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Friday, April 3, 2009

Catching Up With Hilary Graham

Good morning, Wavers! The other day, Margaux Froley interviewed Hilary Graham, last year's Silver Screenwriting Grand Prize winner, to find out what she's up to almost one year later. Sounds like she's been pretty busy. But don't take my word for it, let's hear from Hilary:

Hilary, it's been six months since your Grand Prize trip to Los Angeles. How has your approach to your career shifted since then?

Well, being a writer from New Hampshire, I think it’s critical to go to LA every few months and get an infusion of that energy. Plus, it gives me an excuse to wear lipstick. There’s a line from ALMOST FAMOUS that Kate Hudson and her friends keep repeating throughout the film: "It’s all happening..." I feel like that when I’m in LA, and it’s a great motivating factor. One thing I left LA with was that I should never miss an opportunity to pitch my "take" on a project. When I got home I had three novels given to me by producers, three magazine articles, and three "concepts." I pitched my take on all of them. Yes, it was a lot of hard work, but now two of those things are percolating...

What have you been working on since?

Since October I have written two treatments, four chapters of a novel, finished a first draft of my latest spec script and developed pitches for the aforementioned novels/articles/ideas. Some of these things were better than others. ;)

You recently sold your first project...tell us about that. From coming up with the idea to check in hand.

While I was in LA, I was a busy, busy lady. You - The Script Department - set me up with a bunch of meetings, and so did my manager - Seth Jaret of Jaret Entertainment. They were general meetings, but sometimes I did pitch a few of my new ideas (I had three "polished" pitches). At one of the meetings, I did my three pitches, and one of them led to a request to see a treatment. So, I went home and quickly wrote said treatment, and now that production company is paying me to write that spec.

It sounds like you have been incredibly productive. Is this normally how fast you write or has a taste of Hollywood gotten to you?

I am by nature a hard worker, and I know that you need to work hard to get ahead in this business because everyone is hungry. I write five days a week, 9:00 – 2:00, and often for a couple hours in the evening and on weekends.

Are there any lingering lessons you are still benefiting from since your LA trip and your meetings with other working screenwriters and producers?

My two biggest lessons are to not be too hard on myself and to try not to jump to conclusions. One of the worst meetings I had (which was actually a post-LA phone call with the agent of an A-list director) was bad. Embarrassingly bad. But the production company that set up the call is now paying me to write my spec, so it just goes to show you. Also, I pitched one producer a take that he didn’t really respond to back in November, and recently, out of the blue, he called up to tell me that he changed his mind and we’re working together on a treatment.

Any advice for aspiring screenwriters?

Write as much as you can. You get better as you go.

Also, any sense about what the market is like in Hollywood for new writers breaking in?

God, I don’t really know. But I try to remain naively optimistic. I always think there’s space for fresh new voices and original ideas.

How has your representation helped you manage your blossoming career?

My manager rocks. He has access to all of the gatekeepers in Hollywood and he has relationships with these people. Plus, he has an amazing critical eye for my work, which really helps me strengthen and improve my writing. And of course, he is one of my greatest cheerleaders.

Would you encourage other writers to enter the Silver Screenwriting Competition?

I encourage every aspiring screenwriter to enter the Silver Screenwriting Competition. You WANT to win this prize. The cash was nice, sure, but that was only part of the real prize. To me, the trip to LA was really what it’s all about. Not only did they set me up in a cool little trendy hotel, but the Script Department put so much energy into making sure I was living the life of a Hollywood screenwriter — from arranging meetings to taking me to lunch at the Paramount commissary to taking me for drinks at the chi-chi Ch√Ęteau Marmont.

At night, the Script Department set me up with drinks and dinner with three different major screenwriters: Blake Snyder (author of the SAVE THE CAT screenwriting series), Steve Faber (WEDDING CRASHERS), and David Arata (CHILDREN OF MEN). The words of wisdom offered by these experienced and talented people was just invaluable. Nothing beats having a mini-mentorship with an Academy Award nominee over some Pinot Grigio. Blake, Steve, and David each were happy to share their unique perspectives on and experiences in the business of screenwriting, giving me sage advice, and most of all encouragement. Well, Steve Faber also gave me slight heart palpitations, but in a good way. The man is a force of nature.

By day, the Script Department arranged meetings with producers, making me more than just a name on a cover page, and providing me the beginnings of a working relationship with people from a slew of well-respected production companies. And we all know how essential relationships are to this business (especially for a writer who lives on the east coast).

Since my trip, the ongoing creative support from The Script Department has been amazing. Before I won the 2008 Silver Screenwriting Contest, I used to feel like I didn’t really have a writing community, that I had no one to bounce ideas off of. Now, I have The Script Department — a team of talented, insightful WRITERS who actually have a stake in helping me achieve success and are committed to shepherding me in every aspect of this business. Talk about priceless! Clearly, this is more than just your average screenwriting contest. Enter it. Hell, enter it twice.

What's next for you?

Taking a shower. It’s almost noon and I’m still in my PJs. After that — world domination.

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Anonymous said...

Congrats, to both Hillary and The Silver Screenwriting Contest. Focus is perfect. Attitude spot-on. Reality check, checked. Winning approach, engaged!

Not sucking up, just saying "Thanks!" for the beacon.

Stan said...


Screenplay contest grand prize winners are like the movie Highlander.

"There can be only one."

(per year, per contest, anyway)