By Wendy Anderson
It was finally happening. Five years and hundreds of books later, I was on my way to Stowe Story Labs’ Fall Narrative Lab, my twenty-page treatment of STORYTIME, a limited series fantasy drama, tucked onto the laptop. I was attending on a fellowship from Women in Film & Video; as WIFV’s first fellow, I wanted to make a good showing.
The Lab is in its seventh year, and co-founders David Rocchio and David Pope have been committed from the beginning to promoting a diverse community of writers that grows with new gathering. This year, 70% of the Lab attendees were women.
There had been preparatory steps, beyond the writing itself: a one-page, a headshot, synopsis, logline, resume. David Rocchio gave me a call to address any questions and welcome me to the vast family of current and former attendees that includes other WIFV members – Shoshana Rosenbaum, Via Bia, Betty Sullivan, and Brigid Bell McMahon. Katerina Eichenberger, Stowe’s Operations Manager, facilitated the labbers’ planning and sharing costs. For me this meant a sweet opportunity.
Greg O’Braonain, an Irish-American television writer living in Connemara, wanted to fly over early and visit his daughter at college in New Haven. Could I pick him up and we’d share the fuel costs and driving? Having been to Ireland last summer to research one of my main characters, I couldn’t have been more thrilled. Greg turned out to be great company and a tremendous resource, as we talked Irish culture and history, and his long career writing for Irish-language television. We practiced pitching our scripts, as much of the lab work was going to be on crafting and perfecting an excellent working pitch, the calling-card for any project seeking funding, production, or any other type of attention in the tv and film industry. By happy chance, we were both staying at the Brass Lantern Inn, a beautiful bed and breakfast close to the heart of town, with long ties to the Lab.
Stowe, Vermont in early September is a little slice of New England heaven: quaint main street with shops, restaurants, lovely old municipal buildings, picturesque mountains (it’s a very popular ski hub in winter), and a thriving arts scene. Centrally located is the Helen Day Arts Center, a beautiful facility with galleries, studios, and classroom space throughout. Here is where the Lab was to take place.
On our first day, Saturday, we all herded in a bit nervously to the main hall, to be met by the Two Davids. David Rocchio explained how the next four days would unfold, and challenged us to, on each break we had, find two to four new people to meet and discuss our projects. The goal was to widen our personal network to include the whole lab, and become much more comfortable with meeting new people and pitching our projects—since, as writers, we tend to be a bit more introverted that the general population. (Understatement.)
David Pope, a very successful script consultant and screenwriter who leads writers’ labs nationally and internationally, was our content impresario: over the four days of the lab, he gave presentations on Pitching, Theme, and Subtext, and moderated panels on Writing and Collaboration, and Stories Finding Homes, with working screenwriters and producers. David Rocchio wrapped up the last day with a panel on Representation: Contacts and Relationships. In addition to these lectures and panels, there were two kinds of breakout sessions, one, with a variety of mentors, who critiqued our quickly-evolving pitches, and two, peer-to-peer groups of four screenwriters, that gave us a chance to read each other’s full scripts and treatments, and give in-depth feedback. As my script is in the early treatment stage, my peers saved me untold hours of unproductive writing by talking through facets of the story that weren’t working well.
It made for days full of information and necessary downtime in the evenings for reflection and revision and for some, decompressing in informal gatherings at local night spots! (I now know what corn holing is…but only secondhand.) Not surprisingly, the atmosphere of intense collaboration and conversation led to a warm camaraderie among the screenwriters. By the end of the four days, most of us had engaged with all but a handful of the fifty-plus lab attendees—no small feat! In a final exercise, David Rocchio had us sit at tables in groups of five to seven and write out our loglines, which we then passed around the table, writing new versions for each other, with the goal of tightening and clarifying the concept.
For me, this distilled the whole lab into its essence: really good storytellers coming together to share their work, learn together and from those who are further along, and, in a kind of happy osmosis, arrive at new and better stories to tell. What more could you hope for? Thank you Stowe, and thank you WIFV, for this transformative experience. I love to think of all those fellows who will be coming after.
2019 Stowe Story Lab Fellows (pictured above L-R): Gayla Kraetsch Hartsough , Douglas King, Sarah Sellman, Lisa Cole, Gita Vatave, Abhi Jeyakkuma, Wendy Anderson