by Jill Brownlee Wolf
In summer of 2009 I participated in the Act One producing program where I met Karen. She is brilliant, kind, and astute. She brings a great deal of depth and analysis to the team. I have interviewed her so you can understand her talent, process, and heart.
JB: What inspired you to become a writer?
KH: I grew up in Culver City, “the Heart of Screenland” surrounded by the entertainment world. I couldn’t help but consider where I might fit into the industry. Once I realized I was gifted in writing, I decided screenwriting was the place for me.
JB: Tell us about your journey. When and how did you know this is what you wanted to do?
KH: As far back as elementary school, fellow students enjoyed my stories. I loved having an audience. In high school, teachers gave special attention and encouragement. They advised me to me to take writing seriously and consider it a career option. In college, I thought academic writing was where I fit best, because I was good at it. But my creative side was not being addressed, so I began to take screenwriting courses and found myself enjoying the style. After college, I participated in Community Theater where I wrote and directed for the stage. I realized the importance of honing my craft to get better at telling stories; so I began reading more books, taking more courses on writing, and I wrote constantly. In 2006, I applied to Act One and didn’t get in. I was disappointed, but in hindsight I can see it was the wrong time in my life for the program. I continued to work on my writing and applied again in 2009. I was accepted and was delighted to see my writing grow exponentially.
JB: Tell us about Act One. How did it train you?
KH: Act One (http://www.actoneprogram.com/)was a profound experience because for the first time I was in an environment where everyone had the same two passions: a love for story and a love for God. The summer of 2009 brought new meaning and intensity to my life as fellow writers descended on my home region of LA and we spent hours talking about film, TV, and everything in between. Amazing friendships were established as individuals were pursuing the same career for the same reasons. I was surprised and delighted at how thorough the curriculum was and the body of teachers brought in to teach the sessions. They emphasized how to be people of faith in an industry, time, and place that seems hopeless. The part of the program that most impressed me was how they trained and supported the whole person. They showed us how to live and function in more than just an entertainment career. They spent time equipping us spiritually, personally, and professionally. I felt more prepared than if I’d gone to an actual film school.
JB: What kind of writing are you able to do? What is your favorite?
KH: Poetry, short stories, screenwriting, academic, plays, and children’s books. My favorite is either an inspiring poem that rhymes or an intriguing story. Most of my stories are in a variety of genres but they are always about teenagers. I’ve spent a lot of time working with teenagers and find the transition from child to adult to be an interestingly difficult rite of passage. For this reason I enjoy exploring teenage topics, characters, and struggles. This also allows me to sidestep committing to one genre as I can use all genres to examine the teenager. Additionally, I enjoy academic writing, at present I’m pursuing a master’s degree at Loyola Marymount University. At one point I struggled with feeling I had to choose between screenwriting and academic writing. But the Act One program made me consider how I could leverage one to strengthen the other. A faculty member suggested that all writers should be theologians. Since theology is the study of humanity and all stories speak about our humanity, I realized I would be better at storytelling by pursuing a better understanding of humanity. This way I get to do both kinds of writing and let one strengthen the other. To study both creates balance and inspiration for me.
JB: Can you show us some samples?
KH: “The Recipe” is a children’s play that I wrote while working with Community Theater. It was inspired by my grandmother who had passed away 2 years prior. She was an amazing cook and my experiences with her helped me learn about life. That is what the story is about, children learning about life through cooking. (see attached)
JB: How do you hone your craft?
KH: Reading and writing. First, I read a lot of scripts. Any I can get my hands on, especially those that have been produced. I look for what the talented writers are doing. Second, I read a lot of screenwriting methodology books. I try the methodology and find the parts of the process that work for me. Then I write, a ton. I set a disciplined schedule for writing. Initially I started just writing whatever, whenever, however, some pieces were never finished. But using the methodology from some of the screenwriting books and the process I learned through Act One, I now understand how to develop a story before actually starting to write it. Now I write better and they get finished. I learned that pre-writing can enhance my writing process and make writing on a schedule enjoyable. Finally, since writing a screenplay can take 1-2 years, I find writing a poem or short story in an afternoon keeps me feeling a sense of accomplishment while I stay the course on a longer work. Ultimately, I’ve committed to learning good skills as well as what works and what doesn’t work for my personal methodology. I’ve worked at being a healthy and happy human so writing is neither therapeutic nor personally draining. I work at knowing who I am so I know what to bring to the professional table and what to leave at the door.
JB: What is so moving for you about writing stories?
KH: Stories speak to humanity and we learn about our humanity through stories. I find humanity fascinating: our struggles, triumphs, intentions, ill-intentions, mistakes, and glories. Stories pertain to EVERYONE. They cross cultures, ages, time, and stories are an opportunity to relish in the reality of life. For me, writing stories is about exploration. I love finding a world and becoming engrossed in it, but not having to commit to that world. For example, I get to write a story about a paramedic and I don’t have to spend the time becoming one.
JB: What really draws you to a project?
KH: Good opportunities and good stories. If the project is something different or challenging, I’m drawn. If I feel I have something to offer the project, or if I know it will offer the world something amazing; then I definitely want to take part. The people on a project can make all the difference to my decision as well. I take into account their character, drive, and creativity. A leader and how he/she cares for me as a person versus just the job is also an important factor. All of these things affect how I distinguish optimal opportunities and choose projects.
JB: What is your dream job? Why do you want to do that?
KH: I really want to work on a TV show or film with teenage characters and themes. I want to explore their struggles, their challenges, and foster social change. I know of a project that focuses on taking young manhood seriously in the scope of the history of humanity and I would LOVE to be working on it.
JB: What would you encourage individuals to do who want to pursue screenwriting?
KH: Be committed to learning. Have patience; it’s a long haul. Be serious about living and moving to LA. It’s next to impossible to do this from somewhere else. Watch films, DVD commentaries, especially those special features. Some are as good as film school in showing you the rationale and decisions filmmakers are actually making. Start writing. Write. Re-write. Then write some more. Keep going. There are a thousand ways to break in; but being a great writer is the best way! Don’t show your work too soon. But be willing to show it to a writing group so you can get feedback, hear what an audience thinks, and improve. This is a safe place to grow. Then when you’re amazing, show it, and your talent will be irresistible to employers.