Script brings you behind the scenes to get to know our family of contributors on a more personal level. Meet Christopher Schiller, author of the column Legally Speaking, It Depends.
Christopher Schiller is a NY transactional entertainment attorney who counts many independent filmmakers and writers among his diverse client base. He has an extensive personal history in production and screenwriting experience which benefits him in translating between “legalese” and the language of the creatives. The material he provides on Script is extremely general in application and therefore should never be taken as legal advice for a specific need. Always consult a knowledgeable attorney for your own legal issues. Because, legally speaking, it depends...always on the particular specifics in each case.
What was the first movie you ever remember seeing or the one that made the most impact on you as a child?
The first movie I remember seeing in a theater will seem odd, but it was Love Story by Arthur Hiller with Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw. I guess, even as a child I had sophisticated cinema tastes.
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
An impossible question to answer, so I'll ignore it and instead offer favorites I recommend often for different elements. For cinematography, one of my favorites is The Grey Fox. For documentary, currently it's The Act of Killing. And for screenwriting I'll flip a coin (many, many sided coin) and suggest Adaptation by Charlie Kaufman not only for the film that finally unspooled on screen, but also for the story behind Kaufman's struggle (and in his words “failure”) to find a way to tell it.
What word or scenario do you never want to see in a screenplay again?
“You can't miss it.” In fact, if you could arrange that I won't be told that in real life, I'd appreciate it. I always get lost!
What profession did your parents want you to have?
They were fine with anything that made me happy. (Just wish I knew what that was ;-)
What profession, other than your current one, would you like to try if you could have a do-over?
I was good at sports as a youngun (still am, considering.) I always wonder what would have happened if I would have kept at it.
What drew you to the entertainment industry and specifically, why did you want to help writers?
I love to learn about stuff. And as a natural side effect, I tend to be a beacon for others when they're stuck on something they know I do as well. And I have a knack for being able to explain things in a way that's relatable, in a language that fits the listener. I guess that's why I gravitated to being a lawyer and a teacher.
Tell us something we don’t know about you.
I now play the ukulele. (Recent Christmas present from the wife.)
What do you wish you knew about the industry before you jumped in?
The same thing I wish I knew now. Which connections will really help me move forward and which are just blowing smoke. I'm getting better at it, but even now, sometimes it's hard to tell, until, … you know.
If you could impart only one piece of knowledge onto writers, what would it be?
Write what makes you happy. When all the dust is settled, that's the one you'll feel best about regardless of whether it ever sells. If you try something else and fail it'll feel wasted. If you try something you don't feel and succeed, it'll feel hollow.
If you could go back in time and talk to your 18-year-old self, what advice would you give?
I'd probably cop out and say, “Hey, dude, time travel works!” It'd mess with my head.
If you have any other fun tidbits you want to add, go for it!
If you have the choice, always work for and with people you like as people. It makes all the hard times bearable and gives you someone to really celebrate with when that time comes.
Get insights into contracts with Entertainment Attorney Christopher Schiller's webinar
Screenwriter Contracts Decoded