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Contest-winning Michigan screenplay to become film

Associated Press

Traverse City – Natalie Lomske likes to write.

Under her quill, the ink’s shape flits from chirping birds among pastel blooms to fires blazing in her character’s eyes to crisp melodies crafted by deft fingers on piano keys.

And with the help of Project Cinema MI, Lomske’s grand, poetic visions will be made flesh.

Lomske last month was named the winner of the Traverse City-based organization’s screenplay writing competition after two months of judging. Her work, “Sheets of Sand,” beat out 33 other submissions from across the country.

Her 10-page work is a brief snippet of the life of Charlotte, a gifted small-town musician with a mild form of cerebral palsy and crushing self-doubt. The pianist toils her days at a waitressing job until, one morning, she finds a letter in her mailbox – an acceptance letter to the Juilliard School in New York.

“She really wants to use her talents to move forward in life,” Lomske said. “But she still doubts her abilities – she doesn’t realize how talented she really is. And then she meets a girl, Rachel.”

Lomske drew inspiration for “Sheets of Sand” from her own life – she’s struggled herself with muscular dystrophy. She said several friends with disabilities, including cerebral palsy, were also an influence.

“She isn’t based on a specific person,” Lomske said. “More like a combination of people I’ve met over the years.”

Many of them met at the Fillmore Detroit, an old-style concert hall Lomske works at. She says she likes to write musician characters based off the artists who come through the venue.

“I write what I know,” Lomske said. “At a music venue, you come into contact with a lot of people – you get a little window into their lives.”

“Sheets of Sand” will be made by local filmmaker Richard Brauer, a seasoned director with a lengthy list of projects. He and Diane Murray, an adjunct professor at Northwestern Michigan College, are the driving force of Project Cinema.

“It’s a very personal story, it’s obviously autobiographical,” Brauer said. “So my job is to get into Natalie’s head and find out why these words she wrote are so meaningful.”

Lomske is from Northville in southern Michigan, but “Sheets of Sand” is set firmly in the northern Lower Peninsula – a homage to the summers Lomske spends in Glen Arbor.

“It gets me into a creative (mindset) – going out to listen to the birds or the waves on the lake,” she said. “In my mind, it takes place in Glen Arbor, but it’s not specified in the script.”

Glen Arbor and parts of the Sleeping Bear Dunes are likely backdrops for the story, though Brauer said location and cast scouting is still a ways off.

Pre-production will begin as soon as fundraising for the $30,000 project wraps up. Project Cinema is soliciting donations and sponsorships through its website.

Filming will hopefully start in the summer, Brauer said.

While Lomske has been writing since middle school, she said screenplays are a bit different – there’s much more focus on visuals and scene-setting.

“You want to make sure you’re bringing your character to life, especially in their physical and visual characteristics,” she said. “I just really like being able to describe different situations and characters.”

Lomske’s first breakthrough was winning a high school playwriting contest – her school’s drama department even performed the piece. Lomske discovered her true passion for screenwriting soon after while attending the University of Michigan.

“It just came naturally to me,” she said.

Lomske’s work will be the first to become a film through Project Cinema. The organization, founded in 2016, holds regular screenwriting seminars and workshops. In September 2017, Murray and Brauer decided to do something more with them.

“We wanted this to be a community-based film,” Murray said. “We left it open to anybody, but it had to be able to be shot in northern Michigan.”

The contest’s 34 submissions went through a monthlong round of local judging before being narrowed to a top 10. Those 10 scripts were sent to Los Angeles, California, where a set of Brauer’s film industry colleagues reviewed them in a second round of judging.

“The numbers weren’t even close – Natalie’s was way out front,” Brauer said.

Murray hopes to hold the contest annually, and as Project Cinema grows, add workshops on other topics like lighting, sound and production.

“If we’re a success story – which, knock on wood, we are so far – we’d like to go further, apply for grants,” she said.

Lomske is hopeful “Sheets of Sand” may be the beginning of her own success story.

“Being able to have a professional film made from what I’ve written, it’s definitely going to help me in my career,” she said. “It’s a great way to showcase what I can do.”