when a reader of one of my scripts is
emotionally moved in some way, and says “I believed it.”
My inspiration to write MUSTANG.......
a short story I wrote a few years ago. When I decided to try my hand
at shorts, I realized I had a classic suspense drama that I could
adapt to a script. The characters and setting screamed out for a
What inspired you to write?
Phyllis Heltay: I’ve been a book and movie geek since I was a
kid, and wrote my first stories in elementary school. I remember being
aware that there was a someone who created those stories, and I wanted
to write something that would make other people feel the way I did. I
thought I was going to be a novelist, but after a few failed attempts
realized it wasn’t who I was. Screenplays became the perfect match for
my style and pattern of work.
FilmMakers Magazine: How did you prepare yourself to
write your first script?
Other than my love of movies, nothing really prepared me for my first
experience writing a screenplay. My brother is a film director and
asked me if I would like to co-write a script based on his idea, with
another writer. I hadn’t even seen a screenplay at that point - but
what a great way to learn! I was the newbie of the three. It was a
trial by fire, but I came out of the experience knowing this is what I
wanted to do.
FilmMakers Magazine: Is
this your first script and how long did it take you to write MUSTANG?
MUSTANG was my first short script, but I had written over a dozen
feature length screenplays before it. Since it was adapted from my
short story it probably took less time than it normally would take me
to create from zero. It was a written in less than a week to a first
draft, then another week for tweaks and a polish.
FilmMakers Magazine: Do you have a set routine, place and time management for writing?
Over the years I came to a routine of writing from 9:00 am to noon,
and using the afternoon for editing and the ‘business’ of writing. I’m
very workmanlike, preferring to write at my dining room table in the
same spot every day. Of course life will always mess with the best of
intentions, and I have to struggle to keep putting in that time.
FilmMakers Magazine: Do you believe screenplay contests
are important for aspiring screenwriters and why?
Unrepresented screenwriters have to find a way to get exposure for
their work so that producers can find them. The only way to break out
of the pack of the thousands of writers out there is to get noticed by
any means possible – and contests are definitely one way. Contests can
also tell you if you’re on the right track if you consistently place
as a finalist or winner. Also, until we have something produced, it’s
something to put in our resumes!
influenced you to enter the
American Gem Short Script Competition?
MUSTANG was my first
short script, and I wanted to put it out there as soon as I could. I
was impressed by American Gem because it is focused primarily on the
short form and because of the unique possibility they would produce
FilmMakers Magazine: What script would you urge aspiring writers to read and why?
Anything by the Coen brothers. They cover so many genres and are a
study in how to write memorable characters and dialog.
Beside screenwriting what are you
passionate about and why?
Naturally I love movies and see as many as I can, but cooking and
travel are my other obsessions. If I could rent a villa in Tuscany
where I could write every morning and eat my way into the evening with
my husband…I’d be a happy camper.
FilmMakers Magazine: Who is your favorite Screenwriter
Joel and Ethan Coen. Who else can go from The Big Lebowski to Fargo to
No Country For Old Men with Barton Fink thrown in for good measure? I
don’t believe there’s ever been a better writing/directing duo.
They’re always audacious and sublimely confidently unique.
FilmMakers Magazine: Name
the director you would love to work with and why?
Well, if one can dream….Martin Scorsese. His choices are brilliant,
and he’s what movies are all about – great characters and story told
in masterful filmmaking .
Name the actor you would love to work with and why?
Phyllis Heltay: Philip Seymour Hoffman. He moves from small
independent films to Hollywood features while always keeping the heart
of whatever character he plays. I love to watch him think.
Any tips and things learned along the way to pass on to others?