Sara de Waard is a small-town girl from the wrong side of the tracks in a country that apologizes for its successes just as emphatically as it does for its short-comings. The past five years were filled with hits and misses in the screenwriting department for this full-time elementary teacher and mother of two who feels she has entertaining life insight to share. Follow her on Twitter @deWaardSara.
“I am Canadian.” For me, it’s more than a masterpiece slogan for a domestic, premium lager. I was, in fact, born and raised in Canada. Generations of my ancestors were also born and raised in Canada so that makes me Indigenous. Somewhere along the line, some French and German explorers explored their ways into relations with First Peoples, thus this French, German, Indigenous me is me.
As an amateur screenwriter, my work’s been cut out for me. Being a mom, full-time elementary teacher and fiancée, my writing ambitions could have been moot. However, there was no denying or ignoring my constant desire to create.
So, if you’re Canadian and/or just plain aspiring to be a working screenwriter, I feel I have some tips to impart.
It’s time to shake what your country gave you. Embrace what being Canadian means to you, and to others, when facing the daunting task of overcoming crippling self-doubt and insecurities to give this shit a shot. May I suggest you use the acronym: C.A.N.U.C.K. It’s easy to remember and also fun to seize a word that may formerly have been annoying or even offensive to you.
C – Canadian
Treat it like a superpower; the Clark Kent to your Superman. There’s a reason why travellers sew Maple Leaf flag badges on their backpacks. We’re regarded as a certain kind of people; roll with it. When I first introduced myself to agents at the Austin Film Festival years ago, they called me “Canada” – they meet too many people to remember… but it wasn’t long before they knew my name.
If people make fun of how you say “about,” there are worse things. If they think it’s funny to use “eh” after every damn thing they say, not knowing its purpose, don’t worry, because once they find out how the tax breaks for your services benefit their bottom line, it won’t matter eh?
A – Apologetic
You will make mistakes on your screenwriting journey. It is inevitable; no one’s perfect. Do one of the things that Canadians do best: apologize. It’s an endearing quality to be sorry for the things that few people say sorry for.
I wrote a script in university. I didn’t write again for about 13 years. My writing was fuelled by personal tragedy and I wrote when I had to. It was catharsis, it was empowerment and it was a high. But before long, I decided I wanted to figure out a way to write for a living.
I didn’t know where to start. I turned to screenwriting competitions and queries. If I had a quarter for every time I overstepped my boundaries… but one thing always remained true. I was just trying to figure it all out and when I made mistakes, I was genuinely apologetic and more importantly, I learned from them. The synapses in my screenwriting brain were wildfire as I grew.
N – Natural
I remember sitting at a Starbucks on Sunset Blvd once and a man walked up to me and said, “You’re not from around here, I can tell.” It was about ten in the morning and I was practically still in my PJ’s, enjoying that chai tea more than any others I’d ever had. I told him that I was Canadian and he nodded.
Be natural. Don’t force yourself to be something or someone you’re not. If the relationships you build with people are organic and sincere, they will last. Connect with other people in the field but not solely with the intent to gain something. Build each other up. It’s a tough world and in the end, these are the kinds of things that will matter the most.
U – Understated
One of the things we’re known for is our humility. Being laid-back can be a weapon or a curse. I believe it depends on when and how you use it.
It’s so hard to gauge what success is in this industry. Is it the self-satisfaction of writing a screenplay for a film you’d personally enjoy? Is it being repped? Is it having something optioned? Attached? Produced? Critically Acclaimed?
The past five years have been a difficult balance for me. Whenever I had any kind of success, I was at a crossroads: do I down-play it like I feel inclined to do or do I amplify it to the social media world to say something is happening and hope people will then get in touch with me?
I was a Filmmaker’s Finalist for a script, a PAGE second-rounder for another script, an AUSTIN second-rounder for three different scripts and a SUNDANCE semi-finalist for a pilot… yet as time went on, the celebrations narrowed to single tweets and a line of text on my IMDb page. I shared a short and a novel I wrote (cough, started) on things like Facebook…
Oh, and my Blacklist trials and tribulations… I practically lost my mind for the 9’s and comparisons to Rod Serling, Wes Anderson and Diablo Cody. As for the 3’s and 4’s, well, I kept that shit buried deep down in my soul.
But guess what? Now that something of consequence seems to actually be happening in my screenwriting journey, I’m as quiet as a mouse. It’s humbling. To know that a whack of people are thinking about taking your 100 pages and putting a couple years of their lives into it, is just as terrifying as it is exciting.
Be proud and share your accomplishments, but remember that it’s a long journey of ups and downs.
C – Consistent
Canadians are reliable people. We work hard. We support our allies. We’re more than tolerant of differences. Be consistent with all of that.
At the Toronto Screenwriting Conference a few years ago, during the Q and A with Glen Mazzara, a woman asked, “I wrote a spec that I am very happy with. What should I do now?” The answer was something that no new writer wants to hear: “Write another one.” Some people in the crowd laughed; they’d been there. Some people didn’t laugh; they were there.
It took me something like 13 specs to get to where I am right now. Thirteen specs. Five years. Mom. Teacher. Fiancée. Maybe your one spec will be THE spec to end all specs but the chances of that are slim.
Truth is, yeah, write some more. Work your ass off. When you’re completely exhausted because you’ve taught 9 year olds all day and your kids’ basketball practices were in two different cities and you’re getting ready for a weekend tournament and it’s ten o’clock at night and the last thing you think you can do is write, write.
K – Kind
All Canadians aren’t all nice all the time, but overall, we are known to be polite and kind. Be that, a million times over, in this industry. Don’t see it as a weakness. When you’re in a room with other writers, be cognizant of the fact that you’re a member of a team. When you’re giving notes to other writers, don’t be a dick. Keep your own motives in check; give feedback on the writing, don’t go setting out to warp every idea into your idea.
When you get rejected, which I’m sorry, you may, be polite about it. When you receive notes, try to relax your defenses and take in what may make the writing better. Don’t use social media to air your dirty laundry; I’ve seen writers make fun of the scripts they’ve read on feeds and threads and it’s awful. Crank your empathy, at every stage, because no matter how big you get, you were There once.
In a nutshell –
I’m a Canadian writer trying to make a profession out of something I absolutely adore. I’m sorry if the things I wrote were less than cerebral but they’ve helped me get to where I am and I wanted to share them.
Thank you, Storybroads, whose mandate is to stand for equality and promote, support and empower female presence both in front of and behind the camera, for this opportunity.