Interview with Winning Screenwriters Jennifer Woldman & David Maddox (A STUDY IN SCARLETT)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

A Study in Scarlett is a re-imagining of the classic Sherlock Holmes, with inspiration also taken from American history circa late 1860s-70s. The enigmatic genius Scarlett Holmes is a bi-racial woman. She meets her loyal friend and partner Joanna Holmes, a struggling doctor, to solve a murder and save an innocent man from hanging. Throughout the series historical situations and events are explored through adaptations of Doyle’s classic tales. To solve each episode’s puzzle, and the interlocking season-long mystery, the legendary sleuths must navigate issues of race and inequality, and the complicated nature of justice.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Mystery, Historical fiction

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

It is the right moment in America for a television series like A Study in Scarlett. Through the eyes of these diverse characters we explore a time in American history whose echos we feel today in our laws and culture. As past readers have pointed out, A Study in Scarlett gives us an opportunity to explore modern themes of race, gender, equality, and justice through the lens of classic Holmes tales. These are conversations that we need to be having in modern day America as we confront our own history, and our future together, and this series can be an access point.

This series can reach a broad audience — classic Sherlock fans will find the stories and characters familiar, and we stay true to the spirit and rollicking fun that has made the original work a classic, and it’s more recent reincarnations huge successes on the big and small screens. The diversity of the characters and the compelling issues we tackle will appeal to a younger, more modern audience, who might not have seen much for them in recent Holmes remakes. History fans will love this exploration of an under-represented, yet critically important, era of American history. There is truly something in this series for everyone.

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

Scarlett Holmes

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

Jen – Probably Empire Strikes Back. Or maybe Harry Potter, because it is always on television, and sometimes we put it on like background music in my house.

David – The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The film changed my life as a child, that’s why I do what I do now.

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

About 9 months. The idea for A Study in Scarlett came to me last summer in the middle of moving. I was finally able to get the basic story down by October, and then David and I worked on it daily for about a month. We continue to make revisions based upon feedback.

7. How many stories have you written?

A Study in Scarlett is our first screenplay working as a team, but we each have been writing on our own for a long time. I have a completed novel named Redemption, and a work in progress novel named Earth Tour. David has a SciFi screenplay named Greetings from the Vortex, and an animated pilot called The Adventures of Darryl Springbornne.

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

Jen – Listened to most in my LIFE? Probably something by New Kids on the Block, lol, as I played those tapes on my boom box until they ran out in the early 90s. Hello from Generation X.

David – Jesus Jones. Their slight hit in the 90’s International Bright Young Thing. All the remixes of it!

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

We were very eager to obtain feedback from people of color, particularly Black women. We center diverse characters, and we want to make sure we are true to that lived experience. As a mixed race woman who as often felt “other” like Scarlett, this is a very important to me personally, and frankly it can be difficult to find professional readers with that background. If A Study in Scarlett were to move forward as a project, we would want to make sure the team we work with is appropriately diverse.

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

Jen – I have two teenage boys with special needs, so they are my main passion! Politics, and my career in technology, and theatre.

David – I’m a performer and filmmaker so that takes up a good deal of my time, and I have a casual interest in astronomy.

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

Coverfly has been a great experience for us!

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

We entered an early draft, in the hopes that we would get some valuable feedback to help make the script better. The feedback we got was helpful, and we’ve incorporated some of the notes in recent revisions. Hearing our words performed by actors is a thrill, and also a learning experience. Our goal at the end of the day is to see A Study in Scarlett on the TV screen, and we’re hoping exposure through Wildsound will help us connect with people who can help make that happen.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

A re-imagining of the legendary sleuths, multi-racial Scarlet Holmes and aspiring-doctor Joanna Watson solve mysteries during the cultural upheaval of post Civil War America.

CAST LIST:

Officer: Isaiah Kolundzic
Narrator: Hannah Ehman
Male Doctor: Bill Poulin
Watson: Nkasi Ogbonnah

 

Interview with Winning Screenwriter Shane W. Smith (BLACK MIRROR)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Shane W. Smith: Matchsticks 2.0 is a Black Mirror spec script about a family caught up in a government push to genetically normalise its citizens, using biometric user data gathered from a popular game to target imperfect subjects.

But at its heart, this is a story about the dangers of allowing advanced technology to drive social change, and the dehumanising ways in which people with disability and other vulnerable people are too often treated in public discourse.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

In true Black Mirror style, Matchsticks 2.0 is first and foremost a dystopian sci-fi story. Its secondary genre is family drama.

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

Honestly, it probably shouldn’t. At least not until we strip the Black Mirror aspects out of it.

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

Tech-led genocide.

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

I’ve got four kids, so it’s no doubt something Disney. But if we’re talking by choice, it’s probably a three-way tie between Star Wars, Children of Men, and the M*A*S*H: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen movie-length finale.

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

The first words of this story hit the page way back in 2016, but other projects took over. The bulk of this screenplay came together in the month of August 2019.

7. How many stories have you written?

I’m a lifelong writer, with around ten published graphic novels and a number of shorter published stories under my belt.

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

Tricky question, and so many viable contenders! Edging out the others, partly because the dystopian sci-fi angle is tonally in line with Matchsticks 2.0, I’m going to go with Save Yourself and I’ll Hold Them Back, by My Chemical Romance.

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

One of the options presented to us when my son was diagnosed with ASD and ADHD several years was a regimen of powerful medication that would radically change his personality, an option that – after careful consideration – we turned down in favour of a more involved road of occupational therapy and intensive one-on-one time. Being presented with this choice triggered a range of conflicting feelings, and this conflict was absolutely central to the concept of Matchsticks 2.0. In comparison to the real-life issues that underpinned it, the actual act of putting the script together was practically a non-issue.

From a technical standpoint, Matchsticks 2.0 was one of my first attempts at a TV script and as such, earlier drafts of the script were a bit overwritten. Thankfully, my local screenwriting group helped me smooth out the narration and tone, with a view to keeping things punchy and simple.

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

Apart from writing? Only my family: my incredible wife of twelve years, Katie, and our four amazing children, Annie, Liam, Nella and Molly.

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

I have a complicated relationship with Coverfly. I love the convenience of having information centrally available, and how easy it is to locate festivals and competitions. The homogenous layout for each event makes it really easy for writers to find key dates, prices, and eligibility rules, as well as tracking updates for submissions.

At the same time, however, the ease of the platform also contributes to it being quite addictive and, if a writer like me gets a rush of blood to the head, it can be worryingly easy to spend a small fortune on competitions in a very short amount of time.

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

Although I’m a lifelong writer, I’m a newcomer to screenwriting, and I was looking for some indication that I was on the right track. There were several reasons I chose to submit Matchsticks 2.0 to this festival:
reader feedback for every entry was a huge draw;
accepting spec scripts for existing shows set this festival apart from most others I found;
and the potential to hear my words brought to life by a cast of professional actors was an incredibly enticing prize too.
The feedback I received was very positive in nature, and mirrored the positive reaction I’d gotten from my local screenwriting group. It was tremendously heartening and encouraging to feel like I was indeed on the right track.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

“Perfect is the enemy of special.

When the government starts to use data mining software in order to identify genetically imperfect citizens, the software’s lead designer must come to terms with what it means to be perfect, and decide what kind of life he wants for his children.

CAST LIST:

Sally: Rebecca MacDonald
Brad: Peter Valdron
Narrator: Justine Christensen
Daniel: Nick Hendrik
Mara: Georgia Grant
Tag: Thomas Fournier

Interview with Filmmaker Brian Ernst (WELL DONE)

WELL DONE was the winner of BEST PERFORMANCES at the Chicago FEEDBACK Film Festival in February 2020.

Matthew Toffolo: What motivated you to make this film?

Brian Ernst: We initially set out to make this film for a short film contest and the idea sprang from a conversation I had with producer and star of Well Done, Mitchell Brinkman. In a brainstorming session he came up with the idea of a burger on a grill being used as a ticking clock and we ran with it from there.

2. From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you
to make this short?

The first draft of the script was completed on May 9, 2019, we shot on August 17 and the 24th and the film was finished on August 28, so post was quite the quick turn around!

3. How would you describe your short film in two words!?

Well done 😉

4. What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Casting and weather. I think we were down to the Wednesday before filming on Saturday before we locked in Eric Block as Mr. Hillcrest, the boss, so that was stressful. We also had the film scheduled for a one day shoot which bit us in the rear when it rained all morning. We broke the day in two, shoot everything with our lead solo in the morning (all shots by the grill, reactions, etc.) and then only have the crowd for the second part of the day. So since we were rained out, we scrapped the morning shots, filmed in-between rain outs and picked up solo shots the following weekend with a crew of just Mitch and myself.

5. What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking
about your film in the feedback video?

Most of the comments on our film were very positive, so it was nice to hear what worked for everyone.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

6. How did you come up with the idea for this short film?

After thinking on Mitch’s concept of using a burger as a ticking clock, I really started factoring in what was available: My backyard was a free location, I just bought my first grill, making a mostly VO short would make a one day shoot possible if we weren’t reliant on on-set dialogue, and I could get friends and family to fill out the party. After we set the rules, we stayed within those guidelines to find a story that worked.

7. What film have you seen the most in your life?

Tommy Boy. Classic comfort food.

8. You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings
of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I like it when it’s easy to find what you qualify for. Short films are tricky, especially one that’s as short as ours, so being able to set up a single project and find put what it qualifies for is refreshing.

9. What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.

10. What is next for you? A new film?

Next up is probably a longer screenplay or series. Our producing group is really into episodic comedy, so finding the right show concept that we can produce ourselves is probably what we’ll strive for next.

well_done_movie_poster

Interview with Filmmaker Gretl Claggett (STORMCHASER)

 STORMCHASER swept the awards at the February 2020 FEMALE Feedback Film Festival in Toronto. Winner of BEST FILM. BEST PERFORMANCES. BEST CINEMATROGRAPHY

 Matthew Toffolo: How did you come up with the idea for this short film? And… What motivated you to make the film?

“He’s a door-to-door ‘door’ salesman,” my friend said.

“A what…?” I thought I’d misheard what her new boyfriend did for a living.

“He lost his job. Now, he sells storm doors, door-to-door.

Our exchange conjured black-and-white images from the Maysles’ documentary, Salesman, about door-to-door bible peddlers in the ‘60s. Surely, this daily grind was a thing of the past. But as I did some digging, I discovered it still exists; and that many contractors targeting weather-torn areas this way are called “storm chasers” — instead of “ambulance chasers” — because of their predatory practices.

This triggered a deep compulsion in me to express my own sardonic commentary on what I’d experienced growing up in small-town Tornado Alley, plus selling incentives as the lone woman in an old-boys’ club: America’s culture of greed, its celebration of bad behavior, and the rise of “disaster capitalism” which preys upon the most vulnerable suffering from man-made and natural catastrophes.

All that eventually gave birth to Bonnie Blue, a down-on-her-luck storm chaser turned naive, door-to-door huckster of roofing, siding and storm doors.

From the idea to the finished product, how long did it take for you to make this short?

The idea for STORMCHASER first started as a poem.

One night, while on a scholarship at Squaw Valley Writer’s Conference — where one must produce a poem a day — I wrote “Storm Secrets,” a lyrical narrative featuring a down-on-his luck salesman, Don Stuckey. I remember laughing and gasping as the poem gushed onto the page, taking me by surprise — a blend of my experiences in sales plus fantasy, as well as sardonic social commentary. I thought I’d said my piece. But even after “Storm Secrets” appeared in my poetry collection, MONSOON SOLO: Voices Once Submerged (WordTech Editions, 2012), something about Don and the storyline kept nagging me.

After finishing my first short film, Happy Hour — also based on one of my poems, narrated by Julianne Moore — which explores the memories and complexities of child sexual abuse, frequently and mistakenly deemed a woman’s issue, I wanted to delve into something completely different. Don was still there, knocking on my door. So, I started the screenplay in 2014, while juggling multiple creative projects and working full-time as a Senior Creative Director.

The first drafts focused on Don Stuckey as the unlucky salesman with a latent passion for storm chasing. Bonnie Blue — now the film’s anti-heroine — played a supporting role as Don’s love interest and the secretary of their tyrannical boss, Flip Smyth. The script placed as a finalist and won honorable mentions in several screenwriting contests but called out for something more. Always open to improving projects, when a friend suggested a major rewrite — turn the chaser into a door-to-door ‘door’ saleswoman — I took the challenge.

To start, I simply switched Don and Bonnie’s names, then re-read the script with fresh eyes to see what I could leave the same and what had to change. This made me acutely aware of my own biases about gender roles in the bedroom and boardroom — spurring me to make more conscious, authentic and quirky choices throughout the significant revision process. Ultimately, this intense script-work reaped a unique, complex female protagonist, plus two memorable male leads — with developed arcs — in a taut, timely short screenplay that aims to pack the punch of a feature.

After working on the screenplay on-and-off for about 4 years, I felt the story was strong enough to head into production. That said, even on location while filming and in post-production, I was still doing some rewrites…

How would you describe your short film in two words?

That’s tough. Not sure I can do it in just two words. Hm, maybe… “Metaphoric Storms” or “Disaster Capitalism” or even “Kali Rising.”

What was the biggest obstacle you faced in completing this film?

Financing the film. This is usually the biggest obstacles for indie filmmakers — made even tougher if producing a short-form project that generally won’t reap any returns on investment.

What were your initial reactions when watching the audience talking about your film in the feedback video?

It was informative, inspiring and humbling to hear comments and feelings about the film from a totally objective audience. I was thrilled that both women and men enjoyed the tone and humor of the film, expressing specific personal connections to various characters, while also acknowledging the larger socio-political commentary that’s intentionally embedded in the story. This kind of feedback is invaluable.

Watch the Audience FEEDBACK Video:

What film have you seen the most in your life?

When I was growing up, my father collected 16mm films which he projected onto a large folding screen in a makeshift “theater” in our house — first, in our living room, then later, upstairs in a spare room, where he built a small projection booth and installed a row of old theater seats from a cinema that was torn down in our town. Charlie Chaplin’s Great Dictator is a film I’ve seen countless times — it was one of my father’s favorite films and is among my favorites.

You submitted to the festival via FilmFreeway, what are you feelings of the submission platform from a filmmaker’s perspective?

I think FilmFreeway is a great platform. But it’s tricky sometimes knowing which festivals — beyond the major ones — are truly worth submitting to because the costs add up quickly, and things aren’t always what they seem to be. As an indie creator/filmmaker, it’s important to do research and be smart about developing a festival strategy. More and more, I go with my gut, and really feel into the energy and intention of any given festival. I was impressed by the mission behind the Toronto FEEDBACK Film Festival, and that’s why I submitted.

What song have you listened to the most times in your life?

Hm, not sure about that. It’s probably a classic Prince song, but not sure which one!

What is next for you? A new film?

This January, I directed 3 episodes of Chronicles of a BLEEP Year Old Woman, a comedic indie digital series; we’re currently in post-production on that project. I’m also delving back into writing a memoir project, plus developing a feature-length and a long-form narrative project.

stormchaser_movie_poster

 

 

 

Interview with Screenwriter Ma Troggian (FOREIGN)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Ma Troggian: Foreign is a story about love, loss and immigration in a politically polarized America.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Drama, Romantic Drama.

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

The script is timely. Foreign sheds light upon the importance of immigrants in America, while spontaneously telling an LGBTQ love story.

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

Sincere and political.


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

Moulin Rouge…

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

Four years.

7. How many stories have you written?

Two plays, one pilot, one short film and one feature film.

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

That’s hard. I listen to A LOT of music. Lately, Prière Païenne by Celine Dion.

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

Many. I was born and raised in Brazil. It took me a lot of work to research vocabulary and to feel confident writing in English. On top of that, I didn’t go to school for writing. I’m learning as I go. It took me many, many versions and a lot of honest feedback to get to this version.

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

Music, acting and politics. I’m a queer latina woman. I love to dress up and dance. Right now, I am about to release the fourth single of my career, followed by its music video. (You can check my music at http://www.matroggian.com, under music.)

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

Really great!

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

I was researching platforms that cherish LGBTQ work. I had a great experience with the festival in general and I loved the reading.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

Foreign is a romantic drama following the journey of Julia, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil, trying to survive in Brooklyn. Julia’s dreams of being a singer are far left behind, and she now searches the city for a safe place to work as a server. After being assaulted by Davis, a business man who takes advantage of her status, Julia ends up hired under the table by Barbara, a successful restaurant owner. Julia and Barbara fall in love and impact each other’s realities. They live a profound love story, eventually threatened by Davis.

CAST LIST:

Various: Patrice Henry
Davis: Allan Brunet
Narrator: Kat Smiley
Barbara: Esther Thibault
Julia: Amiee Poulin
Ian: Gabriel Davenport

Interview with Screenwriter Samantha Loney (HUSH)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Samantha Loney: My screenplay is a television pilot about an FBI psychologist who comes back from maternity leave to be tasked with watching over a former special agent to solve the only case that she’s let go cold. They find that a string of child abductions might have connections to a dark government conspiracy.

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Procedural, crime thriller, mystery.

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

This show has two strong female lead and discusses topics that are relevant to today. Human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women in America.

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

Dark, fearless.


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

The Exorcist.


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

2 years.

7. How many stories have you written?

I have been writing ever since I can remember, always working on something. But I have two completed feature scripts, and five original pilot scripts.

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

My favourite song is Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel.


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

The main obstacle is always the research. Finding ways to let myself be creative while staying true to cases that this piece is inspired by.


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

There is nothing I am more passionate than writing, but you can always find me watching documentaries or reading biographies. I am fascinated by people’s strong feelings toward Hillary Clinton, one of the most polarizing people of our times. I would love to write a biographical film of her one day.


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

FilmFreeway is an easy way to keep track of submissions and send your work to places.

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

I submitted to this festival because it is always helpful to hear your script being read, and I am always looking for feedback to make my work better.

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

A psychologist, back from maternity leave, is asked to review the mental state of a former FBI agent, who is brought back to solve a case that destroyed her career and home life.

Can you be a woman and have it all?

CAST LIST:

Narration: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Retired Man: Ted Powers

Interview with Screenwriter Robert Tartell (CLEOPATRA’S REVENGE)

Matthew Toffolo: What is your screenplay about?

Robert Tartell : Cleopatra’s Revenge was really based on a true story. “Ross” and I really did see something sticking out the side of my house and it did vanish from his grasp- to this day I don’t know if Pam really saw a snake or not! (But she did indeed storm out!)

2. What genres does your screenplay fall under?

Genre: Comedy. Farce all the way.

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

The world can always use a few more good laughs.

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

Two-word summary: Screwball comedy. Think I Love Lucy. Or Fawlty Towers.

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

The Third Man and The 39 Steps, one of the few Hitchcock films I really loved. Before I started writing, I read the screenplay and realized it was all about the writing(and Hitch married the screenwriter).

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

This one, just a weekend, because it was practically a transcription of the facts. (But a lot of tiny revisions)

7. How many stories have you written?

Four feature-length and five or six shorts.

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

Favorite song: Desafinado, and Bossa Nova in general.

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

Obstacles: Poor organization. Too often I start writing based on an idea without having the end in sight- and so I have some scripts in complete limbo. I need to think the whole thing out, make a proper outline, learn to create storyboards, etc.

 

Watch the Screenplay Reading: 

A snake’s on the loose in Mike Turner’s new house and his wife is really freaking out!

CAST LIST:

Pam: Katelyn Varadi
Narration: Elizabeth Rose Morriss
Mike: Sean Ballantyne
Ross: Ted Powers