A screenwriter might never get used to hearing the words "no thanks," but Christine Autrand Mitchell said it's just part of the business.
Mitchell has been writing screenplays for 10 years, and not one has been made into a studio movie. There have been some local projects, but nothing big yet.
"If you're a screenwriter, or a writer in general, getting the first project done and then the second and third … it's always a challenge," said Mitchell, who lives in Tigard. "I have friends who are authors — just because they write books doesn't mean it'll get published. You have to have thick skin, grit and perseverance. The longer you're in it, the better your chances. I'm at the 10-year mark, and it's definitely a journey. I have to write; I can't function without it, and you have to stick with it."
Her chances might have improved lately after Mitchell made the cut for the 2020 Writers Lab, which the New York Women in Film & Television association conducts for aspiring women screenwriters over the age of 40.
It's a program supported by the likes of Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey and Nicole Kidman. Well-known women producers, directors and writers serve as mentors in the four-day program, Oct. 1-4. Mitchell was one of 12 women selected for the program, and it's usually an in-person retreat, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to go virtual.
Mitchell's script is called "The Field," a horror story about catatonic men, who, like human scarecrows, assemble in a cornfield. An overachieving small-town reporter risks her life to uncover their world-changing secret.
The 53-year-old Mitchell, who grew up in Tenerife in the Canary Islands (off the northwestern coast of Africa), has been involved in movie projects, including "Streets of Hope" (casting/producing), "One Bird at a Time" (co-producer) and "Lorelei" (script supervisor), but she really wants to see her writing made into a movie, and the Writers Lab might be her ticket.
"It's important to talk to somebody ahead of you in the game who can give you advice," she said. "For women over 40, it's hard to find mentors for us; we mentor other people. I've mentored quite a few folks.
"I've had a couple projects optioned but not put into production. Writers get optioned a lot, but it doesn't necessarily mean they are going to be produced."
Mitchell said she needs help with "The Field" script to shore up the ending and some characters. "Any person writing can be elevated, especially when given notes by people experienced in that realm," she added.
Mitchell has followed the works of many of the producers/directors involved in the Writers Lab. Mentors include writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood ("The Old Guard," "Love & Basketball"), producer Anne Carey ("Diary of a Teenage Girl, "Can You Ever Forgive Me?") and screenwriter Robin Swicord ("The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "Memoirs of a Geisha").
It was welcome news to Mitchell that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will require Best Picture nominees for Academy Awards to meet diversity targets in casting and minorities or women leading projects starting in 2024. The academy has faced criticism for years for its lack of diversity in nominees.
"There's still more work to be done by women. Inclusivity all the way around," she said.
But, for any screenwriter, it's tough to land a deal.
"It costs a lot of money to make a movie," Mitchell said. "You can make movies for under $50,000, but if you're talking a bigger project, you're talking millions of dollars, hundreds of millions. You have to have somebody behind it, it's gotta be something that sparks somebody."
In Mitchell's case, she just wants somebody to consider her work, including "The Field."
"I'm always optimistic. If I weren't optimistic, I wouldn't be doing it anymore," she said.
For more: www.christineautrandmitchell.com.
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