We met former development exec and President of Debra Hill Productions Barri Evins at Great American Pitchfest in June, and we found her immediately impressive. A lovely and charming woman who comes from the bigs (and quite clearly knows her stuff,) she is a ball of energy and positivism. In addition, she works tirelessly on charitable causes, not the least of which is the amazing First Book, which has donated over 80 million books to needy children. Whoa!
Barri's coming to Boston September 30th with her Big Ideas Weekend Intensive Seminar, so we thought we'd let her tell you guys all about it.
Jim Cirile: Hi, Barri! Tell us a little bit about the ventures that you are into and what you're all about.
Barri Evins: I am a working film producer working on some fantastic projects, and in addition I am a screenwriting teacher. My whole goal is to help new writers by giving them the same sure-fire techniques that I use with professional writers.
JC: Okay, before we go into that, tell us a little more about the producing side. Are you actively developing projects now?
BE: My focus right now is on developing my own projects. I have a passion project, a true story called Stetson Kennedy with Tobey Maguire attached to produce and star in it, and it has Academy Award nominated screenwriters Mark Fergus and Hawk Otsby, who wrote Children of Men and Iron Man are attached to write the script. That is my passion project, my big, big boulder that I am pushing uphill. It's a character-driven dramatic thriller in the vein of Donnie Brascoe meets No Way Out. It's the story of a man who grew up in a rich, white Southern family. He was very idealistic, and when (World War II) came along, everyone signed up. But he was 4F -- he couldn't enroll. He decided he needed to do something important. So he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, pretended to be a racist and proceeded to infiltrate and expose the Klan from the inside out.
JC: Wow, that is a killer story. I would imagine your experiences in the trenches have informed your approach to teaching?
BE: Absolutely. In my work with Mark and Hawk, they talk about how professional writers never get writer's block. The very same techniques that we used to develop a very imporant pitch to lots of very important people are the same techniques I share with writers who I meet with. We also had to take a true story and craft it quickly and efficiently into a really compelling theatrical story that would sell. We had to do it expeditiously, because these writers make a great deal of money. This is how it works in the real world. A lot of aspiring writers get caught up in what a lot of really smart screenwriting gurus have to say, but each of them talks their own talk and have invented their own vocabulary. That's why we break it down and show people that all of these brilliant guys from Aristotle on are saying the same thing about story. We talk in the same language that you hear in Hollywood industry meetings, which is about the five big beats and how to think that way and how to structure the script coming out of that -- as well as how to create strong stories and especially on how to focus on the very truth of the idea -- everything begins with the concept. It's a really organic way of looking at it.
JC: Give us the heads-up about your seminar.
BE: It's an intimate, interactive weekend intensive. It's limited to ten writers. It takes you from what to write -- which is the single most important decison a writer will ever make -- to ready to write, over the course of a weekend. We talk about targeting contests, we talk about screenwriting superpowers. We'll learn how to pitch and use it as a fast-track to developing stories. We screen a film and completely demystify its structure, and I give writers tools that enable them to craft stories just like I was talking about with the Academy Award-nominated writers, so that in the end writers have the ability to spend a lot less time rewriting. I craft a very individualized experience for each writer, and to ensure that they make great strides after the seminar, they have my mentorship for a year.
JC: Wow. So what does that entail?
BE: E-mail and phone calls. People send me their one-pagers. They get feedback. Then I really prefer to have phone conversations, so that we can have an interaction. The part of my job that I love is the interaction with writers and development.
JC: Suppose someone comes in with a screenplay they want to workshop?
BE: This seminar is geared towards brand-new ideas. People are welcome to contact me for a script consult, and I'm really renowned as being the pitch doctor. But this is geared towards developing new ideas based on your terms, your passion, as well as an understanding of the marketplace.
JC: This is a two-day event?
BE: It is two days and two nights. When I say intensive, I mean intensive. We actually bring in all the food and drink. It's like a casino -- we don't let you leave. We create an intimate atmosphere, and it's Friday night, all day Saturday; there's a screening on Saturday night, and then we go all day Sunday, and they have to (participate in) my very unique idea-generating game. I dig deep, and our work on the seminar actually begins in advance with different exercises designed specifically to help me give everybody a truly transformational event.
JC: Fantastic. So how can people get in on this? You're coming to Boston next, yes?
BE: Yes. I go all around the country. I've taught in Richmond, Virginia, Chicago, San Francisco and Cleveland, and the next seminar is September 30 to October 2nd in Boston. That seminar is half full already. So anyone who wants to attend, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. There's a discount to the organizer of writing groups and nonprofits (contact Barri for details.) And since I am a mentor for Cinestory, there is also a Cinestory discount, which is part discount and part donation to Cinestory. If you say "WOTS" when you sign up, you'll get a 10% discount.
JC: Excellent, thanks for that -- WOTS for Writers on the Storm of course. I want to also mention your nonprofit pursuits. I love what you're doing with First Book, and I understand even the seminar has a "giving back" philosophy beyond simply teaching.
BE: Absolutely, and thank you. I try to enhance every community that I visit, so I most often, if I can, pair a seminar with a free screening for the public or a local writing nonprofit. It really is a great way of giving back, and I often partner with a film commission and/or a local university.
JC: Thanks so much for your time, Barri. Any closing thoughts?
BE: You can got to my web page or my Facebook page or my YouTube page and see terrific success stories. One of my greatest success stories ever what a concept that was developed into a treatment, which then sold for six figures in four hours to Warner Bros. This method works. My writers are moving on. They're optioning books, they're making progress in coming up with stronger, more commercial ideas that they still feel extremely passionate about. That's why we begin with all these advanced assignments, so that I can help writers target their passion and their strengths.