Julie Gray is Queen of the Just Effing Entertain Me competition, now in its 6th year – keep your eyes peeled for the winners which will be announced soon! Julie has over 10 years experience in the industry having read for Hollywood production companies; taught at Warner Bros, conferences and festivals; written for the likes of The Huffington Post and Script Magazine, and she now also runs a creative writing workshop – The Just Effing Online Screenwriting Salon. I caught up with Julie to find out about her career journey, her experiences as a consultant and writer, and her awesome new screenwriting book…
Welcome to Writesofluid, Julie!
You’re a multi-talented lady! What came first, script reading/consulting or writing? Do they influence one another? What inspired you to embark on these career paths?
I have been writing for my entire life. I started writing articles on the internet waaaaay back when it was a new and novel thing. I became interested in screenwriting and wrote a (terrible) script, this must have been in 2001 or so, and then I decided I wanted to learn more about it so I started taking screenwriting classes at UCLA and then eventually won a two-year professional program at the Writer’s Boot Camp in Santa Monica so I did that. I started reading scripts to earn extra pocket money, initially, but I was REALLY good at it and one thing led to another and soon I was reading for some of the most illustrious production companies in Los Angeles.
What kind of writing do you enjoy the most? You’ve been known to write short stories and autobiographical works as well as newspaper/magazine articles. What do you write about? What inspires you?
I really love writing in the essay form, I think that’s my real metier. I have been writing for the Huffington Post for over 3 years now, as well as the Times of Israel and Script Magazine plus of course my own blog, Just Effing Entertain Me and the resultant book, Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas. I love writing short fiction as well and do occasionally write flash fiction. What doesn’t inspire me is a better question, lol! I like writing about things that people are sometimes afraid to face head on, whether it’s funny or serious, I think that’s my trademark, as it were.
You encourage creative writing at your writing salon in Tel Aviv. How do these work, and what’s the response been like? What would you say are the benefits for writers who attend writing groups?
The Tel Aviv Salon has been amazing. At first I really didn’t know what to expect but the response has been enormous. So much so that I’ve had to limit the group size lately and am booked the minute I announce a session. We meet at a local café and have a writing discussion and then we have writing prompts and writing time and then sharing and feedback. It’s a really robust group and the output has just floored me. SO much talent! I think that when writers go to a writing group, they achieve several things. They prioritize their writing, simply by making the effort and showing up, they get some writing done, they get out of their frequently isolating routines, and they find a camaraderie and really, their tribe, as it were. I have seen wonderful friendships and writing partnerships spring from this salon.
Excitingly, these salons will soon be available to anyone, anywhere, via the world wide web. Tell us about this!
Yes, I’ve been doing the Tel Aviv Salon for gosh, 7 months now and people kept saying hey, what about me, I want to join but I live in Miami or New York or London… and I thought well, you just can’t replicate the intimacy of a salon online so I really didn’t entertain the idea very seriously at all. But I kept getting requests – even just from other parts of Israel, where I live and I thought well, maybe I should at least try doing something online to see what that’s like. So I did some beta testing with volunteers and they had a GREAT time.
A common question that gets asked is “how do you become a script reader?” Do you have any tips for readers who are starting out? How do you get to read for the big names?
I got to read for the really big, Academy Award winning companies by just being really good at what I did. Those reading jobs are hard to get, as you can imagine, but I’d be referred to them so I was lucky. That’s about the only way to read for companies like that – to gain a reputation for being good, fast and totally reliable. When you first start out reading, take any and all reading gigs. You just have to work really hard and be very thorough – yet fast, that’s the trick. You learn to read faster and get more adept at articulating what is working and not working. Reading for competitions is good training, since you’ll read dozens and dozens of scripts in very short order. I do have a reading correspondence course that I teach which walks newbies through just how to evaluate scripts but more than that, how to navigate getting a reading job, and what the job expectations are like.
What would a typical work day have been like for you when you lived in America? And what is a typical work day like now?
Lol, that’s an interesting question! Well, here as there, I’m a bit of a binge worker. I won’t go as far as to say workaholic but my life and my work are closely interwoven.
I think when I was in LA I did a whole lot more networking breakfasts, lunches and drinks. Almost constantly. It helped me create and maintain a lot of really good relationships which I still have today but it also sometimes got in the way of quiet time that I needed for me. Life in LA can be as crazy as you let it be. I usually worked in my office on the Lot from 10am to gosh, midnight, easily. But I had a very big, very comfy Hollywood type office, with couches and a fridge and the whole nine yards so it was easy to just basically live there.
Now, I work as many hours, I would say, but I have more time to myself. Of course, now that my Salon is taking off and I’m getting to know more and more people in Tel Aviv, I’m feeling that pull again, of coffee and lunches and meetings to discuss projects. I kind of have to be careful with that a little bit. I’m very social and I love everybody; I find people absolutely fascinating and I love their projects. But I have to remember to just be quiet and read a book or knit or just watch something on TV. That’s hard for me to do; my first few months in Israel were much quieter than normal and it was a real sabbatical.
Now I’m getting all wound up again, especially with this book coming out and now my network is TWICE the size it was before since I also have a creative network here and in the UK AND in LA…. Be careful what you wish for!
The Just Effing Entertain Me screenwriting competition has become a huge success. What inspired you to set it up? What would you say are the most common weaknesses found in entries? And what makes a good entry?
I really wanted to do a competition in which the winner would have an experience that might change his or her trajectory. Does that make sense? I just find in my own life and in those of the writers that I work with, that experiences are so much more impactful than a free box of software and several thousand dollars. I learned that myself when I won the Writer’s Boot Camp Award at the 2003 Creative Screenwriting Competition. My choices were $7,000 in cash OR this two year screenwriting program. Of course I wanted to take the cash! But I gave it some thought and realized that the experience of not only learning about screenwriting every day for two years but also making new friends and all that networking – you can’t put a price on that.
And I’ve also realized over the years that a DROP of encouragement for a writer? Goes a VERY long way. When a writer feels good and encouraged and uplifted – it gives them the fuel to carry on. So I wanted to have a competition that would really uplift and energize not just the grand prize winner but all entrants who advanced to whatever round. It’s truly, from its inception onward, a very FEEL GOOD competition.
The most common weakness, hands down, no argument is a premise that is not really that fresh or original. Hands down. Writers really need to be more critical of their ideas and really kick the tires to see if the idea is truly unique and if it has enough inherent and possible conflict to support an entire film.
Good entries are not only original and entertaining as heck, but they have a specificity, a personality. The writer’s VOICE really stands out in a good entry. Every grand prize winner we’ve had for six years has had VOICE. That’s my favorite thing and I’ll admit that right now. By the time you’ve gotten to the top levels of the competition it’s a given that you write your action lines well, that your characters are three dimensional and that your premise is original.
The thing that differentiates the grand prize winner above everybody else is VOICE.
Your wealth of experience has led you to write a book – Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas . What can we expect to find in it? When and where can we get hold of one?
The book is really complete – a really holistic guide to screenwriting. It’s really a handbook, a guide to everything screenwriting, from discussing film theory to specific exercises to help writers test ideas, outline and make sure their characters have wants, needs and flaws to chapters about how to tell if you’ve got talent, how to query agents and more. It contains a list of the top 200 movies you absolutely have to see if you wish to be literate in writing for entertainment and also has chapters on how to use wrylies and V.O. and indicate your character has an accent. It’s really quite a compendium! The book is available now on Lulu.com, just look up Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas.
I hear you’ll be in the UK at the end of October at The London Screenwriters’ Festival? I went to your classes last year – they’re so energetic and inspiring, so I’ll definitely seek them out again! You must love teaching? What classes will you be teaching this year?
Oh how fun you’ll be in one of my classes! Yes, I love teaching. Both of my parents were teachers, I think I get it from them. I will be teaching a class on how to write cinematic and evocative pages, and how to make sure your theme is embedded within those pages, and another class called The Top Ten Things Readers Hate, lol, which is a very popular class and really goes over the laundry list of what NOT to do – and then talks about how to approach these issues so that your script actually makes it past the reader – which is your goal.
What’s next on the cards for Julie the consultant, Julie the teacher and Julie the writer?
Well I’ve just started the online writing salons so that’s fun, and I’m publishing an anthology next year, of the best flash fiction of the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon. I’m also working on a memoir about having lived in Hollywood and then moved to the Middle East, called Eat Pray Kvetch. I’m really wanting to find some time to do some travelling here in this region; I’d like to go to Morocco, specifically, and to Turkey, so hopefully I’ll get some time off to do that!
Thanks so much, Julie, for taking the time to share your experiences and advice with us! See you at the festival!
Thank YOU so much, Michelle, it’s been fun! Yes, see you soon!
CONNECT WITH JULIE:
Facebook: Just Effing Entertain Me
The online salon: www.justeffing.com/online-screenwriting-salon
Julie’s blog: www.justeffing.com
Julie’s screenwriting book: www.lulu.com/shop/julie-gray