I'm glad to be getting back on track with my Emerging Women in Film Series. This week I'm pleased to share my interview with Caitlin McCarthy, an award-winning screenwriter who was recently named by Imagine magazine as a "Women to Watch." They're right. Caitlin inspires me. I am thankful our paths crossed back in 2009 at the Action of Film (AOF) International Film Festival. She's a tenacious, determined, and talented screenwriter who always keeps her eye on the prize.
Miller: Congratulations are in order for all your hard-earned accomplishments. Achieving success as a screenwriter is no easy task. What have you done to distinguish yourself as a writer?
McCarthy: Thank you for your kind words!
I believe writers have to be of two minds these days: an artist and a businessperson. It's not enough to create scripts. You have to create a name for yourself through an official website; IMDb page (or IMDb resume, if you don’t have produced credits yet); social media; professional organizations like IFP, WIF, and Shooting People; interviews (online, print, and TV); film festivals (don’t just attend – network!); participation in screenwriting labs and pitch summits; you name it.
If you do at least one thing every day to advance your writing career, it will add up over time. When people Google you, they should see YOU first – not some guy or gal with the same name who works as a dentist in Montana. The competition is fierce in film and TV. Make it impossible for someone to say no to you.
Miller: What kind of stories speak to you? Do you have a preferred genre?
McCarthy: I have always had a soft spot for the underdog. My favorite protagonists are the ones who must fight for what they want. I'm not married to one particular genre. In fact, I've purposely gone out of my way to demonstrate my versatility by writing about history, science, sports, romance, and the world of education. I've also branched out from screenplays into teleplays. I love a good challenge and will write about anything and everything that interests me.
|Posing with Caitlin at the staged reading of Wonder Drug in NYC.|
McCarthy: I started writing screenplays in 2002, after meeting Oscar-nominated director Matia Karrell through her cousin, who worked at my school. Matia read my unpublished novel CAPE COD LITE and asked if I could turn it into a screenplay. Whenever you're asked something like that, the answer should always be YES! I ran out to the bookstore that day, bought a “How To” book, and the rest is history.
The screenwriting process was painful at first. I made every mistake you can think of, like telling instead of showing. But over time, I've become a stronger screenwriter. I won't ever say that writing is easy. It's hard work. But it's hard work that I enjoy. If you don’t love it, don’t do it.
Miller: What is your favorite film festival and why?
McCarthy: The Action on Film International Film Festival (AOF) is essential for writers starting out. Its founder Del Weston truly cares about building a "family" of filmmakers. He also gives you the tools to build a presence for yourself. If you’re a nominated writer at the festival, you get a professionally shot interview that can be uploaded to your website and social media pages. A five-minute scene from your script may also selected for interpretation on camera by AOF and shown as a "mini-movie" during the festival. There's also the AOF Writers' Room Invitational, where assigned teams of five writers create an original scene. All scenes are filmed and screened during AOF. The members of the winning group receive awards and prizes at the AOF Black Tie Dinner and Award Show. And then there's the inaugural AOF $100,000 Writers' Challenge, where the "challenge" is to write a winning script that AOF can produce utilizing a $100,000 cash and sponsorship prize package. The package includes cash, equipment, equipment rentals, and sponsor provided services such as post production, music, graphics, deliverables, etc.
How much do these offerings from the AOF cost you? Nothing. You just pay the entry fee for the screenplay competition!
For more information about AOF, check out the blog post I wrote about the festival for "Women and Hollywood" on IndieWire: http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/guest_post_women_filmmakers_and_screenwriters_at_the_action_on_film_film_fe
|Standing room only at the staged reading of Wonder Drug in NYC.|
McCarthy: For starters, don't waste your money on competitions with no return on investment. Writing can be death by a thousand paper cuts, meaning filled with numerous costs that sneak up on you. You must be careful with how you spend your money.
Next, don’t worry about getting an agent or manager right away. You won’t be able to get a good one until you have a project in production. What should you be focused on getting? An entertainment lawyer. The great ones in Los Angeles and New York City are expensive – sometimes $350 an hour. But you’re paying for protection. Do not EVER sign anything without having a legitimate entertainment lawyer review it first. And listen to that lawyer’s advice. Don’t be desperate. It’s better to have no deal than a bad deal.
Lastly, network with fellow writers and support your friends – but watch out for the “vampires” and “frenemies.” Some people will be thrilled for your successes, because they know their turn is coming. But others will try to tear you down once they sense you pulling away from the pack. Develop a thick skin. You’re going to need it for this business.
Miller: What's up next for you?
McCarthy:RESISTANCE is scheduled to start principal photography in 2012. The film is attracting A-List talent in front of and behind the camera. I can’t wait to go public with the details soon.
Producer/Actor Alysia Reiner and I are plotting next steps for WONDER DRUG. Alysia’s amazing! We became friends after she starred with Steve Guttenberg (THREE MEN AND A BABY) in the live staged reading of WONDER DRUG at the 15th Annual Hamptons International Film Festival, co-sponsored by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
I'm currently having meetings with top producers about my TV series idea "Free Skate" (www.freeskatetheseries.com). I'm also shopping around my other projects and starting a new script, all while teaching full-time.
No one can ever accuse me of being lazy! My motto is: Work conquers all. I also love the saying: Early to bed, early to rise, work real hard, and advertise.
If you want it, go out and get it. Nothing can stop you but you.