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Concordia authors

Creative writing graduate goes to Hollywood for a year

Margaret Webb has hit a writer's jackpot -- a contract to work full-time for a year at the mammoth Disney corporation.

The 1994 graduate in Concordia's MA in Creative Writing program was one of 2,500 applicants for a handful of places in the Walt Disney Studios Fellowship Program. She won the fellowship with a real David-and-Goliath film script called Northern Dancer.

"Northern Dancer, of course, was the first Canadian racehorse to win the Kentucky Derby, in 1964, and set a new record in the process -- two minutes flat," Webb said in an e-mail message from her home in California.

"Only one horse, Secretariat, has beaten Northern Dancer's time since. Northern Dancer was a small racehorse -- the little horse that could -- who went up against the giant American favourite, Hill Rise. Canadian jockey Willie Shoemaker opted to ride the American giant, not the Canadian horse."

The Disney program awards up to five positions in features and five in TV writing. This year, they had 2,500 applicants for the screenwriting fellowships, shortlisted to 11 people. The program, now in its 10th year, seeks out and employs culturally and ethnically diverse new writers.

"They did a telephone interview, then flew me down to LA (Universal Hilton Hotel with a bed big enough for an elephant to sleep in) for an interview at the Disney Studios," Webb recalled in some awe. "Walking into their entrance -- pillars of seven dwarfs -- I couldn't help thinking I could be their eighth dwarf. I was one of four writers to whom they gave a fellowship in feature screenwriting."

The program runs for a year from mid-October, and pays a wage for Webb to get by in Los Angeles. Northern Dancer has been optioned by Productions La Fête in Montreal (Roch Demers' company) and has received two levels of screenplay development money from the Harold Greenburg Fund (sponsored by The Movie Network) in Toronto.

"While in LA, I will rewrite ND and work on one or two features (my own) and be assigned to a Disney executive and producer who will read/mentor/give feedback and organize actors' workshops of my scripts. The point of the fellowship is to develop us as writers and for us to have a year to work on screenplays and to introduce us to the business of filmmaking in L.A. They will help us with contacts, getting L.A. agents, etc."

Webb's screenwriting training came via the Canadian Film Centre, founded in Toronto by director Norman Jewison, where she was a screenwriting resident in 1995-96, and a TV story editor resident in 1999.

"The fellowship to Disney is all contingent upon their getting me a visa for the year, but Disney lawyers say that should be no problem (that is, unless whoever found my birth certificate and SIN card in the Concordia Grad Students Lounge years ago has not been up to anything bad under my name)."

- Barbara Black

Copyright 1999 Concordia's Thursday Report.