Sue the Screenwriter || Screenwriting, Pies and Twirling with Sheep

Posted in Blogs, Literary

Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
March 25, 2015

During the Whidbey Island Writers Conference, I had the good fortune to meet and interview the delightful Chantelle Aimée Osman, who took the time out from her weekend’s busy teaching schedule to share her thoughts on screenwriting.

The rain was pouring down outside as we sat shivering in a Coupeville school classroom on two tiny chairs with eight luminous green tennis balls affixed to their feet. I couldn’t help but smile as Osman enthused about the beauty of Whidbey Island.

“Everywhere you look is like a ridiculously beautiful postcard! I just want to go out into a field and twirl with sheep,” she added, pulling her thick woolen coat just a little closer.

twirling-sheepBased in Scottsdale, Arizona, she had traveled to Whidbey especially to teach workshops at the conference, and I was interested to hear about her previous experiences in the development department for a major film production company in L.A.

Starting out in law, Osman had been invited to join the Hollywood-based film company, because it was looking for someone with both a creative and a law background. She worked her way up through the ranks from business affairs to head of story development.

I was pleased to have her elaborate on a screenplay’s journey from script to screen. The production company she worked for would receive hundreds of screenplays weekly, she said. Those screenplays would then be passed to “readers” who worked through a checklist and a coverage sheet (a short analysis of the scripts strengths and weaknesses), sifting out the wheat from the chaff. If a good screenplay made it to the top of the pile, she would then read it herself to see if it would be a good candidate for the next scheduled development meeting. She admitted that she was always looking for that great screenplay with a spark.

“There is a different skill set that goes into screenwriting as opposed to novel writing,” she admitted. “You very rarely found somebody who had a great story and the ability to write great dialogue. Very few times do those two things converge, and it’s those two things together that make a great screenplay.”

Chantelle Aimee Osman

Chantelle Aimée Osman

She added encouragingly “there are always levels of things that can be fixed, and it is better to have great dialogue so the viewer and the reader can relate to the characters on the page. Writers who are good at writing dialogue tend, in my opinion, to make better screenwriters or playwrights.”

It was the frustration of reading scripts that just missed the mark that led her to a desire to work with writers. Osman offers an editing and consultation service through her company, and also provides a pitch coaching service. She added that in this day and age all writers not only need to know if their work is marketable but also need to possess the skills to pitch to potential agents and producers.

Another way a novel writer can go, she noted, is to seek a literary film agent—a person who specializes in getting books produced in Hollywood. The production company she worked for had turned many successful books into movies, reminding me about the numerous award-winning films that have started life as a book.

“You have a much better chance as a writer of being produced by writing a successful novel and having someone else write your screenplay,” Osman said. “All production companies have in-house writers that do that.”

But she admitted it could still take a long time to find the right fit for your work, encouraging writers to embrace their rejections from agents and producers along the way to help move them to the next level.

“We are all rejected and you are going to be repeatedly rejected. If you’re at the beginning of this journey and you get a ‘no,’ don’t be devastated, it’s probably not the right person for you. It has got to be a symbiotic relationship; you have to like them as well as them liking you. If you do get that ‘no,’ try and take the opportunity to find out what’s not connecting with that person. It can be very informative for your work.”

As she wound up the interview, she returned to the sheer beauty of Whidbey, talking in awe about her chat house experience the day before at the Knead and Feed Bakery in downtown Coupeville. She described the intoxicating smell of freshly baked pies, an impromptu downtown parade, even a whale sighting from the bakery window.

“Being here is a truly unique experience,” she added thoughtfully.

As we slid our chairs back onto the stack I couldn’t help thinking she was right; even on a damp cold day, Whidbey is really the sort of place that makes one feel they want to go outside and twirl with sheep.

Suzanne Kelman is the author of “The Rejected Writers Book Club” and her writing voice has been described as a perfect blend of Janet Evanovich and Debbie Macomber. She is also a multi-award winning screenwriter who can sing”Puff the
Magic Dragon” backward!


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