Elizabeth Guest was born on a film set in Eugene, Oregon, which explains why she likes movies and why she likes the rain. How could she not? She grew up in Los Angeles and spent most of her life taking acting classes, singing, playing basketball and playing with her Barbies in her room for hours – making up stories, playing characters and improvising. Not much has changed actually as she currently spends most of her days making stuff up and she even still plays basketball (Barbies are no longer in the picture). She started studying when she was 8 at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Los Angeles and she did numerous plays in high school and took the teen classes offered at Second City in Los Angeles. She went to USC as a BFA actor but quickly switched to the film school for a Critical Studies degree. She was one class shy of the screenwriting minor, something that still haunts her to this day. Upright Citizen’s Brigade is her home now where she improvises whenever possible with her all- female team “Fresh Hell” and where she has co-written and starred in two long-running shows – “Dumped” and “Nice Girls” both inspired by her real life mishaps. In the past year she completed a web series called “Guest Appearances” which recently won the best Scripted Digital Series award at the Austin Film Festival.
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
I always loved my writing classes the most growing up but I did not discover screenwriting until I switched my major to film at USC. As an actor, I always understood the importance of great writing because without it a great performance cannot happen but I had never considered I could be the one to do it. For a while I was simply writing so that I could act and then my interest in it grew and grew and I have found tremendous joy in writing for others now too. It took me a while to call myself a writer but I think the more I do it and the longer I do it for, the harder it is to deny!
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
I have learned that writing really is re-writing as difficult and frustrating as that can be sometimes. Putting up my most recent show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade was a great experience because I saw how I could improve jokes and find new jokes every time and that discovery of change started to feel more fun to me than it has in the past. I used to judge myself and my scripts for not being perfect right away but now I realize that the changes can be exciting and that there is always room for improvement and that is cool!
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
I think the hardest thing to write is something I am still writing actually. It’s a dark comedy based on a really hard year for me in middle school. The challenge has been trying to figure out what to keep and what to scrap because the world I’m creating is fiction but what inspired me to write it in the beginning was my experience. The story however is served by certain things and not served by others so I think that is the key – figuring out what is absolutely essential to the story and the message of that story and anything that does not serve those things has to go!
What was a major turning point in your career?
Winning the award at the Austin Film Festival was definitely a big milestone for me this year but I would also say getting into the film school at USC and then getting involved with comedy at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade after graduation were two other big turning points. The people I have met from both of these programs have made my life and my work so much richer. I get to create material with and for my friends. I only hope to be able to continue to do that till I’m old and gray.
What are you working on right now?
Currently, I have another show, with a run at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade, that I co-wrote/star in with my college roommate, called ‘Nice Girls’ (based on our experiences of being too nice). I also have another web series that my other best friend from college and I wrote together and star in together. My mom and I also recently directed a short film in which I play her in the 70s. That was incredibly rewarding and it is also a drama, which was nice considering my focus has been primarily comedy for the past couple of years. I’m just trying to write and perform as much as possible. I also perform and write with my all female improv/sketch team ‘Fresh Hell’ and you can see us at UCB or in our online sketch videos.
What are some of your favorite movies?
I usually say ‘It Happened One Night’ because it is one of my favorite romantic comedies and I love that it was the FIRST romantic comedy ever made. However, I’d love to give “One Fine Day” some love. It’s a movie starring Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney about one crazy day in New York. I think I’ve watched this movie over a hundred times. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry and it is the kind of movie I hope to make some day. Also, Holland Taylor is God.
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
It’s a toss between Nancy Meyers and Quentin Tarantino – very different writers I know. I admire Nancy for her ability to infuse her own wit, humor, and heart into her stories. I always feel better and happier when I have finished watching one of her films. I admire Tarantino for his style in his films but especially in his scripts. The action sections of his scripts are incredibly vivid and his personality shines through. Typically the dialogue is what excites me in a script, especially because I am an actor, but in his scripts his point of view in the description is truly riveting. I can only hope to be as skilled as Nancy Meyers and as entertaining and specific as Tarantino. I had the opportunity to meet them both, however, so maybe some of their magic touch has stayed with me! Fingers crossed.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival:
Meeting Nancy Meyers is pretty up there. We took a quick photo with my friend who edited my series and I could barely even open my eyes I was so excited. I also met so many incredible people in Austin. It was such an amazing experience to be in a place with so many writers from all over the country and even the world. It was such a treat to go to panels and hear about all of these different writing journeys from the people I admire the most. The whole festival inspired me to write more and I am so incredibly grateful that I got to be part of it.