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Crew Fun Facts – Our Co-Director/Associate Producer, Jessica Wu (Recap)

Dr. Who Wu, this is for you! (And we totally didn't get permission to use this photo. BBC, please don't sue us!)

Because as this scheduled post appears, our Co-Director/Associate Producer, Jessica Wu, and I (Steph here!) will likely be sitting in a coffee shop in Downtown Toronto, banging our heads against the wall, hammering out our audition schedule…  Yay!  I thought it would be nice, for those who missed it last week, to re-post 5 fun facts about Jess!

P.S.  Fun facts may or may not be an euphemism for incriminating facts.  Shhh…  Without further adieu!  Recap!

Our lunchtime fun crew facts has come to an end. And for those of you not on twitter, today, we publicly embarrassed Ms. Jessica Wu, our Co-Director/Associate Producer follow her on Twitter @iggy500). But because we don’t want to leave you all out, here are 5 fun facts about Jess! We’ve now dubbed our campaign “Save Jess from going back to school, because she’s too damn talented.” Or “Save Jess” for short. Here they are!

1.  Jess is proud to be a geek.  Yup.

2.  Jess is a Doctor Who fan.  See above.

3.  Jess has grown up also studying music and performance since the age of 6.  (Editor’s Note: This has led her to fulfill her lifelong passion. Joining a GLEE club.)

4.  Some might know Jess as a cosplayer with the online alias: IggyBoo.

5.  Since Jess was 5 years old, she was put on a career path to be a lawyer until one day in high school, she decided to go into film.

Did she make the right decision? We think so! Jess is one of the most multi-talented people that I know. She does it all from sound, editing, production managing, to art department. Your contributions will help Jess live the dream. At least, stay in this industry just a little bit longer. Bribe her today! Even $5 helps! Thanks!

And… recap… end scene!

Coming up this week, we’ll have the incriminating (but fun!) truth about our resident Story Editor, Consuelo Solar.  As well, look for a recap of our lunchtime fun facts with Friend of the Production, Nathalie Younglai.

And if you missed our previous Production Blog posts, you’re welcome to read on here:

Inside the Casting Process

Week 1 – Operation: Make a Film (Summary)

Why this Story? (My Inspiration)

What is Story-Editing? (A Writer’s Coach)

Thanks for your support!  Keep checking back here for new posts & insights into what it’s like to make a short film!

~ Team LMJ

What is Story-Editing? (A Writer’s Coach)

CC License - BY-NC-ND 2.0 - Photo: Petty Officer 3rd Class Casey J. Ranel

Full disclosure:  I am not a professional story editor.  I’m someone who’s studied the craft, and had the good fortune of being able to practice it– formally and informally.  But I’m not a professional.  If you need a professional, I highly recommend Elke Town (StoryWorks) – who is one of the top Story Editors in Canada — and one of our brilliant trainers in the WGC-CTV Diverse Screenwriters Program.  You can tell, we’re totally biased for Elke.  Hire her, people!

But what I can write about here, is my own experiences with Story Editing.

What is it?

It’s a lot like having a coach.  If you’re an athlete, you hire a coach to give you feedback, tips, and techniques that help you get better– improve your performance– help you hit that ball just a little bit further.  Because you’re too close to, well, your own stance and posture, it’s impossible to see your flaws and weaknesses.  If a baseball player needs a coach, why not a writer?

My first experience with story-editing– actually, came from theatre– and my first mentors ever, Toronto-based playwright/director Nina Lee Aquino, and Set/Lighting Designer, Camellia Koo.  Ever since then, I’ve likened story-editing to dramaturgy, because that’s the easiest way to explain the process.

In essence, your Story Editor, or Dramaturg(e), takes you through a series of questions, meant to get you, the writer, closer to your truth.  At least, that’s what I believe story-editing is about.

Regardless of the feedback or questions that you get, you still have to remember that, at the end of the day, this is your story.  A good Story Editor or Dramaturg(e) will never tell you what your story should be.  Because that, my friends, is a destructive way to go about the process.

Some of the key questions to ask yourself though…

Why do you want to tell this story? 

What do your characters want and need? 

What do you want us (the audience) to come away with at the end?

Asking questions will always provoke the writer to think about their answer, their truth.  I’ve found that this is the most helpful approach when working with writers (and personally, as a writer too, I prefer this).

But remember, be specific.  Be clear.  There’s nothing worse than leading a writer astray with unclear notes.  Giving feedback is as much a skill and talent as anything else.  Also, just because you can write, doesn’t mean you can give notes.  It takes practice like any craft.  You also need the ability to analyze and critique, which again, is a skill that can be learned and honed, if you’re willing to put the work in.

I studied story-editing at York University in Toronto, as did our resident story editor for LITTLE MISS JIHAD, Consuelo Solar– who is fabulous by the way.  Hire Consuelo too! 🙂

The class was an eye-opening experience.  Our professor, Marie Rickard, actually gave us tangible tools and questions to work with.  Part of our class assignments, was to story-edit the short films of the younger year Production students.  You can tell that went over well… hahaha.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned, you can’t force the process.  You have to let the writer come to you.  And it takes a certain amount of maturity and security for a writer to be ready– ready to let go of their work– ready to listen.

For a Story Editor, part of your job, is judging where a writer is in development, and taking that into account when helping them.  It’s a fine balance.  Story Editing isn’t a science.  We can’t analyze and fix your story for you.  We can open the door, but you must step through it.

After graduating from York, I spent my one of my first internships (yes, one of nine– but I’m nuts) reading scripts and writing coverage for the then Development Executive at Amaze Film + Television – a production company in Toronto.  This was before the success of their show, “Call Me Fitz.”

That summer, I learned a lot.  I got to practice what I had learned back in school.  I did a ton of coverage.

What’s coverage?

Coverage is a report on a script (anywhere from two to five to even eight pages).    The reader basically reads the script, summarizes what they’ve read (usually with a log-line & paragraph summary), and then analyzes major elements of the work:  CHARACTERS, STORY, STRUCTURE, DIALOGUE/TONE, and THEME.

Everyone has their own coverage template, but these are the basics.  For that internship, I was also asked to give number grades for these elements, as well as my recommendation to the Development Exec.

It was incredibly informative, and really helped me to hone my own story abilities.  I can honestly say that reading and critiquing other people’s scripts, has made me a better writer.  By seeing all that is working, or not working, in their scripts, you can apply this to your own work.

Remember what I said about practice?  Practice, practice.

The other thing about story editing… is that it’s time consuming.  You’re subject to the development and progression of the writer that you’re working with.  So you need patience and empathy.  But also the willingness to not pull any punches.  Because you’re not doing your writer any favours by lying to them.

For coverage, it’s still time-consuming.  When you factor in the time to read a script, and not just skim it, because you need to focus all your energy on analyzing all these elements while you’re reading it.  You also need time to write up a report (it’s like a long essay).  When all’s said and done, a feature script can easily take you half a day.  That’s half a day’s work to get the best notes possible for your writer, or in my case, Development Executive.

Believe me, you don’t want to shortchange this process, because not giving it your full attention, can seriously be destructive to a writer’s process.  Surgeons worry about a bad decision, a bad cut.  Story Editors worry about a bad story note!

So that’s what Story Editing and Coverage is in a nut shell.  I wish I could go more in-depth, but this would end up being a novel of a blog post.  And I know y’all have other things to do!

If you have any questions, you’re welcome to contact us.

Just a friendly reminder, if you’re looking for a professional story editor, contact Elke Town!

But if you’re just looking for some informal notes and feedback, from Consuelo or me, please consider us.  Your donations go directly to supporting emerging & diverse talent, artists, and independent filmmakers.  Thanks!

~ Steph

Why this Story? (My Inspiration)

Photo: Jim (

Why this story?

The most dreaded question for any writer.  Usually, because it’s the hardest question to answer, but one that requires a writer to dig deep.  And digging deep for any writer… is always dangerous.  But that’s how you get to truth.

I started writing this short script back when I was at York University in Toronto, studying Film Production and Screenwriting.  But even though this is where the actual words on paper started; the inspiration for it goes back much further.

In fact, it goes back to September 11th, 2001.  I think everyone remembers where they were on that day, and I distinctly remember being in the basement of our school, having our class photos taken.  Suddenly, an announcement came on from our Principal, saying that a plane had hit the World Trade Center.  I looked around… and all my friends and classmates were puzzled.  What did this mean?

Then maybe 15-20 minutes later, a second announcement came on about how a second plane had hit the second tower.  And I remember realizing… wait, this isn’t an accident.  What is going on?

Before this, I had no idea what terrorism was.  And as we sat in our classroom, silent, watching the terrible news footage unfold on the television, as our French teacher tried to stay calm, but secretly was freaking out because her friend was in New York… I remember feeling that this was the end of the world.

This was going to be World World Three.

And I was terrified.

We lost our innocence that day.  It was our forced coming-of-age into this new world of fear and terror.  We knew nothing would be the same.  We couldn’t go back to our childhood bliss.

Wanting to tell this story… is really wanting to explore that notion of innocence.  And how everything we’ve come to think of– terrorism, the bad guys– are the furthest things that we come to think of, when we think of an “innocent” little girl.

In a strange way, that one event changed who we were in an instant.  It shaped the decade to come, our adolescence, and the way that we view the world and adults.  It certainly shaped the way that I tell my stories.

Ever since, I aim to tell stories that provoke.  Stories that aren’t always easy.  I use humour and satire to cope, and to point out all that I see that is wrong in the world– and all that is right– when there is right.  But mostly, there are only shades of grey.

This is the story of my inspiration.  But it’s also a story… that I know many of you know well.

Thanks for listening.

~ Steph

Week 1 – Operation: Make a Film (Summary)

Tomorrow marks the end of the first week of our Crowdfunding Campaign, and week and a half of our Social Media Campaign.  Thanks to all who have helped make this first week-ish a success!  At the moment, our current tally is $1250 of $6000.  Or 21% of our goal, which is quite fabulous.  Thank you to all those who also reached out behind-the-scenes to offer their advice, support, and a helping hand.  We still have much work to do, but this promising start gives us courage!

As many of you know, we’re raising funds to hire our Cast & Crew… with real money.  Not Monopoly money.  But real money.  So that they may pay their rent.  Buy themselves some time to write that screenplay they always wanted, or to shoot that little film that they’ve always dreamed of.  So they won’t all quit on us and become lawyers.  Is that such a bad thing?  We won’t answer that.

As for our Cast, we will be auditioning in the coming weeks.  But know that your contributions will also go to paying them– all local Toronto-based emerging & diverse talent.  How can you lose with that?!

And so, this week, Associate Producer/Production Manager Jessica Wu and I (Steph here!) will be sitting down on Tuesday to go over our Casting Workbook submissions.  At that time, we’ll decide on releasing our preliminary casting breakdown on and other sites.  Because we know that finding our child lead of Sally Khan is going to be our greatest challenge, that’s where we’re focusing our efforts at the moment.  In the New Year, we will be auditioning the rest of our leads and roles– of which there are plenty to go around!

We will also be locking down an audition space.  At the moment, I’ve reached into my ghosts of theatre past– yes, I’m pretty sure none of you remember that about me– but that’s okay.  I am a filmmaker now!  Muhahahaha!  So we’ll see how that goes.  We’ve also had some amazing help from my former mentor, Sarain Boylan, which I’m super grateful for.

In the meantime, we’ll be continuing our Crowdfunding and Social Media Campaign– because it really is a full-time job– and oh my God, what did I get myself into?  But it’s worth it.  I really will fight to pay my Cast & Crew, or go down trying.  I may end up going down… that has always been a real possibility.  But I’ll try my best.

Because some of you have asked, we’ll be running our campaign right up to Principal Photography, which we have planned for Spring 2012 (end of March/April).  We’re intending on finishing and delivering the film in August/September.  Of course, the sooner we can raise our funds, the sooner I can focus on other things!  Like actual Casting and Pre-Production.  And my other side career, umm, writing. 😉

If you’re interested in helping us out, for the price of a coffee, or even a cupcake, you can help us support the careers of over a dozen local emerging & diverse filmmakers and artists.  Plus, you get our cool Perks!  And for you aspiring writers, you get my team’s awesome Script Notes/Coverage expertise.  ‘Cuz we got script notes experience up the wazoo.  You can quote us on that. 🙂

Thanks to all our supporters!  We will remember your love & affection forever.  For real.

~ Team Little Miss Jihad

Inside the Casting Process

This past Monday, our Associate Producer/Production Manager, Jessica Wu, and I (Steph here – hi!) met for our first preliminary production meeting in Downtown Toronto.  We mapped out a rough timeline for the next month or so in terms of Casting– when we should get back to people, when auditions should be held, and a hard and fast deadline for deciding the signatory nature of our production.

Before this, Casting Angels (Charlie better back off!) Jennifer Liao and Sandy Kellerman, good friends that I met through Ink Canada and Reel Asian respectively, and super producers in their own right, were kind enough to get us set-up with a preliminary casting breakdown.  The main focus: our film’s three leads.  If you’ve read the logline at all, you know that we have quite a challenge ahead of us in terms of looking for our 10-year-old (Afghani-American) lead.

Could I have made this process easier by writing a different character?  Yes.  Do I really want to make it easier for myself?  No.  This is the character that the story calls for, and I will leave no stone unturned in finding our right cast.  I will not shoot until I find the right cast.  I will not shoot until the cast is ready.  Because if you don’t have a solid cast, you might as well not even start.

The thing about filmmaking is, you have to go in knowing that you’re going to fail.  Filmmaking is a risky business.  You’re never going to make your money back.  I know I will be sinking my savings into this film, and I’m never going to get it back– ever.  But if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I have to do.

The best shot you can give your film, is to mitigate failure by surrounding yourself with people who are smarter and more talented than yourself.  You trust your team to do the job that you hired them for.  You trust the actors that you’ve cast.

So over the next few weeks, we’re going to be auditioning young actresses for the role of 10-year0old Sally Khan.  And we’re going to keep looking until we find her.  She is the heart and soul of this film.  I”m hoping she’s already out there, waiting for us, and maybe… she just doesn’t know it yet.

But first, we have to find an audition space in Downtown Toronto.  Truthfully, I have no idea how long the casting process will take until we find our Sally.  I’m reaching out at the moment to see if we can a space donated, because that would be just the bee’s knees.  So wish us luck & follow our progress here!

And this is an appropriate time as any to shout-out our current “Pay Our Cast & Crew” campaign donors & sponsors!  Thanks to your contributions, we will be able to pay our young lead actress!  Big hug to Sarolta Csete, Nathan Brown, Hope Nicholson, Nathalie Younglai, Imthiyaz Hameed, Sugith Varughese, Sau-Fann Lee, Diane Williamson, Christopher Im, Lindsay M. Stewart, Pat Mills, Shasha Nakhai, Maria-Saroja Ponnambalam, Samantha Shute, Jason Karman, Sau Man Lee, and Sau Kan Lee.

We Need Your Support

Dear Friends,

I’m asking for your support.

I’m raising funds for my darkly comedic short film, LITTLE MISS JIHAD, which won the pitch competition at the 2011 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival (Emerging Category).  It’s a wonderful prize; but it’s not enough.

Specifically, I’m raising funds to pay my key crew and talent, who are all local emerging filmmakers and diverse artists.

I’ve spent a lot of time interning and working for free in the film industry over the past few years.  That is why it is incredibly important to me to be able to pay my crew something.  In my humble opinion, that’s the only way to encourage emerging filmmakers and artists to stay in this industry.

So I’m asking for your help.  Even if you’re only able to donate $5, that would mean the world to this project.  And if you’re not able to, I understand.  Believe me, I’ve been there… for most of my short career in this industry.  But if you could help spreading the word, we would be more than grateful.

If you’d like to donate, please click here.

I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to ensure that my crew and talent are paid.  I thank you dearly in advance for all your support.

*EDIT UPDATE*:  To clarify, we have applied to grants, but we won’t know for four months (mid March 2012) about their decision.  And there is no guarantee we’ll get them.   At most, they will cover hard Production and Post-Production costs.  But not labour.  They will not cover enough to pay my actors and crew.  That is why I’m asking for help.  Thank you for understand and your support.



A darkly comedic short film

Twitter: @littlemissjihad –!/littlemissjihad

LIVE! (Or please be our friend, pretty please?)

Yes, the Social Media Campaign for LITTLE MISS JIHAD is now live as of 12 noon E.S.T.!  Thanks for everyone’s support!

If you’re on twitter, you’re welcome to follow us @littlemissjihadfilm!

If you’re on Facebook, you may follow our fanpage here.

Interested in our YouTube channel?  You may shimmy on over to our videos.

And if you’re wondering, whoa, how did we make these social media pages in, like, two days?  Relax, we didn’t… hahaha.  Since the pitch finalist announcement back in October, we’ve been slowly building them and thinking of our campaign.  If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s never too early to start!

Big thanks to Karen Walton, Dorice Tepley, Jill Golick, and Scott Albert for basically teaching me all that I know about social media– leading through their example over the years, experimenting, and embracing the new before anybody else did.  And hey, I’m no expert, so hoping this works!

But you know what will work better?  Friending us!

Thanks!  Without your support, this film could not happen! 🙂