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Past Featured Members

Jana Carole - Story Analyst

February 2009

My name is Jana Carole.

MPEG Classification?
I am a Screen Story Analyst.

Where are you currently employed?
I am currently employed by Columbia Pictures, where I have been on staff as a Story Analyst for sixteen years. I have worked on the studio lot, both in Burbank and Culver City, but for more years I have been telecommuting from my office at home – which is now in Ashland, Oregon.

What project are you currently working on?
Screen Story Analysts work on many different projects during any given week. I am currently assigned to several Columbia Pictures movies in development, reading revised screenplay drafts as they are submitted to the studio, and then writing comments designed for Studio Executives to use during the development process.

In 50 words or less, can you describe what your job entails?
A typical Story Analyst will cover eight to ten screenplays per week (more, with overtime), much of which is speculative material that has been submitted to the studio for consideration. We write “coverage,” that is, a synopsis and critical comments (format varies slightly by studio), as well as a cover page that distills the story elements, and a recommendation as to whether the studio should consider pursuing that particular material. Many of us are also assigned projects in development, which involves analyzing the progress of optioned material as it develops (often numerous rewrites) in greater depth.

How did you become interested in this line of work?
I have always been interested in literature and in writing. I have dual degrees in theater and film, with an emphasis in writing. Even when working in regional repertory theater as a Stage Manager, my favorite part of the process was rehearsals, when we would analyze a play’s text in depth, and I could do dramaturgy work. I worked on TV and movie sets, but always liked the creative development process more.

Who gave you your first break or first union job?
I had been working as an Associate Story Editor in Columbia’s Story department in 1990, doing research and data entry and proofreading hundreds of pieces of coverage (this was pre-computers and spell-check software), but I was also working as a freelance story analyst at night. I wanted a shot at landing a union job. It was Columbia’s Executive Story Editor at the time who gave me my first break after reviewing my portfolio, getting me onto the roster during an exceptionally busy time when more Story Analysts were needed.
What – and when – was your first union job?
My first union job was at Columbia Pictures, where I worked a “swing shift” from a trailer on the Burbank lot, arriving at work at 1 p.m. and leaving the lot at 10 p.m. Later I changed to the 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. shift that most Story Analysts work, and several years later started doing the job from my home office.

Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
Screen Story Analysts do not get screen credit (though I believe we should), and tend to be almost invisible despite our influence upon the development process. I guess our pride comes more from a job well done, since we are so rarely publicly acknowledged. A studio head once told me that my notes on GIRL, INTERRUPTED were the most insightful character notes he had ever read (ironically, my insights came from having had a grandmother who struggled with mental illness). What made me most proud? Maybe when my preschooler told her class that MUPPETS FROM SPACE was the best movie ever made. Or when my neighbor said FIFTY FIRST DATES was their household’s highest requested slumber party movie.

What was your biggest challenge in your job and how did you overcome it?
It was helpful to me to work first as a Story Dept. support staffer before ever becoming a Story Analyst, because I think it allowed me better insights into the process and how we fit into it. Story Analysts often feel removed from the development process, as if working in a vacuum. Hollywood studios are constantly changing and shifting, so what they are looking for becomes a moving target, which we must then second-guess. (We all could use a standard-issue crystal ball.) At Columbia we have weekly Story Dept. meetings to discuss ongoing development strategies, which helps to prevent our feeling outside that process.

What was the most fun you’ve had at work? 
Hmmmm…screenings can be fun. We work on a lot of projects that never come to fruition, so it’s always nice to see an endgame – even if it doesn’t always meet one’s expectations.

Job-wise, what do you hope to be doing 5 years from now?  10 years?
This job works very well for me at this point in my life. I would be content to be doing exactly this five or ten years from now.

What is your favorite movie?
I hate this question…I don’t have a favorite movie. Could I just tell you my astrological sign and favorite color instead? Okay offhand, THE BIG COUNTRY and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD for my Jimmy Stewart justice fix; GOODFELLAS and FARGO for their dark humor; NASHVILLE and THE TIN DRUM for their compelling strangeness; GAY DIVORCEE and TO HAVE AND HAVE NOT for sheer romance despite lack of a plot; LADY AND THE TRAMP, WEST SIDE STORY, ANNIE HALL, A LITTLE ROMANCE, THE MISFITS...ask me tomorrow, I'll give you a different list.
What is your favorite television program?
I don’t do much TV, though I was a loyal WEST WING fan. I also love THE SOPRANOS. Both shows have exemplary writing. I like HGTV’s historical-home show IF THIS HOUSE COULD TALK, but that show has really lousy scripting.

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
It may sound corny, but I think you need a solid foundation in the classics to do this job well. Not just classic movies, but novels and plays. Working at a Shakespeare theater was a great way for me to experience structure and form put into daily practice, not to mention learning the essentials of character development. Contrary to popular belief, I feel that Story Analysts understand and respect the work of good writers – perhaps more deeply than anyone in Hollywood does – and you must have a complete understanding of the writer’s job description to do that.

Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?  What was it and how was it resolved?
I will always rely upon the union to watchdog and enforce our contract as it pertains to all classifications – including little fish like Story Analysts. There are many mini-majors and larger producing entities that are signatory companies to the IATSE who are still flying blithely under the radar when it comes to their Story Analysts’ work. They farm out work to non-union freelance readers, using creative titles or other euphemistic terms to camouflage that they’re really doing the work that should go to union Story Analysts. All Guild members in all classifications would benefit by bringing these companies into compliance. There have been some instances where this has been achieved, but we need to close all of those gaps of contract compliance.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members?
I appreciate having an opportunity to read the profiles of members from other classifications. Story Analysts always feel they are the most misunderstood people in Hollywood, sequestered away in our little offices…but you know, probably every MPEG member feels that way to some degree. It’s good to get to know your fellow members; it will ultimately make us all stronger.

Photo by Christopher Briscoe

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