Sarah Chaney Shares Her Experiences With Cinema Entertainment Immersion

Films based upon the original screenplays of English students Sarah Chaney and Rusty Fox were recently featured in this past spring’s Cinema Entertainment Immersion (CEI) showcase, which features short films written, starring, produced, and directed by Ball State students spanning several departments. To read more about CEI, be sure to see English professor Dr. Matt Mullins’s post, here, about his involvement with the project as producer and judge. Continue below to read about Sarah’s experience in Advanced Screenwriting (ENG 410) and how her original script was accepted to be made into a film featured in the CEI showcase. Additionally, be sure to check back next week to read about Rusty Fox and his experience with CEI.

To see each of the five films featured in the 2012 CEI showcase including Sarah’s film entitled, Obsessions, follow the link provided: http://www.youtube.com/user/tcom334?feature=results_main

*Photo provided by Sarah Chaney

Toward the end of my advanced screenwriting class (ENG 410) in Fall 2011, our class was assigned to write a scene or short screenplay describing a situation without using dialogue. Before I had even received the handout, I scribbled in my notebook, “OCD.” Four months later, I was sitting behind a desk with the director, producer and sound producer for that script, watching Ball State University theatre students audition for the roles of my two main characters. Over the span of a few hours, several actors and actresses acted out a page from the script, following the director’s cues on how to read the lines. As the creator of the story, I always imagined the characters in my head one way. I hadn’t realized how much the theatre students’ interpretation of the character can change the entire mood, or even the theme, of a script.

At the beginning of the semester, my professor, Dr. Mullins, clearly laid out the expectations for the semester: produce three scripts to be peer-critiqued and five writing exercises that could be just a scene or a full script around ten pages long. He also handed out guidelines for Ball State’s Cinematic Entertainment Immersion (CEI) program that required storylines that can be produced without a budget, with limited green-screen capabilities, and with college-aged actors. Seeing this as an opportunity to do something more with my school assignments than just turning it in for a grade and tossing it out, I wanted as many chances as possible to get into the CEI program. Over the semester, I wrote seven screenplays that met the CEI parameters and one script that met all the requirements except one: my protagonist was fourteen years old.
For my final portfolio, I heavily revised all eight scripts, including the one with the young protagonist struggling with peer pressure about her body image. Within the first few weeks of spring semester, I had two scripts selected to be turned into short films: “Obsessions” and “Body Image” (later to be renamed “Parabola”).
Working with two production teams for two different scripts at different stages of production was an eye-opening experience into the process of how a story moves from paper to film. With the “Obsessions” script, I was confident about what I wanted and what I had already written, so I was able to work more efficiently with the director and producer to make necessary edits. As a team, we brainstormed ideas, and I wrote them into the script before showing the group what I had produced. I wrote many scenes that didn’t make it into the final script, but they all acted as building blocks to the script we wanted. Over the course of about two weeks, we had worked through seven drafts before settling on the final script.

For my second script, “Body Image,” I hadn’t had high hopes for its potential in the CEI and rushed in my final revision in order to put more emphasis on the other screenplays I thought had a better chance. Because of this, there was obvious work that needed to be done with a script that was originally written for a fourteen year old protagonist struggling with body image issues, which are different issues than those faced by a college student. The production team for this script had already met with each other to discuss the script before we all met as a group, and, at my first meeting, they informed me of all the changes they had already made. At our second meeting a few days later, I was presented with a new script about two friends who became very different people over time. Not a single word of the script remained the same, not even the name of the characters. The director and producer rationalized this change by saying it was still based off my script. I agreed to work with what they had given me despite the heavy editing because I liked the idea of a story in which a person has to decide when to let go of a life-long friend.

Unfortunately, while the director and producer already knew what they wanted from the “Body Image” script, they had trouble conveying it to me so that I could write it into the script. Swamped under the workload of 24 credit hours at the time and also working with the “Obsessions” script, I gave permission to the production team to revise the script on their own. From that point, I didn’t see my script again until it was finished.
While I didn’t participate much with the “Body Image” script, I had many opportunities with the “Obsessions” script to experience what it is like throughout the whole process, from selecting actors and actresses to actually filming on set. Writing screenplays isn’t normally a social task for me, so it was fun to see a group of people working together to bring it into production.

College, especially the English department, is heavily based upon individual work and reward. I once told a professor that I didn’t think group projects were important for me because I planned on becoming a writer.  As he tried not to smile, he replied, “What about the agents, editors and everyone else that handles your book throughout the process?”  The CEI program is the best example of developing my teamwork skill, and even my writing, that I’ve had in my four years at Ball State University.

In creative writing classes, I was taught to write whatever I wanted, but the CEI program taught me that writing also requires flexibility. Not everything I wanted made it into the final product, but the suggestions I received from the team also helped make the final product even better. It was like an intense writing workshop, except the group members aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t think this scene is right for this script.”

For me personally, this experience has given me invaluable insight into what to expect in the future, and it has also given me the ability to be more willing to let people poke and prod the story in the direction it needs to go. I am really pleased that Ball State University offers a wonderful program that provides an opportunity for students to get a taste of the industry they have been working toward in their college career and to produce something for an audience of more than just one.

To see each of the CEI productions visit http://www.youtube.com/user/tcom334?feature=results_main.

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