The Whole Screencraft Screenwriting Interview

The folks at Screencraft (they run the contest that I won earlier this year) recently sent me some prompts / questions about my screenwriting journey in order to cull testimonials from my answers. They managed to find a few uplifting snippets to use in their Instagram / Twitter posts — and kudos to them for that, because even though I made real efforts to be positive, some of these answers feel a little… dark. However, I seem to have arrived at a point in my life/career where young hopefuls ask me for insights and advice, so for what it’s worth, here are the prompts and my answers in their entirety.

  • What did you find were some of the biggest obstacles to your screenwriting career goals?

Before I went back to school for writing, I was a freelancer who worked on various shows and events, one gig would always lead to other gigs. You work with people, they get to know your personality and work and then either request or refer you for another job. I got used to that. But after I graduated from my writing program, I took a full time day job that was separate from the industry I wanted to be in, and I think I really gave up an advantage by removing myself from the daily view of people who were in the industry. I see the question come up a lot among early career writers — “Is it better to stay close to the industry, even at the expense of writing time, or to get a day job that lets you practice skills and generate material?” It’s a tough call! At the time, I had reasons for making the choice I did, but purely in terms of career-building, I can see how stepping away from the path had some costs.

  • Was there ever a point when you felt most rejected? 

If anyone out there is unaware, it’s probably good to know that the entertainment business is the business of rejection. After your dreams get dashed the first few times, I’ve found that all the rejections kind of become a blur.  But I’m happy to tell you about my most recent example:  I gave a new script to someone who I really needed to like it — a gatekeeper — and they didn’t like it. At all. A big door that I’d hoped would be opened instead slammed in my face. It’s clear in my memory because it was literally a couple days ago and I’m still recovering as I write this.  But at the same time, I’m aware that even having a relationship with a gatekeeper who’s willing to read my work and give their honest opinion is a privilege —one that took me years to achieve, and that many people don’t have — so I never forget to appreciate it.  A rejection of one’s work is still an affirmation of one’s existence!  

  • Are there moments when you think about giving up. What motivates you to keep going? 

In terms of ever making my living by screenwriting, I’d say I think about giving up six days out of seven. My escape strategies are a running joke with friends—I literally have tabs open in my browser right now for “how to be a UX writer.”  But thus far, I’ve kept going, and I think there are a couple reasons why:  The first is that I somehow always have one more iron in the fire. Like right now, I have a pitch being considered at a company for a project I would really-really-really like to do, so I’m waiting to see what happens. And while I’m waiting, I’m working on other things, so by the time this project doesn’t work out (or maybe does—this could be the one —manifestations welcome), I’ll have something else to hope for. The second reason is a little more “woo-woo” which is that I deep-down believe that this is where my gifts lie, and that someday I’m going to be part of making something awesome and meaningful, if I can just find my way to it.

  • Where are you currently in your career? Anything that you are excited about?

I’m at a place in my career now where it’s easy to feel frustrated, because time passes and I’m still side-hustling to support my writing when I want my writing to support itself. But, I’m also in a place where I once aspired to be: I’ve had representation for a while, and recently added a TV agent to the team! And I’m celebrating my first produced TV credit (with writing partner Paul Seetachitt) — an episode of Creepshow that came out last month called “Time Out.” It’s gotten a lot of complimentary reviews, which is validating. These things give me hope that I’m getting closer to where I want to be.

  • What drew you to ScreenCraft and how did the competition help you?

A good friend who knows that I also write short stories sent me the link to the ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story competition. At this point I’ve largely forsworn writing competitions, but for some reason I decided to enter… and it worked out! I got to meet with one of the judges which was my first one-on-one meeting with a showrunner and was exciting for me. And while I already had representation, the buzz surrounding winning the Grand Prize inspired my reps to send the story out, and I think was key in their decision to add a TV agent to my team, which is something I’d really been wanting for a long time — so that felt like a victory.  I’ve really appreciated that Screencraft has a team of real people who have checked in on my progress since the contest. They’ve pushed me to evaluate those things that any writer can and should control — like online visibility and professional outreach —  and encouraged me to be accountable and level those up. 

  • What advice would you give to your younger self as a writer?

Now that I sometimes teach writing, I’ve realized how much I appreciate students who make the effort to show me who they are — I don’t mind if it takes a few minutes after class. It’s enjoyable, and it makes it easier for me to write a recommendation or refer them for an internship or whatever. Being on this side of things makes me look back and think about how often in my life I’ve made the choice to  “not bother” someone higher up the ladder than me instead of taking that little risk. If I could advise my younger self (without disturbing the time-space continuum), I would say, “Be braver sooner. You’re a joy, not a burden.” It’s probably good advice for my older self as well.

Writing Update: August/September/October

WRITING

My top three projects for August/September/October (as measured in hours devoted) were:  

A VERY PEARTREE CHRISTMAS – horror rom-com spec feature (with Paul Seetachitt) 
Christmas-resistant journalist is sent to the town of PearTree to cover their annual Twelve Days of Christmas Festival only to discover that a series of  gruesome “accidents” occurring during the festivities are actually ritualistic murders, orchestrated to resurrect the demon, Krampus.
Paul Seetachitt and I pushed to get it ready for pre-holiday reading. Available now!

THE INFLUENCER (suspense-horror spec feature)
When the manager / best friend of a struggling social media influencer cuts a deal for her client to beta-test some new tech in order to get more followers, the results are more than she bargained for. 
Did some rewriting in September and submitted. Readers (i.e. my reps) have come back with an intriguing idea… should it be a TV series instead?! Hmmmm. Stay tuned to hear how this one turns out.

GIRL, WOLF, WOODSMAN (short fiction)
A contemporary re-imagining of “Little Red Riding Hood” that details what happens after the woodsman heroically dispenses with that pesky wolf. 
Found this one in the archives and decided to finish it at long last. Did a round of submissions to literary journals — we’ll see if it finds a home.  There’s also a short screenplay version waiting in the wings.  

WATCHING

MOVIES: The Green Knight, Free Guy, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, The Card Counter, Americanish, Natalie, The Tomorrow War, Malignant, No Time to Die, Last Night in Soho, Eternals

TV: Dave, Ted Lasso, Mare of Easttown, The Boys, We Are Lady Parts, The Other Two (pilot); The Chair, Foundation, Squid Game, We Are Here, Great British Bake Off

READING

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguru; Anxious People, Fredrik Backman; Women in White Coats; Olivia Campbell, Gone, Lisa Gardner; An Ordinary Wonder, Buki Papillon; Afterlives, Thomas Pierce; Elevation, Stephen King; The Woman in the Window, A.J. Finn; Best of Tor.com 2020; Heroine with 1001 Faces, Maria Tatar  Heroine with 1001 Faces, Maria Tatar 

LISTENING

New category! I’ve discovered and am really getting into scripted podcast series. Like radio plays of old… or TV for your ears…

Wolverine, The Long Night (Marvel), Moonface, Blood Ties, True Love, Bridgewater, Aftershock

APPRECIATING

Boundaries crossed after seeming millennia:

A TV agent (Auri Maruri at Gersh), and my first official TV credit (Creepshow, Season 3, Episode 5: “Time Out.”)

Maintenance Sucks… and It’s a Privilege



Sometimes I get really disheartened because I have to do so much side-hustling while the “real job” of being a writer — the job that I’m am trained at, good at and want to do — feels like a shell game.  I keep doing the work, but the target is always moving and it never seems to pay off.

So then I get doubly irritated when, out of the blue, the equivalent of a third unpaid job falls on me. In September, a bathroom pipe in my condo sprang a leak in the middle of the night. In the morning I was on the phone with tenants, the homeowners’ association, plumbers, water mitigation experts, the insurance company and the (rightfully) very irate downstairs neighbor. And for almost two months, hours of each day was consumed by logistics, and communicating those logistics to all the relevant parties. Because of pandemic-related “supply chain issues,” every two minute visit to the Home Depot website for a part became hours of rabbit holing, scrounging and waiting, and then more hours separately explaining and apologizing for those delays to the tenant, the irate neighbor, etc. It was frustrating.

It was also what what my brother-in-law would call a “First Class Problem.”

Because someone could easily say: “Fuck you… YOU OWN A CONDO IN LOS ANGELES. I’ll take that problem off your hands.”

And that person would be right. I can feel frustrated because maintaining property, is tedious, time consuming, expensive— but I should never forget to feel grateful for the circumstance that makes the problem possible.

Which brings me to the stress and tedium of maintaining my other property — the body I live in. Specifically at this moment, the cancer. I’ve had blood draws and CT scans and doctor’s appointments where we discuss doing things to my body I don’t want to do. I have launched a routine that requires hours each week (if not each day) buying, cleaning, cutting and juicing vegetables, then cleaning the juicer and the entire kitchen which some how ends up covered in a carrot / beet blood splatter. It takes more time to meditate, and read medical journal articles on the internet. I wake up some mornings buzzing with anxiety. I may have mentioned on this blog how I get anxious packing for a trip. I worry about making decisions I’ll regret. What if I bring things I don’t need? What if I don’t bring things I need?  And that’s when I’m traveling for a week. So clearly it’s daunting to decide on treatment options that I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life.

But, weird as it seems to say, it is also still a first class problem. I live in a healthy-feeling body — which is an entirely different experience from dealing with all this from a body in pain. I’m editing this as I wait on hold to make a doctor’s appointment because I have health insurance and because my work-from-home situation allows it. My cancer was detected early because I have health care.I’m housed. I have a juicer, access to fresh food and information. And I have friends and family who want to help. I am surrounded by generosity.

The world is touching me, and I am blessed.

Health Concerns

“When you have your health, you have everything. When you do not have your health, nothing else matters at all.” (Augusten Burroughs, writer)

I don’t believe this entirely (in particular, you have to wonder if the writer had children), but I certainly understand the sentiment. The first time I had cancer, there were so many things I was trying to organize before going to the hospital, things I assumed I was coming back to as soon as the surgery was over.

Once the diagnosis came back, and turned out to be bigger and scarier than expected, I remember being amazed at how quickly all those things felt completely unimportant. Faced with the proposition of losing your health, so many things that feel important fall away with an ease you could never have imagined. Getting a hard health diagnosis is like being confronted by a big guy with a knife. When he starts chasing you at high speed, and you start running, you aren’t thinking about some report you have to turn in at work the next day.

At the same time, living with a hard health diagnosis is like running from a guy with a knife who is moving in slow motion. You have time to eat something, take a shower, and even turn in a report or two — but you can’t really forget that the guy with the knife is coming for you, that at some point you’re going to need to dodge and weave, and keep moving. It’s a different existence from people who don’t have any slow motion knife guys in their lives.

All of this is just the way my mind tries to intellectualize and metaphorize my circumstances.

Like the fact that the doctor came in after my colonoscopy last week to say she’d found a polyp that she thought looked cancerous, and that, due to some scar tissue, she’d been unable to remove it. Her proposal, even in those first moments coming out from sedation, was daunting: Remove the rest of my colon. As in all of it.

It didn’t seem much less daunting a few days later, when we had a video consult. The polyp—the cancerous polyp— is very small, but because of my genetic mutation (Lynch Syndrome), the larger surgery is recommended —I guess it’s the doctors’ way of avoiding the knife-guy — or at least slowing him almost to a stop. But it would entail some big lifestyle changes that I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace. My instinct to opt for something a little less life-changing, even if that means I need to spend more time in the future looking around corners for the knife guy. Because my mutation affects multiple organs, I feel like, knife-guy’s never going to go away completely no matter what, so maybe concentrate on quality of life over quantity.

Working through all this — organizing more scans and conversations, and making some immediate changes to my diet and meditation — has quickly become a preoccupation. Maybe because it isn’t immediately dire (I’ve managed to push any surgery to late December or January), things in my life haven’t dropped completely off my radar in terms of importance in the way that I’ve had happen in the past, but certainly they’ve become smaller blips.

One blip that is still pretty large is this: Paul is having his gall-bladder removed today. It’s supposed to be an outpatient surgery. I’ll be taking him to the hospital in about an hour. In another timeline, where my results last week were clear, this would have been the big headline news, perhaps the only topic of this blog. Indeed, we both have lots of thoughts and feelings around it —what it means in terms of lifestyle, identity, overall health — but for the moment, we’d appreciate all good thoughts just to get through the procedure with no complications.

Time Out! (Our Creepshow Episode)

Last fall, Paul and I got to write a segment for CREEPSHOW on AMC’s Shudder.

We knew the Season 3 was happening, but didn’t know exactly when our segment would air, so it was fun when Paul walked in and read me an excerpt from a review at BloodyDisgusting.com. Yes—we were Episode 5, which dropped today!

Barrington Smith and Paul Seetachitt’s story is a wistful one. There are no tangible monsters here, nor is there a character covering up a misdeed. The misguided Tim simply wants to honor his father, whose own time was cut short. This tale is not hard to connect to on an emotional level; everyone knows someone who worked themselves to death and was consequently deprived of life’s joys. “Time Out” is simple and direct, but it is also incredibly effective

Kind words. BloodyDisgusting.com gave us four skulls, which is the highest rating of any of the episodes so far in the season.

HorrorObsessive.com also did a recap that was less effusive but still complimented the writing.

For those unfamiliar, Creepshow is an anthology series — kind of like Twilight Zone — but with a horror bent. Each episode is divided into two stories. Our story “Time Out,” got paired up with “The Things In Oakwood’s Past” which was cool segment because it was their first foray into animated story-telling and because it featured Mark Hamill, who not everyone realizes is gifted voice actor for animation. My first L.A. job way back in the day was on a live action video game called Wing Commander IV, and Mark Hamill was in the cast. At that time, he was collecting some kind of toys that came in McDonald’s Happy Meals, and because he couldn’t leave the set, I got to bring him a Happy Meal with a toy on a couple of occasions, and he was always incredible friendly and nice!

So this was exciting because it is our first actual produced TV credit! They say you are supposed to celebrate your victories, so I had imagined inviting a few people over, serving some snacks, etc., but the reality is that Paul and I just watched it with our housemate. It was still fun.

And lest anyone think my life is now too glamorous, the other big “happening” at our house is that I have a colonoscopy tomorrow morning, and I just started doing the prep. 🙄