Two Toronto production companies are banding with boutique distributor Mongrel Media to launch The Writers Unit (TWU), a screenplay development lab.

Mongrel president Hussein Amarshi, Sienna Pictures' Julia Sereny and Jennifer Kawaja, producers behind such films as How She Move and A Touch Of Pink, and Danny Iron of Foundry Films, co-producer of Away From Her and the upcoming Cairo Time, will select six screenplays to move forward to final draft.

Broadcaster and producer Corus Entertainment is providing additional backing.
Speaking to Screen International, Sienna's Kawaja said her TWU partners chose not to seek public financing in order to maintain control over the selection process as well as the potential exploitation. The selected scripts must be free and clear and the producers will get first-look rights on moving a particular project into production. Mongrel will have first right of refusal on distributing any resulting film or films.

The writers selected are Annmarie Morais, David Vainola, Morwyn Brebner, Waneta Storms, Anton Piatigorsky, and Hannah Moscovitch.

'Feature film writers work alone so much. We wanted to provide a forum where they can get feedback from producers and a distributor as well as other writers in a formalized setting,' said Kawaja. 'With a script, if the bones aren't set well from the start, it's hard to grow it. We're hoping to create a more energized and energizing process.'

The six-month initiative will be structured over six monthly group meetings where all participants will discuss two projects. Each writer will receive two individual sessions with a story editor. Scripts that are judged sufficiently advanced will receive an actors-reading.

'The idea is to inject some analysis and rigour into the development process,' said Kawaja.