Meet Tracy Sanchez, the winner of our Grand Prize in the 2012 WIFVNE Screenwriting Contest for her original screenplay PIGEON about an African American woman who graduates from college and returns to the Brooklyn projects where she grew up.
Tracy has an MFA in Creative Writing from Stony Brook University and her screenplays have placed in contests, including the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting. Her one-act play “Lifted” was published in The Southampton Review.
Tracy also wrote, produced, directed and edited the short film ARTISTIC CLOSURE, which premiered at the Stony Brook Film Festival and was screened at the Big Apple and Great Lakes Independent Film Festivals.
As part of WIFVNE’s ongoing blog series Questions Answered we asked Tracy to fill us in on her background and share some thoughts on the screenwriting process.
WIFVNE: Tell us about yourself – where are you from, do you write full time and what are your hobbies?
TSK: I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY and I currently live out on Long Island. (You can take the girl out of Brooklyn, but I keep asking myself why, oh why did I take the girl out of Brooklyn.) I write full time, but have yet to make a living doing so. I write because I breathe. In terms of hobbies I used to love to cook but I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus since my daughter went off to college. Since taking a TV writing class, television watching has become a MAJOR hobby – Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Scandal, Newsroom, Suburgatory, Big Bang Theory… Believe me, I can go on. I actually started work on an original pilot (yeah, that’s the excuse I use for watching so much TV).
WIFVNE: Tell us how you got started as a screenwriter. Have you always been a writer? What is your earliest memory of an inclination toward this craft? Have you worked in the film industry in any other capacity?
TSK: I’m a former NYC high school teacher. One year I created a curriculum for a film studies class. Then, after moving out to Long Island I again taught film class. For one of my birthday/housewarming parties a majority of my gifts were gift cards to Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and movie theaters. My friends knew before I did, but that was a wake up call. I also wanted to prove the saying wrong about those who can’t [do], teach. In 2003 I wrote my first script, by the end of the year I had written 3, the following year 4. To date I have written 10 scripts plus 2 major page-one rewrites.
WIFVNE: This might sound like a silly question, but do you like screenwriting?
TSK: I love the process (not always in the beginning) and for me the beginning is trying to figure out which of the characters in my head I should be paying the most attention to. When I first started screenwriting I got my hands on every book, attended as many classes/courses as I could and burned out by the 5th year because I no longer heard my own voice jumping off the page. It had become a bit too technical.
In 2010 I decided to take a year off and applied for an MFA in creative writing. I took no screenwriting courses, but instead took creative nonfiction, playwriting and memoir. I also started writing more poetry. I must say that working in the other genres have helped me tremendously with my screenwriting. It’s like tapping into other senses. This past May I completed my MFA and my thesis was a memoir/collection of satirical essays, though everyone thought I was going to write a screenplay. I haven’t given up on screenplays. I couldn’t if I wanted to.
WIFVNE: Tell us about your process. What’s the most challenging part of the screenwriting process for you? What’s your typical writing day like when you’re in the midst of a script and when do your best ideas come to you? How do you break writer’s block, if it happens to you?
TSK: Trying to figure out which story and which characters are more – I’m not sure if the word is compelling – but characters who beg for me to pay attention, is the hardest part of the process. I do outline; I think that comes a lot from the early training I had. I don’t outline my stage plays or nonfiction/fiction. However with scripts I like to see where I might go, and I say might pretty strongly.
Almost 100% of the time I steer away from my outline. I allow the characters to tell me where to go. Despite this, I will still outline. I guess it reminds me why I originally fell in love with the story and/or characters whenever I get lost or discouraged. I also feel that outlining helps me prevent writer’s block. If I get stuck I will do another quick outline (something I learned from Writer’s Bootcamp).
Once I move onto the script, I try to write a minimum of 5 pages a day. Most days it’s more than 10, but I say 5 in order not to feel any pressure, and allow the characters room to talk to me (yeah, a bit crazy, but, I’m a writer). I also write my first draft longhand – pen and paper. When I go to type, this becomes my second draft, because I change a lot of what I originally wrote. Writing longhand allows me to kill my darlings because most of the time I can’t read my handwriting – so, I don’t become married to an idea. Most of my ideas come to me in the shower. Let’s just put it this way – when I’m working in a script I’m pretty darn clean.
WIFVNE: How did you come up with the idea for PIGEON? Did the story evolve much through the writing process?
TSK: Pigeon was originally titled Probation and it was the 4th script I wrote. I wrote the script, if I remember correctly, in something like 14 days. It just came pouring out because it’s somewhat autobiographical. I know they say you should not write something so close to home, but I can’t stop working on this script. The character is not so much me but it’s definitely the neighborhoods and people I grew up in and with. This script has been revised every year and, yes, there have been some major evolutions. This latest version is closer to the original.
WIFVNE: What has been your experience working in the film industry as a woman?
TSK: I have yet to actually “work” – you know, collect a paycheck. However I have been trying to break through since 2003, as well as teaching film for a few years prior to that, so I’ve observed a lot. Part of the reason I write is to tell stories about people and places that too often don’t have a seat at Hollywood’s table. It may not be sexy or gritty enough for the box office bang, or so some might believe.
The girls I grew up with, the mothers, and aunts and grandmothers who populated my stomping grounds, I never see on the big screen. They have stories to tell. They are interesting, and strong, and complicated, and troubled, and fierce, and funny, and patronizing, and scary, and a bunch of other things that would make for good cinema.
WIFVNE: Why did you enter our screenwriting contest in particular?
TSK: I felt that with the focus on women in film, this story and its main character Chantal was a good fit. At least that’s what I hoped, and the feedback I got was amazing. I encourage others to enter as well. Getting solid notes is also a part of the writing process I feel is crucial, and you don’t always get that when you write alone in your room.
WIFVNE would like to thank and congratulate ALL of our entrants, especially our other two finalists Jodi Davis, who won our first prize for her script FALL FROM GRACE, and Douglas Sayre, who won our second prize for his screenplay DARBY PETTY AND THE LOST TREASURE OF THE IVERNI.
For more information about our annual screenwriting contest, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviews for our Questions Answered series are conducted and edited by Shannon Mullen. Please email us at the above address with any suggestions for future interview subjects!