This summer, Deborah Dean Davis will be teaching a 1-day course for screenwriters on how to sell yourself and your work while navigating the trenches of Hollywood. The Writers’ Program recently sat down with Deborah to get her thoughts on the “biz” side of showbiz and the perils of pitch meetings. Read on to see what she had to say!
Writers’ Program: Could you tell our readers about your professional background in the entertainment industry?
Deborah Dean Davis: I have been a professional writer for over 30 years, meaning I’ve been paid to write lots of screenplays and teleplays and many, not all, of them have been produced. I’ve worked for Steven Spielberg, Ivan Reitman, Meg Ryan, twice, and Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen’s highest grossing film, It Takes Two, is one of my most fun and lucrative credits so far. Add three of the first 12 Knight Riders; Magnum P.I.; The Fall Guy; and Star Trek: Next Generation and you have a peek into the beginning and middle of my career.
Wp’: Kirkus Reviews called your chapter in the forthcoming book, Cut to the Chase: Writing Feature Films with the Pros at UCLA Extension Writers’ Program, “deliciously witty and inspiring.” Can you talk a bit about your chapter and what makes it so inspiring?
DDD: First of all, delicious is a food group, right? So, reading my chapter is healthy. I hope that didn’t read like I was trying to be witty because that just… isn’t. I think every aspiring screenwriter will find something in my chapter that makes them feel more like they are already a member of a club. Daunting is a good word for how it feels to be on the outskirts of such a glamorous industry. My willingness to share unfiltered personal experiences is an attempt to demystify the world of screenwriting, boil it down and reduce it to a producer farting his way through a pitch meeting. If that doesn’t remind everyone of their last family Thanksgiving, I don’t know what will.
Wp’: How important is it to “sell yourself” as a writer versus letting the work speak for itself?
DDD: This may be the biggest single important thingy for a newbie to embrace. And writers, most writers, hate this part of show business. See, a lot of writers are thinkers. A lot of thinkers aren’t what you call social butterflies. So, putting yourself out there, selling yourself, is a challenge. I like to remind my students that they are writers and if they feel tongue-tied when asked an impromptu question like, “What kinda stuff do you write?” they can always write responses and memorize them. I know. Ridiculous. Trust me, it’s better to be ridiculous and prepared to sell yourself than miss your one and only chance to succeed because you feel… uncomfortable. Suck it up! Take an acting class. Make this a priority. You can do this!
Wp’: Your course’s description states students will pitch stories under real-life situational duress. Why is that important, and could you provide any real life examples of “duress”?
DDD: One time a producer handed me a sunflower seed and told me to put it on my tongue. More precisely, he wanted me to place it in the middle of my tongue, halfway back. When I asked, “Why?” he giggled like a child and told me his African Grey Parrot would stick his head in my mouth and retrieve the sunflower seed. Darling, THAT is duress. Students can prepare all day long for the perfect meeting. About three years into show business you will find out there is no such thing as a perfect meeting; only successful meetings. It pays to learn how and when to roll with the punches.
Wp’: What can students expect to get out of your 1-day course this summer?
DDD: Inspiration is the one word answer. I don’t like to squash anyone’s dreams. That doesn’t mean I don’t tell my students what they’re doing wrong; what they can do to become more successful. We are all works in progress. Me included. Anyone who enters a class at UCLA Extension in the Writers’ Program will GET out of the class exactly what they are willing to put into it. If you come to my seminar open, you will leave more open. I don’t think it’s possible to put a bunch of writers in a room and NOT make magic. I love it. I’m really excited about giving my class this August. Come be a part of the magic!
Deborah is teaching Selling Yourself and Your Work: The Business of Being a Screenwriter this summer, on August 17th. 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.