Pamela Harris

Master Class April 9, 2015

I teach screenwriting and TV writing through a program, I teach privately, I consult on projects and I'm in a writing group where most of the writers are working writers. It means that a lot of writers cross my path and what surprises me is how many don't finish projects. Some writers have made features and have gotten into Sundance and have producers attached and have written for existing series, and even some of these writers get stuck.

I get it. Desire has to turn into perseverance to sit in a chair, alone, day after day and finish something that, for a good amount of time, threatens to seep through your hands and disappear into the dirt. Bad habits are easy to slip into and the line between writing and not writing can creep up on you.

My habits are pretty good. I know my head f*cks, I know what draft I hit my stride in, I know my process. Recently, however, I finished writing a feature and for the first time ever found myself paralyzed when it came to getting it out into the world. The script is a modern fairy tale and the scope of it is bigger than what I've written in the past. I didn't have immediate contacts for it, but I didn't have contacts when I finished my first TV project either. After slowly and consistently knocking cold on TV doors, things started happening. With this new script, I kept seeing Sisyphis and his rock and couldn't move.

I decided to write to big producers, so called A-list, for advice on how I might try to package it. I was stunned when they wrote back. Each one told me I'm at the edge of breaking through, that it sounds like it's been going great, that it's only a matter of time before I get something into production with my name on it. It was so nice and affirming to hear, but my sense of being at sea didn't lift. When I create something I have a very clear vision for it, and then it hit me: I'm writing in a medium that isn't a writers medium. What am I doing?

That realization got me motivated. I researched, sent emails, talked to people, talked to more people, and now my feature is out there. I'm waiting on a producer, waiting on an agent, and I'm done waiting. I've started writing a play. Theatre is a writers medium.

With my writing group I bring in pages, cast them with whomever is there (actors come), give brief direction and we jump into a table read. Each week I see my shortcomings when it comes to directing actors, and I've been working on this. A close actor friend studies with Wynn Handman, a well-known NYC acting coach, and she recently told me that he'll sometimes take on a sit-in director to mentor in his classes. I contacted him, went in for an interview, and this week became his new sit-in director.

His classes are master classes and I recognized a few faces from TV and movies. I was awed by how good everyone is, and how diverse. The room is set up like a small theatre and each actor gets up and performs a scene, usually from a play, sometimes from audition material. I sit with Wynn and watch. He'll work with them as they do their scene and he'll occasionally whisper to me what he's thinking and why he's saying what he's saying. Actor after actor comes alive and it's fascinating and exciting and visceral. The last few months I've been tangled up and rudderless and I walked in to my first class scared shitless and shy. Seeing the risks this class takes has made fearlessness infectious. Being in that room is thrilling.


Comments

It sounds fantastic. How exciting to get to be in the room with all that creativity and vitality. Your perseverance is an inspiration, and what a pay-off! :)

Cynthia | April 17, 2015 at 02:06 pm

Super interesting piece. Riveting. The journey you endured to get to where you wanted to be is quite inspiring, regardless of the individual goals of the person reading about your journey. As for me, we finished on Tuesday the schematic design for what will be one of Miami's tallest buildings, 996 feet on Biscayne Bay. The process we enjoyed is not unlike the one you just experienced. Congrats. My hat goes off to you.

Paul Murphy | April 9, 2015 at 11:08 pm

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