Leave the well-known Inner Harbor tourist area of Baltimore on straight as a rod Eastern Avenue and you will come to a neighborhood of row homes, parks, busy street-front shops and The Patterson. The Patterson was one of the great movie houses of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s but is now home to the Creative Alliance. A large space of art studios, galleries, workshops and theater, the Creative Alliance also houses the Baltimore Screenwriters Coffee Club.
In a multi-use room, around two long tables pushed lengthwise, you will find a group that meets monthly to read, share, and dissect each others work. Not any work, but scripts or screenplays or loglines or ideas scribbled in a notebook.
Begun in 2009, the BSCC (for brevity’s sake) was intended from the start to not only be a workshop but also a source of inspiration and support. The group’s founder, Elena Moscatt, has said the meetings are often a writer’s therapy session. Elena had been disappointed in previous workshops that left no time for discussion, networking or socializing. Intimidation is a common problem with formal workshops.
Sharing one’s writing, especially for a novice, is difficult. Fear of harsh criticism or simple stage fright can keep one from offering up their best work. The BSCC is known for having an innate sense of what it’s member want or need. The newest writer, whose formatting would have been a nightmare for the late, great Syd Field, needs encouragement, direction and education about the necessary structure of a screenplay. The regulars who always bring a new set of 10 page reads can stand up to a stiffer (but light-hearted) critique. All would agree that they almost never fail to walk away with renewed energy and a sense of purpose.
A simple search of meetup.com reveals countless writing groups across the country. But how many are specific to screenwriting? Undoubtedly, each has its own agenda and personality. Some may even have a formal “mission.” It is up to the members to determine the weight they want to bring to the table. For instance, some larger screenwriting groups charge their members for a 10-page read.
The entertainment capitals of NY and LA certainly have a wider draw of industry professionals. Although Baltimore and Maryland’s current television and film work is thriving with VEEP, House of Cards and feature films, the BSCC has few insiders or those who make a living in the creative arts.
Founder Elena Moscatt crews for many major productions in the Mid-Atlantic region. She has created the web series Life After Lisa and the lifestyle and the entertainment program Click on this Show. Although a broadcast Director by day, I am in the beginning stages of independently producing my screen adaptation of the book The Secret of Boomer Lake. Other members are in various stages of writing or producing their own work. None would consider themselves full-time screenwriters; but they dream of the opportunity to do just that.
So the question remains. How or should you begin a local screenwriters group? Well, yes. Yes, you should. If you are currently pursuing the craft or interested in the creative process then by all means begin. “How” is another matter. Websites such as Meetup.com are a great beginning. Troll some local film aficionado’s websites or attend discussions or meetings. There will be others who, if not actively writing, will certainly be part of the group if solicited.
The success of an organization is ultimately measured by its continuing relevance and the ongoing satisfaction of the members. One long time member of the BSCC, Cronshi Englander, has seen the work that she has brought each month grow in quality and outside recognition. Cronshi credits the BSCC in this way: “It’s a place to exchange ideas… It’s the give and take that sharpens your work and gives it the edge you need. It’s the ‘eureka’ moments of meetings that keeps me coming back.”
My “eureka” moment came the first time I offered 10 pages of The Secret of Boomer Lake for a table read. Hearing my characters speak with emotion brought them screaming off the page to life before me. That moment convinced me that Boomer Lake must and will be made. My friends at the Baltimore Screenwriters Coffee Club would, I know, consider it their success as well. So go ahead, take a meeting.
Peter A. Schnell optioned and wrote The Secret of Boomer Lake from the internationally beloved novel of the same name. His script was a finalist in the category of Best Screenplay for the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival 2012. Mr. Schnell is a broadcast producer, director and screenwriter in Baltimore, Maryland. firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @pschnell
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