1. Felise, congratulations on winning the 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge at FilmCon Awards. We enjoyed reading “What I Wish For!”
In less than 24 hours, you wrote a short screenplay about a 40-year-old woman who believes she has been robbed of opportunities in life is forced to re-evaluate what she holds dear when a tragic event occurs.
Let's talk about how you started out. Tell us about your background, what sparked your interest in screenwriting?
Thank you! I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I was a book nerd as a child and loved all different types of stories, so I developed an interest in writing around the age of 7! After I learned various forms of writing over the years and earned my B.A. in English, I took an interest in learning how to create screenplays. It just clicked one day when I was watching a TV show that somebody wrote what I was watching on screen! I was so fascinated that I immediately started taking screenwriting courses.
2. Your winning entry, “What I Wish For,” tells the story of Sandy, a former baseball player, and the complicated relationship she has with her daughter Dawn. What message did you want to convey to mothers who expect their children to be who they are not? And how do you feel about Sandy?
The story is of a mother and her child, but the message is a universal one for anybody who has expectations of people to be who they are not, regardless of the relationship. The beauty of people is that we are all different. We may have similarities to others, but everybody has their unique essence, passion, and skills to contribute to the world. I wanted to convey a message of focusing on appreciating everybody’s individuality and the joy that could be had in helping to cultivate that, versus dwelling on the fact that it is not something else.
I feel that Sandy did without a doubt have a lot of rough cards dealt to her in life. She is not the only one in the world this has happened to though. Other messages I wanted to convey are that it’s up to you to decide if you’ll allow past experiences to determine your happiness in the future, and it’s important to value the blessings in your life. You can focus on the negatives of what you don’t have, or focus on the positives of what you do have.
3. Tell us about your writing process. How do you approach a new story? What kind of stories attract you?
Whenever inspiration strikes me or I get a new idea, I start with asking myself who is the main character or characters, what are their personalities, what do they want and cherish, and what are the issues they’re currently dealing with or about to confront.
I have to admit I love stories with lots of drama! I think everybody loves drama the most when it’s not happening to them haha. I enjoy many different types of genres honestly, but within any of those there’s one particular element that appeals to me when it’s there. The element that attracts me is when a story has characters that cause you to become emotionally invested to the point that you wonder what happened to them after the story is over. That’s an element I aim to incorporate in all my writing.
4. What are some of the challenges in writing a short screenplay in 24 hours? Tell us about your experience with writing “What I Wish For.”
I do a lot of screenwriting, but I hadn’t written anything with prompts or a specific deadline in a very long time, and I generally allow myself to have a pretty lengthy brainstorm process.
My challenge was having to discipline myself quickly so I could find a time balance between letting my thoughts flow to brainstorm and then getting to work in typing up the story. I immediately started by sitting down to brainstorm ideas, then I went outside for fresh air and to move around to stimulate more thoughts, finally I told myself to go back to my office and start writing!
Oh, and coffee. I had lots of coffee 😊
5. In your opinion, what are the ingredients for creating a good screenplay? Do you have any tips for other first-time screenwriters?
In my opinion, I believe it starts with putting your heart into creating your characters by letting their voices and personalities develop without worrying if the audience will think they’re “good” or “bad”. You’ll end up with a story that is interesting and will make people think. When you have all of that, people will want to read or watch something whether they like a character or not. In fact, I take it as a compliment if somebody doesn’t like something about a character. That’s an emotional response and exactly what a screenwriter is trying to accomplish!
As far as tips, I would encourage first-time screenwriters to keep reminding themselves what they’re trying to get across to the audience. We can get off track in a screenplay just like we can in a conversation with friends where we laugh and go, “Um…I forgot what I was trying to say”. Unlike most friends, the audience won’t be as polite with their attention! Know what your point is, and ask yourself if each scene communicates that.
Finally, sometimes you can suddenly come up with a brilliant character, situation, or line while working on a screenplay, but it just doesn’t fit that story. Don’t try to force it! You can always put it in your treasure chest of writing ideas and use it later for a screenplay where it will really stand out and shine.