Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Advice to Writers: Never Give Up Hope

Root Bound Goes Into Production

The Coeur d’Alene Chapter of the Idaho Writer’s League begins every meeting with introductions and then the big question, “Who wants to share some good news about your writing?"  I’ve always yearned to share something big – like I finally wrote that book I’ve been working on for years.  Well, that didn’t happen, but I do have big news! 

The short screenplay I wrote for a screenplay contest in 2009 is finally going to be produced.  Hooray!  I originally wrote the piece, "Heading for the Big Time," as an entry for the 2009 Idaho Magazine Fiction Contest.  The 30-page short story was awarded the Publisher’s Choice Award by Kitty Fleishmann.  Later that year I changed the name of the piece to Root Bound and adapted it into a screenplay that met the criteria of the kNIFVES (Northwest Independent Film & Video Entertainment Society) contest. 

The 17-page screenplay languished until July of 2010, when it was chosen for production by the kNIFVES board.  Later that year the project was awarded a $3,000 Filmmaker’s Award Grant from the Idaho Film Office.  Exciting, right? 

But, who knew that the setbacks that cause projects in Hollywood to be postponed, interrupted, rescheduled, delayed, or heaven forbid, just plain cancelled; would happen right here in North Idaho?  First came the rewrites – then came the scheduling, crew, location and logistic problems.  The project was scheduled for production twice during the next two years, only to fall victim to final deferral when paying jobs interfered with this, pretty much, all volunteer project.  

I learned a lot during the long wait – patience mostly – but working with kNIFVES president and director, WJ Lazarus, was a valuable experience for me and I mostly enjoyed the process.  Then 2013 rolled around.  By now the grant had already been extended twice and WJ was as busy as ever in Hollywood.  I was ready to throw in the towel.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit.
There's no point in being a damn fool about it. - W. C. Fields

Then, miracle of miracles: kNIFVES vice president Robynn Sleep resurrected Root Bound.  She signed on kNIFVES members Michael Notar as line producer and John Bateman as Director of Photography; and suggested we ask a few local directors if they would be interested in the project.  Within a few weeks, Spokane’s Rebecca Cook agreed to direct.  In 2012, Rebecca directed The Birthday for the Inland Northwest’s 50 Hour Slam Film Festival.  The 15-minute film won both the “Hip Clip” Audience Award and the "Slammy" Online Viral Award. 

That did it!  Root Bound was officially in preproduction.  As of today a full crew of experienced filmmakers has been put together and auditions for the cast will be held soon.  In conjunction with the workforce training focus of kNIFVES, a workshop will be held in May and filming will take place the first three weekends in June, ending with an exciting day at the Big Back-In Lawnmower Race in Spirit Lake, Idaho.  With a new director on board, I’ve been busy doing a few minor rewrites and scouting locations - what fun.   

If you are interested in screenwriting or any aspect of filmmaking, kNIFVES is a super local networking group.  Find out more about kNIFVES and the upcoming production workshop at

Root Bound Logline
A personal crisis arises for an up-and-coming newscaster after he follows the advice of media consultants to deny his Idaho roots in order to advance his career and take a spot on the national news scene.

“Script fun yet with much depth”. – Idaho Film Office

Root Bound Pitch
One criteria for the kNIFVES short screenplay contest was that the film had to be about the state of Idaho.  So I decided to write a positive story about Idaho that dealt with the idea of choosing to live your life with integrity.  I chose this storyline because I’ve never forgotten the pain a friend of mine felt when she was asked to deny her roots in order to move forward with her career.

Those of us who live in Idaho know it’s not much of a stretch to believe there are times we would be better off to deny our Idaho ties.  Our good reputation doesn’t extend much beyond our border.  Recent national news about “The Citadel,” a compound a group of gun activists want to build in North Idaho, recently caused yet another round of Idaho bashing. 

This screenplay turns all that negativity around.  It highlights Idaho in a positive light with likable characters, lots of Northwest flavor and some great Idaho jokes.  Why didn’t Mrs. Potato Head want her daughter to marry the famous newscaster?  Because he was a common-tater!

Root Bound can be produced at minimal expense – a snap for the KNIFVE’s production team with easy to find locations, few scene changes, and even fewer props – all great reasons to produce Root Bound – an entertaining short film with a positive message about Idaho and family ties.

Root Bound Synopsis
Root Bound offers a humorous look at a serious subject.  Denying something about oneself in order to move forward in life is a fairly common occurrence – and so is the damage that can cause to one’s personal integrity and sense of self-worth – and that’s exactly what happens to Idaho native Brad Spencer after he agrees to say he is from Seattle in order to get a job for a major television network news show. 

Brad’s first dilemma is facing his parents, both third-generation Idahoans, with the news that he has agreed to deny he is from Idaho due to the bad press that usually arises on the national news scene whenever the state of Idaho is mentioned – you know – white supremacy groups, Randy Weaver, Senator Craig’s infamous visit to the Minneapolis – St. Paul International Airport’s men’s room.

Buoyed by positive advice from his childhood friend, Jake, Brad stammers out his decision on the last day of his visit before his big move to New York.  He can tell his parents are disappointed in him, but they don’t let him down; and the three of them get through the moment somehow.  Later that day, Brad sets off to his new life in New York, his excitement dimmed, but not extinguished, by his knowledge that he has somehow lost a piece of himself.

Once in New York, sporting a polished new look, Brad jumps right in, introducing himself to co-workers at his first meeting.  Their friendly acceptance allows Brad’s confidence to grow and he begins his first meeting with composure and self-assurance. 

Executive producer Ted Burns, Brad’s boss, gets right to work, introduces Brad then asks for story ideas.  Brad shares an idea about an Idaho inventor, then somehow later finds himself defending Idaho when co-workers make misstatements.  His words lead a fellow co-worker to ask him why he is such a cheerleader for Idaho.

Brad suddenly begins to feel uncomfortable, realizing he should stop talking about Idaho, but discovers he feels compelled to defend the state he loves.  His confidence is shaken, but not broken – that is until he finds himself chastised by the two co-workers he corrected during a break.  Suddenly he begins to wonder if he truly fits in.

Meeting resumed, Ted asks for someone to cover the State of Idaho for their Amazing States Series.  Brad slumps in his seat as Ted says they had discussed Idaho before, but all they heard was potato and Senator Craig jokes.  He struggles inwardly as he fights the urge to tell the positive things about his beloved home state. 

Finally, Brad loses the battle.  His enthusiasm returns as he regains his confidence.  “Did you know that Sacajawea, Lana Turner, Picaboo Street, and Sarah Palin are all from Idaho?  Did you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the first draft of Tarzan while working at a stationary store in Pocatello or that 14-year old Philo Farnsworth invented television while tilling a potato field in Rigby, Idaho?”  He ends with “Idaho is not just about potatoes.”  There is surprise all around. 

Ted later spies Brad deep in thought and asks him how he’s doing.  Brad feels compelled to come clean and tells Ted that he is not the man they hired – he lied about his background.  Ted admits that explains a few things, but is not prepared when Brad tells him that, realizing he will never fit in, he has made the decision to leave New York.  He needs to be himself, not playacting at being someone he is not ... he needs to go back to IdahoTed pleads with him not to make a rash decision, they will make something work out.  

In the final scene, Brad is back to his roots and comfortable and competent as the Northwest correspondent for the national network.  He introduces a segment on The Big Back-In, a lawnmower race held in Spirit Lake, Idaho every Father’s Day.  He builds up the excitement of the event then roars down Main Street on a lawnmower himself.  At the finish line stand his parents and his friend Jake.  He’s home.  (For more information about The Big Back-In:


Jennifer Lamont Leo said...

That's fantastic, MJ! So proud of you. :-)

Jennifer Rova said...

WOW! Congratulations on having your screen play produced! Perseverance and patience are two watch words for your story of several years of waiting to get it launched. Everybody assumes writing is the hard part but none of it is easy. Kudos, bells and whistles to you. WNI is thrilled for you!

Mary Jane Honegger said...

We held a production meeting last night to meet crew and others interested in helping - what a great bunch of people - of all ages. Rebecca Cook, the director, is welcoming, competent and enthusiastic. Her focus is to produce a quality production and have fun doing it. It couldn't get much more exciting for me - that is, unless we entice Bradley Cooper to play the main character. Either way, this promises to be fun and kudos from others who know how few the rewards of writing mean a lot. Thank you Jennifers!