Interview with Screenwriter Colleen Asbury (The Dance of the Desert Mermaids)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Colleen Asbury: An older man stumbles through the desert, lost. He has no idea where he is or how he got there; he is just pulled by the silky siren song of the Desert Mermaids. He doesn’t know they are there, and when they appear after he spits a mouthful of water at the bottom of the dune, he is transfixed. He spends one final night on earth with them, a beautiful, wild night, before he is turned into a cactus. One of the last shots is of many other cacti dotting the dunes, which were other victims also pulled in by the soft, sighing singing of the Desert Mermaids.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Fantasy.

3. Why should this screenplay be made into a movie?

I hope the visuals are unique, and everyone has some sort of attachment to a significant rite of passage in their lives, so hopefully it will resonate on a deep level with people.

4. How would you describe this script in two words?

Magic Realism.

5. What movie have you seen the most times in your life?

Amadeus.

6. How long have you been working on this screenplay?

I first wrote it as a short story a million years ago (in 1992) when there were still niche literary magazines and the Internet was a hazy thing that only computer people talked about. I sent it out to every fantasy magazine I could find, including one that fit the story to a “T.” But they rejected it, and after a few years of rejections from similar places, I put the dot-matrix copy in a box and didn’t think much about it. About ten years later, I retyped it into my desktop computer and saved it on a floppy disk. Every time I got a new computer, I transferred it, from floppy disk to hard disk to thumb drive to cloud. Then, about 25 years from the original writing of the story, I was staying with my elderly father in his Assisted Living apartment and the Internet went out. He went to bed at 7 p.m. and there was literally nothing to do. So, I pulled out the Desert Mermaid story and just practiced turning it into a short screenplay. It was just an exercise, because for years I had rather pretentiously tried to be a “literary” writer and had no idea that short screenplays were a “thing,” so for me it was just practice. (I had recently taken a class called Screenplay Writing 101 at a community college and was just trying to get used to the formatting, etc.) No one had ever wanted the story in any form, but I liked it and hoped that someday there would be a way to get it out into the world.

7. How many stories have you written?

Dozens and dozens.

8. What is your favorite song? (Or, what song have you listened to the most times in your life?)

I have a weird thing with music in that I will listen to the same song about 100 times in a row and love it each time as if hearing it anew. Then my brain fixates on another song. And then another. Recently, I went through a week of listening nonstop to Blossom Dearie singing, “Surrey With a Fringe On Top,” and then it was Franz Schubert’s “Duetsche Messe – Zum Sanctus – Heilig, heilig,” which I heard on “The Leftovers” and fell in love with, and this week it’s been George Harrison singing “My Sweet Lord.”

9. What obstacles did you face to finish this screenplay?

There was no home for this. No one wanted it. No one seemed to like it in ANY form. The few people who had read it back when I sent it out to zines had little to say other than the standard, “It’s not right for us.” The couple of friends who had read it when it was a story were polite and one said some of the visuals stayed with her, but there was zero enthusiasm from anyone. The only feedback I got from more mainstream places was that it “didn’t fit a niche,” and when I would (kind of jokingly) say, “You should create a niche, then,” they all said, “This is REAL life, not the movies.” So, if this ever ends up as a finished movie, I will be very pleased and probably do a lot of private laughing.

10. Apart from writing, what else are you passionate about?

Being a Reiki Master and healer, music, art, travel, literature, really good food and wine, my two fat rescue cats, kindness, compassion, fairness, justice, and creating an interior and exterior environment of peace and harmony.

11. You entered your screenplay via FilmFreeway. What has been your experiences working with the submission platform site?

Good!

12. What influenced you to enter the festival? What were your feelings on the initial feedback you received?

I admit that I saw the word “Fantasy” and thought, “AHA!” I was thrilled because I thought that finally people who loved fantasy and visuals as much as I did could take a look at it and give me feedback. I entered three short screenplays and the feedback I received from these folks was incredible. It felt like this was the first time that anyone had really, truly READ the Desert Mermaids, taken it in, and then gave real, honest, mind-blowing feedback to me. The feedback on the other two screenplays was just as good, though whomever read one of them really didn’t “get” it, but their insights were still incredible and I am very grateful. I am beyond thrilled that knowledgeable, passionate, literate people at this festival read my stuff and gave such insightful feedback. This is a dream come true.

A FilmFreeway preferred festival:

A weary traveler enlists the help of Desert Mermaids that help guide soften his passing into the next phase of his life, which is being a cactus.

Narrator: Mandy May Cheetham

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