Today on the show we have studio veteran, story consultant, and best-selling author of The Script Selling Game- 2nd edition: A Hollywood Insider’s Look at Getting Your Script Sold and Produced Kathie Fong Yoneda.
The Script-Selling Game is like having a mentor in the business who answers your questions and provides you with not only valuable information but real-life examples on how to maneuver your way through the Hollywood labyrinth. While the first edition focused mostly on film and television movies, the second edition includes a new chapter on animation and another on utilizing the Internet to market yourself and find new opportunities, plus an expansive section on submitting for television and cable.
Kathie has worked in film and television for more than 30 years. She has held executive positions at Disney, Touchstone, Disney TV Animation, Paramount Pictures Television, and Island Pictures, specializing in development and story analysis of both live-action and animation projects.
Kathie is an internationally known seminar leader on screenwriting and development and has conducted workshops in France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Ireland, Great Britain, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Enjoy my conversation with Kathie Fong Yoneda.
Alex Ferrari 0:48
I'd like to welcome the show Kathie Fong Yoneda How are you Kathie?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 3:00
I'm fine. Thank you, how are you?
Alex Ferrari 3:01
I'm doing good as good as we can be in this crazy upside down world that we live in. But thank you for being on the show. I wanted to bring you on because I loved your book, the script selling game. And it is I think a part of the screenwriting conversation with screenwriters, it's not talked about enough, I try to yell about it, at the top of my lungs, from the from the mountain to you. And just you need to understand the business side you have to understand how the game is played. You need to it's not all about plot and characters. And that it is all about that. But it also is about the Business Like Show Business. There's two of them. You have to connect. So I wanted to bring you on the show and kind of dig into that. But before we get started, how did you get into the business?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 3:48
Um, it's the only thing I owe to my ex husband. My ex husband worked for famous director Stanley Kramer, and I was just doing secretarial work. And he was telling me Well, if you can do secretarial work, work at the studios, they at least have a union you get paid a little bit more. So I applied at Universal Studios. And surprisingly, I got in. And it's kind of an interesting fact is that this is many, many years ago. I mean, we're talking about the 1960s. I've been in the industry for a long time. And what happened is that about I got put into the what they call the secretarial pool. And I was I was just doing my work and one of the gals in the secretarial pool came up to me and she said, You know, my friend was supposed to get that job. And I said, What What do you mean? She said, the only reason you got it is because you're Asian. And I thought well that's that's kind of a crazy thing for her to say but I just looked at her and I just said Well, I don't know. All I know is I got the job. I went down to The, you know, to do the personnel office and I asked the gal I said, Well, you know, what is this all about? You know, and she said, Well, it's true, we were looking for it, specifically, somebody who was of another ethnicity, because the industry is liable to get sued by the motion by the, by the United States government, because we had less than one 10th of 1% of our workforce is, is, you know, minority. So everything else is white. And so it was a big wake up call for that industry. And she said, but, you know, you still, we didn't hire you just because of that, we hired you, because you were the best candidate, you actually typed faster, you gave a great, you know, little, you know, talk about who you are, and, and, and sort of what you what you were interested in, and that's why we hired you. And so I kind of just worked my way up the ranks in the secretarial pool, and eventually started working in the industrial, excuse me, the Executive Office over at Warner Brothers. And that's where I met the man who became my mentor. His name was Richard Shepard. And I don't know, I don't know if a lot of people might not know him. But they, he was a producer. He was a top studio exec, he helped to form, I believe it was creative management associates, which used to be a very famous agency. He went off on, on location for one of his films, and I was lifting them at the office. And so all these scripts kept coming in. And I was getting bored. So I started reading them. And when it came back, he, you know, started to read picked up one of the scripts started to read it and said, Oh, you don't need to read that one. Because, well, why not? And I said, it's not very good. And so he picked up another one, I said, you know, that one's even worse. You don't need to read it. And they looked at me and he said, how many of these Did you read? And I said, all of them, there were probably about 40 scripts. It was pretty boring when he was. So he said, Do me a favor. He said, Could you just do a, you know, a few lines telling me what it's about. And, and then do a paragraph on why you liked or didn't like it. So I started doing that. And I found that it was just like, doing book reports in a way remotely, they had two scripts. So that's how I got started. And he, he said, you know, you are really good at this, you're very, you're able to sort of get the essence of the story. And you must watch a lot of movies because you're able to determine whether or not works. And so if he was my mentor, and what he started to do was involve me in some of his productions. So I became a production secretary. And I actually was the first Asian female, not only at Universal, but at Fox now. I was the first what they call production secretary to ever get a credit. And it was the credit was on Robin. Han. Wow. And then then my boss moved over to become president over at MGM before it eventually disintegrated. But while I was while I was going over there, he said, Well, you know, the good thing is, guess what? You get to have your own secretary, you'll be the number one secretary. I said, Well, I'm not so sure about that. And he said, What do you mean? And so I did my first deal. I wanted to do as I said, Well, I'm happy to to go over to MGM with you. And and I'll be, I'll set up the office, and I'll hire somebody to do you know, to be the secretary. But after a couple of months after she's gotten used to everything, I would like to have the opportunity to spend 30 days in the story department as a story analyst. Because in those days, in order to become a member of that Guild, you had to work for 30 straight days. And then you had to go through I guess it's sort of I don't know
Alex Ferrari 9:31
a qualifications or something like that.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 9:34
Yes, series of qualification, things you had to do. And so I did it and I was one of the few that actually got it got in right away. On the on the first thing I didn't have to take it, take it over and over again. So I became a member of the story analysts guild and that's how I moved around from studio to.
Alex Ferrari 9:53
So let me ask you, how many scripts Have you read in your career?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 10:01
You know, I really should have counted a month when I started. I didn't, I didn't really think about counting them, but
Alex Ferrari 10:07
10s of 1000s? Yeah.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 10:11
I would say cut, you know, because Listen, I've been reading scripts since about 1973.
Alex Ferrari 10:20
So, and I,
Kathie Fong Yoneda 10:21
yeah, so and I still was reading them. But when I became an executive over at Disney, and so and i was i was a VP over at Island pictures, and I was still writing scripts and as part of my job. And I still reading scripts now, because I'm helping a lot of the new writers out there to sort of get started. So I'm a consultant.
Alex Ferrari 10:43
So what should writers do in the development process that can give their story a fighting chance?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 10:51
Well, I think I should say something like, you could read my book, that would be
Alex Ferrari 10:57
what we're always gonna say, we're gonna begin every answer to every question, you should read my book. That being said, What else? Could you say?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 11:07
Oh, you know, it. First of all, if there, if you are a writer yourself, think about the scripts, the movies that really touched you that are in that genre that you're doing. And get a hold of that script, you can usually go the scripts.com and a couple of other places that you can get, you know, get a piece of scripts, and look at more movies in that arena, and see what were the scenes the key scenes that were able to give you a good sense of the characters, their motivation? What is it that made that movie, work? All those other things that you need to work on to make sure that your movie in that particular genre has all of those different qualities to it? I really, I mean, I love working with writers, especially the newbie writers, because they have a there's still something about them where there's that originality. Mm hmm. And I think they haven't been beaten up exposed, too much been exposed too much to some of the realities that we face in, in the industry, it does become rather tough. I mean, though, when you when you become a paid screenwriter, yes, you you will do a lot of writing and everything. But you also have a lot of other disappointments. And there's always knowing that there are other writers out there that are before you and behind you. It's just, it's one of those things, and moods change and genres change and what's popular, you've got to kind of keep up with that. But what's nice now is that they're streaming. And there's web series. And there's a lots of other ways that I think writers can actually express themselves. I used to be on the board of the LA web this many years ago, I think it was starting back in 2009 or so. And it was just amazing, because the idea of taking something and winnowing it down to just watching three or four minutes of it. And having people come back the next week to watch the next chapter, the next chapter, the next chapter. It just, it gave me such a wonderful way of saying of being able to tell other writers start off small, if you're unsure, start off small and and go big. Probably one of the best success stories is, you know, there were there were a couple of people who had wonderful web series, which eventually, you know, turned into while people started looking at those web series and realize that these people had a lot of talent and they were hired. So that that's one of the things that happened. And I think web series is another way of doing it is especially if you want to break into television, and get used to being able to tell things succinctly. And you really have to develop those characters right away. And so I always tell people, when you if you have a television series idea, start off small start by by doing something like a web series.
Alex Ferrari 14:26
And I mean, the world is changing so rapidly. And I mean, just for me, I could only imagine since 1973 how the world has changed in the film industry, how movies have changed, everything is changed so dramatically. There is more than ever need for content because there's so many outlets out right now. And there's so many streaming services and and features in a lot of ways are not leading the pack anymore. It's more scripted television. And and that's where a lot of these these initial invoices are going and that's, to be honest, was where a lot of the money's made. I mean, unless you're at the upper echelon in the studio system, you're doing Marvel movies or tentpole movies, and that's a different conversation. But generally speaking television is where a writer can actually start making a living, even even even a low budget streaming series, you'll be able to make some money as a writer, which, if you're making any money as a writer, you're winning.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 15:28
Alex Ferrari 15:31
But the one thing I, again, when I said at the beginning of the show is a lot of screenwriters just don't even think about the politics. The the business side, what can screenwriters do to prepare themselves better? For the business of screenwriting, we know that it's kind of like film, school, film school beat you up about the process of making a movie, but they don't teach you how to sell the movie, they don't teach you how to get a job in the industry. They don't teach you how to make any money. All they do is teach you the art. And the same thing goes with screenwriting A lot of times, you know, there's 1000 books out there about and 1000 courses about how to write a screenplay, very few about the business side of like how to actually make a living, how to sell your script, what can they do to better prepare themselves for the business side?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 16:19
Well, I think that what's difficult for a lot of writers is they would rather just have the words on paper, do the talking for them. Learning how to pitch is really one of the more difficult things to get people to do. And it's being able to sort of boil down the the heart of your story, to let people know what what your project is all about. And sometimes, you know, people are so used to being able to say, well, and this this scene, this happens, and then this is sort of like, they start telling you the whole story, but they're not selling it, it's just it's just like to, to whoever's listening to it, it's just a lot of words, you need to be able to very succinctly tell your story. And so pitching is one of those things that I found, it just is one of those things, you got to develop that as one of your talents, it can't be just handing somebody, your script or your book, you have to be able to pitch it. And in doing that, you can put in your own personality. And I think that's important. Because a lot of it is when you're talking with somebody, they may have a wonderful story that they're pitching to you. But if they don't have the same kind of if they don't have a kind of personality that you feel you can work with, that can sometimes blow the deal. Mm hmm. So this is where it's also this is, um, you have to pitch to everybody. You know that it, whether it's a studio exec, somebody in production, even if it's somebody you happen to meet at a party, who works in the industry, and they ask you, what do you do? Oh, well, I wrote a screenplay. Oh, tell me what it's about. Now, the other thing that's helpful is if you belong to a writers group, and there's so many online writers groups nowadays, and they're places like stage 32, and a couple of other places that a lot of people are very much aware of those kinds of groups are very, very helpful, you can find people who are going through the same thing you're doing. And that's what I like about this business now, before it used to be so competitive that nobody would tell anybody anything, because they were afraid somebody else would get ahead. Nowadays, people seem to be willing to help one another. And in doing so, I've noticed that this I do a lot of retreats. So I have to work with a lot of writers in large group and the idea of working that way working together or working side by side with somebody and seeing what they're doing, how they're developing your their material and they can see how you're developing your material. And you guys are able to exchange ideas and give some advice to one another. It builds up a friendship Not only that, but if one person makes it they're gonna you know if they hear about Oh, there's another job up and we need somebody else on staff they're gonna they're their friends are gonna probably be the next one they're going to be getting that phone call or email saying hey, guess what, we need somebody else on staff so those kinds of things that you know i mean, i i they used to have more conferences now. There's a lot more online ones now. And I think that helps the small group online once it kind of what's going on now because they used to have the ones where you would go to a hotel instead or something and you would have And I used to be a member of a lot of those, I taught a lot of them but it. And it was great because you know, you were able to sometimes meet agents and producers and all that. But you were doing it with hundreds of other people this way, at least online, you could start making your own contacts more directly. So I do think that, you know, joining some of those groups is really a step forward.
Alex Ferrari 20:32
Can you can you please tell the audience how important it is to build relationships in this business that this business is so relationship based, I've said it on the show a bunch of times, and I will continue to say it, because I want to hammer it into them that if you don't like you could be the next Sorkin mixed with Tarantino's love child, I mean, you can be next best writer ever. And if you don't understand how to get to somebody, or at least build relationships to get to open those doors, you're going to be standing on the sidelines because I've even read. I mean, I haven't read nearly as many scripts as you but even I've read scripts that I'm like, how is this not produced? This is an Oscar winning story. This is well written by a really big writer, and it's not getting produced. So these guys who have credits who have relationships, who have amazing content, can't get their stuff done. What is the chance of a newbie writer having it so that at least back the chips, relationships different? You agree?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 21:38
Well, I actually think now is actually a very good time for those of us who maybe don't have as many credits, or who are just getting into the business. Because there are a lot of companies that will no longer exist after this COVID experience. Oh, yeah. And so there's a lot of people then who are now branching off with people they've worked with, to form smaller production companies or smaller entities. And, you know, that includes even agencies, there's still a lot, there's a lot of stuff going on, you know, with there is the Writers Guild, but then remember, they, they did try to get rid of the Writers Guild. And that didn't work. And I think that people are realizing who your real friends are, and who you can really work with and talk to, during this pandemic. And I think that's what's going to help people to form some of the relationships that they need. It's interesting, and you know, a lot of the people form things through film school. And I can't stress enough that even if you are not in college, or a film program, at a university or something, talk to some of your friends, do you know, do you have a friend that knows someone who's, who does camera work, or somebody else who don't look at other people outside of writers, because the more information that you have, about the process of getting a movie or a television series made, really can help you with your writing. And with your relationship building, I
Alex Ferrari 23:27
do recommend that writers team up with directors and producers at a small level to create a web series, let's say that's low budgets, so they can have something produced that they can have actors acting their lines, and, and it kind of might set them apart a little bit, when going into one of these pitch meetings are like, Oh, yeah, I've produced, my scripts have been produced four or five times on the series, you could just go to Amazon, or you can watch it again, better yet on Netflix, if you can get it to that point. But even on Amazon or some other place, they it kind of sets you apart a little bit and kind of puts the power a little bit more in the writers hands, as opposed to just always looking for someone to give them the opportunity to open that door for them.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 24:10
Well, I you know, to me, it shows, it also shows that you as an individual, are not afraid to get out there, that you're so passionate about your work that you're willing to put yourself on the line. We cannot work. I don't think any of us can. If we just stand there and hold our hands out and expect somebody to shake it and say yes, we are I'm you. You've got to prove that. And when they know that you've done this, if you've you've paired up with some other people that that you are familiar with, and that you guys get along and you do things well together, like in a web series. It really I think gives whoever you're talking to a better stronger sense of who you are and that you have the passion to move ahead. And that it does, you're not going to let anything stop you, you certainly don't mind, you know, working with other people. And that's, that's the main thing is, you know, a lot of people have have made the mistake of thinking that okay, you know, I've got this job. And that's it. And I and I now have, you know, I've got something on my resume here. And they don't fail to keep up with their relationships with some of the people that they may have been working with. This happens a lot with movies and television. The important thing is, if you are in a writers room, like you are on most television series, you you form relationships very quickly, you're in that room, sometimes for 12 to 15 hours a day, for five, six days in a row. Oh, yeah. And you have, you have to prove that you're a team player. And you're, you know, personalities always have to come out because you can't always hold back on something. If you believe in something, I mean, your personality comes through. And if you work with people who have similar personalities, or similar points of view, when they move that they get in, you know, say one of their scripts is bought for a television series, you better believe they're going to think about Oh, yeah, all these writers that I've worked with, that I got along with, they're going to hire those people. So having building those kind of relationships are very, you know, key. And starting off on a smaller level with web series is a perfect way to go.
Alex Ferrari 26:35
Now, when you get into a room, let's say you finally get into this room that we keep hearing about, and you're in the you're in the room with this mogul, producer, Agent manager, what do you do in a pitch meeting? What are some pieces, some tips that you can give a writer to be in a pitch meeting?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 26:54
First of all, do your homework. So in other words, whoever you're meeting, find out a little bit more about them. You don't have to do a whole bio or something on it. But you know, just see if there's something you know, find out what their what they've done in the past, what helped them to get where they are now. Maybe maybe, you know, a producer might have might have been a creative exec at an agency or you know, at a studio, or maybe someone might have even been reader or story analyst somewhere, usually can find out, you know, you go online, and if you Google that person's name, their stuff bound to come up about what their background is like? Not, you know, plus, you can go to, you know, what is it? Some of the other websites, there's so many of them now, you know, out there, but go to some of those websites and check them out and see what was their background? You could have something in common like that you could have gone to the same college, even though it was 10 years apart when they graduated. Or it could be that, that maybe they have sometimes you find out things like oh, yeah, and so and so is in this club, you know, so maybe it's a literary club, or maybe it's flying airplanes club or whatever. I mean, they have funny things that people will put in there about who who people are and what do they do. And if you know someone else in the industry, who happens to know them a little bit more or have worked with them before, it doesn't hurt to just say Oh, so and so. told me to say hi to you, I told them I kind of immediately they told me to say hi, that goes a long way. For know, who's my someone, so don't be afraid to just talk to your writers group, which is something you know, to whoever it is that you kind of hang out with. And you say, you know, I've got a meeting with Mr. X. And do you know anybody who knows them or whatever. And just to find out if they know a little bit more about it? There's, there's, you have to have a certain amount of sincerity about things so to authenticity, right? Yes. I've been in meetings where people have, you can tell when they're trying too hard. And they're not being well, they're not really kind of sincere
Alex Ferrari 29:17
about what there's, there's I like to call it the stench of desperation. It's like a it's a perfume that, that that you wear. I wore it for many years, where if anybody that came on set that even had a remote amount of power, you would just rush over to the mango. You'd be you'd be like that grip on set with the screenplay in his back pocket like hey, you know when you get a chance to do you mind reading, like it was just this kind of like, energy sucking thing like what can you do for me? What can How can you help me as opposed to the opposite, which was what I discovered later in my career is how can I be of service to you How can I help you and and that's a much more authentic way to become to get a really build a relationship. And then you start working together. But you got to start by offering what you can do as opposed to sucking. Would you agree?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 30:08
I'll agree, very much agree. The other thing too, is, you know, nowadays, a lot of colleges now do have film school as part of their curriculum. And that's, that's one of the things that if you can, even if it's just taking two or three classes, and maybe not doing it, exactly a major in it, but if you can, if you can, that's great. But if you're, you know, if your dad's paying for your college degree, and he wants you to get it in something like Applied Science or
Alex Ferrari 30:40
Kathie Fong Yoneda 30:42
yeah, you could still you could still take a few screenwriting classes, because if you graduated from that particular school, and had taken some of those things, it's very easy to sort of find out a lot about the other people out there, whether they're agents, execs, producers, actors even. And by the way, actors nowadays, they're getting a lot smarter. They're forming their own production company
Alex Ferrari 31:11
as they should, as they as they should they should develop projects themselves. Oh, yeah, absolutely. This whole concept of and I think writers are start are going to start getting to that place. I don't know if they're there yet. But there are some that are doing it, where you as the creator, in today's world, the old studio system, where the there's a gate and there's gatekeepers, if you want to play at the very high end, again, tentpoles, Marvel studio, Disney, these big giant corporations, you got to play that game. But you can still build something outside where those people or those outlets or many other outlets like Netflix, for God's sakes, or Hulu, or these other companies will come looking for you if you build something out. So that's why actors, and I think with writers can team up with production people and team up with actors. That's when it starts getting really interesting, as opposed to always waiting for the gatekeeper to open the gate and give you, you know, crumbs to get in there something like that. It's just a lot of people trying to get in. And that's what I my personal journey was, I was trying to get into the party for the longest time. I snuck in a couple times. But the bouncers took me out later on. So I always tried to get into that hollywood party till I finally decided to make my own party and started creating my own company and started developing my own projects. And then magically, they start knocking on my door and asking me what I'm doing. And I was like, Oh, so this is how you do it. Okay, I get it. And then that the stench, that desperation stench started to go away?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 32:49
Well, I mean, you're self reliant,
Alex Ferrari 32:51
you have to be
Kathie Fong Yoneda 32:52
like to invest, people are self reliant.
Alex Ferrari 32:56
And that's something they don't teach you in school, they don't under that's like something that one little comment is so powerful, because you're saying, if you are self reliant, if you show that you can do it on your own, if you show that you can build even at a small level, a web series, that you were able to produce a web series that has a good story, decent production value, which in today's world, you could absolutely get for 10s of 1000s of dollars, because I've done it, and I've seen other filmmakers do it. That shows a lot as opposed to one of the 10th How many times did you walk in a room during your career and just saw piles of scripts from the floor to the ceiling, just sitting there that either you had to read or someone else was reading? And you guys were just going through it? And am I exaggerating? Or is it I've seen the pictures?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 33:43
Its course nowadays it's it's digital, you know, they get online, which is just as bad because I actually think, and I've actually talked to a lot of people who are in the industry and they say they actually kind of prefer having something you can put in your hand. Yeah. Oh, instead of reading it off the computer, which you know, after about two hours of that it kind of gets them gets weary on the eyes and sometimes you kind of forget everything. But you know so much of this industry is I understand it's about who you know, but it's also who you can be and who you are. You've got to have some I mean I always tell this funny story you know the guy who was who's on that television show which always which is escaping my mind right now but Randall the one that the one that does the thing about the Asians brand Oh,
Alex Ferrari 34:42
I'm Fresh Off the Boat.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 34:45
Yeah, Fresh Off the Boat. Yeah, okay, cuz it's been off the air now for what two seasons but yeah, what he did. You probably have heard the story too, is that he was actually with a bunch of others friends. They wanted to kind of, you know, get into the industry as writers, directors and actors in office. So they started a web series. And you probably already know
Alex Ferrari 35:12
this story will ever be, but a lot of people don't know. So please go ahead.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 35:17
So, IKEA is this Swedish company that has furniture, and they've got all those different floors of furniture and everything in it. And Randall and his friends wanted to do a little short film, which back in those days, it would just call a short film what isn't called a web series, but that's what it was, it ended up being that they would have to shoot certain scenes here, there. But they would usually webseries usually only have one or two scenes in them anyway, for each episode, because it's hard to find scenery that you can actually use. So if they didn't, they all were kind of like a couple of them, in fact, I think were roommates. And so they were sharing a single apartment. And so they didn't have much to work with. So they lived in Burbank, some of them lived in Burbank, and they went over to the IKEA and started filming some things at the IKEA store. First it would be in the kitchen, then it would be in the living room area. Area. And finally, the Night Manager actually the one who the one who was there from about three o'clock in the afternoon until close to 10 kind of noticed all of this thing, what's going on, they are just taking pictures of the furniture, these guys are actually getting to know taking movies. So we asked them what they were doing. And they explained, look, we're really sorry about this. It's just that we, you know, he explained, we're trying to do a series so we can show people and he says, you're going to do a TV series here. And he goes, Well, no, we're putting it on the internet. And the guy was actually kind of intrigued, interested. He just thought, oh, oh, okay, that's well, he says, you know, well, actually, you know what the best time to come there after 730 because most people's gone home, they either passed by year on the way to work or during lunch, but after about 730 or so it thins out so come on over. He actually let them do it. Now he he's no longer working there. So don't think you could still do this because I don't want people I don't want the IKEA manager to calling me and saying what the heck did you What did you What did you tell people
Alex Ferrari 37:22
this there's there's there's filmmakers everywhere trying to shoot now and I can't Well, not right now anyway because of COVID. But when it does come back out?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 37:30
Well, Brenda Randall was an unknown at the time. And Randy
Alex Ferrari 37:34
Randall Park Fifth Amendment, Randall park the actor Yeah, right. Yeah. And he's gone on to be big. He's huge.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 37:42
And it's one of those stories. And it's the same thing. There's that that gal Jane, who the, the Hispanic gal, who in her first series, she she started off doing three web series. And one of the casting people was hooked on web series and noticed her and that's what he did is he called her in. And she you know, she was she's very famous and got her own. She not only had her own television series, but she now then ended up I think she's now producing a film.
Alex Ferrari 38:21
Yeah, you're talking about Gina Rodriguez from Jane The Virgin. Well, funny enough. I actually funny enough, I actually worked on I think her first feature as a, I was I was the post production guy, editor, colorist person on her first film, and she was a supporting cast member. And she was she stole the show. And I was like, wow, this girl's got something. And then like, you know, a year or two later, she's like, Oh, look, she's got her own TV show now. Okay, she's exploded. Okay. That's how it works here in Hollywood. Yeah, oh, she's an Emmy winner. Yeah. Okay, so this is this is how that works. Okay, great. It's, it's funny, you know, being here in LA, is
Kathie Fong Yoneda 39:02
this group of friends saying, you know what, we got to do some to show that we are serious about being in this industry.
Alex Ferrari 39:10
Yeah, and and it's so important. You're absolutely right, it's so important to just kind of go out there and do it. And, you know, like, like the IKEA story. Sometimes you gotta not break the rules, but just you live in the gray area, you live in the gray area a bit and you got to do what you got to do. And as long as you're not doing anything illegal, just go for it and try to make it happen for yourself. But that says a lot more to me as a producer, as a filmmaker, about somebody that they've actually gone on produce something on their own that has some quality to it, then 1000 scripts, you know, you know, in a lot of times, I don't know if you agree with this or not, but a lot of times, it's the best stuff doesn't always get produced. It's not always the the cream rises to the top. I'm sure you've read a ton of scripts that never have been produced, that were Oscar worthy, or should have me worthy series that just didn't get produced for whatever politics, you know, money falling apart all that kind of stuff. It's a lot of times who hustles the hardest, and who gets, who proves it to the right people and the politics involved Is that a fair statement?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 40:20
It's it's not a good statement, but it is a first agree with you.
Alex Ferrari 40:24
It's not a good statement, but it's a fair statement.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 40:28
But it's but you know, what it's sort of like that no matter what industry you go in, you have people that, that know other people, and they get up there right away. And then you have people who who are struggling, and even though they may be very talented, they just haven't, they just haven't found their voice and, and, and their community to be able to help move them ahead. And I think what's great is now with the internet, we're finding a lot more of these people. I do know that that one of those things about the internet is people are very easy to talk to over on online, much more so than if you meet somebody in person for some reason. Maybe it's because they think that people judge you, you know, by how you look or, or what your first appearances or something. But once you start talking to people online, you get a real sense of someone's personality. And I just I have so many of my writers who have told me that they have met the most interesting people who are now people they are working with, on projects, whether it's a director, an actor or whatever, they are actually starting to work together and move ahead on on projects, because they found people that they can work with. And sometimes, you know, back in the olden days, you had to work with whoever was shoved your way, whether that person was someone that had a good personality, or had a good sense of humor, or whatever, something you know, you just had to work with whoever they told you to work with. It's still a little true today. But I find that I see groups of people, especially behind the scenes, people that like to move together to another project.
Alex Ferrari 42:18
Oh, God, yeah, I mean, Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Steven Spielberg, they've been working with the same team for decades. Because once you get people you can work with, you want to stay with them. Because and
Kathie Fong Yoneda 42:29
all those people started off together.
Alex Ferrari 42:32
And it's and the funny thing is, too, one thing that just people don't understand, especially when they're coming in the industry is it is difficult to find people you can work with, like, really connect with really have a second hand with. And when you find these people, you don't want to let them go, you want to want to hold on to them. And if you have the power to do so. Especially like those guys, you can bring them along and build out like I mean, I know I think Ron Howard won't do a movie without his first ad. Like he just waits until he's available. And then he does a movie with him. He just won't do it without one without him. And same thing for DPS and art directors and production designers and all that kind of stuff. It's, it's something that screenwriters need to understand this, well, if you can build that group together. Like you said earlier, if they get a job, and they need to fill another seat or two in that, in that writers room, you're getting the first call, it's about that relationship much more so than Oh, at least I know I can hang with this person. He's talented talent is like that. That's the that's the bare minimum. Like, we understand you're talented, you have to be talented, then there's a lot of talented people. Now the next criteria is, Can I sit in a room with you for 12 hours and not kill you? That's so much more valuable than having a super talented person, I would rather have someone who's a little less talented. And I can actually work with then a super talented person who is impossible to work with.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 43:57
Now I have a very dear friend who who's a writer and has been a writer for a long time. And, and she's told me she said, You know you She said she would she would rather rely on somebody on her writings on a writing staff. Because they, they know so much more about who she is and how she can react at any given time to any different situation. I mean, sometimes you're you're asked, okay, guess what, we're not going to do that that script that you guys put together, we're gonna instead you got to come up with a new one in the next 24 hours. I mean, when you can work with a group of people who are willing to step up to the plate and in and, you know, get things done. That means so much more. It's it's kind of people that really, you know, make her feel that she's got her worth and that she's got their back. You know, if you can do that, it really helps.
Alex Ferrari 44:56
Now, what are some of the common reasons scripts are rejected? In Hollywood, I'm sure there's 1000 reasons, but what are some of the common ones that you're just like, oh, cheese, please Why?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 45:10
Um, it usually has to do with the characters. More of I mean, it's, you know, story too, but you can see, some of the some stories are actually, you know, sort of things that we have seen before. But it's the characters that make it, set it apart a little bit. And I think that's what people you know, sometimes they say, Oh, I wrote this, I wrote this romantic comedy. And I'll ask, well, what's it like, and they'll say, Oh, it's like, you know, I don't know, whatever, you know, any Audrey Hepburn or something like that. And then I'll look at it and oh, my God, it's almost like they're copying scene for scene, except that it's not set in Rome, it's set in someplace else, you've got to be still have that spark of creativity, to set it apart from everything else that we are reading of the average executive, and the average agent probably reads, Oh, I'd say 2030 scripts a week minimum. If they fit, if they finish, all of it
Alex Ferrari 46:13
generally isn't a true list, like you got five, five pages, five to 10 pages tops,
Kathie Fong Yoneda 46:19
you're lucky if you have an agent that actually will read 10 or 20 pages, occasionally, they you know, they will do that. It's just, it's really a hard business. And there is just so much coming in the doors. I've been in this industry for so long. And I just remembered I was talking to somebody who just retired as an agent. And he basically said that, you know, on an average day, at our agency, we would probably get something like 70 scripts. Some of them were well, and a lot of them came from friends of friends. And some of them came from from, you know, clients they already have, or from clients that are looking have that have had an agent that are looking for a new agent. Yeah, that's that's how many every single week and they all have to read it and everything. It's just,
Alex Ferrari 47:09
and the funny thing is that what you just said, though, they're all referred scripts, these aren't cold scripts that just come in from, you know, Joe Blow in the middle of the street somewhere. These are just these are, these are actual things that they have to read, because they're either coming in, they're referred for a friend of a friend or something like that, then add that the 1000s a day, from unknown screenwriters who are trying to break in, if they even could get through the door.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 47:37
Yeah, it's, you know, it's, it's a difficult thing, this industry, you know, but the relationships that if you, especially if he's gone to film school, or at least taken three or four film classes, those relationships are what I think really can help you because you guys have that common sense, you have that common background and fun Foundation, and you guys know each other, you know, whether you can work together or not. And that's just so vitally important. You know, there are a lot of agents out there who told me, you know, when I asked, oh, how'd you get into this and get into this agency? Oh, well, so and so. And I used to, I used to go to USC together or something like that. And so it was sort of like it was it was more like, because there was somebody they already knew. And, or they're doing favors for somebody. That's the other thing. And it's not, it's fine, if you want to do favorites. I mean, I've actually had one writer that that told me that she was a nanny for an Actor for his kids. And he actually gave it to his his agent to read he did read part of any read the first 25 pages or so. And then he, he said, Well, I don't have time to read the whole thing. But I do think it's a good start, you know, I don't mind I'll just give it to my agents. So he did. And that's glad to have her script. Read and they did like it enough that they kept her on for a little while, but she now has kids of her own and she's not in the industry.
Alex Ferrari 49:15
So what you're saying is we should become nannies is that's the way in is the nannies. Is that is that what I'm getting from that stores.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 49:22
For her at least that it worked for that I mean, you know, she she actually realized after after a while she was on staff on a television show for a while. And it was it was fine. But then she met her has been and, you know, he just said, You know, I have the kind of job that I have to be on call because he's a doctor. And so he said, You know, we're either going to have to hire a nanny or you're going to have to take care of the kids or whatever. And she was fine. She was at that point. felt comfortable enough that okay, you know, but she is now starting now that her kids are older. She's now thinking about getting back into the business of writing. But then COVID hits so
Alex Ferrari 50:07
slow that that slows down things a little bit. Now I wanted to ask you, because this is a myth that is talked about so often is that and a lot of newbie screenwriters think this, all I need as an agent, all I need is an agent or a manager, and all my dreams are gonna come true, they're going to put me out onto the street. And I'm going to get million dollar offers and things like that. Can you please debunk the whole All I need is an agent thing. And when a writer actually needs an agent, can you answer that for us?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 50:42
There are about 10, or 20, really good screenwriting competitions, where they actually have agents or studio execs or production executives, who are the judges of the finals. And sometimes I've seen that whoever sometimes the person who wins the competition doesn't end up with the agent, it's somebody who was like, maybe in third place, gets the agent. But there, there are at least 10 to 20 really, really good screenwriting competitions out there, that I think people should think about. I think that's one way to kind of also get started. I it really, in fact, I would say, I know that the one that I really liked a lot is the final draft, one, their final draft has their competition. And of course, you know, most people are using Final Draft so that that's a good thing. Because what I like is the people who are the finalists, and they do it for television, and they do it for features, which is nice. They not only get to have a trip to visit as an agency or to visit, you know, introduced to some agents, they also have an opportunity to meet a lot of people in the industry, because they have a big party, where they they're giving out awards and everything for the final draft awards. And I was surprised it's held on the Paramount lot, and I've gone a couple of times. And there were actually actors and production to people, producers, from who work on the lot, who go over there, and there's a big cocktail hour and they you can meet these people. I mean, that to me is you know, it's almost like if you get in, and you're one of the 20 people or so that that become you know, viable for all those awards. They actually you can meet all those people and they will, they're very little talk to you. They're there, their apparel mountain and it's promoted there where Oh, here's so and so you got to meet this person. They have people who are actually moving around their their their creative execs who were helping to get those riders at the competition to meet all of these different people and I have seen I've heard about all these people getting actual agents, or actually getting their script to a production company for a TV show. So things like that can happen. So the competitions are a good way of getting started.
Alex Ferrari 53:19
Now I'm gonna ask you a few questions asked all my guests. What are three screenplays every screenwriter should read
Kathie Fong Yoneda 53:38
my absolute absolute favorite screenplay ever where I read it? And I didn't want to change one word on it. So Day Afternoon,
Alex Ferrari 53:50
yes. Amazing script. It's amazing script.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 53:55
Yeah. Most designs, unfortunately, most of them are dramas.
Alex Ferrari 54:04
It's okay. It doesn't matter like
Kathie Fong Yoneda 54:06
well, another one to that that I absolutely love is network. Yeah, that's
Alex Ferrari 54:11
that's an answer on the show many times.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 54:15
Yeah, no, no, what just it's it really. I think what it is it's because what that guy says screaming is how we've we've all of us have felt like that at some point. We
Alex Ferrari 54:28
I hate to tell you we all feel like that right now. We're going through some stuff right now. It's it's amazing how how accurate that is even to
Kathie Fong Yoneda 54:44
see um, Musical comedies.
Alex Ferrari 55:00
Sure, sure, go ahead.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 55:02
I love I love musicals, too. So I love Grease.
Alex Ferrari 55:09
Grease is fantastic. Even though there are there's their teen hit their high school students who who are 35 years old. Other than that, other than the 35 I mean, literally Stockard Channing is I think 32 in Greece's. So it's, it's pretty, it's, but it's a, it's an amazing film. It's an amazing film. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter wanting to break into business today? Well, I
Kathie Fong Yoneda 55:42
think it's important if you can to try and figure out who do I know somebody from college? Or who's in the same neighborhood or something that you live in? Are they writers, you know, where can you find another writer. And if you, you know, you can actually even go online, there's a lot, that's what's nice about the internet, there are so many now online writing groups. In fact, I think in another week or two, I'm supposed to be doing a little q&a for this writing group. And it's just, you know, if you can get together with other writers, it gives you a sense of community. And I think when you have a sense of community, you will then realize you are not alone. And back in the 80s, and 90s, and a little bit from the beginning of the 2000s. people tended not to want to do that, because they looked at each other as competitors, right? Instead of instead of as, as people that they can share things with. I think it's gotten a lot better, of course, in the last 1015 years. And so I you know, I would strongly suggest that if you can find a group, even if it's an online one, talk with people there, they oftentimes will have people that are in the industry who, you know, are willing to come in, you know, do a one hour talk on on different aspects of writing. No, I think joining. And the other thing, too, is I would also like to let people know that it's not just for people who are writing screenplays, if you have a novel, because if you have noticed, around Academy Award time, most of the movies, especially for dramas, usually came from a book. Correct. So if you, you know, if you have a literary group, that's also something you know, that you might want to get into, especially if you don't start off with that. A lot of the love of the famous writers, that's what they did, they started off with a book and then they suddenly realized, Okay, wait a minute, here, I can turn this and some of the other books I have into movies. And there's a lot I love it nowadays, because with the internet, they have more places now because everything is streaming.
Alex Ferrari 58:11
Yeah, absolutely. And now and where can people find you, your work and your book?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 58:18
Okay. Here's my book, the scripts, thinking, you can go to M WP Calm, calm. And that's my publishers website. And I believe, I think they're still doing it. They were giving a 25% discount if you bought their books through their website. So you know, you want to check that out of it. See
Alex Ferrari 58:46
what anybody looking for your consulting services?
Kathie Fong Yoneda 58:50
Well, I do consulting, I also I also do some workshops overseas, and I don't know how far your audience goes around the world around the world.
Alex Ferrari 59:06
Kathie Fong Yoneda 59:08
Now with a COVID thing, of course, all my everything in this year is the kind of cuckoo but I already have next year lined up I will be in Ischia island of Italy, which is off the coast of Naples.
Alex Ferrari 59:22
Very difficult. tough, tough job. tough job. It's a very tough job. Kathie, very tough.
Kathie Fong Yoneda 59:26
I'll be teaching at a Swedish film school teaching at a school in Estonia, another one in Cologne and another one in Warsaw and another one in Budapest. But also I teach on Roca Bertie, for the recovery retreat, virtual. They have a regular Real Property retreat in France. But there's also a virtual one they have. I will be they usually have it like once a month that I don't know if they're doing it in August or not. But I'm going to be teaching a segment of it in September and just go to birdie retreat calm and click on Roca birdie virtual. It's like a five hour mini retreat. There's four mentors more in different areas. One might be somebody who's a manager, somebody else might be a writer, someone else might be a production person. And someone else might might specialize in books or something. I mean, they have four different people who are the mentors. And it's a limited, I think it's a limited enrollment, I think this may be 30 people on online thing. And there each of us mentors have to give a 20 minute lecture. And then we also have to read a two page synopsis of a fair number of the writers who
Alex Ferrari 1:00:56
I will put, I will put that all in the show, I will put that all in the show notes. Kathy, thank you so much for taking the time out for coming on the show and dropping the knowledge bombs on the tribe today. So I appreciate that so much. Stay safe out there.
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- The Script Selling Game- 2nd edition: A Hollywood Insider’s Look at Getting Your Script Sold and Produced
- Kathie Fong Yoneda – Official Website