Writing Mentors

by limebirdlaura

Hey, call up a stranger and tell them you want some advice. Better yet, call up a famous stranger.

That was an assignment my husband and I had in one of our Screenwriting classes. The assignment was to get a mentor – someone who is established and knows a thing or two about writing for film. Someone we can ask questions of, and get real life advice about the do’s and don’ts of screenwriting and the film business.

Sure, no problem, let me just get Spielberg on the line. He won’t think I’m crazy at all. OK in all fairness he probably wouldn’t think I’m crazy, because I’m sure he’s been asked to be a mentor for many number of things – writer, director, producer, etc. He is, after all, a man of many talents. But, I seriously doubt he has time to answer the questions of a small-town Kentucky girl who would probably spend more time yammering and stammering than asking actual questions.

I’m sure this applies to folks writing novels as well – give Stephen King a call!

At any rate, I had a week to find a screenwriting mentor.  I’ve been a crazy fan of horror since I was around 6 years old, when I first watched Night of the Living Dead on New Years Eve. You know something has had a major impact on your life when you remember exactly when and where you did something at the age of 6! As I grew up, nothing changed. I love horror today as much as I did that fateful day over 22 years ago. That being said, I had the perfect guy in mind for my writing mentor, Clive Barker! I fell in love with Hellraiser as soon as I saw it. I’ve read several of his books too, and always enjoy them.  He seemed like a no-brainer to me – my type of mentor!

I could not get in touch with Mr. Barker, unfortunately. But, I did get this e-mail from his associates:

Hi Laura – thanks for your note.

Unfortunately, Clive will have to decline your kind invitation as he is currently extremely busy writing his next novel.

We do wish you all the very best with your endeavours…

Well, that’s about what I expected, the guy is busy! So after my week search for a mentor, I had to go back to class without one. It was OK, I think the professor expected as such.

My husband (and rather than continuing to refer to him as “my husband”, I’m just going to say that his name is Woo…well because that’s his name) was smart, though. Woo went after a guy notorious for being 110% available to his fans! That wasn’t the reason he picked him as a mentor, he chose him because he’s been a big fan of his work since he was a little kid. I’m talking of none other than the extremely nice Lloyd Kaufman. He’s the founder of Troma Studios, which may not be extremely well-known, but Troma does have quite a large underground following. Some of Troma’s better known films are The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke ‘Em High, Tromeo and Juliet, and Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead. Definitely B-Films, but all classics in my home!

Mr. Kaufman didn’t hesitate to talk to Woo. He answered all of his questions, which Woo originally emailed to him. Rather than just type them out and reply via e-mail, he gave Woo his phone number and told him to call! They spent at least 30 minutes talking, and all of that time wasn’t talking business either! He asked Woo what some of his recent favorite movies have been, and they just chit-chatted. There couldn’t have been a better match for a mentor out there for my husband. We’ve actually met him twice, after attending some of his master classes on making your own movie. He was just as nice in person as over the phone. He didn’t hesitate to offer advice to Woo, or to anyone who asks him. He wants people to succeed, and he’s been in the business long enough to know more than a thing or two.

So I guess my point here is not that Clive Barker isn’t a nice guy because he wouldn’t return my call or e-mail, but that he is just too busy and while Lloyd Kaufman is a busy guy himself, he was willing to spare a 30 minute phone call to answer a silly film student’s questions. (I feel like I’m being negative toward Clive Barker here, and that is completely absolutely totally not what I’m trying to be. So rest assured, I still think Clive Barker is super-dooper!)

Since that assignment I haven’t ventured the world of finding a writing mentor again. I like to think of one of my professors as being a great “mentor” as far as what she taught us, but not in the same sense of finding a personal mentor like she assigned us to do that one week when I attempted to contact Clive Barker. Looking back, I’m kind of glad I never got Mr. Barker on the phone, as I probably would have turned into some bumbling idiot with no clear line of thinking the second he said “Hello”!

And for anyone wondering, here are some of the questions that my husband was told to ask of his mentor:

1. What products and/or services do you provide?

2. How long have you been in business?

3. What is the ownership structure of your business? (sole proprietorship,partnership, corporation)

4. How did you choose the name for your business?

5. Who are your direct competitors?

6. What was the most difficult aspect of opening your business?

7. What is the biggest day-to-day challenge in operating your business?

8. What is your biggest reward in operating your own business?

I really loved Mr. Kaufman’s answer to question 8, and thought I’d share it here with you all.

I think the biggest reward in my business is the satisfaction of creating art.  I’m an artist first and a businessman second.

– Lloyd Kaufman

 Lloyd Kaufman, Laura and Woo

Lloyd Kaufman, Laura and Woo

Has anyone else had a good or bad experience with a writing mentor? Who would you choose as your writing mentor if I told you to find one this minute?


24 Comments to “Writing Mentors”

  1. I’d LOVE a writing mentor 😦

    Go you!!!!! 🙂

    I’m just not brave enough to approach anyone famous lol


    • I am definitely not brave either! When we have to order pizza… my husband is always the one to get that honor 😉 LOL! At least now we do have the options of emailing people, that way they can tell us in email to go away, it’s not as embarrassing that way.

  2. I have an amazing mentor Amanda Nevill who is the director of the British Film Institute. We meet regularly and she gives me brilliant advice, encouragement and introduces me to people who could help me. Is one of the best things I have ever done, but had to go for an interview etc before she took me on (was via Marie Claire magazine). Well worth it though!

  3. Great post Laura. Like Vikki (The View Outside), I’m not sure I would have the confidence to approach anyone famous for this! I don’t mind the concept of approaching famous people if it’s on behalf of someone else, or some task I’m doing for someone else (e.g. if I had been commissioned to write an article about them), but to ask them to do a personal favour for me, I’m not sure I could!

    • Thank you 🙂 Approaching the average Joe get’s my stomach in knots. Ok… funny story. Once I met this band in high school that I was in love with, Good Charlotte. I don’t know what my face looked like to them, but I think I was exploding on the inside. After we parted ways and my friend and I were outside ear shot I began some sort of odd hyperventilating giddiness where I was somehow simultaneously jumping on her, and lifting her into the air. I then had to sit down for about an hour and drink a lot of water because I think I was legitimately on the verge of passing out. HAHA.

  4. I don’t have a writing mentor, but I’d probably pick one person from among my favorite authors. Ideally, I’d get an introduction from someone who already knew that person. Networking never hurts.

  5. Um, could I please have a few Valium before approaching someone who might look at me like a bug that needs to be squashed? On the other hand, the meds might slow down my getaway. My closest brush with fame came via a friend who has a famous writer cousin. Even that didn’t help much… 8)

  6. Shooot, I can’t get anyone in my family to read my work, nevermind find a mentor! Having a mentor would be such a help, it sounds like that teacher gave out a good assignment 🙂 Great post!

    • Thank you 🙂 I had the same teacher I think for 3 classes, and she was such a great teacher. She didn’t beat around the bush about things.

  7. What a great assignment. I have not ever attempted screenwriting. It is a writing form I desire to explore some day. I admire your attempt to get in touch with your lifelong-mentor, Clive Barker. There are quite a few celebrated creative forces I would love to have a conversation with about their process for creating as well as the steps taken to achieve success. It never hurts to ask. Just think if he had accepted your invite.

  8. GREAT post. I’m working on my first indie novel and sought out TWO mentors via email (although more just to pick their brains). Brandon Clements and Max Dubinsky. Priceless advice.

  9. I’d be shaking in my shoes if I had to go do that. However, I feel like there are plenty of famous people out there who remember being in my position and would give me 15 minutes of their time. I suppose the first person to come to mind would be Alice Hoffman, who is one of my fave authors. Plus, she lives in MA, which would make it easy for me to meet up with her. I did see her at an indie bookstore promoting her latest novel, and she spoke to an audience of about 50 people. Then she sat down and signed books and asked each person something about themselves. I thought she was very approachable. However, if she was too busy for me then I think I’d ask Jodi Picoult, another fave author.

    • Oh wow she sounds like she’d be a great mentor. That’s what I liked about Lloyd Kaufman, he doesn’t HAVE to talk to us nobodies, but he doesn’t care one bit to. Before one of the master classes he gave (I think it was summer 2011) we were talking to him and he was trying to take a picture of my husband holding his assignment up that he got an A on with Lloyd’s help. But his phone wasn’t working right. Our friend that was with us works with cell phones, and Lloyd handed this guy he doesn’t know one bit his phone and walked off for a few minutes to talk to someone about the class that was just starting! Our friend was just standing there the whole time saying, “I’m doing tech support to Lloyd Kaufman’s phone!!!!!”

  10. I found the letter I wrote to Clive Barker – I sent it in about a half dozen directions, but only got the one reply that I quoted in the article —

    Dear Clive Barker,

    My name is Laura, and I’m currently in my 8 billionth year of college. I’m studying film at the Academy of Art University. My main focus happens to be editing, but I am very interested in screenwriting and would minor in it, if that were an option for me. (*edit* It has since been worked out that I will be getting a separate AA in Screenwriting along with my BFA in film editing.)

    Film is one of the most important things in my life. As a child, my favorite thing to do with my best childhood friend was to walk downtown to the movie rental store and pick up as many horror films as we could – the good, the bad, and the extremely cheesy. As a man that has mastered the horror film, you definitely top my list on great horror entertainment.

    As an assignment for my Screenwriting II class, I am to choose a mentor, and I have decided to ask you to be my mentor. If it is okay with you, I would like to have three 10 minute phone conversations with you to get some insight into the world of film, as you see it. I see that you are in pre- and post – production on many projects, so these conversations can take place at your convenience.

    Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to indulge a silly girl with big dreams…(nightmare’s ?)


  11. I’ve had the pleasure of having some wonderful writing mentors in the past few years. Though it seems like such a simple act to have a writing mentor, it truly can make a world of difference. 🙂

  12. First of all Lloyd Kaufman sounds like the man!

    I don’t have a writing mentor but do have one anecdote. Years ago I re-read Norman Spinrad’s “The Iron Dream” and it occurred to me that it would be brilliant as an anime movie (for the Lord of the Swastika part) and live action for the final Adolph Hitler ‘cosplay’ part. I wrote to Mr. Spinrad and asked if it would be possible for me to write a movie adaptation (yeah right!). Rather than just ignoring me, or writing to simply say “no”, he wrote a long reply explaining the publishing business, movie options etc. All this to someone writing with a silly request!

    • Oh wow! That is great that he replied with all of that information. I love hearing stories of people who have “made it” replying to letters, or just being all around amazing to the fans.

  13. Shaun Hutson! I’d totally want him as my mentor so I could bask in his grumpiness and get a sneak peek into his head while he writes all that blood guts and gore he’s famed for. I adore the man!

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