We Are Upstate NY With Screenwriter Peter Wortmann
Inside+Out is celebrating the 23rd year of the Woodstock Film Festival with a series of interviews showcasing Hudson Valley filmmakers participating in this year’s festival. And, we are shining a spotlight on the festival’s support staff, with a behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to produce a festival. So, let’s get to know more about local resident and screenwriter, Peter Wortmann, who helped write the blurbs for the featured films in this year’s Film Festival.
Where are you originally from and what is your connection to the Hudson Valley?
I grew up in New York City and lived there all my life until three years ago when I moved to Woodstock. First time I’ve lived in a house, I can no longer call the super when there’s no heat. What a world!
Tell us a bit about the process of writing the blurbs for the festival’s films and how long you’ve been with the organization.
This is the first year I’ve screened submissions for the festival which, unlike many, has open submissions. Anyone, man or beast, famous or otherwise, can submit a film, and all are given equal consideration, which is kind of great. Of course, this also stretches the range of quality to its limits. Fortunately, it stretches at both ends, so along with some uniquely awful films, I saw a number of truly extraordinary ones.
You are also a screenwriter – tell us about your projects.
Over the years, my long-time writing partner, Bob Conte, and I worked on more than three dozen studio projects, and some indie ones as well. Many were assignments but we also sold a number of pitches and specs — the type of career that’s just much harder to come by these days. As is true for many screenwriters, only a fraction of those was produced, but we were fortunate enough to collaborate with many talented filmmakers.
What would you say is the most rewarding or the most challenging project you’ve worked on to date?
Very early on, Bob and I sold a pitch to Spielberg…but on the condition that he would further develop the story with us…which of course made the work all the more compelling. He was wildly generous with his time — we worked in person with him over many months — and just being witness to how he approached character and story (and how incisive he was with it all) was a brilliant education. We felt a lot of pressure handing in the first draft, but he quite liked it and put us under contract for a year, an event that utterly altered the course of our careers. Very lucky.
What is one question you’re constantly asked or the biggest misconception about what you do?
To my mind, good screenwriting is equal parts art and craft, and it feels like the craft part is too often overlooked, especially because it can be learned, whereas art is a whole lot harder to come by. I still believe in the idea of “a good story well told” — the “good story” being the art, the “well told” the craft. So maybe in terms of “misconception,” watching movies (which is often fun) is not the ideal way to learn about screenwriting any more than looking at a photograph of a beautiful maple table will actually help you build one. Reading scripts (which is often work) is the way to go.
What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live + work here?
Hard to compete with Manhattan, but the energy of the art scene here is palpable. And because it’s all on a much smaller, more intimate scale, there’s a kind of inviting generosity. More collaborative, less competitive. Plus, it’s pretty gorgeous here…trees and streams and everything.
What is missing in the area that you wish we had?
More indie cinema. But we do have Upstate Films, which is pretty sweet. And the Tinker Street Cinema, which is as indie as indie gets, and a wonderful little venue that I hope more people will support, not as in charity, but as in they have terrific quirky programming, and it’s simply a great place to see a movie.
You’re hosting dinner and a movie get-together. You can invite six people – tell us your dream guest list and what movie would you play.
Sorry, but six is too many. I don’t like when there are enough people at a table to hold two conversations simultaneously. I always fear the other one, the one I’m not in, is the interesting one. So maybe three guests: Kristen Abate (the young star and co-director of Straighten Up and Fly Right, a wonderful film screening at this year’s festival…plus she seems so smart); Roberto Firmino (Liverpool Football Club striker who I have some questions for — YNWA); and my dad, who died when I was a kid. (Granted he’s unlikely to show, but not much more unlikely than Firmino). Film: Goodfellas (because it portrays heartbreak in such unusual ways…and well, it’s fabulous).
The 23rd Annual Woodstock Film Festival
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About the Woodstock Film Festival
Founded in 2000, the Woodstock Film Festival (WFF) is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization that nurtures and supports emerging and established filmmakers, sharing their creative voices through an annual festival and year-round programming to promote culture, diversity, community, educational opportunities and economic growth. WFF provides innovative mentoring and inspired educational programs benefitting filmmakers, students and diverse audiences while serving as a powerful cultural and economic engine for New York’s Hudson Valley and beyond. Such efforts have consistently resulted in the festival being hailed as one of the top regional film festivals worldwide. The Woodstock Film Festival is an Oscar®-qualifying festival in the short film categories – Live Action Short Film, Animated Short Film, and Documentary Short Film.