History of the Screenwriters’ Workshop: 1987-2012

In 1987, screenwriters Brent Johnson and Susan Weisman developed the original idea for Screenwriters’ Workshop. After working on a screenplay production project with local film professionals with the purpose of getting more film experience, Brent and Susan decided to establish a permanent organization that could continue to offer screenwriters similar collaborative experiences along with a variety of other learning opportunities. This was with the purpose of making the screenwriter and their script the focus of the creative process. Over the past twenty-five years, this vision has been pursued through the efforts of many individuals and the various programs of SWW.
The Screen Labs program produced shorts films from member scripts using the creative and production resources in the Twin Cities. Robb Mitchell served as ScreenLabs producer for several years and he and previous producers were able to bring the directors, actors and various film production personnel from the Twin Cities together to create some wonderful work. The current Script2Screen program carries on this production tradition using a three month long theme-based short screenplay contest to choose a winning script, which is then filmed.

Script readings have been a constant throughout SWW’s history. The current Script Night Reading Series, which has been held at the Jungle Theater the past two years, showcases member scripts. These readings have a director and professional actors. The 2nd Tuesday Reading Group, facilitated by Karen Frank, is a more informal script reading utilizing SWW members and MCTC students as actors in a table read format.

For many years, the Barry Morrow Fellowship was a feature-length contest, which gave the winner a meeting with Rainman writer, Barry Morrow. A feature-length script contest emerged again in 2011 with sponsorship from Thomson-Reuters, and will continue for the second year in 2012. Along with a cash prize, the 2011 contest winner, Larry Matthews, received a Script Night staged reading and a meeting with producer Judith James of Dreyfus-James Productions.

In the early days, ScreenLine was the newsletter that kept members updated on member news, writing tips and Minnesota film news. John Jansen was a long-time editor. Now the SWW website and e-mail are the sources of information for members.

SWW has had many well-known screenwriters and writing instructors speak to its membership over the years, such as local writers Jeffrey Hatcher and Judith Guest, as well as nationally known writers such as Barry Morrow, David Trottier, and Stephen McFeely.

And finally, SWW has fostered screenwriting groups. Three weekly Script Groups provide a forum for writers and fellow members to read script pages aloud and receive feedback. While there were private member groups in the early days and still are, SWW now sponsors three ongoing script groups which meet weekly throughout the year and are open to any member of any level.

SWW has had peaks and valleys throughout the years, but it continues to aid Minnesota screenwriters in improving their craft and creative development. The Screenwriters’ Workshop has always been run by a small group of dedicated people and we are grateful to all of our current leaders as well as former leaders and founders. We also greatly appreciate the continued involvement and support of our members, without whom this organization would not exist. We would like to thank our current board members for their service — Hafed Bouassida, Ed Leschke, Perry Lueders, and Trina Koning. We also express our gratitude to former board members for their service — some of which include Robb Mitchell, Christopher Gegax, Chris Velasco, James McConnell, Brett Johnson, Julie Rappaport, and Cheryl Conway (apologies for an incomplete list). We hope to continue for many more years with the support of our members and the wider community.