Hollins Takes Over the 2017 Austin Film Festival

That’s a wrap! Hollins Summer Graduate Student Ashley Stratton recounts her experiences at the Austin Film Festival with her classmates from Hollins University:

Every year hundreds of screenwriters, both those working in the industry and those who desperately wish they were, descend upon the city of Austin for the Austin Film Festival (AFF). AFF is known unofficially as “the writer’s film festival,” and it’s a great chance to pick the brains of some of the most prolific writers in the field, shake the hand of one of your heroes, or to find your voice in Austin’s famous Pitch Competition.

This year, a group of intrepid students from Hollins University’s Graduate Screenwriting & Film Studies program made the trip to Texas to learn as much as possible, party until the wee hours of the morning (it’s networking, okay?), and to sample some killer Voodoo donuts. Tim Albaugh, director of the program, encourages as many students as possible to go, because this festival is unique. “AFF is an investment in yourself. Not only as a writer, but also as a collaborator.” He continues, “There’s nothing like hanging out with like-minded folks that are passionate about the same thing you’re passionate about. It’s an investment that will pay dividends now and for years to come.”

Nick Leitzke, a Hollins alumnus who made the trek, absolutely agrees, “To be honest I was asking myself why I was going for the entire month before the trip. But as soon as I was in my first panel on Thursday I knew why I was there. If you want to see what it really takes to make it in Hollywood and to get inspired by the journey, Austin is where you want to be.” Not only is the festival a wonderful opportunity to get inspired, the city itself is a great place to spend a weekend. It’s super walkable, and downtown is chock full of dimly lit bars, cozy coffee shops, and fantastic restaurants. (There’s so much queso, everywhere!) There’s something for everyone in Austin. Half of the group landed downtown in an Airbnb close to the Driskill Hotel, where most of the Festival action was held, and smack in the middle of all of the Halloween Parties going on that weekend. Needless to say, there wasn’t much sleep to be had, but that was okay because there was always something new to do.

When most people hear film festival, they think of, well, films. And while there were a bunch of shorts and feature-length films–including Greta Gerwig’s excellent Lady Bird, that many of us saw opening night–the main attractions are the conference panels. This year’s panelists included Academy Award winner Kenneth Lonergan, Academy Award Nominee Eric Heisserer, Emmy-winning writer/director/producer Keenan Ivory Wayans, showrunner Misha Smith, and so many more. The panels were diverse and enthralling. You never knew if someone was going to tell a witty story or drop a piece of advice that changed your view of the craft. There were sessions on everything from overcoming common screenwriting issues, to writing well-crafted stories about social justice, to master classes in individual writer’s films and careers. When you got in line for a panel, you never knew exactly what you were going to get, but you knew it was going to be good.

A unique part of AFF are the roundtable sessions. Roundtables are a chance to sit down in small groups with working writers, producers, and showrunners to pick their collective brains about topics ranging from the business of film and television to one-hour dramas to the business of podcasting. Alumnus Tyler Gallimore found the entire experience unbelievable, saying, “The access you have to the writers at the roundtable sessions and the other writers at the festival is amazing. I was blown away and so glad I came. Any time you can get up close and personal with a working writer/producer/manager is something that we should all take advantage of.” At AFF there is always the potential for a random conversation to turn into a new idea or a new friendship. But, with world-class storytellers at your fingertips, you know it’s never going to be boring.

AFF is fascinating because it focuses on storytelling techniques of the future including podcasts and writing for virtual reality and video games. One panel was, itself, a podcast, and many of us enjoyed the madcap antics of Craig Mazin combined with the staid calm of John August in person instead of through our car speakers during a taping of their popular Scriptnotes podcast. (Seriously, if you’ve never listened to it before, give’em a try). Second-year student, Jami Scholl was particularly interested in the off-beaten path nature of some of AFF’s tracks saying, “I wanted to get the ‘lay of the land’ for subsequent years of creation and to find out more about the other options for writers outside of features and television.” For those looking to expand their content creation horizons, AFF is a goldmine of information.

AFF isn’t all sitting in the dark and frantic note-taking; there’re so many people to meet. If you aren’t chatting people up in line, you’re sharing tips at one of the many parties throughout the week, or congregating in the lobby or the bar of the Driskill. Everyone at AFF is passionate about film and storytelling, and so it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a perfect stranger. Purnesh Konathala, a second-year student, experienced the AFF social phenomenon and was blown away. “The thing that often weighs me down in my craft is the introvert in me. But, at AFF, I left that all behind, I couldn’t believe it, I ended up speaking to more than twenty strangers in those three days. And I have the business cards to prove it.” Making connections that last for years is all a part of the AFF experience.

Our own Hollins AFF time was wrapped up nicely at a low-key get-together on Saturday night. Our little band of adventurers took over the back room of the Gingerman, a great Austin bar, and spent hours inhaling gallons of mac and cheese, drinking enough beer to float home on, and regaling each other with our festival adventures. For a film lover and screenwriter, AFF is a magical experience, but it was made even better by being able to experience it all with our Hollins fam.

Every one of us came away with some insight or important chance encounter over the course of the weekend, but Jamie Hoover, staring down her thesis project, had one of the best takeaways when she considered how the festival might affect her in the long run. “I realized that I can’t be scared to create. I think too often we as writers can get into our heads about the logistics and merits of our work and it can stop us before we even start. If we start at all, we can rework the weaker components; we can’t fix what isn’t there to begin with.”

The pursuit of screenwriting can sometimes feel like soloing a mountain. Breaking an act or even just writing a single scene can feel like a cold, exhausting, climb where one slip in concentration can send you free-falling into the bowels of the internet, or worse. Much like the Hollins University’s six-week summer residencies for the Screenwriting and Film program, the Austin Film Festival is a welcome respite from that lonely journey. Both Hollins and the Austin Film Festival are opportunities to go all in, to set your heart on creation, and to remember that there are so many amazing writers toiling right alongside you that, if need be, are willing to reach out and provide a steadying hand.  

If you find yourself in need of climbing partners in your screenwriting journey, check out Hollins University’s kick-ass M.F.A. in Screenwriting program. It meets every summer in gorgeous Roanoke, Virginia and offers classes from some of the most compelling writers working today. Or even if you just find yourself at AFF looking for a great gang to connect with, come find us. We’ll be in the back, hoarding the craft beer. We’ve got a cold one saved for you.

Interview (Part 2): Stephanie Shannon

Scott Myers sat down with 2013 Nicholl fellowship winner Stephanie Shannon to discuss her journey as a screenwriter.

Interview (Part 2): Stephanie Shannon

Meet the Blogger!

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been running this blog page for Hollins University for a year now and I have yet to properly introduce myself. Where are my manners? Allow me to ameliorate this.

Name: Amanda Hobbs

Hometown: Richmond, Virginia, USA

How long at Hollins? I’ve been a graduate student in the summer graduate screenwriting & film studies program since 2015.

What made you chose this profession? Long story short, this place feels like the right place. This industry has given me more chances than others. I believe in following the yes’s. So this is where it’s lead me. 

Favorite films/directors/writers/scores/composers/costume designers? Favorite films: Chicago, A League of Their Own, The Sandlot, just about any Disney film, The Princess Bride, Invictus, Long Strange Trip, Midnight in Paris, The Dark Knight, Charlie Wilson’s War, Elizabeth: The Virgin Queen… Directors: Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock, Susanna Bier… Writers: Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Quentin Tarantino… Composers: Michael Giacchino, John Williams … Costume Designers: Colleen Atwood, Alexandra Byrne, Jenny Beavan

Goals for this blog: To reach as many people as possible and be a valuable tool for as many people as possible. I strive to include articles about multiple aspects such as filmmaking and production, the atmosphere and culture of the industry, women and minorities in the industry, and perspectives from the actor’s or director’s points of view. I seek out multiple – if seemingly unusual – sources for inspiration, creativity, and anything else I think could be of value to anyone working or hoping to work in the film industry. Since this page is sponsored by an actual living, breathing university, I also like to showcase the work of our students and professors in hopes that you will come spend time with us so you can become better at your craft and become a part of this incredible family of creatives and artists.

What genres do you like to write? Is there another genre or aspect of the industry you’d like to explore more? I’ll admit my brain tends to go into a Hallmark/Lifetime kind of place. But, I do have an incredible fascination with history. It’s really not as boring as people think. History is all about people and their stories. As far as the film industry goes, I want to learn about anything and everything I can get my hands on: writing, directing, acting, film scoring, or costume design. My skill set, however, is an entirely different discussion – ha ha. Anything can be learned if you’re willing to be a student.

Where do you find inspiration? History and real life stories fascinate me. I also find myself gravitating towards stories about women. Women have stories just as rich and compelling as anyone else. I’m not the sort to condone or resort to man-bashing; I think it’s neither necessary nor appropriate and contradicts the goals of gender equality. I just think women deserve to have the credit for their contributions, respect for the abilities of their brains, and deserve to have their stories shared and celebrated.  

Tricks for sustaining/maintaining creativity? How do you fight creativity blocks? When I write, I like to lock myself in room with a big window, stick my earbuds in and listen to classical music (which is also not as boring as people think). The Beethoven station on Pandora does the trick for me. It’s nice to have something in your ear that will block out the outside world for a bit while also stimulating your brain enough to keep your attention. Whenever I find myself struggling to write, I realize that it’s time to take a break. The brain needs some rest. So I’ll find something else to do like go for a walk – fresh air does wonders, find a craft to do, read a book, or exercise. I like to think of it this way: when you hit a block, the creative fuel tank is empty. So in order to keep going, you need to refuel. I find it enormously helpful to go find something else to do because staring at a blank page all weekend accomplishes nothing. Go socialize, enjoy a meal with people, have conversations… I’m an introvert and I’m saying this. Yes, private time is important. But humans are social creatures and require interaction with other humans for a multitude of reasons. That’s neither an accident nor a fluke. Also, pick a writing time and defend it like mad – this is something I struggle with immensely.  

Fun facts/favorites/interests/hobbies: Fun facts: I attended the Sundance Film Festival in Salt Lake City for the first time this year and volunteered with the Richmond International Film Festival. Both wonderful experiences. Interests: outdoor activities, travelling, gardening, music, cooking/baking, crafts, reading

Bio: A little bit about me. I’m Amanda, your humble blogger. I grew up in Chesterfield, VA (just south of Richmond). I received my Associate’s in Arts degree from Richard Bland College, my Bachelor of Arts in History from Virginia Tech, and I’m currently working on my MFA at Hollins University. As far as my involvement with the film industry, I’m slowly but surely, making my way. I was an active member of the music community as a band student in high school and wanted to pursue a career as a music teacher, but eventually realized it wasn’t a good fit for me. However, I did become a sister of Tau Beta Sigma, the National Honorary Band Service Sorority. I considered pursuing a theatre major, but opted for history because I felt it would be more versatile, it was subject I was genuinely interested in, and I still thought I wanted to be a teacher. After teaching preschool for several years, spending a semester in a teacher licensure program, and not satisfied with where I was headed, I decided to take another direction and go after something that I really wanted. I came upon Hollins University after doing an online search for film programs in my home state of Virginia. I stewed over it for some time before applying, but once I did I never looked back. I’ve continued to pursue work in this industry because it’s given me opportunities that others wouldn’t. And, plus, there’s more than one way to be a teacher. 

 

Amanda Hobbs - photo 2
Amanda Hobbs

Martin Scorsese’s Go-To Film Editor Thelma Schoonmaker on the Secret Behind Their Epic Collaborations

Carolyn Giardina with Hollywood Reporter sat down with Thelma Schoonmaker to discuss Thelma’s incredible career (she recently received a career achievement award at the American Cinema Editor’s 67th Eddie Awards), her collaboration and friendship with Martin Scorsese, and what it’s like working as a woman behind the camera in Hollywood.

Read her full interview here: Martin Scorsese’s Go-To Film Editor Thelma Schoonmaker on the Secret Behind Their Epic Collaborations

“This is What it Sounds Like When Women Talk About Movies”

Rebecca Bohanan at Huffington Post sat down with filmmaker Jocelyn Moorhouse to discuss her 2015 film The Dressmaker and working women in the film industry.

Read the full interview here: This is What it Sounds Like When Women Talk About Movies

The Festival Circuit

Hello my fellow writers, cinephiles, and artists:

It looks like I’m becoming one of those people who is beginning to hit the festival circuit. Within the past few months I have had the opportunity to learn more about this side of the film industry from the perspectives as a participant and as a volunteer. The reason I began embarking on such an endeavor is because I want to learn everything I possibly can about the film industry. So I’m trying to absorb everything I can and get my hands into everything I can. In fact, I’m even taking an acting class right now. Since I am in between jobs and job hunting like a madwoman, I have some time on my hands until I find my next place to land. So I figured I’d make the most of it and take advantage of some opportunities out there and share a little about my experiences thus far.

This January, I had the opportunity to traveling to Utah for the Sundance Film Festival. The festival is held in Park City, the festival’s main base, and Salt Lake City for ten days in January. I attended the second week of the festival and stayed in Salt Lake City. Many of the films screen in both locations, but all of the extra events such as filmmaker discussions, panels, and formally organized networking opportunities were in Park City.

The features I saw were To The Bone, Landline, The Nile Hilton Incident, L.A. Times, and Band Aid. I did get to see a number of documentaries: Winnie, about Winnie Mandela and her leadership in the fight against apartheid in South Africa; The Good Postman, about a mayoral election in a disappearing Eastern European town struggling with how to handle refugees; and Long Strange Trip about the Grateful Dead. There is seriously no better title for a four-hour Grateful Dead documentary. I’ve always been a nerd about music (my family’s favorite pastime is quizzing me on my rock & roll knowledge), so it was the last film I saw at the festival and my favorite.

I did manage to squeeze in an afternoon in the gorgeous Park City, which was about a 45 minute drive from Salt Lake City. I spent some time in the Sundance TV lounge, learned more about Sundance Now – a new streaming service similar to Netflix, but exclusively for projects affiliated with the Sundance Institute. I even got a pair of Sundance Now socks for signing up 🙂  I did catch one of the Filmmaker Lodge discussions. Which was fantastic. The ticketing process was fairly easy and explained in elaborate detail. The site was set up as if you were shopping online, so it was very easy to navigate. I chose the 10-ticket package that came with two credentials. After being given a time slot by the Sundance staff (probably so thousands of people didn’t log on at the same time and crash the site – smart idea), you got to go onto the website and select which films you’d like to see, and then selected the box office where you’d like to pick them up. You have to pick up the good old-fashioned paper tickets in person. The title of each film printed on each one; which I actually prefer to an emailed or electronic ticket. Ticket packages are not mailed or emailed. That made everything much easier.

This festival clearly runs like a well-oiled machine. There were lots of staff and volunteers in yellow or black Kenneth Cole jackets and all of them were incredibly helpful, friendly, and enthusiastic about being apart of the festival. Most of the screenings were scheduled in the evening, so I got to spend my days exploring the city and trudging through snow for good places to eat and shop. There was more snow and less heat than I am accustomed to having as a Virginian, and some people quipped that the festival should be called “Snowdance” instead of Sundance. But the amount of frozen precipitation never put a damper on my experience. Everyone I met, whether or not they were involved with Sundance, was incredibly friendly. I was also happy that Reshma, one of my good friends from Hollins, was also in attendance. There was some overlap on our screening schedules so we got to attend some movies together and play a bit of catch up. So final verdict: if you ever get the chance to go to Sundance in any capacity – do it. It is worth every penny.  If life allows it, I’d probably go again next year.

Since I got the opportunity to experience a film festival as an attendee, I figured it was about time I learned what film festivals are like from the other side as a volunteer. The film industry has been growing and drawing more attention in Virginia, especially with historically inspired films. Many strides are being taken to open up Virginia and make it a more appealing and competitive place for the film industry to thrive as Virginia becomes a more sought-out location. One of the many ways Virginia is working to increase its appeal to filmmakers is by hosting the Richmond International Film Festival (RIFF). This year was the sixth year of the festival. So it’s still young, growing, and evolving. The most recent phase of evolution was creating a SXSW type of vibe with film screenings and musical performances. This year was the first time at creating this type of atmosphere for RIFF. As both a volunteer and spectator, I think it’s a direction worth exploring and maintaining. Richmond has a rich and growing arts scene, the festival just needs time to grow.

Like any prospective volunteer, I sent an inquiry in response to an email requesting volunteers that came out of the Virginia Production Alliance listserv. I introduced myself as a Hollins University graduate student and recent Sundance attendee. This evidently made an impression since the result was an invitation to join the small group of volunteers that worked closely with the event producers. Which was cool. I got to help put together the RIFF website, add RIFF events to local online calendars, and work the RIFF table at the State of the Industry event.

During RIFF itself, I worked ticket tables for a lot of music events. My first night I worked a hip-hop/rap event with performances from Supa Soop, Ace of Spades, Prince La’kid, KingTay, and Chance Fischer. The next night was a music video showcase and live music mixer with a variety of music. Performances ranged from hometown talent – like Rodney the Soul Singer and Noah-O, to musicians from around the country like Just B. Polo, and Smoothe da Hustler and Trigger tha Gambler from New York. Residents and guests of the River City also got a special treat with performances from international musicians Sparky Quano from Japan and Naomi Achu from Cameroon. Another night I worked an event called “Women in the Round” which showcased several female singer/songwriters: Susan Greenbaum – a Richmond favorite, The Belle of the Fall, Violet Dulaney, and Mary Bragg. I befriended Mary Bragg, a country/Americana musician. I gave her drink tickets so she later gave me a copy of one of her albums – which I’ve enjoyed listening to. It was tremendous fun and all of the musicians put on incredible performances, but it required many long nights that lasted until the early morning hours. I did work the ticket table one of the movie theaters one afternoon. But I think the music events were more fun to work. Most of the movies I wanted to see conflicted with times I had to work, so unfortunately I didn’t get to see many films. The documentary about the 611 steam engine was fascinating.

I was elated to see some Hollins friends make the trek to RVA. Although the visit was brief, I enjoyed and appreciated it immensely. Tim, Amber, Tyler, Jamie, Allen, and Alva: thank you for making your way to Richmond. I hope y’all enjoyed it!

I did work the ticket table for one event that I was really hoping to get to: the Flow Collective panel discussions. There were five panels lasting about an hour each. So like any studious individual, I took notes with the pen and notebook I keep in my purse. Because it’s not every day you get to sit in on panel discussions for free (well, in exchange for working the ticket table) 🙂 I was in the back of the room and the speakers didn’t have microphones, so it was a bit hard to hear them at times, so I scribbled down what I could.

People were able to come to the panel and pitch their ideas for projects or present their reels of work to a panel of industry professionals from casting, directing, composing, producing, and writing. I didn’t get to jot down all of the pitches themselves or the sources of all of the advice, but I did catch some gems worth sharing:

  1. “You’re the imaginative one in the room, most people in the room aren’t” and won’t admit it. That in itself is worthy of your confidence.
  2. “Communicate everything in your head so the audience can understand it.”
  3. “When you say ‘yes’ you’re making a commitment to yourself.”
  4. Jesse Vaughn, director of The Last Punch –“Sound = Picture”…”There is no excuse for bad sound. The only excuse is laziness.”
  5. “Create a win-win situation…If you want [career] longevity, create win-win relationships.” -J.V.
  6. “If you don’t ask, you don’t get it… you can’t be shy.” -J.V.
  7. You sometimes have to give people “gentle elbows” in order to accomplish a certain goal. -J.V.
  8. When beginning conversations about financing, don’t begin the conversation with “What’s your rate?” That’s a major turn off. Use language more along the lines of “What does it take for us to work together… Communicate what you have and what you need respectfully.” – J.V
  9. When asking for film score help, ease your way into conversations. For example, “I like your music”, “I like this bit here”, and “can I see more of this?”
  10. “QUALITY: It’s all about bringing in and wanting to create A-level work” – J.V.
  11. “Be sincere, but be flexible.” -J.V.
  12. “Present someone with a challenge and do your homework”
  13. One goal to have: wanting people to “leave the theater smarter/better informed than when they entered.”
  14. When making reels (actors, composers, cinematographers, etc): “Make reels tailor-made. Know who you’re presenting it to”. – Anne Chapman and Erica Arvold
  15. Make your reel lifelike with highs and lows, moments big and little, peaks and valleys.
  16. Figure out what it is you want and curtail your reel to accomplish the goal.
  17. “Display proficiency and flexibility” -Black Liquid
  18. Anecdote: Context – When Rambo was first made and introduced without a score people couldn’t sit through it. Once the score was added, people could sit through the film and enjoy it.
  19. Composer reels should be two minutes in length.
  20. Cinematography reels should show some variety in your skill set.
  21. One thing from employers: (this note was given in regard to cinematographers, but could easily apply to anyone in any line of work) What they are looking for is how well do you work with people. A big part the job is managing people and equipment. How well do you do that? How well do you work with people you do and don’t like?

Overall, my experience of working with RIFF was a positive and beneficial one. I enjoyed learning more about film festival and what all goes into planning. I’m also grateful to the film community as a whole for being incredibly welcoming. I’ve never once been belittled or ridiculed for lack of knowledge or experience. Whether I’m with writers, actors, or film festival goers, everyone is always so kind, generous, and encouraging. There is always something new to learn or experience and the enthusiasm people have in sharing what they’ve created is always inspiring. Richmond has so much to offer and is becoming a more sought-out place for a number of reasons, especially with a rich history to fuel a film industry. I can’t wait to see where this festival goes and how much it grows over time.

 

Links:

RIFF website

Richmond, VA was also ranked on MovieMaker magazine’s The Best Places to Live and Work as a Moviemaker 2017

 

Interviews: Actors on Actors series

Just because you’re behind the camera doens’t mean you can’t learn something from those in front of it. Film is very much a collaborative art, both sides are equally valuable and necessary. Enjoy the loop of incredible interviews and discussions with actors such as Ryan Reynolds, Taraji P. Henson, Emma Stone and Molly Shannon to name a few.

Watch: Actors on Actors

Episode Two of Page Ten Podcast

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Episode two of Page Ten is up and running, just click on the link below, or if you’d rather, it’s also available to download on iTunes. Head over and take a listen to the second half of the interview with guest Kelly Fullerton, and if you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and catch future episodes.

Page Ten Podcast on iTunes

Alumnae Interview with Amy Taylor

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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!

Interview with Alumnus & Professor Matt Marshall

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HU: What brought you to screenwriting?

MM: To be honest it was the only thing left in the arts I hadn’t tried yet. I have a background in Art History, Music Composition, and Theatre. I love film and had taught and studied every aspect of it except STORY. It felt like the right way to close my educational loop.

HU: What was your first script about?

MM: It was about a painter who wonders what would happen if two people imagine each other at the same moment. Would they be able to meet for real? The painter imagines a writer is writing a story about her. As the writer sits in the coffee shop he begins to write a story about this painter. Suddenly she appears out the window. He can’t believe she has materialized. He must meet her. What will happen when they see each other? Probably would have made a decent Twilight Zone episode back in the day.

HU: What were the highlights of your experiences at HU both as a student and as a professor?

MM: As a student, making my first film in Amy Gerber-Stroh’s video class. It was a life changing experience looking through the lens and breaking the world up into little rectangles. As a professor, every conversation I had with a student as they were getting excited about a new story or paper idea. When ideas start taking hold, it is such a beautiful experience to be in the presence of people who are riding or creating this wave.

HU: Is there a class you wish you had here as a student? What would it be?

MM: Screenwriting for Playwrights/Playwriting for Screenwriters. Some sort of class that addresses both forms where screenwriters can get a good dialogue polish from playwrights and playwrights can learn how they can be more VISUAL on stage. It would be cross listed so students in the Playwriting and Screenwriting programs would both get credit. We can learn a lot from each other.

HU: What were the best/worst movies you’ve seen this year? Why?
MM: The Revenant and Mad Max because they were the MOST cinematic. They were relentless and unapologetic. They don’t exist on the page. They exist on the screen.  Yes, a bit on the macho side, and perhaps they appeal to my inner Rambo, but they were extraordinary experiences in the theater. Ex Machina was the most satisfying intellectual experience last year. The worst film last year was Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It was a total cop-out, vote-of-no-confidence in the new material film. It completely pandered to nostalgia and was nothing less than plagiarism of a New Hope. (Sorry. I know I’m in the minority on this one.)


HU: Who’s your favorite screenwriter?

MM: For dialogue, I love Ingmar Bergman and Tarantino. David Lynch is my favorite Art Film writer. He creates amazing nightmare movies. Wes Anderson overall. I love his foregrounding of awkward pauses and quirky behavior. The Anderson formula is children behaving like adults and adults behaving like children. You can’t go wrong with that sort of contrast. 

HU: Do you have any advice for current students?

MM: The most important thing you can do to become a successful screenwriter is to cultivate an insatiable curiosity for life. Become a student of humanity. Read philosophy. Go as deep as you can. Experience everything you can. Always observe for meaning, even when you are in line at the grocery store. Your knowledge of story structure will not create a compelling story. Your point of view and experience will. The structure is just there to help you give this experience some shape. 

HU: What was your favorite class as a student? Why?

MM: Well, it is important to understand that I was a student pre-Tim Albaugh, so I never benefited from the programs he has brought since, particularly the writing for television courses, which I wish I had taken. It was actually a Playwriting class I took as an elective that really stimulated my creative writing energies. We were given writing prompts. Certain props had to be in our play. Certain phrases had to be said. Certain themes had to be present. Because we had these guidelines, we ended up writing things we wouldn’t possibly have come up with on our own. We learned how to problem solve, how to fit certain story elements together. I found this to be incredibly useful in terms of long-term creativity. When you have prompts, you flex certain muscles that you don’t when the story is left completely up to you. 

HU: Tell us about your professional life to this point. What was the transition like from student to a professor?

MM: I will openly admit I have found it very difficult to teach and make time for professional writing. I’ve loved teaching and the interaction with students and the wonderful ideas and observations the classroom environment facilitates, but I am looking forward to transitioning to full-time writing in the next two months. Some can balance both well but I cannot.  I have a television series in development dealing with the Edgar Allan Poe character Roderick Usher (from Fall of the House of Usher). It is a sort of Penny Dreadful of the Edgar Allan Poe world and actress Adrienne King, the heroine from the original Friday the 13th (1980) has been kind enough to try to get it off the ground. She is a fellow Long Islander. I have another television series that deals with Scrooge and Marley, the early years when they were in business together before Christmas Carol picks up, and I’m still working with NY Times Best selling fantasy author Katherine Kurtz, adapting her novel, St. Patrick’s Gargoyle, which hopefully will go into production in the next year or two in Dublin. It is always good to have a few pots on the stove. Something will eventually boil over.   

HU: I know you and I share a deep love and appreciation for music, and for you that was part of what inspired your passion for films. What is your favorite movie score/soundtrack? Who is your favorite movie score composer? Why?

MM: I wish I had a more specialized niche answer but Bernard Herrmann by far. His score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo is extraordinary. I actually consider Vertigo a Music Drama, a spoken word opera. The music gives you more insight into what the characters are thinking, feeling, remembering, regretting, wishing, than any of the dialogue. You can listen to the score and follow the story. I also love Peter Gabriel’s score for the Last Temptation of Christ.