Thursday, May 21, 2009

1st Feature Film - Brave or Crazy?

I have had a lot going through my brain today. Been feeling very excited about "Madam Magdalen" and everything it will entail.

Here are just a few samplings of the thoughts racing through my head:

I need to make a website for and figure out a name for my production company. No, wait... first I need to write the script. How can I incorporate social media into the marketing... is it something that I will do on the front end, or throughout? My blog, is it good enough? Am I writing interesting things that people will want to read? Wait, Jennifer, you need to write the script. Script first. How am I going to raise the money? How much do I need to raise? Who will be the producer? JENNIFER, JUST WRITE THE DAMN SCRIPT!!

And so it continues. To ease my marketing inclined mind though, I am going to do a detailed schedule with everything that needs to be done just for piece of mind that it will all get done, and in the right order.

It all boils down to discipline. And I have a lot of it.

Honestly, I think I can stick to the original broad schedule that I have laid out for "MadWoman" in a previous blog entry. I am going to buckle down this weekend and really get some things on paper. My goal is still to have a solid first draft by the end of June.

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Madam Magdalen" - Working Title

I have decided to tentatively call my film, based on Louise Wooster's life, "Madam Magdalen". It is easier for me to have something to call it, even if it isn't the official name. The book she authored on her own life is titled "The Autobiography of a Magdalen", so it seems appropriate.

I finally went to her grave site today located in Oak Hill Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama. It was fun to visualize the long line of empty carriages sent by anonymous prominent men in Birmingham that followed her body up to be buried (according to legend).

I ordered two more books today to research prostitution in New Orleans during the time that Louise Wooster would have lived there. As you would think, there is much more written and documented about New Orleans prostitution than there is for anywhere in Alabama. But, I think a lot of the information will be relevant for both locations.

I took some photos today at the cemetery here. I also plan to post anything "Madam Magdalen" related to this Flickr site.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

John Wilkes Booth

Researching John Wilkes Booth, one of Louise Wooster's love interests before the assassination of Lincoln. He was her inspiration to become an actress.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Obsessed with Storyville & New Orleans Brothels

OK. I am totally going in a new direction now. Going to base my script on Lou Wooster' life, and while doing that taking a peek into 19th Century prostitution in the southeast: Mobile, New Orleans, Birmingham & Montgomery. While researching, I came across Storyville. Completely obsessed with it. Also, check out this website if this topic interests you.

I am also researching grants for filmmakers & writers. There is a class at a local college on Grantwriting 101 (and possibly an advanced class following) that I am going to take in June.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Louise Wooster, change in plans?

I went to the Birmingham Public Library tonight, and made friends with the librarian with whom I share a good friend. I told her I was looking for dialect studies of 19th century Alabama... especially autobiographies. She brought over several books, but one I had heard about before caught my immediate attention. It was the autobiography of Louise Wooster... famous Birmingham Madam from the 19th Century. I had read short stories of her before, especially of her work during the cholera outbreak. She seemed like a colorful character.

I picked up her book and started to read... and couldn't put it down until the library kicked me out (well, not really... they just closed). :)

There is some speculation as to whether or not some of the events she accounted for actually happened (as she was one to embellish), but most of it is fascinating fact after fact. The elements of her story had all of the ones I had been searching for... drama, tragedy, love, hate, sex, historical fact, controversy, fantasy... it's all there! Even with a little bit of New Orleans, Mobile & Montgomery sprinkled in. The great cholera epidemic is another thing that has always fascinated me about Birmingham's early beginnings, and she was there front and center.

So am I changing my idea? Maybe. Gonna sleep on it. ;)

Thursday, April 30, 2009


The drug of choice for 19th century women.

Monday, April 27, 2009


I have been doing some planning, and here is a preliminary timeline for "Mad Woman":

February-April: Research & rough script outline. Start blog.

May-June: Complete first draft of screenplay.

June-July: Complete second & third drafts.

August: Polish, 4th draft. Submit for coverage and feedback. Incorporate & make business plan (with budget). Set up LLC for film. Preparations for investor packets & presentations.

September: Raise starting funds. More script polishes and rewrites.

October: Submit script for coverage and review again, make changes accordingly.

November-December: Complete shooting script. Create preliminary production schedule based on progress with fund raising.

Finish raising starting funds. Production schedule & casting TBA depending on financials.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mad Woman

The working title for my screenplay: Mad Woman

Friday, April 17, 2009

MW2009 Writing Exercise

Today we had a writing exercise as a part of a social media talk giving at the MW2009. We had to listen to another person's life story, then write it on a postcard under a time limit. Here is what my partner wrote about me:

The life of Jennifer - an artistic soul born and raised in a small town in Alabama. A small town Catholic surrounded by the emotions and passions of a Baptist community, Jennifer strove to find her artistic identity, eventually making her way to Chicago to study arts and design under a scholarship. Returning to her native Alabama, she began to apply her artistic training in 2 tracks: development/marketing at a children's science center, and the creation of independent films, the most recent of which is called "Piece of Cake". She continues working on these two facets of her artistic career, and begins now to focus on developing scripts, most notably a script based on 18th century woman's experience in an Alabama asylum. Her future looks bright.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Creating an Indie, in Indy!


I have been in Indianapolis for the past day or two for the Museums of the Web Conference 2009. It has been pretty fun for the most part, and I have had PLENTY of time to work on my screenplay in my downtime.

I am still very much in the research phase, but am making real progress on a loose outline for my script. I even have another idea that I have been toying around with just to put some variety in my schedule.

While I am trying to take advantage of this alone time, in all honesty, I am losing my mind!! But, I am very grateful for the progess I have made. And the conference is pretty cool, too.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Screenwriting Class

Tonight, I am going over notes from an old screenwriting class that I took when "Piece of Cake" came to life. (Thanks Elizabeth!) That class changed my whole LIFE. Who knew I could write? I sure didn't.

Per those notes, I am ordering the book "How NOT To Write A Screenplay", by Denny Martin Flinn. I am also reordering "Scriptwriting For Dummies" (was lent to a friend a long time ago, and never got it back).

Another thing I am researching right now are adapted screenplays. I am not 100% certain, but I am very intrigued by the idea of adapting "Letters from a Victorian Madwoman". The book is a collection of letters written by Andrew Sheffield (a woman), who was committed to the Alabama Insane Hospital in 1890. I finished reading the book while in New Orleans this past weekend.

I also finally contacted Bryce Hospital (previously named the Alabama Insane Hospital), and getting in there is going to be a real challenge. Since it is still an operating hospital, the patients rights have to be their first priority. Though, I have a feeling that once they hear me out on the project, they will be more than happy to help.

What interests me most about Andrew Sheffield is that she wasn't insane, she was actually a criminal. While not to give to much of her story away, this tragic woman spent over 30 years locked in an insane asylum against her will so as not to disgrace her family by a prison sentence. There are actually several other similiar stories from women across the country during this same time period, and books were either written by them or about them. What makes these women different is that most of them were able to get released. Andrew was not so fortunate. Another thing that makes her letters/book unique is the fact that they were never intended for anyone else to read, other than the person they were written to. Because of this, she writes very candidly and you can get a raw sense of what her true experience was like in the hospital. And she wanted OUT.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Confidence and Doubt

I want nothing more in life than to tell stories through film, and have them be recognized on an national, even international level. I feel confident I can do this. So what holds me back?

I think everyone possesses a little bit of self-sabotage. Most people are afraid to fully succeed. Especially those with the ability to actually do so. Is it because they fear failure? Or they fear the work? Or are they afraid of what will happen next... will succeeding be everything they hoped it would be? Will it finally make them content? What if the answer is no?

I doubt the answer is no. Something I battle with in my own life is being "content". I am never content, and I don't think I have ever experienced what that might feel like. Is that a blessing or a curse?

All I know is that I have BIG goals and dreams. A lot bigger than most people's. And I hope that never goes away.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Rare Book

I spent the evening reading a rare book at The Birmingham Library:

Rev. Joseph Camp. (1882) An Insight into an Insane Asylum., self-published "exposé" of conditions at Bryce.

The book is so old and rare, I wasn't allowed to check it out or make photo copies. You could only use a pencil when writing notes from it, and they almost made me wear gloves because it was so fragile. All of that hype got me really excited.

Here is a brief description about the book:

In May 1881, thinking he was on a pleasant trip to Tuscaloosa with his family, seventy-year-old Reverend Joseph Camp was admitted to the Alabama Insane Hospital by his wife and son-in-law. The shock of being admitted to the hospital only grew during Camp's next five months and twenty days as a patient there. Upon returning to his family in November, Camp published his book, entitled An Insight into an Insane Asylum, at his own expense. Camp's book notes the treatment he received as a mental patient of the Alabama Insane Hospital, including practices of nurses and physicians that often border on cruelty. To this day, Camp's book remains the only significant exposé of the Alabama Insane Hospital ever written.

I am only to page 68, so I will have to visit another day this week to read the rest. It is a really good find.

During my visit, I also discovered another really GREAT book: Letters from a Victorian Madwoman (another exposé on Bryce Hospital.) While skimming the Table of Contents, I was literally FLOORED to find that it was so eerily in tune with the rough script outline I had just written a few days ago. I am really excited to get my hands on this book...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Shocking and Different

It is a new and beautiful day outside. Days like this remind me of how good life can be. Should be. That our days should be spent doing things that we love. And being free. No boxes.

This week I made a rough outline of the screenplay that I want to write. I am going to spend today developing it more.

In this story, I want to discover a girl who was quite different for her time. Sometimes even shocking. I feel like this sometimes.

Listening to the Amelie soundtrack today.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Meteor

I found great inspiration tonight.
I discovered, "The Meteor", a newspaper produced in the mid-1800's by the patients of the "Alabama Insane Hospital", which is now know as Bryce State Mental Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Here is a quick summary of the publication:

The newspaper was named The Meteor because meteors come as a surprise, appear at irregular intervals, and have brilliant though short, temporary careers. The paper was also meant "to glow with a kindly and generous sentiment to all mankind." It appeared quarterly for five years and then became a "semi-occasionally" because the printer and editor, "disgusted with the succession of years that still found them at the Hospital, determined . . . to print a number only when inclined to do so." The editor also surmised that people would not expect a regular publication from a hospital patient.

When I was growing up in the small town of Morris, Alabama, all of the "bad" students were sent to Bryce Adolescent School. It obviously had some sort of connection to the mental institution, both located in the same town about an hour and a half away from where I lived. It always seemed like a bad place. More on this later.

Since I completed "Piece of Cake" a few year ago (fall '06), I have been searching for SOMETHING creative to latch on to. I have created sculptures, explored photography and even tried my hand at performance art. Just searching and searching for my next big "project" and inspiration. I did find that I am good at all of these things (and even more than what I listed), but nothing has quite filled the gap in my soul.

My biggest problem, and biggest blessing, is that I am quite scattered and excitable most of the time. It is easy for me to imagine the possibilities of almost any creative venture... and it is always tempting to at least try it out. This has fortunately taught me a lot about myself. It has also left a lot of unfinished projects in the dust after my interest is lost. Granted, I always got intellectually what I needed out of it and I am sure I will benefit from the experimentation on day.

Anyway, what I guess I am trying to say is that I think another film is in my future. I am not sure when, where or how, but I can feel it in my soul.

I currently have two really strong concepts that I am playing around with. The original one was to do a film on birth of Birmingham, Alabama. Since I have been a native of Birmingham most of my life, I feel a strong connection and passion to tell this story. I am mostly intrigued by it's discovery in the mid to late-1800's and the span of history into the early 1900's. I have many books on the subject. But for some reason I do not feel like it is quite time to make this film. There is so much to learn before I can take it on. A really cool aspect of this project is the fact that so much of the original architecture is still in place, making it easier to create a "period" piece. We will see what happens with this idea.

Going back to "The Meteor"... I feel a really strong connection with the idea of creating a script on this subject. Ghosts, spiritual phenomenon and mental illness are all things that I am very familiar with. Mental illness runs in my family (to varying degrees), and even I had a run-in with an intense case of clinical OCD from my early childhood to early 20's. I think it could be very likely that if I had lived during this time period, that I might have been a patient at this facility. Nowadays, it is just the matter of finding a doctor and being on the right medication.

I think I am going to explore this idea some more, and do some serious research on the people who were in the Alabama Insane Hospital during the turn of the century. I bet there are many characters to be discovered and to be inspired by. And I don't think it has to be a sad tale, but one of hope and discovery.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Piece of Cake

Last night, I watched the first and only film that I have ever written and directed play on a local station here in Birmingham, AL - "Piece of Cake". I hadn't seen it in over a year (despite the fact that I have several copies in my kitchen cabinet), and as the time got closer to view it on public television the more anxious and nervous I got. Insecurities were running rampant... would I be proud? Would I cringe at things that were blatantly wrong? Would I think that Mo Rocca wasted his time by taking such a huge risk on this project? What would other people think who watched it along with me? I knew THIS was the time I could finally be objective about the film.

The time finally came, and I saw the title of my film come across the screen: "Piece of Cake". I took a deep breath, and took a sip of wine. At this point I was still alone in the loft, so it almost seemed like a spiritual moment. I teared up at all effort and emotions that got me to this exact moment in time.

As the movie played, I was genuinely shocked at how great it was. I laughed at my own jokes, and thought from time to time, "that was a great line!". I was amazed at all of the actor's performances. I was amazed at all of the effort that SO MANY people put forth to get a project like that done. I was amazed at myself for keeping my dream alive until completion. I finally could see "Piece of Cake" for what it was: a rare and extraordinary event that a lot of people will remember forever.

"Piece of Cake" did not do well with independent festivals (with a big exception for the Sidewalk Film Festival). This could be for many reasons. I think it is mostly because of the type of movie it is, a romantic comedy. Also, with a 16 minute run time it isn't exactly ideal for the short film market. As a matter of fact, it is film festival suicide. Ultimately, POC was a labor of love and those who weren't involved will never understand what it took to get it done. They will also never love it as much as we did.

I had to take a serious break after making POC, and I am glad that I did. It would have been too easy to be impulsive and jump right back in. Over the past 2 years since POC was completed, I have been able to step back and reevaluate my purpose in the creative arts. Also, I have been able to pay off the money it took to make POC. It is officially over, and a part of my past.

As for the future, I would love to make another film. But it has to be the right one. Stay tuned.

Visit this link to view media coverage and photos from POC: