DC Shorts Mentors is a great new opportunity for aspiring filmmakers to learn how to make movies. Over four weekends in March and April, you learn how to write, cast, shoot and market your cinematic vision.
I had the chance to speak at the March 3rd session, which covered screenwriting. Joined by some great panelists, including Hollywood vet Monica Lee Bellais and local screenwriter Khris Baxter, we shared tips and techniques on how to translate a story into a fully-realized screenplay.
It was very informal. After brief introductions, we took questions from a class of around 4o people in the super-hip Gibson Guitar Room. We covered topics such as screenplay formatting, breaking into Hollywood, pitching to producers, television writing, treatments, agents versus managers, local resources (such as WIFV) and working on documentaries.
Monica had a wealth of information on getting your script read by producers. To get past jaded Hollywood gatekeepers, your script must be more than a just great story – it has to be in the right format and pitched to the right people. Khris stressed that you can be a screenwriter outside of LA, and offered the example of Sunshine Cleaning writer Megan Holley, who lives in Richmond.
I’ve written six screenplays and won the Film DC Screenwriting Competition. The experience of going to LA taught me that it’s better to do it yourself than wait to be discovered. I suggested writing a short script and entering it into DC Shorts. Or getting a team together and making a film for the 48 Hour Film Project. You can make a film with an iPhone these days – why not do it?
After the panel, things got interesting. The writers had an hour to write a short scene which would then be read aloud by local actors. It was really fascinating to watch the reading – the actors were pros, who did a great job with material they had just been handed. The writers learned a lot too. It can feel embarrassing the first time to hear your words read aloud. But it’s an inevitable part of the process. If you’re a screenwriter, your work will (hopefully) make it to the big screen where people will see it.
I’ve been part of DC Shorts for years as a judge, photographer, volunteer wrangler, etc… I’ve stayed with it because Jon Gann does things in a professional yet casual way – it’s all about the artist. But what I really liked about DC Shorts Mentors was the focus on the practical. This wasn’t some screenwriting seminar selling an impossible dream for an outrageous price. This wasn’t theory. Instead, these inexpensive seminars offered hands-on instruction from people with real experience.
Bonus: see photos from the March 3rd class.