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  • Grete Suarez

Stowe Story Labs: four days of intense zooming and pitching

A laptop screen replaces the otherwise green and lush scenery of Stowe, Vermont, as 60+ screenwriters and filmmakers gather on the tight monitor like a multiplied Brady bunch family.

The June Stowe Narrative Story Labs is a success.

Over four days of 6-8 hours (depending on if you opt to stay on for social chats), I got a chance to meet and hear incredibly talented and experienced industry speakers chat frankly about their film journey. Starting off with the BAFTA-nominated Tina Gharavi, who gave us insight into indie filmmaking and how a British academy award nomination changed her career.

We then also heard from script guru David Pope on pitching, Eszter Angyalosy who worked for HBO Hungary on whether we have a TV series or feature film, Scott Collette on turning from international sales to a working screenwriter, Darrien Michele Gipson of SAGIndie on diversity, and Ellen Parks the legendary casting director who casted Sideways. The cherry on top is guest speaker Derek Simonds, who showruns, produces, writes The Sinner. It's great to hear someone so sincere about his experience in the industry. There's certainly no sugar-coating in there at all.

We are then broken off to peer groups, where you get to read your peers' scripts and give feedback, and vice versa. My feature project Little Foodie is the one selected for this lab, which is also a Tangerine Fellowship Quarterfinalist, and it's a rewarding experience as everyone firstly are forced to read your script :) but secondly, the understanding and ideas that everyone have on your script is revealing. You will see trends of what works, what doesn't, and a multitude of ways you can seek to improve your script.

Then we have our mentors - over three days, we pitch our project to a different mentor, and I got the pleasure of having Tina Gharavi, Darrien Michele Gipson and Scott Collette give me feedback. What's eyeopening is that each mentor picks on different things, have different needs, and want to hear different things. As someone who hasn't had the joy of being in a pitch room, it really is a scary thing to know that you're never going to please them all! But that's a good thing, I realised I need to try my best to coherently and succinctly relay my story, my excitement, and my passion, and hope someone in the room feels the same way.

What you get out of this intense lab is that film business ain't easy, there is no one path to success, but everyone who works there is incredibly collaborative just because it's just so damn hard to break in!

What's interesting is that most people came with TV Pilots. Those like myself who have a feature script are in the minority. It seems the consensus is that TV is where the work is. I now have to put my head down to crank a few more pilots so balance out my arsenal of work! So far I only have Gray Collar (formerly Virginia), which I hope would one day be made, but if that could get me a foot in a Black Mirror-style SciFi room, I'd be over the moon, as a tech and futurist nerd.

What you get out of this intense lab is that film business ain't easy, there is no one path to success, but everyone who works there is incredibly collaborative just because it's just so damn hard to break in!

Still in pandemic mode, Zoom is the classroom medium of choice, and it has its benefits and disadvantages. Whereas some shyer participants may feel easier to come out of their shell as we are usually bounced off to smaller "rooms" with 3-4 other participants, others will feel frustrated, as we cannot be more intimate in our conversations with individuals who we may gel with more.

But the benefit is clear. Having nothing better to do than to speak to another face on screen, everyone gets their chance to air their questions, their experiences and frustrations. It's as if we're even more social, but from a distance.

I want to relay that David Rocchio and team Stowe including intern Marian Cook has done a wonderful job organizing all the jigsaw puzzles together through the labyrinth of Zoom.

For anyone dragging their feet, I can say it is worthwhile to attend. You always meet interesting people, learn new things, and importantly, grow your voice and craft in the process and become part of the Stowe community where David and co., are always looking for ways to help the alumni and they genuinely have an interest in your career.

It's a neverending learning experience, but that's why I love TV and film.

Please follow Grete Suarez @gretesuarez on Twitter and Instagram.

Little Foodie is a feature social drama about an eight year old girl who wants to be a food writer, but is forced to flee with her family from Syria to seek for asylum. It is an uplifting film but with harsh realities weaved into the perspective of a young child.

Stowe Story Labs is a nonprofit dedicated to bringing top emerging screenwriters, filmmakers, and creative producers from around the world together with seasoned industry professionals to help get film and TV projects made and seen.

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