ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - WOMEN IN HORROR
Interview by Nate Ludwig
NL: What's your story? How did you get into screenwriting and filmmaking?
DW: Well I’ve always loved making up stories. So I’d say if I went all the way back to the genesis of how I got started, it was my parents gave me a tape recorder when I was a little girl. It was meant as a learning tool but I just started making up stories on it. After that I was hooked. I got a new tape recorder every Christmas and was pretty darn excited about it. Yup. I was that kid. Being a female Walter Mitty, I used writing to escape, as a coping mechanism, and a means to get my sardonic point across to the adults in my life with humor. And lucky for me those said adults encouraged it. As a scientist, I’ve had to write copious technical papers. So that would probably be where I learned to love the rewrite. So how did I finally make that jump and start actually writing screenplays and stage plays. Well acting is another one of the fun things I like to do. So one day I was in an acting class explaining a character background or something (I honestly can’t remember what I was talking about) and a friend said ‘You sound like a writer. You ought to take the screenwriting course at UCLA’. After I went through the obligatory ‘Nah, really? You think so?’ I figured why not. Perhaps that was just the nudge I needed. So I took the year long Screenwriting Course at UCLA extension and here I am today writing stories and (as Maxwell Smart would say) ‘And loving it’.
NL: In addition to being a writer and director, you are a scientist. If that isn't all kinds of awesome, field are you in and talk a little bit about what you do on a day-to-day basis.
DW: I’m in the aerospace industry. I work for a non profit organization so basically we monitor the tests and equipment that is put on the launch vehicles to make sure they are up to snuff for a successful launch and flight.
NL: Your writing is snappy and humorous, hearkening back to the days of Hollywood screwball comedies. What are some of your influences for your writing and how much of that style bleeds into your everyday life?
DW: I love the old timey screwball comedies and the faster the dialogue, the better. One of my favorite screwball comedies is His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant.The dialogue is so fast. Also, I adore esoteric references whether I get them at the time or find out about them later on. In His Girl Friday, Cary Grant in an ad lib refers to Archibald Leech which was Cary Grant’s real name. I also like the movies from the 30’s because they have messages hidden in their humor. The Capra movies, like You Can’t Take it With You for instance. A short list of my writing influences would be the Marx Brothers, Mel Brooks, Carol Burnett, Alfred Hitchcock, James Thurber, several writers from the Algonquin table, Dorothy Parker, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Tim Conway, Ring Lardner, Mark Twain, Abbott and Costello, old timey radio shows, Buck Henry, Philadelphia Story, Bringing up Baby, The Thin Man series, and Get Smart. I could go on and on and on. Also, here’s a goofy thing. I have adored comedy my entire life. One of my favorite books when I was a wee lass was ‘Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions’. I thought that was hilarious at the time and went around everywhere quoting from it. And again the adults encouraged it. So I would say the comedic style bleeds into my everyday life because people keep encouraging it. Sometimes when someone says something provocative I’ll ask ‘Why did you say that?’ And their answer will be ‘I just wanted to hear how you’d respond’.
NL: Your short film A Menacing Proposal is a very funny take on home invasion, relationship quirks, and gender politics. Where did you get the idea to write this film and what were some of your experiences on set?
DW: One thing my extensive study of human nature (in short what some of my friends have said) has taught me is that one of the scariest sentences anyone in a relationship can utter is ‘We need to talk’. Oh, where the mind goes. So A Menacing Proposal is a cautionary tale of what could happen if, instead of facing the “We need to talk’ talk, one tries to fix the imagined ‘worse possible case scenario’, before all the data is gathered. Also I like to play with the idea of splitting both parts of any individual’s problem solving mechanism into the logical, self preservation Machiavellian side and the compassionate, do what’s right no matter what side. I think these two parts are in all of us, regardless of gender. There’s a little Scully and Mulder in all of us.
NL: Can you tell us a little bit about your other directorial projects?
DW: My only other directorial project is another dark comedy called At Your Disposal. Horror and comedy go together like a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup for me. Again it’s a couple with opposing takes on what the neighbor is doing next door.
NL: As far as your screenplays go, how do you decide which ones you want to direct yourself, and which ones you want to option to other directors?
DW: Well so far, I have directed the two dark comedies. I have one that is a thriller, that my fiend, Matt Moore, directed. Honestly, my initial intentions were just to write. My first two projects I ended up directing because, well, someone had to do it. That was my first endeavor in directing. It was a little scary jumping in the deep end without lessons. But I found I like it! So I plan to take some classes in directing to hone those directorial skills. Also presently I’m taking the online Mater Class in directing with Ron Howard. I’m pretty darned excited about this. For me, the learning curve is half the fun!
NL: What's coming up for you project-wise? Anything in the pipeline?
Presently, I just reformatted one of my ghost story plays into an old timey radio format for an upcoming podcast on Backyard Space Opera. The radio format is considerably different from the screenplay format so that was a new challenge. The cast and crew is set and we are hoping to get it out soon. I’m thinking of doing more radio plays in the future.
NL: What has your film fest circuit experiences been like so far? Anything you've learned from your adventures?
DW: I am relatively new to screenwriting and film making so my film fest circuit experiences have been very educational. At every festival I have learned a great deal from others who are significantly more experienced in the field than I am and made some wonderful friends. They have offered inspiration, motivation, and numerous helpful hunts. When I first started sending screenplays to festivals, I thought the screenplay itself was the end game. The very first festival I went to, people asked ‘So when are you going to make it a film?’ Although I hadn’t considered this option before, the seed was planted. Initially, it seemed like a Herculean effort, but the encouraging words from my new friends helped me overcome my own potential barrier. And so it began...
NL: What's the hardest part about balancing a full-time career and trying to keep up with the amount of writing and filmmaking you want to pursue?
DW: Having enough time to get all the things on my to do list can be the hardest part. Everything takes more time than I imagined. I’ll make a list for the day with about five things on it and realistically get to 2 maybe 3. But since making up stories and writing is my idea of relaxation, it’s sometimes a challenge not to drift off into story telling thoughts when I should be doing something else.
NL: Seen any good movies lately?
DW: I’ve been watching TCM’s 31 days of Oscars so I’m catching up on some of the older movies. I just recently watched “You Can’t Take it With You’, ‘Mr Deeds Goes to Town’, and ‘Cocoon’. And I can never get tired of ‘The Time Machine’. I’ve seen them all before, but it’s amazing how seeing the same movie at a different time in your life can make you see the movie with a brand new perspective.