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  • Wonder Woman Writer Allan Heinberg Joins New York Film Academy Guest Speaker Series

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    The New York Film Academy was proud to welcome Wonder Woman screenwriter Allan Heinberg to its Los Angeles Campus.

    Heinberg has written for Party of Five, Sex in the City, The OC, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gilmore Girls. He is also the creator and showrunner of The Catch. Outside of television, Heinberg has worked for DC comics, writing The Young Avengers, Justice League, and the 2005 reboot of Wonder Woman.

    Heinberg regaled students with the tale of how he was hired to write the Wonder Woman film. He first saw the character of Wonder Woman, aka Diana Prince, on an episode of Super Friends. He was seven. A few years later, when Linda Carter burst on television screens in the 1970s, Heinberg was hooked. The very first play he wrote after graduating college featured Wonder Woman. After that, Heinberg moved to Los Angeles and immediately began working in television.

    After years of working on Grey’s Anatomy, Heinberg began looking for a new project. There was a Wonder Woman feature in development but Heinberg did not consider applying. He explained, “Usually, there’s a big wall between movie writers and television writers … It is a big risk for a television writer to be asked to work a large tent-pole film. They just don’t do that.”

    Heinberg was happy to cheer on his friend (and President of DC Comics) Geoff Johns as he worked to develop the Wonder Woman film for Warner Brothers. After about a year, Johns called Heinberg and told him that his team had hit a wall in the writing process. Producer Zack Snyder wanted to start over from the beginning.

    Snyder and Johns brought their teams together to explore the fundamentals of Wonder Woman. When it came time to decide who would have a seat at the table, Johns said he didn’t want anyone except Heinberg. Snyder agreed and the brain trust that created the final screenplay was formed.

    Heinberg listened as Synder explained the finer details of the project. Snyder broke down what the team had been preparing. Heinberg knew what story he wanted to tell. He said, “For me, there’s really only one essential Wonder Woman story and that’s her origin story.”

    One of the major problems most writers run into when writing Wonder Woman is that her origin story does not typically contain the deeply personal, emotional hook — like a terrible crisis or loss to overcome — typical in a hero’s origin. For example, in contrast, Batman’s parents are murdered and, as he grows up, he is driven to protect his entire city from feeling that same pain. Similarly, Superman was orphaned and his home planet was destroyed, so he spends the rest of his life protecting his new home and the people in it. In the case of Wonder Woman, Diana Prince was molded from clay by her mother, Hippolyta, and grew up in a women-only utopian paradise, where the powerful Amazons live independently from the world and evils of mankind.

    Using references like Splash and The Little Mermaid, Heinberg described Diana’s origin myth, where she leaves Themyscira to save mankind. Heinberg referred to it as a fish-out-of-water story. The comparison resonated with Snyder. By the end of the first meeting, everyone agreed that Heinberg’s version of Wonder Woman’s origin was the right direction to take the film.

    Over the next three days, they constructed a story and broke down a script so Snyder could pitch it to the studio. It was green-lit on the fourth day. The film already had a release date. Now, Snyder wanted Heinberg to write the script.

    The only problem was that Heiberg had a job. He was still a part of the Shondaland family after moving from Grey’s Anatomy to Scandal, and it was the middle of the season. Heiberg wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to do both the show and the film. So, he had to speak with Shonda Rhymes. He was convinced she would say no. With two more years on his contract, Heinberg fully expected to have to walk away from his dream job.

    When he walked into her office, Rhymes thought he was going to quit. When he told her the news, she said simply, “It’s Wonder Woman. You have to do it.”

    Heinberg was adamant that no other showrunner would have afforded him this opportunity, and says the moral of this tale is that none of this could have happened if it wasn’t for the relationships he’d previously built with his colleagues. He described Snyder as his hero for championing his vision of the film. It’s not a typical superhero film: Wonder Woman focuses on the human relationships, as opposed to the hero and villain aspect of the genre.

    During the Q & A portion of the Guest Speaker event, one NYFA student asked, “How do you think the success of Wonder Woman has changed the way people will write women in the future?”

    Heinberg gave a cheeky response, stating, “Well, Wonder Woman has made a lot of money.”

    One obvious change is that more women-centered films in the superhero genre are being green-lit this year. Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and Captain Marvel will all be getting feature films soon.

    “There’s an audience we can serve,” said Heinberg. “I don’t think the formula that made Wonder Woman can be replicated. You need to come up with a compelling and emotional story that can stand up on its own.”

    The New York Film Academy would like to thank Allan Heinberg for taking the time to speak with our students. Wonder Woman is now available on DVD.

     

     

     

     

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  • Matthew Jennison on Starting His Screenwriting Career from a ‘Wonder Woman’ Spec

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    jennison

    Matthew Jennison

    This past semester, screenwriter Matthew Jennison visited with our Business of Screenwriting students to regale his improbable story about how he literally sold his first project to Warner Bros.—without any representation whatsoever—before going on to become a rising film and TV writer.

    Jennison, who is six-foot-six, had at first considered being an actor when he originally moved to Los Angeles from Albuquerque. He recalled, “They told me I was too tall, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me.” Jennison always loved storytelling, and soon he discovered that he wanted to explore different sides, including the writing side. So, he partnered up with actor/writer Brent Strickland, who he met in an acting class. They read some scripts and a few books, and they started writing projects together.

    The problem was they had no representation and didn’t really know how to get people to read them. They wanted to write something that would garner them some attention, maybe even based off something people knew… “Wonder Woman seemed like the perfect property and character to write a spec script about. Many people had tried to crack a Wonder Woman movie, but it had lingered in development, and it’d been a very long time since the TV series. She was powerful and alluring. We thought we’d give it a shot…”

    They figured if done right, it was a good way to get noticed, a good sample, by building a story around a character people knew. So they wrote their ‘Wonder Woman’ script, an ambitious take set against the backdrop of WWII. “At the time, doing a period comic book was a pretty novel idea and was one we were really excited by.”

    When it was done, Jennison got his friend Kristian Harloff (now of ‘Schmoes Know’ fame, then an assistant at Silver Pictures) to give it a read. “I knew Kristian from my time interning at Village Roadshow Pictures, and since he worked at the production company who was producing the real Wonder Woman movie, I figured, who better?”

    Harloff liked the script and it trickled up the chain fast, as everyone at Silver Pictures grew more and more excited about it. Then, the studio Warner Bros. got their hands on it, and they liked it too. “It was one of those Tuesday-to-Friday stories we rarely hear about anymore, where people read it at the start of the week and you have a deal by the close of the week. “It was crazy,” Jennison recalled.

    wonder woman

    With a studio deal under his belt, reps came calling and Jennison and Strickland signed with ICM and Underground Management. They began what’s known as ‘the water-bottle” tour, “This is where you meet a lot of people—execs and producers—in a short amount of time. Lots and lots of general meetings.”

    Universal was interested in adapting the graphic novel Villians from Viper Comics into a feature, and they hired the writing duo to adapt it with Sean Bailey’s Ideology producing. “What was great about this project, is we got to have some fun with a group of bad guys with super-powers and tell a story through the lens of someone who wants to learn the fine art of super-crime.”

    Jennison offered a variety of advice for the screenwriting students with adapting pre-existing properties. “The source material is never just what they want. They want your own unique spin on it. They want you to take it somewhere they haven’t thought of… But you as a writer also need to find your own emotional connection to the material, if you strip the fantasy and sci-fi away, what’s the story about for you on a primal human level?”

    Jennison warned that it can be a difficult business, especially when company politics that you have no control of play a role. “Companies merge or an executive leaves and projects linger. Outside forces are constantly altering the landscape of your projects, which is why you have to keep writing, keep coming up with new ideas.”

    Jennison also advised that writers get a day job in the business when they get out of school. One of Jennison’s first jobs was working for the comedy troupe Broken Lizard as an assistant to actor Kevin Heffernan on the movie Beerfest. “It was a great experience working on set and working for an actor. I learned a lot.”

    Jennison shared a few more nuggets, “Play ball. That’s an expression to remember as a writer. Always try and make it work and be collaborative,” Jennison advised. “It’s not for me.” That’s another expression you’ll hear a lot. It’s the soft pass and may be unfortunately all you get sometimes.”

    Joining a writer’s group and working with a writing partner who keeps you to deadlines were two other strategies Jennison suggested when starting out. Jennison now writes his projects himself but got his professional start with a partner.

    “And always remember ‘that was then’ with executives notes,” Jennison closed, “In other words, their opinions can change. What they thought a few months ago or even a week ago, may not be how they feel now. But you need to be flexible and adapt to their changes. And always be searching for where the notes are really coming from. Not the solutions, but the problems”.

    Matthew Jennison currently lives in Los Angeles and works as a Film and TV writer. He is currently developing a variety of TV and film projects around town and repped by Matt Bass at Chemical Imbalance.

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    June 23, 2015 • Acting, Guest Speakers, Screenwriting • Views: 4379