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.

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

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.

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

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.

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.