Kate Felix, Screenplay Winner
- Can you please tell us about you? Where do you live and how is your daily life?
I am a writer and independent filmmaker who splits my time between Toronto and Cape Breton Island (Canada). When not writing or kid-wrangling, I can be found riding at high speeds through the city on my banged-up bicycle or reading poetry to handfuls of people in dark cafes.
- When did you start writing? How often do you write? We want to learn all about your writing life!
I have pretty much been writing my whole life. I am an only child who was raised by introverted parents in a rural area in the 1980’s. That was before the age or the internet or even cable television. In true pioneer fashion, I began writing out of desperation, both as a means to amuse myself and as a way to connect with others.
My first publication was in my elementary school’s yearbook in grade two. Come to think of it, that poem “The Terrible Taste of Chalk” might be one of my most widely read pieces since it was distributed to the whole school!
It is only recently, however, that I have dared to call myself a writer. I have written and stored treasures on my hard drive for most of my adult life but only gained the courage to start submitting things in 2018. I like to think of it as a hyper-functional midlife crisis. Or maybe I just reached a point where was less affected by what people thought.
Since 2018, I have had some prose and poetry published in handful of awesome literary magazines (Room Magazine, Cream City Review, Litro, and Into the Void, to name a few). I won Big Muddy’s 2019 Wilda Hearne Prize for Flash Fiction, the 2019 Connor Prize for Poetry, and have been shortlisted for several other writing prizes. I produced two of my own short screenplays and the resulting films have been selected for over 50 independent film festivals worldwide.
Nobody is as shocked as I am about these happy successes.
I would encourage anyone who is harbouring any secret “I might be a writer” notions to JUST GO FOR IT! Open up your “documents” folder to the universe and let those suckers roam! If nobody accepts them, who cares? Just tell yourself you are one of those genius’s that nobody understands in their lifetime. Think of how people will celebrate you once you are dead!
- How did you feel when you learned that you won The London Independent Story Prize? How does it feel to have your work recognised?
I was in Newfoundland at a playwriting conference at the time. Between workshops I kept checking my social media to see if the results had been posted. I saw that “Prairie Zebras” had won just as another speaker was starting up and I whispered “yes!” as she took the stage. I think everyone just thought I was excited to be in the presence of that playwright, so I just went with it (to avoid social awkwardness). Needless to say, I was buzzing for the rest of the workshop.
Winning this prize is such an honour for me. I have been haunting the LISP website for a while now and daydreaming about writing something that was good enough to put me in the winner’s circle. I previously entered the flash fiction section and came up bust, so it just goes to show you should never stop trying. This award is especially important to me as a screenwriter because a script that has been recognised by an organization like LISP will probably be more attractive to backers and producers who may one day help me to transform the script into a film.
- What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Screenplay?
My favorite thing about a screenplay is that it is all about the dialogue and action. The short stories I write tend to be heavily focused on both of these, so screenplays are a perfect fit for my preferred writing style. My heart always sinks a little when I realize I need to write a description of a character’s surrounding, appearance, or inner thoughts, so when I am writing a screenplay, I get to primarily write the parts I always want to skip to when I am writing traditional prose.
The hardest thing about writing a screenplay is the economy and restraint the writer must exercise. A few redundant lines (or even words) of dialogue can draw the audience out of a carefully crafted world in a heartbeat. Every word has to be absolutely essential or it has to go. The same is true of action. Every time a character moves a finger, it has to mean something and move the story forward. Once the first draft is finished, all that “cut-cut-cut” can get emotionally exhausting.
- How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected story? Is there a story behind your story? And how long have you been working on it?
The idea for Prairie Zebras came from a Social Studies unit my son was doing in his grade five class. They were learning about World War Two and he had to read an article on the treatment of Canadians of Japanese descent during the war and all of the many ways their lives were affected by the conflict. This led to conversations with friends whose grandparents had been displaced to Canadian prairie farms in the 1940s and I realized what an important story it was to tell.
As I am not of Japanese descent, I initially tried to tell the story entirely though the lens of Eliza, but that one-sided approach to the story fell flat. In order to tell the story effectively, I had to do a lot more research and have more extensive conversations with people who’s lived experience was more relevant to Myoko so that the story could give her more of a voice.
In the end I cannot definitively say how many drafts the screenplay has been through, but what I can tell you is there is a file named “Prairie Zebras 23” on my hard drive so there must be at least that many revisions.
- Can you please give us a few tips about writing a short screenplay?
When writing a short screenplay, make sure you are playing the film in your mind as you write. If it is a short script, chances are it will have to be made on a limited budget so including a lot of shots or special effects that an independent filmmaking crew would never be able to afford will mean that your script will only ever be that, a script.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with that. I have written some scripts that are so over-the-top they would probably require a 10-million-dollar budget for their 5 minutes of screen time. That’s fine because a script is a stand-alone work of art and can be appreciated for what it is, even if it never gets produced.
But if you ever do want it to go to the next step, you will have to be thinking about budget even when you are writing. In Prairie Zebras, I struggled with whether to include the racoons at the end because of the extra cost of an animal handler on set, but then I spoke to an editor friend of mine who said it would be relatively manageable to just “suggest” the racoons using sounds and stock footage in post production, so I allowed them to stay.
Another thing that has been said time and time again but, to me, is the most helpful piece of advice ever given; “start as close to the end of the story as possible”. If you only have twenty minutes of screen time, every second has to explode.
- What's the best thing about writing competitions?
Competitions force you to be brave. You expose yourself to a lot of vulnerability when you enter a competition. You pour your whole soul into something and then hand it over for a group of strangers to dissect. It can be really intimidating at first but after a while it can became empowering. Learning to roll with other people’s opinions of your craft can be very liberating.
Entering competitions is audacious in a way. If you are submitting something to a competition the implication is that you think your work is awesome. So awesome it might be a winner. It is hard to own that sometimes for fear that a judge on the other end of things will look at your work and say “Ummmmm? Nope.” But if you enter multiple competitions or submit things liberally, there is this great thing that happens: your work gets rejected. A lot. It does if you are me, anyway! But then, one day, that thing that was rejected twenty times and you were about to throw in the trash gets acknowledged by someone. It gets published, or read, or it wins/gets listed in a competition. It is then that you realize something amazing. Writing analysis is subjective. A lot of it is about reaching the right set of people in the right moment. That same work that 50 other people passed on was just waiting to find that group of people who saw the work the way you, the writer, did. Then you realize a lot of things you write are awesome and it’s just a matter of keeping on writing and submitting and waiting for the rest of the world to catch up to you!
-Lastly, do you recommend the writers to give it a go on writing a screenplay and LISP?
Of course! Even if you don’t win, chances are that entering will force you to look at your work with a more critical eye and bring it closer to where you want it to be. Also, take it from me, you might win!