Sunday | February 19, 2017
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Film fest honors former TV executive, well-known story consultant

A common thread between writers, who make it in the competitive entertainment industry, exists. They understand how to look inside themselves for answers, said Jennifer Grisanti, protege to the great television executive Aaron Spelling, Sunday evening.

Success will happen for writers who start their career with purpose. They must have a strong belief in self and a burning desire put in the work, time and dedication to learn the craft of storytelling, as well as write at least four strong scripts. But most of all, they must write from a place of the emotional truth, rather than an autobiographical one, and weave that truth into their writing, she said during the Big Island Film Festival at The Fairmont Orchid.

“Your truth makes you stronger; it doesn’t make you weaker. Your story is your gift and when you delve into the emotional truth, your big well of experiences and pivotal life moments, that’s where the gold for your writing lives,” she said.

Grisanti encouraged festival goers to think about their own life, especially the times when the end has seemingly come and it feels like the carpet has been pulled out from underneath you. She said those painful times, when wounded, reevaluating and starting anew, are what drives us. Add irony or comedy and it’s a story, she added.

The festival held a special reception and salute for Grisanti, who replaced actor David James Elliott. When Elliott could no longer attend because of last-minute family arrangements, festival organizers started searching for different options of people to honor and give an award to — a tradition that allows attendees to meet and ask celebrities questions in a fun, more intimate setting, said Leo Sears, the festival’s founder and executive director.

Grisanti, a highly respected studio executive, script consultant, writing instructor and published author, offered to help with the search and began using her personal contacts. It wasn’t long that festival organizers decided she would be the perfect honoree. After all, she was already teaching workshops at the festival and has “impeccable” credentials. She also has some interesting writing theories and philosophies, which attendees may choose to incorporate into their own scripts or books, Sears said.

Grisanti shared her story of how she — the daughter of a doctor and a lawyer from Friendly Hills, Calif., as well as being a University of Southern California communications graduate with no entertainment contacts — got into the industry. After cold calling jobs and working in at three casting places, she was employed at Spelling Television Inc. — a job she didn’t get the first time around. Following a brief time temping, she was given a permanent position in Spelling’s office, handling the scripts, reading them and writing notes. Grisanti felt “really blessed” that she came in at “a very good time in his career.” She said Spelling, who was 67 when she was 24, was ready to teach and share his knowledge.

Grisanti ended up working for Spelling Television for 12 years, covering shows such as “Beverly Hills, 90210,” “Melrose Place” and “Charmed.” She later went to CBS/Paramount, where she worked with “Medium,” “NCIS” and other shows.

The greatest thing Grisanti said she experienced as an executive of current programs was having the opportunity to give script notes on a daily basis and seeing them implemented on shows. She enjoyed watching what worked and what didn’t. She claimed the best stories are the ones that establish empathy for the main character, present a dilemma, have a clear goal and action is taken.

Grisanti later launched her own consultancy firm, which has helped 350 writers wanting to break into the entertainment industry. She is also a writing instructor for NBC’s Writers on the Verge, a blogger for The Huffington Post, and the author of “Story Line: Finding Gold In Your Life Story.She is currently writing a book, anticipated to be completed in July.

“I’ve written three chapters here and have been inspired by the gifts, the films, shown at the festival,” she said. “There’s no greater source of inspiration for me and others in the process of writing than here. The festival has been really incredible.”

Sear said the festival has been improved and excellent in so many ways. For example, there was “tremendous positive response” to the free family movie events, as well as “exceptionally more interest” in the receptions with celebrities. Also the previous attendance record of 1,954 people will also be topped today, when the festival ends with a record of 2,000 people or more.

“I really just want to thank the community for supporting the festival and helping it grow every year,” he said.

For more information, visit bigislandfilmfestival.com.