The Nantucket Film Festival Staged Readings
by Cybele Chivian
The screenplay is the foundation of a film. As such, it remains
remarkable how much screenwriting has long been trivialized by the movie
industry. But several festivals, venues, and publications have recently
come out of the shadows to resurrect the lost art of the movie writer,
Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting competition, the Nicholl
Fellowships, the reading series at New York’s Nuyorican cafe, and
Scenario magazine, just to name a few. The Nantucket Film Festival has
established the format of the staged reading to honor screenwriters and
their craft. What makes Nantucket’s nod special is that they one of the
few festivals to incorporate a reading series into their program.
The staged readings aim to explore the raw stages of pre-production.
They give screenwriters an opportunity to hear their work read in front
of an audience and audiences an understanding of where the film process
begins before budgets, casting and a director’s point of view come into
play. It is the movie in its most elementary form, an outline bound to
be rewritten countless times, by the writer itself, the director, the
producer, the weather the day of the shooting and so on.
This year the festival presented five staged readings: “Love-40” by Warren
Leight, “Domestic Disturbance” by Frank Novak, “Crazy Time” by Pete Nelson, “Safecracker” by Joel Gross and “Galaxy Babe” by Pamela T. Gray. Casts were made up of actors from both on and off island. Some of this year’s
familiar faces were Jess L. Martin, Adam Pascal, Mary McCormack, Anne
Meara, Ed Sherin, Jace Alexander, Taro Alexander, Cathe Thorne, John
Shea, Mike Showalter, Dana Wheeler-Nicholson, Chris Noth, and many more.
Warren Leight said, “I gained confidence in the script… an awareness
of what the emotional beats where… and how I would pace it.” He also
felt that the reading gave him a “good sense of how to cast.”
Frank Novak, who’s short “Domestic Distubance” screened at last year’s
festival, came back this year with a feature length screenplay. When
asked what he got out of the reading he said, “The most useful aspect
was re-writing the script for the reading, which forced me to edit…
and the audience response. The audience response will play into how I
direct the film.” Nantucket has been a place of expansion for “Domestic Disturbance”. Positive response to the short film inspired the feature
length script this year, which in turn, he hopes to screen next year as
a feature length film.
Pete Nelson felt that “Crazy Time”‘s reading was most useful to him in
relation to dialogue. Author of “Safecracker”, Gross said that he can now
“see casting possibilities, can visualize who’s correct and can see the
The last staged reading was “Galaxy Babe”. Pamela Gray said the reading
inspired “casting ideas and a sense when a scene works or doesn’t.” It
also helped her with “clarity of character. Have you flushed that out?
Based upon the feedback from actors you learn what’s working. Actors
tell you, ‘I could or could not play this.” She also learned that one
needs to “build images succinctly and with clarity, but not
[Cybele Chivian is the associate director of the Nantucket Film Festival staged reading series.]