HU: What brought you to screenwriting? How did your interest develop?
AT: My undergraduate degree was in Classics, but after graduation I started to realize that teaching Latin was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had always really loved film, but it never crossed my mind that it was an industry that real people worked in – it was for famous Hollywood types. But when I started to examine what I actually wanted to do for a living, I realized that it was, in fact, making movies. Finding the Hollins program was really a catalyst the decision to pursue that interest.
HU: What was your first script about?
AT: Trying to remember. I know there were a few false starts. I’ve got a couple first acts lying around that I never finished, but I think the first script that I actually completed was a mockumentary about a small town church trying to deal with a new pastor. The church was very conservative and traditional, but the new pastor was a woman and very modern. My Hollins thesis was an animated script about a cat who wants to take over the world. I’ve actually worked on that one more since graduating. I think it’s pretty fun 🙂
HU: What were the highlights of your experience at Hollins?
AT: The screenings were always really awesome – I got to see a lot of great films that I probably wouldn’t have chosen on my own, and there are a few that have really stuck with me, like Antonia’s Line, and To Be or Not To Be (the Jack Benny/Carole Lombard version). I also really loved the teleplay course I took, and I got to shoot my first short film!
HU: Did you pursue the MA or MFA? How did that program help your growth at Hollins?
AT: I did the MFA track, but it was great because we also got to take some film studies courses which I really enjoyed.
HU: Tell us a little about your professional life to this point – how did you land the jobs and were they positive experiences? Where do you currently live and work?
AT: I currently work and live in Los Angeles. When I moved out here, I got an internship at a production company, (by randomly replying to a Craigslist ad I think), and once that was over they would hire me as a production coordinator on some of their shoots. When I was there it was called SpiritClips, but I believe it has since been bought by Hallmark and produces content for them. It was really good experience to start to understand how production worked out here in LA and to just keep in practice with being on an actual set. From the connections that I made there, I ended up working as a director on a movie review show called Just Seen It for a few years. More recently, I have been working as a social media manager to bring in money while I pursue my own projects. Two years ago I raised money via kick-starter to fund a web series that I wrote and directed called Jess Archer Versus. We’ve been releasing episodes this summer. At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to fund my first feature, a horror/comedy that I wrote over the past couple years.
Check out Amy’s web series Jess Archer Versus. Enjoy and share!
HU: What has your experience been like as a woman in this industry?
AT: I have been pretty lucky so far. SpiritClips employed a lot of women in key positions, and so the environment was very encouraging for female filmmakers. I also met a lot of great people on Just Seen It – independent filmmakers who have decided to get out there and make their own content. That inspired me to take the steps to actually shoot my web series. As a filmmaker, and particularly as a woman, I think you have to take the bull by the horns and just go ahead and do it yourself. Don’t wait for Hollywood. This might mean you won’t have as high a budget or as many resources, but take these restrictions as a challenge and find creative solutions to tell the stories you want to tell! Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now 🙂
HU: Where would you like to see your career go from here?
AT: In my wildest dreams, I’d love to direct a Star Wars movie. It’s been such a huge part of my life – my first short story in second grade was basically a rip-off of A New Hope, only with Princess Leia replaced by a pony. What can I say, as a kid I loved Star Wars and ponies…why wouldn’t I combine them? More realistically and in the immediate future, I do have a feature that I want to direct, and I’d love to do another season of Jess Archer Versus. I also have two more pilots for possible web series (or TV) – if I can make any of those things happen, I think I’ll be on the right track to that Star Wars movie, right?
HU: Is there one class/lecture/seminar you wish you had here at Hollins? Why?
AT: I know it’s not necessarily writing-centric, but I wish there had been a producing class for me to take. Something that went into the details of how to do a budget and scheduling, breaking down a script…things like that. The boring paperwork side of filmmaking. I got some of that in the production class I took where we made our own short films, but I would have loved a class with more of a focus on purely producing. Those are the kind of skills that productions are always looking for out here in LA, so you can supplement your income as you pursue writing.
HU: Who are your favorite screenwriters/filmmakers? Whose work inspires you the most? Why?
AT: I’m a big fan of Billy Wilder. His scripts are so efficient and well-structured. Just really tight and funny. I also really love, and am probably most inspired in my own work, by Edgar Wright (and by extension Simon Pegg, who he often collaborates with). His sense of humor and visual style are right in line with mine, and I’m really interested in the way that his scripts with Simon Pegg tend to lay out a blueprint for the whole film in the first act. There’s always a ton of little clues and details that pay off later on, and are fun to try to spot upon re-watching. Whenever I’m stuck in a scene, or looking for an interesting way to transition between scenes, I just think, “what would Edgar Wright do?” and inspiration usually strikes.
HU: What advice do you have for current students? If you could do this all over again, what advice would you give yourself?
AT: Take advantage of everything the Roanoke area has to offer! I think I probably spent a little too much time holed up in my room. And sure, I was writing and that was great, but I wish I had explored downtown a little more, maybe gone for some hikes. I know there’s a lot of work to do, and you might feel like you should always be writing, but sometimes your brain needs a break!