Wanting to do it all: Interview with director-writer-actress Dawn Green

BIOGRAPHY

Director Dawn Green (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

DAWN M. GREEN is the winner of The-N’s 2007 Young Voices Fellowship and the 2011 NYU Alumni Web Series Showcase.  Originally from Newark, New Jersey, she studied Film and Television Production at NYU and currently resides in Los Angeles.  Her projects include “Lila, Long Distance” (2011 LA Web Fest Winner), “Side Kick Girls” (2011 NYU Showcase Winner) and “Increase Our Bust Comedy,” consisting of sketch comedy co-written with Aliza Pearl.

Her Film:  You seem to be a really ambitious artist.  You have three web series and a short film.  Can you talk about your work and what you have on the go at the moment?

Dawn Green:  I studied Film and Television production at NYU and almost immediately developed a strong affinity for TV Writing.  After college I wrote and directed a TV pilot called, “Noho, Pa” which won the 2007 Teen Nick Young Voices Fellowship.  Shortly after, I moved to LA and started creating web series.  “Video Pal” was my first attempt and really helped me to reconnect with my writing and get me acquainted with being in front of the camera.  Later, “Lila, Long Distance” came along and is now a 2011 LA Web Festival winner.  It’s currently distributed on Koldcast.TV and Blip.TV.  My newest web series, “Side Kick Girls” won the 2011 NYU Alumni Web Series Showcase.

Dawn Green directing on set (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

In between creating web series I’ve had the opportunity to try my hand at directing short films.  My  film, Did You Look For Work This Week? starring Kelsey Scott and featuring Mary Jo Catlett (Glee, Serial Mom), is currently in post-production.  We’re looking to finish up soon and start submitting to film festivals.

In the meantime, I’ve teamed up with writing partner, Aliza Pearl Kennerly and we’ve formed “Increase Our Bust Comedy,” which will consist of sketch videos, musical parodies and web series to be created under our joint production company Age 13 Productions.  This past summer we co-wrote a pilot for a TV drama called, “Whitehall” and submitted the screenplay into the BET Urbanworld Film Festival being held in New York September 14-18th 2011.  We recently learned that our script is one of five finalists and we’re on our way to New York to participate in the festival festivities.  I really enjoy writing and creating projects and I hope to continue to push myself to be more adventurous and fearless in both writing and acting.

HF:  Is there anything in particular about the web series format that you are drawn to or find more accessible than other formats?

DG: When I first ventured into the web series world I loved it because production cost me virtually nothing. “Video Pal Series” was basically a video blog shared by 4 friends living on opposite sides of the US. It was personal and fun to do and very small scale.  It also gave me instant gratification to see my work- my writing and my acting- online so quickly.  That’s what makes shooting web series such a fun experience for me.  That, as well as, the social aspect of the web series world has become addictive.

Dawn Green & Aliza Pearl Kennerly in "Good Morning Newark" (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

Whenever I watch other web series and I leave comments I get responses back from the creators or the writers or actors- and that makes my viewing experience more personal.  It’s what keeps me going back to the web series format.  I’ve met so many new people and made new friends through interactions on our web projects.  I doubt this type of connection would be as simple if I tried to reach out to the writers of “True Blood” or “Community,” which are two of my favorite shows right now.  It’s kind of the one thing that the web series world has over the other formats- the people behind the shows are a little more accessible.

 

“Comedy is vital  to staying sane.”

 

HF:  Monetization is an issue that’s being examined as a way for people using digital distribution to actually make money from it.  Do you have any plans on how to monetize your creative content?

DG: I would love to monetize!  I just haven’t figured out how yet.  The team I worked with on “Lila, Long Distance” made a valiant effort but we didn’t quite get there.  We were lucky enough to be featured on Koldcast.TV and Blip.TV and we realized there was a market for a phone sex comedy web series.  People seemed to take a liking to it.  I think when we return with new episodes in 2012 we’ll have a clearer idea of how to connect with our target audience and really start building a fan base. Then we can think about monetizing strategies.  And we are always open to suggestions!

HF:  What does being a multi-hyphenate (writer-actress-director) mean to you in terms of work-life balance and career progression?

DG: Right now I’m still in that stage where work is all that matters.  I don’t mind shooting 12 hour days on a web series.  In fact, I love it.  It’s just fun for me.  I guess that means there’s really no balance between work and life at the moment.  Work comes first because I have a clear goal in mind.  That goal includes writing, acting and directing so I have a lot of work cut out for me.  There really is only room for the career.  Later on in life, once I’ve reached my goal I’m sure I’ll feel differently and want to balance things out a little more.  But right now I’m pursuing my passions.

HF:  What inspires you as a writer, and do you draw from your own personal experiences for your work?

DG:  I get inspired through my observations of human interaction.  When I first started writing I felt like I had the ‘power’ to decide how people interacted with each other.  I controlled how they treated each other, what they did to each other, what they did for each other and what they said to each other.  It’s fascinating to watch friendships grow, blossom and die in short spurts.  Or watch people fall in and out of love in the blink of an eye.  In real life, you don’t see all the nuances and you don’t appreciate the little things until after the fact. But with writing you can shine a spotlight on the moments you want to emphasize.

I definitely draw from my personal experiences.  “Side Kick Girls” was inspired by and based on my experiences with a close friend and our love/hate relationship.  Every writer I’ve ever talked to has advised me to write what I know.  It would appear, based on the work I’ve created so far, that I know phone sex, dysfunctional friendships and unemployment.  It’s been a challenge getting to a place of complete honesty and vulnerability in my writing but I try to find the humor in even the most awkward or dramatic situations.

Dawn as "Lexi" in "Lila, Long Distance" (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

HF:  What do you to build audiences for your work and how do you keep them engaged?

DG:   I’ve tried doing a little bit of everything to build audiences.  Some ideas worked wonderfully, other ideas not so much.  I’m still learning but it gets tricky when it’s small scale and small budget and no big names are attached.  But that’s where we try to keep our stories strong and characters dynamic with the hope that fans will appreciate that and stay loyal to us.  I think with each new project I get a little bit better at this part.  But it’s still a work in progress.  I think the most important thing for me is to interact via Twitter and Facebook and just ask questions, make polls, do giveaways and contests.  The more present me and my cast are in between episodes or sketches, the more interested our audience seems to get.  So we just try to connect with them on some level and make it a personal and enjoyable viewing experience.

 

“I want to create work that  people talk about all the time.”

 

HF:  What does comedy mean to you?  How do your comedy experiences differ depending upon which role you’re playing (as a writer, actress or director)?

DG: Comedy is vital to staying sane.  As someone who continuously finds herself in unimaginably awkward situations, I have to try to find the humor in everything just to get through the day.  I love to laugh- and good comedy is sometimes better than chocolate and peanut butter cookies.  When I’m writing it’s easier for me to do comedy because I can take myself out of the equation and put all my faith in an actor who has great comedic timing and can make a sketch amazing.  I just write the situation and keep it simple- the actors do the rest.

When I’m directing it’s even better because it’s more of a collaborative, improvisational experience for all involved and we usually end up having a lot of fun on set.  When I’m acting, it’s not as easy.  I’m self-conscious and I constantly have to check in with myself that I’m not trying to be funny.  And that’s hard because I want it to be funny and I don’t want to be the person that ruins the funniness.  So I stress out a little bit more when I’m acting which makes the experience less fun.  But that’s something I’m working on improving.

Dawn Green & Aliza Pearl Kennerly in "Side Kick Girls" (Photo courtesy of Dawn Green)

HF:  What goals do you have in terms of work you’d like to do and life you’d like to have?

DG: I still want to write for TV.  That is the main goal.  I’d like to create and write for sitcoms and dramas and occasionally act in them. To have Shonda Rhimes’s and Tina Fey’s careers would really be ideal.  Eventually I would want to write features and have long conversations about time travel with JJ Abrams.    Oh and I would love to be best friends with Damon Wayans Jr., Donald Glover and Maya Rudolph!

In addition to all of that I want to start my own production company.  I guess I still want to do it all.  I want to create work that people talk about all the time.  I just want to become a stronger writer, actor, director- definitely someone that other people enjoy working with.  Along with that, I want to work with my talented friends all the time because it would be (and has been so far) the most fun experiences of my life.  If I could continue to do just that successfully I would be a very happy woman.

To connect with Dawn Green and learn more about her work, check out the following:

personal website

facebook page

“Increase Our Bust Comedy”

Twitter @DawnMelissa

“Lila, Long Distance”

“Side Kick Girls”

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Interview: Stephanie Law, screenwriter

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.

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Many thanks to Stephanie for doing this interview!

-Kyna (Her Film creator)