Monday, July 11, 2011

checking in

The Southampton Screenwriting Conference ended yesterday and the main conference doesn't kick off until Wednesday, so I thought I'd take a moment to check in. I'm a little under the gun in terms of time, however, being that I'm posting this at the public library in Sag Harbor, and my mother is patiently waiting for me to be done so we can head for the ocean. (I know. Tough life. I'll shut up now.)

Thing is, I'm not sure where to start with this post. So much to share! If I had to start with a "complaint," it would be that four days went way too fast, and I was hungry for more. In all, a fantastic experience, the kind that reinforces my love of being a writer, a student of the craft, and a teacher all at the same time. There's something about being in a community of other writers, all of us speaking a common language yet in different ways of expression. Perhaps because writing is so often a solitary act, we need our communities from time to time. We need human contact every now and then.

Some might be surprised to find that I am usually quite shy and reserved at the onset of these things. Registration and orientation made me feel like a college freshman all over again, away from home and overwhelmed and wondering what I was doing here and if I belong. And, as is usually the case, I was making friends and administering hugs on the final day, hoping to see them again.

The days are structured so that the main classes ("workshops") take place in the morning, and additional sessions ("electives") in the afternoon. Evenings are filled with panel discussions and guest speakers, an open mic night, readings, etc.

My workshop couldn't have been more tailored for me, a newbie screenwriter, not to mention my interests. It was recommended I take Stephen Molton's Screenplay Adaptation class. My two classmates and I (and how awesome was that--so much individual attention for each of us! I'd love to shout from the rooftops that everyone should take this class, but the small size was utterly delightful for me) each chose one of our own pieces to adapt. One of my classmates chose a short story; the other, and myself, chose a novel. I went with Ordinary World because my WILS co-author and I had already collaborated on a screenplay for Faking It 5 1/2 years ago, and I wanted to work with something else.

Stephen is a fantastic teacher--artistic, intelligent, engaging, charismatic--he is the quintessential storyteller with a wealth of experience and an ability to listen as well as to see. He knows how to spot the gold nuggets in the sand (anyone notice how that's become my go-to metaphor as of late?), and got me to step out of the literal (and literary) progression of Ordinary World and see it more as a visual medium, inviting me to develop antagonists "hidden in plain sight," as he described them (and I hope to do a blogpost on protags and antags when I get back). He had this insight for each of us. He was respectful of our work, our craft, and our level of expertise (or lack thereof, since we were all beginners as far as screenwriting was concerned).

We didn't get to do any actual screenwriting--there simply wasn't time. However, by our last meeting, we had each crafted an outline and saw the possibilities for our works-in-progress. Ultimately, Stephen (and two electives, in particular) got my wheels spinning and caused me sleep loss, all in that way that is more invigorating than debilitating.

All this set in Southampton. Who could ask for more? And how does one go back to daily life?

Up next: Short fiction. Admittedly, this class was not my first choice (novel-writing was already filled), and I am even more nervous and intimidated than I was to be surrounded by so many talented screenwriters. However, after talking with my fellow writers, I was reminded that the experience will, if nothing else, put me in the shoes of my freshman students who come to me just as afraid and intimidated because they are sailing in unchartered academic waters, looking for me to be their compass. I will be able to relate to them, assure them that they know more than they think they do, and they'll know something by the time they leave.

If only I could do that on the backdrop of an ocean breeze.