RECAP: Independent Filmmaker Project’s “Script to Screen” Conference

On Saturday, March 5, IFP (Independent Filmmaker Project) presented a conference in New York City called “Script to Screen” – with the support of partners, the Writers Guild of America East, Festology and the Nantucket Film Festival. IFP is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of independent filmmakers.

Although there is a lot of information and discussion on the Internet, I think it’s good to get out of the house and check out organized events like this one. To me, it’s especially helpful for networking. Sometimes you may only get a bit of new information or a little motivation, but if you’re lucky, you can connect with someone who can move your career in a positive direction.

If you missed the event and are a member of the IFP, you can access a couple of conference panels through streaming video on their website. Otherwise, here are some short recaps of those panels whose specific subject was screenwriting (rather than filmmaking in general):

There was a live reading with professional actors of two projects: Everyone But You represented by co-writer Jonathan J. Johnson and My Best Day by Erin Greenwell. They were critiqued by Amy Hobby, the producer of Secretary, and R. Paul Miller, producer of Snow Angels. (Moderated by Mystelle Brabbée, Creative Director, Nantucket Film Festival.)

Although it’s less than ideal to hear bits of dialogue out of context, it still allowed for a discussion on the strengths and weaknesses of what was heard, and some advice that we can all use, like: make sure that each of your characters have an individual voice. You may feel that you already know that, but sometimes what you hear in your head may not be exactly what others hear when the dialogue is spoken out loud. It made me realize how useful it is to have a staged reading where you can truly hear the dialogue that you’ve written.

Because screenwriters’ careers don’t seem to follow any particular path, it’s always interesting to hear the stories behind the screenplays. Mark Heyman worked as Darren Aronofsky’s assistant right after film school. In that position, he obviously impressed Aronofsky enough to be given the opportunity to co-write his first professional script, Black Swan. Heyman still has to complete his thesis film in order to get his degree. Do you think that the school might accept a script that was nominated for an Academy Award?

Noah Harlan moderated a panel discussion on the various possibilities for writers using the latest technologies. The panelists included: Carol Kolb, Head Writer, The Onion News Network; Susan Miller and Tina Cesa Ward, Writer/Directors, Anyone But Me (a Web series –; and Ursula Lawrence, representing the Writers Guild of America East.

It seems that it’s easy enough to write whatever you want and get it seen; not so easy to make money at it. Like all other independent projects, it’s not enough to concentrate on the creative work you also have to be creative with fundraising, marketing, and press. The Writers Guild is trying to keep ahead of the curve by arranging contracts for writers on the Web.

Barry Levinson is one of our most accomplished writer/directors, and he’s a charming raconteur. It was wonderful to hear his stories about the behind-the-scene moments of his films. His anecdotes covered his earliest days as an improvisational actor, through his time writing for The Carol Burnett Show, to his specific directions to Dustin Hoffman on Rain Man, to his current project, a $2M faux documentary about the Chesapeake Bay that was filmed using iPhones and other new technologies. He explained that he can use any medium because his work is based on character and storytelling.

The event was held at the 92nd Street Y in Tribeca, where the sunny café provided a very pleasant place for lunch and networking.

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