By Trai Cartwright
This is part one of Trai's six-part monthly series.
Why in the world would a fiction writer care about screenwriting? Turns out, films are a prime educational resource for novelists, and whether you’re a fictioner or a filmite, our communal and cultural understanding of our craft is drawn from both realms of storytelling.
My background is in both realms of world building, the 50-foot high visual and the black-and-white textual. I love them both and work and play in both. However, thought I’d approach this blog as a map of my adventures as a new screenwriting resource in Denver. And what’s more appropriate than introducing myself in the story structure way?
Act 1 – Meet our main character: a teenaged refugee of Fort Collins, passionate about theater and novel writing. I went on to graduate from a highly esteemed but overpriced film school with a new passion: screenwriting! Destined to be in the world of storytelling, I embarked for Los Angeles.
Trigger Incident – Landing a job with an old school Hollywood moviemaking pro! I was mentored by an Academy Award-winning mensch who taught me the ways of the Force: how to use kindness and enthusiasm to get the best out of writers. He optioned one of my own screenplays, let me develop the scripts our company was interested in, and made me believe in myself. On to Act 2! Lots of practice, lots of dead ends, produced a few movies, worked for some major studios, always learning, learning, learning…
False Resolution – The head of CAA, the biggest talent agency in the world, loves one of my scripts! He’s going to “send it out,” and when he sends something out, careers start. It’s my big break!
Oh wait. He was just forced out by the young guns nipping at his heels. My script has been “burned.” He’s out; so am I.
Things turn dark. LA begins to implode. The writers strike, coupled with the burst of their freakishly out-sized housing bubble and the downward-spiraling economy—it all equals no jobs for writers. Or anyone else. No work to be found in the industry I love.
It’s the end of Act 2 and my lowest point…or the beginning of something amazing?
Act 3 – A move to Colorado, my home state, results in levels of professional growth and community-building I’ve never experienced. As a teacher of both screenwriting and fiction writing, I get to connect with hundreds of writers, teach in a myriad of classrooms, edit dozens of manuscripts. I’m having an amazing time, and really developing my skills on all levels. Don’t tell anyone in LA that working outside of Hollywood rocks this hard. They might get wise and get out, too!
Which brings us to The Sequel:
Act 1 – Making the big move to Denver, a storied land where many wildly accomplished and talented writers live and learn and publish. I’ve just finished a screenplay that’ll fly back over the mountains shortly and bang some drums, and I’m nearly done with my first YA book. Could I be more excited to land in the Mile High City at this crucial juncture in my own writing life?
I could, because Denver is also home to a Top 25 Film School, where I’ll be teaching future filmmakers how to get their voices heard. Connecting to the amazing film resources here is important, so I’m meeting folks from the Denver Film Society and the Denver Screenwriters.
But I’m still fiercely in love with Fiction, so I’m also looking for ways to connect to more novelists. How lucky are we that grounding this community is the amazing Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. What fun you all have, what joy you bring to the study of our craft! I’ve already had some terrific experiences with you all and can’t wait to continue. I’ll see you at the conference in September, for sure. Come find this old Hollywood hack so we can continue this conversation about our love of story.
Trai Cartwright, MFA, is a 20-year entertainment industry veteran and creative writing specialist. While in Los Angeles, she was a development executive for HBO, Paramount Pictures, and 20th Century Fox. A new Denver arrival, Trai currently teaches creative writing, film studies and screenwriting for Colorado universities, MFA residencies, writers groups, conferences, and one-on-one as an editor for fiction and screenplays. Learn more about Trai and her work at her website.