Nashville Film Fest screenwriting manager offers do’s and don’ts

By G. Robert Frazier

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Cat Stewart

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
  • Flowery language
  • Premises that have no logic
  • No theme

First page keys

  • Make me want to keep reading
  • Genre needs to be clear
  • Clear protagonist
  • Don’t open with a flashback

Practical Advice

  • 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!

On Diversity

  • “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.”

Encouraging Quotes

  • “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.”

51st Nashville Film Festival

In Memoriam: Wilson Montgomery

Past TSA President James Wilson Montgomery passed away Monday, March 9, after a year-long, brave fight with cancer.

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Wilson Montgomery

Wilson began in entertainment as a standup comedian and actor. He graduated from the University of Tennessee with degree in Speech and Theater. He attended The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles and was awarded the honor of being in the third year production ensemble. He has acted Off-Off Broadway in New York and done a number of commercials and a children’s TV series, including Mr. Henry’s Wild and Wacky World.

Parenthood (the lifestyle, not the movie or TV series) lead Wilson to Nashville, where he is survived by his daughters, Hope and Rachel, grandsons, Christian and Vinny, his mother June, father John (Gale), sister Jill Dempsey (Ed), and his brother, Lee, several aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends.

He grew up in Knoxville, graduated from Bearden High School in 1981, received a Bachelor of Arts in Theater from University of Tennessee, and completed an acting program at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Los Angeles, in 1989. Wilson loved the theater, acting & writing. He performed in several local theater productions before moving to Nashville, where he had a successful construction business.

He served as president of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association for two consecutive years, 2018 and 2019.

Memorial contributions can be made to Alive Hospice, 1718 Patterson Street, Nashville TN 37203 or Middle TN Al-Anon, 176 Thompson Lane, Suite G-3, Nashville TN 37211.

Friends can leave memorial messages, send cards, or flowers via this link:

https://www.meaningfulfunerals.net/obituary/james-montgomery?fh_id=10561

 

How writer/director Giordano made a movie and a dream come true

By Tom Wood

Bob Giordano wore a lot of hats during the making of The Odds, an award-winning and critically acclaimed indie film shot on a micro-budget last year in Nashville.

The+Odds_poster_0218_150dpiNot only was Giordano the screenwriter, but he also directed, and had a hand in nearly everv aspect of the thriller/horror produced by Alan McKenna and executive produced by Tom Steinmann (Uproar Pictures) and Kelly Frey (Music City Films).

The story focuses on a woman who gets involved in underground game of pain endurance worth $1 million to the winner, only to learn the rigged game is run by the manipulative and sadistic man out to defeat her. It debuted on June 4 and is available on Amazon Prime Video and at Walmart stores.

Giordano and Steinmann will host a panel session to discuss the movie at the June 22 Script-Com Screenwriting Symposium at Lipscomb University’s Shamblin Theater.

“(The panel discussion will be) a good expression of the process from beginning to end and what you can expect if you’re a truly, truly independent filmmaker,” said Giordano, one of the principals of Uproar Pictures. “One of the things that I think is interesting about it is that, at least the way I went about making this film, you actually end up making the movie several times.”

Giordano then reeled off the ways in which he first conceptualized The Odds, then visualized it, then wrote, rewrote and rewrote some more, then … you get the idea.

Bob Giordano
“We’ll be talking about everything from conceptualizing it for a micro-budget film to all the way through the development, and even past that — to selling it and marketing it…”

 

— Bob Giordano, writer/director

“We’ll be talking about everything from conceptualizing it for a micro-budget film to all the way through the development, and even past that — to selling it and marketing it and sort of a number of things that people talk about in sort of general broad terms,” he said. “But our experience is definitely more focused … and it won’t be the same experience that everybody else has.”

Along the journey, he also pitched the idea and story at the weekly Tennessee Screenwriting Association meetings to get immediate feedback.

“Since I tend to do outlining, that’s kind of the first version of the movie. Then when you do the script and its subsequent rewrites, that’s the second version,” he said.

“And then when you go through the script with your production team and the actors, that’s another version that you do of it. And when it makes the transition from a piece of work on paper to something that you actually have to shoot, then you have to consider where all the actors are going to have to be, where the cameras are going to be, all these things.

“The way I did that most effectively was through storyboard,” he added. “Storyboarding it was another version of the film,” he added. “And then there’s the actual production of it, and then there’s the editing, then the sound design and the music — and these are all versions that are all slightly altered and slightly changed.

“So when people talk about a director’s vision of a story, you’ve got to have a vision that’s a little flexible as a practical sense about how filmmaking works.”

He says that it’s essential for the writer to follow the director’s lead — but even more so when the two are the same person.

“For a writer, part of the job is being open to making all these changes. I was kind of lucky as the director; you don’t have to fight with the writer so much,” he said with a laugh. “But I was pretty lucky — at least as much as a person can be. I tried to be objective once I was mostly done with the writing aspect. I kicked that guy out of the room and tried to keep my director’s hat firmly on.”

Giordano said that while the writer can envision anything, the director has to see what works and doesn’t work, and see the finished product as the audience would view it.

“The thing is that when you’re the writer, you’re trying to express the idea of the story and anything you’re trying to say within that story. Your job and your intention usually tends to be trying to get that out as clearly and as artistically as possible,” he said.

“But once you are a director, you have to be far more concerned with how the audience is actually going to receive this information. Because it’s not a work on paper, it’s moving pictures.

“So the audience gets all this information and sometimes the information is portrayed in a way that the writer was not aware, either for good or for bad, how it would come across to an audience when it’s actually playing on the screen among actors.

And it’s the director’s job to really make sure that the story is going to be received by the audience, and really the first audience for the film.”

Giordano hopes to carry those lessons he’s learned into his next project, Gates of Flesh, which he says i much more of a horror movie than The Odds, with “elements of supernatural and end of the world stuff.” Then it will be a sequel to The Odds followed by a faith-based film.

Screenwriter James V. Hart will headline Script-Com, which is hosted by the Tennessee Screenwriting Association. Events kick off Friday with Hart at a screening and discussion of his Bram Stoker’s Dracula script at Full Moon Cineplex in Hermitage. Then on Saturday, Hart will headline Script-Com, discussing both his movies and the HartChart app and Toolkit he developed to help writers map stories and characters.

Besides 1992’s Dracula, Hart’s credits include Hook (1991), Bram Stoker’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Contact (1997), Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001), Tuck Everlasting (2002), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life (2003), Sahara (2005), August Rush (2007), Epic (2013), the 2014 TV series Crossbones, and 2019’s The Hot Zone min-series on National Geographic.

Script-Com: What to Know

Script-Com admission is $50 and includes the Friday night screening and Saturday’s symposium, plus a one-year membership in the TSA. Current members pay just $40. To register, go to https://tennscreen.com. To attend a buffet/mix and mingle with Hart prior to Friday’s movie, cost is $15 at the door.

The June 22 symposium will open with a 10 a.m., presentation by manager Samantha Starr, who has recently joined Circle of Confusion Management. Following Starr will be producer Mitchell Galin, who has been involved in a number of Stephen King adaptations including The Stand, Pet Semetary, Thinner, The Langoliers, and other projects including Dune.

“ScriptCom is going to be good whether you are a beginning screenwriter or you are an A-list screenwriter,” said Jeff Chase vice-president of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association. “There’s going to be something for everybody.”