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7 Questions With ScreenCraft Comedy Contest Runner-Up Averie Storck

by Cameron Cubbison on July 20, 2015

Screenwriter Averie Storck was recently named the runner-up of the 2015 ScreenCraft Comedy Screenplay Contest for her genre-bending, markedly original and audacious project EGGS. Also a selected participant of the prestigious Sundance Screenwriters Lab for another script, Averie took the time to answer our questions and discuss her approach to screenwriting, both as a craft and as a career.

Averie Storck photo

1) What is your writing process and how long have you been writing?

I’ll start with research, outlines and beat sheets. Although I’ll write down snippets of dialogue, I try not to write any scenes at this point. Dialogue is so fun to write but can trick you – it can take you in directions that may not be right for your story if you don’t know where you’re going.

For EGGS, I added another step and it was so helpful that I’ve been incorporating it into my process ever since. I tell the story out loud to someone. I’ve read this advice many times before but was always wary of doing it – I was afraid of my story failing before I was even able to get to FADE IN. But that’s the point. For EGGS, I told my husband the story three times (usually after our daughter went to bed. Wine was involved.). After that, I wrote the first draft very quickly because so much had already been worked out.

I’ve been writing all my life. After college, I worked in magazine journalism – at People, Premiere and Vogue. I started writing short plays in New York, and then I took improv classes to help with my comedy writing. After that, I got an MFA in film at Columbia and wrote my first screenplay there. I’ve been writing screenplays ever since.

2) How have you honed your craft since you began and what resource or activity has been the most helpful in that regard?

There have been three major resources that have helped me:

Comedy improvisation, which I’ve studied and performed. Improv was a revelation to me – both personally and professionally, and taught me that comedy – even the most absurd – is best when it comes from a place of truth.

Columbia University’s film program, where I earned an MFA. I had some amazing professors at Columbia, including the late Lewis Cole, who taught me the foundations of story, and Lenore DeKoven, who taught me how to talk to actors, and in doing so, what drives human nature.

The Sundance Screenwriters Lab, which I attended in 2014 for a script I co-wrote with Joan Stein Schimke called THE BURIED LIFE. Sundance was an incredible experience where I learned to trust myself as a writer.

3) What was the genesis of EGGS? How many drafts have you done and how much has the story evolved? 

A vastly different version of EGGS was the first feature I wrote at Columbia. Other than the fact that there was a rare sturgeon/MacGuffin, it doesn’t resemble this current incarnation. I got some attention for that early version, but eventually, I hit a wall in revision because I didn’t really know what drove my protagonist. So I put it on a shelf.

It wasn’t until years later – after I had gone through the process of getting pregnant and giving birth – that I found my heroine’s journey. My protagonist, Pru, must realize, as I did, that there is no magic pill that will change her life. Ultimately, she learns not to believe in myths, but to believe in herself and her capacity to love.

This version of EGGS is the first script I wrote after the Sundance Lab. This past February, I was thrilled to be named a top 10 Finalist for the 2014 ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship. I’ve done a rewrite since then, so this is my second draft. 

Having applied to and been selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab along with your cowriter Joan Stein Schimke for THE BURIED LIFE, and having placed so highly in ScreenCraft, any advice you would offer screenwriters about potentially entering screenplay competitions?  

Have a strong primal want for your main character. It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how throwing in bells and whistles in the guise of clever dialogue and fun set pieces can hide the fact that your main character doesn’t have a clearly defined and high-stakes need.

4) What kind of stories are you drawn to tell? Favorite genre? What other projects do you have besides EGGS?

 I enjoy writing ensemble-driven comedies, but if it’s a personal story that I can connect to, then I want to tell it, regardless of the genre. For example, THE BURIED LIFE is a family drama with humor. I also love horror, which I think is closely related to humor. The instinct that makes us recoil in shock is similar to what makes us laugh out loud – we are surprised by the unexpected.

Right now I’m working on a psychological horror script as well as a TV Pilot set in Savannah about ghosts. I’ve lived in Savannah for about 5 years and its Southern Gothic atmosphere is endlessly inspiring.

I’ve also been playing around with shooting Mumblecore shorts. I’ll write the story outline and then collaborate with actors to improvise the dialogue. Working that way makes me really focus on “what is this beat about?”

5) What’s the best operating principle or piece of advice on screenwriting you’ve ever gotten?

Write consistently. In grad school, I learned how to write screenplays, but I was so concerned with getting pages done for class that I got into a bad habit of “deadline writing.” I don’t mean that deadlines are inherently bad – they light a fire that can yield some great stuff. But the best writing I do builds on itself from the day-in-and-day-out working on my craft.

6) Who are your writing influences?

I love the screwball comedies of Preston Sturges, the dark satire of Paddy Chayefsky, and pretty much everything by Billy Wilder. I admire the improvisation brilliance of Nichols and May. Also, James L. Brooks, Judd Apatow, the Coen Brothers and, most recently, Jenji Kohan are big influences, as are psychological horror scripts like Andrew Kevin Walker’s “Se7en” and Ted Tally’s screenplay for “The Silence of the Lambs.”

In terms of influences of how I approach my work, I was lucky enough to take Amy Poehler’s improv class in NY many years ago. I still remember how blown away I was by her commitment to her craft and her infectious joy in class. I try to remember that when I get stuck in my writing.

7) What are your short-term and long-term goals in the industry? What have you been able to do in your career so far and what would you like to do next?

I really want to connect with representation who is excited by my work.

For THE BURIED LIFE, my co-writer, Joan, and I are completing a rewrite to send out to investors and talent. We have a wonderful producer, Summer Shelton, and have had continuing support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Film Independent in L.A., and the Sundance Institute. Joan and I hope to co-direct that in the coming year.

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