Archive for Nell Shipman Posts

The Simple Yet Sacred Act of Showing Up

 

Menu in the Farmer’s Market, The Grove, LA

“Always believe that something wonderful is about to happen.”

― Sukhraj S. Dhillon

Wowsa…what a wonderful week I had in Los Angeles! I was reminded, yet again, of the importance of simply SHOWING UP…and then letting the magic unfold.

“Most of life is showing up. You do the best you can, which varies from day to day.”

– Regina Brett

Nina & Maryanne, lunch at Nordstroms

I went to LA to meet my friend, Nina – who is the granddaughter of the Canadian-born silent screen star, Nell Shipman. As you may know, I have been working on a screenplay about Nell for quite a few years now. Nina has been very supportive in encouraging me to take the time needed to ensure the God’s Country project becomes…well, what it is capable of becoming!

And it is getting there 😊

Nina and I chose early August to meet in LA because it was her grandson, Charlie’s, 3rd birthday. And what a party it was!

Lani (Nina’s daughter) and her son, Charlie

You just never know who you’re going to meet beside a bouncy castle…especially in La La Land.

Marian & Nina, Los Angeles

“Without the kindness of strangers, where would we be?”

– Jill Johnson

As an example, Nina and I were sitting at a picnic table, catching up, when a woman by the name of Marian introduced herself. She was Lani & Charlie’s neighbour. We got chatting and I mentioned that I would be passing through LA again in March on my 3-month writing road trip with my dog, Sadie.

She tilted her head to one side. “What days will you be here?” she asked.

I shrugged. “Not sure…sometime in early March, I’m guessing.”

“Well,” she said, “if you can plan it so that you’re here for the two weeks I am out of town, you can stay at my place.”

For free.

YAHOO!

And…THANK YOU!!

After all the cake, cupcakes and pizza had been consumed, I waddled back to my hotel for a nap. When I met up with the family again for an evening BBQ, Nina handed me a piece of paper with a name written on it.

“That’s the name of a production and distribution company that specializes in Canadian film and television co-productions,” she said. “After you left, I got talking to a friend of Lani’s and she said you need to give them a call.”

WOOHOO!

A few days later, I had an excellent phone meeting with a representative from the company. Not sure what will sprout from that discussion…but several seeds were certainly planted.

Stunning view from Jean-Pierre’s lovely home in the Hollywood Hills

In between all the fun activities – a scrumptious lunch at the home of a charming costume designer (a dear friend of Nina’s from her acting days) high up in the Hollywood Hills, delicious dinners, scrumptious breakfasts at The Grove’s Farmer’s Market, a movie, a musical, a train trip to Santa Monica and much walking about my LA neighbourhood – I still managed to get a TON of writing done!

God’s Country screenplay on MA’s laptop

Although I had been disappointed in myself that I wasn’t completely finished the next draft of the screenplays associated with the God’s Country project before meeting Nina in LA, I soon realized that working on the scripts IN Los Angeles was extremely beneficial. For Nell’s mischevious story-telling spirit came through in spades! Each and every time I showed up at my laptop for a writing session, a creative new insight popped to the surface.

“Work with all your heart, because if you show up for your work day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough to burst right into bloom.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear

On breaks from writing, I would soak up the sun and have a delightful dip in the hotel pool. Oddly enough, not once did another person show up at the pool when I was there!

And get this…while I was in LA, another writing project “came through.” By that, I mean, snippets of a story that needs to be written (by me, apparently) kept coming popping into my mind. In this case, it was for a play about the days leading up to Marilyn Monroe’s death.

I had been reading about the recent sale of Marilyn’s home in Brentwood (where she passed away) and the story-wheels started turning. I would wake up in the middle of the night with vivid clarity on how the stage needed to look, who the three characters needed to be and what the key plot points were. So, ever the dutiful scribe, I jotted down detailed notes and then went back to bed.

Perhaps when I am back in LA in March, I will have time to work on that project. You’ll have to get in line, Marilyn 🙂

Nell Shipman, Virginia Woolf (Saviour play script) and Emile du Chatelet (Falling screenplay) are all ahead of you in the writing line-up!

And on that note (re my strange connection with strong historical female figures), you may find next week’s blog of interest…it is about CHANNELING!

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

– Woody Allen

Sunset in Santa Monica, CA

Links to Related Blogs

Introducing God’s Country

Sitting by the Pool Popping Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans

Put It Out There – Whatever “It” Is For You

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive her regular weekly blog, please sign up here.

 

Freedom of Expression versus Fear of Repercussion

 

shush

It may seem pompous, but I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.

Stéphane Charbonnier, Cartoonist and Editor of Charlie Hebdo

Every day, tragedies happen all over the world. But since I’m not a TV-watcher, I don’t tend to see them unfold in graphic detail. When the Paris shootings happened last week, however, I happened to be staying in a hotel so I was glued to CNN.

Here’s my perspective on what happened…because frankly, I’m torn.

The night before the shootings, I was telling someone about the concerns I had over possible negative repercussions that could come as the result of the release of one of my future films, God’s Country.

God’s Country is partly about a silent screen star named Nell Shipman…at least, that’s the part I emphasize when I’m talking to friends and family in Alberta about the project. I’ve got into one too many heated discussions when I dared disclose the other subject matter explored in the film: the hyper-development of the Alberta oil sands.

Nobody bites my head off when I talk about Nell Shipman. But when I bring up the subject of the oil sands and have the audacity to suggest that perhaps we ought to be worrying less about pipelines and instead focusing our efforts on shifting away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, look out. I get an earful.

And fair enough. If an oil company paid my bills, I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But they don’t; the City of Calgary does. Why? Because my husband was a Calgary police officer who died in the line of duty and thus I am entitled to receive his paycheque for the rest of my life.

As such, I have a financial freedom most writers can barely dream of. But with freedom comes responsibility. And I take that responsibility seriously – perhaps because I paid so dearly for said freedom…and my husband paid with his life. Yes, he died for something he believed in: the safety and protection of society. But that did very little to comfort me in the years following his death. For the loved ones left behind also pay a significant price.

“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Pissing off my friends and family with God’s Country is the least of my concerns…they may not agree with my ideas but at the end of the day, they’ll probably still love me.

No, my real concern with God’s Country was – and still is – the potential negative impacts on the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund (JPMF), a charity started after my husband’s death.

I have spent the past 14 years of my life helping build the JPMF into an organization that educates people – including Albertans – about why and how to make their workplaces safe for everyone, including emergency responders. The speakers in our Safety Presentation Program deliver workplace safety presentations throughout Alberta. We are reaching thousands of people with important safety messages; the last thing I want to do is create a film that might jeopardize all the good we’re doing to help create safer workplaces.

And how could that happen, you ask?

The oil industry, in one form or another, is one of the JPMF’s largest audiences in Alberta. I am the Board Chair of the JPMF. If I am associated with – and responsible for – an unrelated project, such as God’s Country, that leads to controversy and possibly even change, I may have succeeded as a filmmaker but possibly at the cost of alienating industry and government in the very province the JPMF is making the most headway in terms of raising awareness about workplace safety issues. This is not a risk I am willing to take.

In other words, I fear the repercussions of exercising my freedom of expression…not for myself but for a cause – safer workplaces – that I care deeply about.

On the other hand, as someone who also cares about environmental issues, I know God’s Country is an important story to tell. And once I’d cooled down enough to actually hear the criticism I’d received from my family and friends in Alberta about my perspective on the oil sands, the more I realized they actually had some very valid points.

So I went back to the script and did yet another round of re-writes to better reflect the different perspectives and issues – and capture the dilemma we all face regarding climate change: we know we need to make a drastic shift away from fossil fuels but we don’t know how.

And do you know what? The script is significantly stronger. Out of my fear of repercussion, I was forced to create a far better story. Yes, the resultant film will still cause controversy – but at least I will have done due diligence, as the writer, to focus less on deliberately offending people who have different ideas than I do about oil sands development – and more on the individual and collective struggle of knowing we need to change but are frustrated because we aren’t.

Our actions have consequences. What we believe in – a deity, the status quo or the freedom of expression – may or may not be truth but the actions we take to defend our beliefs quickly become fact. We saw an extreme example of this with the Paris shootings that left 12 people dead – and the subsequent 3 days of terror that left another police officer dead.

Stéphane Charbonnier, the editor of the Charlie Hebdo magazine, made the decision to publish images that he knew would antagonize Muslim extremists. He paid the price with his life and inadvertently took others down with him…cartoonists, maintenance workers and a police officer.

Charbonnier died in defence of his belief in the freedom of expression. I get that. But the terrorists who killed him, and the others, were defending their beliefs. Whether that was a belief in Allah or a belief in the effectiveness of terror, in the end perhaps what people are killing and dying for matters less than the simple fact that people are killing and dying.

Put another way: what we believe in pales in comparison to the actions we are willing to take to defend our beliefs.

There are no simple answers to any of the problems we face on the planet, from terrorism to climate change and everything in between. But this much I’ve learned: deliberately alienating and antagonizing people whose beliefs we do not agree with doesn’t solve much. It can, however, make matters far worse.

Interestingly, in response to the Paris shootings, the front cover of the next edition of Charlie Hebdo was a cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. The cover shows the prophet shedding a tear and holding up a sign reading “Je suis Charlie” in sympathy with the dead journalists. The headline read, “All is forgiven”.

Really?

The acting editor deliberately chose to publish the most blasphemous possible cover to a Muslim – an image of the prophet Muhammad – along with the words ‘All is Forgiven’? That’s an odd way to take the high road. In fact, I would venture to guess that all is not forgiven, for a picture speaks far louder than words.

This mixed-message response by the magazine is akin to pouring fuel on an already raging bonfire. Why would they take the chance of deliberately provoking further acts of terror that could put even more people at risk? It makes me wonder if perhaps the bigger issue unfolding here isn’t the freedom of expression – but rather the need for people take responsibility for their actions.

“If the cartoon had read ‘Je suis Ahmed’, given that many were carrying that badge after the police Ahmed Merabet who was killed, that might not have put more salt to the wound but taken it to another level.”

– Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan

My thoughts exactly. Journalists aren’t the only ones who pay the price for the freedom of expression.

So in honour of all the lives lost, here’s what I’m choosing to take from the Paris shootings…my own little way of taking it to another level, if you will: as I move forward with my own writing projects, I shall endeavour to not deliberately antagonize people whose beliefs I strongly disagree with – regardless of what they’ve done.

Rather, I will try instead to write balanced works that yes, still raise uncomfortable questions and challenge what needs to be challenged, but perhaps also offer a few solutions…and in the end, hopefully contribute to making the world a better, safer, more tolerant place that, from an environmental perspective, is still inhabitable by future generations.

The tragedy in Paris and the subsequent response by Charlie Hebdo is a powerful reminder that as a writer, Je suis responsible for my actions – because I’m not the only one who may suffer the consequences.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to those who lost someone in the Paris attacks. I know from experience there is nothing glorious whatsoever about burying a loved one before their time – for a cause…regardless of what it is.

I’ll end this blog with another Stephen King quote:

“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

– Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

As such, I welcome your feedback.

Maryanne Pope is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. She is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. If you would like to receive her weekly blog, please sign up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

published in Animals, Environment, God's Country screenplay, Nell Shipman, Screenwriting by Maryanne | May 7, 2014 | 2 Comments

 

Introducing God’s Country…

 

Characters find their way to writers in the strangest ways. And, like a bad house guest, they often refuse to leave until they’ve got what they wanted. Unfortunately, unlike a bad house guest, what they usually want – at least from me – is the telling of a time-consuming, technically difficult and, inevitably, very expensive story. And, in my experience, when the character is based on an actual person, they really take hold.

So it goes with the God’s Country screenplay I have been working on for the past decade.

In 2004, my mom and were traveling in the Maritimes when she got a bladder infection and we ended up in Emergency at the Summerside Hospital on Prince Edward Island. While we were waiting for a doctor, I happen to look down and there, staring up at me from the cover of a Maclean’s magazine, was the face of a Canadian silent screen star and pioneer filmmaker by the name of Nell Shipman.

Nell Shipman in parka

Nell Shipman

I picked up the magazine, read the article and was intrigued enough by Nell that when I got back home again, I ordered her autobiography and silent films from Boise State University, where her archives are kept.

In 1919, Nell Shipman starred in Canada’s most commercially successful silent film, Back to God’s Country, which was shot in Northern Alberta. Back in the day, Nell was known as “The Girl from God’s Country” because of the wilderness films she both starred in and produced. She loved nature and animals, particularly bears, and was an early advocate for the humane treatment of animals in film. She was an extremely strong woman who forged her own career path as an independent filmmaker and wasn’t afraid to stand up for what she believed in – and paid the price in more ways than one.

As I learned more about who Nell was and what she accomplished, an idea for a screenplay began to form – but not for a standard biopic about her life. Rather, my story would use Nell’s passion and experience to shed light on a contemporary environmental issue that was playing out in the same geographical area where Back to God’s Country was filmed. So I contacted Boise State about who held the rights to Nell’s autobiography and they put me in touch with Nell’s grand-daughter, Nina.

So I pitched my God’s Country screenplay idea to Nina and she loved it! It would be a unique way to share Nell’s story that would have relevance for today’s audience plus it would explore an issue that Nell herself would have cared about.

Now, what a screenwriter would normally do in this situation is “option” the book – pay a fee for the exclusive right to tell the story within a set time frame. But we didn’t take that route because there were other people clamouring for the right to tell Nell’s story. Understandably, Nina didn’t want to put all her eggs in one basket with me – who had never even written a screenplay before! And writers with a good idea are a dime a dozen.

Plus, since my God’s Country screenplay wouldn’t be just about Nell, this left it open for other artists to also create Nell-related projects.

So I wrote my screenplay on spec – which gave me the time and space I needed to get it right. But in those ten years, Nina gave me a heck of a lot more than time and space; she gave me support, encouragement and assistance. Over the years, we’ve become friends and her patience with the painstakingly slow process of taking the script through its many transformations is very much appreciated.

Here’s a synopsis of God’s Country:

Helen, a contemporary filmmaker, is shooting footage of the massive oil sands development in Northern Alberta when she first learns of Nell Shipman – the silent screen star and pioneer filmmaker who starred in Back to God’s Country, filmed in the same region nearly a century earlier. But the more Helen learns of Nell’s experiences and challenges, the more she realizes she has to change her own approach to the film she is making – and the stand she is taking.

Over the past few years, I’ve also worked closely on the God’s Country script with two Alberta filmmakers who I hope to produce the actual film with: Trevor Smith and John Kerr (who worked as director & producer on the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund’s Put Yourself in Our Boots safety video and three public service announcements). John and Trevor have been instrumental in helping me shape the story into a screenplay that actually has a chance of making that incredibly difficult leap from script to screen.

As I mentioned earlier, characters seem to find their way to writers in the strangest ways. So perhaps it won’t surprise you to hear that I have also met Nell’s great grand-daughter (Nina’s daughter), Lani Shipman – an actress and theatre-owner in Los Angeles – and she is the spitting image of Nell.

When the time comes, it is my hope that Lani will play the role of younger Nell Shipman in the God’s Country film. In the meantime, however, Lani read the script for the first time several months ago – and her subsequent questions and comments were exactly what I needed to hear to tweak the script one last time before the story editor comes on board.

One way or another, it would appear Nell’s indelible spirit lives on 🙂

And on that note, there are two other fantastic Shipman projects in the works. One is a documentary by Karen Day entitled, Nell Shipman; the Girl from God’s Country. The other is a unique a film/music/theatre hybrid produced by Andrew Connors and the Yukon Film Society entitled, Grub Stake Revisited, which uses Nell’s film, The Grub Stake. I saw a live version of Grub Stake Revisited (with orchestra and actors) in Vancouver a couple of years ago and it was outstanding.

So that’s where we’re at with God’s Country – I shall continue to keep you posted!

Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the upcoming book, Barrier Removed; A Tough Love Guide to Achieving Your Dreams. In addition to screenplays, Maryanne also writes play scripts, including SaviourMaryanne is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund.