“Tracking Board doesn’t pat you on the back and let you go after that one project. They want to launch your career. This is a long-term relationship. That’s how they’re different.”
The Tracking Board is proud to present the Mini Series, our new series highlighting our candid interviews with working writers, agents, managers, producers, and filmmakers. In this series, we meet with passionate individuals who discuss their writing process and the insight that they’ve gained by working in the industry. In collaboration with the 2015 Launch Pad Pilots Competition, we’ve set out to talk with Launch Pad finalist and all-around screenwriting guru, screenwriter, and novelist, Jeanne Veillette Bowerman.
TB contributing writer Miley Tunnecliffe sat down with Jeanne, the editor of the popular online publication Script Magazine. Her blog “Balls of Steel” has been an inspiring guide for many up-and-coming as well as established screenwriters. Jeanne’s script, Slavery by Another Name, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, placed in the Top 25 of the 2014 Launch Pad Feature Competition. She recently took some time out to chat with us about lessons she’s learned on the way to becoming a writer, her experience of placing in Launch Pad, and writer’s block.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ Tell us more about your experience placing in the Launch Pad Top 25.[/mks_dropcap]
The Launch Pad is the one competition where your prize is something far more valuable than money – it’s a champion for you and your work. In my group, 17 or 18 of the 25 writers are repped now. I’m not yet, but Slavery by Another Name is a period piece and everyone knows those are a tougher sell. But I’m confident we’ll find the person who understands the historical significance of this project.
Every exec who has read it says the same thing – this film has to be made! Like I’ve said before, this part of our country’s history has never been explored before – the birth of prison laboring. It’ll be a game changer on so many levels.
I’m patient though. I get that it’s all about timing. But Tracking Board didn’t say to me—sorry, can’t help you. They said—what else have you got? What else can we show people? I feel very blessed to have them on my team. I’ve talked to them about another project, a horror script I’m working on with my writing partner, and they were so excited, saying—the second you finish, we’re going out with that! Tracking Board doesn’t pat you on the back and let you go after that one project. They want to launch your career. This is a long-term relationship. That’s how they’re different.
A big part of a writing career is taking meetings. I have a ton of experience in the room, but for those Launch Pad writers who don’t, they give them advice on how to work a room and be open to notes. They want their writers to understand what it takes to succeed in this industry, both on the page and on the business side.
All the top agencies have read my script, know my work and are waiting for me to hand them that marketable screenplay to get my overall career off the ground, ultimately paving the way for a project like Slavery by Another Name. I just have to call Tracking Board and say I’m ready, here’s a new script. They’ll review it, make sure it’s solid, and they’ll go out with it. It’s like having reps even though I don’t have a rep. And having champions in this industry is more important than anything.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒What’s the biggest industry lesson you’ve learned along the way?[/mks_dropcap]
Not to blow the chance at a first impression. So many writers write that first script and think, okay, who can I send it to? One of the biggest mistakes I made was when I first started. I was working with a different writing partner, and we were totally green. We didn’t have a clue.
We didn’t know anyone in Hollywood, except I had an acquaintance who knew one of the biggest guys at Lionsgate. She sent him the very first draft of the very first script we wrote—it was terrible. So not only did we blow our first impression, we blew it with some really big guy.
When I mess up, I go all the way! (Laughter.)
They sent a snail-mail rejection letter. But when I read that letter—that’s when I knew I had the potential for longevity in this career. Instead of being discouraged or defensive, I was just so freaking excited that they read the script. I appreciated that they tore-it-a-new-one, and I totally agreed with them. In fact, I framed the letter and smile every time I see it. Reminds me how far I’ve come in 10 years. Sending a script out prematurely is never a good thing to do. You really need to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite before you send it.
Another lesson I learned was if a script doesn’t jazz you enough to make you excited at the thought of rewriting it again and again, then that’s probably not the story you should be telling. You should put that one aside. I have plenty of scripts that I will never go out with because the hooks aren’t good enough. Even though I thought they were good ideas when I started them, as I was writing, I realized I wasn’t passionate enough about this script to write it over again for the 20th time. I think that lack of passion shows in your work too.
It’s okay to not continue with a script if it’s not speaking to you. You’re better of putting it aside and writing something you really care about.
But here’s the 3rd lesson: There’s always a silver lining in the defeats—always. You’ll even learn something from the shitty script collecting dust in your drawer – you’ll learn about writing, or a new process or something about yourself. Maybe that’s what that script’s purpose was. It’s sort of like dating. Not every date is going to be a homerun. Some dates, you’ll make a bad first impression, and some dates you’re going to realize after an hour in—Oh my god, I want to chew my arm off just to get away from this guy. And then some dates are the ones you want to stick around forever.
Starting a new script can be very overwhelming, because you know how much it takes to actually complete a script. Would you marry the first person who came along? Hell no! So don’t commit to the first concept that comes to mind. You’re better off spending six months brainstorming concepts than six months writing the wrong one.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ What’s your biggest challenge at the moment?[/mks_dropcap]
On a personal level, my biggest challenge is drawing boundaries. I have a big online presence, and I’m too generous with my time because I’m a big believer in paying it forward. I try to do that whenever I can. Most of the time, the questions are simple, and I can easily answer them. But when I have 20-30 people emailing me a day. Then that’s a little harder. I’m getting better at saying, “No.”
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ You’ve worked with different writing partners on your projects. What do you think about partnered writing? [/mks_dropcap]
I don’t have any problem with writing on my own, and I do, but I love writing with a partner too. I love brainstorming with a partner. I love collaboration. This whole industry is about collaboration.
If a writer can learn the skill of collaboration right from the get-go—where you have to compromise without feeling compromised and always serve the story—then it teaches you the lesson that the story comes first. Not your ego or fighting over whose idea it was.
I’ve written with a handful of different people, all of whom I’ve learned a great deal from. I have a new writing partner now. People know him online as Unknown Screenwriter. Someone actually asked me recently if I was Unk. I assure you, I’m not. (Laughter)
His anonymity is simply a spoof on the fact that he works under NDAs as a ghost writer and writer-for-hire, so he never gets writing credit, hence “Unknown Screenwriter.” He’s written for Oscar-winning directors and the top studios for years. I am so blessed to have his trust. When he walked me through the rewrite process he uses when he gets hired, I was blown away. It was like getting my masters in screenwriting. I love learning, and he’s taught me more than anyone. What’s really fun is when someone of his caliber tells me he’s also learning from me! Very humbling.
As for our writing process, we’re so in sync and can go to dark and twisted places, if need be. We don’t draw boundaries in our art. We push each other in that and try to keep upping the game. I love that, and I love the challenge. When I write a scene and send it to him, I want to impress him and I want to make him say every time—I’m so happy to be working with this woman. It’s just like when I would want to impress a producer or an agent or a manager. I think working with a writing partner is an incredible way to prepare for that.
Can you have bad partnerships? Absolutely. But even the ones that haven’t worked out, I’ve still learned incredible lessons about myself as a person and a writer. Every person who has given me feedback on my words has made me a better writer. Period.
What also works is having a brainstorming partner – somebody who has no legal right to the script, no writing credit and no attachment. Someone who is willing to just let you bounce ideas off of them. It’s great for people who prefer to write alone. If you can find someone you trust to do that with, then that’s awesome.
The novels, I write by myself. It’s so liberating as a screenwriter because it takes a village and millions of dollars to get our stories up on the screen, but as a novelist, it just takes the writer. I would still recommend hiring a professional editor, but I don’t have to worry about pleasing countless executives or finding all this money for people to enjoy my stories. I can publish them myself.
It’s so much fun to crawl inside a character’s head. I get to say what she’s thinking. It’s just a great release from all the things we can’t do as screenwriters. There’s so much freedom. And half the films that are made now are adaptations, so why not write your story as a novel too? It increases your odds. You might surprise yourself and find out you’re a better novelist than a screenwriter. But there’s no reason you can’t do both. Writers write.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ Jeanne on writers block… [/mks_dropcap]
I don’t get writer’s block and neither does my partner. I can sit down and just start writing. But I know that if I’m not in the right headspace to write a certain scene, then I’m better off waiting until I am. I’ll work on the novel or write a Balls of Steel column instead. Then I’ll suddenly get an idea for that scene, drop everything and whip it out as opposed to forcing it out. I’m very patient with my creativity.
——————[mks_dropcap style=”square” size=”20″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]⇒ So you’ll be recommending Launch Pad to other writers?[/mks_dropcap]
Yes! I talk to people about it all the time because it’s so unique and so different. The Tracking Board is like a family. I feel very supported and like someone has my back. And as a Sicilian, someone having my back is very important to me.
And I’m the kind of person who has other people’s backs. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has been a part of The Tracking Board has had a very similar, positive experience as I’ve had. I’m pretty cynical about life, so it takes a lot to impress me, and I’m very impressed. I love anyone who loves writers. How can you not?
Contributor Miley Tunnecliffe is -based actress and screenwriter, known for the short films “Love in a Disabled Toilet,” “Bye Bye Lulu,” and “Barnesy’s Numbers.” Her comedic road-trip script, “Run Santos Run,” recently placed in the top 5% of 7500 unproduced screenplays entered in 2014’s Academy Nicholl Fellowships. She is also a co-head of Red Milestone Productions, which is based in Western Australia.
Follow Miley on Twitter: @mileytunn