We’re kicking off a “rapid-fire” interview series this week with Stephanie Law, a young screenwriter whom I met while at the Summer Institute of Film and Television of the Canadian Screen Training Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada in spring of 2009. Sadly, SIFT/CSTC has since closed down due to major funding problems in a very tough Canadian economy.
Stephanie was taking a writing workshop while I took a producing workshop. I think we both agree that SIFT was an amazing program that allowed us to learn so much from the working professionals in film and television who taught the workshops. It was also a great opportunity to meet interesting people in film/TV taking the workshops alongside us! It had a prestige all its own and many connections with, and support from, renowned filmmakers and show runners. The late filmmaker, Anthony Minghella, in particular, was an early and active champion of SIFT and also taught on the program.
Stephanie Law was kind enough to do this interview via facebook email!
On to the interview…
BIO: Stephanie Law is a Toronto-based newbie screenwriter, ex-serial intern, eternal optimist/ cynic, and recent participant in the CFTPA’s National Mentorship Program. You can find her rants on her mini-blog ImagineStories, or even more mini rants on Twitter @sphinxmagic.
Q: What are your thoughts on the state of Canadian film and TV today?
A: Not good! The English feature film business in Canada (Quebec is a whole other ball game) is tough. The process is slow (there are no big studios, just independent producers that tap into funds, tax credits), and when you factor in all those years spent developing a film—keeping into account that it may never be made—the writer makes very little, and certainly for the majority, not enough to live on. Hence, the day job! In addition, films need a great first weekend to keep their theatrical run alive. If nobody goes to see it, it’s gone (until the DVD comes out). One of the big problems for finding an audience is publicity and marketing—big American films spend millions (sometimes even more than the production budget of the film itself)—but in Canada, we just don’t have the money.
The TV industry is complicated, and I have less experience with it. I will defer to veteran TV writer Denis McGrath’s excellent blog Deadthingsonsticks.
Another great resource for all things industry and writing-related is the amazing Ink Canada (on Facebook) [and Twitter], an online writing community led by screenwriter Karen Walton.
Q: What is the single best thing, and the single worst thing, of being a screenwriter?
A: The best and worst thing of being a screenwriter is one in the same: you. You depend on you. It can be marvellous and freeing because all you need to do your craft is your brain, a piece of paper, and a pencil. Okay, screenwriting software helps. But it can also be frightening and anxiety-inducing because you have to the discipline to push yourself, to face yourself, your doubts, your fears. If you don’t write, it’s on you.
Q: If you could decide your own fate as a writer, what would your career trajectory look like?
A: Muhahaha… I would love to end up on the staff of a TV show before I hit 30. Ambitious, yeah. At the height of my career, I’d love to be co-run a series—but that necessitates finding the perfect creative partner (because it would be that much more fun). I haven’t found that person yet, but just you wait, we will rule the world! I also have a soft spot for features, but short of going to the U.S., I don’t see much of a future here for the big budget stuff I write (hey, I grew up on Disney and blockbusters).
Q: What films, TV shows, webseries inspire you (the good, bad and the ugly) and why?
A: Stories with heart inspire me. Not that I don’t love technical and plot-driven stories– but if they don’t have characters that I care about, then forget it. I end up feeling hollow even after surrounded by the latest, greatest special effects, or whatever. It’s like watching a product, or feeling the plastic around the box. Yuck. Pixar is great at transcending the blockbuster status and money-making of their animated films, because at the heart of it, they care about story and collaboration. I’d bet my money on those two things anytime.
Q: Why will you make it as a screenwriter?
A: In all honesty, you have to believe you will succeed beyond all reason and logic. Because the smart thing to do would be to get a full-time, 9 to 5 day job with benefits and job stability. But I am a stubborn person. If I set my mind to it, I won’t stop until I figure out the solution, or figure out that it’s beyond me. For instance, when I was in high school, I wasn’t the best at math, but I spent hours trying to solve sometimes just one problem (be it physics or calculus), trying to understand. Sometimes I just didn’t have the knowledge or the skills yet to solve the problem (maybe the advanced material was to be covered in the next unit), but I kept at it. And because of that, I did well. That’s the stubborn perseverance that I hope will allow me to succeed and become a professional screenwriter.
Oh, I still hate math.
Many thanks to Stephanie for doing this interview!
-Kyna (Her Film creator)