Gordy Hoffman, award-winning Writer-Director (and founder/judge of the BlueCat Screenwriting Competition — which I believe is one of the top ten contests out there) recently interviewed me for BlueCat’s blog. Then I interviewed him back!. Here are his answers to my questions. (More about Gordy and BlueCat at the bottom.).
What do you think are the biggest mistakes aspiring screenwriters tend to make, in terms of their choice of ideas or approach to the writing process?
They pick an idea or approach screenwriting based on what they think others want, the studios, etc, as opposed to simply focusing on a story they have great passion to tell.
What are the most important things you have learned about screenwriting over the years, that you recommend to every writer?
Absolutely love your idea because you’re going to be living with it a very long time.
What do you think are the secrets to “breaking in”? What are the most practical things a writer should do?
Every writer has great control of how successful they can become, and it all goes back to how much they are willing to work on their own writing. Finish your screenplay, get notes, and finish it again. No one is stopping you from rewriting.
How much of becoming a professional screenwriter is about a writer’s work or craft itself, and how much of it is about networking, contacts, and finding the right avenues in order to break down seeming barriers?
There are no barriers to the industry. The screenplays aren’t good enough. That’s the problem.
What do you see is the role and value of screenwriting courses and degree programs in the evolution of a writer? Are there any downsides to formal screenwriting education?
Formal education is as important as it is with any other profession. Golf or law or carpentry all benefit from training, so does writing. But you can teach yourself a lot by actually doing it.
Are there certain books, courses, software, resources or processes that you recommend highly to screenwriters?
Download scripts off the internet and read a bunch. Watch movies and see why they work. How did the story fail? Everything is free. Get Netflix and a computer to write on.
What are the best and worst parts of the writing process for you?
The emotional catharsis is the best and worst.
Who should writers get feedback from, and what should they try to get out of the feedback?
You can get feedback from anywhere and anyone if you have skill to discern what the note is when it arrives. It’s our attitude to notes that usually makes for a bad note.
What’s your view of the role and value of working with professional script consultants?
You can get notes for free from a lot of places and you need to make sure you have your own team. But consultants can help.
What do you think is the key to getting readers and an audience to care about a main character and story? Are there certain key practices or pitfalls in this?
Write about your experiences living and not your experiences with watching movies or what your outline or beat sheet tells you.
Why did you found BlueCat, and what is unique about it, in comparison to other competitions?
I thought it was a good idea to start a screenplay contest and it turned out miraculously for me. BlueCat is unique because you know who the judge is, you can determine what that judge knows about screenwriting, the judge is a successful writer and every script gets written feedback. We also have special awards for international writers, as well as the largest prize in the world for short scripts.
Raised in Fairport, New York, Gordy Hoffman graduated from the University of Kansas in 1987. He wrote his first stage play, HONG KONG, in Washington, D.C., where he was selected as a member of the Jeannie McKean Moore Poetry Workshop at George Washington University in 1990. In 1994, Gordy founded Company, a Chicago-based experimental workshop that explored the creation of original text through imaginative use of the voice and body. His plays have been produced in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, England and Australia.
Gordy’s first screenplay, a black comedy about the underground donor organ market, remains unfinished. His second screenplay, LOVE LIZA, directed by Todd Louiso and starring his brother, Philip Seymour Hoffman, won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival. In 2001, Gordy was chosen for Fox Searchlab, a director development program at Fox Searchlight, where he wrote and directed three digital shorts, THE WOMAN WHO STOPPED SEEING MOVIES, JACK SIGNS and UNTITLED.
Gordy made his feature directorial debut with his script, A COAT OF SNOW, which world premiered at the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival. A COAT OF SNOW screened at the Milan Film Festival, made its North American Premiere at the Arclight in Hollywood, and won the Domani Vision Award at VisionFest, held at the Tribeca Cinemas in New York.
Gordy has taught screenwriting at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, as well as led workshops all over North America, Australia, New Zealand, Poland and England. He’s presented at numerous writing conferences, includingIFP Script to Screen Conference, Lit Week at Lighthouse Workshop, Willamette Writers Conference, Script DC Conference, as well as serving as judge for the McKnight Screenwriting Fellowships in Minnesota. A proud Jayhawk, he sits on the Professional Advisory Board of the Film and Media Studies Department at his alma mater, the University of Kansas. Currently an instructor at the UCLA Professional Program, Gordy set to direct a feature script he’s written project for Abigail Spencer in 2015.
Gordy Hoffman founded the BlueCat Screenplay Competition in 1998 and remains its judge.
I also recommend my "Ten Key Principles Successful Writers Understand", and my series of audio downloads. And if you'd like me to read something you're working on, check out my consulting page.