“Crystal Garrett adapts popular novel into television screenplay (Exclusive Interview)”
By Michael Aaron Gallagher of StayFamous.Net
In 2013, Let the Church Say Amen premieres on BET as part of the network’s “BET Power Cinema” lineup. The film, which was directed by Regina King (Southland) and is produced by Queen Latifah (Steel Magnolias) is based on the 2004 best-selling novel of the same name by award-winning author ReShonda Tate-Billingsley.
Writer and actress Crystal Garrett was given the task of turning the beloved story into a television screenplay.
Originally from Seattle, Washington, Garrett graduated from Washington State University with a B.A. in Speech Communications and later earned a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of San Diego (Old Globe Theatre Professional Actors Program).
As an actress, she has appeared in several national commercials for companies including Coca-Cola, Kleenex and Ford and landed roles as a political expert on the Emmy award-winning Showtime series Homeland and as an attorney on Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva.
StayFamous.Net recently had the chance to ask Crystal about her work as a writer and actress and her upcoming BET film.
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “How did you get your start acting and what are some of the roles you’ve really enjoyed playing?”
Crystal Garrett: “Months after receiving my Bachelors degree, I was preparing to apply to law schools and decided to follow my heart for acting and writing. I began taking drama classes at a local college in Seattle. After a year and a half of theatre training, I applied and auditioned for nine of the top ten universities in the country. I was accepted by all, but one.”
“I love roles that require me to stretch and show emotional range. I enjoyed playing a wench opposite John Goodman on the Old Globe stage in Henry IV, the role of Charmaine in Stephen Sondheim’s world premiere The Doctor is Out, which went on to Broadway, and the role dearest to me, CeCe, which I originated and played on Broadway under the direction of Sheldon Epps in Play On. I had the opportunity to play a prosecuting attorney in Drop Dead Diva, so I got a taste of being an attorney after all!”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “How did you become involved with Let the Church Say Amen?”
Crystal Garrett: “A producer informed me of the forthcoming project and invited me to the table as the writer. I jumped at the chance. I had the pleasure of meeting the author of the book, ReShonda Tate-Billingsley, through a mutual friend of ours. The project gained momentum and I heard they were in search of a director, so I sent a text message to Regina King asking if she would be interested in directing the project. I knew she was an aspiring director and was elated when she texted back ‘Yes’ with five exclamation points. I introduced ReShonda and Regina and now we are seeing the fruits of our labor come to pass. I feel honored to have been instrumental in Regina’s directorial debut as I also debuted as a screenwriter. It’s all very exciting.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “For people who haven’t read the book, can you briefly summarize what the movie is about?”
Crystal Garrett: “Reverend Simon Jackson, played by Steve Harris, has done a great job of raising his flock to the negligence of his family. As things begin to fall apart, secrets are revealed. The good reverend is forced to come face to face with himself and his children to reconcile their differences. In the end the family pulls together through their faith.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “Was it difficult for you to decide what to leave in and what to leave out as you crafted the adaptation?”
Crystal Garrett: “It was challenging selecting which parts of the story would be best portrayed visually. Adaptations typically require a lot of cutting of course because you have 90 to 100 minutes to tell the story on screen. The fear is losing the integrity of the script. You always have to keep your target audience in mind and think about what they would like to see. Because this is an adaptation and the network hired me, they had the final say about what made the cut. I was not solely responsible for making those creative decisions, which made the process less challenging.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “I’ve had the chance to interview several Hollywood writers and what I was most surprised about is how much their writing is influenced by the business side of things and how many constraints there are. Do you feel pressure as a writer to adapt a story for what you think will sell or change it based on reactions you’ve gotten from people in the industry?”
Crystal Garrett: “I would have to agree with my fellow writers. This is a business and the bottom line is how many viewers will tune in or tickets will be sold. I believe that much of what you see on screen was the creative input of others besides the writer. As a writer, it is my job to deliver what I am asked for whether I agree with the story direction or not. At the end of the day, my name is on it. If the project gets a great review, I will be praised. If it does not, I will be blamed. It is a Catch 22 because you write what you believe is best, but you don’t make the final creative decisions. I would be kidding myself to say that I have not felt that same pressure. I have a couple of original screenplays that I have written and rewritten based on notes from those in the industry. You can easily lose your voice in the process. A business associate of mine is a Vice President at Warner Brothers and he said something that freed me up as a writer. He said, ‘Write what you want to write. Don’t worry about who will like it. Stay true to your vision and your voice otherwise you lose yourself.’ I find that to be much more fulfilling and enjoyable a process.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What did you enjoy most about working on this project?”
Crystal Garrett: “Working on a project with redemptive value and a positive Godly message. Of course, I loved working with Regina King. She was very professional and supportive and went out of her way to try and keep me involved in the creative process. ReShonda Tate-Billingsley is a prolific writer and great person. We have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know one another throughout this process as well. I look forward to the possibility of collaborating on future projects.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What was your ultimate hope for the final product? Is there a message that you’d like audiences to take away from it?”
Crystal Garrett: “My hope is people will tune in and be able to relate to the characters in the movie. If viewers can see themselves in their trials, they may find triumph. The message I hope to convey is keep your faith no matter what it looks like. You can get to the other side of whatever it is you are facing.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “How would you like to see yourself grow either as an actress or as a writer in the coming years?”
Crystal Garrett: “As a writer, I would like to learn to trust my creative instincts more. I think this comes with experience. As an actress, I want to see myself play meatier roles to show my depth and versatility.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What are some of the lessons you’ve learned so far about Hollywood that you wish you would have known when you first started out?”
Crystal Garrett: I wish I had known to seek out a mentor who is well plugged into the Hollywood machine. It is not an easy industry to navigate without the assistance of someone who has traveled the road. It is all about the right relationships. It is also wise to hone your skills in multiple areas. Learn how to be a P.A. Hang out in the writing room, if you can. Get a job in the mailroom. Take courses in directing. You can’t be a one trick pony. Place several irons in the fire. Never give away too much about your personal life. Keep them guessing. When meeting executives and industry people in a social setting, be brief, be brilliant, and be out.”
Michael Aaron Gallagher: “What’s next for you? Are there any other projects you’re working on or acting jobs that you are pursuing?”
Crystal Garrett: “Regina, ReShonda and I are hoping to collaborate on another of ReShonda’s novels. Currently, I am working on a Muhammad Ali story that’s the best story that’s never been told. It is a period piece told through the eyes of a teen. I have consulted with Mary Yari of the Yari Group, Reggie Bythewood, as well as Barry Levinson’s producers, Jason Sosnoff on the project. It has gained momentum and I am certain will be produced in the near future. My goal is to become a staffed writer on a one-hour or sitcom… I will continue auditioning and hoping for a lead or recurring role on a successful sitcom or drama.”
Let the Church Say Amen is a BET, Flavor Unit and Royal Ties production. To learn more about Crystal Garrett, including her script development and consulting services, visit her official website at www.liquidcrystalentertainment.com. Crystal also supports the Revive Africa and Charity Water projects to help bring clean drinking water to those who need it most.
“Crystal Garrett adapts popular novel into television screenplay (Exclusive Interview)”
Copyright 2012 by Michael Aaron Gallagher
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