Screenwriting Expo 5 by Debra HollandI just finished an exhausting, but fun two days at the Screenwriting Expo 5 at the Marriot and Renaissance Hotels in Los Angeles. I planned on attending Friday as well, but was delayed an extra day from my New England vacation.
This is the second year I’ve attended the Expo. I had a wonderful experience last year and was hoping to repeat some of the magic this year.
The conference is quite different from attending RWA national. First of all there’s about four thousand people, double RWA’s attendance. That’s a lot of people crowding the conference rooms, elevators, bathrooms, and food venues. Secondly, at least half of the attendees are MEN. Mostly young men. Often attractive men. Fun, fun. The switch from conferences that are mostly feminine energy to ones full of male energy is interesting and a bit disconcerting. Third, I didn’t know anyone. Well maybe one or two people. But not like at RWA where I have my dear noodle sisters, my chapter mates, and other friends I’ve acquired at various conferences. At RWA, it seems as if I know someone (or more) at each event I attend. Expo is a sea of strangers. But once I adjusted to the changes I enjoyed the experience.
This year I was prepared for the differences and eager to embrace all the new experiences, learning, and networking opportunities. As always, I prayed before I left home, asking for Divine guidance about where I went, what I was to learn, and whom I was to meet. I already had some ideas in my head, for instance, workshops with Michael Hauge, whom I didn’t get to hear speak in Atlanta. I’d circled each of his classes in my program. I’d also hoped to spend a little time with my friend, Jeff Goldsmith, senior editor for Creative Screenwriting. And I wanted to enter the CS open, an on-the-spot screenwriting contest with a $5000 first prize. Last year in my first-ever screenwriting attempt, I’d done quite well and had received good feedback from the judges.
I arrived early on Saturday morning--a good thing, because parking was a mad house. I’d hoped to have time to scan through the program (about 20 choices per session and all very interesting) and pick my classes. But by the time I checked in, I barely had time for my first workshop with Steven Barnes, “Writing SciFi, Fantasy, or Horror.” As it was, I had to sit on the floor because there were no chairs left. (A common occurrence throughout the seminar.) Steven has twenty novels in print and has written for various SciFi television shows. He invited us to name various movies, and then he broke them down, telling us what worked and what didn’t work. A fascinating and fun workshop.
During the lunch break, I ran into John Wolf, the volunteer coordinator. Last year I’d been one of John’s volunteers. He told me he was short-staffed because some people hadn’t shown up, or had gone awol, and he asked for my help. I agreed, mentally saying good-bye to attending Michael Hauge’s workshops or entering the CS open.
Also during lunch, I popped into the trade show room and checked out the various booths. I stopped by the Movieguide booth, were once again, they were promoting their screenwriting contest, The Kairos Prize for spiritually uplifting screenplays. My first screenplay, an adaptation from my GH winning book, Wild Montana Sky was a semifinalist in last year’s contest. Go to www.kairosprize.com if you are interested in submitting your work.
I dropped by the volunteer room and donned my black tee shirt, marking me as one of the staff. John assigned me to a conference room, and for the next two workshops, I heard the speakers lecturing in that room. I now know something about publicity for your film. (Get some photos of you directing. Make sure they are of you pointing to the left. This is the only time when you’re directing that you will actually point to the left, but it looks good in photos.)
I also learned about how to adapt my screenplay into a comic. The last time I’d even read a comic I was a teenager, so obviously I don’t have an interest in this area. And, there’s no way in the world my screenplay--a Historical Western Romance--would ever be suited to a comic. But I learned that comics have evolved since my teen years. One of my favorite fantasy writers, Raymond Feist, has had his work adapted into comics. I read one that was passed around. I didn’t like it. Too hard to follow the story, and the elaborate drawings didn’t look anything like the way I’d imagined the world. But I also learned that Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Anita Blake series is now in comic books. The issue I saw looked interesting, but then again, I’ve never read Sherrilyn’s books, so I don’t have enough knowledge to be a judge.
This year the Expo included a special track where attendees could have a day listening to different speakers from Pixar. About seven hundred people had signed up for that event, held in the ballroom, with two other overflow rooms. I stopped in for few minutes (volunteers could attend any event) but the information didn’t apply to my writing, so I left.
The evening brought the end to the volunteers’ duties. We sat around and chatted for a while, then went to the evening “networking” party held outdoors by the pool. The party was a bit overwhelming if you didn’t know anyone, which was the case with most of the attendees, who walked around with deer-in-the headlight looks. I stood in a circle with my fellow volunteers, grateful to have a group of acquaintances. The six of us played a party game that turned out to be a good icebreaker. The best part of the party was having a conversation with one of the women lead to a story idea for a women’s fiction book. I haven’t written women’s fiction before. It might be something to add to my collection of Historical Romance, Fantasy with SciFi elements, nonfiction, and screenplays.
Sunday was a more low key day, with less people and only three sessions of workshops instead of five. During the first session, my job was to go from room to room, checking on each staff member to see if they needed a bathroom break or they had any problems in the seminar that needed to be solved. That gave me a chance to catch tantalizing bits from different speakers.
In “Creating Popcorn Moments” about writing action/adventure or horror, I learned in to always keep the threat of the monster/bad guy in the viewer/reader’s awareness, even if the actual threat wasn’t present. For example, the kids swimming in the water in Jaws, using a fake fin and pretending to be the shark. In “Writing the Marketable RomCom” I caught a snippet of a movie staring Diane Keaton and Jack Nickelson. (I never learned the name, but I plan on renting it because it looked funny.) The instructor, Billy Merrit, reminded us about the importance of keeping the characters as themselves during sex scenes, not just writing a generic scene.
I stayed in the next two workshops that focused on family films, and enjoyed the panels of speakers. There I learned that studios are seriously looking for good family films and that these films do well in the marketplace.
I didn’t stay for the Final Ceremony. I remembered last year’s handing out of awards and prizes had been long and tedious, and I didn’t want to get caught up in the mob of people and cars in the parking structure. But before I left, I asked John (who’d earlier said that he’ll critique his friend’s screenplays) and asked if he’d look at mine. I also offered to return the favor. He accepted.
All in all, I had a fun time. A new story idea. A new critique partner. Some more learning about craft. Some new friends. Not the magical time I had last year, but good enough, especially when I missed the first day. Definitely a conference I’d recommend, even if you’re not a screenwriter. What you can learn about craft is invaluable. And who knows. You might just decide to try your hand at a screenplay.