I began my career as a writer-director-producer of documentaries, educational films, and syndicated TV programs in the Midwest--Kansas City, to be exact. Those educational films led to an invitation from the University of Missouri-Columbia to participate in a Ph.D. grant as campus filmmaker. When the grant concluded, I accepted an offer from the Arizona Department of Tourism (Primarily because it was the only offer being made) to write, produce, and direct a promotional film about the state.
When I moved to Los Angeles, I had the unexpected--and still can't explain it--good luck of joining the CBS Script Department. In a few months, for some reason I still can't understand, I had an offer to go to MGM where I went from their executive offices back to my first love: Production. Between those two grand experiences I was fortunate enough to have worked on movies-of-the-week, feature films, episodic TV (I was production coordinator on "CHiPs"), sitcoms, and TV specials. My experience covers Comedy Development, Assistant to the Vice President of MGM-TV--where I saw how writers were dealt with and deals were put together--to Assistant to the Music Director. (My first experience was a Streisand film!) All this time I had my own script consulting service and managed to sell my first original feature story to Dick Clark Cinema Productions.
When my son, Dean, an aspiring screenwriter, died unexpectedly at age twenty-seven, I decided to go across the country, giving workshops in his name and helping young writers break into the industry, as I had intended to do for him--someday. I took a couple of my old bosses with me: Donald Gold, Producer, "Miami Vice", "CHiPs", and "Diagnosis Murder"; Paul Mason, Senior Vice President of Production, Viacom; and Paul Rabwin, Producer, "The X Files". I also took Anne Marie Gillen who had spoken before a tiny group I belong to--Women In Entertainment--and who had become a buddy of mine. Anne was the Executive Producer for "Fried Green Tomatoes" and had raised the financing for "The Last Emperor". She went on to become Chief Operating Officer in Morgan Freeman's production company, Revelations Entertainment, Inc., and is now on her own. Once I even took along Mark Schulman who was twenty-six years of age at that time and one of the top executives at DreamWorks. So, after working with a high-power team like that, when I say writers should or shouldn't do this or that, believe me, I'm not saying it because it's what I think. Who cares what I think? I'm saying it because it's what THEY say, and they are the folks who buy screenplays and who deal with writers day in and day out.
We had been criss-crossing the USA for about five years when Paul Mason talked me into writing a book so I could stop sounding like a broken cassette and put everything I knew, suspected, or had ever heard about screenwriting, between two covers. And so I wrote "Tools of the ScreenWriting Trade," which Paul and Don Gold were kind enough to line edit. It has been highly successful, and I have been thrilled to receive so much positive feedback from readers.
In addition to writing, I lecture each spring at the University of Missouri at Kansas City; so if you're ever that way, please stop by. I'm also head of the literary department of two agencies: one on the West Coast, Starcraft, in Hollywood, and one in the Midwest, Jackson Artists Corporation. (Note: See the Jackson link on this website.)
The other day a producer called to tell me that we're on again with a screenplay I was hired to write two years ago. Many things happened and, for whatever reason, the project fell apart. I loved the story, which was loosely based on a successful novel, and I was sorry it seemed to be over. Now, happily it's on again. "Malice in the First Degree" lives once more, and I'll begin the screenplay polish as we head into our winter of 2003.
Last year, my screenplay, "Sarah's Mountain," the story of a young girl known to the Piute Nation as the Indian Joan of Arc, was optioned by PSO Entertainment. I hope you'll see it at your favorite theater someday, but if you never hear of it again, oh well, that's life in the film industry. Perhaps more things unravel than come together, but if you don't love the journey--ah, the journey!--don't even begin the quest. Sometimes the journey is all we ever get.
Some think I'm foolish to offer my ongoing advice and guidance at no cost to people who write to me, ex-workshop students, and those who buy my book, but I have a sneaky feeling Dean's winking at me and saying, "Good for you, Mom." I hope so. It's like I tell my class at the end of each session: "You're not my Dean, but you're somebody's Dean...and I will do for you what I wish I had done for him."
Good luck to you! Esther