“Surviving Editing: A Tale of Woe and Inspiration to Every Aspiring Screenwriter” (Part 1/2 from Courtney Vastine)

This past September I participated in a film competition with my new favorite group of people, Sundress Academy of the Arts, or SAFTA for short. This new association is my first exploration into this world of artists addicted to capturing story on film the way I’m addicted to setting movement to music as a choreographer and sculpting sentences to evoke feeling and thought through creative writing. It’s a subject I don’t know a whole lot about, but have been eager to study since I became aware of the fierce independent filmmaker community in Knoxville back in 2011.

I was invited to participate in an opener for the 7-day Shootout film competition for the Knoxville Film Festival. I had recently choreographed the play Annie Get Your Gun, and the talented actor who played Buffalo Bill invited the cast and crew to be extras. I pieced together a cowgirl outfit and spent a very fun day on set and marveled at the level of talent we have in our small area.

When I attended the shootout, I discovered that Buffalo Bill, aka Keith McDaniel, was kind of a big deal in that he was the creator and producer of this large and successful film festival that brought in talent from across the U.S. 

I was hooked and after receiving a call from an agent who saw my fifteen seconds on screen, my dabbling into acting became official. I’ve participated in quite a few reenactment shows shot locally and learned a lot (mainly by messing up) about being a film actor. Sometimes by receiving help from the director and other times seeing myself on TV and thinking, “Oh my God!  Why didn’t anyone tell me I was doing that!??”


Mortification is a great learning tool. I liken how much I know about this genre to someone in my dance world taking beginner tap. But I continue to take acting classes and am gaining confidence to swim a little deeper into the pool with each project. I’d say I’m up to about three feet and I’ve taken off the floaty wings.

I had attended the festival as a patron for two years before I finally had the nerve to try to get myself on a team. I’m a perfectionist and I wanted to do a job worthy of being asked to participate again (Biggest fear: Oh no, not that dancing girl and some horrible comment about not being able to act her way out of a paper bag).

During a writing workshop, a mutual friend introduced me to a friend of hers, Vania Smrkovski, also a stage actor who was exploring film. We ran into each other at random plays, acting events and on set and became jolly acquaintances.

When I found out he was putting a team together for the shootout and all the regular stuff wasn’t working like pathetically posting on the Film Festival page, “If anyone needs an actor or a little song and dance, I’d love to help! I also have a writing degree and have been known to spin a yarn or two.

Bless Buffalo Bill’s heart.  He at least responded about loving song and dance and liked my status, I pushed the boundaries of that cursory friendship with Vania by brazenly typing in a Facebook message along the lines of, “Hey, if you need someone to hold a light, I’m available!”

So we bantered back and forth about story lines and he offered to bring me on as a writer. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. I needed stuff for my acting reel, dammit, but, yeah, okay, great. I do enjoy writing and had been wanting to get back to it, but screenwriting was something I knew very little about.

I wax poetic through prose–and hadn’t waxed anything other than floors since 1999 when I turned in my senior writing project and decided I needed a dance break–literally. But I did offer to, “hold a light or whatever,” so after my last dance class was over, I headed over to Green’s Tavern on a Wednesday night to help brainstorm our storyline. We now had our genre and task assignments: comedy and the use of an East Tennessee landmark.

To Be Continued…


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