Following a different script Magazine: A young woman in rural Baltimore County is publishing advice for Hollywood. Some pros are listening.

September 03, 1996|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN STAFF

BALDWIN -- To visit the office of one of America's newest movie industry magazines you drive to the rural edge of Baltimore County, past small corn fields and grassy hills where horses play. There's no traffic and the manure is applied chiefly to crops. Los Angeles it ain't.

That's fine, says Shelly Geatty, the editor-in-chief of scr(i)pt, a bi-monthly survival guide for screenplay writers and wannabes. The closest thing to the movie business here is the Blockbuster Video store five miles down Sweet Air Road, and Geatty likes it that way.

"We have no aspirations to work in Hollywood," says Geatty, who is all of 23 and still two courses shy of graduation from Loyola College. "I don't know that I'd survive in it. I'd prefer to go out there, experience it, do business and come back."

She returns to a T-shaped office in the basement of her parents' home, where she works long hours accompanied by Conrad, her Norwegian elkhound. In June Clint Eastwood did a shot for his movie "Absolute Power" in a phone booth next to the Baldwin Post Office a mile away, but since then and for the foreseeable future her bunker remains Baldwin's primary Hollywood connection.

Three years ago she and her father, David Geatty, who writes scripts for federal government films, had an idea about putting out a magazine for screen writers. He already had experience publishing two newsletters on the subject. Father and daughter talked, researched. They found one partner as co-publisher and sank about $50,000 into creating Forum Inc., which published its first magazine in November.

So far, newsstands around the country are selling seven of every 10 copies, says co-publisher James Kellett; five of 10 is considered good. About 6,300 copies of the last issue were sold -- nearly half from subscriptions. For a relatively short, 56-page magazine with no color photographs inside, scr(i)pt is no bargain: $6.95 per copy, $38 for a one-year subscription.

The bi-monthly scr(i)pt is one of at least seven magazines and newsletters about screen writing published on the West and East coasts. Geatty says she's hoping scr(i)pt will distinguish itself by covering not just writing, but how movies are made and how writers fit into the universe of agents, script-readers, consultants, producers, directors.

It's customary to place the writer at the bottom of Hollywood's food chain, in part because the writer doesn't decide what movies are made and because her work is usually long over and her presence long gone by the time filming begins. But if the writer's status is low the pay can be enormous, hence mobs of people want in on the action.

And why not? You see "Lethal Weapon 18.5," you see "The Cable Guy" or "Eraser," you see Arnold Schwarzenegger getting through an entire movie uttering one-syllable words and you think "I can write this stuff."

Maybe, maybe not.

"For some reason everybody thinks they can write a screenplay" says screen writer John Furia Jr., who chairs the writing division of the film department at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The odds of an unknown writer outside the Los Angeles area selling a script "are very, very tough, but it does happen. It happens often enough to encourage those people who are writing screenplays."

The Writer's Guild of America offices in New York and Los Angeles register about 50,000 screenplays a year, 137 scripts a day. No doubt thousands more scripts are written every year and not accounted for anywhere. In the United States, just over 400 feature films are released every year.

Linda Seger, a script consultant in Venice, Calif., who has written four books on screen writing, says, "I think I am one of the few people in L.A. who is not writing a screenplay. Years ago it used to be everyone wanted to write the great American novel. Now they want to write the great American screenplay."

Geatty says her magazine will offer no encouragement to those looking to make it big in a hurry.

"If you're writing to be famous, if you're writing to make money, don't bother to read this magazine," says Geatty. "I'm going to tell you it's hard work. I'm going to tell you you have to have a point of view."

You also have to understand that the field demands more than craftsmanship and creativity, says Geatty: "Half of writing for film is marketing."

The magazine has offered pointers on dealing with agents, selling ideas and breaking into the business. There's a legal advice column and a regular story about doings among independent moviemakers.

Scr(i)pt also lists writing contests, film festivals and a bi-monthly update of who sold what to whom for sums that are variously handsome or obscene, depending on your perspective.

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