I freeze. I hesitate. I spend way, way too long staring at the same thing – when I should just keep moving the minute I realize I don’t know what to do.

Because doing nothing is almost always worse than doing anything at all. When you’re moving, you may be moving in the wrong direction – but it’s easier to figure that out when you’re doing something, when you’re in motion. Because when you freeze, you stop course-correcting, you lose any sense of your bearings. You forget where you are.

Worst of all, when you freeze you send yourself and the world the message that yeah, you shouldn’t be going anywhere. This spot right here feels safer and less uncertain than any random direction you might pick. And since staying in one place is far less anxiety-provoking than moving, you feel a sense of relief. But it’s illusory relief, akin to the relief you may feel when you refuse to get out of bed in the morning. Yes it feels better in the moment, but as your life and your work grind to a halt, your losses far outweigh the temporary comfort.

It’s the same with staring at the same beat in a script for too long – or staying at the wrong job or relationship or whatever it is – it feels better in the moment, but it can be subtly, silently devastating.

Any moment in your writing (or job or relationship or whatever) requires some thought, yes. But you know when you’ve paused too long. And when you do, make yourself go somewhere else, try a different spot. You’ll have a million excuses for why you can’t or don’t want to, but also you can just try it and see how it feels.

This is the outside of the pub pictured above. I'm in love with all the window boxes and hanging plants everywhere in London.



I’m reading Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox. It’s an entertaining ethnographic study of what makes the English tick – the perfect thing for my hostess to give me to read during my first visit here in London.

Story By vs. Written By

advice, screenwriting, storytelling, T.V. writing

Questioned Proposal © by Eleaf


Someone asked me to answer this question on Quora, so I thought I may as well throw it up here:


What is the difference between story writing and screenplay writing for movies?

My answer:

There is no difference.

People who don’t know what they’re doing or are not particularly confident in their screenwriting will go on and on about structure and formulas and hitting this goalpost at that mark and blah blah but the fact remains –

A screenplay is a story told visually (and with some dialogue). There is absolutely no other difference. It’s just a different style of telling a story (through pictures, sounds and spoken words rather than written words).

The more you focus on telling a story (rather than hitting all the goalposts the books talk about) – the better off you will be.


I would also like to recommend this answer to the same question by Mark Hughes. He gets more into the nitty-gritty of the “story by” vs. “written by” credits.


Today’s “What I’m Reading” is a “What I’m Listening To” –

I really love podcasts. There’s a handful that I listen to every episode they do. I’ll try to post about all of my favorites, but today’s favorite is “Extra Hot Great” – a podcast by three true lovers of T.V. and movies and all things pop culture. (They are Tara Ariano, David T. Cole and Joe Reid). They’re funny, insightful, and best of all they infect you with their love and sense of ownership over wonderful (and some terrible) things to watch.