We had the good fortune of connecting with Carrie Schrader and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Carrie, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk is awful! And TOTALLY necessary to succeed. I have such a love-hate relationship with it. I know that I have to take risks on a daily basis in order to grow as a filmmaker and business owner. Yet, every time I do, whether I’m trying to solve a story problem, facing a new challenge on set, or pushing myself to reach more writers, I feel cagey and uneasy…then suddenly I’m reorganizing my sock drawer or shopping online. Please, I’ll do anything to keep me from having to take that dreaded leap! To make matters worse, those internal voices love to get really, really loud right before I take a risk. They tell me: “You’re faking it! You’re a talentless fool! You should QUIT NOW and stay comfortable right where you are.” The problem is…one cannot grow without risk. I have to dive into that scary unknown because it is the deep, gooey place where all creation happens and it always, always leads me to an answer, an idea, a new character, or the next storyteller who needs my support. This happened recently on the final rewrite I’m doing on a feature length script. My contract was coming up, the script was due in three days, and I was on the final round of notes. I can see the finish line! I can hear the people in the theater (or at home on their couches) laughing and loving it! Then…instead of writing, what do I do? I FREAK OUT. By the end of the day I was curled up in a tiny little corner of my mind under the scratchy but familiar blanket of those horrible voices thinking “They’re right. I can’t do it!” What did I do? I did what I’m always coaching my clients to do: 1. Remember that the more you increase your ability to risk, the more you are able to play. (And I believe that creativity is just that…play. Underpinned by a strong foundation of hard work and lots of practice.) 2. Take a good look at risk’s resume. What has risk done for you? It has literally given me every single success: every screenwriting contract, every finished film, every award, every great collaboration, every moment on screen that makes people laugh and cry and want to light up the world. It’s also allowed me to learn, grow, thrive and help so many other people do the same. It’s made me a present parent, a loyal, laugh-your-pants off kind of friend, and a person willing to sacrifice her comfort for the justice of others. It’s also made me a highly effective writing coach who walks her talk. 3. See the voices of self doubt for what they are: FEAR and a desperate attempt to protect yourself. Say ‘thanks, but I choose to live BIG’! Then ignore the voices and take the next step. That’s what I did. I showed up to the page and I wrote my butt off. And it worked! The rewrite turned out so much better than it was before. Plus, the people paying me loved it. So now when that fear arises and those voices try to stop me I think, ‘Great! I must be doing something right.’ Then I grab tight to my love for storytelling and I see the me I want to be at the other side of this great chasm and I take a deep breath, shut my eyes and….WHOOSH! I’m off.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am a writer/director who loves telling stories about underdogs. Probably because I am one! When I first started in Hollywood, the road was filled with plenty of obstacles. I was told again and again that films about women, by women were not marketable. I was told that there was no way a script with minorities would sell and that anything too queer or too ‘colorful’ would be thrown directly in the trash. What could I do? Giving up was not an option. I didn’t choose this profession, it chose me. When I was young I’d throw a sheet over the hedge in the backyard and put on three-hour plays, dragging in the neighbors, the mailman, our dogs, etc. That eventually led me to find theater in high school which saved my life! I wanted to go to one of the prestigious schools in NYC for college but I told myself I could never get in. We didn’t have enough money, plus there were hardly any female directors making it out there. Luckily, I ended up in a great drama program at the University of Washington where my love for storytelling was allowed to blossom. One night, while hanging out with my girlfriends, I began sketching little squares onto a piece of paper. I realized they were storyboards and ended up shooting my first film, Boys and Dogs and Kids Are Weird. I paid the actresses with french fries and milkshakes and had my best friend, Sean, shoot from the trunk of a car. I rode an old skateboard in order to get the other moving shots. It was four minutes long and took me about four minutes to make. Years later, I was waiting tables and got a call that Women and Film wanted to give me an award for Boys and Dogs and Kids Are Weird. I nearly dropped the tray of pizza and beer I was holding! That award gave me the encouragement to keep making movies. So I wrote my first screenplay which won some awards and landed me in Hollywood. I was ready to rumble! But then, at my first big meeting, I was asked if I could make the main character in my script into a 13 year old boy instead of a 13 year old girl. I continued to go to meetings and heard all of the same ‘you can’t do this’ comments about too much color, way too female, etc…that I mentioned above. I felt incredibly defeated, butI also knew one fact: I LOVE moving people. I love making them think deeply about who they are in the world and how they might be a force for good. Sitting in a dark theater hearing people laugh, cry and feel, knowing that I helped make them feel more alive in those moments is a priceless feeling. It is something I cannot live without. I was given this gift, this love for the craft of storytelling. Not everyone feels so deeply called to something. So I became determined not to squander it. If I had to make movies on my own for the rest of my damn life, I would! So I left Hollywood and started making independent films. I moved to a small town in North Carolina where I could live cheaply and make all the movies I wanted. And I did! Still, every year, I would call Columbia University and NYU and get the reading list for their incoming graduate film students. I’d read every book on that list and then make another movie, still thinking I needed more knowledge to apply. The films did well on the festival circuit until one I shot, my biggest film yet, didn’t work. I realized I could no longer do it on my own and finally applied to those big wig schools. Getting my MFA in film at Columbia University was one of the best experiences of my life. I had the chance to work with some incredible storytellers. I worked with Tricia Cooke and Kenny Hillman on two shorts, one written by Ethan Coen of the Coen brothers, and wrote and shot several other stories I was proud of. But, most of all, I found the space to hone my craft and be amongst others who needed to tell stories in order to live. After graduation, I was determined to give others this gift, without making them pay a ridiculous sum of money to get it. So I started a film program at a local University and eventually moved on to teach at several universities and programs, then moved into private story consulting and one-on-one coaching with my business Write That Damn Script. I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to help so many people find their voice, face their fears, and tell the stories that need to be told. A lot of encouragement, a little knowledge, and a good dose of accountability goes a long way! Along the way, I worked in reality TV, did promotional videos, filmed my own episodic web show, and co-wrote and directed the feature film The Founders, which won multiple awards and sold to Apple. All of those experiences helped me become a better storyteller, one not afraid to capture those real, gritty moments from real, dynamic people in extraordinary situations. Around the same time, Hollywood realized that stories by minorities actually have value, and I was finally able to pry open the doors that were once slammed in my face. This year, I celebrated two writing contracts for feature length films, have another one on the table, and have two television pilots and a feature in the works. Working full-time as a writer/director means I get to wake up every day excited, thrilled and sometimes terrified (creativity is a vulnerable process, ‘like pinning jello to a tree’ as my friend Paul would say.) It also means I don’t have as much time for one-on-one coaching, so I started an 8-week Write that Damn Script program, taking the best of the best from all I have learned over these years. One of the things I learned along the way that always stays with me occurred on my first day at Columbia University. I was in a meeting with several professors and mentors and they asked me why I waited so long to apply to film school since I had always known I wanted to be a filmmaker. I told them it was because I thought I wasn’t good enough yet. They replied “Funny, we let you in based on your first film, Boys and Dogs and Kids Are Weird.” We don’t have to know everything to take that leap, we only have to have the courage to jump.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love El Muchacho and Golden Eagle and my favorite place to write is at the Parish downstairs cafe. Nowadays, my favorite thing to do is go on a bike ride with my daughter and stop at Sun in My Belly, Oakhurst Market, Arden’s Garden and the library. Also, spaghetti and meatballs at Noni’s cannot be beat! Candler Park has a tour that finally memorializes the African American history of the park and that area (check out BiRacial History Project Free Walking and Bike Tours in Candler Park). The civil rights museum is incredibly powerful and essential for ALL.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Producer and Leader Cheryl Polote Williamson Producer Leigh “LaLa” Halsama Singer/songwriter Amy Ray
Brandie Taylor Dana Clark