Interviews


The following is from an interview with the brilliant and talented Mary Kate Allen, our 2020 Grand Prize Winner.

What's your background? How long have you been writing?  And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting?

I started out in newspapers professionally, but I’ve been writing since I can remember. My parents used to get so mad at me because every time we went to the beach, I would want to sit on the balcony to read and write.

I started out in screenwriting because a friend of mine, Mista Martel, needed someone who was a mom who could help write a family television pilot. He contacted me, and I got to work. Truthfully, I thought I’d be done after that first television pilot script. But then something in my brain clicked. Since then I’ve been doing mostly screenwriting.

What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?

I’m mostly self taught in a “monkey see, monkey do” kind of way. I’ve read “Save the Cat!” by Blake Snyder as well as books by Syd Field and Robert McKee. I also look up screenplays of movies I love to get ideas on how to make things work in my own writing.

Some of my biggest breakthroughs have come about from contests and networking. It’s amazing how just approaching everyone who will listen can open doors for you. Combine that with a positive attitude and willingness to learn and work.

What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?  Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking?

I’m a mom, but I’m also a doctor’s wife. Anyone who has watched what physicians go through to become a fully licensed professional knows the amount of sacrifice that it takes. Having a moment just to breathe is rare, but we make it work. So it’s incredibly difficult to find time. I joke that I’m a stay at home mom and sometimes I’m dad too.

I really love to have a latte and sit at either my computer desk or my dining room table to write. I tend to do better when I write all day. For example, I have a feature drama script I’m cowriting with someone. We knocked out the pitch, synopsis, and 150 page first draft in 1.5 weeks. That was me writing 6-8 hours of the day (taking weekends off to be with my family) while my cowriter would help with the script but also get together sides for auditions and scout locations. We’ve had several people interested in this script, and I can’t wait to start work on it again when everyone is in one place.

What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

Until They Are Home is about an American family’s struggle to bring home someone lost in WW2. It shouldn’t have to be so difficult to do this, but there is a ton of red tape that these families have to fight against. In this situation, there were several underlying, intricate stories that had to be woven into one cohesive script. I’m really happy with the way it turned out because this script was actually a promise I made to the people who are portrayed in it. My father’s uncle is the main character who goes missing in WW2.

Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?

As a former journalist, I love to write about things that actually happen. My first two features are about my family history, and I have a TV pilot about a woman’s life after her boyfriend gets into medical school.

Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

I’m a planner. I wouldn’t know how to tie my shoes if it weren’t written down. I’m not above changing things around as I go, but for the most part I have an outline and vague idea for characters’ voices that I stick to.

What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?   

This was an incredible experience. I have to laugh because when I answered the phone call, I was writing on a scrap piece of paper with a purple crayon when I was told I won. I was blown away then, and I continue to be blown away by the connections made possible through this festival. I’ve had two meetings with agents and managers, and I have two more scheduled.

What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future?

I just finished a comedy pilot that I’m considering putting together myself for the web. Like most things in my writing, it’s based on my life. This time my grandmother and her sister are taking the stage as two colorful characters that don’t like HOAs.

Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

First, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. I was terrified, and I was so sure it wouldn’t amount to anything. Second, don’t be afraid to work. Find people who will teach you. Read as much as you can to educate yourself on every aspect of the business and craft, and advocate for yourself.

 

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The following is from an interview with 2020 finalist, Hannah Aslesen, a brilliant and talented writer.

What's your background? How long have you been writing?  And what made you choose and or transition into screenwriting?

I'm one of those people that stumbled into writing. I never went to school for it, never intended to pursue it as a career, but here we are! I started off in sketch writing for a comedy group I was apart of called Barely Adult. We needed a writer so I stepped up to the plate. Bought Final Draft, watched hundreds of Youtube videos and gave it a shot. Fast forward three years and now I've transitioned into short and feature films. 

What screenwriting training have you received? And what were some of your biggest breakthroughs?

My training has all been self educated. Read the books I was told to read (thanks Save the Cat and Story), watched the highly recommended online videos (shoutout to Lessons from the Screenplay) and went from there. My biggest breakthroughs came through repetition; recognizing over time that beats started to make sense, and structure found it's way naturally into my storytelling. There was no "ah ha" moment, it was more of a gradual comfort in the process. 

What else have you written? What writing habits work for you?  Do you write in short bursts or long shifts, in the morning or late at night, do you write at coffee shops, at home, or at the office when no one else is looking?

I've written my fair share of short films, a crap ton of sketch, and now moving into features and pilots. I get inspired by anything and everything. As a seasoned improviser, I've trained by brain to find the narrative in the mundane. It's a blessing and a curse at this point; I want to make a story out of everything. My writing happens in short bursts for sure. I'll crank something out and feel great about it, then all of the sudden my brain will want to follow another rabbit hole story. It's difficult for me to see a story to fruition without getting distracted by another venture. Because of this, I have to write at coffee shops or quiet spaces - home is just to distracting and comfortable. 

What's the title of the script you entered, and what's it about?

It's entitled Youth In A Casket and it's the story of a young woman who attends her own funeral. She buries her youth away after a sexual assault, and must give the eulogy at her burial, which ends up being a courtroom in front of her abuser. 

Where do you look for inspiration and what inspired you to write this script?  I look for inspiration in anything. Currently, I've found incredible inspiration from my past. I like writing from personal truth - taking something that we all feel/experience and taking it to the extreme. For this particular piece, I was motivated put my frustrations down on paper after watching the Larry Nassar documentary "At The Heart of Gold." It was so heart wrenching and chilling. I wept while watching it. Then I immediately sat at my computer and wrote this piece. It just fell out of me. 

Describe your process? Do you outline your story first? Do you use notecards or a beat sheet? Or do you simply sit down and let it flow?

Usually I just sit down and let it flow. Lately, I've been laying out the beats I want to hit and making sure I'm hitting them in an organic flow. I wish I had a better process, but again, that blessing and curse of spontaneous inspiration means I follow my fingers - when they want to write, I let them. 

What was your experience with our festival? Are you happy with your involvement? What did you like most about your experience? And what could we improve on?

I couldn't be more grateful for Women Who Write In Film. I read about the festival online and thought it would be cool to submit. I had no expectations, just liked what it stood for. I never, in a million years, thought they would support me in the way they did. Joseph and the festival team connected me with a literary rep in LA, followed up with me on my writing, provided feedback on my writing. That kind of presence is unheard of in this industry. They have been pillars to me in this journey. 

What are you writing now and what do you plan on writing in the near future?

I'm currently working on a new pilot and a couple features. They all play with big themes, exaggerated through dark humor. That's where I like to live, grounded in reality but unafraid to take comedic risks. 

Any advice for those about to dive into their first feature-length screenplay?

FINISH IT! JUST SIT DOWN AND FINISH IT! That's more advice for me than you 🙂

Any breakthroughs since winning our small contest?  I’ve gotten into over eighty percent of the festivals I submitted to, which feels like a huge success for this script. Women Who Write gave me a huge breakthrough by introducing me to Roadmap Writers, an incredible writing resource in LA. I also just received word that I'm a finalist at RIFF and will be in Virginia next month for their award ceremony, which has me very excited. However, I'd say the biggest victory of this script has been the momentum it has given my career. Every success, small or large, has reaffirmed my own confidence in writing, which I am forever indebted to. 

 

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