Miriam Cross is at it again with yet another interview with an interesting mind. Carolynne Ciceri, writer, director, writer and producer. Donning many hats gives the opportunity to take in a wealth of knowledge about the industry, and Miriam got to remove those hats and pick at her brain. Oh, did I mention she was entered in the CSSC Last year but came in 5th? What happened to her post-CSSC? Find out below:
It may seem like only the first-place winner of the Canadian Short Screenplay Competition gets the big prize: a professionally produced live film version of their script. However, last year’s “unofficial” fifth place winner Carolynne Ciceri (“Well, I might have left out the word ‘unofficial’ when I told my mother!” she jokes) proves that you don’t have to come out at the very top of the CSSC to get results.
Ciceri, a Vancouver-based New Media writer, producer, and director, now has two broadcasters and a producer waiting on a series proposal, an agent who has agreed to read an original one-hour TV script, and two producers awaiting her next short script with cash at the ready, and she attributes this all to her start with the CSSC. “It was a great boost to my confidence,” she says. “There’s something affirming about being judged well by a blind panel of industry experts that don’t even know your name. More than that though, mentioning the achievement as part of my pitch creates a definite reaction in the eyes of industry folks.”
When I ask Ciceri what made her apply for the CSSC in 2008, she puts it bluntly: “Low self-esteem!” She then elaborates, “Seriously, even though I’ve been writing for a living for nearly ten years, I had been creating new media marketing materials and corporate videos and informal educational pieces almost exclusively. Though my career dreams all focused on dramatic writing, the entertainment work that I was doing was exhibit work for visitor centres and scenarios for theme park attractions. Interesting and fun to be sure—character-driven, not so much. I was looking for validation as a dramatic storyteller, so I decided to see if I was as good as I thought I was and entered the CSSC.”
Her short script The Lobby, a romantic comedy about what could happen when you act on your attraction to the neighbour down the hall, had a “pretty simple inspiration,” she says. “Sharing the elevator everyday with a very cute neighbour!” To get her script going, “I just asked myself that question that chases around every writer’s brain incessantly—‘What if?’”
She was so buoyed by her strong finish in the CSSC, as well as making the shortlist for the Canadian Film Centre’s Primetime TV Writing Program, that she decided to take the next step in making her dream of becoming a TV showrunner reality, and attended the Banff World Television Festival in Alberta this past June. “It was like a three and a half day speed date!” she shares. “Super overwhelming at first, but as soon as you get over yourself a bit and start sticking out your hand, it gets easier. Heather Hawthorn-Doyle, one of the panelists, gave some great advice about Banff that I clung to like a life raft—don’t put too much pressure on yourself to pitch, just go, meet people and listen. That advice was particularly handy at the opening cocktail party. Ever been to a party with 1,000 strangers?” She also ran into CSSC founder David Cormican, who gave her a pep talk at the kick-off cocktail.
Even though she maintains that whatever she accomplished at the Banff festival remains to be seen (“I don’t want to jinx anything yet!”), Ciceri is excited about her prospects. She has two broadcasters, an agent, and a producer interested in hearing from her further, is working on a sci-fi series, and perhaps most importantly, “Banff was the reinforcement that I am heading in the right direction.”
As for advice for future competitors in the CSSC, Ciceri’s advice falls firmly in line with the “short is better” mantra. “Keep it simple and tell it true,” she says. “When I sat down to write The Lobby I was actually conscious of keeping the cast list short (two people) and the locations minimal. Putting restrictions like that on yourself can really help you focus your idea. I’m also a huge believer in starting your scenes as late as possible, doing what needs to be done and then getting out fast. Nearly everything I’ve ever written gets the first few lines, paragraphs or pages lopped off the front.”
And for everyone who thought that winning the CSSC is the only thing that counts, Ciceri insists that this is not the case. “For a writer it is a tremendous door opener—as soon as people hear that your script did well, they ask to read it. Reading a short script is an easy commitment for people. Then they love it and ask to read more. Everybody wants to make a great story, find the next great writer; if I were a producer, director or agent I’d scope out the finalist list for sure, since you know that your peers have already vetted the material for you. A competition like the CSSC lets everybody in the industry cut to the chase, and you know how we love to do that.”