This spring, the Writers’ Program welcomes new instructor and former talent and literary agent Nancy Nigrosh who will be offering a course to help aspiring screenwriters unlock the secrets to success. And if anyone has the experience to deliver those secrets, it’s Nancy, who has represented (and/or discovered) Academy Award caliber talents like Kathryn Bigelow, Stuart Beattie, and Barry Morrow, to name a few. Read on to understand why anyone who’s interested in a career in screenwriting would be wise to study with Nancy.
Writers’ Program: From the description of your upcoming course, it sounds like you’re a firm believer that aspiring writers should create a niche for themselves, in so far as identifying with—and writing in—one genre only. You’re not alone in this view, but could you tell us why you think it’s so important?
Nancy Nigrosh: A lot of generally understood ideas about how things work in Hollywood are based on stereotypes from the golden oldie era of 75 years ago. In the film studios of yesteryear, the ‘writers building’ imitated a factory atmosphere where writers wrote across genres—but in truth all had defined specialties within the building. A given writer who was known to be good at writing action might be inserting action scenes into westerns, swashbucklers, war movies, or even slapstick action for a comedy or a musical. This piecemeal scenario is no different than in a factory where there’s a section devoted to sewing cuffs onto previously-assembled shirt sleeves.
Today, we don’t watch professional athletes shuffle positions during a game like a deck of cards. Players each play according to their pre-determined skillsets—skillsets that the team owner invests in heavily. The studios are no different than team owners. Alex Rodriguez is paid millions because he can hit home runs, Kobe Bryant because he’s a scorer, Tom Brady because he is a quintessential quarterback. It’s the same with an orchestra or a plumber, an M.D., a PhD, or NASA. Or, think of it this way: If you tore your knee muscle, you wouldn’t Google ‘doctor’ but ‘orthopedic surgeon’. What if the profile of that orthopedic surgeon stated that he or she enjoys doing dental surgery on the weekends and also moonlights as a plastic surgeon? Even with online testimonials to back up all three skills, you would likely prefer to have surgery with someone who focuses exclusively on orthopedics.
The truth is that any given professional must be committed to a specific expertise in order to successfully earn a living. Anyone who has ever written a resume knows how important this is. Artists are no exception. Look at the work of any given writer, musician, painter, or designer. The most well-appreciated artists have always created a distinct individual style that initially attracts paying patrons and subsequently, public consumers. Screenwriting is no different.
Wp’: Do you have any examples of writers who have honed their focus like this and found success?
NN: I’ll respond to the question by asking another question that might best illustrate my point: Who directed Lincoln? Was it Judd Apatow, Lisa Cholodenko, Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Brian Di Palma, Joss Whedon, Justin Lin, Alfonso Cuaron, Kar Wai Wong, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Amy Heckerling, Lars Von Trier,Tyler Perry, Peter Jackson, Penny Marshall, Werner Herzog, Guillermo Del Toro, or Marjanne Sartrapi? The idea of any of these filmmakers, most of whom are writers, directing Lincoln instantly calls to mind the diverse genres they’ve each successfully honed and dedicated their focus to.
Wp’: You’ve represented some pretty big names in your career as an agent, including former Writers’ Program student Stuart Beattie. Are there any common skillsets, traits or habits you found among these budding professionals that gave them an edge? Or in other words, are there things that every successful writer should or should not do?
NN: Yes, definitely! Take my course and find out why I signed Stuart Beattie, an unknown writer at the time, and also find out why he and many others were able to become so successful!
Wp’: What can students expect to get out of your upcoming course this spring?
NN: First let me clarify what the course is not….it’s not ‘how to write’ or ‘what to write’—it’s how to behave in a way that supports a successful screenwriting career.
Wp’: Thank you Nancy!
For a full bio on Nancy Nigrosh, please visit her website here.
Nancy is teaching Cracking the Code: How to Become a Professional Screenwriter in Hollywood this spring, starting April 27. Enroll online or by calling (310) 825-9971.
Jeff Bonnett is the Program Assistant for Screenwriting (Onsite & Online). Contact him at email@example.com or (310) 206-1542.