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?

Writing groups great way to get back in the groove

Anyone who has tried this thing called writing knows how easy it is to fall out of the habit. So, I’m particularly thankful that here in Nashville there is such a vibrant writing community.

The Nashville Writers Meetup offers a number of groups for writers of all levels to participate in each month. There is a group for novelists, one for sci-fi/fantasy writers, a mystery/thriller writers group, speculative fiction writing group, poetry group, writers chat group, young adult group and so much more.

After missing a few meetings over the past couple months for a variety of reasons, I managed to attend several meetings this month. On Tuesday I joined my fellow writers at the sci-fi/fantasy group, and Saturday I brought pages from my work in progress to the novelist group. Between those meetings, I even found time to attend the Tennessee Screenwriters Association’s weekly meeting on Wednesday.

All three meetings were great, as they have helped reinvigorate my writing efforts. Being able to sit down with other writers and having the opportunity to discuss our craft, as well as read, critique and learn from each other’s works is amply rewarding. Not to mention that there is always a new face or two at each meeting to connect with.

I’ll admit, you do have to bring an open mind to the table as you never quite know what you’ll be reading next. The sci-fi genre especially seems to bring out some rather inventive and, sometimes, complicated works to consider. But, that’s the adventure of it. That’s what’s so cool.

I sincerely appreciate each and every writer who dares to bring their material to the groups for review. And I especially appreciate their candid responses and input into my own works in progress.

If you live in or near a big city, do yourself a favor and investigate whether there is a writing group you can join. Or consider a book reading group, as you can learn about the craft that way too. You’ll be glad you did.

Writers: You don’t have to do this … but you probably should

It’s a simple enough line of dialogue: “You don’t have to do this.”

But it’s also one of the most common and, perhaps, overused lines of dialogue in today’s movies and TV shows as well. Listen for it, and you will hear it uttered more often than not.

The line exists for one reason only: It represents a decision point.

The main character has one last opportunity to consider his or her course of action. Do they take on the bad guy even though it puts them, their family, their career, etc., at risk? Do they choose the action even if it goes against every moral fiber of their being?

Of course, the character faced with the choice always does move ahead. If not, the movie or TV episode would fizzle on the spot. The goal would go unfulfilled, the viewer would leave unhappy.

It’s unfortunate, however, that so many screenplays telegraph this choice in such a way. It’s not very original in terms of writing, and it sounds cliched. But there it is, time and time again. It’s clearly an audible cue to the viewers that this is an important decision to be made. It is a moment that everything in the film has been building towards. In other words, the big payoff is at hand.

I’m not sure if this line of dialogue has its own chapter in the many how-to screenplay books out there, but it should. Your story, your screenplay, is nothing without it.

 

 

Magnificent movie dialogue to remember

As a practicing screenwriter, I’ve found myself paying a lot more attention to dialogue that sparkles in TV and movies.

I have to say that the following exchange of dialogue from Maleficent  is one of the most chillingly effective exchanges among all the big movies released so far this year:

 

Princess Aurora: I know you’re there. Don’t be afraid.

Maleficent: I’m not afraid.

Princess Aurora: Then come out.

Maleficent: Then you’ll be afraid.

Here’s another great exchange from Amazing Spider-Man 2:

Harry Osborn: It’s been 10 years. What have you been up to?

Peter Parker:I do some web designs.

 

This one from Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a cool exchange:

 

Natasha Romanoff: You do anything fun Saturday night?

Steve Rogers: Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead. So no, not really.

 

Any memorable movie quotes from this year’s movies stand out to you?  Heck, you can even share your all-time favorite movie quotes too.  Share them in the comments section!