Where are you currently employed?
Universal Pictures International.
Most recently, I read a mountain of material in preparation for the Cannes Film Festival. This is my favorite time of year, as the projects are mostly choice.
Describe Your Job.
I read material submitted to executives (mostly scripts, novels, plays and treatments on cocktail napkins), break them down into hopefully flowing, accurate synopses, weigh the story’s negatives and positives, and make recommendations as to whether or not we should purchase, option, pick up or distribute it. I’m usually the first line of defense identifying scripts worth further consideration. I do a lot of comparison coverage of different drafts of a project, noting what has changed from draft to draft and giving suggestions for strengthening the story. I try to embrace the essence and intention of a project — and not my idea of what it should be — while visualizing the story as a film. I appreciate that someone probably pulled his or her hair out writing the script. When a script is good, it’s like a poem and a math equation had a baby.
How did you first become interested in this line of work?
Working as college intern for Jackie Wollman when she was story editor at ABC Motion Pictures. I was young and dumb. Jackie was smart and generous. (Insert Jackie saying, “I was young, too!” She was.) Writing coverage drove me nuts because I got so excited about every aspect. Jackie taught me to harness all those ping-ponging feelings and turn my opinions into constructive comments without losing my voice.
Who gave you your first break?
Post-internship, I freelanced for ITC while working at ABC Watermark Radio on American Top 40 and American Country Countdown, my first job out of college. The story editor was very animated and loved preaching about coverage, and he helped me hone my skills.
What was your first union job?
My first two union jobs were temporary: a fill-in gig at Paramount Acquisitions and reading for the Disney Fellowship. My first staff position was at Disney. I was only there for a short time before the 2006 layoffs hit, but the Disney story department still feels like the old neighborhood.
Which of your credits or projects have made you the most proud and why?
At MGM, I was the resident scholar on all things Wizard of Oz. I read every L. Frank Baum book and biography, and all Wizard of Oz-influenced projects. I’m proud of this role because I argued tirelessly to keep the integrity of The Wizard of Oz intact with the idea that someone might tackle a remake sooner than purists would desire. Reading and learning about Frank and his wife, Maud, I understood what they liked and disliked about Hollywood. I hope I was a voice for them, on some level. Frank and I became so close, I occasionally visit his grave at Forest Lawn.
What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?
Dealing with gratuitous violence — especially the use of rape as if it’s the equivalent of a bar fight — is an ongoing challenge. I’m not anti-violence in movies. I’m a huge fan of William Goldman’s upcoming Heat adaptation, and Taxi Driver made me want to attend film school. Violence is fascinating subject matter, but it turns my stomach when it substitutes for imagination. When I read five or six or ten scripts in row in which this is the case, it can be soul-crushing. I’m not just reading these scripts — I’m spending the day with them, deconstructing and reconstructing and scrutinizing them. The remedy: The next fantastic script that comes along. One great piece of writing heals.
What was the most fun you’ve had at work?
The most fun I have, regularly, is reading gorgeous writing. It rejuvenates me and makes me forget that I’m working. I especially love reading the work of a new, gifted writer or a writer I admire. I covered a Woody Allen book a few years ago and while it was a highlight, it was surreal. For me, he lives in a galaxy all his own, so there’s something borderline absurd about me (or anyone) covering his work. But, absurdity is part of the fun.
Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?
What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?
Yoga, my beasts/dogs, writing, movies, good and really bad TV, live music and live comedy, any dissection of the creative process, movie art (sub-category Wes Anderson movie art), art by friends and by my sister Sue Quinn, movie scores, road trips, scrumptious vegan food and, of course, my family and friends.
Favorite movie(s)? Why?
Badlands, Mean Girls, Manhattan, Magnolia, any Judd Apatow movie, High Fidelity, Goodfellas, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Apocalypse Now, Hair, September Issue, Broadcast News…stop me! These movies consume me. I literally wept after watching Rushmore for the first time; I was so grateful for its existence. I remember not wanting to talk for hours after seeing Goodfellas, Do the Right Thing, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and There Will Be Blood. I wanted to continue absorbing them without distraction.
Favorite TV program(s)? Why?
30 Rock — it’s perfection and the dialogue is otherworldly. Six Feet Under — in a way, it’s everything, life and death and love all wrapped up in stupendous storylines, characters and dialogue that’s become part of my being. My current favorites: Breaking Bad (the best story arc on TV, the writing is liquid yet precise and it’s the most meticulous examination of good and evil ever), New Girl (it’s my exact sense of humor and I’m in love with Nick), Mad Men (it’s ingenious and the dialogue also rules), and Louie (Louis C.K. makes my brain laugh — if he’d made his “God” episode years ago, The Passion of the Christ would be redundant). Rounding out the list of all-time favorites: Freaks and Geeks, Saturday Night Live, Home Movies, Sports Night and The Dick Van Dyke Show (my first favorite show).
Do you have an industry mentor?
David Bruskin, our story analyst representative on the Guild’s Board of Directors. Some of my early union jobs were odd-ish jobs. I had to blaze some trails and I leaned on David a lot. I wouldn’t be in this Guild if it weren’t for him. Not only a lighthearted and straightforward guide, he is “good people.” The best.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?
Make sure you really love it — it being everything about movies (past and present), story, reading, writing, and re-writing — as this can be a difficult way to earn a living.
Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?
When I worked in odd fill-in gigs or in a new/revived story department, there were hiccups and the Guild helped stop those hiccups. I always want to understand a situation, and the Guild has always taken time to explain contract particulars. I should apologize to Western Executive Director Cathy Repola for treating her like a walking encyclopedia of Guild by-laws, but she is one. I know she’s a person, too. I get that.
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?
We really need to start the Story Analysts Bowling League. My story analyst friends are some of the smartest, funniest, most interesting people I know. I think it’s important to mix with peers, yet so many of us work in isolation. So, let’s bowl.
- Compiled by Edward Landler
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