Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

Stage 21 (star wars)

Once upon a time, before I became a widow, before Kaz got sick, before we even met, I used to be a director. Not a famous one, but one with a decent track record and some minor but not insignificant accolades. I had several projects in the works. Kaz used to help me with them, reading my scripts, giving me notes, connecting me with his contacts. I was highly productive during our first two years together. I wrote one feature screenplay, directed two plays, directed and produced three music videos. The day he was diagnosed was the day after I completed and delivered the last music video. I haven’t directed anything since.

empty stage

During the year he was sick it was simply impossible. After he died, I lost all motivation. The only thing I could do was to write, and I wrote the entire time.

Writing suited me. It was solitary. I could do it in my pajamas. I could laugh, cry, scream or talk to myself all day long, in private.

old golf carts

Directing is a whole other beast. Directing requires communicating with people other than yourself. It is part vision-making, part juggling act, part performance. It requires listening, collaborating, convincing, defending, explaining, and answering question after question.

It requires hustle, especially if you don’t have a lot of money to work with. You have to somehow get professionals to help you for little to nothing, vendors to give you great deals, and actors more experienced and more famous than you to actually do what you tell them.

the lot

It requires a lot of professional fronting. “50% of directing is acting,” a famous director once told me. You have to act like you know what you’re doing even if you have no idea. You also need to be humble and gracious so that the crew doesn’t think you’re an asshole and walk off the set. Like my post about being an Alpha Bitch, it requires being a leader, which is to say, it requires an enormous amount of energy and people skills.

The other day I wrote that I can’t stand my job. The truth is I work at one of the biggest studios in town, but not in the capacity I want to be working in. It’s a double-edged sword. I am surrounded by the very thing I want to be doing. Yet I have not reached the point of being able to do it professionally.

Stage 8

Recently, there’s been a paradigm shift. Since returning from Vermont I have been quietly stocking my arsenal with projects that will hopefully get my career back on track. I’ll be talking more about them in the weeks and months to come. They’re going to take time so I need to be mentally prepared for the long haul. I have a ton of things to do, dozens of people to reconnect with, and probably 100 movies to catch up on. I’m not necessarily starting from scratch, but definitely starting over.

The time has come. One of my blogging friends just posted about wanting to be more than just one thing. I relate to this so much, it’s like she wrote what was in my head. I want to be more than just a widow, motorcycle rider and puppy-owner.

I am more than just a widow, motorcycle rider and puppy-owner. I am more than just a writer or blogger too. I am a director and producer. And sooner than later, I will be coming to this studio for meetings, shooting in these stages, and sitting in the director’s chair yelling, “ACTION!”

As they say in the Middle East, “Insha’Allah.” G-d willing.

high chair


Adapting Non-Fiction for TV and Film

You’re probably familiar with films based on novels, but did you know that many award-winning films are based on non-fiction books or articles? Here are eight such films:

On the Waterfront (1954) – Screenplay by Budd Schulberg, based on “Crime on the Waterfront”, a series of articles in the New York Sun by Malcolm Johnson, which won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Waterfront

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) – script by Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern, Peter George, based on the book “Red Alert” by Peter George

Into Thin Air: Death on Everest (1995) – screenplay by Robert J. Avrech, based on the book “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer

A Beautiful Mind (2001) – screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, based on the book “A Beautiful Mind: A Biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr., Winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics” by Sylvia Nasar

Iris (2001) – screenplay by Richard Eyre, Charles Wood, based on the book “Iris: A Memoir” and “Elegy for Iris” by John Bayley

Seabiscuit (2003) – screenplay by Gary Ross, based on the book “Seabiscuit: An American Legend” by Laura Hillenbrand

Into the Wild (2007) – screenplay by Sean Penn, based on the book “Into the Wild” by Jon Krakauer

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007) – screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on the book “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby

In a lecture I attended last October given by Brad Schreiber, an accomplished writer/teacher/consultant who was kind enough to share with us the Writer’s Pledge (Industry Friday #8), I learned some interesting facts about adapting books or articles for film.

1. If you think your story would make a great film, here are some reasons to write the book first:
– You will have more control over the material.
– You will most likely automatically be a producer on the film.
– The other producers won’t be able to get rid of you.
– Adapting the book is usually a faster process than writing an original screenplay.

2. On the other hand, these are some of the challenges of adapting:
– Books have interior dialogue. In film this becomes Voice Over Narration, and too much narration is usually not a good thing.
– Books can have a lot of non-action. Film is all about action (even a non-action film).
– Books can be non-linear. Films are generally (but not always) linear.
– Books are culturally specific. Films are intended to have a global appeal.
– Books leave much to the imagination. Films rely on specific images.

3. Another important consideration is thematic focus. Generally, a film focuses on a certain aspect of the book or subject matter rather than the entire story captured in the book.

Two examples:

In the film A Beautiful Mind, the producers decided to leave out the fact that Nash was apparently bisexual and instead focused on the love story between him and his wife.

Dr. Strangelove was based on a non-fiction book about nuclear disaster. The director Stanley Kubrick thought it was so bleak to the point of being absurd, so he made into a dark comedy.

If you’re in the book-writing stage, you need not worry about these things now, but keep them in mind for later. If you’re a screenwriter, then think about what your angle would be on the non-fiction book or article you want to adapt. What is the central story and how will you approach it? If you’re a producer, realize that the person who wrote the book or article might not be the best person to write the screenplay, but they will probably be the most knowledgeable about the subject.

Happy creating!


Query Letters – 30 Do’s and Don’ts

On Industry Fridays, posts will relate to purely professional matters, including writing, producing, directing, books, film and television. This week is about the Query Letter.

A query letter is a formal letter you send to an agent, publisher or editor to try and get them interested in reading your book manuscript or hiring you to write the book. The letter should include:

  • The topic of the work
  • A short description of the plot
  • A short bio of the author
  • The target audience

Based on your query letter, the literary agent or editor then decides whether to contact you and request to see the manuscript. The query letter is possibly the first (and last) piece of your writing the agent or editor will ever see, so it’s important to get it right. It is literally the first step towards getting your manuscript published.

There’s tons of information about query letters on the internet, but here is a great free handbook by Noah Lukeman that explains how to write a great query letter. http://www.lukeman.com/greatquery/download.htm  Did I mention it’s FREE?

Below are 30 simple bullet points re writing the query letter (that are explained further in Noah’s handbook):

1. Open the query letter with a reference to a book the agent sold

2. Make sure you have a clear “hook” or logline of the concept of your book

3. Mention the genre of your book

4. Make comparisons to other books in the genre

5. Explain why your book is different than these other books

6. Describe the plot in no more than three sentences

7. Do not use character names

8. Do not mention subplots

9. Describe your bio in five sentences or less

10. Only include relevant information in your bio

11. Do not mention minor credits in your bio

12. Do not make your bio overly personal

13. Put any publication credits in italics or caps

14. Do not pitch more than one book

15. Do not have more than three paragraphs total

16. Do not exceed one page with your query letter

17. Do not quote your own book in the query letter

18. Do not include small talk

19. Do not be self critical

20. Do not mention givens

21. Do not include endorsements from family, friends or barely known authors

22. Do not include lots of underlining

23. Do not include lots of bolding

24. Do not include lots of italics

25. Do not use a font that’s too big or too small

26. Do not use unclear or colored font

27. Use good quality paper

28. Use a good printer

29. Remember to date the letter

30. Use letterhead instead of including contact information in the body of the letter

Below are a few examples of successful query letters (i.e. letters that got agents to read the author’s work and/or led to publishing deals). You’ll notice that some of them break one or two of the above rules, but in general, they stick to them.



Finally, if you’re curious how to find agents to send letters to, here is a link to the 2013 Guide to Literary Agents (available from Writers Digest, Google, Amazon and more). http://www.writersdigestshop.com/2013-guide-literary-agents?lid=cswdblog13

Happy creating!