Alumni Interviews with Amanda Darling

amanda_darling

1. What brought you to screenwriting? How did your interest develop?

Star Trek: The Next Generation was cancelled when I was thirteen. I thought it was because the writers were out of ideas. I knew the producers accepted freelance scripts, so I wrote one and sent it to them with a note that I’d happily help with future ideas and scripts if they’d bring the show back. However, (spoiler alert!) my brilliant plan didn’t work. I wrote several young adult, then adult novels after that, until an agent suggested that my laziness regarding descriptions, interior monologues and complete sentences might actually be an advantage in screenwriting.

2. What was your first script about?

My cousin put me in touch with an indie producer with a grade eight education who made movies in his parents’ garage. I pitched him several ideas, and his favourite was about a teenaged girl who babysits a boy who needs a heart transplant in order to pay for breast implants. We went into production but had to stop due to lack of funds, and by the time we’d raised more cash, the actors looked too old to be the same characters. But the craziness of the cinema hooked me, and I’ve been writing scripts ever since.

3. What were one or two of the highlights of your experience at Hollins?

In my first year, I was in the video production class. I wrote a five-page script and made a short film. It was a small class, so I had lots of one-on-one help from my instructor for editing, and my classmates pitched in on everyone’s projects, so it was lots of fun. It was also a great learning experience to see the production and post-production side of filmmaking. Another highlight were social activities with instructors and students (waffle days, karaoke, ping pong matches, etc.). Hollins is unique among schools, in my experience, with its faculty-student interactions. The instructors are truly available for their students, professionally and personally.

4. How did the MFA program help you in your growth as a writer?

Firstly, consistency. I knew a lot about feature film writing from the various courses I’d taken previously (including the UCLA professional program online), so I knew how to write a good script, I just didn’t know how to do it quickly, efficiently and consistently. I got lots of practice and feedback at Hollins. Secondly, TV. I took two TV classes and wrote two pilots for my thesis. If I’d had this experience when I was thirteen, Star Trek: The Next Generation would still be on the air. Thirdly, professionalism. Nothing says you’re committed to being a writer like an intensive graduate degree. For someone who doesn’t live in LA (or even the US), this was a way to prove my dedication to myself and to the industry.

5. Tell us a little about your professional life to this point – how did you land the jobs and were they positive experiences?

I landed a writing assignment with a company based on a contest I’d won. They read the script I submitted and wanted something with a similar tone for an idea they had. I loved the concept and really enjoyed the experience. They commissioned a second project, which we ended up shelving because the idea they had just wasn’t feasible the way they envisioned it, and they didn’t love my take on it. We’re working on a third project now, and the idea and the script are developing nicely now. My agent in LA heard of a French producer looking for an American-educated, bilingual (English and French), Canadian screenwriter to develop some projects for French public television, and I was pretty much the entire short list. I pitched a bunch of ideas, one of which the producer half-liked. I refined the idea through various iterations and notes. The broadcaster eventually rejected our pitch, but the producer was encouraging, so it was ultimately a positive experience. I got mountains of feedback because the producer was very particular, but it felt really rewarding to be collaborating with someone who pushed me to my creative best.

6. Where would you like to see your career go from this point?

I’d eventually like to create and run my own TV show. Until then, I just want to write as much as possible and have a variety of professional writing experiences.

7. What is your life like now after graduation – where are you working, balancing writing and family, etc.

My husband and I just had a baby, so my daily writing now consists of everything I can type with one hand through a fog of sleep deprivation. I still have my day job, but I’m optimistic that I’ll be a full-time writer within a few years. To any students with families and gainful employment that gets in the way of writing time: remember that life is just fodder for fiction. My best scripts come out of my real life experiences, so I try not to get discouraged when my career doesn’t seem to be taking off as quickly as I’d like.

8. What is the best movie you’ve seen in the last year or so? Why?

Whiplash. It’s brilliant, deeply engaging and gets under your skin. Kudos also to The Lego Movie for awesomeness within its genre.

9. Who is your favorite screenwriter?

Old school: Billy Wilder Current: Aaron Sorkin

10. Do you have any advice for the current Hollins MFA students?

It’s easy to write a lot during the summer term, but you need to keep it up during the rest of the year. I challenged myself to write for at least an hour a day, twenty-five days a month. This is doable even with a family and a day job. I urge current and future students to do the same. Good luck with your studies and achieving your dreams!

The screenwriter, hard at work on her next feature.
The screenwriter, hard at work on her next feature.

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