This is a transcript of SYS Podcast Episode 260: Screenwriter Laura Eason Talks About Transitioning From Playwright To Film And Television Writer And Her New Film, Here And Now Starring Sarah Jessica Parker.
Ashley: Welcome to 2019 and to Episode #260 of the selling your screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott Meyers, screen writer and blogger over at www.sellingyourccreenplay.com. Today I’m interviewing Laura Eason who started off as a play right and eventually moved to the television writing and now has a new feature film out that she wrote called Here And Now, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. We talk through her career as a play right and how she was able to transition into TV and film writing, so stay tuned for that interview.
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It’s completely free, you just put in your email address and I’ll send you a new lesson once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your screenplay in that guide. I’ll teach you how to write a professional log line and query letter and how to find agents, managers and producers who are looking for material. Really it’s everything you need to know to sell your screenplay. Just go to www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide.
So now let’s get into the main segment. Today I am interviewing writer Laura Eason. Here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Laura to the Selling Your Screenplay Podcast. I really appreciate you coming on the show with me today.
Laura: Thanks for having me.
Ashley: So to start out, maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Where did you grow up and how did you get interested in the entertainment business?
Laura: Sure. I am from Evanston, Illinois just outside Chicago. I studied theater as a kid and studied theater and performance at Northwestern and joined a theater company in Chicago, still going strong there and I’m still a member of. And I knew from a young age I wanted to be in theater and that’s what I did right out of school. I was writing plays and acting and directing all at the same time for my theater company. After feeling like I had done a lot of what I had wanted to do in Chicago I decided I wanted to move to New York and really focus exclusively on my writing. I came to New York as a play right and thought that’s what I would do and then a play that I wrote that was debuted at Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago got very successful and drew the attention of a large agency that had a large film and television arm.
I just didn’t think film and television was gonna be in my future because I was based in New York but it turned out my play ended up opening a lot of doors as a writing sample. I ended up through that play getting a meeting to stash on a new show that was gonna drop on [inaudible 00:03:17] and I jumped on through my [inaudible 00:03:21] before I got the job to write for House Of Cards Season Two and that’s where I’ve been at for four years and then have now been in film and TV for five, almost maybe six years now.
Ashley: Perfect. And so, what attracted you to theater as opposed to thinking that you would be in TV and film? Like why did you gravitate towards theater originally?
Laura: Well, growing up in Chicago there wasn’t a lot of film and television shooting there. In the last few years it’s really expanded and the place for that would happen but it just wasn’t something that seemed possible. It seemed like you needed to move to LA to be a writer in film and television and that just wasn’t even something that entered my mind as a possibility. But I went to the theater as a young person from Evanston into Chicago and it’s just I saw people doing what I wanted to do, so that became my goal.
Ashley: I see. So let’s dig into Here And Now starring Sarah Jessica Parker. Maybe to start out you can give us a quick pitch or logline. What is that film all about?
Laura: It is about a woman whose role is played by Sarah Jessica Parker named Vivian who’s a singer in New York City, and she gets a terrible health diagnosis, life threatening diagnosis. We follow her after that which is actually the first scene. We follow her for the next 24 hours. It’s really a movie about…it’s really a reckoning of sorts because she looks at all her relationships and her life choices and really takes stock of the choices that she made over her life and eventually coming to a place of peace with who she is and how she’s gonna use the time she has left.
Ashley: I see. And where did this idea come from? What was the genesis for this story?
Laura: The premise actually came from the director Fabien Constant who’s a wonderful French director. This is his first feature. He’s done beautiful documentaries, but this is his idea. He brought it to Sarah Jessica Parker’s company Pretty Matches. They had been friendly for a while and were talking about working on something and I had been talking to Alison Benson who’s been a producing partner about a couple projects with them and nothing had quite landed. And I had a meeting with them, we talked about the premise of the film and I then pitched my take on it and what I thought and then they said, “Let’s do this.” So it was a two year development process with Sarah Jessica, Alison Benson, Caroline [inaudible 00:05:55] Pretty Matches, [inaudible 00:05:58] is one of our other producers and Fabien. And we just worked on it collectively for two years, headed towards production.
Ashley: I see. And let’s take a…
Laura: I am the [inaudible 00:06:10] but there was a lot of conversation and collaboration in terms of notes and really taking Fabien’s vision of the film into account during the writing.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. And let’s take a step back. You mentioned that you were already in talks with Sarah Jessica Parker’s company. Maybe you can take us back, what does that look like? I mean, you are on a very successful TV show, but how do you get those meetings and how do you get those conversations started with a company like Sarah Jessica Parker’s company?
Laura: [inaudible 00:06:40] work. There’re just on as many of us in New York, screenwriters as are in LA, so I think the pool is smaller and I think [inaudible 00:06:52] in on the companies that might be a good match. And the truth is that my agent [inaudible 00:06:57] they sent my script to Pretty Matches as a writing sample and my manager at Britton Rizzio at Writ Large was really instrumental in being strategic about who was in New York, what companies are based in New York that might have a similar sensibility that would be open to having a general meeting with Laura. And I really just had a general meeting with her and it was one of those meeting where you feel like you’re seeing an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while.
It didn’t feel like the first time I was meeting her, we just instantly clicked. From that we just knew we wanted to work together and I was [inaudible 00:07:36] of mind and very grateful that when Fabien brought this idea in to them they called me up.
Ashley: I see, perfect. So let’s dig into your writing process a little bit and we can talk specifically about writing the screenplay for this project. Just a couple of quick questions, where do you typically write, do you write at the home office, do you have an office that you maybe pay for, do you write in a coffee shop? What does your writing look like in terms of where you go?
Laura: Well, I’m very lucky in New York that I do have a separate room, a separate office where I do my writing, although as often in New York we’re making do with what we have so it’s on a lower level with only one teeny-tiny window. So I sometimes when my husband who is a stage actor here in New York, when he’s out of the apartment I’ll sometimes move up to the dining room table so I can look out the beautiful brown stone Brooklyn where I live. But most of the time it’s that I’m [inaudible 00:08:33].
Ashley: I get you. When do you typically write? Are you a morning person, afternoon person, late at night?
Laura: Well, if I were left to my own devices I would stay up all night. I would stick to my prime writing hours of 9:00 pm to 3:00 am. But I have an eight year old daughter, so even though I probably stay up much later than I probably should I try and do most of my writing during the day. And of course if I’m in a writers room then the hours are hopefully more, just daytime, although we all know that sometimes rooms can run late. But yeah, before I had a kid I was definitely then a night writer and not a daytime but I’ve had to make some adjustments.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So how much time…when you’re working on a project like this, how much time do you spend in the outlining stage versus how much time do you spend actually in final draft writing out actual script pages?
Laura: I’m becoming more and more a lover of outlines and reworking with outlines to get them right before diving into scripts. For my plays I didn’t use to outline, I would sort of dive in and often write things really quickly, but I’m really coming around to loving the outline stage although I do feel like you have to be careful with staying in there too long because things reveal themselves in draft but they wouldn’t otherwise. I definitely err on the side of…I am a writer who writes the first draft to things as often on the short side as opposed to the long side, which the more I know is more unusual [laughs] in people than other people. But in terms of actual time I just feel like it’s all very project dependent.
It depends on how hard it is to wrap your arms around it, how long the outline takes, how successful that first draft of that is, how many originals you have to do. It feels all very project [inaudible 00:10:43] how long you’re in each phase.
Ashley: Yeah, sure. So in terms of the development process, you mentioned that this was very collaborative and over the course of two years. Maybe you can describe that process a little bit for our listeners kind of to see what that’s like, getting the notes, dealing with the notes, maybe getting some notes that you didn’t necessarily initially agree with. How do you handle that? Just sort of maybe give us a little insight into the development process on this script.
Laura: So, after having the initial meeting about the film and the premise, the idea that Fabien had in mind and sort of his visual style for the film which is very French New Wave inspired, I went back and did a pitch, a sort of maybe a…it was probably like a 15 paged treatment of how I saw the film and they really loved it and were persuaded by it and we decided therefore to move forward. So from that first treatment I did an outline that we then talked about and I did some revisions on that. And then pretty quickly I went to draft. And then it was notes on the draft, and the thing…as I said the spirit of the thing was so focused on the project and everyone feeling a collective relationship to it and not really feeling like one person’s project or their project or my project.
It just always felt like the group was always trying to make this thing better. So it never felt like oh I’m getting a note I don’t like about my thing. It felt like notes coming in and trying to make this collective endeavor better. So all of the process and negotiation of it was all very easy and fun and even if I got a note I didn’t agree with, I’ve been around long enough, I know it’s not hard to give something a chance or not or hard for me to hear notes and thoughts from people that I really respect and I’m happy to be in collaboration with. So it was a very dreamy process. And then of course we only had…we had production challenges because we shot it in 16 days on location in New York City.
Including many scenes on the street with Sarah Jessica Parker, which was suddenly on 36 Street and Seventh Avenue and with Sarah Jessica Parker there, crowds formed very quickly. And trying to get everything we needed to get in the amount of time we had was challenging but it was really…so sometimes the production concerns we ended up making some script…obviously it always does impact some of your choices. But I’m thrilled that the film came out considering all the things we were up against. But from the very beginning it was a passion project and we were imagining it as a piece of art we all wanted to make. It wasn’t for the money, it wasn’t for any other reason except we all love this story and we all were just thrilled to see Sarah Jessica in this role.
She was brilliant in it and of course everyone knows her as one of our great comedic actresses, but she goes to very, very deep and challenging places in this film and I think she’s just exquisite it. And to be able to write for her was such a gest. So really the whole thing was a big…felt like a big art project with a bunch of pals. It really was dreamy.
Ashley: Yeah. So, what advice would you have for writers that are looking to break into TV, you know, write specs, go do some YouTube shots? What is your advice for people that wanna break into TV in 2018?
Laura: It’s so hard and I feel like my journey is so idiosyncratic. I hesitate to feel like I have any good advice for anyone, except I will say I just followed my passion and made works that I really cared about. I wrote this play, it’s called Sex With Strangers, it was done at Steppenwolf and the success of that play which ended up becoming one of the most produced around the country for a couple of years and had productions in New York and in London and around the world and…with that play I really tried to challenge myself to be really brave and break something I was a little scared of and that I really believed in and I was really proud of and I just dug deep on making something that I genuinely cared about.
It was very inside out, it was not outside in. It was not looking at the market and trying to figure out what was gonna sell or whatever. It was really trying to write something that I really cared about. And I think that more than anything else, that shows. So I think whatever it is, make the thing you really wanna make and you really believe in. Now, that said, I’d also been trying to shop around a play with 12 people. Well, no one wants to produce a play with 12 people right now, it’s to expensive. So writing a two hander was also something I knew that was probably gonna be able to have more attraction than something with 12 people. So I’m not saying ignore the market, I’m not saying don’t think about the context in which the thing you’re making lives but it’s a part of it.
You need to do something that you’re passionate about. So whether it’s a YouTube shot or short film or a spec or a play, whatever it is just make sure even though you’re thinking about the context in which it lives, that the essence of it, the heart of it, don’t make it something you think that somebody else is gonna like, make it something that you really care about and you really wanna put into the world.
Ashley: Yeah, sound advice for sure. So how can people see Here And Now, do you know what the release schedule is gonna be like?
Laura: Yes. It is out tomorrow in a very limited release around the country. And there is a website…Oh gosh, I don’t have [inaudible 00:17:13] but it’s…
Ashley: I’ll round it up and put it in the show notes.
Laura: Yeah, so the website is somewhere and it is also In Demand starting tomorrow so you can watch it on iTunes et cetera.
Ashley: Perfect. And what’s the best way for people to keep up with what you’re doing, Twitter, Facebook, a blog, anything you’re comfortable sharing just so people can kind of get a feel for your career.
Laura: Sure. I’m on Twitter and Instagram @leason… L-E-A-S-O-N-N-Y-C and then I also have a website which is just www.lauraeason.com that I keep up to date with what I’m up to.
Ashley: Perfect. Again, I’ll round that stuff up for the show notes and put those so people can click over to them. Laura, I really appreciate your taking some time out of your day to talk with me. Good luck with this project and all your future projects.
Laura: Thank you Ashley.
Ashley: Thank you, will talk to you later.
Laura: Okay, bye bye.
Laura: Bye Ashley.
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Every script will get a grade of pass, consider or recommend, which should help you roughly understand where your script might rank if you were to submit it to a production company or agency. We can provide an analysis on features or television scripts. We also do proofreading without any analysis. We will also look at a treatment or outline and give you the same analysis on it. So if you’re looking to vet some of your project ideas, this is a great way to do it. We will also write you a log line and synopsis for you. You can add this log line and synopsis writing service to an analysis, or you can simply purchase this service as standalone product. As a bonus if your screenplay gets a recommend or a consider from one of our readers, you get to list the screenplay in the SYS Select database which is a database for producers to find screenplays and a big part of our SYS Select program.
Producers are in the data base searching for material on a daily basis so it’s another great way to get your material in front of them. As a further bonus, if your script gets a recommend or consider from one of our readers, your screenplay will get included in our monthly Best Of newsletter. Each month we send out a newsletter that highlights the best screenplays that have come through our script analysis service. This is a monthly newsletter goes out to our list of over 400 producers who are actively looking for material. So again this is another great way to get your material out there. So if you want a professional evaluation of your screenplay at a very reasonable price, check out www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants.
On the next episode of the podcast I’m gonna be interviewing Joseph Culp. He has been working as an actor for many years and now he is writing and directing his own projects. He just did a new film called Welcome To The Men’s Group so we talk through that project and how his career as an actor led him to writing and directing that. Keep an eye out for that episode next week. That’s the show, thank you for listening.