Surviving a Live Reading of Your Screenplay or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Deliver a Good Show

Photo by Kurt Kuenne.

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

On June 14th, 2014 the Black List and the Los Angeles Film Festival hosted a live reading of my script 1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY OR: HOW KUBRICK LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LAND ON THE MOON. Kathryn Hahn, Jared Harris, Thomas Sadoski, Lance Reddick, Clark GreggAaron StatonRich Sommer, Shannon Woodward, Tessa Ferrer, Troy Ruptash and Cooper Thornoton performed to a packed audience of over 700 people.

Photo courtesy of The Black List

Photo courtesy of The Black List

It was amazing, it was thrilling and it gave me a whole new appreciation for live theater, which is f-ing hard. There are no second takes on the stage.

So how the hell did I end up with a fancy live reading of my Black List script at the Los Angeles Theatre in downtown LA?

Fancy theater in downtown LA.

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

Franklin Leonard, the mastermind behind the Black List, contacted me back in May. He read and was a fan of 1969, which had landed on the 2013 Black List, and he wanted it to be the first in a series of Black List Live! events. Powerhouse casting director Deb Aquila and her associate Lisa Zagoria would wrangle the talent. And I would be granted an opportunity to direct the show. Of course, I said “yes!”

Deb and Lisa worked hard to bring together the perfect A-list cast for the read, and I couldn’t have been happier with the results.

1969 Live Read Cast

The night before the official event, we brought the cast together for the first time to rehearse. I couldn’t believe I was hearing actors I’d admired for years bring my words to life. It was intoxicating… and then I sobered:  the dialogue was playing well, but  a film script does not easily translate to the live stage.

All the tricks of the screen trade: montages, cross cutting, action sequences, visual transitions, match cuts… none of them work in a live venue. In a movie, all the fancy scene descriptions are transformed into engaging visuals. If the scene descriptions are only read out loud, they slow down the dialogue and ruin the pacing. I suddenly understood why Jason Reitman only used produced screenplays in his live reads — you already had a visual reference for the scenes. Unproduced screenplays don’t have that luxury, which is why Quentin Tarantino blocked out the live reading of his new script THE HATEFUL EIGHT.

Given the cast’s hectic shooting schedules, we had no time to stage the scenes in 1969. So how was I going to turn my film into a live theater experience? By not sleeping.

I spent the entire night rewriting the script, removing and changing scene descriptions so that it would work in a live venue. Megan Halpern, event director extraordinaire for the Black List, helped me collect archive footage, photos and music to give the reading more of a cinematic feel.

Photo courtesy of The Black List

Photo courtesy of The Black List

On the day of the live read, I was stressed and sleep deprived, hoping the added visuals and editing the script would bring the show together.

By the time Franklin introduced me to the audience,  I could barely see straight. Seriously, I have no clue what I’m saying here:

Photo courtesy of The Black List

Photo courtesy of The Black List

When the show started, I sat in the back of the theater and held my breath. Then, the cast started to read my script…and it worked. The audience was laughing and clapping in all the right spots. Somehow the whole thing came together. We put on a really good show.

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

Photo by Kurt Kuenne

Would I do a staged reading of one of my screenplays again?

Probably. It’s a good way to find out if your dialogue works.

Would I do it in a high-pressure event where my unproduced work is compared to Jason Reitman’s and Quentin Tarantino’s (WTF)?

I would do it all again without hesitation.

Sending out a huge thank you to Franklin Leonard, The Black List and the stellar cast for making the fantastic reading of 1969 possible. I’m thrilled to see what BlackList Live! does next.

 

1969 A Space Odyssey’s Live Read Cast

If you’re in Los Angeles on June 14th, then you’ll want to see the Black List Live Read of 1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY. I’m over the moon (pun intended) that we have such an amazingly talented cast on board.

Kathryn Hahn of Parks And Recreation will play the lead, Jared Harris of Mad Men will play Stanley Kubrick, Thomas Sadoski of The Newsroom will play NASA Public Affairs administrator Julian Scheer, and Shannon Woodward of Raising Hope will play Kubrick’s assistant, Kara Downs.

Clark Gregg (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Avengers, Trust Me) will be in the role of Richard Helms, Director of the CIA. Aaron Staton (Mad Men) and Rich Sommer (Mad Men) will play the roles of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, respectively.

 

1969 Live Read Cast

1969 A Space Odyssey

 

 

 

Black List Live Staged Reading on June 14th in Los Angeles

On June 14th the Black List will host its first live staged reading at the LA Film Festival…and they are reading my script. Extremely honored to be part of this. Exciting cast announcements and ticket info coming soon!

Here is the press release:

A first time event taking place at the Festival this year is The Black List Live! A Staged Reading. The Festival is teaming up with The Black List to program a staged reading of an unproduced Black List script. Join us for this one night only reading of Stephany Folsom’s 1969: A Space Odyssey, or How Kubrick Learned to Stop Worrying and Land on the Moon about a White House public affairs assistant who convinces Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing, just in case something goes wrong during that one small step. The event will take place on June 14 at 7:00 pm at the Los Angeles Theater.

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Go Into The Story Interview

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I was recently interviewed by screenwriter Scott Myers for Go Into The Story (the official blog of the Black List). I had a blast discussing movies, screenwriting and working in Hollywood with Scott.

You can read the full interview on Go Into The Story. While you’re there, be sure to check out the rest of the site. It’s one of the best screenwriting resources out there.

 

Stephany Says Update

Stanley Kubrick Slate Magazine

Things have gotten pretty busy since my script 1969 A SPACE ODYSSEY or: HOW KUBRICK LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LAND ON THE MOON made The Tracking Board’s Hit List and the Black List.  I have had a lot more work on my plate (hooray), but I haven’t been able to write here as much as I’d like. I will do my best to keep posting monthly in 2014, because everyone needs more writing, film. And booze.

Until then, lots of exciting things are happening. If you have nothing better to do, check out the press:

LA Times

Slate

Mother Jones

Thanks for reading this silly blog in its inaugural year. Have a wonderful 2014!

What I’ve Learned From Horror Movies

It’s almost Halloween, so I’m sharing some lessons I’ve learned from a few of my favorite horror films (listed in no particular order):

1.  The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a masterpiece. For the uninitiated (shame on you for not seeing this film), The Shining is about a  family that heads to an isolated hotel for the winter, where an evil presence drives the drunken father to a murderous rampage and his son experiences horrific psychic visions.

So what life lesson that can be found in The Shining? Dead girls in cute party dresses are always terrifying, and if evil spirits throw a party in the hotel where you’re staying, just hang out and have a drink. All work and no play will make you a douche bag that tries to kill your family with an axe.

Jack Nicholson

2.  The Exorcist

William Friedkin’s Exorcist is a terrifying, dramatic exploration of faith. It’s about the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl and the two priests that attempt to save her through an exorcism.

The Exorcist

What life lesson could there be in The Exorcist? You’re always safer on the ground floor. First person thrown out the window by the possessed girl, shame on the demon. Second person thrown out the same window, shame on you.

The Exorcist

3.  An American Werewolf in London

American Werewolf in London is a John Landis classic. Two American college students are backpacking around England and are attacked by a mysterious creature that kills one of them and transforms the other into a werewolf.

John Landis does an excellent job of contrasting the character’s transformation into a werewolf with an upbeat soundtrack that has songs like Blue Moon and Werewolves Of London . An upbeat song played over a gruesome scene is always unnerving.

American Werewolf in London

What’s the life lesson in American Werewolf in London? A good friend and drinking buddy will never let you run across the moors alone at night.

An American Werewolf in London_1

4.  Halloween

Halloween is about an escaped psychotic murderer that stalks Jamie Lee Curtis. What makes this movie so scary? Check out the shot below of the escaped psycho in a flesh colored mask, and then listen to this theme song. Enough said.

Mike Myers

The life lesson in Halloween – never underestimate the studious chick. Never.

Jamie Lee Curtis

5.  Evil Dead 2

Evil Dead 2 is basically a bigger budget version of Sam Raimi’s first Evil Dead movie. Evil Dead 1 andare about a group of friends trapped in a cabin in the woods by evil demons. The Evil Dead/Army of Darkness films are Sam Raimi’s bizarre tributes to the Three Stooges, Looney Tunes and campy horror. They are pure fun.

So what’s the life lesson in Evil Dead 2? Never be afraid to repeat yourself, and Bruce Campbell makes everything better.

Bruce Campbell

Happy Halloween! Now go watch some horror movies.