25 Years of Constructive Ass-Kicking: Writers Boot Camp Screenwriting Program is Going Strong

The key to the 25-year success of Writers Boot Camp? “Having the integrity to give people what they need instead of what they want.”

That’s founder and president of Writers Boot Camp (WBC), Jeffrey Gordon. Gordon founded his writing program in the Los Angeles of 1989 with little pretention: He threw a party, compiled the attendees’ addresses, then mailed them a brochure about his idea for a writing class. Over the first three years, he taught 40 sessions himself.

“There were too many self-proclaimed screenwriting gurus around town, and many of the practitioners weren’t getting to the writing process,” says Gordon. “Nobody was actually writing—they were just getting theory and lecture and anecdotes, and taking too long to write their first drafts. That was the vision of WBC: The secret to writing is writing.”

A quarter century later, the party’s still going, though it’s left Gordon’s living room and relocated to a building in Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station Arts Center. Witnessing a WBC class firsthand, one realizes the emphatic truth behind “boot camp”—these sessions are populated by many a furrowed brow. Gordon and staff kick their writers’ butts, and don’t apologize for it.

Why should they? In the past four years, WBC alumni have had 50 features made, from indies like Celeste and Jesse Forever to studio fare like Sex Tape. 30 alumni have made it onto the Blacklist’s annual collection of the best unproduced screenplays. There’s consistently been a WBC graduate on the writing staff of TV’s biggest hits—like Orange is the New Black, Girls, Sons of Anarchy, House of Cards and on.

How does one program keep producing these triumphs, in an industry notorious for its ruthlessness? At WBC, success is a slow boil, and it comes out of a careful groundwork of time management, dedication, and patience—or as Gordon puts it, “left-brained tools for the creative process.” Perhaps surprisingly, numbers form the backbone to WBC’s training. The key figure is 10: the number of hours members must devote per week on their screenplay—whether they’re doing Basic Training, which facilitates the completion of a first draft within eight weeks, or Professional Membership, which involves 48 bi-weekly sessions of coursework, weekly office hours, and script evaluations. (Outside of L.A. and New York, this is conducted virtually.)

“We want people to integrate writing into their daily lives, to break the process down into manageable parts,” says Gordon. “That’s why we don’t do one-off sessions.” Assimilating this strict schedule, a writer should expect to develop a full screenplay in six months, per WBC’s philosophy. After three or four years, that writer will have an arsenal of quality work to garner themselves proper representation. It’s a pleasant—and, importantly, realistic—vision; less giddily enticing than the dream of overnight success, but less driven by what Gordon calls “a naivéte born of vanity.”

More numbers: WBC is rolling out 25 different ways to celebrate its 25th anniversary, and the 10,000 writers who have passed through its doors in that time: a special brunch for alumni, for example, and a discount of $250 off a Basic Training workshop. Gordon is also looking to add to WBC’s extensive array of live offerings with “pavilion events:” a leaders’ circle of speakers on everything from international financing to the intersection of fine art and film. There’s no resting on laurels going on here; after all, where’s the discipline in that? MM

Reader special: Mention “MovieMaker” to receive 15 percent off Basic Training and $1,500 worth of work-study credit for Professional Membership at Writers Boot Camp.

 

 

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