A Conversation with…Justin Samuels

Mr. Samuels has pending litigation against the William Morris Endeavor Agency and Creative Artist Agency, claiming racial prejudice. Mr. Samuels, an African-American, has been trying to sell his screenplays for 9 years, but claims his race has kept him from making any progress within the film industry. To read more about the lawsuit…

JV: You say you've been trying to break in for nine years. How many scripts have you written in those nine years—and what were the genres?

JS: Eight screenplays. I've written horror, fantasy, comedy, and mystery.

JV: You live in New York, correct?

JS: Manhattan.

JV: Are you married? Any kids?

JS: Not married. No children.

JV: As I’ve mentioned many times—on my blog, in interviews, etc.—a big part of a screenwriter's success is contingent upon spending “face time” with the powers that be in the filmmaking community. You need to meet these people face to face. You need to network. Do you think you’d have better luck if you lived in Los Angeles?

JS: No. I lived in Los Angeles on and off during 2003-2005. While I did have a couple of marginal entertainment industry jobs, the problem with working to support yourself and pay your bills is it takes a lot of time. I had little or no time to meet people. And I left Los Angeles because ultimately the jobs I got in that time period didn't pay enough to support me on a long term basis. And honestly, I'm established in New York, which is good, as there are other types of writing here. I could go into advertising as a copywriter, go into publishing as a novelist, or go out for other types of writing while I continue to write my screenplays.

JV: Have you ever spoken one-on-one with a producer and/or an agent, and said, “Will you please read my screenplay?” If so, what have been the results?

JS: Actually, at some sort of conference, I did meet an agent. He was there to give a speech, so I didn't have the chance to ask him to read any of my screenplays. Beyond that, no, I haven't spoken to an agent or producer one-on-one

JV: Has anyone—whether it be a secretary, a production assistant, etc.—ever loved one of your scripts enough to say that they’d pass it on to someone who might be able to get the script produced?

JS: Yes.

JV: And what was the result of that?
JS: He said he loved it. A couple of times it got passed to someone else. I never heard back from them though.

JV: So, this person who loved your script, what position in the industry did he have?

JS: An assistant director.

JV: What exactly did he say about your script—and who was he going to send it to?

JS: Supposedly he was to take the script to an actual director, as well as a producer and agent. As for what really happened, I don't know if his contacts were actually willing to read my work or not. People can overestimate their influence in Hollywood.

JV: Do you think these people—the director, the producer, the agent—simply weren’t willing to read your script, or do you think it’s possible that they read it and just didn’t think it a work of any real quality?

JS: I have no idea what really happened and that's a problem with getting read this way. If I had gotten a direct request from someone of note and they never got back to me, or they did and it was a pass, I'd have a direct answer. But going through a third party like this, anything is possible. While they could have read my work and not liked it, I have no proof that this person had the pull to get them to read it. In this particular case, I don't know what happened.

JV: According to the Social Hollywood article, you seem to feel it’s imperative that you get your scripts only to the “major” producers. I tend to think you’d have better results if you submitted to some of the lower-tier producers. In fact, I know quite a few screenwriters—by the way, one is a black man, two others are women—who make a pretty decent living getting their work optioned, sold, and produced by these lower-tier producers.

JS: Well, I did go that route with some lower-tier producers. They read my work and loved it. But then they went broke and went out of the business. Indie producers, at least in my experience, can have a lot of financial problems and are less likely to be able to raise the money to actually see the production of a film through. That's really why I want to go the major producers. If they are interested in your work, at least they have the financial resources to pay the screenwriter and produce the film.

JV: Approximately how many of these “lower-tier” producers have you queried in the last nine years?

JS: I don't recall the number. Some of the lower tier producers went out of the business; others had difficulty raising the money to do films that require decent budgets.

JV: Have you ever entered any of the top-tier screenwriting competitions, such as Nicholl, Final Draft, or Slamdance? If so, how did you fare?

JS: For the most part, I didn't enter contests, with the exception of Amazon Studios, which is still pending. Though one year I did enter the Nicholl. I didn't place.

JV: From what I can gather, it seems like you’re not really willing to get out there and hustle in any substantial way. You have to do far more than just sending out—as you mention in the Social Hollywood magazine article—“hundreds, if not thousands” of query letters. You have to do far more than meet one agent at “some sort of conference.”

JS: You glossed over the point where I had to work in Los Angeles. Work—you know, I do need money to survive—and commuting take up a massive amount of time. Los Angeles landlords are like landlords in any city, rent must be paid at the first of the month. Nobody cares that you want to be in the film industry.

JV: Yes, that’s very true, but I still think that if you can write a marketable script, you’re far better off being here in L.A. than in just about anywhere else.

JS: I've already lived in Los Angeles and living there doesn't give you access in and of itself. While I will always write screenplays, there are other types of writing that are centered in New York, not Los Angeles, and these types of writing are a lot more open. Publishing, theatre, advertising, are all centered in New York, not Los Angeles. So while I have my difficulties in accessing film, it's just better to be here in New York.

JV: You also mention in the Social Hollywood article that you’re a graduate of Cornell University and have a B.A. in history. You also minored in English and “writing classes,” and have “done screenwriting workshops on the side.” In my opinion, this is all fairly irrelevant to your eventual success as a screenwriter. There are plenty of successful screenwriters who have had relatively little education. Sure, maybe they’ve attended a couple screenwriting workshops or seminars, maybe read a few how-to books, but they simply had the innate ability to craft a motion picture screenplay, to tell a story that people would want to pay to see.

JS: How did those people get read? Did they have relatives in the business? Did they live in Los Angeles all their lives? Who supported them and paid their bills when they moved to Los Angeles? You might have a lot more time for networking if you're a trust fund baby. I mentioned my education in the context of if even I have this much difficulty getting read, I know it would be outright impossible for almost all non-whites in this country to break in. Since there would be others who would use the excuse that lack of education and/or talent explains the shortage of non-whites as screenwriters or in other behind the scenes positions.

JV: With regard to the agents and/or producers you’ve queried, how do they even know you’re an African-American screenwriter? I mean, your point of view seems to be: “They know I’m black—they won’t read my script!” Do you mention in your queries that you’re an African-American?

JS: I didn't say that they know I'm African-American. I said since the majors do not even accept queries, this has a disproportionate impact on African-Americans in terms of locking us out of the industry, as we have no access to the people we would need to be read by.

JV: Justin, I’m not saying a certain amount of discrimination doesn’t exist, but I tend to think that a vast majority of producers and lit agents don’t necessarily care if you’re young or old, black or brown, gay or straight, male or female. These producers and agents simply want great material. I really can’t imagine one of these agents or producers—one who has read your script and thinks it would make a great movie—sitting down to meet with you for the first time and saying, “Uh-oh. He’s black. I can’t represent/buy his script.”

JS: But how would I access these producers or lit agents? I'd have to get read in order for them to like my work or not like it. Truthfully, I've had people say that my work is great. Unfortunately for me, they were so far on the fringe it didn't matter. If I had gotten a bunch of reads from major people in the industry, and they didn't like my work…I'd have to deal with that. Basically, I'm saying I have no access, in part because of my race and because I'm not in on the right social circles that would allow me to talk to a producer or agent one-on-one.

JV: C’mon, Justin, you don’t have to be “in the right social circles” in order to talk with producers and/or agents. Again, if you just got out and schmoozed a little, especially here in Los Angeles, you’d be running into film people all the time. See, that’s really one of the keys to all this—meeting people in the film industry…not just producers and agents…and getting them to read your material. If you’re good, if you have a script that could potentially be turned into a movie, you’ll get noticed. Sure, perhaps by a “lowly” Production Assistant at first, but then that P.A. might say, “I really like your script. Can I give this to my boss?” That’s how many careers have started in this business.

JS: Look at what you just said. Yes, you do indeed need to be in the right social circles to do what you said. You'd need wealthy parents—disproportionately white—or some sort of backing where you basically didn't have to work in order to schmooze with film people all the time. You seem to have glossed over the part where I lived and worked in Los Angeles. At times, I worked long hours, commuted long hours. It’s why I said the idea where one must meet people basically favors wealthy white people who can live a certain lifestyle.

JV: I happen to know plenty of Caucasian screenwriters who can’t sell anything either. They can’t option anything; they can’t get meetings with either producers or agents. I’ve read quite a few of their scripts. Truth is, they were awful. Again, white, black, yellow, or brown—if you can’t write a marketable screenplay, you’re not gonna generate any heat. It’s that simple.
JS: No, not that simple. According to the WGA, 5% of screenwriters in film were non-white. Are you claiming that non-white screenwriters are genetically incapable of writing screenplays? Disproportionately, screenwriters are white and male, in large part because of the schmoozing policy you defend. And your earlier advice to me, move to Los Angeles, meet film people all the time, has nothing to do with writing a marketable screenplay.

JV: Where have I claimed that “non-white screenwriters are genetically incapable of writing screenplays”? I’m only saying that plenty of white screenwriters can’t write marketable scripts and, therefore, can’t get anything optioned or sold. So it’s not just African-Americans and women who are having trouble getting stuff sold. Fact is, selling a screenplay isn’t easy for anyone!

JS: However, statistically, selling a screenplay for some reason is apparently a lot harder if you aren't white or if you're a woman. Those are the stats quoted by the guild.

JV: I think that might simply be because there are far fewer non-white and female screenwriters trying to break into the business. Anyway...here’s a little story I’d like to relate. I grew up in Los Angeles and decided on “the screenwriting life” in the early 90s. By then I had been married, divorced, and had a daughter, so I was working full time. But I managed to learn the craft and crank out scripts. My first optioned script came a few years later. This wasn’t a big producer and it certainly wasn’t big money, but it was an option. It was basically somebody telling me, “You’re a good writer. I want to produce a movie out of your script!” I stayed focused and kept writing and kept getting my scripts “out there.” Do you know how I eventually sold my first screenplay? In 1995 I answered an ad in Variety. Some upstart producer was looking for scripts. So I contacted him and sent him a script. By the way, not once did he ask me if I was young or old, black or white, gay or straight. He got back to me a short time later and told me that the script wasn’t quite what he was looking for, but he really liked my writing. Not long after that he got back in touch and asked if I wanted to do a rewrite on a script. He said he might have a potential buyer if the script was solid enough. I did the rewrite, which I wasn’t paid for, and he was able to set the script up at a prodco here in town. The movie eventually got produced. This wasn’t a huge prodco, but it was a respected one, and it was a credit, and that movie has been playing virtually non-stop on cable all around the world for over ten years, and this has opened some doors for me. I wasn’t supported by a wealthy family; I didn’t hang out in moneyed social circles. No, I learned my craft, wrote and wrote and wrote, and sent my scripts to anyone who would read them. This is what it comes down to: writing marketable scripts, getting them out to people, building a fan base, and hope your scripts eventually land on the desk of someone who can do you some good.

JS: I really don’t see how this is relevant to anything. I said that the mainstream agencies have policies that disproportionately lock non-white—or those who don’t come from wealthy families—out of the industry. Your option didn’t come through a script shopped by a top agency, so that was a path that was closed to you at that time. If you had been from a prominent enough family, you might have had that opportunity.

JV: You’re suing WMA and CAA for eight million dollars. I realize that it’s customary to pick a monetary amount when you initiate a lawsuit—and I’m sure you’re factoring in punitive amounts—but are you saying that you feel you’re owed roughly $850,000 for each year you’ve been attempting to sell your scripts? If so, please explain your rationale.

JS: No comment due to pending litigation.

JV: I have to say, Justin, agents, producers et al. tend not to want to be in business with someone who’s—and please excuse the term—“lawsuit happy.” Do you realize that by filing this suit, you might very well be destroying any career you might potentially have in Hollywood?

JS: If my efforts bring about any change at all, it’s more than worth it. And I'm not lawsuit happy. Businesses sue each other all the time in Hollywood. I think there's a double standard here. If a wealthy person or a business sued another wealthy person or business it would be no big deal. If a poor person who believes he's standing up for himself or for the rights of others sues, he's the devil.

JV: All right, Justin, go ahead, pitch me your best script. Sell me on it.

JS: “Lunatics”: A mental patient suspects the institute's head psychiatrist is actually a demon reaping the souls of the weak-minded, and must use his untapped ability to help his fellow patients regain control of their thoughts.
JV: What’s the current status of the lawsuit?
JS: I'll just say it’s pending; these things can take a while to fully resolve.

JV: If three or four years from now you still haven’t sold anything, will you still continue to write screenplays?

JS: Yes.

Read part two of my interview with Justin!

* * *

APRIL 2015 ANNOUNCEMENT: My debut novel, Luigi's Chinese Delicatessen, is now available in paperback from Amazon.com and Kindle e-book! (You're gonna love it cuz it's all about Hollywood and screenwriting!)


FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER!
FOLLOW ME ON FACEBOOK!


36 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fair and interesting interview, and thanks to Justin for being so open and candid.

Anonymous said...

In 1997 I was living in a 1b in North Hollywood, working a temp gig at Universal Studios, driving a pickup with a huge dent in the side over the hill once a week for a UCLA Extension TV writing class, trying to find opportunities to shmooze, knocking out a weekly online celebrity gossip column, trying to pitch a book based on the column, and getting 5-6 hours sleep a night.

This guy's complaint that he didn't have time to network in L.A. because he spent too much time working and commuting doesn't hold water. He didn't want to bust his ass as hard as other people have had to.

Pete T. said...

Mr. Samuels might try entering script competitions like Screenplay Search or Scriptapalooza. A win or even getting into the finals could jump-start a career and get agents and producers to notice and read your work.

Jeff Brooks said...

This is insane. I've read two of his scripts; THEY ARE JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I speak from the experience of having been a reader for a mid-sized prodco, as well as someone who's been writing for years and slugging it out in the trenches (not a trust fund baby btw - but that argument is more of an aside than anything).

The fact that he's playing the race card takes away any credibility he might have had at the outset. This is simply a case of someone who hasn't put it enough work. Try rewriting one of those scripts for god's sake - there were numerous typos as well as sluglines that were totally out of place! You think that's worth money? If you can't spell or be bothered to learn the form - WHAT THE HELL MAKES YOU THINK YOU'RE ENTITLED TO ANYTHING? Why should people waste their time reading something that's sloppy and thrown together? Anyone can have ideas; it's the execution that's worth money. And that is exactly why you haven't been paid/read.

This is a slap in the face to anyone busting their ass to really produce strong, coherent, POLISHED screenplays. Weak dude, very weak. You may not be a trust fund baby, but you're sure acting like one.

Kevin Arbouet said...

Justin,

I don't think we've ever met but just by reading your comments here I can definitively state that your knowledge of the business and how it works is astoundingly obtuse.

I've read your work and the lack of representation has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

Scotty said...

This is the funniest interview I've read in a long time. I'm shocked that meeting an agent one time at a conference did not lead immediately to a successful career. Lord knows that's how I broke in.

On a more serious note. You should be ashamed of yourself Samuels, this frivolous and moronic lawsuit is going to make it much more difficult for people who actually do face discrimination in Hollywood to fight it. You're perpetuating the myth that prejudice is an illusion. Prejudice is real sometimes, but your suit is a joke.

Anonymous said...

"I really don’t see how this is relevant to anything."

Haha! Yeah, I think I see the problem. Me, me, me. There is a serious entitlement problem going on here and inability to maintain contact. I would purchase any script that is quality, regardless of who wrote it or there gender, race, etc (and yes, I actually did read some of your scripts Mr. Samuels and they just aren't very good) but I would NEVER work with someone with this kind of attitude, no matter how talented. It would be miserable.

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman said...

I am speechless, and that isn't an easy thing to do. Justin, your lack of success has nothing to do with the color of your skin.

Instead of suing WME and CAA, you should have tried making connections on Twitter. I'm serious.

I too went to Cornell, and I too live in NYS, but I get to LA at least twice a year to have in-person pitch meetings with people. And no, I'm not rich. I just know how to save my pennies, use frequent flyer miles and work every connection I make.

When I'm in NYS, I live on Twitter and connect with writers, agents and producers from all over the world... all from my country home in the middle of nowhere... for free. Because of the connections I made online, I've gotten dozens of freelance writing gigs, even one for a TV show in development in the UK.

How do I do this? Simple. I write every single day. I am kind and respectful to people. I learn as much as I can about my craft. I network, and I pimp the hell out of myself because that is my job as a writer. I work 6 days a week until midnight each night. I don't sit around whining that a big agency doesn't rep me. I don't have an agent, and I don't need one to get my work read. I've been read by the top production companies in the business. I am my own agent because no one can pitch my scripts the way I can.

I am not a produced screenwriter yet, but I write a column for Script Magazine called Balls of Steel where I explore how to navigate Hollywood outside those magic circles you think exist. I got that gig by meeting the editor on Twitter and hustling my ass off to impress him, not because I sat around waiting for him to pluck me out of this vast universe of countless writers.

Justin, there's no magic answer to succeeding except working hard to promote yourself, and stop suing people because they aren't doing what you expect them to do. It is YOUR job to write a script that knocks them on the floor. Good luck getting anything read now. The sad thing is, as a fellow Cornellian, I believe you probably are a good writer. You just received bad advice that will most likely cost you your screenwriting career. Your lawyer is the one you should be suing.

I suggest you read this: http://www.screenwriterunknown.com/screenwriting-observations/odds-of-selling-a-spec-screenplay

And watch this: http://www.screenwriterunknown.com/screenwriting-videos/meet-some-of-your-competition-malkovichs-mail

Jim, thank you for this enlightening interview.

Anonymous said...

What a crybaby.

Both said...

This guy is unbelievable... borderline idiotic.

radiantabyss said...

There's so much wrong here I don't even know where to start. I suppose at the very least this guy is willing to defend his argument, no matter how ridiculous. That's about the only positive thing I can say.

Bobby Dazzler said...

Really hope someone is following J-Sam around with a camera.

This could be like a screenwriting version of "Overnight", the doco about the rise and fall of "Boondock Saints" director Troy Duffy.

Except there'd be no rise in this, except maybe the rise Samuels would get out of the audience...

TC/Writer Underground said...

As a copywriter, I'm amused to note that Samuels seems pretty sure he can break into New York's advertising/theater/literary orbit pretty much at will.

Good luck with that.

I recently said the scriptwriting world was writing's most spectator-friendly sport, and this little train wreck of a reality TV show simply proves it.

Love you guys. Seriously.

George said...

I actually think being a minority can OPEN doors for you in Hollywood. There are a bunch of diversity-focused screenwriting fellowships out there. I live in NY, work as a copywriter, and had ZERO connection in Hollywood. I entered a diversity-focused fellowship and was selected. It's helped me meet a bunch of successful directors, managers, producers and screenwriters, all who want to read my script and are rooting for me to succeed. I'm now setting up a deal with one of those directors to make my very first screenplay. I sometimes think my status as a minority has given me an unfair ADVANTAGE. But it just opened the door. After that, I had to have the talent to back it up.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that this guy just ruined his name. No one will work with him now, and no talent, considering most of the A-list talent come from these two top tier agencies, will ever speak his words. He'll have to change his name to work professionally, along with his attitude.

The sense of entitlement is baffling to me. I like to play basketball. Should every basketball team in the NBA be required to hire me because I'm white? Shouldn't they have a proportionate number of whites to blacks? I'm a talented ball player right? In my own head, and that's the hard truth.

If you're truly talented, no one cares whether you're white or black. Those doors will open, if you're talented. Just ask Larry Bird.

Laura Deerfield said...

As I said in another blog - the thing that frustrates me about this guy is that he does not have a case as he did not do the work - so he undermines the validity of his points about the very real problem of discrimination in Hollywood.

Yes, you have to do the work first. But after that, your chances of success will be lessened by your heritage, skin color, or sex.

Unless you think that women, for example, are significantly less talented directors and writers than men. Because "In 2010, women comprised 16% of all directors, executive producers, producers, writers, cinematographers, and editors working on the top 250 domestic grossing films." I personally refuse to believe that women are so much less talented than men that they should comprise only 7% of all directors, and 2% of all cinematographers.

No, I don't think this individual has a case. But I do know women who have been told they can't write or direct action films, or that they lack the authority to direct, or that the crew just wouldn't follow a woman's leadership. And I know a black writer and a black director who have been told more than once that they need to be "more urban."

And you know why you don't hear about such blatant cases of discrimination? the comment before me says it perfectly - "The sad thing is that this guy just ruined his name."

Yes, doors will open for talent. But some of us have to be more talented and work harder to make that happen - and then we become the exceptions that supposedly prove that bias doesn't exist.

Are all of you really that naive?

Laura Deerfield said...

I would like to add to my previous comment - Gregory, I'm glad to see that you are having a positive experience and aren't feeling ghettoized or pressured to make "black" films. Maybe things are finally changing... but During 2008, according to research by Smith and Choueiti, five African-American directors headed up a total of six of those top 100 productions. Nearly 63 percent of the characters with speaking lines in those six films are black, but in the other top 94 films from the same year, less than 11 percent of the characters with speaking lines are black. I think that 6% is not reflective of the talented black people I know who are trying to direct.

Anonymous said...

Well this will be my last comment because I'm actually working on a script now and this is nothing but a massive time suck, but those statistics really prove nothing. Citing... "I know women and I know a black director.." Okay, so what? I know women and black directors too, but EVERYONE faces the adversity in this industry. What you're saying, it's rhetoric not fact. Let me be very clear for the naive, I am not suggesting women or blacks are less talented that whites. That's racist crap. I'm suggesting that if you're talented, it does not matter. I'm suggesting that if you think you haven't broken in because of your race or gender, you need to take a harder, more objective look at your material and stop citing statistics. Statistically, if I take all of the black athletes and musicians and entertainers, their combined income drastically exceeds the income of the whites I know. So let's sue the NBA. Um... what kind of logic is that? Re-read my previous post. It's a ridiculous sense of entitlement, and the energy is being focused in the wrong way. It means nothing in the scope of the individual and their respective situation in regards to breaking in to the industry, what means something is their talent. It will redefine the odds and statistics you cite. If you were to look at all the screenwriters attempting right now to break in to the industry, how many are women and how many are black? Now how many unrepped, unproduced, unworking whites are there? Guarantee the number eclipses anything you could produce. FYI - I was unrepped for eight years before I landed an agent! So stop focusing on excuses and start focusing on solutions, like Laeta Kalogridis or Kathryn Bigelow or Tyler Perry or the Hughes Brothers, who yes, I'll admit, are all more TALENTED than me.

Steve Pim said...

So Laura, is your contention that there are a proportionate number of minorities and women trying to break in? Is it possible that the stats you so freely quote are a product of simple math? I've worked in Hollywood, and the people I see on a daily basis (both working and non), are predominantly white and male. That's just the way it is. Now if there are more white males who aren't working, doesn't it make sense that at a certain point some of those people will eventually get jobs and become part of those stats you spout?

I have to believe there is discrimination everywhere, by everyone, on some level. But I also believe those stats are all related to the law of averages. If you've had a different experience that's something to talk about. But to call everyone naive is simply taking a moral high ground on a sinking ship.

Anonymous said...

@Steve-

Yes, most of the people in showbusiness are white and male. But that doesn't mean that only white men WANT to be in the business. Look at the screenwriting students at top programs like UCLA, USC and NYU. They're about half women. But once it comes time to get a job, their numbers drop off the planet.

It's telling that people cite the top women in the business as proof that there's no discrimination. Equality means there are an equal number of hacks and journeymen -- not simply that the top 1 percent manage to find a way.

Justin Samuels said...

Dear Jeanne:

I recall years ago, when I worked in banking operations. The policy towards hiring women was that they all belong in human resources or as secretaries. Or if they were given something else, which was rare, they had a lot less responsiblities than their male counterparts. This included Ivy League women, as no one cared about their education, as they didn't see women as worth having around, period. There were big lawsuits about this matter, and some where settled out of court.

This is still true of the corporate world today. I only mentioned my alma matter is because there would be people (and there have been) who would say there are few non white screenwriters because non whites lack education. (Though of course there are screenwriters and other successful people in film who dropped out of college and even high school) But I'll be the first to say, using the above examples, is that people don't really give a damn whether you went to Cornell, Harvard, etc. Particularly if they have recruitment or business practices that disproportionately exclude those who aren't the right type of person (white and male)

posterpunk said...

This interview demonstrates that Justin Samuels is rational and articulate, which means he actually believes his position has merit. Too bad. It'd be easier if he was just a crazy person looking to make a quick buck.

Justin, as an African-American writer who works steadily, is repped by one of the agencies named in your suit, went to an Ivy League school and doesn't have a trust fund or rich parents, I can tell you from years of experience that you are right about one thing and one thing only: there is discrimination in Hollywood. Women and minorities face obstacles that white men don't face in this business.

However, that discrimination has NOTHING to do with your inability to get read.

Studio executives would buy a script from a pelican if they thought the resulting movie would make money. Race has nothing to do with getting read. Yes, it is extremely difficult to gain access as a minority (I won't say "more difficult" because I don't know how difficult it is to get read as a white male). Yes, it is difficult to juggle a "day job" with trying to break in. But that's true for everyone, not just minorities.

If you weren't getting read, it's probably because you weren't working hard enough to get your material to the right people. And if you got your work to the right people and didn't gain traction, it was probably because your work wasn't yet good enough for them.

What you should have done was revisit your material. What you chose to do was sue. The sad thing is that your flawed response to a having your material rejected has further diminished the idea of discrimination in the eyes of most people who are following your situation.

Sidney Peck/CinemaProfound said...

Wow. I can't say anything other than this guy is an idiot. If he does win the pending litigation, he would do well to enroll in some group therapy. Oh, yeah, I forgot, he doesn't like to do the work, so I doubt he'd do that either. He is a whining angry small little man who is blaming everyone but the guy in the mirror for his dismal failure. Jeanne, you did a great job interviewing someone not worthy of anyone's time, including the Court's.

Anonymous said...

As a black woman, while I think Mr. Samuels lawsuits are baseless and ridiculous, I understand his frustration. I understand because there was a time when I, too, wrote everything off to race or gender but then I got my head out of my ass and realized that if I wanted something, I had to work for it. I'm not ever giving up so even if I'm the old black lady who finally achieves success just before she dies, that'll be me.

On the other hand, Mr. Samuels has every excuse in the book. I'm surprised he followed through on this lawsuit.

I'm not saying there aren't hurdles cause there are. But if you want to be in the business, you gotta jump a few (or a whole lot) but you can't blame anyone except yourself if it doesn't work out.

Mr. Samuels would have served himself better by quietly conceding that this business may not be for him than be the idiot who sued the major agencies and lost and never, ever got any kind of writing job again.

Oh well...

Anonymous said...

It is not relevant to Justin Samuel's lawsuit whether he has the talent to thrive in the field. Disparate impact claims are generally about the class of individuals being allegedly adversely affected and not about the specific "talents" of the individual, just so long as the claimant and the class he represents is qualified to do the job.

That's what renders this interview and other blogs and comments (like over on John August's site) all but unintelligible:They are generally off topic; they focus on the stalled screenwriter at the center of this controversy instead of industry standards and practices, which may be systematically biased.

Samuels is an easy target and, worse, he seems hell-bent on throwing fuel on the fire. His lawyer should be telling him to shut up while his lawsuit is pending.

Disparate impact claims are not frivolous, idiotic, or indicative of entitlement or employment discrimination claims gone haywire. It's one way plaintiff's counsel has of re-balancing the scales of power, which are generally tipped in favor of companies.

Individual writers -- both established writers and those trying to break into the field -- may have more in common with Samuels than they realize. But please don't blame the lawsuit. Good things may come out of the discovery process that will shed light on the whole industry, assuming that Samuel's lawyer knows what he or she is doing.

But, Justin, please, consult your attorney before posting any more comments.

Anonymous said...

More power to Mr. Samuels. Idiot or not, Quixote or not, the 'entertainment' industry is ripe for this sort of action. The 'old boy' network has produced a 'system' where by we the viewers are 'treated' to the same-old-same-old year after year; cries and lamentations about how 'expensive' films are to make, and that no film ever makes money; and an ever narrowing number of offerings.

Some of the posts sound like, "Well I was whipped as a child, why shouldn't everyone else be treated the same'. Other posts seem to be along the lines of 'yeah, there discrimination, but heck, I made it, so what's the problem'.

Should I also put in here 'some of my best friends are...'... what lame posts from people who are (well presumably) trying to be writers...

I'd probably have a different opinion on some things if entities like the WGA had general coverage for 'all' writers. It doesn't and further doesn't have much in the way of getting 'new writers' in to writing positions until they 'sell' to one of the signatory companies.

Which leads to conditions Mr. Quixote speaks of. The Catch 22 of the writing for Hollywood industry... where extended family nepotism is ok.

Heck, even baseball players don't have to 'live' in New York, LA, or where ever to get 'recruited'... Then again, perhaps Baseball makes better entertainment... since at least someone wins at the end of the game.

A. Non E-moose

Anonymous said...

I've been in LA for six years; I moved out here without a job, found a roommate to help make rent affordable and started looking for work. My dream job: Writers' Assistant.

I was here 2 1/2 years and still hadn't landed a single industry job -- which puts Justin way ahead of me -- when I got incredibly lucky and through a combination of a community college internship course and referencing a screenwriting class I had taken, I was able to get an internship on a TV show's writers office.

That internship lead to another -- during which time I was almost killing myself trying to make ends meet -- and then the writers' strike shut down the industry and both my internships.

I was dead in the water for 6+ months, and then someone I had interned with at my first industry job called me: Did I want to be a PA on his show?

That was three years ago. I have finally become an assistant and work with writers. Finding time to write is a constant struggle, but I am learning from people who write for a living, so I think of it as subsidized grad school.

Since that first internship, a number of the assistants I've worked with have gone on to become junior development executives, agents, staff writers. When I met them, we were all making $450 a week (some of them were actually interns, and thus unpaid), but they've each pursued their goals.

And here's something that Justin might like to know: They've all offered to help me, read my stuff, get me read, put me up for jobs, because they know me, they've worked with me, and they know I am a decent, hardworking human being.

I know, it would be great to get read by an accomplished producer, but fyi, it's not such a waste of time to start at the bottom and work your way up. What you lose in the time it takes for your friends to move up the food chain, you gain in loyalty and honesty.

Anonymous said...

To all the white, male screenwriters who excuse the status quo by claiming that women and minorities simply don't WANT to be in the business: How many organizations are you part of where you're the only man or the only white person in the room? How many have you EVER been part of? How many times in college did you see a cafeteria table full of black students and sit down to join them? None? Then you don't have what it takes to make it as a diverse writer.

Women and minorities not only have to be good enough, they have to have the nerve to be the only woman/minority in the room. If you've never had the nerve to do that yourself, then you should stop patting yourself on the back about how you've made it in an industry where everyone is just like you.

Anonymous said...

Great interview but Mr. Samuels comes across as a hypocrite and this may be used against him in the lawsuit.

First he states, this is about race but then he states that in no time that no one asks about his race in query letters.

Second, he states he could not network because he isn't in the right social class yet, he did not try to network because of the long commutes.

Third, he says that people have been told his scripts are great but he's only entered one contest or even mentioned consultants.

I would like to know one thing though. If his lawsuit is based on racial discrimination, then isn't he saying that he should have a screenwriting career because he's of race? Isn't that then reverse discrimination?

Anonymous said...

I'm a male Jew from the lower end of the upper classes of society, so I guess I need to track down the doctor who delivered me and ask him why he didn't also hand me my WGA card.

Anonymous said...

Eh, so what? You're the only one in the room. Ask yourself this, do you want to be in the room because you deserve to be there, regardless of what color you are or what you've got in your pants? Or do you want to be in the room because it's required they have diversity. Most every person in that room is there because they earned it. Black, female, white male, whatever. This is what drives me crazy because it's completely racist. Some of you will consistently diminish the accomplishments of white males because you think they get some sort of special treatment and that's complete bs. If you suck and you're white, you'll be out. And there's no diversity net to catch you. So get a clue and follow the ranks of some of your predecessors who are talented, hard working and refuse to whine. Quit feeling sorry for yourselves. Half the freaking execs I sit across from are women or black. My agent is a woman. A recent producer on one of my projects is a woman. All of them are there, not because they're women or black, but because they refused to fail. Fact: If you aren't in a room, it's because your work is not good enough to get in the room. It isn't because you are black. It isn't because you are a woman.

John Clark said...

What is this suit about? Some seem to ask this question, perhaps rhetorically, to then show that 'how can the representation of the agencies be 'racist' if know one knows the race of the writer'...

First things. The agencies listed are employment agencies. As such Federal and various State laws, where they operate, are applicable in discrimination cases. Perhaps writers don't like to think of themselves as employees, but that's what they are by the time they are graced with an invite into the WGA. The WGA as a union can not represent anything but employees.

So, the suit is about how certain employment agencies obtain qualified referrals. The agencies don't take a writer's submission directly, but only take those who are referred by those in the industry that they chose. Studios and leading producers have been mentioned as qualified referrers.

The suit, as far as I can read it, claims this process of referral preferentially selects white males over any other class of individual, such as 'minorities who's racial group can be identified at 50 paces', or women, again who typically can be identified at 50 paces... unless wearing camouflage.

The suit, afaicri, that the agencies make little or no attempt to change this method of preferential selection, and therefore engage in discriminatory practices by it.

A few studios do have minority programs. The WGA does not really have anything going for it at all in this regard.

Whether Sammuels work is up to the quality of the major studios, or not, is not the issue. The issue is the system of referrals that effects a bias for a specific group of candidates, over other groups of candidates, and makes no attempt to correct that bias.

Whether you, the writer who has finally obtain representation, or currently struggling, is also immaterial.

The system is broken, and requires changes.

Anonymous said...

@John Clark:

Talent Agencies are not Employment Agencies.

carsophia said...

Justin...
Nine years??? you tried for 9 years??? Are you SERIOUS? Not really any contest entries...Just a couple handfuls of queries.
Wow - you've really worked hard.

SMH. thanks for making things harder for the rest of us.

A previous post suggest changing your name - i agree.

John Clark said...

Re: Talent Agencies as employment agencies.

California law has specific regulations regarding 'talent agencies'. In particular a 'Talent Agency' is required to have a license for the purpose of representing a person in regard to employment opportunities in the entertainment business.

Furthermore, from that law:

1700.47. It shall be unlawful for any licensee to refuse to represent any artist on account of that artist's race, color, creed, sex, national origin, religion, or handicap.
-------

Anonymous said...

Who are yo ugoing to sue for not being in your film...Russell Crowe or Denzel Washington?? White guy or black guy.