Visit with Book Club Fans

I had a wonderful opportunity to meet some fans this week. The Itasca Country Club has a book club where members pick a monthly story to read and discuss. Their most recent book was my novel, STEELE BLUE: The Forgotten Crime. The women invited me to join their discussion and I accepted.

Due to COVID and the weather (the rain impacting the outdoor seating), not everyone from the club was able to attend. While it was hot, the cool breeze made the night pleasant, until the heavy rainstorm pounded loudly on the tent where we were seated.

We all had a great time discussing the book. And yes, they managed to pry out of me little pieces of information concerning the sequel (STEELE BLUE was designed as a trilogy). After sharing some of the differences between the book and my recently awarded screenplay, we took time to brainstorm potential actors for the film roles.

I was amazed at how everyone picked the exact same actors for 95% of the characters. There were only a couple of roles that weren’t perfectly aligned. For the character of Samantha, the character could be played by Selena Gomez or Demi Lovato. For the role of Diaz, Antonio Banderas was mentioned along with another actor whose name I don’t remember, but would be someone like Javier Bardem.

Everyone was 100% aligned with the actors mentioned for the other roles we discussed. The conversation generated strong sentiment about how well the actors would be able to play the main characters.

The fun developed into an interesting discussion on some of the underlying plot threads that I held back from the sequel. Everyone voiced how much they were looking forward to the second book in the trilogy and suggested I release it soon. They even shared some of their hopes for the characters.

Unfortunately, I had to let them know that I was still working on the story. While I heard a few boos, everyone was adamant about learning where the next story was going to head, but I shared very little. This resulted in the women sharing their wonderful ideas about the second book with various possible rabbit trails, red herrings, and elements of mystery.

Everyone requested a photo before we parted. One woman asked me to sign her book. A couple others sadly announced they had bought the Kindle version, which made me understand why some authors carry headshots of themselves to autograph. I’d feel a bit awkward carrying photos around, but maybe someday I’ll print extra frameable book covers that I could sign.

On my way home, I realized how excited I was to get back to my characters and work on the sequel. However, it might have to wait a bit as I just received notice that my screenplay made it into the Burbank International Film Festival. It is my hope that it will be noticed by the right people and a door or two opened that leads to production.

Copyright © 2020 by CJ Powers

Surprising Contest Rewards

Having a screenplay making the rounds in the film festival circuit during a pandemic is a unique experience. It’s easy to be distracted and focused solely on the big win. In fact, I’ve neglected to realize the additional prizes and rewards that I might win. Since STEELE BLUE: The Forgotten Crime has placed, been a finalist, and a semi-finalist in various festivals, I’ve started receiving these “unexpected” rewards.

SHOTLISTER is an app I received that works on my laptop and iPad. The iPad version is actually free for a limited time for any filmmaker that wants to snap it up before it’s too late. The software allows a director to determine and schedule what scenes will be shot on a specific day. The app also provides a live mode to keep an eye on how many shots remain within a day’s shoot, which can easily be rescheduled. The depth of information that can be logged for each shot is amazing, although I’d keep the data at a higher level for my use.

The program is highly customizable and can be synched with the Director, AD, Producer, Script Supervisor, etc. The best part is that adjustments only take a few seconds instead of having someone run back to base camp in order to alter the day’s shoot. There is also a pro version that incorporates storyboards and other extras that independent filmmakers don’t typically have the luxury to use.

I’ve also received additional rewards including budget development for my script, a conversation with a distributor, and several consultations in the areas of development packaging, raising venture capital, and international advanced sales. Who knows what other benefits I might receive as my story continues on to the next festival.

The entertainment industry has always moved in waves and this timing is no exception. I’m speaking at a small book club next week that was just opened up from the book club to the entire clubhouse membership. That gives me a week to prepare a different type of talk should the outdoor venue rapidly grow. Either way, it will be a lot of fun.

Many of the judge’s comments led me to believe certain changes are needed to prepare the audience for the true-life portions of the screenplay, which some feel can’t be true (even though we all know life is stranger than fiction). Meeting with the club will give me an opportunity to test new material and get immediate feedback.

Well, I’m off to prepare for the next step on this journey. I’m also feeling a bit nostalgia based on the changes I’m making to the original story. The story seems to keep on improving from its original screenplay form to a book, and back to a screenplay—becoming a more entertaining story with each step. Hopefully everything will be just right the moment the film is given the green light.

© 2020 by CJ Powers

Semi-Finalist Screenplay

Making the circuit of film festivals as a screenwriter is difficult. Not because of the thousands of entries that your work competes against, but because when you don’t win there is always a reason. Hopefully it’s not that your script has inadequacies, but because there was a better story out there being told.

So far STEELE BLUE: The Forgotten Crime has made it into three festivals and was rejected by one. My story has placed, made it as a finalist, and a semi-finalist. While I’d like to pat myself on the back for writing a script that has gotten extremely far compared to the vast majority of submitted scripts, I tend to focus on the “why” of my story not working.

Please don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate my script being accepted in several genre specific, prominent and gold status festivals. But I’m realistic enough to know that there is always room to improve my story. Clearly the basis of the story isn’t bad, but the way I chose to tell it didn’t sit perfectly with a couple of judges and studio executives. This gives me an opportunity to find a better way to introduce certain elements to make the story easier for all audiences to embrace.

Based on the shared judge’s responses, I’ve learned that the factual oddities of PTSD are stranger than fiction and hard for judges to swallow. That’s right, the factual information I put into the story is what audiences have a hard time accepting. They love the death-defying truck chase on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, which is barely plausible in its far-reaching fictionalization, but the truth of a specific type of PTSD makes the story unbelievable for some.

I need to better couch the truth or fictionalize the illness into something more palatable for the audience. Since the biggest issue is that some don’t accept the fact that people would live according to what a doctor prescribes, I have to consider demonstrating how that would play out. While this eats up critical story time, I have to make sure the world I’m building is plausible to the audience. After all, if they don’t buy into how this illness actually works, the entire action plotline crumbles.

These types of struggles are why only a small percentage of stories are written by one person. Many times it takes another perspective to round out a story so it’s more easily digested by a broader audience. But once the concept is accepted, the rest of the story flows as imagined.

Extending the opening of the story to show Cassie in her immediate PTSD home life, instead of jumping to eleven years later, should do the trick. Unfortunately, I have to cut several later scenes in the story to keep the film at a good length based on its genre. A few added scenes earlier in the picture won’t take but a few days to write, but cutting a few scenes out of a later portion of the movie could take weeks.

The strengthening of the story through this festival process causes me to question whether or not I go back and do a rewrite on the book. I can’t help but wonder if the same objections to the story exist with readers of the book.

I may have to consider a rewrite or be prepared for the audience to say the movie was better than the book—Since film is my first language, I’m okay with the film being a better story. However, I do like to make sure my stories are always the best they can be for all audiences.

© 2020 by CJ Powers