Interview (Part 1): Jen Bailey and Max Lance

My interview with the 2017 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting winners.

Jen Bailey and Max Lance wrote the original screenplay “The Queen of Sleaze” which won a 2017 Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Jen and Max about about their background, their award-winning script, the craft of screenwriting, and what winning the Nicholl has meant to them.

Today in Part 1 of a 6 part series to run each day through Saturday, Jen, Max, and I talk about their interest in writing and how fate brought them together:

Scott Myers: It’s always interesting to learn how two people find each other and become writing partners. In your case, it’s both writing and life partners. Let’s see if we can track your parallel lives a bit and how you eventually intersected. Jen, let’s begin with you. You’re from Victoria, British Columbia. Is that right?
Jen Bailey: Yeah, I am. I grew up in Seattle and then Victoria. Then my family completed the move and went all the way up to Canada for high school.
Scott: Are you dual citizen?
Jen: I am, yes.
Scott: You’ve got a background on ballet and acting. Is that right?
Jen: Yeah, that’s right. I started in ballet as a kid, and then found acting in high school, and then came down to Loyola Marymount University to study theater, and then ended up realizing that if you’ve had ballet in your life for as long as I had it’s hard to quit, so I ended up double majoring in both.
Scott: In the Dance and Theater Arts Program?
Jen: Yes.
Scott: How did you end up at Loyola Marymount? That’s quite a jump from Seattle or Victoria.
Jen: Actually, I went down and I did a UCLA Summer Program when I was in high school. There was a cute boy there I thought had said he was applying to Loyola Marymount. When my dad and I came down to do the usual college tour, I saw the sign when I left, leaving LAX and drove through it.
It was a beautiful school. I fell completely in love with it. It ended up being one of the best accidental choices that I’ve ever made.
Scott: A combination of a cute boy you found out that was applying to Loyola Marymount and driving toward LAX and seeing the school there on the hill, overlooking the ocean?
Jen: Pretty much. It sounds silly. I love that it was set up in a circle. The part of campus just felt very…I was so close to LA, and yet it just felt like its own little world in a way.
Scott: Yeah. They have quite a writing program there. Did you do any writing?
Jen: I did not find writing until I had done a play. The writer of that play, he suggested I look into Young Storytellers to go in and be an actor for the volunteer program for the kid shows. I fell in love with that program and ended up being a mentor.
The whole point of that program is the kids get to write a five‑page screenplay. I learned the structure of a screenplay along with the fifth graders, literally.
[laughter]
Scott: That’s great. Young Storytellers is an incredible outfit.
Jen: Yeah, I know. It’s a really special program. It was through that ‑‑ Max and I were both mentors ‑‑ that we ended up meeting each other.
Scott: Ah, you’re jumping ahead of me now, Jen. [laughs]
Jen: I mean, it’s all connected, so how can I not?
Scott: No, that’s all right. It’s a little flash forward, if you will. So, we’ve got you located in Los Angeles, Jen, pursuing acting, and writing, and ballet, Young Storytellers. Let’s switch over to Max. You’re from Connecticut originally?
Max Lance: I grew up in New York City until I was 10, then Connecticut. Then I went to NYU for two years with a bunch of people who are super famous now. Then I dropped out, did not get super famous. I was doing stand‑up comedy. I wasn’t very funny, so that didn’t work out. I’ve talked a lot about that was a little bit of a blessing that I failed at something that I was very passionate about as a teenager and in my 20s.
I bummed around for a couple of years. I would temp until I had enough money to go travel somewhere, but I was writing movies this whole time. I’d thought of USC, figuring, if I got in, I would go. I did, but I found out my first week of USC, their screenwriting program, that I’d have to start all four years from the beginning because they didn’t accept any of my NYU credits.
I had to do four years of screenwriting in USC’s order. It took me nine years from beginning to end, six years of college with a three‑year gap in between, to get a very expensive bachelor’s degree. I was always writing dumber comedies because I came out of stand‑up.
The rights to my thesis script, “Eskimo a Go Go,” about a bunch of Alaskan strippers are still available at the moment. I was just writing these dumb comedies, and then a combination of wanting to write something that had a little more heart, and was a little more grounded.
I had an idea for a movie about a friend of mine ‑‑ it’s a real story ‑‑ who passed away, and he wanted to go to his own funeral, like a living wake. That script was called “Best Funeral Ever.” That one, Jen and I…Oh, yeah. Again, I’m getting ahead of myself too much, but that one was the first thing that Jen and I wrote together.
That one finaled the Nicholl two years ago, and then we’ve been writing partners ever since.
Scott: I think there’s probably morality tale here that, evidently, in order to learn screenwriting, one only needs to mentor at Young Storytellers as opposed to go to NYU it would seem.
Max: Yeah, or just ask your talented girlfriend at the time to be your writing partner because, clearly, that was what was missing for me for the 15 years that I was trying to succeed at something creative.
Scott: You always had an interest in movies, TV, and writing?
Max: Yeah. I was pursuing writing in a lot of different forms, and was plugging away at it, and still am. I wrote an Amazon Kindle single when I graduated USC that did pretty well. I wrote a “New York Times” essay contest that was finaled and published in the magazine.
I don’t know, I’ve always considered myself a writer, but nothing really broke through screenwriting‑wise until Jen and I became a team.
Scott: You were attracted to Young Storytellers.
Max: I was trying to get a staff writing job because I heard that’s a good way to do that, and it backfired because now I have a wife and a baby.
Jen was so inspired to move to LA because of a cute boy that she encountered when she was in high school. The person who I was dating before I met Jen was like, “Oh yeah, I got my writer’s assistant job through meeting the right people at Young Storytellers,” and I was like, “I got to get in this.” I completely failed at working my way to a writer’s assistant job, but it was…
Jen: I have a writing assistant.
[laughter]
Scott: You know what? If this were a romantic comedy, that cute boy Jen liked and that person who told Max to go to the Young Storytellers, they’re together now.
Max: Yeah.

Here is video of Jen and Max accepting their 2017 Nicholl Award in December of last year:

Tomorrow in Part 2, Max and Jen share what it’s like to write together as a couple.

Jen and Max are repped by Heroes and Villains Entertainment, and Verve.

For my interviews with 29 other Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting writers, go here.

For my interviews with 53 Black List writers, go here.