The Writers' Connection - E. C. Murray, Publisher          Wendy Hinman, Editor

Interview:
Diane Mettler
with E.C. Murray

 
1.)   How did you begin writing screenplays. Is writing a “screenplay” and a “script” the same thing?) Did you start with short stories?

Yes, writing a script and screenplay are pretty much interchangeable. I started “telling stories” as long as I can remember. I remember telling mom she HAD TO teach me how to use the typewriter so I could write my stories faster. Her response was, “You’re going to have to learn how to read first.” 

I was born and raised in Eatonville, Washington, on a dairy farm in Ohop Valley. In fact, that’s where I live now. We built a home next door to my folks and help them with their farm. It’s not longer a dairy, but a small, organic beef farm.  

After I graduated from EHS (where my mom and dad also graduated), I studied my first year of college in Norway. Then came back, took some secretarial classes and worked full time while I went to school full time at PLU, where I graduated. (I ended up taking a legal studies degree, which was pretty much their pre-law degree then. Figured if I didn’t make it as a writer, I would go back and become an attorney.)  

In high school, I decided I was going to be a screenwriter. I hunted around for classes, but in the late 1980s couldn’t find anything up here. You had to go down to California. I did eventually find a small class at Pierce College. That class changed everything. It only lasted one quarter, but we screenwriters kept meeting and we’re still meeting today.  

I just kept writing scripts. They gradually got better. I’d enter contests, and they would start to get awards, and then occasionally optioned. For me it was just learning by constantly writing. Five years went by. I’d been a paralegal for years and knew I didn’t want to become and attorney. I decided in 1996 to go out on my own as a freelance writer and have never looked back.  

2. How does writing a screenplay differ from writing a novel? Are they structured differently?                                                            

A screenplay is visual. You only write what an audience can see and hear, whereas a novel you can get into someone’s head. A screenplay is much more like a blueprint. It’s not a final product. You are writing document that everyone can work from — a director, actor, cinematographer, etc. Movies are a collaborative venture.

As far as story structure, they are much the same, with a beginning, middle and end. But screenplays are VERY lean. I teach screenwriting at the University of Washington and I see the stress novel writers have, trying to write a script, feeling limited and overpowered by structure. But once they get into it, they find there is as much freedom in screenwriting as any other kind of writing.
 
3.) Your movie, Growing the Big One, was on the Hallmark channel. How did it get from you to the TV? Did you have an agent who sent it out like an author’s agent queries a publisher?

 That script was 7 years in development. It looked very different up front—more of a mainstream romantic comedy.  

Although I’ve queried agents and producers in the past, this particular project got its start at a SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) live read. The organizer at the time volunteered to send it on a producer. The producer was interested and tried to pull the pieces together for a movie. It fell through, but another producer involved in the process go on board. She shopped it all over, and it was Hallmark that thought it would be a good fit . . . if it was rewritten for them.

 4.) Edits were made between the original version and the final script which was broadcast on television. Did the director or producer send the script back and forth to you? How did that work?

Rewriting was pretty brutal — and from talking to other screenwriters, I had a wonderful experience. The rewriting was definitely the hardest part! I spent over a year rewriting it numerous times. I would have a conference call before and after every rewrite with the producers and director and write down pages of notes. Some of the notes were huge, “please change the story so that the main characters are working together instead of competing against each other.” Some were smaller, like “please remove the scenes with animals.” I would then have about 8 weeks to rewrite.

I’m one of the lucky ones in that I got the chance to keep rewriting. Screenwriters (by Writers Guild of America -WGA - rules) have to be given at least one chance to rewrite their script before the production company can hire another writer.  I learned SO much from the process. I could go on for pages. 

 5.) Were you involved with making the movie by being on location or making any artistic decisions or was your role over once they chose the final script?

 Oh, goodness, no. Once they accepted the final script from me, I didn’t hear back from the producers until they were ready to roll. Although I set it in the Seattle area, it was much less expensive to shoot in Vancouver, B.C. So, that’s where they shot it.

Again, another WGA rule is that screenwriters get one day on set. I went up for one day, and it was incredible to see the story that began as a vision was not 3D. Characters I had created were walking up and talking to me. It was surreal.  And absolutely amazing!  

6.) You mentioned to me that other scripts you’ve written were “optioned, but not produced.” What does that mean? Do you get paid if they’re optioned?

 Options are when a producer asks if he or she can have the rights to the script (meaning you take it off the market) for a period of time. They use that time to see if they can pull all the pieces to make a movie together— funding, actors, directors, etc. Sometimes you get paid for options, but unfortunately, not very often.                                                                       

7.) Did you write the script for the documentary film? Will you tell the readers about it?  
I was working on a documentary (wrote, produced, directed) about giant pumpkin growing, and that information gave me lots of ideas for scenes in the romantic comedy about a couple growing a giant pumpkin. For the documentary, I followed six giant pumpkin growers around for a year. It was fascinating. These were highly competitive individuals dedicated to growing mutant pumpkins.  The world of giant pumpkins is crazy weird. These pumpkins put on 35 pounds a day and are pampered on an insane level.  It was great fun!

 8.) I understand that Seattle has quite the film community. Is there a screenwriting community as well? Do the two intersect often? 
 
Seattle has a great film community and a lot of talent. And there are many great screenwriters too, which I consider part of the film community. Film is a collaborative process. There are great organizations (like Seattle International Film Festival) that have programs and events for both filmmakers and screenwriters.

9.) What tip do you have tips for aspiring writers?
 
The same advice many other writers have given, "Keep you butt in the chair." I had written a lot of scripts and was getting discouraged when another screenwriter told me, "Don't worry, it's all about tenacity." It is. But it's a tenacity to keep writing, keep improving, keep learning,
and keep being fearless. 
 
Diane, thank you so much for this interview. For those interested in screenwriting, be sure to look into Diane’s class at the University of Washington School of Continuing Education https://www.pce.uw.edu/certificates/screenwriting
 
Here’s a link to information about Diane’s movie, Growing the Big One, and to her Web site. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1526745/  dianemettler.com  
 
 

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