A Ghost Is A Wish – Day 22

I am well over halfway through my vacation time that I dedicated to writing a screenplay.

Week one I spent completing some loose ends in the research department.

Week two I spent outlining with reckless abandon.

While I am very pleased with my progress thus far I experienced a emotional set-back in week three and only have a handful of scattered scenes written. Not exactly where I wanted to be but I am still putting work into the project every single day. For which I am proud of myself for keeping up the commitment.

It was not my intention to finish this screenplay in a month, to be clear. If that happens: superb (of course, it’ll need an immense about of rewrites, review, and revising). My definition of success for this month is: working on the screenplay every day with the milestone of having a detailed outline completed as the artifact of that work.

I’ve never written a feature film screenplay before. I am prone to overthinking big tasks and unwittingly overwhelming myself in the rough seas of self-doubt. Occasionally, I even catastrophize enough that I quit before I begin utterly convinced of my own failure thus the self-fulfilling prophecy. By not starting I am that failure I so clearly visualized.

Self-doubt is like a curse that you need to dispel. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more persistence, patience, and effort than just waving a wand, drinking a curative elixir, or praying it away. Without diving into my personal experience and management of my ebbing and flowing confidence, or lack thereof, I’ll share my steps for trying something new, challenging, and scary.

Jake The Dog, Adventure Time

Generally speaking this is how I complete anything:

  1. It’s OK to suck at things at first. In fact, it’s very normal to suck at things at first. Starting one step at a time is the best way to stop sucking at something, eventually.
  2. Perspective. Break a big tasks down into its very smallest parts. One big task may seem insurmountable but dozens of small tasks are more manageable. Cognitive stacking, building walls of tasks all around yourself, can make you feel helpless and trapped in the face of a monolithic project. Spread those tasks out with a schedule and breakdown those barriers into their component parts by setting smaller goals. I also derive a lot of satisfaction from vandalizing my beautifully colour-coded to-do lists with checks, symbols, and Xs. Find the method that gives you some pleasure and sense of accomplishment each tiny step of the way.
  3. Be realistic. Set expectations that you know you have the time, energy, and space to achieve. Find the balance between pushing yourself towards completion without overburdening yourself.
  4. Check in with yourself, review your progress, and adjust as needed. Plans change all the time. It’s wise to course-correct as you learn. If something isn’t working don’t force it. Set new goals knowing what you know now. Keep on going.
  5. Celebrate you progress. This is an important step. I like to incentivize myself with rewards for completing a significant portion of the project. These rewards should be personal, uplifting, simple or meaningful, and truly a indulgence.

More specifically this is my road map for working on the screenplay everyday with the goal of achieving that robust outline:

  1. Inspiration/mood board.
  2. Character inspiration. Focus on visualizing this character and how they embody their characteristics.
  3. Character biographies. Focus on their personality and emotions.
  4. Theme. Define it and tie it to each of the characters, locations, and major plot points.
  5. Conflict & the main characters external arc.
  6. The main character’s internal arc.
  7. Atmosphere, mood, and visualize the film. Extrapolate from your inspiration board. Describe what you see, hear, feel, and smell.
  8. Locations.
  9. Potential scenes. I suspend judgement, grab a stack of 100 index cards, and just keep the pen moving and scrawling ideas until I run out of cards.
  10. Outline. Sort your potential scenes, identify the conflict, the turning point, and beats within the scene.
  11. Write. Complete a scene or sequence (a group of scenes) a day.

I am in the midst of number eleven and I am finding it very difficult. Rather than tethering myself to writing linearly I am hopscotching between scenes, acts, and beats. It does feel liberating but it also makes tracking progress obscure, which I don’t like just because of how I am wired. I deeply desire to see clear straight forward progress. Writing unfettered and without a deadline I am, despite the oxymoron, forcing myself to be reckless and free.

This self enforced freedom is a new sensation. I may even admit that it is probably a healthy practice for my rigidly methodical self. I learning to trust my intuition, be guided by my feelings more than my to-do list, and most importantly stop berating myself for not doing something “right”.

When I feel stuck I rewind to my mood board, I revisit the theme, I read my character’s bio and imagine speaking with her, I listen to the playlist of music I created for the project, or I write down even more potential scenes. I let myself live in those moments of planning and inspiration without getting upset with myself for not strictly “writing”.

From my point of view all of these activities are writing. Even if I am laying on the floor in a dark basement listening to Bobby Gentry.

A Ghost is a Wish – Day 1

I have revived a screenplay from a dusty corner of the attic of my brain and polished off a mere concept, a character that unintentionally wills the manifestation of ghosts around her.

Photograph taken by Kristen Heimstra, 2014 (probably)

Knowing that I have a lot of overtime banked hours and unused vacation days at work I spent the month of May preparing to take time off and write a screenplay in June (seeing as travel or seeing family is off the table for a while). Or at least start. I am a firm believer in setting goals but with a project as large as a feature film I have decided to learn as I go. I have never done this before. My goal isn’t necessarily a finished screenplay, a draft, or even a complete outline (but, of course, I will strive for these things) my tangible goal is that I work on it every single day this month. Realistic. Attainable.

I devoured several books on screenwriting and say what you will about trying to learn an art or a craft from a book, but, I found the process useful. From each of the sources I read I have Frankensteined together a document to guide me through the writing process. I cherry picked what resonated and move on from the rest.

The books on screenwriting/writing that I read:

  • The Hero With A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
  • Mythology by Edith Hamilton
  • Aesop’s Fables
  • Poetics by Aristotle
  • Creating Character Arcs by K. M. Weiland
  • Story by Robert McKee
  • Screenwriting by Syd Field
  • Save The Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Anatomy of Story by John Truby
  • 21 Century Screenplay by Linda Aronson
  • If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland
  • Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
  • Routledge Film Guidebooks: Horror by Brigid Cherry

I have to whole hardheartedly agree that reading screenplays, watching movies, and dissecting them is the best teacher a writer can get.

The screenplays that I read:

  • Frankenstein by Garrett Fort & Francis Edwards Faragoh (1931)
  • Night of the Living Dead by George A. Romero (1968)
  • The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty (1972)
  • Jaws by Peter Benchley (1975)
  • Alien by Walter Hill and David Giler based on the story by Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (1979)
  • The Shining by Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson (1980)
  • The Thing by Bill Lancaster (1982)
  • 28 Days Later by Alex Garland (2002)
  • The Descent by Neil Marshall (2004)
  • Insidious by Leigh Whannell (2010)
  • The Babadook by Jennifer Kent (2011)
  • The Conjuring by the Hayes Brothers (2013)
  • The Autopsy of Jane Doe by Ian Goldberg & Richard Naing (2013)
  • It Follows by David Robert Mitchell (2014)
  • Get Out by Jordan Peele (2017)
  • The VVItch by Robert Eggers (2016)
  • Hereditary by Ari Aster (2018)
  • Us by Jordan Peele (2019)
  • Midsommer by Ari Aster (2019)

These are some online resources that I find endlessly interesting, useful, and helpful

To settle into the world of ghosts I read and listened to:

  • Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James
  • Shorts Stories & The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
  • The Hounds of Death Collection by Agatha Christie
  • Mail manga series by Housui Yamazaki
  • Short Stories by H. P. Lovecraft
  • Darkworld by Zack Bagans (from the Ghost Adventures television show) & I watched episodes of Ghost Hunters. No regrets, but, I am grateful I am a fast reader.
  • Lore podcast
  • Spooked podcast

Truthfully, I am likely forgetting a handful of other media that I consumed. I have been voracious this past month.

Here’s to hewing creative time. I am grateful that I am able to do so. It’s going to be joyful, hard, and exciting work.

Casting Call – The Inner Ring

Producers: Sara Campos-Silvius and Sylvia Douglas.

Production title: The Inner Ring
Shooting date: April 4th, 2020
Location: Edmonton, Alberta
Production type: Independent short film, non-union
Project length: 3 minutes
Compensation: paid, this project is supported by the Edmonton Arts Council’s Small Project Grant
Posted on: February 5th, 2020

Audition date: March 7th, 2020
Audition location: The Film and Video Arts Society (at The Orange Hub) 10045 156 Street NW
Wheelchair accessible: yes
Audition time: slots available from 10am to 5pm. Self-tape auditions will also be accepted.

To book your audition or for any questions please email: dougie@sylviadouglas.com

Synopsis: On the eve of her biggest match yet Lee must battle her true opponent: her own fear.
Style: The film is a movement piece with no dialogue.

1 – LEE, 20s or 30s, femme/female identifying
Lee is a boxer or kick-boxer, embodying inner conflict, aggression, and determination. The performer should have boxing or kick-boxing experience.

2 – INNER LEE, 20s – 50s, non-binary and/or femme/female identifying
Inner Lee is the representation of Lee’s fears and self-doubt, they are fluid, ethereal, and seductive.

Role Information:
These are non-speaking, highly physical, movement based roles.
As artistic producers we strive to be responsible and inclusive. We want to foster an environment that welcomes people of all abilities and backgrounds to apply including neurodiverse, disabled folks, and performers of all body types and sizes.

Inspiration videos:


Audition Information:
This audition will be recorded for the purpose of reviewing the applicants and will not be used beyond the audition context.
Please prepare a short dance or movement phrase of 30 seconds to 1 minute. Actors/dancers will be expected to provide their own music if desired.
You must book a slot via email to audition. We will also accept self-tape auditions via email.


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