Interview: Liz W. Garcia — Part 4

June 27th, 2013 by

Liz W. Garcia is an American television producer and writer. As a writer, her credits include “Dawson’s Creek,” “Wonderfalls” and “Cold Case”. With her husband, actor Josh Harto, she created and produced the TNT series “Memphis Beat”. Most recently Liz wrote and directed the independent feature film The Lifeguard starring Kristen Bell which will be released in 2013.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to speak at length with Liz.

Today in Part 4, Liz goes into some business aspects of The Lifeguard and the realities of being a woman in the male-dominated environment of movies and TV:

Scott:  How much of your background doing TV writing influence your approach to writing the screenplay, or do you see no distinction between?

Liz:  Well, it’s different place when I’m writing a script for a feature on spec. So obviously, I never write TV on spec, and I have written features for companies. When I’m writing something like essentially just for myself, that is my favorite thing. That is when I use a different style of writing because I’m in a different place. I think it’s a like more process that engages my unconscious more, because I’m writing for myself. Whether that means I’m writing it to please myself as an audience, or I’m writing it to direct. I don’t have to over explain. I’m just giving myself the information that I want. I’m creating the mood that I am interested in, or that I’m feeling.

Whereas, when I’m writing TV, or when I’m writing a feature for a job, if you think of it like layers of the earth. I can’t write from down at that molten core level of inspiration, where I was when I wrote “The Lifeguard.” I need to be closer to the surface, because I have to be aware of what an outside person needs from the script, how they need their notes rendered, how they need it to read.

The section that you just read to me about when she’s looking at, when she’s looking at the pond, and when she’s looking out, that’s the kind of stuff that I love to write, because it’s basically free verse. I could, of course, put that in a TV script, or a feature for a job, an assignment, but why?

To write like that, it so unconventional, and it’s more suggestive, than it is explicit, and a lot of people wouldn’t like it, or wouldn’t get it. To me, the distinction is not how I write for features, and how I write for TV, it’s how I write when I’m writing on spec for myself, and how I’m writing when I write on assignment.

Scott:  When you wrote this, you wanted to direct this, right?

Liz:  Yeah, absolutely.

Scott:  And so, did that influence your thinking in how you approached writing it, thinking about it as a potential directing vehicle?

Liz:  Yeah, when I write for myself, I write to direct it. Meaning, I don’t need to over explain anything because the director knows what’s needed, because the director is me. [laughs] We share the same body of information already. I don’t put everything down on the page. I write thinking this is both a script that I need to be proud, so it needs to meet my requirements, that it’s original, and that it’s emotional. This is something that actors will be reading. I want them to feel the tone, and the pace. I want them to feel the heart and the soul of their character. When I’m writing to direct it, I tend to break up the lines into shots more. Do you know what I mean?

I am much more strict when I’m writing for myself about making sure that I’m not cutting out space that I will then want in the actual film. In other words, I try to adhere to the one page‑one minute rule, so that I have an idea of, an accurate idea of how long the script, how long the movie is going to be.

Scott:  How did this movie come about, the financing, the casting, and then the good news that you landed the distribution. How did the film come about?

Liz:  We had turned an early draft to…I had written probably two‑thirds of this script, and I didn’t feel totally right about it. I knew it was just sketch. I gave it to my husband to read, and he really loved it, and pushed me to finish it. He thought we could get it made. He thought the main role that was something very, was visually castable and we could get an actress who would mean something in terms of financing. So, I finished it, and we gave it two friends of his, who had been making this micro‑budget movies in New York. They made so many, and they made all of these contacts in the financing world, and they were eager make something bigger. So, we gave them the script, and they were amazing.

We gave them the script in the winter of 2012, and we were in preproduction by June 2012, and shooting in July. They just went out, found, and worked really hard to find the money, and we used…what was interesting is, I wanted to direct a movie for 10 years. I’ve been so frustrated, and I had another script that I had been trying to get going, and for various reasons, it hadn’t been going. I was so frustrated.

And yet, the blessing, that by the time “The Lifeguard” came around, I was doing things like cold calling agents about their clients, and stuff that I never would have the guts to do 10 years ago, or had the relationships to do. Now, it was like, yeah this person might know my name, because I’ve been around for a while, or they might not. And I don’t fucking care, I want to talk with their clients.

We just started doing, my husband and I would call people, and get their clients to read. We were really able to put together exactly the cast that we wanted. We’re with CAA. CAA helped us get to Kristen. Then it all happened rather miraculously. We shot in Pittsburgh for 21 days, and New York City for 1 day.

Scott:  First of all, you debuted in Sundance, and then get the distribution deal. That must have all been pretty exciting.

Liz:  Yeah, getting into Sundance was the most amazing day of my professional life absolutely, that was a very specific dream I’ve had. I’ve been harboring for a long, long, while, much longer than I admit that that was a dream. That day that we got the call, that we got in was really, really something. I was just elated, and it meant that much more to me that it was this historic year, where half of the women, half of the films in competition were directed by women. The love of my life writing and feminism, that was an incredible day.

Sundance was wild, really fun, and rewarding. The fact that it’s going to actually be in theaters, and normal citizens, outside of my friends and family, will be able to watch it. It’s surreal.

Scott:  Do they have a release date yet for the theatrical?

Liz:  August 30th.

Scott:  That’s a good time because that would catch all those adults out there. You brought up the issue of women in film. I would like to shift to talk about diversity in the area of TV writing, TV producing, screen writing, film directing. You had a really, really passionate, and I thought, very thoughtful first person piece for “Forbes” in August of 2012, which was titled, “Women can’t gain influence in Hollywood, because women don’t look like men.” Can you elaborate on that a little bit for us?

Liz:  Sure. Well, I think the obstacles that women face in being able to succeed in Hollywood are particularly difficult because so many of them can’t be seen, or easily identified, because they’re deep. They are unconscious, and they built in to the way that we see ourselves. I was writing about in that piece is the idea is that men and women alike have a certain idea of what a person of authority, persons who can be trusted with a $5 million, $10 million, $100 million investment, what those people look like. Historically, those people look like men, and they look like white men.

When women are going in and they’re asking for these jobs, they want to be included, they want to be considered, what’s insidious is that…what’s working against them isn’t something that the people that are making the decision may even be able to admit is working against them.

There are deep notions of what qualities a person who should be trusted with money, and trusted in steering a ship should have, and that because of these are so deep, because these are essentially archetypes for particularly difficult to subvert, and that’s what concerned me.

It’s hard when you’re girlish looking woman who’s five foot four, and you know what the idea of entrusting you with $10 million would be easier were you a six foot two white male with a deep sonorous voice, because that is someone who looks, and sounds like, say a CEO of a corporation, or the coach of a football team, or any of these other kinds of American figureheads of power and authority.

It’s frustrating because I’m never going to look like them. I’m never going to sound like that. So, what can I do? I guess just wait for history to, I hope unfold in the direction it should, where more and more women emerge as visible icons of competence and authority, and as people who can be trusted with essentially with corporations, which businesses which is a movie is, right?

You have all these people, dozens, and dozens, and dozens of people working for you over this money that you are in charge of making sure that it’s protected, and allocated correctly. Every time someone like Hillary Clinton emerges in history, her victories trickle down to the victories to women who are trying to be directors in Hollywood.

Scott:  That’s ironic, isn’t it, that the medium, film and TV, largely reinforces those perceptions that you’re talking about. I think in the “Forbes” piece, you said 11 percent of Hollywood films feature female protagonists. It’s like a massive challenge to try to reorient those archetypes, that you talk about.

Liz:  It’s a massive challenge because, on the one hand, I know that you have given this advice, and I’ve given this advice to aspiring female screenwriters, write a genre piece. If you want to be involved in the big leagues of Hollywood screen writing, look at the movies that are getting made which feature male protagonists and there’s action thriller, or they’re big balled out comedies, and write that. If you can write that, it doesn’t matter if you are a male or a female. If you write that well, people will buy it from you. That’s true. That’s absolutely true, and it’s great. However, not every woman wants to tell stories about men. They are great male directors, who are interested in the world of men. Scorsese makes amazing movies about the world of men. That’s his passion, that’s what he’s interested in, and that’s is perfectly fine, and we’ve all benefited from it.

Well, what happens when a woman wants to make her career out of making great movies about the world of women. Well, that’s not happening. People aren’t interested in them. So, it’s not just a matter of who’s the face behind the script. It’s what’s the script, because if it’s about women, then it’s not taken as seriously. It’s obviously not considered as commercially viable.

Scott:  You see any glimmer of hope with movies like Hanna, Salt or Hunger Games that feature female leads…

Liz:  There are a few trends right now that are making me so happy. One, is Twitter, and the emergence of these dynamic, exciting female voices on Twitter, like Kelly Oxford, and Diablo Cody, are obviously really big on Twitter, and big. In general, hate screen writing, but just the opportunity for women can be bold, and edgy comedians on Twitter, and can get lots of followers, and just become celebrities. I think that’s really neat, because you don’t have to wait for anyone to give you that opportunity to be on Twitter, and be recognized.

Two, I’m really excited about all of these YA novels that are becoming these big franchises like, “The Hunger Games,” where you get amazing actress like, Jennifer Lawrence, playing these really dynamic parts. She’s showing that the world, women and men of all ages, that all ages, a full plot will be interested in these type of epic important genre stories. I think that’s so exciting.

Three, I’m really excited about Lena Dunham. The fact that she has an HBO show that is well reviewed and that’s such a part of popular culture that comes just so purely and so confidently from the mind of a young female artist is, I think, nothing short of a miracle.

She’s 10 years younger than I am. I am so inspired by her courage and her career. I can only imagine that everyone who is younger than I am, and younger than she is, also sees her as this beacon of hope.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Liz shares some thoughts about her approach to the writing craft.

For Part 1, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

Please stop by comments to thank Liz and ask any questions you may have.

Liz is repped by CAA and Madhouse Entertainment.

Twitter: @lizwgarcia.

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