Nashville Film Fest a fun, great learning experience

By G. Robert Frazier

The Nashville Film Festival concluded its most recent run Saturday after 10 days of movies, informational panels about the film industry, and parties celebrating the creative minds behind the films and scripts entered in the event. As a script reader for the screenwriting competition, I earned a gold laminate that provided free access to as many of the events I could stand.

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By all accounts, the fest was a roaring success both in numbers of entries in the film and script categories and in attendance. There were more than 3,500 film entries and 1,500 script entries across numerous categories, from shorts to features, from dramas to science fiction.

The event was the culmination of my third year as a script reader and, coincidentally, NaFF’s third year to hold a screenwriting competition. I began reading as a way to learn more about the screenwriting process, while also helping out a good cause. I can honestly say that I learn some new technique or become aware of something to avoid with each script I read. That knowledge can only help me as I continue to write my own scripts and send them out into the world.

IMG_20160417_211650283The fest also provided a key opportunity to study the mystique of the short film. As I am co-writing a short screenplay with a friend and fellow member of the Tennessee Screenwriters Association, taking in as many short features on the big screen was an invaluable learning experience.

I have a new respect for the filmmakers who put so many hours and so much work into their projects. Hopefully, we will be able to put this knowledge to good use and produce our short on film as well.

One downside this year was the decision to allow ScreenCraft to sponsor the writer’s conference portion of the festival. Not that I have anything against ScreenCraft. They certainly brought in a stacked and talented roster of industry professionals to share their knowledge over two days with festival-goers. But it was the added $300 admission price that was a put-off for me.

NaFF 2016 PostersIn the previous years of the festival, my script reads were enough to gain free admission to a few writing panels held at the fest. This year, however, because the event was held by ScreenCraft, my reads got me free film access but no access to the writer’s conference. That was more than a bit disappointing to someone who would like to learn more about the craft of writing and is reading specifically with that in mind.

I sincerely hope that the NaFF organizers rethink or renegotiate the deal next year to better benefit their readers.

Still, I’m happy for the experience of reading scripts and for helping determine the winning scripts in the competition. I read 140 entries in the competition. Of those, 13 went on to attain semifinal status and four reached the finals. Two of those four were winners in their categories and the other two were runners-up in their categories!

Below are links to the winning films and winning scripts in the competition:

2016 NaFF Shorts Awards Recipients

2016 NaFF Feature Awards Winners

2016 NaFF Screenwriting Competition Awards

 

 

Decision made: Killer Nashville this year, Austin next year

A few weeks ago I had something of a dilemma: Attend the Austin Film Festival or the Killer Nashville writer’s conference. Both are coming up this weekend.

The big difference between the two is that Austin’s writer’s panels focus on screenwriting while Nashville’s is a novel writer’s conference. I’m more than interested in both avenues of writing. I’m working on a mystery-thriller novel and I am writing a couple of screenplays. In other words, I desperately want to attend both conferences.

Austin Film Festival logoMany of my friends suggested Austin as the better of the two, and I certainly was leaning that way as well. It’s been around a lot longer and it’s a much more prestigious conference. I also had earned a conference badge to attend all four days of panels and events at Austin for my work as a reader in its script competition over the summer. You can’t beat free admission, right?

Well, as it turns out, I guess you can.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t planned on attending Austin’s fest this year. I only got the gig reading for the fest thanks to a surprise recommendation from the folks at the Nashville Film Festival, for whom I also am a script reader. I was initially asked to read just twenty scripts in exchange for a one-day conference pass, but I wound up reading over fifty scripts in a two-month period. The folks at Austin upped my reward to a full four-day pass. It was an unexpected privilege and an incredible opportunity, and there began my dilemma.

Killer Nashville logoUntil then I had my sights set on attending the Killer Nashville conference. In fact, I nearly bought my Killer Nashville registration back in the spring (if I had, the whole debate would already have been settled). I held off, partly because I wasn’t sure what my plans would be by the end of October and I didn’t want to make a commitment I wouldn’t be able to keep. And partly because of the cost of admission in the first place. Writer’s conferences aren’t cheap, as you may well know.

Well, as noted above, the decision ultimately boiled down to affordability. Even though admission to Austin was free, I’d still have to find cheap air fare and an inexpensive hotel. But if I stayed too far off the beaten path from downtown, I was afraid I would miss out on a key part of the Austin experience.

The Nashville gig, on the other hand, is right in my backyard. No hotel, no air fare to worry about on short notice. What’s more, there are plenty of panels, a bookcon, agent/editor roundtables, and parties to attend.

I suppose I could have made Austin work with some thrifty shopping, scrimping and saving. Fortunately, AFF competition manager Matt Dy has already extended an invitation for me to read again next year. With that in mind, I feel a bit better about skipping Austin this year. I can plan ahead and make certain I get to Austin next fall.

So, decision made, and one that I am comfortable with. Killer Nashville, here I come.

 

 

WIP Update: Webisode, spec script see progress; NaNoWriMo on tap

by G. Robert Frazier

It’s Saturday, and it’s late, but I just realized I did not post an update on my works in progress Wednesday. It’s an idea borrowed (nay, stolen) from another blogger. The purpose being to help hold myself accountable for how I spend my time and as inspiration to actually get something written.

The good news is I did actually get some writing done. Not as much as I would like, mind you, but progress nonetheless. For starters, I churned out a one-page intro to a web series I’m writing. The intro piece, or title sequence, will precede all of the webisodes. I followed that up by writing a seven-page first draft script for the first episode. I can’t tell you what the webisode will be about at this point, other than to say that it will be fun. I can also probably share the title of the first webisode: “Pizza and the Pomeranian.”

It is a first draft at this point. Might be a bit too long for a webisode at seven pages, or roughly seven minutes if one page equals one minute of screen time. So there may be some trimming in order before all is said and done. But it is a start. As the webisodes will all be fairly short, I hope to churn out a couple more of these this week.

Speaking of scripts, I plan to spend the day Sunday tweaking and making some minor revisions to the feature spec script I wrote with my brother. We’ve made a number of notes since finishing the initial draft of the script and now it’s time to incorporate those notes into the script as needed. I’ll then print the script out again in full to read more intently. Then, it will be back to the computer to make additional changes. Ah, the joys of rewriting!

I’ve also got another script in its infant stage. I have an idea and a broad outline, which I shared with my fellow writers at a recent Tennessee Screenwriters Association meeting. They noted a few holes and areas in which to concentrate to make it a more viable script. But perhaps most encouraging was our fearless leader’s words that my idea was timely and has loads of potential! This past week I did some additional research for it by, get this, watching and re-watching an episode of Nancy Grace. Now tell me that doesn’t pique your curiosity.

As if that’s not enough to keep me busy, I also had another idea brainstorm for a possible spec TV pilot/series. I did some preliminary online research. And, I reached out to someone I know from my previous journalism career. He supplied me with some initial information on my subject and expressed a willingness to talk further on the subject. He also gave me the name of another possible resource. So, I am extremely excited for this series as well.

Next month is another matter, as I plan to finish my novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. I’ve already vomited out the first 30,000 words or so and hope to finish the novel by the end of November. One thing I may do this week is reread and tweak the first couple of pages. I have an opportunity to present those pages to an agent/editor roundtable at the Killer Nashville writers conference next week, so I want to make them shine.

I also have my sights set on submitting items to a couple of short story contests in the next couple of weeks. But more on that another time.

Obviously I have a full plate. But after several weeks of stagnation and a lack of motivation, I couldn’t be happier. Stay tuned for more Adventures in Writing…

WIP Wednesday: NaNoWriMo perfect time to finish crime-thriller novel

by G. Robert Frazier

I’m following in the footsteps of another blogger who posts updates on their works in progress every Wednesday. I think it’s a great way to let you know what I’m working on, how I’m going about it, and maybe hold myself accountable to getting something done each week so I’ll have something fresh to write about. So, without further needless introductory verbiage, here goes:

I’ve been working on a crime-thriller novel – River’s End — for a couple years now. The novel writing has been through many surges and stalls, but my goal is to have the first draft done by the end of November. I’m probably 30 percent toward that goal, but I’ve outlined and/or written numerous partial scenes to come that should flow pretty quickly once I set my mind to it.

National Novel Writing Month also happens to be in November, so I’m going to use it as the catalyst to completing my novel. NaNoWriMo, as it’s affectionately called, encourages writers to hammer out a novel (or at least a solid start to a novel of 50,000 words) in a month’s time. As I’m already out of the gate, I’m setting my sights on finishing the final 60,000 words of River’s End.

I’ve already introduced all of the main characters – my protagonist, the antagonist, supporting characters, and the like. I’ve got a grisly murder, a teenager who has plunged off a cliff into a river after being attacked by police dogs, a huge stash of hidden drugs, and missing confidential informant for my protagonist to contend with. My Beta readers – which consist of my various writing groups and my brothers – all seem to like the intrigue and building suspense, so that’s encouraging.

I’ve allowed a few other projects to interrupt the actual writing of this novel, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At least I’ve been writing. Specifically, I’ve spent a vast amount of time of late on a screenplay I’m writing along with one of my brothers. We’ve finished the first draft and are now in the process of revising/rewriting to strengthen the story and erase any plot holes. We’re happy with how it’s going and eager to get to the finish line. Of course, we say that, but we know that we must also be patient. Great writing can’t be rushed and we’re taking our time to get it right.

I’m also always working on a short story or two. I’ve got a drawer full of them that I go back to from time to time to finesse and rework. My goal is to get at least one short story per month into shape so that it can be entered in a contest or submitted to various markets for publication. Last month I sent one off to the Writer’s Digest Popular Fiction Contest, so we’ll see how that goes.

Until next week, happy writing!

Theater of the Absurd: LA creatives may be penalized for tax they don’t owe

Just when you think you’ve heard everything, there’s this: In Los Angeles, if you are freelance writer or creative trying to eke out a meager living, you could be penalized for a tax you don’t owe. The penalty applies if you fail to register for an exemption from the tax by a certain date each year.

This has got to be one of the most ridiculous excuses for a city government to stick it to the masses I’ve ever read.

The full article is here.

What do you think? Should freelancers and creatives have to acquire a license to work and be penalized if they don’t? 

Review: Ant-Man’s silly fun works for fan boys, kids only

I’m apparently not the comic book fan boy geek I used to be.

Antman movie posterOtherwise, I should have loved Ant-Man, the latest Marvel super-hero opus gracing your local Cineplex. But, for all of its efforts, I was bored, annoyed, and just plain uninspired by the film.

Oddly, it’s getting pretty decent reviews from most of the entertainment media and critics. Not the incredible rave reviews that Guardians of the Galaxy fetched last summer, but plenty of kudos nonetheless. A number of critics have stated the film is fun and features a terrific third act.

After watching the first two acts, it desperately needed something to save it. I can’t speak to whether the third act did the trick or not, though, because after 90 minutes of the dreck that is Ant-Man I walked out. Mind you, I don’t normally walk out on movies, so that says a lot right there.

For starters, Ant-Man is already a hero you can’t take seriously. Even Saturday Night Live once lampooned the character in a skit featuring Garrett Morris as the diminutive hero at a gathering of heroes. When asked about his power, he replies: “I shrink myself down to the size of an ant while retaining my full human strength.” To which The Flash (Dan Ackroyd) replies: “Oooh, that’s really impressive. Size of an ant with human strength. You must be able to clean house on those other ants, huh? Hey, Hulk, check this guy out. .. He’s got the strength of a human!”

IMG_20150724_153513431 (950x1280)So, to be fair, I didn’t give the movie much of a chance right out of the gate. The previews had left me less than excited and Ant-Man was never one of my favorite comic book heroes. How could he be when there are heroes like Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor around?

Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to the movie in the mood I was in. Did I mention it was my birthday and I was feeling old? But, I was bored at home alone and I wanted to do something to mark my special day. And, it wasn’t like there were a lot of alternatives at the theater to see. Well, there was Minions 2…

In any case, you’re probably wondering, what’s wrong with Ant-Man? Why didn’t you like it?

I think, in part it has to do with the mood or tone of the movie. I couldn’t tell if it wanted its audience to take it, and its little hero, seriously, or yuck it up for laughs. I mean, who is the target audience of this film? If it’s comic book fan boys, OK, parts of the movie should have satisfied them. References to the Wasp, the fight (if you can call it that) with the Falcon, and its continuity within the Marvel world of movies were all points to savor. But, on the other hand, it was chockfull of silliness you’d expect from a Disney film. (Oh, wait, Disney owns Marvel now, right?). Paul Rudd, as one critic put it, is “laughably unheroic” in the role.

The film also plays all the right notes when considering its story structure, following the hero’s journey/character arc from reluctant no-good conman to redeemable superman by the end. There are parallels of father-daughter subplots between Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter and between Scott Lang (Rudd) and his daughter. There’s the slighted pupil turned evil bad guy against his mentor (Pym).

But for all of that, the film seemed flat and boring. All the plot points seemed to come about more by rote (as in, story structure says such and such an event must happen next) than through the organic growth of the characters and plot. The result was a very dry, predictable romp for the first 90 minutes of the movie. I kept waiting for the movie to surprise me, and it just didn’t do that.

Favorite quote:

Paul Rudd as Scott Lang (Ant-Man): My days of breaking in places and stealing stuff are over. What do you want me to do?

Michael Douglas as Hank Pym: I want you to break into a place and steal some stuff.

What other critics are saying:

Update (Aug. 12): I just came across this trailer from Werner Herzog on his interpretation of Ant-Man, in which Scott Lang is trapped in the insect world and experiences the grim brutality of nature. This could have been a cool take on the Ant-Man movie. No silly super-villains. Man against nature. Much more interesting.

So, have you seen Ant-Man? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Reading and Writing for the Web 7/22

Every day I scour the web for articles on reading and writing to further my education about my craft and try to share the best of those articles with you here. Today, I thought I’d focus on reading.

One of the most common, reiterated pieces of advice for writers of any sort — be it novelists, memoirists, poets, or screenwriters — is to read. But don’t just read for entertainment — although that works too – you need to read with a critical eye toward learning. Reading is one of the best, if not the best, ways to study your craft in action, to see what works on the page, how it moves you, and how emulating another author’s style of writing can elevate your own writing. Read widely, read voraciously, read with a critical eye.

One way to do just that is to write book reviews. I came across Blogging for Books some time last year and have been reading and reviewing books for their website and this blog ever since. I’m averaging about one book per month. I also started reading books this month for Killer Nashville, an organization dedicated to the mystery/thriller genre. My first review (of Chris Knopf’s Cop Job) is slated to appear on their website on Sept. 1. One of the neat things about both sites: free books! And, as an added bonus, exposure to new authors whom I otherwise would not have picked up. Both sites are looking for additional readers, so check them out.

I’m also a first-round reader for entries in this year’s Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. The gig came about thanks to a referral from the fine folks at the Nashville Film Festival, for whom I’ve read scripts for the past two years. If you are interested in screenwriting, reading screenplays is one of the best ways to learn the ins and outs of the craft.

Speaking of reading, I came across a cool online sweepstakes where you can enter and possibly win a collection of 80 Penguin and Penguin Classic titles. I’ve already got or have read a few of them, but there are a lot more on the list of books you could win that I don’t have. (Not that I will ever have time to read them all, but, hey, if it’s free…).

Finally for today, let’s all bid a fond farewell to an influential author, E.L. Doctorow, who passed away Tuesday. Doctorow was the man who brought us the critically acclaimed, award-winning novels Ragtime (which inspired the hit Broadway musical), Billy Bathgate (which became a hit movie starring Dustin Hoffman), and The March, to name just a few.

Remember, if you come across any interesting articles on reading or writing, you can post them in the comments section.

 

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/21

Has this ever happened to you? Today I had as many as 16 tabs open on my computer at the same time in my web browser, and, naturally, the browser crashed. Fortunately, when you reopen the browser there’s a neat little tool called Recent Tabs that, once you click on it, will go back and fetch the tabs that were last opened. Of course, I foolishly brought this crash on myself by having too many tabs open in the first place. Hey, I’m doing it all for you, the faithful reader. So, herewith are some cool sites and articles about reading and writing I explored today:

Author Sarah Waters offers up Ten Rules for Writing Fiction, courtesy of the Aerogramme Writers’ Studio.

According to Dave King, who is co-author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and a former contributing editor at Writer’s Digest, “the most effective stories are completely transparent, with readers blithely unaware of the author’s behind-the-scenes manipulations.” Learn more about the art of transparency in your writing here.

Whenever I bring pages to my Nashville Writers Meetup groups, one thing that everyone agrees stands out is my dialogue. That’s enough to encourage me to think about entering this year’s dialogue-only writing contest  by Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine. Entrants are asked to create an original story of up to 2000 words composed entirely of dialogue. The magazine’s editors are also good enough to include some helpful tips on writing dialogue. There are even links to past winners in the contest, all of which I intend to read and digest fully. You should too.

Since we’re talking about dialogue, here are a couple more articles from Bang to Write answering the question, “Is good screenwriting about great dialogue?” Join the debate: Click here for Yes or here for No.

Nashville Writers Meetup member Sherry Wilds interviews guest author Ricko Donovan on the art of dialogue on this week’s edition of The Method and the Muse, a weekly online radio show all about the craft of writing.

Now that I’ve got you hooked on this new blog feature, take a moment to read up on why the hook is so important to writing a successful screenplay in this article from scriptmag.com.

Have you come across any great articles on writing or reading? Please share them in the comments section below and I may include them in the next edition of this blog, along with a link to your site!

Reading and Writing Around the Web for 7/20

I tried to keep the distractions to a minimum today and limit my time online so that I could do a little bit of writing. Couple of things did catch my eye and they are listed below for those interested in a bit of writerly advice or an interesting read:

First up is a thoughtful article about the psychology of flow in storytelling. There’s a fine line between keeping a reader’s attention and losing it altogether, and this article explores how writers can strive to keep that reader turning the pages.

One of Geoff Dyer’s top 10 tips for writers is to keep a private diary or journal. I started a daily journal back in December and kept forgetting about it. I’d add a few thoughts every couple weeks or so and try to recall all that had transpired in between. I haven’t touched it since April. On the other hand, I have at least been posting from time to time in this blog, so there’s that.

If you’re struggling with what to write next, actor Brett Wean recently shared how improvisation can provide your story the spark it needs.  The article addresses screenplays, but obviously can be put to work for your novel in progress as well.

In case you missed it, July 17 marked the 60th anniversary of Disneyland, “the eighth wonder of the world!” The Hollywood Reporter celebrated the occasion by reprinting an article published the day after the Southern California park opened on July 18, 1955. Admission, by the way, just $1 for adults and 50 cents for children.

Sticking with the theme of anniversaries, today marks the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing.

And finally, author and NASA engineer Homer Hickam (of October Sky fame), shares his writing advice on his website at Homer Hickam online.

If you see something worth sharing, please do in the comments section!

Join the ranks: Nashville Film Fest looking for a few good readers

Since it’s Giving Tuesday, I thought I should share a unique way for you to give back: You can be a volunteer reader for the Nashville Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition.

This is my second year as a reader for the competition, wherein I get to read dozens of scripts and rate them according to NaFF criteria. In doing so, I am helping whittle the entries down to potential winners in more than a dozen categories.

Nashville Film Festival logoI became a reader last year in an effort to strengthen my own script-writing abilities, but you don’t have to be a writer to take advantage of this opportunity. You just have to love stories and love reading them. The folks at NaFF will help you identify what works and what doesn’t work in the script you are reading so that you can effectively rate them.

What’s more, the knowledge gained from reading and rating scripts will broaden your own film-going experience. You will look at movies in a whole new way. You will learn how a good film is structured, as well as what makes good dialogue and scenes.

NaFF is one of the largest and oldest film festivals in the U.S., screening over 250 films from more than 50 countries. Last year, which was NaFF’s inaugural screenwriting competition, more than 1,500 entries were received. They are anticipating about 2,000 entries for the 2015 competition. Winners will be announced at the film festival in April.

Relax, you don’t have to read them all. And you don’t have to read the entire script. You only have to commit to reading the first 30 pages.

Believe it or not, in those few pages, and with the help of NaFF’s training, you will be able to make an informed decision about the script you are reading. You will be able to assess whether the script has effectively established a main character you care about, a goal for the character, an antagonist or challenge that the main character must overcome, and a whole lot more, from use of dialogue to setting.

I read pages from more than 170 scripts in 2014, including one of the scripts that eventually won a top prize. And I read a number of scripts all the way through. Some because I wanted to know how the story ended, some because I was learning more about the business of script writing, both what was done right and what was wrong.

I’ve been reading off and on for the past couple months, and will ramp up my reading in the months ahead. NaFF receives most of its entries in January as the deadline nears. Trust me, there will be plenty of scripts to go around.

And it’s not too late to get in on the fun.

NaFF needs about 20 more readers to join its ranks. If you live in Middle Tennessee, to get in on the action, all you have to do is attend a reader orientation from 6 to 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, Dec. 4. The 90-minute training session will be led by Harold Loren, a 2014 juror and presenter. The event takes place at Nashville Public Television, 161 Rains Ave., Nashville (near the Tennessee State Fairgrounds).

You don’t have to be a resident to participate. NaFF has readers all across the country, and even in Canada. NaFF can send orientation materials to you and all of the reading and judging is done online. Just email competition manager Josh Escue at josh@nashfilm.org.

PS: Did I mention that readers can earn tickets to see films at the April 16-25 festival as well as attend a screenwriting training program, as well as after-parties?