My First Film Festival Experience – Sixth Annual Showlow White Mountain Film Festival
by Beverly Nault
SUPER: “Autumn 2021”
INT. Floridino’s Pizza Restaurant
WAITSTAFF serve food/drinks to an eclectic group of WRITERS.
BEV NAULT(60s) Nervous but eager, passes out pages of a MANUSCRIPT, “PERFECT MISFITS,” to actors.
Goals (or New Year’s Resolutions): who needs ‘em, right? Apparently, I do because my goal for 2022-23 was to send at least one of my screenplays out into the world to see how it measured up.
But first, I sought peer review, and the PSA Actors Reading Writers feedback was one of the first steps. After hearing feedback and taking notes at two of these excellent opportunities to hear my words spoken aloud, I entered several contests both far and near (they can be spendy and addictive, right?) Misfits accumulated some sweet laurels, and I even made the Coverfly Red list with it.
Then, one fateful day, an email arrived to inform me that Perfect Misfits had advanced in the Showlow Festival and had definitely won…something!
“Congratulations, your screenplay has won an award. We will be sending you a VIP all-access pass.”
Wow. Talk about a Sally Field moment. The Showlow White Mountain Film Festival judges actually like me! (With apologies to those of you too young to remember that epic Oscar moment.)
But what does this all mean? I entered because the festival offered screenplay judging, and now I was invited to attend. VIP pass? Yes, please. Who wouldn’t enjoy a trip up into the piney woods to mix and mingle with filmmakers and writers?
But cash was a concern, so I asked around the PSA ranks about whether I should go. Would gas, hotel, and the Gala Dinner be worth the expenses?
I received a hearty yes from several who had attended. “You’ll want to go just for the networking alone!” I heard over and over. So, I purchased my husband an all-access pass and made hotel reservations. A few months later, we arrived like two kids at their first summer camp.
The piney woods were beautiful, the air cooler than the Valley of the Sun, the leaves were changing, and the welcome was genuine. Before the festival, the organizers, Martina Webster, and Daliea Faulkner, had kept in touch through email and an App that listed the schedule and venues. I’ve been to a lot of writer’s conferences, but this one was one of the most well-organized and responsive ones I’ve ever experienced. And shoutouts to the WME theater owners Teddy, Lanny, and Jerri Croney for their equally warm hospitality.
Where to start? To tackle our preferred schedule of films, workshops, and social gatherings, I tore hotel stationary into pieces and checked the program, playing an improvised game of “Connect the Films.” (Someone should come up with an app for that.)
The beauty of seeing as many of the shorts, features, documentaries, and narratives as possible is that on the awards night, the titles are familiar, and the directors, producers, and actors are now new friends you’ll root for. More on the Gala night later.
Besides watching the films, the mandatory (to the filmmakers, not the audience) Q&A after each screening was interesting and lively. We heard about the motivation, challenges, funny moments, and behind-the-scenes “how the sausage is made” process.
And the workshops. Producer Pete Wooster of Sunset Studios spoke about the strikes (at the time, the WGA and SAG/AFTRA were both striking). Entertainment attorney Stephen Nebgen led a lively discussion about how AI (one of the major issues being dealt with in the strikes) may be of concern and how the legal world is spinning to try and get in front of potential problems for how us creatives.
As a former theatre set dresser and props wrangler, I was intrigued by art director Christina Brown’s presentation. She discussed her approach to building an affordable set that matches the director’s vision.
Lovinder Gill and Joe Leone led workshops on rewrites, and Scott Ambrozy covered how to write using the hero’s journey. (A music supervisor, Donna Britton, was unfortunately unable to attend because of illness but generously offered one-hour Zoom meetings to anyone attending the SLFF.)
Part of my VIP package was the opportunity to present a live pitch. I’d made up a one-sheet and brought several copies along. We entered the theater at the appointed time for my group. I was last to go and watched the others with rapt interest. How would the veterans use their five minutes?
I’ve pitched and been pitched, but this was a new experience because of the group setting. Some passed out folders with lobby cards, one-sheets, summaries, and full-color pitch decks. Their verbal pitches were prepared and passionate. Daliea was our moderator and kept everyone on time without adding to our nerves.
I’m unafraid to speak in front of large groups, and I had my logline, genre, theme, and a short summary memorized, so I was surprised when my adrenaline kicked in and nerves took a seat alongside me, poking me in the ribs.
If anything could have been changed, I wished there was more light besides the dim cinema lighting. One fellow referred to index cards, but he strained to read them until he gave up. He used his remaining time by asking for questions from the audience.
Finally, it was my turn, and I passed around the stack of one-sheets I had brought about Perfect Misfits. Then I took the mic as if I had all the confidence in the world, and the five minutes flew by without too many ums and ahs.
It turns out producer Steve Wooster, who has heard thousands of pitches no doubt, was in the audience, and he stood up and gave us several pointers and dos and don’ts.
- Do prepare at least a one-sheet or even a folder with a pitch deck (some producers prefer a thumb drive), and
- DON’T just go over every plot point.
- Be passionate and explain why you are the one to write this screenplay.
- Be prepared for questions.
- Only hit the high points; don’t go page by page or scene by scene.
I’m not lying, y’all; I was glad it was over so I could relax the rest of the weekend! We saw lots of films, met a lot of great people, and had our moment on the red carpet. The filmmakers were invited to appear on a podcast, and we listened to several of their interviews.
Then, Sunday night arrived, and it was time for the dinner and awards gala. Newbie that I was, I was just happy to be there and told myself not to have any expectations. We were assigned to Table 11 and were happy to have either met our tablemates or we had seen their films or both. Many indie filmmakers travel the circuit following their films around the world. Some were based in London, New York and some had even been to Cannes with their film. Because someone must attend the Q&As after the screening at Showlow, every film had at least one representative in attendance.
Darren Webster, the MC, announced the awards at a fairly good clip, and we had to literally make room for all the trophies being brought back to our table. One of the filmmakers, Marilyn Swick, had two films that took most of her categories, so we had to make double the room for her. Go, Marilyn!
As the winning categories came to an end, including screenwriting, I was in a happy place, even though I hadn’t been called up to receive anything. That’s okay, I thought. It’s my first year, and besides the VIP Pass, the workshops, the experiences, and meeting all the creatives who were so welcoming and encouraging were all so extra. I can’t count how many times I answered that I was “just a screenwriter,” and someone would argue, “You’re not JUST a writer. You’re just as important as the filmmakers because, without a script, we’ve got nothing to shoot.” Aw shucks.
And then from the podium, Darren started again. “And now for our top winners, the Best of the Fest. We’ll begin with screenplays.”
And from there, it’s a blur, but I do remember he told us that of the top three screenplays, the scores were separated by mere tenths. Then he announced the third-highest title, “Swoosh,” and handed the writer a mic! No one else had been asked to speak. Yet. Allen was gracious and thanked the Academy, accepted his trophy, and had his picture taken.
He handed the mic back to Darren. “Next, and with the second-highest score in the 2023 Showlow Film Festival, Perfect Misfits!”
The applause and the shouts of “Way to go, Bev!” lifted me up… I made my way through the tables to take the mic. Um. Yup. Nothing prepared. Nada. Drop the goofy smile, girl.
I managed to mumble a few comments thanking the organizers for a terrific first film festival experience. And one I’ll never forget.
But you guys, it all started with the support and encouragement of all you people in the Phoenix Screenwriters Association.
From the workshops to the screenings with Chris Lamont to online table reads and scene studies, annual conferences and the opportunities to learn and network are wide-reaching and priceless.
My next goal? Why, thanks for asking. I hope to announce that Perfect Misfits is screening someday somewhere. And know that if I’m ever handed a mic again in a similar situation, I’ll take a moment to recall my first film festival at Showlow White Mountain and also to thank the gang from Phoenix Screenwriters Association.
Top 3 Screenplays – 2023 SLFF
Swoosh by Allen Titkemeyer 8.9 out of 10
Perfect Misfits by Beverly Nault 9.4
Port Chicago by Lori Lyle, 9.6 – Top winner also received $100 Cash
About Beverly Nault: Beverly Nault was a technical writer for an aerospace software company before she began writing creatively for publication. In 2011, her first novel, Fresh Start Summer, and memoir Lessons from the Mountain, What I Learned from Erin Walton, written with actor Mary McDonough, both released. Since then, Bev’s had ten novels and several short stories published. She’s been a freelance editor for fiction and non-fiction writers, a first reader for a literary agency, and staff acquisitions editor for the literary journal, Eastern Iowa Review. Bev lives in Mesa with her husband Gary where she dabbles in tennis, and excels at spoiling their three grandchildren.