Short Film Fund Prize Package | The Mentoring Experience

By Sarah Chaisson-Warner

Our sole purpose at Shore Scripts is to discover new screenwriting talent, and our contest prize packages are deliberately curated to support screenwriters in their journey from going from script to production. The entertainment industry can be notoriously difficult to navigate, particularly for people who may be new to the field or lack industry contacts, but understanding the terrain and building solid and authentic relationships with other filmmakers can help make the experience more successful.

Understanding how important it is in this industry to build connections, Shore Scripts leverages its long-standing and extensive relationships with industry professionals to provide an opportunity for emerging writers to learn from some of Hollywood’s best.

We connected Chelsea Isabella Clark-James, winner of the 2022 Short Film Fund, with Producer Maria Gracia Turgeon. An experienced short filmmaker, Maria has produced numerous short films including BROTHERHOOD by Meryam Joobeur and FAUVE by Jérémy Comte, which were both OSCAR®’s nominees for Best Live Action Short. She is currently producing her first feature film, MAREE BASSE.

Chelsea was especially excited about the opportunity to learn from an established producer like Maria. “It was one of the biggest reasons that I entered the Short Film Fund,” she said. When she received the email that her script, NEMT, had progressed to the finalist round, she was ecstatic about the possibility of winning the contest and being introduced to Maria.

“I got really excited about the mentoring opportunity. I thought, finally, I will have someone to talk to about this!” Chelsea Isabella Clark-James.

Chelsea won the Short Film Fund in 2022 with NEMT, and our team at Shore Scripts connected her with Maria, who was working in Tunisia at the time. Before they connected, though, Chelsea thought deeply about what she wanted and needed from this new relationship, and decided to spend her time with Maria tightening up her script and making it as producible as possible.

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Chelsea had wanted a mentor for a long time – someone whom she could talk with, bounce ideas off and learn from their experiences. “No short gets done alone,” she said. On her first short film, she had a producer, but they were more of a logistics producer and less of a development producer. “I can see, looking back, how having a development producer could have set me up for more success.”

With Chelsea’s keen interest in improving her script and tightening it, the mentoring relationship was a fantastic match, particularly since the writing stage is one of Maria’s favorite parts of making a film.

“I have always been really involved in the creative process and bring a lot of creative input when I connect to a script,” she says. “I believe that in order to achieve a good film, you absolutely need a solid script no matter how long it takes to get there!” Maria Gracia Turgeon.

Chelsea credits the mentorship experience with Maria with helping her to get her script for NEMT “really tight.”

“I knew my 17 page script needed to be under 15 pages. It was nice to be able to come in and say, ‘This is what I’m thinking’ and she helped me with that. Working with her and talking with her, I was able to edit out 4 pages of my script.” Chelsea Isabella Clark-James.

With support from Maria, Chelsea also eliminated a character from the original script, lost a location, and edited out a prop. “That was huge,” she said. “A prop can be hours of shoot time, and thousands of dollars. People don’t always realize that.” Making these cuts – a location, a character, and a prop – all helped to both improve the quality of her script and decrease the budget for her film. “It made it a really lean script.”

NEMT production still.

What advice does Chelsea have for others seeking a mentor? First, It’s important to know why you want a mentor and what you want in a mentor before entering into that relationship. Understanding the why and the what will also help the industry professional see what kind of time commitment will be required for entering into the mentoring relationship. “First try to understand what you’re asking of a mentor and what need it is filling,” Chelsea advises. “Is it filling a need for the project or a need for you?”  

“I’ve undergone a personal journey to think through what does a mentor mean? On the one hand, I want for someone to cheer for me, to be in my corner. But am I going to listen to them? A mentor may also tell you to do something you don’t want to do, but they are giving you valid information. It’s easy to want someone to cheer for you, but it can be a lot harder to be able to listen to someone else’s advice, especially advice that might challenge your assumptions.” Chelsea Isabella Clark-James.

Maria echoes similar sentiments. “When writing a script we may think something is working and we can be surprised when we get the opposite feedback. But always try to keep an open mind and find creative solutions in your own way!” Maria also suggests writers identify specific questions for their mentors – the more specific and directed your questions are, the better feedback you can expect.

With the support of Shore Scripts Chelsea shot her winning short film, NEMT, in Denver on Dec. 17-20. And it went so smoothly that they turned a 4-day shoot into just 3 days!

On-set shooting NEMT.

Want to know more about the Short Film Fund and the relationships winners can expect to build this year? Click here to see the prize package for winners, including more about the mentorship with Maria.

After 15 years of working in state and national politics, Sarah Chaisson-Warner is moving into the entertainment industry. As the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Athena Magazine for Girls, Sarah is now focusing her passion for creative arts through screenwriting. Many of her feature-length scripts focus on the often unseen experiences of gay women throughout American History, and she is also currently writing sci-fi and a family Christmas script. Her script, Serafina Stavinovna, was placed in “The Next 100” in the 2021 Nicholl Fellowship Competition, was a quarterfinalist in the WeScreenplay Competition, and a semi-finalist in the Outstanding Screenplays Competition.

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