Joslyn Burton isn’t completely sure what she wants to do when she’s older. But the 16-year-old East Carter High School sophomore thinks a writing career is possible.
Burton was one of about 25 who attended Saturday’s screenwriting workshop at the Grayson Gallery and Art Center, and she listened to acclaimed filmmaker and Ashland native Allison Anders explain how folks who produce, write and direct plays, movies and television shows do their jobs.
“I would like to write a book, actually,” Burton said. “I don’t know if I can finish it and have it be something people will like.”
Anders, 59, is as good a teacher as there is of things artistic. She’s a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara and a graduate of UCLA’s film school. Among her credits: writing for the television series “Sex and the City” and “All in the Family” and its spinoffs; winning several scholarships, including UCLA’s prestigious Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award in 1986; and an Emmy nomination for directing Lifetime's “Ring of Fire,” a 2013 TV movie about the relationship between the late June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash.
Amanda Grigsby, a licensed professional counselor from Grayson, is also passionate about art, photography and writing.
“I’ve learned how much goes into making a film,” Grigsby said. “I’m very interested. The writing itself is not complex. (The workshop made) me motivated to learn more.”
Anders is also working on “Ashland,” a proposed AMC television series with director Terry Graham. The story is about Del Evans, a woman who struggles to provide for her three children and hide her family’s secrets after her husband is blacklisted during the Red Scare era of the 1940s and ’50s, a time when the federal government hounded thousands for allegedly having Communist ties — claims largely based on flimsy or nonexistent evidence.
An artist enrichment grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women funded Saturday’s workshop, which KFW board member Candace Chaney said was “so it could be free for everyone.” Dan Click, Anders’ cousin and childhood friend, hosted the event.
On Saturday, Anders sat in perhaps her favorite furniture, a familiar cloth-bottomed director’s chair, and for most of the first hour she shared career anecdotes. One was how she met famous German playwright/author/photographer Wim Wenders in the 1970s. A colleague suggested she send Wenders (who lived in New York City at the time) a cassette of her work. Anders didn’t think Wenders was interested in anything from the ’70s, but she wrote him long letters about her children and her life.
“I kinda stalked him,” Anders said. “This was before the Internet. You had to try hard.”
Wim Wenders (pronounced “Vim Venders”) finally sent Anders a congratulatory card when she was accepted to UCLA’s film school. She, Wenders and Sam Shepard combined to produce the independent film “Paris, Texas” in 1984.
Anders says writing for the stage and screen is different from working in TV, which took her about one night to realize.
“First directing experience on TV, I was ready to cry and walk away,” Anders said.
Anders said movie and theater scripts are more fluid (“The script is really a blueprint”), and directors and others also had to find financing and do other jobs. In TV, Anders says most of those behind-camera decisions have already been made, though writers are “empowered beyond belief.”
“For me as a writer, it would be great,” Anders said. “As a director, it would be a nightmare. At some point, you have to say, ‘I’m directing (a writer’s) script.’”
Anders said a director doesn’t influence subsequent TV episodes very much. “It's really the actors … because you cannot impact the scripts, you cannot influence the sets.”
Participants also received sample script pages and learned that everyone from the director to the transportation and wardrobe people depended on what was on paper. Burton didn’t know much about screenplay formats, but she identified an objective — seeing a film adapted from a book she wrote.
“That,” she said, “will be my dream goal.”