Submissions for the 2020 Film Independent Screenwriting Lab are now open. The non-Member deadline is August 17; Member deadline is September 2. In 2016, we asked Screenwriting Lab Fellow and eventual co-creator of the Netflix original Gente-fied, Linda Yvette Chávez, to describe her experiences in the 2015 Lab. We’re reposting here. Enjoy!
Life comes with a never-ending set of crossroads. Sometimes, the answer to which road you should take is sometimes pretty damn clear: one path is lit with sunshine, filled with rainbows and puppies, while the other path is dark and stormy, full of broken branches and danger signs. Other crossroads feel like a pair of identical twins playing a cruel trick. You know the paths are not the same, but you can’t for the life of you figure out which is the one you should take. So you stand there, frozen, staring down the barrel of two roads that refuse to give you a clear answer.
I’ve lived in Los Angeles my entire life, but some days my ten-year hustle in this industry has felt twice as long—I know you’re looking at me like, “giiiiirl…” and yes, we should grab a cup of coffee sometime and share our war stories. In those ten years, I’ve done it all: PA, researcher, logger, director and producer. I’ve built a production company, launched brands, gone viral, lost sleep, lost health, lost sanity and hustled, hustled, hustled.
It was about a year ago when my body, like a concerned madrecita, said to me, “Linda, sweetheart, you’re not happy. We’ve hit the fork in the road. Which way will we go, mija?”
The revelation was terrifying, but true. I wasn’t in love anymore. My love affair with filmmaking had turned into a mediocre marriage where there was a lot of take and not enough give. I was ready for a separation, maybe even a divorce. Still, somewhere deep in my heart there was… a spark; that first kiss that brought me to this industry to begin with—the thing that gave me butterflies when I got cozy under the blankets with it…
My first love. It was still there, emaciated and on its last leg, but waiting for me to breathe new life into it. It was also there in the form of a script going thump, thump, thump in the center of my chest and thump, thump, thump in a folder somewhere on my computer’s desktop, it’s little heart beating faster and faster—that little script that said, “Linda, baby, don’t leave. Let’s work this out. There’s good stuff here between us!”
It was enough to make me want to play Adele’s “Hello” on repeat. It was enough to make me yank that script from the digital shelf, dust it off and flirt with its pages; enough to make me hit SUBMIT on an application to Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab.
I didn’t know if this road, where I barreled ahead fully focused on screenwriting was going to look any different from the road I had been on for the past ten years. But here I was, on the phone with Angela Lee, Film Independent’s Artist Development Manager, with the amazing news that I’d gotten into the program with my script Fieras, my passion-project. Here was that first step down a new road—this amazing opportunity to be a Film Independent Screenwriting Lab Fellow!
So I resolved to find love again. I resolved to open myself up to trusting someone new with my heart. Whether or not I’d come out the other side all in one piece was still up for debate, but I remained open to the journey. After all, my first love deserved a second shot, didn’t it?
Four Steps to Mending A Broken Heart…
STEP ONE: SPIRIT
On Day One of the Lab, we all met at Momed in West LA for a kick-off dinner. Six projects, seven Fellows, three Artist Development staff. But the first person I met was Ani, a writer/director with a head full of blonde, curly locks and enough bubbly energy to fill the Staples Center—a New Yorker who was the pure definition of passionate artist. Next came Puja, quiet with a fragile frame and fresh out of film school. It wouldn’t be long before I’d read her work and find that this woman was something fierce, and her storytelling insanely moving.
Danny and Darren sat across from me, a comedy writing team who riffed off of each other like brothers. Veterans with multiple features under their belts, they were two down-to-earth guys who always made me laugh out loud. Then there was Tom, a seasoned TV writer, self-sufficient indie filmmaker, and all-around nice guy who always had a joke or thoughtful compliment to share. Last, always making a grand appearance was Terah, an East Coast playwright turned screenwriter, teacher and genuine soul—a Los Angeles transplant with an important story to tell.
So it was sitting among the energy of my peers’ combined passion that the healing began. It started with spirit. I could see in them reflected back to me that deep desire to tell stories. They were born storytellers. It was a reminder that this calling we all have is so intertwined with the fabric of our beings that pushing through the fog and putting pen to paper was tantamount to breathing. Writers write because they can’t imagine doing anything else. I knew deep inside, like them, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else either.
STEP TWO: FAMILY
There’s the family we’re born into, there are the families we build, and then there are the families we’re lovingly welcomed into. Angela, Jennifer and Dea, the Artist Development team, were the Film Independent adoptive family who welcomed us into their happy home with open arms. I’ll be blunt: they’re badasses, hustling day in and day out to create an environment where we felt incredibly supported. They nurtured our crazy dreams. They pushed us to embrace the family of writers they’d handpicked for us. They pushed us out the door like encouraging mamas, telling us to make friends, find common ground, go out and do what we came here to do: write. They sheltered us from the world just enough to keep our little artist hearts pumping.
Because here’s the thing about family, they believe in us even when we might not fully believe in ourselves. They see in us the promise, the potential of greatness, and they want to see us succeed. They’re proud of us for as little as taking the risk; in this case, the risk to tell the unconventional stories that only independent film can tell. Family, like Red Bull, can give you wings, guys. For real.
STEP THREE: INSPIRATION
Vulnerability is powerful. Vulnerability is why I’m here sharing my story in this way. (Seriously, I could have copped out and written a listicle, y’all!) Being an artist is some raw shit, guys. I know I don’t have to tell you this. We are constantly putting ourselves out into the world, opening ourselves to criticism, failure, rejection. We plop our hearts onto the table and hope no one will completely squish them, and when they do, we’re expected to piece it back together and try all over again like it’s #NBD. So when we seek inspiring guides, we aren’t necessarily looking to just hear about the glitz and glam. We want a good story, and good stories come with conflict. We want to hear about the failed battles, the missteps, the total demolition of hopes and dreams. We want to know we’re not alone, so that when we finally climb our Mount Everest, it’s all the more real and satisfying.
The professional writers brought to us in the Lab were inspiring. On paper, they were phenomenal people, possibly superhuman—but sitting across from us during our intimate conversations, they were mere human beings, just like us. They shared their battle scars willingly: Sian Hader’s 10-year journey toward financing her feature; Maya Forbes’ passionate commitment to telling her father’s story; writers who battled the demons of failure and persevered to inspire. It was in their shared “phoenix rising from the ashes” stories that I saw myself. I wasn’t alone. We were all a part of a tradition of writers who had fallen in and out of love time and again, but who kept their noses to the grindstone to reach their dreams. This was the journey we signed up for, and we had to see it through to the end.
STEP FOUR: COMMITMENT
When you’ve found a good thing, never let it go. It’s how I felt about Film Independent, the program coordinators and the Lab Fellows. But it’s also, I realized, how they seemed to feel about me. It’s been refreshing forming a relationship with a family and community that wants to give so much to you, rather than take. It’s invigorating and moving. They’re all in—committed to their artists and empowering them to forge ahead.
Once the program was over, it wasn’t “See ya! Wouldn’t wanna be ya!”—there seemed to be an unspoken promise to walk this journey with us, a commitment to seeing us succeed beyond the four weeks at the Lab. Within months of completing the program, I was connected to other Film Independent family members that brought new writing opportunities and continued to open some really big doors. Film Independent President Josh Welsh gladly recommended me for writing opportunities as well, finding time in his busy schedule to not only send a recommendation, but also personally respond to a thank you note I emailed him. To have an organization care about you and your work that deeply is something else. It’s selfless and kind.
Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab was the perfect remedy for a writer’s broken heart. They gave me the courage to fall in love again. I could have sat here and written about the amazing feedback I got on my script and the teachings on the mechanics of screenwriting I gleaned from guest speakers—and yes, that was all incredible as well—but what I gained was so much more: Trust.
I learned to trust that I’m on the right path. Trust that my calling isn’t fabricated. Trust that there are people in the industry looking out for me, willing to give much more than they want to take. A trust that, even in this tough business, you can still connect with that first spark that lit your artist soul up so long ago.
Because the truth is the stories that everyone shares about how harsh this industry is, how you have to build a thick skin, and how the hustle never ends are all true. But there also needs to be a balance, an equally strong voice constantly reminding you that your dreams are more than possible. Film Independent walks this path with you. They’re the encouraging big sister by your side, rooting you on—“You got this, mujer! Si se puede, mejicana!”
That’s what keeps the wheels turning, the hustle going and the love alive. It’s the thing that makes you light some candles, cook a romantic dinner, flip open your laptop and ask that blank page, “Hey baby, how you doin’?”
To learn more about the 2016 Film Independent Screenwriting Lab, including how to apply, click here. The deadline for general submissions is August 17. The deadline for Film Independent Members to apply is extended until September 3.
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