LA Independent Film Festival Awards

A friend asked if I’d written a screenplay to submit to the Anchorage International Film Festival. And did I know the deadline was a week away? “No,” I said, “It’s a month away.”  “Uh-uh,” she said, “One week.” After I screamed no-o-o-o-o-o, I thought long and hard. Do I want to wait yet another year to submit? No, a voice in my head thundered back. I’ll never do it. I’ll never write it.

Do it now. Just, DO IT.

Ever since I saw The Wizard of Oz as a five-year-old, I’ve wanted to write a movie, but figured it was too complicated. After worming my way into being an extra in several movies filmed in Alaska, I learned much behind the scenes about the do’s and don’t’s of writing a script. Mostly the don’ts.

With only a week to go before submission, I dusted off a play I’d written for the Last Frontier Theatre Conference.  After the staged reading, one of the evaluators made the comment, “This would make a good movie.”

That comment is what kept the fire lit in my belly to write it as a movie.

I dusted off my play and expanded a scene list for a movie. I was amazed at how free and creative I could be, taking my scenes anyplace I wanted, not just limited to certain stage settings. I used aerial birds-eye views, ground level views, I  panned rooms, landscapes. I brought in new characters, expanded my theme–the thing grew into a multi-faceted story with a few subplots.

In addition to the usual story construction of beginning, middle, and end and all that goes with basic storytelling, I discovered movies have a specific required format and structure. Certain things must happen by page 10. If the audience doesn’t get the movie by page 30, better start over.

Once I figured out whether a scene is INT., EXT., or inside-and-outside, it smoothed out. Probably because I’ve seen, oh, I don’t know–a gazillion movies in my life. I knew the basic storyline, then wrote by the seat of my pants without a net, like a wild woman. I was ecstatic just to finish the thing!

I studied The Screenwriters Bible, Syd Field’s Foundations for Screenwriting, and my all-time fave, Screenwriting for Dummies. I crammed like it was finals week.  I took my 30-minute play and turned it into a full-bodied, multi-faceted, somewhat action-packed, drama feature.

In one week. I don’t recommend this. Mostly because I slept all of 25 hours the entire week, and didn’t leave myself time for revision before submitting.

Live and learn. I learned.

I had to think like a movie. Once I got the hang of it and planted myself in the zone, I couldn’t stop. The first draft, I fought the format in Word. I don’t recommend this either. It wasn’t worth the time and hassle of fixing the spacing each time I revised. I bought Final Draft, and haven’t looked back. The program does all spacing and formatting, converts it to the industry standard of pdf and even has a feature to register for a Writer’s Guild of America number if one chooses. I did, because I’m a neophyte, and have heard horror stories of films being made from pirated scripts.

I finished the script and submitted it to the Anchorage Film Festival. It’s too bad I didn’t start a month or so earlier.  I could have submitted a more polished script.  I’ve revised the thing 38 times now. It’s  starting to look like a movie. After I submitted to AIFF, via the Film Freeway site, up popped the opportunity to submit to the L.A. Independent Film Festival.

What do I have to lose? My itchy trigger finger submitted my 21st or 22nd revision, I lost count. Wow, the Big Kahunas down in L.A.! Imagine my surprise when they emailed me a CONGRATULATIONS, EVACUATION IS IN THE SEMI-FINALS!

After I picked myself off the floor, I panicked. My script still needs revision! I hunkered down to study all things screenwriting for a month–reading everything I can get my hands on, watching podcast after podcast, taking webinars. The beauty of this process is, I can revise this script forever if I want to. First, I’ll get it critiqued by the pros. No, it isn’t free.

But I’ve stumbled upon something new I love to write. I have a passion for it. My family isn’t too happy. Instead of watching movies for entertainment now, I analyze them.

Now I’m trolling for another story to write a screenplay.

Yoda was right. Do or do not. There is no try.

Written by Lois Paige Simenson

    7 Comments

  1. Deborah September 29, 2017 at 8:24 am Reply

    Congratulations!

  2. Ginny October 6, 2017 at 10:35 pm Reply

    Oh Dear Lois, you “just keep rolling along” and gathering awards, accolades, kudos, experience–and no moss. I am soooooooooooooooooo happy for your “impromptu” movie having been awarded 4th place, That must be a industry record! I would love to read it.

    I am impressed by your tenacity and determination. Keep on writing–and gathering awards.

    Hugs.

  3. Don Neary October 10, 2017 at 7:49 pm Reply

    When is your book The Butte Girls Club coming out?

    • Lois Paige Simenson October 12, 2017 at 4:31 pm Reply

      Hi Don! I am still revising it. Revision takes much longer than I expected, and have had to do much rewriting. I began it as memoir, then decided to rewrite it as fiction, which requires a plot, character arcs, and subplots. I took a breather from it to write a screenplay, which was a fun project. I am hoping Butte Girls Club will be released later in 2018. Thank you for inquiring about it :)

      • Don Neary October 13, 2017 at 1:14 am Reply

        Hi Lois,
        I would love to see the memoir version, if you would like to share it after the fiction version is done. No matter, you can count on me to purchase a copy.

        Take Care

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