Library research in New York City

By Greg Pak
A few practical pointers for library research in New York City, developed after spending many hours trying to track down an obscure book I needed as background research for a screenplay I’m writing:

  1. To buy an obscure, out of print book, try
  2. To find the book at the New York Public Library, first search the catalog online.
  3. If you can’t buy the book or find it at the New York Public Library, check the Online Computer Library Center to figure out if it’s in a university library near you. To get access to their search engine (which apparently can only be reached through partner websites), do a search at for something that doesn’t exist — i.e., type “give me the OCLC” in the Author field. The “Matches found: 0” search results page will include a link which reads “Find it at a local library” which will take you to the OCLC page. A search there may reveal your book’s residence at a number of local colleges.
  4. Read your book at a local college.
    This can be tricky. I found that my book lived at Pace University, NYU, CUNY, and Columbia. When I called these various libraries, only Pace would let me, a non-student, walk in as a visitor to read the book. Alas, the Pace library only had volume 2 of the publication I needed… So I called NYU and discovered that I would need to get a “Metro Referral Card” from the New York Public Library (which would vouch that the book was not in the NYPL system) in order to gain entrance to the NYU library.
    Metro Referral Cards are only given at the Midtown Branch of the NYPL. As I discovered, the Midtown Library at the southeast corner of 40th and 5th is NOT the right branch — instead, you have to go to room 315 of the big research library (the one with the lions in front of it) on the northwest corner of 40th and 5th.
    When I said I needed a Metro Referral Card, the librarian nodded, asked me for the name of the author, the first word in the book’s title, and the library which had it. He filled in a yellow card, which I took down to the NYU Bobst Library, where I was given a day pass.
    Triumph! With one last irony — it turns out the book I needed was in the Tamiment Library (a specialized collection of labor history) on the 10th floor of the Bobst Library at NYU — and since the Tamiment Library is open to the general public, I didn’t need the Metro Referral Card after all.

Three books on screenwriting

By Greg Pak
Three books I’ve found enormously helpful over the years:
“Four Screenplays,” by Syd Field
Field is best known for his ubiquitous book “Screenplay,” but I found “Four Screenplays” more helpful. The book provides in-depth structural analysis of the screenplays of four successful movies: “Thelma and Louise,” “Terminator 2,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Dances with Wolves.” Practical and extremely helpful.
“The Art of Dramatic Writing,” by Lajos Egri
One of the classics. Egri’s writing about all dramatic writing – meaning many of his examples are drawn from theater. But it’s all applicable to screenwriting. Most helpful is his exploration of “premise.”
“Story,” by Robert McKee
McKee can come off as a bit of a blowhard in print (and apparently in person, if the depiction of him in “Adaptation” is to be trusted), but I thought just about everything in his book was right on the money.

Tip of the Day: Submit Early

By Greg Pak
Many festivals lock in their opening, closing, and spotlight films many months ahead of time — sometimes before their official call for entries has even closed. Now usually festivals directly solicit their high-profile films from the filmmakers. But even if you haven’t been solicited, if you have a feature film which you think has a real shot at a spotlight slot, submit your film as early as you can. And follow up over the next months by emailing information about any new awards or press your film has received.

Essay from a festival programmer about what he’s looking for

By Greg Pak
Dean Treadway, program director of the Dahlonega International Film Festival in Dahlonega, Georgia, has written an essay about what he looks for when programming films. It’s an idiosyncratic and informative piece which filmmakers may find interesting. Not every programmer shares the same peeves as Dean, so don’t worry if your film violates his dictum against showing people smoke, for example. But it’s fantastic to get a honest, first hand look into the mind of an actual festival programmer. A highly recommended read.

Print traffic hints

By Greg Pak
If your film is getting into multiple festivals, you’ll need to coordinate shipping from one festival to another. In order to avoid the disaster of a print not reaching its next destination on time, I recommend emailing the following information to both the print traffic coordinator for the festival which will send the print and the print traffic coordinator for the festival which will receive the print:

  1. An introduction
    (i.e., “Jack, meet Jane; Jane, meet Jack! Jack is the print traffic coordinator for the Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Film Festival and Jane is the print traffic coordinator for the Oh My International Film Festival.”)

  2. A request for the outgoing festival to ship the print to the incoming festival, including the following information:
    • Shipping address with contact person and phone number
    • Due Date
    • Method of shipping (i.e., 2 Day FedEx)
  3. A request that the outgoing festival send tracking numbers to both you and the incoming film festival.
  4. A thank you.
    In the immortal lines of Slim Cessna, always say please and thank you.

It’s important to include all of the above information, particularly the method of shipping and due date. Most festivals are run on a shoestring and print traffic coordinators will prefer to send prints by the cheapest method possible. But if your print needs to get to its next destination quickly, specifically requesting Fed Ex 2nd Day Delivery will nail home the idea that you don’t want the print sent via ground.

Installing FCP 3.0 upgrade from FCP 1.0 on a new G4 PowerBook

By Greg Pak
I recently discovered that I couldn’t install Final Cut Pro 1.0 on my brand new 12 inch G4 PowerBook — the machine won’t start up in OS 9, which apparently makes it impossible to install and use FCP 1.0. The problem is that unless I’d installed and registered FCP 1.0, I would be unable to install and register my FCP 3.0 upgrade. So what to do?
I called Apple and learned that I could use the FCP 1.0 on my old computer to authorize the FCP 3.0 upgrade on my new computer. The process should work as long as your old computer has a built-in FireWire port and is capable of FireWire Target Disk Mode. Here’s how it’s done:

  1. Shut down the old computer.
  2. Connect the old computer to the new computer via FireWire.
  3. Start up the old computer while holding down the “t” key. A yellow FireWire symbol on a blue background will blink on the old computer’s screen. And the harddrives of the old computer will appear as FireWire drive icons on the new computer’s screen. This is what’s referred to as FireWire target disk mode, whereby you can access the hard drives of one FireWire computer on the desktop of another.
  4. Go to the Apple icon on the upper left hand of the screen and open “System Preferences on the new computer. At the bottom of the screen, under “System,” open “Classic.” You’ll be given the option to select a system folder for Classic. Select the hard drive of the old computer onto which you installed FCP 1.0.
  5. Restart Classic using the button on the bottom of the screen.
  6. Insert your FCP 3.0 upgrade CD and upgrade away.
  7. Drag the icons for the old computer’s drive into the trash to eject them. Shut down your old computer by pressing the power key. Disconnect the FireWire cable.
  8. Go back to your System Preferences and change your Classic folder back to its previous designation.
  9. Revel in the ability to use FCP 3.0 on your new computer.

Tip of the Day: Bring a VHS backup

By Greg Pak
When invited to show clips or films in non-theatrical settings — like conferences or classrooms — bring a VHS backup of whatever you’re planning to show. Even if you’ve confirmed that the venue can screen your preferred format (DVD or MiniDV or BetaSP, for example), a VHS backup may save your life when the venue’s MiniDV deck goes AWOL.

Tip of the Day: Firewire problems with FCP

By Greg Pak
For some time, I’ve been plagued with audio glitches and gray squares of digital breakup during playback on the video monitor attached to one of my Final Cut Pro editing systems. I wasn’t getting the same problems when using the same video files on a different system. So I tried a number of things, including adding RAM, reinstalling software, and attempting to exactly match the software setup of the machine which was working to the machine which wasn’t.
Through a long process of elimination, it occurred to me that the problem might be the Firewire jack on the computer. After all, I wasn’t seeing glitches on my computer screen — only on the monitor which was connected to a deck which was connected to the Firewire jack.
So I installed a Firewire PCI card. And hooked up my deck and Firewire drives to the new Firewire jacks on the PCI card.
And now everything works brilliantly.
What makes me very happy is that I’d been fretting that the problem was that the computer (a G3 B&W upgraded to a 450MHz G4) just wasn’t fast enough to handle OS 10.2.3 and FCP 3.0.4. But now all is well and I don’t have to contemplate scrounging up a couple of grand for a new computer.

Tip of the Day: Pass out the pads

By Greg Pak
After hitting seven festivals in three weeks, I’ve finally found a good method of building an email list of interested audience members. I used to mention at screenings of my film “Robot Stories” that I send out a newsletter about the film and would be happy to take people’s email addresses. Then, after the screening, I’d try to pass around a pad and pen to folks milling around. This was semi-successful — we built a pretty formidable list of names this way. But not everyone who’s interested in getting on a mailing list is willing to fight their way to the front of the theater after a screening to sign up.
So finally, at the Wisconsin Film Festival last weekend, I tried out a new method. During the Q&A, I didn’t just mention we have a newsletter — I physically passed a couple of small pads with pens down the aisles. About a quarter of the audience signed up, which is a pretty great ratio. My conclusion: Folks sitting in their chairs are more likely to sign up for a newsletter than folks on their way out the door, heading to the bathroom or dinner or bed.

Tip of the Day: How ’bout patches?

By Greg Pak
Robot Stories patchesWe’re taking my first feature film, “Robot Stories,” to the Slamdance Film Festival this week in Park City, Utah. And we wanted to come up with a cheap promotional device which would work in a snowy town which has municipal ordinances limiting postering and handing out flyers.
Our big brainstorm: Patches which we could sew onto knit caps and scarves.
We ordered a hundred patches from Moritz Embroidery, which did a fine job and delivered in about a week.

Writer of over 500 comic books, including PLANET HULK, MECH CADET YU, FIREFLY, and DARTH VADER