Friday 3 August 2012

Interview with Anne Lower

Anne Lower has worked for Final Draft and Save the Cat!, and has served on the Board of Trustees for the International Centre of Women Playwrights. She has led workshops and seminars for the University Film and Video Association, Women in Film Los Angeles, Women in Focus, Writers Faire, Freshi Film Festival and several others. She has been a guest judge for the Hollywood VPype contest, a featured guest on ScriptChat and Write On! Blog Talk Radio. She lives in Los Angeles, where she writes and blogs about screenwriting on, and She also created the webseries They Live Among Us.

*  Where were you born, and where did you grow up?

I was born in Oklahoma, and grew up outside of Edmond, a community northeast of Oklahoma City. We lived on a large acreage in the country; it was very pastoral.

*  What kind of a family did you grow up with?

My family is very interesting. My father was an architect; he was a pioneer in solar and wind energy. My mother was a therapist. My brother and I grew up surrounded by artists and other colorful, exciting people. We housed guest lecturers for a local college, so the likes of Paolo Soleri and Andy Rooney roamed in and out of my life.

*  Where did you go to school?

I attended Casady, a prep school in Oklahoma City. You started there at 3; we were referred to as “lifers.”

*  What was your first paying job?

Hmmm. I’m trying to remember the name of the store. It was an upscale clothing store in 50 Penn Place; they sold the likes of Norma Kamali and other cutting edge designers. What was that place called? Ah. Sera. I handled stock and displays. I enjoyed being paid.

*  When did you first take an interest in films/stories?

Probably in utero. I was a born storyteller. I remember being a small child and creating some fabulous story about a ghost stallion that roamed the woods near our home. I had a friend over from school and launched into it. I guess it worked. She began to cry and ended up calling her mother and asking her to come pick her up. She was terrified that this apparition might appear.

A cool thing happened recentlyan old schoolmate of mine dug up a kind of paper that we published in middle school at Casady. In it, there is a story called The Cave that I wrote when I was around 12 or 13.

Anne Lower, writing for The Casady Quiver, 7th grade. 

I was stunned; it’s actually really good. Enough that I am developing it into a short piece.

In terms of movies, my parents were huge influences. They loved going to the cinema, and had very eclectic tastes. My father took me to see Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) when I was about eight.   I was hooked. I never knew a film could be like that.

*  What was your first spec script about?

Oh, dear. It was awful, truly horrible. As a matter of fact, I think it is probably the worst screenplay ever written. It was a kind of loose adaptation of Wuthering Heights set in 19th century Oklahoma. Native Americans, matricide, bodice-ripping. Awful. But, what I did discover was that I had definite visual style going on. I just needed to learn structure, and work on character and dialog.

*  Tell us how you ended up working with Blake Snyder.

I was working on another script called The Comfort Zone, and could never get past midpoint. I was very, very frustrated... and my friend Andi suggested that I pick up this book called Save The Cat! I did... and realized that I had become my own worst enemy by not outlining. I thought that writers did it organically. Could not have been more wrong.

    I began to communicate with Blake, and he invited me out to his second ever Beat Sheet workshop. At that time, we went from logline to 40 beats in one weekend. It was exhaustingand amazing.

    When I moved to L.A., I began working Outreach and Education at Final Draft. They were looking at bringing in a third person to complete the mentor triumverate. I introduced them to Blake, and he joined the team.
    When I left Final Draft, Blake brought me into the Save the Cat! fold. It was an amazing time. What a gift from Blake, BJ, Rich and Jose. I learned so much it was like getting a full screenwriting education for free.

*  Blake was your major mentor as a writer. Name three things that you took from him, things that you still use today?

Number one would be for me the Save the Cat! principles of structure. Working the Beat Sheet... and developing that into the board, then expanding the board and the beats until all you have to do is open Final Draft and just add words.

After that, character development. Blake performed sketch comedy in college and understood the actor’s process. He encouraged me to use my experiences as an actress to help develop my characters. That was gold to do. All that training really helped me move at lightning speed.

Finally, gratitude. Blake had personally experienced the ups and downs of being in the entertainment industry, and he understood how the simplest of actions can change things almost overnight. He had been through development hell; he had witnessed scripts being taken over by the egos of A list talent, or watched as his name, due to negotiations, was replaced by an endgame writer. He never complained. He felt lucky to be doing what he lovedand he always thanked those around him. 

    *  You used the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet as a template for writing They Live Among Us. Many people struggle with the idea of forcing a 90-minute template into service for a 5-minute webisode. Do you have any tips on how you did that?

    It’s pretty simple. The beats are mini-beats. On the Save the Cat! website, there is a breakdown that I wrote of Episode 1.

        When you are creating a series, also keep in mind that each individual episode can be a beatfor example, Episodes 1-3 take us up through Setup. Episodes 4-6 are mainly Catalyst... and Episode 6 ends up with a huge cliffhanger, a major character switch that really begins the Break into Two.

    *  You have written about the sexual abuse that was a part of your childhood, and told how you began your “lonely transformation from victim into survivor.” Is that a completed journey? And what one thing gave you most strength to attempt the journey?

    I see life as an endless journey that only ceases when we do, so in that regard my journey will never be complete.

        In terms of how I see myself, I no longer see myself as a victim. I think that is a toxic way to live, for you perpetuate a form of self-victimization. I see myself as strongand getting stronger as I’m literally reshaping my body through an intensive fitness regimen. I love working the punching bag, I like pushing my physical form to the point of failure... and then breaking through that wall. I try to live life without regrets, for my experiences have shaped me into the woman that I am today, and so, I embrace all that has happened to me as just being part of the soup that is Anne.

    They Live Among Us - Episode 2, "Fall From Grace"
    *  Do you intentionally employ the supernatural beings of TLAU as metaphors for the evil that occurs hidden in dark places in our societies?

    I don’t see the supers as evil or bad
    unless you take the flesh-eaters into account. I see them as supernatural beings plagued with very human problems: guilt, isolation, internal conflict, loneliness, unrequited love. I do like the metaphor of the demon within; and I love the dichotomy of the characters. A fallen angel turned priest. The homeless fallen ones. A suicidal spirit. An angel in love with a prostitute. Flesh-eaters who relish their fall from graceto them, Earth is an all-you-can-eat human buffet.

    *  One of the trends in filmmaking around the world today is the growth of filmmaking co-ops. Do you see yourself as a stand-alone producer of TLAU, or the leader of some form of loose affiliation which will continue to work together?

    There’s not a great co-op mentality in L.A. It’s such an expensive place to live and with so many runaway productions, people are scrambling for paid work. I’d love for a co-op to come out of this, God knows the actors do it for nothing, but the crew won’t.

        Gary Anderson, my line producer, thought up a great plan to bring L.A. filmmakers together, to create a cooperative of people loaning equipment, services, etc. I actually launched the group on LinkedIn yesterday. We’ll see how it pans out.

    *  If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book (other than Save the Cat!) to a newbie writer back in Adelaide, which one would it be?

    Hmmm, there are so many. So I’m going to list a few: 

    • Will Akers' Your Screenplay Sucks!
      If you are getting rejections, you need this book, for it is going to show you why.
    • Adam Levenberg’s The Starter Screenplay.
      It’s not a book that tells you how to write, it teaches you what to write if you want to make that elusive sale. It’s smart, and breezy. Blake would have loved it. 
    • Robert McKee’s Story.
      ‘Nuff said. 
    • The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
      He wrote soap opera and elevated it to an art form. If Wills were alive today, he’d be writing for the screen.

    *  Name ten of your all-time favourite movies.

    Oh. Naming favourite films is like naming a favourite child. Here’s some... but there are countless others:

    Wait. That’s just the beginning! Only ten? Impossible. 
    All things Hitchcock, the works of Cassavetes, Scorsese, Nolan, Ephron... the list is endless. Oh, and the new Star Trek franchise. I loved it.


    Here is Episode 1 of They Live Among Us, "Pull My Strings."

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    Anonymous said...

    I love that the interview touches on so many aspects of how Anne's craft as a screenwriter has developed over the years. And once again, she and I have so much in common it's almost eerie. Anne, I can't wait to see what you do with the short story! Fun read. :)

    Jay Donovan said...

    Best read all week. Thanks for sharing.

    Sandra de Helen said...

    Wonderful interview with one of my favorite bloggers/screenwriters/people. The more I learn about Anne Lower, the happier I am to know her. Thank you for sharing so much. I hope the co-op operation takes off in a big way!