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5 Q&A’s with Heidi Barrientes, 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge winner

Born and raised in Washington state, Heidi is an award winning American Screenwriter. She began getting involved in film around the age of eight years old during the late 1980's till the late 1990's along side of her father who was in the industry. She began with cinematography, as a camera operator and camera assistant, in addition to assistant director and editing on her father's projects. In 2007, she got into the industry professionally working with filmmakers in the Seattle and Portland areas. She has worked on many projects over the years in front of the camera, as well as, in a variety of different areas behind the camera as crew. Her screenplays are currently in the 2019 film festival circuit. Heidi currently reside in Washington state and is a mother of five.

Last month, Heidi won FilmCon Awards' 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge.

The rules were simple: 24 hours, up to 5 pages, theme: forgiveness, protagonist: a 45-year-old African American mother. In less than 24 hours, Heidi wrote "Asking for Forgiveness", a short script about a woman who coms back to the place that has been constantly on her mind for nearly 30 years.

We invited Heidi to join us for an interview. Here's her story.

Heidi, congratulations on winning 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge at FilmCon Awards. We enjoyed reading “Asking for Forgiveness”! In less than 24 hours, you wrote a beautiful drama with a surprising (and very touching) ending. We got goosebumps! Let's talk about how you started out. Tell us about your background, what sparked your interest in screenwriting?

I have been in film work since the late 1980's in Washington State where I was born and raised. My father was in the film industry back then until sometime in the late 1990's. I helped him on various projects of his over the years when I was younger as his camera crew and with editing. It wasn't until 2007, when I got into the industry professionally. I started off with acting but quickly realized I had more than just one talent that I could utilize in the industry. Since film has always been a huge part of my life, some years more prominent and active than others, I was never set on any area specifically. I mostly wanted to act and still do, but I also did a lot of makeup/hair and branched out into producing, casting, costume design and so on. In 2009, I had an experience that really shook me up, which I wrote a script about and I'm currently doing a rewrite on. That same year I began working on several scripts, but never finished any of them. It wasn't until the middle of this summer that I began writing again with the encouragement of Christan Van Slyke, who I have worked with before in the past and who is currently my co-writer on a few scripts that I have done in a short amount of time this year. 

Your winning entry, “Asking for Forgiveness”, tells the story of Diana, a 45-year-old African American, a woman who comes back to the place that has been constantly on her mind for nearly 30 years. What are some of the challenges in writing a short screenplay in 24 hours? 

When I found out about the contest I think I only had about 7-8 hours to write it, however I still had dinner to make and kids to get off to bed. The unplanned writing, short deadline and the time of day were definitely a challenge, time was not on my side that night. Once I was able to focus on writing it took me a little over 2 hours to figure out what I was going to write about. A script can take some time to develop and I had no time for this part in the writing process. The pressure was really on at this point and it was very intense. When I actually started writing, Asking for Forgiveness, I only had 3 hours left to complete a full script, even though it was a short script and I was given a few elements to write about, it still took time to write.


Tell us about your writing process. How do you approach a new story? What kind of stories attract you? 

I approach a new story by something that inspires me, anything can inspire me, like something that I see, hear, taste, smell, touch, feel (pain/joy, etc.), space/time at any random time throughout the day or in my dreams when asleep. Inspiration can come from things in the past, present or thoughts/talk of the future. With this particular script it helped to have some key elements given to me to build a story around, even though I took a couple hours to figure out what to do with those elements. When I write, I like ideas to come to me naturally instead of forcing them, when I do this I tend to write more effortlessly, as if the story is writing itself. I have so many kinds of stories that attract me what I usually lean towards the most is drama, action/adventure, true stories, romantic comedy, supernatural, fantasy, psychological/thriller and horror.

Who are some of your favorite writers, and what do you like about their work?

M. Night Shyamalan has written some of my favorite movies; The Sixth Sense, Signs, The Village and The Happening. He is able to create the excitement level of a rollercoaster-drop and have you at the edge of your seat with his bait and switch plot twists. Steven King is ingenious at constructing dynamic three-dimensional characters that are intriguing, yet terrifying. Patricia Briggs is an author who has lived in Washington State and her Mercy Thompson Novels are based there, mostly in the Tri-Cities. I am not one that likes to read books much (I would rather read a script), however she changed my mind when I read the first book of the Mercy Thompson Novels. Having been to the Tri-Cities myself many times throughout my life, she has definitely given me a new way to look at that region of the state. Patricia has figured out the magic mixture of fantasy, supernatural, paranormal, folklore, culture, history and mundane life for that series by bringing the mundane and supernatural dimensions together effortlessly for her readers. Ever since reading the Mercy Thompson Novels, I have wanted to turn her books into films or a tv series. Ben Sherman, a local author to Washington State has written a few books, one of them is Medic!: The Story of a Conscientious Objector in the Vietnam War, which is the reason I actually put words onto paper and started writing scripts instead of just dreaming about it. It was in reading his book and script Medic, which was his personal experience in the Vietnam War, that inspired me to write my first script about something I experienced. 

In your opinion, what are the ingredients for creating a good screenplay? Do you have any tips for other first-time screenwriters?

In my opinion great ingredients for creating a great screenplay are; knowing your audience, have a unique idea with an engaging plot, visual description, well-rounded characters that have individual unique voices and character dialogue that brings your characters to life, in addition to complementing your visual description. Tips for other first-time screenwriters: keep a pocket size note book with you at all times, you never know when you will get inspired or have a random idea, if you don't write it down you might not remember it later. Write what you are passionate about and what inspires you, this allows your writing to flow a lot easier as you develop your screenplay skills. Get out of your comfort zone and try a variety of genres, you never know what you will find out about yourself as a writer. Think outside the box and get creative, if something doesn't work you can always re-do it and go in another direction. Find a mentor that has a more experience than you, they can help you develop your craft, give you feedback, encouragement and moral support. Write a script with someone, you can always learn something from working with someone. Most importantly just sit down and write, don't worry about format or having everything perfect as you write, there is a reason it's called a first draft. Last but not least, read some scripts!

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