Growing as a Writer: SEEfest Writer’s Lab & Accelerator

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I was lucky enough to take part in several South East European Film Festival (SEEfest) programs this past year.
What is this and what does it entail? I’m glad you asked.

There are hundreds of film festivals around the globe. Many are showcases for independent films, others are venues to shop movies without distribution deals. There’s even a long running one in my backyard. But what most of these do not have is educational and development opportunities for up and coming writers. Enter SEEfest.

I applied to their Writer’s Lab back in Fall 2023.
The requirements:

  • At least one completed script (feature or tv)
  • An outline for the project you want to write (time was allowed for revisions after feedback on this)
  • A brief resume
  • 5 page sample from a completed script
  • A zoom interview

I appreciated all of this because it precludes true beginners who may just need practice, while ensuring we are moderately prepared and serious to write this script. I submitted a relatively fresh outline I had for an action/comedy tv pilot (which was an adaptation of a feature script I wrote that was wayyyy too long).

The long and short? It was amazing.
I have never been part of a writing group before. But in recent years I’ve come around to the idea that most things I write can’t get close to “done” without extensive perspective from others. And that’s what this provided. Split into American/European cohorts, we met every other week with deadlines for pages (and notes on everyone else’s writing) each time. It provided a great motivator to get your work done, reading experience on other first drafts, and invaluable feedback on our own pages.

Each of us in the American cohort completed our scripts. And for us tv folks, we even got a few revisions in as well.

This lead seamlessly into an intensive 2 week accelerator program. We met with writers, directors, lawyers and other industry vets. Gaining important knowledge and practicing for the big finale: pitching our idea to a team of producers.

Can you summarize your idea in 3 minutes? Without sounding like you’re reading it? With a good hook? That conveys the “why now”? With enough modern comps? That emphasizes repeatability (for tv)? With character motivation we can easily understand?

I’m a writer, not a salesman. But a screenwriter must be both. You have to get someone else as excited about your project as you are.
I think mine ended up timing out around 3:40. I could have (and should have) gone even longer. My script has a lot of “wait, how did they even get themselves into this situation” questions that were a fun tease for everybody who listened to my pitch (I think I gave it 10 times total).

The Writer’s Lab itself culminated in a showcase (as part of the film festival). The rules: Find a 3 page scene in your script with minimal action, 4 or fewer characters, and that accurately represents the tone of your piece. You’re then teamed with a director and you go through the process of casting, scoring, rehearsals, filming, etc. until time runs out and you go with what you have. I was paired with a great director who found the actors, producer and more as we went about making this work. If you’re interested in the final product, drop me a line.

I highly recommend the whole thing. Everyone was so supportive and the structure they crafted for the writer’s lab really worked. My biggest life lesson takeaway is that I can’t wait to get into another writer’s group. Having those deadlines and that additional perspective feels like an integral part of my writing process now. And I’m quite thankful to SEEfest and the people involved for opening my eyes.