2008 FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards - Interview - Debra Vance


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Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Debra Vance
CATEGORY 1 - (Political Thriller)

Runner Up

Debra Vance
of Santa Barbara, CA
Political Thriller

Debra Vance earned her Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies from the University of
California, Santa Barbara, graduating with the distinction of "Outstanding Graduating Senior". After graduation, she programmed the short and documentary film selections for the 13th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, under Artistic Director, Renee Missel (THE MAIN EVENT, NELL). Debra then moved to Los Angeles and worked as a PA, administrative assistant and reader for various companies in the industry. Eventually, she
returned to Santa Barbara to work at The Montecito Picture Company (DISTURBIA, OLD SCHOOL) as an Assistant to Thomas P. Pollock (former Chairman of MCA/Universal), at the production company Mr. Pollock began with Ivan Reitman.

Debra left the industry – and the 60-hour work-week, to pursue writing. Since that time, she has completed three feature-length scripts, several short film scripts (one of which she has also produced and directed) and sold a dozen essays and articles to online publishers. Debra has passionately continued to write (and rewrite) screenplays while working a ‘day job’ for UCSB’s Theater and Dance Department and raising two young children.


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

when I saw ROCKY III. It inspired me, at the ripe age of 12, to attempt a screenplay about a female boxer. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing - but as long as I could hear that theme song in my head I could keep writing.


I know I've succeeded........ 

when I can earn a living doing what I love. I know the script doesn’t always make it to the screen – but as long as it makes it to paper I’ve succeeded. To get paid for making those words hit paper would be the greatest gift I can imagine.


My inspiration to write HIGH PROFILE.......

was Princess Diana. As corny as it sounds, HIGH PROFILE began as my way of imagining a happier ending to her tragic story.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Debra Vance:
I can’t say any one thing inspired me to begin writing. It is something I’ve done my whole life, and the way I’ve found best to give voice to the conscious and subconscious pains and passions of my mind. It’s more what’s inspired me to keep writing that I can put a finger on: some of my earliest memories of praise, validation and understanding were in response to things I’d written. Powerful drugs are these.

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

Debra Vance:
I think I prepared DURING the writing of my first script – which consequently took 20+ drafts and several years to really complete. During that journey I read over a dozen screenwriting books, and at least 100 screenplays and worked in the industry. I also did a significant amount of living, which informed the voices of my characters and the arcs of their stories.

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

Debra Vance: This is my third script. It’s tough to attach an amount of time to the writing of this, or any of my previous scripts, due to the nature of writing while holding a day job and raising two kids. Time has become an elusive thing to gauge. If I had to give it a number, I’d say two years of writing 4-8 hours per week (usually closer to 4).

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

Debra Vance:
I do. And this set time and place are my salvation – the hours which get me through the rest of the week. The good thing about having a limited amount, and set time to write is that for me it’s produced a work ethic and level of productivity which were unfathomable when I had more time to "spare".

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

Debra Vance: I believe SOME screenplay contests are important for aspiring screenwriters. There are many, many, many out there. If you are not discerning, you could waste a lot of money and become very frustrated. However, if you do your homework and try to find competitions with good reputations, and experienced, knowledgeable judges, I believe it can be a way to get your work in the hands of people who could help your career. And, of course, if you win a reputable competition it just might convince the Agents, Managers and Producers you approach to (gasp) READ YOUR SCRIPT.

FilmMakers Magazine: What influenced you to enter the FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards?

Debra Vance: ‘Filmmakers’ was one of three competitions a friend in the industry recommended.

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

Debra Vance: I would urge aspiring writers to read as many scripts as they can get their hands on - and in the earliest draft they can find. I think it’s very important to read screenplays from films you enjoy, and in the genre you are writing. I try to avoid scripts written by the director of the film, because it’s a far different task that befalls a spec writer than a writer/director. By genre, I would recommend: Action: THE FUGITIVE, romantic comedy: NOTTING HILL, comedy: THE FULL MONTY, drama: MILLION DOLLAR BABY.

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

Debra Vance: Besides screenwriting, I am passionate about playing the other "roles" in my life to best of my ability. I believe working hard at everything you do is essential to develop a solid work ethic. When I am busy and productive at my "day job", that energy carries into the rest of my day and life. Likewise with my kids – if I take the time to play with them and read to them, the energy and
imagination it takes carries into the rest of my life.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Debra Vance: My favorite screenwriter is William Goldman – because he does it all so well. I love that he writes in all genres and that he’s able to respect the genre while making it his own. I didn’t list any of his scripts as those I’d recommend to aspiring screenwriters for the same reason aspiring painters
shouldn’t begin by studying Picasso – you’ve got to learn the basic rules of the craft before you can even appreciate those who’ve mastered, then broken them. And Mr. Goldman is truly a master.

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

Debra Vance: I would love to work with Ridley Scott for somewhat the same reason I love William Goldman – he does so many genres so very well. Mr. Scott creates a strong, unique visual language for each of his films which adds to, yet never overwhelms, the story. He creates strong moods and ambiance
with imagery that surrounds the story and creates a singular world which the characters must struggle with or against. The result is often an unnerving tension which enriches the film-going experience and reinforces the film’s theme.

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

Debra Vance:
Name the actor you would love to work with and why?
I would love to work with Russell Crowe (which goes nicely with my choice of directors). I think he has an innate ability to find a character, and seems courageous enough to ‘go there’ once he’s found that character. Mr. Crowe also seems that rare breed of actor who, even after tremendous success, is able to remain unaffected in his on-screen presence.

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

Debra Vance:
I’ll feel more confident giving advice when I’m a working screenwriter. But since you asked…I’d humbly suggest the importance of loving what you are doing. To know that you will be a screenwriter till the day you die regardless of how many years are spent without an agent, a sale, a finished film, is to have the freedom to really love the craft itself and savor the hours spent alone in front of a computer.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Debra Vance:
A comedy. That’s my current project. "What’s next" for me is always a screenplay of some kind.

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

Debra Vance:
I will be writing screenplays. Hopefully, I will be writing all day, instead of squeezing it in during the hours I’m not at my "day job".

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