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Exclusive Interviews

Penelope Chai and Matteo Bernardini

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– Penelope Chai and Matteo Bernardini, winner of the 2016 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition with Cinderella Must Die

Regardless of the fact 2016 turned out to be our best year for screenwriting, with so many fantastic finalist screenplays, Cinderella Must Die was a unanimous pick for the grand prize. Personally, when I read during the quarterfinalist round, 30 pages in I stopped immediately to text Chad (Script Pipeline’s Executive Director) and our development assistant to tell them they have to read this immediately. Part of this was due to the unique spin on the fairy tale, but mostly because of your writing style.

Is style and crafting a unique voice—which is something we constantly emphasize for emerging writers—an area you feel can be refined through “deliberate practice,” meaning an element you can specifically work on, or is it something that simply comes from years of experience? What has helped each of you the most when it comes to basic writing ability?

Matteo: My first job in the industry in Italy was as a reader for a production company. And almost nothing can prepare you for how bad Italian amateur screenwriting can be (it’s a country in its infancy, craft-wise). And almost at the same time, I started reading masters–scripts by Goldman, Coppola, Gilroy. . . . I think what helped was studying the classics, to learn how high this art can fly, and (almost as important) reading a ton of garbage scripts to learn what not to do.

Penelope: I started out writing short stories and found that to be a good way to experiment with voice. There’s a flow to prose writing that helps me ‘drop’ into a character or story. Sometimes I still revert to prose to help me untangle a specific idea or character in a script. I agree with Matteo (and many other writers) that reading screenplays helps identify and develop voice, particularly scripts that are well known for being vibrant and distinctive, like Lethal Weapon. I’ve also started listening to the Blacklist Ear Movies podcast. It’s really great, and a good way to combine script ‘reading’ with grocery shopping or exercising!

Cinderella Must Die contains some universal underlying themes that helps elevate the screenplay beyond the typical adventure/fantasy. What was it about the source material that compelled you to develop the script? Did the ingrained commentaries—the sometimes conflicting relationships between sisters, the ease of abandoning ethics and family for the promise of higher social status—come about naturally, or was it something you kept at the forefront while plotting the story?

The original idea was about propaganda and how storytelling can be used as a form of power and coercion. As we began to explore this idea through the prism of Cinderella, other themes very naturally came to the surface, like social envy, sisterhood, and representations of gender. Then it was a question of what to draw out and foreground and what to leave in the background: how much of this, how much of that? Our first draft pushed the propaganda angle a lot more–there was a whole underground network of fairy tale characters who’d been written out of their stories, Stalin-style. It was fun to write, but, according to our first readers, a hot mess to read! So we focused subsequent drafts on the personal story between the sisters, which is its heart and soul.

The process of writing the actual script: it reads so smooth and effortless, structurally sound, vividly drawn. . . but how long did it take for you to finalize a draft you were 100% comfortable with?

It took 18 months from our first conversations to submitting to Script Pipeline, but that wasn’t anywhere near full-time. We were both working on other projects so squeezed in CMD whenever we could. And we go through phases of being 100% comfortable with it! Right now, we have a whole bunch of revisions we’d like to do to make it better.

How long were you sending out Cinderella before winning Script Pipeline? Was it a newer project you were testing the waters with, or had you been searching for a production company or representation for a while?

Script Pipeline was the first place we sent it–the ink was still wet. It’s now also our favourite place!

What are some of the keys to maintaining an efficient and productive writing relationship?

  1. Hit your deadlines – don’t be an asshole.
  2. Don’t be precious – you’re not Marcel Proust. Every syllable you write can be improved.
  3. Let it go – when your co-writer says what you’ve written is unclear or confusing or not working or not on the page, trust them. They have the benefit of objectivity.
  4. Be patient and compassionate with each other – “No matter, try again, fail again, fail better.”
  5. Laugh a lot – it helps if you share a sense of humour.

The landscape has changed so much over the last 5-10 years, we’re seeing more and more non-US writers rising to the top in terms of the quality of writing (for whatever reason, Australian writers especially). But writers outside of the US with their sights set on the US market typically ask if they’re at a disadvantage because of their location. Do you feel there’s some truth to that? As you both live in Australia, did you have any reservations about submitting to this or other competitions? 

From what we’ve heard and been told–in meetings, from friends and contacts, on podcasts like Scriptnotes–there is an advantage to being based in LA. We’ve also heard that, if you have your sights set on Hollywood, and have the talent and good fortune to get you there, there will probably come a time when you need to be based in LA. We’re certainly hoping to join that posse of screenwriters, and are both keen to make the move at some stage, but right now we’re managing to get things done with Skype, FaceTime, emails, etc. We also have Australian projects underway so, right at this minute, we need to be here to see those through to fruition.

We had no reservations about submitting to Script Pipeline because it’s a US comp. Firstly, we never expected to win; secondly, LA is only a plane-ride away–17 hours may seem like a long flight, but compared to flying from Australia to Europe, it’s a walk in the park!

Script Pipeline was a gift from the gods: it allowed us, two unknowns from Australia, to come to LA, meet people in the industry, and begin relationships that can now be fostered with the aid of technology and some well-timed return visits!

In addition to the industry interest Cinderella has drawn thus far, you two have projects you’re working on independently of one another, both of which are (I think) based on or inspired by true stories. Is utilizing source material easier, in a sense? Or does it present a host of other challenges?

Penelope: I’m working on a couple of adaptations, but they’re based on fictional source material (a short story and a novel), not real life events. For one, the strength is the premise and the author was happy for us to play fast and loose with the other elements. For the other, I want to preserve as much as the source material as possible. That said, I am needing to dial up the protagonist’s drive just a little–characters in novels can meander aimlessly in a way that characters in films can’t. Even characters who seem to be meandering, like in Badlands or the recent American Honey, have very clear driving forces.

Matteo: Writing stories based on real people and events creates two equally compelling but conflicting impulses. On the one hand, you want to write a story that engages, thrills and surprises, with a beginning, a middle, and a climax. On the other hand, life doesn’t follow the three act structure, so you need to massage the real life events to make the story worthwhile and satisfying. Striking the right balance between respect for the actual facts and people, and making their story worth telling, is the hard part. Everything else is a joy.

Nir Paniry

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– Nir Paniry, runner-up in the 2015 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition with The Coyote. 

What pushed you more into writing than any other field within the film industry?

Besides the love of writing itself, I think it’s the autonomy of it all. Every other job in the film business relies on moving parts. If you’re a director you need a script. If you’re an editor you need a film, etc, etc. . . . You’re reliant on others in order to start creating. When you’re a writer (unless you’re on assignment) you are completely dependent on your own mind and gumption to put pen to paper. It’s insular, like painting a picture. I can think of a story tonight and start writing it tonight. There are not many  jobs in this business that function that way.

And yes, ultimately if it moves up the pipeline, your story will change and morph and become a much more team-oriented endeavor, but there’s something so interesting about it all starting with you and a computer, and that’s it.

Part of the reason The Coyote fared well in the Script Pipeline competition is because it took a fairly basic action premise and a put a unique, character-centric label on the story as a whole. What was the basis for the plot? What made you feel this would be a good setup for a script in the genre?

Being a foreigner myself, I’ve always had a fascination with coyotes and how assisting people across the border was a job in and of itself. I hadn’t seen too many movies where they were front and center and thought exploring the mentality of someone who does this for a living would be fun new territory. It wasn’t until I read a story about Rene ‘Boxer’ Enriquez (a high-level and extremely dangerous member of the Mexican mafia) that the inspiration started to take shape and a two-hander started to form. What if you had to escort a guy like that over the border?

I’ve always been a fan of films that explore unconventional jobs. And bonus points if that job is dangerous! I feel those type of films have the drama and conflict baked in so your concept does your work for you. Look at films like The Transporter, The Hurt Locker, every Hitman film, Nightcrawler. . . . All different types of films centered around dangerous, unconventional jobs. I felt like an action movie centered around a coyote that has to perform his toughest assignment would live comfortably in that genre as well. Then once the characters started coming to life, the story begins to write itself, and you know you have something.

Reading produced screenplays, as well as “hot” unproduced scripts, is huge for any writer at any level. What types of scripts appeal to you the most, from a writing standpoint? How much does reading other scripts influence your own writing, if at all?

I try to read anything and everything that’s out there. Watching lots of movies is great, but reading screenplays gets you familiarized with the inner workings of it all. If you’re a writer, you should be reading or writing. Always.

In terms of what type of scripts I love, I’m all over the place, but high-concept genre always gets me excited. Sci-fi, hard action, fantasy, twist on an old tale or IP, good horror (GOOD horror). Something that makes me go, “Shit! Why didn’t I think of that?!” I love when a script makes you feel like the writer loved their material and characters. In terms of influence, good scripts (like good movies) always influence writers. Art propels art. Not in a ‘I gotta steal that idea’ kinda way, but more in a ‘they raised the bar so now I want to raise it’ kinda way. Reading a great script is inspiring, but what I think separates the writers from the WRITERS is that desire to say, “That film was great and all, but now I gotta throw MY hat into the ring.”

You’ve been writing for some time now, working in development, in production. . . . What are some of the takeaways you’ve gained? The “insider” advice you can pass along to those who haven’t been on the ground floor of the industry?

Concept, concept, concept. I used to believe that if I wrote a script, the industry owed me a read. Not so much. Unless your last name is Nolan, getting busy people to read is difficult. Getting them to plunk down money, even harder. So how do you get yourself on top of the pile? A great concept. A great hook. In fact, I’d wager to say that a so-so written script with a great concept will get WAY more attention than a so-so concept that is written immaculately. When you become a seasoned writer, you can afford to go conventional and write yet another ‘hitman with a heart of gold’ story, but if you’re the new guy, you better come up with something new.

The other thing I’d say is to make yourself aware of what’s selling out there. Think like a producer. The market is tough and spec sales are hard, but there’s room for it if you have the right idea. Think of ideas that FEEL like movies. Originality is great, but it needs to be coupled with familiarity, or people won’t get the kind of story you’re telling. It’s a fine line, and if you can show people that you can walk it and entertain them while doing it, you’ll become a force to be reckoned with. You’ll get reads. Always keep in mind that as a writer, the industry ultimately needs you.

Every writer has similar long-term aspirations, but what are your short-term goals? What’s the most logical next step for your writing career?

Right now, I’m working on two super secret, I’d-tell-you-but-I’d-have-to-kill-you projects that I can’t wait to put out there. They’ll most likely be ready at year’s end. One is a big-budget tentpole and the other is a horror indie, so it’s been fun to handle both sides of the spectrum.

I always try to give myself a script benchmark. The last few years it’s been to write at least two to three scripts a year. I think that’s important. In terms of next steps, I’m just going to keep writing. If you love it, you’ll just do it. In fact, sometimes I feel like l have more stories to tell than time to tell them! Other than that, I’ve met a lot of great people this year as a result of Script Pipeline and The Coyote and hope to work with them all in the coming years.

Howard Jordan Jr.

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Howard Jordan

– Howard Jordan Jr., runner-up in the 2015 Script Pipeline TV Writing Competition with the comedy Family Be Like. An advertising industry veteran, Howard is pursuing a career in writing television comedy.

You worked for many years in advertising. Tell us a little about your background and how you transitioned into TV writing.

Technically speaking, my career started at 12. I ripped ads out of magazines, rewrote, and my mother mailed them in. But it officially began when I attended masters program “slash” boot camp for wannabe advertising creatives.

My first job was at a small agency in Manhattan. I worked on anything and everything. I didn’t have time, or money, to do much else. But I managed to take sitcom writing classes at night. I’ve always loved sitcoms. And I’m kind of an unofficial pop culture encyclopedia, so I figured, why not do both? However, as I advanced from junior copywriter to creative director with famous campaigns for State Farm, Bud Light, and Beats by Dr. Dre, to name a few, sitcom writing had to take a backseat.

Then I wrote my book, 101 Reasons to Leave New York. Not long after, I dusted off my sitcom notes, bought a few reference books, and deconstructed all my favorite shows.

My first attempt at a pilot was actually an adaptation of my book. I entered some shows, did well, and I was hooked all over again. I met a few people and began to workshop ideas with some very talented and very patient pros.

Then my wife and I moved to LA.

Good advertising, to me, basically tells a story. On a miniature scale, of course. Was the transition difficult? In other words, creatively speaking, how much did you have to tweak your mindset when it comes to character development, dialogue, building a plot, and so forth, even for something as short as a pilot script?

The transition, as you describe it, was easy for me. I had to tweak my mindset to write ads. I’m able to be more of myself writing sitcoms. It’s more natural to my way of thinking, writing, and creating a world.

I’ve always leaned toward developing more depth of story and character. Having 30 minutes rather than 30 seconds to do that is a dream come true.

The concept for Family Be Like: how did it come about?

I wanted to write a show about a black family that offended every notion of political correctness. No lessons to be taught, no preaching to be done, just, “hey watch this family and listen to how they talk to each other.”

And I wanted to make it funny as hell. Everything else came after.

Were there other TV series or films you modeled the characters after?

I have to assume the characters have been influenced by some of my favorites. As they’re permanently seared into my subconscious, I’m sure. Hopefully people will detect traces of the family dynamics found in Good TimesAll in the FamilyFrasier, and Modern Family, if I’ve done my job well.

Did the current state of television influence your choice of subject matter and approach, with this recent push toward (thankfully) introducing more diverse casts, a la Fresh Off the Boat, Orange is the New Black, etc.?

Yes and no.

Yes, because there is currently a willingness to recognize stories with diverse representation. Larger audiences seem curious to delve into stories of people who look and live differently.

No. I could’ve written this color blind, as I have so many television commercials through the years. But their race is another layer of the characters. So I had to go there. Ultimately, the content of Family Be Like is drawn from the conversations and opinions we, regardless of color, share at the dinner table that don’t get shared broadly, but are held deeply and motivate our behavior.

At what point did you realize, “Hey, maybe I have a legitimate shot at becoming a writer?”

As far as sitcom writing, I know I have a shot because I made it in advertising. I’ve succeeded as the longshot before.

Why can’t I do it again? I’ve had to learn on the fly. I’ve been in rough meetings. I’ve had to collaborate. I’ve had to cook half-baked client notes and come back with the goods in short order. I’m battle tested.

Was there a mentor, or some voice of encouragement, pushing you in that direction?

All of my family, friends, and teachers made it clear to me at a very early age that I expressed myself differently than most. And with just a few exceptions, they instructed me to keep doing so. That alone was all the encouragement I needed. Honestly, there are too many to name.

10 years from now. Your career has inevitably progressed. What’s sort of the dream scenario?

I’ve got three original sitcoms on air at the same time. Joss Whedon style, son.

Henry Dunham

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– Henry Dunham, winner of the 2015 Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition with the contained crime/thriller Militia, which is currently in production with Dunham directing. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Walking Dead) to star alongside Jack Huston (American Hustle) and Ralph Ineson (The Witch). A Detroit native and Michigan State alum, Henry has written, directed, and produced his own short films prior to Militia.

Prior to entering the Script Pipeline competition, how had you tested the waters—submitting to production companies, other contests, querying managers and agents. . . ?

To be honest, I never submitted to production companies/agencies blindly before because I used to intern for them and spent a lot of the time having to actually read those blind submissions, seeing firsthand how futile a process it is. You’re not getting the attention you think you are, and some kid (like me) who’s probably very tired and probably over-worked is reading your story, and it’s just. . . we’ll just say the cards are stacked against you. So my only real “noticed” thing I’ve done was my short film, The Awareness, which did really well and got me in some doors.

Then as I was writing it, I pitched Militia to some of the people Awareness got me in with. A friend very high up in the industry told me about Script Pipeline and how respected it was and a way to get it in more hands, so I just gave it a shot. I am now, understandably, very happy about that.

When (and why) did you begin screenwriting? 

Well, this may not answer your question, but weirdly I realized after I saw Ace Ventura in theaters for the 90th time in 3rd grade, I was talking to my mom about how Jim Carey was so funny, and she was like, “yeah he’s got great writers.” And I clearly remember thinking, “you mean he’s not just making all that stuff up?” So when I realized what a writer does, I was pretty shocked and wanted to learn more.

I started trying it when I was in, maybe, 7th grade? But I had no idea what I was doing. I was obsessed with Tarantino after I read my brother’s copy of the Pulp Fiction script in 6th grade and couldn’t believe how cool it was. I kept writing without any real idea what I was doing, honestly, until I started my internships out here in LA. Learning from people who actually went to film school on what works and what doesn’t, and then wrote a number of horrible screenplays.

The “why” is probably tougher to answer. Maybe because somewhere deep down there’s a need to tell stories, but maybe it’s also because there’s this dumb thing I feel like everybody’s guilty of. Which is “it would be so cool to sell a script for a bunch of money!” My “why” was probably a bit of both in the beginning, and then you do it and very quickly realize it’s one of the hardest, most lonesome things a person can do and demands an insane amount of dedication and effort. You will spend Friday nights at home. You will miss out on things. And some people, it burns them out, which is understandable. But once you get that feeling of actually telling a story that surprises the audience and do good work that you’re proud of, the feeling of fulfillment from that, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get it anywhere else. And it’s invaluable. And highly addictive.

Militia almost hearkens back to a 12 Angry Men scenario, the idea that a tense thriller or heavy drama needn’t take place beyond the confines of a single location, nor do you need an elaborate backdrop. What other films, stories, or current real-life events influenced the plot, and where did the concept originate?

First off, that’s an awesome comparison, and I’m very flattered, so thank you. Secondly, there are some movies like Death of a Maiden or The Ox-bow Incident, or classic Hitchcock movies like Lifeboat or Rope, that never give that feeling of “okay, when are we leaving this room?” And I think that’s in direct connection with how interesting the situation is and how interesting the characters can be. To me that’s always been a cool challenge, same with The Awareness: to feel that kind of irony of enjoying the claustrophobia. To make the audience feel stuck with the characters, but interested enough in them and the story and the stakes of what they’re experiencing, is a cool feeling to balance between.

As far as the origin or the inception of the idea, it was dumb, unfortunate luck that these public shootings started to happen with more frequency right around the time I finished up this script, and then the whole Ferguson situation and people starting to question police and their use of power. I wish I could say I had some incredible gift of foresight with that, but no, it’s just a coincidence. To me, the story itself is about a man struggling to know whether or not he’s strong enough to be alone, or whether he needs to be a part of something to be happy, even if it’s what’s hurting him. That’s always going to be a relevant question in society whether or not it’s in the news.

Often, we get asked: “Do I need to live in Los Angeles if I want to be a screenwriter?” At what point in your career did you decide to move to LA? Was it the right timing, in retrospect?

I moved out here about 8 years ago, and to be honest I’m not sure. I don’t have an answer to this because I’m absolutely sure it can be done, and I’m sure a lot of working writers actually leave town for a few months at a time to go into a hole and push out a draft. But I can say, without a doubt, I made progress in my ability only because of people I met here. Without them, I’d be useless. I’m an enormous believer in having a trusted community of people you genuinely believe are smarter than you and whose opinion you trust. And it’s tough to find those people for this type of work in Detroit.

When we announced you as the winner of the competition—the $20,000 grand prize, top spot out of 3,500 entries—you seemed stunned. Perhaps rightfully so. Were you confident you had a shot, or did it kind of come out of nowhere? 

Let’s not forget the part where I asked if Militia was even close, and you told me not to be the “angry guy” when I don’t win.

Classic misdirection. . . .

So yeah, I was pretty shocked. In all seriousness, I did feel thrilled just to be a finalist with Script Pipeline because of their reputation of taking finalists and introducing them around town, so I was excited to be a part of that group alone. It was a genuine honor. To win on top of that, yeah–it still kind of shocks me.

Though there is no formula a writer can follow to crack into the industry, what do you think are some key components every writer should possess so they at least have a shot at getting noticed? Is it mostly about writing ability, or does personality, the ability to communicate with potential managers and reps, equally as important for long-term success?

Wow, well, I feel like I could give this advice if I was more of a force in the industry. But first, I don’t know if there’s one single thing that makes someone break through. If I had to narrow it down, I’d say two things. One being story over everything. Story comes first. Ahead of every single element, the audience wants to be engaged with a character in a story that surprises them and keeps them constantly asking “oh my god, what happens next?” That’s everything to me.

The other part is just a dose of tenacity. You have to stick it out. Having that drive is essential.

Josh Chesler

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JoshChesler

– Josh Chesler, writer of Chasing Ghosts starring Tim Meadows (SNL) and co-writer of Underground (Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition finalist), currently in pre-production with LAConfab Entertainment. His latest projects include the surreal adventure screenplay David P. Boorman and the Quest for Good News and the TV series Extractors, co-written with Paul Connor. Chasing Ghosts will be available for digital download and on VOD and DVD April 21.

Have your career goals always leaned toward film and writing?

From as early as I can remember, I was interested in writing and telling stories. I started reading at a very young age and began voraciously devouring books as well as movies. In junior high, I wrote a lot of short stories just for fun–most of which are thankfully stored on obsolete media that can never be recovered.

Then in high school, I had the good fortune of being able to take some film classes, which really changed my life and opened my eyes to what movies can be capable of–watching Kubrick, Godard, Hitchcock, and Lynch films at 14 was eye-opening, to say the least. That led me to apply to USC film school, where I majored in Film Production and really began to focus on writing in a whole new way. I came out of school determined to write and direct the kinds of films I wanted to see.

The first script you wrote: what were some of the most crucial things you learned early on?

Well, that first script wasn’t unlike those first short stories–a great learning experience, and a chance to fail in private. I had an amazing writing teacher at USC who guided me through that first feature, and I learned a ton with regards to structure, tone, and style. But what I hadn’t learned yet was how to really connect to my work, and tell stories that mattered to me.

It wasn’t until my fourth script (which was actually an early version of what became Chasing Ghosts) that I started to feel confident in my writing process and truly able to stand behind my work. Coming out of film school, my friends and I were convinced we’d sell that first or second script and be working screenwriters within a year. But the truth is, you have to earn it, and you have to develop your craft to the point where you’re ready for that career.

From initial concept until it went into production, what was the evolution of Chasing Ghosts from your side of things? What pieces had to come together to get the film made?

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Tim Meadows and Toby Nichols in the dramedy Chasing Ghosts.

It was quite a journey! In 2012, I sent the script, at that point titled The Autumn Children, to producer Molly Mayeux. She liked the script and saw a lot of potential in it, so we worked to develop it as a possible project for a production slate she and our Executive Producer Jay Walters were putting together. After a challenging but rewarding year of rewriting (and rewriting and rewriting), we finally landed on the script that became Chasing Ghosts. From there, the producers hired our fantastic director Joshua Shreve, who they had worked with on a previous project. His involvement really got the ball rolling, but of course his input led to even more rewrites, as he started putting his own stamp on the film.

We officially went into pre-production in March of 2013, and we were racing to get the film started while still casting for our pivotal lead roles. It was only when Tim Meadows signed on and we found the amazing young Toby Nichols for our lead role of Lucas that we knew we had a real movie on our hands. By May, we were shooting.

I also became an Executive Producer on the film, which has been an incredible gift and learning experience, as I got to be on set every day and work closely with the director and producer through every edit, sound mix, film festival, and distribution plan. Now, we can’t wait for people to finally see it!

You and your writing partner, Paul Connor, have placed as a finalist in the Script Pipeline Screenwriting Competition with a mystery/thriller (Underground) and the Great Movie Idea Contest with a romantic comedy. What genres do you gravitate toward?

As a writer, I always strive to challenge myself with each new project, whether that be a different genre, world, or storytelling style. That said, I find myself naturally being drawn to stories of characters who are trying to figure life out and who find themselves thrust into a situation that forces them to evolve, grow, and find new answers. I love filmmakers like Cameron Crowe, Richard Linklater, and David O. Russell who mix comedy and drama fluidly to tell stories of the human condition.

So in that sense, even if I’m writing (or co-writing) a thriller or action-heavy script, I’m always coming at it from that angle, and looking for the human connection inside of a story and concept. For example, Paul and I have a TV show we’ve created called Extractors, which is a large-scale action/drama, but at its core it’s a story about people who are given a second chance at life.

What are the biggest challenges (and blessings) when working with a writing partner?

It’s a great experience working with someone who shares your taste in film and sense of narrative, where you’re working together to find the best way to tell a story that you both believe in. Paul and I complement each other in different ways–I tend to think big picture while he is incredibly detail-oriented. We elevate each other’s ideas and push each other to be better. So in that sense, it’s a really great working relationship.

The challenge of writing with a partner, any partner, is that you are not the same person, and arguments and disputes will inevitably rise. Sometimes it’s over where to put a comma, and sometimes it’s over your entire third act. These “healthy debates” can actually serve your script and improve your story, but you do have to be prepared for that being a part of the process. The other challenge is just that you are subject to each other’s schedules, and it’s not always easy to be in the same room when you want to be, so you have to develop different ways of working together while trying to stay on the same page.

All that said, you’ve probably noticed that I also write on my own. Chasing Ghosts is an example of a film that is incredibly personal which I couldn’t imagine writing with any partner, however close we are. I just finished a new feature spec that is also quite personal and idiosyncratic, and it just felt like the type of movie I needed to write by myself. Certain genres and stories lend themselves better to collaboration than others, and Paul and I fully realize that we both have many stories to tell.

Now that you have a writing credit on a produced film, have other opportunities risen as a direct result?

Actually, it’s interesting because we haven’t shared the film with too many people yet, so it’s been kind of this big secret that we’ve had for the past year. Having the film released really changes the conversation: now it’s a movie that’s out there in the world, and it’s a real tangible thing as opposed to a file on someone’s computer. I’m looking forward to people’s reactions to the film and hope that it serves as a great writing sample for me on future work.

Outside of that, the script that Paul and I were Script Pipeline finalists on, Underground, now has a production company attached, and we’ll be co-directing the film. So we’ve been working closely with the producers on developing the script and moving into the early stages of pre-production. We’re hoping to get it up in front of the cameras by early next year.

Is there a single, best piece of advice for other writers looking to get their screenplays produced on an independent level? Or is there really no special formula?

The indie world is really thriving these days. There is so much you can do on a much smaller budget today, compared to when I got out of film school. Chasing Ghosts is a great example. We made the film for under a million, but we attracted top talent like Tim Meadows and Frances Conroy because they loved the script.

So while it’s a cliche, it’s actually true that it all comes down to the story you’re telling. If you write a great script that can be produced on a small scale, you have a real chance at getting that movie made and getting A-list actors interested, because actors are hungry for great roles that are few and far between in many of today’s movies.

I think my best piece of advice would be to try to find the types of producers who gravitate toward the kinds of stories you want to tell. There are many independent producers out there who are eager to nurture new voices and tell original stories, and it’s worth seeking them out. Organizations like the Sundance Institute (not just the festival) and Film Independent are great places to begin.

The other option, of course, is finding an economical way to just make your film yourself. It’s amazing how many films are now being funded by Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and people are making incredible films for a fraction of the budget you used to need. The key is to stay passionate about your own project and your story and have that come through on the page–and with every person you talk to about the project. As the writer, your greatest power is your own voice.