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.

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. 🙄

Happy #TrainYourBrainDay

Did you know that pretty much every day is a social media holiday? These holidays can be kind of ridiculous (“Nation Grilled Cheese Day” “Walking Day”) and are basically just prompts for generating “content”. I should possibly start using them more for this blog, since the “holiday” also creates a deadline… which is something I apparently need. Once again I will share a Dr. Amy blog I wrote, because I think the topic is pretty interesting — something I would write about here if I ever got around to it. In honor of #TrainYourBrainDay, “Dr. Amy” interviews me about my Muse Brain Sensing Headband, which I use to meditate.

Ironically, as I hurriedly wrote that post about how amazing meditation is, I had also gone more than a week without meditating. How do I know? Because the Muse sent me an email telling me it had been eight days… and that might have been a couple days ago. And you know what? In that time, I’ve grown more frazzled, distracted — feeling under the gun and less able to focus. This happens gradually, then suddenly. For a few days, it doesn’t seem to matter — I’m more preoccupied by items on my to-do list. I pick some item and I tell myself if I can “just get this done” I’ll feel more grounded again, but, of course, I don’t, because it’s not about finishing the random task. Finally, when I’m on the mental skids, I remember (not for the first time) that the to-do list is never going to stop — it’s me who has to stop myself.

Cravings and Mindfulness

Lately I seem to have a to-do list that grows faster than I can trim it, and it’s got me feeling ungrounded. In between checking items off, I just ran into the kitchen, sliced off a swath of butterscotch brownie and shoved it into my mouth as a little “reward.”

But was it a reward that I needed? Did I even take the moment to really enjoy it? In a way, I did — although it was after it was already in my mouth, mid-chew, before swallow — but at least at that point I did remember to slow down for a moment and appreciate the sweetness and slight graininess of the sugar.

Updating this blog is one of those things that has been on my to-do list for awhile, but it hasn’t happened yet, so I thought I’d share this blog post about our craving brains that I wrote for a client’s business blog this week!

Writing Update May/June/July 2021

Lucky me! In July, I got to write a guest post for Shuffle Synchronicities – the music/memoir newsletter on Substack, and was interviewed on a super-interesting podcast called Pivot Point with Joseph Debeasi. If you enjoy reading about anxious dads, pressure and songs that inspire you to lose your virginity—or listening to how cancer and living in Australia can lead to a career in writing, check ’em out!

WRITING

My front burner projects for May/June/July were :

THE INFLUENCER (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.  The first “feedback draft” is out to my manager for notes—plus two 20-somethings, and an actual bona-fide influencer for authenticity testing!

CONSENSUS (original pilot / series) Two detectives living in different worlds — one where Earth’s wealthiest people have abandoned it, the other a constructed utopia where no one remembers their past — unknowingly work a case that will lead their lives and worlds to collide. Yeah, it’s a hard one to pitch in one sentence! Which is why, after finishing the rewrite in May, I submitted it to a couple competitions where it has moved through the early stages—we’ll see where it’s at in a few months. 

GIRL, WOLF, WOODSMAN (short fiction) A contemporary retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” that imagines Little Red’s life after the woodsman dispenses with that pesky wolf.  Destined for submissions to a half-dozen lit journals, it will eventually be part of Season 2 of my fiction podcast

WATCHING and READING

Have you discovered anything you’ve loved as much as I loved PIG, the film starring Nicolas Cage as a reclusive truffle hunter who has to face his past when he returns to the city in search of his abducted truffle pig?

TV: The West Wing, This is Us, Good Trouble, (Season 3) Deep Space 9 (re-watch, final season), Couples Therapy,  Hacks, Grace & Frankie, Solos, Loki. 

MOVIES: Tenet, Alive (Korean Horror), The Ritual, Scream, The Half of It, The Thing, Night of the Living Dead, Imagine I’m Beautiful, Inez & Doug & Kira, The Sounding, A Quiet Place Part II, Cruella, Zola, Black Widow, Snake Eyes, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, The Donut King, Old, Pig.

BOOKS: Blood Child and Other Stories, Octavia Butler; The Collected Stories, Elizabeth Bowen; The Tools, Phil Stutz; Beacon 23, Hugh Howey; Performing Under Pressure, Dr. Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pauliw-fry,  Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression, Robin D.G. Kelley,  Short Stories by George Saunders; Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home, Natalie Goldberg; The Purpose of Power: How We Come Together When We’re Falling Apart, Alicia Garza; Thrill Me, Benjamin Percy; The Dead Lands, Benjamin Percy, The (Other) You, Joyce Carol Oates