I remember it well. The Cinestory Writers Retreat. September, 2007. As my writing colleagues gathered in the social room and swapped war stories, I was led by Pam Pierce and all seven mentors from that year to my suite, for an atomic and hard-hitting think-tank session. It got loud. It got crazy. Several drained wine bottles later, this band of hardened producers, writers, agents, and managers left me with my creative tanks recharged.
The question that held this meeting together was a simple one, although as difficult to answer as Plato pondering the meaning of life. “Where do you go from here?” I thought I was prepared for whatever they could wing at me – I had confidence, enthusiasm, bravado, and was ready to go. I had written a strong and well-received screenplay, which took the top prize at that year’s Cinestory Screenwriting Competition, and was relying on them to provide me with a road map with my next steps. I returned to the retreat (my second) as a winner and looked to use this as a springboard for my career in screenwriting. The question broadsided me – “Where do you go from here?” No semblance of an articulate response formed in my head. I think my answer was – “Huh?”
Before the retreat wound down, I selected my two mentors from the bank of industry insiders who had spent the weekend in Idyllwild. I chose producers Amy Salko-Robertson and Valeska Ramet. I was also told by the remaining mentors that they were only an email away, in case I needed advice, professionalism, or “happy talk,” for whenever I needed help off that proverbial ledge. (This would come in handy when I needed sound advice during the writer’s strike a couple months later).
Amy and Valeska stayed on point, hammering home that seemingly trifling question – “Where do you go from here?” They advised me to write bigger, more commercially. My screenplay THE RUT was a strong sample. It was time to focus on a project that would sell. I listed story ideas. They were shot down. I listed more. Finally, each of them selected the strongest, biggest idea. It’s all about the idea. You want to quit your day job and write full time? Think bigger.
It’s been three years since that mental smack-down in my suite at Idyllwild. Amy and Valeska helped me to see screenwriting – and Hollywood – as a business in general. Sure, it’s an art. But it’s an art driven by making money. Since then, these big ideas helped me land two management teams, one for my features and one for my TV writing. My winning screenplay, THE RUT, is currently being packaged by ICM Entertainment with Karyn Kusama (GIRLFIGHT, JENNIFER’S BODY) attached to direct and Chloe Moretz (Hit Girl from KICK ASS) to star.
I am not sure if that question was answered that night. I’m not sure it could have been. I do know, next time I am asked, “Where do I go from here,” I can honestly respond with an heartfelt and well-earned “up.” Because of Cinestory, my objectives have been spelled out, and become more focused and more attainable.