A big thank you this week to UK screenwriter Angelina Karpovich, for sharing her experiences on the recent CINESTORY course she went to in the US –
‘I just got back from the CineStory feature retreat (http://www.cinestory.org/) in Idyllwild, California. CineStory is a foundation dedicated to mentoring emerging screenwriters. I’d heard on the grapevine that the retreat was worth taking part in, so I sent off my script to the CineStory fellowship competition. The fellowship grand prize includes $10,000, free attendance and accommodation at the retreat, and a year’s mentorship with two relevant Hollywood professionals (this year’s mentors included the writers Michael Colleary (Face/Off) and Philip Eisner (Event Horizon), as well as producers and managers). Second and third place winners don’t get a formal programme of year-long mentorship, but do get smaller cash prizes. Semi-finalists are invited to attend the retreat, and there are usually a few spots for quarter-finalists who also want to attend.
The 4-day retreat programme includes three 90-minute sessions of in-depth feedback on your script from industry mentors (mine were a writer/director, a producer, and a manager), general sessions on the craft and business of screenwriting, pitching and feedback, and film screenings.
Attending CineStory as a non-prizewinner is not cheap: over $1500 for the retreat (which does include all meals), plus accommodation, plus flights, plus getting to and from Idyllwild (a 2.5-hour drive from LA). But having been through the experience, I would say that it was unequivocally worth it. The mentor sessions were incredible. This was the most focused and detailed feedback I’d received on my writing, which made me see my own work in a completely fresh way. I also got feedback on my future writing plans and on taking the next steps in my writing career.
The general sessions were also immensely useful. Covering everything from pitching and branding yourself to taking meetings and “what the producers are looking for”, each session is an opportunity to ask questions directly to those in the know. For example, I now know how to work out the rough budget for a script, how to approach a rewriting job, and how to pitch without becoming a nervous wreck.
The retreat hosts two “fly on the wall” pitching sessions, which give every writer the opportunity to not only practice their pitch, but also hear what the producers would say about them and their project once the writer leaves. This is a terrifying but invaluable insight into the perceived marketability of your idea, from the Hollywood point of view.
Each of the attendees at the retreat gets a personalised experience and bespoke career advice. Whether one’s focus was film or television, purely writing or aiming to direct one’s own scripts, each of us felt inspired by the CineStory experience.
The retreat has an immediate sense of community, regardless of whether you’ve been before and regardless of how your script did in the competition. This is a place where screenwriting is celebrated, and writers are valued. Informal collaboration begins immediately, with everyone giving each other feedback on loglines, and continues throughout the retreat and beyond, with organising writing groups, giving each other feedback on scripts, and developing ideas we came up with together at the retreat.
If it sounds like I’m marketing CineStory, I am: it’s a unique experience, and a tremendous kick up the butt, creatively speaking. The 2016 retreat is already open for script submissions, and costs a very reasonable $45 to enter.’
LONDON FILM FESTIVAL 2015
Three more LFF films to tell you about –
Written and directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, this was a cinematic tour-de-force. Structurally really interesting – as the title suggests, the film covered one 11 minute period in an unnamed city centre, with a number of stories and events criss-crossing and converging, the same events being seen repeatedly from different perspectives, all building up to a cataclysmic denouement. The film had a real sense of pace, flair and cinematic boldness.
Written and directed by Northern Irishman Stephen Fingleton, the eponymous hero is trying to survive in a rural post-apocalyptic nightmare where it’s every man (and woman) for themselves. One of the brilliant things about this film is the economy of the dialogue. The story-telling is powerfully visual, with very little dialogue at all – which means that what dialogue there is, is very telling and powerful. And it’s impressive how much dramatic tension is generated with so little dialogue. An object lesson in visual story-telling.
Adapted by Phylis Nagy from a novel by Patricia Highsmith, about a lesbian relationship in 1950’s New York – and the repercussions for the characters involved at a time when such a relationship was so socially unacceptable. It’s a really well crafted film, with an excellent script and performances by the two leads (Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara).
SONG-WRITING / STORY-TELLING
On my ‘CREATIVITY FOR SCRIPTWRITERS’ course I talk about how screenwriters can take inspiration from story-telling in other media. I went to Randy Newman’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall last week, and he is a fantastic example of what I mean.
The way he writes songs – in that so many contain a brilliantly realized 2 ½ minute story – is an inspiration.
I MISS YOU
…he introduces as ‘a love song to my first wife written when I was with my 2nd wife.’ What a great pitch! And the song itself is as complex, ambivalent, funny and romantic as this makes it sound. It’s just a wonderful narrative premise – a man realizing when married to his 2nd wife, how much he misses his first wife!
A brilliant comment on prejudice – whether it’s racism, homophobia, sexism or whatever. Absolutely nails the absurdity and ridiculousness of prejudice – tackling a huge thorny, controversial issue – and it simultaneously makes you laugh. Takeaway – if you want to write about racism, poverty, injustice – or any similarly huge subject – come at it from an unexpected and very specific angle – and if you can tackle these big serious subjects with unexpected humour, even better.
He’s brilliant at coming at stories / subjects from an unexpected angle, or with an unlikely voice / POV.
‘Rednecks’ is about a real event – racist, segregationist governor of Georia Lester Maddox’s appearance on the Dick Cavett TV chat show in 1970 where the liberal NYC studio audience heckled over his entire appearance and wouldn’t let him be heard – but the brilliant thing about the song is that it’s told from the POV of a Southern bigot watching the show on TV back home in Georgia. This makes the song funny, creepy and satirical, while still delivering a powerful message about racism. Takeaway – stories can be transformed by the POV of the character who’s telling the story.
A FURTHER EDUCATION by Will Mortimer, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs.
When a theatre puts on a production of a play written by its own literary manager, the play had better be good! – and this play really is superb. Will Mortimer is not only apparently excellent at nurturing and selecting outstanding plays by outstanding writers (Melanie Spencer, James Fritz, Matt Hartley, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Ali Taylor) he can also write them himself! Very impressive.
This was a deeply thoughtful and charming play about education and opportunity – really well cast and directed. The central character is a woman of 50 going to university for the first time. With the audience on both sides of the action, I was sitting opposite a woman who watched the entire 2 ¼ hours of the play with a big smile on her face. I know how she felt.
Until next week,
All the best
Nov 6th 2015