A Wish Come True

Andrew Kwatinetz, President of the Board of Directors, shares the success and tips from his former classmate Kent Jameson, alumni of the Three Week Intensive, about his new film ALL SHE WISHES 

“I felt as though I was always in the way, but everyone treated me well and allowed me to be sort of this 213-pound fly on the wall,” recounted Kent Jameson about his experience in South Carolina on the set during the filming of ALL SHE WISHES. “It was chaotic, confusing, and sometimes mind-numbingly boring. I loved every minute of it.”

Kent, who was in my 3-week-intensive class at TheFilmSchool, co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Jessica. He’s been writing screenplays since 2001, and this was his first sale. It was purchased by DAVED Productions in October 2012 and Mar Vista Entertainment has picked up the distribution rights.

Kent shared some tips based on what he’s learned.

First and foremost, “Write it and then re-write it, ad nauseam.” And, take advantage of help where you can find it. For instance, “Get a good editor.” He also found it “worth every penny” to pay for professional script notes. He used both Kathie Fong Yoneda and Tracey Becker.

And then, “Pitch it.” He and Jessica attended the Great American Pitchfest in Burbank and “pitched it to a slew of agents and producers and made a ton of connections.” 16 pitches at Burbank resulted in 12 requests. “The actual sale resulted from a posting I made on InkTip.com, which I highly recommend.”

Kent is a technical publication specialist at Boeing. He’s a morning person, so his typical writing gets done at 5am on weekdays and, I’m not sure this counts as sleeping in, 5:30am on weekends.

“Having a writing partner is a great way to create a story,” according to Kent. He and Jessica plot out the story together and then Kent does the “grunt work” of cranking out the scenes. “Having a spouse for a writing partner helps because she is an expert at corralling our eight-year-old daughter so I can get in some quality writing-time in the afternoons as well.”

ALL SHE WISHES tells the story of: “When a girl’s wish for a date to the Sadie Hawkins dance magically appears in the form of a New York model, she has to find a way to get him home before he’s stuck in small-town America forever.” Editing should be finished in October and it is on track to be available in 2015.

Congratulations to Kent and Jessica, and thanks for sharing your story and tips!

It all starts with a great story. Learn the craft from story pros like Stewart Stern (REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE) and Tom Skerritt (ALIEN, TOP GUN, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT) at TheFilmSchool in Seattle. For more details, seewww.thefilmschool.com.

A Day in the Life

With the 3 Week Intensive starting this weekend, Colin McKinnon shares what he’s looking forward to and why.

The 3 Week Intensive starts this weekend and I’m getting pumped.

As a playwright, I was once asked to participate in a Play-in-a-Day festival. This meant that in a span of 24 hours, I would have to come up with a ten-minute script that would then be put on and directed by an acting troupe the following evening.

At 8pm on a Friday evening I was sent a detailed description of the actors I had at my disposal, including their ages and any accents or special talents in their repertoire, a list of available props, and one line of dialogue that I absolutely had to include in the script. It was due by 8am on Saturday morning.

I panicked for a minute, but knowing what I had to work with made the process so much easier to manage. All night I clicked and clacked at my laptop, hoping that if I faltered at any point, a funny line of dialogue would come to me at three o’clock in the middle of the night. When the sun came up, I sent off my script and twelve hours later a very talented director and group of actors brought my words to life. The best part was, the script I wrote wasn’t complete junk.

As much as I enjoy a nice relaxing couple of days to wind down the work week, I wouldn’t trade it for what I learned about myself and my writing that weekend. Adrenaline can be a real asset for those in the creative arts.

That experience, in addition to the great many tools of the trade I will learn over the next 3 weeks, have me looking forward to the 48 Hour Film Project. After surviving 12 hours a day, 6 days a week for 3 straight weeks, a deadline of 48 hours doesn’t rattle my nerves one bit. I can meet a deadline. Bring on the 48 Hour Film Project.

Do you have what it takes to tell your story in only 48 hours? You’d be surprised.

Talk to you in 3 weeks.

Screenwriting, filmmaking and storytelling. All the tools you need to succeed are at Posted in General | Leave a reply

Plans for First Tuesday?

It’s difficult to figure out how to get good ideas off the ground. But, when you meet the right people and gain the required technical skills, the sky’s the limit. Board President Andrew Kwatinetz shares his thoughts on why First Tuesday, is the best Tuesday.

Plans for First Tuesday?

I got to meet John Lasseter way back in 1991, years before he wrote and directed Pixar’s first feature, TOY STORY, and his meteoric rise and eventual return to Disney Animation as their chief creative officer. My team at Microsoft was in the early stages of planning a “social user interface” for Office. Yes, I’m talking about Clippy, but that’s a long story for another time…

It was clear even then that Lasseter was going places. He impressed me with his passion for animating objects through their intrinsic properties rather than artificially imposing human features on them. Pixar brought to life straws, bottles, gum, candy, and the lamp that now stars in their logo sequence (I imagine there must have been huge debates in the Pixar hallways before deciding to add eyes to Lightning McQueen and the gang in CARS). Through this early work, he learned a great deal about developing characters through action. He recounted how viewers insisted that the larger lamp in the 2-minute, animated short LUXO JR was the smaller lamp’s mother. But, what impressed me most was how, despite the external view of Pixar as an animation software technology company, their main focus was good, old-fashioned story.

Brian McDonald, who teaches for TheFilmSchool, reflected in his blog about the first time he was invited to teach at Pixar, “I was as nervous as I have ever been in my life. I worship these people.” And yet, “The people at Pixar could not have been nicer. They were sweet, generous and humble people. Not one person swaggered with pride or puffed their chest out. These were the people who made TOY STORY and TOY STORY 2, A BUG’S LIFE, MONSTERS, INC., THE INCREDIBLES and, my personal favorite, FINDING NEMO, and they walked with their feet planted firmly on the ground. And strangest thing of all — they wanted to hear what I had to say about story construction.” This desire to keep learning is perhaps why they continue to succeed.

Working at Disney sounds like a dream opportunity for a screenwriter. One way to get a foot in that door is through the Disney Fellowship Screenwriting Competition

Mary Elder, a Seattle-based screenwriter, is a past winner of the Disney Fellowship. She met studio executives, got representation, and sold projects. From 2006-2009, she was a popular screenwriting instructor at UW. I’ve read her work, and even her rough first drafts are brilliant.

Mary is speaking tomorrow night on the topic “Putting Your Best Script Forward – Winning Strategies for Entering Screenplay Competitions,” followed by Q&A. It’s the latest installment of TheFilmSchool First Tuesdays, 6:30pm at Roy Street Coffee & Tea in Capitol Hill. This free series has been going on since early 2010. Come grab a drink and join fellow industry folks and story enthusiasts for what is sure to be an interesting discussion.

Want to put your best script forward? TheFilmSchool has classes for that. For more details, see www.thefilmschool.com.

Lucky Me

luck, n.- the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person’s life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities.

Lucky Me

Have you seen LUCKY THEM, directed by 3 Week Intensive instructor Megan Griffiths?

You should.

I’m having difficulty putting into words exactly how much I enjoyed this film. An important factor to consider is that I am a resident of the city of Seattle, specifically the Capitol Hill neighborhood. That’s where a significant portion of LUCKY THEM took place. I knew these characters, I could recognize the settings, and I spoke their language. That’s an amazing gift to give an audience. My favorite part was when local actor Wally Dalton showed up on screen. You might remember him from fellow TFS alumnus Shawn Telford’s film, B.F.E.

When you walk around the Emerald City, you can see how many stories are just waiting to be told, akin to an apple ripe for the picking. What’s my story? What’s YOURS?

To me, the great thing about the 3 Week Intensive is that I will have access to people that share my love of storytelling and have the know-how and elbow grease to help me realize my vision. All I need to succeed is right here.

The people that have already gone through the 3 Week Intensive? Lucky them. The fact that I get to? Lucky me.

TheFilmSchool was founded on the belief that powerful stories can lift the human condition, which is why all of our courses focus on story above all else. For more details on our classes, see thefilmschool.com.

Who Do You Know?

Board President Andrew Kwatinetz shares his thoughts on why TheFilmSchool isn’t just an incredible learning environment, but an extensive community of like-minded individuals who recognize that no great film ever gets made alone.

Who Do You Know?

Joan Rivers told my graduating class at University of Pennsylvania, which included her daughter Melissa, “Remember as you go out into the world with your fancy college degrees, it’s not who you know… it’s whom you know.”

I recently caught up with my TheFilmSchool classmate, Kevin Rexroat, over coffee. We chatted about the progress of our screenplays, gave each other feedback and ideas, and shared inspiration and support. It’s been over ten years since I went through TheFilmSchool’s 3-Week Intensive, but I still keep in touch with many of my fellow alumni. Through them, I’ve found writing partners, writing groups to join, and film projects to get involved with; I’ve been referred for writing jobs, and I’ve made invaluable contacts in the industry.

At additional TheFilmSchool events, such as the free First Tuesdays and story workshops, I’ve extended my network to include graduates from other sessions, such as Heather Pilder Olson who took the 3-Week Intensive in the summer of 2010.

Heather recently shared with me, “All of the film projects I’ve written, produced, and worked on have been collaborative efforts with other TFS alumni. The Film School has inspired my five screenplays, four short films, three trips to the Austin Film Festival, two writers’ retreats, and a feature documentary. And, I’m now directing a short film called Date Stories! I have three other TFS alumni working on this film with me.”

Heather has an IndieGoGo campaign for DATE STORIES that I was happy to support. Other projects I’ve recently supported that involve more than one TheFilmSchool participant include the dramatic short EVERY BEAUTIFUL THING and the feature documentary GOLD BALLS.

The main reason to come to TheFilmSchool is the outstanding instruction on the craft of story from a faculty made up of industry professionals. Success in this line of work absolutely depends on what you know. But, if you’re like me, you’ll also appreciate the opportunity to meet and bond with smart and passionate people who share this journey to tell our stories.

TheFilmSchool was founded on the belief that powerful stories can lift the human condition, which is why all of our courses focus on story above all else. For more details on our classes, see thefilmschool.com.

If The Situation Warrens

In anticipation of Session One of TheFilmSchool’s “From Script to Screen” series, “Unstick Your Script,” Colin McKinnon turned the tables on Warren Etheredge and asked him a couple of questions.

You want people to come prepared to class this weekend. What does that mean?

Well, they should have a log line, which is a one sentence summary of the script, and then a synopsis, which is a brief summary of the overall plot. I say brief, it can be as long as you want, but I like to fall back on the Einstein quote that says, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

How long should the script be?

I think seven pages is a good number. You can come with a full script, which means you’ll have more to work with, but a shorter script is easier to work with.

What’s the biggest problem people have with their scripts?

They don’t know the story. I’ve seen full scripts in LA with no story. [the new] GODZILLA is an example of a failed script. It felt like two movies in one.
[Fellow instructor] Tom Skerritt has a story where he finished shooting the movie WHITEOUT, then got a call two months later because they only had an hour of story.

What are your favorite movies, visually and scriptwise?

I really liked THE FOUNTAIN. You can critique the script, but I found it to be moving and romantic and beautiful. COLLATERAL is one of my favorite scripts. It proves you can have a great script and make an entertaining movie.

What’s one of the biggest challenges for writers?

If not intelligence, perspective. Just about anyone can make an audience cry. To make them laugh AND cry is a gift, finding humor in a situation that doesn’t necessarily have any.

What, to you, is the perfect Seattle movie?

POLICE BEAT is a great Seattle movie, visually, because it’s not just the Space Needle and the fish market. Also, at SIFF this year there was a great film [produced by TFS alum Jennifer Riebman] called 4 MINUTE MILE that had a very Seattle feel to it. It embodied the Seattle Spirit.

How would you define the Seattle Spirit?

For me, the Seattle Spirit is a striving, social climbing and socially awkward little brother who wishes he was the big brother.

I look forward to seeing you this weekend.

Can’t wait.

Details at Unstick Your Script

Moving Pictures

Films don’t get made solely to entertain. They can be instruments of education and social change, as well. In the spirit of “Show, don’t tell,” Board President Andrew Kwatinetz explains the impact that films can have and the long-lasting impressions that they can make.

Moving Pictures

Want to convince someone to be a more careful driver? Forget warnings, statistics, logic, lectures… show them this one-minute video instead: http://youtu.be/bvLaTupw-hk.

Research has shown that stories are the most effective way to change someone’s behavior. We cannot help but be drawn into a well-told story… it’s in our DNA. Experiencing a story invokes a brain response as if you lived through it yourself.

Film, in particular, has become a great tool for building movements aimed at changing perceptions and improving the world. Take, for example, GIRL RISING (girlrising.com), co-produced locally by Vulcan Productions. You can fill spreadsheets and PowerPoint slides with arguments that demonstrate the incredible impact of giving girls around the world greater access to education. The film chose instead to focus on nine individual stories, bringing the issue to life in a way statistics cannot. Why invest in a film rather than just building schools? According to their web site: “We could have spent the same amount of money to build 100 schools in just one country, but a powerful film, distributed widely, can change the way governments allocate resources, the way philanthropists choose investments, the way mothers and fathers value their girls. In the long term, millions of people changing their attitudes and behavior will create more impact than 100 new schools.”

This isn’t just the domain of non-fiction storytelling. Producer Jane Charles (who is an instructor at TheFilmSchool) screened her latest film SOLD (soldthemovie.com) at the Seattle International Film Festival. Millions of girls around the world and in the US are forced to work as slaves in the sex industry. The average age of a trafficked girl is thirteen. Sadly, this is not a new issue and meaningful change is long overdue. Jane told a sold-out audience at SIFF how her goal was never just to tell a story, but to create a movement by putting a face to this story. Jane and the film’s director Jeffrey Brown made multiple trips to Nepal and India to research their story of a trafficked thirteen year old, based on the award-winning novel by Patricia McCormick. They set up a non-profit here in Seattle (stolenyouth.org) and are working on other uses of the film to educate people on this important issue.

Movies like GIRL RISING and SOLD had a personal impact on me that lives on, long after the tears. By taking us through emotional journeys, films like these create urgency and deeper understanding. Only by igniting movements can we really tackle these complex global issues.

I’m reminded of other stories – many in film – that have shaped my understanding of the world. One viewing of LONG NIGHT’S JOURNEY INTO DAY, a documentary about the reconciliation in South Africa, completely changed my view of justice and the power of forgiveness. As a husband and father, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE and LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL are deeply entwined with my feelings of duty and sacrifice. FIELD OF DREAMS made me reach out to estranged family. TheFilmSchool alumnus Julio Ramirez’s film NOTHING AGAINST LIFE inspired me to share encouragement, and a smile, with strangers. The list goes on and on…

“Tell me a fact and I will learn. Tell me a truth and I will believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” – Native American Proverb

If you’re serious about writing or filmmaking, get out from behind your keyboard and come to TheFilmSchool in Seattle to learn from Tom Skerritt and other masters of the craft. Details at 3 Week Intensive.

A Few Short Thoughts on Interactive Fiction

Aspects of storytelling appear in all walks of life. In role-playing games and video games, you are your own director. In his next blog post, Max McFarland explores what you can extrapolate from these experiences.

Alright. Confession time.

I play Dungeons & Dragons. You know, the one with the dice and all the nerds and stuff. I might not play in a basement, at least not usually, but all the same, there it is.

Okay. So?

I’ve wanted to write a blog post about Dungeons & Dragons for a while because the storytelling aspects of the game are really interesting,and I think that they share some similarities with video games which can help to illustrate some of the differences between traditional and interactive narratives.

First off, an explanation for those of you who aren’t familiar with the basic process behind roleplaying games like D&D:

Each person in the group takes control of a single character in a story, with a single player taking on the role of the narrator. The narrator and the player characters work together to craft a story, with the narrator presenting a situation, the players describing the reaction of their characters, and the narrator describing the result, and so forth. A framework of rules is used to a greater or lesser degree to adjudicate the interactions between the characters and the world created by the narrator.

If you don’t really understand, that’s fine.

I think the important thing to understand from a writing perspective is that while one player, the narrator, has the majority of the storytelling responsibility, the focus of the story is on the characters, which are outside of the narrator’s control.

Try to imagine writing a story in which your main character could choose not to do what you wanted them to. In this way, Dungeons & Dragons is not dissimilar from a video game, at least from a narrative perspective.

On the surface, this seems like a terrible way to write a story. However, the allowance for audience agency, in my opinion, allows for some distinct and unique benefits.

One of the most difficult parts of writing any story is making sure that your audience is as invested in the characters as you are. By allowing the players control over their characters, it creates a shortcut to audience investment as the players are drawn into their characters by virtue of their required action.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, audience agency takes the meaning of the story out of the sole ownership of the author, and places it in a communal position where both author and audience contribute, and the meaning and thematic implications of the story that results comes out of not only the authors perspective, but out of all participants in the story.

Next time, I’ll explore these ideas further, and find some examples of the principles in action.

If you’re serious about writing, filmmaking, or storytelling, in general, get out from behind your keyboard and come to TheFilmSchool in Seattle to learn from Tom Skerritt and other masters of the craft. Details at 3 Week Intensive.

The Long AH-HA Moment

Embarking on the journey of storytelling can be nerve-wracking and intimidating, and that’s okay. The 3 Week Intensive is there so you can elevate your craft. As I will be attending the 3 Week Intensive this year, I asked 3WI alum and writer and director of BFE about it.

SIFF was amazing this year. It was a truly positive experience for me because there were so many great films to choose from and see at iconic Seattle venues. The real highlight for me was seeing BFE, a film written and directed by TheFilmSchool 3-Week Intensive alumnus, Shawn Telford. The film intertwined stories from intriguing, life-like characters who find themselves living in a far-flung, unpalatable location, in less than ideal conditions, hence the title (if you don’t know, I encourage you to look up what BFE stands for at your leisure).

I can’t say enough good things about this movie. The characters and situations felt real, the dialogue was sharp, and the music was exceptional. Unfortunately, it also made me a little nervous. Was this the caliber of talent I would be dealing with when I took the 3 Week Intensive? Would I feel like a fool? Was it worth it?

I asked Shawn about his experience over the course of the 3 Week Intensive. He could not have been more gracious and charming when he said:

The Film School Bootcamp was one long AH-HA moment for me. Not only did I learn a tremendous truth about myself, it transformed my writing and my approach to writing and storytelling. The proof is in my film BFE, which I wrote after completing the intensive.

My feelings after that when from nervous and forlorn to anxious and hopeful. I can’t wait to dive in with the instructors. I can’t wait for that AH-HA moment. I can’t wait to learn the tools necessary to make a film like BFE.

I can’t wait to tell my story.

If you’re serious about writing or filmmaking, get out from behind your keyboard and come to TheFilmSchool in Seattle to learn from Tom Skerritt and other masters of the craft. Details at 3 Week Intensive.

Channeling Tom Skerritt

Get to know our staff. Board President Andrew Kwatinetz shares his experience with co-founder and instructor Tom Skerritt.

Channeling Tom Skerritt

Recently, I found myself alone on a Saturday morning… a perfect time to lounge back and see what’s on TV. The first movie I ran across was the sci-fi classic, CONTACT. The scene at that moment featured one of my instructors from TheFilmSchool, Tom Skerritt. I love Tom’s performance as the coolly opportunistic David Drumlin. After a bit, I flipped channels and ran across a movie I hadn’t seen in years: the original THE DEAD ZONE. And there was Tom again… I had forgotten that he played the town sheriff. I took in some of Tom’s scenes before flipping again. I landed on a movie I had never seen and didn’t even know existed: PARENT TRAP 2, starring a grown-up Hayley Mills as identical twins Susan and Sharon 25 years later. And sure enough, into the scene walks Tom Skerritt.

My experience should come as no surprise since Tom has over 160 acting credits (and growing) on his IMDB page. His body of work includes MASH, TOP GUN, ALIEN, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, and he won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor for the television series PICKET FENCES.

We are so lucky to have someone with Tom’s experience and talent as a co-founder and instructor for TheFilmSchool.

Tom’s class in TheFilmSchool’s 3-week intensive, a boot camp for writers and filmmakers, is called “Get Up on Your Feet.” Screenplays are written to be performed and Tom showed us up-close how actors bring written work to life. It was a humbling experience watching a master at work. He assigned us to teams to direct and act out each other’s work so we could experience first-hand going from words to performance. He pushed us to get into the moment and coached us on making choices with the material.

I admit it was scary… I feel much safer behind the keyboard than acting out a scene. But, that’s the point. What better way for a writer to learn these lessons? My writing has definitely improved as a result.

If you’re serious about writing or filmmaking, get out from behind your keyboard and come to TheFilmSchool in Seattle to learn from Tom Skerritt and other masters of the craft. Details at 3 Week Intensive.