It was with great sadness that I stepped down from the FiLMLaB leadership last September. I preferred to stay, but every time I penciled it out on paper, I just couldn’t see how I would manage a home remodel, attend to ailing parents and give FiLMLaB the attention it needs and deserves.
It is with a glad heart that I am back.
“At FiLMLaB, the experiment is you.” And it is me. And it is the director, the cinematographer, the gaffer and the talent. Everyone associated with the production, from the writer to the caterer is part of the experiment. The end result is less important than the process, because Willamette Writers is not in the business of making movies. We are a non-profit dedicated to helping writers, all writers, become better at their craft. FiLMLaB is one of the tools we use to help aspiring screenwriters understand what happens once the script leaves their hands. Instead of being banished from the film set ala Charlie Kaufman in Adaptation, the writer is able to participate in planning and pre-production meetings and be present during the shoot.
That is not to say they’re in charge; that would be crazy talk.
This year’s winner, Jon Dragt, began his experiment with a meeting at the Cynthia Whitcomb Writer’s House (the location of the shoot) with two time FiLMLaB director, Chris Alley of Ampersand Productions. A few weeks later, Ampersand had to withdraw from the ‘lab’ and a new director, Martin Vavra (Galaxy Sailor Productions) was brought in.
The experiment has changed. The vision the writer brought to the story has been altered not once, but twice, and will continue to be altered and/or expanded by the addition of each contributor; Assistant Director Alyssa Roehrenbeck, Director of Photography Phil Anderson, Art Director Jason Ball and so on.
I would say that film is a collaborative medium, but you already knew that.
Haley Isleib (2012 winner) will be the first to tell you that of all the effort that went into producing her short film Alis Volat Propriis; hers was the least. She is not being modest, she’s just doing math. She submitted her short script minutes before the deadline ended, having spent a few hours noodling around with some ideas. Then a bunch of other creative people (lead by Chris Alley) put in well over 200 hundred hours to bring her story to the screen. That is not an insignificant thing, especially when you consider that most of that time was donated (Chris Alley never took a salary during his tenure).
We are very fortunate in Portland to have so many talented and generous film professionals to call upon for FiLMLaB experiments. As my first order of business let me say thank you to everyone associated with the previous FiLMLaB productions, especially Chris Alley, Tony Forsyth, Emily Wuhl and Eric Macey, for the countless hours and phenomenal work they have done on behalf of our winning writers; and to everyone, named and unnamed, associated with this year’s production of Unwelcome Guests for the work you will do. FiLMLaB will never have the kind of budget to adequately repay you for your time and creative contributions. We are so very grateful that you believe in the experiment and stepped into the lab.