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Wine, Creatives and Indie Films – “Yes, Please” to the Napa Film Festival

If you missed the Napa Film Fest, Cheryl Laughlin shares what films screenwriters and film lovers should be on the lookout for. Plus, see why you should meet your film idols.

If you missed the Napa Film Fest, what films should screenwriters and film lovers be on the lookout for? Plus, see why you should meet your film idols.

Cheryl Laughlin reads for the Nashville Film Fest, grass-roots hustles for 20K Films documentaries... and it's possible she ran through the house with her Top 10% in the Nicholl Fellowship announcement like Anne Hathaway with her Oscar (cuz she's geeky like that.) You can follow her on Twitter: @cheryllaughlin

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Living in Northern California has its perks. No weather called a “snownado” or temps noted as “-21 with the wind-chill.” But this year, those so-called perks were challenged by the widespread fires that devastated Napa and Sonoma, just weeks before this year’s Napa Film Festival in mid November.

But somehow, Mother Nature gave the area a reprieve, and film buffs flowed into the area to celebrate indie movies and the tenacity of this region. I’ve never been to Cannes (hello, anyone need a go-fer?), but watching a film from inside a rustic winery surrounded by vineyard or at the classic Uptown Theatre is a charming, extraordinary treat.

Check out interview with Director Peter Livolsi from inside one of those kick-ass wineries for his punk-coming-of-age film The House of Tomorrow.

So, if you missed this year’s Napa Film Fest, what films should writers and film lovers be on the lookout for in the new year? Plus…

See why you should meet your idols (here’s looking at you, Lea Thompson.)

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Learn what female chefs and female directors have in common.

And find out if actors appreciate the complex characters we hope to mesmerize them with as screenwriters.

The Year of Spectacular Men

The Year of Spectacular Men

Photo Courtesy of Noel Canifax Photography

This mother-daughter-daughter film – about a 20-something woman who struggles with the boundaries of new relationships while navigating post-college adulthood – has its own link to bizarre weather. The 19-day shoot included four days in Tahoe complete with filming in a blizzard.

Madelyn Deutch Renaissance woman's The Year of Spectacular Men. She wrote, produced and composed music for the film, with her mother Lea Thompson in mind to direct and act.

Madelyn’s sister, Zoey Deutch, adds to the family acting, with father, Howard Deutch, producing as well. As Lea points out, “We were all in the trenches together.” But even with all that talent, this film with a true female millennial perspective took four years from inception to rollout at film fests like Napa. But still she persisted – from Madelyn’s college graduation panic of, “What do I do now?” to falling in love and stopping writing, to falling out of love and finally creating this film.

Script EXTRA: Write What You Know for Screenwriting Success

The rally call to check out this new-dating-style film, in Lea’s words: “This is a personal story. People don’t want to tell the story of young women unless 50-year-old men do it. It’s important for young women to be represented by themselves.”

Or as Madelyn reminds us creatives, “Don’t let them tell you your writing is garbage.” Well said.

Sorry, gotta break the fourth wall for a sec. Even with the torrential downpour on opening night, Lea took time to speak with me last before going inside. And that was the moment my heart went squee. I don’t care what anyone says, you should meet your idols… they might delight and renew your faith in wanting to be a screenwriter. Just saying.

A Fine Line Documentary – More Female Strong Films

Image courtesy of

A Fine Line documentary film - Women Chefs

Picking films at festivals can be pure serendipity. That’s how I landed on A Fine Line by Joanna James, a documentary on the struggles of female chefs to get to the top. A great example of the documentaries the Napa Film Fest gives voice to.

The opening to Joanna’s film trailer smashed my brain cells: “It is easier for a woman to become a CEO than Head Chef.” What?! No way. Apparently, yes way.

Joanna shared the impetus behind the film – her own mother, Valerie James. “I wanted to create a film to work with my mom and share a very personal story. She was up against so many odds to open her own restaurants, and we never knew that growing up. It wasn't until today, as a working mother, that I realized what she faced, and unfortunately how much of these same obstacles have carried forward to today.”

Strangely, the number of top female chefs at 6% almost matches the 7% of females directing studio films. (Check out minute 8:50 in this viral TED talk by Naomi McDougall Jones on women in Hollywood… heck, check out the whole video.)

Script EXTRA: 25 Tips on How to Change the Film Industry

At the beginning of A Fine Line, renowned chef Dominique Crenn invites you into the world of food saying, “I fell in love with the symphony… the dance.” And as you follow along, you discover her path to a coveted two Michelin stars was anything but straight to the top.

This film is empowering for foodies and filmmakers. Its nuanced editing style provides inspiring perspectives from world-renowned chefs on gender inequality in the restaurant industry, intercut with an up-close look at the filmmaker's mother, a small-town restaurateur with a larger-than-life personality.

This documentary is for that inner kid in all of us, who roots for creatives to win no matter what the world has to throw at them. This film is serendipity at its best and worth tracking down outside the festival circuit.

Rising Star Showcase – It Is This Picturesque

Image courtesy of Napa Film Festival

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Besides all the films, the Napa Film Fest brings it with the panels. Seriously, the settings are as stunning as this picture suggests.

This Rising Star Showcase at the Materra Cunat Family Vineyards offered an intimate discussion for rising stars: Alex Wolff (Jumanji, The House of Tomorrow), Odeya Rush (Lady Bird, Goosebumps), Austin Stowell (Battle of the Sexes, Bridge of Spies), Gregg Sulkin (Runaways, Faking It), Analeigh Tipton (Warm Bodies and Crazy, Stupid, Love) and Ana de Armas (Blade Runner 2049, War Dogs).

Plus, extra love Analeigh Tipton for turning the focus around on a red carpet and taking photos of the people taking photos. It was meta at its most awesome and fun.

I had a moment beforehand to ask what actors look for in scripts. These actors confirmed what we screenwriters whisper to ourselves to keep going – actors really do want to read and play complex characters that go beyond the norm.

Analeigh Tipton: “I look for scripts about a simple person told in a complex way. They can be totally vapid but they need to be complex.” She just wrapped indie film Summer Night in Georgia in keeping with playing with those character dynamics in dramedies.

Analeigh Tipton Napa Film Fest

Odeya Rush: “I look for real, conversational dialogue.” Which she found recently in Greta Gerwig’s spot-on coming-of-age film Lady Bird. “Films like Lady Bird don’t normally get this kind of buzz – it’s amazing,” Odeya added.

Greg Sulkin: “Great story arch with character growth are the best characters to play.” With Runaways, he’s getting to play the superhero persona with extra depth.

To catch up with the Napa Film Festival and to work this fest into your annual “must-attend event” around Veterans Day – November 7-11 for 2018, check them out at or:


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Amanda & Jack Go Glamping with David Arquette and Amy Acker.

So I missed seeing this indie rom-com due to double booked screenings. But I’m a sucker for the rom-com and its evolution.

Plus, how many films are there about glamping? I only know about a moment in Bridget Jones’s Baby… any others, my Google-happy friends? Let me know your thoughts on this indie film in the rom-com progression.

More articles by Cheryl Laughlin

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