Let me be clear: I’m not a fan of summits, seminars, conferences, workshops, panels, conventions, meet-ups, roundtables, meet-and-greets… You get the idea. I make it a point to steer clear of anything that even slightly resembles a gathering of people sitting around talking about who they are and what they do and telling you — without really telling you — how you can do what they do too. Yet, a few months ago, I found myself registering for the ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Atlanta — and paying for it — willingly; well, after the rather strong urging of my two college-aged kids.
Did I mention that I don’t enjoy going to these things?
Well, this time, I was going and I had a mission.
After writing and directing several TV movies and penning a couple of episodes of a TV series, I was ready to elevate. Feeling that I had done all I could do on my own, I was ready to relinquish the reins — or at least share them — and seek out someone who could help me move my career to the next level.
This isn’t the first time I thought I was ready to “go to the next level.” The first time was actually in 2013 when a film that I wrote (Pastor Brown) ended up on Lifetime — after being shelved for five years due to legal disputes. I signed on with an agent but, as it turns out, I wasn’t really ready at all. I didn’t have a story to tell and didn’t have a lot to show — definitely not enough to convince anyone that I was the next big thing.
This time was different.
This time I had 20+ produced projects under my belt (including a few directing credits). My kids are close to finishing college so I wouldn’t feel bad about taking off to work on a big Hollywood film should the opportunity present itself. Yes, this time was different. And so was I.
When a director friend sent me info about the ScreenCraft Writers Summit and asked if I was going, my initial thought was “Hmmm.” I thought if she was coming to town for it, I’d hang out with her and we’d see what we could sniff out together. But, as it turns out, she booked a project and was unable to attend. I read the names of the attendees and was impressed — though I must admit, I was a bit doubtful.
Me: Sure, Eric Heisserer, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of one of my absolute favorite movies (Arrival) is going to be there. Sure, all of these managers and agents and showrunners are going to be there.
I was skeptical but, for some reason, I didn’t write this one off. This one seemed different.
I researched the agents and managers that were slated to attend. That’s when I stumbled upon Jen Ray from Heroes and Villains Entertainment. I loved her focus on women creators (and her political views). I considered registering for the event so that I could check out her panel and hear and see her in living color. I asked myself: when would I have an opportunity to get a glimpse of so many people in one setting without flying to LA and hoping to get a meeting?
So I registered and I went.
I attended several of the events and that Sunday, I went to the panel focused on securing a manager or agent. Eric Heisserer, of all people, moderated and literary manager Jen Ray was one of the participants.
During that event, I made a decision that I had been struggling with for some time: whether to choose a manager or an agent. Based on what I learned there, I made the final decision to go with a manager. Afterward, I went to speak to some of the participants. Jen and I had a nice talk. She was impressed by what I had been able to accomplish on my own — from Atlanta and asked for my card. We exchanged info, I followed up, we traded a few emails, had a couple of phone calls and in May, we decided to work together.
I now have a literary manager.
Right away, she laid out her plan for my career and told me I needed to come to LA for meetings. I made plans and found myself in LA in August with about 10 meetings on my schedule. It was freaking amazing!
As I write this, I’m preparing to direct my first movie for Lifetime — a direct result of Jen’s efforts, introductions and the meetings I took during my LA visit. An indirect result of my decision to not lump ScreenCraft in the category with all those other summits and seminars and things that I absolutely hate doing.
This summit was the first one that I’ve ever attended that delivered on its promise.
The people who they said would be there — they were there. The things that they promised I would learn — I learned (including wonderful information from Jacob Krueger about seven-act structure). The steps that it inspired me to take — I took. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
Who knew doing something that I hated so much could have such a major impact on my career? Makes me wonder about all those other conferences and conventions and seminars and summits that I missed. Maybe I should have… Well, they might have been good for… Nah. ScreenCraft is definitely different.
If you’re reading this before April, there’s still time to sign up for the upcoming ScreenCraft Writers Summit! Register for the upcoming ScreenCraft Writers Summit in Atlanta here.
Rhonda Freeman-Baraka is an NAACP-nominated writer/director/producer based in Atlanta, Georgia. She has written twenty-one produced television movies including BOBBI KRISTINA, TO HELL AND BACK and THE SECRET SHE KEPT for TV One and all five of the popular Chandler Family Christmas series for UP TV.
She also directed three of the Chandler films as well as DOWNSIZED for TV One and two episodes of UNCENSORED, also for TV One. Rhonda began her career as a journalist in Alabama and went on to work as a freelancer for several outlets, including Billboard, MTV.com, Jezebel, Atlanta Magazine, and Creative Loafing.
Rhonda is currently writing EDGE OF FAITH for Lifetime in collaboration with actress Kim Fields and recently wrapped production on CHANDLER CHRISTMAS GETAWAY which she wrote and directed and is currently preparing to direct a project for Lifetime.