Tate Elizabeth Hanyok
screenwriter to watch
Tate Hanyok is a California native transplant, by way of colonial Virginia. Her upbringing in the land of historical reenactments and federal government careers led her liberal, budding artist soul to flee westward. As a writer and film maker her perspective is steeped in themes of the endless and unpredictable reality of the underdog, and the strength and magic of community. She’s had many careers to support her desire to be a storyteller from housecleaning for Hollywood’s elite, leading guided hikes for underprivileged youth, even a pastry chef at a restaurant on the Sunset Strip. But the thread that remains consistent is her hope to connect with humanity by telling the stories of her unsung heroes. Despite facing much adversity as a youth, she received a BFA from VCU School of the Arts, became a company member at the B Street Theatre (founder’s Busfield and Sorkin), and has since appeared in dozens of television shows and films. Tate is also an improviser and the private comedy coach to many actors on popular television series.
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
Coming up in Hollywood as an actress, the only roles I read for were one-dimensional girlfriends, logical thinking wives, and exposition pushing receptionists. I felt phony, and always wished I could audition for the male roles that got to make the sharp points and land the jokes. When I read those lines, I could hear them in my head, and knew how they should be played. I wasn’t “ingenue” enough and I wasn’t “character-y” enough so I just wasn’t slipping into the mold. There wasn’t space for me. I was too different underneath. I wasn’t going to fit, and I burned years trying. So I started writing for myself. I wrote complex, layered characters that made me laugh and cringe and cry. Characters I hadn’t seen before. Characters I would be thrilled to play. And soon, I wasn’t writing for me, I was writing for my fellow marginalized oddballs who needed a voice. On the page, I could play all of them as I wrote. I would show people my work and they would always respond with hesitation – “that’s not what Hollywood likes to see women doing, Tate”. I haven’t been writing anything different but there’s been a wonderful shift where suddenly my subversive ideas are relevant, desired, currency and I feel so empowered by that. I have so much to say. And so many characters I yearn to bring to life.
Writer – Sex Appeal, Inside Oceanside
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
When they say “write what excites you” – it’s a real thing. I’ve written some perfectly competent scripts that fit perfectly into the current market- and the needle didn’t budge. When I write to entertain myself- the scripts take on a journey of their own and I’m along for the ride. We pretty much all have the same ideas- but our perspective is the only unique thing we have.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
I was writing a story inspired by one of my own life experiences and I kept leaning into what actually occurred. It just wasn’t working. I shelved it and came back with fresh eyes through the main character’s ideology. It made a huge difference. While the story was going in a completely different direction- underneath an authenticity remained. It turns out that was all I needed to draw from my life experience. Not to retell the tale but to use it as a catalyst, a jumping off point. Let the inspiration infuse a new story of its own with authentic truth.
What was a major turning point in your career?
Not getting opportunities. I was always SO close. Time and time again I was pinned or testing for a career changing role and lost the deal to a name. I was even losing theatre roles to stars. While I could get smaller jobs – those started to go away too…and soon the ladder I was hoping to climb suddenly wasn’t even there. The longer I hung in I felt my creative spirit dying from encouragement. My energy was going towards resilience. And then I got angry. Why am I playing this game? The reason I became an actor was because I wanted to tell stories and use my imagination. I wasn’t going to let the lack space for me on screen deter me from that dream. So I hopped to another vehicle for storytelling and that was writing- and now, when I write, I get to play ALL the roles
What are you working on right now?
I’m taking a new spin on a well-known mythology and I’m pretty jazzed about it!
What are some of your favorite movies?
The Princess Bride
Me Earl and the Dying Girl
The Dark Crystal
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
I love Sorkin. I love reading Sorkin. I love performing Sorkin. There’s an innate music to the dialogue and these perfectly crafted builds that make the emotional work for the actor effortless. It’s about memorizing, strapping in for the fast pace, and going on the ride he has written.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival.
It was like the Comic-Con for writers. I was in awe of the instant community and overwhelmed by the diversity of events. It was an organizational masterpiece! I came away with some friends and collaborators for life. And cherished words of wisdom from some of my screenwriting heroes. I simply could not believe I was sitting at tables with the big dogs. It’s the first time I ever felt truly invited into Hollywood’s castle walls.