screenwriter to watch
Molded by her small, Missouri hometown and all the excitement that it offered — none — Davia’s passion for writing spawned from a desire to entertain — herself, first and foremost. This led her to the entertainment capital of the central southwest: Austin, Texas. After accumulating a diverse and extensive body of work at The University of Texas, Davia headed to Los Angeles, where she is currently staffed on USA’s show Queen of the South.
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
I first got into screenwriting during undergrad at The University of Texas at Austin. I stumbled into it. After exploring other areas of filmmaking — and realizing I wasn’t good at them — I said, “what the heck,” and wrote a feature script. It was like I had been living in a storm and after that script, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and I finally saw the light; this was what I was supposed to do. So, I did it. I wrote, and wrote. Went to grad school, wrote some more. With a month or so left of school, a UT instructor sent some of my work to an agent, and that was the end of my screenwriting education and the start of my screenwriting career. I moved to Los Angeles, where I was staffed on my first show.
Writer, “Queen of the South”
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
The biggest lesson I have learned is that asking for help doesn’t make me less of a writer. So much of writing is just one person sitting in front of a laptop that it’s easy to accept it as a solitary process. But it doesn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. I think writers put so much pressure on themselves to be as close to perfect as they can be that it makes asking for help intimidating; I’m still that way sometimes. My insane writer’s mind would think, “If I ask for help then people will know I’m not a good writer.” Through writing and collaborating I’ve learned that way of thinking is complete malarkey. Everyone needs help sometimes. Writing is collaborating; it’s drawing from your experiences and the experiences of others. I’ve realized that the ability to ask for help makes me a stronger person, and therefore, a stronger writer.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
I’m currently working on a rewrite of a character-driven family drama. I went into the first draft thinking I would nail it — my first indication of a problem should have been how confident I was. I love family dramas, and there’s some family drama element in every script that I write, so I was excited going into this script. I was finally writing the type of extremely character driven story that I love to watch. But, I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought. My sweet spot is writing badass women doing badass things, so after exploring so many back-to-back versions of this, I found it challenging when trying to work on a project that was so character driven. After what felt like a hundred outline drafts and one very bad script draft, I had to take a step back and diagnose the macro problem. It was a humbling moment. I had to spend extra time with the characters, and figure out what exactly I was trying to say through this pilot. I also had to think about whether or not I was the right person to be writing this script. Even though I loved the idea, I realized what it was missing was a deeper personal connection that would make it uniquely mine.
What was a major turning point in your career?
The biggest turning point came recently when I got my first TV writing job. I’m lucky enough to be in a room with incredibly talented and supportive writers. I can only hope that I’m in more rooms that are as positive and enjoyable as this one.
What are you working on right now?
Right now, I’m just aggravating my carpal tunnel and trying to add to my portfolio of writing samples. I’m playing around with a couple of pilots. One is in the vein of what I like to write — powerful women — and another is a more character-driven, small town family drama, which I’m especially excited to crack. Coming from a small town, I love stories that remind me of where I grew up — in a way that Friday Night Lights did. So currently, my biggest writing challenge is doing justice to that world.
What are some of your favorite movies?
The first movies that come to mind are those that I grew up watching on a loop. Some of the first movies I truly fell in love with were horrors, so there’s a deep appreciation for movies like Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street. I’m also a big fan of Modern Times, E.T., and Rocky. One of my absolute favorites of the past couple years, though, is Blindspotting — such an incredibly powerful movie that definitely needs to be getting so much more attention than it is.
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
This is difficult to answer because there are some many great writers who inspire me. I’m envious of writers like Jason Katims, Drake Doremus, and Ben York Jones for how they craft beautifully complex characters who are so compelling and relatable that I forget they’re not real people. Two writers who I’m also really enjoying at the moment are Phoebe Waller-Bridge and Lena Waithe. In the era of peak TV, they’re creating stories that are so unique and confident that you can’t help but pay attention to them. Also, Lena and Phoebe just seem like really cool people.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival.
I’ve been to a few AFFs and every experience is a memorable one. Last year’s AFF was especially memorable because after a few years of submitting, I finally made it to the finalist round and was able to attend the awards luncheon. It was an honor to be in the same room as some of the most talented, up-and-coming writers.