Winning Writer 2016
Bear Clifton - (Azuza, CA) is our Write of Passage Winning Writer for 2016. That means he wrote the best 12-page screenplay in one week (168 hours) with an advisor called a Development Executive (DE). Katarzyna Kochany (Somewhere in Canada) is the winning DE. Both are interviewed below.
Prizes include $1,000 cash ($750 to the writer, $250 to the DE), introductions to Hollywood Pros, including Brian Bird ("Not Easily Broken" and “When Calls The Heart”).
Any WP script may be produced for the 168 Film Festival's Write of Passage Spotlight. Writers and mentors (DE's) receive screen credit if their film is made. To inquire about the license for a WP Script, write us at email@example.com.
Some quotes from this interview:
“I’ve been a pastor the last 25 years, up until this summer when I decided to do something wild and crazy.” -- Bear Clifton
“God has put inside each of us a yearning to know the love and acceptance of our dads, which ultimately is meant to draw us to himself.” -- Bear Clifton
"Ultimately, I write best by writing. You don’t wait for the juices to flow. You make them flow."
-- Bear Clifton
“It has been interesting to watch the US election campaign with so many Americans threatening to move to Canada if their candidate isn’t elected. Around the same time, many Canadian creators have been threatening to move to the US. There is a lot of fear that recent regulatory changes will make it next to impossible for Canadian writers, directors and actors to find steady work in Canada. So while Americans are applying for Canadian work visas, Canadians are applying for US work visas. ”
-- D.E. Katarzyna Kochany (Canadian)
Writer Bear Clifton is first up (BC) and then D.E. Katarzyna Kochany (KK). The interviewer is John David Ware (JDW). We asked some probing questions and got probing answers.
JDW: Tell us about yourself. What do you do for work?
BC: I’ve been a pastor the last 25 years, up until this summer when I decided to do something wild and crazy. This past July, my wife and I sold our house, I stepped down from the church in Connecticut which I have led for the last 20 years and we moved to LA, without jobs, and without a forwarding address so that we could be near our daughter and only child Hannah. And so that I could take most of the next year to write full time. I’ve preached walking by faith my whole life. God finally decided to call me out on it.
JDW: That is crazy. How’s it going so far?
BC: We’re three months into our little adventure. I’m about to finish up a book I’ve been working on like forever.
JDW: How did you learn about WP &168?
BC: Through a Bible study of Christian artists called Tinseltown that meets at both Fox and CBS studios.
JDW: Yes, we like Tinseltown. The founder/leader, Gary Swanson is on our board. That study started in my apartment with Gary, Franklin B. Dog (my dearly deceased pitt bull and me!). What was your inspiration for this year’s best screenplay, “Turbo Jam Boosters?”
BC: I grew up in a pretty big family. I was the oldest of 4 kids, and we were always messing around with each other. Scientific experimentation, psychological warfare, you know all the normal stuff.
JDW: How did this year’s theme hit you?
BC: I loved it. You’re tapping into one of the deepest parts of our humanity. God has put inside each of us a yearning to know the love and acceptance of our dads, which ultimately is meant to draw us to himself. The entire show “Lost” was built around father-wounds. And movies like “Field of Dreams” – I’ve seen that like a thousand times by now, and still to this day when Kevin Costner calls out to his father at the end, “Dad, wanna have a catch?” I become a blubbering mess.
JDW: Hope you don’t mind, I’m taking this off my bucket list “Watch Field of Dreams with Bear.” Here’s the theme and verse assigned to all writers this year:
2016 Theme and Verse: “The Love of the Father” Few are blessed with a childhood that resembles a Norman Rockwell painting, yet our view of Almighty God is indelibly colored by our experiences with dear old dad. WP VERSE: Proverbs 3:12 For whom the LORD loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights. (NKJV)
JDW: How do you see the verse in your story?
BC: Well, that’s the lesson that 12-year old Josh needs to learn. That the reason Dad tightens the screws on him is because he loves him.
JDW: This story is a lot of fun. Where did it come from?
BC: My original story was actually going to be a serious drama about Josh’s father who messes up with money and gets into a real crisis. The interaction with his son Josh was going to be a flash-forward at the end of the story. But, suddenly I had this scene come into mind of Josh playing “Star Trek” in a tree house with his buds. And the next thing you know, the whole thing just sort of played out in my brain. I got back from the run and wrote it out in a few hours. Just like that, the project went from serious drama to “The Wonder Years.” I’m glad though, because I’ve been working on some projects with some pretty serious subject matter, and so doing this ended up being very cathartic.
JDW: How are you planning to shape the story going forward? Any plans to make the film?
BC: I’d love to see more happen with it. I’m open to that.
JDW: Tell us about your family and where you live. How has your environment and family shaped your writing? What obstacles have you had to overcome in life? How have they helped your writing?
BC: Now that’s a probing question! I grew up in the Midwest. My grandmother was a poet, and my mom loved to write, so I guess it makes sense that I started making up stories very early on. In fifth grade, a mouse got caught in our dryer – I wrote a 20 page story about it. In the seventh grade, we got buried in a 21” Chicago snowstorm. I wrote a 150 page screenplay about a 40-foot snowstorm that buries a small town and the madness which follows. In the seventh grade. We’re talking serious brain damage here. Incidentally, I revisited that same story last year and wrote a new screenplay which was a top-ten semi-finalist in a national screenwriting contest. I think it’s got legs. Three months into my first pastorate, an arsonist paid a visit to our little country church in rural Minnesota, and he came within a whisker of burning it down. God used that terrible event to bring a dying church back to life, but even more miraculously, to save a young woman who had been on the fire department who had been sexually abused as a child. I wrote out a 300 page novel telling that story which I’m developing.
JDW: Tell us about your pursuit of the arts?
BC: My motto, displayed across the banner of my website (shameless plug: it’s blclifton.com) is Faith without art is dead. Art is one of the most powerful bridges I know to link faith in Jesus to culture. I experienced this first-hand in college. After a few years of backsliding in high school, I was watching the original 1959 “Ben-Hur” one day in the student lounge. Simply watching that movie so stirred my heart, that I gave my life back to Jesus that very night and never looked back. (Incidentally, later in seminary while studying first-century Christianity, I wrote a 400 page novel and a 150 page screenplay as a sequel to “Ben-Hur”). What’s interesting about that (old) version of “Ben-Hur” is that its spiritual power lies in its subtlety. When Jesus told a parable, he just allowed his words, his art, to hang in the air. And said, “He who has ears, let him ear.” There’s something powerful in that.
JDW: How did you Mentor/Development Executive, help shape your story?
BC: Katarzyna was absolutely awesome to work with. Rewriting is the name of the game of writing, which means collaboration is a must. You need an outside pair of eyes looking in on your work if you want to write your very best. In addition to having an eagle eye for the basics – typos, formatting, language – Kat was great in helping intuit where I wanted to go with the story, and helping it stay on the rails. Not easy when you’ve only got 12 pages. For example, in the first draft, the story began to veer into a lesson about lying, and I even had a different title to match that theme (a title I happened to really love.) But it just was too much, and Kat helped me to trim the fat. It was a real joy working with her.
JDW: Tell us about your writing process.
BC: Running, racquetball and long walks are when I work on story outlines or stretches of dialogue. I’ve got Scrivener and Final Draft on my computer, but honestly, I seldom use the organizing tools they provide. Loose sheets of paper jammed in a file folder become my whiteboard. Ultimately, I write best by writing. You don’t wait for the juices to flow. You make them flow. I’ve got to sit down in that chair, fasten the seat belt and stay there, usually in two to three hour blocks at a time. I’m not like Grisham who wrote his first novels stitching together 30-minute writing blocks while commuting on the train. My first 30 minutes I’m usually picking out navel lint. But as long as I sit there, and stare at that screen, hands at the ready, the magic starts to happen.
JDW: What are your plans for the future?
BC: I don’t know what God has in store for me in this next chapter of my life and ministry, but I hope – knock on wood – that I can have time to write out the stories burning inside of me. And to come alongside of other Christian artists to encourage them to stay true to Jesus as they use their gifts.
Interview with Winning Development Executive Katarzyna Kochany
JDW: Where are you from and what do you do?
KK: I’m a filmmaker based in the Greater Toronto Area. In addition to filmmaking, I also have a background in training and instructional design, which certainly comes in handy on set. A call sheet is a lot like a lesson plan, and directing is a lot like delivering training to adults. To get the best out of people, you have to create an environment of mutual respect. Teaching also gave me the discipline of time management. In a corporate classroom, there is no overtime - you have to get your day, you have to make your numbers, and you are accountable for measurable results. I loved that challenge as a trainer and I love it as a director.
JDW: You are frequent participant in WOP and 168. What have you learned? Do you still find it useful?
KK: I first became involved as a writer in WOP, and made it to the semi-finals. That script didn’t win but it went on to have a live reading at a festival in Canada that isn’t shy about showcasing work that is edgy and provocative – the exact opposite of what I had written. One of the actors came up to me after the reading and confessed that he hadn’t had time to read the script at home. Reading it for the event, he had to stop because he was holding back tears. The story had caught him off-guard. It mirrored his relationship with his own father, and everything he had wanted to say to his own dad. I didn’t think it was my best work, so it was interesting to see how deeply it moved someone despite its imperfections.
Since then I have served as a programmer for 168 Film Festival, and this is my second year as a Development Executive. I enjoy the time-lock of this competition. It is immensely satisfying to shepherd these stories from pitch to completed screenplay in 168 hours.
Because of the nature of this competition, I find the stories often lift my spirits, make me reflect, or challenge me to think about things differently.
JDW: Tell us about your writing philosophy and process.
KK: My writing process usually involves peanut butter or tuna - but not together.
Until you asked me this question, I never really thought about my writing philosophy. I started writing so I would have something to direct that would be family friendly and have a glimmer of hope. I do enjoy collaborating on stories. This is what I especially enjoy about the world of television – nothing is precious, rewrites are many, and everyone is racing together towards that finish line.
JDW: What do you see as some differences between telling stories in the Canada vs. in the USA?
KK: Canada has a much smaller population than the US. There are more people living in California than the entire country of Canada. We often question our identity. What is a Canadian story? What does it mean to be Canadian? What is the donut of the month at Tim Horton’s?
JDW: It’s always the same for me, a cruller.
KK: It has been interesting to watch the US election campaign with so many Americans threatening to move to Canada if their candidate isn’t elected. Around the same time, many Canadian creators have been threatening to move to the US. There is a lot of fear that recent regulatory changes will make it next to impossible for Canadian writers, directors and actors to find steady work in Canada. So while Americans are applying for Canadian work visas, Canadians are applying for US work visas. My own experience has been that I’ve received far more recognition in the US than in Canada. It’s funny how the grass is greener on the other side.
It’s been said that the US is a melting pot, whereas Canada is more like a salad. There is some truth to that. Recently Toronto was named the most diverse city in the world. How can that not affect the stories that we tell?
JDW: How is the tolerance for things of Christ in the media?
KK: Generally speaking, the US tends to be more conservative than Canada. As an example, there was a popular teen TV show filmed in Canada that would sometimes make two versions of an episode – one for the Canadian market and one for the US market. Story-wise, the Canadian version would go places the US version wouldn’t.
At the same time, there are a number of faith-based scripted TV shows that still get aired in Canada, even years after they’ve completed filming.
Nobody watches TV to get depressed but people want authenticity. Life’s ups and downs do not always have a happy ending. Giving advice like, “just have faith” or “you just need to pray more” or “if you really believed you wouldn’t feel discouraged” can sound dismissive and arrogant. When you’re hurting, you’re hurting. When you feel like God has betrayed you, then that’s how you feel – and the Bible is full of stories like that. It’s a very human emotion. You can’t bully someone into genuinely embracing faith any more than you can bully them into truly abandoning faith. What you can do is tell an honest story.
What I appreciate about 168 Film and Write Of Passage is that the criteria are clearly spelled out and the project must be grounded in the verse, yet there is no requirement to make a religious film. Some of the most poignant projects I’ve seen come out of this competition were not religious. They were just honest stories.
JDW: Wow, I like the way you said that. It’s going on my feelgood page.
JDW: What have you learned? What would you tell young writers about your experiences?
KK: The best advice I’ve gotten on writing is this, “Allow yourself to write badly. A bad script can be fixed, an unwritten script cannot.”
As DE for Write Of Passage, time and again I see that the writers who turn in the best scripts are the writers who put it the time. Their first draft or their outline may not be working but they keep rewriting until it clicks.
JDW: What are your plans for the future?
KK: I’m always looking for people to collaborate, either locally or remotely.
I have a couple of comedy projects in post-production. Coming from a don’t-talk-about-your-feelings Eastern European culture, I’m intrigued by emotion-driven stories on opposite ends of the spectrum - from gritty understated westerns like Longmire, to Hallmark TV shows and movies. Making a Christmas TV movie is still on my bucket list. I recently directed an ACTRA co-op short that is a step in that direction, and I look forward to more opportunities to work with great writers and actors.