This is the next post in a series of interviews with writers who have had their first films, web series, television assignment, etc. make it to the big or small or computer screen. It is an effort to find out what their journey was to their initial success.
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Next up: an interview with P.J. McIlvaine, author of the Showtime movie My Horrible Year!
PJ McIlvaine has been writing for a really long time; poems, short stories, grocery lists, you name it, she’s done it. She’s the screenwriter of the critically acclaimed, Emmy nominated, original Showtime family movie MY HORRIBLE YEAR! with Eric Stoltz, Mimi Rogers and Karen Allen. Her second produced movie, eh, the less said, the better. On a happier note, her horror short, BURIED ALIVE, was featured in an award winning anthology web series, IN FEAR OF. PJ is also a kid lit author/writer/journalist published in The New York Times, Newsday and others, and was a contributing editor/ journalist/ columnist for Screen Talk and MovieBytes. She’s convinced that in a past life she was one of the great bakers of Europe or the long lost child of Orson Welles.
What is the name of your first screenplay that was produced?
MY HORRIBLE YEAR! for Showtime. A lovely experience in all ways, and the finished movie was a dream come true. I literally don’t have a bad thing to say about it except that I never received a dime in residuals. For months that movie played non-stop on all the Showtime channels. But once in a blue moon I get a check from the WGA for foreign residuals. Thank you, Germany.
- Can you tell us a bit about the journey as to how it came about?
My then manager at the time, her idea of a marketing campaign was faxing loglines all over town. Somehow it got to Mimi Rogers prodco and they optioned it, then they in turn optioned it to a cable network. The deal was lousy, but I took it anyway—my first produced credit! A year later that deal died, but luckily Showtime snatched it up in a heartbeat.
- Tell me a little bit about the experience of having the project come to completion.
The wait. The option was for three years—an eternity. But once they got the stars and director attached, it went quickly. I did phone meetings with Mimi Rogers and other Showtime execs, sent pages by fax—all in all, an easy process that didn’t give me ulcers.
- What was the hardest obstacle to overcome in achieving that first project?
- What have you learned about the industry when it comes to being a writer?
You can die of encouragement. Also, if you’re looking for an easy score, look elsewhere. As I have said many times, this is a marathon, not a sprint. And the finish line keeps changing.
- What are you working on now?
Too many. I clearly need to focus: several screenplays, a drama pilot, a YA novel and children’s picture books. I’m always writing even when I’m not physically writing. My mantra: one sentence, one scene, one page at a time, through sickness, hail, holidays. Truly, I’m a glutton for punishment.
- What is your favorite movie or TV series?
My laugh out loud favorite movie of all time is IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD. Coming of age would be TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I wanted Atticus Finch to be my Dad. TV series: GAME OF THRONES (Tyrion for President), THE BLACKLIST (James Spader is a national treasure) and OUTLANDER (slow going at first but picked up once they got all the back story out of the way.)
- Where do you think the movie and television industry is heading? What do you think its future is?
I have no idea. Ten years ago who knew the internet would be the Wild West? Anyone can be an auteur with a cell phone and Wi-Fi. Going to the movies is becoming almost as expensive as a car payment (okay, not really, but you get my point.)
- What parting advice do you have for writers?
Do something else. Anything. Dig ditches. Have babies. Live. Cry. When writing is like breathing and you’re ready to drown, then maybe you’re a writer. But even then, be prepared for heartbreak. Don’t write for money, don’t write for the market, or for your Mom. Write for yourself. Let your passion be your guide. If anyone can write your story, why bother?
- What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do to get away from the industry?
I love to bake. My lemon cheesecake buns are legendary. Ask my hips. I also like to putter around the garden, listen to music, and spend way too much time on social media than is medically necessary.
- Tell us something about yourself that many people may not know.
Many moons ago, two weeks before Christmas, there was a knock on my door. Who should appear but two Secret Service Agents. Some nutball had written vile, threatening letters to then President Clinton and First Lady Hillary using my name and address. My children were in tears; was Mommy going to be taken away? The agents quickly realized that I was no threat to the First Family, but it was still disconcerting and alarming.
Ken Lemm http://ow.ly/NoT9c
Jane Rosemont http://ow.ly/N6epJ
Todd Niemi http://ow.ly/MOfFq
Louis Pappas, http://ow.ly/LxRji
Allan Brocka, http://ow.ly/LfQNy
Gregory Blair http://ow.ly/KZj9s
Josh Kim http://ow.ly/K7obx
Jim Thalman http://ow.ly/JQ8YT
David Au http://ow.ly/JwM0A
Dwayne Alexander Smith http://ow.ly/J8GJI
Haifaa Al-Mansour http://ow.ly/ITabq
Chad Crawford Kinkle http://ow.ly/HXLq0
Mikey Levy http://ow.ly/HA9Xm
Hilliard Guess http://ow.ly/HcOmr
Amir Ohebsion http://ow.ly/H8aPq
Donald McKinney http://ow.ly/GvPfn
Michelle Ehlen http://ow.ly/GvPr1