2008 FilmMakers International Screenwriting Awards - Interview - Lily Mercer


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Filmmakers International Screenwriting Awards

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Lily Mercer
CATEGORY 2 - (Drama)

Runner Up

Lily Mercer
of New York, NY

Originally from Kentucky, Lily Mercer is a working actress, theatre director, and teacher, although she has been writing all her life. When her fourth grade teacher put one of her original short stories on the bulletin board, she knew she could tell a good story. But three years ago she began taking screenwriting courses at NYU, and she found a new focus.

Now Lily lives in New York City and continues to work as an actress across the country. She also is in the process writing another screenplay, “Nellie Cashman,” the true story of an Irish immigrant at the turn of the century who helped to shape the American Southwest.


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

when I was able to identify the hero's journey as I watched a movie, even when I didn't know what the hero's journey was.


I know I've succeeded........ 

because I have a professionally written screenplay under my belt that I'm proud of - and I'm my harshest critic.


My inspiration to write FALLING INTO PLACE.......

Simple. It's based on a true story.




FilmMakers Magazine: What inspired you to write?

Lily Mercer: I have been writing all my life and it probably started with a fourth grade school assignment. But what inspired me to write screenplays is acting. I have made my living as an actress for 15 years, and although I love it, I want to play a bigger role in the storytelling. I don't want to be just the person who tells the story, I want to be the person who writes the story that gets told.

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

Lily Mercer: I did research, I wrote an outline, and I put all the scenes on index cards. That didn't help me in the ways I thought it would, but proved invaluable because the process informed the writing. It was like reading an entire book to prepare for a test, and then discovering the test is three essay questions. You don't use all that you learned, but all that you learned informs what you say.

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

Lily Mercer: "Falling Into Place" is my first AND my fourth screenplay. I wrote it ten years ago, but after hearing it out loud I realized it was a mess. So I put it aside. Then I wrote another, and another, and then I started taking classes and learned about structure. During the past three years that I've been in the screenwriting program at NYU, I have focused specifically on this script.

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

Lily Mercer:
I wish. I work best under pressure. When I have a deadline, it seems to pour out of me.

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

Lily Mercer: I have entered several screenplay competitions and it has been illuminating and validating. If you make it past the first cut, then you know your format is correct and you've spelled all the words right. If you make it past the second cut, then you know you have a good story. If you make it past the third cut, then you know you're going to be taken seriously as a writer. This is the quickest way to judge how well you're doing. Some contests give feedback, and that can be helpful. But all of it, the deadlines, the requirements, the entry forms, make you step up to the plate and start acting like a writer, and that is empowering.

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

Lily Mercer: I was looking for reputable companies and reputable judges and FILMMAKERS seemed to have that.

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

Lily Mercer: I have two favorite movies: "Hedwig And The Angry Inch" and "To Kill A Mockingbird." Although they are very different in tone, they both create a world and tell a story with an unusual point of view.

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

Lily Mercer: I could say acting, because that is what I spend most of my time doing. But the truth is I am passionate about helping artists overcome their fears. I run a support group geared toward empowering others to live their dream, and that helps keep me focused as well.

FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter and Why?

Lily Mercer: I am a huge fan of Thomas McCarthy. He wrote "The Station Agent" and "The Visitor," both of which are about people who would normally never meet. But somehow, in a moment of serendipity, they DO meet, and change each other's lives dramatically. I like his ideas and I like the way he can take "ordinary" people, and illustrate just how extraordinary they are.

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

Lily Mercer: Again, I would have to say Thomas McCarthy. Besides being a writer, he began as an actor and director. I identify with that because that's where I am now.

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

Lily Mercer: I think Sandra Bullock is underrated as an actress. She gets the jokes, but she also knows where the heartbreak is. "28 Days" is an excellent example of this.

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

Lily Mercer: Sure. Never give up, never give up, never give up. And never get caught without your underwear.

FilmMakers Magazine: What's next for you?

Lily Mercer: I'm working on a bio pic about an Irish immigrant woman at the turn of the century who helped to shape the American Southwest.

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

Lily Mercer: I will be in LA producing one of my movies.

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