Julia Hart’s original screenplay “The Keeping Room” put her on the Black List in 2012. The movie is in pre-production starring Olivia Wilde, Hailee Steinfeld, and Nicole Beharie, directed by Daniel Barber. In addition, Hart’s screenplay “Miss Stevens” recently landed Anna Faris to star and Ellen Page to direct. Plus Hart is adapting the Jamie McGuire novel “Beautiful Disaster” for Warner Bros.
Julia and I had a great one-hour conversation covering a lot of territory. Today in Part 5, Julia talks about her approach to the craft of screenwriting.
Scott: I’ve got some craft questions for you.
Scott: The main reason I posted that anecdote we discussed earlier from your father on the blog was that he had those magic words in terms of generating story ideas: What if? Like, “What if Peter Pan grew up?” How do you come up with story ideas? Do you think in terms of what if or do you have a different process?
Julia: I should do the ‘what if’ thing more often. I should listen to my own father. A lot of stuff is drawn from real life for me. I’ll just use, “Miss Stevens,” as an example. That world of a school is just so rich and complicated, and the relationship between a young female teacher and her students is so complicated, but I again, I did a lot of inventing and imagining for the sake of drama. What would this sort of normal everyday world that we all think we know so well, what would happen if she was this instead of that?
Scott: So it is a little bit of ‘what if’ thinking there.
Julia: Yeah, I guess it is. It’s just not directly asking the question.
Julia: And then it’s definitely also characters. Like I’ll literally be on the treadmill watching the news at my gym, and I’ll hear someone say something about a certain type of person, and I’ll think what would happen if this person was in this other world? So it’s definitely a lot of pulling from what’s around me, and it definitely usually starts with people. “The Keeping Room,” is an exception, because that started with the setting, but it’s usually people or types of people that I find interesting, and then finding a world to drop them into that can create a certain amount of drama.
Scott: So you’ve written, is it two spec scripts at this point?
Scott: But now because you’re a valued commodity in Hollywood, you’re getting assignments and whatnot, do you think that in the future you’ll continue to write on spec?
Julia: Oh, absolutely. I’m already working on a couple of other things. I feel so, I can’t believe I’ve already gotten a couple of jobs. I feel so lucky. Between pitching and assignments, that can be your entire world. But, I love writing my own stuff and I definitely intend to keep doing it. It’s important to carve out that time. I don’t want to lose that voice.
Scott: Yes, you’re into that whole thing of ‘stacking projects,’ where you’re maybe working on a polish for one thing, you’re developing another thing. How is that panning out for you?
Julia: It’s hard because you hear about this other project that sounds really cool but you would need to spend all this time developing a pitch and going into pitch on it. You also need to be rewriting this for production and working on the job that you already have. So, this summer when I was unemployed, it was great cause I was just pitching all this different stuff. And learning so much. But now that I’m actually on assignment, I’m finding it very difficult to think about what’s next.
I’m on my first assignment right now. I’m being very precious about it. Like I just, I don’t want to think about anything else but getting this exactly right which I’m sure would make Warner Bros. very happy.
Scott: How much advice seeking do you do with your dad or your brother?
Julia: Oh, my gosh, so much. My dad has been… it’s been so awesome. We’ve always been very close but I think it’s been really fun for him to be able to talk to me about the business in a totally new way. And he’s been a very, very good adviser thus far. And he also works a lot with young screenwriters, so he’s already very good at it.
Scott: How much time do you spend on prep writing, brainstorming, character development, plotting all the research? And which aspects of prep do you tend to devote the most focus to?
Julia: Outlining. I tried to write something without an outline and my husband just laughed at me. I find that outlining is just so incredibly important. And I kind of do research as I go. But the only thing that I actually physically researched for “The Keeping Room” was how they treated bites from rabid animals in the 1860’s. I find that that’s a nice give and take so that you’re not just you writing all day but that you have these other worlds to dip into around you as you go. And character development for me is all through dialogue. I think about the idea of who this person is, what their job is, where they live, what they look like. But, the development for me really comes through figuring out what they say and how they say it.
Scott: Are you doing character monologues or interviews with them? How are you finding their voices?
Julia: Just through writing the scenes of their dialogue. I write a ton and then I’ll cut a bunch of it out. I’ll write like seven lines where there needs to be one and just cut around that one right line and keep going. I find their voices by having them say too much, by writing down every thought that would be in their head and then cutting off the fat.
Scott: Then in an outline would you literally have it like scene by scene broken down before you start your first draft?
Julia: And sometimes, as I said, lines and dialogue will eke into it but it’s mostly just describing the action or the scene and the emotions of the scene.
Tomorrow in Part 6, Julia delves more deeply into her approach to the craft of screenwriting.
Please stop by comments to thank Julia for taking the time for the interview and post any follow-up questions you may have.
For Part 1, go here.
For Part 2, go here.
For Part 3, go here.
For Part 4, go here.
Julia is repped by WME and Anonymous Content.