S. Lane Porter is a screenwriter who’s been putting a lot of work in the industry lately and is starting to see the fruits of her labor form. This writer has a lot of great things to say about the grind of getting your name out there and the dos and don’t of living in Los Angeles.
Check out my interview with her below!
Nick: Other than screenwriting, how many other jobs have you held in the film industry?
S. Lane Porter: The short answer is six positions over several films.
I started out in the film/tv industry as an infomercial production assistant during my summers of unemployment between seasons at South Coast Repertory. At the time, I was working under the Assistant Director and I realized this was not a career track I wanted to follow. It takes a very special type of person to be an A.D. and I knew I didn’t have the right stuff, so I moved on to the art and costume departments.
After my contract at the theater ended, I landed my first feature gig as an On-set Dresser and from there I fulfilled the role of Art Director, Production Designer, Prop Master and even did a few Costume Design gigs. Prop Master was my favorite position because I’m also an antique junkie and the job requires a lot of time inside prop rental houses. It’s like being inside a museum where you can touch everything.
Nick: Do you recommend writers learn other film related jobs? If so, then why?
S. Lane Porter: Absolutely! Realistically, if any writer expects to understand the process of screenwriting, they have to experience a film from the point of view of constructing it from scratch in a real world environment. Whether that means being an office P.A., or a department assistant, or even higher up as I have climbed, every minute you spend on the set magnifies your skill set as a writer. It also looks great on a resume, because let’s face it, all things being equal, having this type of experience in your background trumping other writers shows your loyalty and professionalism in the industry. You’re telling everyone you mean business when you whip out your resume.
Taking on set jobs also keeps you safe from pitfalls. You’ll learn about contracts, how to interact with talent, and you’ll soak in all of the solutions to the problems you encounter along the way. It’s a win win, if you ask me. You don’t have to be in Los Angeles to gain this experience, either. Almost every college or university has a film department. Hook up with these people and you’re well on your way to gaining experience you can’t find in a book or the Internet.
Nick: With your extensive writing experience in new media, what do you see in the future for internet content?
S. Lane Porter: If I had a time machine to visit any point in the history of film making, I’d choose right now. I would never discount the amazing moment when the first human being looked through the slit of zoopraxiscope, but think about it:
Today, right now, anyone can take a story from inside their head and turn it into a film. Affordable technology the industry uses to create films is accessible to the average adult and a child can create a great looking film with the lens on a smart phone. No time in history has made this possible for us to make a film with high quality components until recently in the last ten years. Let us also not forget websites like Youtube, Vimeo, Twitter which allow us to put out our creations in front of people with little physical effort and bypass the time honored stiff construction of film studio marketing and distribution.
Traditional channels of film creation, distribution and marketing will always be present and have a purpose, but with the advent of today’s tools, we all get the chance to show our art to the world. I guess I haven’t answered the question. The future is bright, let’s just say that.
High (and low) quality content will continue to be found in every corner of the planet. However, there is a downfall to this war cry of “everyone can do it”. When you increase content, you squeeze out the amount of time a user can spend to watch something else. There will be so much content out there, an artificial intelligence will have to be created to monitor and perhaps suggest content for the user based on their preferences and personality. A user’s time on the net is and will increasingly become the denomination of commerce within new media.
Nick: What has creating your own site with an extensive portfolio accomplished for you as far as furthering your career as a writer?
S. Lane Porter: Having a website with my resume and current projects listed on it has opened many doors. With the addition of social media avenues such as Twitter, I have sold material because my work was available to peruse online before contact was even made with me.
Every writer should have a website with a blog, a resume, and a projects page with sample downloads and synopses of their work. It’s not expensive and with a little research you can have a professional WordPress driven, ad-free website with your own personal domain for fifteen bucks a year. There’s no excuse not to have one. If you don’t believe me, email me and I’ll send you a list of steps to make it happen.
Nick: Living in Los Angeles is said by many to be a requirement for all aspiring screenwriters. What obstacles should any screenwriters looking to move to LA be prepared for in order keep focus?
S. Lane Porter: This is a great question. There are a hundred dos and don’ts about moving to Los Angeles, but they affect everyone, not just writers. The main obstacle that comes to mind for me as a writer is regarding side work/employment.
You’re going to need a job once you get here because screenwriting doesn’t pay out for a few years (if ever). However, it’s important to find the right job. At some point in time, I have fallen into the trap of working in jobs that over-stimulate the creative part of my brain making it difficult to write when I get home. Find a job that doesn’t do this.
There are a ton of assistant jobs, clerical jobs, factory jobs, and customer service positions out here which require a multitude of skills, but they don’t require “creativity” to make it through the day. Before my computer crashes with an onslaught of hate mail, I’m not talking about the type of “creativity” it takes to find solutions to problems throughout the day, I’m talking abusing that cauldron within ourselves where our stories are created.
Save that specialized energy for your writing, or if unavoidable, find an activity between the two that sets you back to zero. Recharge the brain and then get back up on the keyboard horse.
Nick: What is your favorite genre to write and why?
S. Lane Porter: I find myself circling the comedy/drama genre often because it can be broken down further into many different sub-genres, but I also love science fiction.
Nick: How many scripts have you written and completed?
S. Lane Porter: Oddly enough, for where I’m at in my career, not many. I have four features that I consider finished. Two of them are optioned, one is sold and one is being re-written. I also have three industrial films, and several shorts completed. For myself, it’s definitely quality over quantity. A lot of new writers will churn scripts out but they haven’t quite learned how to self-edit and improve them. They just want to be done and move on to the next story. If I remember correctly, in Tales from the Script, Billy Ray dropped one of my favorite factoids in which he stated (paraphrasing here): Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” went through forty-six drafts before filming took place. I think if you move on after five you’re kidding yourself. Edit edit edit. Then edit some more.
Nick: How often do you write?
S. Lane Porter: When I’m on assignment, about 8-10 hours a day. That includes research (aka surfing, people watching, outlining and finally writing). When I’m working on my own stories, I tend to relax a little more and focus on getting more work (networking, etc.) rather than the writing itself.
Nick: What mainstream movies, past or present, do you wish you had written and why?
S. Lane Porter: Another great question! I’m a huge fan of Charlie Kaufman and Terry Gilliam. I wish I had written Being John Malkovich and Time Bandits, but rather than wish I were the author, I’d be just as satisfied to spend one day in either of their weird brains.
Nick: Any plans to fine-tune and publish that 200 hundred page science fiction novel you wrote when you were twelve?
S. Lane Porter: Well, I’m not sure if I can say this yet, but a certain director that recently retired and sold their entire company to Disney was interested in bringing this richly drawn saga of the ages into reality, but more likely, it’s also equally possible that I am lying.
There are no plans other than to get it out of storage so I can have a good laugh.
For more from S. Lane Porter, you can find her personal site here.