Nicole Quinn’s script An Act Of God has been named the Web Series winner in the 2016 ScreenCraft Pilot Launch TV Script Contest and we recently asked her to discuss her past, present, and future in writing.
A varied and prolific writer, Nicole’s feature film Racing Daylight, a love story across time, stars Melissa Leo and David Strathairn. Her short plays are published by Playscripts inc. The Gold Stone Girl trilogy, a feminist-dystopian fantasy, is available for Kindle and on Audible and iTunes.
ScreenCraft: Can you give me an overview of your writing experience and background? Where and when did your storytelling roots begin?
Nicole: I’m a storyteller. It was confusing for me as a child because my stories were often called lying, which is maybe why it remains a guilty pleasure. I’m adopted, and because I know little concrete information about who I might have been, I’ve allowed myself to be anything. The abandoned child of clandestine spies was a favorite at age five. Pretending proved muscle building for my imagination. Convent boarding school and UC Berkeley added humanities to my understanding of the craft.
I was an actor first. I came to writing after the birth of my first child. I found that I liked it, and I could play all the characters in the piece without ever leaving home. I got my WGA card in 1993 and collaborated with some amazing artists in the studio system at the time, John Singleton, Jodie Foster, Meg LeFauve, Carol Polakoff, while never getting anything made.
It’s hard to get anything made in the system, and stories that don’t fit a mold are even harder to get financed. I didn’t want to spend my time issue rigging stories about race and gender. My interest is human stories, where those issues are part and parcel of the plot and not just gratuitous tokens to inclusion.
ScreenCraft: Tell me about your writing community…
Nicole: Our region is rich in artists, the Hudson Valley, specifically Ulster County, so it’s a wonderful place to collaborate. I sit on the board of the Rosendale Theatre Collective, a community owned single screen movie theater, and co-chair its programming committee. I belong to Actors&Writers where I get to perform in new works by talented professionals. The Woodstock Film Festival is here, BCDF Pictures, as well as Storyhorse Theater. Many theater, film, and television professionals make their homes here. It’s been possible to host table reads with some of the best talent in the world. There’s much cross pollinating, and it’s a bucolic landscape to boot.
ScreenCraft: Where did the concept of your Pilot Launch contest-winning web series, An Act of God, come from? How does it fit in with your body of work?
The idea for An Act of God popped into my head when I was wondering how to get what goes on in someone’s head, while they’re thinking and not speaking, center stage w/o voice over. I was thinking about the short form model and what content might hold me on a small screen. Not an intimate and niche story, but something fast moving and set on the world stage. I was also considering how we consume media now, and how a story told in 10-10 min bites, when seamed together, would make a reasonable 100 min movie when consumed as long form on a larger screen, if you considered the scene breaks from the beginning. And so I was off.
I often write with actors in mind for the principal roles. Usually they are people I know, but not always. I didn’t know Giancarlo Esposito, but then a friend was working wardrobe in Texas on a film he was in and she asked him if I could send him a script, and he said yes. Two years later he showed up for his first costume fitting and I was totally shocked and amazed that this incredible artist responded to the work and came to give me the gift of taking my characters and making them his own. You never know if you don’t ask.
I write in whatever medium the story demands. I intended to write The Gold Stone Girl as a screenplay and eight years later I had a trilogy of novels. It was too big a story to be a movie, it wanted a longer form. So now, I’m puffing it up as a limited series. I like the whole story series, much more familiar on the BBC. A finite number of episodes to tell a great strong story, then it’s over and on to something new and equally engaging.
ScreenCraft: How do you typically approach stories? And can you give an overview of what your writing process involves?
Nicole: I’m a complete story nerd. I think story is everything. It’s history, it’s art, it’s human nature. Sometimes I think writers are like fly paper, or like flowers pollinated with memory as story floating around in the ether. Sometimes it’s a place, or a scent, a sound, a breeze. I tend to think in pictures, so I write what I see in my head. It’s word music, painting a landscape of language.
ScreenCraft: In your career as a screenwriter thus far, what craft or business lesson has made the biggest impact or was the hardest won?
Nicole: Believing in myself, my work, that’s been my hardest battle. Not giving up. When someone says you can’t do that, now it automatically translates in my head to, okay, you can’t do that. That doesn’t mean I can’t.
I like learning new things, and I find that if I think like a beginner there’s more possibility for genius. The more I think I know, the more limitations I tend to put on myself. Once I unshackle myself from doubt and fear, then anything is possible. It’s not like I’m inventing the wheel after all, they’re just stories.
ScreenCraft: What was your experience at ITVFest?
Nicole: ITVFest is yeasty. So much energy and excitement for media storytelling in all of its aspects. It’s also world inclusive and very diverse, not what I expected when I read Dover, Vermont. So shame on me for my assumptions, and congratulations to ITVFest.
I’ve had meaningful conversations that were not all about the economics of the business, but about the bones of the craft, which is so much more interesting to me. I’m sure business conversations were to be had, but I tend to run from them. My tragic flaw.
ScreenCraft: Did you glean any surprising or useful storytelling or business insights from your time at ITVFest?
Nicole: Yes absolutely! I loved the VR, panel, where I learned a lot of useful info about this new landscape I’m considering how to write for. I loved the TV tent where I watched amazing short content both comedy and drama. All well produced and often introducing me to worlds I didn’t know. Exciting!
I chatted with John Rhodes and Dominique Holmes, with women writers from the workshop tents, stimulating and creative.
ScreenCraft: And what’s next for you, career- and project-wise?
Nicole: I’ve adapted Shakespeare’s As You Like It into a contemporary gender bending romp which I plan to shoot in my meadow (Arden) summer 2017 – Like You is the title. I’ve applied for funding to make the pilot of An Act of God, while I work on the pilot and series bible of a three season limited series adapted from my trilogy, The Gold Stone Girl, a feminist-dystopian fantasy.
I also narrate audiobooks, which is another form of storytelling I suppose. I have a new one out on October 18th, The Next, by Stephanie Gangi, a wonderfully literate modern ghost story.
Congratulations to Nicole on her win! We’re proud to be a part of her journey.