Missouri is full of interesting people, beautiful scenery and a talented film industry with the ability to use the state’s resources to tell captivating stories.
“The art form of film is huge, and you can reach so many people,” said Andrea Sporcic-Klund, director of the Missouri Film Office. “It’s a cultural exchange, as well. You’re showing the way we do things in Missouri, the way Missouri looks, and sharing that with the world.”
In order to ensure these stories are told and that Missouri communities experience the economic boost that comes with film production, the Missouri Film Office was born. Established in 1983, the Film Office works to promote the state’s film industry and attract new productions. Since its inception, the Film Office has undertaken efforts to make Missouri a prime destination for film.
One such effort is the Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship program, which was made to increase the number of Missouri-based scripts, therefore increasing the chances that the film would be produced in-state. Over time, the fellowship has grown into a comprehensive program that includes a scriptwriting competition, mentor-guided workshop, retreat, production lab and a network of talented writers.
Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship Competition
Founded by the Missouri Film Office in 2014, the Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship is an international competition for screenplays and television pilot scripts with storylines set in Missouri. The contest was modeled after the Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and was created with input from Sundance experts.
Writers do not have to be from Missouri to submit their scripts to the Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship, but all scripts must be based in Missouri. The scripts are read and reviewed by a group of more than 40 Missouri-connected industry judges who pick three winners. However, each writer receives feedback from the judges, whether their script is selected as a winner or not.
“Fostering more stories that are set in Missouri is a great way to incite actual production to happen in Missouri,” explained Steph Shannon, director of the KC Film Office.
As of 2021, 490 scripts have been submitted through the contest.
Missouri Stories 101 Workshop
Anyone who submits a script to the Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship contest is invited to participate in Missouri Stories 101 workshops – free workshops guided by industry professionals.
Previous workshops covered topics such as story development, story structure, editing, pitching and more. Recordings of past sessions can be found on mofilm.org.
Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship Retreat
The three winners of the Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship Competition receive an all-expense-paid trip to the concentrated fellowship experience, held in Missouri.
The fellows are joined by mentors, professional writers working in the film and TV industry, who help guide group collaboration sessions as well as one-on-one meetings with each fellow where the mentors provide individualized feedback related to their script.
Past industry mentors include:
- Angelo Pizzo (Hoosiers, Rudy)
- Bob Gale (Back to the Future)
- Kathleen McGhee-Anderson (Lincoln Heights)
- Philip LaZebnik (The Prince of Egypt)
Missouri Stories Production Lab
In 2021, the Missouri Film Office introduced the Missouri Stories Production Lab. The production lab brings the worlds of winning scripts to screen. Through the production lab, the writers get to watch their story come to life before their eyes as they serve as producers and experience all aspects of film production.
“After about six years of the program I thought about what else we could do to help encourage not only the creation of scripts and Missouri stories, but also to make them more than just a script,” said Andrea Sporcic-Klund. “We wanted to make them into films and for them to shoot in Missouri, so we decided to launch this Missouri Stories Production Lab in tandem with the Missouri Stories Screenwriting Program.”
All winners from the Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship competition are invited to submit short scripts based in the world of their winning script. In the first year, two of the 12 submissions were chosen to be produced into short films.
“When you write a script … and you get to walk on set and see it come to life, it just fills your heart with so much joy,” said Michelle Davidson of her experience with the Missouri Stories Production Lab. “To be on set, it exceeded all of our expectations. And to make Missouri look amazing on the screen it makes me so proud and so excited to be a part of it.”
The fellowship program was created to foster a sense of community among the Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship alumni. The relationships made at the beginning of the program are cultivated with various events such as dinners and workshops that allow for creative ideas and connections to develop.
However, networking opportunities extend beyond state limits. Missouri meetups in Los Angeles and New York City are held for anyone and everyone within the film and TV industry with a Missouri connection, including fellowship-winning writers.
“There’s an infrastructure here that supports film and storytelling and anything media. And sure enough, a film I did a few years ago was amazing because we showed up and we had what we needed to make the film,” said LA-based director Colin Shipley, who directed the feature film All Creatures Here Below in Kansas City in 2016. “The talent pool of crew members and casting – it was all here, so it felt like a huge weight off my shoulders showing up to a place that was already dialed in and ready to go for me as a director. I got another opportunity to come back [to participate in the Missouri Stories Production Lab] and it won’t be my last because it’s so inviting.”