Christian Screenwriters' Newsletter
Vol 5, No 1, June 2009
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1. Faith Article: Solving Story Problems
2. Interview: Kevin McCloskey, Screenwriter, “Tetloach’s American Dream.” (First Place Winner of the Faith and Values Screenwriting Competition)
3. Released and Soon-to-Be Released Christian Movies
4. Announcement: International Christian Visual Media (www.icvm.com)
5. Upcoming Contests
Hi, Christian Screenwriters! I hope you are continuing to write even in this recession. God’s word still has to go out and now, more than ever, people are looking for hope and meaning.
You may have wondered where I have been for a year and a half, since the last newsletter was published in January of 2008. I’ve just completed a WWII documentary for producer/director Jeffrey Worthington entitled “For the Love of Freedom.” It encapsulates the story of WWII with interviews of veterans who fought in the war, starting from their youth in the Depression era, to their time on the battlefield, to coming home victorious, and what it all means to them. You can view the site at http://www.fortheloveoffreedom.com.
Since I am finished this project, I’m opening up the doors again to my script analysis service. Many of you have been asking about script analysis. I would welcome receiving your scripts again. The rate is still the same. If you would like more information, please email me at email@example.com.
Way back in 2007, we started the Faith and Values Screenwriting Competition. Since that time, Kevin McCloskey’s first place winning script, “Tetloach’s American Dream,” was optioned by Believe Pictures, headed by Brian Bird and Michael Landon Jr. Congratulations, Kevin! An interview with Kevin follows.
If any of you who entered the contest have a success story to tell about the script you entered, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would like to publish our writers’ successes in the next issue of the newsletter.
Please also note the announcement about the ICVM conference coming up in July. I have been to two conferences so far and they are a great time of fellowship, learning, and networking.
Faith Article: Solving Story Problems
Psalm 71:3: Be my strong habitation, To which I may resort continually.
As writers, we’ve encountered story problems more times than we’d like to acknowledge. What do you do when you encounter a story problem? Some writers write through it, trying to work it out as they go along. Some writers stop writing and do something else, and then come back to the work later, and that seems to resolve the story problem. Others get so upset they shelve their writing, sometimes for months, sometimes for years. Some give up totally. What do you think you should do first? David knew that God was his refuge and his strong habitation, a God he could call on continually. The first thing we should do when we encounter a story problem is to take a moment and pray to God to resolve the story problem. So many times when I’ve prayed to God first, I find a solution. When I don’t pray, I feel frustrated and the writing is more difficult. So when you encounter problems in your writing, run to the Lord. Pray as many times as it takes. He will be your strong habitation. He will solve your story problems and help you to write the most God-honoring script you can!
My prayer to resort to the Lord continually, when I encounter story problems:
Lord Jesus, You say in your word that You are a strong tower and that we can run to you continually and be safe. Whenever I encounter problems in my writing, help me to call on You first, to bring the problems to You, and You will give me the wisdom I need to solve them. I thank You for being there for me at all times. Amen.
Exercise: Take out a script that you have not worked on for awhile because you had difficulty writing it. Pray about each story problem and see how the Lord helps you solve each of them.
2. Interview with Kevin McCloskey, Screenwriter, “Tetloach’s American Dream.” (First Place Winner of Faith and Values Screenwriting Competition)
CSN: Kevin, congratulations on getting “Tetloach’s American Dream” optioned by Believe Pictures. Can you give us the logline of the script? Can you tell us when the script was optioned and how it came about that Believe Pictures optioned it?
KM: The original logline for “Tetloach’s American Dream” was: An African Man shows up at the Missouri home of the family who’ve been supporting him at $20 a month since he was a child to pursue the American dream, and their daughter. Since being optioned by Believe Pictures, it has undergone some changes, most significantly moving the setting from rural Missouri to urban Hollywood. We’ve also removed the “romantic comedy” angle of the story and focused on the fish out-of-water comedy encountered by Tetloach when he arrives in America and things are so different than he imagined. The option process was started last year. I met Brian Bird, one of the partners in Believe Pictures, through a writing program I went through called Act One. Brian is on the teaching faculty of Act One, and he mentored me once I completed the program. Once I finished writing “Tetloach”, he read it and liked it. He showed it to his partner, Michael Landon, Jr., and they decided it fit with their vision and wanted to option it.
CSN: Who are the principals of Believe Pictures and what kind of films do they produce? How is it working with them on this script?
KM: (Claire – you can get everything you want about Believe Pictures from their website…www.believe-pictures.com) It has been great to work with Brian Bird to re-break the script. He has an incredible sense of story – what works best, when to reveal key story points, what we need to know and what we don’t about a character, etc. Brian draws from extensive screenwriting experience in both television and film. He has really honed his screenwriting craft over many, many years in the business. Between Brian and Michael, they have written, produced and directed dozens of film and television productions and they have a great sense of what the best choices are in a story. When we meet together to work on the story, I feel very fortunate to be working with such seasoned professionals who are also really good people. I am just breaking into the industry and am very grateful to have the opportunity to continue working on a story I care so much about.
CSN: I know you are doing rewrites of “Tetloach” as we speak. Describe the development process. What are you learning? How is the script being improved?
KM: Believe Pictures loved the heart of the story, and that’s why they optioned the script. However, they had some very specific things they wanted to change about the story. I have had to keep a very open mind about the changes to the story – which was quite easy to do because of the background and experience Believe Pictures has in producing films. As we’ve worked on the script, and focused on heightening the contrast of Tetloach’s world and that of his sponsor family in Hollywood, it’s gotten much funnier. It’s also allowed Tetloach to be an outside observer of the American culture – seeing the things we take for granted and offering a fresh perspective. This process has already greatly improved the script. I’ve always known that filmmaking is a highly collaborative process, but often writing is a solitary experience. Being able to work in partnership with Believe to improve the story and the script is very cool both for me as a developing screenwriter but also for the story.
CSN: Kevin, why did you become a writer?
KM: I have always loved storytelling. I spent my childhood getting my friends together and doing “plays”, writing stories on an electric typewriter and shooting music videos. I went to UC San Diego film school to go into directing, but I was drawn into inner-city ministry while in college. Once I graduated, I went right into full-time urban ministry and for years I never looked back. Then, around the year 2000, I found myself longing to start creating again. So, I began writing a novel and performing in community theatre. It was like returning to my first love. Suddenly, I couldn’t get enough of the arts. I began taking classes, writing short stories and plays and then moved to Los Angeles to begin pursuing writing full-time. I write because I believe in the power of stories. Stories can instruct, inspire, entertain, convict, challenge and empower. I believe we’ve been designed to understand the world through stories. The Bible is the story of God’s relationship with humanity. The prophets, Jesus and the disciples used imagery, parables and stories to communicate the truth of God’s love and plans to all of us. Cultures pass down morals, values and traditions through stories. There is much to learn from listening to lectures, reading manuals and doing hands-on work. But stories always have, and I believe always will, be one of the most powerful and effective methods of communication. I want to be in the center of where the world’s stories originate, which, right now, is Hollywood.
CSN: How did you get started in the business?
KM: Well, I feel like I’m still getting started, to be honest. But I feel like there were a couple of things that really helped me start to make a break in. Living close to Los Angeles definitely helped. There are just a lot of people around that are involved or trying to break into the entertainment industry. The next thing I did was to say “Yes”. Yes to just about everything. I wrote and produced a sitcom pilot with my brother with a naiveté which made me believe we would actually sell it! I produced a short film with a group of friends, began writing scripts for my church… I could go on and on. The point is, each time I said “Yes” to a project, I built new relationships, enhanced my skills and became a better writer. None of these projects “hit it big”, but each one was instrumental in getting me where I am now – standing at the door of a screenwriting career. Also, I make writing a priority for me. It’s easy to have excuses for why there is no time to write. My life is just as full as the next guy’s. But if I want to make it in this business, I have to find the time. Sometimes I get up at 5:30am just to make sure I get one hour of writing in. I’ve committed myself to being a writer.
CSN: You were hired to write one of the first webisodes on the Net, “Tyler’s Ride.” Can you tell us a bit about “Tyler’s Ride”? Can you tell us who hired you and how that experience went? What did you like about it?
KM: “Tyler’s Ride” was a production of Paulist Productions, a non-profit, faith-based production company that has a long history of producing thought-provoking, spiritually themed film, television and now new media projects. It was a great experience, and it illustrates what I was just saying about saying “Yes”. A group of friends and I decided to produce a short film and enter it in a film festival called 168 Hour Film Project. One of the other producers there liked our film and she asked if we could get together for coffee. That woman was Christine Park, and she was the producer of Tyler’s Ride. They were looking for a writer, but it had to be someone who understood how to tell an entire story in 3 – 4 minutes, because that’s all the time we had for each webisode. Since I had done a short film and I had been writing short dramas and videos for my church for over two years, I understood short form and was able to give Christine a number of script and video samples. I got the job and had a tremendous time working on it. Christine was very collaborative and had a strong vision for the series. She and I had many meetings to break the story out over 12 episodes, giving the main characters a believable arc, ending each episode with a small cliff-hanger to keep the audience coming back and infusing spiritual themes, without being didactic or preachy. After these meetings, I would go off and write the scripts. When each script was completed, I would send them to her, she would give me her notes, I’d make the changes, and if she liked it, she’d give it to the executives who would make small, additional changes. It was a great process and an incredible learning experience. The best part came once we went into production. I was able to be on set for a couple of days and watch the process of seeing my words come to life. I had produced my own work before, but this was the first time that I wrote something and then was basically uninvolved until the day of the shoot. To see all of these professionals come together around a story I helped create, it was very exciting. This is why I do what I do!
CSN: What would you say is your favourite script that you’ve written and why?
KM: That’s a great question. Seems like the script I’m working on is always my favourite for the moment. I just completed a feature screenplay called “Counting in Baht”. It’s about a guy who’s a good, religious, family man who has to drop everything and travel to Thailand to take care of his father who’s just had a heart attack. He and his dad could not be more different. And as much as the main character hates to admit it, he and his dad are a lot more alike than he cares to admit. This trip to Thailand brings up all the demons in this guy’s life and he’s not prepared to deal with them. What I like about the story is the level of honesty I’ve been able to get to. I believe these characters, I see what’s redeeming and what’s broken in each one. It’s a story of judgement, grace and forgiveness. It’s not clean and easy, in fact it’s quite messy. But I think it’s much truer to life than many films out there.
CSN: Do you have a day job? Any family, pets, etc.? How does your family feel about your recent successes? They must be excited for you.
KM: Yes, I am the director of children’s ministry at my church just outside of Los Angeles, Calvary Community Church. I oversee our Sunday morning children’s services, as well as direct Spotlight, a Creative Arts Academy we started at the church. I’m married to the most wonderful, supportive wife in the world and we have two daughters, Rachel and Grace, and a little boy who will be born this summer. My girls ask me constantly, “What’s going on with Tetloach?” It’s like he’s become part of the family. They are dying to go to my first movie premiere. Hopefully it won’t be too far off!!
CSN: What is next on your agenda as a screenwriter? What are some of your short-term and long-term goals?
KM: As I mentioned, I have two screenplays that I’m starting to show to people I know. In addition to “Counting in Baht”, I’ve written a family comedy with my writing partner, Carin Chapin, called “Stage Dad”, about a janitor who has to transform into a Stage Dad when his daughter gets cast in a ‘tween television variety show. It’s a lot of fun. I’m also starting to look for an agent or a manager. I’ve not felt like I had enough experience or material to look for representation. But now I believe I’m ready and my writing is ready.
CSN: What advice would you give to Christian screenwriters regarding writing and/or breaking into the business?
KM: The advice I’d give to screenwriters regarding breaking into the business is what I have to tell myself all of the time: don’t give up. Make the decision whether you are a writer or not, and once that decision is made, don’t look back. Keep writing, keep developing and keep saying “yes”. There will be a ton of rejections along the way. Don’t let that discourage you. All you need is one person who has the ability to get it produced to like your work, and then things can get started. It could take 5 – 10 years to find that one person or to get your writing in shape and ready to be produced. But if you are a writer, and you find joy in the process of writing, stick with it. The benefit of being a Christian screenwriter is that we have the Creator involved in the process of creating characters, stories and whole worlds when we write. Writing is an opportunity for a Christian screenwriter to be in communion with our Creator. That in and of itself should be reason enough to keep writing!
CSN: Please leave your email if you would like the screenwriters and producers on this list to get in touch with you. Thank you, Kevin and the best of success to you!
KM: Of course: email@example.com
Thanks for this opportunity, Claire. God Bless you and all you do!
3. Released and Soon-to-Be Released Christian Movies
No Greater Love–www.nogreaterlovethemovie.com by Coram Deo Studios
Come What May—www.comewhatmaythemovie.com by Advent Film Group
The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry—www.sperrymovie.com by Christiano Films/Five & Two Pictures
Silent Fall—www.silentfall.com by Harvest Media Ministry
Standing Firm—www.standingfirmmovie.com by Praise Pictures
Saving God—www.savinggodmovie.com by Cloud Ten Pictures and Clear Entertainment
Dangerous Calling - http://www.dangerouscalling.com by the Daws Brothers
Find Me - http://www.findmethemovie.com by Trost Moving Pictures
Treasure Blind – http://www.cloudtenpictures.com - Cloud Ten Pictures (distributor)
Genius Club - http://www.cloudtenpictures.com - Cloud Ten Pictures (distributor)
4. Announcement: International Christian Visual Media (icvm.com)
The International Christian Visual Media Catalyst Conference is in Denver, Colorado, July 7 - 10, 2009. The theme of this year's conference is “Refresh the Call.” Network with producers, distributors, writers, actors and media professionals while taking time to refresh the call God has on your life.
Some of the guest speakers this year include: Dr. Linda Seger - script consultant, Alex Kendrick - Fireproof, and Mark Early - Prison Fellowship. Complete details are available online at http://www.facebook.com/l/;www.icvm.com.
5. Upcoming Contests
(Thanks to Moviebytes.com)
The following contests have deadlines coming up in the next
July 15, 2009
March 2, 2009 (early); June 15, 2009 (regular); July 15, 2009 (final).
May 15, 2009 (early); July 15, 2009 (final).
July 20, 2009
May 12, 2009 (early); June 12, 2009 (regular); July 12, 2009 (late); July 22, 2009 (WithoutABox)
July 27, 2009
March 15, 2009 (regular); June 15, 2009 (late); July 31, 2009 (extended)
March 31, 2009 (early); May 31, 2009 (regular); June 30, 2009 (late); July 15, 2009 (revisions); July 31, 2009 (final)
Early: February 28, 2009; Regular: April 30, 2009; Late: May 30, 2009; Final: July 31, 2009
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