This phrase traipsed across my brain (sometimes a tickle, and sometimes a big stomp, stomp, stomp) for weeks before I finally arrived in Toronto for the 14th Annual Female Eye Film Festival.
Here's where I'm going to do the forbidden and dump some backstory: my most recently published novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska, was published a few years ago by Penguin Plume. It is different from my previously published novels (all mysteries)--an historical coming of age story. I think of this as the story of my heart.
And here's where I plop on my screenwriter hat and give you, as they say in the biz, the story's logline: In a gritty 1953 Ohio town, a scrappy teen girl breaks free from family tragedy and conventional expectations so she can help her terminally ill younger brother achieve his dream, a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the Alaskan Territory, all while learning to embrace her own dreams.
Imposter Syndrome and Mule-ish-ness
And here's where I tell you that even using the words "screenwriter," "biz," and "logline" makes my tummy flip. I have chronic imposter syndrome-itis. My first published novel came out in 1993. I'm still a little tremulous about claiming the title "novelist." Heck, sometimes I have imposter syndrome about being a human. (Really? 'Cause I'm pretty sure I was meant to be a mule... or donkey...)
So after a former TV actress expressed interest in the role of Miss Bettina (one of Donna and Will's helpers) but nothing came of it, and an indie production film nibbled but nothing came of it, I thought, fine. I'll just write the adaptation of my novel myself. (See why I might really be a mule?)
Learning and Contests--Discovering What You Know (And Don't)
I took a weekend screenwriting class with Marisha Mukerjee at FilmDayton. I asked Marisha for her recommendations about screenwriting books. I read them... and more, too. I bought FinalDraft software and learned how to use it. I googled 'screenwriting' and 'adaptations' and more, and read what made sense, and ignored what didn't.
Finally, I submitted my screenplay to several contests that another screenwriter, Brad Riddell, suggested to me. Brad taught at a one-day class on "Story For All: Stage, Screen and Page" at the Antioch Writers' Workshop, at which I'm employed as Director. I discovered a few other contests via Film Freeway. The goal of entering most was to get 'notes,' (there I go again, slinging around film biz lingo...), or feedback. After I received that, I revised my screenplay, and entered a few more--wanting more feedback, but also hoping that I might, well, place, if not win.
To my joy... and, no, this isn't false modesty, surprise... I did! One of those joyous surprises was having my screenplay be one of eight chosen as an official selection of the Female Eye Film Festival.
Women in Film
I entered this festival's competition because I liked that all the films at the festival must be directed by women; screenplays must be written or co-written by women. In the United States (and I'm guessing it's similar for other countries) only 5% of films are directed by women. The goal of this particular festival is to raise the awareness of the work women are doing in film. Given that this festival is designated by Movie Maker magazine as a top 50 worth entering, and is in its 14th year, the festival seems to be achieving its goal.
It's been interesting--after just one day--to talk with women directors who have been in the industry for a decade or more and hear their stories of being the ONLY female director at a festival.
Speed Dating Producers (My "Good to Go" Session)
Anyway... one of the great aspects of this festival for screenwriters is that being selected doesn't just give you a nice line for a bio. At the festival, we screenwriter delegates (that's the festival's term! I'm not being an imposter! I swear!) have two major programming events: "Good to Go" session. Live reading of 20 pages of our screenplays.
Yesterday was our Good to Go session. Think of it as speed-dating for screenwriters and producers/film executives. In this closed session, each screenwriter (eight total) gets a 15-minute one-on-one with a producer/executive (six total). The time ends; the screenwriter moves on (or takes a break since we didn't have a one-to-one ratio.) I expected to be terrified, because that is my usual modus operandi. But... I wasn't. I think that's for several reasons:
- After 30 years of working on being a story-teller, I've finally figured out that--imposter syndrome at fancier titles (novelist, author, screenwriter) notwithstanding--that's what I am. A story-teller. How I make sense of the world? Stories. The art I want to create? Stories. What I want to give to my fellow humans? Well, I freak out at the sight of bodily fluids (so healer is out); I have absolutely zero sense of direction, so forget being an Uber driver; and on and on. Stories it is.
- My stories aren't for everyone. But they're for some people. (Yay!)
- Other people who work in the story-telling business... no matter how fancy their titles (agent, editor, director, producer) are in the business for the sheer love and raw human need of telling stories. That's probably not how they'd describe it. I'd wager at least a few would roll their eyes at me for that phrasing. But that's how I see it... which is great when you're speed-dating others in the story-teller business. We're all in this together, see.
So how did it go? Well, part of my results are due to talking to producers/execs in Canada, where the film industry is supported by the government. The tax incentives are so strong for producing work created by Canadians, that there's a bit of a challenge for a non-Canadian's material in terms of financing. (If I'd co-written the adaptation with a Canadian screenwriter, the resulting intellectual property would qualify.) However, there are other tax incentives for non-Canadian companies to film in Canada, and that leads to some benefits for Canadian co-producers, and... amazing what you can learn in 6 speed-dates.
Here are my results:
- One producer was flat out not interested. She also did not want to spend any time answering questions I had about film making. (Reference "not for everyone" on my list above.) This is the cue to smile, say "thank you for your time," move on and relax before the next session.
- Another producer was also not interested, but he WAS interested in providing helpful advice and guidance for how I could put together a package that would interest a U.S. production company and suggested British Columbia as a good stand-in for Alaska itself as a way to have a film co-produced in Canada. Hmmm. I took a lot of notes. I will be giving Google a work out from those notes when I get home.
- The other four producers WERE interested. (Reference "yay" above.) All four wanted one-sheets. What is a one-sheet, you ask? Well, it's exactly what it sounds like--a sheet with the film title, your name and contact info, a logline, and a synopsis. My friend Tim Waggoner, who writes novelizations of television shows and of movies as well as his own work, told me about this and gave me a helpful link. I also gave Google a work out on the term 'one sheet.' I waffled between thinking I should be prepared and bring copies of a one-sheet, and not be so pretentious (there's that imposter thing again). Fortunately, I brought copies.
- Of the four who were interested, two of them wanted to receive a copy of the screenplay. (It is, by the way, registered with the Writers' Guild of America East and with the U.S. Copyright office, so the work is protected. This isn't me being paranoid; I've been told numerous times to do these things with a screenplay or treatment, and this was reiterated again on a panel at the festival.) I will definitely follow up on that!
- One of these four... and this was the producer I immediately clicked with...said the story sounds like a wonderful novel AND movie. So I asked her if she reads eBooks. She said yes, and I asked if I could send her an eBook copy of Alaska. That garnered another yes... and I've already sent it to her.
It was also fun to meet the other screenwriter delegates. For my novelist/short story writer friends out there, by the way, screenwriters are just like us. Story-tellers. Maybe a little bit of imposter syndrome. And, given the challenges of both publishing and film industries, a bit like donkeys.
Coming up: Toronto, the films at the festival itself, and the live reading.