Andrea George Turner, CS Magazine Unique Voices Grand Prize Winner

By CREATIVE SCREENWRITING MAGAZINE • August 16, 2021

Andrea George Turner, Creative Screenwriting Magazine Unique Voices Grand Prize Winner Talks “The Rule Of Thirds”:

Andrea George Turner realized that talent management wasn’t her calling after an A-list actor yelled at her for pronouncing “Albany” wrongly. Instead, she turned to the creative side of the business. Her first screenplay, Sage, won the Hopwood Award and Lawrence Kasdan Award at the University of Michigan. After finishing a YA novel, The Other Side Of Sleep, she jumped back into screenwriting with The Rule Of Thirds which was a semifinalist in both The Black List/Women in Film Feature Residency and ISA’s 2021 Drama Competition, and won the grand prize in Creative Screenwriting’s Unique Voices Competition. Andrea lives in Los Angeles, CA, and promises never to yell at assistants.
 
Why did you choose this contest to enter?

Putting myself out there as a writer has always made me nervous. So, my New Year’s resolution was to make myself as visible as possible in 2021. I’ve been reading articles in Creative Screenwriting magazine for years, so the Unique Voices contest was an obvious choice.

How many drafts did you write before submitting to this contest?

It was difficult for me to count drafts accurately since some consisted of small tweaks and others completely overhauled one aspect of the story. But, if I had to guess, I’d say I wrote about eight drafts.
 
How did each draft change?

Although the general idea of the story stayed consistent throughout the rewriting process, the characters really evolved. First of all, Cleo was Nixie’s nemesis and her brother, Cole, was Nixie’s love interest. But it was much more intriguing to combine them into the same character. Also, Nixie was originally pretty boring and one-dimensional. I have this awful tendency to write passive characters on the first go-around, but it was really rewarding to give her more and more agency in each pass through the script.

I’m a regular listener of The Screenwriting Life podcast. Meg Lefauve and Lorien McKenna often talk about the importance and beauty of layering characters, which is only possible when you give those characters time to mature and grow.

What were the origins of this story and how did it evolve over time?

I actually pulled inspiration from several corners of my life to write The Rule Of Thirds. The first spark of an idea came when I was looking for a film or TV series to share with my 8th grade photography students. There were some films about photographers that were aimed at older audiences, but not many that were geared toward young adults. Since I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I decided to write it myself.

One of my favorite traditions at the school where I teach is our partnership with Hillsides, a group residence in Pasadena for kids who are not able to live at home for one reason or another. The more I learned about Hillsides, the more I thought about the individuals who live there and what their experience must be like. In fact, my first job out of college was teaching a creative writing class in Michigan to high school students who lived at a residence similar to Hillsides. Many of them struggled to read, which made writing a very difficult task.

A couple of years ago, I also started getting to know Joanne, a woman experiencing homelessness who stayed in an alcove outside of a TJ Maxx on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A college-educated hard-working woman, Joanne lost everything when her production company folded. At the time we met, Joanne had been out of a permanent home for over two years.

Nixie is an amalgamation of all these people.

What is your personal connection to the material?

Almost everything I write involves family relationships. I am fascinated by parent/child bonds and the different ways in which siblings interact. Also, I was determined for this script to pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, and the best way to do that was to include as many female characters as possible. There were several male characters in the first draft who morphed into women. I just love the idea of women helping women to be the best versions of themselves.

What are the unique story elements of “The Rule Of The Thirds?”

The magical realism in The Rule of Thirds is my favorite element of the story, but it was also the hardest part to break. As the stress of mothering her little brother becomes too much for Nixie, the line blurs between her overactive imagination and reality. I tried writing it many different ways with little success in conveying what was really going on in the story. Many of my favorite movies all include a twist of magical realism, like The Sixth Sense and The One I Love, and I was excited to bring that kind of magic to The Rule of Thirds.

Why did you use specific locations like Ulysses S. Grant High School & Crestview?

The setting of Los Angeles plays an important role in the script, especially the city’s disparity in socioeconomic status. Although Crestview is actually a fictional group home, Ulysses S. Grant High School definitively roots a good portion of the story in Van Nuys, CA.

What research did you do into homeless youth and youth homes?

Unfortunately, articles about homelessness in L.A. are not hard to come by. I relied heavily on the L.A. Times and found their 2016 documentary, On the Streets, very helpful. I also did a deep dive into California’s truancy laws that was honestly more interesting than it sounds!

The school where I teach has a strong community service & outreach program, and I have taken many of my middle school students to Union Rescue Mission on Skid Row and MEND in Pacoima over the years. From the amazing staff at both organizations, I have learned so much about the lack of food security and other challenges that unhoused individuals deal with on a daily basis, and I added aspects of real stories into Nixie’s experience.

What are the most memorable moments in this story?

I am proud of a lot of the smaller moments in the story, like when Nixie’s period starts unexpectedly and when she swipes a mobile order from Starbucks. They show how difficult it is to live without a home. I also love the moment when it becomes clear that Nixie has been keeping a life-changing secret from Oak. Actually, all my favorite moments in the script feature Oak. He’s a mix of all the quirky, silly, and beautiful parts of my sons, Lochlan and Dashiell.

Why is this story so timely?

Most movies about the high school experience tend to focus on the teen drama of middle class or affluent kids. I really wanted to explore how different that story would be about young people with no means at all. Los Angeles is a ridiculously expensive place to live.

Many broken systems in the city paired with the devastating effects of COVID-19 have pushed more people than ever onto the streets of L.A. I will be happy if this script can help more Angelenos take notice and help youth experiencing homelessness.

Talk about the evolution of Nixie and Cleo’s and Nixie & Oak’s relationships over the course of the story?

When I was seven years old, my aunt died suddenly. I have always looked up to my cousins, who were only kids at the time, for the way they learned to navigate the world without a mom. Because Nixie and Oak lack parental stability, they get along quite well in the first act. They have to. Their survival depends on their ability to work together and look out for each other. But, Oak’s accident severely damages his leg and his ability to trust his sister. Although she hates it at first, Crestview allows Nixie to have a little separation from Oak. It’s only when given that breathing room that Nixie realizes that Oak might thrive more without her.

When first meeting Cleo, I’m hoping the audience wants to slap her, which Nixie does with pleasure in their first scene together. Cleo’s got everything: wealthy parents, a brother with a driver’s license, and a house in the Hollywood Hills. Despite all the intense privilege, she’s just stolen Nixie’s photos from Instagram and used them to win a photography contest. Nixie and Cleo are equally fascinated and disgusted by each other. Over the course of the story, Cleo certainly becomes a better person because of Nixie. From knowing Cleo, Nixie learns that she is allowed to be more than just a caregiver and have her own relationships beyond Oak.

How have you evolved as a writer in the last year?

I’ve been at this for a long time, but I think all the anxiety and upheaval during the pandemic gave me more urgency as a writer. My next project is ambitious, and a younger me probably would have shelved it already, but 2021 me says, “Why the hell not?!”

What advice would you give to writers considering entering this contest?

Rewrite! And marry a great proofreader! I am grateful to be at a point in my life where I was financially able to enter several contests this year with The Rule of Thirds. However, I made sure it was the best work I could produce before entering. I am also fortunate to have married an amazing screenwriter, David Turner, who moonlights as a grammar wizard.

Complete this sentence. I want to be known as a writer who…….
 
…tells stories with heart, never gives up, and dazzled the world with an endearing speech the night I won my first Oscar.

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