Welcome new Writers’ Program instructor Valerie Brandy! She is teaching an online section of Writing the First Screenplay I (Reg# 366685) this Spring, and sat down with us to offer some insight into creative life and her upcoming course.
What sparks your creativity?
The creative side of my brain works best in two scenarios: when I’m asking “what if?,” and when I’m solving a problem. Asking “what if?” enables me to throw away rules and imagine a world outside of what already exists. I’ll say to myself, “Yes, the world is this way, but what if it weren’t…” Even within a specific script, I’ll substitute parts and replace characters to test things out and experiment with “what ifs,” then give myself the chance to choose what works best. Similarly, solving a problem forces me to find a work-around outside the current parameters. Sometimes, if I don’t feel like a script is original or exciting enough, I’ll actually try to create a problem within the work that I then have to solve. Unusual ideas come from difficult circumstances. It’s the old adage of giving a kid a box instead of the toy that was inside it– making someone to do a lot with limited resources forces them to be creative.
What do you rely on for those times it’s difficult to find the time, energy, motivation and/or inspiration to write?
I’m a big believer in the “Artist’s Way” method of having a daily routine, but I also know it’s not always possible in the world. Life happens; emails have to be sent, phone calls are made, people get sick, pets go to the vet. It’s important to carve out time, but I try not to be so militant about it that I’m the world’s worst boss to my only employee (myself). I tend to set daily and weekly page count goals that I know I have to meet in order to get something in on time. If I set a goal to have twenty pages written by end-of-day Friday, that’s four pages a day; which means if I miss Tuesday’s writing session, I’m prepared to show up double on Wednesday. When I do get to the page in the way I hoped, it’s rare to not feel motivated because I’m so passionate about the work that I do. If I’m feeling stuck or tired, it’s usually a sign that something else in my life is off balance that needs to be addressed. For example, this summer my Grandma passed away, and I found myself grieving so badly that working was like walking through cement. It was a challenge to be patient with myself, but I started by doing the most fun part of the job first, and breaking the more difficult tasks down into stages. Everything got in on time, and I learned to be kind to myself.
What’s your favorite book and/or movie?
It’s hard to pick a favorite movie, but I’d say top three in no particular order are: Little Miss Sunshine, The Fifth Element, and Adaptation. As far as books go, I love The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, anything Gillian Flynn or Liane Moriarty, and of course, all of Harry Potter.
What’s your favorite quote about writing?
Tough to pick just one, but these two pretty much summarize my overall perspective about what it means to be a writer who writes well:
“A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.” — Oscar Wilde
“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov
What excites you most about teaching for the Writers’ Program?
I’m beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to share knowledge with beginning writers. I’ve had the good fortune of being exposed to many different mentors, development execs, and creative partners throughout the years, all of whom have taught me new ways to look at the work. Half of being a good writer is knowing what questions to ask, and I can’t wait to help students feel that rush of adrenaline that comes with exploring a fictional world. Storytelling is an ancient art, and it it’s a skill everyone should practice, whether they want to be a screenwriter or an engineer. From the moment human beings first gained the ability to consciously observe our own experience, we’ve been looking for ways to tell each other about it. It’s humbling and an honor to help students grow in an a craft that’s as old as the human experience itself.
What do you hope your students get from your course?
Everyone will leave my class with a solid outline that serves as a roadmap to writing their first screenplay. It is imperative to me that this map be something they can return to at any point, even if they change ideas, or move onto a different project. Outlining is not just utilitarian, but preservationist, making sure no idea goes to waste. I also hope my students leave with a deep understanding of structure, and the ability to engage audiences. Whether you’re telling a story to your best friend, or writing the next blockbuster, the number one rule still applies: never bore your audience. The power in storytelling lies in making other people engage– in making them empathize. The ability to connect emotionally with others through a narrative is what enables us to create work that catalyzes positive change in the world. Whether it’s in day to day life or written work, I hope my students use what they learn to tell stories with heart.
Thank you to Valerie for taking time to share with us. Look for more instructor interviews coming soon!