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Script Development Key to Resurgence of Central, Eastern European Film Biz

Tereza Nvotova's 'Filthy' plays in the Czech Films section at Karlovy Vary

In the beginning was the word. This sentence, which launches the Bible, also applies to the film world, where a good script is the underpinning of any successful project.

At the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival on Tuesday, the panel The Benefits of Guided Script Development addressed the need for better scripts to boost the Central and Eastern Europe’s film industries.

The session’s raison d’etre was made clear in the promo material describing it: “It’s a proven fact that a well-treated script has a far higher chance of becoming a successful film.”

Writer-director-producer Jan Sverak, a member of the Czech Film Fund, which provides filmmaking support in the Czech Republic, said that strong script development is essential to a healthy film industry. He pointed out that during Czechoslovakia’s communist days the country maintained a film community similar to Hollywood’s studio system – albeit state-operated – in which organizations developed projects and gave feedback to writers.

With the advent of capitalism, he said, the industry fragmented, script development simply died and film quality atrophied. The new Czech Fund, Sverak maintains, will serve as a “scriptwriting incubator” to help writers develop better work. “That’s the only way to lift Czech cinema.”

A different perspective was voiced from the other side of the Atlantic, where script doctors and script development are well-established industries unto themselves. Two American screenwriters – Sundance Institute experts Naomi Foner and Erik Jendresen – painted a bleak picture of the creativity in the U.S. film industry.

“We can’t hold onto our vision in Hollywood,” said Jendresen. “It’s a fear-based industry where they value money, not story. Studios are concerned only with tentpoles. They have no connection to heart and soul and storytelling, even though they act like they do.” He added that if you want to write films about basic human interaction, “you’re on your own.”

Foner, a veteran of public television’s pioneering studio Children’s Television Workshop and writer of Sidney Lumet’s 1988 film “Running on Empty,” said she regrets the passing of the days when she could just sit down with the director for a few days and they could re-read and analyze the script on their own, without studio notes, and fine-tune the final version. “Film schools teach directors how to work with actors,” she said, “but not so much screenwriters. This should change.”

Other panelists included Finnish writer and director Mikko Kuparinen (“2 Nights Till Morning”); Iraqi filmmaker Koutaiba Al-Janabi (“Leaving Baghdad”); director Tereza Nvotova, whose film school feature “Filthy” is making the fest circuit and will soon open in the Czech Republic and Slovakia; Alessandro Gropplero, managing director of the Karlovy Vary fest’s When East Meets West section; Barbora Struss, director of Midpoint, a script development program; and Fabrizio Grosoli, co-director of the Trieste Film Festival.

The two-hour proceedings were moderated by Danijel Hocevar, a film producer and managing director of Vertigo, a Ljubljana-based production company,

Hugo Rosak, film industry head of the Karlovy Vary fest, opened and closed the session. “The goal here is to make our films better and travel more,” he said.

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