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July 12th 2006
Independent Filmmakers Alliance Newsletter
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In this newsletter we talk with Wisegirls screenwriter John Meadows and how to write for the Indie audience.

Writing Those Golden Ideas
by Karina Halle


John Meadows is a man who believes in those golden moments. The 1st act of his Indie film Wisegirls popped into his head while he was walking across the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver, back in the late 90’s and that act has remained relatively intact ever since.

But that’s not to say that it’s been an easy road for Meadows as a screenwriter.

"You have to have the patience and the diligence in screenwriting," says Meadows, "to wait for those golden ideas that make your script."

Like many people in the film business, John Meadows wanted to start out as an actor, but gradually found himself leaning towards the behind-the-scenes side of the industry. Upon graduating from high school, he decided to go the filmmaker’s route and went to university in Toronto. After returning to Vancouver, Meadows knew that he was going to stick to writing, though he thought he would go about it in more of a "James L. Brooks" way.

"I figured out that I would try to break in with a script first, then move on to directing, then move on to producing -- I didn’t want to volunteer to be an AD, miles from the camera. I’d been on a few sets and it wasn’t enjoyable. I could learn so much more about movies by working on my screenwriting career, as oppose to making minimum wage as a pylon guard."

Meadows’ gamble paid off. While working at a restaurant that was frequented by various shady Italians in spiffy suits, Meadow was inspired to write Wisegirls, a female mafia movie starring Mira Sorvino, Mariah Carey and Melora Walters, that received a standing ovation at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

The Wisegirls script, as well as one called Jimmy the Elf, was sent out to agents and optioned in a relatively short amount of time.

"After the option, I was away and running. But at a slow pace, I still had to waiter for a few more years. It drove me crazy."

But, the patience, that is such a virtue in Hollywood, paid off and eventually Wisegirls was made. Because Meadows had received payment for his option agreement, the filmmakers were more invested in his film.

"The big thing with getting an option is that you have to get money for it," says Meadows. "Then people are invested and they are hooked on and have to recoup on their money and money in Hollywood talks. If they really want to make the film, you have to make them make the film. They can’t just say ’I love it’."

Meadows wrote Wisegirls with a budget-friendly slant in mind and believes that in order to break into the business as a new writer, you have to keep the script as Indie-focused as possible.

"I knew that if I couldn’t sell it, I wanted to make it myself. So, to keep the costs low, I had minimal locations and it felt more like a play. I was heavily influenced by Dog Day Afternoon. Very character friendly and really actor friendly. I had lots of voice-over narration, inner monologues, that sort of thing, which directors don’t necessarily appreciate but actors love a nice big monologue."

"For writers breaking in, write something that is A) actor friendly, because that is the top of the totem pole, B) is independent in spirit and C) if it comes down to the end of the day and you want to make it yourself, it should be doable. And do something edgy, something we haven’t seen before. It’s very important to have your own voice."

Meadows also believes that in order to attract the top talent to your project, you have to write your script with the casting in mind.

"Anytime you want a film made, the first thing people ask is ‘who’s in it?’ I pictured very specific actors in the roles and I think Mira Sorvino was number two on my list."

Being true to your inner voice is also very important, especially in Indies where originality is more prevalent than in formulaic studio pictures.

"I’m convinced that the big thing is the originality of voice that will attract great actors. Great parts in great stories bring great actors. Actors bring in the box office more than any writer could ever hope for, so your best friends are actors, and the originality of concept and passion. But the other thing is that you can’t make a film without thinking internationally."

He believes that in order for films to reach a global audience, the theme must be able to translate through subtitles, appealing to the human condition on a worldly scale.

"At the end of the day you have to think micro and macro. Micro in terms of this individual character in my world, what is the truth I can bring into it and beyond that, in the whole world, what is the universal truth? How does this character resonate? For example, The Squid and the Whale was about a very small borough in New York, and I loved that about it, I felt like I could relate. It was so personal. And I could relate to Whale Rider. Who doesn’t dream about greater things or escaping and doing good by their parents and their family?"

Meadows himself shouldn’t have to dream about greater things -- he’s already achieving them. He teaches screenwriting part-time at Vancouver Film School and is developing a script about his sister, a trampoline champion. And although he’s also writing a romantic comedy with Vancouver writer Ken Hegan, he’s looking to start writing edgier material while he waits for those golden ideas to keep coming.

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