Interview (Part 6): Jen Bailey and Max Lance

My interview with the 2017 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting winners.

Max and Jen at the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Awards in December 2017.

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 6, Jen and Max provide some advice for aspiring screenwriters:

Scott: If I were to ask you, “OK, so theme, that’s important. What do you guys think about that?”
Jen: Sometimes we pick a theme. I don’t know.
Max: I would say that…
Jen: We like to make sure that our script says something.
Max: Yeah, because that’s the Young Storytellers’ rule. If it holds true for Young Storytellers, it has to hold true for one of our scripts.
Jen: Where’s the lesson?
Max: The last thing and at the beginning of Young Storytellers, all the kids have to hold signs. One sign says, “Beginning.” One sign says…
Jen: Character.
Max: …”Characters” and “Setting.” The kids have to stand in order of where the story goes. The last one is always like, “Lesson.” Even though I’m begrudging to say, and it’s my cynical, literal side who’s like, “No, we write a story, and people can find the theme if they want.” I’d say the honest, ethereal side of me is like, “Yeah, every script has to exist for a reason.”
Jen: Whether the character learns a lesson or not, there is generally some lesson in there.
Scott: That’s great. The Young Storytellers thing seems like it’s paying interest to…
Max: Yeah.
Scott: What about ‑‑ this is a very technical craft question, but ‑‑ when you’re writing a scene, do you have specific goals in mind?
Jen: I guess the goal is, “What is the character’s goal and what are they doing? How is that scene helping them or hindering their achievement of that?”
Max: I think it was…Why am I blanking on the famous writer’s name who had this thing? I’ll try Googling it, but there’s a very famous writer who, at the top of the page of every single scene, says, “What does each character in the scene want? Does every line of dialogue be a subtext to help them achieve or get closer to that goal compared to the opposition in that scene?”
If the scene is working, it’s because it has that. If it’s not, it’s because it doesn’t.
Scott: That’s a great way to mine conflict, is if you’ve got characters with different goals in a scene. What’s your rewriting process like? We’ve heard about that first draft, and then the prep thing. Now you’ve got a draft, and you’ve got to go through subsequent drafts. Can you describe that?
Max: I hate rewriting.
Jen: I love rewriting.
[laughter]
Jen: I usually then take Max’s first draft, which I’m learning over the years to be a nicer person. I go in and either write on top of it or cross things out, or, much to Max’s chagrin, ask 500 questions…just write down question after question after question.
Max: Jen will be like, “So what does this character want?” I was like, “I don’t know. That’s why the scene doesn’t work. You figure it out.”
Jen: [laughs] Then we talk about it.
Scott: Where do you see yourself in, perfect world, 5, 10 years? What are you doing?
Max: I want to be spending the months of June through November in British Columbia and December through May in Los Angeles and, then, selling projects that we can then go write in different parts of the world.
Scott: That sounds like feature film, right?
Max: I don’t know, or we go write a…
Jen: Yeah.
Max: Yeah, I guess. You just asked me best case scenario‑wise. Honestly, we’ll probably still be in our crummy one‑bedroom apartment…
[laughter]
Max: …slaving away as…
Jen: No.
Max: …staff writers on a TV show, but you got to have dreams, right?
Scott: Right.
Scott: How about you Jen?
Max: She probably wants another kid.
[laughter]
Jen: This one’s pretty young so let’s give it a little while before we discuss that, but yeah. I don’t know. I hope that we’re still getting to write the things that we’re excited to write. Moving forward with our career, I’d like to see some of the things that we write get put into production and I’ll be acting in them as well.
Scott: Finally, what advice can you offer to aspiring screenwriters about learning the craft and breaking into Hollywood? I know, Max, you just said something about just write for 10 years. Is there anything else beyond that that you would advise people to do?
Jen: I’d say volunteer at Young Storytellers because you will learn how to tell a story very succinctly and clearly.
Max: Our writers group deserves a tremendous amount of credit as well.
Jen: Oh, yeah.
Mas: We probably would not be here without our writers’ group.
Jen: Surround yourself with very talented people, too.
Max: Very talented people who know how to give notes in a way that moves your story towards the best version possible. Our writers group has had a lot of really good scripts out of it, but the process to get there is ugly and painful, and I wouldn’t subject that on any friends, or family members, or reps even.
The fact that we’re all in this together and that we have this compromise of, “All right, we’re gonna get in the trenches on your script because you’re going to do it for ours,” has been enormous.

For Part 1 of the interview, go here.

Part 2, here.

Part 3, here.

Part 4, here.

Part 5, 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.