Pens to Lens film competition brings screenplays to life

By Earn Saenmuk

A number of student screenwriters may soon see their vision on the silver screen as filmmakers, actors and artists in Central Illinois produce a number of films based on submissions to Pens to Lens, a screenwriting competition for students K-12.

Participants had the opportunity to submit their screenplays until February 28, after which filmmakers selected scripts that they liked or are interested in producing. Pens to Lens has received about 150 submissions and about 20 will be produced by the end of July.

Last year, filmmakers produced a total of nine movies over a period of one and a half months.

“We’re going to be showing about twice as many movies as last year,” said Thomas Nicol, organizer for Champaign Movie Makers and Pens to Lens director. “We were mostly focused just in town last year, but this year we actually have a lot of submissions from out of town.”

The Champaign-Urbana Film Society, Champaign Movie Makers and Champaign-Urbana Design Organization hosted this competition for the first time last year to connect with area children.

The competition saw submissions from children as young as 5 years old to high school seniors and the length of each submission varies.

After selecting which screenplays to produce, filmmakers cast actors and find artists from the community. Nicol said the Champaign-Urbana community is home to many talented people who are always eager to help out. When producers get the scripts from children, they can really think creatively and make the stories come to life.

“One of my favorite things is seeing a script that I didn’t particularly care for getting made into something wonderful,” he said.

Andrew Kowalski, Curtis Bradley and Garret Williams, incoming Urbana High School freshmen, are among the participants whose scripts were chosen to be turned into movies. They wrote the script as part of an enrichment class activity,

“(The teacher) had us write the storyboard,” Bradley said. “We just brainstormed and it took about a day to come up with the story.”

Kowalski, Bradley and Williams have had a chance to be part of the movie as well. This is the first time they have been to a shooting, and they said they thought it was really interesting.

“What surprised me was how long it takes just to shoot something that’s like 30 seconds long,” Kowalski said. “There were a lot (of cuts.)”

Emily Jahn, junior in LAS and member of Illini Film and Video, is producing a Pens to Lens film this year. Jahn, along with her family and friends, picked the script together. This will be her first Pens to Lens film, which has been fun, she said, but more stressful than anything she has done.

“I love making movies, but writing screenplays is not my strong point,” Jahn said. “Besides Pens to Lens being a really cool idea, it’s also pretty convenient for me.”

Andrew Stengele, another filmmaker directing a Pens to Lens film, said that it can sometimes be difficult to understand children’s minds, especially when the scripts are really short. Some scripts did not have enough description of the scenes, so he had to add what he thought fits and recreate the scenes by himself.

“They said, ‘We didn’t write it to be funny, but it’s ok this way too,’” Stengele said.

The filmmakers will likely burn DVD copies of the movies so the children can send them to family and friends who cannot attend the film screenings. Right now, all of the competition’s films are self-funded, which has prevented some directors from starting the production process. DVD sales will help fund next year’s Pens to Lens productions, providing more opportunities for people who are interested.

Last year, Pens to Lens was a hit with audiences. Screening all nine movies took approximately one hour and all tickets for the two screenings sold out. This year’s Pens to Lens Gala is scheduled to be on August 9 at the Virginia Theater in Champaign. Tickets will be available starting at 10 a.m. on July 18.

Earn can be reached at [email protected]