Thursday, January 23, 2014

Testing our new scripts

In my last post, I talked about the low-residency MFA program in Writing for Stage and Screen  I run offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  At the time, I was about to enter into a ten-day residency with faculty and students and other artists.  Well, that residency took place earlier this month as we gathered for ten jam-packed days in Peterborough, NH.  And in spite of a snow storm and some very cold weather, our collected group had a wonderful, productive, and stimulating time.

The highlight of the residency was the table reads of three new screenplays that continuing students had been working on during the fall semester.  We invited ten professional actors in to spend three afternoons with us, including an Emmy Award winner and others who had played leads in significant indie films. We sat around this huge seminar table and, with the pros assigned the principle roles and students and some faculty assigned to minor roles, we tackled one script a day for three days.  Then, following the reads, we spent the rest of each day discussing the project--what worked and what didn't. The student writers heard extensive feedback about what everyone heard and experienced with each script.  As a result, the writers gained invaluable insights and what the next steps might be in making adjustments, additions, and other tweaks to their screenplays.

What was most gratifying for me, however, was the quality of the drafts being read and the commitment and considerable talent that the actors brought to the table as we tested these new works.  These afternoons were magical in the sense that they were a coming together of collaborative artists in our fields who were all focused and dedicated to bringing these scripts to life.  And the group effort succeeded in spades.  It's what we love to do most--sharing our talents and our work and then discussing it intelligently and with sensitivity.  And as any writer for stage or screen that actually develops a productive career will testify, it's this collaborative process--working with all the other artists involved in making our art happen in the fullest sense--that is the most stimulating, fun, and exciting part of the journey.  Granted, this was only the first leg of the journey for these projects, but it was the critical initial launch for each script.  I'm happy to report that the three screenwriters left the residency fully charged and feeling very positive about their projects.  So was everyone else who took part.

The rest of the residency was taken up with classes, writing exercises, discussions of new projects to be tackled in the spring semester, and lots of talk and networking.  Four new students joined us on this MFA journey at this residency and they, along with our continuing students, are already deep into work with their mentors on their major project for this semester, with the four newbies already totally plugged in to our growing family.  And all of us--students, faculty, and guest actors and other artists--are eagerly looking forward to our next gathering in June as this MFA adventure continues.

Oh, and by the way, we have a very limited number of slots for more new students to join us in June. Just thought I'd throw that out there...

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In addition to being an independent film producer and script consultant, I'm the Program Director for the low-residency MFA degree in Writing for Stage and Screen offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.                 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Our script writing residency about to begin...

Happy 2014 everyone!

My new year is off to a rousing start as the MFA program in Writing for Stage and Screen that I run launches into its ten-day winter residency this weekend in beautiful Peterborough, NH.  Student writers are traveling in from across the country and Canada in spite of a snow storm that has inconveniently decided to fly into New England at the same time.  We'll just have to adjust accordingly and use any "special" travel experiences as part of a writing exercise once we're all safely gathered around a roaring fire and sipping hot chocolate or perhaps some other beverage that warms the head and heart.  

This residency promises to be especially exciting for all of us for several reasons besides our scheduled afternoon sleigh ride mid-week.  First, we're welcoming new faculty member and Visiting Artist Clare Sera to our growing roster of established faculty writers:

Clare, who hails from Los Angeles, co-wrote (among many other projects) the screenplay for the upcoming Adam Sandler/ Drew Barrymore film Blended due out in May. She'll be teaching classes to both our continuing students and those just starting the program.

Also joining us for the first time will be NYC playwright and screenwriter Karen Sunde (see her bio and others on the program's website), who will also be working closely with students for several days.  Karen's track record and experience in the theatre is extensive and her classes no doubt will be very lively.  Rounding out our faculty for this residency are returning playwrights Russell Davis and Kathleen Clarke as well as yours truly.

We'll also be doing readings of several screenplays written by students during the past semester, bringing in professional actors to spark the new work to life and test its viability.  The readings will be followed by lengthy discussion and feedback sessions. I'm especially looking forward to this aspect of the residency because the true test of any MFA program like ours is the output and quality of scripts that students deliver during their time with us.  I'm happy to say that, judging from the work turned in so far, we're well on our way to achieving our goal of having each student graduate at the end of their two years with at least four potent full-length scripts (either plays or screenplays or both) ready to make the professional rounds and hit the marketplace.

So as you work away on your current project, you'll know what'll be transpiring in the winter wonderland and picture perfect village of Peterborough, NH for the next couple of weeks.  Maybe we'll even discover that our sleigh ride experience will turn out to be the germ of several new plays or screenplays.  You never know where and how new ideas materialize...

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I'm the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art and we are currently accepting applications for entering the program at our June 2014 summer residency.  I'm also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant.