Quiet on the set! MOVIE WEEK starts here…

Every once in a while, good news takes us by surprise. In this case, our state — and every writer, actor, filmmaker, movie buff or t-shirt vendor — should be happy about the re-opening of the ALASKA FILM OFFICE, last September. I think it’s one this year’s biggest — and most under-reported — arts-community news stories.

The Alaska Film Office, now headed by Mary Katzke, is responsible for helping lure Hollywood folks to the 49th state, to roll their cameras and spend their money. Hollywood loves movies set in Alaska (or somewhere equally dramatic), but all too often, they have set those movies elsewhere — like Canada or New Zealand (see mini-post about that, below). Until recently, Alaska was one of only five states without a film program. Now, with an office ready to do business and generous tax incentives ready to slide into place thanks to successful Senate Bill 230, we can put the real Alaska back into “Alaskan” movies.

Buzz is, much is already happening in AK filmland. If you want to be part of the excitement, you might think about joining — or at least keeping an eye on — the Alaska Film Group, a nonprofit trade association that brings together production people, animal wranglers, actors, writers, and more. (They have a meeting on Feb. 26, by the way.) I visited their meeting last month and was surprised to discover what a large film community we already have.

Those latest political/economic developments aren’t only reason I’m devoting a week to movies at 49 writers. The other reason is: I’ve always been interested in screenwriting. Starting two years ago, I started nosing around the field, trying to learn how one breaks in, and also how to learn principles from screenwriting that can be applied to the non-screen genres (and vice-versa).

What I love about movies, besides the visuals, the soundtracks, and all that other great stuff, is that they are STORY distilled. Even if you’re writing fiction or creative nonfiction, I think you can learn a lot about clean, clear story arc (and characterization, and dialogue) from watching movies analytically. I think you can learn even more from reading screenplays.

Recently, I got my first small break into the film world: I’m working on a script for a nature documentary. (Hey, even F. Scott Fitzgerald had to write scripts in order to pay the bills, as Meg Wolitzer’s how-to book, Fitzgerald Did It, points out.) I’m learning a lot from it — and having a ball. When I get back to writing novel-length fiction, I’m sure I’ll have more precise ideas about act structure and pacing. (I also appreciate being reminded what literature can do that movies can’t.)

How does one find screenplays to read? One of my favorite sites, with absolute scads of free screenplays and teleplays, is Drew’s Script-o-Rama. Which scripts should an aspiring writer or movie buff read? I’ve only started diving in myself, but I just came across a list that will guide me in future: the American Screenwriters Association list of top 100 feature film scripts of all time.

More commercial sites like the Writing Store sell nice bound versions of scripts, as well as expensive formatting software (formatting is key in the world of screenwriting), video lectures, silly mousepads and baseball caps, and everything else you need to become the next Marty Scorsese. They also link to a Writers University offering online screenwriting workshops. At Storylink, you can find some really good interviews with screenwriters — including a recent chat with Slumdog Millionaire screenwriter Simon Beaufoy.

But back to Alaska. What’s the latest gossip? Well, I’m interested in following the progress this year of Juneau screenwriter Dave Hunsaker’s adaptation of Dan O’Neill’s nonfiction book, the Firecracker Boys. Hunsaker is writing the script for HBO with co-writer George DiCaprio, father of the famous Leonardo. The Juneau Empire did a great job telling the story of Hunsaker and his glamorous screenwriting life, split between Southeast Alaska and Santa Monica, where he owns a second home. I’d love to take a workshop from Hunsaker. If he offers one, you’ll hear about it here!

Book-to-film adaptation is a particular interest of mine, so I’m also interested in the stories of two other projects making their way to the silver screen — no easy journey to make. But I’ll save those for later this week, when we’ll be featuring three interviews with people involved at various stages of the film writing and production process. Stay tuned…

3 thoughts on “Quiet on the set! MOVIE WEEK starts here…”

  1. Wow. This is great stuff. I had no idea we had a film group. And Alaskan movies filmed in Alaska – imagine. It’s crazy the state has taken this long to ramp up the film effort. Like Andromeda, I’m eager to follow the progress on Firecracker Boys, one of my Alaskan non-fiction favorites.

  2. If you have readers in Juneau who want to pick up a screenplay, I have a pretty good collection.

    You’ll also want to check out John August’s screenwriting blog and there’s a great 3-week screenwriting intensive offered in Seattle at theFilmSchool that isn’t too far from home.

  3. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    Thanks Pat — I checked out August’s blog and it does indeed look good.

    And thanks especially for putting your name out there so other Juneau writers know you’re a potential resource.

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