IFH 724: What is Maximum Screenwriting with Jeff Schimmel



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Alex Ferrari 0:37
I'd like to welcome the show Jeff Schimmel. Man, thank you so much for taking the time out to be on the show today.

Jeff Schimmel 2:46
Thanks for having me, Alex.

Alex Ferrari 2:47
I appreciate it. And we're gonna get into the weeds of screenwriting and in your book, amazing book, maximum screenwriting. So first and foremost, how did you get into this crazy business?

Jeff Schimmel 2:59
Okay, it's really a story that I don't think anyone will ever duplicate. I was in law school out in LA and I was trying to finish up in one night I had a dream, I actually dreamed a movie. And I woke up in the morning and said, Wow, I would pay to see that that was such a cool story. It was a cold war spy movie. And I was thinking this was in the in the late 80s. So I was thinking, wow, Charles Bronson could play the Russian spy and Clint Eastwood could play the American spy. And as I was sitting in class, for the next few days, I was just writing notes and trying to remember as much of the dream as I could, through a really bizarre chain of events. I ended up pitching the idea. I didn't even know what pitching was. I ended up pitching the idea for the movie to JJ Abrams, Father, Jerry Abrams. He was a partner in a company called Phoenix Entertainment Group. So it was Jerry Abrams and Jerry Eisenberg. I think they were the two Jerry's. And as a result of that, I sold the story to them, I got an agent. And then I went back to school and I was just doing my work. I never thought I would have another idea worth talking about. But all of a sudden, I had an agent. It was crazy.

Alex Ferrari 4:15
That that's not generally that's not the way it's done.

Jeff Schimmel 4:18
No. And you know, had I known that JJ Abrams was gonna turn out to be who he is, I would have been a lot nicer to Jerry Abrams, I probably would have tried to babysit JJ or something. So that happened, and then right after that, every now and then I would call my agent and I would say is there something I should be doing? And he said, Yeah, study for the bar exam. You know, you're not a writer. You're not really in this business. And my brother, who was a stand up comic did Rodney Dangerfield, young comedian special for HBO, and I was going up to Las Vegas to meet Rodney with my brother. And I called my agent and told him Hey, you know, I'm going out of town to meet Rodney Dangerfield. And he said, You're not going to believe this. I just got the script to Ronnie's new movie, his next movie. I just got it delivered to me. It's on my desk. So if you want to read it, come by pick it up. So I read it in the car on the way to Las Vegas. And when I met Rodney at the craps table at Caesar's Palace, I said, I just read the script to your next movie, and it's not funny. And he was stunned by that. And he invited me to his to his show that night, he invited me to dinner afterwards. And we just sat in his hotel room. And he had a joint one hand, the glass of vodka and the other hand, and I just sat at the way at the other end of the dining table, just telling him why. I thought it wasn't a funny movie.

Alex Ferrari 5:48
And how and where did that go?

Jeff Schimmel 5:51
Um, he listened. And I told him, I said, Look, I'm a big fan. I'm a big fan of yours. And I'm a big fan of comedy. And you know, I grew up watching you on Ed Sullivan and the Tonight Show and I've seen all your movies, and I just can't believe you're doing this. And he took my name and number down, he put it in his row pocket. And I thought for sure he won't remember that. What he did with my number. But two weeks later, he called me he left me a message and he was and he was like Jeff Rodney, you know, I I prepaid a ticket for you. Okay, you know, he invited me to come to New York and stay in a hotel for the weekend. And I ended up moving in with him for a year. Wow. And that's how I that's how I really got started. And it was such a crazy thing because I had no idea what I was doing. He didn't know that I really had no idea. And then one day, there was a knock at the door on Harold Ramis showed up Jesus and Rodney and Harold and I sat in Ronnie's kitchen writing a movie together. And it was so nerve wracking. Because I just didn't have a clue. I love movies. I don't know anybody that's into movies more than I am. But I didn't know what I was doing. And I would have to wait till three in the morning until Rodney went to sleep to sneak into my bedroom in his apartment and read. You know, Syd field? Sid fields? Yeah. Exactly.

Alex Ferrari 7:20
Holy cow, it's you literally got thrown into this business.

Jeff Schimmel 7:25
Yeah, it was nuts. And then as a result of that happening, I came back to LA after living with Rodney and my agent called me and said, How would you like to work on a sitcom? And I said I wouldn't. I'm a big movie writer now. You know, why would I stoop to that? And that's just so dumb. And you know what, that's why that's one of the reasons why I wrote the book, and teach the classes is because no one told me anything. When I was starting out, they never gave me advice. They didn't warn me about the dumb stuff. You know, here's what to say. Here's what to never say, Oh, I've tried to warn people about these things. And you know, some people take it. And some people just think no, you know, that won't happen to me. But

Alex Ferrari 8:17
of course it does it. Of course it doesn't. It doesn't matter what that was that happened in the 80s. That wouldn't happen like that now. Yeah, would. Yeah, of course. So that's the reason why you came up with the book. Yes. And so tell us a little bit about maximum screenwriting.

Jeff Schimmel 8:32
Okay, so I'm gonna show it to you. Here it is. It's beautiful. It's a

Alex Ferrari 8:36
stunning. It's cool. It's stunning.

Jeff Schimmel 8:40
You can get it on Amazon. It has it has a five star rating, which I'm really proud of, especially considering it's higher rated than the Bible. But fair enough.

Alex Ferrari 8:50
I'm gonna use that one of my new book.

Jeff Schimmel 8:53
Okay, so I teach classes across the country. And invariably, this is so interesting, at least to me, it doesn't matter where I go. People have the same questions. And usually the first question they'll ask is, How do I get an agent? And my answer immediately is, why is your script done? And usually they'll say, Well, no. And then I'll tell them Well, then don't worry about getting an agent, you're not ready. And the last thing you want to do is annoy an agent or try to get their attention and then you know, you win the booby prize, they are willing to read and then you don't have your script. But I started noticing that the same questions would come up, like I said, no matter where I would be, and no matter you know, male, female, young, old experience, no experience, they always asked me the same question. So I wrote this book. That's 25 of those questions and my answers, but they're long questions and very long answers.

Alex Ferrari 9:58
Fair enough, free long. So, um, what is one tip that you would give a writer who wants to start right? Right going to try to get a writing gig and TV, or as a feature film and a feature film?

Jeff Schimmel 10:10
Well, you can't get one of those things, you're not going to get a TV job. Oh, by the way, I sound very absolute, don't i You're not. But you're not going to get a job on TV writing for TV, unless you have a great sample, you're not going to get anywhere in the feature world, if you don't have a great sample, or two or three. And you're not going to have a great sample, if you don't outline the hell out of whatever it is you're writing. And that's my biggest thing outlining and, and following through and staying true to your outline and not going off on these crazy tangents. Because if you do, I can pretty much predict you're going to quit at about page 55. A lot of people have have written screenplays all over. Oh, yeah. You know, but they don't finish because they get lost in their own story because they didn't have a good outline. So that's a long answer to a short question.

Alex Ferrari 11:08
You know, I'm when I write I always outline as well, when I wrote my book, when I write screenplays, I always, because it's just, it's a, it's a, what is a roadmap for you on your story, because you will get lost in the weeds, you will get lost in the weeds of the story and the character and the plot and things like that. But if you have these kind of markers on the road, at least you can go back and it doesn't. A lot of people always say that. They feel that, that outline stifle creativity, and I say the opposite. It's just gives you a structure. Like we wouldn't be walking without the structure of our bones, you need a structure,

Jeff Schimmel 11:43
right? And without the structure you might be creating, but you're not creating anything that you previously thought, you need it right? Oh, all of a sudden, you're going off on something else. And it might be great. And that's awesome. But I think if you stay true to the outline, you will eventually finish and then you can always go back and rewrite. And that's another word of advice I have for people don't hate rewriting. No, if it make rewriting fun, and for me that I love rewriting more than I like writing the first draft.

Alex Ferrari 12:16
And also rewriting it, I always find myself in a bad habit. And I try not to do it is rewriting while you're writing. And that's a horrible, horrible thing. It's so many young writers will spend a month on one page, because they're rewriting it and rewriting it.

Jeff Schimmel 12:33
Okay, so do you want me to tell you why writers do that? Yes, it's a symptom of a couple of different kinds of fear that are going on. But look at it this way. If you never finish, you never have to find out if your script is any good, fair enough. So it's, it's much easier to just say, you know, I'm going to go back to page one, and I'm going to right, up to this point, well, let's say I'm on page 15, I'm going to keep going back and honing it and paring it down and punching it up and changing some words and Okay, that's great. But you're going to end up with a solid 15 pages and nothing more than that. Because you're probably afraid that you're going to end up with something that's just not up to snuff. And then you don't want to hear that. And it's all subconscious. It's not like you're sitting there saying, Oh, my God, what if this is no good? No, you're you're not thinking that you don't know why you're doing it. You're just you just continue to keep going back?

Alex Ferrari 13:32
Well, let's talk on that on that subject for a second fear. Fear. You know, there's a great book called The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, which is amazing book on how to conquer your fear as a as a writer. What are your techniques on trying to conquer that fear? Because it is really I mean, looking at that white screen with the blinking cursor is terrifying. For for most writers, even the most skilled writers in the world, it's for that one second, it is pretty terrifying. So what do you what are some tips on how to break through that fear?

Jeff Schimmel 14:04
Okay, well, I can tell you where this comes from, because I'm not a genius. But I used to sit at my computer and watch the cursor blink for hours, even if I had a deadline that was imposed externally, and I needed to turn something in, I would sit there and stare at it. And it got to the point where I wanted to find out what was wrong with me if I mean, if I could tell people I'm passionate about a script, but I can't seem to start working on it. There's got to be something wrong somewhere. So I went to a therapist, who had just graduated from college, she was doing her a certain number of hours that you need, you know, as a requirement before you can get your license like a residency almost right. So I went to her she was brand new, and I told her what my problem was. And she just like that just answered it. And she explained fear to me and she said, You know, there's a couple of different kinds of fear that fear of success and fear of failure. And I said, Well, I can't possibly have a fear of success. Because I mean, I want to make it and I want to get rich, and I want to have a big house in the hills and you know, have people over and you know, all that. And she said, okay, but you're looking at success in the wrong way. You're looking at it very superficially. But there's a lot more to it than that. I mean, if you're, if you write a script, and you're successful with it, guess what? You have to duplicate that? And what if your fear is that you can't live up to it? What if you can't do it again, you caught lightning in a bottle, but it really wasn't you some things came together, and you got it done, and you sold it, but that may never happen again. So that's a fear. A fear of failure is similar in some ways that what if I write something and it never pans out, and no one likes it, and I get exposed, oh, my God, I got found out, I don't have any talent, blah, blah, blah, whatever imposter syndrome. It's enough to stop you cold. I mean, like, you won't do anything, because you don't want to hear those words. So you have those things happening. And if you're really unlucky, and a very creative by the way, this occurs to more intelligent people, like people that are dumb, don't have this problem. They're not sitting there worrying about whether or not they have enough talent to pull something off. They're, they're basically sitting there contemplating lame stuff that has nothing to do with anything. But if you're a little bit intelligent, or a lot, and and you've got some talent, that is what you're worried about. So you will sit there and watch the cursor blank, because you don't want to end up in one being, you know, having one fear or the other play out in your life. But there is a cure to that. And it's one of the things that I actually teach in my class, I do an hour lecture on how to kill procrastination. And it's actually very simple. And if I tell you here, no one will come to my class.

Alex Ferrari 17:06
You can tell me after we cut the recording, sir.

Jeff Schimmel 17:09
Not gonna get suckered into that.

Alex Ferrari 17:12
Fair enough. Fair enough. Well, before we keep going, I wanted to ask you about your time and in living color, because that that show is, you know, I love that show. And it was such a landmarks series. How did you get involved with UN What was it like, writing for a show that that it seemed from at least from the outside, so crazy, they had no rules, almost like, you know, where Saturn at live might have had some sort of like, you know, rains in living color seemed to me at least had none, you know, at least in the heyday of living color. So what did you think?

Jeff Schimmel 17:48
I think the climate at that time had to allow for, you know, Kenan to stretch out more and do more. And it was really an experiment. If you remember that was right after like Hollywood shuffle. Yeah. Amen. Yeah. And Hollywood was forced all of a sudden to look at different things. I mean, other stuff was happening boys and other it was happening. And there was a lot of stuff that was making people pay attention to different stuff for the first time. So Kanan created the show, and I tried to get a writing job, the first season that it was on. And now I had done two TV shows before that, and I was actually working on a comedy show called Sunday comics that Fox was doing, which was a lot of fun. It was great. I did a series of short films for for that show. And then I went and I pitched to in living color. I didn't make the cut. But the second season, then I did. So I got on the show. And it was crazy. I can tell you that seeing Jim Carrey and what I consider to be as infancy. Yeah. And people like David Allen Greer. I saw David Alan Grier not long ago, and I can't even look at him without laughing because he's so funny. My favorite thing on the show was watching him in rehearsals because he, you know, he's a Yale trained actor. And he would turn the most ridiculous stuff into really funny stuff in a rehearsal, but they wouldn't do that on the show, but I just used to sit there and laugh until it hurt. He was great. There was a day that Jim Carrey pissed Keenan off so much that he was pretty much fired from the show and then rehired later in the day.

Alex Ferrari 19:41
Can you tell us about it? Can you tell us what it was? He gets it?

Jeff Schimmel 19:44
Yeah, of course. He we were in a table read. And I guess there was a sketch that Jim didn't want to do. And he stood up and he did that thing where he bends over and hooks out of his butt. Yeah. Right. Yeah, he did that kind of of pointing his his ass at Kenan and it didn't go over. So I was I had an office upstairs. And I was the only one I think that had a couch in their office. And so Jim Carrey was laying on my couch that day, wondering about whether or not he was going to have a job. And now I, you know, when I think back on it, it's like, wow, that that was wild. Kenan had his own way of doing things. He created his own template for writing sketches. So you couldn't just take a standard or, you know, some kind of pre existing format and use that. So we had to all learn that. And he made every buddy take a crack at pretty much every sketch. So if you pitched something, and he picked it, you would write the first draft, but then it would get passed around to 20 other writers and by the time it got back to you, it was unrecognizable.

Alex Ferrari 21:02
Right. So, you know, being there during Jim's infancy. I imagine he was one of the breakout stars during that time. And I know before Ace Ventura that really blew him up. He was he was the white guy on the Living Color. That's what everyone knew him as his you know, and pharma, martial bill and all of his great characters. That must have been insane to be front row to that.

Jeff Schimmel 21:24
Yeah, it was. And, you know, I think a lot of people probably didn't realize the staying power that what we were doing had, you know, not just within a matter of weeks, months, whatever, but over the years I It's ridiculous. It's on several times a night on, I don't even remember what channel it is. But every now and then I'll see it in the channel guide. And I'll watch it for a few minutes. And it's it's just, you know, silly. But I remember the night actually, Jim was the only cast member that had a an office up on the second floor where the writers were. And one night I was leaving, we used to leave very late at night. And one night, I was leaving probably two in the morning. And Jim was in his office with another guy. And they were writing something and I kind of just walked in and sat there and I was introduced to Tom Shadyac. He was the other guy that was in there. And Tom Shadyac ended up directing Ace Ventura, and I remember them telling me about the script. And I walked out to the parking garage, and I was like, okay, no pet detective. Sure. Why not? Yeah, of course. And when it came out, I don't know if you remember when the book came out Hollywood reporter and a lot of other publications just killed the movie. Oh, yeah. This is a D minus this is garbage. And it was such a huge hit. It really launched Jim, you know, Anton, actually beyond, you know, in living color. But yeah, I remember that night meeting him and Tom Shadyac. And I had something in common. We both wrote for Bob Hope now. And I think I know for a fact, I was a writer and like associate producer on the last special he ever did for NBC. Which was another crazy story that was just rude. I got fired off of that job for caring too much about Bob Hope.

Alex Ferrari 23:26
It sounds like it sounds like you could read at least two or three more books. Just on your stories alone.

Jeff Schimmel 23:31
Yeah, yeah. I love Bob Hope. I mean, I grew up watching him on TV. And in the movies. He did some movies that I thought were funny. I mean, he and Bing Crosby pretty much invented the the buddy comedy. Oh, yeah. Yeah, that question wrote movies. And when I met Bob Hope, I think he was 94 years old. I went to his house and I met him and he would start to talk and fall asleep in the middle of a sentence. So his daughter would wake him up and so he could finish the story. And I was like, wait a minute, we're putting him on TV like this. You know, he's going to be trying to recount his his, you know, performances for presidents and stuff like that. And he's gonna, you know, stay, you know, Yeah, boy, I was with JFK in the South Pacific. Yeah. So I told his daughter who was the executive producer of the show, I love your dad. He's one of my idols. And he he doesn't look good, you know, his, his. His eyes are droopy. Yeah, he's all mad. And, you know, let's not do this to him. And she was like, wow, you know, I'm impressed with the fact that you care so much. And then I got fired. So then more or less story is don't tell the truth. This is not the business, but tell the truth

Alex Ferrari 24:56
to shatzer. Now, what are some Some of the most commonly seen mistakes or issues you see with with first time screenwriters or screenwriters in general that there were their teleplays or their screenplays.

Jeff Schimmel 25:09
Okay, I would say one thing is that a lot of people think the rules don't apply to them. And there are rules, as you know, and I know and everyone knows, there are certain things you have to conform to. And, you know, you could have a great idea for a movie, but you're not going to write it on a cop cocktail napkin and get an executive to read it. So there are certain rules and but there are people that think no, no, my story is so great. transcends Yes. I don't have to follow that. Okay, great. Go for it. A lot of people don't believe that. Stories lay out pretty much the way they have always laid out. Since you know, ancient Greeks were telling each other stories, you know, stories feel a certain way to us, you know, from that when we're laying in bed when we're little kids and our parents are telling us stories or reading us books, we start to learn about how stories lay out. And you don't want to Yes, okay, so someone you probably heard this too. I don't remember where I learned this, but you want to know how a story ends. You just don't want to know how you get there. You know, the the the fun part is the roller coaster ride, you know, the twists and turns that you can't really anticipate. But it does have to pay off in a certain way. And people think no, no, no, that doesn't apply to me. You know, I don't have to do things that way. My script can be 200 pages long. Because it's so the story so good at nothing can be cut. You know, and when I hear like, okay,

Alex Ferrari 26:51
yes, yes. So unless your last name is Sorkin or black, it's really you can't really get away with a 200 page script.

Jeff Schimmel 26:59
No, and and even if you do get away, even if you're someone else, and you do get away with it, at some point, they are going to say, unless you're directing it, you better pare it down. I mean, if you're directing it, you know what you want to get out of it. Right? Do you know Do you know who Ed louder was? No. Okay. By the way, am I ruining your flow here? Please go for it. Okay, so Ed louder was the actor in the original Longest Yard. He played a half an hour the the, you know, the main prison guard. And he was in a lot of great movies. So one day back in the late 80s, early 90s, probably no later than 90, when people when we used to go and print our scripts out at the copy place, bring a little floppy disk. I was in there waiting for a script to be printed. And Ed Lauder walked in. And I started telling him his movie credits, you know, as if he needed to know about own career. And he had a floppy disk. And he gave it to the girl that worked there. And he said, Please print out my script. So he was telling me he wrote a script I'll never forget, it was called Oh, no, Roberta. Okay. And he said, I've been working on this for years. And finally, I'm done with it. And the girl came back with a stack of pages like this. So he said, I only wanted one copy. And she said, this is one. It was a 400 page screenplay.

Alex Ferrari 28:30
He didn't realize it was a

Jeff Schimmel 28:33
no, because do you remember something called Warren script applications? Yeah, that was a precursor to like final draft and movie magic and all that. So he wrote this. I don't know how, but it was 400 pages. And he said, I don't know what I'm gonna do. I can't cut this down. So I said, Give it to me. And I started flipping through the pages. And I said, if you get rid of all the Moors and continues, that you're going to probably be able to cut 50 pages. Like that, right? You know, why don't you maybe do this and do that. And we have this really nice conversation. But I mean, I've seen it in real life. I've seen people write monsters. How do you fix a 400 page script?

Alex Ferrari 29:20
You can make it into a trilogy like like Lucas did?

Jeff Schimmel 29:26
Right? Yeah. But I mean, the things the things that come up are ridiculous. I mean, there's people that say, You know what I want to do I want to be the guy to write the next Iron Man movie. What okay, what probably probably not going to happen unless you can convince the studio based on your previous work that you have the chops necessary to do that. You know, DC Comics and Marvel are gigantic franchises. A studio is not going to look at a brand new writer who has nothing to show and say We want you it's a

Alex Ferrari 30:01
very ignorant way of looking at things. I mean, you could you could argue with what's his name? Kugler? Ryan Coogler, who did Black Panther, he had already done one or two features prior to that. And then they gave him $200 million to write co write and do that. And he did very well with it. Yeah, but you know, that's a that's a rarity. And he's also the director. Right? Yeah. Well, that helps. That always helps. We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Jeff Schimmel 30:40
I believe, first of all, at my age, it's so weird when I see myself like, I look like Moses, right? I believe and I tell people, you should probably aim at the bullseye. Like, if you're trying to get somewhere aim at the bullseye, don't try to aim at the edges, and try to be the one in a million person that's going to get away with it. Look, the odds are it's not gonna it's not gonna work. Can I say that? You know, for sure. And you it will never pan out? No, I can't say that. But what I can say is, if you're writing a comedy, let's say you're writing a broad comedy, try to keep it within the realm of successful broad comedies. If you're inventing some other thing, you know, good luck to you. I just don't see it. I can't coach someone and say yes, go for it. Right. You know, and you know, something else that goes along with it is if you're going to write a comedy, make it funny, please.

Alex Ferrari 31:44
Just it's just a small thing, just a small thing. Just a little thing, make it funny. Now, this is a this is a lost art or an art that's never been actually created as an art. But how should screenwriters talk to executives, you know, like, it is a very, you know, it's one thing learning the craft and this and that, but when you get in that room, if you don't know what to do, it's, it's kind of like you didn't even write anything, you really don't need to understand that process.

Jeff Schimmel 32:10
Right? Well, okay, so, a Be confident. Mm hmm. Um, they need you as much as you need them. Without writers, there's, there's nothing to shoot, there's no TV, and there's no films, right. So they do need you even if you're a fledgling writer, you're there for a reason. But you remember in the beginning of Raging Bull, when, when Robert DeNiro, as Jake LaMotta was in his dressing rooms about to go out and perform, and he kept on repeating, you're the boss, you're the boss, you're the boss. That's not a bad idea. I mean, if you're a new writer, and you're and you're, you're not used to going into these meetings, it wouldn't be a bad thing to stand or sit out in the waiting area and just think I'm the boss. I'm running this meeting. I mean, they might be behind the desk, and they may be the one asking the questions, but they're not gonna push me around. At least not too much. You need to have that in your head first. Another thing and I know this sounds really crazy. But you asked me so I'm going to tell Sure. Okay. If you walk into an executives office, and you've never been there before, take a split second to look around the office. Yes. If they've got a Boston Celtics jersey, signed by framed on the wall, talk about it. If they have some unique piece of furniture that a lot of other people wouldn't have, or you would never expect to see that and executives office. Ask them about it. Talk about it, because now you're talking to them about something, you know, they like don't have to just make small talk like this inane, you know, talk, that doesn't mean anything. How are you? You know, what's new? What are you working on? Okay, whatever, you know. But if you can talk to them about something they get excited about? Well, they probably already like you by the time you're getting around to talking business and what's wrong with that.

Alex Ferrari 34:13
That is something that writers and filmmakers underestimate is that power to connect with them as a human being? Right, and you know, all things being equal, you're talented, you got a good script. Everything being equal, they're always going to pick the person that has some sort of human connection with even if it's as superficial as I love Larry Bird to I've got a signed autograph Jersey in my house, right out alone is it goes so long, and they don't teach that anywhere.

Jeff Schimmel 34:43
No, they don't. I do in my life. Of course

Alex Ferrari 34:46
you do in your class or in my class, but like at film schools or you know, or big institutions, they don't teach stuff like that. No, it is unwritten rules.

Jeff Schimmel 34:55
Yeah, I went to him and like I said before, you know, no one told me anything when I was starting out, because for some reason writers, maybe they still do it. But at that time for sure. Everyone looked at each other like competition. Yeah. But how was I as a new writer competition to someone that had a ton of credits and we weren't going up for the same jobs? Why would you not give me some helpful hints along the way? I mean, I'm not preventing you from working, you know, but but that's the way it was. But I like to tell people these things. And again, a lot of them people think like, ah, that's baloney that, you know, that can't be true. No, if I'm telling you, then it's true. I mean, no, I don't get anything out of lying to

Alex Ferrari 35:39
you. Exactly. And that's,

Jeff Schimmel 35:42
I mean, I didn't go to a meeting once and I met a guy. Okay, I'll tell you a great one and a horrible one. Okay. I met a guy who mentioned Myrna Loy. So, Myrna Loy was an actress from way back in the 40s 30s. And 40s. I'm pretty sure. And he mentioned Myrna Loy. And I think he thought I wouldn't know who that was. And I immediately started talking about Myrna Loy and then said, By the way, you know, I used to have an office on the Sony lot, and I was in the Myrna Loy building. Well, we connected on Myrna Loy. And all of a sudden, the meeting just became like two pals sitting in a bar talking to each other. We're still friends that had to have been 10 or 11 years ago. And we're, we're friends as a result of Myrna Loy. Write the bad meeting, I can tell you, this is such a great one. That's probably a better story. I went yeah, but I see. The other one, though, serves a purpose, because I know that you talk about something. Sure. Okay. Something important. So I went to this meeting once at Fox, and I walk in and the executive is sitting there, I sit on the couch, and he's playing those electronic drumsticks on his desk, you know, they're not plugged into anything. They're just like, wireless

Alex Ferrari 37:03
and batter fairly, fairly douchey, fairly douchey. Yes, he's

Jeff Schimmel 37:07
playing the drums on his desk. And he's like, Hey, how you doing? And I said, Great. And so he was like, so your agent sent Jan, and he's still playing the drums. He put the drumsticks down, and I thought, well, now we're gonna get to business. And I'm not kidding, this is real. He picked up a little like remote control thing. And he started flying, a helicopter took off from his desk, and was making this really high pitched sound like he right, it took off from the desk, and he was flying in around the office. While I'm trying to talk to him about the project, what he was allegedly interested in. And he's making, he made it land on the coffee table in front of me. And then it took off and flew around. And it landed on his desk. And I started noticing as if that wasn't enough. He had a bunch of scripts thrown around that were open to the middle and like laid down. He never read anything all the way through. It looked like he just had a bunch of half read scripts. And nothing. That meeting went nowhere. I mean, it was just him playing with stuff. And I just stopped talking. And when I stopped talking, the meeting was over because again, nothing to say, Wow. That was the second worst meeting I've ever had.

Alex Ferrari 38:30
Well, you have to tell us now what the first worst meeting was obviously, the first

Jeff Schimmel 38:33
meeting was so bad that I was thrown out of the office so fast that the valet didn't have a chance to park my car yet. When I came down the valet said, oh, did you leave something in your car? And I said, No, I'm done. And I gave him the valet ticket in the tip and I drove

Alex Ferrari 38:54
away. What? So what happened at that meeting?

Jeff Schimmel 38:57
i This was back in 2008. I had just come back from overseas. I was gone for a while. And my agent said you know because of the strike. Yeah, right. There's very few jobs out there that you can get. So if I were you I would start really paying attention to unscripted television. And I think at that time at that by then I hadn't watched too much reality television, maybe with my wife, I'd lost like a slur or something. But I really didn't know anything about it. And I was so heartbroken to hear that but I started watching shows, and I came up with an idea for a show that was very much like the bachelor. But it was about a guy who met 25 women and he was trying to find the perfect girl for him. The only difference was that he was currently married or was the adulterer. Oh, this was a guy who was ready to file for divorce. Right? Just looking for A soft place to land, like when I get out of my marriage, who's who am I going to view is

Alex Ferrari 40:05
fairly brutal?

Jeff Schimmel 40:08
Well see, I told him, I didn't want to really come up with these ideas. So what I didn't know was that the woman I was pitching the idea to was going through a horrible divorce, right? And apparently cheated on her. And she really, she kicked me out. I was probably about a minute into the pitch, maybe a minute and a half. Right. And she stood up and said, the meetings over. And that was it.

Alex Ferrari 40:37
He's please get out. Wow. That's just bad timing, sir.

Jeff Schimmel 40:43
You know what I think that show could I still think it could work?

Alex Ferrari 40:48
I could, I'll see that on VH. One, or Bravo.

Jeff Schimmel 40:51
I mean, these the people that are on the bachelor in the Bachelorette, they just want to win. Yeah, like at a certain point. I don't think they care who the person is. They just want to be the last one standing. Yeah, of course. Of course. So yeah, I think and by the way, the that they don't know that he's married until you're like 10 episodes. And it's like Joe

Alex Ferrari 41:09
millionaire back in the day. Yeah, I'd love that show. I thought that was a great show.

Jeff Schimmel 41:17
I didn't know I think it could work. I think we're

Alex Ferrari 41:19
now back to your book. A lot of a lot of writers have this fantastic book. A lot of writers have what we like to call the writer's block. What do you suggest about breaking through that kind of like, you know, procrastination, or I am blocked? I personally don't believe in writer's block. I do believe that there's, there's things that stop you. But there are techniques that you can use to get that flow going again, personally. What do you what's your? What's your vibe on it?

Jeff Schimmel 41:50
Okay, well, first of all, I forgot to tell you this, that the my cure for procrastination is in the book. Okay. It's in here. Okay. So go to Amazon and get it. Yes. But as far as writer's block goes, to a certain extent, I agree with you, I think it's a it's like a defense mechanism. Or it's kind of a, you know, it's a it's a creation out of some need for something. But this is what I suggest, go to a movie. That's, that's what I would say, if you have writer's block, if you're sitting there going, I can't think my way out of this. Or it's not just I can't get going. I just can't think my way out of this. Well, I would say this, go to a movie, take it easy, relax, forget about your thing that you're writing. Go watch a movie, sit in the theater for a couple of hours in the dark with strangers, and watch a movie and get lost in it. If you're writing. Let's say you're writing a romantic comedy, why don't you like go on Netflix and watch a couple of romantic comedies? Because you'll start to see how other people figure it out what they were trying to do. Right. And it might spur something, you know, you might go Oh, yeah, you know, I? I could do that. Not that but I could I could see a way out of where I'm stuck right now. I don't think it's that big of a deal. I mean, I guess I agree with you, you know?

Alex Ferrari 43:19
Yeah, I mean, you there are moments where you just like Man, where am I gonna go with this? And I'll either watch a movie or I'll read something or, uh, you know, just kind of get other, get outside of what you're doing whatever that might be. Even if it's going to a park and watching people watch. That alone could spark ideas. Yeah. And there's, yeah, just different ways. You can go back into your own past and your own stories, people, you know, and start thinking about those kinds of things. And it'll just come. But

Jeff Schimmel 43:50
yeah, no, I agree. And when people tell me, for example, another thing that I have similar advice for when they say, You know what, I finished my script yesterday. And I'm already rewriting it, I tell them, you know, what, don't put it in a drawer. And don't think about it for two weeks. This is what I usually say, don't even think about it. Now, that doesn't mean start working on something else. It just means leave it alone. Because if you come back to it with fresh eyes, you'll notice things on your own with that you've never seen before. Yep, you'll see things that you were so used to reading and rereading while you were writing that they just became whatever automatic in your head. But after you haven't looked at it for a while, it'll seem different. And you might spot things that you like more or like a lot less. So before you rewrite, get away from it, and then come back and look at it and also, you know if you're going to give it to your parents and your friend's wife and all that just let them say what they want to say about it, but you know, unless they're giving you the money to make it like people or people don't read scripts, even a lot of writers don't read scripts. So if you're going to give it to your parents and hope to get notes, what are your parents gonna say? Well, if they're Jewish parents, then they're gonna say, oh my god, this is fantastic. I'm Jewish, by the way. Being anti Jewish, I'm the opposite. Saying is like, if I gave a script to my parents, if they bothered to read it, they would have said, Oh, my God, this is fantastic. We're going to show our friends. Sure,

Alex Ferrari 45:28
sure, sure, no question.

Jeff Schimmel 45:29
They get real, a real critique from anybody that likes you. What are they going to say? This is horrible.

Alex Ferrari 45:35
Yeah, it's a rough place to be if you put in that position, generally, if you know the person unless they really truly are good friends. And you really do have your an educated reader, let's say and give really good notes, then that's a different conversation. What advice do you have for screenwriters to help them stand outside of this insane crowd of competition, if you will? Or just product? I wouldn't say competition because I truly don't believe that. I can compete against Aaron Sorkin and or Shane Black, acquit and Tarantino because they have such unique voices. But But how do filmmaker? How do screenwriters generally, in your opinion, try to stand out of the crowd? How can they make an agent or manager or producer an executive take notice?

Jeff Schimmel 46:22
Write something good. Next question.

Alex Ferrari 46:27
Next question. Writers only really, really good but

Jeff Schimmel 46:29
something really good? No, I mean, look, if you're faking your voice, you can't, then it's gonna be tough to reproduce that. Like, God forbid they love it. And then they want you to do the second one. And you're like, Ah, I can't, you know, I don't know how to get back into that. You got to be yourself, speak the way. I mean, I'm not saying speak the way you speak. But you have your creative voice, you have your style, style is really important. Don't copy someone else's, because it's pretty obvious, right? Doing that, you know, but be yourself and be put your energy, your creativity, your view of things, you know, your perception of things, and you live or die with that. Try it. And if people respond to it, then you're on the right track. And if they don't, you might still be on the right track, and they just don't see it. There's, it's tough.

Alex Ferrari 47:27
The whole the whole process is tough, to say the least. Now, what are your feelings on festivals and contests?

Jeff Schimmel 47:37
Probably that they're the worst thing ever created.

Alex Ferrari 47:41
For screenwriters.

Jeff Schimmel 47:43
Yeah. And I know that there are some people that are not going to like me for saying that, but I'm still right. Look, it's math. And sometimes when I teach a class, I actually do the math on the dry erase board. And I'll show them, you know, if this many people sign up, and they pay this much, and there's this many weeks of judging that goes on, and blah, blah, blah, whatever. It's a money making factory. That's what it is for the people that run the contest. They can't guarantee you even if you win, even if you're lucky enough to win, you're gonna get a giant cardboard check for X amount of dollars, they're gonna put it on their website, that picture of you holding it, can they get you an agent now? Can they get you a deal? No, they can make a lot of money. And by the way, you won. But let's say there's 5000 other people that didn't win? Well, they're going to get bombarded with emails saying, you know, you came so close, you were a quarter finalist or semi finalists or whatever, buy this book, take this class, do this webinar series with us. And maybe next year, you know, you'll win, and people are going to buy that stuff. But here's something that, I think is really the most important thing I can say. If you do the math, and you figure out how many scripts they get, how much time they have to read them and get notes on them. And you know, get them get them analyzed before they can pick winners. The math is impossible, unless they're hiring, just schmucks off the street, pretty much to do it. And that's what they do. And I can tell you, I know for a fact that some people I know have taken part or participated in contests, where high school kids with no experience reading scripts whatsoever, were paid minimum wage, to read scripts and write notes, cheeses, and that's real. That's true. That's a true story. So and by the way, I've been invited to be a judge in screenwriting contests. I've always turned them down because I'm not going to be hypocritical and say, Yes, I'll be a judge. But you The what they would tell me the invitation would say, you know, you don't really have to read the scripts, read a few pages. If it looks like it's going somewhere, finish it if it doesn't just say so. Well, I would hate to be the guy that paid 125 bucks to enter that contest and find out nobody's reading it. Oh, yeah. Brutal. It's brutal.

Alex Ferrari 50:24
Brutal, brutal. Yeah. And, finally, I'm going to ask you a few questions. I ask all my guests. But this one last question. Is there anything that you can say as far as creating a daily winning routine for writers so they can actually get their scripts written in a timely fashion? Which is that that's the key point timely fashion, because you can write one sentence a day, and that's a routine, you know, but that's not really going to help you out. So what would you suggest?

Jeff Schimmel 50:53
Okay, well, I would suggest doing something other than what a lot of people in my classes have done before I've met them. And that is that they, it takes them years to write a script up not months, years. And all yes, I'll meet someone, let's say, I'll meet someone in, you know, New York, they, they come to my class, and they tell me I wrote this script, it took me three years to get it to this point, and blah, blah, blah, whatever. And I'm almost done. I'm almost done with it. And I'll see them again the following year at a class. And I'll say, How did it turn out? I'm almost done.

Alex Ferrari 51:36
I have, I've interviewed enough professional screenwriters. And I've spoken to enough and I've done enough writing myself to know that professionals don't do that. Professionals just do the work. They take three to six months tops, to write a screenplay, most of the times even faster than that. And they just go and it's just a machine and you just keep writing. And you're and you just keep going this whole like, this is the only script I'm working on for three years, you're done. You're just not done. Well. What

Jeff Schimmel 52:08
are you going to do next time? I

Alex Ferrari 52:09
mean, right now the three years like,

Jeff Schimmel 52:11
let's say it turns out great. You go to a studio, they love it as a sample. They say we're not going to buy we're not going to make this movie, but we love it. We think you're unbelievably talented. We want you to take a crack at this project. The next Iron Man. Yes. What do you do? Tell them? Well, let's see. It's 2019. Now, what are you doing in 2022? When I have the first draft done, they're gonna throw you out. Right, so. Okay. To answer your question, staying on track is a function of having a fantastic outline. Yes, if you create that outline, and you have it, it's increments that are manageable. You know, I don't think outlining in your head is great thinking is great. Put it down in some form, either, you know, look, a program like Final Draft, has the index card function. Yes, it's great. Why index cards you can. And that's what I suggest people do. I actually like the physical cards, because there's something about writing out a card, holding it and tacking it up on the wall. But if that's what you're gonna do, then write a card at a time. Look at the wall and say, you know, the next thing in my outline was this chase scene. I'm going to write that chasing right now. And if it takes me all day to do it, well, I can go to sleep tonight looking at myself in the mirror when I'm brushing my teeth, and I can say, I did what I set out to do today, I did accomplish that thing. It might be two cards, it might be five, it might be one, I don't know what it is for you. But if you have a great outline, and you stay on that plan, you cannot help but get to the end. Just don't go back. Right. Oh, go back to the previous pages go forward. You have plenty of time to rewrite it later.

Alex Ferrari 54:06
Now I'm gonna ask these questions ask all my guests all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into the business today?

Jeff Schimmel 54:17
Wow, I had so many thoughts fly through like

Alex Ferrari 54:19
your second Secondly, right?

Jeff Schimmel 54:21
Yeah. Um, read a lot of scripts. And make sure you understand what how they tell a story. A lot of people write way too much dialogue. A lot of people write too much, you know, action description. And you know, if you have too much action description on the page, nobody's gonna read it. They're gonna I've seen people do it professional readers like and just beaters. They'll flip through and and if that stuff's important, well, you made sure they would never see it right? overriding it. So don't do that. So I would say read a lot of scripts until you're comfortable with the idea of how scripts exist. And the other thing I would say is watch a lot of movies. If you're going to write movies, you better watch movies. And it's funny, because I'll have friends tell me, I mean, people that are they're not as old as I am. But let's say they're 4035. And they want to write the next great western, which there's not a huge market for that. But let's say they want to write the next great western. I'll start talking to them just you know so excitedly about the original 310 to Yuma, or, you know, Once Upon a Time in the West course, or something like that, and I just watched them gloss over. Oh, I've seen either one of those movies. Oh, yeah. I've never seen The Magnificent Seven, even though that's not really a Western. But how in the world? Are you going to write a Western if you haven't seen westerns?

Alex Ferrari 56:05
If you ever seen Sergio Leone, work? Like how can you sing it? Or cleanse work? Like how can you?

Jeff Schimmel 56:11
Yeah, and I'll just start naming I'll just start rattling off movies. And they're like, no, no, never saw it. I'm not saying see it, so you can copy them. I'm just gonna see what it's done. You got to see it. You got to see how it's done. Right?

Alex Ferrari 56:26
No question. And it was funny. I was actually doing this is years ago, I was a colorist doing a music video. And this hot, big time hot, you know, young director who's like 20, you know, to 23?

Jeff Schimmel 56:37
I know it is, but

Alex Ferrari 56:38
and he was. And I'm like, Hey, so do you want me to do kind of like a Blade Runner thing here? And he's like, I don't know what you're talking. Like. You're a music video director. And you haven't studied Tony and Ridley Scott's work? Like, are you kidding me?

Jeff Schimmel 56:54
Yeah, no, they're not. You know, there's a lot of executives that have never seen the movies classic movies that their studio

Alex Ferrari 57:02
owns that Godfather, or?

Jeff Schimmel 57:05
Yeah, I want to tell them go in the vault. You know, and and get it for free? I'm sure you could watch it for free. Yeah, I mean, come on it. But you've got to know you have to watch movies and you have to read scripts, I would say best. Absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 57:20
Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact in your life or career?

Jeff Schimmel 57:25
About this stuff? Anything

Alex Ferrari 57:27
life or career?

Jeff Schimmel 57:30
Okay, it's not technically not. Wow. I don't want to paint myself into a corner with this. Okay, how about this? How about I tell you a script, I read that change things for me. Okay. Okay. I don't know where I was. I know that I read the screenplay to the firm. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Great movie. And yeah, it was a good movie. I I remember one night I read that script. And when I got done with it, I was so impressed. And I just thought wow, the movies the movie, but this graft if I could ever write something this tight. Yeah. You read with my tight? Yeah, man. If I could do that. I'm going to be really happy. Another script I read. I read the script for Hannah and Her Sisters. Oh, yeah. I wanted to jump out the window when I read that because I was like, Damn this. There is no fat in this. There's no wasted word. Yeah, you know, and Woody Allen's dialogue he's writing stammering it's not it's just it's unbelievable. I wrote to him I wrote after I read that script, I wrote a letter to Woody Allen and I said, if I could ever write anything that comes anywhere close to the worst thing you would ever write, then I can be happy and I can quit and he wrote back to me and he said wow, thanks I'm glad you like my movies. So he took the time to write back to me but he No encouragement just thanks. Thank you, thanks for recognizing that

Alex Ferrari 59:03
um, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life

Jeff Schimmel 59:11
keep your mouth shut.

Alex Ferrari 59:14
Very good.

Jeff Schimmel 59:16
So basically, Ash don't tell the truth. Because really doesn't matter. I mean,

Alex Ferrari 59:24
in certain scenarios, I would agree with you Yes. Don't tell the truth in certain scenarios, especially when you're dealing in in a creative art in the film business with studios and executives that I get completely

Jeff Schimmel 59:33
Yeah, they you know what they want a as this sounds, I don't know people are probably if they ever watched this, you're gonna be like, God, you should have kept your mouth shut them. Okay. But But look, here's the thing. What's most important to higher ups in the entertainment industry is is that you're a team player. Yeah. They want you to be a team player. They really don't care what your opinion is, especially if it's different than theirs. Right? So really, they just want to be a team player. They want to know I can count on this person to back me up. So that's why I'm saying like, keep your mouth shut or you know, say the right things. But listen more

Alex Ferrari 1:00:13
talk less. Yeah. And three of your favorite films of all time.

Jeff Schimmel 1:00:19
Wow. Okay. Well, Casablanca

Alex Ferrari 1:00:22
Yeah. And that comes up quite often on the show has to

Jeff Schimmel 1:00:24
it has to I had a neighbor that hated it and photo was one of the worst movies ever made. And then I forced him to watch it with me. And I would start it and stop it every 30 seconds. And by the end of it, he got it. He understood why it was so great.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:39
He's also dead inside. But that's another story.

Jeff Schimmel 1:00:43
But but here's the thing. His idea of a good movie was Dude, Where's My Car?

Alex Ferrari 1:00:48
Well, hey, you know, hey, look, when I was in high school, John Claude Van Damme was the greatest actor of all time, you know, so

Jeff Schimmel 1:00:55
I get it. So. So anyway, yeah. All right. So that the Godfather, of course, and Godfather two, but I think those are so great that they don't even really belong on the list because they're beyond a list. They've transcended the list. Right? So but I could just I mean, Once Upon a Time in the West is gray. You know, The Wild Bunch for certain reasons is great. Anything with William Holden, where he plays a real smart ass American like Stalag 17 is great or executive suite is great. Pretty much almost anything with Montgomery Clift is great. Almost anything was Steve McQueen is Nash and say almost anything but like bullet

Alex Ferrari 1:01:42
not bullets. Insane. Yeah, bullet. They would

Jeff Schimmel 1:01:46
never make that movie now. Because the scope was complicated enough to where I think executives would think that the audience couldn't follow it now.

Alex Ferrari 1:01:55
Yeah. And let alone trying to do all I mean, all that well, Mo be all CG now. It wouldn't be right, isn't it kid? Yeah. Great. Great. Well, that going down that line, the sting? I mean, staying?

Jeff Schimmel 1:02:06
Yes. Fantastic. I mean, when you get Robert Redford and Paul Newman, yeah, either. I just remember sitting there in a theater looking at them thinking, why can I be as cool as either one of them? And then of course, Butch Cassidy which, you know, I loved William Goldman, like as a person. Yeah, of course, his movies are just ridiculously fantastic. But I remember reading an interview with him where he said he hated Butch Cassidy. Why didn't he hated it? Why? He said he thought it was too cute. Like, the characters were too

Alex Ferrari 1:02:43
funny, and everyone's a critic.

Jeff Schimmel 1:02:47
And I would, I would have loved to sit with him and talk to him about it and convince him that he was wrong.

Alex Ferrari 1:02:53
That would have been a good interview, that would have been a good conversation with Azalia. And then where can people find you in the work that you're doing?

Jeff Schimmel 1:03:00
Okay, so the work that I'm doing right now, I never talk about. But the work that I've done, or about me and what I'm doing as far as teaching and stuff. Yeah, yeah. Okay, they should go to my website. It's called Maximum screenwriting.com. It's got a lot of stuff in there. There's one like video lesson that's in there. It's like eight minutes long. And it will tell people about things they've probably not considered when they're writing. But I set up classes around the country for writers groups, and I usually teach weekend classes I pack so much in and it's eight hours, Saturday, eight hours Sunday, and if they read the testimonials on the website, they'll understand what happens during during those classes. I'm really happy. I've had screenwriting professors from universities and film schools come and take the class. All kinds of creative executives have taken it. Obviously writers take it all the time. But that's what I do. And I love doing that. More than anything right now. Because I like to see the light go on. You know, when I tell someone something and boom, I see the flicker.

Alex Ferrari 1:04:10
Fair enough, man, Jeff, thank you for dropping some major knowledge bombs today and also some amazing stories along the way too. So thanks for taking the time out.



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