A girl wakes up and goes through her normal routine. Everything is as expected, except, between each moment, she makes a note of what she’s done. As she goes about her day, she occasionally stops, appearing clueless, having no explanation of how she arrived in her current place. Why does she need to take these notes? How is she unaware of what has been happening to her?
Celeste Barnaby ’18 asks those questions in the form of a screenplay, which she brought to be read aloud at the second meeting of the Screenwriters’ Lounge. Every two weeks in the Shapiro Creative Writing Center, a group of about 15 students meets to critique a play, hear a guest speaker, or participate in a screenwriting workshop. A new program in close connection with the Wesleyan Film Project, the Lounge provides a communal environment for screenwriters on campus to discuss, share, and critique each other’s work.
The project is spearheaded by Joseph Eusebio ’17, who wanted to establish a regular gathering place for students interested in screenwriting.
“It’s an idea I’ve had for a while,” Eusebio said. “I know there are a lot of people interested in screenwriting and a lot of people who have left Wesleyan and become screenwriters, but there was no real gathering place.”
The Lounge is linked to another student filmmaking group, the Wesleyan Filmmaking Project, which works to provide students on campus with the resources to produce their own films. Although the idea for the Lounge came first, the Filmmaking Project began earlier, through meetings over the summer of an advising committee of about seven students. The Filmmaking Project, currently managed by Jacob Sussman ’17, has received $3,600 worth of camera equipment from the Student Budget Committee.
“[The Wesleyan Film Project will act as] an on-campus hub for film production to connect students with each other and with gear,” Eusebio said.
The project boasts about 150 students, a Facebook page, and a website in progress that will, ideally, include a list of students who are interested in screenwriting and their specific interests. Eusebio referred to Second Stage as the model for the project.
The Screenwriters’ Lounge’s main link to the Filmmaking Project is that it encourages submissions to the Project and edits and reworks in-progress submissions. At the beginning of the academic year, the Film Project had only received about seven submissions, so the advising committee thought a place where screenplays could be produced and critiqued would boost the number of students writing.
In a typical meeting of the Screenwriters’ Lounge, a student whose piece is being produced for the Wesleyan Film Project will bring in their writing, which is read out loud in the style of a traditional table read and then critiqued by other participants at the Lounge. Members offer a large spectrum of critique, and occasionally one will disagree with another and spark a discussion of the efficacy of a certain method or strategy.
Barnaby had emailed her work to the Film Project and was subsequently contacted by Eusebio requesting that she bring the script to the next session at the Lounge. She had the chance for her script, chronicling a stretch of time in the life of a girl who loses chunks of her memory, to be read in a relaxed setting with snacks and casual conversation.
“It’s very cool to be around creative people who care about what I’m writing,” Barnaby said.
Through a conversation with her mother, the girl in Barnaby’s screenplay reveals that her condition is getting worse. While she is dating a boy, the gaps in her memory grow larger, and she is forced to record all of their dates in her notebook, leading to a terrible—and forgotten—fight that threatens their relationship.
For the second half of the session, the Lounge heard from senior creative writing fellow Amanda Distler ’15, who has worked for Martin Scorsese. In addition to discussing her previous jobs and how she handled each one, she took questions from attendees and gave some advice on getting jobs in screenwriting and tackling the process of screenwriting itself.
Eusebio projects that future meetings will have a similar structure, focusing on a specific script but also including more workshop-style sessions to simply encourage students to write, something that can prove difficult to do during the busy school year. Lounge meetings will also include watching, reading, critiquing, and studying past senior theses that Eusebio and Sussman will select, along with exercises using scenes from popular movies and TV shows.
Eusebio said he hopes to conduct a 24-hour screenwriting contest, during which contestants write in the Shapiro Writing Center for 24 hours and then submit the scripts to be read. The script the members like the most will then be put into production, complete with a full team, gear, and its own budget.
Tricia Merlino ’18, who attended the Screenwriters’ Lounge for the first time earlier this week, felt inspired by the session and considered submitting her own work to be critiqued.
“Critiquing someone else’s work gave me ideas for my own work and how to improve it as well as generate new ideas,” Merlino said.