KATHIE FONG YONEDA is an entertainment consultant specializing in development and marketing of live action and animated film, television, literary, and web projects. A former exec at Disney, Touchstone, Island Pictures and Disney TV Animation, she has taught workshops in over 20 countries worldwide. She is the author of THE SCRIPT-SELLING GAME, 2ND EDITION (Michael Wiese Productions) and mentors writers for the Rocaberti Retreats in Europe and for Rocaberti Virtual online. She exec- produced both the cable series BEYOND THE BREAK as well as the acclaimed live action short 30 MINUTES and the web series THE BIG O and worked with Heather Morris on her award-winning novel THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ. We caught up recently about the Rocaberti Writer's Retreat, her flourishing mentoring career, and favorite cinematic moment that requires kleenex.
Order Kathie's book, and visit her website.
Dave Watson: Been a while. What's new with you? I see you're participating in the Rocaberti Writer’s Retreat.
Kathie Fong-Yoneda: Aloha Dave -- Yes, I've been a mentor at the Rocaberti Writer's Retreat since 2017. It's usually held at a 14th century castle in France, which is set on over 200 acres of land that includes a crumbling Roman wall. It's an incredible place to let your creative spirit soar. There are four mentors at each retreat and each mentor has four mentees -- some are screenwriters and some are novelists. We mentors work individually with each of our mentees as well as working with all 4 mentees in group sessions. In addition to personal and group sessions, writers attend a daily morning workshop where a mentor will present a one-hour talk, followed by a Q&A which is open for all writers. And the retreat also includes a lunchtime discussion and an afternoon event where writers are given an opportunity to pitch their individual project to the Mentors and Mentees in a group session where Mentors give valuable feedback and advice. Writers and mentors also share meals in a history-filled dining hall, giving mentees a chance to network and bond, not only with the mentors, but also with one another. As a result, some of the writers have gotten representation or have had their projects published, optioned or bought.
DW: Since we chatted two years ago, how has the script industry changed?
KFY: Well, COVID-19 has definitely changed the business landscape for everyone! It has challenged all of us -- both writers and those of us who hold workshops -- into keeping our creative energies alive! The first months of the pandemic were probably the most difficult since nothing like this has happened in most of us in our lifetimes.
But around the middle of May, I started getting emails from writers, some of them former clients and some newbies. With a scarcity of work, they realized they actually had more time to write, but many were unsure of what to do or how to get started. I asked them to come up with 4 or 5 two-sentence project ideas and send them back to me and I'd select the one or two loglines that I felt had the most potential and sent it back to them. I did not charge them for this, but to those writers who decided to follow through on writing a two-page synopsis, I charged them a small fee for my feedback. Several of them are now off and running on their latest script or book!
I've also heard some screenwriters in the WGA are already working on projects they hope to get out to possible buyers as soon as the pandemic and the film/TV industry is back in full running mode, especially now that the managers and a majority of the agencies are back in business with the WGA.
DW: How has pitching changed? This must be challenging during the pandemic.
KFY: Some of my writing clients have been pairing up with one another to practice their pitching skills. Some of them belong to writing group and have just sent out a "virtual SOS" asking if someone would like to be a "pitching partner"!
Meanwhile, I'm happy to report that the folks at Rocaberti have also been offering online "Virtual" retreats, which are monthly 5 hour sessions to a limited number of online writers. The "virtual" retreats feature 4 mentors who give valuable information on various aspects on the art and business of writing and pitching books and scripts. And for those who want more in-depth info, mentors will also critique a number of script/book synopses and will provide valuable feedback. In addition, there are a limited number of writers who will have the opportunity to pitch their projects and will receive valuable feedback during the "virtual" event! There is also a Q&A session to round-out this online event.
I've also had several writers who've made use of their "down time" during the pandemic to refine both their written and verbal Pitching skills with me. Writers find it difficult enough to get their projects written down on paper -- most of them have never had to pitch their screenplay or novel before! Most of my writers have found that once they've been able to write down a logline and a three-paragraph synopsis of their project, it's really helped them to select the most important story content they need to bring out in a pitch. It's definitely a great accomplishment when one of my writers has actually conquered his or her fear of verbally pitching their project!
DW: Networking in the industry must have changed. Has it for you? What have you witnessed?
KFY: I'm very fortunate to have been in the industry for awhile. My publisher, MWP, is very pro-active about keeping their authors informed about everything. Our founder, Michael Wiese, his wife Geraldine (who runs the sister publishing company Divine Arts), and MWP's VP, Ken Lee are very pro-active about keeping all of us authors informed and aware of what's going on with the company as well as what's going on with all of its authors. As a result, there's not a day that goes by that I don't hear from at least 1 or 2 of my fellow authors on what they've been doing.
As a result, if there's an event that I'm unable to attend or I don't feel I'm quite the person the organization needs to teach a particular subject or if my schedule is quite busy, all I have to do is look at my MWP author's list and I can easily recommend one or more authors who would be a perfect fit for that event! In return, some of my MWP authors have also recommended me for various panels, workshops and events.
In addition, if an organization, university or writing group needs a speaker or workshop leader in an area that is not my specialty, I am always more than happy to recommend one of my industry friends who may or may not be an MWP author, who can fit the bill. As a result, many of my MWP friends and even some of my non-MWP friends have also returned the favor by asking me to be on a panel or to do a workshop if they couldn't do it!
Writers have also mentioned that folks in their writing group who eventually get an agent or have their work noticed have gone on to recommend other members of their writing group as possible clients -- thus utilizing their network chain!
DW: To your knowledge, are writers still meeting in writers' groups?
KFY: Actually, I think there are probably many more writing groups than ever before! Some are more casual ones, but others have developed over shared friendships or experiences -- oftentimes a result of having become friends at a pitchfest, retreat, writing class or an online or Facebook group that focuses on various types of writing - i.e., books, scripts, plays. In fact, some groups have branched off into specific writing interests, like mysteries, children's fare, teen, futuristic fantasy/sci-fi, web-series/online content, etc.
Some of these groups meet in person, but many of these groups now meet online. Some exchange their work with one another -- other groups have one or two individual members a month who'll submit a chapter or two or a synopsis of their work for group discussion at each meeting.
Also, with the pandemic, many writing groups have opted to go online instead of in person. I have done a few one-hour Zoom or Skype Q&A sessions for some writing groups this past summer since they couldn't get together in person.
DW: With the Stay-in-Place order, is this forcing people to be creative? Look within themselves more? If it has, what evidence have we seen of this?
KFY: It's timely that you should ask that. I've actually had a number of writers who've been entering more writing competitions, especially those for screenplays! Just a word of caution -- I'd check out these competitions. How long have they been around? Exactly what do they offer? If it's nothing more than a piece of paper saying you're the winner or your only prize is getting a couple of craft-related books, I'd be cautious. The reliable competitions have judges who are industry-related who'll be reading the finalists. Although there are thousands more entrants, I usually advise my clients to go for the following tried-and-true competitions: Academy Nicholls Fellowship, Final Draft Big Break, BlueCat, Austin Screenwriting, Sundance Lab, Page International & SlamDance.
In addition, I've gotten a few new clients who are finally taking their plunge into actually writing their first novel, film or TV series! They seem to echo each other without knowing one another -- since they have taken early retirement or been furloughed from their jobs, they realized that now is the perfect time to finally write that story or movie they've always wanted to do, but work always got in the way!
Also, as mentioned above, a lot of writing groups have formed virtual events instead of meeting in person, which seems to be more convenient that trying to meet physically in person for a meeting.
Although the Covid situation exists, now is a good time to be polishing up your screenplays for an upcoming competition in the near future -- I do suspect that once the pandemic is through, some of the studios/production companies will hopefully be offering their writing competitions/special group sessions like: Disney/ABC Writing Program, Nickelodeon Writing Program, HBO Writing Fellowship, CBS Writers Mentorship Program, NBC-Writers On the Verge, Warner Bros. Television Writers' Workshop.
DW: What's coming up for you?
KFY: As you can imagine, all of my 2020 workshops & retreats had to be canceled this year, but the good news is that most of those workshops and retreats have re-booked me for 2021, depending of course, on whether the pandemic situation has been resolved. If so, I'll be doing a retreat in Italy in April, followed by a workshop in Gotland Island Sweden and workshops in eastern Europe in May, plus back-to-back retreats in October in France for Rocaberti.
I will also be one of four mentors for the Rocaberti Virtual online retreat for November 14, 2020 and also for January 9, 2021and June 12, 2021. (on www.rocabertiwriters.com, click on rocaberti virtual)
In 2021, I'm also looking forward to attending the UFVA conference in Florida in late July and I hope to be co-teaching our yearly workshop with my dear friend/MWP author/writer Pamela Jaye Smith for the Los Angeles Children's Book Writers group.
And if all goes well, I hope to make up for 2020's pandemic, by taking some time to do some leisurely non-work traveling!
DW: What is your current, favorite cinematic moment?
KFY: I can't say any current film has given me an amazing memorable cinematic moment. But, I'm an Audrey Hepburn fan and one of my all-time favorite scenes is the bittersweet final scene in Roman Holiday when she's meeting the press for the last time & she's asked what has been her fondest memory of her European tour. She hesitates, sees Gregory Peck and says, "Rome." Both know they will never see each other again, but their brief interlude together will always be an unforgettable memory for them both...dang!...where is my box of Kleenex?
Clip Roman Holiday
Founder of Movies Matter, Dave Watson is a writer and educator in Madison, WI.