Tuesday 3 September 2013

Interview with Yolanda Beasley

Yolanda Beasley lives in Toronto, Canada. She had careers in advertising and acting in Canada and the UK, before producing a one-hour stage play for the Toronto Fringe Festival. These days she runs a screenwriting advice enterprise, Write for Hollywood.

I met Yolanda on Twitter and took the opportunity to ask her some questions.


Where were you born/where did you grow up?

I was born in Northampton, England and came to Canada with my parents when I was ten months old. I grew up in Oshawa, a suburb of Toronto. It has a reputation for being a working class town because it has been dominated by General Motors for the past 100 years, but it was a great city to grow up in. It gave me a very innocent childhood which I treasure.

What kind of a family did you grow up with?

My dad is English and my mom is Finnish and I have a younger sister who’s Canadian. My dad is very traditional, entrepreneurial and ambitious. My mom comes from a very musical and creative family, and is a visual artist. As kids, my sister was always more outgoing, creative and adventurous and that rubbed off on me. We’re very family-oriented, I think partly because we were so far removed from our relatives in Europe. My parents constantly told us to ‘go do something productive’ and that kind of stuck with me. My sister and I were always creating things: plays, movies, games.

What was your first paying job?

I was sixteen and I landed my dream job at a clothing store. It was like I was living the total American high school life with the cool kid’s job. I didn’t last long, though. My boss didn’t like me and I ended up quitting about three months later.

You moved from Canada to the UK in 1997, where you spent two years working in advertising. Why did you leave the UK?

I moved to the UK to get a career and to ‘find myself’ away from how others defined me. It was a tremendous growth experience and it showed me the value of doing what scares you. I had never lived in a city as large as London before and now I love big city life. I love London and plan to buy a house there one day, but I moved back to Canada to be closer to my immediate family. I felt like I needed to ‘establish’ myself somewhere and felt at the time that Canada was the better choice.

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

It’s easy to see when I look back. I think the first time I was interested in film was as a kid when my parents took my sister and me to see Superman (1978). I just dated myself, but it was the first time we had ever been to the cinema and the opening credits coupled with John Williams’ music blew my mind. But it wasn’t until I was watching The Sopranos and I saw the credit Created by David Chase, when I thought: “What a cool job”, but it still took me a few years to realize that I wanted to do that job.

Given that your background is mainly in performance, why did you establish Write for Hollywood?

My background is in both performance and writing. I’ve been writing since I could put sentences together. I had poetry published in the school anthology at 8 and compiled my poems into a book at 12, gave it to my family as a gift. I wrote my first play at 13, my first novel at 17 and just kept on writing. I never took it seriously as a career option because my parents never took it seriously. I established Write for Hollywood in 2010 for several reasons. I love technology and was creating websites with Wordpress, dabbling in social media and studying app development. In 2009 I had a fair amount of success in my screenwriting, only to have it all fall apart a year later. It was devastating, so I established Write for Hollywood partly to remind myself of what I know and how far I’ve come, but mostly to share what I’ve learned with others so that they can benefit from my experiences.

Have you had a mentor or are you a self-directed screenwriter?

I never had a mentor. I spent a lot of time searching for one, even in advertising, but I learned instead to be my own mentor. That sucks, actually. I made a lot of mistakes and took a lot of wrong turns, but I figured out how to get where I needed to be for now at least and that’s why I created Write for Hollywood. I wanted to be the mentor I was seeking. If I can help other writers avoid all the mistakes and detours I made, I feel like it was all worthwhile.

What was your first spec script about?

I wrote a spec for Being Erica, which was a popular Canadian TV show. I wrote it because I really liked it and had an idea for it, but the advice I got from a Toronto literary agent was not to spec Canadian shows because no one reads them. I kind of knew that, but I wrote it anyway simply because I liked the show.

Oh—it was about Erica realizing she wasn’t a very good friend because she didn’t see that her friend was dealing with a major emotional crisis in college.

What are three things you wish someone had told you about screenwriting when you were first starting out?

1. I wish someone told me how long it was going to take to get your first break, but at the same time, I probably wouldn’t have stuck with it had I known. Maybe I should rephrase that; I wish someone had told me the right path to take in order to get my first break faster.

2. I wish someone had given me clear feedback on what I wasn’t putting into my scripts to get them made. For a long time I was looking for someone who would tell me precisely what element they were missing and no one could tell me. Well, someone said she could... for about two thousand dollars.

3. I wish someone had told me I could have a career as a screenwriter or even just as a writer when I was a child. Had I known that screenwriting was even a career, it would have helped. Getting into it later in life is frustrating, but at the same time, I didn’t feel like I had anything to write about until then.

As with any ‘regret’, I’m still grateful for these experiences because they made me who I am today and I never would have started Write for Hollywood if I had been given a straight career path. I probably wouldn’t have stuck it out this long if I hadn’t already experienced corporate life. Every experience you gain is valuable.

If you had to suggest just one screenwriting book to a newbie writer back in Adelaide, which one would it be?

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting, by Robert McKee.

What are your ten favorite movies of all time?

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Superman (1978)
Pretty in Pink (1986)
The Breakfast Club (1985)
Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Baby Boom (1987)
Back to the Future (1985)
Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
Midnight in Paris (2011)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

What’s next for Yolanda Beasley?

Absolutely no idea. I’m excited to see where things lead through Write for Hollywood, but I have various other side projects on the go too. I have a clear, exceptionally ambitious vision, but I’m discovering it’s best to keep my goal in sight, but be flexible on how I get there and enjoy the journey.

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