We had the pleasure to chat with our Fall 2021 feature finalist Pamela Hanson about her screenwriting journey and her multiple award-winning screenplay “The Lamplighter” that is also released as a novel and has a proof of concept film available here!
Tell us more about “The Lamplighter”
I’ve always loved lighthouses and when I wrote the screenplay with the story that revolves around the building of one, I entered The Lamplighter into a few festivals, not knowing how it would pan out.
Like any other screenwriter, I wondered if anyone would like it, would it be a big flop or would it do okay? Yet I also felt enthusiasm for this original period drama, which encapsulates poverty, the aftermath of slavery, technological breakthrough and an young Robert Louis Stevenson.
Tell us more about the festival success?
This turned out to be some investment for me as I entered around thirty festivals covering 2021. In a short space of time, The Lamplighter won six festivals worldwide and placed in even more. My best friend lives in Reno and in January 2022, she asked me to enter the Reno/Tahoe Screenplay Contest. I told her I wasn’t doing any more festivals, but she insisted – and even paid for it. A few months later, the verdict was Finalist. I was happy with that. And more so pleased with the professional way the contest was held and the continued communication they have with their writers.
What is your main advise to other writers on writing a finalist screenplay?
I thought ‘What are the judges actually looking for?’ I hadn’t a clue apart from knowing the first ten pages had to capture their attention and clarify the setting and who the main character was.
We understand you also adapted the screenplay into a novel?
I had so much more detail to tell that I couldn’t squeeze into a limited number of pages in a screenplay. On October 3, 2022, my book was released and incredibly, has remained an Amazon best seller.
I am grateful for my Reno friend’s belief in The Lamplighter story. And next year I will follow suit with another screenplay, the comedy, No Spring Till Now and enter it into a string of festivals, which will definitely include the Reno/Tahoe Screenwriting Contest and will see how it goes there!
The year is 1970 and it’s a typical school day for twelve-year-old Eric, but Eric is not a typical boy. With hearing aids, a giant pair of glasses and the status of ‘outcast’, he’s a perpetual loner at the back of the class at a school for the hearing. But on the day the class lesson is ‘survival of the fittest,’ he must face the school bully and decide whether he’s a lion, a gazelle, or the king of the jungle.
What is your background/education in the film industry?
I joke that film school was an early mid-life crisis, when in fact I’d been storytelling for a long time. My career was mostly in marketing and advertising, where I developed documentary shorts about real consumer experiences. But eventually I got interested in narrative storytelling, specifically I wanted to fictionalize the stories of amazing women in history. So I decided to pursue my masters in screenwriting from London Film Academy. In 2021, I made the semifinals of the Academy Nicholl with a psychological thriller about surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, an achievement that also feels surreal.
Do you have any produced credits?
Almost! I have three projects approaching production…
How did being a finalist in RTSC help you in your career? It paved the way to my first feature film credit! The first time I submitted to RTSC I made the semifinals with a TV pilot and received some really helpful written feedback. That motivated me to submit again in 2021, which is when In the Jungle became a finalist. Afterwards, producer MJ Palo reached out to say that she enjoyed the script and my writing, and would I be interested in co-writing for a Mad Wife Productions feature project. Since then, I’ve had the incredible experience of working on feature screenplay called Being Benjamin, a dark crime-comedy that is currently in pre-production, slated to enter production in 2023.
What would you say to people thinking of submitting to RTSC? The main reason I submitted to RTSC was because the winning scripts would be produced, which is extremely unique in competitions. But I certainly didn’t expect to place twice and end up writing for a feature project! In that way, it exceeded my expectations. So I’d give anyone considering RTSC some advice based in physics: the more you put yourself out there, the more likely things are to happen… just be open to the unconventional : )
What’s happening now with your short film, In the Jungle?
In the Jungle is funded for production! After placing in RTSC, the script found its way through a friend of a friend into the hands of award-winning director Ky Dickens. The story is inspired by my father and uncle, who were born with severe-to-profound hearing loss but grew up attending schools for the hearing, where they were often bullied. Because it aligned with the social change nature of Ky’s films, she offered to direct it.
She also suggested seeking nonprofit status to fundraise for the film with tax-deductible donations. I was able to attain a fiscal sponsor pretty quickly: HEAR Wisconsin first gave my father and uncle speech and hearing therapy as far back as the 1950s, and is still doing amazing work. Since they joined the team, I’ve created partnerships with a number of other nonprofits and educational organizations in the hearing loss space; I initially offered the film as a free resource, and several plan to use it as a springboard for programs and events. A few corporations, whose technology and services have benefited my father and uncle, have also come aboard to help with funding and marketing. And critically, I would not have been able to fund the film without the family and friend network surrounding my father and uncle.
At its core, the film is a force for good and a passion project for everyone involved – I really believe that’s why we’ve been so successful in growing momentum even beyond production.
Who is the team behind the film?
Our incredible director is Ky Dickens, who is best known for her acclaimed documentaries that shift public policy and culture. She’s been hailed a storyteller at the intersection of film and complex social issues – demonstrated by receiving the Focus Award for Achievement in Directing and the Change Maker Award for influencing social change through art and film. View Ky’s work on her website. Producer Amy McIntyre is a longtime collaborator with Ky and the founder of Beeline Reps. She has produced films directed by Ky Dickens including Zero Weeks, The City That Sold America, and Sole Survivor.
How can people join the In the Jungle team?
Everyone is invited to become a producer of this special project with a tax deductible donation. Visit our website for more information.
I am also making the film available as a free resource to organizations for educational and community purposes, particularly in the hearing loss and deaf space, bullying prevention and SEL. If you are interested in distributing or working with the film, contact: chelseakania@screenplaycompetitions
What is next for your career?
Co-writing on Being Benjamin has been really special. I’d love to do more collaborative writing and would jump at the chance to work with Mad Wife again. Lastly, championing women in history is still my storytelling goal. So I’ll absolutely be pursuing ways to bring the stories of Leonora Carrington, Emilie Floge and Rosa Bonheur to life. If anyone out there shares my passion, let’s connect!
Post-production (edit, color grade, sound design, VFX)
Distribution/release – share your film with everyone!
*Optionally, you skip this step and go straight to #3
The steps above might seem either simple or intimidating but that’s what film production is all about and everyone can do it!
Of course, it helps when you work with an establish producer and production company and what Reno-Tahoe Screenplay Contest aims to give all their writers is this access!
We will break down the process above for a feature film Target List(currently in post-production) that was produced by the official production partner of Reno-Tahoe Screenplay Contest –Mad Wife Productions.
1. Write a great screenplay that has commercial viability!
Target List is an adaptation of a novel of the same name. Thefull-length screenplay was written in 2019, with some major changes to the storyline (female lead, more suspense, more character development). Once the feature script was ready, the next question always is — how do we get this produced???
2. Produce a proof-of-concept film.
The writer, John, decided to shoot a proof-of-concept film to attract investors for the feature film. The 100-page screenplay was cut to 10 pages to give an idea of the plot, characters and enough intrigue to help sell the story. This was filmed in Spring 2021 and now year later, the feature film was produced!
3. Raise the funds.
Initial investment for this was 26k, although it could be as low as 15k depending on the story. This can come from personal funds, loans, family and friends or crowdfunding. After initial funds were raised, the producers and Mad Wife Productions raised the remaining funds needed in 6 months.
Once all funds were raised, the film went to pre-production, which took about 4 months. Casting was the major part of this process, together with scheduling and locations to ensure we stayed within budget. The pre-production consisted of lot of zoom table reads, location scouting and other important things that are needed to run a successful production (lunch, food, insurance, permits).
5. Production – the fun begins!
The film was produced in 17 days in over 17 locations, which made the production slightly hectic, but everything went smoothly and not a single day exceeded 14 hours on set. The process wasn’t without some setbacks (broken stands, broken memory card, full hard-drive) – luckily these were all counted for in the budget and we were able to continue the shoot without slowdowns.
The film is currently in post-production. This involves hundreds of hours of editing, color grade, sound design, VFX, pickup shots. Rough cut is expected to be ready end of July and picture lock version in October. After that, the film goes to VFX, composer and sound design.
7. Distribution/release – share your film with everyone!
Distributor is already involved and if all goes according to plan, the film will be released Spring 2023.
8. Collect profits!
Although nothing beats the writing process (creating the world, the characters, the plot) and the production (to see it all come alive), collecting the profits will definitely be sweet!
INTERVIEW WITH WRITER JOHN REIZER
To give everyone more details from a writer who actually went through the process, we interviewed John Reizer about the process of taking his idea from script to screen:
Can you give brief description of Target List?
Target List is a high-energy, fast-paced medical thriller about the creation of a life-saving healthcare instrument and big pharma’s attempt to suppress the technology. Although the topic is serious, we made this film for everyone (PG-13) and it is packed with action and comedy.
Let’s immediately go to the main question everyone wants to ask — how much did you invest cash to produce target list feature film?
I invested $26,000. I could’ve invested as low as $15,000 but I decided to go with more so I get a bigger ownership and profit share in the film.
Where did you get this money?
Savings. I know it’s a risk to invest in a film, but you only live once and I really believe in this story and have no doubt we will all make our investments back. This is my legacy and I would take this risk any day of the week.
How did you raise the rest of the money?
That was all on the producers and Mad Wife Productions. They organized everything and within six months we had enough cash to go to production.
With only $26,000 investment, I assume this is a one location, limited character film?
Gosh, no! We have 17 locations ranging from equestrian center to houses to restaurants to motel and a laboratory. We shot the film in 17 days and had over 40 actors. This is an action-comedy that you would see Hollywood produce. We have car chases, car crashes, gun fights, fist fights, building fires and so much more. There are no limitations in this film!
How did the proof-of-concept film help make the feature film reality?
Shooting the proof of concept film did a few things for me. Number 1: being on set and watching how films are made behind the scenes was such an incredible experience I would not miss that for anything. To watch your own words come alive was just a dream come true. I also loved working with Mad Wife Productions — they are such a professional and an amazing group of filmmakers — we were laughing so much. And everyone loved being there. It really made me part of the group and I couldn’t wait to work with them again.
Number 2, showing the proof-of-concept film and releasing it on Amazon Prime got people really excited! We got other investors interested and were able to raise more money. However, I would also consider skipping the whole proof of concept production and putting all that money toward the feature film.
What do you mean?
If you only have $5000 to invest, then yeah sure do the proof of concept, but if you have closer to $20,000 to invest, then go straight to the feature film. That would be my advice. If you have that $20,000 seed money, it is so much easier to get other investors involved because you know you’re going to be able to make the film.
When will Target List be released?
Right now, the plan is to finish post-production by December 2022 and then release it early next year. We are already talking with the distributor so they will be involved with this whole post-production process to make sure we can release it as soon as possible.
Once it’s out, I hope you all will watch it!
If you are interested in producing your film, you can contact Mad Wife Productions directly: email@example.com
We had the pleasure to ask a few questions from the winner of the RTSC Spring Feature Script category — David Gray — about his screenwriting journey and experience with the contest.
1. David, first we want to congratulate you for winning the contest with your screenplay Aunt Jeannie. We would like to know a bit more about you. Can you summarize your screenwriting career up to the point you won the contest?
I’ve been writing for a long time but life intervened for a while. Four years ago, I got to return to writing full time and I’ve been solely focused on screenplays and TV scripts. I used to write stage plays and I have a couple books out. Escape from Verona: Romeo and Juliet Part Two is one I’m really proud of. It’s Juliet’s long-lost diary explaining how she and Romeo faked their suicides and escaped across north Italy. When I got back to writing full time, I looked back at stuff I’d written and found a few things to be salvageable. Aunt Jeannie I actually wrote as part of a screenwriting class I took virtually with UCLA Extension.
2. What is next in line for you now that you won and got a proof of concept film produced of Aunt Jeannie?
Mostly telling people I won! But seriously, I’m reaching out to managers and agents, looking for representation. This is the second script of mine that’s been picked up so I’d really like some help and direction on where to focus my energies, which projects are worth pursuing, that kind of thing.
3. Are you working on anything new at the moment?
I tend to write quickly so I’ve just completed two scripts, a Hallmark style holiday romance, and it’s opposite, a Bad-Santa style comedy. Now I’m working on a Rom-Com that revolves around New Year’s on Newfoundland called Lobster Drop.
4.Let’s talk more about winning the the contest. Why did you submit to the contest and what does winning the contest mean to you?
I’ve entered many contests but what really sets this one apart is that winning results in the filming of a sample. People really don’t want to read your script so if you can give them something that they can watch for a few minutes, that may be enough to get them to commit to reading it. And winning also gives you bragging rights which is very helpful when reaching out to managers and agents. They want to know you’ve got the goods and winning is a validation that professionals have recognized quality in your work.
5. How was the whole production process with Mad Wife Productions?
I had the best time working with the Mad Wife team. For one thing, they are just kind people. No egos or shouting. They are a joy to be around. I think there is this great energy that sort of says “Aren’t we all fortunate that we get to do this!” Everyone pitched in, even the sound guy found himself on screen at one point and he killed it (RTSC note: you can see this material in the film below — just watch through the end credits)! I think most productions have long days and sometimes things don’t go the way you want, or something unexpected happens. The Mad Wife team was all about making lemonade during those moments and not complaining about lemons.
6.What was the most fun thing being on the set and see your work produced?
I tend to be a very visual writer so I have a vision in my head for what each character and scene looks like. But I have learned that each person who gets involved in a project expands that vision and things I never imagined, or that I didn’t see, come out when you watch professionals turn the script into a movie. It comes to life in ways both expected and unexpected. And it’s a little intimidating to hear people take dialogue I’ve written and repeat it take after take. I mean it’s one thing to ask someone to “repeat after me” but it’s quite another to watch them commit to bringing your words to life again and again. I’m awed by their talent and commitment.
7. Is Aunt Jeannie your first produced credit?
Yes. There is another script that a Director/Producer has optioned but it’s a complicated script and it’s taking a while to get all the pieces where he wants them. He was also focused on another project for a while, a drama he was shooting in rural Russia so he’s had his hands full! Fingers crossed it all comes together. But Aunt Jeannie moved along really fast!
8.What is next for Aunt Jeannie?
I’m very hopeful that the Mad Wife team will find the support they need to go ahead with producing the full feature script. I’m ready to do whatever they need to get it there.
9.What do you want to say to other writers who are considering submitting their screenplay to the contest?
Id’ say study the previous winners and get a feel for what they are looking for and keep going. I once worked with a real estate developer and he told me the key to his success was to have one project finishing, one project in construction and another one in the planning phase and I feel that works for me in screenwriting. I’ve got a bunch of scripts, like Aunt Jeannie, which, though finished, will need rewrites for production, I’ve got a project I’m actively writing and I’m already thinking about what story idea to tackle next. That may not work for everyone but it works for me.
Thank you David and good luck with Aunt Jeannie and your other projects.
You can watch Aunt Jeannie proof of concept film on Mad Wife Productions YouTube channel and below! And don’t forget to watch all the way through the end credits to get some bonus material — after we accidentally broke the wall [oopsie] we decided to incorporate that into the film!
MJP: So Christine, out of the blue, you got a query email?
CI: Yes. You know the saying when the writer is ready they find you. And it led to my first TV pilot, Teleception, being optioned!
MJP: Tell me more about how that happened.
CI: So, one day, I got an email from CHERI, a production designer/acting head of a new start-up film production company looking for scripts written about and by women. She had done an internet search, presumably something like “women screenwriters.”
I had won awards in WOMEN WHO WRITE IN FILM screenwriting contests. So, up I popped as a recent winner. Then I appeared in more of her internet searches. I have all my scripts, awards, artwork, and one-pager on many websites.
MJP: Which ones?
CI: I have a BIOGRAPHY, RESUME, and SCREENPLAY PORTFOLIOS on FILM FREEWAY, COVERFLY, INTERNATIONAL SCREENWRITERS ASSOCIATION, and IMDB websites.
Cheri said she was drawn to many of my award-winning script loglines/images and asked for one-pagers. Teleception, the TV pilot/series, was listed but not promoted because the pilot was not quite polished. She wanted to know more about Teleception, so I sent her my beautiful STORY BIBLE. I had paid my medical illustrator friend to lay it out for me.
That bible NAILED it. The president and others loved it and wanted to option it and add it to their 10-script-slate to a big streamer.
Then I had a Zoom meeting with the president and Cheri.
MJP: Wow! That is amazing to hear. Congratulations.
CI: YEAH! RIGHT. That was the quick and easy part. Panic set in. I redrafted the pilot to the delight of my script adviser. But, I knew nothing about CONTRACTS or what I should ask for. So, I did a bunch of research consulting with my associates. I even asked you for advice. I interviewed two entertainment lawyers, and it wasn’t a good fit. I then got a membership with the Counsel for Creators. They’re a group of creative arts/business lawyers available by phone for unlimited advice, and I got help understanding and negotiating my contract. It cost me $95.00 a month, but I did pay more for a redraft once we had worked out the terms. This process of back and forth between all parties took 6 months.
MJP: I hate the contract negotiation part — it’s like you are suddenly in war with the very person who wants to buy your script. How did the negotiation go?
CI: Cheri was also learning, so it was quite a joint venture. I tried to be reasonable in my requests. Now I play the wait on development game, the next option renewal, and any word from the big streamer. This industry is glacial.
MJP: Any interest in your other scripts?
CI: Yes. Cheri has read three of my scripts and loves them. As a new start-up, they are positioned to open a brick-and-mortar production studio in 2022. So all in due time.
But She thinks I am a great writer, creating fresh, complex yet clear characters and stories. That’s the kind of encouragement I need as I embark on my first adaptation of a lesbian crime novel set in a sleepy southern Illinois town.
MJP: How’d you get hooked up with that assignment?
CI: I connected with this local novelist by letting my SCREENWRITER FLAG FLY wherever I go. I met a retired doctor at my wife’s Tai Chi banquet. He knew this author and hooked us up. I have a two-year shopping agreement and rights to adapt the novel. That contract negotiation was not as easy. **********
MJP: How long have you been writing screenplays?
CI: Religiously? About seven years. I still work part-time. I started my first script in 2005, spent 10 years working on it, then moved on. Maybe one day I’ll go back to it.
MJP: Do you have representation?
CI: None -yet. I’d like to redraft two more of my best before seriously looking.
MJP: Produced a film?
CI: No. Only small music and educational videos for my physical therapy practice.
MJP: Won awards?
CI: Sure, but not the big first-place prize, which gets you hob-knobbing with producers.
MJP: Do you have a polished portfolio?
CI: Yes, six award winners, two not so.
MJP: How about networking?
CI: I have several trusted screenwriting/producing associates.
MJP: Who gives you notes on your work?
CI: I have a Great script advisor/reader. This has made all the difference in elevating my craft. Yes, it costs me $300.00 for a script read, overview notes, on-the-page notes, and an hour conversation. It’s a great deal, and it’s well worth it.
MJP: Are you big on social media?
CI: I really hate the time-suck of social media. I do announce all my contest wins on Facebook, and the other sites I’m on. Like I said, though, I widely promote all that I do, music, screenwriting, and my physical therapy work.
MJP: You mentioned your original screenplay artwork. How do you produce that?
CI: I come up with an image(s) for each script. Then do a pencil mock-up; collect photos to model ideas, then hire a Fiver artist who refines and draws it. Voila! It costs me between 75-125 bucks.
MJP: Hey, thanks for sharing your success and keep me updated.
CI: Will do. It’s been my pleasure. LET YOUR SCREENWRITER FLAG FLY!
The first winners of the Reno-Tahoe Screenplay Contest were produced in November 2021.
The winning short script — Tree O’mineby Bernhard Riedhammer — will be screened to all Reno-Tahoe Screenplay Contest entrants in a private online premiere in January 2022 (date to be determined).
After that, the film will get film festival run and worldwide distribution with royalty share so everyone can watch it!
We sat down with Bernie to ask about his screenwriting journey and experience with the contest.
1. Bernie, congratulations for winning the contest. We would like to know a bit more about you. Can you summarize your screenwriting career up to the point you won the contest?
Intern, Trainee, Assistant, Screenplay and Outline Editor and a lot of festival wins and loses in between 🙂
One word: Rollercoaster
2. Have you attended film school or other educational programs for screenwriters?
I have a BA in Screenwriting and Film Studies from Staffordshire University and a M.Litt. in Film Studies from the University of St Andrews
3. What inspires you to write and do you have a specific genre you write in or are open to all genres??
Mostly every day situations… and a lot of weird ideas. I’m open to all genres; however, more often than not, I end up writing real life drama and dramedies.
4. Now that you won the short script contest and had your script Tree O’mine produced. How was the whole production process with Mad Wife Productions?
One word: Smoothly. All I can say is that it was a real pleasure working with all of them.
5. What did you think of the film?
Really great stuff! I like it a lot 🙂 I like the cinematography, specifically the camera work when John enters and finds Kristin on the couch [Mad Wife note: this was a Steadicam shot] and Ben as he overhears them, also the scene after the storm, when Kristin knows she’s dying, very emotional.
6. Is Tree O’mine be your first produced credit?
7. Why did you submit to the contest and what does winning the contest mean to you?
The contest is affordable and gives you the option to be produced.
8. How do you hope this will propel your screenwriting career?
Connections. Connections. Connections!
9. What do you want to say to other writers who are considering submitting their screenplay to the contest?
What are you waiting for?!
10. Considering other screenwriters or filmmakers, who inspires you the most?
Amongst others: Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig, Alexander Payne, Darren Aronofsky
11. If you could name one film or TV series you wished you had written, what is it and why?
There are many, but if I had to choose, it’s probably the The West Wing. Watching it for a second time, I can’t help but think, it’s still as relevant and as great as it has been roughly 20 years ago. This speaks to the quality of the show as a whole and is a testament to outstanding writing – by Aaron Sorkin at the helm – that stood the test of time.
The death of Halyna Hutchins and the injury to Joel Souza are terrible tragedies. Everyone at Mad Wife Productions is heartbroken and sends condolences to Halyna’s family.
Since the recent accidental shooting on the film set of RUST in New Mexico, people in the industry, as well as those outside, are asking questions about the safety standards that are followed (or not followed) on film sets and how this could happen, AGAIN! The media was quick to remind that this is not the first shooting death on a film set: Brandon Lee was killed in an accidental shooting on a film set in 1993.
The takeaway from the investigation of Brandon Lee’s death was that a fragment of a blank remained in the barrel of a prop gun and was propelled by another blank shot. The death was due to tragedy and negligence.
While the preliminary information in the investigation of the RUST-set shooting also indicates negligence, the involvement of a live round could also mean that criminal charges may be filed.
On set shootings do not happen often but they should not happen at all. The industry has established precautionary procedures that should have prevented it. The Actors Equity Association has established the following safety procedures for the use of firearms:
Use simulated or dummy weapons whenever possible.
Treat all guns as if they are loaded and deadly.
Unless you are actually performing or rehearsing, the property master must secure all firearms.
The property master or armorer should carefully train you in the safe use of any firearm you must handle. Be honest if you have no knowledge about guns. Do not overstate your qualifications.
Follow all instructions given by the qualified instructor.
Never engage in horseplay with any firearms or other weapons. Do not let others handle the gun for any reason.
All loading of firearms must be done by the property master, armorer or experienced persons working under their direct supervision.
Never point a firearm at anyone including yourself. Always cheat the shot by aiming to the right or left of the target character. If asked to point and shoot directly at a living target, consult with the property master or armorer for the prescribed safety procedures.
If you are the intended target of a gunshot, make sure that the person firing at you has followed all these safety procedures.
If you are required to wear exploding blood squibs, make sure there is a bulletproof vest or other solid protection between you and the blast packet.
Use protective shields for all off stage cast within close proximity to any shots fired.
Appropriate ear protection should be offered to the cast members and stage managers.
Check the firearm every time you take possession of it. Before each use, make sure the gun has been test-fired off stage and then ask to test fire it yourself. Watch the prop master check the cylinders and barrel to be sure no foreign object or dummy bullet has become lodged inside.
Blanks are extremely dangerous. Even though they do not fire bullets out of the gun barrel, they still have a powerful blast than can maim or kill.
Never attempt to adjust, modify or repair a firearm yourself. If a weapon jams or malfunctions, corrections shall be made only by a qualified person.
When a scene is completed, the property master shall unload the firearms. All weapons must be cleaned, checked and inventoried after each performance.
Live ammunition may not be brought into the theatre.
If you are in a production where shots are to be fired and there is no qualified property master, go to the nearest phone and call Actors’ Equity Association. A union representative will make sure proper procedures are followed.
State and federal safety laws must be honored at all times.
If any of the above safety tips conflict with the instructions given by a qualified instructor, abide by the instructions from the qualified instructor. If you are still not sure, contact your Equity Business Representative.
Whether these guidelines were followed remains to be seen. However, nothing changes the fact that Halyna Hutchins is dead. Her family, friends, and colleagues mourn her loss. Brandon Lee is also gone, and his family still mourns. Michael Massee, the actor who accidentally shot Brandon Lee, suffered emotional distress and guilt for the rest of his life even though he had no responsibility in the event. Alec Baldwin may experience the same kind of distress even though he has no responsibility in this event. In fact, everyone on the set may be traumatized.
Accidents do happen, but it should be the goal of every film set to set safety standards that will prevent injuries from happening – no one should die on film sets from accidents that were preventable!
We sat down to interview Allan, the producer and writer of Black Eyes — a short film that is currently in development as feature film with Mad Wife Productions.
You can watch Black Eyes short here (just in time for Halloween): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPgTKDoA3No&t=34s
MJ: How has the pandemic treated you?
Allan: Like a lot of people, I lost friends and relatives that mean a lot to me and I try to honor their life by being socially responsible and caring of others knowing that death can happen to anyone, anytime and anywhere.
MJ: How did you get into Filmmaking?
Allan: Funny you should ask… ha, ha. As you remember we met over a membership site reviewing each other’s scripts and when I found out you were filming No Virtue (now called Carp-e Diem) with Andrew, I asked that you read Black Eyes and we began pre-production three months later.
MJ: What was the inspiration behind Black Eyes?
Allan: Black Eyes came to me when I was thinking of how my Mom was domestically abused when I was a young kid and did not have the means to do anything about it. So I created a cop who witnessed her sister raped and killed then had her alter ego become the vigilante who teaches the cop that in order to catch evil you must become the evil that you are trying to kill.
MJ: How does the short script compare to the feature script for Black Eyes?
Allan: The feature script ties all the loose ends with Victoria and Vic battling control of their body and Sean getting attacked by the killer and how the person you least expect is the sister’s killer.
MJ: What did you learn from making Black Eyes?
Allan: A Lot! It’s a writers dream to see actors breathe life into their characters and watch what is on the page actually appear on the stage. I hope every writer can experience this.
MJ: Did you get to see Black Eyes short on the big screen?
Allan: Actually yes, I watched at the AOF Film festival in Vegas. It was awesome.
MJ: How was it working with the cast?
Allan: Jason Baduwalia (one of the Netflix power rangers) was fantastic. Christopher Blumen was right on as Victoria’s step-dad. Both actors bounced their dialogue off each other as if they knew each other for decades. Nicole Epper was intuitive as Victoria and her alter ego Vic giving a tremendous performance as she plays two different people inside her head and fighting for control of whether her vigilante half kills him or her cop half gets to bring him to justice and capture him.
MJ: So which is it?
Allan: You’ll have to wait until the feature come out.
MJ: How was the film festival experience?
Allan. It was great! Again, I was in Vegas and got to see it on the big screen. However, this was when the city had a mandate for everyone to wear masks but no one did so after the feature party I wasn’t able to pass along USB’s and talk to investors like I wanted to.
MJ: Have you any upcoming projects?
Allan: Yes. Black Eyes feature film of course but also Purgatory (As a priest goes blind, he is given the power to perform miracles that allow people to escape purgatory and enter heaven… until his father dies and is sent to hell). It’s going to be awesome.
MJ: Fantastic. Thank you Allan for your time and good luck with Black Eyes.
Mary Quinn is a visual/graphic artist with her roots in the learning disability community in the west of Ireland. She’s been in the United States with her daughter since her retirement in 2015. She was planning her first one person show, The Autistic Learner, in March of 2020. Needless to say, that event was cancelled. No video or online option has been offered to Ms. Quinn.
Playwrights are in a similar situation because of Covid 19… but we have options. Playwrights can become screenwriters, but it’s not easy.
The Establishing Shot: According to the Columbia Film Language Glossary, “An establishing shot is a long shot at the start of a scene (or sequence) that shows things from a distance. Often an aerial shot, it is intended to help identify and orient the location or time for the scene and action that follow.” The establishing shot makes sense in film. The audience is in a movie theater or in a classroom or at home… the film begins. We are in Los Angeles… or we are in Seattle… then we move into the office or apartment or grocery store with the full context of that universe. We know that this Seattle office is near the Space Needle or the Public Market or in LA near LAX. That establishing shot expands the universe and takes the audience into a world of certain possibilities. And the audience expects to be oriented.
Playwrights don’t think in terms of expansive orientation. The stage is the stage. Although the universe of the play isn’t limited to the space of the black box theater or proscenium or thrust stage, often the ‘beyond’ is not as important as the ‘within.’ The audience expects a very different orientation. Further, stages are often simply decorated: a park bench, a kitchen table, a single dying tree. How do playwrights orient their audiences? Certainly not the way filmmakers do.
This is where screenwriting and playwrighting diverge. And this may be one of the reasons it’s difficult for the playwright to become a successful screenwriter. Difficult but possible.
Screenwriting requires a different imagining of story… the expansive universe is the context of story in film (unless that universe is magically and cinematically restrained.) The audience climbs into the world with a willingness to populate that world. Screenwriting, the power of the cinematic takes place in the cosmos of human context, but the visual possibilities are endless.
Playwrighting, on the other hand, dances on the principle that the more specific, the smaller, the less expansive, the more universal. Try for one moment to imagine a film version of Waiting for Godot. It’s not possible. Interestingly, it is the lack of orientation in that play that makes it so personal and heartbreaking. The audience isn’t drawn into the story, the story is forced into the heart and psyche of each member of the audience. It can only be the human presence on stage that ‘establishes’ a human context.
There are individuals who prefer stage to screen. But most playwrights and screenwriters are storytellers who want to tell their stories. The majority of playwrights fall into that category. And unlike Mary Quinn the visual artist, playwrights have the luxury of learning to, either temporarily or permanently, readjust our thinking about how we orient the audience, how we imagine stories being told, turn off the ghost light and turn on the camera obscura. But it’s a change in our vision of storytelling, our vision of ourselves.
One example I can offer is a stage play I wrote about a woman in a kind of witness protection program. Because of the encouragement of audience members, I ‘adapted’ it into a screenplay. However, I wanted to maintain the cage-like characteristics of the small apartment wherein the character was in protection. According to many people in the film industry, the screenplay failed as a screenplay. The universe wasn’t expansive. The spartan, cage-like setting was limiting, and telling the story through the experience of the witness was not enough to grab and hold the attention of a film audience.
In a Covid 19 world, playwrights don’t have many choices. We can continue to write stage plays and hope the world stops spinning off its axis one of these days … or we can start writing cookbooks and making TikTok videos… or we can learn about telling cinematic stories. I don’t know what’s right. But I’m trying to adjust my second-generation American way of envisioning storytelling so that I can keep telling stories.
And I hope Mary Quinn finds a way to tell stories too.
Sheila Duane was born in New Mexico and currently lives in New Jersey. She teaches writing at a community college. Most recently, her play “The Loom” was produced in NYC as part of the 2021 Downtown Urban Arts Festival. Several of her other plays have been read or produced locally. On a personal note, Sheila loves Andy Warhol and has written a five minute film about a woman’s obsession with him.
Screenplay: The Loom
Logline: Two women find themselves tangled in a web of police corruption, the uncertainty caused by PTSD, and the competing definitions of what constitutes ‘incitement.’