Above a 7-Eleven on Ventura Boulevard, a teacher imparts to her students methods that will enable them to make their dreams a reality. No, it has nothing to do with fake-religious gewgaws or tripping on ayahuasca tea.
Pilar Alessandra runs On the Page, a scriptwriting program that focuses on "practical advice that takes you confidently onto the page." Along with six-part courses on writing the first draft and rewriting, she offers a popular one-night "Coffee Break Screenwriter: A One-Night Screenwriting Class for the Busy Person." Three hours and $100 later, you'll leave with a sensible blueprint and concrete tips on how to complete your first draft in 10-minute "stolen" sessions.
And she really wants you to succeed. Students who get their scripts into development — and many do — leave her feeling "elated." She adds, "And, I get bragging rights!"
Originally from the Boston suburbs, Alessandra came to L.A. 20 years ago. "It's such a great city," she says. "Everyone in it makes their living telling stories. I used to live in the Fairfax area, but they deported me to the Valley after I had my second child. It's the law."
She's a bit of a peppy type — cute, fit, close-up–ready teeth — but she's serious when it comes to getting students to find "their movie." "That's your movie," she tells those who are grappling with their log line (script-speak for the one sentence writers use to pitch their projects).
Five thousand — that's her conservative estimate of how many scripts she's read in her lifetime. Alessandra started her career as a script reader for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and became senior story analyst for DreamWorks. "Get to read and analyze movies for Steven Spielberg? Awesome. Geek girl's dream come true."
The teaching bug came later. "The first class I ever taught was in my living room. Friends kept asking me how to be a script reader, so I wrote up a class outline, advertised in Back Stage West and charged $90 to teach what I knew. I don't know how in the world I had the stones to do that.
"When I finally led a large classroom with the material I wanted to use in the way I wanted to teach it, I had a personal 'aha' moment. This is what I love. It was like all of the crazy stuff I'd tried out in my 20s — theater, stand-up, journalism classes, story analysis — all of those skills came together in front of the classroom. Sometimes you experience that moment in life where everything just lands. I think a good script has those moments too."
What would she love to never see again in people's scripts?
"I'm getting a little weary of all of those daddy issues. Does everything stem from needing a father's approval?"
Even worse: "I really, really hate it when melodramatic dialogue is passed off as 'deep' or when rule-heavy dialogue is passed off as 'important.' If it's that deep or important, I'll be witnessing it on the screen. You don't need to lecture me."
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With too many student success stories to list, there is one big-time project she can say came from her classroom: "Shazam, baby!" — if it ever gets out of development.