Archive for Screenwriting 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.

published in Change, Courage, Creativity, Inspiration, Screenwriting, Writing by Maryanne | December 1, 2015 | No Comment

 

Inspired Response – Elizabeth Gilbert Interview Sparks Imaginative Solution

 

Thelma-Louise-Thunderbird

Thunderbird going off cliff, Thelma & Louise, 1991

“You grab inspiration by the hand, like Thelma and Louise, and you just drive off that cliff with it.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert

I often wonder if we don’t pay enough attention to the immense power of our imagination.

A few weeks ago, I watched Marie Forleo’s interview with author, Elizabeth Gilbert, regarding her new book, Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. It’s an outstanding interview about creativity, fear, authenticity and inspiration. And it found its way to me just in the nick of time.

In the interview, Gilbert refers to inspiration as a friend in the creative process:

So inspiration says to you, “Let’s do this wild, amazing thing together.”

And you say, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

So you grab inspiration by the hand, like Thelma and Louise, and you just drive off that cliff with it.

And inspiration is like “Wheee…”

And you’re like, “Wheee…”

Maybe it will catch you and then you’ll be like, “That was amazing!”

Or maybe you’re gonna hit the ground and bust into a hundred pieces. And then you’ll be like, “What just happened? I thought we were a team?”

At that point, inspiration is sitting next to you at the bottom of the cliff next to your broken body. And it is going to say one thing to you:

“Wanna do it again?”

When I heard Gilbert share this, I laughed and then damn near cried because it was exactly how I was feeling about my screenplay, God’s Country – a script I have been writing and rewriting for twelve years.

I was the broken body at the bottom of the cliff.

Several weeks before, I’d begun working with a script editor on the project and I honestly thought (okay, hoped) he was just going to help me with some cuts and fine-tuning.

Nope.

Although my precious screenplay apparently had elements of excellence (hooray!), I had some big decisions to make.

The script has dual storylines. There is the story of silent screen star, Nell Shipman, (set in 1919) and then there is a contemporary story of a young woman, Helen, who is making a film about the Alberta oil sands – which is in the same geographical area of Northern Alberta where Nell Shipman’s most famous film, Back to God’s Country was shot in 1919.

So basically I had to decide whether I wanted to tell just the Nell Shipman story and/or just Helen’s story – or if I wanted to continue on the same path and write the dual storyline version. If so, then I still had a heck of a lot of work to do, to make the two stories work together in the same film.

In fact, regardless or which route I chose, there was a significant amount of work still ahead.

So there I lay at the bottom of the cliff in my body cast, with inspiration beside me, no doubt grinning like an idiot (but it was pretty dark out, so I couldn’t see).

“Wanna go again?” inspiration asked, all enthusiastic.

In response to this, I managed to raise my middle finger (the only part of me not in a cast).

“Tsk, tsk,” was the snide response by inspiration (who apparently had night vision). “Such attitude! What’s the problem?”

“The problem,” I said, through a mouth full of broken teeth, “is that at some point, I’d like to actually see a product created from all this damn process!”

“Oh, don’t be such a diva,” snapped inspiration. “It’s not all about you.”

I thought about this a moment then slowly struggled to my feet – which is no easy feat (pardon the pun) when in a body cast.

“Nell?” I called out, tentative.

“Over here!” came the response.

Phew! She’d survived the crash.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Right as rain, darlin’.”

“Bert?” I then called out.

“Of course I’m here,” he snarled. “Ya got any damn booze on ya? My foot is killin’ me.”

Bert’s a drinker. He got frostbitten toes when shooting Back to God’s Country with Nell. But I digress.

“Joe?” I called out.

“I’m good.”

Thank goodness. He’s the cinematographer.

“Bill?”

“Yeah,” he replied but sounded a little shaky.

Then I took a deep breath. “Helen,” I called out. “Are you okay?”

No answer.

I tried again. “Helen?”

“Yeah,” she finally answered. “I’m here but I don’t feel so good.”

Oh no!

“What about Ron, Sam and the helicopter pilot?” I asked.

“They’re about the same as me.”

“What should I do?” I asked Helen.

There was a pause. “I think,” Helen said, finally, “that it might be best if you took Nell and her gang back up to the top with you – and just focus on her story for now.”

My heart sank at the thought of leaving Helen and her team behind. I’d spent twelve years with them. I’d created them. I couldn’t just let them die.

Could I?

“But what about you guys?” I asked.

There was another long pause. And then Helen said, rather quietly, “You best let nature take its course, Maryanne. If and when you need to tell our story, then we will be here for you.”

And so, with a heavy heart, I began to mentally prepare to make the long, slow, arduous, climb back up to the top of the cliff – again – but this time with just Nell and her team of characters.

Which is when I heard the annoyingly cheerful voice of inspiration say, “Oh for Heaven’s sakes…lighten up! I’m not going with you unless you treat this as a FUN road trip! And if you don’t take me, you’re – ”

“Uh, uh, uh,” I cut in. “No need for profanity. I got the message.”

“Good,” replied inspiration. “And I’m bringing my BFF, too.”

I groaned inwardly. “Who’s that?” I asked.

“Imagination!”

“Oh,” I said, managing a smile, “that’s probably a good idea.”

And then the next morning, I turned on my laptop and began to work my way through just Nell’s story. It felt…right as rain 🙂

Stay tuned!

Related blogs by Maryanne:

Tears, Tales & Triumphs – Transforming Our Relationship to Money

Process This – Why Focusing on Process Versus Completion Leads to Stronger Results

Introducing God’s Country

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 the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s 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.