Michael Grais gives advice to SF State screenwriting students
It takes a brave man to make jokes about actor Steven Seagal, but considering screenwriter and producer Michael Grais worked closely with him on a film, surely Seagal would let it slide.
Thursday, Feb. 13, Grais faced the future screenwriters of SF State in Coppola Theatre to share his experiences in the profession and advise those who wished to follow a similar path.
One of the stories Grais told SF State students included a meeting with Seagal to read a screenplay for a film that would eventually become the hit 1990 movie “Marked for Death.” Grais said Seagal was an intimidating character and joked that the actor could easily break his bones, but still needed a bodyguard.
Grais said that Seagal told a story once about his experiences from being a bodyguard in Japan, so Grais thought of making the story into a screenplay. He soon found out that Seagal’s “story” was already the plotline of the 1989 movie “Black Rain,” starring Michael Douglas.
This rhythm of laid-back storytelling, followed by a Q&A session, formed Grais’s talk on screenwriting to a medium-sized group of students and professionals pursuing or already in writing careers. His first topics involved the makings of a writer in contemporary Hollywood, stories of his early writing days and advice on how to stay alive in the business.
“You have to want to do this, or die,” Grais said during the first of the three-part speaker series. The talk was hosted by Cinema Assistant Professor Julian Hoxter, who monitored questions from the audience.
Grais began his talk with professional advice for students by encouraging them to be on LinkedIn, an online network that specifically helps connect people to potential employers and others in their professions. Grais said this site helped get himself and his screenplays noticed when starting out as a screenwriter, and that it still helps him today.
By presenting a sizzle reel–a short video used to market a product to advertisers or producers–of a reality show he is currently working on, Grais showed the audience how his particular work pertains to a “contemporary audience.”
The reel, titled “Down Ass Bitches,” is about a group of girls who get kicked out of their sororities and decide to start their own sorority on their terms. Grais said he is waiting to see if the film gets sold.
Playwright Stefanie Glick also provided the audience with some advice on marketing by discussing Kickstarter, the most noted platform for funding creative projects. Glick stressed the need for screenwriters to be aware of the difficulties Kickstarter can sometimes bring, but also advised students that it can be a great tool for gaining control of a project, which she says is very important in the business. “Take your own career into your own hands as much as possible,” Glick said.
Glick said she met Grais six years ago and is now his writing partner for a book written solely in dialogue, called “A License to Live: James Bond’s Trade Secrets for Living Well With Depression.”
Grais finished his talk by discussing how the film industry has changed from when he started writing. These differences begin with the learning process because, Grais said, there were no courses or books on screenwriting when he was in school, so he learned to write screenplays by working with a mentor who was a friend of his parents.
Another noticeable change in Hollywood, Grais noted, is that the audience movies are being made for is much younger and there simply are not any films that are geared toward older generations.
SF State senior and Cinema major Lyra Greenberg said she enjoyed listening to Grais’s insight on these matters. She plans on attending the next screenwriting talk with her class. “I feel like we’re blessed to have these people come here (and talk to us),” she said.
Next in the speaker series is Sam Hamm, who will discuss the pleasures and pitfalls of genre screenwriting from 5:10-7:55 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20 at Coppola Theatre.