VFS's Women Take on Storyhive With Female Western and Divorce Comedy

By VFS Web Team, on September 20, 2016

Representation is important, which is why Storyhive’s Digital Shorts: Female Directing Edition -- putting female creators in the spotlight -- is a breath of fresh air. Not only does Storyhive support local talent, it also ensures that thirty deserving projects (that’s an amazing amount!) receive funding for their next stage of development. The best part? It’s a voting-based system, so you get to support your favourite idea. You’re an active part of the process!

In honour of this amazing Storyhive initiative, we’d like to celebrate Shelley Stein-Wotten (Writing for Film and Television grad) and Jackie Blackmore (Vancouver Film School Writing Instructor). Their short films are competing, along with many others, for a $10,000 prize. We had the pleasure of learning about their scripts, their creative process, and why they think their projects will resonate with audiences.

If you’d like to learn more, read on!

Jackie Blackmore: Writer

Project: Rear Ender

Why is it important to have initiatives in place like Storyhive’s Digital Shorts: Female Directing Edition? 

Jackie: Initiatives like Telus Storyhive give new, up & coming female directors both a means and a public platform to make their own short film and have it be seen & find their audience. As a female director, there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to create our own films, tell our stories, and build or establish our careers. The fact is women represent half the population, yet still only account for a small percentage of working filmmakers today.  However, funding opportunities like Storyhive are at the forefront of helping to change that!

 What is your short film about? What inspired the idea?

Jackie: Rear Ender is about a woman named Claire who comes home one day from work and walks in on her husband with her best friend. Sideswiped by divorce, Claire gets behind the wheel and discovers the road to recovery is paved with car accidents. It’s a playful dark action comedy about breaking up, starting over and hitting the gas!

Rear Ender is inspired by a dark night of the soul during my own divorce, when I realized the only place I felt truly in control of my life was behind the wheel of my car.  One rainy Vancouver night, sitting at a red light revving my car engine, I had the embarrassing thought that the only way I would ever meet someone new is if I hit them with my car!  Now I didn’t… But what if I had?

As a Comedy Writing Instructor in the Writing Department at VFS, I encourage my students to always ask what if and mine their own lives for laughs because in comedy the biggest laugh you will ever receive is from sharing an embarrassing truth. (Truth + Pain = Comedy!)  So that is exactly what I did. I took an embarrassingly dark and true moment from my life, turned it into a premise for a short film and mined it endlessly for laughs. Rear Ender is the result!

How does VFS play a role in your project?

Jackie: First of all, my VFS students always play a huge role because they inspire me to practice what I teach and preach in my classes, and they motivate me to take new risks and create new projects to use as examples for them to learn from in class. VFS is also where I met most of my crew for the film: Darren Borrowman our DOP, Red Borrowman our Sound Designer, Bob Woolsey who helps us with producing advice, one of my current writing students Adriana Callejas is my Social Media Strategist, and almost all my actors in the cast are from the VFS Sketch Company. So to say that VFS played a role in my project would be a giant understatement. It is the reason why I have the incredible crew and team Rear Ender has!

What makes your project stand out?

Jackie: Rear Ender is not your typical ‘short film’. It’s a ballsy, fast-paced dark action comedy with car accidents! In my comedy, you never want to play it safe, Rear Ender moves fast and takes risks, pushing the envelope and keeping the audience guessing how far Claire will go in her journey from ‘sweet wife’ to ‘villain with a vengeance.’  It’s 10 minutes of fast-paced comedic entertainment that will make you laugh and gasp and leave you with a smile on your face!

What would the prize money allow you to accomplish? And what do you hope people take away from your film?

Jackie: The $10,000 Storyhive funding would allow me to rent the special equipment I require to meet my films unique creative needs and hire the stunt and technical people to pull off the films car chases and accidents safely. It would allow me as an up and coming female director to make my dream film and use it as a calling card to get future directing work, and turn my action comedy film dreams into a reality for everyone to enjoy!

I hope that after people watch Rear Ender they feel the desire to share their own truths and embarrassing moments with others because those are the stories we all need to hear the most. When I was going through my divorce, I struggled to find anything comedic about what I was going through. I searched for movies and stories to help me through so I wouldn't feel so alone and to try to help put my life into perspective. But there's only so many times one can watch 'Under the Tuscan Sun.' Therefore, I made it my mission afterwards to find a way to make divorce funny. Sharing our truths (especially the embarrassing ones) helps us find the light during life’s darker moments and discover the healing power of laughter so that we can all find a way to laugh and heal and find joy both in our lives and in our struggles.

Shelley Stein-Wotten: Writer

Project: June-Ellen Must’ve Gone Mad

Why is it important to have initiatives in place like Storyhive’s Digital Shorts: Female Directing Edition?

Shelley: The best part about Storyhive is that people get to vote for the projects they want to see. They get to act as film studio executives. Suit or pajama dress code – totally their call. What I like about creative industries such as film is that the doors are open for all voices to make art, and that gives us, the viewers, more stories to see and enjoy. For whatever reason there’s an opportunity gap in film for women to have leading roles. Incentives like Storyhive, which help emerging filmmakers establish themselves as viable candidates to helm bigger projects, can close the gap and bring some equality to the game. I mean, we can all willingly wave the equality flag, right?

What is your short film about? What inspired the idea?

Shelley: June-Ellen Must’ve Gone Mad is a gender-swapping western comedy about Dr. Maude June-Ellen Hunter, a pioneering dentist obliged to take over her family’s ranch after her mother dies, who will lasso anyone but herself into raising the herd. She has to convince her do-gooder lil’ sis, Cora, to take over the ranch, yet Cora is too preoccupied with the Hunter’s prize milk cow, June-Ellen, who wandered off and may have gotten the foot-and-mouth disease.

Westerns are ripe for spoofing, especially the idea of the rigidity of society in the Wild West. Yes, there was this freedom of creating your life and re-creating your being in the Great Frontier. That is, if you were a man. Women didn’t have a choice about what to be. You were a wife, a schoolteacher, or a saloon girl, basically. If you attempted to be anything else, you were told no, or were laughed at. The main character of our story, Maude, goes through that exact journey. She bucked her family’s expectations and followed her dream to be a dentist and everyone treats her like she has mad cow disease or something.

How does VFS play a role in your project?

Shelley: We’re all graduates of various VFS film programs (Writing, Film Production, Sound Design), and part of our teaser trailer was shot in one of the Film Production studios. We’re very thankful for the support VFS has given us as alumni. That allowed us to spend more time in the country for the teaser and take care of all the super important classic western stuff – like epic shots of the great outdoors, saddling up a horse, wearing cowboy hats – you know, the works.

What makes your project stand out?

Shelley: The fact that we’re doing a western that reimagines the west with women in the major roles of the day is pretty unconventional. Western-period films aren’t exactly the hottest genre right now (I can’t recall if The Avengers were alive in the 1800s), but so often when I mention to people that I’ve written a western, their eyes light up, (or I imagine their eyes lighting up as they type a Facebook comment) and they tell me how much they love westerns. Plus, our producer, Jessica McNeil, put together a crack team of women and put them in all the key roles for the project.

What would the prize money allow you to accomplish? And what do you hope people take away from your film?

Shelley: Receiving the $10,000 grant from Storyhive will allow us to make a really cool, true-to-the-period western. It’s also going to help boost the budding careers of all of the team members and show off their talents as filmmakers. I had a lot of fun writing this story, and I’d love the chance to share it with people. Not just because I’m desperate for the approval of others, which I seek through comedic means, but also because we really want people to have a good time watching a movie.

Thanks, Jackie and Shelley! We can't wait to see the next phase of your projects!