Screenwriter Jojin Van Winkle on “Tanked”

Jojin Van Winkle, screenwriter

Jojin Van Winkle is a multimedia artist, writer, cinematographer, producer, educator, and activist. Her recent and ongoing work, The Destruction Project, was the subject of a solo exhibition at MMoCA (Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) October 2020–April 2021.

Van Winkle’s short screenplay Tanked (31 pages) is about an employed, thirty-something Brian who wants to be a father. When his budding fashion designer wife has a big showcase opening the same weekend his widowed sister, reveals a secret about her health, Brian finds himself torn between helping the two women he loves. Tanked is a finalist for the International Screenwriting Competition (NYC), a semi finalist for the Frances Bell Film Screenwriting Competition (London, United Kingdom), a finalist and an official selection for the Shawna Shea Memorial Film Festival held in Sturbridge, MA on September 21-25, 2021, a runner up and official selection for the KinoDrome: International Motion Picture & Screenplay Festival held in Cleveland, OH on September 26, 2021, and a finalist and official selection for the Vesusvius International Film Festival (Campania, Italy).

As an assistant professor at Carthage College (Wisconsin/USA), Jojin Van Winkle teaches and directs the Photography and Film and New Media Program. She has a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) and a Master of Arts (MA) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

NY Elite: Congratulations on being an ISC finalist. What does it mean for your work to be selected at the International Screenwriting Competition in New York?

Jojin Van Winkle: I am thrilled to be a finalist for the International Screenwriting Competition. Tanked is my first short screenplay. I am honored for my work to be included in this global competition. I hadn’t expected to get so far with this one narrative.

Receiving the good news that my work was selected as a finalist gave me a much-needed energy boost. Knowing that my small creative work spoke to others in this competition has lifted my spirits during these globally, challenging times. This success will fuel me as I move forward with my creative endeavors this week, this month, this year.

NY Elite: Can you tell us about the work that you participated with at ISC? What is the story about?

Jojin Van Winkle: My screenplay is entitled Tanked. The theme of the work is about how individuals cope with suffering in their everyday lives while still striving for what is important to them, their dreams. The story takes places over a few days. It is about Brian, an unemployed 30 something man who wants to be a father. He is caught between helping his wife, Regina, a budding fashion designer who isn’t ready to start a family, and his widowed sister, Natalie. Natalie runs the family optometric practice. She is diagnosis with stage four breast cancer the same weekend Regina’s fall fashion line is launching. Brian is rushing around trying to repair broken plumbing in both households and keep the women he loves afloat.

Additionally, Natalie has a young son, Trevor. Trevor’s goldfish, Olivier dies when Trevor is away on his first scouts camping trip. Natalie and Brian want to keep Trevor from experiencing this tragedy, so they make plans to replace the fish. Trevor is obsessed with drawing army tanks and playing with plastic toy tanks since his soldier father was killed in Afghanistan.

This is an indie style script. It has lots of visuals peppered throughout the script. With scenes unfolding to reveal bits and pieces of the characters entangled lives. There are comedic moments mixed in with the drama. There is love between the characters as well as layers of opposing desires. These characters are a modern day family trying to make sense of dreams, hopes and mortality.

NY Elite: Can you tell us yourself and your artistic talents?

I am writer and visual artist working in lens-based media. I enjoy writing fictional work, poetry and journaling.  My video, photography, film, and audio research centers around the practice of listening, focused on resilience and the human condition. Through multimedia projects I blend external experiences with internal reflections. The core of my practice is connected to narrative. Some of it is grounded the imagination. Other projects involve the process of documenting individuals, places, and objects revealing their stories and uncovering social and psychological implications of everyday existence. My website is www.jojinprojects.com. I am an assistant professor at Carthage College, a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. I teach new media and foundations courses. I also direct the Photography and Film and New Media Program.

NY Elite: What scripts have you written so far?

Jojin Van Winkle: Tanked is my first short screenplay.

NY Elite: Top 3 favorite projects that you have been involved in?

Jojin Van Winkle: I was the USA-based cinematographer for the Independent Lens documentary, In the Shadow of Ebola. This was an international TV documentary project about the Ebola crisis in Liberia, (23 min., 2015— PBS online version and 27 min, 2015—(festival version). I was able to work withdirector/producer Gregg Mitman and producer/editor Sarita Siegel. I spent time with the Urey family, getting be with them was a humbling and remarkable time. The film is an Alchemy Films and Independent Television Service (ITVS) project with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I was an associate producer for the Liberian land rights documentary, The Land Beneath Our Feet (60 min., 2016). I also had some additional camerawork in the film. I was able to work with director/producer/writer Gregg Mitman and producer/director/writer/cinematographer/editor Sarita Siegel. The trailer won the 2014 International FOCAL Award for best use of archival footage in a short production. Available through Passion River Films.

A fun narrative project I was able to be part of was A Robot Walks Into A Bar (12 min., 2014) for ITVS FUTURESTATES. It was directed by filmmaker Alex Rivera and filmed in Hollywood. I was the 2nd Assistant Director. I did a bunch of different tasks during the shoot. It was a fantastic experience to be behind the scenes on a vibrant set in Los Angeles for a week.

NY Elite: What type of scripts do you want to write in your career?

Jojin Van Winkle: I have a soft spot for narratives in which protagonists follow their dreams, triumphing against immense odds. I want to write scripts which have characters audiences can identify with – characters which have unexpected charms and flaws. I want to further develop my skills with weaving in humor into the dialogue and plots, lighten the impacts of tragedy. I have always liked Nora Ephron’s writing and directing. Her films have a certain cadence which lifts the heart, acting as a salve to the bittersweet complexity of relationships. It would be fun try by hand at writing a contemporary romantic comedy in the near future.

NY Elite: As a writer, what is the most important aspect of building a character?

Letting the character express their own voice. Not censoring their words and actions, but trusting that the character has a purpose and a message to share, even if ultimately the character is cut in the final draft, at least they were able to be alive enough to share their unique insights, dreams, fears, desires, and heartaches. Learning to accept this process gives space to unexpected voices in the everchanging landscape of the creative process.

NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?

Jojin Van Winkle: Currently I am working on two short screenplays, both have characters confronting immense personal loss. In both stories the protagonists must choose between reinventing themselves against adverse circumstances or dwindling into stagnation.

NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?

Yes. I am also a visual artist working in lens-based media. I create video art, experimental films, work on documentary projects, exhibit photographs, and have created large-scale site-specific art installation with soundscapes.

My most recent and ongoing work, The Destruction Project, was featured in a solo exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art from October 17, 2020 thru April 11, 2021. 

NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking/writing?

Jojin Van Winkle: Listen to your dreams. Take time to practice your craft. Be mindful of how you engage and cultivate your artistic vision. Take creative risks. It’s not always the gear, but how you play and make use of what you have. Say yes to collaborative projects which interest and/or challenge you. Watch and listen to those you work with–learning can happen at the edges and in the most unexpected of moments.

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