STONINGTON — Pawcatuck author Laurie Reilly has written one novel and five screenplays, but on Halloween night — much to her surprise — it’s her virtual reality thriller that’s keeping people entertained.
Reilly took home the top prize at the Catalina Film Festival earlier this month, winning best screenplay for “VISCERAL,” a paranormal thriller with a virtual reality theme.
Reilly, a married mother of four grown children and grandmother of one, said she was so surprised when the winner was announced that she audibly gasped, prompting laughter from the audience gathered inside the iconic Catalina casino.
“It was really a lot of fun,” Reilly said on a recent afternoon as she sat at her kitchen table sipping coffee, talking about her script and reminiscing about the festival experience. “The red carpet was fun and winning the award was the icing on the cake.
Her script was “optioned” and “is being read,” all encouraging developments, she said.
Reilly said she wrote “VISCERAL” during the COVID-19 pandemic, often while her husband John — a musician and former YMCA executive — was downstairs playing music and writing songs.
As she spoke, the sound of keyboard music floated up from the floor below.
“That’s my husband,” Reilly said with a smile. “And that’s the background of my life.
Her husband, who retired from his position as vice president of operations at the Ocean Community YMCA, said he wasn’t the least bit surprised that his wife won the award for best screenplay.
“She is a creative, hardworking and productive woman who deserves all the accolades she receives,” he said. “I hope it inspires others to read her work.”
While Reilly said he definitely liked the script and read drafts of the story as Laurie wrote, he doesn’t think it’s her best fiction.
“It’s got a lot of twists and turns,” he said, “but science fiction isn’t really my style. I think she’s written better stuff.”
The script centers around a young reporter who hops on a ferry to an island off the California coast, meets a ghost hunter named Sammy Starz (“think Randy Rainbow,” Reilly said) and ends up searching for a missing genius. It was actually inspired by a real-life experience Reilly had when she was a TV reporter on a travel show in the 1990s.
When Reilly, a Southern California native, was filming an episode of the show called “Southwest Getaways,” she and her crew ended up on Santa Cruz Island, one of eight islands in the Channel Island chain.
It was there that she learned about the history of the island – which was originally inhabited by members of the Chumash tribe – and the many ghost stories and ghost stories that roamed the island.
“VISCERAL,” which stands for “Virtually Integrated Sensory Controlled Experimental Reality Augmented Lens,” Reilly explained, covers similar themes, but with added virtual reality — and added humor.
Reilly said her son Jaden, who works in the information technology world, helped her better understand virtual reality.
In “Visceral,” Reilly said, her main character wears “reality glasses” that are wired into her senses and monitor her adrenaline levels.
“Fear keeps the adrenaline flowing,” Reilly said. “Her adrenalin rises so high that it sends her into the paranormal realm.
Reilly said she collaborated on the project with Kristine Kreska, a producer and friend, who helped her “expand” the basic idea of the story.
“She helped me with shamanism and voodoo,” Reilly said. “She had her own encounters with the paranormal.
The humor in the script is unexpected, Reilly said, which “allows you to slack off until the next thing grabs you.”
“Traveling to film festivals is fun to experience,” she said, “to go and meet other people and get involved and make friends.”
The Avalon Theater at the Catalina Casino, where the awards were held, is an elegant meeting place that once featured stars such as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin and screened studio moguls such as Cecil B. DeMille, Louis B. Mayer and Samuel Goldwyn. new movies. It was also the first theater in the world to be built specifically for films with sound.
Interestingly, Reilly said her grandfather, the late Charles Kenworthy, worked in the film industry and in the sound studios at MGM.
Reilly, now a communications major at the City University of New York, spent 18 years as a journalist and won five New York State Broadcaster’s Awards as a writer, producer and anchor for her in-depth coverage of science, technology, health and politics. both on TV and radio.
“But I’ve always collected stories,” she said, “and I wrote my first script 20 years ago when my kids were little.”
In addition to his son Jaden, Reilly has three daughters, Shera Dawn, a teacher, and the mother of Reilly’s granddaughter Grace; Clare, a traveling nurse, and Alianora, a music therapist.
One of her screenplays, titled “Stringer,” is based on her experiences in the newsroom.
“My goal now is to get an agent,” Reilly said. “And keep writing.”