FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards 2005 - Interview

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FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Jill Stevens
Tenth Place  Winner
Jill Stevens
of Leesberg, VA
Screenplay
NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T
Drama
Biography:

Jill Stevens is 39 years old and was born in Rockville Centre, New York, the fourth of five girls. Her family moved upstate to a small town named Hoosick
Falls where she attended high school and met her future husband, Bob. She graduated with honors from Albany State University with a degree in English. In
1987, she moved with her husband to Virginia and did everything from waiting tables at Joe Theismann's restaurant to working as an Assistant Editor for a
computer company contracted by the Department of Health and Human Services. After the birth of her two children, she became a stay-at-home mom while earning a Master's degree in Secondary Education from George Mason University.

Jill has written several screenplays, including STORM, a screenplay which served as the basis for her novel, TAKEN BY STORM. She has also written CLEANING HOUSE, a novel about a bulimic chef who loses her job in a posh
New York restaurant and, after the sudden death of her parents, returns to her hometown to renovate the family home into a bed-and-breakfast. She is currently working on a screenplay adaptation of CLEANING HOUSE and outlining plans to adapt and contemporize Baroness Orczy's novel, THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL.

Interview

I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter........

when I finished reading Baroness Orczy's novel, THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL, and wanted to see how it would look on film. Every story I read, every song I hear, I envision in terms of a film.

I know I've succeeded........ 

in learning the proper format of screenwriting and the importance of remembering that this is, above all, a visual medium. In NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T, I think I have succeeded in creating a memorable love story that would appeal to people of all ages.
 

My inspiration to write NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T.......

was my love of Jane Austen's novel and the feeling that many people are daunted by the title, "Pride and Prejudice." It might as well be called "War and Peace." Few people outside of an English class realize how beautiful and classic a love story it really is. I wanted to show people how timeless.

 

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FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Jill Stevens: was watching movies. Watching JAWS and OLD YELLER and A MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, I knew that I wanted to be part of the reason
people feel anything so strongly after leaving a movie theatre, whether it be happiness or horror.

FilmMakers Magazine: What did you do to prepare yourself to write your first script?

Jill Stevens: I watched and read a lot of movies. I took a film class at a local community college and studied the films of Hitchcock, Spielberg, and Capra. I bought books on proper format and learned how to write scenes and dialog.

FilmMakers Magazine: Is this your first script and how long did it take you to complete?

Jill Stevens: This is not my first script. It took me about five months to write it.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?

Jill Stevens:
I write every day, but the location and times vary. I have two active children and so am often called upon to play chauffer. I used to take a spiral notebook with me wherever I went so while waiting for my children, I could write. I wrote in grocery store lines, at fast food restaurants, in my car, and in coffee shops. Now I have a laptop and Final Draft and they have revolutionized my life.

FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters and why?

Jill Stevens: I believe screenplay competitions are an invaluable resource for writers who can't get past the virtual blockade that surrounds Hollywood. Producers won't even read queries unless submitted by an agent and so few agents are willing to take on new clients that contests are a way of getting your work seen and possibly noticed by "the powers that be."

FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?

Jill Stevens: The best script any aspiring writer should read would have to be Ted Tally's THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. It is an excellent example of how to use subtext in dialog to convey meaning. The characters are rich with personality and the potential for drama. From the opening sequence of Clarice Starling running in
the woods to our last sight of Hannibal Lecter getting ready "to have an old friend for lunch," the visuals are astounding.

FilmMakers Magazine: Beside screenwriting what are you passionate about and why?

Jill Stevens: Besides screenwriting, I am passionate about reading. I love good books, especially the classics. I also have a rather morbid interest in natural
disasters--volcano eruptions, tsunamis, hurricanes, etc. Obviously this is from the perspective of someone who has never experienced any of these things.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Jill Stevens: My favorite screenwriter would have to be Nora Ephron. Her movies do what movies should do; that is make you feel good. They are funny and smart and not patronizing. They are just great to watch on a cold and rainy winter day. She is a screenwriter whose films never disappoint.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the director you would love to work with and why?

Jill Stevens: A director I would love to work with would have to be Steven Spielberg. It would be like working with a magician and getting to see all of his tricks. Ever since seeing JAWS nearly traumatized me as a pre-teen, I have been in love with his films. He is someone who can make you laugh and cry and scream, all in one movie. For a writer, it would be like a kid in a candy shop in that you could do whatever you want to in your script and with him directing, you'd never have to wonder, "oh, but can they DO that?" Spielberg? Of course.

FilmMakers Magazine: Name the actor you would love to work with and why?

Jill Stevens: Actors, actors. This is the hardest question you've asked. There are so many icons--Pacino, Hopkins, Hackman--and the current A-listers, like Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington, who would be a joy to work with. Joaquin Phoenix comes to mind as someone with enormous range. He was the perfect villain in GLADIATOR yet so intensely sweet and vulnerable and strong in THE VILLAGE. It would be fascinating to create roles for him.

FilmMakers Magazine: Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?

Jill Stevens: I've learned to keep trying. That great idea may come to you at the most unusual moments. I believe most of my best lines and scenes for NOW YOU SEE IT, NOW YOU DON'T, came to me while walking my dog. Always carry something with you to write down great lines and ideas. Try and keep abreast of what is happening in the film world. More than once I've finished a script only to realize that another film is already in post-production on the same idea.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Jill Stevens: Next I am working on adapting my own novel called CLEANING HOUSE, the story of a bulimic chef who returns to the family estate after the death of her parents and decides to renovate the house into a bed-and-breakfast. I also have a few other ideas in the outline stage.

FilmMakers Magazine: Where will you be five years from now?

Jill Stevens: In five years I will hopefully be accepting the Academy Award for Best Screenplay. (I'm sure you've never heard that before.) Or I could be working on a script for Quentin Tarantino. Or I might be doing laundry...I'm always doing laundry.

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