Thanks to Caitlin McCarthy, member of Sisters in Crime New England, who agreed to share her experiences with screenwriting on the blog today. Have questions for Caitlin about screenwriting or her projects? Comment below!
It was my first day at Brockton High School, an inner-city public high school in Massachusetts. I took a seat in the back of a classroom, and watched teens file in before the bell. By far, I was the oldest student as a mid-career professional participating in the Massachusetts Institute for New Teachers (MINT). I was making the switch from high-tech public relations to education, so I could teach English Language Arts by day and write novels by night.
Part of my “teaching training” required me to observe a master teacher at work. After the bell rang, the students and I looked around for the teacher… who never appeared. Uh oh. The students then turned to me, the only adult in the room. I wasn’t allowed to teach just yet, but I had to take control of the situation fast. “Let me see what’s going on,” I said before hurrying across the hall to a teacher for assistance.
If you believe in fate, I was meant to meet that teacher: Diane Ayache. She called the Main Office and learned that the sub for my class was running late. (The master teacher, who was never absent, happened to be out that day.) Diane and I subsequently ran into each other at lunch. While chatting about outside interests, I shared that I had just finished writing a novel. “Oh!” Diane exclaimed. “I should introduce you to my cousin.”
Diane’s cousin happened to be Oscar-nominated director Matia Karrell.
Imagine my surprise when Matia emailed me from Los Angeles, asking to read my novel. My answer: “Yes.”
And then imagine my shock a few weeks later, when Matia wrote that she was coming to the Boston area for a visit and would like to meet me for lunch. (Matia is a Roslindale homegal.) My answer again: “Yes.”
I don’t remember what we ate, but I remember Matia asking whether I could turn my novel into a screenplay. I had never written a screenplay before. But I knew enough to say “yes” to that question.
When opportunity comes a-knockin’, don’t ever second-guess yourself. Fake it until you make it.
I bought books on how to write a screenplay, and proceeded to adapt my novel into a script. My first draft was terrible. Dear Lord, I still can’t believe that Matia actually read the entire thing and provided me with notes. But she did – and she continued to mentor me until I understood how to write a screenplay. I’m forever grateful.
I continued writing scripts, getting better every time. Eventually, my scientific drama WONDER DRUG caught the attention of Vanessa Hope (then Executive Director of the Hamptons Screenwriters Lab), who championed it to be a Sloan script at the lab. Talk about a big break! My lab mentors were Joshua Marston (MARIA FULL OF GRACE) and Tom Gilroy (THE COLD LANDS). Tom stayed on board as my mentor, guiding me through revisions long after the lab had ended. He didn’t have to do that, but he saw something in my work -- and in me.
I’m living proof that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
I’ve continued to experience breathtaking generosity through producer Stephen Nemeth, who formed and heads up Rhino Films. He’s been championing my screenwriting since the 2013 Squaw Valley Screenwriters Conference, but that’s not when we first met. In another example of fate, I first met Stephen at Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Playoffs between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers – only I thought Stephen was Andy Gibb at the time! I was an eighth grader and totally convinced that the rock star and his friend, Timothy Hutton, were sitting down the row from me. I was right about Tim being the Oscar-winning actor; he kindly autographed my program. And you could say I was right about Stephen. He is a rock star in his own right, as a producer, mentor, and feminist gentleman.
It’s important to note that I’ve pursued screenwriting while working as an ELA instructor at Worcester Technical High School. I often wake up at 3 am to write before my work day starts at 7:10 am. I’m not a morning person, but I’m committed to writing before the clamor of the classroom enters my head. My success has been incremental: “Featured Script” on the Black List website; Bitch List honoree; Academy Nicholl semifinalist; Tracking Board’s “Top 100 Pilots”; and other awards and honors. I’ll keep writing until a script is produced… and then I’ll write some more.
If you’ve ever been tempted to adapt your novel into a screenplay, say “yes.” Hollywood loves existing I.P. (intellectual property) – especially mysteries, thrillers, and crime fiction – so you might be carving out a new career for yourself. If anything, you’ll be opening yourself up to a new adventure.
It only takes one “yes” to change your life.
Caitlin McCarthy (www.caitlinmccarthy.com) received her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Emerson College, which is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the best graduate programs in the country. An award-winning screenwriter at international film festivals and labs, Caitlin has been recognized as an "Intelligent Optimist" by Ode Magazine; a "Woman to Watch" by Imagine Magazine; a "Person to Watch" by The Pulse Magazine; a "Woman To Watch" by Forty Over 40; and a "Red Sox Most Valuable Educator" twice by the Boston Red Sox. She is represented by Barry Krost of Barry Krost Management (BKM).