Today, we talk to Jac Schaeffer. Her script THE SHOWER made the annual Black List in 2014, and is our next script for Black List Live! in LA (tickets available here for the 6/13 reading at the Montalban Theater in Hollywood!) We talked to Jac about how the past, present, and future have shaped her journey as a writer.
What was the first film that had a major impact on your life?
THE NEVERENDING STORY. It blew my little mind. So many worlds all trapped inside one VHS tape. It’s the movie that showed me that cinema is a place of unlimited imagination.
Was there a single film that made you want to be a screenwriter? How else did the decision to pursue that career evolve?
I wanted to be a director before anything else. I wrote my first feature so that I’d have something to direct. It wasn’t until after my film came out that I started taking meetings as a writer.
Once I really started paying attention the craft, some of my favorite movies suddenly became miracles to me. How did John Hughes make every line quotable in the THE BREAKFAST CLUB? How did Nora Ephron define a genre with WHEN HARRY MET SALLY…? How did Christopher Nolan write MEMENTO backwards? How does Charlie Kaufman do anything he does? And then there’s JAWS. I mean, JAWS, you guys. Three perfect characters, three perfect acts. For real.
Most writers have to have “day jobs” in order to stay afloat. What was the strangest job you ever had before becoming a writer?
It’s not that strange but I was a tutor for little kids. The only weird thing that happened was one 7-year-old girl asked me what I looked like naked. I then asked everyone I knew what the proper response to that question in that context would be. My favorite answer: “cold.”
How do you find ideas and how do you choose which ones to work on?
I love movies that tell regular stories about regular people but I have a hard time writing straight. It’s often flat. So usually the kernels come from an odd observation: “I’m on my way to this baby shower and I really don’t want to go… wouldn’t it be awesome if the world ended right now and I didn’t have to?” I need a weird situation and then I try to put authentic characters having truthful reactions inside the weird. Also, the weird needs to be a commentary on something (in this case, birth and motherhood culture in our country). The ideas I see through always begin with “what if…”
Walk us through a normal day of writing for you. Any special habits to keep the muse happy?
These days it involves a lot of breastfeeding. The muse loves breastfeeding. Get on that, guys.
Which films are keeping you inspired at the moment?
MEAN GIRLS and BRIDESMAIDS for my wheelhouse, THE BIG CHILL for each ensemble player getting a complete arc, LOST IN TRANSLATION for simple yet meaningful moments, THE ABYSS for real people in an unreal situation, WORKING GIRL for romcom format with integrity, BULL DURHAM for grown up romance and dialogue, DIRTY DANCING for my inner 14-year-old, CODE 46 for an utterly convincing future world, LOVE ACTUALLY for the good feelings, 2001: SPACE ODYSSEY for mood, MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD for the details, GHOSTBUSTERS for the laughs, STEEL MAGNOLIAS for the tears, LAUREL CANYON for the sexy, MIRACLE for the big win pay off, GOODFELLAS for the can’t-not-watch-it-when-it’s-on.
Recent movies that I admire: WHIPLASH, OBVIOUS CHILD, NIGHTCRAWLER, THE ONE I LOVE, MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
If you could make one film, with no restrictions in place, what would that film be?
I’d like to make a STAND BY ME for girls. I don’t know if I’m the writer to do it but I would want to support that type of project making it into the world and achieving commercial success.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer?
I would be a casting director or a therapist. Similar professions, really.
Dinner with three of your favorite writers and/or filmmakers, dead or alive. Who’s coming to dinner? Who picks up the check?
Nora Ephron, Steven Spielberg, Billy Wilder. I would say Kubrick or Hitchcock but I want to enjoy my dinner. And I would pay (with my firstborn, obvi.). Can Julie Delpy come too?
The Black List:
How did you first hear about The Black List?
Whispers on the wind. I can’t remember the first time but it was always a secret dream to be included.
Since making The Black List, how has your career been impacted?
More meetings. It’s been terrific, honestly. People perk up when they hear that accolade. It seems like they are more interested and more inclined to read my work or consider me for a job. I feel very fortunate.
Bonus: it’s something to tell my parents. If you write a script that receives attention but never gets made, no one outside the industry knows about it. Folks in the real world get promotions or performance reviews, students get grades, etc. This is like that. It’s proof of good work done. I’m bona fide.
Any tips for writers interested in getting onto the annual list?
Write your voice. Write how you talk, what you think, and what you feel. Also, write to entertain yourself and your friends. Everything else is noise.