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International Screenwriting Conference coming to COMO

International Screenwriting Conference coming to COMO

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September 20-23 event will highlight female influence on film, television industries 

Some of the biggest behind-the-scenes stars of television and motion pictures — the screenwriters — will converge on the Stephens College campus in Columbia from September 20-23 for the 15th Annual Screenwriting Research Network Conference. 

Focused on the theme “Gender and the Female Gaze,” the three-day conference will bring an international collection of film professors and practitioners from Finland, France, New Zealand, Brazil, Italy, the United Kingdom, Germany, and other countries to Columbia. Attendees will get the chance to learn from experienced screenwriters, attend exhibitions, and network with other screenwriters. 

Keynote speakers include Columbia native Phil Lazebnik, who has written screenplays for films including Pocahontas and Mulan, and Meg LeFauve, who was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar for the Pixar blockbuster Inside Out. Along with the keynote speech, LaFauve will appear for a Q&A after a public screening of Inside Out at Ragtag Theatre on Saturday, September 23. (Separate tickets required.) 

Space is limited and registration closes September 15. Register to attend the conference here. The cost is $120 for standard registration and $100 for student registration. The fee for the conference dinner from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Friday, September 22 in the Kimball Ballroom, is $30.

‘Someone has to guard the words.’

The screenwriting conference, which comes to the U.S. for only the second time, is especially timely considering the ongoing and increasingly contentious strike by the Writers Guild of America, which represents 11,500 screenwriters. The strike began on May 2 over long-running labor disputes with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. 


The conference chair, Rosanne Welch, PhD, is the executive director of the Stephens College MFA in TV and screenwriting. Her producing and screenwriting credits include Touched by an Angel, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Key West. She teaches the Stephens MFA workshop from the Jim Henson Studios in Los Angeles. Welch has spent time on the picket line and organized a picketing day for Stephens MFA alums. 

“Someone has to guard the words,” Welch says, referencing the writer’s strike and the fundamental tenet that underscores the labor dispute. 

“I think the public’s biggest misperception [about screenwriting] is that the director is most important” in the filmmaking or television production process, she explains. “But you can’t direct 200 empty pages. You have to write that.” 

Writers and producers actually have more input on the final product, especially in television, she adds. 

“That’s part of what the writer’s strike is about,” Welch notes. “We want to make sure writers have part of that power. It is about the future job and will it be a sustainable job. You’ve got to be part of the whole process.” 

Welch became familiar with the international conference when a friend invited her to attend the event when it was hosted in Australia. That experience led to invitations to lecture in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and Oxford, England. As chair of this year’s screenwriting network, she promoted bringing the conference back to the U.S. The 20xx conference was in Madison, Wisconsin. 

“I thought it would be lovely if we brought this back to the United States,” she says. “I knew Stephens had the space we needed” and attendees seemed to enjoy “meeting in the middle of America” in 2013. 

“They don’t need New York City,” Welch adds with a hint of humor. 

Female focus fitting for Stephens

Bringing the event to Columbia also influenced the conference theme. 

“If we’re going to do this at Stephens,” Welch recalls saying, “it has to be female-related.” Those who study screenwriting and those attending will have opportunities to talk about the female perspective of the industry and the films. The conference is also ideal for those who teach gender studies, she adds. 

“I want them to add more of these female artists to what they teach,” Welch explains. “History is biased. It is written by the people who won or think they have the best handle on it.” 

Some 120 people are expected to attend the upcoming conference. The Broadway Hotel and Hampton Inn have rooms for the event, and many who have been in contact with Welch indicated they have also booked local Airbnb and bed and breakfast establishments. The conference will provide breakfast and some lunches. Local restaurants and watering holes will likely get an uptick in business. 

“It’s definitely got an economic impact,” she says. 

Conference sponsors and financial assistance include the Missouri Film Office in Columbia, Missouri Stories Scriptwriting Fellowship, Missouri Humanities, Honors in Action, and Explore St. Louis – Film.

The Screenwriting Research Network had its first conference in 2006. The network has about 700 members from more than 50 countries. Guests will make more than 65 presentations at the Stephens College event. There will also be a table read of scripts in progress performed by Stephens Conservatory students. 

For a complete list and schedule of panel discussions and events, go here. 

Other highlights of the screenwriting network conference include: 

Phil Lazebnik 

Born and raised in Columbia, Lazebnik has written screenplays for films including Pocahontas, Mulan (which won the 1998 Annie Award for best animation screenplay), The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, and The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar. He wrote the book for the musical “Fairy Tale” about Hans Christian Andersen with songs by Stephen Schwartz. For television he has scripted episodes for Wings, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Lazebnik has served on the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America West. Welch says she thought of Lazebnik when it came time to secure speakers for the event. 

“I said, ‘I can offer you a free trip to your hometown,’” she recalls. “I knew he would be my big name.” 

Lazebnik will be part of a busy Thursday, giving his keynote from 6-7:30 p.m. — local VIP business leaders and artists are being invited — followed from 7:30-9 p.m. by a costume exhibition presented by the Stephens fashion department. 

Meg LeFauve 

LeFauve won an Annie Award for her Inside Out screenplay. She also wrote Pixar’s Golden Globe nominated The Good Dinosaur and received “story by” credit on Marvel’s box office hit, Captain Marvel. She also wrote the recent Netflix animated film My Father’s Dragon. She is currently writing Inside Out 2

LeFauve has given lectures to Welch’s MFA students, and she has a brother in St. Louis. She and Lorien McKenna will be keynote speakers at 9 a.m. Thursday and their Saturday keynote at 9 a.m. will be a live recording of the The Screenwriting Life, the podcast they host together. 

Lorien McKenna 

Emmy-nominated and NAACP Image Award-winning showrunner, writer, producer, and playwright McKenna is a former story manager at Pixar Animation Studios. She worked on the films Ratatouille, Up, Brave, Inside Out, and The Good Dinosaur. She was the associate producer for Paramount Animation’s Wonder Park and the co-executive producer for Curious George with NBC/ Universal. She’s written and developed for Disney, Comedy Central, Hulu, NBC, and Netflix. 

Jeff Melvoin 

An Emmy-winning writer-producer-showrunner (Northern Exposure, Killing Eve, Army Wives), Melvoin will speak on “Television Showrunning: History, Disruption, Convergence” covering how showrunning developed as an American phenomenon, what it takes to become an effective showrunner, how the industry — and position — has changed in the last 20 years and how the American model compares to other television production models around the world. 

His keynote is Friday at 9 a.m. in Windsor Auditorium.

Tom Stempel  

Writer, historian and professor emeritus Tom Stempel (Framework: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film, Storytellers to the Nation: A History of American Television Writing, Screenwriter the Life and Times of Nunnally Johnsonn) will deliver a lecture on the art of researching the art of screenwriting. 

Stempel’s lecture will be at 4 p.m. Friday in Windsor Auditorium.

Costume Museum Exhibition 

The Fashion Program and the Costume Museum and Research Gallery are curating a costume exhibition highlighting the way costume designers work with a script to create clothing that helps actresses embody their characters, embodying the female gaze. A Star is Born: How Fashion Supported Screen Writers in Creating Iconic Female Characters showcases films from the 1930s through 2021. 

The exhibition will celebrate women in fashion and the arts as they influenced women worldwide to follow their “Hollywood” style. Some of the films show connections to Stephens College, to Columbia, and Missouri.   

Library Exhibit 

The Stephens College Library is creating a Celebration of Stephens Alumni in the Entertainment World alongside another exhibit showcasing a visit made to the campus by archivist Margaret Herrick, whose name graces the Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles. 


The 2024 International Screenwriting Research Network Conference takes place at Palacky University in Olomouc, Czechia.

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