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Local author wins six screenplay awards in five months

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Local author wins six screenplay awards in five months

Jo-Ann “Jody” Bierer Wilhelm and her granddaughter, Cadra Hartzog.

Local author wins six screenplay awards in five months

{child_byline}By Mary E. Regan

For the Journal Scene


Local author wins six screenplay awards in five months

{child_byline}By Mary E. Regan

For the Journal Scene


Talk about a winning writer. Jo-Ann “Jody” Bierer Wilhelm of Summerville is incredulous at this point. On Saturday night, she beat out 28 other feature screenplay finalists by winning Best Feature Screenplay at the Oklahoma Twister Alley (International) Film Festival for her full screenplay, “Where’s Stephanie?”

This award follows her winning five other Best Screenplay awards at various film festivals since December, drawing accolades from the entertainment industry. Nationally, there are more than 3,000 film festivals annually and not all have a screenplay category.

“I felt the most positive and warm atmosphere at that festival and really felt like I would win it,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier and just really want to get this incredible story made into a film,” Wilhelm said.

Wilhelm’s story is the heartfelt, true life dramatic inspirational story about the love and courageous strength that both the biological and adoptive families demonstrate with the adoption process. The full screenplay covers their parallel lives for several decades and includes the grandmother (Jo-Ann) placing clues in unlikely places, hoping that her granddaughter Stephanie (fictional name) who was placed for adoption, will one day follow and find her.

“When my granddaughter, Cadra Hartzog, and I were finally reunited and we were hurrying to embrace each other, I saw the preceding 30 years flash before me like a movie in fast forward. At that moment, I knew our story was meant to be a film,” Wilhelm said.

Hartzog said that before she finally met her grandmother Jo-Ann, she was scared and super excited all at the same time.

“It was very surreal and a moment I had played in my head a thousand times,” Hartzog said. “After I met her, I felt relieved and happy…like my whole family is complete!”

Hartzog is living a happy life with her husband and two little boys in St. George. She and Wilhelm stay in touch, and Hartzog also has a beautiful, loving relationship with her birth mother. Coincidentally, both Wilhelm and Hartzog were both successful models at Millie Lewis and, ironically, the strange beauty of the story is their chance encounters.

As a teen model, Hartzog told Suzanne Manseau Green at the modeling agency that she was adopted and stated she was curious who her biological family was. Hartzog said she thinks this screenplay and Wilhelm’s awards are awesome.

Wilhelm also said she is grateful they were finally reunited.

“I never gave up hope but there were times I was afraid I may not live long enough to see her,” Wilhelm said. “I thank God for creating this story in my life, using me as an instrument to write this, and for giving me a husband who supported me throughout this whole project. I could never have done it, otherwise.”

For the last three and half years, Wilhelm and five others formed Gathering Talent Productions LLC (GTP), to work toward producing their own film of the story, of which most scenes were filmed in Summerville and Dorchester County. The team includes Suzanne Manseau Green, executive producer; Louise Teems, booking agent; and Bob Kay, photographer of the Millie Lewis modeling and talent agency; Director David Frederick and, of course, Jody and Werner Wilhelm.

Green, who heads up Millie Lewis, said all the acting talent for GTP’s filming was through Millie Lewis Talent.

“We paid all actors low budget SAG wages even though South Carolina is a right-to-work state.” In other words, South Carolina state law states the “right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union or labor organization.”

The focus now of the GTP group is to get their dream of a film made by gaining the attention of talent agents, actors, and investors to make the story into either a made-for-television-movie or a full-length feature film.

“It’s perfect for film,” Wilhelm said. “I visualize certain key actors and actresses and hope it will come to fruition soon.”

Just prior to the Oklahoma award, Wilhelm also received the highest award — the Platinum Remi Award — for Best Screenplay/Short Film at the 52nd Annual Worldfest Houston International Film Festival, the longest running film festival in the world and also the oldest international film festival in North America. This short version of her screenplay represents the first one-third of the full screenplay and can stand alone as the first of three parts in a series.

Wilhelm said she doesn’t even really know how many competitors she was up against in some of these competitions, but this year’s Houston festival alone drew more than 4,500 film and screenplay submissions from 74 different countries. Leading Hollywood film directors and hundreds of other exceptional filmmakers have been discovered at Worldfest.

Wilhelm wrote the screenplay, “Where’s Stephanie?” first in 2014 before she authored the book, “Where’s Stephanie? A Story of Love, Faith, and Courage” in 2015. That is because she has always visualized the story as a film. While the screenplay was written using her real name, Jo-Ann Wilhelm, the book was authored under her pen name, Lenora Livingston as her first publisher insisted she have a pen name due to the fact it is based on a true story where she had to change all the names and geographical locations.

Wilhelm said festivals do not all have the same rules or categories.

“Some have one big festival each year, others have seasonal or monthly festivals with some giving annual awards from the seasonal or monthly winners, she said. “Some do not. A lot don’t have screenplay categories.”

Green has been friends with Wilhelm for years and she said first impressions are lasting ones. Green said she became personally involved with Wilhelm after sharing her personal story with Wilhelm and Hartzog about the fact that she, too, was adopted.

“When I first met Jody, it wasn’t just her physical beauty, but she also had a beautiful spirit that was attractive to everyone. Never dreaming, through the years, we would develop not only a successful business relationship, but a very special bond and friendship which would lead us on this incredible, amazing journey together that would last a lifetime!”

Wilhelm, who has also entered about a dozen other film festivals, has some keen advice to aspiring writers.

“When you write, write with feeling. If you feel it, your readers will too.” Wilhelm said that is exactly what her writing coach, Mark Weston of The Screen Actors Guild Observatory told her. Folks may remember him as the original Brylcreem man.

Keep an eye out for a forthcoming feature film or made-for-television movie from this talented Summerville writer.

For more information or to support this film, contact: and see

Wilhelm is a retired educator who earned her bachelor’s degree and Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of South Carolina and continued post master’s studies at The Citadel.

As a retired educator, Wilhelm studied writing under the late Mark Weston, playwright at the Screen Actors Guild Conservatory in New York.


Oklahoma Twister Alley (International) Film Festival, May 4.

Best Feature Screenplay Award for “Where’s Stephanie?” Category: Feature Screenplays, Full Screenplay (120 pages).

Worldfest Houston International Film Festival, Houston, Texas, April 13.

Platinum Remi Award for “Where’s Stephanie? The Ultimate Gift.” Category: Screenplays, Short Film (Under 60 pages).

International Independent Film Awards, Encino, California, April 1.

Winter Session Silver Winner 2019 Feature Scripts “Where’s Stephanie?” full screenplay

Festigious International Film Festival, Los Angeles, California, Jan. 6.

December 2018 Winner, Best Drama Screenplay “Where’s Stephanie?” full screenplay.

International Independent Film Awards, Encino, California, Jan. 5.

Platinum Winner 2018, “Where’s Stephanie?” Screenplay — full screenplay.

Top Shorts Online Film Festival Dec. 29.

December 2018 Winner, Best Drama Screenplay “Where’s Stephanie? The Ultimate Gift,” Short Film.

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