Interview (5 Part Series): Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (“Miss Stevens”)

September 21st, 2016 by

Entertainment Weekly calls it a “breezy indie gem”.  Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice calls it a “tight, unnerving and deceptively complex movie”. David Ehrlich of Indiwire writes, “With her directorial debut, The Keeping Room screenwriter Julia Hart proves that she belongs behind the camera.” And the New York Times has named it a Critics Pick.

It is the movie Miss Stevens and it debuted in select theaters last weekend in LA and NY, then on video on demand (VOD) beginning today.

For those of you starved for strong adult movies, I highly recommend Miss Stevens. It is a pitch perfect film… authentic… human… and entertaining.

Recently I had an hour-long conversation with the movie’s writer-director Julia Hart and writer-producer Jordan Horowitz.

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Jordan Horowitz and Julia Hart

Here is my 5 part interview with Julia and Jordan.

Part 1: “A real teacher is any of those things, all at once, on a daily basis. I wanted to show a real female teacher who was complex, sometimes brilliant, and sometimes a disaster.”

Part 2: “I’m surprised more films don’t just do that, because to me it’s the most surprising sometimes to just have your character do what a human would actually do in that moment instead of what they would do in a movie. Just have them be a human instead of a character.”

Part 3: “We’ve gone so far in terms of shock value that it seems like there’s nothing left. We’re numb. So we decided to do the opposite, that somehow doing the thing that isn’t shocking can be the most shocking thing of all.”

Part 4: “It’s so odd that I ever even thought when I was on set that I knew what the whole movie was, because you can’t possibly know when you’re shooting different pieces from different parts of the movie on different days.”

Part 5: “As long as there are passionate artists and good producers and people out there that want to tell original cinematic stories — or even not original stories — I don’t think movies are going anywhere.”

Twitter: @juliahartowitz, @jehorowitz.

Interview (Part 5): Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (“Miss Stevens”)

September 20th, 2016 by

Entertainment Weekly calls it a “breezy indie gem”.  Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice calls it a “tight, unnerving and deceptively complex movie”. David Ehrlich of Indiwire writes, “With her directorial debut, The Keeping Room screenwriter Julia Hart proves that she belongs behind the camera.” And the New York Times has named it a Critics Pick.

It is the movie Miss Stevens and it debuted in select theaters last weekend in LA and NY, then on video on demand (VOD) beginning today.

For those of you starved for strong adult movies, I highly recommend Miss Stevens. It is a pitch perfect film… authentic… human… and entertaining.

Today in Part 5, we consider how movies like Miss Stevens and La La Land, which Jordan produced, disprove the meme going around that “movies are dead”:

Scott: Miss Stevens hits the theaters Friday, September 16th, and then available on video-on-demand. What are you two thinking at the end of this process?

Julia:  It’s incredible. I can’t believe that the first movie I directed is going to be in movie theaters and people are going to be watching it. It’s terrific. I feel very lucky and very excited.

Scott:  You’ve got double reason in your family to be excited because La La Land, which was written and directed by Damien Chazelle, just debuted in Venice and Telluride and Toronto to great acclaim.

In fact Jordan you tweeted something about Tom Hanks was at the post Sully screening. I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before like an actor was there to promote his movie. He just stopped mid‑frame and basically said, “Hey, La La Land is awesome. You’ve got to support it.” What can you tell us about that project?

Jordan:  It’s been totally surreal. It’s something I’ve been working on for six years. I met Damien a long time ago and we started developing it, me and him and another producer on it, Fred Berger, in April of 2011. It’s just been a real passion project and a bit of a dream since then.

The movie was originally developed as part of a program and was supposed to be something a bit smaller but the moment when we started developing it we very quickly we realized that it was never going to be make‑able at the numbers that we were supposed to be developing it for, in the program.

Then Damien went and made Whiplash and that obviously helped with La La Land. When Whiplash premiered at Sundance, it was clear that La La Land was going to be his next movie, that he was going to take the chips he won with Whiplash and put ’em all back on the table and make another bet.

Lionsgate and another incredible producer named Marc Platt then came onboard and everyone has been incredibly supportive of the film that we wanted to make. It’s really exciting. It’s been really inspiring to see people respond to an original, ambitious work in the way that people seem to be responding to it.

It’s just a testament to having a dream to do a thing and then realizing that dream it in the best possible way with the support of a lot of amazing people. Here we are.

Jordan Horowitz with Damien Chazelle, Emma Stone, and other film producers

Scott:  You’ve got two original stories coming out within a couple months of each other, so thanks to you for doing that for those of us who appreciate original content. Then you mentioned “Counterpart.” That’s a Starz TV series written by Justin Marks, who I believe… You all are longtime acquaintances, right?

Jordan:  Yeah, Justin and I, we actually went to high school together, interestingly. Weirdly, the first time I came to LA… I hadn’t seen Justin since high school. We followed each other’s lives post‑high school but we didn’t go to college together or anything.

The first time I came to LA I was driving in Beverly Hills, just randomly in my rental car, and all of a sudden Justin came out in the middle of the street. He was crossing the street really quickly, just completely randomly. I saw him and said hello and he jumped into my car and I drove him to…

Julia:  I do not think I’ve heard this story. That’s amazing.

Jordan:  Crazy story. He was going to the dentist or something. I don’t remember. He got in my car and we caught up and I drove him to his dentist appointment. Since then we’ve been in constant touch.

Then we started developing this project together, which was originally going to be a movie and then as we kept developing it, it became clear that it was a TV show. Then we sold it to MRC, wrote the pilot for them, packaged it, which was actually a great experience, because my skill set of putting together independent films and packaging a script with a director and an actor and selling the whole thing was… That’s sort of what we did with MRC.

That’s not the traditional network way to sell television, but we did that with MRC and then took out that package and sold it to Starz. We start production on that in November.

Scott:  Was Amy Berg part of that package?

Jordan:  We sold it to Starz and then we opened up a writer’s room and Amy came on at that point after we’d written the initial script, after Justin wrote that. So we brought on Morten [Tyldum] and J.K. [Simmons], took the project out, sold it to Starz, and then Amy came on after that sale.

Scott:  If I’m not mistaken, did I read that it got picked up for two seasons on the strength of the scripts?

Jordan:  Yeah, we got a two‑season pickup off of that pilot, J.K. starring and Morten directing the pilot. Then we opened the room. Amy and Justin opened the room and them and the writers wrote the first season of a two‑season pickup. We’re in the middle of prep right now in the first season, but it’s two 10‑episode seasons, yeah, they bought 20 episodes.

Scott: Let me end up here by talking about how lately there’s been — whatever reason – a slew of articles about how movies are dying.

I watch a movie, Miss Stevens and I look at the trailer for La La Land, and I’m thinking, that’s crazy talk. Great movies still being made. What’s your take on this meme that movies are dying?

Jordan:  It’s totally ridiculous.

Julia:  How many of the people who are saying that make movies?

Jordan:  I don’t know. Probably none.

Julia:  [laughs]

Jordan:  Movies are changing. It’s just like, nothing’s dying. The way people tell stories is changing.

Julia:  We finally have women who are actually getting opportunities to make them. They’re not dying, they’re being born.

Jordan:  Yeah, so of course that means movies are dying.

Julia: [laughs]

Jordan: Is it the same as it was? Of course not. There’s no question that it’s not. Certain stories are now being told in the television space. And even television is completely changing. Network television, cable television, completely changing. Limited series are becoming much, much, much more viable, which is the six‑hour movie and all of that.

Julia:  “Things are changing” isn’t as good clickbait.

Jordan:  Yeah, exactly. “Things are changing” is not something that makes me want to read an article, because of course things are changing. But yeah, “movies are dying” — of course you read that.

Listen, does it take a whole hell of a lot more to get people to leave their home to go sit in a theater? Yeah. It really does.

But I can tell you that the scene at Telluride and in Venice and at Toronto is just as vibrant as it has ever been. Should we have to go to film festivals in order to find a true cinematic experience and prove that movies aren’t dead? I don’t know. That’s definitely something that one can argue about. But as I said, I’ve forged a career and have made only original movies so far, so if movies are dying, maybe I’m dying too.

I’ll keep doing it and I have lots of friends that are going to keep doing it too. As long as there are passionate artists and good producers and people out there that want to tell original cinematic stories — or even not original stories — I don’t think movies are going anywhere.

The thing you were talking about with Tom Hanks, about him saying that if audiences can’t embrace La La Land then we’re all doomed… I think audiences need to embrace cinema that moves them and understand that that experience is something that is really powerful, especially in today’s world. It can be a very powerful thing, it can be a very community‑driven thing. It can be a very powerful thing. And they need to make it known by buying tickets to movies, going to see them in theaters.

Time will tell. But no, I don’t think movies are dying.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Here are links to some reviews of Miss Stevens:

Entertainment Weekly

Indiewire

New York Times

Village Voice

Go here to rent the movie on iTunes.

Twitter: @juliahartowitz, @jehorowitz.

Interview (Part 4): Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (“Miss Stevens”)

September 19th, 2016 by

Entertainment Weekly calls it a “breezy indie gem”.  Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice calls it a “tight, unnerving and deceptively complex movie”. David Ehrlich of Indiwire writes, “With her directorial debut, The Keeping Room screenwriter Julia Hart proves that she belongs behind the camera.” And the New York Times has named it a Critics Pick.

It is the movie Miss Stevens and it debuts in select theaters this weekend in LA and NY, then on video on demand (VOD) beginning September 20.

For those of you starved for strong adult movies, I highly recommend Miss Stevens. It is a pitch perfect film… authentic… human… and entertaining.

Today in Part 4, Julia goes into what she learned about writing from her experience directing Miss Stevens:

Scott:  I was going to ask you about the theme of acting. The story’s about young actors. Rachel’s mother was an actor, and in many respects Rachel’s acting in her real life, acting happy and together when she’s at school. That was a very conscious metaphor for you, right?

Julia:  Yes. We knew we couldn’t make this movie unless we had the very best actors in it, because you can’t make a movie that is about performance that, as you say, relies so much on the performances as a result without incredibly talented actors, and we did. [laughs]

Scott:  There’s a lot of really nice cinematic moments. These visual touches, transitions, but, honestly, I’m a huge Billy Wilder fan. He’s my favorite writer/director.

His approach was you write the strongest script you can with honest portrayals of compelling characters, set the camera, and let the actors act. There were a lot of scenes that just felt like that.

Let’s just put the camera here and let the actors do their thing. There was a nice balance between some good visual interesting cinematography, but also just respectful of the actors and just letting them do their thing. Was that a conscious thing on your part?

Julia:  Definitely. I’ve been watching stuff recently where the camera is just not telling the same story as the story or the characters. Cinema and shot making are trumping the truth of what the movie wants to be.

That was very conscious for us that we not just show off what we thought cinema could be, and instead we made the camera be truthful and connected to what was going on in the characters’ lives and what was going on in the story.

Sometimes that called for a little bit more, and sometimes that called for a little bit less, but it was just always, again, this idea of authenticity, like what does this woman, what do these words want us to be looking at?

Scott:  You’ve heard that saying, that when you make a movie you tell the story three times ‑‑ when you write it, you shoot it, and you edit it. First time directing, Julia, does that resonate with you at all?

Julia:  Oh, my god. Yeah. The greatest lesson on this was editorial, because I had been on enough film sets. I was on the set every day of The Keeping Room, which I wrote, and had been on a bunch of Jordan sets, and had been on some of my dad, who’s a screenwriter, as you know, on some of his sets. But this was the first time I was in the editing room. It was just such an extraordinary experience to realize that you can completely change… pretty much anything. It’s a magic room. That was the most fun new part of the process for me, taking our skills as writers into the writing of the edit with our editors.

Scott:  Did you shoot everything that was in the script [Miss Stevens]?

Julia:  We did. The stuff that we ended up cutting was more about…it was about two things. One was about storytelling and realizing that in the watching of the whole run of the first cut of the movie that we were revealing stuff we didn’t want to reveal early on.

Then the other big thing was the stuff in the script that was more traditional “Comedy,” and, again, in a film where authenticity was our king ultimately what works in the movie is the stuff that’s just natural and funny because real life is funny and not the stuff that was comedy with a capital C. Again, that was just listening to the work and letting the movie tell us what it wanted to be.

It’s so odd that I ever even thought when I was on set that I knew what the whole movie was, because you can’t possibly know when you’re shooting different pieces from different parts of the movie on different days.

At least my experience is I only really knew what the story was once I was watching everything strung together.

Jordan:  You have to pretend like you know what it is. You’re shooting to what you think it is on set, and that changes. Again, that’s just like one of those things where you just have to listen to the picture.

When you’re on set and things are out of order, you’re shooting to an idea, to however you’re holding the movie, in your head.

Then you get into the edit room, and whatever you were holding in your head you sort of just have to leave that in production, because now you see a cut of the picture, and you start to hold the movie that way.

Scott:  As long as you got coverage then I guess you’re OK

Jordan:  Even if you don’t there are ways. You just have to do it.

Scott:  I love the movie’s ending. The script was interesting because there was a lot more dialog, let’s say, between Rachel and Billy’s parents, but that was all cut.

That got very cinematic at the end. I was all visual storytelling at the very, very end. I just thought that was so touching and lyrical, and it just worked. It was terrific.

Julia:  The most surprising part of the editorial process was that ending. Writing is words at the end of the day. One of the greatest lessons I learned on this picture was to start to see some of the visual storytelling that can come in the editing process and that can come through directing and imbue more of our writing at an earlier stage with that type of cinematic language.

Tomorrow in Part 5, we consider how movies like Miss Stevens and La La Land, which Jordan produced, disprove the meme going around that “movies are dead”.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Here are links to some reviews of Miss Stevens:

Entertainment Weekly

Indiewire

New York Times

Village Voice

Twitter: @juliahartowitz, @jehorowitz.

Interview (Part 3): Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (“Miss Stevens”)

September 18th, 2016 by

Entertainment Weekly calls it a “breezy indie gem”.  Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice calls it a “tight, unnerving and deceptively complex movie”. David Ehrlich of Indiwire writes, “With her directorial debut, The Keeping Room screenwriter Julia Hart proves that she belongs behind the camera.” And the New York Times has named it a Critics Pick.

It is the movie Miss Stevens and it debuts in select theaters this weekend in LA and NY, then on video on demand (VOD) beginning September 20.

For those of you starved for strong adult movies, I highly recommend Miss Stevens. It is a pitch perfect film… authentic… human… and entertaining.

Here is a Q&A at the 2016 SXSW Festival featuring Lily Rabe, Julia Hart, and Anthony Quinta:

I was fortunate enough to snag an interview with Julia Hart, the movie’s co-writer and director, and co-writer and producer Jordan Horowitz. They not only make a great creative team, they are also married and parents of young son.

Today in Part 3, Julia discusses some of the story’s key themes and Jordan talks about the process of producing a small indie film like Miss Stevens:

Scott:  Let’s talk about this theme of surprise. You literally even have it in dialogue. At one point after a situation where Sam has had an emotional upheaval over a relationship gone sour, Rachel says, “I didn’t say this but most people suck, Sam. Some of them are wonderful but mostly they’re not. The weirdest part, that it’s surprising every single time.”

Was this idea of surprise, playing against type, that seems like that was something that you both were consciously trying to work with in the story?

Julia:  Yeah, absolutely, and I think it was all borne of this idea of wanting to tell a story about this world that hadn’t been told before. We’ve gone so far in terms of shock value that it seems like there’s nothing left. We’re numb. So we decided to do the opposite, that somehow doing the thing that isn’t shocking can be the most shocking thing of all.

A lot of times in a film you’ll be told in the first five minutes what’s going on with the character and then throughout the course of the movie you’ll watch them learn to deal with it.

Instead, again, thinking about authenticity and surprise we wanted to keep those secrets not only from the other characters, but from our audience in order to play around with this idea of how we learn information about people in real life instead of how we’re given it in a traditional story structure.

Scott:  One of the things I really appreciated about the movie is it has lots and lots of these special little moments. There’s a lot of quiet in the movie. Some movie productions feel like, “Well, we’re paying the composer so let’s have every single second filled with music,” but there are times where you’ve got these quiet little moments.

I remember there’s a quote by Ann Beattie, the author. She says, “People forget years and remember moments.” I’m wondering, was that something you were conscious of? Because there are times, for example, Julia, where you just let the camera roll and let the actors…there’s a couple scenes where it just goes on for 20, 30 seconds where people are just standing there and looking at each other. You know what I’m saying?

Julia:  Yeah, no, absolutely. It’s funny, too, because the movie is simultaneously really tight. We tried to be very economical and deliberate about those silences. It’s definitely not a movie where that happens a ton. It makes it all the more potent. If you’re smart about your quiet and you’re smart about your music I think it makes the piece stronger overall. Rob Simenson our composer is incredibly talented.

Jordan:  I remember once we were talking to Rob, because there was a sequence where we were considering putting score. He was just like, “Listen, my job as the composer is to beat silence. If I can’t beat silence then there should be no music there.”

Julia:  That is such a great line.

Scott:  Wow. That’s really interesting to hear. Talking about music, there’s a song by America, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is used twice in the movie. There’s a line that Billy and Rachel are singing as they’re heading out to the refrain of the thing.

“Will you meet me in the middle? Will you meet me in the air? Will you love me just enough to show you care? Well, I tried to fake it. I don’t mind saying I just can’t make it.” That’s thematically resonant, isn’t it?

Julia:  [laughs] Yeah.

Jordan:  Yeah.

Julia:  Jordan and I very much believe in the movie gods and that you can’t get in their way. You can’t be too egotistical that you don’t just shut up and listen to them sometimes. It’s so funny because that wasn’t the original song in the script. That was the song that we…we work with a really amazing music supervisor, this guy Dan Wilcox. We couldn’t get the original song in the script and then he gave us a couple of options, and Sister Golden Hair was one of them and we got it. As you said, you listen to those lyrics and the feeling of the song, and just what part of our time and place in America that song and that band represent. It’s meloncholy and upbeat at the same time, just like the movie. We’re very big on the best idea wins and that you always have to be listening. You can’t be talking too much that you miss that stuff.

Jordan:  Yeah, you have to just listen to the work. The work is paramount. The work…if you’re invested in the work and you’re patient then the work will tell you what it wants. This was just one of those cases that proved that out in the best possible way.

Julia:  I couldn’t imagine another song now.

Scott:  Oh, yeah, the very end of that where they’re singing the refrain, they give each other a look. It’s like, “Wait a minute. Has this got subtextual meaning here?” That was terrific.

Miss Stevens as they arrive for the drama competitions

Okay, let’s talk about how the movie came to be. You’ve got the script, and eventually you got Lily attached, and Julia’s going to direct it. Jordan, in this era of spandex and spectacle and superheroes what was your pitch to financiers? How did you convince someone Miss Stevens can work in today’s movie marketplace?

Jordan:  I’ve been fortunate enough in my career to make these kinds of movies so I think at this point people expect them from me. Interestingly, I have never been… I’ve never worked on something that’s not an original idea.

I’ve now made 10 movies as a producer, and I’m about to make my first television show, and all of them have been — for better or worse — based on original ideas. Not even adaptations of books or anything, but all just purely original ideas.

Julia:  Which is literally a miracle. [laughs]

Jordan:  Yeah, again for better or worse, I mean not everything I’ve done has been successful. Everything I’ve worked on has tried to be artistically ambitious, but not everything resonates.

At this point people just expect that from me I guess, but again, being a producer and having made a number of pictures in this vein, I went out with the package with a very what I think was a responsible budget and a production plan that was reasonable.

Our expectations for the picture were very much… I don’t want to say managed… But they were very much in line with what the movie wanted to be.

Julia:  Again, it goes back to that writer/producer hat being passed between us as we work that we very purposefully wrote a script that could be fully realized, and characters and scenarios and settings that all could be fully realized on a small budget with a first time director.

Jordan:  I tend to take a holistic view of these things. I don’t necessarily believe in compromise with these types of movies. Compromise means you’re giving something up, it’s kind of a negative. I believe in finding solutions and knowing what your… You build your box, you should know what box you’re working in. And that box needs to be a responsible box. Then you find solutions in any number of ways and the tension of finding those solutions is oftentimes what makes things great.

It’s really important for me as a producer to build that box responsibly because when you build that box and you realize you’re picture along the limits of that box and take a holistic view of the film, the film becomes much larger. I think it becomes larger when you build that thing properly from the start.

When you have a $10 million picture on the page and you only have $2 million to make it but you decide you’re going to just go for it I think.. You’re never going do the… It’s never going to feel necessarily full or bigger than… the sum of the parts. The whole is never going to feel bigger than the sum of its parts.

That’s always my goal with any picture, any size movie I’m making, from something as small as Miss Stevens to something as big as La La Land. It’s always about setting the initial box, building it properly, and then finding solutions off of that.

Scott:  The benefit you have for this project is that whatever special effects they are it’s basically the acting.

Julia:  Exactly.

Scott:  It’s got these great characters and largely one location. It’s really an actor’s movie.

Jordan:  Yeah, for sure.

Julia:  That was very intentional as the movie itself is about acting and performance.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Julia goes into what she learned about writing from her experience directing Miss Stevens.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Here are links to some reviews of Miss Stevens:

Entertainment Weekly

Indiewire

New York Times

Village Voice

Twitter: @juliahartowitz, @jehorowitz.

Interview (Part 2): Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (“Miss Stevens”)

September 17th, 2016 by

Entertainment Weekly calls it a “breezy indie gem”.  Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice calls it a “tight, unnerving and deceptively complex movie”. David Ehrlich of Indiwire writes, “With her directorial debut, The Keeping Room screenwriter Julia Hart proves that she belongs behind the camera.” And the New York Times has named it a Critics Pick.

It is the movie Miss Stevens and it debuts in select theaters this weekend in LA and NY, then on video on demand (VOD) beginning September 20.

For those of you starved for strong adult movies, I highly recommend Miss Stevens. It is a pitch perfect film… authentic… human… and entertaining.

Here is an interview with two of the movie’s actors: Lily Rabe and Rob Huebel.

I was fortunate enough to snag an interview with Julia Hart, the movie’s co-writer and director, and co-writer and producer Jordan Horowitz. They not only make a great creative team, they are also married and parents of young son.

Today in Part 2, Julia and Jordan dig into the key characters in Miss Stevens, exploring their complexities:

Scott:  I don’t want to give away much of the plot, but I would like to talk about the characters because each of them is interesting, nuanced, and complex in that great way that indie films can do.

Five primary characters. There’s Rachel Stevens who is played wonderfully by Lily Rabe. She was just terrific. She’s the teacher. Then three students ‑‑ Billy, Margot, and Sam. Then there’s this other adult, Walter, who is quite an interesting character in himself.

Let’s talk about Rachel. How would you describe her character?

Julia:  I like the idea of getting to show that a real woman is actually like. There are probably a lot of women that we don’t even know how complicated and flawed they are in our real lives because nobody has the privilege of seeing someone when they’re alone. I really liked getting to show the moments of her brilliance and capability where she’s totally able to bring her students through a difficult moment and also where she’s a complete disaster. I have a lot of love for her. It was really important that we show a woman making mistakes who is also incredibly lovable.

I have a very wonderful, full, grounded life and had a very healthy relationship with boundaries even when I was a young teacher. I just stripped all of that away and wondered what it would be like to be a young woman in that environment if I was at sea in my own life and we went from there.

Scott:  You’ve gotten her outside the confines of the classroom and out on the road and then at this drama contest they go to, there really is that boundary thing going on. Sometimes she goes beyond what you would consider to be appropriate as a teacher, but then there are other times when she’ll sort of snap out of it, “You got to go. You’ve got to go,” those moments with Billy. There’s that dynamic tension going on with her pretty much throughout most of the story.

Jordan:  We were definitely playing with audience’s expectations of what that character is in this movie traditionally. We tried to be very conscious of where the audience thought she would go because of what they’d seen before and trying to live in that tension, but not hitting it over the head, but also understanding what an audience member brings to this type of movie. Which was tricky, because you’re trying to project what people are going to think about the movie that the movie’s not doing, in a way. But yeah, the movie tries to operate in that gray or “almost” space as much as it can.

Julia:  Authenticity was just our God at every possible turn, because it’s really simple, weirdly, if you just think about what a human would actually do [laughs] …I’m surprised more films don’t just do that, because to me it’s the most surprising sometimes to just have your character do what a human would actually do in that moment instead of what they would do in a movie. Just have them be a human instead of a character.

I know when we’re writing sometimes, especially in a character‑driven piece like this, we don’t necessarily know exactly where a scene is going. We just let the character be a human and guide us where they want to go.

Scott:  I want to talk about surprise as a theme in just a bit. Let’s continue with some of these characters. Billy. What’s your thumbnail take on his character?

Julia:  It’s so funny, because I literally can’t remember who he was before Timmy. Timmy’s performance has just so completely overtaken any notion I had [laughs] about the character that we once created.

He was definitely a composite of some of the young men that I taught. I taught some really incredible kids. One who actually delivered that speech, the Arthur Miller speech, at a drama competition. But when Timmy took on the role, he made Billy completely his own.

Scott:  That’s Timothée Chalamet?

Julia:  Chalamet, yeah.

Scott:  Yeah, he was terrific. In fact, the whole casting was great.

Julia:  Thank you. We did a lot of rehearsing and rewriting based on those rehearsals before we started shooting. I think on the page…it was funny, a comment that we got a lot, which I loved, was that the characters felt really lived‑in on the page, and then I think they just really became humans on the day because of the time that we all got to spend together working on those characters before we started shooting.

Scott:  Jordan mentioned about playing with the expectations the audience would have about teacher types in movies. Margot and Sam play that role a bit, because they’re surprised by what they’re seeing in Rachel, whereas Billy, on the other hand, I think sees her as almost a soul mate.

Julia:  Yeah.

Scott:  That she’s fractured, has highs and lows like he does. Is that a fair assessment of those characters?

Jordan:  That’s good.

Julia: That was something that I definitely took from my teaching days because there were moments where I thought I was doing my job of hiding myself and being professional, and some of these kids, man, they would just see right through it.

Something that was also really important to us was to portray how brilliant and aware and engaged teenagers are today. They often get a bad rap, that they’re all just lost in their phones, but honestly, what they all want is for somebody to take their phone away and look them in the eye, because they don’t get that very often.

Lily Rabe, star of Miss Stevens, and writer-director Julia Hart

Scott:  Margot is a really interesting example, that you were talking about, because she seems at first to be of a type. We’ve seen that sort of Type A personality.

In fact there is a moment there where you literally have Rachel take her phone. That’s just what you’re talking about, but then there’s a surprising twist in her character too, and she turns out to be much more multidimensional, Margot does, over time.

Jordan:  We definitely talked a lot about not wanting her to be the down‑the‑middle… I love Election, but we didn’t want her to be the Tracy Flick character, because it could have easily skewed into that. That felt like an easy choice and we pushed back against that, both on the page and in Lili Reinhart’s performance.

Luckily, Lili…

Julia:  She’s so amazing.

Jordan:  …was so amazingly natural and has a really amazing comic sensibility. If you watch the movie, I think more on the second and third time, even her listening is very active. She’s always doing something. Not to pull away from anybody…

Julia:  Not distracting, but…

Jordan:  …but just in a very naturalistic, very authentic, in the moment…

Julia:  In the background, on the edge of frame.

Jordan:  Yeah. It’s pretty amazing all the things she’s doing and what’s going on with her at every moment. A lot of that was just her being a great performer.

Julia:  Definitely a theme in the script and then the film for us was this idea that we’re all always performing to some extent, and especially in a school setting, my God, everyone’s always playing a part or being what they think they’re supposed to be.

The teacher is playing a role, the students are playing a role, and so we definitely wanted to set it up at the beginning as these, as you say, classic archetypes of students and teacher and start to slowly break that down throughout the course of the story as they actually can’t keep performing and actually have to become who they really are.

Scott:  Sam’s kind of the one who embraces that always‑on‑stage kind of thing. He’s dancing in the back seat and the performance artist kind of thing.

Julia:  Totally, and then even he has his moment where it’s real.

Scott:  He has his moment too, yeah. Let’s talk about Walter, this other major adult in this story who, again, at first you meet him and you think he’s this conniving guy with good lines and whatnot, but by the end, he’s an honest truth‑teller. What were you going for with the Walter character?

Julia:  Again, he was another teacher character I hadn’t really seen before, because I feel like the myth is that the teacher who clocks in at the beginning of the day and clocks out and leaves his emotions at the door is a “Bad teacher,” and the teacher who stays until eight o’clock at night and is there for her students 24/7…

Jordan:  And gives up her or his life for students, yeah.

Julia:  …is the good teacher and actually a lot of the time it’s the opposite. I would watch these career teachers who I worked with who were just so in control of their emotions and their time and their boundaries. At his school he’s probably everybody’s favorite teacher and has been there for 20 years. He’s not affected by, as he calls it, their silly little lives. I thought that was an interesting twist on the expectation of the teacher who seems like they are checked out but is actually the great teacher.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Julia discusses some of the story’s key themes and Jordan talks about the process of producing a small indie film like Miss Stevens.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Here are links to some reviews of Miss Stevens:

Entertainment Weekly

Indiewire

New York Times

Village Voice

Twitter: @juliahartowitz, @jehorowitz.

Interview (Part 1): Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz (“Miss Stevens”)

September 16th, 2016 by

Entertainment Weekly calls it a “breezy indie gem”.  Bilge Ebiri of the Village Voice calls it a “tight, unnerving and deceptively complex movie”. David Ehrlich of Indiwire writes, “With her directorial debut, The Keeping Room screenwriter Julia Hart proves that she belongs behind the camera.” And the New York Times has named it a Critics Pick.

It is the movie Miss Stevens and it debuts in select theaters this weekend in LA and NY, then on video on demand (VOD) beginning September 20.

For those of you starved for strong adult movies, I highly recommend Miss Stevens. It is a pitch perfect film… authentic… human… and entertaining.

Here is a trailer for Miss Stevens:

The movie currently has a 92% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

I was fortunate enough to snag an interview with Julia Hart, the movie’s co-writer and director, and co-writer and producer Jordan Horowitz. They not only make a great creative team, they are also married and parents of young son.

Today in Part 1, Julia and Jordan discuss the inspiration for the movie and the process by which Julia ended up directing the project:

Scott:  Let’s just jump into it here. We’re talking about Miss Stevens, a new movie just coming out that. Julia, you co‑wrote and directed it. And Jordan, you co‑wrote and produced it. Here’s a  plot summary:

“Stuck at a crossroads in her personal life, it falls on Miss Stevens to chaperone three of her students — Billy, Margot and Sam — on a weekend trip to a drama competition. Exploring the fine line between being a grown up and being a kid, Miss Stevens is about students becoming teachers and teachers coming to realize that the messiness of youth never really goes away.”

Julia, before you ventured into screenwriting, you were a high school teacher, I believe for something like eight years, is that right?

Julia:  I was. I taught high school English, here in L.A. I taught 11th and 12th Grade.

Scott:  What was it about your experiences as a teacher, which provided the seeds of inspiration to write Miss Stevens?

Julia:  Everything that happens in the movie never actually happened to me as a teacher. It was very much inspired by not based on my time when I was a teacher.

Once I became a teacher, I realized that a lot of what we’re fed via film and television about what it’s like being a teacher, or what the student‑teacher relationship is like, is a lot of Hollywood myth making. I was 25 when I started teaching 17‑ and 18‑year‑olds and it’s a lot more complex and nuanced in reality than portrayals have been in the past. I was interested in exploring those other shades that I hadn’t seen before.

Scott:  You have those two general takes, right? One is the idealized, perfect teacher who inspires students. Then, you’ve got the deeply flawed teacher who has lost their way. Those seem to be the two extremes in Hollywood.

Julia:  A real teacher is any of those things, all at once, on a daily basis. I wanted to show a real female teacher who was complex, sometimes brilliant, and sometimes a disaster.

Scott:  I thought that was interesting too, because you establish Miss Stevens, Rachel’s character, inside the context of the school. Then, you do a road trip outside.

Getting her outside the classroom situation really helps to bring that character into the gray area of what it means to be a teacher on the one hand, and what it means to be their own individual.

Julia:  Something else that I haven’t seen explored that much on film is the idea that real teaching, or the bulk of the teaching, is what happens before and after the classroom. Obviously, it’s important to teach them how to construct a grammatically correct sentence, but the life lessons and the experience of being humans together is far more important at the end of the day. You’re teaching them how to be an adult. You’re teaching them what it means to live in the world.

Scott:  You and Jordan co‑wrote the script. Going back to the interview I did with you on The Keeping Room, Jordan was intimately involved in that process. This was actual co‑writing. How did that process come about, where the two of you ended up writing this script together?

Julia:  It’s interesting. Our process hasn’t changed that much since then. I just had to convince him that he was a writer. I don’t think he wanted to be. He was good in the producer role, and didn’t quite realize that he had actually, over the course of our time together, become a screenwriter himself.

Jordan:  That being said, you’ll never see my name on anybody else’s movie, or on a movie that I’ve written by myself. The co‑writing credit on Miss Stevens, and honestly, on any other work that we’re doing, is just a reflection of our process. Especially now that Julia’s become a director.

Julia and I actually have a company together now, Original Headquarters. Miss Stevens is the first movie from that company, but we have a bunch of work that we’re putting together now, looking to the future. We wanted to be a little clearer, outwardly, about what our process is, and the idea that Julia’s the director, we co-write the scripts, and I produce. “We co‑write stuff, and I produce,” felt a little more true to what we had always been doing.

Julia:  I think it’s more than that. We were both very timid, especially you, as you had a reputation as a producer, to acknowledge to yourself that you had actually become quite a good writer. I made him put his name on the Miss Stevens screenplay. I was proud of the work he’d done.

As I said, the process hasn’t changed that much, but it had evolved to the point where there was no more denying it, you were contributing to this as a producer, yes, but also as a writer. Since that moment, we’ve just let the floodgates burst open, or whatever the phrase is.

Jordan:  It definitely gave me permission to behave more like a writer on the work that Julia and I are doing. The work has…

Julia:  Become better.

Jordan:  We’ll talk in a year or two, once there’s more work to talk about. You can let us know if you think it works or not.

Scott:  That’s funny. I often talk about how writers benefit from putting on the producer’s hat, thinking like that, as they’re writing a script. You’re a producer who put on the writer’s hat.

Jordan:  You’re totally right, by the way, about writers putting on the producer hat. But I might actually argue that it’s more that writers would benefit from a good producer. Julia has always written with her work being produced in mind. And that’s because I am a producer and always have been a producer.

There’s this projection of what a producer would want, or what a producer needs, or how movies get made, that sometimes writers maybe… But often, it’s a projection, not an accurate thing… So I would actually just tweak it slightly and say that writers ‑‑ artists, in general ‑‑ would benefit from good producers. Or maybe this is my way of tooting the horn for producers in Hollywood, because we sometimes get a bit of a bad rap.

There are a handful of us for whom our only objective is to realize the fullest potential of the work from the artists that we work with. It’s about the work. That is really my MO. As long as everybody is open to that relationship being what it’s supposed to be.

Scott:   How early in the process did you decide that this is a project Julia’s going to direct?

Julia Hart:  Very, very late in the process. [laughs]

Jordan Horowitz:  Pretty late.

Julia:  There was another director attached to it, at first. Then we, with Lily Rabe attached to it, went out in search of a director. It was all just inevitable that I was going to direct it myself. We thought it was going to be a TV project at one point. It had many different permutations. I was in denial of the fact that I needed to direct it myself. When I finally accepted that, it all came together really fast.

Scott:  You weren’t writing a script with the inclination or instinct to direct it?

Jordan:  It’s funny. Whenever we write, a lot of times people come back to us, especially with Miss Stevens, it happened a lot…. Miss Stevens is a very personal story. People would read it and come back to us and be like, “You’re directing this, right?” We also tend to write relatively visually so that was probably part of it too.

Anyway that combined with how personal the story felt on the page… It was funny. One of the things that stood in the way of getting anybody else to direct the picture was just how much it felt like Julia should be directing it. I think that happened a couple of times and finally we were like, OK, Julia is going to direct it.

Julia:  [laughs] Once I officially decided to direct it, we definitely rewrote it.

Tomorrow in Part 2, Julia and Jordan dig into the key characters in Miss Stevens, exploring their complexities.

Here are links to some reviews of Miss Stevens:

Entertainment Weekly

Indiewire

New York Times

Village Voice

Twitter: @juliahartowitz, @jehorowitz.

2015 Screenwriters Roundtable (8 Part Series): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 10th, 2016 by

An extensive screenwriters roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here are links to all eight parts of the conversation:

Part 1: “Marvel has just been my complete world and life and I have been sleeping there. It’s just been 24/7 writing of Thor 3. I can’t talk too much about it though, because working for Marvel, they’re like the NSA of movies.” — Stephany Folsom

Part 2: “I’m lucky enough to be working with an incredibly talented cast and a fantastic crew [on Westworld] – and I’m co-showrunning with my husband, Jonathan Nolan. So it’s been a labor of love to work on it.” — Lisa Joy

Part 3: “One of my favorite stories is this HBO show I was doing. Like I said, it’s about a midwife and abortion doctor and I pitched on it and got the job when I was four months pregnant. And all of the producers are women and all of them are mothers.” — Julia Hart

“Ten years ago, when I was a young executive, I think I probably used to judge women differently. I judged mothers, or women, or breastfeeding in general like that until I went through it.” — Lindsay Devlin

Part 4: “We live in the most political town. It’s run like a weird oligarchy. It’s a very old school power structure, and they’re very reluctant to do things to change that.  Studios and agencies are constantly making decisions that are against their best interest. It’s very odd.” — Jessica Bendinger

Part 5: “Women have a niche perspective because we’re 50 percent of the population which apparently is niche. I wanted to bring that up as one of the many narratives around women in this business that drives me nuts.” — Liz W. Garcia

Part 6:”I’ve been being paid to be a writer in this business since I was 24, and I only recently really understood in my bones that this is a craft.” — Liz W. Garcia

“Obviously, not every writer wants to direct, but for me it was huge… now when I’m writing a scene I’m picturing myself in the editing room cutting it. And it’s made me a much more efficient writer.” — Julia Hart

Part 7: “Nobody told me that a large part of being a screenwriter, other than all the craft you have to be amazing at, you have to be a little bit of a politician. That was a learning curve for me.” — Stephany Folsom

“You can’t win from within when you’re dealing with people who are inherently biased or sexist or fucked up. You have to find your people.” — Lisa Joy

Part 8: “Who are you as a writer? What do you want to write? What’s your point of view? Not as a diary but as a craft. How would you tell that story?” — Jessica Bendinger

“It becomes this… echo chamber of terror… I need to remember what we would say to somebody just coming into this business: just fucking write.” — Lindsay Devlin

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

Many thanks to Wendy Cohen for logistical help with the roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 8): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 7th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 8 continuing a discussion about learning from mistakes the writers have made:

Jessica:  You can totally lose your voice when you are playing what I call My Little Pony.  At least I do. I have to watch becoming a performing pony because I’m skilled. I can do what you want me to do. I can do that note. I can try and make that note as great as possible, but ultimately that’s not my voice. That’s me interpreting what you want.

If you can get in touch with who you are as a writer, this is huge. Who are you as a writer? What do you want to write? What’s your point of view? Not as a diary but as a craft. How would you tell that story?

Tell those stories in your own echo chamber, and tell many of them. Just keep writing, writing, writing, writing, writing. I think that is so critical. We do get caught gazing at the one holy thing we think is going to be our ark and save us sometimes. It gets too precious. Don’t be precious. Share your work. Show your work.

Lindsay: I have to take my own advice because I would have said the same thing, but right now I’m at this precipice where I’ve become weirdly precious about what I want to do next. Like I need to come up with one great thing.

My husband is also a writer. He keeps telling me, “Don’t do that. Don’t just put all your eggs in one basket.”

The more time goes by, the more I get in my own head in my own way. I’m finding it really debilitating. I’m sure we’ve all gone through this, there’s different evolutions as a writer.

In the beginning I was super‑precious because I was terrified, and I didn’t think I was any good. Now I’ve become a victim of, “Oh, I had a movie made” or “I’ve sold some things. Now everyone’s expecting XYZ from me,” or “I need to rebrand myself” or “As a woman, I need to do this.”

It becomes this, as you guys were saying, an echo chamber of terror that I’m creating for myself. I need to remember what we would say to somebody just coming into this business: just fucking write.

I’m listening to all of you guys. I’m really inspired by how many things you’re all working on, but I’m honestly sitting here being like I’m staring at a blank screen.

Liz:  Lindsay, can I give you advice from my mother? That’s right. My mother.

[laughter]

Liz:  Because my mom is an art teacher and also a creative. She teaches creativity to people who are blocked. What she has said to me many times, and it always works, is, “Do the thing that’s naughty. Do the thing that nobody wants you to do, that you feel is bad.”

Jessica:  That’s right. Love that.

Liz:  That’s key. You one where you’re thinking, “No one’s gonna like this. It’s my own little secret. I’m compelled to do it ’cause it’s so naughty.” That will lead you to a good place.

Stephany:  That keeps my sanity through everything. I always have one project that I’m working on in the background that I really don’t care if anybody ever sees or if it ever gets made. Of course, I would love that to happen, but it helps me keep my sanity.

It’s my little passion project I can work on in the background. If nothing ever happens with it, that’s fine. There’s no pressure. It makes writing fun because there’s so much BS you have to put up with.

Lindsay:  I think that’s the thing. We’ve all got little passion projects that we’d “rather be working on,” that we feel like nobody would want to read or that aren’t as commercial. I have to remember that, first of all, I don’t need to do one or the other. We should always just be doing both. I think that’s such an important to thing to do as writers, is not fall into this trap.

Liz was saying about being pissed off, that people just assume women don’t want to do the pasteurized, whatever that analogy was. I’ve been hearing that for the past year. It drives me crazy. They’re like, “Well, women are auteurs, and they want to do these Sundance films. They don’t want to go direct action or whatever.

We want to do both just like men do. There’s no reason we can’t do both. I watch both of them. I want to write both of them, and of course I would want to direct both of them.

That’s my long‑winded way of saying this call’s been very inspiring. I need to take your advice, my own advice, Liz’s mother’s advice…

[laughter]

Lindsay:  Thanks to Scott for facilitating it because it’s really important to do.

Scott:  Thank you! I hope you all get in touch and go out and do things.

Lindsay:  I would love that.

Liz:  I would love to.

Jessica:  Let’s keep this conversation going over some wine, ladies.

[laughter]

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Part 7, here.

A great conversation and I hope we can make this an annual event!

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 7): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 6th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 7:

Scott:  I want to be cognizant of time. Wendy, you had a question.

Wendy:  Is there a mistake that you may have made early on in your career, or something you’ve learned the hard way, which you could share with aspiring writers to help them avoid a similar challenge?

Jessica:  All my ex‑boyfriends dot com.

[laughter]

Scott:  OK, avoid bad boyfriends.

Jessica:  No, you should have bad relationships. As many as possible, they’re very instructive.

Stephany:  A mistake that I made is being polite, nice, or anything like that. Often, it was seen as a lack of confidence or a sense of weakness.

When I was really starting out, I would go into a pitch and I would do everything that I do now but I didn’t go with it with as much as “I’m the only person that can do this. I can do this job, it’ll be great.” I feel like, once again, we live in a fear‑based business and so, you have to make everyone around you feel comfortable and like they’re going to be taken care of and everything’s going to turn out great.

It’s a skill set. A large part of what we do is going into a room and communicating with people.

You have to instill them with a confidence and comfort, and I think that younger me, I would have liked to have been like…lead with confidence, which I do now.

Scott:  Yeah, hitting their comfort level. It’s huge.

Stephany:  Completely, I feel like mothering, being a mother. I don’t have children yet, but I feel like being a mother is a screenwriter’s job whether you’re a male or a female.

The movie hasn’t been made yet, and it’s in this format where no one is quite sure exactly what it looks like yet and you have to make sure that nobody kills the baby, the script baby, and everybody takes care of the script baby.

Jessica:  The diplomacy thing is a big point. Look, not everybody carries the archetype of mediator, or psychologist or diplomat. That’s a learned thing. If you can figure out where you are, that’s a good start. Meaning if you’re not naturally diplomatic, figure out what you’re good at. Maybe you’re a better listener. Or maybe you’re a better at acting like a reporter and asking questions. Maybe you’re a better investigator than empath. Use that completely.  Lean in to your investigative skills. That’s better than trying to pretend to be something you’re not. Because you’ll get found out.

I heard an agent say once that if you are a liar, Hollywood will allow you to be a liar if that’s who you are. If you’re not a liar? And you’re faking it? You’ll get found out because everybody hates a faker. It’s really weird.

It’s true that people want you to lean in to your strengths. I’d say find out where you can learn to communicate and connect. Figure out what’s naturally your strength in the room. That’s the hardest thing for writers, that communication and negotiation piece.

We’re worried about writing, delivering and synthesizing different opinions into something coherent. So it’s not like a Frankenstein, or a monster. So it has a smooth finish.

It’s such a narcissistic culture. People need to feel heard and seen and sometimes coddled. I hate to use that verb but let’s be honest. This is a business where Q4 and Q1 are all about self-congratulation. That’s what this business is built around. All the awards!

[laughter]

Jessica:  Keep that in mind and learn your diplomacy skills. Writers who become successful producers are master diplomats and relationship nurturers. They can make you feel they are respecting you and implementing notes at the same time.

I’m not that. I’m more direct, Midwestern, “What do you want, let’s do it, this is blunt.” People who like that, like me, but, man, I wish I’d learned how to mediate.

[laughter]

Stephany:  Nobody told me that a large part of being a screenwriter, other than all the craft you have to be amazing at, you have to be a little bit of a politician. That was a learning curve for me.

Jessica:  Huge.

Lisa:  On the subject of diplomacy – there are alas some specific situations where all the diplomacy in the world won’t help… especially when you’re starting off as a screenwriter and as woman and as a minority, you want to be liked. Everybody always agonizes over their own work and over, “Is it good enough? Am I good enough?”

There’s an echo chamber of self doubt and it’s inevitably enhanced by a lot of people out there who are happy to echo that echo chamber…

[laughter]

Lisa:  One of the things that can be really dangerous, especially initially when you’re starting out ‑‑ because, frankly, there is sexism in this town and there is all sorts of prejudice and discrimination ‑‑ is that if you start off in the wrong place with the kind of people who will never take you seriously because of who you are, what sex you are, what race you are… you’ll hit a wall.

And the danger is the part of you that wants to make sure that you’re doing a good enough job will try to keep banging against that wall, thinking, “Let me prove to you that I’m good enough… You’ll see, you’ll see.” You start to engage in a debate that, frankly, with certain people, you will never ever win.

You can’t win from within when you’re dealing with people who are inherently biased or sexist or fucked up. You have to find your people. And it’s definitely not me saying, “Give up.” It’s me saying, “Don’t attack that way.”

There are certain times when the battle isn’t lost. It’s just never going to start. They’re just not going to do it. Certain people will never give you the chance.   And that’s not your loss. It’s theirs.

For me, one of the greatest parts of this career has been finding my people over the years, finding women and men that I adore, whose talent I admire, and having these relationships with them both professionally and personally where I’m, “Oh, those are my people – my creative community.”

If I go to this meeting and some guy is telling me something totally crazy, I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from because I got these other people – decent, talented people — whom I’d rather work with anyway. It gives you a strength to focus on the real question which is, “Hey, is my script any damn good?” Cuz satisfying your own echo chamber of self doubt is hard enough!

Liz:  You’re lucky. That’s a hard thing to find.

Stephany:  It’s extremely hard to find. Liz is absolutely right. Finding your type is absolutely important. It’s just finding the right people that will say yes and will help you and will work together to make this visual work of art, which takes a whole team of people to get a TV or a film done.

What Tina Fey said, which I thought was so brilliant, is that someone always has to work for someone else. If that first person says no, maybe the person above them will say yes. Everyone has to answer to somebody else, and it’s just about finding that one person that will say yes to you. I thought that was just fantastic advice.

Liz:  All sorts of mistakes. I already talked about my mistake of not concentrating on my craft as much and using screenwriting exclusively as my therapy. The other thing I would say is do not put all your eggs in one basket. A lot of people do this where they’ve got that one script.

They keep rewriting it, and they keep rewriting it or they’ve got the one movie that they’re going to get made, they’re going to get made, they’re going to get made. Don’t stop putting new work out there.

You might love and treasure that one script, but you cannot control when that one script is going to get made or when it’s going to get you an agent or when it’s going to get you a job. You have to keep working on your craft and keep writing and keep writing and keep writing new stuff.

Lindsay:  Yes, I totally agree with that.

Jessica:  I so agree. As somebody with five pieces of spec material that I’ve worked on over the last few years, this is critical. You have to write stuff for yourself. Especially with all this diplomatic shit we’re talking about.

Stephany:  Totally.

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Part 6, here.

Tomorrow: Part 8 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.

Screenwriters Roundtable (Part 6): Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy

July 5th, 2016 by

A special treat this week and next as I will be posting excerpts from an extensive screenwriter’s roundtable I did in December 2015 with a group of talented Hollywood screenwriters: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

Here is Part 6:

Scott:  I want to get to a little more writerly craft type questions. Liz actually had an interesting thing. If I can just paraphrase this, looking back from this year, and beyond, did you have a breakthrough, or realization about how to approach the craft, or it’s something sort of new thing? You want to expand on that a little bit, Liz?

Liz:  I did, and it’s embarrassing to say this because I’m 38 years old. I’ve been being paid to be a writer in this business since I was 24, and I only recently really understood in my bones that this is a craft.

For many years, I viewed screen writing as my personal vehicle for expressing my vision which it is, but it’s also not just my diary, not just my chance to exercise demons, or write the things that come out easily, write the things that are made up of the parts of my life that I’m dying to process.

I have really needed to buckle down, and understand the bones, but also the tissue, and the cells of this craft, and that was how I was going to get better at it. For all of the years before, I was really chasing jobs, or the opportunity to write in a way that served both my ego, and my psychology.

Now, I figured out there are some things I write that are deeply personal, and I get to exorcise those demons, and then there are other things that I write that are more of intellectual exercise where I’m really concentrating on structure, and craft.

I avoided that for too long because I was trying to put myself on the page. It was actually freeing to go, “I didn’t go to grad school for this, and so maybe I never learned the specifics of the craft in the way that I need to to get to where I want to be. Now, I’m going to do it,” and it’s felt really good.

I was really curious if any of the rest of you had had moments like that where you reevaluated the way you were approaching the work, or your career, or had tips?

Stephany:  For me, the big thing, being under such a pressure crunch with deadlines lately… I’ve always been a very much of a work horse where I would just show up, and do my pages every day.

I feel like I’ve lost some of the fear that something isn’t going to come to me. When you show up to that blank page, and you’re just sitting there, and you have to make something out of nothing. I’ve learned to have faith. As long as I sit there and keep doing it, and keep writing, that eventually something will come and will be good, and I’ll be OK.

No longer having a luxury of time, to do things at my own pace, has made me just realize that as long as you show up and do the work, you’ll eventually get to a place where you have something good to show. That’s been a little bit of my journey in the past year, learning to take leaps of faith.

Lisa:  One of the things, that’s been interesting, is I’ve been working in some feature work and also in TV work, at the same time. One of the things I can speak to on the TV side, that has been truly fascinating, is unlike features, where you write your script and then let it go unless you’re directing it yourself…

The interesting thing about TV is it allows you to be in a little accelerator of craft where you’re literally writing the pages and then you’re seeing it shot and then sitting there with it in the editing room.

You get to see, immediately, critically, what on the page works when it comes down to the final execution. What ended up getting on the cutting room floor.? What, when I was on set, did the actors really have trouble connecting with, and what does that mean as a writer?

Does that mean that you have to dig deeper? Does that mean that it’s too expository? It’s like being paid to go to school, a little bit.

[laughter]

Lisa:  Your own mistakes are your teachers and you’re flying to catch up with them.

For me, that has been invaluable in learning craft. I used to be a lawyer and so, for me, starting in this industry was like, “I don’t know how to transition into writing. I got the break of a lifetime to staff on Daisies off a sample I wrote but what am I supposed to do now?” I had no idea.

TV was a very fast teacher. But it’s been cool learning to let go of some of that, for feature writing, and say, “Well, you know, there are some lessons I can apply,” but some of it is you’re going to see what the director does, work with them, and hope for the best.

Julia:  I had a similar epiphany this year with directing my first thing. Directing this movie which I also wrote was the best writing lesson I’ve had all year, especially the editorial process. Editing the film, it was enlightening in terms of what I’m now applying at the script level.

Obviously, not every writer wants to direct, but for me it was huge to see how the… I have a tendency to over‑write dialogue. My dialogue scenes end up being way too long. I’m now picturing when I’m writing a scene I’m picturing myself in the editing room cutting it. And it’s made me a much more efficient writer.

Stephany:  I’d have to say the same, too, because this is the first movie I’ve been on, that’s going into production. While I’m writing, they’re storyboarding everything out. Once you see what was just on a flat page start to come to life, it’s a huge learning lesson. You’re like, “Oh wait, that doesn’t, visually lay out well, and that actor reading that line was just awful. I can’t believe I wrote that.”

You learn so much by actually seeing it come to life.

Julia:  One of the worst things for a writer to have to do is watch a movie that they wrote. I had that experience, too. I had my first movie that I wrote come out. I was like, “Oh God! Did I really write that? Is that in the movie forever? Like, can I just change it, real fast?”

Jessica:  There are three different movies, as the saying goes. There’s the one you write, the one you shoot, and the one you cut. They’re all iterations and different forms. A friend of mine who created a show had a movie idea. He was like, “Can I go over this with you?”

I was amazed at how plotty his movie pitch was. I said to him, “You know what? Here’s the difference. Your movie has to be about something. A movie is not a plot. What’s it about? What is it about thematically?”

There’s a symbolic language in movies that works the unconscious. It’s the synthesis of being able to tell stories  symbolically. Meaning is a rich thing we synthesize in movies and screenplays. That can be done in TV as well, because TV takes a longer view and writers have the luxury of time.

In film you’ve got to do so much heavy lifting in such a short period of time…

Stephany:  Got no time.

Jessica:  Right, the economy you have to use, it’s haiku. You have to trick people. You have to work their subconscious without being obvious. I’m always amazed when people think screenplay format equals a movie.  Whether they’re writing for TV or movies. It’s like, “I did the format, therefore I know how to do it.” No, it’s beyond the format of Final Draft. You have to do all this heavy lifting in every single thing you’re putting on the page.

That’s what always blows me away, year after year. Oh my God, I’m really learning how get all the juice into that drop, so it’s so rich on the page. Then it will unfold into the beautiful expanded version of the movie. You’re expanding it out in the process.

It’s a process of concentration and expansion, like frozen orange juice. The screenplay is this concentrate. It has to be distilled down to its’ essence, yet still be robust enough to sustain inevitable interference as it gets made.

That’s what blew. That process is so educational, painful, and illuminating.

Each day this week, I’m going to highlight one of the writers. Today: Julia Hart. Julia’s 2012 Black List script  The Keeping Room was produced in 2014 starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. She co-wrote and directed Miss Stevens starring Lily Rabe which debuted at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March of this year. Other projects: The movie Beautiful Disaster and the TV mini-series “Madame X”.

Julia Hart

Please take time to leave a reply with your observations and follow-up questions, and while you’re there thank these writers for taking time out of their busy schedules to do this roundtable for GITS readers and the wider online screenwriting community.

On Twitter:

Jessica Bendinger: @JBendinger

Lindsay Devlin: @DevlinLindsay

Stephany Folsom: @StephanyFolsom

Liz W. Garcia: @lizwgarcia

Julia Hart: @juliahartowitz

Lisa Joy: @lisajoynolan

For Part 1 of the series, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

Tomorrow: Part 6 of this exclusive screenwriter’s roundtable.