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Part of Filmmaker Programming

Online FilmHouse Talk: Storytelling with Ruth Atkinson

6 Aug
Thu, Aug 6 at 11:00 am
SFFILM at Home


Please join the SFFILM Makers team for a workshop from expert story and script consultant Ruth Atkinson, who will unpack the process to establish the notoriously hard-to-pin-down “theme” by exploring the protagonist’s character arc and how these two critical elements of your script are inextricably linked. Writing a screenplay is like untangling a knotted necklace or solving a Rubik’s cube — it’s a puzzle with myriad ways to get to the last page. So how do you find the strongest narrative path and tell the best story possible?

Well, the only way out, is in. You have to go into the story and uncover the transformational arc and thematic through-line that gives you the spine of the story. One of the ways to do this is to clarify what your protagonist learns over the course of the story. This point of discovery, moment of awareness, or emotional pivot point is the heart and soul of your story. It tells us what the movie is about and points to the underlying theme.

The protagonist’s journey and how they change or grow (or not, in some cases) is the spine of your story. Knowing how to structure their journey and this all-important end of the second act turning point will help you craft a compelling character who undergoes a meaningful transformation that underscores the deeper themes your story explores. Ultimately audiences might come for the action, suspense, or comedy, but it’s this underlying emotional transformation that keeps the audience hooked through to the outcome and resonates with them long after they’ve left the theater.

This event is designed for filmmakers, and is open to current FilmHouse residents and grantees, and SFFILM members with the Filmmaker Add-On. Not yet a member? Join today!

Attendees who RSVP for this event will be sent a link via email one day in advance to register for the online session, which will be conducted with Zoom. We recommend that you download and install Zoom on your computer or mobile device in advance, and set yourself up with a free account. Attendees will have a chance to participate in the Q&A by sending in questions privately to our moderator. Registration closes around one hour before the start of the event — be sure to register early!

Learn more about how to use Zoom and attending our virtual events here.

Speaker Ruth Atkinson

Ruth Atkinson is a Los Angeles-based script consultant and story editor with over 25 years of experience in the film/television business. Atkinson has story edited and consulted on many features and short films that have won awards and been distributed internationally including Leo Award Nominee Indian Road Trip; Whistler Film Festival premiere Fall Back Down; TIFF premieres The Last Porno Show, Saf, and Regarde Moi (Look at Me); Egypt’s Oscar submission Sheikh Jackson; Berinale, Tribeca, & TIFF award winner 37 Seconds; Sundance and SXSW special jury award winner Emergency (short); Berinale & SXSW winner Liberty (short). Other credits include celebrated indies Jonas Chernick’s My Awkward Sexual Adventure, The Perfect Family starring Kathleen Turner, cult favorite Quentin Lee’s The People I’ve Slept With, New Zealand hit Predicament, and Matt Bissonnette’s Genie-nominated Who Loves the Sun starring Molly Parker and Adam Scott.

Atkinson is a screenwriting mentor/advisor for Film Independent’s Project Involve, Global Media Makers, and Screenwriters and Directors Labs. She is also a co-facilitator and mentor for the Whistler Film Festival Screenwriters Lab, held annually in British Columbia, Canada; and screenwriting mentor for the prestigious RBC Michelle Jackson Emerging Filmmaker Award in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Previously Atkinson was a story analyst for the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriters and Directors Labs.

Guest Filmmaker Fawaz Al-Matrouk

Fawaz Al-Matrouk was born in Kuwait and grew up in Canada. His short films have played in festivals worldwide, including Cannes, Dubai, and Clermont-Ferrand, winning awards for writing, directing, and audience choice. His earliest memories are as a refugee, when his family escaped the armies of Saddam Hussein. Fawaz completed a BA in history at University of Toronto, where he studied Arab-Western relations, and an MFA in cinematic arts at University of Southern California, where his thesis film To Rest In Peace was mentored by Ridley Scott. Now he directs commercials, including Subaru spots for Japanese TV, and writes science fiction, published in Nature and LeapsMag. Most recently, his feature screenplay Mr Rob won SFFILM Rainin Grant and took part in the Sundance Screenwriters Intensive. Fawaz continues to draw on his perspective to explore stories of people trying to do a bit of right in a world of wrong.

Guest Filmmaker Natalie Baszile

Natalie is the author of Queen Sugar, which is being adapted for television by Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. Natalie’s new non-fiction book We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating Black Farmers, Land & Legacy, is forthcoming from HarperCollins (April 2021). Natalie has had residencies at Ragdale Foundation, VCCA, Hedgebrook, and Djerassi where she was the SFFILM and Bonnie Rattner Fellow. Her non-fiction work has appeared in Lenny Letter, The Bitter Southerner, O, The Oprah Magazine, and numerous anthologies. She has taught fiction at Saint Mary’s College and Sierra Nevada University. She is currently a second-year resident at SFFILM.

Guest Filmmaker Alexandra Hsu

Alexandra (Alle) Hsu is a director/producer, born and raised in Orange County, CA. She received her MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts in Film Directing and Production. Prior to Tisch, Alle earned her BA from Scripps College, double majoring in Media Studies and Asian Studies. Her undergraduate thesis documentary, Women: Cultural Revolution to Capitalist Revolution was part of the Pomona College Museum of Art’s China Insights exhibit and received a museum grant in 2011. In graduate school, Alle co-wrote, directed, and produced the short film, Sophie in Hong Kong. Sophie had its world premiere at the Austin Film Festival, and its international premiere at the Foyle FF, both Oscar-Qualifying festivals. The film went on to screen at over 15 film festivals around the country. Hsu also directed another short, a 1960s period film, Our Way Home set in Long Island, N.Y. The film premiered at Oscar-Qualifying HollyShorts FF last year. Hsu is in post-production on two other short films: POP! her NYU thesis film, starring Emmy-nominated actress, Michelle Ang, and Rencontres Paysannes (Farmers Dating). Last year, Alle was named the Featured Artist in Film at Kearny Street Workshop’s APAture Film Festival. She was also mentored in the Women in Film Mentoring Program. This year, she was selected to make a short film for a non-profit, SAFEBAE, in the CBS Leadership Pipeline Challenge, and is honing her writing skills in the KSW Interdisciplinary Writers Lab. As a resident in the SFFILM FilmHouse Residency 2019-2020, Alle is developing her first feature film, Queens.

Guest Filmmaker Victoria Ponce

Originally from Michoacán, Mexico, Maria Victoria Ponce is a San Francisco Bay Area film director/writer who grew up in Richmond, California. She appreciates the complexity in the routine lives within poor and working class neighborhoods, and themes of sexuality and coming of age tend to recur in her work. Ponce is a fellow and Rainin Grant recipient through SFFILM. Ponce’s short Ruda was in official selection of FICM, Urbanworld, Femme Frontera, Boston International Latino Film festival, and Seattle Latino Film Festival. She is a recipient of the Black List’s Latinx list. Ponce is a Cine Qua Non Lab fellow 2018, NALIP Latino Media Market fellow, a Latino Screenwriting Project fellow, and an artist resident at SFFILM FilmHouse 2018 and 2019. She was also selected as one of five finalists for Tribeca/AT&T Untold Stories 2019 and selected to participate in Film Independent’s Fast Track.