Years ago... and I mean years ago in high school... I decided to write a play. A musical. It was called "Just An Old Ballad," inspired by the Appalachian ballads I'd grown up hearing and sometimes singing. I wrote the play and the music, and convinced my high school theater teacher that it should be produced as part of the high school's season my senior year.
I also directed the play.
And happened to cast this handsome young man named David Short, who I kind of knew (we went to a huge high school, but I admit, I'd been eying him from afar), in the male lead role. I realized that I truly was attracted to him when his character had to kiss the female lead character, and in a fitful surge of jealousy, I called "cut!" on the rehearsal, and came close to writing that scene out of the play.
Hey, I was 18.
Turns out, I married that handsome young man four years later. We've been married 32 years.
So, I can say that the best reward I've ever received for my writing was falling in love with my soul mate.
Which was a pretty sweet memory to consider yesterday, as I sat next to that same fella, awaiting the live script reading of the opening 20 pages of my screenplay adaptation of "My One Square Inch of Alaska."
And now for the live script reading...
Now, I've given plenty of readings of my own work to audiences at book signings and book festivals.
I've pitched my work to agents and editors (and as of a few days ago, producers!) in one-on-one settings and received feedback.
But this would be the first time in 36 years I've heard my words interpreted by actors.
In this case, the actors were via the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA), Toronto.
The Female Eye Film Festival's Script Development Track coordinator, Lindsey, did a great job organizing actors to read from 20 pages of the festival's nine selected screenplays. Each actor played a role, or sometimes several roles, depending on the screenplay excerpt. (I admit, I've tried to imagine what THAT spreadsheet must look like...) One actor serves as narrator, to read action blocks.
An hour is allotted for each reading. The reading itself takes about 20-25 minutes, and is done in front of an open-to-the-public audience, as well as a panel of producers/script editors/other film professionals.
After the reading, the panel gives notes, or feedback, on what works in the piece and what could use some improvement. Some panelists will have read only the excerpt; others, the full screenplay. Then, if there is time, the audience is free to make comments or ask questions about the work.
Someone please remind me: how does this thing called "breathing" work, exactly?
It seemed easy enough... until it was my turn. I will admit to sudden forgetfulness about just how does one breath, anyway? Is it exhale, inhale... or inhale, exhale...
Then I met the actors who would play my Donna and my Will, the siblings at the heart of My One Square Inch of Alaska, and I found myself thinking, awwwww! The actors, who'd never met before, looked like they COULD be siblings. They wanted to know my take on the characters' motivations, and so on. I met the other actors as well--the narrator, MayJune, Bettina, Gina, Jimmy, Hank and Charlie.
(Trusty, the canine star of the story is left, alas, to the imagination. Later though, dining al fresco, a big goofy smile came over me as someone walked by with a beautiful husky.)
Ahhh. I remembered, it's inhale, exhale, and repeat as needed.
I'm not going to be modest here. It felt magical to hear my words come to life, to sit in the front row and hear the actors fall into the roles and relationships that had, at one point, only existed in my imagination. The audience gasped at the right spots, and laughed at the right spots, and at the end burst into enthusiastic applause.
Then it was time to hear the panelist's views. (Inhale, exhale; inhale, exhale...) Their comments were overwhelmingly positive. I was eager to hear whether or not the dual time track of Donna and Will on the road, going back and forth with Donna and Will in Ohio, worked for them. It did! I got some notes on filling in a few gaps--ones that didn't exist in the novel, but I've learned that in an adaptation, one leaves a lot out--but those are easily fixed.
The audience had glowing comments, too, and wanted to know more about my inspiration for the story and my background.
I was particularly pleased by the reaction of one of the screenwriters whose work was read and reviewed before mine. This screenwriter is also a director, and has produced movies under her belt. Her current screenplay already has A-list actors attached. Plus, she looks like Sigourney Weaver, As in, I thought, oh my, this is Sigourney Weaver's twin sister! (When we chatted, she told me that she gets told this all the time. I refrained from telling her that in my first mystery series, Patricia Delaney looks like Sigourney Weaver in my imagination.)
When I turned around to take audience comments and questions, this screenwriter was beaming at me, clearly pleased on my behalf. Later, she found me and said "Here's how you're going to make a 60-90 second promotional film to go out as part of your pitch package." And then she gave me an outline and tips.
Well. Okay. If I've learned anything over 30 plus years in trying to create stories that might have a shot at reaching readers (and in this case, viewers), it's when to recognize a professional who knows what she's talking about, and to shut up and take notes.
So, I took notes.
Community Shout Outs... I'd like to thank...
You know, looking back at the experience, my momentary forgetfulness of how to breathe notwithstanding, I realize it was a great experience because I was prepared. I was prepared by many years of being a novelist and knowing how to take notes from agents/editors. I was prepared by knowing what I don't know and learning, with the help of great people and books, how a screenplay is a different beast than a novel. I was prepared by getting feedback from two readers--one a friend, Ron Rollins, and the other a film producer/screenwriter and new friend, Ann Rotolante.
And at the risk of sounding like I'm giving a speech, I have to say that I was prepared for this experience in Toronto because of how supported I feel by my creative community in my hometown. I still think about Megan Cooper, a friend and the former director of FilmDayton, meeting me for coffee to chat about the possibility of my writing a screenplay, and her saying, "Of course you're going to write a screenplay. It will be good for you!" and about Beth Duke, a local producer, also meeting me for coffee after reading the novel and saying, "You're going to write this as a screenplay. How soon can you do that?"
Then there are all the writer friends who reassure me I'm NOT nuts, well, at least not for pursuing creative dreams, and writers, readers and fans from beyond my hometown who cheer me on, too.
The realization of all of that, plus the joy of hearing actors bring my characters to life, made for a mountain-top experience!