I know this must sound like a promotional blog, or a congratulatory blog, or a persuasive blog! Actually, it is none of these! It is just an account of what Stage 32 has done for me at this moment in time.
So, please give me a moment for some backstory...
My name is Selma Karayalçın and I’m a forty-nine-year-old woman going on twenty-one who lives on the island of Aphrodite that is called Cyprus. If you don’t know where that is, it is a tiny dot on the map in the eastern Mediterranean. I am a high school teacher in my day job, teaching twelve to nineteen year olds English language, literature and drama.
Ayia Napa beach in Cyprus
I was born and grew up in London and my upbringing basically consisted of watching films. When I emigrated to Cyprus in 2000, I continued to love watching and reading about film without any outlet or purpose apart from enjoyment. And then something happened about four years ago.
My Goan neighbour, whom I had known for about five years, told me the story of how Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife were stranded near the Murchison Falls in East Africa following their crash-landing in 1954. The next morning, they were rescued by a launch sailing down the river. The captain of that launch was my neighbor's father. My neighbor had just dropped it into the conversation as if it were something ordinary – but the connection between one of my favourite writers and my neighbor was well, mind blowing!
The story cries out for a screenplay, doesn’t it? But the idea didn’t immediately pop into my mind. You see, I am also a researcher with a PhD – and my mind didn’t work like that – then. Instead, I wrote an academic article about it and had it published in the Hemingway Review and gave a paper on it at a couple of international conferences.
Hemingway’s study, Cuba
Now, I’m an introvert, really I am, and living so far from the action, the internet is my friend. So when I was surfing the net, I naturally fell upon Stage 32, and read a few articles there. It was like a flash from a Hollywood movie: I just knew I had to write up the story as a screenplay. I momentarily forgot about Stage 32, ungrateful woman that I am, enrolled on courses in London, read countless books on screenplays, joined organizations, and started my new screenwriting journey. It was only then that I understood the truth of what the great Hemingway said about writing in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature:
“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing.”
Well, actually I learned that writing a screenplay is a thousand times lonelier, and for newbies like me, harder than writing articles, stories, novels and even poetry. To quote Hemingway again (I did say I was a fan, didn’t I?), he advised: “Write what you know, leave out unnecessary words, and don’t do it to be famous” but in screenwriting you’ve got to master two aspects: the story and also the formatting – a visual sort of writing for the screen – which is an integral part of the writing of the story itself. And this is hard!
In my lonely grotto, I bored my family and friends with my endeavors and dreams. Eventually, I managed to complete my first draft after three years. And then the screenplay just sat there.
My logic was, well I didn’t get into this for business reasons or to be famous so it’s an achievement … but at the same time I had the dream of seeing my work on the silver screen. So that was my dilemma. What I couldn’t figure out was how to make it happen.
The script just sat there, gathering dust … and in the meantime, all I did was moan to anybody who would listen. At first I had a lot of sympathy which turned into rolling of eyes, and then a change of subject … so I sat gloomy and silent. That was a bad time.
What I didn’t realize then, which was put very succinctly by Ashley Berns in a Stage 32 course I recently took called Your Guide to a full Time Career in Screenwriting was:
“If you are a painter and you’ve painted a painting, it’s done. You don’t need anyone’s permission to do anything with it. …You might want to get it into a gallery but the painting is and of itself complete. It’s done.
If you write a novel it doesn’t have to be published to be a novel – just literally the writing of it means it is in and of itself complete.
The screenplay is just the first step in a major investment. Somebody has to put up millions of dollars so it’s very different…Because there are millions of dollars at stake you’ve got to put a business head on…”
I knew that I needed to get out there, but how? I did the research online but everybody has an opinion which confused and depressed me even more. So I resorted to just writing more stuff, creating “masterpieces” that nobody was going to read, let alone get made …
I then tried joining a few different creative platforms – a half-hearted effort to tick off boxes on my list of things to do but I still felt isolated and it didn’t work out for me. And then I remembered Stage 32.
The first thing I listened to was CEO Richard "RB" Botto’s Ask me Anything” F@#$2020 Edition – I thought this would be a way to jump start my new journey. RB was so confident, informative without any pretensions, and downright personable that I was literally blown away! And then there are those once a month “Introduce yourselves” – to keep people like me in the loop.
I sort of feel as if someone is holding my hand saying, “Now look, I haven’t heard from you for some time. I know you are busy but you can always start over, just keep going, there are so many nice people to meet who would love to meet you too!”
And then there is the Education aspect – the courses, the webinars. Goodness! In less than a year, I have become so much more informed. Right now, I am involved in a screenwriting lab: “Write your Screenplay in 12 weeks” led by Thomas Pemberton and I am trying to write something that is very difficult and personal but I am being led step by step which is invaluable and amazing. But the added bonus is that I very much feel I am not alone. There are others like me who are also on the same journey - and I have made some great friends. We are all in it together, helping and encouraging each other.
There is no magic key to connect the dots. However, what I have learned is that the magic that happens is in the in-between part. And for me, Stage 32 itself is the magic key.
Now, I am under no illusion as to the whole screenwriting deal: it is a difficult dream to make into a career – yes, the writing is 50% and then the selling part is 50%: but what Stage 32 has done for me is to educate me, and it has introduced me to a lot of like-minded people who share the dream, who have lots of beautiful stories they want to tell the world.
This sense of unity makes me feel included. To be able to share this with each other is incredibly moving and I am full of gratitude.
At the opening of this piece, I wrote that my day job is that I am a teacher. I can now say, and I believe it, that my real job is that I am a screenwriter. The question of whether or not I actually make it, (I will – it is only a matter of time) is beside the point.
Selma began her screenwriting journey in 2017 and has recently completed her third screenplay, "Her Ruby Heart," based on the tempestuous relationship of Carole Lombard and Clarke Gable. She was awarded a prestigious Hemingway Research Grant in 2019 to support her research on her screenplay “The Hemingways” (now held in the Ernest Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library). Both screenplays are currently being read by numerous producers. She is currently working on a screenplay based on her own London childhood experiences and her Jamaican Yardie neighbor’s involvement with drug selling in the Stage 32 Lab: “Write your Screenplay in 12 weeks” led by Thomas Pemberton.
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