Born and bred Londoner, Tess Morris has been writing since she could walk (not 100% true) and her first words were “Elvis is the King!” (100% true). Her first screenplay, the romantic comedy Man Up, made the 2011 Brit List, was picked up by Big Talk Pictures, co-produced by Studio Canal and BBC Films and released in 2015, directed by Ben Palmer, and stars Simon Pegg and Lake Bell. Morris is currently writing an original screenplay Textbook Behaviour for Big Talk/BBC Films, and co-writing an original comedy drama Dead to Me, for NBC/Lucky Giant, with David Allison. She has done numerous rewrites on both sides of the pond, and began her career in the UK writing soap opera and sitcom. Last year she was named a BAFTA Breakthrough Brit. She currently resides in LA. She broke in by writing a short film called Beer Goggle, when she was 19, which won a competition called the Lloyds Bank Channel 4 Film Challenge. It was made for 30,000 pounds, imagine that now! You could make 500 movies.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned? This is a LONG game, and there really is no such thing as overnight success. And even if you have some success, you cannot sit on your laurels, ever. I’d also say, learn how to separate your personal and professional life somehow, otherwise you will feel like, as Lawrence Kasdan once said, “you have homework every night for the rest of your life.” And my big bit of advice is to not write what you know, but write WHO you know… interesting, complex, flawed characters, that’s who the audience ultimately remembers, identifies and invests in.
What was a major turning point in your career? Writing Man Up on spec was the biggest turning point EVER. I wish I could just spec all the time, but unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out, financially! But I wrote Man Up, without anyone waiting on me, or expecting anything, and that really worked for me, so much. It landed on people’s desks without any fanfare, and I think that’s the best way really. Always be speccing.
Who is your favorite screenwriter? So many…. Nora Ephron, Nancy Meyers, Woody Allen, Lawrence Kasdan, Paul Thomas Anderson, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, William Goldman, Callie Khouri…
What’s your favorite AFF memory? Oh god, yes, the screening of Man Up at the Paramount! It was my favorite screening EVER, the hairs on my arms are standing up even thinking about it again… I introduced it, and then I wasn’t going to stay to watch, as I was too nervous, but then my good friend Kelly Marcel was like “you have to stay, you idiot” and I was so glad I did, because the Austin crowd was just phenomenal – laughing, clapping, whooping, crying, the works.