MOONDANCE : The Soul of Movie Making
Set in the beautiful foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the Moondance Film Festival is a breath of fresh air – especially for those who feel their more soulful writings and productions are shunted aside by the mainstream festivals.
Aristotle once wrote: "The soul never thinks without a mental picture."
After attending Moondance, I found myself with a cornucopia of mental pictures flashing through my head - bringing a chuckle while standing in line at the bank, a sudden smile in the midst of work and some deep contemplation about the fate of our planet during my ride home:
- The hilarious image of two enemy bomber-pilots caught by their parachutes in the same tree, dangling there until they can work out what their two nations cannot – in Gravity,winner of the Columbine Award.
- The lonely cry of the Pacific Northwest wolf in the Calypso Award-winning The Cost of Freedom
- World Leaders saying they want peace while waging war to establish peace in the ironic Life of Death, winner of the Spirit of Moondance Award.
- And many, many more.
Moondance is more than a film festival. It's a school for filmmakers, a community of other writers and a place to promote your work and with Hollywood movers and shakers.
Does it really work? Well, here's my experience.
One of the bedrock courses is given by Elizabeth English, the founder and creator of Moondance, who says "The title and logline are the keys that open the door to getting your script read." The logline, she says, should give the full concept of the script in less than three sentences.
This was my first attempt at a log line: "One" tells the story of a common man, a comic, forced to confront the horror of war. He rises to the occasion, triumphing against overwhelming odds to pioneer a new path for the planet, a way we the people can claim our rightful place not as subjects, but as sovereign citizens on top of the Earth.
That log-line failed several items on Elizabeth's checklist. It failed to: Reveal the star's situation. Reveal the important complications. Describe the action the star takes. Describe the star's crisis decision. Hint at the star's potential transformation. Hint at the climax.
With class input, I finally came up with this for my screenplay, which is based on a true story:
"A Broadway comedian is ripped off the stage, thrown into a pilot's uniform, and ordered to bomb a city full of people in World War II. Wracked with guilt, he gives up what is most precious - his US citizenship. He declares himself a World Citizen, and takes off on a quest to Germany to rebuild the homes ravaged by his bombs. Blocked by border-guards, police and armies, he is locked behind bars in a former Nazi concentration camp FOREVER! Or until he can find an inner power greater than all their bars, bullets and bombs. "
We also changed the title from "One" to "Borderline!" Still not perfect, but at least it has more inherent tension than the title "One."
Armed with this new log line, I was able to pitch my script to Terry Porter, a WGA signatory agent who gave the next workshop, a fascinating inside look at how things work in Hollywood. Terry liked my story and asked to read my screenplay.
But before I gave it to him, I had it analyzed by Linda Seger, one of Hollywood's top script consultants who ran a workshop on the subject of her book: Making a Good Script Great. (See www.LindaSeger.com for this and other wonderful books like Creating Unforgettable Characters.)
Linda's class taught us to analyze the structure of the screenplay – not because studios demand that you follow certain rules. Rather because there is a need for a certain story structure embedded deep in the human psyche – perhaps dating back to the days of telling stories around the tribal fire. When we follow that structure, it makes the movie feel "right" to the audience.
Linda's analysis revealed that one of my main characters was bogging down the story and served no crucial purpose. In real life she served a very useful purpose: She was Garry's first wife! But in the movie reality she had to go.
With the help of several friends, including actress Mimi Kennedy, I had struggled hard to capture the emotion and drama of this character. And now, a character we worked on for many months had to go. Was that painful? Frankly, no. I was elated. If you're going to write movies, you have to let go of ego and look only at the story. And the story was vastly improved.
Once I polished my script, Terry read it. And loved it. He signed me up as his client and now he is planning pitching sessions in Los Angeles with major film companies.
Three workshops and Bingo!
How did such an extraordinary film festival get started? I asked Elizabeth when we sat down for an interview.
"In the 1990's I was frustrated with The Hollywood Old Boys Network."
"I had 5 points against me. I was a woman, over 30, not living in LA, without relatives in the business and my scripts were meaningful.
"In 22 years Sundance never had a male name among the list of winners. I searched the list and didn't see a single woman's name. And few films have positive roles for women - especially over 40."
"I knew so many talented writers, and they all said the same thing. So I started Moondance to encourage women not to give up."
"It was the opposite of Sundance. Women encouraged - only indie films - international. Did you know that Sundance requires entrants to be American citizens? We get entries and winners from all over the world. Everyone is welcomed and equal. Here at Moondance men, women, young, old, Oscar winners, big directors, wanna be screenwriters - all are equal. We had Oscar winners who wanted to be limoed and have hairdresser, but I said no. No one gets limo service or we all do.
"In April of 2000, the year after I started Moondance, I was busy reading scripts, when the massacre happened at Columbine - 35 miles away. All of Colorado was in mourning. As I watched the TV coverage, I continued to read script. Not one of these scripts used violence to solve the conflicts. No one was getting shot in the head.
"But in Hollywood, even female heroes Thelma and Louise blow up a truck and kill the rapist. Logically a woman should call the police not kill a guy. Is it really necessary to kill the guy to make an exciting story?"
"So I instituted the Columbine award which promotes imaginative conflict resolution and alternatives to violence and in writing and film. The columbine is also the state flower, yellow and purple white."
"Participants have entered the competitions or come to our festivals from the USA, Israel, Australia, Canada, France, UK, Greece, Brazil, Finland, Iran, South Africa, Norway, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Uruguay, Russia, New Zealand, Morocco, China, Chile, Mexico, Lithuania, France, Japan, Argentina, Tasmania, Spain, Costa Rica, Turkey, India, Nepal and many other countries."
"Winning the award changes that writer's life. They gain confidence. We had a professor at American university who had scripts out for 10 years. No one would look at them. Now that she won, she has agent and has written more scripts. "
"The winners of the columbine awards have dealt with apartheid in South Africa, the Gulf war, all those conflicts. But in all these films the hero never kills the bad guys. We challenge writers to think of a way our hero can win without war. What would Jesus do?"
Now that certainly doesn't sound very Hollywood. So how is Moondance regarded within the entertainment industry?
"The Los Angeles-based Filmmakers Alliance did a poll of their 150,000 members, most of whom work in the industry or are struggling filmmakers."
They asked: What are the top 10 festivals that are important to your career and important to the international film industry?
"A week later the results came back. We were ranked as number 3. I almost fell over. I was surprised and pleased."
From short stories to full-blown screenplays, from animations to feature films, whatever your creativity has created – click on www.moondance.com to submit it to the Moondance competition. Good luck. Hope to see you there.