screenwriter to watch
Graduated from Michigan State University in 2007 with a B.A. in English.
High school English and creative writing teacher in Sacramento, CA.
2017 Austin Film Festival Drama Screenplay Winner.
How did you break in?
With regards to the industry, I’ve always been an outsider looking in. As a self-taught screenwriter, I’ve spent many years learning the craft, building up a body of screenwriting work, and getting to a place where I have the confidence to call myself a screenwriter and to pitch my work.
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
First, follow the rules but don’t be afraid to break some of them. Second, the first draft of anything is shit. (Ernest Hemingway’s words, not mine.) Third, I think there’s a lot of truth to that whole “10,000 hours to master your craft” thing.
What has been your hardest scene to write?
I have a fatal attraction to ensembles. The problem with ensembles is giving each character a satisfying arc with thematic resonance and accomplishing both of those things in a reasonable amount of pages. I’d say the best way to navigate that challenge is to ignore page count in the beginning. Write that cruddy first draft. Go back and kill your darlings second.
Every screenplay I write is harder than the one before it. With more knowledge of the craft, I grow more and more self-critical. The decisions I make are less haphazard, which makes the process all the more daunting and frustrating.
When in doubt, I read the screenplays of the films I’m trying to emulate. If I’m writing a triptych, I read every triptych I can get my hands on. If I’m writing voiceover, I read the screenplays with the best, most-effective use of voiceover.
What do you feel was your turning point?
As an industry outsider trying to break in, I’ve done what a lot of uncredited screenwriters do — I’ve entered screenplay competitions. When I began selectively entering various screenplay contest back in 2013, I did it mostly for feedback. I never entered with any intention of winning any of them. When I snagged a quarterfinalist or semifinalist placement, it was encouraging and gave me the tiniest bit of validation I needed to continue churning out more screenplays. Because screenwriting is a subjective art form, screenwriting contests can feel like a crapshoot. There is a small degree of luck involved. Readers need to respond to the material. But I’m a believe in the oft-used adage: “The cream will rise.”
2017 was the game-changing year for me. It was the first time my contest placements stopped feeling so random and unpredictable, and I started to feel the momentum generating with Brokenhearted. The screenplay and my writer’s voice was consistently receiving positive feedback and coverage. After earning a reader endorsement on The BlackList’s hosting site, I was contacted by a few prospective managers and I secured management right around the time I received word of my semifinalist placement with AFF. Little did I know I was about to win at AFF about a month later. I’m still riding the wave.
What are you working on right now?
Since my win at AFF, I’ve been developing Brokenhearted alongside a credited director and my manager. Being able to experience the collaborative nature of filmmaking really feels like a rite of passage and something I’ve been working towards for a long time.
In addition to Brokenhearted rewrites, I’m working on a biopic and a pilot. As someone who has exclusively written features, writing for TV is definitely a challenge, and I feel like I have to retrain the way my brain works.
What are your favorite movies?
This is my shortlist*: American Beauty, Almost Famous, Closer, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, The Departed, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Forrest Gump, Go, Run Lola Run, Seven, The Shawshank Redemption, The Social Network, Trainspotting, Three Kings, V for Vendetta, and Y Tu Mama Tambien.
(*Footnote: I whittled this down from a list with 50 others. What can I say, I’m a cinephile…)
Who are your favorite screenwriters?
Two of my favorites have to be Charlie Kaufman and John August simply because Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Go are perfection in my eyes. I’m so envious of non-linear storytelling, and I’m a sucker for a good triptych. I can’t get enough of Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, and I’m continually impressed with Nicole Holofcener’s ability to consistently churn out authentic, understated stories. And this list would not be complete without including Cameron Crowe — VINTAGE Cameron Crowe. Almost Famous was the first screenplay I ever read.
What is your most Memorable AFF Moment?
Aside from winning the Drama Screenplay award and fumbling through an acceptance speech in the presence of Shane Black and Kenneth Lonergan, I thrive in the presence of other creatives. It was simply amazing being around so many other writers who are as passionate about film and screenwriting as I am. 2017 was the first time I attended the Austin Film Festival, and I’m honestly kicking my introverted self for not going sooner.