A Winner Weighs in on FiLMLaB
by Barbara Thomas
First, I’d like to thank Ruth Witteried for the opportunity to blog about my conference experience. It’s a second draft, so to speak, of all the not-terribly-eloquent things I said during the Willamette Writers Conference.
Throughout the weekend I was asked “How does it feel to watch a movie you wrote?” I think I answered with variations of “Amazing.” “Cool!” and “Better than sex. Well, not all sex, just some sex.” (Apologies to the people I’ve had sex with. Not that there are all that many. Not that there’s anything wrong with having several partners.)
Anyway, the real answer to “how does it feel to watch a movie you wrote” is:
Making a film requires so much work, from so many people, none of which were me. I typed:
Int. Coffeeshop – Day
And because of those words, locations were scouted, permits obtained, equipment hauled, sets dressed, lighting rigged, cameras positioned, shots blocked. Actors rehearsed, had to be coiffed and made up, rehearsed some more, did take after take. When the actual shoot ended, the work of post-production began. Editing, color correction, music – all of which involve countless hours and infinite patience.
All because I typed:
Int. Coffeeshop – Day
This is not to diminish the job of writing; it is work and it does present its own challenges. But none of them involved twenty-six hours under hot lights, you know what I mean? I cannot thank the cast and crew, Ampersand, and Willamette Writers enough.
Of course the people who made this film (Chris, Eric, Brynn, Greg, Ruth, Stefan et al) didn’t do it as a personal favor to me. They did it because they, like me, enjoy creating stories for other people to enjoy. That’s why most people who make movies do what they do. (Allegedly, there is money to be made as well but this may just be an urban legend.)
Another question I was asked at the conference was “What are your influences?” I believe I answered this one with “Um…I’m sure I have influences, I just can’t think of any.” Very articulate of me!
Back at home, I made a list of the writers, television shows and films that I thought had a significant impact on my writing. It’s a long list. Diverse, too. I realized that what really influenced me was not so much a show or a movie or a writer, but a concept: give it chance.
When I was growing up, there were only the big three networks, plus PBS and our local TV station, that ran syndicated shows most of the day. If I wanted to watch TV, I watched whatever happened to be on: MGM musicals, Masterpiece Theater. Monty Python, The Dick Van Dyke Show, whatever. If I wanted to read a book, there was one bookstore at the mall and the library, which, as far as I could tell, carried no books published after I was born. I might be the only person under the age of seventy who is well versed in the adventures of the Bobbsey Twins. We lived within walking distance of a second-run theater, and on Tuesdays, all showings were just fifty cents. When I was old enough to go alone, I’d spend my whole week’s allowance watching whatever films happened to be playing there. Some of them were movies I’d have wanted to see anyway (Sixteen Candles) but I also saw films like Educating Rita, and A Private Function.
Today we have seemingly unlimited options. You can read any book, watch practically any film or TV show ever made in the palm of your hand. But the funny thing about having so many choices is that they quickly become overwhelming. “Should I get invested in this new series that I haven’t heard much about and will probably be canceled before I finish the second episode? Eh, there’s probably a Law and Order on one of these channels….” We seldom take chances anymore with what we read or watch, because we don’t have to. There is always a known quantity available. But we miss so much that way.
Another thing I heard frequently at the conference was, “Aww, you brought your mom.” Yes, my mother attended the screening, because odds are, I will not be winning an Oscar anytime soon. I had an Oscar style speech prepared, which I forgot to give. So here it is:
“I started writing fiction when I was about five years old. My first story was about a flea named Herman who wanted to leave the dog he lived on and become a tugboat captain. I remember that story because my mother saved it, and gave it to me some thirty years later. I have given up on myself and my writing too many times to count over the years, but Mom, you never, ever gave up on me. And that’s why I’m here today. Thank you. This does not mean you are allowed to die now.”
Finally, if you are a writer, you should enter FiLMLaB next year. I honestly might not have said that two months ago, when I was eyeball-deep in rewrites and wondering if the finished film would look even remotely like the one I wrote. But that’s the process, folks. Last month, I had the opportunity to interview for The Quest, a screenwriting mentorship program with Scott Myers of Go Into the Story. I didn’t get in (but fellow Conference attendee Waka Brown did, so visit the GITS blog for updates on her journey). Anyway, during my interview, I talked about FiLMLaB and my frustration that budget and logistics were affecting the script, that I was struggling to satisfy multiple people with these rewrites while trying to maintain my own voice. And Scott said, “Congratulations. You’ve just described how most films are made.”
The greatest prize of FiLMLaB isn’t the film itself, or the subsequent IMDB credit, it’s the experience. You get a tiny, tiny taste of what it’s like to be an actual, working screenwriter. And you get to have it in a safe environment, where you won’t get fired if you need a little hand-holding halfway through.
This is already twice as long as these blog posts are supposed to be (sorry, Ruth) but all put together, they comprise not just my experience at FiLMLaB but my philosophy on writing and on life.
Be humble, be thankful, do the work, love what you do, don’t give up and be willing to experiment.