Interview (Written): Julia Hart

March 12th, 2016 by

A Women and Hollywood interview with Julia Hart whose movie Miss Stevens, which she wrote and directed, debuts at the 2016 SXSW Festival today:

Miss Stevens, written and directed by Julia Hart

W&H: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

JH: Our son was 10 months old when we started shooting and I can honestly say that directing a movie was easier than having to cope with seeing so little of him. There would be days where we’d leave for set before he woke up and get home after he’d gone to bed. We actually shot until 7 AM the day of his first birthday.

I think having that kind of love and longing makes any drama that occurs on set seem a lot less important. He inspires me every day to be my best self and do my best work.

W&H: What do you want people to think about when they are leaving the theater?

JH: I want them to think about how they feel — and I hope they feel good. I want them to feel like they just spent some time with friends. But friends who there was maybe some stuff going on that they didn’t know about but now they do. I want them to feel happy, and also I want them to feel a little bit sad. I guess like how parting from a good friend always feels. Like saying goodbye.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Go here to read my February 2013 interview with Julia in which we discuss her 2012 Black List script The Keeping Room.

Wanted: Your questions for upcoming screenwriter roundtables

December 10th, 2015 by

I am pleased to announce there will be two Go Into The Story screenwriter roundtables this year:

* For the fifth consecutive year, I will be having a conversation with longtime friends of the blog: Chris Borrelli, Brian Duffield, F. Scott Frazier, Justin Rhodes, Greg Russo, and John Swetnam.

* And for the first of what I hope will be an annual confab: Jessica Bendinger, Lindsay Devlin, Stephany Folsom, Liz W. Garcia, Julia Hart, and Lisa Joy.

These are terrific, wide-ranging conversations in part due to questions coming from GITS readers. What do you want to ask these talented  filmmakers who work in movies and TV, writing and directing?

Should I write to market trends or spec stories which appeal to me?

Is there any point to me making a short film?

Do you recommend film school or not?

What has been the single most important work habit for you relative to your success?

Whatever questions you have – and you can specify which writers you want to direct your inquiry to – I’ll select the best ones and bring them up in the roundtables.

Head to comments and post your questions there.

Thanks in advance to these fantastic writers and to Wendy Jane Cohen for participating in these events!

Interview (Written): Julia Hart (“The Keeping Room”)

December 6th, 2015 by

The Mary Sue interview with Julia Hart, screenwriter of the feminist Western The Keeping Room, starring Brit Marling, Hailee Steinfeld, and Sam Worthington, directed by Daniel Barber.

TMS: Where did the original idea of this story come from?

Hart: My dad is from Texas so I spent my summers in the south but I grew up in New York. So it was really interesting to spend most of my year in the north and then go to the south, which has a fascinating sense of place and characters. And I was of course always interested in the history of the Civil War. But when my husband and I were on a road trip to Georgia, we visited friends who had a pre-Civil War house in the family. And there was a myth that there were unmarked Civil War graves in the backyard. So from there I kind of worked backwards, thinking how those men would have gotten there. And I thought, it would have been the women who were alone in the house that put them in the ground. And then I thought, what kind of women would be capable of taking down these types of aggressors, and that is where our three main characters come from.


TMS: How did you develop the female characters the film would revolve around?

Hart: I did a lot of research and the sad reality is that most of what has been documented comes from the white, male experience. But there is a fair amount of documentation about the black male experience, and a little bit about the white, female experience, and finally some second hand accounts of the black, female experience. But for the most part, and especially regarding the rural, impoverished, and certainly the slave experience, is largely undocumented. So I ended up having to do a little inventing, which women have to do in general because our history was often left untold. But I tried to turn that into a positive, and think about how I could turn these women from the past into women modern audiences could identify with. So they are intentionally anachronistic, so their relationships feel both of the time and ahead of the time. Because as women, if we are undocumented we have to create our past, and that gives us certain opportunities. But I thought that because of the place they are in, this almost post-apocalyptic rural setting, there is a sense that they are not in their own world. But that also fit the story, because women have often felt out of time.

TMS: One of the really interesting questions which has come up this year, especially speaking with writers is can men identify with female protagonists? Have you been hearing from guys during the screenings that say they identify with the three women or is that even a concern you have?

Hart: Well, what’s funny is that our entire lives, we’ve had to identify with characters we aren’t necessarily like because that is all we used to get from movies. White men have never been forced to do that because there is always a white man on screen. They’ve had themselves reflected to themselves everywhere they go. But I’ve literally written a list of men who told me they loved this movie, and I’m like “Are you single? I’ll set you up with my friends.” Because it is exciting to hear that there are men identifying with something outside of themselves. And that is an evolved thing. And I’m not saying if you don’t like the movie you are unevolved or sexist, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But I think in general, white men would benefit from opening their eyes to movies about people that aren’t just white men.

For the rest of the interview, go here.

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 6

November 6th, 2015 by

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 6.

November 1: Type FADE IN / The Beginning.
November 30: Type FADE OUT / The End.

30 days. 1 script. Movie script. TV script. First draft. Rewrite. Whatever.

I’m doing it. You’re invited.

To learn everything you need to know about the ZDT Challenge, go here.

To download your very own Zero Draft Thirty calendars to track your progress, go here and here.

On Twitter, use this hashtag: #ZD30SCRIPT.

Facebook: Here.

Join the conversation for a chance to win The Trumbo Award!

Today’s Writing Quote

I reached out to several screenwriters whose scripts have been selected for the annual Black List, asking them this: What do you focus on when writing a first draft? Here are some thoughts from Julia Hart (2012 Black List):

I write a really thorough outline so that when I get to the first draft, I can let myself get lost. Getting lost is the most important part of writing the first draft. That’s how you make important discoveries. That’s how you prevent over thinking and over writing. That’s how you create. Start with an outline and then lose yourself in the writing. If you have a map of the forest, you can let yourself get lost and still make it back home.

Today’s Inspirational Video

Chuck Esterly, the guy featured in this video, is 89 years old. He is on stage. Attempting to do stand-up comedy. For. The. First. Time. In. His. Life.

And he crushes it.

I did stand-up comedy for 2 years just before I discovered screenwriting. In fact, the very first script I wrote was called “Stand Up”.

Let me tell you something. All of us will face a lot of stressful situations in the course of our lives. There is nothing that quite compares with standing alone in front of a crowd where the expectation is for YOU to make THEM laugh.

So if an 89 year old dude has the huevos to get on stage and put his raggedy ass on the line for all to see…

You can write the next word.
You can write the next sentence.
You can write the next paragraph.
You can write the next page.
You can write the next scene.
You can write the next 2 scenes.
You can write this script!

Chuck Esterly should be your Patron Saint of Courage. No matter what you fear, just conjure up the dude in the video above. Lean on his courage and willingness to venture forth into the unknown…

Then do that yourself!

If you have a writing quote appropriate for pounding out a zero draft, post to Comments, Twitter, or Facebook.

If you have a video to inspire or perhaps give us a laugh, post to Comments, Twitter, or Facebook.

But here’s the biggie: Head to Comments, Twitter, and Facebook to support each other!

How many pages did you write in the last 24 hours? Or if you’re prepping the story, what did you work on? How are you feeling about your story? Are you loving or hating your writing process? Did you have a good day or a bad day? Do you have any questions about your writing process? Ready to give a virtual hug… or maybe you need one.

Comments, Twitter, Facebook. That’s where the Zero Draft Thirty community gathers. Remember: Every day I’ll be handing out the coveted Trumbo Award to the best Comment, Tweet, Photoshop, anything you come up with to get our collective juices going.

And each day in November, I’ll be dishing out a special batch of ZDT-flavored creative juju for everyone who posts.

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 1

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 2

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 3

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 4

Zero Draft Thirty: Day 5

Nothing else to say. Just. Write.


UPDATE: In celebration of Day 6, this!

ZD30 Beat Sheet Trasn Davis

Hey, nothing wrong with clutter as I attested with this blog post: Wherein I embrace my messy desk! If you’re like me and have a chaotic work space, there’s evidence suggesting that is a more creative environment than one in which everything is neatly buttoned up.

So as Miss Frizzle said in “The Magic School Bus”:

“Time to take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!

Maybe the best Zero Draft advice of all time!

Congratulations to Chad Davis for this Facebook post and winner of today’s Trumbo Award!

HSW Dalton Trumbo Bathtub Award Davis

“There are not many roads. There is only one road, infinitely connected, like the grooves on an old record, endlessly leading away from home and back towards home at the same time. It’s all one long journey and traveling is just what we do to stay alive… It’s inevitable: the same gypsy voices that called you when you were a child, telling you to get on the bus, on the train, to move down the highway — Mahalia Jackson, Hank Williams, Ray Charles — hit the road, Jack! — thirty-five years later, these same voices now urge you to go back home. Don’t lose the plot, remember why you came.”

— Van Morrison

Take chances! Write messy!

Interview (Part 6): Julia Hart — “The Keeping Room”

October 3rd, 2015 by

Over the weekend, an outstanding indie movie opened in select theaters in North America: The Keeping Room, written by Julia Hart, directed by Daniel Barber, and starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. I interviewed Julia back in February 2013 and will be reprising that series this week, a terrific conversation well worth revisiting.

Today in Part 6, Julia delves more deeply into her approach to the craft of screenwriting.

Scott:  We haven’t really talked much about your training. I know you’ve written plays, I think, is that right, in college? Yes?

Julia:  Yes.

Scott:  What sort of formal training other than having your father read your screenplays as a child did you have in terms of screenwriting? Were there any books or seminars or any of that stuff that you did to kind of learn any of that?

Julia:  I was one credit shy of being a creative writing minor at Columbia, but there was a science class that I wanted to take instead of my final creative writing class. So, it was more important to me to take this class than to have the degree. I definitely had some great creative writing lessons at Columbia. And then other than my dad, my husband gave me The Writer’s Journey and basically said to me, “This is all you need to know.” And it was hugely helpful. I deeply love this book and I recommend it to any of my friends when they ask me if there’s a good book on screenwriting to check out. I really loved it.

Scott:  So just gathering from your reaction to The Writer’s Journey, do you subscribe to the idea that there are these universal patterns like the Hero’s Journey, three basic movements in a story: separation, immersion, return, that type of thing?

Julia:  Absolutely, and it’s funny, I actually wrote “The Keeping Room” before I read The Writer’s Journey. And going back through it, once I had a better understanding of story structure, was like an epiphany, a huge realization of the fact that not in a bad way but that there is a formula. And I love that he does use mythic structure because it’s just so translatable, so universal. It didn’t feel like I was learning something new so much as discovering something that I hadn’t named. Story is ultimately innate. And being aware of what’s innate, I think it’s so important when it comes to writing.

Scott:  The dialogue in “The Keeping Room” is compelling, entertaining, and it feels really authentic, both to the period and to each character. Is the ability to write dialogue something you feel like a writer is born with as sort of an innate talent or can it be developed and learned?

Julia:  My dad thinks I was born with it.  You know when you’re doing that thing, that thing you feel like you’re specifically good at? That one specific, little thing? That’s how I feel about dialogue. And I wouldn’t even say that about screenwriting overall. There are certain parts of screenwriting I still don’t think I’m very good at, but just always felt like I knew how to write dialogue. I think that was also very helpful in terms of being a teacher. Just finding the right way to express things verbally is, obviously, a huge part of that job.

Scott:  How about theme? Do you think about the theme when you’re writing, and if so, when does that part of the process come up, up front in the story or in the back end of the story?

Julia:  My students would always get frustrated when we would talk about the themes that the author was using. They would always ask, “Did they really think about all this before they started writing it?” And I don’t think that they do or I don’t think that good writers do. Of course when you’re writing a cohesive world the themes are going to rise out of it. And I think that if you think too much about, at least for me, if I think too much about what my themes are, it becomes laborious, over the top, like hitting you over the head.  I just try to think about a cohesive world, and I think that ultimately themes arise from that.

Scott:  I was struck by an earlier comment you made, how the original vision you had about these three women in “The Keeping Room” and wanting to explore that set of relationships, a lot of the stuff I would look at from the thematic point of view, really arose from that foundation. Is that a fair assessment?

Julia:  Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. It didn’t come from wanting to explore the theme of women versus men, but that just arose organically from exploring the relationships between women in a world without men.

Scott:  What’s your actual writing process?

Julia:  I have an office in our house. I really like my house. I don’t really like leaving it. [laughs] I’m a very introverted person and having to go to work with a big community every day my whole life, was actually a little bit tough for me, so I love that I get to stay home now every day. I write for about 6 to 7 hours everyday. I’m trying to be better about taking breaks, but that’s the part that I’m working on, is figuring out where to take the breaks during the day. I write pretty solidly every day, all day.

Scott:  One last question: What advice can you offer to an aspiring screenwriter about learning the craft?

Julia:  It’s funny. My husband and I both watch so many movies. We probably watch five, six movies a week, and I watch a lot more movies than I read screen plays. I think that, yes, you can learn a lot about the craft from reading screenplays, but I also think you can learn a lot from watching. I think that the two need to be companions. Just watch anything and everything. It’s one of the blessings I think of the access we now have via Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon streaming. You can watch so many. There are so many hidden gems.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, here.

For The Keeping Room‘s website, go here.

Declare Your Independents! Watch for The Keeping Room when it opens in your local theater or on VOD and see it!

Interview (Part 5): Julia Hart — “The Keeping Room”

October 2nd, 2015 by

Over the weekend, an outstanding indie movie opened in select theaters in North America: The Keeping Room, written by Julia Hart, directed by Daniel Barber, and starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. I interviewed Julia back in February 2013 and will be reprising that series this week, a terrific conversation well worth revisiting.

Today in Part 5, Julia talks about her approach to the craft of screenwriting:

Scott:  I’ve got some craft questions for you.

Julia:  Sure.

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.

Scott:  No.

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?

Julia:  Yes.

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.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

For The Keeping Room‘s website, go here.

Declare Your Independents! Watch for The Keeping Room when it opens in your local theater or on VOD and see it!

Interview (Part 4): Julia Hart — “The Keeping Room”

October 1st, 2015 by

Over the weekend, an outstanding indie movie opened in select theaters in North America: The Keeping Room, written by Julia Hart, directed by Daniel Barber, and starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. I interviewed Julia back in February 2013 and will be reprising that series this week, a terrific conversation well worth revisiting.

Today in Part 4, Julia discusses two more projects she has in the works:

Scott:  It was recently announced you’re adapting a novel “Beautiful Disaster” for Warner Brothers. The plot is described this way: “A New York Times Best Sellers, story revolves around a young woman trying to leave her past behind, start a clean‑cut life when she goes to college. Her plans are disrupted by a young man described as a walking one‑night‑stand, who makes a bet with her. If she loses, she must live in his apartment. If he loses, he must abstain from his fun‑loving ways for a month.” That’s a far cry from the story universe of “The Keeping Room,” so what attracted you to “Beautiful Disaster”?

Julia:  It’s a funny description because it’s a very violent and sexy story. I think those were two elements that really drew me to it. The male character’s an underground fighter and there’s lots of fights in the film. There’s also some really, some sex scenes that were really different, interesting, and fun to write. Also, a lot of those types of stories or those types of movies, again, are about a good girl being drawn in by a bad boy. What I like about this story is that she has a past of her own and she has a dark side and it’s not black and white.

I like the idea of getting to write that type of female character and that type of male character. I haven’t written many male characters, so that felt like an interesting challenge. As I said earlier, I find love scenes really hard to write, so it’s been a great challenge for me.

Scott:  Based on these two projects, is it fair to say you want to write a wide variety of stories? Or do you see yourself zeroing in on one genre area?

Julia:  I really like writing really different things. I have another spec floating around out there…

Scott:  Is that “Miss Stevens”?

Julia:  Yes, which is also very different. I love so many different kinds of movies. I’m really excited that I can experiment with a bunch of different genres. I think the one through thread thus far is that they all have complex female protagonists. I love writing about them. I love figuring out what they do and what they say. Other than that, I think my different scripts don’t really have much in common.

Scott:  Let’s hope we’re at a tipping point on that, or at least we’re in an arc toward more female leads.

Julia:  I hope so. I’m excited about being a part of a world that puts more women in hero roles. I’m excited to write more stuff like that. “Keeping Room” has whet my whistle for it. I would love to write a big female action movie. I recently re-watched, “Alien,” and, “Aliens,” and I just wish there were more characters like Ripley.

Scott:  Speaking of female leads, what’s going on with another of your spec scripts “Miss Stevens?”

Julia:  I’m hoping we’re going to get something announced on it sooner rather than later. We have an actress attached for the lead, and a director.

Scott:  OK. And could you tell us what the log line on that is, or is that…we have to keep that secret?

Julia:  No, I think I can talk about it [laughs] .

Scott:  So what’s the story?

Julia: It is inspired by my days as a teacher, but she’s not me and the school isn’t my school. It’s a lot of invention for the sake of drama. It’s about this hapless, but lovable  teacher whose life is a mess who chaperones a group of students on a weekend trip to a state drama competition. It’s all about how her relationships with her students ultimately help her figure things out.

Scott:  That sounds fun.

Julia:   High jinx and mayhem ensue.

Scott:  Yes [laughs] . Your husband is Jordan Horowitz, movie producer, and his credits include, “Kids are All Right,” and the upcoming Matthew Weiner movie, “You Are Here.” He’s a producer on, “The Keeping Room.” Could you describe what your working relationship is like? How actively involved is Jordan in your writing process?

Julia:  Very, very active. Nothing leaves the house without his seal of approval. Some of the best moments in the scripts are his. We sort of have the perfect… like our skill sets are perfectly complementary in terms of what the scripts need in order to be something that we’re happy with, and he’s so good at story. And I had other writers tell me that, I assumed it was true, but it’s been really fun getting to experience your partner’s talent firsthand. I’m so lucky to have someone who’s so talented and honest and always has my best interest at heart.

I got in touch with Julia to provide an update on the movie Miss Stevens:

Scott: As it turns out, you ended up directing Miss Stevens, right?

Julia: Yes, I directed Miss Stevens this last May. Actually, being on set for The Keeping Room was a huge part of the reason I realized I wanted to direct. Jordan and I rewrote the script together and Beachside financed/produced with Jordan. Lily Rabe and Timothee Chalamet star. It was an amazing experience. I loved being able to tell my own story. I loved working with the actors and the crew watching everything come to life. The only hard part was having to be away from my son so much.

Scott: After directing your first movie, what did you learn from the experience in terms of you as a writer?

Julia: The main thing I learned about myself as a writer while directing is just how much less you need to say when you have a visual. On the page, what can feel like it needs four lines to come across can really just take one look. I think I’ll still over write on the page because you can always cut back, you can’t add to a shot or a scene. What you have is what you have. But it’s certainly something important to keep in mind.

Tomorrow in Part 5, Julia talks about her approach to the craft of screenwriting.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

For The Keeping Room‘s website, go here.

Declare Your Independents! Watch for The Keeping Room when it opens in your local theater or on VOD and see it!

Interview (Part 3): Julia Hart — “The Keeping Room”

September 30th, 2015 by

Over the weekend, an outstanding indie movie opened in select theaters in North America: The Keeping Room, written by Julia Hart, directed by Daniel Barber, and starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. I interviewed Julia back in February 2013 and will be reprising that series this week, a terrific conversation well worth revisiting.

Today in Part 3, Julia talks about the process of writing “The Keeping Room,” what it felt like to type FADE OUT, and how she reacted to the news her script had made the 2012 Black List:

Scott:  There are multiple themes that work in the story. One of them I picked up from reading the script, the idea of humanity amidst inhumanity. There’s this violence set against the backdrop of this horrific war. Yet there are these remarkable moments and relationships in the story which highlight the potential, even power of human connection, friendship, love. Does that resonate with you at all as a theme for “The Keeping Room”? Humanity amidst inhumanity?

Julia:  I think we often see war films that explore the inhumanity and not enough that explore the humanity. Especially the humanity of women. Of civilians. And I was definitely interested in a woman’s capacity for love and the will to survive amidst so much inhumanity.

Scott:  So you saw “Django.” How would you draw a distinction in terms of how you approached violence in “The Keeping Room” and what you experienced when you saw “Django Unchained”?

Julia:  I loved the movie. I love Tarantino’s movies and obviously I love the Civil War. It felt like it was made just for me. [laughs] I think that his approach to violence is far more pop and more fun. There are scenes in that movie where you’re rooting for Django to be killing all these people. I don’t think that that’s a feeling that anyone should have during “The Keeping Room.” I think that these women who’ve never had to kill anyone or even fire a gun are terrified to have to do both. As much as I enjoy the kind of entertainment value of the way Tarantino portrays violence in the film, I don’t think that that’s something that exists in the world of “The Keeping Room.”  I want the audience to feel scared for these women, that they have to be killing these men and defending themselves.

Scott:  “The Keeping Room.” It plays a key role, that actual spot in the farmhouse. But since it’s also the script’s title, I’m thinking there’s got to be something meaningful to you about it. Is there some thematic importance going on, another level to the actual words, “The Keeping Room” that you had in mind?

Julia Hart:  Other than just being in love with the words, for me, it’s ultimately about the idea that the keeping room is supposed to be the heart of the homestead and the safe place ‑‑ the place where you eat, the place where you communicate, the place where you spend time with your family ‑‑ that it becomes this last vestige of home to them, this sanctuary. They’ve abandoned the house. The house is kind of a specter now. Except for the bedroom that they sleep in, it’s pretty much dark and empty. And it’s interesting that it’s an antiquated name and space, we don’t build Keeping Rooms anymore. I wanted to commemorate that.

Scott:  Since this was your very first completed screenplay, I’m curious. Can you remember what you were feeling just as you typed the script’s first two words, “Over black”?

Julia:  [laughs] I remember, having always wanted to be a writer ‑‑ that was the thing I wanted to be since I was a little kid ‑‑ and to feel like, with the support and excitement of my husband, I had finally found the thing that was going to potentially make that possible, I felt like this was going to be something. And not in any kind of, “I’m great. This is going to be so great.” I just felt like it was happening. I think that’s the feeling that I had when I started writing.

Scott:  And you had a pretty extensive outline before you started?

Julia:  It was extensive in that it was the complete story, but much like the script, it was very sparse. Actually, the only scene that was fully written out is that last scene in the keeping room, that last standoff.

Scott:  You had written that out before you had actually started the script.

Julia:  Yeah, I wrote out the whole outline, and then, for some reason, when I got to that scene, I had to start writing out the dialogue. I don’t know why.  I think that is still a very important moment in the film.

Scott:  OK. So then, let me hit you with the other thing. Do you remember what you felt like when you typed, “the end”?

Julia:  So good. [laughs] So good, and also scared because the first draft was 65 pages. I was like, “I think I’m done, but this is really [laughs] short.” But yeah, when I was typing those last words. You know, the men, whatever the last line is about the men. “Move over the land like zombies.” I was just like, “I think this is it. I think this is the beginning of it for me.”

Scott:  What’s the status on the project right now?

Julia:  They’re gearing up for pre‑production, figuring out when they’re going to scout and when we’re going to shoot. But we’re going to be shooting in the spring.

Scott:  What’s your reaction to the script having made the 2012 Black List?

Julia:  [laughs] I’m just so excited. I have known about the Black List for a long time, obviously because I come from a family of writers and my husband’s a producer, and I have other friends who are writers. I’ve had friends on it. There were some people who had told me that they thought it might be on there, but I didn’t try to get too excited. Then to actually have it be on there was really, really exciting.

Tomorrow in Part 4, Julia discusses two more projects she has in the works.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

For the movie’s website, go here.

Declare Your Independents! Watch for The Keeping Room when it opens in your local theater or on VOD and see it!

Interview (Part 2): Julia Hart — “The Keeping Room”

September 29th, 2015 by

Over the weekend, an outstanding indie movie opened in select theaters in North America: The Keeping Room, written by Julia Hart, directed by Daniel Barber, and starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. I interviewed Julia back in February 2013 and will be reprising that series this week, a terrific conversation well worth revisiting.

Today in Part 2, we dig into “The Keeping Room” and how Julia developed the story world and its characters:

Scott:  Do you see “The Keeping Room” as a genre film?

Julia: The Night of the Living Dead is one of my favorite movies, and structurally there’s a lot of similarities. Sure, there aren’t any supernatural or straight horror elements, but  also it’s not a straight period piece either. I wanted it to have that sharp edge, that energy you often find in a genre film and don’t often find in a period piece.

Scott:  That’s interesting you say that. While the story is a period piece, it has a contemporary feel to it in at least two respects. First of all, the story largely takes place in that farmhouse, so it has that kind of contained thriller feel.

Julia:  Yes, that was definitely purposeful.

Scott:  Second, it works, too, as a psychological study of these protagonists living with a sense of impending doom, a sort of inexorable creep, a threat of violence that’s getting closer and closer to home. How conscious were you of that dynamic?

Julia:  I’m so glad you picked up on all that, because it was very purposeful.  I’m a huge fan of horror film and like classic horror film and psychological thrillers, so I definitely allowed that to be an influence on the way I wrote it.

Scott:  One movie that came to my mind was Witness. It had a similar narrative structure in that they are characters in a remote farming community, and there’s that ticking clock of the bad guys getting closer and closer, these cutaways back and forth to play that psychological tension of them coming.

Julia:  Night of the Living Dead and the original Straw Dogs were both big influences and, Straw Dogs especially because structurally I think it’s such a great example of a home invasion film. So I used that one a lot, too.

Scott:  Let’s talk about the three female leads, Augusta and Louise, two sisters. They’re like early 20s and 16, and Mad, a black woman in her 30s. What did you find compelling about this trio? What potential did you think you could exploit with these characters?

Julia:  I deeply love women and in this type of movie, in an active thriller, the intimate complexity of female relationships is rarely explored.  The fact that the women are usually getting rescued or are the victims in these types of movies… I knew that I wanted to put the women in charge, in the active position of saving themselves.  When you think about the examples of female characters like this, there just aren’t enough of them.

Then in terms of the interrelations between the women, as I said, I think the way in which women interact is so fascinating. I don’t have a sister, but I was very interested in exploring that relationship. Then I was also very interested in exploring the relationship between white women and black women in that time period, because that’s not something…the only real example we have is, Gone with the Wind, and, of course, it’s a great film, but the two black female characters in that are so… what’s the word I’m looking for?

Scott:  Caricature?

Julia:  Yes. I wanted to create what I felt like was a real grounded woman, and I also wanted to fantasize a bit about what that would be like… if it’s just these three women left at the end of the world, what would their relationship be like? Would it be possible for them to become a family in spite of everything? There are obviously a lot of movies about the Civil War, but I hadn’t seen that yet. And it really interested me.

Scott:  Since this was a period piece, how much research did you do specifically about this area, this time, the relationships between women, the relationship between races?

Julia:  I did some research, but a lot of it was just for my prior knowledge of the Civil War. I actually… my parents are selling their house. They’ve been cleaning it out, and my mom recently found an old diary of mine from when I was about seven that talked about how I wished I was a little girl during the Civil War.

Scott:  Seriously?

Julia:  It’s always been something that’s been there. I chose Sherman’s March as a backdrop specifically because of the total war tactic, and I chose South Carolina specifically because they were the first state that wanted to secede from the union. Sherman basically told his men no holds barred on South Carolina. I wanted it to be the most vicious and ruthless time and place of the war, in terms of the way that women were treated.

Scott:  The story has quite a bit of violence in it. Did writing those type of scenes come naturally to you or was it a struggle?

Julia:  I’m actually embarrassed to say that it was easy. I don’t know what that says about me because I’m not a very dark, twisty person. I think people who know me who read it were very surprised. I think I was surprised that I had that in me. The hardest thing for me to write is a love scene. [laughs] When two people are saying nice things to each other, that’s hard.

Scott:  In that pivotal scene where there is a rape, where did you position yourself in terms of that as a writer? Were you present there? Were you an observer? Can you describe that experience of writing these kind of violent type of scenes?

Julia:  It’s much easier to write that than to have to film it. I don’t have to worry about the latter, obviously. As a literature teacher, any time I read something, I do vividly imagine it, but I think it’s very different than actually seeing this thing in front of you, visually taking place. We’ve had a lot of conversations about that scene moving forward into production. We have a very young girl playing the part who is obviously an incredible actress, but you know it’s definitely riding the line between wanting to show the horror of what was happening to these women, but also not losing your audience. So I think it will be really interesting to see how it ultimately translates, because we want to keep that balance.

Scott:  That scene is absolutely pivotal to the story.

Julia:  Yeah, there are people who couldn’t keep reading after that scene. I swear two of the jobs that I’ve gotten were because of that scene. Like two of the jobs that I’ve gotten the people who hired me brought up that scene up as why they thought I could do the project that they were hiring me for. I think that’s true in general, right? You don’t want to be vanilla. You want to really rattle people, both rattle them to turn away and also to keep them close, and I think that it’s very important to not… like when you’re going… you can’t half write a rape scene. If you’re going for it you have to really go for it. When I wrote that it wasn’t hard in the actual writing of it, but even now when I look back at it I think how did I do this… I think I must have been possessed when I was writing it or something.

Tomorrow in Part 3, Julia talks about the process of writing “The Keeping Room,” what it felt like to type FADE OUT, and how she reacted to the news her script had made the 2012 Black List.

For Part 1, go here.

For the movie’s website, go here.

Declare Your Independents! Watch for The Keeping Room when it opens in your local theater or on VOD and see it!

Interview (Part 1): Julia Hart — “The Keeping Room”

September 28th, 2015 by

Over the weekend, an outstanding indie movie opened in select theaters in North America: The Keeping Room, written by Julia Hart, directed by Daniel Barber, and starring Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld. I interviewed Julia back in February 2013 and will be reprising that series this week, a terrific conversation well worth revisiting.

Today in Part 1, Julia discusses her background, how she made her way into screenwriting, and the basis for her decision to write “The Keeping Room,” a script which landed her on the 2012 Black List:

Scott:  Let’s start with this. You majored in English at Columbia University, then worked as a high school English teacher. Did you see teaching as something you would do as a career or was it something you perceived as a stop along the way?

Julia:  I definitely started teaching right out of college because it was very important to me to get a job. At first I thought it would be a compliment to a writing career, but then I ended up falling in love with teaching and I did it for eight years. About two years ago though I started to feel the writing itch again. I ended up quitting my job in June and now I’m writing full‑time.

Scott:  Did you learn anything about writing or yourself as a writer through your experiences as a teacher?

Julia:  Yes. I think that having to worry about 60 other people all day was really good for me in terms of finding that balance between being lost in my own head as a writer and being able to be a member of a community and not becoming too selfish in the work I was doing. I’m still tutoring for that very reason. I love working with kids and I love having this part of my day that is entirely about someone else and being there for them.

Scott:  The English you were teaching, did it involve creative writing?

Julia:  It was mostly analytical but I managed to sneak a few creative projects in there and  another teacher and I did a unit on American film, which was really [laughs] fun and the kids loved it. We did three films with three short story and poetry components to go along with them. We did “Badlands,” “The Graduate,” and “Shadows” with works by Joyce Carol Oates, Frank O’Hara and J.D. Salinger.

Scott:  It probably dovetailed with your growing interest in screenwriting…

Julia:  Yeah, [laughs] exactly.

Scott:  You come from a film family. Your father, James V. Hart, a screenwriter, has written a number of movies including Contact, August Rush. You describe your path towards screenwriting as being like an “inevitability.” Could you explain what you mean by that?

Julia:  My father used to read me screenplays as bedtime stories. So I think it was just something that was always present in my life and something that I was always aware of. There are a lot of people who want to break away from the family business and cut their own paths, but they raised me to deeply love movies. I feel like I’ve always been aware of the craft of screenwriting. I think I was a bit scared because I had seen how there are wild ups and wild downs in this business. There was something really nice about the consistency and certainty of teaching, but ultimately it got me in the end.

Scott:  Your dad used to read you screenplays? How cool!

Julia:  Hook was my brother’s idea when he was little. My dad always used to love to have us talk through ideas with him. One day he came into my bedroom and said he needed to address the fact that now Hook and Peter are both grown ups and Peter used to be a lot smaller than Hook. I told him to have Peter Pan say, “I remember you being a lot taller,” and then to have Captain Hook say “To a 10‑year‑old, I’m huge.” That line ended up in the movie. And I will never ever forget that feeling. It was an awesome moment.

Scott:  I posted that very anecdote on Go Into The Story where your father was talking about how your brother, I guess he was six said, “What if Peter Pan grew up?” That became the genesis of the story, and then your dad mentioned that you were writing some of the best lines for Hook at age nine. What lessons did you take from your experience growing up in a house that was so in love with film and involved in the film business?

Julia:  I guess just that you can’t take any measure of success for granted. At the end of the day, it’s a job and you need to treat it like a job, like anything else. I think that that was part of what was so great about being a teacher for me. I’m used to waking up in the morning and going to work and leaving my work behind and going home to my family at the end of the day.

Being older, changing careers at 30, as opposed to starting off trying to do this when I was 22, I think I’m going into it with a greater sense of awareness. Being aware that anything could happen at any time. One day it’ll feel like the best thing in the world, and the next you’ll want to run away screaming. To remember that anything can happen at any time, and that there’s no certainty.

Scott:  Is your brother involved in the entertainment business?

Julia:  He’s also a writer.

Scott:  Wow, that apple falling from tree thing.

Julia:  Yeah. [laughs]

Scott:  Let’s talk about “The Keeping Room.” What a terrific script. As I understand it, this was your first full‑length screenplay?

Julia:  That’s correct. And my husband [Jordan] is a producer. That was the funniest thing. When I told my parents that Jordan and I were getting married they just thought that that was hilarious that after I had tried to avoid the film business I fell in love with a producer. He was a huge influence and support system in terms of me having the courage to take this leap, and we developed and worked on the script together.

Scott:  So the kernel was always there, there was that inevitability, but how did that process play out where you really decided, “OK, this is an idea I have, I really want to move in this direction.” Was it a collaborative thing on the part of you and your husband, or did you start with it yourself and then he jumped in at some point in the development process?

Julia:  Well, the first thing I wrote was a really bad outline for a TV pilot about teachers.

Scott:  Write what you know, right?

Julia:  [laughs] And Jordan lovingly told me that it was terrible, and I was definitely a bit discouraged, but I didn’t give up. I’ve always been obsessed with the Civil War, and we have good friends who have a family farm in Georgia that’s a pre‑Civil War farm. And they said the myth that came with the house when they bought it was that there were two Union soldiers buried in the backyard.

I couldn’t get that idea out of my head, and I just started to work on this outline, like these three women and this world just came to me, and I actually sent my husband the outline for, “Keeping Room” the day before I went into the hospital for surgery, I remember sending it to him being like, “If anything should happen to me, do something with this.” And when I got out of surgery he was like, “This is really good. This is the thing that you need to write.”

Scott:  OK. So now imagine we’re in the office of “Conventional Wisdoms Productions,” all right? There’s a development executive there, and he’s looking at this story. He’s got the same outline, say, maybe that you sent to your husband. And looking at it through those conventional wisdom Hollywood eyes, he’s saying, “Well, period piece, right, so that equals more expensive, smaller audience. Young people don’t like history, blah, blah, blah. Three female leads. All right, that’s tough, because female leads we all know they’re hard to sell. The protagonists are actually on the ’wrong’ side, the South, and the bad guys are actually on the ‘good’ side, the Union soldiers, and there’s a lot of graphic violence, which, basically, it’s an ‘R’ rated movie and so… why are you doing this to me?!?!” Did you ever at any time put on the conventional wisdom hat? Or did you just say, “Screw it. I really want to write this story. This is important to me.”

Julia:  I’ve never been very good at putting on the conventional wisdom hat [laughs], and I think that’s the one piece of advice that I would give to any writers who are thinking of writing a spec is that if you really believe in it despite what conventional wisdom says just write it. If you feel like you have the path to doing it correctly, then you should go for it, because, yeah, like you say, if I told anyone I wanted to write this, they would have told me not to. So I just wrote it.

Scott:  You actually jumped into my next question. “The Keeping Room” flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but now the script makes the Black List in 2012, it’s getting produced, it’s got an incredible roster of actors and a talented director. What’s the message you take away from that?

Julia:  I think that for me, the goal was to flip all of that on its head, to make a movie that felt exciting, that had female leads, to do a bit of a history lesson in a genre film, that there are ways to balk the system in terms of what you’re not supposed to do. It’s not just an exception, you know? It’s me purposely turning things upside down in order to make it work. It’s not your typical female driven period piece and that intent was with me from the start.

Tomorrow in Part 2, we dig into “The Keeping Room” and how Julia developed the story world and its characters.

For the movie’s website, go here.

Declare Your Independents! Watch for The Keeping Room when it opens in your local theater and go see it!