Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Screenwriter/producer/actress Lauren Schacher talks about writing rituals,why there needs to be more films by and about women, being a Sundance Screenwriting Lab semi-finalist and more






I first met Lauren Schacher on Twitter. I was panicking about whether or not I was going to be awarded one of the impossible-to-get Sundance Screenwriting Lab Finalist shots, exposing my fear on Twitter, when suddenly there was a tweet from Lauren, who was commiserating. We kept each other company as we waited, and we both made the finals. This year, we're doing it again. Lauren is both an actress, a producer and a screenwriter, and I'm thrilled that she's also my friend. Her film THE CANYONS releases in New York City on August 2, and you can catch it in Los Angeles August 9th. Even better, watch the TRAILER HERE on iTunesI'm thrilled to have her here. Thank you, Lauren!


You move effortlessly from acting to screenwriting to producing (your script DREAM CATCHER was one of the coveted, Sundance Screenwriting Lab finalists last year.) Are all these logical moves, one to another? Was screenwriting something you always wanted to do? And how does acting inform the writing and the producing that you do?

I have been an actor since childhood. I can’t remember ever really wanting to do anything else aside from perhaps dancing. Technically (aka professionally), I’ve been working since 17 from Montreal to NYC, Vancouver to LA. A little over a year ago, frustrated with the state of auditions, I ended up by the grace of a few friends in the hands of Jeff Gordon at Writer’s Bootcamp in Santa Monica. I had been tinkering with a few screenplays for years, and completed one with two good friends, and yet I didn’t really know anything about structure aside from the countless scripts I’d read. My first draft of almost everything read like a play. What I learned in that classroom off Michigan Ave coupled with the support I received was enough to keep me going. I had submitted my first solo screenplay to the Sundance lab and within a few months was floored to see that they’d advanced me to the next round. Now, I can’t imagine my life without screenwriting.

Screenwriting is without a doubt one of the most difficult ventures I’ve ever attempted and yet, one of the most rewarding. Luckily, the more I do it, the more it makes sense and the more it makes sense for me as an actor. Imagine: instead of settling into the mind of just one character (acting), I’m living inside all of them. I’m creating all of them! I speak their words, think their thoughts, breathe their air; it’s an actor’s dream. I’ve often heard directors use this same reasoning to explain their penchant for their own craft. While I am very new to the scene, I’ve always had a desire to tell my own stories. Around 7 or 8, I “wrote” a play—a mish-mash of all the popular Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales—cast myself as the sole princess and all my friends as suitors, did a little publicity, and put on a play for the whole neighborhood.

As far as how I first began writing… I came two it from two directions: the first was from the standpoint of an actor.

As a young woman paving her own way in LA and not of the “mega-hot 18 TPY” (the jargon for the most desirable new clients in Hollywood… to play younger), roles are often few and far between. I, like most actor/writers, initially just wanted to write roles for myself, roles that weren’t the cookie-cutter images that I would stress over auditioning for with the rest of young NYC and LA. The role of women in Hollywood—both behind and in front of the camera—is waning; we’re in a fight or flight position. Statistically, our numbers are down from years previous and most of what remains is comprised of caricatures of women. I see the same types of women being portrayed everywhere in film and TV: the bitch, the angel, the slut, the dumb broad, the misfit, the girl next store, the crazy one—all, in a way, women who need help, who need protection, who need men to pull them out of the mire of their own lives. Surely humans need humans, but ALL women do not depend on men to give their lives purpose. One would think that in 2013, we would’ve moved away from these images. But I can tell you, as someone who goes out on these auditions and sees these roles being cast and still hears friends complaining that they need to “trim down”, to be super skinny to book anything of value, that they’re not pretty enough or hot enough, I can tell you that for as far as we’ve come in other areas, we are regressing with our representation of women. I won’t stand by and let it get worse.

*breathe* Caroline, I could talk about this for hours.

Luckily, once I started writing, even if for myself, I found the real reason that I love screenwriting: I want to be a part of the paradigm shift.

I want to bring more realistic, representative roles for women into the mainstream. I don’t pretend to be na├»ve enough to think this is something an unknown like me can do single-handedly. There are women doing this (Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Jenji Kohan, Tina Fey, Katie Dippold, Shonda Rhimes, Geena Davis, Kristen Wiig, pretty much every woman I follow on Twitter, YOU, etc), and I want to be a part of it. There’s been a lot of attention on the topic of Women in Film lately—thank God!—and it needs to continue. The NPR article by Linda Holmes entitled “At the Movies, The Women Are Gone” beautifully shared the experience there not being ANY movies with women or about women in theatres right now where she’s living*.   This part stuck with me:

“I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn't a documentary or a cartoon — you can't. You cannot. There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one.”

*Note that a) the writer lives in DC, not LA or NYC, b) THE HEAT had not come out yet and c) using THE HEAT as an example of “Women in Film” is ONE example. One. One of out of 100s of movies. *

RE: Acting and how it informs writing. From theatrical training, one gains adeptness at building character from the inside out. I’m sure a lot of actor-turned writers would back me up on this. That quality is essential for good story telling: to make your story character-driven rather than plot-driven.  That being said, I spend a lot of the time asking for help. I’m certainly not afraid of it! I’m lucky to be surrounded by good friends who’ve been writing far longer than I have and generously give me feedback, advice, and even just a baseline of support.


You’re hoping to produce your next script, about “slut shaming, “which I find fascinating. How did this idea spark? What made you decide to go into the production end? And how can potential investors help?

“Slut Shaming” is a new term for something that’s been around forever. Wikipedia defines it as “the act of making a woman feel guilty or inferior for certain sexual behaviors or desires that deviate from traditional or orthodox gender expectations, or that which may be considered to be contrary to natural or supernatural/religious law.”  I think that translates more colloquially to shaming someone for her (or his) sexuality, sexual history, sexual activity, or simply just for being themselves in a sexual way. I’ll give you a few examples:

Shaming a young woman for getting herself raped is a horrific yet real-world example of slut shaming. To say it was her fault for ANY reason, that is slut shaming. In the same category is spreading a rumor about someone for having slept around or telling a young woman she needs to cover up because she looks like a “slut.” The idea being that women, of any age really, should not want to have sex, talk about it, or engage in it.
Wait, I thought we were in 2013?
Whether or not most people would admit to feeling this way, this is the behavior we condone in America. A friend said to me the other day during a slut-shaming conversation that “it’s not sexual unless you’re ashamed to talk about it” and I think she hit the nail on the head. Sex is a huge part of all of our lives and to deny women the opportunity to talk about it in a healthy manner from the moment of their first period all the way through and after childbirth, well in a way, that’s repressive, isn’t it? Making someone feel shame for having what are completely natural and OK thoughts? At the root of it all, I think slut shaming has become such an epidemic because we still do not have any sort of comprehensive sex education. And if we’re not talking to our kids about it and neither are the schools, then that leaves but one venue: porn. So by consequence, are we, America, condoning pornography as the best resource for sexual education? Isn’t that sort of mind-blowing?

I think sex should be something we can learn to talk about in a healthy way and start when we’re first thinking about it: high school.

The idea for Daily’s first arose with my sister Sarah as we strolled from her apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan for a yoga class. I was crashing with her as I’d just moved from NYC to LA and we were getting some much-needed sister bonding time. Sarah and I have always openly talked about sex. Our mother talked to me openly when I was just a kid and as a result, I shared everything with my kid sister. We’ve never been shy about it or felt like bad people for being sexually active but that doesn’t mean that we too weren’t sexually shamed. [My first year of high school I found out some senior girls had spread sexual rumors about me because I was chesty. The news (and attention) crushed me.] Sarah and I were discussing that many women we knew—in their 20s—were still scared to openly talk about sex. Adult women! Were they having sex? Yes. But they didn’t feel it was appropriate to talk about. And so we brainstormed and I wrote this film about which I’m now completely obsessed.

As far as producing goes… I’m working with a producer right now and simultaneously looking for more producers. We’re both new to the game but have what we think is a major topic on our hands. I feel blessed that someone such as herself is excited by what I’m working on and wants to help and I think she would say (were she here to speak up) that she’s excited to be a part of something that needs to be said.

Thus far, I have a fabulous soon-to-be-a-star actress whom I greatly admire attached as well as an increasing number of people want to help out in various ways, many of them not yet defined. One of those people is, as I’ve dubbed her, the current face of slut-shaming, Katelyn Campbell [former senior at George Washington High school in West Virginia who spoke up about the abstinence controversy and was simultaneously featured on 20/20, CNN, etc]. We spoke recently about her plight and the film. She’s an incredible example of a young woman who did stand up to the sexual bigotry and got tremendous backlash for it and finally tremendous respect.

As far as How can Investors help?...They can invest! This is certainly going to be a low-budget indie, but even low-budget these days is a pretty penny. The topic is ripe and I think vital, and the story is both darkly comedic and sexy to boot. Like Tina Fey masterfully sugarcoated her message of girls being each other’s worst enemies with MEAN GIRLS, I think we can do that with slut shaming and DAILYS. Let’s talk about sex.

What kinds of themes and issue interest you?

I love simple human stories …and as soon as I wrote that, I cringed thinking of how many articles I read where writers talk about “the human condition.”

Relationships, love, loss, death, heartache: all simple topics and yet all but lost among the big budget films these days. The irony here of course is how many of us love the same topic and yet where are these movies? I’d venture to say that the general American population is also yearning for “human” stories and is tiring, whether they know it or not, of the same explosion-sodden franchise films. Perhaps this is already evident in this summer’s “flops” (i.e. R.I.P.D. , LONE RANGER, AFTER EARTH, etc all flops by Hollywood standards despite opening weekends of $12-27 million each). However, unless these “genre” style films do really well, studios aren’t going to budge on their money-making schemes. SO. That being said, we just have to keep promoting the indie market! Go to the Sundance Cinemas! Go see indie films on opening weekends!

What’s your life like and how do you manage writing/acting/producing all at once? 

Because I’m not a household name or even a Twitter-name, I still have a day job (two, actually). I teach yoga and tutor children, both of which are wonderful jobs that I’m lucky to have. In between those hours, I literally spend all of my time either writing, auditioning, or squeezing in time with friends and boyfriend. It is as exhausting as it sounds but I’m quite happy doing it all.

What kind of writer are you? Do you have rituals? Do you share your work in a group or go it alone?

I do! Ha. And it kills me, as Holden Caulfield would say, because I always wondered how writers did it. I set aside full days of writing. I won’t see anyone during the hours I set, I don’t leave the house, I delete Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone and open ‘Self-Control’ on my computer to prevent me from accessing those sites… and then I write. And I write for hours. I write until it’s too dark to stay focused or I have to leave or get in some exercise. And perhaps more importantly, I try not to judge myself on what I’ve accomplished. As I said, I’m very new to this (two years in), and thus I’m very open to criticism. I happily send out my work, terrified but eager for feedback, and then I do what I can. I recently joined a writers’ group and am thrilled to have a regular group of professionals with whom I share my words and from whom I can learn.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Women in Film. We could do a whole separate blog about this.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

If you booked a career-changing role, would you give up writing?
I’ve gotten this question a few times recently and the resounding answer is heeelllll no. I feel so blessed to have discovered this for myself and I’m never stopping. 

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