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Screenwriter Layla O'Shea '00 Hopes to Tell Stories That Raise Awareness

By Kenneth Stratton '19 MONDAY, JULY 29, 2019 - 12:00 PM Alumni , WNE100

When filming began on Just Say Goodbye, the cast and crew were on a miniscule budget, working around busy schedules, and filming only on weekends. It made sense then, that the production would stay local, and bring the story to life in Western Massachusetts.

When film and theater student Matt Walting read the screenplay, he said it made him cry. So touched by the story, Walting vowed to one day bring it to screen. Screenwriter and Western New England University alumna Layla O’Shea ’00, says films are meant to move people, and her story Just Say Goodbye did just that.

O’Shea graduated high school in 1989, before attending Framingham State University as a traditional student for two years. Upon becoming a mother, O’Shea changed her plans.

“My higher education took a temporary back seat when I had my son, Michael. Once he was old enough to go to day care, I told my husband I wanted to go back to school,” O’Shea explained. “I planned to go to a local state institution to save on tuition costs, but my husband encouraged me to go to Western New England,” the screenwriter added.

With two children at this point, O’Shea entered as a non-traditional student. Even before returning to college, she had always been a working mother, with time as an office/shipping manager and account executive under her belt.

“It wasn’t always easy, and sometimes rather exhausting, to be a working mom; but I felt one of my primary responsibilities as a parent was to lead by example. I tried to teach my kids that a strong work ethic is a reward in itself,” said O’Shea, now the mother of three.

O’Shea studied English and Communication while at Western New England, and thanked the late Dr. Nancy Hoar for encouraging her to step outside her comfort zone. She took these words to heart, and did just that when she discovered “the art of the screenplay.”

After dabbling with a few short stories and submitting work to a couple contests, O’Shea stumbled across a scriptwriting challenge and threw herself into the project that would later become Just Say Goodbye.

“I wasn’t one for flowery prose and description, so to concentrate on action and dialogue to tell a story was the perfect fit for me,” O’Shea said. “Just Say Goodbye was my first feature film screenplay,” she noted.

After completing the script around 2010, it earned finalist status in the Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards and placed high in the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. It was about then that Walting, then in high school, read the screenplay for the first time. Three years later he’d return, asking O’Shea to work with him on Just Say Goodbye.

O’Shea made some final rewrites, and soon, production began on the film. As the cast and shooting locations came together, O’Shea added a touch of Golden Bear. She landed permission for the cast and crew to shoot some of the film’s final scenes at Western New England, but before that, also sent out a casting call, adding students Jesse Walters and Lauryn Winiarski to the cast.

O’Shea recalls working full-time during the week while pulling a few 16-20 hour days during the production weekends on location, while Walting, at the helm as director, continued his studies during the week. Ultimately, that labor of love completed, the film went on to receive critical acclaim, winning Best Director at the Boston International Film Festival, as well as a nomination for the Stanley Kubrick Best U.S. Film at another festival in Chicago.

“It was the first day on set that it hit me,” O’Shea said thinking about how far her work had come. “I went to bed that night with a huge grin on my face, and maybe a little tear of happiness in my eye that the tale of Sarah (Katerina Eichenberger) trying to save her best friend Jesse (Max MacKenzie) from the scourge of teen suicide was finally coming to life after about five years.”

O’Shea knows her path to becoming a screenwriter seems unconventional, but to her, anyone can write if they utilize their imagination. And, she understands that the stories which come from that imagination have power.

“I feel film actually has the ability to impact lives,” O’Shea believes. She continued, saying, “Films, and books, give us an opportunity to look deeper into ourselves…and hopefully this awareness make us strive to be better human beings.”

While a Senior Account Manager in the Engineered Hardware Solutions Group at Specialty Bolt and Screw in Agawam, O’Shea’s writing carries on, as she’s currently submitting a TV drama pilot to competitions and soliciting agents to represent her suspense/mystery novel for publication. She continues to promote Just Say Goodbye, which has been picked up for distribution and will be available on Amazon and other video-on-demand platforms in May 2019.