Adventures in Screenwriting: Donna White is "Script Savvy"
Intro by Quendrith Johnson
When Donna White made her first film, she realized how labyrinthine the process can become. Now she works to help others out of the maze that is independent filmmaking. This isn't to say the process will be any easier -- but the forwarning is helpful.
It may comfort some to know that even Steven Spielberg had recurring nightmares on the set, specifically on "Jaws," where he would wake up with "electric shocks" in his brain - dreaming that he was on the set on fourth day of shooting, and it wasn't going so well...
Donna White is here to let you know it's safe to test the waters in independent filmmaking again. And as the late great writer James Baldwin reminds us 'deep water is not the same as drowning.'
By Donna White, Filmmaker/Founder of www.ScriptSavvy.net
The idea for Script Savvy first came to me in 2006. I had just completed a labor of love called Begging Your Pardon, a low budget feature film we shot in my hometown of Dallas Texas. We were able to squeeze it into a couple of festivals including the Angelika’s New FilmMakers Series in New York. It was an arduous task that, let’s say…left a few scars. Anyone who has produced a low budget indie feature knows what I mean. Anyone who hasn’t, never will.
As a first time writer/director/producer, I learned that my true strengths lie in bringing people together and recognizing talent in others.
At the same time, I had grown increasingly jaded by the online community for writers. I had been struggling to get some of my other scripts out there, and had run into more than my fair share of nefarious types along the way.
There are so many consultants and contests out there taking a predatory approach to snagging would-be writers, preying on their hopes, taking their money, and leaving them with nothing in return.
I sat down and made a list of all the things that screenwriting contests do that bug the hell out of me (pardonnez-moi francais):
The entry fees are too high.
They don’t offer feedback so when you’re a semifinalist but not a finalist, all you can do is scratch your head and wonder why. Or worse still, you don’t ‘place’ at all and you have no idea where to go from there.
The list of “industry contacts” they promise to introduce the winning scripts to are really just a spam roster of an e-query service that they plan to use at the end of the competition. That costs about $90 and you can do it yourself with or without their stinkin’ contest.
A new dream was born: I’d create an honest screenwriting competition! We’d be the good guys!
I popped open my laptop on my kitchen table and sent out letters to filmmakers. The first order of business would be to bring together a diverse group of sponsors for the competition – producers who are genuinely seeking new material and would consider unknown writers. I found a few. More than you might think!
From New York to L.A., from low budget to big Hollywood, from grassroots indie prodcos to prestige management firms – I found’em.
The second task was getting readers who would not only recognize viable screenplays, but would also be willing to go the extra mile and provide practical and specific feedback to the writers. I found’em!
The next bit was setting up the website and telling writers, “Y’all come on in!”
Script Savvy was born.
Our first year exceeded my hopes. Two of our Top 10 Finalists have been optioned. Our winner is in talks with Phantom Pictures. Things are happening. Careers are moving.
But more than that, I am so deeply moved by the responses I’ve gotten from writers. They tell me the feedback and encouragement we were able to provide has made a difference for them. It is these responses that make me feel in my heart that Script Savvy is a success.
This year, Cyan Pictures and Industry Entertainment have come on board as sponsors. We will continue to expand our group of sponsors in order to expand the opportunities for our writers.
I think the reason I became interested in films in the first place is because of their permanence. They last. They are a record of us. But there is more than one way to be remembered. If I could be remembered for being someone who helped and encouraged others, my dream will have come true.
So in a way, my dream is to make your dreams come true.