It was finals week of my last semester of college at James Madison University last year when I saw on the WIFV listserv an email about the May Wednesday One called “Bridging your Career Between DC and LA.” The panel discussion was slated to happen a few days later, just before graduation. Being a film and television major, I wanted to go and soak up all the information I could get. Finished with my exams, I packed an overnight bag and drove home. I left my parents’ house early before the event to give myself time just in case a snafu occurred on the Metro. I showed up at Interface Media Group a half hour early, and naturally was the first attendee to arrive.
That’s how I met WIFV board member, Monica Lee Bellais, an LA transplant who hosted the evening. Rounding out the LA contingent were two other board members, Catherine Wyler (producer) and Paige Gold (entertainment lawyer), as well as two-time Oscar and Emmy recipient Russell Williams (professor at American University). As the night’s discussion went on, I could tell during that Monica not only knows story and how to write a script, but genuinely cares about the screenwriting talent within the DC area. From the experiences the panel shared, I learned I could reach Hollywood from DC!
In August, I signed up for Monica’s screenwriting workshop. At the beginning, most of the screenwriters were protective of their scripts, in fear of someone stealing their ideas. Monica ran the workshop as a development session, the way she learned from her former bosses, Oscar-winning writer/director/producer, James Cameron, and his producing partner, Jon Landau, while working at Lightstorm Entertainment. Over the course of several workshops, we writers opened up, learned to trust each other, and became friends. We keep each other accountable and encourage one another to press on when writing seems to be the hardest part of the day. We writers have now gotten our scripts (from multiple genres) to a point where they can hold their own in the marketplace.
Each week of the workshop, in addition to learning screenwriting tips and entertainment scoop, Monica had fantastic guest speakers. Either in person or via Skype, they talked about the craft of screenwriting. Paige Gold, Joel Westbook, producer at Interface Media Group, Golan Ramras, LA/NY producer, and Kimberly Skyrme, local casting director for House of Cards, all shared their areas of expertise within the entertainment industry.
It was during these workshops that Monica developed the Spotlight on Screenwriters program. The idea behind it is to collect movie and television scripts from DC-based writers and find the best ones. A book of one-sheets from the selected scripts will be created and then sent out to top producers, talent, and financiers. Think of it as a calling card for the DC screenwriting community. Monica shared her vision for Spotlight on Screenwriters with the WIFV board and the DC Office of Motion Picture & Television Development (MPTD). Both organizations endorsed her vision and are backing it, as are Script Magazine and The Writers Store. It’s evident by the way WIFV board members and MPTD Director Pierre Bagley talk about Spotlight on Screenwriters that they share Monica’s enthusiasm for DC writers. There’s a twinkle in their eye when they talk about the talent of the DC screenwriting community.
I’m so glad I made the decision to go to that May Wednesday One last year. I’ve become friends with people who are passionate about storytelling. I know this community will keep growing and become a force to be reckoned with, and I’m really excited about submitting my own screenplay. I look forward to providing updates to the WIFV community as things develop!