Welcome to the next stop on the Blog Tour: My Writing Process. You may have come here from Rita’s Ravings, where my friend and fellow Act One alum Rita Betti wrote about her work as a novelist and screenwriter last week. Now it’s my turn…
1) Who are you?
I’m Andrea Nasfell, and I’m a screenwriter. [“Hi, Andrea…”] I’ve always been a writer, even as a little girl, when I thought I would be a novelist. I wrote little books that I made covers for when I was about nine, and when I was in middle school I sent a novel off to publishers. Apparently it “wasn’t what they were looking for,” but I kept writing. I fell in love with movies in high school and started studying screenwriting on my own, with just an Epson Elite Typewriter and a copy of Syd Field’s Screenplay. That was a lot of years ago.
Most of the scripts I’ve had optioned or produced (see the list here) have been in the family comedy or faith-based genres, though I’ve written dramas and action as well. I’ve written several Christmas movies for TV, but my biggest release was this past May, a feature comedy called Moms’ Night Out (on DVD September 2nd!). If really you want to know who I am, I’m pretty much Allyson from that movie, a writer and a mom trying to keep it all together and alternately failing and succeeding at it.
2) What are you working on?
I’m always working on too much, but that’s how you keep sane in this business. Too many eggs in one basket leads to frustration. I have two scripts in contract stages and/or pre-production right now, and hopefully both will be shooting in the Fall/Winter. One is a TV Christmas movie called Bethlehem Ranch, and the other is a comedy, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone. But at this point, other people are working on those and I’m working on a script for my friends at Pure Flix (the 10th one I’ve written for them!). At this moment it’s an “Untitled Basketball Project,” until we find a title that everybody likes. Titles can be everything sometimes. I also have a book adaptation in the works.
What I should really be working on at this moment is my grad school research paper, an “Extended Critical Essay” on the function of the friendly antagonist in three Pixar movies. For research paper, it’s been fun, but it’s still a research paper. I’m just one semester from finishing my MFA in Writing so that I can be qualified to teach all of this stuff I’m learning the hard way.
3) How does your work differ from others of its genre?
With the Christmas movies, that’s an easy question to answer. Most Christmas movies have something to do with “believing” or discovering the “true meaning of Christmas,” and a lot of TV movies are about falling in love at Christmas. Mine are always about two things – families and giving. And by giving I really mean service – putting selfishness aside and meeting others’ needs above your own. Silver Bells did that in the context of the Salvation Army and their Christmas kettles, Christmas Angel was about two unlikely friends becoming secret gift-giving angels to their small town, and Christmas with a Capital C flipped a legal battle on it’s head and said the answer to celebrating Christmas was in service to others. There is always a family dynamic that plays into the story, and sometimes people do fall in love, but the focus is on what I think is the “true meaning of Christmas,” and that’s giving.
I’ve also been brave enough to write three faith-based comedies, starting with Moms’ Night Out. It’s different these days because it’s a clean comedy – a few reviewers actually criticized it for it’s lack of debauchery and sex jokes, but we got far more posts and notes thanking us for a movie that makes you laugh without cringing, and that you can take your whole family to see. That makes me proud. There’s a lot to laugh about in this life and it’s not all crass and edgy.
4) Why do you write what you do?
One of the movies that really inspired me as a teen was Dead Poets Society. In that movie Robin Williams has a speech where he says “words and ideas can change the world.” It’s such a great speech that Apple lifted the V.O. for a series of commercials recently. I fully bought into it then, and it launched me into a career of words. And I still believe it. I don’t know that my films will change the whole world, but they can speak to individual hearts at just the right moment and make them feel less alone, more brave, more alive. I was overwhelmed with posts and notes from women (and even some men) who saw Moms’ Night Out and it spoke to them in a deep way. It’s a comedy, but it had a deeply felt message about the overwhelming pressure we put on ourselves as women these days. It was the most amazing feeling to have created something that reached strangers – strangers that wrote about what it meant to them without ever knowing I would see it. Now everything I write measures against that standard. If a story is not going to make someone in this world better in some way, then it’s wasting the potential that storytelling holds.
5) How does your writing process work?
I’m a mom of busy kids so I have to grab every quiet moment I can. Now that they are both in school it’s easier, but I used to have to schedule an hour during naps or work early mornings/late nights. Because of the limited time available, I came up with a system of “assignments” for myself each day. I would plan to write that one scene, or sequence, or rewrite a particular section – breaking the work into small parts so that I wouldn’t get overwhelmed by the amount of pages vs. the time. I still do that now because it’s a good way of organizing my thoughts. I try to give myself tomorrow’s assignment at the end of the writing day, so that I can be ruminating on it overnight (and especially in the shower, where all story solutions are born).
As far as process from idea to completion, every project is different. I’m not rigid with one way of doing things – notecards, outlines, whatever. If the script is an assignment for hire, then I do an outline or treatment as requested by the producer. For myself, I like to sketch out the major beats on a small whiteboard (especially Acts II and III where things can get off track) and keep that by my computer while I’m working.
Feedback is absolutely essential to me in the process. I have a writer’s group and a few friends – sometimes even my daughter – who read scripts for me and let me know how they are shaping up. I love writing, but I don’t pretend to be a genius. I need help to see my own work clearly sometimes. All that matters is whether it moves the audience, so I think readers are essential to determining whether it’s done.
I’ve done a little bit of collaborating, so for next week I’m sending the blog tour off to two writers I love, novelist Rene Gutteridge (Just 18 Summers, Listen) and screenwriter/director Cory Edwards (Hoodwinked). (Links to their Writing Process post coming soon!) The three of us have had a project brewing together for a while and I can’t wait for the perfect timing when it all comes together. In the meantime, enjoy some wisdom from their trenches…