Bret Wood's Efforts and Exploits

An updated guide to film and DVD work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Retreat! (Part Two)

At the conclusion of the afternoon session, the participants were allowed about three hours of free time. Some chose sleep. I chose to stop obsessing about my script by seeing someone else's movie, so Doug and I caught the 4:50 showing of Into Thin Air.

Saturday evening at 8:00 pm, a public reading of excerpts of the six winning scripts was held at the 14th Street Playhouse. The scripts were ready by a panel of actors, most of whom were recruited from an IMAGE acting workshop.

Photo by Charles Judson

Staged readings can be pretty rough on a screenwriter -- especially if the screenwriter is a control freak like myself. But the cast did an excellent job of flitting between horror, comedy, drama and various points in between -- with no rehearsal with the writers (though I'm told at least one managed to grab some prep time with the readers).

Photo by Charles Judson

In hindsight I should've chosen a better scene from my script (I picked a montage sequence that's largely a monologue). CHalk up one more lesson learned. This was yet another thing I discussed with Joy and other participants: how to choose a scene for an out-of-context scene (Don't worry about conveying the crux of the story, just pick a scene that has some inter-character energy). Will the learning ever stop?

No. But it was put on hold at 10:00 pm. At this point a few people peeled off to the hotel while most of the crew headed to Ponce for late-night pizza fellowship, and then a visit to the legendary Clermont Lounge.

Sorry, no photos -- yet. Apparently Yarrow Wayman (whose script Molewhackers was among the winners) managed to squeeze off a photos, with flash, on the Clermont dance floor without having her camera confiscated or her person ejected. In this photo you will no doubt see a group of aspiring writers and accomplished mentors sacrificing their dignity on a crowded dance floor in the name of camaraderie. Afterward, it was officially called a night.


The participants were marching a little more slowly as they made the treacherous crossing of Peachtree Road to the Mitchell House (not far from the very spot where the grand dame of southern literature met her untimely end on the grille of a taxicab).

To begin the final day's festivities, each of the mentors told about themselves and offered anecdotal advice about the business of selling scripts to studios, and preparing projects for independent investment. They discussed the twin-edged blade of pigeonholing (specializing in a single genre helps you create an identity and get repeat jobs, but it is nearly impossible to break out of a mold once you've carved a space inside one).

Turns out one of the winners, Jennifer Deaton (Pentimenti) is a script reader for several companies, so she was able to talk about what kinds of scripts stand the best chance of getting past the sentries. Mentor Michael Lucker (Wes Craven's Vampire in Brooklyn) shared some of his methods of establishing "heat" around a spec script. Traci Carroll talked about the process of straight-to-video development deals at Warner Home Video... and what it was like to be the resident Scooby Doo expert. Kent Osborne discussed life after Spongebob and the politics of mumblecore. Producer Molly Mayeux warned of the dangers of overextending yourself, among other pitfalls of independent film.

Day three: Joy Kecken and Bret Wood, running out of steam.

The conversation went on so long we had to abbreviate the repeat visits with our designated mentors. We had just enough time to confer about the staged readings and be sure that the previous day's avalanche of information had begun to be absorbed.

And then, after a group photo on the front lawn, the airport departures commenced.

Prostrate: IMAGE Communications Director Charles Judson. Kneeling (l-r): IMAGE Executive Director Gabe Wardell, winner Jennifer Deaton (Pentimenti), mentor Kent Osborne, mentor Doug Sadler, IMAGE Festival Director Dan Krovich. Standing (l-r): mentor Joy Lusco Kecken, mentor Michael Lucker, winner Caitlin McCarthy (Vera), winner Steven Brooks (Apparition), winner Yarrow Wayman (Molewhackers), mentor Traci Carroll, mentor Molly Mayeux, winner Avi Weider (Zeroes and Ones), IMAGE Managing Director Paula Martinez, me.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Retreat! (Part One)

So what exactly is the "prize package" that comes with winning the first annual Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition? Now that the weekend is over, and the prize has been claimed, I thought it worth sharing a little about my experience. Several people in the local film community, as well as the Withoutabox film community, were a little shy to submit to the competition, because there was no cash award, and the promise of "workshop retreat with industry professionals" was kind of an unknown quantity.

So I'll provide a brief narrative. Let me say up front that it's the single most productive and educational experience I've ever had, in terms of developing a screenplay and plotting a film career.

The festivities got underway Friday evening with a cozy reception at the Wyndham Hotel in Midtown. It was a casual meet'n'greet with a lot of table-hopping.

Saturday morning at the crack of nine, we marched from the hotel to the Margaret Mitchell House / Center for Southern Literature for breakfast and ice-breaking. It was at first a little tough to remember who's who, there being six writers and six mentors, most of whom had never met before. But IMAGE Managing Director Paula Martinez opened up a can of Americorps-inspired communications exercises and the ice was summarily broken. Due to a confidence agreement I signed upon entry, I cannot reveal the details of some of these exercises, but suffice it to say, secrets and lies were shared and an atmosphere of lively discussion was established.

From there, each writer had a lengthy one-on-one meeting with a mentor. When I'd done something like this before, the mentor shared general advice about the industry and offered a couple of good pointers. But in this case, the depth of discussion was far greater, and the advice given was tuned specifically to my script and my situation as a filmmaker. I met with Joy Kecken, whom a prior Google search revealed to be a filmmaker whose credits include writing and/or directing episodes of Homicide: Life on the Street, The Wire and Standoff.

Joy Kecken and myself, talking shop in Margaret's house.

She was very enthusiastic about my script, and offered very detailed recommendations of what my next steps should be, in terms of getting that boulder started on its way back up the hill. After discussing the process of writing and rewriting, and the amount of self-advocacy it takes to get a film in production (for even the most established filmmakers), I realized I had been hiding in my office, endlessly refining The Seventh Daughter because I'm so dreading the process of getting that rock rolling. But Joy's genuine affection for the script has definitely lit a fire under my chair (in fact, I really need to keep this brief because I have work to do).

Beyond the bracing pep-talk, Joy offered very detailed notes and suggestions about my screenplay. I've had scripts read by people before, but have never had someone analyze my work to this degree. It was clear that she had read it carefully, contemplated it in great detail, and our discussion was almost like one side of my brain talking to the other side, if that makes any sense. I've been working on this thing for so long, obsessing over its details, that I've lost all perspective and really forgotten exactly how the currents of plot and theme flow. Talking to Joy brought the script back into focus in my mind and allowed me to get a fresh view of its strengths, as well as its flaws.

12:00 - 1:00 lunch

After lunch, I spent the afternoon working with Doug Sadler, a Sundance workshops alumnus whose 2005 film Swimmers won the New American Cinema Award at the Seattle Film Festival.

Doug Sadler lays it out for Bret on the Mitchell balcony.

The conference, which took place on a porch at the Mitchell House, began with a dose of tough love. Doug had clearly read the script with as much attention to detail as Joy had, and began to ask some questions about the plot that I didn't really have answers for -- much to my embarrassment. A sketch in my notes shows me in a hangman's noose, with x'es for eyes. But the longer we talked, the more I realized what he was getting at. I had chosen to leave some details vague in the script -- which was fine. But he cleverly showed me that it's fine to be vague with the audience, but I can't afford to be vague with myself. As he put it, "The middle road is going to kill you." These words are now printed and pasted to the front of my computer. By MY not knowing how some of the dots connect within the story, I was missing out on opportunities to strengthen character, intensify the suspense and make the climax more meaningful.

The funny thing was, Doug's guidance led me to the same place as Joy's, but each had taken a different path to get there. In the end, I felt I had been instilled with a) the motivation to start pushing the script, b) a yearning to get back to my computer and start writing again, and c) the tools and insights I needed to take a good script and make it bullet-proof. That's always been my ambition -- but I've never known exactly how to do it.

You can read all the screenwriting books in the world. I've read my share. But they only give you some theoretical advice. The thing that money can't buy is the advice of someone (with real-world film experience) who has read your screenplay with intense interest, making notes about how to improve it, and who delivers those notes to you face-to-face and is willing to go through the script scene by scene and answer questions and talk about how these ideas could be integrated.

That's something you can't get in a book, you can't get through some online service writing "coverage" for a script, and generally can't get from letting friends, family or competitors critique your script (there are usually so many social issues involved, that you never get totally honest feedback -- and in some cases even the writer doesn't really want totally honest feedback).

So if I'd been given the choice between a $5,000 cash prize and the weekend mentorship, I can absolutely say I'd prefer the mentorship. Because a cash prize, unless we're talking about something in the six-figure range, isn't going to help me get my film made.

More on the retreat later.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Reading a Script or Two... or Six

If you're in Atlanta this weekend, I encourage you to go to the 14th Street Playhouse on Saturday evening 11/10, 8:00 pm, to attend the staged reading of the winning scripts of the first annual Atlanta Film Festival Screenplay Competition. Admission is free.

No, they won't be reading six scripts... but approximately ten pages from each script (including my screenplay for The Seventh Daughter), presumably with some Q&A time with the writers.

The Screenwriting Retreat begins Friday, and runs through Sunday, and I hope to blog some of the details -- either during the retreat or after the fact, energy permitting.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Beauty in Darkness

Just found out that Peter Tupper reviewed Psychopathia on his blog Beauty in Darkness. Peter is writing a book on the history of BDSM and was interested in viewing the film for any insights it might have into Krafft-Ebing, and the varied worlds of S&M and B&D.

CLICK HERE to read the review. It is always gratifying to read the comments of someone who has taken the time to consider the film on a level more serious than "Was it hot or was it not?" The review concludes:

"Wood's film is not a standard movie. It isn't a documentary with narrative elements, like Writer of O, nor is it a narrative film based on true events, or a narrative film in the usual sense. It's perhaps a kind of fable, Grimm's fairytales or Struwwelpeter for the dawn of the twentieth century and the age of science. Like pre-Disney fables and fairy tales, they have their own eerie dream logic. It's hard to compare Psychopathia Sexualis to anything else I've seen, but on its own terms it's worth seeing if you have any interest in this subject."