So you have an idea for a screenplay. It’s really great, right?
And while there’s never been a better chance to get your film made — the industry is starving for great stories, the technology you need to do it is literally in your hands — Hollywood is 1,129 miles away and you have no idea where to begin.
The Seattle Film Summit, running Sept. 3-11, is here to help.
“There’s so much that the Pacific Northwest has to offer and the summit is really, in my opinion, a great place to network and to learn about how to develop these things,” Bellevue-based screenwriter and producer Jonathan Keasey said.
Keasey has two ongoing projects in the region. One is a true story based on the inspiring life of Amanda Ogle — who you may remember from columnist Danny Westneat’s reporting a couple of years ago — and the other is a remake of a Chinese sci-fi film starring brothers Aldis and Edwin Hodge. Plus, he’s in financial negotiations on two other Seattle-based projects he can’t talk about yet.
Keasey won’t lie. If you want to participate in big-time Hollywood productions, you’ll have to make connections in Los Angeles and at least commute back and forth. But there’s no reason you can’t get your start right here and right now.
The place is dripping with ideas.
“There are amazing stories in the Pacific Northwest that just by virtue of us being up here, people in L.A. aren’t aware of,” Keasey said. “For instance, I’m involved in a music series about Seattle in the late ’80s that has a very big studio behind it and a lot of big names behind it because everybody’s aware of the big bands, but people aren’t aware of the bands that led up to those bands.”
The lesson was instilled in the Washington-born Keasey from almost the moment he returned from L.A. to Washington to raise a family two years ago. All he had to do was pick up the newspaper. Ogle was right there, staring him in the face.
“Danny Westneat wrote this [column] about this woman who had been sleeping in her car for a year and the car got towed and she then was living on the streets and in a shelter,” Keasey said. “And I read that article, and nobody in L.A. was reading that article and nobody in New York or London was reading that article. I read that article and I said, ‘Oh, my God, that’s a mini Erin Brockovich.’”
He recently finished the script and got the thumbs up from Ogle, who will appear with Keasey and Westneat in a panel about the experience at the summit — a hybrid event this year that will be online, with in-person events planned for the final day. It’s just one of many opportunities you’ll have to learn how to conceive and execute a script idea. Or any of the other aspects of filmmaking that’s of interest.
Organizers plan more than 70 hours of film-related content this year. Speakers and panelists include Alvy Ray Smith, co-founder of Pixar and Lucasfilm’s Computer Division, the Hodge brothers, “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul” producer Stewart A. Lyons and a number of producers, actors, screenwriters and industry professionals, many of whom will be available to network.
The goal, said summit founder Ben Andrews, is to create the workforce that will drive a creative industry in Seattle, which has fallen behind other North American film hubs for a number of reasons.
“You’ll find this with any of the film hubs, whether that be Vancouver or L.A. or New York,” Andrews said, “but film must be the cornerstone of your creative economy because it is the umbrella of so many other creative economies within it. Film employs writers, actors, directors, construction workers, makeup, wardrobe — go down the line. And so as the film industry rises, so does all that satellite creative economy.”
Andrews has been preaching this message since 2013 when he founded the summit and there are signs Western Washington’s political leaders are starting to see the potential. A big disconnect for the state is an unwillingness in Olympia to fund incentives that would attract more film projects.
So Andrews has put together a political forum in which the area’s elected officials and candidates can learn about and discuss the region’s film industry and the largely missed opportunity here.
“I want to say a quarter of our attendees this year are state representatives,” Andrews said. “They’re senators, they’re county leaders, they’re city leaders and council members. It’s the Seattle Chamber [of Commerce], it’s the Kent Chamber. So all these civic and private institutions in our state are starting to say, ‘We need to focus on the film industry.’ But larger than that, we need to start focusing on the creative economy of our state.”
Another booster is actor Tom Skerritt, a longtime Seattleite who thought the area might be on its way to a film industry when he starred in Evergreen State productions “Singles” and “Smoke Signals” back in the ’90s. But he said he felt like few took the opportunity seriously in the years that followed and places like Vancouver and Atlanta happily stepped in.
What little filming is done here is mostly location work, he said.
“If they’re coming in with money from Hollywood to spend that money here, that’s not what I call an industry,” Skerritt said. “You have to make your own projects here, find them and make them here, and then release them to the outside world. And that revenue comes back here from the outside. That’s an industry.”
Skerritt used Sherman Alexie’s “Smoke Signals” as an example.
“He went to Sundance three summers in a row to learn how to adapt a successful book and to write ‘Smoke Signals,’ and we made it and went to Sundance,” Skerritt said. “It won four awards and sold to Miramax for $2 million profit, which came back in state. Now that’s what I’m talking about.”