Wednesday 25 June 2014

Interview with Anne Jordan

Anne Jordan is the author of The Big Secret - What Hollywood Won't Tell You, the Executive Director at Popcorn Entertainment Group, founder of Northern California Screenwriters, screenwriting instructor at Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College, and College of Marin, and a story analyst, script doctor, and script evaluator for Blue Cat and the Scriptwriters Network.
    I was introduced to Anne by Matt Treacy, who is a bit of a fan.

Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I grew up in a little Amish and Mennonite farm town in Hesston, Kansas. However, we moved to Santa Barbara when I was seven and to San Francisco when I was eleven. I've lived all over the world, but consider California home.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

I was lucky to grow up in a huge extended family of honest and decent farmers. My grandfather was one of twelve boys. My family: aunts, uncles, and hundreds of cousins, lived nearby and got together all the time—mostly to eat. Ha! I was very fortunate that my loving and supportive family was filled with very well-educated missionaries, so education and travel were high priorities. Also, tolerance towards others was expected. Politeness and respect to others was demanded. Service to others was a given. All of my family are in professions where they help people (mostly special education teachers, therapists working in hospice, doctors). One of my cousins works for John Hopkins in Africa (AIDS Project), so the sense of helping others was successfully instilled.) Me? I create better writers.

Where did you go to school?

College: University of California, Davis
High School: Oceana High
I also attended McGeorge Law School, but took a leave of absence to start my own business—Hot Lulu's. (I invented a medical/therapy product while in law school.) I never went back.

When did you first take an interest in movies?

My first movie was Mary Poppins (1964). As much as I love movies, if I were honest, books have always been my first love. I still read two to three books a week. 

• What was your first paying job (in any field)?

I was ten years old and sold American Seeds door to door. Actually, I made quite a lot of money from it! Later graduated to selling stationary door to door. In between, I babysat for every family in the neighborhood. (I was the baby whisperer—come to think of it, I'm still good with babies and kids.) I used to entertain the little tykes by acting out stories in books. That's probably where I get my dramatic tendencies.

What was your first paying job as a screenwriter?

I was hired to write the story of someone famous. I had to sign my first Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). I ended up hating the person and loathed every minute of that assignment. I have never done a biography since. Your readers should note that 90% of a screenwriter's income comes from writing assignments—not from selling spec scripts. I've since worked on some documentaries—which I wrote, but someone else got the credit. (Another NDA, but hey, it pays the bills.) Fortunately, I no longer have to write under someone else's name.

What was the main event that lead to you setting up Popcorn Entertainment?

I was doing several things: working as a screenwriter, teaching, and putting on expos for aspiring writers. Eventually, I realized I needed a production company, hence, Popcorn Entertainment Group.

You’ve written a book. I couldn’t find it on How do we get hold of a copy?

I have been self-publishing a text book for my classes—The Big Secret - What Hollywood Won't Tell You. However, a friend of mine (the President of the Redwood Writers) wants me to publish and start selling it. I'll eventually do it, but right now I've got two expos to put on!

How does Northern California Screenwriters function?

Northern California Screenwriters was the name of my first three expos. I changed it to StoryTellers because I also teach aspiring novelists. In fact, I'm teaching a class this weekend.

How did you become a screenwriting instructor at all those colleges?

Eight years ago, a friend who works for the college asked me. Truthfully, I'm probably the only screenwriting instructor in the area. Or the only one willing to do it for peanuts. 
    My history as a writer: First, I started out writing magazine articles (had my own column in four magazines), then wrote a book, and then learned the craft of screenwriting—which to me, is the highest form of modern literature. Currently, my life's goal is to make screenwriters as well-known as novelists. Most of you can list hundreds of novelists, but can you list more than a handful of screenwriters? You see my point?
    There's an old joke in Hollywood that an aspiring actress was so new to Hollywood, she slept with the screenwriter. My point? Screenwriters are neither famous nor particularly respected. I hope that changes, but until then, you gotta write because you simply can't do anything else.

• What are three things you wish someone had told you about making a living from screenwriting when you were starting out?

1. The biggest lesson I learned about screenwriting came from Michael Arndt, who wrote Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Toy Story 3 (2010). He told me he based Little Miss Sunshine on Star Wars (1977). I thought he was drunk (we were in Maui at a party), but he soberly proved it to me. It was an eye-opening experience and helped me to make the leap from amateur to pro. I've since taken what I've learned about structure and made an outline for my students.  SEE CHART HERE 

2. Success is all about getting your script into the hands of the right person—usually through connections made. I really started making great connections through my expos, and recommend writers take the time to go to pitch fests, expos, and tell EVERYBODY that you're a screenwriter. You never know which person is going to be the one that changes your life.

3. You've got to have the patience of Job. Things go very slowly and may take years. In the meantime, keep writing scripts.(Agents and production companies don't usually touch someone who hasn't written at least four scripts.) Improve as a writer. The average number of scripts written before a screenwriter is at the professional level is eight to ten. Sometimes more.) So get writing! My best advice is to copy best-selling movie scripts. Not just read them, but study and copy them. The practice of copying will help you improve enormously. Like aspiring painters copying the great masters of their medium, so too, should aspiring screenwriters copy the great masters of their medium: Lawrence Kasdan, William Goldman, and Shane Black. (There are lots more, but those are my favorites. You also won't go wrong with Bobby Moresco or Michael Arndt.)

If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book (not your own) to a newbie writer in Adelaide, which one would it be?

Hmm, that would be tough.

I have two favorites: Dave Trottier's The Screenwriter's Bible and Blake Snyder's Save The Cat!

Dave is the gold standard in formatting, and Blake is the gold standard in plots and beats.

• What are your ten favourite (favourite, not ‘best’) movies of all time?

Wow, these are really hard questions. Can anybody limit their favorite movies to just ten? I'll try, but ask me again in a few years and my answers may be completely different. These are all different, but perfect scripts.
Body Heat (1981)
The Princess Bride (1987)
Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
Lethal Weapon (1987)
Gone With The Wind (1939)
Wedding Crashers (2005)
Tropic Thunder (2008)
Crash (2004)
Ice Age 3 (2009)
The Sixth Sense (1999) 

What’s next for Anne Jordan?

For the next eight months, I have to concentrate on creating the greatest writers conference and expo in the world and then it's on to SF Geek Fest—a celebration of science and science fiction. I also have a television pilot that is being looked at, In God We Trust. But right this minute, I gotta run and teach another class! 

I hope you'll all be able to join your fellow Aussie, Matt Treacy, at the StoryTellers Expo—where I can meet you in person. Until then, good luck with your writing careers. And remember, don't give up—it's the people who persevere that make it.

Good luck to everyone in their writing careers!

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