With the help of the Virginia Film Office, Wagner founded the Virginia Screenwriters’ Forum in 1990. Apparently there was a need — more than 100 writers from Virginia to Maryland came to the first meeting. “It was standing room only,” Wagner remembers.
Since founding the forum, Wagner has taught screenwriting at J. Sargent Reynolds Community College, has been represented by Creative Artists Agency (an exclusive Hollywood talent agency), and has had several of her screenplays optioned. She also achieved literary distinction by receiving recommendations that sanctioned her as a Writers Guild of America Literary Agent. These accomplishments come from a person who says that English was her least favorite subject in school and who identifies herself as dyslexic.
Members of the VSF boast impressive credits as well. Michael Cordell, a screenwriting instructor and hospital administrator, joined the forum to receive critiques on his projects and to escape the solitude of writing. “Its nice to have people to talk with about film,” he explains. Cordell, who lives in Charlottesville, has sold screenplays to major Los Angeles production companies. One of these sales includes “Beeper,” which was produced starring Harvey Keitel.
Initially, applicants hoping to be a part of the forum submitted the first 30 pages of a screenplay. Writers who demonstrated a good sense of story and understanding of basic screenwriting format were strong candidates. That sense of story must now come in the form of a completed screenplay.
The growing profile of VSF members has inspired this change in the application process. Richmonder Drina Kay will see her screenplay, “Lily,” begin production in February, with fellow forum member and Richmonder Kevin Hershberger directing. Hershberger is also a producer, writer and executive of his own production company, LionHeart FilmWorks. His company recently produced its first major project, the independent Civil War epic, “Wicked Spring,” which is available on DVD. “As a filmmaker, the storytelling muscle is the most important,” Hershberger says. “This group lets you massage that muscle.” VSA member Megan Holley won the 2003 Virginia Governor’s Screenwriting Award and wrote, produced and directed her film, “The Snowflake Crusade,” which earned a spot at Sundance. The list of credits goes on.
Members of the forum have the kind of access to the Hollywood elite usually reserved for writers within a 200-mile radius of Los Angeles. Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster and Scott Rudin, producer of “The Hours,” have given some VSF members open invitations to submit screenplays. “Stories from outside of the state are seen as fresh,” Wagner says. Despite the accomplishments of members, there is still something missing from the group: a home.
For 12 years, the forum met at Signet Bank at Eighth and Main streets, a space it lost when Signet Bank merged with First Union. For the past year, the forum has met at various locations around Richmond.
Wagner has returned as director of the VSF during this nomadic period. She’s placed her literary agency on hiatus. Wagner’s motivation for returning to the helm of the forum is not just a management issue. “I love writers,” she says, glowing at the success of forum members. “As founder of the VSF, I feel like a very proud mother.” S
The Virginia Screenwriters’ Forum meets twice a month throughout Richmond. To request an application, send only a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Virginia Screenwriters’ Forum, care of Connie Koslow, P.O. Box 25664, Richmond, Va. 23260-5664.
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