Screenwriter Interviews

MovieBytes Interview:
Screenwriter Melissa Willis

An interview with screenwriter Melissa Willis regarding the Wildsound/TV Writing Competition.

Q: What's the title of the script you entered in this contest, and what's it about?

A: I wrote a New Girl spec script called "Career Day." Generally, it's about Jess having to orchestrate a successful career day at her school without losing her mind or her job. More specifically, when Nick's and Winston's very successful childhood friend comes to visit - who happens to be pretty much the perfect human and the anti-Schmidt - in addition to Jess pressuring everyone about speaking, the others are forced to face what they've done (or not done) up to this point in their lives and what they should do in the future.

Q: What made you enter this particular contest? Have you entered any other contests with this script? If so, how did you do?

A: A friend of mine also won here recently. She had nothing but good things to say about her experience, so I looked you guys up and liked what I saw. She also said that you gave her excellent notes and that happened to be my experience as well. So thank you! I haven't entered any other contests, but I'm considering it!

Q: Were you satisfied with the administration of the contest? Did they meet their deadlines? Did you receive all the awards that were promised?

A: Yes! Matthew has been great about communicating with me and keeping me up to speed about deadlines, the process, and what's going to happen next. I really appreciate the way you've been promoting me and my script. I plan to come back again and again.

Q: How long did it take you to write the script? Did you write an outline beforehand? How many drafts did you write?

A: It took me a freakishly long time - roughly 17 months from start to finish - but I had some serious personal stuff going on for probably more than 3/4 of that time that kept me from really working on it and I was blocked like crazy. The self-doubt was creeping in. I did a beat sheet and a prose outline before starting. Once I was able to get past everything, the actual grunt work - writing and editing the script - only took a couple of months. I wrote eight (yes 8) drafts. In a way, I'm glad it took so long because a LOT had changed on the show and I had to work around it without changing everything and/or starting over. I wasn't ready to give up and I'm really pleased that I didn't. It was good experience and practice for if/when that situation ever arises!

Q: What kind of software did you use to write the script, if any? What other kinds of writing software do you use?

A: Final Draft is the only one I've ever used and I really like it, but I may try some other ones someday. You never know.

Q: Do you write every day? How many hours per day?

A: Yes! I generally try to write as much as I can. Some days are better than others. If I'm short on time or ideas, I'll do some free writing, a haiku, maybe a joke. I love writing little wish fulfillment scenes for myself because it's purely for me and it's fun. If I'm already in the middle of something, I usually try to do at least two pages a day. And sometimes I'll just block off a huge chunk of time on a Friday night or something and go until I stop or can't stay awake. I think I wrote 20 of the 30 pages (of my first draft) for this script that way.

Q: Do you ever get writer's block? If so, how do you deal with that?

A: All the time. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with it, honestly. I like to meditate, go running, free write, look for exercises I can use to come up with something, do some improv with myself, and, of course, write my fun little scenes. But the most important thing is just to keep going.

Q: What's your background? Have you written any other screenplays or television scripts?

A: This is my very first one. I have a long and extensive background in writing poems and songs and I've been dabbling in stories for about 20 years (since sometime around middle school), but I have a lot of other stuff in the pipeline and I'm always looking for something new to learn or that will improve my writing. I've just recently gotten more involved in sketch, which is a lot of fun and something I've wanted to do for a long time.

Q: Do you live in Los Angeles? If not, do you have any plans to move there?

A: No, I'm a native of the Washington, D.C. area and I still live and work here. Going to L.A. is definitely in my future plans and, ideally, I'd like to be there in the next 2-3 years. I'd like to save some money and get a couple of other things in order first, but if the opportunity arises, I'm taking it.

Q: What's next? Are you working on a new script?

A: I'm halfway through the first draft of an original pilot. I came up with the idea in August and let it ferment for a little while. It's changed quite a bit for the better. I've been working on it pretty intensively since mid-March and it's coming along really nicely. I'm so excited about it! I have another idea for a pilot that's semi-developed that I worked on for a class. It will need some tweaks, but I'm thinking about going back to that after I finish this one. I'm working on a few sketches and I have an idea for both a screenplay and a musical that I'd like to explore. I'm also keeping an eye out for the next show to spec. (Togetherness, please start again soon! I miss you already!)

Posted Tuesday, May 19, 2015