Movie Dorks Anonymous

 

In the back room of Harpo’s on a Wednesday night, the KC Screenwriters get down to business: golf, the musical potential of nuns on drugs, and Frankenstein.

OK, so that’s not the real business of the evening. But this stuff is important to the group, which, according to longtime member John Thonen, has only recently adjusted to formalities. In the old days, Thonen explains, “If somebody had a script, that was our purpose in life. If nobody did, we sat and talked about movies.”

There’s still plenty of movie talk — skewering Legally Blond 2 is essential, if not on the actual agenda — but the screenwriters’ group now focuses on critiquing scripts and sharing tips for pitching them to studio execs. The group is also trying to give a boost to aspiring Soderberghs through its Short Screenplay Competition, now in its second year.

KC Screenwriters grew out of a Johnson County Community College workshop about twelve years ago, when the original members got the idea to continue meeting and talking film even after their class ended. The idea is to read scripts and provide feedback, but members have other projects, too. In fact, the Frankenstein most often discussed at Harpo’s is not the monster of Boris Karloff fame but one the screenwriters created themselves — a composite script, written by the entire group. Production will begin soon.

The gathering is also a place for novices to seek advice about filmmaking. For example, at one recent meeting Justin Gardner instructed the other members to read scripts of successful movies, even if they’re awful.

“The more scripts you read — even if the story sucks 80 percent of the time — the better your scripts will be in terms of readability,” he said.

Another member dispensed industry advice, warning fellow KC screenwriters to keep their pitches simple: “You’ve got to have it down to one line — ‘Romeo and Juliet in space’ or whatever.”

The screenplay competition is another way to help promising writers get funding to move from scribbling to actual production — without the support of a big, green marketing beast. Three finalists will have their scripts read by actors in front of an audience, whose members will then vote for their favorite. The Independent Filmmakers Coalition will award that writer prize money, which goes toward production of the film. Last year, the winner scored $250.

Thonen and Gardner were both finalists in last year’s competition. Thonen says that watching an audience’s reaction to his script taught him a lot.

“You have to keep the audience in mind,” he says. “The most enjoyable experience for them may be the one that makes them laugh, not the one that makes them question the deep, dark parts of their mind.”

Thus, film lovers and filmmakers connect with one another, finding out whether the films they make are equal to the films they take. Sounds like a question worth bringing up some Wednesday night at Harpo’s.