Monthly Archives: September 2010

Write Movies Finalists – 25th International Writing Competition

Moving on up…

Terra Incognita made Finalist at the competition.  They actually have made some of their past winning scripts.  Good competition to participate in.  At least we now have an idea that our script can compete with international ideas.  Global market value, baby! International Writing Competition #25

We received nearly 1000 screenplays, books, plays, short stories and articles from the following countries: USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France, Belgium, India, Switzerland, Austria, Russia, Italy, Greece, Nigeria, Georgia, Mexico, Japan, South Africa and The Cameroon.

The list can be seen at: CLICK HERE

Published: September 28, 2010

Terra Incognita – how the script came to be.

I should start out by saying “Terra Incognita” is a passion project.  Ironically, it’s not your typical, “I-have-a-personal-drama-story-I-have-to-tell” passion project.  It was my guilty pleasure of loving old time action-adventure high-concept fantasy films.

Anyone who knows me would classify me as a history nut.  For a time I thought I was going to make historical documentaries and even spent a good 5 years studying archaeology in pursuit of it.  But the narrative bug wouldn’t leave me alone, so I returned to the world of stories clearly influenced by my old field of study.

Terra Incognita was originally going to be my Thesis script from USC’s graduate program.  We wrote the synopsis, but something didn’t click.  We chose instead to develop something smaller scale, something new graduates could tackle in the Indie Market and raise funds for (A Touch of Magic). But high concept (and big budget) movies are in my blood, so I wrote it anyways.

LOTR aragorn's ring of barahir3

Adventurous, Awesome and God’s Gift to Women = Men like Aragorn

It is inspired by the memory of Men.  You know the type.  They burly, danger-seeking, tough as nails salty men who just don’t seem to exist any more.  It’s also inspired by the actual events of the discovery of Easter Island.  In fact, the original title was Rapa Nui: Land’s End – but man does that title suck.  I vaguely mentioned to Zack Luna, a Sales Rep from Kathy Morgan, Int’l that I was consider changing it to Terra Incognita – he said “now that, I can sell”.  I knew he was on to something.  A Good Title = a possible read.  All any aspiring writer could hope for, right?

Terra Incognita, for the uninitiated, is the mythical southern land mass the Old World believed existed in the unexplored areas of the world.  It was supposed to balance out the globe and be home to all the legendary creatures of mythology (hey, they have to live somewhere, right?).  Old nautical maps have it scribbled in the corners.  Or as wikipedia calls it:

An urban legend claims that cartographers labelled such regions with “Here be dragons“. Although cartographers did claim that fantastic beasts (including large serpents) existed in remote corners of the world and depicted such as decoration on their maps, only one known surviving map, the Lenox Globe, in the collection of the New York Public Library,[1] actually says “Here be dragons” (using the Latin form “HIC SVNT DRACONES”).[2] However, ancient Roman and Medieval cartographers did use the phrase HIC SVNT LEONES (Here are lions) when denoting unknown territories on maps.

Alternatively, ‘terra incognita’ may also refer to the hypothesized continent Terra Australis Incognita (“The unknown land of the South”), as seen in the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum map by Abraham Ortelius (1570). 


Dating from ca. 1510, is the second or third oldest known terrestrial globe. It is housed by the Rare Book Division of the New York Public Library.

The old school adventurers truly believed in its existence.  They scoured the globe looking for it.

What if they found something?

That is what inspired “Terra Incognita”.  The “what if”.  And the ability to say something about the ecological ruin of Easter Island.  It really is a lesson for our entire planet about resource conservation.


Tongariki Moai Heads – the largest carvings of the ancient world made with stone tools.


The script has done better in competitions than I could EVER have expected.  We just heard back today that we are FINALISTS in the 25th International Writing Competition</a>.  We are travelling to Austin in October to meet with panelists at the Austin FF Conference.

I’ll be blogging about that experience soon!  Thanks for reading.

Published: September 28, 2010

Disney Living Halloween – It’s a Wrap!


We just wrapped production on 3 Disney Living web-mercials with Director Sebastian Davis.  I need to give a shout out to my fantastic crew who made the project not only visually stunning, but a smooth enjoyable time despite the record 110 degree heat wave in Los Angeles.

It turned out to be a Trojan reunion, with all of the Keys former USC film school grads.  Jay Visit and Raul B. Fernandez co-DP’ed the gig.  Susan Havens was on Locations.  Monica Surrena on Production Design. Michelle “you rock” Kramer is by far the best 1st AD I’ve worked with.  Paul Fonarev and David Lankton of Miso Sound were our tireless sound team.

I even met a new (and hopefully frequent) collaborator, in our stylist Myriam Arougheti.  She’s fantastic.  Hire her.

But mostly I need to shout out to Sebastian.  He’s a wonderful collaborator and fantastic director.  I knew it the moment we started casting and saw him working with the kids.  He’s a natural.  And the fact that he’s so darn level-headed makes working for him so much easier!  Thank you Sebastian for being such a great partner.

The spots recreate (satirically) classic Hollywood horror movie clips with a Disney flare.  Look for them all over the web during this Halloween holiday season.


Tess “tired, bruised, but loving it” Ortbals
Producer, Disney Living Halloween

Published: September 28, 2010

Why is Writing the Red Headed Step Child?


I’ll admit, I’m in new territory submitting my script in lieu of my finished films to competitions.  And as my feature action/adventure tale of swashbuckler hero-types ACTUALLY progresses in the competitions, I’m amazed at the perceived insignificance of it.  I truly think writers get the short end of the stick.

Yes – there are 100s of competitions out there that really don’t mean squat to an aspiring filmmaker.  The same is true of writing comps or film festivals.  However, there are a few that honestly open doors for new talent.  Here are the top 5 competitions my research has determined to mean anything.

#1 Nicholl’s Fellowship – Ran by the academy and open only to non-professional writers (you can’t earn your living writing to win this fellowship).  Even quarterfinalists get industry attention.  HOWEVER – they got 6404 script entries this year.  Wow.



#2 Austin Film Festival – 17 years and still running. This competition runs simultaneously with their large Screenwriting Conference.


The Sundance Writing Lab is pretty awesome, but so very very rare to get an invite.  Don’t waste your money on the $65-75 entry fees at the other “pro” competitions.  If you want Hollywood to come to you, my money is on Nicholl.

Published: September 20, 2010

Austin Heart of Film Screenplay SEMIFINALISTS!


So I had received my rejection letter from AFF on my birthday, no less – telling me that we made it to the 2nd round of the Drama competition with Terra Incognita.  I was so bummed.  I really thought that script was perfect for this competition.  They even had a special section for:


Perfect, huh?  Well, I guess so…

Because a few days later I got a call from Matt Dy from Austin telling me I was one of 8 Sci-Fi scripts selected for the Semi-Finals!  Apparently my action-adventure mythology script didn’t cut it in the drama section.  Thank God for the special genre category!

The Semis list is on the web “Here

We find out about Finalists at the end of the month.  I just booked our Producer’s Passes.  Can’t wait for the parties!  Woo Hoo!

Published: September 13, 2010

The Start Of Something That Should Have Started 18 Months Ago

Unfortunately, we are starting this blog about a year and half late.  Oh I’m sure there is a stack of ridiculous experiences ahead of us that will be great fun to read, but there are plenty that I wish we’d have catalogued before now.  But since we have to start somewhere, I will begin by retelling the story where I got the first inkling that we should be recording all this down somewhere:
<blockquote>Back in March of 2009, when we were just beginning the epic journey of learning how to get a film financed, we had a pitch trip to Silicon Valley for our feature <strong>A Touch of Magic. </strong>This is a comedy/fantasy film for families whose main characters are a Magician who doesn’t believe in magic, and a 10-year old girl with real magical powers.

The first scheduled pitch meeting was at the home of the soon-to-be-ex-wife of a billionaire (who would be a billionaire herself after the divorce).  She is a big movie fan, is heavily involved in Cinequest, and definitely has an apetite for getting involved in the film industry.  And most importantly, she has an 11 year-old daughter who loves fantasy movies.  Perfect fit, right?  No-brainer right?

All decked out in our pitch clothes that say “we’re creative but we’re know business,” we knocked on her door at the exact minute scheduled…  15 minutes later, nobody had answered the door.  5 minutes later, with our car engine running and my foot an inch away from the gas pedal which would get us the hell out of this demeaning experience, a black mercedes SUV pulled into the driveway.  She piled out with her 11-year old, and looked at us as if we were robbers casing the place.

So… we got out, introduced ourselves, and discovered fairly quickly that she had completely forgotten about us (which tells you how interested she actually was).  She loves movies, especially family-oriented fantasy movies.  What a coincidence!  That’s what we had!

“Is it a 3D movie?  That’s what everyone wants to see now, you know!”

… uh, this is a $2.5M film… “That’s true, but we also think people are really more interested in seeing good movies with a lot of fantasy and imagination.”

“My daughter can’t get enough of that stuff.”  – this is where her daughter, who was very outspoken about her opinions of fantasy, intervened and began to tell me the story of the latest book she was reading, which she can’t wait to see as a movie.  I made the mistake of saying “Oh man, I think you’d love our story!”

“Can she read the script?  She loves Harry Potter and Twilight.  And she’s a really good judge.”

….uh.. she’s eleven… and it’s a script, not a book… or even a movie…  “Why sure she can! We’d love to hear what she thinks!”

5 minutes later, we were back in the car.  We had just pitched a billionaire while standing on the street in front of her house, who had forgotten she agreed to meet with us, who had absolutely no knowledge about the movie business, and who, it now appeared, would judge the film based on whether her 11 year old liked the script.</blockquote>
It was on the drive back to the hotel, after a few hours of laughter and consolation between each other, that I said, “We should be documenting this.  Seriously, damnit!  We should get a camera and make a documentary about our experiences learning how to get a film financed!”  You can see how well we followed up on that idea.

By the way, apparently the day after we met them they left on a vacation to Cabo for… a month.  We didn’t try to make contact.

Published: September 10, 2010