Interview (Part 4): Jen Bailey and Max Lance

My interview with the 2017 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting winners.

Max, Jen, and their newborn baby.

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 4, Jen and Max talk about the research the did for “Queen of Sleaze” and the time that Jen was giving script notes in the hospital after having been induced into labor:

Scott: How much research did you end up doing on the project?
Max: We did a lot of research. I don’t actually know if it was the case that interested us so much as the… It’s tough because we love writing about strong powerful women who, if they were men, would be seen as admired and complemented, but as a woman, their adjectives are more disparaging.
We wanted to write about that, and that was what interested us a lot more than the case, or O.J., or any of that stuff. That was what really drew us into this story.
Scott: Larry mentioned at the Nicholl ceremony…
Max: Network, I forgot to mention as well. That’s not where you were going, but that was…
Scott: Network, yeah. Was that an influence on you?
Max: Yeah, subconsciously. I didn’t even think about that until after the script was written. I’ve always been a fan of insider‑y… Everything we write is serious, but we’ll attempt to make you laugh here and there as well. I’m a big fan of Barry Sonnenfeld who wrote Wag the Dog and Men in Black.
Scott: You mentioned the female lead aspect of this story. Is that something that you think will become a thing for you, that you’ll be looking to write stories with strong female leads?
Max: Oh yeah. We only write stuff with female leads.
Jen: Thus far.
Max: Thus far, yeah — “Best Funeral Ever”, we just finished up a pilot, “Queen of Sleaze”. We have a daughter. Women are more interesting than men are. I don’t know. There’s enough stories about dudes out there.
Scott: Yeah, I concur with you. I think women are much more interesting than men. It seems like, right now, the tide is turning in Hollywood, finally, after all the years of not really grokking the fact that 52 percent of the population are women and that women actually are more likely to go to movies that they’re interested in than men. It does seem like we’re getting…
There’s a trend line, even in the Black List. For four years in a row now, it’s gone up in terms of the number of women writers and stories featuring female leads. It does seem like maybe now is a really good time to be focusing on female leads.
Max: Yeah, it might be. To be honest with you, if I learned anything from my year in development, it’s if that happens and if it helps us, great, but it is not, by any means, our intention. We just want to write good stuff if we can. If good things happen with it, that’s excellent. If not, we had fun writing something and it’s on to the next.
Scott: Jen, you became pregnant. Were you writing the script when you became pregnant? What was the timing on that?
Jen: Yeah, the entire script was…I guess from writing the idea, to writing the script, to the actual date of finding out we won was pretty much exactly nine months.
Scott: That’s a little bit of symbiosis, isn’t it? You’re waiting for the baby to come, and then waiting for the various hurdles that you’re crossing with the Nicholl, right?
Jen: Pretty much. [laughs] I hadn’t actually totally thought about it like that. I just know that we found we won the same week that our daughter was born.
Max: Jen was also giving notes to writers group via Skype after she had been induced for labor the night before giving birth. She was in the hospital bed giving notes on someone else’s script. If that’s not commitment, I really don’t know what is.
Scott: Yeah, I think, let’s see. Is that hard work, perseverance, stubbornness, or something? It’s commitment, I guess, that there. Let’s talk about the Nicholl experience. It’s rather much of a dream come true, I guess.
You find out about it, you have the baby in one week. What was that week like, the whole Nicholl week?
Jen: The Nicholl week, it was honestly like a dream. It was pretty much exactly one month after our daughter was born. It was definitely a dream come true. Yet, it was also…I know, for me personally, I was in a very dream‑like state considering I just hadn’t slept in a month.
I tried to take as many pictures as I possibly could so that now, as I’m starting to get a little bit of my brainpower back, I’m able to look back and reflect more than I was able to be in the moment. For example, here’s a funny little…definitely unique to my experience. They gave us this great little Academy bag, a little swag and this and that.
The next day, I brought my bag back. Everybody else had a notebook and all that inside theirs. I definitely had my pump because I was running off of the fancy luncheon so that I could nab into the bathroom and feed my child. [laughs]
Scott: What’s the process like for writing, having a newborn? Have you circumnavigated that?
Jen: The same as it’s always been, a bit of divide and conquer. I’ve definitely taken the brunt of the feeding and a lot of the baby stuff, and then Max comes in. He is super helpful and helps with that. He’s taken the brunt of the writing currently. Then I’ll come in and get to play with the script.
Max: While I play with the baby.
Jen: While he plays with the baby. It’s still passing back and forth, and divide and conquer.

Tomorrow in Part 5, we dig into some writing craft questions.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

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.