screenwriter to watch
Gabrielle Shepard is a Writer, Director and Producer based in Los Angeles, California.
She earned an Masters of Fine Arts in Film and Television Producing at Chapman University where she also studied Screenwriting and Directing. Her projects have been programmed in various film festivals including: Austin Film Festival, Cannes Short Film Corner, Long Beach Comic Con, Cleveland International Film Festival and Pan African Film Festival.
Gabby earned a B.A. in English Literature with a concentration in Film and Africana Studies at Agnes Scott College. She now pursues her passion for fresh, bold, and dynamic projects to bring to life.
She’s worked at various production companies, studios and agencies in the production, marketing, and management departments. She is now in the festival circuit on her projects “Queen” and “Candid” as a part of the AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program under the mentorship of Octavia Spencer.
How did you break in?
In the first year of my masters program in producing at Chapman University I was required to take an entry level screenwriting class. I had the privilege of taking it with professor Barry Blaustein who wrote “Coming to America” and many other of my favorite films. I admired his work and loved going to his class because our discussions were about more than writing; they were about life. The first day of class before we even opened a script we each shared our biggest regrets – which is a vulnerable place to be. But that vulnerability opened out hearts to not only each other, but to the scripts that we were going to write. After turning in my first writing assignment it became clear that screenwriting was something that I should develop further so I took a feature writing class outside of my program under Barry’s mentorship. I fell in love with screenwriting with little pressure since I wasn’t in the writing program which gave me the free curiosity to experiment and eagerness to dig deeper into my skill. After a while I began writing scripts outside of class assignments which became a form of release for anything that was on my mind. Things that bothered me, made me think, made me laugh, cry, question – I found it to be another dimension of experiencing emotion.
Candid (Write/Director), Queen (Writer/ Director), The Homecoming (Producer), Electrogenesis (Producer)
What are the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
One of the biggest lessons is that screenwriting is not as isolating as its stigmatized to be. Sure, the literal act of sitting down keyboard to fingertips is in solitude and we like to think of screenwriters as tortured souls who are locked in a basement somewhere typing away. But a lot of my writing is done in human interaction and my experiences in the world. I had to learn how to step away from the empty screen with the blinking cursor in order to find what gives my scripts their heartbeat. Whether that was spending time on Skid Row when rewriting a story centered around homelessness or reminiscing on memories of my grandfather with family members while writing a story about overcoming loss. Bouncing ideas off of friends and family is also something that I became more comfortable with as a way to build from the natural energy that humans share with one another. My goal and passion as a filmmaker is to evoke human emotion and I’ve learned that I do that best by relying on the world outside of the script as much as the one inside of it.
What has been your hardest scene to write?
The hardest scene that I’ve ever had to write was the ending for my short film “Queen”. The story follows a mother and daughter’s day as they navigate their transition to homelessness on the street. I wanted the tone of the ending to be hopeful without being an after-school special. The first few times I wrote the scene I struggled with writing the dialogue. What could they say after a day like that? The more I worked with it, the more I realized that they wouldn’t say anything so I took out the dialogue in the scene completely. The love in their silence spoke louder than their words could ever articulate.
What do you feel was your turning point?
Having the opportunity to participate in the AT&T Hello Labs was a major turning point in my career. The program gave me the resources to make a film what was later broadcast on DirectTV Now on demand. It exposed me to people, funding, and connections that I needed to write and direct my story. The only difference between success and failure is opportunity for so many talented filmmakers and I’m blessed that I was given one. I was lucky enough to have gotten on Rick Famuyiwa’s radar who was a mentor in the program and later recommended me to be Octavia Spencer’s mentee. In the beginning of the process I was constantly in wild disbelief with how quickly it all happened. After a while I traced my steps and reflected on the work that I’d put into being ready for that moment when it came. I’m a huge believer that the energy that we put out into the world is what we get back. It was more than luck, it was hard work, talent, and a community behind me that opened that door and many others.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on two feature scripts at the moment. The first is the feature version of my short film “Queen” which follows an 11 year old homeless girl’s journey of self empowerment with a little bit of magic along the way.
The second is a coming of age road trip story “Blackbird” which is set in the 60s civil rights hippie era in the vein of “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Dope”.
What are your favorite movies?
I love “Divines” (Houda Benyamina). Other favorites are “Youth” (Paolo Sorrentino) “Memoirs of a Geisha” (Rob Marshall) “Moonlight” (Barry Jenkins), “The Sound of Music” (Robert Wise), “La La Land” (Damien Chazelle), “The Prestige” (Christopher Nolan) “Hook” (Steven Spielberg). “Black Panther” (Ryan Coogler) is my favorite so far of this year.
Who are your favorite screenwriters?
Dan Fogelman (Life Itself), Barry Blaustein (Coming to America), Diablo Cody (Juno), Damien Chazelle (Whiplash), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight).
What is your most Memorable AFF Moment?
“Hook” is one of my absolute favorite childhood movies and at the past festival I got the chance to meet one of the writers, James V. Hart, at the festival’s BBQ dinner. I told him how influential his movie was for me as a filmmaker and thanked him for expanding my imagination as a child. He smiled, gave me a Santa Claus hug, and left the conversation with a fist pump and “BANGARANG”. I might have lost consciousness? Unclear, it was a daze by that point.