CineStory Celebrates 20th Year

Pam Pierce, CineStory Retreat
Michael Colleary meets with a screenwriter at the Cinestory retreat in Idyllwild. Photo courtesy: Alex Gaynor.

Michael Colleary meets with a screenwriter at the Cinestory retreat in Idyllwild. Photo courtesy: Alex Gaynor.

By Julie Pendray

IDYLLWILD, Calif. — This tiny mountain village in Southern California is a well-known getaway for Los Angeles, San Diego and Palms Springs residents, including Hollywood celebrities and movie makers. It’s also a favorite destination for on-location screen work because of its proximity to LA and because it can substitute for a variety of places, with its backdrop of forested slopes.

So what better place to have an inspiring screenwriters’ gathering every year?

Pam Pierce, CineStory Retreat

Screenwriter Pam Pierce, an Idyllwild resident, developed CineStory Retreat with co-founder Dona Cooper. Pierce is an adjunct instructor at Idyllwild Arts Academy. Photo courtesy Pam Pierce.

CineStory Retreat is back in Idyllwild this week. The non-profit organization itself is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its formative year in Austin, Tx.

It was founded by current Idyllwild resident and screenwriter Pam Pierce, when she was living in Austin. Pierce holds a Masters Degree in Screenwriting from Stanford University and has written for Public Broadcasting and a CBS affiliate. At least four of her screenplays have been optioned.  In 1984 she co-wrote an Oscar winning documentary “Broken Rainbow,” she said by email interview.

Pierce left California two decades ago when her husband, Ira Abrams, was hired to teach film at the University of Texas at Austin. She then moved with him when he was named Chair of the Radio-TV-Film Department at Columbia College in Chicago. Eventually Pierce brought her retreat idea up here into the woods above Palm Springs when Ira decided to teach at the moviemaking program at Idyllwild Arts Academy in 2003. After city life, the Abrams were seeking a more intimate location in which to live. The move also gave their son, musician Casey Abrams, an eventual opportunity to attend the academy. Casey went on to become a finalist in American Idol and a touring and recording artist. He returns to perform at the academy’s annual Jazz in the Pines.

Pierce’s outreach for CineStory began first as a script writing conference in Chicago with the aid of co-founder Dona Cooper, who was the master screenwriting teacher at the American Film Institute at the time, as well as an NBC executive. The first CineStory Retreat was at Lake Arrowhead in 2000.

CineStory attracts Hollywood professionals who mentor new screenwriters from outside the “Hollywood Beltway,” Pierce said via email interview. It gives writers an alternative way to market their work in a small group setting. It’s all about the one-on-one mentoring, Pierce said. She said it really makes a difference in writers’ lives and the mentors love participating.

Pierce created the unique formula and produced the retreat here for eight years and continues to consult independently with screenwriters plus working as screenplay instructor at the academy’s summer program.

President of the CineStory board Lisanne Sartor and Executive Director Bryan Dick now co-run the retreat each year. Sartor also comes up to Idyllwild for weekends during the year to work with her writers’ group. Pierce still works with winning CineStory writers to provide encouragement in an informal way.

Bryan Dick, Executive Director of Cinestory Retreat. Photo courtesy Bryan Dick.

Bryan Dick, Executive Director of Cinestory Retreat. Photo courtesy Bryan Dick.

Lisanne Sartor is president of the board of CineStory and co-runs the retreat each year in Idyllwild. Photo courtesy Lisanne Sartor.

Lisanne Sartor is president of the board of CineStory and co-runs the retreat each year in Idyllwild. Photo courtesy Lisanne Sartor.


Dick said he placed 3rd at the retreat in 2011 with his script for a movie “Dispatch,” which was shot around LA in March. He said he met a contact with the production company while on the CineStory Retreat.

The retreat is open to screenwriters of any level of experience around the globe, except those who are established enough to have earned more than $25,000.

Many retreat attendees come back year after year, Dick said. They nestle into Creekstone Inn during the day and can be seen engaging in animated conversation together at local restaurants on breaks.

Writers describe the retreat as “definitely intense.” It’s only four days but a there’s a “real bond” in a “weird camp-like feeling,” according to the video below. They say they come to re-energize themselves, remake themselves and connect with other creative people. It’s an interactive culture in which committed, motivated people support each other. During the year, they stay in touch via podcasts and a newsletter.

Applicants to the retreat submit their material in the whole spectrum of genres from romance to drama to science fiction, Dick said. Sometimes a screenplay is dark indie material and sometimes it’s aimed at blockbuster action.

Writers are treated to a supportive environment and matched with working executives, agents, writers, directors and producers who match their interests and sensibilities and can give them practical steps to enter a highly competitive industry.

“We all believe in the same thing,” Dick said. “A great story gets noticed.”

Dick said the age of smart phone video production age has affected the industry in a couple of significant ways.

“People want all forms of content — 10 second Vine videos, 5 minute episodes of a web series, 10-episode mini-series on TV, as well as more traditional TV formats. We’ve launched a second submission process and we’ll be holding a second CineStory Retreat in Idyllwild during the Spring,” he said. The second retreat will focus on TV and digital arenas. It will be held April 22 to 25, 2016. Submissions are due by Nov. 1, 2015.

Dick said more and more writers who attend the Feature Retreat are using crowdsourcing to make their movies.

“Just during this summer, we’ve had two writers shoot their passion projects: Shaz Bennett’s “Alaska is a Drag” and Curtis David Sackett’s “Boundary Springs,” he said.

For budding writers who need encouragement and advice, Pierce has these suggestions.

“Keep the juices flowing by not languishing on one script for years. Allow it to be read and felt by peers in reading groups or small workshops, where you have a chance to hear and read other scripts and learn from other people’s mistakes. This is one literature that depends on creative collaboration after your initial baby is born, so it’s important to expose it to other eyes and ears to gather confidence that you are moving and affecting others with your visual storytelling.”

The CineStory Feature Retreat will return to Idyllwild next Fall.

For information on how to submit for the retreats, visit the web site .

To see a list of past mentors, click here.

Copyright Julie Pendray and

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