Ellen Gerstein is a semi-finalist in the Reno-Tahoe Screenwriters Contest – 2023, for her project: BIG AL, HIP HOP, and HER. This is one of her newest projects that is vying for the contest “top prize” of being a script optioned and produced for a feature or TV pilot.
Founded by screenwriters, producers, directors, and other industry pros, the Reno-Tahoe Screenplay Contests knows just how difficult it can be to see a script go from an idea to the screen.
Rather than just acknowledge a winning script, we look to grow careers and nurture the best writers and talent.
Each contest cycle, winner of the short script contest will get their script optioned and producedand the winning feature and TV pilot scripts will get a table read of their full script read by professional actors and directed by a director (winners will get a copy of the video and audio recording).
Who is this Ronald and where he has been for 20 years? Well, let me tell you – Ronald has made the rounds – from festival to festival. Actually, Ronald and I have quite an entangled relationship. One that has lasted more than most marriages. Filled with life lessons, laughs, and tribulations. How about I tell your our story .. from the beginning…
Back in 2003, I wrote, produced, and directed the international award-winning short film Waiting for Ronald. I was ahead of my time as a filmmaker – recognizing that all people should have the opportunity to be in front of the camera and not just cast an “able” person to play the role of someone with special needs. It just seemed like the right thing to do. All actors should have an opportunity to enjoy filmmaking and not be tossed to the curb just because they have some limitations! (Don’t we all!). So, when I went to cast Waiting for Ronald I insisted on a blended ensemble of characters – all with unique talents and some who had never been an actor before.
As a filmmaker – this is where intuition can guide you. I knew that a blended cast was going to make Waiting for Ronald more authentic and very much a stand-out among films.
First, I needed to cinch up the story that revolved around Ronald, a 34-year-old man with developmental disabilities. My idea was to honor this character by giving him a rich backstory. So, I decided to tell the tale of his life after spending decades in an institution. I spotlighted the way he says goodbye to his friends and caretaker. The arc of the script then takes Ronald to join his buddy Edgar, a previous resident of the institution who is now living independently.
Ronald embarks on his journey armed with bus fare, a lifetime packed into his one small suitcase, and a heart full of courage. He boards the bus excited to meet up with his pal, but Edgar, is fighting demons of his own and this reunification does not start smoothly. No spoilers here about what happens next – but really it isworth watching!Waiting for Ronald is a testament to faith, humor, bravery, and true friendship.
About the cast…
Ronald was played by the actor Jody Clark (click to see interview), who has unique developmental challenges. His experiences were limited until this film as he only had some roles as an extra but never really worked as a principle before the camera. I coached him prior to filming for this role. Oh, we had so much fun!
Watch Ellen’s Interviews with actors Jody Clark and Blair Williamson- CLICK IMAGE TO WATCH
This story of Waiting for Ronaldhas stayed with me for two decades. The whole concept of casting people with challenges -authentically- was not really the traditional “Hollywood” way. In case you haven’t figured out I am a non-traditionalist! So, in many ways, I believed and practiced access and inclusion in casting way before many of my colleagues.
I always wondered what happened to Ronald and Edgar after they settled into their new life together? This prevailing and gnawing set of thoughts inspired me to write my new series, Just South of Normal. In the vein of The Odd Couple, this half-hour comedy follows the lives of Ronald and Edgar, two high-functioning men with developmental challenges, who together, “take on the world”!
It is my hope that similar to these films – CODA, AUDIBLE, I AM SAM, The THEORY of EVERYTHING, and many other endeavors- our film community will continue to demonstrate that people can blend together to tell stories about real lives. My hope is that Ronald and Edgar will have many opportunities to continue to teach lessons and make people smile.
The current film culture is changing my friends and I invite my fellow filmmakers to join me by writing, directing, casting, and producing stories that make a difference and include the fabric of our world – all of it.