Sunday, 28 October 2012

Book to Screen Workshop Review ...

 Book to Screen Workshop
by Anne Gafiuk (Calgary Chapter member Guest Column)

“Anne, skip the book.  Go straight to screenplay,” said my friend, Susan, back in November 2011 as I read her a couple of excerpts from a story I am writing. 

“You need to find a producer.”  This came a few weeks earlier from Paul, a colleague, with experience in television and film.

I thought:  “Me? Really?  My tale is worthy of consideration?  Friends and family have confidence in me and are supportive....but no...I’ll just wait...I’ll keep working on my World War II piece....and other projects, too.”

A few months later, on another author’s Facebook page, I see: “Sounds like a great opportunity,” she wrote.

I click on the link and read:  a coming together of Calgary/Southern Alberta television, film and digital platform producers with writers and publishers’  Do I sign up?  Susan and Paul’s comments return to me.  I register!

For the next two days, I work on a synopsis and a mock-up of a movie poster, approaching family and friends again.  I need their feedback, guidance and assistance.  I submit the file.  And then I wait....and wait...and wait.   An email finally appears in my inbox.  I have not been selected to do ‘the pitch’.  Oh well, I think, go!  Listen and learn.  And:  I can have a good night’s sleep!

I show up about twenty minutes early, am chatted up by another attendee, both of us fresh and eager to discover the process.  We exchange business cards. 

About sixty people attend the workshop, including ten hosts/organizers/panellists. Quite a mix of individuals: playwrights, screenplay writers, producers, writers, novelists.  Why are they all here?  To have their book or story make it onto the small or big screen.  Some like me:  sitting, watching, and learning.  Others:  to offer support. And let's not forget: people are here to, included.   The seminar begins.  I watch, I make copious notes and then feel relief I am not selected as one of the four people to present their pitch!  By the end of the three hour workshop, I am exhausted! 

The panels, made up of award-winning producers, stress the length of time it will take from concept to completion.  It could be years!  The timing might not be right for some themes, they say. The key:  have a producer lined up.  Make sure that this is someone who loves the project as much as you do....someone who is like-minded, someone who will invest the time and effort into the project. Do research as to what a producer produces.  The history and reputation of the writer, filmmaker, and producer also are major players.  (Yikes! I am an unknown!)  And go out to forge relationships!  Opportunity, preparation, and luck, too, play important roles.Do not give up!” they advise.

The time arrives for the four pitches.  The audience has a certain anticipating energy.  A chair, the ‘hot seat’, I call it, is placed in front of us virtual strangers and next to the four panellists...all wearing dark clothing of various hues of black.  Is this an omen?

The first person to pitch was eaten alive for her presentation but then the panel seemed to like her story...had she only just told it.  The second admits to being “scared shitless”.  He is amusing, initially, and then his nerves get the best of him.  The panel likes his main character and tells him he needed to have rehearsed the pitch to know his story inside and out.  The third:  shy and quiet speaks to the outline provided by the organizers at registration, but also has been listening and learning.  The panel is not so hard on him.  They ask questions.  The fourth:  again, having the experience of the first three, wows the panel.  He delivers! All four individuals receive 'constructive criticism' and congratulations for their benefit and for us in the audience. 

While all this is going on, I cannot help but think of Dragon’s Den or So You Think You Have Talent.  I am so happy not to have been up there.  Then I realize: missing from all of the pitches is a visual...the movie poster or the book cover we were asked to create.  No one had one...and the teacher in me knows to always have a visual! 

We are given business cards as well as some literature from agencies:  Alberta Film , Canada Media Fund , as well as the Harold Greenberg Fund for further information.

In summary:

  1. Be concise, clear, and appealing.  Try to capture ‘the pitch’ in 30- 60 seconds.
  2. ‘The Pitch’ is all about the story.  And both had better be great!
  3. Make your characters ‘real’.
  4. Make sure the story is topical, as it could take between 2-4 years to bring the project to fruition.
  5. Make eye contact with the panel.
  6. Rehearse ‘the pitch’.  Time it.  Run it past friends and family.  Ask them to be brutally honest and have them ask questions.
  7. Know your story inside out and backwards.
  8. Come ‘ready to play’.
  9. Create a relationship within the first three minutes of ‘the pitch’,
  10. Never apologize.
  11. Wear black!

So what did I come away with?  A great appreciation of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ to bring text to the screen.  More knowledge...and that can’t hurt.  Now what do I do?  Work on my story, add some spit and polish....put me out there, and meet more people!  Oh, also get my name known by doing things like this guest column.  And don’t forget to wear black.
More from Anne Gafiuk at

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Guest BLOG post by Karen Crowdis, PWAC Calgary Chapter

When ideas are in abundance, they ricochet off each other in my head until I finally put fingers to keyboard and put them down. That’s what writers do after all. But there are times I face barriers to getting down to the business of writing. Some days that very simple act of transfer from brain to paper seems like climbing Everest.
I would like to climb Everest; literally and figuratively. The literal climbing of Everest is impeded by very simple things: finances to pull it off and an irrational fear of heights. At least I can day dream about it.
Figuratively, I sometimes face Everest with my writing. The large blank space and blinking cursor on my laptop mock me. Just finish the query letter, I plead with myself. Thirty minutes later, I’m still here, still a blinking cursor on a blank page while I try to sort out my thoughts. Maybe some tea will help.
Make tea, check the weather, turn on music, put away some kid’s toys, start a grocery list, put some laundry in, reheat the tea and sit back down at the computer. Sip my tea, burn my tongue. OK, I’m ready to get rolling....except that I didn’t eat anything. I should have a cookie.
For sure, now I am ready to get down to it. My ideas are like the pinball balls that never find their way to the next level. They are bouncing and rebounding in my head, one leading to another. Yet they cannot find their way out the neurons of my brain to my fingertips and onto my laptop.
Deep breath and stretch. Maybe walking the dog will help me focus. Yes, a bit of fresh air will help and the exercise won’t hurt—get the blood moving. Come back, reheat tea again and sit down. Notice the dishes weren’t done last night. I should really do that and then come back to the writing. But it is lunch time so I will just eat something first, then dishes, then writing! 
I start to wonder if I might have a mild form of attention deficit.
Finish lunch, clean up, put laundry in the dryer, dust and vacuum. I sit down and the writing comes more easily, things start to flow as the distractions are silenced. At a pivotal moment my phone buzzes and beeps at me to remind me that I have an appointment in 30 minutes and then have to pick up the kids. Log off; tonight I will pick up where I left off unless I get caught up in some campy ‘reality’ TV.
Every week, I get updates on colleagues’ activities. New, exciting projects and I am happy for them...and a bit green. I could be posting great updates to my LinkedIn profile.  If I just had more uninterrupted time, I console myself; I could do those things too. I have too many obstacles to my writing time.
It occurs to me that maybe I’m the obstacle. I should go look into that...

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

PWAC Prairies Regional Fall Conference Event - A Great Success!

Thank you to all the participants, speakers, sponsors and volunteers for making the first PWAC Regional Event such a great success!
On Sept 22, 2012 over thirty people met in Saskatoon for a great day of professional development at the PWAC Prairies Fall Conference, hosted by the PWAC Saskatchewan Chapter. Attendees and speakers came from all PWAC Prairie Chapters, including Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, as well as industry, sponsors and the public. The day started off with a welcome message from the day’s emcee, Saskatchewan President Kelly-Anne Riess, followed by an opening message from Carla Bechard of Saskatchewan Tourism, who helped sponsor the event.
The first session offered was by PWAC Regina member Marie Powell on Breaking In: Taking Stock of the Marketplace, which encouraged writers to hone their non-fiction specialties, negotiate their rates and make their vision pay.
After an energized first coffee break the morning continued with another full session by online specialist Katrina German. Her session, How to be a Paid Social Media Strategist, enforced the importance of gathering a network of people around your freelance writing business, becoming an expert in what you are interested in and thriving as key components of the business of content management.
The catered lunch arrived right on time and the venue was noisy in all the sharing. The afternoon started on a high note and delivered a great second half. PWAC VP Doreen Pendgracs offered up an informative and humorous full two-hour session on Your Next Travel Story Might be Right in Your Own Back Yard. Her session reminded writers that it is not about the typical ‘ … if you travel to …’ stories, but rather, the quirky off the beaten path stories that editors want, as well as new markets for travel such as edu-tainment. She also reminded everyone how valuable professional associations such as PWAC and TMAC are to writing careers.
After the last coffee break of the day Kelly-Anne Riess moderated a PWAC-member panel discussion on Niche Writing: Your Ticket to Success. Kicking off the panel was Saskatoon PWAC member James Romanow, known as Dr. Booze, who spoke on his success as a wine expert and branding himself though positive experiences with trade journal opportunities for writers offering many niche publications. Next on the panel was PWAC Manitoba Chapter member RoseAnna Schick. She passionately explained how she used her love of golf and her curiosity to try different sports to launch her freelance success into columns and regular freelance by becoming an expert in her topic - even if she was not an expert at the sport. Next was Michelle Greysen from the newly formed southern Alberta PWAC Lethbridge Chapter. She shifted the room’s perspective away from the traditional view of typically smaller niche publications, showing instead how a writer can create a place for their story, not just in a niche magazine, but also in a mainstream large product. By using a few publisher insight tools to analyze the product cover-to-cover and by positioning a unique story that suits both the product and the targeted readership, one can produce polished queries that land assignments. Closing out the panel was PWAC Saskatchewan member Darrell Noakes with an informative view on using photography to create a freelance niche. Many questions from the audience to the panel added to the day ending on a high note.
After many door prizes of books and the grand prize of a PWAC-sponsored draw of a one-year membership to a qualifying non-PWAC member in the room, the day came to a close. Feedback was positive and participants left with many new contacts, not only among PWAC members from all five Prairie Chapters in attendance, but also with great connections to attendees from industry, tourism and the public.
The event proved to be a great success with many thanks to the sponsors PWAC/,TOURISM Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Writers Guild (SWG), Saskatoon Writers COOP and SPHERU. And special thanks to the PWAC Saskatchewan Chapter for hosting the event and to the organizing committee who helped to make the day spectacular: Saskatchewan Chapter members Marie Powell, Kelly-Anne Riess, Mike Chouniard, Calgary Chapter member Carey Rutherford and the Prairies and the North Regional Director/Lethbridge Chapter member Michelle Greysen.
The event brought a great spotlight to PWAC, not only across the Prairies, but also across the country, as the day’s sessions were live tweeted on the #PWAC hash tag and many participant blogs and tweets continue to offer further information from the day. 

We look forward to repeating this event each fall in our Region, or across the country - if your Chapter is interested in hosting please contact The Prairies and the North Regional Director, Michelle Greysen to help make it happen!