Liz Hara participated in our 2013 screenwriting retreat in Orvieto, Italy. She went on to win the 3rd ATX Pitch Competition at ATX Television Festival in June 2015 for Bully, a project she workshopped in Italy with us. Her writing credits now include Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Life in Pieces, and Sesame Street. Learn about our retreats.
I think every writer has, at some point, imagined themselves sitting in an outdoor cafe in some cobblestoned European city, typing on their laptop and sipping lattes made by a gorgeous barista. My PageCraft experience was exactly that—only in my case the barista also gave me free chocolate, and the village cat would sometimes sit on my lap as I worked.
Orvieto was ideal for working on my script. It is a beautiful town in Umbria, with ancient Etruscan wells and a gorgeous cathedral in the square. There are cafes where I would sit for hours and write. Winding streets lead to rolling mountain paths, perfect for walking every morning.
We were surrounded by this idyllic environment, but it was also a small and quiet town, so I was able to shut out its annoyingly relentless beauty and do my damn work. My routine was: gorgeous morning walk with friends, breakfast made by nuns, work work work, lunch and notes, work until “gelato’clock” (a 4pm walk to the world’s best gelateria), then work until we all joined together for a dinner of hand-rolled pasta or carpaccio. I’m lying of course. I had hand-rolled pasta and carpaccio. Writing about it now makes me jealous of myself. Everyone had their own routine (though everyone’s included handrolled pasta, because let’s be real). We were all able to work at our own pace and go through our own process, but still got together to get and give feedback.
We began our workshop as a group, with Ben structuring us like a true writer’s room. We “pitched” our ideas the first day. This was a great introduction to everyone’s projects…and everyone’s inner psyches. The story ideas revealed immediately who was hilarious, who was adventurous, and who had no idea what exactly was happening around him. (Or her. We won’t name names.) We then worked together to help break our scripts. This was my favorite part of the workshop, because the collaborative energy was so exciting, and it was a thrill to contribute to such a diversity of stories. Throwing around jokes, solving problems, developing characters; we all invested in each others’ ideas. I had never felt more like a “real” writer, and it was extremely gratifying to know that others cared about the world I was creating in my script.
My script was just an outline when I arrived. By the end of the two weeks, I had finished and polished an hour-long pilot. Ben, Heidi, and Carlo, gave me great feedback that helped me understand my characters better and craft a well-paced story. I really appreciated how their advice was never prescriptive; they helped me find solutions that let me tell my story in my own voice. The rest of the group too had wonderful and creative suggestions, and we all were supportive of each others’ work and process, despite our differences in background and experience levels.
Since coming home (and be advised that re-entry to the world is difficult), we have remained friends and collaborators. The group was amazing in giving me feedback on a proposal I was developing, and I’ve loved being in touch with them about their new projects. We also exchange goofy text messages, food recommendations, and get together whenever we can. Alana, my roommate in Orvieto, even joined me for Thanksgiving dinner.
The experience was exactly what I dreamed it would be. The things I learned from Ben, Heidi, and Carlo not only helped me finish my script but will also help me in creating new work. I can’t wait to go back, start a new script, and eat more gelato.