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 is 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.

Episode Four of Page Ten Podcast

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Episode four of Page Ten, the Hollins University Screenwriting Podcast, 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 interview with guest Lawrence Ross, and if you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and catch future episodes.

Episode Three of Page Ten Podcast

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Episode three 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 interview with guest Barbara Curry, and if you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and catch future episodes.

Alumni Interviews with Dave Deborde

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HU: What brought you to screenwriting? How did your interest develop?  
 
DD: I grew up cracking jokes, telling stories, and acting out skits in the family kitchen. Whether you’re editing, acting, writing or directing, storytelling comes from the same core concepts and that was developed early on for me as well as a vivid imagination. 
 
HU: What were a few of the highlights of your experience at Hollins? 
 
DD: Playing in a band – The Rewrites! Geoff Geib introduced me to Ryan Adams (we played “New York New York”) and I’ve never been the same! Ilan on Keys, Matt on lead guitar, Joe on base, and Geoff on rhythm guitar. That was pretty sweet! 

Being able to just get away from the normal world for 6 weeks and focus (mostly) on the craft of screenwriting and the Hollins community. Tim’s guest speakers were amazing. Taking notes from them and networking was great! Hollywoods. Ping Pong!!! 
 
HU: Tell us a little about your professional life to this point – how did you land the jobs and were they positive experiences? 
 
DD: When people ask me what I do, I tell them, “I split my time between being a University Film professor and a filmmaker.”  
 
I am currently the Chair of Cinematic Arts at Lipscomb University, where I lead a grad program for Film MFA’s and an undergrad BFA in Film Production. Like all jobs in academia, there are good parts and bad parts. Since this is going online, I think I’ll shy away from listing the bad parts, but one of the amazing parts is – I take a group of my MFA’s to Cannes every year. That means, I get an all-expenses paid trip to the Cannes Film Festival every year! The food, the networking, the red carpets…the food! There are worse fates. 
 
I stay quite active in production.  
 
I am the showrunner for a reality TV show called, “Soccer Moms” and am in post-production on the season, running a team of about a half dozen editors.  
 
I’ve also been hired to write and produce a romantic comedy for a group out of London and Russia and this is a deal that sprouted out of meetings I had in Cannes over a year ago, which certainly speaks to the importance of being in the room with the right people. I’m planning on flying to Moscow and St. Petersburg within the month, to do location scouting, and yes, I’ve already started getting paid. 
 
HU: What was the experience like making Old Fashioned? How has it changed your professional life? 
 
DD: It took 12 years to put Old Fashioned out into theaters, which felt like it would NEVER happen! It was a total rollercoaster ride, which left some scars, and changed some relationships for both good and bad. This industry is tough, man!  
 
Being a producer on a theatrically released feature has certainly changed my trajectory and the scope of what I get considered for and paid to do. For instance, this British/Russian film that I’ve been hired to write and produce, the conversation started because they were speaking to a friend of mine at Cannes and mentioned they were looking for an American producer who had a theatrical release under his belt. BINGO! I was immediately allowed in the pool of candidates because of the OF producing credit.  
 
HU: Tell us about the next film you’re working on.  
 
DD: I’m in the middle of working on the Russian/British Rom-com. It’s currently an independent film, but folks at Lionsgate are interested in seeing how it develops with an eye toward getting involved. 
 
I am developing a feature with an exec at Lionsgate, which is a crossover Latino Rom-Com. Cool thing is, I developed this script while I was at Hollins. 
 
I am in development on a TV show to be shot in Australia and the main showrunner is from Battle Star Gallactica. Two other key players are a seasoned line producer and a former Paramount VP.  It’s really exciting to be a part of for a few reasons: it’s historical fiction, the overall size of the budget, subject matter and, of course, some free trips to Oz!!! Would it be gauche to ask for a bloomin’ onion upon arriving in Sydney? 
 
I’ve got some other things in the works as well that I might be able to talk about in a month or so, but I have to keep things quiet for the moment. 
 
 
HU: What is your life like now after graduation? 
 
DD: Super busy, but the level of my career both academically and production-wise, continue to rise. Also, I get to spend summers with my family now as opposed to being gone for 6 weeks for school!  
 
HU: Tell us about the Sunscreen Film Festival
 
I’m on the board of the Sunscreen Film Festival, which is a bi-coastal film fest and one of only 23 in the world with an Oscar sponsorship. We are known for our emphasis on Film education and were named one of the top 25 coolest film fests in the world by Moviemaker Magazine because of this emphasis. I am blessed to be the Education Director, so as a university Film prof, it’s a perfect fit for Sunscreen and me. 
 
We have a robust offering of panels and workshops, which have included major players in the industry (Mitch Bell, VP Marvel Studios, Victor Hsu, Producer of Transparent and Arrested Development, Ed Asner (UP), Patrick Warburton (Emperor’s New Groove), Ron Perlman (Hellboy), etc.). Coincidentally, last year, one of our screenwriting panels included Hollin’s profs: Goeff Geib, Kelly Fullerton and program director, Tim Albaugh. 
 
HU: Who was your favorite guest at Hollins? Or favorite screening. 
 
DD: Fave guest was Sean Sorenson, who works with Tim in production. Fave screening might have been Friends with Benefits – that was just a fun night and I think I won candy or something from the hat raffle thing. A Girl Walks Alone at Night, is up there as well.  
 
HU: Is there a class you wish you would have taken while you were at Hollins? 
 
DD: I would’ve liked to have taken a sitcom writing course. Also, writing for animation could’ve been cool. 
 
HU: Do you have any advice for the current Hollins students?
 
DD: If your plan is to teach and stay where you are, then do that. However, if your plan is to actually work in the industry as a professional screenwriter and/or filmmaker, then move to LA and start networking. You can begin by attending Sunscreen LA. I might know someone who can help with comp tickets… 

Bio:

Dave DeBorde is an award-winning filmmaker whose experience in the industry is long and varied. Dave has worked as a producer with legendary Hollywood producer William Gilmore (A Few Good Men), helped produce the award-winning short film The Least of These. In June of 2012, Dave directed the feature film romantic comedy Marriage Material. Dave was later hired the showrunner for the brand new reality TV show Soccer Moms, which is slated to broadcast regionally on network affiliates during primetime on Saturdays and is in negotiations for international distribution.
 
Alongside his various directing and producing credits, Dave is also heavily involved in performing arts education, creating the wildly successful educational tracks for the Sunscreen Film Festival, which was rated by MovieMaker magazine as one of the world’s Top 25 Most Attractive Film Festivals as a result of the educational tracks. Dave was likewise instrumental in bringing notable attendees and track participants, such as actors John Travolta (Pulp Fiction, Grease), Bill Cobb (Night at the Museum) and other contributors like screenwriter Tim Sexton (Children of Men), casting director John Jackson (Sideways, About Schmidt, The Descendants), producers Sean Covel (Napoleon Dynamite), Ralph Winter (Wolverine), and Dean Batali (That 70’s Show). Dave is also the department chair of the Cinematic Arts at Lipscomb University and recently worked as producer of the successful independent romantic comedy Old Fashioned. Dave serves as the President of Soverignty Pictures and is the chief creative conduit responsible for the artistic direction of the company.

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!

Page Ten Podcast on iTunes

    Page Ten is now available to download on iTunes. Head over and take a listen to the inaugural episode with guest Kelly Fullerton, and if you like what you hear, be sure to subscribe and catch future episodes.

    iTunes – Page Ten Podcast

Episode One of Page Ten Podcast

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Geoff Geib talks shop with fellow screenwriters from around Los Angeles.

Page Ten is sponsored by the Hollins University Screenwriting MFA Program. Produced and edited by Bobbo Byrnes and recorded at Wandering Star Studios.

EPISODE 1 – Kelly Fullerton

Page Ten Podcast

The brand new podcast Page Ten is the place to hear new and exclusive interviews with the best screenwriters in the business.  Tune in every month for insights into the craft along with revelations and stories from the trenches of Hollywood with host Geoff Geib.

Check out the preview below – a quick promo and an excerpt from the first episode with guest Kelly Fullerton (The Fosters, Awkward) and the second episode with Barbara Curry (The Boy Next Door, Anything for Love). The full interviews with Kelly and Barbara will be posted on this site soon (so check back often!) and will also be available for download on iTunes beginning on August 1st.

 

Alumni Interview with Jared Gordon

Jared at Hollins

HU: What brought you to screenwriting? How did your interest develop? 

 

JG: I’ve always loved films. When I was a wee lad, I wore through my VHS copies of The Muppets Take Manhattan, Ghostbusters, and Tim Burton’s Batman in record time. I’ll never forget coming down to breakfast on my 10th birthday and finding the original Star Wars trilogy waiting for me. But even when I was enjoying film after film, I was conscious that I was watching the creative work of other people. And I wanted to tell my own stories that an audience would want to see and enjoy. I had Adele Kamp as a terrific creative writing teacher in seventh grade; and then Richard Leonard in 12th who convinced me that writing couldn’t be just a hobby – it was necessary.

 

HU: What was your first script about?

 

JG: I wrote my first feature script in the year after I completed undergrad. It was a mockumentary called The Prophet of Westchester County, and it was about a young preacher who amassed a 2,000-member cult following in suburban New York over the course of two years and then vanished without a trace. The idea was to interview his friends, family members, former cult members, clergy, and so on – all in an effort to figure out who this fellow was and where he went. I cast friends and family in it and I think it might have been my way of finding out who among them could act! I’ve since made three other features (a romantic comedy, a family drama, and an absurdist comedy) and numerous shorts. I’ve written a total of 18 features and am about to start on number 19. A big reason why I opted for an MFA was because I felt that I was hitting a creative wall and I wanted my work to become even better. I have no doubt that attending the Hollins MFA program has given me that edge. The variety of perspectives that the Hollins teaching faculty bring to the table only strengthens the program and the writing of the students within it.

 

HU: What were one of the highlights of your experience at Hollins University?

 

JG: The people you meet at Hollins will change your life. Whether they’re faculty or students or staff, they’re your colleagues from day one. The emphasis on collaboration was clear and as a de facto six-week writers’ retreat, the atmosphere is social as well as creative. Hollins is a bright, open campus where you can write in the library, a quiet classroom, or in a boisterous writers’ room among your peers. The special guests brought in, such as Peter Riegert (King of the Corner), Susan Arneson (South Park), and Scott Kosar (The Machinist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), are informative, personable, and accessible. You’re encouraged to make friends and connections and to explore in every sense of the word. Hollins is right next to the Appalachian Trail and the city of Roanoke is a hotspot for great restaurants, friendly locals, distinctive specialty stores, and fantastic karaoke. I remember one time when I accompanied some friends from the screenwriting and children’s literature programs on a walk around campus after midnight. We slipped down a path with trees on both sides until it opened into a clearing in which thousands of fireflies blinked from all directions. It wasn’t a writing experience, but it was something I’ll never forget. It felt like I was precisely where I was supposed to be. That is Hollins.

 

HU: How did the MFA program help your growth at Hollins University?

 

JG: It’s funny how when I finished my undergraduate film and TV degree at New York University, I thought that I had a really good handle on what it took to be a good writer. “Conflict!” I thought, “That’s all I need.” And so my subsequent scripts were full of conflict, but they were still lacking something. I tell people that it took going to undergrad for me to think that writing a screenplay was easy, but it took going to grad school for me to realize how difficult it really is. The tenets I learned from Hollins professors such as Tim Albaugh, Kelly Fullerton, Mari Kornhauser, Hal Ackerman, Joe Gilford, Klaus Phillips, Laura Shamas, Stephen Prince, Jon Klein, and Christa Maerker were essential to my development as a creative. I credit Hollins specifically for making me into the writer I am, and it would be the first name I’d thank on the Oscar stage. At the same time, Hollins taught me that education is lifelong and that true mastery is something to always aspire to rather than something hard and fast to achieve. I am a better writer and have a more solid understanding of storytelling, thanks to Hollins. And I will continue to read and learn everything I can about the craft.

 

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

 

JG: Right out of undergrad, I was hired as a production assistant at Nickelodeon. Within four months, I was promoted to a writer position and for a little while, I penned about half of the on-air promos that aired on the channel. While it was a fun gig, I realized that I was spending my time promoting the creative works of others, and so I left there to start my own production company, Winter Twilight Productions, LLC. The films and web series I’ve made through it have been seen in numerous festivals and dozens of national and international media outlets. I’ve done production work with community media stations in Rye, NY and Cambridge, MA and have taught film production and screenwriting part-time at five Boston-area colleges. I founded and run Cambridge Screenwriters, the largest established screenwriting group in New England. I’ve started my own script consulting business and have been a screenplay judge for the NYC Midnight Competition, the Nashville Film Festival, and the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts. I’ve recently been hired for a full-time, tenure-track assistant professor position in screenwriting at DeSales University and I’m looking forward to this next chapter! One thing I’ve learned regarding searching for a job in which I can use my degree is the value of persistence. You hear about overnight successes for the same reason you hear about plane crashes: they’re so rare that when they happen, they’re a big deal. But far less sexy is the story about someone who toiled quietly for years or decades and finally, finally makes it. Persistence opens doors. Period.

 

HU: Where would you like to see your career go from here?

 

JG: My career goal is and always has been to sell my writing. I’ve been very lucky that I’ve been able to support my creativity through related work. When I started out in college, I loved the idea of going into film but feared going into massive debt for an arts degree. But based on my own career and what I’ve seen, if you want to advance, you will find a way to make it happen.

 

HU: What has your life been like after graduation?

 

JG: Hollins has opened doors for me, and the degree has easily paid for itself. The MFA is a terminal degree, so it can secure teaching work. But more than that, it has made me into a more confident storyteller. I’m pleased to begin a professor position that I mean to use to support my students, the school, and my own creative endeavors. And these are not mutually exclusive. Whether at Hollins, an MTV writers’ room, or in a classroom at DeSales, I look forward to being surrounded by creative people. It helps my work, it helps theirs, and when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. I find the time each day to write, as I know that the only way I can call myself a writer is to sit down and make it happen.

 

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

 

JG: My favorite films of last year were The Big Short, Steve Jobs, Anomalisa, Inside Out, Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Room. As for this year, Zootopia might be my favorite thus far (although I have high hopes that Finding Dory will be a home run). I like ironic, imaginative, character-driven stories with flawed protagonists who are challenged to become better than who they are. The best films invariably make us feel and make us care. These are the stories I aspire to write.

 

HU: Who is your favorite screenwriter?

 

JG: Do I have to pick just one? Gosh. I love Aaron Sorkin, Charles Randolph, Emma Thompson, Charlie Kaufman, Alejandro Iñárritu, Alan Ball, Hayao Miyazaki, Stanley Kubrick, Tina Fey, and especially the folks at Pixar like John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Brad Bird, and Michael Arndt. There are so many great storytellers out there, and they all have so much to teach us!

 

HU: Do you have any advice for current Hollins students?

JG: Write and write and write some more. Enjoy your time at school and enjoy life. Between the professors, the staff, the students, the Roanoke Valley, and the central air conditioning, Hollins is a treasure. My professors and my fellow students are my friends. Returning to Hollins feels like coming home. With an emphasis on collaboration rather than competition, we’re constantly reminded that we’re all in this together and when one of us wins, we all win. You have access to world-class professors and facilities at a ridiculously inexpensive price. The Hollins education I received was a kick-start – since graduating in October of 2010, I have written at least two complete features each year. They’ve placed in Austin and Final Draft, and I learn more from each subsequent script. Because of Hollins, when I now watch The Muppets Take Manhattan, Ghostbusters, and Batman, I know why I love them so much, and I love them all the more.