LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection, Short Screenplay, 'Shadow Fable' by Margaret Kane-Rowe
Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
Well, the first half of the day is home-schooling. It’s not as bad as it seems. I’m learning a pile of interesting facts about the Bronze Age, and I am embracing the subtraction method of Primary school division with gusto. I’m just not sure what my 9-year-old son learnt? But it unites us in our avoidance of PE classes with Joe Wicks.
When did you write? How often do you write?
My writing process folds into family life, which is busier in lockdown. Otherwise, it becomes a battle between my life and my writing. So, the agreement I have with myself is to write for an hour most days. Some days I write 1000 words, other days I write 3 sentences. I stay constant rather than focusing on productivity.
I started writing scripts in my early forties. I am still learning about the process and love the fact that it is a skill driven form of writing. It can frustrate as well, as I have so much to learn and improve on, but I love it. I’ve had shortlisted scripts and won a few scriptwriting competitions. My biggest win was the Tony Cox Showtime Short Script Competition at the Nantucket Film Festival. I entered on a whim, not knowing anything about the competition. It’s one of the few festivals that honours the art form of scriptwriting, founded by Ben Stiller’s late father Jerry Stiller. Ben Stiller still drives it. When I was there, he was always about 6 feet away from me, deep in conversation with someone. My imposter syndrome went into overdrive, and I never found the nerve to strike up a conversation with him. I got a travel bursary to attend from the local Arts department in Kildare, Ireland, who have been hugely supportive of me. Part of my prize was a mentoring session with Noah Baumbach. That was a pivotal moment. I had to honour the fact that other people believed in me, more than I did, and I owed it to them and myself to push on and grow.
I wrote and directed my first film in 2019, a short comedy called Duck Egg Blue, it’s competing on the festival circuit. It was a low, almost no budget film, and it’s doing well–I am proud of it. It has received nominations for a few awards, and it won others. Most recently, I won best Debut Director at the Dublin International Comedy Film Festival. I learnt so much from the experience. If I have any useful advice for fellow scriptwriters and filmmakers, it’s simply this, just do it - make a film, any film and learn.
How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It’s great. It just gives that pep and pushes you to keep going and get better.
What’s the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Screenplay?
That’s a tough one to answer. For me the hardest is trying to distil the essence of my story down to a 4-line premise, a logline, an outline, or a treatment. And removing extraneous ideas for the plot or characters from the scene. I have made the mistake every self-taught or maybe every screenwriter makes, having an idea for a script and firing off like a horse out of a racing stall. Then, you have the painful process of trying to reverse engineer your script to fit these vital documents. It is hard to discipline yourself to start small stress test and build your story. But it is easier in the long run, trust me.
The best part is watching an actor or a DOP take your script and make it theirs–it’s amazing. I love it; it is no longer yours at that point, and that is the biggest compliment and thrill.
How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected screenplay?
I wrote a dark poem for my son, inspired by The Gruffalo, which I love–it was at the beginning of lockdown. He likes spooky stories. But it was sitting on my laptop and I thought, why not wrap a script around it? It is still very rough and imperfect, to be honest. But it is one of those marmite scripts, people either love it or hate it. I like that kind of powerful reaction.
Can you please give us a few tips about writing a short screenplay?
Get a logline written first, then send those 3 lines out to your friends and family in a WhatsApp, and ask for a reaction, not feedback, just something to gauge their level of interest in knowing more about the character and the story. It is much easier and kinder on people to ask them for an honest reaction on a loose idea, then to send them 15 pages of script. If you get a positive response to a 3-line story, then you have a script worth writing, and a bunch of people dying to read it when it’s finished.
What’s the best thing and the hardest thing about festivals/competitions?
Knowing exactly what they are looking for? Some festivals are explicit about theme and genre, but it is still hard to pinpoint if your script is a good fit and they can be expensive to enter. I received feedback from a very well-known script competition where the reader had mixed up my script with another script, then jumbled them together as the same narrative, and the comments made no sense. It felt like they were under massive pressure to speed read a pile of entries. That isolated incident aside, I have sympathy for the readers. I am sure entries have exploded with people writing during Covid. Deciding between a short or long list of well-written scripts must be a challenge. I’ve read a lot of amazing scripts in the last few months by people giving it a go for the first time, or going deeper because they have more time. I am bowled over by the talent bubbling up.
Lastly, do you recommend writers to give it a go LISP?
Gosh, it’s a great competition, do it.