Christine Conradt reveals the art of being a screenwriter

“Christine Conradt reveals the art of being a screenwriter”
by Michael Aaron Gallagher of StayFamous.Net

Christine Conradt
Christine Conradt

If you’ve ever found yourself lost in the on-screen magic of motion pictures, captivated by a dramatic action sequence, laughing out loud in a theater, or simply falling in love with a romantic line spoken by your favorite movie star, chances are you had to remind yourself that it’s all a fairytale, a world in which the actors merely play a part that has been written for them.

But where do those words come from and who imagines them?

Christine Conradt, screenwriter for the new film “Accused at Seventeen,” starring former Golden Globe nominee Cynthia Gibb, Nicole Gale Anderson (of the Disney Channel original series “Jonas”), and Reiley McClendon (“The Flyboys”), recently explained that the process of writing a screenplay for a film or television series is often a collaborative effort. Although the story develops from an initial idea into a lengthy manuscript, the final document may be shaped and re-shaped by on-set rewrites, modifications by a producer or the subtle influence of the actors, who may add their own bit of personality to their lines in a scene.

I had the chance to ask Conradt about her work and where she draws her inspiration for the characters she brings to life on screen.

Listen to a message from Christine:

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “How did you become a screenwriter?”

Christine Conradt: “I’m from Nebraska, so I didn’t even know screenwriting existed as an occupation until my junior year of high school when I received a recruitment brochure from USC and saw screenwriting listed as a major. My plan was to go to school somewhere in southern California and become a lawyer, but as soon as I saw that brochure, I changed my mind and decided to apply to film school. I didn’t realize at the time how competitive that program is. Only 24 people were allowed in each year. I was number 25 on the list and someone decided to defer, so luckily I got the spot. After graduating from film school, it still took about eight years before I could actually make a living at it.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “How many screenplays have you written?”

Christine Conradt: “I’ve had 30 produced and probably almost as many not produced.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “When you’re writing a script, do you immerse yourself into the world of the characters, or do you take a more lighthearted, carefree approach to storytelling?”

Christine Conradt: “I used to get very ‘immersed’ but found after a while that a lot of my characters are pretty messed up emotionally and allowing myself to become a part of them, so to speak, was making me that way too. I didn’t want to be one of those creepy writers that locks herself in her room for weeks and broods over nothing, so I became good at separating them from me. When writing is no longer a hobby and it’s how you make a living, you have to approach it differently. Every character holds a little piece of me within them, but the boundaries between me and them are clearly defined.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Is there a book or movie that inspires you, a sort of masterpiece that you try to emulate?”

Christine Conradt: “I’m constantly inspired by different things. There’s amazing work out there in almost any art – from comic books, to paintings, to indie films, to big Hollywood movies; and it’s inspiring even if it’s not your particular art form. I loved ‘Memento’ because I thought it was brilliantly written and because the structure actually supported the story. Sometimes writers just try to be ‘unique’ and the decisions they make are more for themselves than because they’re the right way to tell a story, which is a bit narcissistic in my opinion. ‘Memento’ didn’t do that. I just recently saw ‘(500) Days of Summer’ and thought it was terrific for the same reason. I was very inspired by both of those films.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Do you have a favorite place to write?”

Christine Conradt: “I usually write at my desk at home or at a coffee shop. If I’m home too long by myself I start to feel stir crazy, so just getting out and hearing other people around me is relaxing sometimes.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “When you’re writing a screenplay, do you follow a formula for telling a story, or do you allow yourself to be guided by the characters and their circumstances?”

Christine Conradt: “I would love to say I’m just guided by the characters taking on a life of their own, because that’s the more romanticized view of writing, but it rarely happens. When you’re writing for a network, there’s always a formula they need to follow in terms of act breaks, characters, budget, commercial breaks, language, and even thematic content. And you have a lot of people that you have to please. Most of the time, they all want something a little different. The fun for me is to make the story and characters the best I can within those guidelines. I look at it like an additional challenge.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “How long did it take you to write the script for ‘Accused at Seventeen?’”

Christine Conradt: “That script went through about eight drafts, I think. The entire process took about seven months, but I was doing other projects at the same time, so I wasn’t working on it full time.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “How many pages was the final screenplay?”

Christine Conradt: “We usually try to come in at around 108 pages. The final cut of the movie is usually around 93 – 98 minutes. So shooting more than we know we’ll use, helps us in editing.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What messages or themes were you trying to convey in the movie? Did you have a particular objective you wanted the final film to achieve?”

Christine Conradt: “There are a lot of themes in that movie. The one that really struck me was the notion that one tiny mistake can evolve into something that can affect your entire life. I’ve always been fascinated by that concept and this was the perfect story to work it in. There are also themes about family in this film. How far should a parent go for their child? Is it acceptable to cover up a murder?”

“In the movie, there are three high school girls who are involved in what turns out to be a really bad situation. And their mothers all handle the situation differently. Each one would do anything for their daughter but their own morals guide them in the decisions they make.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “In the movie, some of the characters are in high school. Is it hard to create dialogue that sounds authentic, and do you find yourself listening to conversations or researching things related to your character’s generation or gender to make them sound more believable?”

Christine Conradt: “I have friends and cousins who have teenaged kids and when I look at what they write on their Facebook pages to their friends, it’s really no different than the way I talked to my friends when I was in high school. They just have better outlets for communication than we did. But teenagers are teenagers. They’re smart and funny and they’re at a place in their life where they know who they are, but they don’t always realize the consequences of their actions. They have all the tools they need to be adults except experience. I try to keep that in mind.”

“As far as current dialogue, I stay on top of what’s coming out in the music industry, which seems to influence how people express themselves. I actually poked fun at the generational difference in ‘hip’ words with the two detectives who have a light-hearted discussion about what words to use when questioning Bianca’s teenaged boyfriend.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What’s your favorite line in the movie?”

Christine Conradt: “‘You’re finally gonna find out what a bitch I can be!’ Bianca (played by Nicole Gale Anderson) has just found out that her boyfriend cheated on her at a party she couldn’t go to. Her friends convince her to call him and lay into him, but she gets his voicemail and decides to go off anyway, which later comes back to haunt her. Here’s this sweet girl who is incredibly hurt by what her boyfriend did and she turns that betrayal into hostility. It’s a turning point for her because that anger is what takes over and becomes the reason she makes a terrible mistake.”

Watch the Official Movie Trailer for “Accused at 17”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Is there anything in the film that was particularly inspired by something in your own life?”

Christine Conradt: “The estranged relationship between Bianca and her mother Jacqui (played by Cynthia Gibb) was similar in some ways to the relationship I had with my mother when I was a teen. Some teen girls really need to distance themselves from their mothers in order to figure out who they are as individuals and I was like that. Most of Jacqui’s lines where she’s dealing with Bianca’s frustrating attitude were actually words that came out of my mother’s mouth to me.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What is it like to see your characters come to life on screen?”

Christine Conradt: “When the actors are good at what they do, it’s a complete thrill. A movie should be better than the script. The actors should take the characters on paper and make them their own, giving them a life. Really good actors can do that. I’ve been in situations where the actors don’t understand the characters themselves and it shows. In ‘Accused at Seventeen,’ we had a terrific cast. There wasn’t a single actor in this film that didn’t add to what they read on paper and make it better.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Is there an actor, actress or director you would like to work with someday?”

Christine Conradt: “I’d love to work with Hilary Swank. I think she’s brilliant. I love her true life story and I think all those experiences she had growing up have given her the tools and depth to really understand almost any character.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Do you have any unfinished projects or ideas that you would like to one day see made into a movie?”

Christine Conradt: “I’m working on a couple projects with a writing partner that I’d love to see get made. I have a good feeling that they eventually will. So much of selling anything in Hollywood is finding the person who is willing to take a chance on something new and different. Networks and studios are businesses before they are creative entities and notoriously don’t take a lot of risks. The stuff I do as passion projects tend to fall in that ‘risky’ category.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Is there something that you really dream of achieving in your career or a goal you would like to accomplish?”

Christine Conradt: “I’d love to win an Oscar or an Emmy someday. I think that’s probably the apex of a writer’s career.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What’s the most important thing to you in your life right now?”

Christine Conradt: “Personal growth. I really feel like we all have the potential to make a huge positive impact in the lives of others. Those opportunities arise every day and most of the time we’re so lost in our own stuff that we don’t even see them. I’m consciously trying to take note of those opportunities and act on them.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Are there any charities or causes that are important to you?”

Christine Conradt: “I have a core group of charities that I’ve been supporting for years. The ASPCA and Purrfect Partners (which is a no-kill animal rescue organization) are among them, because I’m horrified that more than 45,000 cats and dogs are euthanized in Los Angeles County alone each year. I feel this number could easily be reduced by simply teaching people how important it is to spay and neuter pets and making available the resources to do so. Both of these organizations do an excellent job of educating the public. I also proudly support Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, One Voice (which is an organization that feeds needy families and offers college scholarships to high school students living below the federal poverty line), and the Salvation Army.”

Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What’s next for you?”

Christine Conradt: “We’ll start shooting a film I wrote tentatively titled ‘Locked Away’ in Los Angeles in about two weeks, and I’ve penned deals to write at least three more ‘Accused at Seventeen’ style thrillers this year (one is set to shoot in early April). I’m also working on a book, which has so far, been a lot of fun.”

With a cast that also includes, Linden Ashby, Barbara Niven, and Lindsay Taylor, “Accused at Seventeen” (2009) is directed by Doug Campbell and will be released in 2010.

For more information on Christine Conradt visit her official Web site: http://www.christineconradt.com/.

“Christine Conradt reveals the art of being a screenwriter”
Photograph courtesy of Christine Conradt
Copyright © 2010 by Michael Aaron Gallagher

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