A Camp for Rekindling Creative Fires


You can network there. Or not. You can slip someone your screenplay. Or you can simply commune with nature in an idyllic lakeside spot north of Santa Barbara and listen to stories and tell a few of your own.

Welcome to the sixth Hollywood literary retreat, where industry types take a 12-mile dirt road to get back to nature and back to what initially drew them to filmmaking in the first place: the telling of stories.

This year’s event runs Friday through Sunday and will be at the same rustic lodge on Zaca Lake as it has been for five years. In this bucolic spot, participants can listen to professional storytellers spin yarns around the campfire and be inspired to create their own masterpieces, or just rekindle their passion for a well-told tale.


“In that environment, the Hollywood persona just disintegrates because you’re in the woods,” said organizer-founder Lynn Isenberg. “There are no TV sets, no radios, no telephones. Cell phones don’t even work there. It’s like going back to camp, where true colors emerge and those personas disintegrate. That’s part of the beauty of the whole thing. You get to rediscover your own self.”

The retreat’s brochure lures Hollywood’s world-weary by entreating: “Cleanse your soul . . . purge ourselves of the daily affliction of trite narratives and rediscover our literary roots in a Walden Woods setting and Thoreau lifestyle. . . .”

Every year Isenberg puts together a getaway weekend for 75 industry professionals with workshops given by pro storytellers, lectures by filmmakers and musical entertainment.

The setting may be woodsy and technology-free, but, for those who can’t leave Hollywood too far behind, there are still Jacuzzis and private cabins.

This year Robert Maurer, a psychologist who teaches a UCLA course on the psychology of storytelling, will be a featured speaker, as will Judith Black, a storyteller heard on National Public Radio. Also expected to address the crowd is screenwriter Dale Launer (“My Cousin Vinny,” “Ruthless People”). Alternative folk-rock singers Jill Sobule and Jude are the musical guests.

For those embroiled in Hollywood wheeling and dealing, it’s a chance to recharge creative batteries.



“It’s really kind of like going to overnight camp for adults,” said Elizabeth Guber Stephen, senior vice president, production for Avnet Kerner Co., who has attended four previous retreats and plans to go this year. “I’m sure there’s some people that go for the schmooze-fest, but if I felt that was a big part of it, I wouldn’t go. That’s kind of repulsive to me. I don’t care what anybody’s title is. People can go with some level of anonymity and just go camping.”

The call of the great outdoors is as potent as the desire to hone one’s storytelling abilities, say others who have attended.

“I go to the Hollywood literary retreat to pitch a tent, not a story line,” actor Esai Morales said. “It’s reconnecting in a sense to what your whole point in this town is: You’re actually working on the marvel of the story. People have gotten away from that. They make deals, not movies. God knows there is not enough living, breathing, imagination in this town to suffice.”

Isenberg, a screenwriter-producer (“I Love You to Death”), said she was inspired to put the retreat together by a confluence of forces.

“I was getting upset reading a lot of formulaic screenplays that kept coming across my desk,” said Isenberg. “Subjecting ourselves to the way business is done in Hollywood, it’s easy to lose sight of why we’re here in the first place, which is to tell stories and be aware of the stories that we’re sending out on a global basis.”

So Isenberg harked back to two pivotal experiences that had fueled her creatively.

“I took an eight-week course in college where we studied New England literature on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire,” she said. “It was this amazing experience where we could read Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman in a very Walden-esque setting. We would climb mountains and on the apex of the mountain we’d read ‘The Vantage Point’ by Robert Frost.”


But being a realist, Isenberg found she would have to tone down the academic aspects and play up the Hollywood angle.

“I knew there was no way I was going to get colleagues to go away for eight weeks and read literature,” she said.

Meanwhile, Isenberg had also attended a storytelling festival in Tennessee.

“You could literally hear a pin drop because people were so enraptured,” she said. “It was multi-generational and multiethnic. . . . I wanted to marry that with the New England literature program.”

But the Hollywood tag needles some of the faithful.

“The fact that it’s called Hollywood literary retreat is almost oxymoronic,” said Stephen Nemeth, president of Rhino Films, who has attended twice and plans to go this year.

“Those of us in this business think the world revolves around us. But storytelling is something that has a much broader impact than just movies. Every parent should have the ability to sit in bed and put the night light on and tell a good tale. We will raise more creative children.”

And, if all else fails, the retreat offers a welcome break from clogged freeways, screening-hopping and dinner at Morton’s.


“We usually make a big bonfire and have s’mores,” Nemeth said. “Everybody tells ghost stories. They’re never scary. They always end up funny. I know this all sounds so hokey, but it’s fun. It’s kind of a safe environment because people don’t feel like they have to be on.”

For information: (310) 229-2435.