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Interview with Jen Grisanti, Mentor for the 2014 ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship

by John on November 24, 2014

Are you wondering what the mentors are looking for in a ScreenCraft Fellowship applicant?  We interviewed Jen Grisanti to give you a glimpse into a Hollywood executive's perspective:


In your wide-ranging experience as a screenwriting instructor, television executive, consultant and judge of film festivals and script contests, what are the qualities that you find in winning screenplays?  What are qualities that you look for as a contest judge?

I look for a strong story told with an original voice and a fresh angle. I look for advanced story techniques such as the use of theme, symbolism, and message. I look for a strong set up where the personal dilemma is clear and there is a strong rooting factor for the central character. I am also big on structure. I like to read a story with strong act breaks that raise the personal and professional stakes.


How can drawing on personal experience for screenwriting be valuable and/or detrimental to a screenplay's viability? 

Emotional truth is what connects the writer to his/her audience. So, when a writer draws from their personal experience, it allows the audience to really feel their story. Also, when you write what you know, you can go deeper into the experience. The key is understanding how to add fiction to your truth so it doesn't feel autobiographical. The market now is all about "why are you the perfect writer to tell this story?" So, if the writer draws from personal experience, it does establish why they are the perfect writer.


What's unique about the ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program? 

What is unique about The ScreenCraft Fellowship is the time and care that they put into developing writers. I don't know of any other program that spends this amount of time and dedication. The program increases the chances for the writer of getting represented and making a sale. The expertise of the people involved lend to the positive results that they've received so far. The key to success in this business is finding talent first. Then, it is about guiding them toward the end goal through working on their development.



In your books and articles you talk about the importance of understanding why we want what we want. How does this understanding improve a screenwriters' work? 

When we understand the why behind the what, the level of emotion in the story gets elevated. When the emotion is there, the audience feels your story at a much deeper level because they understand the stakes. The why is reflected by the wound/personal dilemma of the central character. The external pursuit represents one step toward healing this wound. When we understand what the wound/personal dilemma is and the flaw of the central character that gets in the way of moving past it, there is a real opportunity for growth with the success of the external pursuit. Your story should start with a loss. The loss is often due to a bad choice that the central character makes. The external pursuit represents an opportunity to gain what was lost in an emotional way. It is a step toward healing the wound.


What resources do you recommend for screenwriters who are looking to improve their craft? 

Fellowships like this one, writing programs, writing groups, constant and continuous ongoing education on story, attending panels and functions to hear from people that are where you want to be, podcasts (I have a Storywise Podcast on iTunes that gives the story behind our top storytellers), working one-on-one with consultants, getting feedback from experienced people in the industry, networking (I have an event called Friday Night Drinks/Social that I do with the Scriptwriters' Network). The business is all about relationships. You need to be active in building your network base. I have a Resources section on my website that has a subpage titled LINKS. It is full of resources.


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