Had a phenomenal time listening to the latest draft of my feature-in-development, Martha's Mustang, come to life at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival's table read event. It was a testament to the wealth of talent we have here in Houston and I am so grateful to everyone who participated, shared their insights, and attended the event. The event was funded in part by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.
My brain is still mush from all the thoughts and suggestions, but the next step is to go over all the questionnaires and talk to the actors, stakeholders, and others to build the best version of Martha's Mustang yet!
I highly encourage every screenwriter to workshop their script this way. You can really feel the pacing and hear your dialogue. The scenes hit differently than when you're entrenched in the writing.
Martha's Mustang is about a single mother in her 40s who owns a struggling auto body shop. In addition to having to prove herself that she knows her business as good as any man (or better), she finds herself in a fight with City Hall over a hot pink Mustang, planted with wildflowers, that she just put out to promote business, but the City is calling a violation of the Junk Car Ordinance.
I've been developing this project for a few years. After the success of my short film, Acid Test, I was approached by a local insurance adjuster (who also writes historical non-fiction) who had heard a story about a woman in Baytown that he thought would make a great film. I thought it sounded exciting and I soon met Martha and some of the other real-life people involved with her fight against City Hall. I recorded interviews and B-roll of the City, and drafted a treatment, and as the feature film adaptation of Acid Test starting taking off, I shot a short scene as a teaser. I knew I'd be wrapped up in Acid Test for a while and wanted to have something for this project that I hoped to get off the ground.
Then COVID happened and as Acid Test went into aspect of post-production that I didn't have to work on daily, I had time on my hands to flesh out a version of the story to move the project forward. I entered it into the Nicholl Fellowship, in a year where they had over 8,000 entries, and made Quarterfinalist, receiving feedback that supported the interest and need in telling this story, while offering suggestions on how to make it stronger.
I took those comments to heart and continued to work on the project with my writer's group and some other local writer's suggestions and got to a draft that I felt was ready for something more. I had done a table read workshop with Acid Test as it went from short to feature and it really helped get us to the shooting script. Characters were cut, scenes were changed, arcs developed. So I asked my Acid Test producer, Anna Tran, if she'd be interested in applying for the Houston Arts Alliance Support for Individual Artists and Creative Individuals Grant which gives $15,000 to support Houston projects. I had had a filmmaker friend who had received the grant for the development of his own screenplay, which culminated in a public table read of some of its scenes, so I felt we had a good shot. And we got it!
The Acid Test table read took place at Houston Community College's Filmmaking department, where I teach. I am always looking for ways to include the HCC students and highlight our program and facilities, but as I started putting together the logistics, I also reached out to the Houston Cinema Arts Society, because one of the dates I was looking at would occur during their annual festival. I've always been a supporter of the festival since my early days at Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP), a filmmaker non-profit involved in the festival early on, and my feature film adaptation of Acid Test screened with the festival in 2021. Pre-COVID, HCAS was putting on more workshops and events for filmmakers and about filmmaking, and they were looking to do that again. So things started taking shape as we collaborated with HCAS to use one of their venues while HCC would offer equipment and students to record the event.
I can't fully wrap my head around the Table Read event itself just yet other than there were definite places where I thought THIS IS CLEARLY NOT WORKING, THIS IS TOO EARLY, THIS IS UNSUPPORTED/UNDERDEVELOPED in between moments of I LOVE THIS, THIS IS PERFECT, HAHAHAHAHA. See below for a gallery of photos from the event.
Although not public yet, Martha's Mustang has been accepted into an upcoming Producing Lab, so things continue to build for my second feature and I am so excited! Really curious to see how this all comes together. As an indie filmmaker, there's a pull to connect more with the larger industry, but I couldn't have gotten to this point without the support of the Houston community, and wherever this goes, they will be a big part of it.
Watch the teaser trailer HERE.
From L-R: Scott Vernon, Rey Francis, Russell Corwyn, Melanie Vegas, Jared Januschka, Jessica Lee Wrabel, Abid Khan, Laura Heuston, Joe Grisaffi (Don Coffey), Carey Wells, Tom Eishen (the insurance adjuster who brought me the story), Dan Braverman, Brian Thornton (Billy), Writer/Director Jenny Waldo, Sara Gaston (Martha), Ricky Catter, THE REAL Martha Barnett, Nicky Mondellini, Jeremy John Wells, Producer Anna Tran, Nick Pinelli, Amanda Pfeiffer, Lisa Hernandez, Kenneth Royce Barrett, Jennifer Rogers, Amanda Diane, Brian Watson.