Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Let there be write!

Key to screenwriting is to just do it

Express Staff Writer

Will McCormack

    There are few guarantees in life, but one for sure is that the only way a budding screenwriter is ever going to get close to seeing his or her work come to life is to write and write and write some more.
    And one of the exciting opportunities to see if that writing has any potential is coming with this year’s Sun Valley Film Festival, when Will McCormack, Independent Spirit Award nominee and co-writer of the charming rom/com “Celeste and Jesse Forever,” starring Rashida Jones and Andy Samberg, leads a screenwriters lab Thursday, March 14, from 1-4 p.m. at nexStage Theatre in Ketchum. There will be a spirited Wyoming Whiskey intermission.
    The general public is invited to a free showing of “Celeste and Jesse Forever” in advance of the lab from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
    More than 100 hopefuls submitted scripts, and three finalists were chosen. Hank Issac, of Everett, Wash., with “Taffy,” Cody Tucker of St. Louis, Mo., with “Life of the World To Come,” and Mike Viseltear of Los Angeles with “Life Could Be a Dream.” The winning script will be selected by Steve Gaghan, Academy Award winning writer of “Traffic,” be scored by renowned composer Pete Snell and brought to life during a table read by local and professional actors.
    “We created the Screenwriter’s Lab to add another interactive educational element to the festival and were overwhelmed with the number of submissions we received,” said festival Executive Director Teddy Grennan. “Having the major industry talents of Will McCormack, Stephen Gaghan and Pete Snell involved will certainly make this an entertaining and engaging learning experience for everyone who attends.”
    The Idaho Mountain Express spoke with McCormack on the eve of the Spirit Awards, where the quirky film had a “32 percent change of winning,” and the writer was feeling pretty good. Even though he and writing partner Rashida Jones, who “come as a pair, like socks,” didn’t win, McCormack was generous with the process that got him that far.

IME: As a best first-time screenplay nominee, isn’t this kind of daunting? Does one fear one-hit wonder status?
    I don’t have any fear about writing. Maybe I’m too old to feel real creative fear. We wrote “Celeste and Jesse Forever” from a place that tried to be honest and funny about heartache. To uncover some truth. And that’s why I always write. I don’t write to win awards or for the approval of other people. I write for Seymour’s Fat Lady (see “Franny and Zooey”). I write to help me figure out what the hell I’m doing here. That is a privilege. Not a burden. Plus I write too much to be scared of it. It’s like eating. Or walking. It just becomes something you do without thinking too much about.

Where do you go from here?
    Rashida and I signed an overall two-year deal at Warner Brothers to write and create and develop television. We’re ecstatic to be working with Peter Roth, someone who personifies what is best about this business. My writing partner and I both grew up watching way too much TV, and now maybe it will finally pay off.

How did the invite to run a lab here come about?
    I have been friends with the festival’s director, Teddy Grennen, for a long time. I love Ted, his energy and passion for film and the creative process. He produced a movie I acted in this summer in Idaho, so he invited me and I was flattered.

How significant in your own career was a screenwriters lab?
    I have been to the Ojai Playwrights Conference several times and met and worked with a lot of renowned playwrights. And I guess the most enlightening thing about writing that I learned is that for me, the key to writing is writing. There isn’t any requisite creative pixie dust that gets sprinkled on you before you sit down. You just have to sit down.

What was the most important take-away from that? Or, what will be the most important take-away for people who might attend the lab here in Ketchum?
    Writing is not this elusive, mystical pursuit. It’s being clear and honest and sometimes courageous and most of all, it’s about dedication.

Do you encourage having a writing partner?
    Sure! You have to find someone who you feel energized by and with. And it’s important that you can be open and unafraid to write “badly” for days or weeks. In some ways, even writers who write alone write with someone. They give their writing to someone who they trust—an agent, friend, whoever, and at some point, in screenwriting, hopefully, it will land with a director and actors. It is inherently a collaborative form. So, why not collaborate from the get-go? You will eventually anyway.

When you sit down to write, is it important to keep in mind the potential awards, or just rely on an audience of peers and fans to bring a great piece of work to the fore?
    I think if you’re writing for recognition of any kind, you’re in trouble. You have to write because you want to. And because you believe in a story that’s worth telling.

Do you suggest a writer limit his or her writing to a genre or medium? Or is it better to just write when the muse strikes?
     I think if there are genres that appeal to you, that’s a good place to start. I will never write a horror film. I don’t watch them and I don’t understand the mechanics. I grew up on movies like “Broadcast News,” “When Harry Met Sally” and “Annie Hall,” and so those are the movies I aspire to be near.

How important is a film festival to the industry in general, and to the artist in specific?
     I love film festivals—they’re a respite from the business, which can often feel hollow and meaningless. But at a festival, you can be inspired and refuel creatively.

What benefit to the community is such a festival like Sun Valley is attempting?
    I think it’s great for a community. Film has been such an important part of my life and how I experience the world. So bringing new films to a community and letting people congregate and discuss them is a great way for all of us to connect.

Any last advice?



Sun Valley Screenwriter’s Lab
When: Thursday, March 14, 1-4 p.m.
Where: nexStage Theatre on Main Street, Ketchum.
Who: The lab is open to screenwriters who submit work and also to those who choose not to submit work but would simply like to attend and learn more about the craft. The deadline for submissions is over and finalists have been notified, $25 entry fee.
There are lots of extras this year in addition to an incredible film lineup. For a complete rundown of the workshops, labs, parties and films, as well as to get tickets, visit


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