Today, we chat with Suzanne Allain. Her script MR. MALCOLM’S LIST was just chosen as the finalist from our most recent partnership with Warner Brothers. Suzanne has signed a two-step blind deal with Warner Brothers as a result of opting her script in on the site. We talk to her about how the past, present, and future have informed her journey as a screenwriter.
What was the first film that had a major impact on your life?
STAR WARS. Also, MY FAIR LADY with Audrey Hepburn. I saw the latter on television when I was twelve or thirteen, memorized all the songs, and would sing them in the worst cockney accent you’ve ever heard. But I also thought the costumes in that movie were incredible. Every outfit Hepburn wore was a masterpiece.
Was there a single film that made you want to be a screenwriter? How else did the decision to pursue that career evolve?
I never even considered becoming a screenwriter until I was in my thirties, though I’ve been writing since childhood. After my first novel was published, a reviewer mentioned how great the dialogue was and that she could really see it as a movie. That was the first time I thought: “Hmmm, maybe I should switch mediums.” I loved writing dialogue and struggled with writing description, so screenwriting seemed like a good fit for me.
The first screenplay I wrote was an adaptation of my novel, MR. MALCOLM’S LIST. I entered it in a screenplay contest in 2009 and when it didn’t place, I gave up on the idea until I stumbled across Amazon Studios’ contest two years later. It was after learning I was a semi-finalist in that contest that I seriously started to think about a screenwriting career. I began diligently studying the craft, and fell so in love with it that I stopped writing novels and switched solely to screenwriting.
Most writers have to have “day jobs” in order to stay afloat. What was the strangest job you ever had before becoming a writer?
My first job was at an ice company when I was 16. I dispatched truck drivers over CB radio, telling them where to deliver the bags of ice. First and last time I’ve ever used a CB.
How do you find ideas and how do you choose which ones to work on?
I’m a fast reader and I read a lot. I’m constantly surfing the net, reading magazine/newspaper articles, etc. I actually waste way too much time doing that, but occasionally I find something that sparks my interest. As far as choosing ideas, now that I’m repped I’m finding a lot less time to work on my own ideas; I’m so busy with ideas generated by producers.
Walk us through a normal day of writing for you. Any special habits to keep the muse happy?
It involves sitting at my laptop in my pajamas soon after I’ve finished breakfast, before finally showering/getting dressed mid-afternoon. The shower sometimes restarts the muse. Also, if I’m working on something historical I sometimes listen to music from that period.
Which films are keeping you inspired at the moment?
I just watched MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD again recently. And the soundtrack from the 2005 version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE always inspires me. I also like a new documentary series on Netflix called CHEF’S TABLE. The cinematography is excellent, though it makes me hungry.
If you could make one film, with no restrictions in place, what would that film be?
MR. MALCOLM’S LIST. I’ve actually considered making it myself. But if we’re talking about something other than my own work, I love these romantic adventure novels by Madeleine Brent (which was a pseudonym for Peter O’Donnell). I’d adapt one of them, probably MOONRAKER’S BRIDE. Or I’d make a series of films based on the ANNE OF GREEN GABLES books by L.M. Montgomery.
The short answer is: I’d make a historical romantic adventure (or comedy) with amazing costumes, a beautiful/exotic setting, and a happy ending.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
My dream job would be acting. Or teaching.
Dinner with three of your favorite writers and/or filmmakers, dead or alive. Who’s coming to dinner? Who picks up the check?
Baz Luhrmann, whose first film, STRICTLY BALLROOM, is one of my faves; Joe Wright, who made another of my favorites, the aforementioned PRIDE AND PREJUDICE; and Keira Knightley, who is neither a writer nor filmmaker, but since this is my fantasy I get to change the rules. Baz and Joe could fight over the check, as I’m not sensitive about gender stereotypes and think it would be nice of them, as gentlemen, to offer to pay. (And they both have a lot more money than I do.)
And since Baz and Joe are paying, I’d also invite Lindsay Doran and Peter Weir.
The Black List:
How did you first hear about The Black List?
On the forums of the site Done Deal Pro.
Since using The Black List, how has your career been impacted?
I have a career. Before using The Black List, there was some interest in my work but no paying jobs. I was about to give up completely on screenwriting; I felt I’d wasted enough time (and money) on a fruitless endeavor and I couldn’t afford to keep doing so. But I decided to give it one last try and uploaded MR. MALCOLM’S LIST to the site. Not only did I find representation, I also got a blind script deal through The Black List’s partnership with WB.
Any tips for writers interested in the site?
I have a few:
- If you do try The Black List, don’t overreact if you don’t get the score you think you deserve. The first screenplay I uploaded to The Black List scored a 6 and I was convinced that it deserved a much higher score. I still think that script is good, (and actually a 6 from The Black List is not a terrible score) but after I uploaded MR. MALCOLM’S LIST it consistently scored in the 7 to 9 range, from multiple readers. Now I sometimes use The Black List as an objective critique of my work. Of course, if you firmly believe your review was inaccurate, you do have the option of contacting The Black List’s customer support and pleading your case. But I strongly recommend you take a deep breath and re-read the review; there’s usually something there that you can use to rewrite your script and make it better.
- Use positive comments/high ratings you get from The Black List reviewers in queries. This got me read requests at a few production companies before I had representation. Even low scoring reviews have positive remarks in the “Strengths” section. No need to mention the score, just use a short excerpt from the reviewer’s comments and query away.
- If you have a high score, don’t remove your script too soon. I made the mistake the first time I uploaded MR. MALCOLM’S LIST of taking it down at the end of the first month. I didn’t realize that it hadn’t yet gone out in the email blast to industry pros and that once it did, no one who received that email could read my script. I’m not saying you have to continue to host your script for years, but it might be a good idea to do so for more than a month or two.
- Opt in to the opportunities on the Black List. The Black List has a revolving list of partnerships/deals. Even if I hadn’t ended up winning the blind deal at WB, the actual exposure I received by being a finalist was helpful in generating buzz and getting representation. So if you qualify for any of the opportunities, definitely opt in. That being said, you probably will need to have a high enough rating to be selected (i.e., an 8 or above.)