By Brianna Girdler & Michaela Montaner
About this time of year, women writers from across Canada are getting wind of From Our Dark Side, a national English language contest coordinated by WIFTV, and deciding whether or not to submit (or resubmit!) their three-to-five page genre film outline to the competition. In 2015, Elisabeth de Mariaffi was one such person, contemplating and polishing her submission.
Fast forward to 2016, and you’ll probably agree it’s a good thing she did.
From Our Dark Side winners – there are five – join an intensive incubator program designed to support women writers in/approaching the genre market and get their idea for a feature length project to the next stage. Winners also attend workshops at the Vancouver International Women in Film Festival (hosted by WIFTV) and receive a transportation subsidy to the Frontières Genre Co-Production Market in Montreal. In both instances, they are set up with potential producers and buyers to receive feedback on their projects.
For Elisabeth, one of five winners from the 2016 competition, the incubator experience was just the beginning. Since winning, her From Our Dark Side submission, Fly Girls, has been optioned, and what was just a three-to-five page outline this time last year, today, is on its way to a screen near you.
As we eagerly anticipate WIFTV member and supporter submissions and resubmissions, our own Brianna Girdler caught up with Elisabeth to hear more about how things have been going since she won “FODS 2016”, and with Rupert Harvey, a From Our Dark Side mentor, and the producer who went on to option Elisabeth’s script.
Elisabeth on life since winning FODS 2016
How do you feel about having your script optioned?
I’m thrilled. I’m really new to script writing and this has been a real vote of confidence. The idea itself was something I’d been kicking around in the back of my head for a long time, but I guess I felt unsure about jumping into a genre project — and especially one that feels, at least to me as a literary novelist, *really* genre, a feminist vampire movie that pits a bunch of flight attendant trainees against the vamps at an isolated airport. So obviously it feels great to get this early support for the idea and for me as a writer.
How will the option impact the project and your career?
It moves the project way up on my priority list — it’s now on my personal work schedule for early 2017 and I do find that it’s really helped me open up my thinking about other projects I might like to dream up or take on. I’m more likely to give myself permission to spend time with ideas that seem outlandish and I also find that now, when I think of a story idea, I really think about what might be the best way to tell it: is it short story, is it a novel, is it a film? That’s exciting and fun.
How did the option come about?
Part of the FODS mentorship win was a trip out to Vancouver for VIWIFF — while there, I was lucky enough to meet and talk to a lot of industry insiders, working in all facets of movie making and promotions. I live about as far away from Vancouver as you possibly can, while staying within Canada: St. John’s, Newfoundland. So I figured, if I was out there, I’d make the most of it and try and meet up with as many people as I could. That kind of thinking resulted in some great conversations, and one of those conversations was with the producer who has since optioned Fly Girls.
Now that it’s optioned, what’s next for Fly Girls?
Now comes the hard part: I write the screenplay. I’m just trying to clue up a few other pre-existing projects, and will be moving on to the Fly Girls script early in the new year.
What’s your next project? Will you continue to work in genre?
Well, currently I’m juggling two projects. One of those is the screen adaptation of my novel, The Devil You Know, which is a thriller about a rookie news reporter investigating the cold case murder of her childhood best friend. The other is a brand-new novel — so brand new, it hasn’t been announced, so I can’t tell you too much about it, but I can say it’s a kind of ghost story, set in 1950s upstate New York. So I guess both of those lean to genre, anyway, but absolutely, I wouldn’t rule out working in genre in future, in any medium.
You primarily write fiction. How did you find the screenwriting experience?
It’s a fascinating change. My way of approaching fiction, in first draft, is really gestural: it’s largely about voice and tone and atmosphere. I find that my approach to screenwriting has been way more disciplined and organized: outline! beat sheet! treatment! I’ve never written an outline for a novel. I wonder, though, if I will now that I see how it’s done?
Rupert Harvey, on judging, then optioning Elisabeth’s submission
Rupert Harvey is a producer and writer, best known for Pump Up the Volume, A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, The Blob, and Critters. He has been working with WIFTV since 2014 as a From Our Dark Side mentor. In 2016, Rupert also participated in the competition jury that ultimately recognized Elisabeth’s submission as one of the top 5 pieces. Here’s what he had to share with Brianna about Elisabeth’s work and his impressions of whether we are approaching gender parity in the industry, genre and otherwise.
How were you first introduced to Fly Girls?
Through Women in Film and Television Vancouver. It was one of the finalists last year and it was one of the ones I particularly liked and thought it had the most potential out of everything I read. I was on the panel and it jumped out at me.
What interested you about it?
The fact that it’s a combination of several different elements sitting on top of a fairly standard, classic format. First on the list is that it was funny, as well as being scary – well, potentially funny. That came through in the one-pager that I initially read. And it was a female protagonist. It was about a group of women under attack and triumphing over evil. It was within an environment that represents so much of the old world attitude towards women. It was a good opportunity to juxtapose some contemporary sensibilities with the tropes of a group of flight attendants. It’s not contemporary, so it offsets that classic world of flight attendants coming from the age of Playboy Magazine and TWA and Pan American Airlines. The hero is a very contemporary character and is set against this slightly distant world of classic anti-feminism – if that’s not too strong a word.
What are your plans for moving forward with the project?
Elisabeth is going to write the first draft of the script. We have a rough date for her to start working on the screenplay in February/March. I would hope we’ll have a draft by the summer, with which we can start developing some of the commercial attributes of the production.
To my way of thinking, this is an old-school enterprise with this one. It’s a theatrical potentially in both the US and Canada, primarily. And I’ll be looking to cast it from both countries. This is not a mini budget, compared to the big stuff, which is the only stuff that manages to get through the filter these days with studios. There’s a fairly demanding number of people in the cast and it’s a location shoot because it requires a small airport or an airfield, which are not generally around Vancouver. We don’t know exactly where we’ll go to shoot it.
Have you noticed any changes over the past few years in terms of women working in professional capacities in filmmaking?
Only in the amount of talk about it. Only in the amount of attention being paid to it. Not practically on the ground to any degree that indicates a great deal has changed. I’m assuming, I’m hoping, that the amount of discussion and conversation and attention being paid to the issue is going to create that change, but it’s slow in coming.
Every time I crew-up, I’m looking for as many women as I can, and it’s still difficult. Part of it, I think, is that the entry level positions are still dominated by men, so there isn’t the opportunity for progression.
The development side of the industry has undergone a bit of a sea change. The last show I worked on was entirely with women executives and you are often pitching to women. But in terms of production, there has not been a lot of change on set.
Do you want to submit to From Our Dark Side? Click here to review the submission guidelines and learn about what’s in it for you.
Can we support your professional development as a woman in the screen-based media industry? Or maybe you can help build WIFTV, as a volunteer or donor, and help us get the industry to gender parity? The first step is membership – learn more here.