Looking Forward, Looking Back
A Dream Made Real
My name is Mark Sevi. I’m a professional screenwriter and the nominal president of the Orange County Screenwriters Association.
In March of this year (2009) a series of events made it possible for me to realize a dream that I’ve had for nearly five years - to start the Orange County Screenwriters Association. Although I had tried earlier, I wasn’t able to get much traction until a good friend, Raymond Obstfeld, introduced me to a person who has grown to become another friend, Larry Porricelli, the manager of the Regency South Coast Village Theater.
Larry gave us a venue that is beyond compare - The Regency South Coast Village Theater - and made himself and his staff available on Saturday mornings. Our events have been nothing but joy and in large part Larry and his staff are the reason why. A big thanks to him and the owner of the Regency chain, Lyndon Golin, for helping us make this happen.
As I look back at our inaugural year (six months, actually) and look forward to 2010, I’d like to say a big thanks to everyone who has come to our events, helped to organize them, and become a friend and supporter of OCSWA. We simply could not have made this dream a reality without everyone’s help and support including the continuing support of over 3,000 educators in Orange, Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Diego counties.
Have a happy and safe holiday and please come see us in 2010. We have so much great stuff planned for the coming year.
I’m finishing this now at 1:30am here in SoCal, a few days before Christmas and nearly at the end of an amazing year.
My thoughts about what’s happened so far revolve around people not events. Since an organization is only as good as its members, and we have been lucky to get so many great people to help us out, I need to acknowledge some folks who need to be recognized for their enduring efforts:
The board of directors and advisors of the Orange County Screenwriters Association have sacrificed time and/or money to this organization.
Sterling Vozenilek - my good buddy, who believed in this concept and put money toward that belief when no one else did and who continues to help fund OCSWA with her energy and wallet. Big ups to you, Sterling, and all my love.
Raymond Obstfeld - who made the connections all possible.
Larry Porricelli - who gave us our venue and more.
Marie Mastrangelo - who worked tirelessly to populate our databases and make some crucial online connections.
Natalie St. Andre - whose smiling face was the first I saw at the initial meeting of the board of directors. She helped in getting things started. Her schedule keeps her pretty busy but we're hoping she'sll be able to take a stronger role soon.
Deborah True Neal - whose insight and inspiration is enduring and limitless.
Victor Phan - who came aboard after our first event and is without compare in all ways. I swear his energy could power the space shuttle.
Robert Abe - one of our tech guys whose good spirits and high energy always help us move forward.
Christian Stambouli - whose stability and brilliance in all things guides us.
Jackie Zimbalist - who we don’t see often but who always there to keep us honest.
Matthew Scott - who works behind the scenes to help in ways no one can imagine.
Scott Broberg - who has connected us to schools, organizations and many hundreds of students.
Dr. Ben Hubbard - who provides our spiritual center.
Clark Peterson - who was our first speaker and provides Hollywood insight to our cause.
A thanks also to Tom Sullivan who has been recently photographing our events and providing good suggestions and insight at our board meetings.
In May 2009, a very special person named Eric Hensman who owns Lennexe Productions came up to me and said “You Write It, We’ll Film It” - or something like that. The first official “Make it Reel Script to Screen Contest” was born. OCSWA ran a short scriptwriting contest this past summer that then became a wonderful short film called “Harvey The Monster Racist” that was premiered at our December 5th event.
Eric and Itai Levin, another remarkable man, put together an amazing production effort for this film. I can’t sufficiently tell you how impressed I was by their work. Eric and Itai, OCSWA is ever grateful for your creativity, professionalism, and continued support. We look forward to an even more productive and creative 2010.
A rough background and timeline:
Our mission to bring Hollywood to the O.C. started early in 2009 and will continue on until they bury us all. To help accomplish that goal, OCSWA has done four events so far that featured Hollywood professionals.
March 24, 2009
Even before our first event, there was so much to do. Once the venue was set and I knew the organization was at least possible I pulled together some friends and friends of friends and we met at the Haus of Pizza on Harbor Blvd. to discuss my crude and unformed ideas.
These special people mentioned previously quickly put their energy into helping those ideas take form. We knew we wanted to have something happening before the colleges let out in the Spring so we really needed to get busy and get an event on the calendar. No one knew exactly how to do what we needed to do - we just guessed at it and hoped we were guessing right. Sometimes we did.
A logo had to be designed - then a website that would begin to give us some online legitimacy. I do web design on the side but this one was different - it had to be perfect. Or as perfect as I could make it. I worked for hours on end on it and finally launched it around the 2nd week in April.
Then it was on to graphics designs, email list software, and a hundred other details that, truth be told, we’re still to this day working on - like getting an official 501(c)3 designation for the org - hopefully this year.
But at least we were moving forward and we had set a date for our first event- May 30, 2009. Our first guest would be my good friend Clark Peterson. Clark never hesitated in his acceptance - he said yes immediately. This was just the best news I could get - Clark is an amazing whip-smart producer who I knew would give us almost instant legitimacy. (IMDB listing)
So, by the last week in April, we had a venue, a website, a logo and a guest speaker for our first event. Now we just had to get the word out. Those of you who have done any marketing know how difficult that simple concept is.
Marie Mastrangelo worked tirelessly along with other board members to populate our databases so we could send out newsletter blasts about who we were. I met with a dozen teachers at colleges and writing orgs. We all grabbed handfuls of lobby cards and pushed them in anyone’s face we could find. It never seemed like we were doing enough and I worried day and night that we needed to work harder to get the word out that we were here and we had something to offer.
May 30, 2009 - Our inaugural event.
A Q&A with producer Clark Peterson.
This was so incredibly nerve wracking since it was our first event and none of us had a good handle on how to do it. Marketing, massive email lists, lobby cards...who knew? And then once we figured some of that out, it was nervous time wondering if anyone would actually come.
As mentioned I had done guest appearances at several college classes, talked to many college teachers, and we collectively passed out 2,500 lobby cards announcing the event.
On that Saturday morning, we all stood in the lobby of the theater waiting for people to arrive. Would they come? It was so tense as we waited for the parking lot of the Regency Theater to fill up. And it did and people came, thankfully.
But then I had to do a Q&A with Clark, who is a good friend and helped a great deal to make that portion go well but, man, was I nervous. To help move the morning along we gave away some software and posters and T-shirts. That was fun and it did help break the tension and keep things happy and light. And it’s now become a fun part of our events.
Over 175 people showed up to our first event - we marked it a cautious success. Afterwards, many people stayed to network with us, each other and with Clark who graciously stuck around in the lobby and talked to anyone who approached him.
Among the networking that marked that day was a proposal from producer/director Eric Hensman of Lennexe Productions. He said if we ran a short script contest through OCSWA, then he would film the winner's entry - in other words, a real Hollywood-type experience in short form. The first Make It Reel Script to Screen Contest was born.
But that meant it was back to the drawing board for me setting up a website capable of handling submission and entry fees - something I had never really done before. I spent hours sitting on my butt learning a CMS software called Moodle and modifying it to suit our purposes.
We ran the contest in July and although we didn’t get as many contestants as we had wished, we did get a reasonable number of excellent entries. Our board members, all excellent writers in their own right, acted as judges and we picked some finalists and semi-finalists and planned on announcing the winner at the next event in the Fall.
Between June and September, after I put up the contest site, I redesigned the main website and made it interactive so we could actually reach out to more people besides the ones we saw locally. Plus, we were pretty quiet between events. I knew we had to keep people engaged when we weren’t on stage at The Regency. We’re still just scratching the surface of what we want to accomplish with the website.
September 19, 2009 - Our 2nd event.
A Q&A with producer Steve Eccelsine.
We did many of the same things for this event that we did for the last one so we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel in many areas. The event prep, which takes about six weeks all in, went very smoothly. We had a solid newsletter database by this time and designing promotional materials was simply a matter of using templates already created for the 1st event.
Steve was a terrific guest and the event went very well for us. His book, “So You Want To Be A Producer” is like a training manual for Hollywood combined with corner store anecdotes on the madness that is Hollywood. And Steve can talk for hours on any subject you care to imagine. A truly magnificent guest.
After Steve’s Q&A, we announced the winners of the contest and did the networking thing with Steve in the lobby and then went to lunch at Red Robin next door - what has now become a very fun, after-event tradition with us.
Unfortunately, we still hadn’t been able to show our short winner’s film due to technical problems (and money.)
Before I could catch my breath after the September event, Victor Phan was pushing us to plan a Halloween horror panel for October - I really loved the idea and we got to work on it immediately since the date was fast approaching.
October 31, 2009- Halloween Horror Panel
A Q&A with Three Scary Guys.
Initially, we had planned to run events only about once a quarter. But we couldn’t pass up Halloween - especially since I knew so many horror film professionals.
Josh Eisenstadt, Steven Goldmann, and Shawn Papazian, our guests, came down to The O.C. and entranced us with their experiences as directors and independent producers of horror films. I will admit it was a lot to handle three strong personalities for a Q&A but they were all gracious gentlemen and it was such great fun to listen to their different approaches to the business.
Between the September event and this one, Eric and his amazing crew at Lennexe had indeed filmed “Harvey the Monster Racist” in one, thickly packed, madness-inspired ten hour day. After this marathon session, Eric hunkered down with Itai Levin to cut it together.
We had again hoped to have the finished film ready for this event; unforeseen technical difficulties made that impossible. But Eric spent hours and hours cutting together a little sizzle reel that showed where the final film would be going. It was very well received by everyone at the theater.
We also had some very creative costumes at the event itself. Our costume contest winner was a very accurate recreation of Marissa Tomei’s outfit in the strip club in “The Wrestler.” (Very hot.) Her husband came as Mickey Rourke. Great stuff.
After the event, everyone hit the lobby for networking but only Steven Goldmann and Josh Eisenstadt joined us for lunch. Shawn Papazian unfortunately had to go to another engagement.
Goldmann held court at Red Robin and continued to regale us with stories from his long and illustrious Hollywood career.
All in all, another amazingly successful event
December 5, 2009 - Our last event of 2009
A Q&A with actor, producer , director, writer Kevin Sorbo
I didn’t think we’d get Kevin Sorbo to come down to talk to us but he agreed almost immediately. I met Kevin when we did a press conference on a film of mine he was going to do but I hadn’t spoken to him in almost a year. I asked anyway and he shocked me by saying yes.
It probably did help that he had another charity event to attend here in Orange County that day but I really think that he’s such a nice guy he would have done it no matter what.
To read my full review of the event, go here (link).
By now, our fourth event, we had this down to a science. We knew what we needed and who we had to talk to. We still have a lot to learn and accomplish but at some level we are on autopilot for these events now. That’s a good feeling since they are so much work to put on, it’s nice to be able to shift that a little off our shoulders.
Perhaps that’s why I felt this event was the best of the lot. Although they all do have their strengths, this one was my absolute favorite. I know I said earlier that I didn’t have a favorite but Kevin is such an amazing interviewee - he made it a joy to listen to him talk about his nearly 20-year career. I could have listened for hours. Incredible man and Q&A.
He didn’t join us for lunch since he was already late for his second charity event of that day, but he did stay and sign autographs, pose for photos, and help us out immensely with some signed materials he personally sold for to help our always hungry treasury.
I was still buzzing with excitement when I got home late that afternoon. Not even USC’s loss to Arizona that day could dampen my spirits.
Really, just a wonderful event.
So it’s almost the end of our first year now. We had intended to also do seminars and classes over the Summer but the events kept us pretty busy. One seminar we had planned “Writers And Fighters” didn’t get enough of an enrolment so we cancelled it. We still need to learn how to market those types of events I guess. But like everything else we do, learning is always the first step.
As I look back and look ahead, I see a lot to love, a lot to improve and a lot to look forward to. 2010 will hopefully build on our past successes and continue with even greater achievements.
We do have pitch fests, great Q&A’s, seminars, more website interaction and many other helpful events and resources planned. We know what we accomplished in 2009 and we understand that we have to be even better in 2010. And we will. We most definitely will.
OCSWA is filled with incredibly talented people who believe in the power of art and its ability to lift the human spirit. In our small way, we really feel like we’re contributing to the enduring strength and spirit of mankind. Once we achieve our official non-profit status we hope to do even more along those lines in the way of actual outreaches to people less fortunate than us.
We do understand that in the larger scheme of things movies are a small part of the world - but they have the power to transform and inspire.
A movie can bring joy, illuminate pain and also take away both - it’s that powerful when it’s done right. Helping people write movies seems worthwhile to us - it’s a tangential effort to keep all our spirits bright and our minds informed.
We all truly believe that. And we work hard to spread that message.
Once again, I’d like to personally, and on behalf of the board of directors, thank everyone associated with OCSWA. It’s been a joy so far and I know it will only grow to be better in the future. Please help us help you by contributing ideas and articles to the website, coming to the events, suggesting improvements, and spreading the word about this org.
Happiest of Holidays and a Great 2010 to you all.
Be inspired. Do good work.