In the buildup to the 6th HWA Horror Roundtable, I’ll be chatting briefly with each of our guests. Today I have the pleasure of Signe Olynyk’s company.
Don’t forget, the 6th Roundtable will be on Screenwriting and it will kick off on the 11th of February here on the HWA’s blog. We have an excellent lineup of guests, including Michaelbrent Collings, Signe Olynyk, Matt Lohr, Brad Hodson, and Pen Densham.
Here’s the topic in full:
Screenwriting: How to get involved in the industry, the pitfalls and problems, the success stories. Screenwriting is a natural extension of story writing, but it is also a completely different art form. Let’s look at how it differs, and how difficult it is to create visual scenes for filming. And the end result; is it always how you viewed it would be? Are there any tips or suggestions you can offer for those just starting out, things you’ve learned along the way?
Marty: Signe, what are you currently working on now?
Signe Olynyk: I have a couple ‘man in a box’ stories that I absolutely love, but can’t discuss unfortunately. And I am also in preproduction on a zombie thriller that my producing partner wrote. We will be shooting that in September (2013), along with another film that we have German financing on. I am also the founder and president of the Great American PitchFest and Screenwriting Conference, and it will be our tenth anniversary this year. We are expecting just under 2,000 writers to come out to our free classes, and it has become the largest screenwriting event in Los Angeles, probably the world actually. I am also putting together a workshop in April for anyone who has ever wanted to learn how to write a screenplay, followed by a 48 Hour Writing Marathon where attendees will crank out the first draft of their script.
Marty: Writers are often asked who inspired them when they were growing up. What about screenwriters? Are there legends of the industry who inspire new rising stars? Who inspired you?
Signe: I have been very fortunate because I have so many wonderful mentors in my life, many of whom I now call friends. I read a ton of books and took classes with incredible people who were willing to share their wisdom and experience on how to become professional screenwriters. Linda Seger, Michael Hauge, Drew Yanno, Pilar Alessandra, Blake Snyder, Viki King, Richard Walter, Karl Igelesias…it is a lengthy list and I could go on. And I haven’t even mentioned Pen Densham who I am thrilled to be on this panel with. All of these people also teach at the GAPF for us, and continue to inspire others to master the craft of screenwriting. I also watched movies, and listened to the DVD commentaries to learn as much as I could from those filmmakers. I’m inspired by great stories – regardless of genre. To me, a horror movie is really just a drama with scary elements.
Quite honestly, I find the best way to be inspired is often to do…absolutely nothing. I have to work really hard not to be a workaholic, and after describing everything I have going on above, I realize how much I’m failing in that regard. But I find myself most inspired when I take walks, drink wine and eat amazing foods with good friends, or read books for pleasure, see a great movie, or spend time playing and giggling with my niece and nephew. I’m someone who has been in need of more peace in their life, and I’ve found that in the past couple years. In that peace, I find inspiration – which means, I am a better writer the more I experience things. It’s not always about working harder and doing more. Sometimes you have to do less, to become more. Inspiration to me can be found when I sit by the ocean near my home and just listen to the surf crashing. Or when I hike in the cedar forests where I live, and listen to the thick sounds of silence. I always come back recharged.
Marty: When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing? (other than reading or watching movies!)
Signe: I guess I just answered that! I like to cook, and I hike every day. I live in a beautiful place so no matter what, I go for a hike at 3pm every single day (because it starts to get dark at 4pm in the forest!). And I love to eat things I haven’t tried before, go to places I’ve never been, and doing as many fascinating things as I possibly can. This year, I went to Hong Kong en route to a film festival and I ate things from street vendors that will forever be a mystery. I watched an amazing light show on their skyscrapers that happens every night. I visited an amusement park hundreds of feet down in a Salt Mine in Romania, and I went clubbing with a bunch of 20 year olds in these amazing wine cellars that are all over Transylvania. In Australia, I ate kangaroo (although my producing partner was hoping to eat a Koala Bear) and I climbed thousands of treacherous, rotting steps to the very top of a 15th century cathedral. It was while climbing those stairs when the idea for my latest script came to me. When you are a writer, you never stop working really.
Signe Olynyk is the President/CEO of Protagonist Pictures, Inc. in Los Angeles, and Twilight Pictures, Inc. in Canada. She has associate produced two feature films, as well as written and produced several documentaries, one hour specials, TV pilots, and a six part series. Her work has been seen on the CBC, Discovery Channel, FOX, the BBC, and she has professional credits on more than 120 productions. To write BELOW ZERO, she arranged to have herself locked in the slaughterhouse freezer where the film was shot. As the driving force behind BELOW ZERO, she brought that same level of dedication to all aspects of the production.
Signe created and founded the Great American PitchFest and the Great Canadian PitchFest as a way to help other writers meet the people they need to know for their careers to move forward. As a direct result, more than 60 writers have had their scripts optioned, been hired for writing assignments, or signed with agents or managers. The PitchFest has also allowed Signe to develop relationships with more than 500 industry executives around the world, and she routinely partners new writers with these companies and agencies for representation and script development. The first Great British PitchFest in London was recently held in partnership with the London Screenwriters Festival.
Signe is currently in pre-production on “Breakdown Lane” a zombie thriller written by her producing partner, Bob Schultz.