Monday, February 11, 2008


This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the Sherwood Oaks Experimental College ALL ACCESS WEEKEND at the majestic Beverly Garland Hotel in beautiful North Hollywood. Okay, okay, it wasn’t all access, the hotel wasn’t majestic and NoHo ain’t pretty, but the weekend didn’t disappoint and at less than $200, it was also a bargain.

Sherwood Oaks College has been run by Gary Shusett for over thirty years and I have never met a person so committed to helping aspiring writers. He presides over the events like some grouchy caffeinated uncle trying to keep everyone in line at a drunken family reunion. Everyone does what he says because, deep down, you know he loves you and wants the best for you, even if he doesn’t always show it.

The events started on Friday although I was unable to attend until Saturday because of work commitments. There were probably less than a hundred writers present which made for a very intimate environment and low “student” to “teacher” ratio. There were three panels per day, each made up of different people and roughly grouped according to their profession in Hollywood i.e. the Manager’s panel, the Producer’s panel etc. At the beginning of each panel, the guests introduced themselves, made some brief comments and then for the best part, they were split up and were thrown to a small table of hungry writers. We were able to pick their brains for about ten minutes and then the guests rotated to the next table. Each guest had a large manilla envelope into which you could deposit a business card, synopsis, love letter etc.

It was fascinating to meet such diverse people. There were guests who took ten minutes to answer one question, rambling on like college professors. There were guests who inspired (Mark Skelly, I am in awe of your energy) and guests who wanted to give us a “reality check”. There were two guests whom I thought were drunk (could they possibly be like that all the time?) and one guest talked about his experiences with Native American sexual magic; I believe he had a point, although I forget what it was. Unfortunately, there were a couple of guests who wanted to sell us their book or their course, a problem which has permeated the annual screenwriter’s expo. I believe that, at these events, writers should pitch and not be pitched to.

We were also treated to a visit by the Job Factory, a bunch of six guys who write comedy screenplays as a team. I still don’t know how they do this. C’mon guys, do you REALLY get along? I am a big fan of Rob McKittrick, who wrote and directed Waiting …, his low budget but highly profitable film of the restaurant industry and I caught him after the panel. We chatted about his screenplays and I mentioned that I was a veterinarian. I also mentioned that I knew that he had two Chihuahuas. (Thank you myspace!) This freaked him out (temporarily); I guess it’s a fine line between doing your homework on a person and coming across as a crazed stalker.

On Sunday, we were treated to two excellent speakers. You never know what will come out of Shane Black’s mouth and this time, he asked the audience how many men had prostate problems and then came up with the analogy of …oh, never mind, I think you had to be there. I also enjoyed listening to James Manos, a highly entertaining New Yorker who is the creator of the serial killer series Dexter and said that he gets his writing inspiration from his own life. Uh huh. He also advised us to do drugs. His point did make sense at the time.

The weekend concluded on a strange note. We were treated to a large number of actors at our tables. A few of the actors were well known (in their day) but others had very few credits. Mike Farrell from MASH was there as well as (gasp!) Richard Anderson, the boss from the Six Million Dollar Man. Although it was cool to see them and hear about their experiences, they were more entertaining than educational. (Maybe I was just being greedy after being treated to all the insights from the writers, managers and producers). I was thrilled, however, to meet Beth Grant, a character actress who is such a BITCH in all the films I have seen her in. I told her my opinion of her roles and she assured me that she will be playing a nice mother in her next film. I also told her that she said one of my favorite movie lines of all time which is “I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!”. If you don’t know, it’s from Donnie Darko and yeah, well, I can’t really explain why I like that line so much. But I do.

All in all, it was a great weekend. I feel inspired and energized. For anyone who is considering going to one of the Sherwood Oaks events, I strongly encourage you to go. The fees are usually quite reasonable and I guarantee that you will make some great contacts, either with a manager or a producer or even a fellow writer. I don’t know how many business cards I collected (there are a lot stuffed in my wallet) but maybe in that stack, there is someone who could change my life. The next event is at the end of April but you can check out other dates at the website

Thanks Gary and good luck to the other people who attended!

No comments: