Screenplay writing was by far the most popular subject
among the participants. Judging from interviews and questions posed
by audience members, there was a wide range of experience among
individuals, from those who had had their work purchased, to those
who were working on their first scripts (the latter far outnumbering
the former). The first address of the conference, the “Elements
of Screenwriting” held Friday night by Janna Gelfand (the Port Townsend
Film Company’s Development Executive), provided a few useful hints
on how not to look like an amateur when submitting a screenplay.
Ms. Gelfand’s talk included several off-the-cuff remarks regarding
the sophistication of current movies versus those of yesterday,
such as “Have you seen an old movie lately. ” Yes, Ms. Gelfand,
we have, and we can even recommend a few that might change your
The screenwriting panel of Christine Roum, Steve Conrad,
and Tom Wright was moderated by Tom Rickman, who was nominated for
an Academy Award for Coal Miner‘s Daughter. Although the
writers were articulate, they and the audience were not served well
by Rickman. Rather than directing or opening up discussion, his
weak handling of questions from the audience left the discussion
open to digression and a tendency to mire in the details of certain
writer’s experiences. This was unfortunate, since so many of the
participants expressed an interest in this area.
The prospect of electronic publishing, video on demand,
and interactive media, among others, should have made the New Technologies/
Special Effects segment the most interesting of the conference.
Instead, Mitchell Cannold (president of Sony New Technologies) and
Dori Berinstein (of Rider Films) looked as if they wished they were
anywhere else that weekend. It was a disappointing showing for an
exciting and relevant topic.
The most successful panel of the weekend consisted of
agents Jane Sindell of CAA (Creative Artists Agency) and Mary Alice
Kier and Anna Cottle of Cine/Lit Representation of Edmonds. Their
bright, lively discussion of how they work, what they look for in
screenplays, and suggestions for submitting work was useful and
entertaining. Once again, the panel could have been much more successful
with a skilled moderator to guide the discussion and direct questions
from the audience.
On the final day of the conference, independent filmmaker
and Port Townsend resident James Broughton, who is almost eighty
and has never worked in Hollywood, spoke about his career and screened
his 1968 film, which was given a standing ovation. His refreshing
observations, such as “People always call something ‘surrealist’
when they don’t know what else to call it,” and “I love clarity,
I eschew blur,” ended the conference on an upbeat note.
A $250 admission price for a threeday event is not cheap,
especially when it is aimed at individuals in the arts who are not
known for their deep pockets. For this amount of money—or
any amount of money—participants deserved to see polished
moderation and obtain considerably more substantial information
than was ‘offered.’ The First Annual Port Townsend Feature Film
Conference was a disappointment- an opportunity that fell short.
Most of the information imparted over the weekend could be found.
by reading any number of screenwriting or filmmaking books which
crowd the shelves at libraries and bookstores. Aside from rubbing
elbows with an agent or producer, it had little worth to those with
a modicum of film knowledge.
The noblesse oblige exhibited by some of the speakers,
both in private exchanges, and onstage, was irritating, but ulitmately
not surprising. After all, it is not the prerogative of Hollywood
to, inform, but to entertain. Unfortunately, the First Annual Port
Townsend Feature Film Conference did neither very well. MM