The first ever Writers Lab, a program targeting female screenwriters over 40, took place at Wiawaka on Lake George, New York from September 18-20, 2015.
The group of mentors included Caroline Kaplan ("Boyhood," "Time Out of Mind," "Personal Velocity"), Kirsten Smith ("Legally Blonde," "Ten
Things I Hate About You"), Jessica Bendinger ("Bring It On," "Aquamarine"), Mary Jane Skalski ("Win Win," "The Station Agent"),Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Secret Life of Bees," "Beyond the Lights"),Lydia Dean-Pilcher ("The Lunchbox," The Reluctant Fundamentalist"), Meg LeFauve ("Inside Out," "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys"), and Darnell Martin (“Cadillac Records” and “I Like It Like That”).
Launched by New York Women in Film and Television (NYWIFT) and IRIS, a collective of women filmmakers dedicated to championing the female voice in
narrative film, was funded in part by Academy Award-winning actress Meryl Streep, and with the collaboration of the Writers Guild of America East.
Motivated by its screenwriting members who were frustrated with the paucity of development opportunities, IRIS founders Elizabeth Kaiden, Kyle Ann Stoke,
and Nitza Wilson approached NYWIFT to support a screenwriting Lab exclusively for this demographic and The Writers Lab came into being.
I spoke with IRIS cofounder Elizabeth Kaiden to follow up about the first Writers Lab.
How many screenplays were submitted for consideration?
There were approximately 3,500 screenplays submitted. The selected participants were Sarah Bird ("Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen), Vanessa Carmichael
("The American"). Tracy Charlton ("Raised Up"), Kellen Hertz ("Ashburn"), Anna Hozian ("Anchor Baby"), Lyralen Kaye ("St John the Divine in Iowa"), Jan
Kimbrough ("The Glastonbury Cow Party"), Billie Jo Mason ("The Cargo"), Peres Owino ("Basketweaver"), Gretchen Somerfeld ("Face Value"), Janet Stilson
("Jaguar Trail"), and Kim Turner ("It Goes Like This").
What were some highlights from the three-day Lab?
Highlights included the chemistry, warmth and enthusiasm of the group, the bucolic setting in which serious and thoughtful individual meetings between
writers and mentors took place, the outstanding, locally sourced, group meals presented by Wiawaka chef Meg, and evening conversations around a bonfire.
Oh, and the weather was fabulous.
What is the next step for these writers selected for the Lab?
Writers are all revising their work and communicating with each other. They will use the feedback, resources, references, and friendships they took away
from the Lab to further develop their scripts and their opportunities.
In addition to the one-on-one meetings, what other events took place?
Kaiden: There were three panel discussions in which the mentors addressed specific craft issues and general industry insight, informal conversations, group meals,
as well as small, directed group conversations led by NYWIFT Board President Alexis Alexanian to address the challenges writers face in navigating the film
What do you feel were some of the most positive outcomes from the weekend in Lake George?
The most exciting outcome of this venture, for me, is uncovering and bringing to public attention the field of women screenwriters, particularly its
enormous breadth and depth. The most positive outcomes of the weekend Lab, for me, include the sense of empowerment I believe the Lab gave the writers to
continue their work and develop their projects, and the supportive community of writers we all discovered, which can only further our goals of ensuring
that more of their stories will reach audiences.
Will the Writers Lab take place again next year?
Anything else you’d like to add?
We were excited and delighted by the energy and enthusiasm at the Lab. It felt like an important event. It WAS an important event. We discussed and debated
issues of theme, tone, craft, structure, character, as well as production, representation, and target markets. The mentors were unbelievably focused,
supportive and encouraging. Serious work was done. The writers left feeling, I think, that their voices had been heard, and that they should all continue
to tell their stories. I think you will be hearing more from these writers and about these projects. And, although that would have been enough, everyone
had a blast.
Award-winning screenwriter and filmmaker, Susan Kouguell teaches screenwriting at Purchase College SUNY, and presents international seminars on
screenwriting and film. Author of SAVVY CHARACTERS SELL SCREENPLAYS! and THE SAVVY SCREENWRITER, she is chairperson of Su-City
Pictures East, LLC, a consulting company founded in 1990 where she works with writers, filmmakers, and executives worldwide. www.su-city-pictures.com, http://su-city-pictures.com/wpblog