So Many Writers Have This Bad Habit by Jen Grisanti
Film Courage: Jen, are you a writer?
Jen Grisanti: I am not. I am an author. It’s interesting because people ask me all the time and it catches me off guard and I have to remember, yes, I’ve written three books. I am an author so I am a writer and in that sense, I am not a screenwriter.
Film Courage: So what is it that you do aside from the books?
Jen Grisanti: I’m a speaker. I’m a blogger for the Huffington Post. I am a writing instructor for Writers on Verge of NBC. I’ve been a writing instructor there for eight years and I’m a story career consultant at Jen Grisanti consultancy.
Film Courage: When someone approaches you through your website and they say “I’m considering hiring you,” how can you determine between a writing that is dabbling in the industry versus those who say this is my chosen career path? Can tell the difference in terms of commitment level?
Jen Grisanti: You know, it’s interesting. I get writers who are coming out of college to a co-executive producer, staff writer all the way up to co-executive producer level. This is because I was a former 12-year studio executive and when I was an executive, I staffed over 15 top prime time TV shows. And I got to know a lot of writers, whereas I know a lot of consultants get the brand, brand new writers. But because I have been exposed to the professional writer I do get a lot of professional writers. I think my feeling, as part of being a current programming executive, really was identifying new voices. I like working with the green writer who hasn’t developed bad habits and who is open to the process, so I really don’t have a problem if I have someone who is dabbling versus totally committed as long as they are committed to the process that they signed on for.
Film Courage: You said something that caught my ear and that was bad habits. So in terms of being an established writer or someone who has done it for several years and has “their way of doing things,” what are some different tip-offs where you see this person is more all closed arms and not open to the process?
Jen Grisanti: There are many tip-offs. I would say probably the biggest tip-off is the inability to hear a note before defending the note. I think the biggest tip-off …well, I mean the first tip-off is on the page. You can tell in the first three pages if a writer knows how to write. What I can also say is you can also tell a voice and you can have a writer who has a voice but doesn’t have the formatting down. The voice can still be found through the bad formatting, so that’s why I say I’m open and I have no problem working with brand new writers. I love that. I also love working with produced writers who do have a stronger sense of the craft. However, the gift is really in recognizing when you have the newer writer who makes faux pas like defending a note before hearing a note which is a very big mistake that many newer writers make. Also, it’s a mistake that writers make on staff. And so it really is helping them to feel safe when you’re giving a note.
I can say when I was a studio executive, the agenda was that of the network and the studio that I was carrying. Giving notes as a story career consultant independently I have no agenda other than making the story the best that it could be. So this is why I encourage writers to be open and to recognize my only goal is to make their story the best that it can be.
Film Courage: You said something earlier about you can overlook maybe formatting if the [writer’s] voice is strong and authentic. Does that mean if the story is original or it has nothing to do with that?
Jen Grisanti: No. It does. You know voice comes down to so many different things. A voice could come down to character description. It could come down to writing poetic and lyrical action lines. It could come down to the original concept. It could come down to knowing how to write a flawed character well. I mean there are so many ways … I always try to figure out if I could really pinpoint what voice is and help people understand. I think for me a large way that I define voice is an idea of what is your world view? What has happened to you in your life that has caused you pain and given you something to say and how does your writing reflect that?
Film Courage: Have you ever seen someone be too emotional and too…because we all feel that our story is intense and it is because we’ve lived it. But have you ever seen it in the writing where possibly a writer should tone it down, whatever it is, the anger in one scene or something?
Jen Grisanti: Oh, yeah. I mean I would say a much great problem is not enough emotion. I think too much emotion is not nearly as common. It’s more the how do we elevate the emotion so that we feel this more.
Film Courage: And when you see this do you feel like that writer is phoning in that character? It’s like filler or is it that maybe they’re not totally in touch?
Jen Grisanti: I think that comes from being green and not really understanding. There’s so much that goes into strong character work. I work with writers on the idea of thinking about the wound. Thinking about the childhood wounds and in a TV pilot, how this series of triggers splits open that wound. And then the idea of what is the negative narrative that has come from that wound and how is that getting in the way of the central character achieving the goal? And then how, through the pursuit, is the central one step toward healing that wound?
Question: Are you quick to defend your writing?
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ABOUT JEN GRISANTI:
As a Current Programs Executive, I was exposed to the entire creative process, which means I know what the studio wants, what the network looks for and what kind of material you need in order to get hired. I have read over 8,000 scripts and given notes on most of them, so I know how to make a script the best that it can be.
In addition to Aaron Spelling, other great mentors I’ve worked with include, Glenn Gordon Caron, Barry Schindel, E. Duke Vincent, Ira Behr, Ken Sanzel, Mara Brock Akil, John Eisendrath, Jorge Zamacona, Brad Kern, Chuck Pratt and Brenda Hampton.
Over the years, I have developed numerous industry relationships with successful writers, directors and executives who have supported me along the way. You can see some of their testimonials here.
In August of 2008, I was hired by NBC to be the Writing Instructor for their program, Writers on the Verge. This is a 10-week program focused on polishing writers’ material and readying the participants for the staff writer position on a television series. Classes concentrate on creating an exceptional spec script and understanding the dynamics of pitching oneself in the television industry.
Since I launched my company in January of 2008, I have worked with over 500 writers, made up of half TV writers and half feature writers as well as 10 novelists. Twenty of my writers have sold pilots and two have gone to series. I have helped several writers to sign with top agencies including UTA and CAA, I’ve helped over 40 writers get staffed. I also worked with a feature writer on a script that is currently being produced with huge names attached. Additionally, many of writers I am working with have made it into writing programs as well as placed at high levels in writing competitions.
In June of 2009, I was invited to be a blogger on The Huffington Post.
Most of all, I absolutely love what I do. I enjoy working with writers and approach the process with care, experience and passion. It is imperative to me that both the writer and the story are honored as a script develops. In an industry that is generally too busy to give anyone personal attention, I will give it to you. With me, you get your own Personal Executive guiding you every step of the way.
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