Though the Hamptons International Film Festival is best known for its festival weekend each October, HIFF hosts many events throughout the year. Some are open to the public, such as the SummerDocs series with Alec Baldwin, and others are exclusive to invited film professionals, such as the annual Screenwriters’ Lab.
Co-sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Screenwriters’ Lab pairs screenwriters with mentors for a weekend to make their screenplays the best they can be. Some of the scripts go on to have a table read during the festival in October, and some are eventually made into films.
HIFF Artistic Director David Nugent was very proud of the caliber of mentors this year. “One of them just finished winning an Oscar for his film, and one of them had one of biggest films of last year,” he said.
The 14th annual Screenwriters’ Lab convened at c/o the Maidstone Hotel in East Hampton over the weekend of April 11. The 2015 mentors were Alexander Dinelaris, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Birdman: Or the Unexpected Virtue of Being, Nicole Perlman, a co-writer of the Oscar-nominated blockbuster Guardians of the Galaxy, Evan Hayes, the president of production at Parkes+MacDonald/Image Nation, and Helen Schulman, an author who co-wrote the screenplay for 2004 film P.S., which was based on her novel.
In addition to their talents and accomplishments, HIFF seeks experienced writers who can also excel at mentoring. “There are plenty of people who are good writers who would not make a good mentor, just like every physicist is not a great physics professor,” Nugent said.
Nugent explained that each up-and-coming screenwriter is formally paired with two mentors, though everyone in attendance has read every screenplay and throughout the weekend everyone benefits from each others experience.
The four screenplays that were the subject of the 2015 lab were Kendell Kline’s Jane, Jared Goodman’s European Zero, Ísold Uggadóttir’s And Breathe Normally and Philip Aceto’s The Gloaming. The scripts were selected from blind submissions.
Nugent noted that, in keeping with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s mission of promoting public understanding and awareness of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, two of the four screenplays picked each year must relate to at least one of those fields. The other two scripts can be on any subject.
Jane is a biopic based on the life of primatologist Jane Goodall. European Zero is about the first AIDS patient in Europe.
And Breathe Normally is about a bond between two women in Iceland, one a Ugandan asylum seeker and the other a struggling Icelandic mother pursuing a career in border patrol. The Gloaming is about a Catholic high school janitor who is estranged from society and a new student, a recent Sudanese refugee.
Rather than completing script revisions that weekend, the writers revisit the works later on, after they have had a chance to absorb all the notes and feedback.
“It’s a pretty tightly packed weekend, so there’s not a whole lot of time for writers to sit down and do rewrites,” Nugent said.
He wants to raise awareness of this and other programs HIFF conducts, such as states Executive Director Anne Chaisson’s student filmmaking workshops at Guild Hall.
“We’re called the Hamptons International Film Festival and people really identity us with those five days a year we put on the festival in October,” he said.