Young screenwriter starts with a full-length action feature

There was a time – in grade school, no less – when Marsha Courneya thought she was destined to become an economist. As the only person not to fall asleep in a banker’s presentation to her class, Courneya figured it must be a sign she had found her career path.

But high school soon changed all that and it wasn’t long before she was channelling her energies into becoming a playwright – for the theatre, of course. She enrolled in a writing course at another university only to realize she was more interested in film, for its “longevity” as she puts it. So, she set about working up the credentials and experience to win a place in York’s Creative Writing Program to pursue screenwriting.

Now in her third year of studies, Courneya is looking at another slight shift in career plans – as co-producer and writer for the full-length action feature film The Blue Seal, which has been nominated for three awards and will get its world premiere at the Action on Film International Film Festival in Pasadena, Calif., later this month.

Above: Michael Donis adjusts the camera while Marsha Courneya ponders a script change during the shooting of The Blue Seal. Photo by Alex Courneya.

Not only did Courneya write the script for the project, directed and produced by Michael Donis, but she helped raise the absolute minimum in production costs from a successful online poker player – a natural investor for an action film if ever there was one.

Right: A scene from The Blue Seal

The action genre is one that Courneya fell into by accident when she Donis and composer Aaron Tsang entered the 48 Hour Film Challenge a few years ago. Assuming she would be asked to write a script for a romantic comedy, Courneya was surprised when she, Donis and Tsang were handed the task of making a six-minute action film. “For my first screenplay, it’s not something I thought I would be doing – it’s so ambitious,” she says.

The short film won awards for sound and directing but, more importantly, inspired Courneya and Donis to immediately try making a full-length feature based on the same premise as their 48-hour project. “It’s unheard of to make a feature-length action film for so little money,” Courneya explains.

The Blue Seal is about a reclusive farmer who falls in with criminals, commits murder and has to fight his way back to redemption. John Kraft, who plays the principal character, has been nominated for breakout male action star.

Right: Alex and Marsha perform in one of their homemade videos

“Some people might wonder if it’s a bit of a stretch for a late-teens girl (Courneya was 19 when she did the screenplay) to be writing from the perspective of a 45-year-old guy, but I think it worked,” she says.

Although Courneya implies her career journey of the past few years was marked by serendipity, in reality it’s the fulfilment of a passion she and her older sister Alex have had since they were children. The pair saved up $300 to buy a used video camera at a pawn shop, which they used to film action sequences of them fighting with sticks – what you might call early essays on girl power. “We had so many female influences – Sailor Moon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” she explains. Alex Courneya (BA Hons. ’08) graduated from York’s Faculty of Arts with a degree in anthropology and now works as a photographer. Her work includes shooting the stills and on-set photos for The Blue Seal.

Courneya’s next script will be a science-fiction story with a female protagonist to be shot in 3-D. She hopes to shop the story around in Pasadena, Calif., when she attends the festival screening of The Blue Seal on July 28.

For more information on The Blue Seal and to see the trailer, visit the film’s Web site.