News | 22 April 2024
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Getting it write at Toi Pōneke Arts Centre

Entering it’s sixth year, the Write Room programme at Toi Pōneke Arts Centre has been a successful gateway for budding screenwriters to develop their feature film screenplay alongside experienced industry mentors.

A woman looking off into the distance.
Ella Gilbert, 2023 Write Room Resident at Toi Pōneke Arts Centre.

With over 200 project submissions from Wellington writers since it launched in 2018, this residency aims to support emerging and mid-career writers who are wanting to progress their work, with a focus on reflecting stories from our city and country.

2023 Write Room resident Ella Gilbert entered the 12-week programme with the beginnings of a story and strong sense of the kind of film she wanted to create. 

As a first-time feature writer, Ella says the idea of writing a feature-length screenplay was incredibly intimidating to her.

“I learnt about story-telling through performance, theatre making and Super8mm filmmaking. So, transitioning to writing a feature film was a whole new set of skills. As I dug in, I realised all my experience in those other mediums would inform my writing, and I slowly began to trust myself with the words. I also had my friend Poppy Serano, to call on and question when I was stumped with the story, as this film is based on a moment in her childhood at the Waiouru Military Camp.” 

This screenwriter residency programme is a partnership with POP Film and the Wellington City Council Aho Tini 2030 Arts, Culture and Creativity strategy.

The residency allowed her to dive deeper into her work and gave her the opportunity to do research – including a visit to the Desert Road to do extensive character exercises and story work. 

She used this to then work alongside Mentors Rob Sarkies (Scarfies, Out of the Blue, Consent: The Louise Nicolas Story) and Vicky Pope (Gardening with Soul, Savage, Went Up The Hill), who helped provided support to bring life to key moments in the story, while fleshing out characters on the page. 

This support has encouraged her to take big steps in her journey as a writer she says. 

A woman standing infront of a bunch of post it notes on the wall.
Ella workshopping ideas for her script.

“I'm coming to learn that growing as a screenwriter is not a linear path - it's a wonky, windy one. I've been telling people that writing this film is one of the hardest things I've ever done! 

“In the same breath, the time spent in my studio at Toi Pōneke, cracking open potent images and moments for the film has been some of my richest creative exploration to date. A new drive has been ignited in me as an artist, and each day I am humbled by the massive job of the writer.” 

Ella will complete the programme in April 2024 with the read through of her screenplay ‘the Desert Road’. 

Supported by the Write Room team, so far Ella has completed the first draft of her script and was encouraged to apply and got a position on the NZ Director’s Guild Women in Film Incubator that hothouses promising upcoming female director talent. 

Her mentors, Vicky and Rob, also helped her to secure NZ Film Commission support as a Director Intern on the NZ feature film Pike, providing her with an opportunity to take part in a feature production. 

Toi Pōneke Arts Advisor Sascha Perfect explains that the residency provides a solid foundation for artists to move forward with their passion.

“The Write Room programme exemplifies the strategic outcomes of our Aho Tini Arts 2030 Arts, Culture, and Creativity strategy, especially in regards to providing career pathway opportunities and close mentorship within the arts industry. This type of support is invaluable to emerging artists.”

To find out more about the Write Room residents or to get details on how to apply, visit the Toi Pōneke website