Shawna Baca, LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection, Short Screenplay
LISP 4th Quarter 2020 Official Selection, Short Screenplay, 'What’s Wrong With Me?' by Shawna Baca
Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?
I began making short films over fifteen years ago. My career took off after I was selected by Steven Spielberg and Mark Burnett to be a participant in their reality show for filmmakers, "ON THE LOT," for Fox Television. After that, I started getting hired and making new media content for corporate clients. I was doing well and things were taking off, but a personal tragedy hit that forced me to take some time off from pursuing my endeavors.
During that break, I went back to school and earned a screenwriting degree. I wrote a book, “FEAR LESS: Conquering the Demons of Mental Purgatory,” and published it in the summer of 2019. I recently launched a blog, THE FEAR LESS SOCIETY and blog about my own personal experience with mental disorders and overcoming my battle with depression, a panic disorder, and agoraphobia. I wrote the short screenplay, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?” which is an adaptation of the book. The screenplay just earned me an official selection and Finalist placement in your short screenplay competition.
My daily grind: I usually wake up in the morning, grab a cup a coffee and head to my computer to write and/or work on marketing my blog on social media. Lately, I've also been crafting and developing my new line of bruja sprays-elixirs-potions are made to infuse and stimulate the senses, set intentions, manifest desires, or expel toxic energy. This has been a long-time passion of mine that has been put on the back burner, but since the entertainment industry shut down in March due to Covid-19, it gave me an opportunity to work on it. I love to create.
When did you start writing? How often do you write?
I started journaling when I was in the sixth grade. In high school, I was kicked out of regular school and sent to a continuation school (for kids who couldn't function in regular high school). In continuation, I was so behind in credits, but my English teacher told us that if we wanted to earn credits, we had to watch a movie, then write an essay about the movie or we could watch two episodic television shows or three sitcoms and write an essay for each of them and that would earn us one credit. Needless to say, I made up so many credits that year and it helped me to really study story plots and structure even before I knew I was going to become a writer. It was super fun, too.
I have won awards for my writing, including at the BHLIFE (Boyle Heights Latina Film Event) created by Josefina Lopez, the writer of Real Women Have Curves. My short, "ISABEL," won BEST SCREENPLAY. My feature screenplay, "SPACE FOR RAVEN" a coming-of-age story about Raven "Rae" Montoya, an East Los Angeles high school girl whose whole life has been determined by the creed of the Latino street gang that her family belongs to and her dream of wanting to become an astronaut, has placed now in three screenplay competitions: 2020 Austin Film Festival - Second Rounder, 2020 WeScreenplay Diverse Voices - Semi-Finalist, and the 2020 Script Pipeline Screenplay Competition – Quarter-finalists.
I also wrote a television pilot with my tv writing partner, Dustin Paddock. "Curandera," an episodic drama that follows Ana Paz, a promising intern at Yale Hospital, who returns home to East Los Angeles after her father's sudden death to care for her teenage siblings. She ends up working at a local hospital's free clinic and rediscovers the teachings of her Indigenous grandmother to become the Curandera,or healer, that she was meant to be. The television pilot was a Quarter-finalist in the 2019 Script Pipeline TV Writing Competition, the 2019 Screencraft TV Pilot Script Competition, and was also an 2020 Austin Film Festival - Second Rounder.
I have also been honored by the City of Los Angeles, LA Opinion Magazine, and Latina Style Magazine for my work in portraying positive images of Latinos/Hispanics and diversity in media.
How does it feel to have your work recognised?
It feels good to have my work recognized. I always striving to improve my stories, structure, and my characters. I have found submitting to competitions allows me to have my work viewed and reviewed. My screenplays always become stronger after I've received notes even though some notes are better than others. One festival or reader may love your work and others don't, so it's a nice boost of reassurance when you are aligned and on the right path with your story, and a victory when it places in competitions.
What's the best thing and the hardest thing about writing a Screenplay?
The best part of writing screenplays is that you get to build and craft a story, create your characters, and the journey they are going to go on. I have to say that when I hate my stories, it us usually because I know intuitively that something is not working and doesn't feel right. Then my head starts spinning on ways to make it better. It becomes a maze. I'm like that little silver ball trying to get that ball to the finish line in a maze, often hitting those dead ends before finding my way to the finish line. When you finally, after many rewrites get to that finish line, that is a real sense of victory and justice for your just gave your characters. Ultimately, the 60-90 rewrites are the hardest part of writing a screenplay, but it’s also a victory.
How did you come up with the idea for your LISP selected screenplay? Is there a story behind your story? And, how long have you been working on it?
"What's Wrong With Me?" is an adaptation from my book, "FEAR LESS: Conquering the Demons of Mental Purgatory." When I was twenty-one I developed a panic disorder and agoraphobia and didn't leave my house for over a year, with the exception of going to my weekly therapist appointment, which I had to be driven to. After a year of suffering, my Indigenous mother took me to the Pala Indian Reservation to see a Medicine Man. The book took me about six months to write, but another two years of editing until I worked with a book editor, and then another two years contemplating whether I should publish it or not.
Can you please give us a few tips about writing a short screenplay?
Writing a short screenplay can be harder than writing a full-length feature because you have to pack so much into so little time. There is not much room for development and set up, but you still must have a structure or the story won't work and people will not resonate with it. How do you keep it simple without over complicating it? In a ten-page script, I approach it as 3 pages is the 1st act, 6 pages is the second act, 2-3 pages for the third act with the inciting incident being somewhere around or close to page 2. I know this sounds technical and you can play with the numbers a bit, but when I am outlining a story, these are the markers I have inside my head. There is not a lot of time to develop your characters, but each protagonist should have a character arc. We see their world in the opening pages, we see their flaw, then we have them make a choice to leave that ordinary world to venture out to the extraordinary world where they find the elixir to fixes their flaw, and then they return to their ordinary world -- fixed, healed, triumphant, or fulfilled.
What's the best thing and the hardest thing about festivals/competitions?
I think there are a lot of great festivals and competitions out there, some are specific to genres an what they are looking for, but ultimately to be chosen, sometimes your work is reviewed by one reader who just doesn't get your work and another one who may love your work, it's all subjective to their personal taste. I've had one festival give me notes on one of my screenplays and they gave me great notes along with constructive criticism that I could get behind and helped enhance the plot and storyline. This is gold for a writer. I was then allowed to do a rewrite and re-submit the screenplay. A new reader reviewed my screenplay, gave me low scores and several notes that were not constructive, but rather offered his/her own personal ideas of what the script should be and how to fix it. It was completely useless information and I wondered if this reader had really even read the script or tossed it half-way through the read, because some of the notes made no sense. Needless to say, I didn't make the next round. Sometimes the same screenplay that has placed in a few festivals or some of the top film festivals, don't make it in other festivals. When you are selected, it is a great feeling because somehow you know how hard it was to get there.
Lastly, do you recommend writers to give it a go LISP?
I think writers should give LISP a go -- I wanted to submit my screenplay to LISP because it is based in London and I wanted to see how it would fair or be received in Europe. My story has an Indigenous component that explores Indigenous spirituality and practices. In England, Indigenous people doesn't exist, so I wanted to see how they would view a story like this, interwoven, of course with the global concern of mental illness and presenting a different idea to mental health awareness.