A four-day writers’ retreat will run from November 4th to the 7th at El Monte Sagrado. It’s the third and last stage of the Stowe Story Labs inaugural New Voices • New Mexico program, made possible through a partnership between Stowe Story Labs and Film New Mexico.
The program is designed to support emerging screenwriters to develop feature film or television scripts. The thirteen participants and their mentors, along with Stowe Story Labs founder and director David Rocchio, met for the first time at the same hotel in May.
“We chose Taos in consultation with the New Mexico Film Office and our own sense of place, given we are based in Stowe, Vermont, another iconic ski town,” said Rocchio. “The scale of the mountains at home are not the same, of course, to the Sangre de Cristo range, but the inspiring environment is similar. We wanted to find a location that inspires and provides room to think, to write and to imagine. That Taos also has kick-butt coffee shops (I fell in love with the World Cup while there in May), small local eateries and friendly stores where you can have a conversation and a wander does not hurt either.”
In-between the two in-person sessions, participants joined a four-month online course consisting of individual and group sessions led by Stowe cofounder David Pope. Their goal is to finish with a first draft, a logline, and a synopsis of their feature or television script.
“With New Voices • New Mexico, I hope we have created a nurturing environment that helps the writers develop and advance the stories,” said Rocchio.
A fellowship of talented writers
When Raquel Troyce heard about the program, back in April, she immediately decided to apply. “It’s not every day that an opportunity to learn from the best knocks on your door,” she said. “I was very lucky to be accepted.”
Her project, a political thriller entitled “The power of language,” was among the 10 chosen from about 200 entries. The protagonist is a court interpreter who fights corruption and human trafficking on the border of Mexico and the United States.
Being part of the program, Troyce said, has exceeded her expectations. “These have been six very productive months in which I have learned a lot, and my aspirations and inspiration as a screenwriter have increased enormously.”
The sentiment is shared by other participants.
“I have enjoyed being a part of this fellowship of talented writers,” said Liana Morales. “Everyone’s projects are so good and I am grateful especially for getting the chance to work in peer groups and with exceptional mentors.”
Morales is writing her first feature film, an ensemble teen comedy set during the late 90s and early 2000s when a popular rite of passage for young El Pasoans was to cross the bridge into Juarez for a night out.
“I loved working with my peers, who gave such useful feedback that helped me to elevate my writing by making me dig deeper into characters and structure,” said Chelese Belmont. “The mentorship I received also gave me such important insights into both the writing process and the industry.”
Belmont’s feature script is about a directionless 19-year-old who is called upon to make an immense sacrifice for a total stranger, and in the process starts to question everything she thinks she knows about herself and her family.
“I was also impressed that the New Mexico Film Office is so supportive of the program, as there is a real emphasis on building a pipeline of New Mexico talent in the state’s film industry,” Belmont said.
The support offered by the New Mexico Film Office was indeed crucial. Other than the application fee and travel to Taos, there were no program fees for the participants. All meals and lodging costs were covered.
“Typically, an immersive program like this is quite pricey, but we utilized workforce development funds to make it accessible without fees,” said Amber Dodson, New Mexico Film Office director. “We also see it as a responsibility to help get more diverse stories out into the world and give a voice to underrepresented creators and subject matter. We hope the collaboration with Stowe Story Lab, New Voices • New Mexico, creates more space for that.”
And then, after the program…
Once the program is over, participants will be ready to push their work forward, putting into practice the skills they have learned all along the way.
“They should leave the retreat with a strong sense of next steps on the project, including actionable script notes, and an ability to push the work forward given the work they have done since May,” said Rocchio. “My biggest recommendation is: ‘treat what you write with integrity and follow your instincts on the story. Don’t give up. It is a long road.’”
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