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I’m On the Oscars Page?

December 28, 2010

Well, so much for my plan of writing one entry per week.  The month of December is busy for a number of reasons.  Those holidays, for one, and I have discovered some of the downsides about having five classes of mostly high achieving students.  One, they do all their work.  Two, they do it well, so there are lots of words to read.  Three, they remember that they have turned in work or taken a test, and want to know when they’ll be getting it back.  Four, if they are not satisfied with their grade, they will take advantage of their sucker teacher’s idiotic rule about revising and resubmitting any work they wish.  Which is to say that I have much more to grade than I usually do.  Throw in the fact that my wife was in Indiana tending to her ill mother (who is recovering nicely), all of a sudden it’s December 27, and that month went by fast.

Oh, and there’s been one other thing: the title of this entry, me being on the Oscar page.  Don’t believe me?  You don’t even have to scroll down to find me listed as a Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist.  For those of you who are not familiar with the Nicholl, it is arguably the most important screenwriting contest on the planet.  Winners get writing careers, and $25,000.  However, the award is so prestigious, that being a finalist, semifinalist, or quarterfinalist is also a very good thing.  There are over 6500 who submit to the Nicholl.  The quarterfinalists are the top 300.  The semifinalists the top 100.  The finalists the top ten.  It’s about the only screenwriting contest out there where not winning can still a really good thing.  Last year I was a quarterfinalist, and had production companies, agents, and managers contacting me.  This year, in the semis, I have even more.   Also, when I mention that I am a Nicholl semifinalist in a query letter to a production company, they seem much more likely to request my script.    This is the other reason I have been so busy.

Right now, there is a film director who loves my script and is hoping to package it with other scripts to her investors.  She has also has another script that she wants to shoot but needs to be rewritten.  I have given her my diagnosis of what’s wrong with it, and my prescription of what I think will make it better.  If she likes my take, she might just hire me to rewrite it.  I also have another producer who is fond of my script, with whom I will be having a conference call later this week.  All of these contacts came to me, courtesy of the Nicholl.  They saw my name, the logline of my script, and contacted me.  That’s how important this fellowship is.  If all goes well, I won’t need to resubmit it next May to shoot for the 2011 finals.

So what is this script about?  The title–“Season of Mists”–tells you very little, although it’s a title I like very much.  The full story spans more than one season of mists (autumn, according to John Keats).

A few years ago, I was writing poetry, and enjoying it–I was even nominated for two Pushcart Prizes.  I even had a poem published in a major publication for all of $25!  It was then that I caught the screenwriting bug, and started composing screenplays.  One day, I was flipping through the paper and noticed an article on honor killings in Turkey.  I read it, and I was disturbed and upset, but there was one line I could not stop thinking about:  a quote from a young Kurdish woman who had been “rescued by her uncle from an honor killing.”  The article continued without any further comment, but I couldn’t help but wonder: how did he rescue her?  What were the consequences of that decision, for both of them?  Does the family know she’s alive?  If so, has the uncle been ostracized?  The wheels began to turn.  A story began to take form.

Many of my writer associates were less than impressed and far from encouraging.  What do you know about that culture?  You are going to write something about another culture you don’t understand, with a female protagonist?  Aren’t you supposed to write what you know?  That’s never going to work.  You should try something else.

Hey, I’m all for constructive criticism and brutal honesty, but couldn’t you at least wait until I wrote it first?  Although I am certain this was not their intention, I became more determined than ever to write it.  I also began mulling over the idea of writing it as a novel, and I knew National Novel Writing Month was approaching, so I thought this might be the perfect vehicle to see if I could write 50,000 words in one of the shortest months of the year.  How did I do?  I finished with 53,000 words.  How did it come out?  Ghastly, as you could imagine.  Enough to convince me that it really wasn’t a novel after all–it was a screenplay I needed to be writing.

One thing my writer colleagues were correct about:  I did need to write what I knew.  Thus, I went to work turning my ignorance into knowledge.  I read books from great Islamic, Middle Eastern, and South Asian authors such as Asra Nomani, Elif Shafak, Kamila Shamsee, Jhumpa Lahiri, Orhan Pamuk, and Reza Aslan, just to name a few.  I saw dozens of films from that part of the world, including The Syrian Bride, Caramel, Paradise Now, and even some European, British, and American films that explored many similar themes, such as The Escape and The Visitor.  Perhaps most importantly, I listened closely to the words of Aida Mansoor, a Hartford area Muslim who was written many pieces in the Hartford Courant defending Islam from the attacks of ignorance, and has visited my school on more than one occasion to help enlighten my students.  She explained very clearly the Quran’s real view of women, what an inspiration the Prophet’s first wife, Khadija was to Muslim women everywhere, how the head scarf is not a symbol of oppression but of virtue and modesty, and that concepts  like terrorism, honor killings, and female genital mutilation have no basis in the Quran.  Many of these dreadful practices are cultural or political, not religious.  Aida’s patient answers to my questions and those of my students had such a powerful effect on me, that I named one of the characters after her.  She doesn’t know this, unless of course she is a devoted reader of my blog.  In which case, now she does.

After I don’t know how many drafts, workshops at the wonderful Pulse Ensemble Theater Playwright’s Lab in New York, and the excellent help of the Northampton (Mass.) Screenwriter’s Workshop, and the patient encouragement of my wonderful wife, the script has now won nine contests, plus reached the Nicholl semifinals.  I don’t know what will happen next, but I am hopeful it will be something good.

And why is called “Season of Mists?”  You’ll just have to wait until it comes out in a theatre.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Valerie Brodie permalink
    December 29, 2010 3:37 pm

    You da man!

  2. December 29, 2010 4:18 pm

    Wow, congrats!

  3. Melissa Nosal permalink
    December 29, 2010 8:12 pm

    That’s fantastic, truly! 😀 Hopefully more success is on its way! *crosses fingers*

  4. John Ramatowski permalink
    December 30, 2010 12:50 am

    Wow. Mr. Brodie I am speechless. That is incredible! I am looking forward to your future posts.

  5. Michael Barnett permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:06 am

    O_O that is an incredible story behind a story. very exciting news mr. brodie! When it is made into a film I MUST see it. (hopefully i can read the script at some point too). Being an accomplished writer appears to me something a kin to mythic. to know some one who is an accomplished writer is very inspiring.

  6. Theresa Leclerc permalink
    December 30, 2010 3:23 am

    As a former student, I loved that rule about resubmitting work but I can see how it would be a pain for you. 🙂
    That is awesome about your script, I know you were really excited about it in class. Congrats!

    • December 30, 2010 2:41 pm

      I thought you might recognize that. 🙂 Clearly, I haven’t learned. Thanks for the kind words. Are you still in Italy?

      • Theresa Leclerc permalink
        January 14, 2011 4:48 am

        Nah, I came back from Italy December 7th. I went down the school a couple times but I kept missing you. It was amazing though, an awesome experience.

  7. December 31, 2010 12:35 am

    I love this post! It reinforces how hardwork always pays off! Again, congrats! I promise to touch base through email soon, once I am finished with this blasted term paper.

  8. January 14, 2011 9:43 pm

    Sorry I missed you. I’d love to hear about it!

  9. Louise Ransil permalink
    January 21, 2011 8:18 pm

    SEASONS OF MIST sounds like a wonderful movie concept. I have a number of Muslim friends (several of them female) and I know how complicated their lives are.

    If you’re shopping the script, I suggest you send a query letter to Mark Ordesky at Amber Entertainment. (He was one of the primary creative energies guiding the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy at our company.) He doesn’t have a huge amount of development money in his new company…but he has top level creative contacts and fabulous taste. What’s more he READS(!) And he reads a lot. (More than you can say for most other film execs…)

    • January 21, 2011 8:35 pm

      Thank you for the kind words and encouragment. I will contact Mr. Ordesky–thanks also for that suggestion!

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