Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Exclusive Interview with screenwriter Angela Perkins

I recently had the opportunity to meet Angela Perkins in Los Angeles while I was covering the world of screenwriting for Musings. In the midst of a sometimes cold and stand-offish industry, Angela's warmth, intelligence and sense of humor was a breath of fresh air. I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed for Musings and share with us a little about her experiences as a screenwriter. Angela Perkins Palmer is an ’00 alumna of Bates College in Lewiston, ME, with a BA in Political Science and an MFA graduate in Screenwriting of the American Film Institute (AFI) Conservatory. While attending Bates, Angela was active in radio and theatre, and attended the French Language program at McGill University in Montreal. Angela worked as a Production Assistant in New York City for over four years before moving to Los Angeles to attend AFI. As a Screenwriting Fellow at the AFI Conservatory, she has seen four of her short screenplays produced (including the award-winning thesis film “Spent”) and completed three feature length screenplays. She is currently working on feature length adaptations of short films she completed at AFI and lives in Hollywood with her husband. Welcome to Musings, Angela! Tell us, when did you decide to become a writer? To be honest, I really didn't decide, I just always was. My Mom told me I began reading at an early age, and began writing stories shortly afterward. This must have been around age 4. I've kept a daily journal since that time too. I have hundreds of notebooks languishing in my parent's basement that span most of my lifetime, over two decades, just waiting for me to pick them up. Writing has always been something I've enjoyed doing, as well as something at which I've always excelled. Can you tell us about your process of writing? Do you write daily, follow a schedule? Writing demands discipline, and as I grow older it actually becomes harder to maintain the discipline of a writing schedule as I field distractions like working, my new marriage, management of the home, networking, etc. Really, I should write every single day like I did when I was a teenager poring over my journals. My schedule these days tends more toward three or more hours a day, three days a week. Those three days tend to concentrate on the weekends, with Sunday being my favorite day to write. Monday through Wednesday sometimes works too. Do you tend to focus on one project at a time or do you have several pots boiling at once? I am a have-all-the-fires-burning sort of person. I like the pressure of having several projects to do at once, though I have to be careful not to overload and sacrifice the quality of the product for it. You got your Masters in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, what pulled you to screenwriting as a discipline? When I was applying to film schools, I was actually drawn to directing first. I had been wanting to go to film school since I was thirteen, and directing just seemed like the logical choice. But as I looked at more and more programs, I saw I may have a better chance at getting in with my particular qualifications if I also applied to screenwriting programs as well. It just so happened that my thinking was correct, and I was accepted to the American Film Institute, which I wanted to go to ever since I learned that David Lynch and Terrence Malick went there. Which writers have the most influence on you? I mentioned David Lynch and Terrence Malick, both of whom have a great influence on me when I'm writing my screenplays. I love Lynch's "Twin Peaks" stuff, including the film "Fire Walk With Me," which I think is terribly underrated and amazing. Malick's "Badlands" is another film I can't get enough of, and seeps into my writing here and there. There are almost too many writers to name. I love Alan's Ball work on "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood." I'm also a big fan of New York stories (I was born and raised in the Bronx and Westchester County, NY), so I flip for Whit Stillman's films "Metropolitan" and "The Last Days of Disco." The latter film just came out on DVD through Criterion. Psyched about that...he's another one of these underrated, brilliant filmmakers who I wish would come back from the dead and blow us away again. Noah Baumbach's "Kicking and Screaming" and "The Squid and the Whale" fits in there with great stories about New Yorkers too, right alongside Woody Allen. What is the most difficult thing, in your personal experience, about being a screenwriter? Being broke as a joke. Just at the baby writer stage that I'm at right now, balancing a nine-to-five type of job with maintaining a writing schedule can be tough. If you're unemployed, it's almost worse, because you're constantly worrying about money even as you're writing scenes. It's like, "Do I send my resume out all day today or do I work on my script? Hmmm...When is rent due?" It can be nerve-wracking to navigate those rough emotional waters. What is the most rewarding thing about being a screenwriter? It is very cool when people come up to you after watching a film and thank you or tell you that the film affected them in some way. It is really gratifying to feel that you were successful in relating to someone as a fellow human being. You feel like you did your job right. What advice would you give to baby writers embarking on a career of screenwriting? If you really want to write screenplays, then write! Write everyday, and not just screenplays. Blog, keep a journal, write essays or music reviews, do whatever, just never stop writing. Then the next step is to learn your craft. Not only is there a certain formula and template that it is absolutely necessary that you learn, especially if you'd like to make it big in Hollywood, but there are certain nuances of plot and character development, structure, dialogue, etc. that can only be learned if you are willing to work at it. Take a class, enroll in film school, buy books like Vale's Technique of Screen and Television Writing or Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing (two of the very best books on screenwriting that you can own), do what you gotta do, just learn the craft. Believe me, studio script readers, producer's assistants and your potential future agent will thank you. Your goal is to get them to read past page ten. What are you currently working on? The feature-length adaptation of my AFI thesis film "Spent." It's the story of a woman in her 30's named Cheryl who finds herself homeless as a result of her addiction to shopping. My producer and co-writer, Phyllis Toben Bancroft, just set up a schedule and began writing this past month. Tell us about your blog (the nineties rocked!!) I started my blog, Damn The Man, Save The Empire!, almost exactly a year ago in September 2008. The name of the blog is a quote from the 1995 film "Empire Records," which I love. My blog is just really a fun diversion from screenwriting and a way to keep my writing muscle flexed, but honestly, I just love the '90's. I am a '90's baby. I enjoyed the music and film of the time so much that they remain some of my favorite things now. I just love the more rebellious and opinionated spirit that that decade exuded compared to now. A lot of people bemoan the '90's, like, "Thank God that's over," and I can't even believe that. I just had so much fun back then. I agree-the nineties were a blast, and very rebellious! Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Angela! I wish you the best of luck with all your projects. Thanks so much for this opportunity! -- Angela Perkins Palmer Writer/Blogger/Filmmaker Connect on LinkedIn: Friend me on Facebook: Find Me on Myspace: Follow me on Twitter: Check out my blog: Find my blog on Myspace: See my short film website: Friend me on GoodReads:

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