Interviews are always exciting for me because I get the opportunity to talk with people I admire. Script consultant, screenwriting teacher, and podcaster Pilar Alessandra has a fantastic show, and she clearly knows her craft. She’s had the opportunity to travel around the world teaching and helping people become more effective storytellers.
Before we jump into the interview, I have to relate a quick story. I was at the New Orleans Comic Con this year, geeking out like I always do, and I had the chance to talk with Kody Chamberlain, the writer and artist of the book Sweets. Chamberlain was a guest on On the Page, and he had worked with Pilar on some of the trickier elements of his script. At the comic book convention, Chamberlain went on to say how wonderful Pilar was to work with and how her astute observations of the script helped to make it into the incredibly solid story it became.
So, not only do I love her show, but I also love the completed works of writers that Pilar has had the chance to work with.
Okay, story complete. Let’s get to the interview.
For any readers who may not be familiar with On the Page, can you give us a quick summary of what your company does?
On the Page is a writers’ studio where screenwriters and television writers can come to learn fast, efficient screenwriting tools that help them in every stage of the writing process. I also offer a weekly “On the Page” podcast, DVD, the occasional online offering and my book, “The Coffee Break Screenwriter.”
What was it about teaching that caused you to leave your work with movie studios?
It was much more fun and creatively satisfying to actually help writers through the rough spots, rather than give them a blanket “yes” or “no” in studio script coverage. Plus, my husband finally stopped referring to me as “Crusher of Dreams.”
Hollywood has seemingly grown more cautious over the past couple of years with the economy being in its current state, and even movies that seem like they would be big hits on paper (John Carter, Battleship) have had some rough results. What kinds of opportunities do you see for current screenwriters? Are indie productions the best way to get noticed now?
I don’t want to pretend that I can predict where movies will go or who will buy what, when. But, I am secretly satisfied that big franchise doesn’t necessarily equal big success anymore. I think this has more to do with the tastes of audiences than with the economy. Most people have grown up on great movies and they demand sophisticated story-telling. They want to be surprised and scared and thrilled and moved – not spoon-fed. And, if your independent movie can do this, than yes, I’d say it stands as much of a chance of gaining an audience as the big guys.
One of the perils of the indie effort is rushing a poor quality film out at a in a burst of enthusiasm. What sort of advice can you give for ways that creators might do quality checks during the production and editing process?
Sound. Put money into it! You can experiment with the structure and the look– but the sound always needs to be clear. (And, on a script level, please don’t cheat your third act. “Art” doesn’t equal “unfinished.”
What are you most excited about in the movie industry right now?
I’m actually most excited about premium cable television right now and the constant risks it takes. Shows like “Breaking Bad,”"Nurse Jackie,” “Game of Thrones,” The Killing” and “Girls” all push the envelope and introduce flawed, complex characters. I think the feature world could push a bit more in this direction.
What worries you most about the industry?
Writers not getting the credit they deserve.
How important would you say your podcast is to the ongoing success of your business? I discovered the show within its first year, and it’s always been a go-to resource for me.
I had no idea what a reach this podcast would have. I’m so lucky that I can go to a different city — or even a different country — and discover that people listen and learn something each week. We have such a variety of guests on the show too that each week I learn something new, along with the listeners.
Do you have any current or upcoming projects that new screenwriters need to know about?
This summer I’m excited to be hosting “Camp On the Page.” Each week we’re going to address a different genre or medium. I’m bringing in guest teachers and offering classes in comedy writing, improv for writers, reality show writing, business networking and more. It’ll be on the website by mid-June!
Thanks again to Pilar Alessandra for her time. From listening to the show, I know she’s incredibly busy, and I deeply appreciate the opportunity. Be sure to check out her website, the podcast, and the upcoming “Camp on the Page.”