This past year I won my first screenwriting award at a film festival on the East Coast. It felt great to have my work recognized in such a way. At home, here in suburban Minneapolis, I’m often asked what got me into screenwriting. I get it – there aren’t too many stay-at-home moms who spend their days writing imaginary characters in Final Draft. But to answer that question, I have to take it back to the to greatest era ever to grow up in – the 80’s.
Even as a kid I loved to write, but screenwriting was never on my radar. To be honest, I’m not even sure I knew what that was. I wanted to be a book writer. I grew up on a healthy diet of books by Judy Blume, Francine Pascal, and V.C. Andrews. I wrote my first short story the summer before my junior year in high school. I brought it to school in the fall and let a few friends read it. The word must’ve gotten out that I had a good story, because soon other classmates asked if they could read it too. They begged me to add more to the story as they didn’t want it to end! My writing also extended to the school newspaper as a contributing writer and ultimately, editor. But my biggest passion at that time was theatre. I worked hard on my acting to eventually land lead roles in the school plays. I was also part of a traveling acting troupe that performed at area high schools, and I taught community-acting classes to elementary kids. You could say acting was my life. After high school I had one goal: get the heck out of Dodge (Minnesota) and move to Hollywood. And a few years later I landed in Los Angeles, a fresh-faced, blonde, blue eyed, bouncy twenty-one year-old fresh off the proverbial farm. You can imagine my surprise when I learned that I lived my whole life with an accent I never knew I had!
“Fargo,” happened to be the biggest movie at the time, and wherever I went, I was constantly reminded that I sounded just like Frances McDormand’s character in the movie, for which she took home the Oscar. (note: Minnesotan’s don’t think we sound ANYTHING like the characters in the film.)
With the advice of acting coaches and agents, I worked hard to lose the accent because it worked against me. Over the next five years, I had a few lead roles in low budget features, local commercials, and landed a couple national shows that people actually saw. But the ‘big break’ eluded me, so I decided to focus on college. I got accepted at California State University (CSUN) and majored in journalism, because if I wasn’t going to be an actress, then I’d be a news anchor. See how easy that is? CSUN had a top-notch journalism department and some of the best professors in the country. Being a student in my mid-to-late twenties was extremely advantageous to my college career because I was more mature and focused on the work, and it ultimately paid off. During my senior year, I won an Edward R. Murrow award for my work as a writer/anchor of a radio newscast that aired in Los Angeles. I also won an Associated Press Radio and Television Association (APTRA) award for my work on the show. After graduation, I decided to go the producer route (instead of reporter/anchor) because I liked being in charge of a newscast, and thus began my career as a T.V. news producer for stations in California and Minnesota. As a producer, ninety percent of my job was writing, and I spent countless hours writing stories for the anchors to read to the television audience. Every day ended with a live show that sometimes brought some very unexpected elements.
Fast-forward to 2014. I was a happy but busy stay-at-home mom with a one and three year old, helping my husband with his burgeoning entertainment production company. Out of nowhere came a very strong desire to write a movie idea that I had bouncing around my head for fifteen years. So, I invested in Final Draft, the Screenwriter’s Bible, and with a baby and toddler on my lap, away I wrote. Oh the things I’ve learned between then and now, and continue to….
I enter 2019 with a fifth completed script, this one co-written with Emmy award winning screenwriter Sean Paul Murphy, who has written more than a dozen produced films. We are both excited to see where “Romy,” takes us. It’s a redemptive story about a young woman’s journey of forgiveness and self discovery in light of past mistakes.
I’ve been told that my biggest strength as a screenwriter is in the depth of the characters that I write. I believe I can delve into the heart, mind and motivation of a character because of my training as an actress. I believe I am disciplined to have written five feature-length scripts in fours years because of the high standards of the exceptional professors, writers and story tellers I learned from, as well as the direct on the job experience I acquired in the newsroom. I believe my stories of redemption are believable because they come from direct experience living a redeemed life. What am I trying to say? Only that I believe nothing in our past – triumphs, failures, mistakes, pursuits that didn’t pan out – is wasted. Our experiences are like stepping stones on a long road. God can and will use it all to bring about His plan for our lives at any age, at any time in our life, if we will step out in faith and be willing to do the hard work.