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Old 06-18-2008, 11:38 AM
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Default It's Only a Movie

What a show this conference produces!

By pengwen

Santa Fe – It's true.

What they say about Hollywood is all true, according to the agent at the Screenwriting Conference of Santa Fe (SCSFe).

I saw a bit of that world in action, or the fringes of it, just after Memorial Weekend at the 10th annual SCSFe. I keep thinking of it as one of those experiences where you peer into a totally new world – like seeing the ocean for the first time and experiencing its vastness, not just theoretically knowing about it.

The Hollywood Connection is the weekend highlight to the week-long conference and offers attendees chances to talk with producers, creative executives, development execs, and others in the film industry.

Five minutes. That’s what attendees got to pitch their story and screenplay ideas. And thus a possibility for fame and glory.

Fortunately, I wasn’t there with the idea that I could sell my story to Hollywood, or even an indie film maker. That meant I could sit back and enjoy the show, stress-free.

The SCSFe is billed as “Simply the best screenwriting conference in the world.” And its success is evident in part from its lasting-power, in part from the attendees that return year after year, and in part from personal successes of some of those writers.

“I believe all ventures are similar in that they spring up out of a perceived need,” says founder Larry Stouffer. “It seems as though we were accurate with this one because '08 was our 10th annual. Before SCSFe, beginning and emerging screenwriters across the country had no place to go other than USC, UCLA or NYU for intensive screenwriting courses on the craft of screenwriting. Those places are excellent, of course, but those of us who aren't kids any more had nowhere to go. We have jobs. Families. Roots. How many of us can just pick up and go back to college? And so I decided if SCSFe were to become a reality it would have to be an extraordinary five or six-day experience for our attendees. And it became so. And remains so. And our mandate is to make it always so.”

Location, location, location.
The fact that the confab is held in the City Different plus the fact the New Mexico now is the hottest place for filmmaking doesn’t hurt the conference’s image. Don’t underestimate the lure of Santa Fe, Stouffer was heard to say. And extensive faculty list (21 for the confab, over a dozen for the Hollywood Connection) speaks to that fact.

Stouffer is himself a screenwriter with moderate success (dramedy Junkyard Ghost and documentary Where Do The Children Play? among others). And in this biz, as agent Rimi Greer noted, it is all about who you know.

“We're known throughout the motion picture industry as the best screenwriting conference in the world. That fact has been undisputed all these years. We bring Hollywood to Santa Fe, and writers come from across the country,” says Stouffer. “Some even from foreign countries. This year, for example, we had one fellow who came from the UK, and a lady who came from Singapore (it was her first time in America). What a thrill. And an awesome responsibility, too, to make certain we live up to their expectations. We've had others from Tel Aviv, Scotland, and almost every year from Canada.”

To ensure a smooth running week, the 15-member volunteer staff that meets year round is complemented by an additional 30 event volunteers who assist with such things as transportation, registration and hospitability, keeping the pitch sessions on-time, etc., etc., etc.

Writers are a curious lot. They come in all sizes and shapes and colors, of course. Most attendees seemed to be reasonably well-heeled, middle-aged with some retirees and a smattering of younger types. But whether they came from down the street or across the ocean, those going to pitching sessions all were hoping to crack the door with the magic of their words.

The tension was palpable. Sometimes I had to go outside just to calm myself – and I wasn’t, as I said before, there to impress.

I didn’t see a lot of actual wringing of hands or crying. But there were people searching for lost notebooks and misplaced favorite pens. And over the far corner, someone practiced yet again the rehearsed words to say.

As I watched the anxious writers entering and leaving the hallowed doors of their pitches, I thought about what I had learned from the few short seminars and panels I attended. Even if your screenplay gets accepted, gets purchased by a company: 1) It doesn’t mean it will actually get produced; 2) It doesn’t mean you will have a hand in the final version the public sees … the script will go through rewrite upon rewrite until it satisfies the gods of production and maybe you will have a hand in that and maybe not.

So why, I wonder while relishing the fact once again that I am not stressing out merely people-watching, why would anyone want to go through this?
The answer must be the pull of the credit line. That and the fact that Hollywood is business. Big business. And to have your own piece of the American pie, well that’s everyone’s dream, right?

Each year, scripts and ideas pitched to these producers and execs are accepted for consideration. A few each year are sold. That’s success in itself. And watching the conference, it was easy to see it was running smoothly – not an easy thing to accomplish as anyone who has organized anything could tell you.
But what solidified in my mind, the telling moment, the “aha it IS true” for me was this quick scene in the lobby of The Lodge:

A 20-somethinger was standing holding a to-go-lunch box in one hand and in her other hand was clutched a cell phone. “Where Are you?” she queried anxiously. A moment later, a young faculty member enters the door at the end of the hallway, adjusting his clothing while talking on the ever present cell phone. As they meet, she emits that little giggle of embarrassed pleasure; she looks up to him, her whole being quivering like a little puppy eager to please and I’m sure I saw her tail wag.

I don’t know if the quiet writer found his favorite pen. Or if the tall, dark and handsome cowboy producer will accept my friend’s script.

I do know that dozens of cellphone chargers were left behind after the conference. (One of them mine) And I have a new, favorite pen. It’s yellow and just the right dimensions with a curly clip. It says,…. Wait! Where is it? What happened to my SCSFe pen?

Gwen Roath, also known as pengwen, is a former reporter who gave up her dream of writing a book to become a publisher. That way, she says, “I know at least some of my work will get published.”

For more information about SCSFe, check out their website:



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