Serendipitous Screenwriting Summer


I have wandered back into my dream of being a writer. Even though I have been writing in various ways throughout my life, I had been busy managing a new business – no time for blogging or pursuing freelance work. As soon as I let go of running a business, writing crawled right back up into my lap and started purring.

This past spring, I left my colonial in the Maryland suburbs, and with the blessing of my extended family and wonderful husband, I accompanied two of my children on a five-month assignment to get them settled in Hollywood until my youngest turned 18. My daughter was pursuing an unexpected opportunity that stoked her Hollywood dreams. My son came along for the adventure. And I went too, to support their dreams – and to have a little adventure of my own. I left behind an overwhelm of obligations, and came to LA with plans that had a lot of open spaces in them.

I volunteered to proofread a screenplay for a project my daughter’s manager was considering, thinking I had volunteered for a few hours work. I had never read a screenplay before; the format and software were new to me. The writer had been an illiterate Bulgarian orphan for the first twelve years of his life. His tale was compelling, although the grammar was garbled. I could see he needed help telling this story, but it was beyond commas and spelling.syd-field-quote

The Bulgarian had solicited help from his roommate, an aspiring screenwriter from Toronto. This writer was grateful for another person on the project, not wanting the massive amount of revisions to harm the relationship with his roommate. Although I didn’t realize it at first, I was the editorial scapegoat.

We were under intense time constraints, with two readings scheduled. We might work together for 12 to even 16 hours a day, resolving issues that arose from the feedback we got at the readings.


Me waiting to cross Hollywood Blvd, as seen from the writer’s apartment balcony.

Our office was their unairconditioned bachelor apartment on Hollywood Boulevard, 3×5 cards sprawling across the living room wall. I am old enough to be their mothers and had to resist the urge to tidy the place up – just a bit. Not ideal conditions for hot flashes, but I was having fun working this writing puzzle.

We all worked on spec, hoping to get paid when an investor comes on board to set production in motion- working on optimism and good faith. I figured, at worst, I got a free class on screenwriting, and at best?…well those possibilities seem dream-like. I happened to be completely available, and the kids didn’t mind me being busy, so I plunged into the deep end.

At times, in the intricate re-living of the events, the writer whose story we were telling would remember things that happened, and we would want to include those too. And then we would revise again to smooth out the ripple effect each new element created in the rest of the story.

In time, trust grew, the Bulgarian checking-in from time to time while he set up meetings with investors. We trimmed and expanded and trimmed again, coming more easily to consensus, adding layers and connections beneath the different sub-stories.

Now I feel such a connection to these characters. We would discuss backstories that never made it into the script to help us understand their motivations. The scenes we deleted are their secret lives, what they might have done instead.

The story is grim. And despite the heartbreak and the close encounter with evil, it is amazing that Hope and even Joy, survive in those circumstances. That this light-hearted soul swinging in the swivel chair across from me had endured these horrors was inexplicable. Hope wins.

I’m such a newbie to the screenwriter’s scene, but I do feel like this movie has a good chance of going into production. That could be naïve idealism, but I’m hoping it’s Beginner’s Luck. Telling this tale will shine a light in a dark place. Ultimately I hope that it will motivate viewers to act, to help take a stand against that darkness.

So whether it does, or whether is doesn’t go further than the story on the page, I have learned a tremendous amount about the screenwriting, story telling, and the group writing process. None of it would have been possible if I hadn’t acted on this kind of crazy idea of moving to Hollywood with my daughter, who by the way is going to many auditions, and taking classes, and feeling optimistic. She’s even had a few paid gigs too! Her brother is doing well too, taking classes and working part-time. And now in a twist on the typical order of things, it is the mom who is ready to fly away and leave the babies in the nest.

What’s next? Well, a little reality needs attending and I will be working an administrative job to whittle away some of this travel debt. And I have started a second project with the Canadian, seeing what it’s like to build a script from the beginning. And maybe after that I’ll try one of my own ideas. I have learned that the possibilities are move vast than I ever realized.

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