When it comes to the topics of screenwriting, film and storytelling, good conversation is essential. There are endless ideas and insights on these topics. So, here at The Script Lab we decided to sit down with the three hosts of Chicks Who Script, a podcast dedicated to exposing the world to great female screenwriters and creators.
JB: Lauren, Maggie, Emily, when did each of you first find out about the art of screenwriting? Did it stem from initially liking film at an early age?
M: Like many New Yorkers, my background is in theatre. I began writing plays at age 10 or so, working with Young Playwrights’ Inc as a teen, running a theatre company in college. Despite loving movies, the thought of making them myself didn’t occur to me early on. I toyed around with screenwriting here and there, but it wasn’t until I saw – and read – Diablo Cody’s Juno that I thought okay, I’ve gotta try this out for real.
L: I’ll start by saying that I made up a shit ton of stories as a child. Some call it lying, my mother called it “exaggeration” …but they were very intricate and magical so I’m gonna go with stories. I’ve been a performer since I was a child and have loved movies from the very beginning but didn’t necessarily realize that writing them was an option. I wrote my first play at age 6 or 7—a mash-up and total rip-off of Grimm’s fairytales that my friends and I performed for the neighborhood—and then for whatever reason, didn’t show anything to anyone for years; it wasn’t until my AP Lit teacher forced me to write a play that I realized I might actually like it. Now, this is funny because I don’t think Maggie and I have had this convo… but JUNO was that for me too. We probably both got a hold of the copy at the same time 😉 I’d been writing and telling stories for years but didn’t realize I could write them like this. T’was love.
E: I always wrote. I went to college as an English major so that I could become a newspaper reporter and eventually a novelist, because that’s what you do when you like to write. In grad school I did take a screenwriting course, but it didn’t impress me much. About a year after graduation, as I struggled to enjoy being a reporter and couldn’t get past page 6 of my novel, I read Bruce Campbell’s book If Chins Could Kill, and I was like “So you can just go make movies? This is a thing they allow?” So I bought a format book and a couple of screenplays and wrote one. And it was terrible, but I was in love.
JB: How did you all meet/bond?
L: Maggie and I went to theatre school together at the Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC, so we met/bonded over tears and nudity. …I’m kind of kidding.
M: It’s true. Sobbing and nudity is theatre school in a nutshell.
L: Emily and I met over Twitter complaining about mansplaining and misogyny in the world of screenwriting and in the world in general.
JB: What genres do you like to write the most?
M: Fantasy or magical realism. There’s always a fantastical, fairy tale edge to my work, even if there isn’t a literal fairy or dragon present. If I had to pick comedy vs drama, well…my fairies and dragons always have a sense of humor.
L: It’s pretty apparent now that I have a few under my belt. …I write predominantly female driven sex dramedies. I love indie film – real indie film, not like 12 Years a Slave-indie (I love that film; I just have a hard time calling it “indie”); mine just happen to very often center around something sexual. There are a couple psychological thrillers in there though.
E: Action, baby. Give me a good fight scene any day. I tend to angle toward fun stuff, maybe with a little magical angle or some sci-fi, but even when I try to write super serious it comes out comedic.
JB: What is your process? The entire A-Z? Do you outline? Do you map out the real estate in your head before putting pen to paper?
M: Most of my ideas start out loud. I like to hike and talk it through with a friend before I write anything down. Once I can clearly pitch the concept, I write a very thorough prose outline – sluglines, details of each scene, snippets of dialogue. Then straight to script. As soon as it’s scripted, I gather friends for a reading to hear what actually sounds right in other voices. The difference between what works in my brain and what works out loud can be astonishing, so those readings are absolutely key for me.
L: I usually get so excited that I just start writing it down. I’ll write it in summary form, typically from the point of view of the main character— which is a process I’ll repeat later for other characters. I do get into heavy outlining and notecards, but honestly that’s usually after I’ve written a fair amount already. In the midst of this, my amazing boyfriend (who worked in development) and sister (who works for a management co) let me pitch them the story in its entirety over and over while I work out the kinks. Then I give the draft to my beloved readers (friends), who give me notes, and I start everything over again.
E: I think about the idea for a long time until I know the story cold. Then I pitch it to my husband until I can do it without stopping to think. Then I write it down in prose form. So by the time I go to write the script, I’m basically transcribing.
JB: Writing everyday flows for some, and is tough for many. How and where do you find daily inspiration?
M: The ugly truth is, I don’t feel like writing that often. But the work has to happen no matter what. It’s like dragging myself to the gym. Even if that inner critic won’t shut up, or the process feels forced and wooden. Just like exercising, if I don’t write for a few days, I start to feel gross and listless. I do pull a lot of inspiration from music. James Blake, Robyn, Walk the Moon and St. Vincent have been the soundtrack for my last few scripts.
L: With a day job, I have limited hours for writing, which means I always write during them no matter what. Even if it’s horrible, I force pages out knowing that it might not happen again for a few days. I turn off social media, don’t answer my phone, and won’t schedule anything during those hours unless absolutely necessary. Apologies to all my friends I’ve refused to see during the week. Now you know why.
E: I treat it like a job. Most days I have mornings free, so I get up and get dressed and go into the office. I warm up by checking email and Twitter and stuff, then I put on my writing music, then I just go until lunch.
JB: How did the CWS Podcast form?
L: Emily and I were angry about something that had transpired in our sexist world and wondered if there were any female-run screenwriting podcasts. This was an honest question. But before we knew it, Emily and I were discussing how to start one. Maggie was an obvious choice for co- host.
JB: Who do you like to have on the show?
M: Katie Dippold, Shonda Rhimes, Asia Argento, Lucy Alibar…the list is truly endless, because there are so many incredible lady filmmakers. Diablo Cody, of course. Tina Fey.
L: We were going through our dream list the other day and it’s extensive. To add to Maggie’s list, Ava DuVernay (I would die), Jenji Kohan, Jill Soloway, Geena Davis, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Mindy Kaling, I think Kristin Ritter would be amazing and would love to get Britt Marling on the show.
E: All those people they said. And some dudes are okay too. I’d love to talk to Shane Black. Amy Schumer would be pretty great.
JB: There are some KICK-ASS female screenwriters out there, who are some of your favorites? Why?
M: Right now, I’m loving Dylan Meyer and Lisa Joy Nolan. They’re not household names yet, but they both write the kind of scripts that lodge themselves in your memory, forever. Smart, sophisticated, entertaining – just the total package. I can still feel the grip of their stories, months after I’ve read them, like fingers wrapped around my heart.
L: All the women we’ve had on the podcast! Diablo Cody will always be up there for me; I love her wit and sense of character. I’m obsessed with everything touched by Jenji Kohan and if you don’t know who Nicole Riegel is yet, keep an eye out, because she is one talented, badass mamma-jamma. Also, since we’re all for equal representation, I have to mention Brian Duffield. I read Jane Got a Gun a while ago and fell hard for it.
E: This is tough for me because there aren’t a lot of women writing action films yet. I agree with Maggie that Lisa Joy Nolan is badass. Ashleigh Powell is pretty great, too.
JB: Do you like to read other screenplays? What kinds do you enjoy?
M: I am lucky enough to do it for a living right now. Some people loathe coverage jobs, mine have been a blessing – I can’t imagine a better education. I tend to prefer comedies, but really I love anything that’s genuinely good. After reading twenty to forty scripts a month for a few years, I’ve learned how incredibly easy it is to write something that’s just “okay.” The distance between “okay” and “great” is humongous. It’s why this whole town goes bananas when something great comes along – we’re literally drowning in “okay.”
L: Well put, Mags. I agree. As an actor, I can recall the number of scripts that I’ve read over the years that really set me on fire… because it’s only a handful. Most of them are just, eh, if not plain awful, predictable, boring or straight up offensive. So yes, reading a great script with round, original characters and a strong voice is enjoyable regardless of genre. For example, while I don’t like horror films at ALL, I recently read a horror script that I found engaging and wonderful, so there ya go. Thanks to the podcast, we read a lot of really great ones.
E: I’ve been doing notes for people lately, and that’s a really great way to remind yourself of mistakes you make in your own writing. But for reading screenplays just to read them? I don’t do that nearly enough. Thankfully we read a lot of scripts out guests wrote, and that’s been interesting and really cool. If I have time to read whatever I want, I usually pick whatever sounds fun.
JB: What are some of your favorite films?
M: Fight Club, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Beetlejuice, Hook, 10 Things I Hate About You, True Romance. My taste is all over the place, but everything has lots of heart. Even if the protagonist is technically dead, or just shot half of their own face off, all of my favorite movies have happy endings.
L: I’m with Maggie on the happy ending front. This doesn’t have to mean a romantic comedy, it just has to be a film with heart and a protagonist I care about, a film that makes me think and feel but doesn’t drop me in a gutter and leave me there. Having just returned from Sundance, my new favorite everything is Marielle Heller’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl (an adaptation from the graphic novel). Classic faves are Singin’ in the Rain, Coming to America, Rachel Getting Married, A Beautiful Life. I loved Birdman and Selma destroyed me (in the best way)
E: I prefer bittersweet endings to the happy ones. I love In Bruges, Terminator 2, The Matrix. I could go on about the genius of Pitch Black for hours. The Good, the Bad, the Weird – oh, and anything wuxia. Show me a poster of an Asian man or woman superman punching someone in the face and I will see your movie.
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