A Conversation with Joan Scheckel

I want to introduce you to an incredible, forward-thinking woman - Joan Scheckel - who is forging new grooves in the way we think about story and create content. Her visionary filmmaking labs have contributed to the development of over 384 films, earning 571 award nominations and 326 awards, including major wins at the Academy Awards such as Little Miss Sunshine. She has a couple of exciting announcements and opportunities to share with you, so read on below!

Joan Scheckel and her Filmmaking Labs are known throughout Hollywood and the international film world as the crucial force behind the most exciting films being made today. Over the past decade, Scheckelʼs work as a writer, director, actor, consultant and teacher has contributed to the development of 74 completed features. 72 went on to be released and have subsequently earned 571 award nominations, 326 awards, and over $1.2 billion dollars. 68 of the 72 features had no financing prior to engaging Joan's services.

She believes that a film's human and financial profit is exponential if the audience connects to the story. The process moves from investigating the meaning of the story, building a dramatic structure that contains the meaning, and finally exploring how that meaning is expressed on all the other levels of the mise en scene (acting, directing, visuals etc).


Karin: What inspires the work that you do with filmmakers?

Joan Scheckel: I've always been interested in the “new” and how what I'm doing is pushing forward the artistic continuum, and in particular, new forms. So I never wanted to repeat stories that were told before or the ways we had told them before. Because for a story to touch or be effective, to affect, it has to be relevant to the way that we communicate now and what we need to communicate now. Which means being societally, emotionally, personally, extremely present to the NOW.

What is “new” about your approach?

If you just think very simply about how we're taught acting or writing for the screen, it's all about conflict. And I thought, what is the technique for the 21st century? How are we going to be telling stories that have to do with relating, that have to do with coherence, that have to do with opening the heart? So there's a whole series of fusion-based models and techniques made out of that very simple idea that I teach in the filmmaking labs.

A story for me is a container for truth, and then how that truth is expressed kind of depends on who you want to talk to, what audience you want to reach. And that will change from movie to movie to movie. My primary goal is that stories connect us through feeling, and that's what a movie has to do. If you're connected to what something means to you as a driver, then the form of connection is effortless. 

What is the Master Class?

The Master class is really a scene gym. You put your stuff up on its feet on a weekly basis. What happens is I'll give a half-hour physical warm-up with a little bit of technique. Then everyone goes off and rehearses, and then we do the scenes. All the scenes get put up, and I coach them. I'll go into them from different angles: if it's a writer I'll get into something that needs to happen thematically or in the structure or with the beats; if it's an actor I'll take it from the performance point-of-view; if it's a director I'll take it from the mise en scene. We also shoot them all. They'll shoot on the street or on the roof. There are so many different locations in and around the building. It's an amazing class, because of all the people in there - they range from 19-year-old kids who are doing i-mapping at USC who just have these brilliant minds to Catherine Hardwicke who directed Twilight.

Tell me about the new community hub you're building in the Space.

Basically you take a Master Class for $500 a month, which means you get to put your scenes on their feet every week, and then you get a key to the Space, a 4,000 square foot warehouse. By doing that I can preserve it as an incubator for new forms, new stories, new talent, new thought. The creativity that this will engender is exponential--having the space and knowing that you have a key and can go over there and find a community of like-minded spirits. And it's beautiful. Spread the word! Because now is the time to announce it, make it available and get it going. It's the Master Class and then everyone is invited to everything else I do there - the parties, the art shows, the pop-up dinners, the think tanks - I mean, it's a circus over there. It's amazing. I just want everyone I know who is creative and exploratory - like you - to have a way to spontaneously and organically meet.

Can you tell the Spirit of Story readers about the upcoming storytelling event you're doing with Cindy Chupack on July 27th?

“Stories in the Space” curated by Cindy Chupack launches the inaugural Events Slate at the Space! I'm thrilled to kick off our artist curated hub with an evening featuring some of LA's best storytellers. A great story, compellingly told. That's the root from which everything at the Space springs.

What are you hoping to create out of this initial event?

I want to introduce people to the Space: the Joan Scheckel Filmmaking Labs fusion-based arts incubator. The Space is a raw space, a gathering place, a hub for creativity, a furnace for new forms in all the arts: film, theatre, photography, art, music, dance, tech, economics, education, and beyond. I'd love an ongoing storytelling series to be part of our multi-disciplinary events slate! I'm looking for partners to curate and finance our incubator as we expand our reach.


To learn more about Joan Scheckel, visit joanschekel.com

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