INTERVIEW WITH CHELSEA ISABELLA CLARK-JAMES - WRITER OF NON EMERGENCY MEDICAL TRANSPORT
A driver for a family transportation business has to find an open medical bed for a long time alcoholic involuntarily committed for medical detox by the state, which turns out to be more difficult than it should be.
Firstly, can you tell us a little about NEMT? What it’s about and how did you come up with the idea?
NEMT stands for Non Emergency Medical Transport. It is a story about two American men from different generations and cultural backgrounds stuck in a van together trying to find a medical detox bed. The idea is inspired by real life. In Nov 2021, my stepmom got a call at night asking if she knew where an open medical detox bed was for a chronic alcoholic with medical conditions ordered to detox. Because of Covid, hospitals were at capacity. She spent four hours working with other providers trying to find a place the drivers could take the man (even though it was not her client). The drivers ended up going from Grand Junction, CO to Fort Collins, CO without finding one place (crossed the entire state). Although I have no data on the drivers or patient, or what came of them, I thought what a car ride that must have been.
The thematic content of the short came from my own life. I realized I do not need to live in LA to have the filmmaking and screenwriting career I want. Our culture pushes a success at any cost narrative, and sacrifices to health and family are the first to be made. I believe we can be a productive society without those sacrifices. The patient represents these toxic philosophies and the driver is at the crossroads of accepting or discarding these philosophies in his life.
I also chose this story because I knew I would be producing it and it is a producible script. Being a screenwriter is one game, being a filmmaker is a whole other ball game!
What made you want to enter it into the Short Film Fund?
I entered into the Short Film Fund because of the mentorship on top of the production funds.
So many emerging filmmakers think if they have the money, then presto, they can make a good short film but I believe guidance provides the biggest bang for the buck in production value.
How did you feel when you found out that you were our winner?
Ecstatic, validated, full of questions, grateful and my to do list immediately doubled in size!
Are you looking to direct NEMT?
I will be directing now that I have been accepted into the Sundance Collab Directing Workshop for short film.
Do you want to develop the script further? If so, what will you look to change?
I am rewriting the script to increase tension and character development. I have begun this process with both the Collab directing workshop and after meeting with my Shore Script mentoring producer, Maria Garcia Turgeon.
What do you feel will be your biggest challenge in terms of getting your script off the paper and onto film?
The biggest challenge will be beginning pre-production in one state and finishing in another. I currently live in LA but will move to Colorado in October and plan on shooting in Colorado in late November. Or that is the biggest challenge I see at the moment; though filmmaking finds funny ways to challenge the filmmaker!
Do you think about the practicalities of filming when you write? If so, how has that changed your writing process, or have you always thought that way?
For this piece, I absolutely thought about the practicalities. If I write something as spec or writing sample, not so much. I have had ample on set experience so I am keenly aware of what it takes to translate things from the page to the screen. I also believe there is ingenuity in constraints, so I probably always think about production when I write. I do however try to give my imagination free reign when I am in the creation process.
I know it’s early stages, but do you have any thoughts/preferences on camera format, aspect ratio, crew, location, and anything else for the production?
Short answer, yes. Long answer yes and …… I have a lot of thoughts on these and other aspects of the production. Many of these will be laid out in the Collab directing workshop. I also have pros and cons of various production considerations in mind already.
Where, in an ideal world, would you like to shoot NEMT?
Ideally, I would like to do a two day stage shoot, a one day location shoot and a one day 2nd Unit shoot, all in and around Denver, CO.
What are your aspirations for the film once it’s completed? Certain film/festivals? Help with getting a feature off the ground, etc?
I have several aspirations for this short film. One, as a calling card for more work as a writer or director. Two, to gain support for a separate script, a feature film, that I also want to shoot in Colorado. Three, to submit to festivals so I can gain visibility for the above aims and to grow my filmmaking community. My festival plan is not currently in place, but it is on the to-do list.
Do you have any advice for upcoming screenwriters who are either looking to direct their own material, or find a producer/director for their short script?
I absolutely do, more than I can even say here, which is why I write a series of short film filmmaker interviews on my website!
Are there any lessons you’ve learned from your previous projects that will help you going forward with making NEMT?
Oh brother, are there lessons! In 2019 I wrote a short script that placed in a competition, so I decided to capitalize on that forward momentum and direct and produce it. I had no mentorship, no training or formal education, and my co-producer did not come on until later in the preproduction process. This time around I am moving forward with so much help – between the directing workshop and the mentorship of Shore Scripts.
I co-produced another short film at the beginning of this year. I learned a lot about insurance (no claims, simply what is what and why to have it). I also learned a lot about bringing an editor on early in the process.
From my short film filmmaker series I have learned a couple tricks from other filmmakers that I will use.
My previous experience has also taught me a lot about the value of rehearsal. This story is a character drama and I believe that more rehearsal time will yield better day of production results.
Find out more about the current season of our Short Film Fund HERE.