screenwriter to watch
Rochée Jeffrey is a writer/director who hails originally from Jamaica. While attending Howard University, she won the Paul Robeson Award for Best Original Screenplay and Best Music Video Direction. She went on to direct the first scripted one-hour drama in Belize, Noh Matta Wat. Her one-hour pilot, Welcome to America, was a finalist for Issa Rae’s ColorCreative.tv’s drama cycle. Rochée’s one-hour pilot, Unique State of Mind, was featured on WeForShe’s 2016 list of the Best Pilots Written by Women. She is a 2017 Film Independent’s Project Involve Screenwriting Fellow, FOX’s 2017 HBCU Fellow and a 2018 Humanitas Prize Semi-Finalist. Rochée was a writer on VH1’s dramedy series Daytime Divas, the Step Up series on YouTube Premium and on Showtime’s Golden Globe-nominated comedy series, SMILF. On the film side, Rochée sold a feature pitch to Lionsgate with Issa Rae serving as an executive producer on the project. Her award-winning, Oscar-qualifying short film Suitable has screened at festivals throughout the world, including the Austin Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Film Festival Shorts Fest. Suitable was a finalist in the American Black Film Festival HBO Competition and the film will appear on HBO in 2019. Rochée also wrote and directed Mr. Talented, a short film which premiered as a part of the 2018 Project Involve Showcase at the Directors Guild of America. Mr. Talented has screened at the Austin Film Festival and the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival, where it was nominated for the HBO Award. She was one of 7 directors selected from over 2,000 applicants for the 2018/2019 Viacom Emerging Directors Program. She is also a 2019 Independent Filmmaker Project – Blackhouse Multicultural Producers Lab Fellow, sponsored by HBO and Moviemaker Magazine. Rochée is represented by Bill Zotti, Anna Flickinger, Josh Hornstock and Alyssa Lanz at United Talent Agency and by Lucy Stutz at Rain Management Group.
How did you break in or get your start in screenwriting?
My former writing partner and I wrote a pilot that was a part of WeForShe’s 2016 list of the best pilots written by women with female leads. Fortunately, the list was circulated throughout the industry and as a result of the exposure, we received our first agency and management representation. We were subsequently staffed on our first series when Amy and Wendy Engelberg, the creators of VH1’s Daytime Divas starring Vanessa Williams, attended a party celebrating the WeForShe list and asked us to submit a writing sample.
Writer “Step Up: High Water”
Writer “Daytime Divas”
Writer/Director “Mr. Talented”
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned?
When I first started writing, a lot of my material was truly distant from my life and my experiences. When I started to write projects that reflected who I am and what I’m interested in, I started to experience more success and the work felt more rewarding. I’ve learned that the key to success as a screenwriter is following your passion and leaning into your truth.
What’s the hardest scene or project you’ve ever had to write? How did you navigate the challenge?
The hardest project is a feature adaptation of a short film that I wrote. The short is deeply tied to my personal narrative, and although writing from your personal truth is where I think you achieve the most success, it’s also a very painful process. I’m learning to create emotional distance between the film and my personal narrative and I also recognize that it is important to give myself the space and the time to tell the story that I want to tell.
What was a major turning point in your career?
I started off writing dramas because they’ve always intrigued me, but most people who know me well know that comedy is a huge part of my life. I was always afraid to write comedy because I thought it was difficult to make people laugh on the page, but when I overcame that fear and wrote my first half-hour pilot, it expanded my career and there’s no looking back.
What are you working on right now?
I have a couple of pilots and features that I am developing.
What are some of your favorite movies?
City of God, Rachel Getting Married and Children of Men
Who are some of your favorite screenwriters?
Jason Katims is my all-time favorite television drama writer. He masterfully captures the nuances of family and romantic relationships and maximizes storylines by milking drama in the best way possible. Friday Night Lights and Parenthood are two of my favorite shows of all time.
Share a memorable experience at Austin Film Festival.
Screening my short, Mr. Talented, in 2018 was incredible. The cohort of films in that section were very strong and was exciting to have my film screen with those incredible projects.