Allison Lee is our next Young & Hungry screenwriter.
She received her MFA in Film and TV Production from USC. A recipient of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans Scholarship and an Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences Grant.. Lee has participated in the Hedgebrook Screenwriters Lab, the Sundance Screenwriters Intensive and the Film Independent Screenwriting Lab.
How young and how hungry do you need to be to win a place on the 2018 Young & Hungry list?
Young at heart. Hungry like the wolf.
Describe your unique personal and professional background and the specific project that attracted industry interest?
While in film school, I interned at numerous places, Lightstorm Entertainment, Scott Rudin Productions, etc. Post-school, I worked in development at Universal, DreamWorks and Wolf Films. Though I’d always wanted to be a screenwriter, I got mired in that world because of the stability and security. My Asian immigrant family was thrilled that I was in an office, that I had benefits, that I wasn’t a freelancer. There came a point where I realized that development was my day job and that’s when I started writing.
I trace the origins of my love for film and TV to my two Korean grandmothers who were also my nannies because my parents worked full-time. My grandmothers loved watching genre films and TV: Night of the Living Dead, Twilight Zone, Bonanza, Emergency. It probably wasn’t the most kid-friendly fare, but I realized years later that they gravitated towards these stories because they didn’t know English, but could follow the grand arcs of those stories, like good versus evil, survival, fear, etc.
What personal qualities do screenwriters need to make it?
Tenacity, flexibility, self-deprecation, a sense of humor; and, I don’t have it, but discipline.
Why did you decide to become a screenwriter above all other careers?
At my worst, I can be introverted and misanthropic. I feel a lot of extreme emotions in my head that I don’t have the guts to say in person, but can transfer onto paper.
How do you become agent/manager bait? Someone a manager wants to work with?
I wrote Jawbone for myself. I read articles about plastic surgery in Korea and was struck by the macabre imagery. When I started writing the screenplay, I pretty much told myself I don’t care if this never sells, I love telling this story. I need to write it. To my surprise, a lot of people responded to it. One of the first to do so was my manager, Jon Hersh at Housefire.
Where do you get your creative inspiration?
Reading and watching a lot, observing human behavior, using my own personal history, trauma, and dysfunction.
How do you decide which ideas are worthy of pursuing?
If the material contains some emotional truth or connection for you, that’s a clear sign that you can go for it.
Do you have a writing brand in terms of interests you gravitate towards?
At a cellular level, I’m into female-driven stories featuring Asian-Americans, but generally, I prefer narratives that explore the darker side of human nature. It’s a total callback to my genre-loving grandmas.
How do characterize the current state of the industry and opportunities for emerging screenwriters?
There are more opportunities for and a greater interest in emerging writers, but let’s face it, it’s still a novelty to see Get Out, Crazy Rich Asians etc. We’re taking the right steps, but we need to normalize seeing different types of faces, orientations and back stories on screen, and there’s a long, long way to go.
How do you train and improve your writing craft?
It’s painful, and I feel like receiving notes is like being put through the wringer, but looking back, it’s obvious that those periods where I’ve been critiqued have helped me improve my craft. Those notes hurt because they had kernels of truth. Some of the mentors who have been toughest on me have trained me to be resilient.
I was also fortunate to participate in the Joan Tewkesbury’s workshop at the Sundance Writers Intensive. The way Joan taught us to delve into our histories and truths and apply them to our writing is forever burned into my approach.
What are the qualities of scripts you read that don’t get industry interest?
I find that it’s very hard to put out an intimate drama featuring a lot of dialogue, especially if the characters are minorities.
What advice do you have for screenwriters wanting to make next year’s Young & Hungry list?
What is something that few people know about you?
Even though I am deathly shy, I did a lot of theatre in high school.