Oak Bay writer scores gold in Beverly Hills

Writing pair earns win for screenplay Emma’s Song

Gillian Croft of Saanich (left) and Jessica Van der Veen of Oak Bay celebrate their collaboration on the original screenplay Emma’s Song

Gillian Croft of Saanich (left) and Jessica Van der Veen of Oak Bay celebrate their collaboration on the original screenplay Emma’s Song

A pair of local writers embark on a rollercoaster ride to get their screenplay some action and hope a Hollywood award under the belt will help.

Longtime acting coach Jessica Van der Veen of Oak Bay  was working with Gillian Croft’s daughter when the Saanich writer sought some advice on a screenplay she was working on.

“Originally she hired me to doctor her script,” Van der Veen said. It quickly became an award-winning writing partnership. The already well-framed screenplay drew the Oak Bay writer in immediately, and when Croft pursued a working partnership, Van der Veen was already hooked.

“It really has been a true collaboration,” Van der Veen said.

Each woman’s talents for telling a story dovetail nicely.

“We have a great dynamic where we keep each other going,” Van der Veen said. She scores high in dialogue writing while Croft’s forte is structure and plot. “She’ll say, ‘This character really needs a voice,’ and she’ll help me find that voice,” Croft said.

“We’re high achievers so we demand a lot from ourselves and each other,” Croft added.

Croft and Van der Veen won the Golden Palm Award at the Beverly Hills Film Festival for for their original screenplay Emma’s Song. It just happened they chose to attend the festival where it won the award.

“It was a great adventure,” Van der Veen said. “This was the icing on the cake.”

“We were so shocked everybody laughed at us … I was shaking for about an hour,” Croft said.

The two met writers, producers and the guy who edited The Matrix.

“I was expecting everyone to be snobby, they were the most humble people,” Croft said.

There people wanted to talk about lighting and design and screenplays. They were keen on the art of storytelling, said Van der Veen. It was inspiring.

“We came back and did some rewrites,” Van der Veen said. “We’re not finished the journey until it gets made.”

The screenplay tells the story of Emma, a spirited 12-year-old songwriter.

Her music triumphs over the isolation and turmoil of a rare illness and ultimately brings her loved ones closer together.

It’s loosely based on the stories of Croft’s daughter, Jenna, a musician with severe disabilities, and other children who suffer Thrombotic Storm Disorder, a rare disorder that causes clotting storms that attack the mind and body.

“I think this film, once it’s made, will touch a lot of people,” Croft said.

It’s time to hawk their wares and they hope the award will add the sparkle to catch attention of the producer out there it’s meant for.

“This screenplay already had something special. It’s been a great journey,” Van der Veen said. “Now we’re working our butts off to sell it.”

Or perhaps that actor it’s meant for will stumble upon Emma’s Song.

“It’ll demand a lot from all of the characters, it’s an actor’s dream really,” Croft said. “We wrote it because we had a story to tell and it’s an important story.”