The Tennessee Screenwriting Association was honored to host Cat Stewart, Screenplay Awards Manager for the Nashville Film Festival, at its May 13 Zoom meeting. In her second year heading up the competition, Stewart offered a wide range of advice, do’s and don’ts about writing screenplays for the competition as well as for Hollywood.
Below are some of the highlights from her talk:
Reasons to Enter a Contest
Just to be read
Just for fun
To win prizes
To launch a career
Common Mistakes Writers Make
Majority of scripts fail on premise or don’t have a commercial concept
First act has nothing to do with the rest of the screenplay
Protagonist is unclear or there is no journey for the main character
Nothing significant happens at the midpoint to raise the stakes or provide a twist
Too many pilots fail to hook an audience in the first few pages
Premises that have no logic
First page keys
Make me want to keep reading
Genre needs to be clear
Don’t open with a flashback
Re: Flashbacks/voice overs – “If it works, it works. As long as it adds to the story, it’s OK.”
Keep in mind cost of the screenplay.
“Emotion is the most important thing on the page. Make me laugh, make me cry, scare the crap out of me. Emotion is the number one thing that sells a script.”
Re: Grammar/spelling – “If it’s a great script, I don’t freak out about it. We’ll get it fixed.”
“Don’t write in 47 genres. No one wants to rep someone who’s writing everything.”
Hour and half-hour pilots are where things are selling.
Don’t chase the market. “It’ll turn on a dime.”
“If you’ve not have a lot of luck or are kind of stagnant with your scripts, volunteer to be a reader. You’ll start finding something you do yourself. I highly recommend being a reader to anyone who wants to educate yourself.”
Read, study, break down films. Write! Write! Write!
“Last year we had an incredible number of diverse scripts.”
“Scripts that have diverse people that are written by diverse people are generally better than scripts written by non-diverse people. It’s not always the case, but if you’re writing about African-Americans and you’re a white man, it doesn’t come off the same way as it does if it’s an African-American writing about African-Americans.”
“I think it has to make a difference if the characters are diverse. There should be a reason for them to be in there or don’t write anything about what race they are and let the best actor get that role.”
On Covid-19’s impact
“Don’t write a coronavirus script. Hollywood doesn’t want them. If they do, an established writer is going to write it.”
Hollywood is looking for lighter stuff in the current climate.
Use fewer locations and background actors, but there’s opportunity for cgi
More Zoom writers rooms. “That might open up more opportunities for people who aren’t in LA.”
“Screenwriting is hard. Just be aware, it’s a long, long, long game. As long as you stay at it and you have a solid idea for a script, you might get there.”
“As far as a logline goes, what you really want to do is get a request to read your script.”
“A good film is a simple story well told. Complexity isn’t about the story, it’s about the character and how they deal with it.”
“If I’m absorbed in the story, I don’t care what genre I’m in.”
Tennessee Screenwriting Association held its 2019 Script-Com Symposium over two days in June, beginning with a special screening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula at Full Moon Cineplex in Hermitage with screenwriter James V. Hart. Photographer Thom King helped us commemorate the event:
It’s time once again to let your best scares out. TSA members are invited to share their spookiest short scripts at our Oct. 30 Halloween meeting. Scripts can be up to five pages and must be a complete story. Bring them in and hear them read aloud before the group. We dare you to scare us!
Note:Anyone can attend our meetings, but you must be a TSA member in good standing to have your script read. Click here to join TSA.
The Hole Truth, a short film penned by Tennessee Screenwriting Association member Irish Johnston, will be shown at the 50th anniversary edition of the Nashville Film Festival during the first weekend in October. We asked Irish to share her story about herself, the script, and the process of seeing the film come together.
TSA:Tell us about yourself (where you are from, how you ended up in Nashville, etc.,) and how you became interested in writing, specifically writing for film.
IRISH: I was born in Nashville, but spent a significant part of my childhood in New York City. My father is a writer, so I grew up surrounded by creativity and odd working hours. I initially was introduced to the film industry through acting, which took me out to Los Angeles for a few years. I quickly realized that I had an appetite for all aspects of film making, in front of the camera, behind the camera, and eventually creating content. I think my acting background has influenced my writing style to pay attention to the characters. I have taken several classes on screenplay writing, including at Watkins and online, and attend the TSA meetings as often as I can.
TSA:What is The Hole Truth about?
IRISH: The Hole Truth is a dark comedic short film about a suicidal woman’s disappointment in the shallowness of human beings. In this exaggerated world, the main character, Suzanna (Sprague Grayden), finds herself in a new job where she gains access to hear strangers’ heartfelt confessions. Her initial excitement quickly fades into despair as the confessions border between shallow and absurd. As she plans her exit strategy, she discovers a magical hole that leads to an unexpected real connection.
TSA:What inspired you to write The Hole Truth?
IRISH: The initial idea came from an article about a terrific, and real, project called Story Corp. Which I am sure is not shallow at all. But I started thinking about what if the audio capsules left in the Story Corp files, for generations to listen to, were actually really disappointing to hear. Add that to what feels to me like a current social climate lacking in real human connection, and voila. Dark comedy.
TSA:Tell us about the writing process for The Hole Truth. How long did it take from idea to finished script? What were some of the lessons made, mistakes learned along the way?
IRISH: The actual writing of it took about a week. But the ideas were marinating for a while before that. The main character, Suzanna, has a very strong, sort of judgmental, perspective to me, and she was a lot of fun to write. I decided to have a Narrator (Katherine Morgan) help move the story along, which was a more playful voice to write. Getting to watch this screenplay go from the page to the screen, has been super informative. I hope the lessons learned will translate into my future projects.
TSA:Your script won Best Short Screenplay at the Sun Valley Film Festival in Ketchum, Idaho, which in turn led to initial funding for the film. Tell us about that experience.
IRISH: That whole experience was crazy fun. I absolutely adore the Sun Valley Film Festival and how much they appreciate and support writers. From beginning to end they made me feel very special, and that is so hard to come by in this industry. Winning felt a little surreal, and completely unexpected. And then, honestly, I had a feeling like I wasn’t winning necessarily, but rather being given this huge daunting task of producing and making a film, which I didn’t feel ready for. But the SVFF surrounded me with a lot of talented people to help navigate through that. And I made some terrific friends along the way.
TSA:The Hole Truth had a very successful Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $30,000. How did the Kickstarter come about and what do you think made it so effective?
IRISH: My co-producer out of Boise, Karen Toronjo, suggested Kickstarter, so we just jumped in and figured out how to do it. We were lucky to have a lot of friends and family who were excited and wanted to support the project.
TSA:The film was ultimately shot in Boise, Idaho. Were you on set for the shoot? What was that like?
IRISH: Yes, I was on set for the shoot, no way I would miss that. I love watching films get made. There is something so special about seeing that process for me. But at that point I was more in the producer role not the writer role. I had handed over the story to the director, Russell Friedenberg, and felt very confident in the choices he would make. I am a collaborator at heart, and love to see what happens when several people’s creative visions merge together.
TSA:Tell us about the folks who partnered with you (director, producer, actors) who helped make the film a reality.
IRISH: It started with my co-producer Karen. Who introduced me to Russell, the director. He brought in the cinematographer, Gregory Bayne, a true talent. They all knew each other from other projects, so there was already some chemistry there. Russ and I cast it, finding Sprague, and Phil Burke (Russ had worked with him before). Then, I was delighted when I was given the opportunity to cast and use a cinematographer from Nashville, Mark Ramey, to do some cut away “confession” shots we weren’t able to get in Boise. We also recorded Katherine’s narration here in town.
TSA:The script was also one of three finalists in the 2018 Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. And now, the film itself is going to be show at NaFF 2019. How does that make you feel?
IRISH: Feels great. Nashville has a talented and supportive film community. We are lucky to be in a city that values writers and creativity. And now, to have The Hole Truth screening in the festival, makes me very proud.
TSA:How has the TSA helped you and your writing?
IRISH: I love the TSA meetings. I cannot get enough of the core structural questions, “What does your main character want?” “What obstacles does he or she have?” It is mystifying how I can never hear those questions enough, and how often I lose track of them while writing. Writing can feel very solitary, and TSA offers a supportive space where you don’t feel alone.
TSA:What’s next for you?
IRISH: I have several short screenplays submitted to festivals and competitions. One, which was workshopped in the TSA meetings, has won an award, and I am considering producing it. I am also working on a feature that I have brought pages into TSA for feedback.
For more information about The Hole Truth, visit their Facebook page.
The Hole Truth, a short film written by the TSA’s own Irish Johnston,screens at the Nashville Film Festival at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, in the Tennessee Shorts Block. A second screening is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 10.
Irish began as an actress in Los Angeles and Nashville. She currently spends most of her time writing screenplays, three of which have been finalists or won awards: Redhanded, Scents, and The Hole Truth, in several film festival competitions.
Being a native Nashvillian, with a piano, she has finally surrendered to the siren call of songwriting as well. She loves every aspect of the film industry, from writing and composing, to acting; to her latest challenge, producing.
Screenings will be shown at Regal Hollywood Theaters, 719 Thompson Lane, Nashville, near 100 Oaks Mall. For tickets or more information about the film festival, visit https://nashvillefilmfestival.org
Rom-Coms are back in vogue at the movies, so we’re throwing down another screenwriting challenge in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Write a five-page or less romantic comedy script to celebrate the occasion. Bring copies of your script to our Feb. 13 meeting at Watkins where we’ll read them aloud. See you there!
NOTE:TSA meetings open to all. Challenge open to paid TSA members only. Update your membership here.
The Tennessee Screenwriting Association is overseen by a board of directors, who are elected each December. A president, vice president, treasurer and secretary are then elected from among the board. Three provisional members are also elected.
2021 TSA Board of Directors
President: Jeff Chase
Vice President: Irish Johnston
Treasurer: Dave Deverell
Secretary: Paula Phelps-Weaver
Provisional board members (will have the power to vote at board meetings should a regular board member be unable to attend):
Webmaster (non-board member):
Jeffrey Alan Chase – President
Jeff Chase moved to Nashville from Mesa, Ariz., to hone his talents as a songwriter and screenwriter after several careers, including advertising executive and commercial Real Estate broker. As a songwriter, he’s amassed a catalog of over 600 songs, many of which have been cut by country and pop artists and include songs licensed in movies and TV.
As a screenwriter, Jeff has multiple full-length feature screenplays and numerous short scripts under his belt. Two scripts were quarter-finalists in the prestigious Nicholl competition. His romantic comedy Grinder’s Switch took second place in the Tennessee Screenplay Contest. Country Songwriters won the LA Screenwriting Competition for Comedy Short.
Jeff is a SAG actor who has appeared in numerous commercials, videos and industrial films. He has appeared in numerous films including, Ernest Goes to Jail and When the Eagle Cries and co-starred with Robert Carradine and Chris Mitchum in the thriller Lycanthrope. He worked alongside Kathy Bates and Alfree Woodard in Tyler Perry’s hit movie, The Family that Preys.
He has been a board member and past president of Film Nashville, board member, past president and vice president of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association, board member and past vice president of Nashville Publishers Network. He is president of Chase Internet an IT consulting and web design company and president of Blue Drops Publishing Co. (ASCAP).
His interests include hiking, sailing, golf and rebuilding 1960s English sports cars. He’s a licensed pro and amateur boxing referee. He lives on a farm outside of Dickson, Tennessee with his wife and their dogs, cats and assorted chickens.
Irish Johnston – Vice President
Writer, actor, producer Irish (Burch) Johnston began as an actress in Los Angeles and Nashville. She currently spends most of her time writing screenplays, three of which have been finalists or won awards: Redhanded, Scents, and The Hole Truth, in several film festival competitions. Being a native Nashvillian, with a piano, she has finally surrendered to the siren call of song writing as well. She loves every aspect of the film industry, from writing and composing to acting, to her latest challenge, producing.
David Deverell – Treasurer
David Deverell is a Nashville screenwriter. He received his degree in Film and Television from Loyola Marymount University, and after graduating, wrote, produced and directed an award-winning 30- minute drama for Encylcopaedia Britannica’s Short Story Showcase Series, “The Hunt,” an adaptation of Richard Connell’s short story, “The Most Dangerous Game.” David went on to have a long career in the advertising industry and retired eight years ago.
In retirement, David returned to writing and has since written four feature-length screenplays. His first, The Shoe Box, won first place at the 10th Annual Tennessee Screenwriting Association Screenplay Competition in 2010, when he became a member. His other screenplays have been finalists in other competitions, including The Page Awards, Table Read My Screenplay, Emerging Screenwriters and Access Screenplays.
In 2015, David relocated to Nashville from Los Angeles and is actively involved in helping the Nashville Film Community develop a robust industry.
Paula Phelps-Weaver – Secretary
Paula Phelps-Weaver is a relative newcomer to the world of screenwriting. After a career as an internal medicine physician and then some years as a stay at home parent, she is finally pursuing her love of writing.
Though her academic background is in science, she has attended several writing courses and workshops, and will begin submitting her work to contests in 2019. She is currently working on a dramedy TV pilot.
Her interests include horseback riding, kayaking, hiking, soccer, jazz, and growing things. She lives on a farm with her husband of thirty-nine years, her horses, and her dog.
Bob Giordano is a principal of Uproar Pictures, based in Nashville, TN. He is the 2017 Grand Prize Winner of “The Poe Contest” for his script, The Odds, and the director of The Odds feature. He has been a quarterfinalist, a semifinalist, a finalist, and/or won several of Hollywood’s most prestigious screenplay contests, including The Southern California Screenplay Competition (The Odds), Nicholl Fellowship (Sicko), Fade-In (Uprise), The Writer’s Network contest (Resistance), the Hollywood Symposium (Grendel) and Script Open Door.
Over many years, Bob has worked on numerous short films and independent features as a writer, director, assistant director, camera operator, and editor. Since coming to Nashville in the1980s, he has continuously taught screenwriting and filmmaking to adults, teens and children, including his ongoing screenwriting courses at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film. He is also a past president and current officer of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association. As a prolific writer of dozens of completed scripts, he often says, “Daylight’s burning.”
Elvis Wilson was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., and grew up in Cleveland, Tenn., where he was raised on a healthy dose of TV like The Twilight Zone, Gilligan’s Island and his favorite TV show, Space 1999.Like most folks his age, Star Wars rocked his world in 1977.
Inspired by a steady dose of Coen Brother’s films and Monty Python reruns over the last three decades, he has written over ten screenplays, produced four short films, and directed scores of music videos and industrial films. In 2008, he and his wife produced an award-winning feature documentary, Being Lincoln: Men With Hats (which had a two-year run on the now defunct Documentary Channel and also aired on Showtime). In 2015, he started principle photography of his self-produced, award-winning feature FOGG. FOGG had a great festival run and was picked up by RedBox.
Elvis is currently working on FOGG 2 with Executive Producer Kelly Frey. He’s also written a TV pilot called Strawberry Plains, which was in the top 30 scripts in the prestigious AMC’s Drama Pilot category at the 2018 Austin Film Festival (over 10,500 scripts were entered). While still not able to quit his day job, Elvis writes almost every day and is happy to hang with his brothers and sisters of the TSA.
While working in Nashville’s TV and film production industry in the 90’s, Mark Naccarato‘s first TV spec script caught the attention of producers at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and he was invited to pitch to the hit series. Even though he didn’t make a sale, the first story Mark pitched to them was nearly identical to a story that was already in production.
Encouraged by that experience and then by a near-sale on Star Trek: Voyager, Mark decided to make his first “real” film. The Crusader, a superhero movie disguised as a true-crime reality show was a cult hit at comic conventions across the South and punched above its weight with a budget of less than $3,000 using a cast and crew of over a hundred volunteers. Mark’s current short film, The Romulan War, puts a spin on the sci-fi effects movie by using a documentary format and “found footage” from an interstellar war in the 22nd century.
Mark’s pilot script The Exodusters – an historical drama set during the Kansas Exodus of the 1870’s – has landed a finalist slot in the Nashville Film Festival and he’s a co-producer on several independent films, including Potter’s Ground and Gates of Flesh – both of which were filmed in Tennessee.
Gary Frazier – Webmaster
Writer Gary Frazier, who writes as G. Robert Frazier, spent most of his career as an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor, routinely covering local government, politics, business, crime, and education in Tennessee. When the newspaper industry imploded, he found a new outlet for his creative pursuits as an author and screenwriter.
His script, “ZARS – Zombie Apprehension & Relocation Serivce,” was a top three finalist in the 2019 Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition in the Scripted Digital Series category and is ranked No. 1 on Coverfly’s Red List for Horror Web Series. His latest script, “Bill Fisher’s Trading Post,” is a semifinalist in the 2020 Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competition. “Kings of Mississippi,” which he co-wrote with TSA member Jay Wright, is a semifinalist in The Script Lab’s 2020 free screenwriting contest and was a semifinalist, placing in the top five scripts overall, in the 2019 Nashville Film Fest contest.
His short fiction has appeared in two volumes of Our Voices: Williamson County Literary Review. He also wrote a flash-fiction piece, “The Twister,” which appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine’s November 2015 issue. But his true passion is screenwriting, which he finds as a much more fun medium.
He has served as a script competition reader for two prestigious competitions, having read and rated more than 750 scripts.
When he’s not writing, he’s reading. He frequently writes book reviews for Bookpage,Killer Nashville, and Chapter 16, the website for Tennessee Humanities, and has previously written book reviews for Blogging for Books and US Review of Books. He has interviewed several authors for The Big Thrill, the online magazine of the International Thriller Writers.
Our Halloween horror short script contest went so well, we’ve decided to have a Holiday Short Script challenge. Write a five-page or less family-themed script to celebrate the holidays. Scripts can be funny (think “Vacation”), dramatic, action-oriented (Is “Diehard” a Christmas movie?), or anything your imagination can come up with. The important thing is to write and to have fun. Bring copies of your script to our Dec. 12 meeting at Watkins where we’ll read them aloud. See you there!
NOTE:TSA meetings open to all. Contest open to paid TSA members only. Update your membership here.
From a twist on Hansel and Gretel to a terrible clowns to were-rabbits, seven TSA members answered the call by sharing their short horror scripts on Halloween night. Presenting scripts were, from left, Jacob Burns (“The Game”), Paula Phelps-Weaver (“For the Children”), Dale McCarver (“Spooks”), Debbie Wells (“Snack Time”), Matthew Gibson (“Le Clown Terrible”), Gary Frazier (“Skin”), and Jeff Chase (“Scattered Pieces”). Congrats to all the screenwriters for taking a dare to scare us!