Screenwriting

She’s Seen The Light

1 Aug , 2005  

Written by Randy Steinberg | Posted by:

Women in Film and Video/New England’s 2005 screenplay competition winner Barbara Shapiro discusses writing and her script 'Blind Spot.'

Early on in the screenplay "Blind Spot," Suki, a mother and psychiatrist, is summoned to a Massachusetts prison to interview a convicted killer. The killer has psychic abilities, and it is no coincidence that Suki has come to meet her. The confrontation is an eerie foreshadowing of a taut, film noirish script in which Suki must battle mysterious forces to vindicate her daughter of a murder charge. "Blind Spot" is reminiscent of classic psychological thrillers such as "The Dead Zone" and "Memento," and it is these suspenseful qualities that undoubtedly led to Shapiro’s script being named this year’s Women in Film and Video/New England’s Screenplay Competition Grand Prize Winner.

Success in writing is nothing new to Barbara Shapiro. In 1992, she published her first novel "Shattered Echoes," a psychological thriller set in the Boston area. A string of other mystery novels, all with strong female leads and each with print runs over 80,000 copies, had the Boston Globe labeling Shapiro a "master of mystery." Always a movie fan, Shapiro took a screenwriting course at Emerson College in the late 1990s and began to adapt her own work for the screen.

She soon learned the distinctions between writing a novel as opposed to a movie and loved the challenge as well as the differences. "In a novel, you are inside the characters’ heads with access to all their thoughts, emotions, and back stories, which is wonderful but also very time consuming," Shapiro explains. "In a screenplay, you have no access to any of that, but you have the visual, which, as they say, is worth lots of words. In a novel — or the type of third person and/or first person novels I usually write — the camera is behind the characters’ eyes. In a screenplay, it’s on their faces. Screenplays are fun because you can come into a scene late and leave early. Novels are fun because you can go anywhere you want."

The 53-year-old Shapiro and mother of two is a Connecticut native who came to the Boston area for graduate school. She holds a doctorate in sociology and taught for a number of years at Tufts University. She published a non-fiction work in 1991 in her field of study but soon discovered she had a taste for fiction. Shapiro has published a total of five suspense novels, all set in the Boston area. "As a native of New England, naturally I’m tuned into the region," she states. "But I think it’s the history that’s here that pulls at me. Although "Blind Spot" doesn’t have a historical piece, almost all my other novels do."

New England has always been a popular setting for books and movies, so it is no surprise that Shapiro’s novels have easily translated into scripts — and gained considerable attention from contests, agencies, and production companies. Long before her success on the contest circuit, Shapiro’s novel "Blameless" was optioned by a notable Hollywood production company. Though the film was never produced, Shapiro realized that her books were movies waiting to be made. Her adaptation of "Shattered Echoes" was a finalist in both the Robert Corman/Cityscape competition and the Massachusetts Film Office Screenwriting Competition. Her success in these contests has earned Shapiro the attention of numerous managers and agents.

This year’s win in the Women in Film and Video/New England contest is likely to garner her even more publicity. As the Grand Prize Winner of the 2005 competition, Shapiro received a Final Draft package, a certificate from Women in Film and Video, and, most importantly, her script was submitted to the prestigious Los Angeles agency Broder, Webb, Chervin, and Silberman where it is currently being considered for representation.

Women in Film and Video Competition Director Rhea Becker explained that out of 80 entries, ten finalists were chosen to be sent to Kate Boutilier for professional judging. Boutilier is the screenwriter of "Rugrats" and "The Wild Thornberrys" as well as a long time television writer for shows such as "Northern Exposure," "Family Ties," and "Baywatch." Boutilier judged "Blind Spot" to be the top script, calling it an "excellently written, tightly-crafted thriller with well-formed characters." Boutilier also noted, "This script is a page-turner, with wonderful descriptions of characters and settings. Each character has a distinctive personality and small details such as going to a neighborhood store that has ‘pine floors’ conveyed perfectly small town New England."

Becker was very pleased with the quality of the scripts submitted to this year’s competition — only its third year. She expects the 2006 contest to be even larger and more competitive.

When she isn’t too busy teaching writing at the Boston Learning Society or tutoring at Jeremiah Burke High School in Boston, Barbara Shapiro finds time to sit on the board of directors of the New England Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. Shapiro is also a past president of the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

With all these commitments, it’s amazing to note that Shapiro is currently at work on her seventh novel, a political thriller, while she also continues to adapt her books into screenplays. What’s not amazing or a mystery is Barbara Shapiro’s talent and ambition: scan the pages of Variety in the coming months and don’t be surprised to see an announcement for the option or sale of one her screenplays.

To contact Barbara Shapiro please email Randy Steinberg at steinbrc@msn.com. To learn more about Women in Film and Video/New England and its yearly screenwriting contest please visit www.womeninfilmvideo.org.


To contact Barbara Shapiro please email Randy Steinberg at steinbrc@msn.com. To learn more about Women in Film and Video/New England and its yearly screenwriting contest please visit www.womeninfilmvideo.org.