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BUILDING A BRIDGE TO HOLLYWOOD: Story Development is Paramount

Story Development is Paramount, without a strong concept or screenplay, there’s nothing to base the pitch on to hook interest from producers...

Monica Lee Bellais is a screenwriter/producer who has worked at James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment, DreamWorks SKG, Smithsonian Networks, Discovery Communications, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and TeleProductions International (TPI). Follow Monica on Twitter @CreativeMonica.

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Without a strong concept or screenplay, there’s nothing to base the pitch on in order to hook interest from producers and financiers for a project.

Memorial Bridge, Washington, DC

Memorial Bridge, Washington, DC

I started my career in Los Angeles and currently live in the Washington, DC area. I’m bi-coastal now. As the saying goes, you can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take California out of the girl. My Hollywood commute has certainly changed.

For several years, I worked for James Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment before moving to Washington. Since then, I have produced non-fiction programming at Discovery Channel and TeleProductions International. I’ve worked in story development in TV, film and non-fiction programing. I have also done a lot of writing and ghostwriting.

Some of my most favorite experiences however, have been my interactions with new writers. Those in the Washington, DC area have incredible stories to share. It is a unique perspective that is not often found in Los Angeles based on their experiences in government, policymaking, humanitarian efforts, and the world of clandestine spooky stuff.

Invariably, I often hear a something like the following: “Hey, I’ve got a script that James Cameron would love.”

It is great enthusiasm.

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has experiences and stories that could translate into a killer blockbuster, a thought provoking indie film, or a tear jerking-Oscar-worthy-waiting to happen role for a female actor. It's just getting it on the page that's the trick.

As I said, there are a lot of passionate writers. So, I take a deep breath, count to three, and then exhale, before saying, “I doubt it, but I’d like to hear what you’ve got.”

The problem for screenwriters – Washingtonians or folks in Any City, USA – is that they may have a great concept or the perfect ending, but what they lack is all the substance between the beginning and end, which leaves the audience wanting more!

What often gets overlooked among writers however, is the financial side of the business. If no one is willing to back it or to support the concept, then a great story will never get out.

One of my greatest strengths is that I absolutely love people. I thoroughly enjoy finding out why a person does something, what makes them tick, and how I can merge all these interesting and complicated people. After all, Hollywood thinks the world of politics is sexy. Just look at the Netflix hit House of Cards. I enjoy making introductions. Because of this, I’ve been constructing the bridge to Hollywood a lot easier to navigate for Washingtonians.

I’m producing what I think is a very cool historic project, written by an accomplished businessman, now a Washingtonian screenwriter. Before I dialed the phone, I took a deep breath, counted to three and exhaled. A film financier I know answered and I began my pitch, “Hey, I’ve got a script you would love!” Sounds familiar, right? See, it works both ways!

Fortunately, the financier liked the pitch of the businessman’s screenplay. In fact he completely dug it! The screenplay is lacking a strong middle, the lead character needs a lot more development, but the story concept and setting is so fantastic that it was worth the investment of time to start the development process.

Two weeks later the financier flew from Los Angeles to Washington, DC to help build the project.

The businessman-screenwriter is new to the entertainment industry, but smart enough to realize that it’s the business of show! In other words, in order to get the show, you’ve got to understand the business. Check the ego at the door, roll up the sleeves and get to work.

In this situation, I’ve connected a great concept, a screenwriter and financier who has substantial experience and credits to help create a successful independent film. One that executives will push, distribution companies will fight for, a project to hook a director who can engage talent, and then shoot the movie that hopefully, my former boss, James Cameron will screen!

Take a deep breath, count to three and exhale.

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