Earlier in the year, LondonFuse spoke with Sighthound Studio’s Jordan Morris about his four day workshop, the Fundamentals of Screenwriting.
Spread over 16 hours, the course was intended to provide writers of all skill levels with the building blocks to craft a well written script. The event proved to be a success, and fortunately for those who were unable to attend, Morris will once again be running the Fundamentals of Screenwriting on September 29 and 30, and finishing on October 6 and 7.
For Londoners interested in filmmaking, the month of October should be like Christmas come early as the Forest City Film Festival returns. With it comes the Industry Sessions, a series of workshops ranging in subjects from writing and cinematography, to post production and distribution.
Among the sessions is the FCFF Pitchfest, where 10 registered competitors will have up to two minutes to pitch their original ideas to a panel of industry experts. Acting as the moderator for the Pitchfest… is none other than Jordan Morris.
“It’s a great way to test the effectiveness of just the main ingredients of your concept,” Morris explained. “And your ability to articulate yourself as an artist too, which is really important because if you can’t talk to people about your work then you’re likely to have trouble getting anywhere.”
Interested writers have until September 30 to submit a recorded video of their pitch. Afterwards, ten finalists will be selected to present their ideas or already written screenplays to the panel. When the initial two minute time limit is up, each panelist will ask a question to which the writer will have thirty seconds to answer.
Panelists include CEO/Producer Geoff Hart (The Secret World of Og, Tapped Out), director George Mihalka (1981’s My Bloody Valentine), Greg Jeffs (The Hunt… Rue Morgue Magazine’s Best Short Film of 2013), Susan Curran (who previously worked for Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada as Executive Director of Marketing/Acquisitions), and Kaaren Whitney-Vernon (Senior Vice President Branded Entertainment at Shaftesbury).
“These are people with a lot of pedigree and a lot of history, and you’re going to find out in a hurry if they think that your project’s got an artistic and/or commercial merit.” Morris added.
The Pitchfest began last year, and has already proven to be a massive success story for the 2017 winner, Alice Shin. Born in Korea, Shin studied at Nihon University in Japan and has worked in the film industry worldwide. After winning the 2017 Pitchfest and credit for equipment rental as a prize, Shin used her feedback to reshape her idea and entered into the Reel Asian Film Festival in Toronto where she won the pitch competition again. Her finished product, entitled Haru’s New Year, is a 19-minute short film about a young Japanese immigrant who struggles to make new friends on her first day of school in Canada. Much to the delight of Morris and the FCCC organizers, Haru’s New Year is one of the films in competition this year at the Forest City Film Festival.
“We love that story,” Morris said. “We helped her in the early stages of her film’s development – gave her some feedback, helped her reshape her project, connected her with people that can help her along the way – and now she’s back submitting a complete film which may in the future be expanded into feature length. So we love that story.”
While Shin’s journey with the FCCC is a proud moment from the Pitchfest’s inaugural year, the organizers have used the past year’s heartbreaks to improve upon this year. In one instance, one of the competitors left before Morris and the other panelists could provide helpful feedback and unfortunately has not been heard from since. This year the organizers request that all the competitors stay until the end so they have the opportunity to speak with them afterwards.
“We just want everybody to get as much out of this as possible,” Morris explained after describing the previous year’s result. “So it kind of broke our heart a little bit that we let that person get away before we had a chance to interact with them.”
Breaking new territory
Besides working as a moderator for two of the Industry Sessions (the Pitchfest, as well as Writing for Representation), Morris is also the producer for the entire series – 12 events in total. His goal with the series is to provide emerging filmmakers the opportunity for success. By generating more activity among the local film industry, the more likely London’s infrastructure for film will develop.
London, according to Morris, is like the Wild West for film. It’s still young and experimental, and it’s yet to have the benefits such as large scale rentals and tax incentives.
The Fundamentals of Screenwriting is the guinea pig of London’s film seminars. If the workshop can continue to succeed and generate interest, other seminars on various aspects of filmmaking are planned to occur throughout the year as well. While the filmmaking program at Fanshawe can provide students with the education and skills necessary, workshops such as Morris’s screenwriting class can help future artists who are unable to commit to a full time college program.
One of the events planned during the FCCC weekend is the LEDC Industry Networking Party. Making contacts is an absolute necessity in the film industry, but working in a city like London (where the industry is still growing) can be difficult to connect with established individuals. The networking party is about showcasing local industry talent for emerging artists to meet and discover that success can still be achieved within London.
“We want to present them to everybody that comes to the party,” Morris mentioned. “And prove to people that there are people here in London, Ontario – right now – that are enjoying a successful career in film that didn’t have to move to Toronto or B.C. or down into the States.”
Stars that shine
But networking isn’t just important for those trying to break into the film industry. Established individuals can have the opportunity to possibly discover new talent as well. In the case of Alice Shin, Morris immediately knew there was something unique about her.
“I was grinning because I knew that something special was going on there,” he recalled. “She had a ton of potential. Her ability to talk about what she was trying to achieve was unique, you could tell that she had studied film for a few years and she knew what she wanted.”
“As an artist she had a crystal clear vision for what she wanted to achieve as well,” Morris later added. “And that kind of combination is unusual for an emerging filmmaker who hasn’t really found their way yet or their own voice and doesn’t really know the industry yet.”
At the foundation of a great film is a great script. What Morris and the FCCC would really wish to see is another homegrown success story from beginning to end. Starting with the Fundamentals of Screenwriting where an inspired artist begins crafting their work, to the Pitchfest where they can learn how to sell that work, and finally by returning to the festival later on with a completed film.
And if the case of Alice Shin is any indication, that dream can very well become a reality.