I’ve been following the Movieguide Kairos awards for screenwriting for a number of years now. I’ve met and interviewed several Kairos finalists and winners including Sean Paul Murphy and Christina Denton, and today I’m excited to talk with Birgit Myaard, one of the 2016 winners.
When did you first discover a love for writing?
I’ve always enjoyed words and was one of those nerdy kids who like to read the dictionary. The fiction writing bug didn’t bite until late in life, however, when I realized I had a story churning inside me. About six years ago I told my sister, an international school drama and English teacher who writes murder mystery games and large cast (for schools) stage plays in her free time, and she encouraged me to write my “great American novel.” Although the story was good, I’d never taken a creative writing class, so the execution was awful. Literary agents let me know it! My sister suggested I study screenplays to learn how to show and not tell. I did, and soon realized I’d found my preferred writing style. The novel became a screenplay, TRUE BLUE WIDOW, which made the finals of the Creative World Awards contest. That led, in turn, to other scripts and to Movieguide honoring me with the $10,000 Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays.
Tell us a little about your work with the CIA.
You’ve done your research! As I’m sure you understand, I can’t say much about my experiences, other than that, as a patriotic first-generation American, I loved being able to use my analytic and writing skills to serve my country. The challenge of writing concise reports (sometimes limited to just one line) for policymakers was great discipline for learning how to pack a sentence with punch.
What was the biggest challenge transitioning from nonfiction to fiction?
Learning the craft has been challenging. Reading screenplays (both good and bad) has been most helpful, as have the notes (both positive and negative) from readers. In addition to perusing the variety of resources the International Screenwriters Association provides on its website, I learned quite a bit at Robert McKee’s Story seminar, which I took in London last year for my 50th birthday. My focus now is on learning how to write for low budgets.
What do you like best about screenwriting as opposed to other types of writing?
I love the need to be concise. I’m naturally wordy, so my first drafts are quite long. Distilling to the bare essence is a fun challenge.
What screenplays have you written?
In chronological order:
• TRUE BLUE WIDOW, a dramatic thriller about an Afghan-American Muslim girl who takes on al Qaeda after her parents die on 9/11, which I’m currently reworking using notes from a number of readers and the benefit of what I’ve learned since I first wrote it.
• PETRIFIED, a family-friendly action adventure, in which an American scientist and his son battle wild, reanimated trolls that threaten the secret population of tame trolls protecting Norway’s gold reserves, which took the family category and finished in the top ten of the Emerging Screenwriters contest.
• APOCALOGUE, a short, in which an ill-fated theater actress confronted by the impending loss of her world overcomes her grief and fears and ultimately takes on her dream role.
• THE HAND OF A WOMAN (see below)
• THE LADY FROM THE SEA, my adaptation (from the original Norwegian) of Henrik Ibsen’s play, in which a country doctor’s wife must choose between the safety and security offered by the man who loves her and the lure of the unknown offered by a former lover. I originally wrote this as a period piece, but am now in the process of reworking it to a modern version to appeal (I hope) to producers with lower budgets.
Tell us about THE HAND OF A WOMAN.
A couple of years ago I heard the president of Cornerstone University speak on the Song of Deborah (Judges 4 and 5) at Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference on the shores of Lake Michigan. I was struck by how the story included many elements desirable in movies these days: conflict (including one of the more gruesome deaths described in the Bible); a really evil antagonist; strong, meaty roles for female actors; and a twist ending. My dark, gritty adaptation, which received Movieguide’s $10,000 Kairos Prize for Spiritually Uplifting Screenplays, is about how, when a warrior refuses God’s call to face an evil general in battle, the prophet Deborah and Jael, the only woman–other than Jesus’ mother Mary–to be described in the Bible as “blessed above all women,” obey God without hesitation and deliver Israel from the Canaanites.
Tell us about your experience at the Movieguide awards.
Dr. Ted Baehr, Michael Trent, and the other people at Movieguide were wonderful! Sadly, because of the expense involved in flying me from our current residence in Australia to Los Angeles, they were unable to fly my husband with me. They graciously, however, allowed me to have a Christian friend who is an editor at Dreamworks be my “plus one” for the gala event. Due to jet lag, the whole experience had a surreal quality, although it might have been dreamlike without jet lag… you’d have to ask the other awardees!
What advice would you offer to screenwriters hoping to win the coveted Kairos awards?
This applies to all contests, not just Kairos: No matter how well you think you write, continue to learn and practice the craft every day! Realize that negative criticism will always contain a nugget (sometimes more) of truth that, if you can see beyond your disappointment, will help you improve. And remember Galatians 6:9: “Let’s not get tired of doing what is good, for at the right time we will reap a harvest—if we do not give up.”
I think I’ve filled enough white space! Thanks again for having me be part of your blog!