2007 Finalist Vicki Speegle
A young girl chasing adulthood struggles to win the love of her alcoholic mother but finds her quest complicated when her estranged half-sister returns.
This week’s interview features writer Vicki Speegle. Vicki’s screenplay, Loved Ones, was a finalist in 2007. It was also a winner at Screenplay Live at the Rochester Film Festival in 2008.
BlueCat: Describe your experience with BlueCat. What was your goal in entering the competition?
Vicki Speegle: I wanted to win BlueCat, of course! But I also just wanted some validation that LOVED ONES was a good script. It was a very different piece for me. I’m a huge control freak, so I usually write a very detailed outline before even beginning a new screenplay. But with LOVED ONES I decided instead to focus on the characters, just write arcs for each of them and allow them to guide me through the story, which was really scary!
When I found out I was in the finals of BlueCat, it was validation that listening to my instinct was a good move. And Gordy made me feel like a rock star. When he called to let me know I hadn’t won, I wasn’t terribly disappointed because he was so supportive of the script and made me feel that I truly do have a unique vision to share. How often does a writer get to hear a respected, Sundance-winning screenwriter describe their own screenplay as “beautiful?” That made my day. Then BlueCat chose LOVED ONES to be read at Screenplay Live, and hearing my words spoken by such talented actors was a treasure. The whole experience was something I’ll cherish always.
BC: Where did the idea for Loved Ones come from?
VS: LOVED ONES is partially inspired from my own childhood. When I was about 12 my mother’s spouse was reunited with her kids after many years. Apparently they had been estranged – I’m not sure. Anyhow, her daughter started spending summers with us. She was 16, sexy, and she smoked cigarettes in this very cool way – blowing the smoke out the side of her mouth. Holy cow! I thought, “I wanna be just like her!”
Before I wrote LOVED ONES I wrote a short comedic piece about the whole thing. Then a few years later I got the idea to expand on it and write a drama, but with a twist. What if the mother was an alcoholic who lost custody of her first daughter many years ago? And what would happen if that daughter suddenly turned up again? How would it affect the already tense relations between her mother and her younger half-sister, who never even knew she existed?
BC: What were your goals with the script?
VS: I think I was interested in exploring how a girl finally grows up. What is that turning point when you realize your parents or parent will not always be there for you? The main character Allison is 11 but she’s very precocious and curious – about sex and money and anything she perceives to be “adult.” She very innocently sells Polaroids of herself in cute outfits through the wanted ads and puts the money in a savings account. Her mother is pretty absent emotionally because she’s haunted by the loss of her first daughter, but when that daughter suddenly re-enters the picture, it really shakes things up. Allison learns a bit about what it means to be a woman, and Allison’s mother finally learns to love the daughter she’s had with her all along.
BC: What is the current status of Loved Ones?
VS: The script has been optioned by Babcock Jedeikin Productions and producer Jessica Schatz, who co-produced a great film called “Little Chenier.” They’re seeking financing.
BC: When did you start writing creatively?
VS: I started writing really bad poetry in junior high – you know, depressing stuff about my terrible teenage-ness. But my English teacher Mrs. Brian was very supportive. Then later I started writing music, short stories, and plays.
BC: How did you start writing screenplays?
VS: At one time I was an assistant in a small film company. A great deal of my time consisted of reading and covering screenplays. I really enjoyed analyzing why some worked and some didn’t. I learned a lot from that, and I kept thinking to myself, “Hey, I could do this.” But I was scared. Finally I took a leap and wrote a goofy romantic comedy, and it was great! It confirmed for me that writing was what I really wanted to do, and that I was pretty okay at it.
BC: How many feature-length screenplays have you written?
VS: I currently have 7 feature scripts to my credit, including one I was contracted to write for Applause Films, a company based in New York.
BC: Have you received any formal instruction?
VS: I went to NYU film school, and I think I took two scriptwriting courses there. But mostly I studied film production, and I think covering all those scripts was my best teacher. I’m a big believer that digging in and writing continuously is really the best instruction. You can’t learn what it is that needs work until you actually begin work. That’s pretty scary, but it’s reality. There’s a great quote I read once that I always thought applied to writing, as well: “In science, the paths are only paths in retrospect.”
BC: What is your process in terms of taking a story idea from a thought to an actual script? i.e., how do you sit down and prepare to write: beat sheets, outlines, note cards, etc.?
VS: First I “interview” my characters and write detailed bios for each of them, writing the answers in their own “voices.” Then I write a 2-page summary of the story, but I don’t worry if I haven’t got the ending or any other portion of it figured out yet. Learned that from Gordy! I let the characters guide me through the story as much as possible. Next I write a very detailed treatment, almost novelistic. Then I try to write each scene without dialogue at first, going back afterward and adding only the dialogue that’s necessary to get the scene across.
It’s a very good exercise because most of the time I find that I overwrite. I have this tremendous fear that the reader will not “get” the meaning I’m trying to get across. But silence can be far more powerful than syllables. Whenever I get stuck, I go back to the characters to help me figure out what to do next. And sometimes I write out each scene on index cards to help me reorganize the script when I’m doing a rewrite.
BC: Do you read scripts by other writers? If so, what do try to take away from that experience?
VS: Oh, absolutely! I started a group called Inklings, named after a writing group that C.S. Lewis had. I think it’s very important to read others’ work, not just to critique, but for inspiration and to support each other.
BC: What movies do you feel have influenced you as a writer?
VS: Blade Runner is my absolute favorite. That’s the film that first made me realize the awesome responsibility a screenwriter has. To me it’s the perfect example of every single element working together flawlessly to make a great film – the writing, the sound, the cinematography, the acting, the art direction… That’s when I first realized I couldn’t just slap down dialogue. A screenwriter should be able to envision the entire world of their story, even if it isn’t necessarily put down on the page. A close second to Blade Runner would be The Haunting by Robert Wise. What amazes me about it is that you never once see a ghost. From that film I learned to leave as much to the reader’s imagination as possible. The fears we project from our own minds are always much scarier than anything that could be put on the screen.
BC: How do you combat writer’s block?
VS: When I get stuck on a scene, I just move on to the next. Ideas usually come to me when I’m NOT mulling over it – when I’m cooking or cleaning, doing anything but. And I read over my character bios again. They usually help me to figure out what the character would do.
BC: Where do you find inspiration for your work?
VS: Oh, wow. Just about anywhere. My 2-year old niece says the coolest things sometimes that give me ideas. Overheard Conversations. News headlines. Visiting new places. My family. Books. Sometimes an idea for a screenplay will just pop into my head, and those always end up being the best because they don’t come from me. They’re gifts from God.
BC: Are you working on anything new?
VS: I just finished a spooky mystery called TRIXIE DIXON IN THE MYSTERY OF THE MANOR. It’s about a teen misfit who turns super sleuth when her neighbors begin disappearing. My dad is always telling me these great stories about growing up in the 50s – the lingo the “hash slingers” used, how everyone would dress up just to go downtown. I wanted to write a really fun script set during that time period. Now I’m working on a pilot for a television drama, and next Fall I plan to direct another of my scripts called DEAREST. It’s a dark script about a troubled photographer who becomes addicted to a dial-in dating line. Her search for love in the worst place possible threatens to engulf her life. It’s kind of a sequel to LOVED ONES – Allison all grown up and in serious need of therapy!
BC: Where do you want to be in five years?
VS: To be working and collaborating with some of the people I respect and admire in the industry. I’d just love to see my screenplays being produced into films I can be proud of, and be able to make a living writing. I can’t think of anything more wonderful than being able to focus full time on this thing that brings me so much joy. I’d also be very happy to simply still be writing and creating.
Our thanks to Vicki Speegle for spending time catching up with BlueCat.
2010 Interview with Vicki Speegle – Interview #2
BlueCat: What is the latest news on Loved Ones? It was optioned recently, correct? How did that play out?
Vicki Speegle: Yes, it was optioned a year ago by producer Jessica Schatz and Babcock Jedeikin Productions. Jessica co-produced “Little Chenier,” starring Jonathan Schaech. Babcock has produced commercials and several shorts. The economy being what it is now, they were unable to raise the budget. So the option is available again. Interested parties can email me at [email protected]
BC: What did you learn from that experience?
VS: In a broader sense I learned that there are so many more steps to getting a film produced than I thought. Just when you think you’re at the top, you discover more steps! It keeps driving home to me the importance of writing for the simple joy of just loving to write. Because in the end that may be the only reward we get. Whether or not I get to see all of my creations come alive on the screen, I’ll always have those words on the page and the experience of putting them there – that excitement that comes from creating something new and good. It’s also made me realize more and more that us indie-type writers need to start producing our own material to get it out there, which is exactly what I’ll be doing next year. More specifically, I learned a bit about how to negotiate an option agreement. I couldn’t afford an attorney, but through a friend I found one who agreed to give me a flat amount of time for a low flat fee. In that time she was able to look over the agreement and advise me on what terms were just downright unreasonable and which I could compromise on. There are so many legalities and rights involved in purchasing a screenplay that I was blissfully unaware of before. It was an eye-opening experience! I had to take off my creative hat and think of the script purely as a business tool. Weird. And not at all pleasant.
BC: Do you have any updates on Let Your mercies come also to me…?
VS: We’re in postproduction, and we’ve raised enough funds to begin editing, so many thanks to those who contributed! We still need funds for sound mixing and music composition. Anyone who’d like to contribute can do so through our fiscal sponsor From the Heart Productions. Donations are tax deductible. To watch footage from the film, people can visit our web page. My mom has led quite a fascinating life, and you can read more about it there. A link to our donation page at From the Heart is also posted:http://www.vickispeegle.com/Mercies.htm.
BC: Speaking more generally, what sort of challenges do you face in your day-to-day writing career?
VS: Definitely juggling a job and writing. I’ve been very blessed to have periods in my career where I was able to write full time. It’s pretty awesome to be able to focus every day on nothing but your creativity. To get to think all day about your characters and story, go to sleep thinking about them, and have ideas and solutions delivered through your dreams. Working breaks up that creative momentum. I’m back now to writing on my lunch hour each day and on weekends, which can be frustrating, but I wrote LOVED ONES that way. It’s not impossible, just more challenging.
BC: You have your own website with info on screenplays that you have written. Have you found your site to be a useful marketing tool? How else do you market yourself?
VS: I’m laughing right now because this is something I’ve been discussing a lot with my writer friends. How do struggling writers “market” themselves? A centerfold in Screenwriter Magazine? I just don’t know what “marketing” myself means anymore. I used to think it meant sending out query letters, but even with the writing credits I’ve garnered and my contest placements, I’ve never received a single script request from a query letter. It’s a real conundrum to me. Almost like the old “need experience to get a job, but can’t get experience without a job” puzzle. We want our work to be read and produced, so we have to try to “market” it, but that task has no clear job description, and takes so much precious time for few if any results. I would so much rather just stay holed up in my room writing. But I write because I want to share it with others. Ahhh! And so I wouldn’t describe my site as a marketing tool. It’s more of a “if you want to know more about me, here I am” tool. I mean, agents and production companies aren’t out there [G]oogling “screenplays” to search for material. There is no way to reach them except through knowing their brother’s housekeeper’s personal trainer, or placing in a reputable contest, or producing something on your own that gets attention at a festival. But I do think a website has value. When I make contact with someone at a company, they usually visit the site and it’s good to have my work represented there. Whatever you can do to show your professionalism and dedication to your craft is a plus – give people a sense of who you are so you’re not just another faceless name. As far as other ways of marketing myself, I think for writers the word is really networking. It’s important to meet and develop relationships with people who can either connect you with their personal trainer’s housekeeper’s brother’s agent or help you produce your own work. If anyone out there knows of other ways, I’m open to ideas!
BC: Are you still entering your work in screenplay competitions? If so, for what reasons? If not, why did you decide to stop?
VS: I still enter competitions. If you don’t have an agent or a connection at a production company, I think it’s the only avenue left for getting interest in your script. But I’m very choosy about which competitions I’ll enter. After LOVED ONES made the finals of BlueCat, I got a request from BenderSpink for the script, and I was hired to draft a screenplay for another company that enabled me to write full time for a year. Sometimes I enter contests that offer feedback, too, just to get notes on my scripts from completely objective readers who don’t know me.
BC: What’s your next goal for the immediate future?
VS: First to finish MERCIES. It’s a project that’s very dear to my heart since it’s about my mother – her life and her struggle with Alzheimer’s. She’s a real character, my mom. After the film is complete we’ll be screening it for families and caretakers in some Alzheimer’s facilities and sending it to festivals. Next I’m rewriting a script that I plan to produce next year called DEAREST. It’s sort of a sequel to LOVED ONES. The main character’s all grown up, but while she was pretty precocious sexually in LOVED ONES, in DEAREST she’s very naïve about men and dating. In DEAREST we learn that her mother has disappeared and the story is about her journey to find out what happened while at the same time pursuing her own warped search for love. I am looking for an experienced producer to join the project.
BC: Our last interview was in Dec. of 2009. How have you grown as a writer during this time? VS: For me the challenge is always about writing honestly – to not candy coat things or avoid the realness of situations. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that means, but it’s just something I feel every time I sit down to write. This pull inside. A struggle to write “one true thing” as Hemingway said. Was it Hemingway? It’s kind of a scary way to write, but I do think I’m getting better at it. I’m not sure exactly what I’m trying to say, here, but even my comedic writing has a dark underside to it now, which I really like. Because I think most of life is pretty dark, really – even the joyful moments. And I just can’t write around that somehow.