Category Archives: Film

Do Not Read This.


.לחצו פה להסבר על תרגום לעברית

Whether you are a filmmaker, an entrepreneur with a new app or product, or a blogger, you know that the first few words you say about your project are critical. It’s the make or break moment.

Think of your personal life. When someone says “I have bad news….” your stomach clinches and you brace yourself.  Or if they say “I have great news…” you experience excitement and hope.  But more to the point, do you know the feeling you get when someone says “Well, it’s a long story. But…” and your eyes glaze over immediately. IMMEDIATELY. Because it’s going to be a “long story” which is not appealing. Sometimes the qualifier “well, to make a long story short…” is also an eye-glazer, since that is almost always followed by a LONG story.

So you know you have only a very short period of time to grab and hold the interest of your reader or listener. Really, this idea applies to just about everything, from dating to pitching a Hollywood executive to pitching an angel investor.

Our attention spans have gotten shorter. And in a non-personal situation, your listener has no reason, no obligation to actually listen to you anyway. Or even pretend to. So it’s bit merciless.

Any easy and obvious arena in which to notice short attention span thinking is on Facebook. When you share a post that contains a link, the link automatically generates a lead in – the first few words of the article, generally, or in the case of some manually edited sites, a selected quote that characterizes the piece.

So what happens very often is that a person will “like” the link – and even comment on it – but not read the article itself. They just “like” the headline and make assumptions based on that.

That should frighten us, collectively. As individuals we need to slow down and digest information. Especially in a world hungry for truths.

But as creatives who battle with this (for now) short attention span problem, we really have no choice but to play along and work with it.  Yes, as a blogger, you want a title to have as much curiosity appeal as possible so that people will definitely click on it.

But don’t forget that if you ever aspire to be a writer who is taken seriously by those who matter – publishers, filmmakers, decision makers, etc.? You need to follow through with an entertaining, cohesive article, script or pitch.

So this post is really about two things:

In your personal life: Really be aware that a snappy headline or first paragraph or two are not going to be enough information for you to really grasp a subject unless that subject is George Clooney, in which case, a picture is worth a thousand words. Ha!  But generally speaking, make it a habit to slow down and pay more attention to what you read and to be more critical and analytic of it. You might be “liking” and commenting on things that you actually are not informed of. Minimally embarrassing, this habit can also have major repercussions as you become one of the Willingly Uninformed.

In your business life: Use snappy titles, headlines and opening remarks to grab attention! Of course! But if you really want to make in impact, follow up with information that is well organized, entertainingly conveyed and impactful. That is, if you CARE about getting published, funded or represented.

שלום לכם דוברי עברית! כדי לקרוא את הפוסט הזה בעברית, השתמשו בדפדפן כרום ולחצו על “Translate” למעלה. כדי לקבל הסבר מעמיק יותר, לחצו פה.


10 Tips to Write the Hollywood Blockbuster

Tony Gilroy is one of my all time favorite Hollywood screenwriters. Responsible for the scripts for no less than four of the Bourne Identity films, Gilroy also penned one of my favorite films, Michael Clayton, starring George Clooney – in which a character says “People are incomprehensible.” – a bit of wisdom that I have never forgotten.

In this interview with the BBC from 2013, Gilroy gives ten tips for both screenwriters and creatives that are very valuable. From trusting your instinct to living your life to living where you need to live to feel creatively fulfilled. It’s good stuff.

Public Speaking 101

Did you know that public speaking is the most common fear in the world? More than sharks, spiders and tsunamis combined? For most of us, the idea of standing up in front of a group of people and talking – about anything – is like a nightmare of epic proportions.

Some of us do it regularly – I know I do. And as you might think, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Well – not easier, per se, but more normal. It’s an odd feeling to have every eye on YOU and to know that for a set period of time, you must entertain, educate and in some way please a large number of total strangers.

speakingThe difference between someone accustomed to public speaking and someone who is not is that the nervousness you feel just before speaking gets translated into high energy while speaking – rather than nerves that ruin your ability to speak. Same nerves – different response to it.  Depends on why you are speaking. Maybe it’s at a wedding, or maybe it’s a business meeting and you have a lot on the line.

Having a lot on the line can actually really make the nerves worse.

Here’s what I do:

I focus on about three or four parts of the room and move back and forth between them. If I have a friend listening and I know that, I avoid looking at them.

I remind myself that I am very good at what I do and what I know and that talking about it is no different.

I remind myself that the people at the talk or conference WANT to hear what I have to say. They are interested. They signed up. I’m already ahead of the game.

I do not practice.

But I do watch the time.

I have prepared more to talk about or do than the time allotted – just in case.

I leave time for pauses, for questions, for interactivity.

I talk to people the way I enjoy being talked to. Personally, entertainingly.

If I make a mistake or an error – I acknowledge it and keep going. I am human. Because am I relaxed about this possibility, I rarely make mistakes.

I write out bullet points only on index cards and use them as my notes. Simply writing them down is practice enough. I know my stuff.

I speak the same way to six people as I do to 1,000 people. It makes no difference, in actuality.

I love speaking and teaching. If it were torture for me, I wouldn’t do it.

If you find yourself in a situation where you HAVE to speak publicly and yet you’ve never done it or really fear it – there are some steps you can take (many of which are listed above) and I am available to coach you through your event. 

speakingHere are a few more tips:

Don’t memorize what you have to say – it will sound memorized.

Use notes as jumping off or talking points.

Don’t try to take in the whole room, narrow your focus.

Relax, you were asked to speak because you have something to say.

And some more tips about avoiding “ums” and “uhs”. 





Israeli Film: Three Houses

I am very proud to know and have worked with Marc Grey, co-producer of this short film produced with the ACRI. The cinematography is brilliant, the stories heartbreaking and the film is important. It is through art that we reach for understanding.

6 Things Hollywood Can Teach Start Up Nation

We talked about the lessons that Start Up Nation has for Hollywood but it definitely works both ways.  Tinsel Town has some lessons for just about everybody, in fact. It is a great place to really practice the art of persistence.


It’s not personal. Your story, your idea, ergo your pitch, your innovation, yeah it’s great? But whether or not somebody else likes it is not personal. It simply the case that being on the receiving end of new ideas gets old. Your idea is not as new as you think. Trust me on this. So – don’t take it personally.

Show me the money. Show me the money, show me the money, show me the money. This is what you are after in your meeting. Show. Me. The. Money. Nothing short of that is a deal or a promise or even a hope. Be mercenary.

Give the people what they want. If this doesn’t make sense to you, you are in the wrong business – whether it’s the business of show, or the business of SELL. What do people WANT to see at the theater? What do people NEED in their lives? If you fancy yourself in any way above this way of looking at it, especially in your earlier, hungrier years – you are in the wrong business.

People want the same but different. Audiences love action films, as one example. They love them. So give them an action picture. With everything they expect – but with different details. If there’s already an app for texting? Give them another app for texting – that is different. 

But – do not be ordinary. Steve Jobs gave the people what they wanted but he was far from ordinary. He raised the bar on personal computing – forever. Do not settle for being average. Understand average and then raise the bar for yourself.

No is a beautiful thing. Why? Because it makes you more determined to do even better. If “no” makes you quit? You were not cut out for a competitive business in the first place. Make every “no” count. Use it to make you stronger, smarter, more inventive, more determined. You only need one “yes”.


The Lost Art of the Film Critic

Who can forget acerbic film critic – the queen of the movie reviews – Pauline Kael?

What – you’ve never heard of her? And you like movies? Okay well, we’re changing that as of today. Read up, kids, on both her personal and professional life.

The critical task is necessarily comparative, and younger people do not truly know what is new. ~Pauline Kaelkael

Most of us came to know another famous film critic, Roger Ebert, for his down home take on movies. In his earlier career, Ebert never struck me as silver-tongued the way Kael was, or particularly high-brow, but over time, as his fame grew, he got very comfortable being plainly truthful and some of his reviews were sidesplittingly funny:

In the upstairs bedroom, old Ann dies very slowly, remembering the events of the long-ago wedding night and the next morning…She is attended by a nurse with an Irish accent (Eileen Atkins), who sometimes prompts her: “Remember a happy time!” Dissolve to Ann’s memory of a happy time. It is so mundane that if it qualifies as a high point in her life, it compares with Paris Hilton remembering a good stick of gum. ~Roger Ebert on Dangerous Minds

ebertLeonard Maltin is not a film critic that ever moved me. His reviews are straight forward, he takes no chances, and his writing is not stellar. He’s workman like.

My all time favorite film critic is the incredibly intelligent and sometimes quite cutting Anthony Lane, who reviews film for the New Yorker.  His reviews are entertaining whether you have any actual desire to see the film. He’s a good read for the sake of a good read. Here’s Lane on the latest iteration of Godzilla:

Wrinkled and crinkled, huge in Japan, heroically reluctant to give up, and forever touring the world on a mission to make us scream, Godzilla is the Mick Jagger of giant amphibians. ~ Anthony Lane

Click here to read the whole review. In fact, I am a big fan of Lane’s book, Nobody’s Perfect, a collection of his reviews.

Here’s Lane on the book The Bridges of Madison County:

“I got my copy at the airport, behind a guy who was buying Playboy’s Book of Lingerie, and I think he had the better deal. He certainly looked happy with his purchase, whereas I had to ask for a paper bag.” ~Anthony Lane

Lest you think that movie reviews are simply collections of exceptionally witty retorts, they also provide, as the Kael quote above alludes to, context for the movies you see. critic

Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, both helpful aggregate sites to be sure, are also emblematic of the times we live in. Quick – just tell me – three stars or five? Should I go or not? But that’s really it. No context and certainly no writing artistry can be found on these sites. But that’s okay, they serve a purpose.

If you love reading a review for the sheer pleasure of enjoying the wit, the context and the perspective a bonafide film critic includes, including the history and trajectory of particular film trends, here is a link to a short stack I found on Slate, of books on the topic. I was pleased to see I’d read most of them.

Your Meeting Isn’t About YOU

“If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen.”

~ John Steinbeck

This great American author was talking about literature in this quote but really, this quote applies to just about all conversation. We pay special attention when what we are hearing concerns US in some way, right? bored

Have you ever endured having someone talk AT you rather than WITH you?

It’s exhausting. I hold that two of the most terrifying words in the world are:

…and THEN…

Oh no, you think to yourself… there’s more… does this person not get that they lost my attention?

Your pitch meeting is not all about YOU. It is about the person listening too, isn’t it? It’s about getting them as excited as you are about your story – be it a new horror script you’ve written or a new smart phone application you’ve invented. This is ultimately a sales meeting, no?

A pitch – or any meeting, really – is not a one-way street.

Your pitch is really a conversation between you and someone else. Yes, a conversation in which you are giving information but you are indeed speaking to another human being, so act like it. No taking a big breath and just speed talking your way through your presentation. Slow down.

There are two important things to think about:

Learn to speak in a way that never allows the listener to wander out of the conversation and keep pretending to hear anyway.

Learn how to recognize when you’ve lost someone’s attention and how to bring the person BACK to the present moment.

The best way to really illustrate this point, I think, is to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who is listening to a pitch or presentation that isn’t executed all that well. How does it feel to be bombarded with information, to be talked AT and not to? Of course you tune out a little bit. And think about this: if you are taking a meeting with someone pitching or presenting, this is probably something you do a lot. So it can get old.

There is a paradox if you are a listener in these situations. First, you get jaded, you hear “great” stories and ideas and pitches all the time. But usually they aren’t that great.

But – here comes the paradox – you also don’t want to be the person who said “no” to something that turned out to be great, now do you? That’s a straight path to losing your job. So you’re torn. You want to love this idea but you get meeting fatigue. And most people pitching do a pretty terrible job, whether their idea is great or not.

But you, the person pitching – this is a big chance, right?! It’s huge! It could launch your company, make your innovation come to life, start a writing career! So your job is to not only pitch what you’re pitching well – but to do so in a way that is memorable and engaging for the listener.listening



Persistence & Discipline Are Universal Ideals

I have known my friend Steve Martinez ever since a barbecue in my back yard about 5 years ago, in my former home in Los Angeles. We’ve been through ups and downs together, we’ve laughed until very late in the night. We joke about a tattoo he’s probably never going to get. (“Pray Rain”. It’s a long story).

Every day, Steve gets up very early to write. For five years, he does this. After he writes, he takes some time to walk and clear his head and then around 9am, he reports to his day job. He’s a self-employed attorney. Each day, after about 2pm, you’ll find Steve at his favorite Peet’s Coffee in Santa Monica. Writing. Can he Skype for a few minutes? He’d love to. But he’s writing. Later, he says. And we do.

A few months ago, Steve asked me to write him a letter of recommendation about his writing. I did. He was applying to a Universal/NBC fellowship. Universal contacted me and wanted to know more about Steve’s writing. In my role as a script consultant, I knew a lot about Steve’s style, goals and discipline. universal

Now, after 5+ years of writing, of living in Los Angeles, of both enjoying and forsaking the sun and the pleasures of LA, after years of 6am bleary-eyed writing, Steve is a Universal Fellow. That means he’s employed at Universal/NBC for a year, with a salary, with mentoring, with massive opportunities.

Steve’s talent got him there, no doubt. But his talent would never have had the chance to shine without his discipline. Even when other people were succeeding – and failing all around him – Steve just kept writing. He’s stubborn that way.

You can never win or lose if you don’t play the game.

Will your discipline pay off, your day and night working on your script, or TV pilot, or great start up initiative? Maybe. It doesn’t happen for everyone, this brass ring.

But here’s a truth: it sure as hell won’t if you don’t. Guaranteed.

I am an undying advocate of having fun with what you do and of enjoying your life. I will never shift that belief because I believe when you are having fun, when you are excited about what you are doing? It shows in your work.

And a part of that is discipline. Seeing results. Finishing pages, making those phone calls, doing your research. stevem

Maybe you don’t want to get up at a crazy hour to write (I sure don’t!) the way Steve, the first guy from the left does. But there is a way, I promise you, that you can add more discipline to your life of work and creativity. People like Steve remind us that good things DO happen to good people, and that you can live a good, fun life and also put in those 10,000 hours.

Steve Martinez did. And he continues to, as he reaches for the next brass ring and the next.  Selfishly? I’m glad a person with Steve’s intelligence, wit, curiosity and sense of humor, with his deep empathy for the human condition, is poised to become one of Hollywood’s next major story tellers.


Five Israeli Films You Should See

Since I have lived in the Middle East for two years, you can imagine it’s not so simple for me to see a movie – especially a new release! When I lived in the US and certainly in Los Angeles, I could see the newest releases sometimes even before they were released. And if I didn’t see a film, I could watch the screener at Academy Award time.

ajamiMovies, movies everywhere. In fact, the only complaint I have about the film scene in Los Angeles is that, for my taste, there are not enough foreign films playing at theaters. My twelve years living in foreign film mecca San Francisco can attest to the dearth of same in L.A. But be that as it may, watching movies is and was one of my strongest passions outside of reading and writing.

Now I live in Tel Aviv, where certainly new releases do play but by far not as many as in the States (naturally) and the movies may or may not be subtitled in English. So I’ve suffered some movie deprivation, to say the least!

But thanks to Netflix, I have had the opportunity to catch up on that sprawling list of films I have not seen; foreign and domestic alike.  I have decided to really focus on films made in and about where I live now, and I came up with a list of five Israeli films that you should see.

Not because you must understand the Middle East as seen through a camera lens (although – why not?) but because these films will show you, as all foreign films do, that while cultural differences separate us, at the end of the day, we are more alike than we can possibly imagine. Watching these films will show you that heartbreak, frustration, love, family, suspicion, pride and jealousy cross ALL cultures. We are all human, after all.

And there is an added bonus: Because the Middle East is perhaps one of the most contentious and misunderstood parts of the world, one that many Americans think of with great sadness and deep frustration – why can’t they just get along already?! – you might be surprised by the way the situation here is depicted in all it’s complex, tragic and sometimes funny glory by your creative brethren, as opposed to journalists or politicians who have an ax to grind or a sensation to create. The truth is much more complicated than anything you can imagine. The prodigious creativity in Israeli film takes this complexity on and how.

So get your Netflix on and take in some of my favorite Israeli films for a rare, wonderful, sad, funny and extraordinarily human take on life in Israel and all it’s complexity:

Ajami is a film that left me stunned and moved. Besides being shot in one of my favorite communities – Jaffa (which neighbors Tel Aviv and is on the sea) these five intertwining stories both showcase deft writing and directing and an expanse of human stories, sometimes at odds, and the commonality that connects them.  This stunning film is a two hanky movie so be prepared. Director Scandar Copti is a Palestinian filmmaker from Jaffa and Ajami was nominated for best Foreign Film in 2010 and swept the Awards of the Israeli Film Academy in 2009.

Five Broken Cameras is a controversial and painful documentary about events surrounding a West Bank settlement and the Palestinian village affected by the construction. Nominated for  best feature documentary in the 2013 Academy Awards, Five Broken Cameras is hard to watch and while it depicts a particularly ugly set of events, it is (in my opinion as an Israeli) not emblematic in general, but important nonetheless.  I encourage you to watch the film along with the others mentioned here so that you can learn about the situation in Israel organically and understand the wider context as well.

The Attack is an Israeli film that left me quite literally on the floor.  The subtlety of the film, and the often unexplored issues of loyalties and identities across borders and checkpoints were fascinating and explored in-depth without feeling like a lesson. There is a mystery in this film and a heartbreaking truth and questions that are never answered that make this film unforgettable. Interestingly, director Ziad Doueiri is also known for his work with Quentin Tarantino on Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs and Four Rooms. Having been both nominated and won a bevy of international film festivals, the Attack is a must-see.

Nina’s Tragedies (Netflix DVD only, not streaming) reminded me of Amelie without the magical elements; it bears a certain emotional similarity that is hard to explain. Written by the immensely talented Savi Gavison and produced by someone I am proud to call my friend, the prolific Israeli producer Anat Assoulin, Nina very much has the look and feel of a French film although it is a deeply Israeli film and was shot entirely in Tel Aviv and Jaffa.  Anat just happens to be married to wildly successful Israeli filmmaker, Ari Folman, writer/director ofWaltz With Bashir, which is a masterpiece in its own right, a documentary about the Israeli/Lebanon war, filmed in rotoscope.

The Band’s Visit is one of the most charming films I have ever seen. I saw this film years ago in a small theater in San Francisco and have never forgotten it.  Given events in Egypt of the past several years, of failed revolution, bloodshed and upheaval, The Band’s Visit, about a police band that travels to Israel to play in a community center and then gets lost, leavens a region and a people that we know too little of. Full of humanity and subtlety it bears a certain resemblance to another favorite cult movie of mine, 1987′s Bagdad Cafe.