Keep your eyes peeled for St. Albert's newest award-winning screenwriter. David Haas, 77, a well-known playwright in the region’s live theatre scene, won the inaugural Alberta Screenwriters Accelerator Program award from the Edmonton Short Film Festival.
Out of 67 scripts, the festival accepted his screenplay. Stage Door Johnny won a $20,000 prize, which covers everything from script editing to shooting the film to post-production and mentorship from established professionals.
“I felt very happy. I describe it as walking on the ceiling. I was delighted and I’m always surprised when I win,” said Haas, who received the news Dec. 29.
The title, Stage Door Johnny, is borrowed from a term used in the 1920s and 1930s to describe men who hung around stage doors after a show to hit on actresses, explained Haas.
At the script’s start, Alfred (Paul Boltbee), an old man, stands by the stage doors waiting to give the star, Sylvia Dempster (Joanna Manchur), a bouquet of red roses. Ron (Griffin Cork), the security guard, tries to move him along. However, Alfred persuades the guard to let him to stay.
The following morning, Ron discusses the old man with theatre manager Henderson (Anne-Marie Smyth). Henderson tells him Alfred was a washed-up actor whose career crashed from heavy drinking. The theatre manager added Alfred often handed out flowers at stage doors, but no one knew much about him. It becomes Ron’s mission to learn more about the mysterious Alfred.
The two-day film shoot took place this past weekend at the Unitarian Church of Edmonton. The six-actor cast and more than triple the number of crew members adjusted lights, cameras, recording equipment, costumes, and sets while working around church services.
Part of the inaugural accelerator program’s prize was an opportunity for the screenwriter to direct the five-page shoot. Since Haas is a breakthrough screenwriter and never directed a screen play, the prize covered mentorship from award-winning writer Neil Chase, a script coach, who helped pare down the script from 10 pages to five, and director Gilbert Allan.
“Gilbert was my directing advisor. I couldn’t have gotten by without the help from him. He had some very good suggestions, most of which I accepted.”
Haas, whose three main careers span the military, law, and security enforcement, believes in writing what he knows. Interestingly, Stage Door Johnny was composed in 2008.
“I was looking for a good story and it came to mind. I am not trying to preach. I’m not trying to be trendy. I like entertaining, but the essence of a play is a good story.”
As a playwright, Haas first wrote His Day in Court, winner of the 1978 Edmonton Journal One Acts and the 1983 Alberta Culture Awards One Acts.
After a 36-year hiatus, Haas wrote a series of plays produced at the Edmonton Fringe Festival: Pacific Time (2015), Wolfman Crossing (2016), Crazy Train (2017), and Where Heroes Lie (2019).