Every year, the screenwriter’s organization CineStory hosts a script contest from which a small group of writers are invited to attend a four-day writer’s retreat. I think I learned about the organization on MovieBytes.com – a few writers weighed in on a message board to praise the retreat, so my interest was piqued and I entered the contest. Little did I know then what a privilege it would be when BENEATH THE SURFACE placed as a semi-finalist and qualified me to attend the retreat. Nestled in the gorgeous mountain town of Idyllwild, California, the retreat took place this past weekend and felt like a summer camp for screenwriters. More importantly, the information learned and relationships formed will benefit me for the rest of my career.
Like the Austin Film Festival and Conference, the CineStory retreat offers a number of informal panels that feature working industry professionals talking about what they do and offering advice on how to navigate the crazy business of show. But the CineStory experience only has about forty-five participants in total, making it so much more intimate than Austin. I also got to sit down with three separate “mentors” for an hour-and-a-half each to talk about my scripts. A manager and a producer read AUNT MOLLY’S MELTDOWN and offered me their respective opinions on what is working and what needs work in the script. (As it turns out, Aunt Molly and I will be spending more dedicated time together in the near future. Despite its good performance in some contests, there just isn’t any “there” there yet. Yes, that’s my highly-technical writerly analysis of the feedback.) And my one-on-one on BENEATH THE SURFACE was with an incredibly smart and insightful working screenwriter who went through the script page-by-page to go over his invaluable notes. He was complimentary about my writing yet also challenged me to amp it up even more. His criticisms were accompanied by suggestions for solutions – or, at the very least, got us both brainstorming over possible solutions. How exciting to be creatively collaborating with someone who knows his stuff!
Ultimately, though, the heart of why CineStory is a triumph is because of the people who participate in it. Not only are the organization’s administrators fun and nurturing people, but the mentors are so generous in giving us their time, energy, and imagination. And my fellow writers were exceptionally cool and talented, too – I’ve established some great new friendships and outlets for feedback and encouragement. At the end of the weekend, one of them thanked CineStory and the mentors for providing a safe creative space for us – I thought that was a lovely way of putting it. Sometimes it’s hard to remember why we pursue this challenging and often demoralizing business, but at its essence it’s because we love telling stories. And the retreat and those who participate in it serve as a reminder that there are honorable people out there – both the successes and those who are still making their way – who will always support and inspire good storytelling.