One of Stowe Story Lab’s talented mentors, Ellen Parks, discusses the value of this unique screenwriting lab in rural Vermont.
Ellen Parks has been mentoring at Stowe Story Labs since 2013 and is now a member of its Board of Directors. She brings a unique perspective to mentoring screenwriters, coming to the labs from a storied career as a New York City-based Casting Director, casting such films as Secretary, Sideways and Flirting with Disaster. She now divides her time between mentoring, consulting with filmmakers, and teaching at the NYU Tisch School of the Arts.
Applications are now being accepted for the fall 2018 Stowe Story Labs (deadline April 30th). Learn more here.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Started out from an early age in the performing arts, as actress /singer/ dancer. Pursued an acting career till my early 30’s, then became a teacher and an acting coach, before making a transition to casting. I’ve cast for theater, television and film for over 30 years, with a primary focus on independent film. In recent years, I’ve started teaching at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, in a studio dedicated to film acting and production.
Why do you mentor at Stowe Story Labs?
Teaching has always been an avid interest for me. I’m committed to doing what I can to aid in the development of fresh new and innovative material, to support unique voices in filmmaking, and to make a contribution to stories that are original, memorable and important.
What do you hope to achieve when mentoring?
To assist the creative artist in knowing themselves more deeply, examining and expressing their truth more authentically, unleashing their unique imagination, defining and refining what distinguishes them from the crowd, in order to realize their vision.
Do you find the participants inspire you?
I understand that writers don’t always have the skill set of a performer or pubic speaker, however in some critical moments will be called upon to be just that. I can assist them in finding the most natural and engaging way to express themselves about their script, to be truly comfortable in their own skins when interacting with the industry and help ensure that they’ll speak effectively on behalf of themselves and their script to those who might support their work. For some it’s not a comfortable process but I am constantly inspired by the successes they can achieve in discovering their prowess as their screenplay’s chief spokesperson.
Do you find the environment to be supportive?
The community of Stowe Story Labs is remarkably free of the distractions, anxieties, competition and that will surely confront the artists in their interactions with the industry. Being familiar with both sides of the equation, I feel the mentors have the perfect opportunity to provide a bridge, help them build their skills, confidence and motivation, and, with practice, carry the ease, eloquence and clarity they experienced at Stowe out into the world effectively.
How important is collaboration to you?
It’s everything. It’s immensely important in all forms of art, and in our lives. It’s a tough industry and we can use all the support we can get. In fact, the skills needed for collaboration are useful in every encounter and experience we have in life, whether it be of a professional or personal nature.
Have the labs helped you grow in any particular way?
The Labs have honed my appreciation of the writer’s task enormously and filled out my vocabulary and expertise in a way that augments my professional experience invaluably. I myself am not a writer, and have neither skills nor aspiration for it. But casting directors are some of the first people on a production to encounter the polished script, so it’s essential that I share a common language with writers/directors, in order to counsel them, intuit their needs and take the project out to the industry for feedback. I must understand what works and doesn’t work about the script and how to support their vision.
If you had to describe the labs in one word, what would it be?
Name your favorite moment at Stowe.
There are so many, but it would involve deep conversations, robust enjoyment and the mutual acknowledgment of the privilege and purpose of being artists.
Is there a project that came out of the Lab that is in some way memorable to you?
Sorry, but I cannot and will not a pick favorites! I would rather say that it is the concept of the Lab itself, and that it continues to thrive and prosper after five years.
What makes Stowe different from other labs?
I’ve not participated in other writers’ labs, so cannot say for sure. I would imagine that it’s the high quality caring, sharing, listening and relatedness among participants. Also the remarkable ground of being and inspired vision of the Founder and President, David Rocchio and his colleague David Pope, and the dedication, focus and benevolent support from the revolving roster of mentors.
What’s the best advice you’ve given or received for writers/creatives?
Create a human conversation though which you can move, inform, illuminate and transform the audience. Tell a story that has probably not been told, or heard in this particular way before.
Interview by Katerina Eichenberger. Katerina is a TISCH School graduate now living in Atlanta, Georgia as a working actor in film and TV and providing operational and administrative support to Stowe Story Labs.