Friday, February 16, 2024

 

YOU ARE REPRESENTED!!! - I read the email a few times. Could it be?  Since I sold my software company and started writing full-time in July 2022, I had a "phase two" goal of getting represented. What was "phase one?" That is easy - write something worth watching or reading. I've been spending the past two years learning, writing and rewriting.

I won two Native American Media Alliance fellowships in 2023. From Cari Daly in the NAMA Writer's Lab, I learned how to write a TV show.  I wrote my first "from scratch" TV show with the help of my mentor, Kris Crenwelge (staff writer on Spirit Rangers and True Lies.) Technically Soccer is a Ted Lasso-like dramedy about women's soccer and Artificial Intelligence. Didn't think those two topics could be one story, huh?  I often come up with ideas by thinking of some of my favorite stories but then adding, "But what if?"  For example, the Ted Lasso series is about the struggle of an American football coach trying to coach in the UK premier soccer league - but then I thought, what could be worse than being someone who knew nothing about soccer?  What if the person knew everything but wasn't what Ted had going for him? What if the coach wasn't even human?

As with every new venture, doubts started creeping in when I learned about the "writer's room" of a network TV show. First, a new writer is often considered a "gopher" or secretary - only allowed to take notes and get coffee. Trying to get onscreen credits can take YEARS!  The pay is amazing - especially after the writer's strike. A beginning writer hired to be on a sitcom staff might start at $7,000 a week - yes, per week!  But the hours can be long, and there is a good chance you won't get to write any episodes. After you have paid your "dues" and get a few onscreen credits and story editor/producer credits - it doubles to $14,000 a week. Growing up, my best friend wanted to be a flight attendant - but I wanted to be Sally Rogers, the funny writer on The Dick Van Dyke Show. Why didn't I pursue this earlier -- after completing UCLA's two feature screenwriting programs? Personal tragedy led me to become a programmer and software designer for the steady income, but I never stopped writing. My business meant flying over 200,000 miles a year - and
I've written three young adult books, four new scripts and five TV pilots from some of my previous scripts and two original TV pilots. Whew! 

I'm a contest junkie and entered some of them in contests and was a Nicholl Fellowship and Austin Film finalist with five different scripts.  Recently, my feature scripts have been doing well - I've gotten two requests to "read" my scripts, and one of them, Last Woman, was a semifinalist in Final Draft's Big Break 2023 contest.  But TV? I've entered most TV writer's fellowships: Disney, NBC, Warner Bros, Fox, and CBS Paramount+. These are mostly diversity programs, but I haven't even gotten an interview. I think my age is a red flag - even though my Young Sheldon script had a good enough scorecard to boost my Coverfly rating. Who wants a grandma in a writer's room? Doubt set in - maybe I can't write TV?  So I entered my Young Sheldon in Scriptapalooza TV and won 2nd place!  Wow, my first time winning money!!! I knew it was a good script - it is about Sheldon's father dying, which should happen soon, according to Big Bang Legend.  

During the past year, I've gotten coverage for my scripts, taken three workshops from Carole Kirschner, including How to Pitch a TV Script that Sells and recently written software, SmilingPitch.com, that enables me to track my submissions and query producers. What is phase three?  Yup, sell something. I'm ready, I'm prepared. I'm proactive and aim to send out 5 queries a week to producers. I have about 20 projects, 14 of them have Accolades on Coverfly - and three have made the Red List. I'm ready.

All doubts are gone. I'm a TV writer. I'm a feature screenwriter. I'm a young adult novelist. I'm represented!!! I'm earning income writing. The back of this mug, which I purchased at my first writer's conference, says - "A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."  That's me - a professional writer! Never give up, never surrender!

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Wolf Clan

 Happy New Year!


I can't believe my new writing career is now two years old. If I had stayed on my original screenwriting path, I'd be about 26 right now - but since the women in my family live into their 90s - I'm right on schedule for a long writing career! Sure, my brain is filled with a ton of programming code after a successful technology career - but I got out early by selling my software company so that I could write. A huge part of my work involves my Native American heritage, which is odd, because I didn't find out I was Cherokee until Grandma Cook died, and I asked, where? My dad said she went back to the reservation.


I immersed myself in everything Cherokee, joined the tribe, applied for the Native American Media Alliance Fellowship and traced my ancestors back to North Carolina - finding out we were part of the Wolf Clan. I then wrote a script about the reintroduction of wolves into National Parks called Nature’s Way


I wondered - what if we all returned to the reservation - not to die, but to live? Then I thought, why not reintroduce us to the National Parks like wolves?  Imagine a futuristic virus-infected world where corporations are the governments, AI runs the world, and humans are stuck in their homes, monitoring the robots that grow our food, maintain the elderly in rest homes, and for kids - their education and relationships are online.


Reintroduction of Humans is about a Cherokee woman in a futuristic world, who convinces her family to participate in the reintroduction of Native Americans back into the National Parks to find her son, who was taken from her family because he was obese. A scripted Survivor!


My idea expanded after my AFI instructor, Matt Black, showed us Blade Runner's Voight-Kampff Test scene during my Native American Media Fellowship.  The writer's strike was going strong and a big issue was AI - Artificial Intelligence.  I put these three ideas together and wrote this as a short. I have no desire to be a filmmaker - I'm a writer, but one of my cohorts in the Native American Medial Alliance fellowship - Derek Quick - is an aspiring filmmaker.  He has an award-winning short, Camping, that is making the festival circuit. There was a short fellowship that was sponsored by Indeed with the theme of getting a job - so I wrote the first ten pages and he submitted. Our short didn't win, but Reintroduction of Humans was still in my head - so I had to tell the story and I made it into a sitcom.


I wrote a scene similar to the clip in Blade Runner but made it funny. AI is confused - and it knows that she is Cherokee and must understand why Native Americans would shoot arrows into trees. She goes home excited - instead of monitoring robots that kill pigs, she will monitor the National Parks! Plus, she thinks this is where their son has been taken, and she might see him on the screen. But when 3 radio collars arrive, she realizes the job is much more - they have been selected for the project to reintroduce animals into the wild - including humans. Again excited  - but the rest of the family is not, especially after their first orientation lesson. Kill their food? Possibly be the food?  Seriously? The theme is survival - at first.


After the pilot, each episode involves another challenge. In the first season, it is all about survival;  how to get water, what to eat, and most importantly - how to avoid things that want to eat them. They have lived in a world where they rarely encountered animals and their food was piped into their house and formed by a replicator oven. They must enlist the help of the other Native Americans living in the parks. In the second season, the survival concept changes as history repeats itself as there is fighting amongst the various tribes for territory and resources. The conflict moves from within their tribe to the other tribes.  In the third season, outside forces threaten their existence. The AI ruling program wants to terminate the program and return them to "civilization," and she thinks her family will be delighted - but she's wrong. 


The story engine is driven by each of the problems they encounter and the conflict from disagreements on how to solve their problems. For example, the daughter doesn't like in-person relationships and insists that another Native American boy leave "texts" - or carvings on trees to communicate. The pilot is titled Not Food and ends with the wolves and Cherokees being chased by the Apaches. Next is Training Day. The family starts their training on the reservation - and they learn about Derek. Then there is Flunked Out. Both Talitha and Alex want to go home, but Natalie insists on staying to see Derek again, and Episode 4 is Moving Day. It is time for the family to enter the park with other members of their “tribe.” Episode 5 is Bad Water - the new tribe finds out the hard way that there is good water - and “bad” water, followed by Run Faster. Alex is sure that something is stalking them - wanting to eat them and then Berries and Bears. Talitha convinces the family that bears can live on berries - but the bears are not happy with humans eating their food. The first season ends with I love you, Deer.  Victory for the family when they bring down a deer, but this attracts the attention of the other tribes.


Characters

Natalie is in her (30s) - our fearless Cherokee protagonist who wants to find her son and a better life for her family - but at what cost?

Talitha is a skeptical teen about 14 or 15, a passionate animal lover, but hooked on technology and being vegan. 

Dakota (17) An older teen, he's their Native American guide and teacher to help them survive in the wilderness and find Derek.

Derek was originally obese but is now 13; he's spent the past year in the wild and is now fit but concerned for his family.

Alex (30s)- is a Navajo hypochondriac, afraid of everything - especially bacteria and things that can eat him.


Like The Good Place, which made death funny - this dramedy maintains humor with exciting survival situations - for example, the pilot ends with Derek and Dakota being chased by a rival tribe - wearing radio collars and getting zapped, which is funny. But full of Indian culture, like Reservation Dogs.


View on YouTube - https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLx_8Ja4anZU7427aV5A98VQUPYtmdfWJc 

Canva (my entry for SeriesFest in May 2024)

https://www.canva.com/design/DAF3szItxdU/LJF6EVCDBLPZVh07bmqaDQ/edit?utm_content=DAF3szItxdU&utm_campaign=designshare&utm_medium=link2&utm_source=sharebutton




Monday, December 18, 2023

I Can Fly




I grew up thinking I could fly. I was a skinny and energetic kid, running instead of walking and constantly fidgeting. I grew up on an avocado and citrus ranch. Every year, the commercial pickers would come and harvest the fruit, but after they left, my mom would have me climb up to the top of the trees to get the ones they missed. I'd toss them into the thick pile of leaves and then jump (or fly, as I thought) down to a soft landing.  After I grew up and became a computer programmer and consultant, I got to work in Australia and went diving on the Great Barrier Reef. That was the closest I've been to flying again - a wonderful feeling.

I liked to make up stories to tell kids and one of my favorites was of Kira - a fearless princess who had trained her whole life to rule, but then her father remarried, and a male heir was born. I wrote it while working with a large dealership group, Lithia - in Medford, Oregon. Their head of IT was Kyra, and loved that name. Today, Lithia has 290 dealerships, including 40 in the UK. My favorite movie then was Princess Bride, so I wrote Princess Quest as my first project after graduating from UCLA's Advanced Screenwriting Program.

I shelved it until last year when I wanted to enter as many scripts as possible into The Austin Film Festival. I completed the Native American Media Alliance Fellowship and learned more about screenwriting. I rewrote the original Princess Quest script and renamed it Kira and Henry to make it more the story of both characters and appeal to teen boys and girls. I wanted Kira to have a secret - so I added that she could fly, but had to hide that because raptors are banished because of their mutation. I had learned how to write TV pilots in my fellowship, so I wrote it as TV series. I made over a thousand changes and then wrote the young adult novel Kira and Henry using what I learned by taking classes through Good Story. This time, is was published by SmilingEagle Press - specializing in books written by Native Americans and older folks. I hit both marks of their target market!


Kira and Henry did well at The Austin Film Festival, enabling me to get a coveted 2nd Rounder Badge and here are the reader's notes, "This is a solid script that showcases the writer’s creativity and knack for world-building. It sets the stage for an abundance of storylines while, at its heart, drawing the reader into Kira’s character development and her relationship with Henry." I also got these notes from my entry into Final Draft's Big Break, "The reader enjoyed KIRA AND HENRY, which held their attention cover to cover through successive reads. It is a classic GAME OF THRONES style of tale, albeit in the animation format that will likely appeal to a younger demographic rather than adults.


Next up is entering it into SeriesFest, and if I get accepted to pitch in Denver in May, I will be soaring and truly believing that I can fly!


You can order Kira and Henry on Amazon -https://www.amazon.com/Kira-Henry-Young-Fantasy-Forbidden-ebook/dp/B0CPYY7Q5C


Here's my pitch deck of the TV pilot.






 

Friday, November 24, 2023

Goals and Dreams

 As we near the end of the year, I look toward 2024 and start thinking of my goals and dreams.   After winning the Native American Media Alliance fellowship TWICE this year, I have a dream to win Disney, CBS/Paramount, NBC, Nickelodeon, and/or Warner Brothers in 2024. If I got selected - that would mean a year in Hollywood - and possibly getting hired to write for a TV show.  When I started this new career a year ago, I made a  three-phase plan.  Phase One was to write and rewrite lots of "inventory" of good scripts and then submit them to contests and fellowships during Phase Two.  

I've done well on the contest circuit, including being a finalist in The Austin Film Festival with my script. Kira and Henry.  I traveled to Austin for a few days to pitch my script, Blood Moon Wolf and meet and greet - but the BEST part was seeing my lovely niece (Stan's daughter) Andrea.  As I talked to her oldest son, Alec  - I realized that the last time I saw him was 20 years ago, when he was about 9.  After my mom died, I arranged a trip for my Dad and Aunt Madenia, to travel with me to visit Austin and see Andrea's family - but we haven't been back since. What a fun trip this was for me to see my gorgeous niece and her sons and handsome husband. 

The AFF - Austin Film Festival was amazing! I was first focused on pitching.  I had snagged a pitch ticket on Friday in the 3rd session. I completed Carole Kirschner's course, How to Pitch a TV Script that Sells and learned how to write and deliver a pitch - a method to "sell" a screenplay.  I was terrified, but it was amazing.  I had not allotted time for the laughs my pitch got.  I left the session - not as a winner, but elated that it went well, and so many came up to me after and said I should have won.  I truly felt like a winner. 

The AFF is also a writer's conference with tons of panels and roundtables to attend.  As the holder of the precious 2nd Rounder badge, I got to pick some special "finalists" only roundtables.  The two I wanted to meet the most were Megan Alderson, Creative Development Executive, Pixar Animation Studios and  Liz Kelly, Creative Talent Development Executive, at Disney.  I wasn't able to snag Megan's panel, But I did get a spot at Liz's roundtable. But I couldn't find her - the volunteer from AFF said that she hadn't shown up, so I sat at the closest table to the door - extremely disappointed.  I had come all this way and didn't see the two people I wanted to meet.

But then the BEST thing about AFF happened.  My table was led by Larry Postel, a non-represented screenwriter living in Dallas. Larry’s story is unique in that he has managed to have four original spec screenplays purchased, produced and released since 2020. He told us his secret; he sent out query emails after doing lots of research on who would be a good producer for his scripts.  Research?  That is my middle name!!!  Emails?  That is my life!!! I left walking on air and found a new direction.  

So Phase Three starts.  I want to sell a screenplay.  Another Carole course (How to Get the F* Unstuck)  that I took carefully taught me not to have goals that I can't control.  Times are tough in the entertainment industry after two long strikes.  There are backlogs of scripts, shows, and meetings. TV writer's rooms are filled. Everyone is too busy for emerging screenwriters like me. I can't control someone buying one of my scripts. So, as Carole taught me, I set a goal to send out 5 weekly queries. I will carefully write and record 5 pitches, write 5 query letters for my top 5 scripts and then read the trades, research producers, and send.  I finished my query pitch for Blood Moon Wolf, and I'm rewriting my pitch documents and creating pitches for my top 5 scripts. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLx_8Ja4anZU7427aV5A98VQUPYtmdfWJc

I made a YouTube of my trip to the Austin Film Festival with my visit with Andrea.  https://youtu.be/MOxjDbqX0sQ?si=YX0JXhxwjpnIavJw  - it is a little long, 28 minutes; beware!

I have now reached 68,000+ views on my YouTube channel! I do not have many subscribers, but I'm happy to get many views. Be sure and Like and Subscribe to be notified of the AFF video.  Next month, I will talk about my script, Kira and Henry and how I grew up thinking I could fly.



Friday, October 20, 2023

Chevy and Nature's Way

We recently entered my script, Nature's Way, in The “Writer-Driven Shorts” program, presented by the Black List x General Motors Marketing and Media Incubator Fund, which will grant two emerging filmmakers with $100,000 in production funds to shoot a short film based on their feature scripts. 

My script is about a passionate wildlife biologist who drives an old Chevy Blazer, and is determined to marry the right guy (who wants her to get a new BMW) and then falls for a minister posing as a car salesman.  I think it is pretty "Hallmark-like," but if we win, I can write it into a short that discusses why she wants to get a Chevrolet EV - like I do.  The actual applicant and filmmaker is my cohort in the Native American Medial Alliance fellowship - Derek Quick - who is an aspiring filmmaker. He has an award-winning short, Camping, that is making the festival circuit, and I'll see it next month at LASkinsFest. 

I love Chevrolet.  Next year, I hope to trade in my Equinox for a new Equinox EV.  My first new car was a 1973 Chevrolet Vega we bought during the oil crisis. My dad's first new car was a 1960 Chevrolet Bel Air. My first job was at a Chevrolet dealership in San Diego.

I met my husband at the new Farrell's Ice Cream opening in Escondido while I was in high school.  After being forced to quit Farrell’s, which had a policy against managers (Keith) dating employees (a lowly server like me), I went to an employment agency to find full-time work while attending college.  I aced a “Wonderlic” intelligence test and was quickly sent out on two job interviews, one at a mortuary and another at a car dealership.  The mortuary was wonderful: plush carpets, polished rich mahogany desks, and everyone spoke so softly.  The car dealership was horrible: loud overhead paging, steel desks, rude people and ugly furnishings. 

When I returned from the interview, the agency said, “Good news, you got the job at the dealership!”  I was sad and asked, “Can we wait to hear from the mortuary?”  They replied that I had to accept the first job offered, so I started a long career in accounting and car dealerships, eventually developing software for the industry.  It took me almost a decade to finish college, and I earned a degree in Accounting with a minor in Computer Science and became a CPA, but stayed in the car industry. The picture above is from Automotive News, taken at one of my first clients, a Chevrolet dealership in South Dakota. I sold that tech company last year and picked back up my first choice of career - writing screenplays after getting an Advanced Screenwriting Degree from UCLA.

This picture of my mom and dad was taken with his first Chevrolet that he bought used and eventually traded in on that shiny blue Chevrolet in 1960. I remember how proud he was of that new car; we took a road trip to visit Mom's family in Missouri and his family in Oklahoma. I remember this trip so well because our more rural relatives had outhouses - which reminded me of camping. That gets me back to Derek's script, Camping,  which is based on his years growing up on the reservation in Oklahoma and later being homeless - or, as his mother would say, "camping."

Wish us luck that we'll be able to make Nature's Way into an amazing short!




 

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Out of my Comfort Zone

The Twilight Saga is my favorite series of films and books. I discovered the books from a 12-year-old.  Almost two decades ago,  I wrote an algorithm for a dating site based on music preferences and met in the patent attorney's office in Portland to explain the logic. During a break, I noticed one of the lawyers' kids reading Twilight. He gave such an amazing pitch that I stopped by Barnes and Noble on the way home (pre-Kindle days) and bought the book. I was hooked. 

After the movies came out, we took our granddaughters up to lunch at the View Point Inn, and it was magical to be there. My love for the Pacific Northwest beaches propelled me to buy a vacation home on the Oregon coast, a few miles away from where the beach scenes were filmed.  I was on "Team Jacob" during the movie since I'm Native American and rooting for the tribe and wolves.

Over the years, I've been fascinated with wolves, especially after finding out that we are descendants of the Wolf Clan of the Cherokee tribe. I wrote a Hallmark-like romantic comedy script a few years ago, Nature's Way, set in Seattle and Port Angeles, that discusses the reintroduction of wolves into the National Parks. After doing genealogy research about my family's life before they were relocated from North Carolina to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears, I wrote my first solo YA/MG book, Sleep Warrior, set in Cherokee, NC and the Eastern Band of the Cherokees. However, I wanted to learn more about my Oklahoma roots since my grandmother went back to the reservation close to Tulsa to die.

A few months ago, I went to Washington, D.C., to see one of my pictures that was accepted into the Smithsonian's Mirror, Mirror exhibit about the Disney Parks. While there, I visited the National Zoo and spent a lot of time with the red wolves - watching them. I decided to write a script centered around the red wolves - but in Oklahoma.  I've never written a teen light horror/fantasy script, nor one with a male lead, so I decided to write Blood Moon Wolf for my Native American Media Alliance Feature Film project this month. I had pitched 3 scripts, and this one was my last choice.  First was Kidnapped Kangaroo, which I've started this month writing as a YA book, and next was Chocolate Factory Death, based on a near panic attack I had around the loud machinery inside the Lindt chocolate factory I toured last year in Cologne, Germany.

But my cohorts liked my Blood Moon Wolf  "mini treatment" the best, so I took a deep breath and jumped into the abyss of the unknown. Teenagers as the leads? How do they talk? I reached back into the memory of helping to raise my four granddaughters and decided to name the wolf after the oldest; the leader of the pack - Chandra.  My other character, Riana a combination of Suby, Vrinda, and Tulaasi - very strong young ladies.



The one thing that made it easier was that the instructor taught us the 8-sequence method. Wow, for someone who spent a career in a highly structured world of programming and accounting, this was catnip for me. I like to say that you can eat an elephant if you start with one bite at a time...meaning that breaking down a huge project like writing a DMS system can be done by one person. I proved that right when I created DealerStar DMS fifteen years ago and sold it a few years ago. Now, I get to write full-time, and I hope to never eat an elephant because I'm a vegan and animal lover. If I write a great movie, it will be because my cohorts coaxed me out of my comfort zone, and my instructor gave me a tool to keep me sane - along with the inspiration of my four granddaughters. 

I've been doing YouTube videos - to help promote my books - and I'm working on my Amazing Animal Kingdom series. If only we had wolves! Here's the Amazing Animals playlist. Thank goodness I don't have aspirations as a filmmaker!  But I love to tell my stories!

Next will be a video about my Wild Africa Trek adventure - really out of my comfort zone!
Here's the link to my videos about Disney's Animal Kingdom






Saturday, August 19, 2023

Right Tool for the Right Job

 I was a daddy's girl growing up. I'd follow my dad around like a puppy dog and learned how to graft a tree branch, change the oil in our cars, and even castrate cattle.  My dad also always said "The right tool for the right job."  I learned when to use a hammer vs. a mallet and I won't go into the castration tools!

When it comes to screenwriting, I'm a huge Final Draft lover.  I have three different licenses; one for my Windows laptops (they let you install on 2,) and another for my MacPro that was generously given us by Final Draft during the Native American Media Alliance Writer's Lab Fellowship in June 2023, and I recently bought the new mobile version for my iPad.  I like this version because it is simple to put in night mode when I take the iPad to bed to read a cohort's script or do a final proofing of my own.

I put all my scripts on Google Drive, so easy to pull up the latest revision - no matter if I'm using Windows or Mac. I prefer the Mac version when I have the script read to me because the speed is much better than the Windows version.  I've been using the Windows version for over 20 years - upgrading from Final Draft 6 - all the way up to Final Draft 12 now - so I'm more familiar with the screen layout. 
I like the structure of Blake Snyder's Saving the Cat - and I normally start that Template - Beat View, then when I get done outlining, it is easy to Insert, Send to the Script and then start writing.

Final Draft wasn't the first screenwriting software that I learned.  I attended UCLA in early 2000 and selected MovieMaster 2000 as my first tool.  After a few years, I switched to Final Draft because it seemed like more people in my class used that.  You might wonder why I haven't been more successful if I've been writing screenplays for over 20 years.  That is because after finishing UCLA and writing a few scripts, we had a family tragedy and I had to stop writing and focus on my technology business.  For the next couple of decades, we helped raise our grandaughters and earned enough to support two families. 

 Fast forward to last year, when I sold my software company and turned back to screenwriting.  I started learning again how to write and rewrite and entered contests.  I've done well and now have quite a few scripts ready to be produced.  I'm in the pitching phase - learning how to sell my screenplays.  I won a second NAMA - Native American Media Alliance Fellowship that starts at the end of August 2023 and goes through November.  My next feature screenplay will be started from scratch and I'll have the input of my cohorts and instructor.  My first step is to create 3 pitches and I've asked my family and friends to rate them to help me pick the one I want to write about.  Hopefully, by November, I'll have a great script and pitch it at Skinfest.   https://nama.media/sandi-jerome/

Getting back to the "right tool for the right job," I'm also learning how to use a Mac to make my YouTube videos.  This month was my first using iMovie instead of Movavi for Windows which was getting slower and slower and difficult to move videos and photos from my iPhone to Windows.  I was considering changing to an Android phone to make things easier, but in the end, I only needed to learn iMovie.  One thing that I've learned is once you've learned a type of software, it was pretty easy to switch to another one. I easily switched from MovieMaster to Final Draft and now, I've learned iMovie after years of using Movavi.  I'll use Final Draft for Mac to have my script read to me and the iPad version to read late at night.  The right tool for the right job.  I'm going to print this and send it to my dad - I know he'll be proud.


Here is my latest YouTube about our trip in April to Disney's Castaway Cay. I've been behind, but after changing to a Mac, I should be able to get these done quicker.
https://youtu.be/5wI44tPY-KU