I'm sorry it's taken so long to write up this but it's been a pretty whirlwind 2 months! Not a day goes by where I don't think of your generosity in getting me to LA, so before I begin - THANK YOU AGAIN.
As a massive Game of Thrones fan I've decided to call this series of blogs Winterfel-LA, offering my reet northern experience of what it's like being in LA at USC.
I spent the first few weeks of adjusting to life in the states, including the HEAT and constant sunshine (rather hard to write an atmospheric/depressing scene with all this merciless light). I had to wait a while to get a car sorted out and had to use LA transport. A journey that should have taken 30 minutes took 2 hours. I got a lot of reading done, and cursing on the side of the road whilst practising my forlorn look and staring hopefully into the distance for the arrival of the bus.
The School of Cinematic Arts is living up to it's positioning as the world's top film school. The faculty are impressive and know their shit. This entire term/semester is devoted to writing a screenplay, writing a speculative script (for an existing drama series) and performing in an acting class to have writers better understand the perspective of actors when they receive a script.
For the screenplay class, my professor is Mark Shepherd, the man apparently responsible for unlocking the genius of Shonda Rhimes (McDreamy aka Derek Shepherd/Patrick Dempsey in Grey's Anatomy is based on Mark). In his feature class I'm writing a biopic film about Rosalind Franklin, the scientist whose research was used without her knowledge to discover the structure of DNA, propelling James Watson and Francis Crick into the history books whilst she remained a footnote. This class is amazing. I can't articulate exactly what it is that happens in the class, but I come out of it feeling like a stronger writer and confident about what I'm writing. Here's a mini bit about the feature:
"Rosalind Franklin's work was essential to unravelling the mysteries of DNA, one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the twentieth century. But the woman herself is missing from all the history books. This is the story of Rosalind Franklin, the Dark Lady of DNA."
In my drama spec class I'm working on Fear The Walking Dead under the guidance of Bryce Zabel, one of the main writers on the Adventures of Superman and also Disney's Atlantis the Lost Empire. Writing a spec for the show has been an interesting process. The interest does not include watching the series which I didn't really enjoy. I felt the characters were underdeveloped and all of them sounded similar, which made it kind of dull when trying to emulate their voice in my own script.
Both of these classes are augmented by the other students. I arrived at USC thinking it would be a gladiator arena to prove who was the best, the most creative. What I've found instead is some of the most inspiring writers and incredible stories that come with them. Being in their presence, hearing their thoughts have made me a better writer and I know (and hope) that this is just the start of some beautiful working relationships.
I currently have a job on campus working for David Isaacs. He's a legend. He wrote on Frasier and Cheers (pretty much every episode with Lillith in it). He's taught me a lot already by just being in his presence.
There's been some pretty interesting guests come in to speak at USC, including the producer of The Wolf of Wall Street. I'm currently setting up a meeting with them to discuss some scripts so fingers crossed that heads somewhere. If not, at least being here has made this opportunity arise.
Danny Strong came in to deliver a talk to students at USC, as an alumni of the school. He's known by Buffy fans as Jonathan, but Danny's writing career is even more impressive - he's the creator of Empire and has written the most recent Hunger Games films. He also won an Emmy for his film Game Change. Danny talked of the frustrations of being a young actor and how after years of auditioning with nothing to show for it, he decided to quit. Prior to this moment when he was given his sides (lines) at auditions, Danny would consider what he thought the casting director wanted and how he could morph himself into what they were looking for. The audition immediately after deciding to quit, Danny told himself that he doesn't care, so why not do what he wants to do instead of worrying about what he thinks he should be auditioning as. He got the part. And another one later that week. When talking on writing, Danny said it took him a few years to realise he should have used the same principle when approaching scripts. The moment he started writing what he wanted to write on (the project in question being Game Change) it was picked up by HBO and went on to win Danny an Emmy. His advice - don't waste your time doing what you think Hollywood wants you to create - they don't even know. So do what you are passionate about.
I used to intern at Content Media in London. The CEO saw that I was a BAFTA scholar and set up a meeting for me in LA with the head of development. That was a great meeting, just because it felt like life has been moving in the direction I only dreamed of a few years ago. They're happy for me to send scripts over whenever, so I'll be looking at that as soon as I've finished my submissions here at USC.
BAFTA events have been great, as well as the Q and A's after. Listening to Ridley Scott talk about The Martian was fantastic. He's the first director to send a signed script into space as it was launched with NASA who were also the first people to see the film (in space). Ridley was a sculpture student at the RCA, making his first film when he was 40. He still utilises his art abilities by story boarding every film he makes. He keeps them all as well (the capitalist in me thought about how much they will be one day). When asked if he loved space, Ridley answered "no", causing a large laugh in the audience.
Sam Mendes was very articulate in his Q and A after a screening of Spectre. I asked him about his relationship with the script prior to shooting, as he mentioned several times issues with the script on both Skyfall and the current Bond. He said how Skyfall had a treatment that was thrown out of the window immediately. Skyfall was created around his personal feelings of returning to England after he'd been gone for a while to find it had changed. He mentioned how the relationship between two brothers vying for a father figures attention was also a reflection on personal things he was going through at the same time. Spectre was born from the feeling of how the UK and indeed other governments are beholden to hidden powers and modern forms of technology which are being used for nefarious deeds(drones, data etc). Using both these ideas, Mendes mixed in the Bond world to create two very personal stories that have grown from his own personal relationships and his identification with his home country.
Perhaps one of the most exciting opportunities I had whilst out here was to go to the house of Carl Gottlieb - the screenwriter of Jaws. I held the original manuscript of Jaws, there are only four in existence (Spielberg has one). It had original notes by Spielberg, music notes by John Williams and storyboard art work.
Carl was incredible and his stories fascinating. I got to hold Spielberg's original hand written note inviting Carl to "eviscerate" the first drafts of Jaws by a different screenplay writer. I read Carl's original response stating "if done correctly, this film will make a generation afraid to go in the water. It will do what Hitchcock did to young women who were afraid to shower for 3 weeks after Psycho was released". I shall be returning to have coffee with Carl soon I hope. He has a really cute cat.
Back in January I went to watch Hozier for the second time. One of his band members opened for him - the talented cellist Alana Henderson. Her music is fantastic. I felt inspired to get in touch with her to see if we could collaborate on a music video. We met the other week here in LA and should be directing some music videos for her next year! I'll keep you updated on that as and when it happens.
I attended the Britannia Awards on Friday. What a night. Meryl Streep, Harrison Ford, Amy Schumer, Orlando Bloom and Sam Mendes all receiving awards. JJ Abrams and Robert Downey Jr were also there. Amy Schumer was the highlight, especially when she asked Britain to take back Ricky Gervais. I also got to meet and dance with John Boyega. I couldn't believe I'd been here less than 3 months and was now meeting part of the next generation of Star Wars. He was very friendly and charming.
I live with Helga Ernudottir. She's a life saver. Without her I wouldn't be able to stay in LA as she's letting me live with her for free. She's going to be an incredible Producer - she's currently at UCLA doing and MFA there. This woman is one of the most generous, kind and hilarious people I have ever met and I just wanted to put this here. It's great living with a dear friend who inspires me as much as she inspires everyone else around her. I'd also like to thank the Bonaccorso family, who let me stay with them for a month. When I was car-less they would help me get around. Timary (matriarch of the family) would send me off to school with a packed lunch - IN A BROWN BAG JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIES. I was the only person excited by this, but I felt like I was in a film every day.
My favourite part about all of LA is having the time to write. I love it. I know I'm getting a lot of work done and it feels like it could head somewhere. Thank you all so much for your support in getting me here.
Until next time, take care!
Lots lots of love Michael
PS LA is the only place I've been to where I've seen urinals with a closed door. See below:
PPS I'm sick of seeing the American flag everywhere. It's almost as if America doesn't want anyone to forget they're in America.
PPPS Adele's new song is awesome. I'm so happy for her.