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Spotlight: An interview with Liesel Galletly

Meet Liesel Galletly, a Canadian screenwriter whose talents have not only garnered her the Best Screenplay award at Top Shorts in 2021 but have also made her a dominant force in Filmmakers Connect's 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge. With an impressive track record of six victories out of ten participations, Liesel is undoubtedly a standout talent in this intense competition. In fact, she has earned the nickname "The Queen of the Challenge" by our team. But, let's keep it a secret from her, okay? :)

Join us as we uncover the secrets behind Liesel's success and explore her aspirations of becoming a showrunner for projects that celebrate strong female protagonists.

Liesel, congratulations on your multiple wins at the Filmmakers Connect's 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge! In the competitive world of screenwriting, how do you stay motivated and inspired to keep participating in challenges like the 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge?

Thank you so much! To be honest, motivation and inspiration are hard sometimes. It’s actually because of the 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge that I’m able to hold on to them. Whenever I’m struggling with a script of my own, the challenge tends to be a kick start of my creative process and a chance to focus my mind on something new. I absolutely love them.

Balancing family life and a career in screenwriting can be challenging. How do you manage your time effectively, and do you find inspiration in your daily experiences as a mother and a writer?

Being a mother of two children, one of whom has extra needs, can make it difficult to find the time to write. However, it means that when I am able to sit down and do it that I ensure I really pour myself into it. I’m so fortunate to have a family who know that when inspiration hits, I need my space to get it all down. I think that being a single mother definitely affects my writing and character work. Whenever I write about motherhood, I’ll take bits and pieces from my experiences and everyday life. Usually, the very best and very worst moments make for the most interesting add ins.

How did your experience at Toronto Film School shape your journey as a screenwriter, and what motivated you to enroll in the first place?

I actually happened upon Toronto Film School by accident. It was during Covid lockdowns, I got really big into art and painting. I was looking for art grants when an ad for TFS popped up. It felt a sign. I sent in for more information and the next day I had an interview. TFS gave me the fundamental tools I needed to structure my scripts. I had always wanted to write screenplays and wrote my first at 15 but I had no idea how to format it. So, learning the ins and outs, dos and don’ts, etc. was so helpful. It gave me hope that this could be more than a hobby and might lead to a career doing what I love. It also gave me my network of like-minded writers who challenge me to be better.

Your goal is to be a showrunner for projects featuring strong female leads. Can you describe your dream project in terms of genre, themes, or the kind of impact you hope it would have on audiences?

My dream project is actually a one-hour drama I created while in film school. It’s an exploration of women in their thirties, navigating love, loss and sex at different stages of life. Our thirties are a weird time between our youth and adulthood where some friends are single, some are married, some have kids, some have careers, some are party animals, some have peter pan syndrome, etc. It’s a wild ride of comparing our lives with those around us. My project, Dirty Thirties, rips open the curtain and covers even the most uncomfortable things we face. I would hope that it gives women a place to find a piece of themselves in any one of the strong female characters. Somewhere they recognize something that happened to them or allows them to feel validated in their choices. It’s the project I am most emotionally invested in and just hope that someday I can share it with the world.

Creating strong, dynamic, and unconventional female leads is a consistent theme in your work. What drives your commitment to portraying such characters, and how do you approach character development in your screenplays?

I think a big part of why I choose strong female leads is because of my girls. Some screenplays may never see the light of day but for any one that does, I want my girls to be able to either relate to, look up to or be inspired by them. I also like to put a hint of myself in each character which I think helps me approach my character development. When I’ve created a character and the scenario that they’re facing, I try to think what I would do if I was them. If I had their backstory, their motivation, their goals, how would I handle this situation?

Winning Best Screenplay at Top Shorts and receiving Honorable Mention from LAFA are significant achievements. How have these accolades influenced your confidence and approach to your craft?

I’ve been so honoured to receive all of the awards I have in these last two years. Every time an award comes my way, I am so humbled and grateful. As someone who often struggles with imposter syndrome, it’s a confirmation that I’m where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s the best feeling when I get to tell my kids I’ve won something, and they tell me how proud they are. Of all the people in the world, having them be proud of me is all I could ever need.

The 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge sounds intense! Can you walk us through your process when you have only 24 hours to craft a short screenplay based on a given theme?

I think I thrive under pressure. I work better with a time constraint and a deadline so, I’ll try to set aside an hour where I can focus solely on writing to make sure I get an entry done. As for my process, I’ll read the prompts and sometimes an idea comes to me right away. If it does, I’ll try and figure out what the point of my screenplay is and work backwards from there to make sure I can come up with a story that leads me there. I’ll then sit down and write until it’s done. I think one thing I find difficult is making it fit under five pages, but that’s part of what makes it exciting. I find this challenge is an incredible tool for pushing me out of my comfort zone and really making me explore other genres or subject matter.

Facing time constraints in the 24-Hour Challenge, how do you approach the initial stages of brainstorming and idea generation to ensure a compelling story within the limited timeframe?

I tend to base it off inspiration. If I read a prompt and get a general idea of what I would do with it, I’ll take the time to plot it out. I’ll start making notes about characters and important moments. I think a big part of trying to make a story compelling is the character work. Unrealistic or unrelatable characters can ruin an incredible storyline. But with characters that feel authentic, they could be sitting alone in an empty room and still provide a story that makes you feel something. So, I really try and dig into the characters and why they do what they do and say what they say.

The 24-Hour Screenwriting Challenge often requires quick decision-making. Can you share a moment when a creative choice made under pressure turned out to be unexpectedly rewarding for your script?

Having to make decisions quickly actually benefits my process. I tend to be an overthinker, I’ll question myself if I spend too much time trying to make it perfect. Sometimes the imperfect ideas work out the best. One submission I did, Three’s Company? was one where I second guessed the direction I took it in. I wondered if it was getting my message across because it almost felt too big for five pages. I decided to submit it as is and hope that everything I intended to say managed to come through. I was baffled when the results came in and it was awarded Best Thriller Screenplay. It somehow managed to cross over from the challenge and into a different category. It was by far one of my favourite experiences with a screenplay I doubted.

From "Three’s Company?"

Out of the six victories in the 24-Hour Challenge, do you have a particular script or theme that holds a special place in your heart?

This is tricky to answer. I think if I had to choose one script, it would be Perfection. The ending even surprised me a little. The characters sort of guided me to the conclusion and it just felt right. It’s a script about a mad scientist who finally accomplishes his goal of creating the perfect woman. But he overlooks the fact that he might not be the perfect man for her. I love when a project even surprises me. If I had to choose a theme, I think it would have to be unconventional relationships. Not necessarily even romantic relationships but just an unusual circumstance for two people to find themselves in. Whether it’s an estranged father and son meeting in a prison, a robber and waitress in a restaurant, or a science experiment and assistant android, I love exploring the often complex, dynamic between people.

From "Perfection"

Looking back at your screenwriting journey, what is one piece of advice you wish you had received when you first started, and what wisdom would you share with emerging screenwriters now?

I think the advice that I wish I had received is the same as the wisdom I would share with emerging screenwriters. Yes, industry standard structure and proper formatting are essential so learn it and learn it well. But, when it comes to your pieces, sometimes you have to let your own style shine through to convey your vision. Be bold in your choices and remember that not everyone will get it, or like it but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. Don’t be afraid of notes. Get lots of notes and even if you don’t take them all, ask yourself if there’s something to them that you can use. Most importantly, leave it all on the page.

When you encounter a creative block, how do you navigate through it, and do you have any specific techniques or rituals that help reignite your creativity?

Music. Music is my happy place. I build playlists for most of my screenplays. Wherever I envision music would play in the film, I find a song similar in tone. Whenever I’m blocked, I turn on the playlist and walk my mind through the scene. Does the feeling that I’m trying to convey match the feeling of the song. Music can make or break a film, so why not a written scene? And even when I’m not in front of my computer writing, sometimes I’ll listen to the playlist when I’m walking or cooking and try to come up with new ideas based on how a song makes me feel.

Looking ahead, what projects are you currently working on, and how do you see your role in shaping the narrative landscape for strong female characters in the film industry?

Funnily enough, the project I’m currently working on is one of only two male lead screenplays I’ve ever written. Not because I intentionally don’t write them, but I’ve just personally always found it easier to write a perspective I’m familiar with. It’s a dramatic feature film that challenges the boundaries of friendship between men and women and when is that friendship no longer appropriate? I would hope that in the future I’ll see my strong female characters actualized on screen. I can only dream that someday my protagonists might inspire young girls to not be afraid of being seen as strong or being intimidating. I try and teach my girls to be who they are without ever letting someone else’s opinion of who they should be affect them. If even one of my characters, scripts or (hopefully) films, can give them confidence or a role model to look up to, then I would be absolutely over the moon and consider my work a success.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

This isn’t an easy answer. If my 24-year-old self was asked this, the answer would have been nothing like where I’m at now. But, in an ideal world, I would be living in a little stone cottage in the rolling hills of Scotland. I’d sit by my window, staring out at the water, and writing all day. I’d be the showrunner on Dirty Thirties and working with inspiring actresses to tell the stories that we’re sometimes afraid to tell. My girls, who love the idea of film making, would be working on set with me. And I’d get to spend the rest of my days working on things I’m passionate about and doing what makes me happy.

Is there anything you'd like to add or someone you wish to thank?

There are so many people I wish to thank. First and foremost, my girls for being my world. My parents, my brother, my sister-in-law, my nephews, my sister, and brother-in-law, for being my biggest cheerleaders. My girlfriends for inspiring me every day and being shining examples of strong women. Kay at TFS intake for getting me into the school and my favourite instructors for all their guidance. Section B for pushing me to be a better writer, for accepting me and becoming some of the most important people in my life. And honestly, to you guys, Filmmakers Connect, for providing a space for writers to connect and be challenged. And for the kind words, I can’t begin to express my appreciation.

How can our readers follow more of your work?

At the moment, they can follow me or chat with me on Twitter @LieselGalletly and find some of my work on FilmFreeway or Coverfly.

Photos by: Lindsey Galletly

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