BWW Interview: Cameron J. Ross Talks Teaching Four-Session Screenwriting Intensive for Esurient Arts
Creative writing masterclasses are a crap shoot. You may get a little closer to your writing and career goals or you may lose a couple hundred dollars. Esurient Arts Artistic Director Dabrina Sandifer wouldn't bet against accomplished writer, producer, filmmaker, actor, and native Houstonian Cameron J. Ross who, starting this weekend, Sunday, January 15, leads a four session screenwriting intensive for Esurient Arts. "Cameron is Houston bred with an incredible journey and success in various markets and positions," she says.
Under his tutelage, odds are you'll learn something. Classes will focus on writing believable dialogue, full-fledged characters, and the business.
And you'll definitely do something. The goal is to produce functional, working artists who see results says Sandifer. Participants come into the first session with an idea for a script, and Ross intends to guide the writers through what he calls the curation of a story. He and guest speakers. At the end of the workshop, each participant will have completed a screenplay for a short film and select scripts will be showcased in an invited industry reading.
Ross adds: "I want it to be a safe creative space. I'll treat it as a writer's group. I want it to be interactive." He's not a professor on a soapbox, he says. It's true. He is a successful writer.
Ross began his career on Broadway, playing Harpo in the Broadway National Tour of Oprah Winfrey Presents THE COLOR PURPLE and appearing in DREAMGIRLS. Then he risked it all to become a writer.
"Everyone asked, 'Are you nuts?'" Maybe. For two years, he rejected acting jobs and lived off his savings while dedicating himself to learning his craft and making a name for himself as a writer. "New York is no joke," Ross says. "It was really depressing sometimes. The city is cold -- literally," says Ross.
He treats his time as a struggling writer as a lesson. He treats all of his experiences the same way. Playing Harpo in THE COLOR PURPLE taught him to live in the moment, he says. DREAMGIRLS taught him to follow his passions. His script for a spin-off of A DIFFERENT WORLD never passed through development hell, and taught him about the unfairness of the business. And as a producer for BET, he learned how to get a project through development.
Inspired by a hashtag -- #OscarsSoWhite -- and another prominent pop culture quote from Nina Simone --"An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times." -- Ross co-wrote BLACK MOVIE NIGHT with Sterling Milan, starring THE GOOD WIFE actor Sheria Irving and, in her screen debut, Akintola Jiboyewa. In the short, two actors struggle to decide whether or not to boycott the Oscars and celebrate a night of black cinema or go with the status quo to achieve their ambitions. The result went viral and premiered at Cannes Film Festival.
Ross is pragmatic but optimistic. On writer's block: "Writer's Block is a bitch," he says with a laugh. "I'm gonna fight this bitch." On the challenge of breaking into the entertainment business: "If you want to be a writer, you'll be one. But you have to want it." On pitching: "As a writer, you should have 50 scripts stored on your computer!" They seem like platitudes, but sometimes you just need a little encouragement in the fourth quarter.
The Ross-led intensive means to be that encouragement, providing tips on remaining sane in a business that's colder than New York. "Mental and physical well-being ... ultimately affect everything, including one's work. That is often neglected, which is unfortunate -- especially in a field that is so cutthroat and filled with rejection."
Ross wants every writer to feel the security of success. And he feels his experiences rounded his edges. "I have been groomed and dressed to go out into the wilderness ... and pick as many fruits and berries as possible," he says. "And now I'm coming back home with everything I learned. Berries for all!"
Sessions are 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, January 15, Sunday, January 22, 2017, Saturday, January 28, 2017, and Sunday, January 29, 2017. Montrose Counseling Center, 401 Branard St Fl 2. For information, call 713- 529-0037 or visit esurientarts.com. Tuition: $250. Scholarships and payment plans available. Participation possible for non-Houston based writers. Call or email email@example.com to learn more. Participants must be age 17 or up.