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Scriptapalooza interviews Eric D. Howell, a Scriptapalooza seminfinalist for Ana's Playground, who has decided to shoot his film not-for-profit with IFP.
Tell us a little about Ana's Playground?
A: The script started as a short writing experiment. I wanted to play with empathy shifting from a protagonist to an antagonist in a final decisive moment. I had read a book about sniper's in Sarajevo and thought that this could create an interesting setting for my story. Two characters, divided by ideology, with no verbal dialogue between them. Their common link is a professional soccer match broadcast that they both happen to be listening to.
There is very little dialogue in the short script, and what is there is simply used to produce a sense of realism. Therefore, I decided to create a fictitious language for the characters and the soccer commentators. I didn't want the audience to focus on a particular language, culture, or political situation, but rather on the tragic loss of humanity within a child living in war. I gave the characters an ambiguous ethnicity, geographic location, and conflict. The story is about children - not politics.
Not until I finished the short script did I make the discovery of the child soldier issue. Through initial research I discovered that 1 in 10 soldiers is a child. This represents 10% of all combatants fighting in war today. 80% of those children are kids under the age of 15 fighting in active combat. Then, to my amazement, I discovered that soccer (a major thematic element of my script) is one of the major tools used to demobilize and rehabilitate child soldiers around the world.
From this nugget I decided to move forward with a feature length version of Ana's Playground. However, I did not want to compromise the integrity of the original short as I knew that it would loose efficacy if diluted. Therefore, I decided to create an anthology that would weave five central, child soldier stories together into a single cohesive narrative. Creating a seamless story fabric was quite a challenge, but it seems to have worked out quite well. Within the last six months it has been a finalist in three major screenwriting competitions.
Who else is involved with your project?
A: A few notable companies have taken a look at both the short and the feature and the response has been quite favorable. Most make an immediate comparison to Babel or Traffic. Of course, with the situation the way it is with the strike, everyone is in a holding pattern.
Rather than waiting around for this strike to end, I'm moving forward to producing the original short script. My business partner & wife Mary Jo, along with my producing partner Marsha Trainer, have set up the short film production as a non-profit venture. We have IFP Minnesota working as our non-profit fiscal sponsor and will raise the $160,000 production budget through charitable donations. Currently we're just north of $20,000 in our fundraising efforts. In addition, a soccer equipment company called Mazamba (Mazamba.com) has agreed to donate 10,000 soccer jerseys to our efforts. Soccer is a major tool used in demobilizing and rehabilitating child soldiers and war affected children. Change their uniform and change their heart. Let them play!
Once the short film is completed we intend to donate all of the screening rights to Non-Governmental-Organizations that directly aid war affected children. These organizations include, but are not limited to Amnesty International, WarChild, UNICEF, and The Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.
I simply started out with a story. The child soldier issue found me. Now that I know about the issue I've lost my deniability. I cannot simply turn away from this. As a filmmaker I can make a difference by creating awareness through my craft. If I can inspire, inform, and entertain I will have reached a wonderful pinnacle for this film, and my heart.
How can someone donate to this project?
A: Online PayPal donations are being taken at at www.anasplayground.com. (Larger donations can be mailed directly to IFP Minnesota c/o Ana's Playground) Cash and in-kind donations of any amount are fully tax deductible and are greatly appreciated. Of course, this is a grassroots effort and requires action from anyone moved enough to take it. Spreading the word, creating excitement, and maybe changing some lives is what this is about. The way I see it, the better the film is, the more exposure it gets, the more it can make a difference. It puts a whole new take on the importance of marketing a project! People should feel free to contact me if they have any comments or questions about this project: firstname.lastname@example.org
How long did it take you to write it?
A: The original short script took about 2 months to get to a final draft. The feature version took just shy of one year to complete to a final draft.
Why did you enter Scriptapalooza?
A: We all need a measuring stick at times. To me, it's not so much about winning a prize, it's about getting a sense of the efficacy of the story I've created. In particular I needed to guage if the non-traditional story structure was working. As I am not currently represented, I felt a screenwriting contest the way to go. Sriptapalooza wins my award for catchy, easy-to-remember-names, so it was the first one that I entered.
How has Scriptapalooza helped you?
A: Frankly, Scriptapalooza is the only organization that has engaged me post contest. I made it as a finalist and I thought that would be the last I heard from anyone. Not the case at all with Scriptapalooza. They constantly send updates and are really active in promoting my project. I've been a finalist in two other major contests and have not heard a single thing from them since announcing their winners. Scriptapalooza feels like they understand the importance of that final 100. They understand that we are in this together - the more I win - the more they win.
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