Author, Christine DeSmet (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Interview by Bill Hartin
FIFO CEO/Cofounder, Bill Hartin, met screenwriter Christine DeSmet on the first day of her screenwriting workshop at the University of Wisconsin’s WRITE BY THE LAKE, a week-long gathering of diverse writers looking to hone their individual craft. Bill credits Christine with planting the seed of passion for screenwriting and filmmaking pursuits. They recently had an opportunity to discuss Christine’s latest writing efforts and achievements.
1. How long have you been writing and how long as a screenwriter?
I’ve been writing most of my life, starting in journalism school and grad school, then quickly moving into novel writing and screenwriting. My screenwriting breaks came in the 1990s when my writing partner Peggy Williams and I wrote an original TV series pilot and that got us into the Warner Bros. Writing Workshop.
Later in the 1990s we wrote the true-story screenplay, “Chinaware-Fragile,” which won the writing contest at the Slamdance Festival (held alongside Sundance in Park City, Utah). The script is about the woman who led the Chinese rebellion against Tong gangs and business people of San Francisco who were deeply involved with the underground sexual slavery prevalent in the early 1900s. That script optioned to New Line Cinema in 1999.
Most recently we placed 3rd in the Project Famous contest in Madison with an original 12-page short film script called “The Stone Carver of King Street,” about a carver who lost his wife to a disease but who finds hope and love through his customers.
2. Has any of your fiction (short works or novels) been adapted into screenplays?
No, my fiction has not, but why not! My Fudge Shop Mystery book series is a TV series waiting to happen. It’s set on a harbor where the 30-something character of Ava and her Grandpa Gil run a bait-and-fudge shop for tourists and of course track down murderers between selling fishing lures and luscious Belgian chocolate fudge. Ava, by the way, is a former TV series writer who left LA for the Cape Cod of the Midwest—Door County, Wisconsin.
3. Whatever became of CHINAWARE- FRAGILE? I still have the pages you handed out at WBTL.
“Chinaware-Fragile” is making the rounds again. We’re entering it in contests as well as marketing it via places like Inktip.
4. Do you still have a writing partner?
Yes. Peggy Williams and I still write together and are good friends. She also writes a mystery book series as MJ Williams. Her latest book is set in snowy Boston but during the Fourth of July. Reading it will bring a bit of warmth to people snowed in right now.
5. Two-part: Are any of your script's currently being considered? Anything in the works?
We have a TV series adaptation of “Chinaware-Fragile” that we’re working on now, as well as short scripts, and we’d like to get a play on stage. Nothing’s being considered at the moment.
6. How, if at all, has screenwriting changed since you started writing/teaching?
My writing has become faster and surer since I began writing and teaching. I learned the rhythm of storytelling, and I learned the value of creating beat sheets! I waste less time trying to decide what stays in the script and what has to go.
7. What do you feel is most important when writing a screenplay?
The most important thing when writing a screenplay is to love or respect your character and to understand their Fatal Flaw. When you dig deep into motivation, the script always writes itself and the story becomes better. I highly recommend Dara Marks’ fine book on the Fatal Flaw. In my online course, I find that most writers have not found the true Fatal Flaw of their character. But once they do, the script takes off!
8. Top five films?
I don’t give out a list of top five films because this can change at any moment. I love all types of films. I just watched one of those crazy giant anaconda light horror films and loved it because it made me laugh in a good way. It was entertaining. But people would think I was nuts putting that on a top-five film list. The best films are those you just watched and enjoyed.
9. Do you have an "Alumni Hall of Fame" - students who sold screenplays that were produced.
Yes, I do! Many of my past adult students who have taken my online one-on-one course in screenwriting have gone on to win contests, earn festival reads, or get jobs or option, and some are making films. You can take a look at some of them that I list at the “Success stories” column at my screenwriting course website: http://continuingstudies.wisc.edu/classes/online-screenwriting-first-draft-fast
10. Two Part: Should screenwriters limit themselves to one genre? What is/are yours?
Never limit yourself! Ignore the controversy about sticking to one genre or not. If a good character or story comes along that’s not your current genre, write it. Producers and actors aren’t saying: Gee, wish I could find a writer who writes only family drama (or any certain genre). Producers and actors are saying instead, I want to find a good story that fits my budget. I’ve written historical adventure, drama, romcom, comedy, and family adventure.
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Christine DeSmet (MA, UW-Madison) is a novelist and short story writer, screenwriter, and writing teacher at UW-Madison where she mentors writers of novels, screenplays, plays, and short fiction.
Christine DeSmet is available for questions at University of Wisconsin-Madison Continuing Studies, firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s also on Facebook and her mystery books website is www.ChristineDeSmet.com
Christine recently taught at Sleuthfest in Fort Laurderdale, FL on Feb. 26-March 1, and at the Writers’ Institute Conference in Madison, WI, March 27-29.