NSI Features First – Synapse Readthrough

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Our second day at NSI Features First was far busier and more knowledge-filled than Day 1… Somehow.

This morning was Full Swing’s turn in the hot seat as we read through Synapse. We also sat down with a Chain of Title lawyer and some great Talent Agents, all with fantastic knowledge to share.

Let’s focus on the Synapse read.


Digging into Synapse

When you write a screenplay solo, you spend a lot of time in a vacuum. Nobody to tell you what is/isn’t working, what’s clear or confusing, what’s too subtle or too overwritten. So whenever I finish a draft, I always feel like I’ve gone as far as I can, but it’s like I’ve hit a ceiling and can’t grow without some feedback.

With help from some great screenwriters in Calgary, I was able to break through that ceiling and take Synapse to the level it’s at today. But then, back in that vacuum, you hit that next ceiling. After today, my fingers are ready to fly into the next draft (a good thing too… we’ve only got 7 weeks to finish them!)


I had some pre-conceived thoughts going into this program about where Synapse is and where it needs to go — questions about character motivation, how the A/B stories line up, and what the true focus of the story is.

I was so encouraged to learn the majority of the feedback addressed the same questions. But I wasn’t expecting how easily the solutions presented themselves. It’s a magical feeling when things start to click.

We began with a simple question: what story are you trying to tell? As we went, questions and comments large and small kept popping up, many of which are easily fixed by finding clarity from that first question. Calgary screenwriter Jason Long is a master of asking the perfect, simple questions, and I’m pleased to add NSI’s Melissa Kajpust to that list.

As I dive deeper and deeper into Synapse, I’m constantly amazed by how layered a screenplay needs to be. We all know it in theory, but putting these rules into practice takes A LOT of work. Every word is precious, every action is sacred, every line of dialogue must advance your story. Every page must make the audience love your characters more, develop their arcs further, push the plot forward, explore your theme, and be 100% entertaining all the time. Layers on layers on layers.

Tomorrow we sit down and hear notes from the other teams. I have huge respect for the other 7 members of this year’s class, and truly can’t wait to hear their thoughts.

Joe and Eisha

Joe Balass and Eisha Marjara

I would be remiss not to mention the readthrough of NSI Features First’s fourth and final project this year: Venus, a gender-bending drama out of Montreal, written by Eisha Marjara and produced by Joe Balass. Venus is a brave and deeply personal drama, definitely a shift in tone from the others, and I can’t wait to see how it evolves through the program.

Today’s Top Tips

  • Ask yourself: Why are you telling this story? Is it for yourself? Great, carry on. Is it for an audience? Then read the next tips.
  • Your script isn’t a hidden jewel (I’m talking to you). Let go of your ego and focus on making it better. We don’t need good scripts in Canada. We need great scripts.
  • Ask yourself: what is the story you’re telling? Test the answer on someone else. Is it simple? It must be.
  • Writing in a vacuum is an essential part of the process, but so is getting as much feedback as you can. Preferably from non-friends (if you get feedback, sign that rights agreement!).

If you have ANY questions please drop them in the comments or get in touch on Social Media.


About the Author:

Scott Westby is a Writer, Director and Producer in Calgary's film industry. He's a 2008 graduate of SAIT's Film & VIdeo Production Program, and has years of experience in strategic marketing and content creation for traditional and new media. A Taco/Slurpee enthusiast and a hater of mushrooms.
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  1. Irene Hamilton  June 5, 2014

    HI Matt and Scott

    I wish I could be your shadow for a week, or two, or more. You deserve all riches that will come your way. Great talent all round. When do you expect Synapse to be ready for the audience?

  2. Mark Greenhalgh  March 26, 2014

    Who would have thought that a screenplay or script must have a clearly defined logical set of rules to ensure success.
    Thanks for your updates.

    • Scott Westby  March 26, 2014

      As you get deeper into it, you can definitely see the rules that will make your script easier to sell. The trick is to learn these rules, play by them, then break them and change the game.

      • Mark Greenhalgh  March 28, 2014

        Play by the rules, then break them?
        I like your style!


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