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. 🙄

My Name in The Hollywood Reporter

Today I saw that The Hollywood Reporter published this article last week.

The article is mostly about another project at Jumpcut, the studio that has optioned a pilot I wrote called Jack 9, but Jack 9 is mentioned here in the subheading…

And later in the article, I am named in conjunction with the project.

To amend a few details, my name has an additional “t” at the end, the project did NOT go through the Jumpcut incubator and I’m not sure that Freedom Road is still involved… but still, it’s fun to see one’s project in print.

Eight Things I’ve Been Doing in the Last Six Weeks

It’s a beautiful sunny Sunday in April and this blog is officially neglected. The problem with neglecting something — like your student loans or cleaning the kitchen junk drawer— is that the longer you leave it, the more daunting it feels to come back to it, which makes it take even longer – so when you do, the loan interest has grown into a house-sized demon and inside the kitchen drawer all the ketchup packets have become tinged brown and stuck together with leaking soy sauce.

(Fun fact: Due to the pandemic there is a nationwide shortage of ketchup packets. Heinz has promised to increase production to make up for the 12-billion packet shortfall. Little do they know they could have just asked us for the contents of our kitchen drawer.)

So it is with maintaining a record of one’s life on a blog — there’s too much to catch up on. But I’m gonna try to hit some highlights:

  1. Getting Vaccinated! Just the first shot so far. It’s Moderna. I went to a drive-thru site at Dodger Stadium. I get my second one in a couple more weeks! Here is a rather boring one-minute video of that:

2) Learning to use TikTok. I could have simply embedded a video above, but I wanted to give you an example of item #2, which is that I’m learning how to use TikTok. It’s for my own curiosity, and also research for a screenplay that I’ve started where social media plays a large role. I have mixed feelings about TikTok-ing, as it is interesting to me in theory, but I only have about a six minute scroll tolerance before I feel like my brain is going to bleed! I’ve learned that TikToks can be as long as 60 seconds, and also that 60 seconds feels MUCH longer that it sounds. For instance, the above video is 58 seconds, and it basically feels like eternity. I need to add “editing” to my repertoire.

3)Starting a new screenplay. I’ve been delaying for a long time — I’ve been working on other things — like work for clients, short stories, polishing older work — all good causes, but it was still getting to the point where I was beginning to worry if I could still write a feature from scratch. To put and keep this project at the top of my priority list, I joined not one, but TWO writing groups where I have to turn in pages, and it’s feeling good to push through it.

4) Winning a contest. My short story, “Shell,” which I’ve noted in previous posts was a semi-finalist and a finalist, did go on to win the Grand Prize in the Screencraft Cinematic Short Story Writing Competition. I won some money, and the folks at Screencraft have been really nice, talking to me about my career goals and even introducing me to a showrunner who was one of their judges. (For anyone reading this in the future, you can this story, as well as 29 other horror stories by women writers in The One That Got Away: Women of Horror Volume 3.

(Fun Fact: The One That Got Away was ordered for an English class at Butler University, and so seems like it will be discussed by students in a college class, which I find exciting! Also, Butler is located in Indianapolis, very close to my home town, and my sister and several friends attended back in the day.)

5) Meeting with my first showrunner! In all my years of trying to get established as a writer, I have been fortunate to meet with a number of executives at companies, but never with a showrunner, which has been a source of some frustration. Executives are awesome in that they offer to develop a pitch or a project with you — however that development, though fun and exciting, is seldom paid. Executives generally can’t hire you to work on an established TV show. The person who can do that is a showrunner. I have dreamed of working on a show — but my chances of that are slim without ever meeting someone who might potentially, hire me on one! So, even though this particular showrunner isn’t currently running a show, it was still a momentous benchmark, and he was super complimentary of my story, which was edifying.

6) Celebrating my 20th wedding anniversary. Worthy of note, though it was a very normal day. At this point in time, I think most of us cherish normal days! As usual, Paul and I both worked from home at opposite sides of the apartment. I bought him (i.e. “us”) some new cutting boards and a cake carrier, and he gave me permission to use him as my TikTok test subject — he’s definitely hoping that would never come to pass, but I vow it’s going to! In the evening, we finished Season One of Ted Lasso, which is just as freaking heartwarming as everybody annoyingly kept saying it was. Maybe even up there with Schitt’s Creek. If you haven’t seen it, go ahead and get the one-week free trial of Apple+ and binge it, then come back and thank me.

7) Adding yoga back into my life. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been pretty faithful about going for daily walks, but largely gave up the diligent yoga practice I had maintained for over a a decade. I’ve known it was a loss, but just hadn’t figured out how to work it back in to my routine until my friend, Gina, sent me a link to this Morning Yoga Challenge: 10 min of Morning Yoga for 30 DAYS. For me, it was perfect — bite-sized morsels that didn’t seem too time consuming or painful. Each episode also has an affirmation to carry through the day.

8) Reading some great books. One of these was Kindred, by Octavia Butler. A continuation of my informal Octavia Butler project that began in December of 2019 when I read Parable of the Sower. In the last month or so I’ve also read (listened to) Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, and The Fact of a Body, by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The book that really blew me away though, was Assata: An Autobiography, by Assata Shakur. If you know only a little about her, it might be how she was chained to her bed in the hospital after being accused of killing a police officer on a New Jersey turnpike in the 70s, and it might seem like dark reading. It was not — this woman is full of light and gratitude and wisdom. Honest about her own blindspots and awakening, educational about the great numbers of sneaky and unjust things that happen in our country and elsewhere. At the same time, she manages to be flat out entertaining. The chapters alternate between her time after she was arrested and imprisoned and her life up to that point, beginning in early childhood.

I’m sure there are a couple things I’m missing — but eight is a good number. Hope everyone is enjoying their spring!

Updates on”Shell,” Life and 70s Fashion

Yesterday, I got an email from Screencraft letting me know that “Shell” was now a finalist in their Cinematic Short Story Competition. Looks like that means the top 50. Not bad! We’ll see what happens in March.

Also in “Shell” news. I opened “the Twitter” and saw I was mentioned in a tweet from Kandisha Press. Turns out that I’m today’s featured writer from the On That Got Away anthology. I told myself that this year I was not going to shy away from any offers of promotion, so when they asked for a three-minute clip of me reading from the story a little while back, I did it. I’m hoping it’s one of those things that is embarrassing now, but in ten or fifteen years I’ll run across it and think — awwww, that’s sweet! Look how young I look! I might or might not be a little squished in this video, as I don’t think my face is quite this oblong — we probably gave them a rectangle and this is the side effect of making it a social-media friendly square — but I don’t mind that, and Paul did a nice job of finding some sunny but slightly spooking lighting…

As is so often the case these days — announcements of this type seem pale in the face of LIFE — specifically OTHER people’s lives — as a cold snap around the country took hold this week, and a number of friends (along with thousands of strangers) in Texas have been left without power to their homes at the same time that pipes are freezing and bursting, leaving them without water as well. I feel bad for them!

I was reading an essay this past week about how social media contributes to stress because it’s become so much easier to know more about the troubles of people who are far away, but our ability to help is essentially the same. One thing that has changed is we have more ability to create opportunities to donate and more awareness of opportunities to donate… but these, like troubles, begin to seem unending and out of reach, which becomes an additional source guilt and stress. I have a lot of well intentioned folks on my feeds, and for every cause I donate to, there are ten or twenty that I have to pass by… 😕

Ummmm… other random updates:

This last weekend was a grab-bag of uneventful “smaller” holidays. Chinese New Year (obviously NOT small in other places, but not widely observed here) was Friday, February 12. Saturday was Gal-entines Day — a Parks and Rec invention which every year seems to be a real-er thing. Valentines Day was Sunday and Presidents Day was Monday. We didn’t do much for any of these at our house. Paul tried to order Chinese Food on Friday, but his efforts were thwarted, so we ended up eating spaghetti. I threw my back out on Saturday morning and spent most of the day “on ice” – literally lying on ice-packs – but recovered enough to attend a nice “Zoom tea” with a women’s group I belong to. On Sunday, by mutual agreement, we had a normal day Valentine’s-wise (though made special by the fact that I wasn’t lying on ice-packs.) On Monday, my standing client meeting was cancelled so I enjoyed having some time to catch up.

The other very-small event from the weekend is that we finished watching THE CROWN — at least to the end of Season 4. Our third housemate lives with us part time, having a job where she sleeps away Tuesday through Thursday and is at our place Friday through Monday. On the nights she’s home, we’ve established a pandemic routine of watching an episode of a show together each evening. SCHITT’S CREEK was a highlight of 2020, and it was hard to think of what to follow it up with, but we settled on The Crown — which is obviously very different, but also rewarding. This weekend we’re beginning THE WEST WING.

In addition to this very civilized episode per evening activity, I’m watching on my own I MAY DESTROY YOU and a classic CW show, THE 4400. Paul and I are watching some newer shows, like WANDAVISION, MR. MAYOR, and (help us) CALL ME KAT and … in wake of the recent movie, Paul has decided to rediscover the WONDER WOMAN from the 70s with Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner.

We’ve discovered that Steve Trevor and Diana Prince had some rockin’ outfits* and have decided that if we ever get rich, in addition to donating to everyone’s Go Fund Me’s, we’re going to hire someone to recreate some of our favorite outfits from the show. None of these show up in a Google search, so here are some snaps of our TV screen:

I especially like Diana’s long red vest with the stitching. Paul is oddly fond of Steve’s yellow jacket!

*Note — this post has been edited from the original, wherein I expressed surprise that Wonder Woman had such cool clothes in the 80s. It turns out that I was misinformed — these episodes were shot circa 1977, when fashion was AWESOME — and thus I am now much less surprised!