Thursday, July 16, 2009

Misha Green Interview

Misha wrote and sold the script "Sunflower" last year. The thriller (which is number 7 on my Top 25 list) about two women being held captive at a remote house by a serial killer was adored by just about everyone who read it and made the 2008 Black List. It's one of those rare screenplay reading experiences where you get so into it, you forget you're reading a screenplay. William Friedkin (The Exorcist) is attached to direct. Green has parlayed her script sale into a a staff writing position on NBC's "Heroes" which I can assure you she won't be telling us anything about. :)

Misha and I will occasionally engage in late night IM procrastination parties. She's humble and tends to keep a low profile so I had to wait until just the right moment (after I sent her a couple of rare scripts) to inquire about an interview. Heh heh heh. Believe me, this was not easy folks. Misha was entrenched in a Buffy marathon and I had to work all sorts of angles to get her to turn it off. So please thank her for giving us her time and talking about her screenwriting career.

me: So when did you write your first screenplay?

Misha: Senior of high school for my sr. thesis project. It was called, "Maxwell Brenner, Teen Spy" haha

me: Was it any good?

Misha: Horrible, but aren't all first scripts?

me: So then am I allowed to ask how long ago that was?

Misha: 2002. Not that long ago.

me: How many screenplays did you have to write before you felt like you were "getting it"?

Misha: Around the fourth one, I started to feel my own voice starting to come through, and that the dialogue wasn't atrocious and cliched.

me: What was the fourth script about? Was that Sunflower?

Misha: No. It was a teenage Thelma and Louise-esque script, called "Dry" that was in the finals for the Sundance Labs. Sunflower was two scripts after that. I guess part of feeling like I was "getting it" had to do with people responding enthusiastically and positively to my writing.

me: How did you get into the Sundance labs?

Misha: I actually didn't. I was rejected, but the script helped me get my manager.

me: Okay so this is what every aspiring writer out there - this is the part they pay attention to the most. What were the series of events that got you your manager?

[time passes]

me: Is Buffy killing someone right now?

Misha: haha, i'm surfing the internet and answering your questions. buffy will come next

me: I hope she lives.

Misha: I paid 140,000 dollars to attend NYU film school, and luckily had a teacher who believed in me enough to refer me to her manager. I was working at a restaurant in NYC, partying, and having a generally great post college life, and I ran into her at my restaurant, and she was very appalled by the idea that I had a script in the finals for Sundance, and wasn't capitalizing on that buzz by trying to get a manager. So she sent my script to hers, and the rest is history. Referrals are very key in getting your foot in the door.

me: So important to capitalize on any buzz. You wait just a couple weeks sometimes and bam nobody cares...

Misha: That's true. But I also think good writing will find a way to get read.

me: So this manager was out in LA or there in New York? Are you still in New York?

Misha: Manager is in LA, and I'm now in LA. My managers emphasized how important it was for budding screenwriters who want to start a career to live in LA. And they were right. To really get a career going, it helps 100 percent to be here to take meetings and such. And if you want to write for TV, you definitely have to live in town.

me: So now a little off-topic here and then we'll get back to screenwriting stuff. You told me at the beginning of our chat that you were watching Buffy. So I'm assuming you're a big Whedon fan?

Misha: Huge.

me: So then what did you think of Cabin In The Woods?

Misha: I haven't read it yet. But it's near the top of the script reading list.

me: Whaaaaaaaaaaaat? You just lost some Whedon points there.

Misha: Haha. I know.

me: Whedon seems to have a serious female following. Why do you think that is?

Misha: Because Buffy is a great female character. And he's funny. Girls like funny. And wit. Joss has a lot of wit. And he works with a lot of writers that match him in wit.

me: Hold on. Writing this down. "girls... like... funny." You know, had someone told me this a long time ago life would've been a lot easier.

Misha: Uh oh. Maybe I'm giving away too many secrets here. Us girls like to remain mysterious.

me: lol. Okay, so moving forward. Did you feel like you had something with Sunflower before you showed it to anyone? Were you like, "This is the one."

Misha: I thought, "Wow, this is cool, I like this..." but I've also thought that about the other five scripts I've written. Haha. But the response to Sunflower has been amazing, and I could have never imagined it at the time.

me: Sunflower was your first sale, right? How did that happen? Was it relatively quick? Arduously long? Easy? Difficult?

Misha: Sunflower was my first sell. It felt long to me, but I've been told it was relatively quick. My agents sent it out to a select few producers, who all passed for various reasons, but they wanted to meet because they liked the writing. While I was taking those meetings, Sunflower was being slipped around by execs at different companies, until finally one company decided to take a chance, and bought it. That was three weeks after it first went out.

me: Okay, just to back up for a second. How did you get your agent? Did your agent come from your manager?

Misha: I wrote Sunflower after I got my managers, and we sent it to the big five (big three now) and I had the fortunate opportunity to be able to pick an agent.

me: So you got the agent before or after it sold?

Misha: Before.

me: Oh cool. That's not easy to do. I hear about unrepresented writers on the verge of a big deal not being able to get callbacks from agents.

Misha: Really? I would think if agents know there's a deal in the bank, they'll sign you in a second. They're all about the less work they have to do, the better.

Me: I know. You'd think. Though I hear it happens every now and then. So what was that like when you got that call and it had sold? Did you head straight to Bar Marmount and start rubbing elbows with the stars? How has it been having to fend off paparazzi?

Misha: Haha. When I got the call that it had sold, I was on the bus to work. I was working as a hostess at a restaurant on Sunset at the time, and I didn't hop off at Bar Marmount, I got off at the stop in front of my restaurant, and worked my shift. Which I continued to work for the next two months while contracts went back and forth between lawyers. The sad truth is, that for most screenwriters, your first sale doesn't put you on easy street.

me: Yes, once everybody takes their cut, you're left with just enough your electricity bill for that month. What restaurant did you work at?

Misha: Talesai. Very good Thai food. I was working at night, and going on meetings during the day. And occasionally serving producers and execs I had gone on meetings with. That was a little embarrassing.

me: Haha. "Oh hey, fancy meeting you here. Would this be a bad time to ask you what you thought of my pitch?" Was everybody else who worked there an actor or a screenwriter?

Misha: No actually. It was very strange. Everyone else that worked there were Thai, and they had been working there for like 20 some years. I definitely stood out.

me: How did you land the job at Heroes?

Misha: I was working on "Sons of Anarchy" (a show on FX) and looking forward to the hiatus between seasons, and I got a call that they were looking for a staff writer for Heroes and liked Sunflower and wanted to meet. So I went in and met with the producers, and they asked me to join their staff as well. So now I'm back to back year round on two shows, and it's a lot of work, but amazing.

me: Oh cool. I know they're pretty tight-lipped over there but are you allowed to talk about what the show's going to be like?

Misha: They are very tight-lipped. It's all kind of insane. There's a lot of exciting stuff happening this season, but I can't talk about any of it. We're outlining my episode right now, and I'm very excited about it. But that's really all I can say. Haha.

me: You know it took me two seasons to make the connection between one of the character's names being "Hiro" and the show being called "Heroes"?

Misha: Haha. I caught that around the middle of the first season.

me: And at first, I thought it was a complete coincidence. I actually wanted to write the show and tell them about this amazing coincidence they were missing.

Misha: You should have. That might have even responded. Or it's something you should have asked at the comic con panel. I'm going for the first time this year. I'm a little afraid.

me: Are you going to dress in like battle gear or some strange outfit?

Misha: No, I'm going to hide in the corner, and hope no one realizes I work for the show, and start asking me questions. There's a whole Heroes wiki page, where they have pictures and bios about the entire crew! The entire crew! I don't have one yet, and as I mentioned earlier, I like to remain mysterious.

me: Is that why you worked at a Thai restaurant?

Misha: Haha. No. I worked at a Thai restaurant because they were the first people to hire me. I didn't have many options then.

me: You told me you're finally going to write another spec. Have you started it yet? And are you nervous about following up the wildly popular Sunflower?

Misha: I haven't started it yet, but soon hopefully. I'm writing a lot of notes in my notebook for it. Deep down I think all writers have nerves about what they're writing, because ultimately you want people to connect with your work, and like it, maybe even love it, but ultimately nerves are useless. You just have to believe in what you're writing, and write it. The response is out of your control.

me: I feel that way every night at 12 a.m. -- I love asking this question because it makes writers' heads explode. If you could give the aspiring writers out there any piece of advice, what would it be? -- And you can't say, "Follow your dreams." lol

Misha: haha -- I would say read a lot of scripts! I can't emphasize that enough. Which is why I think your site is great, cause it gives aspiring screenwriters access to Hollywood scripts. The first thing I did when I got my managers was send them a list of scripts to send me. And learn to love rewriting, because that's a lot of what having a career in screenwriting is. And do more. Experience more. Because ultimately your personal experiences is what's going to make your writing better. And invest in a nice desk and a comfy office chair, cause you'll be spending a lot of time in it.

me: Sage advice wise one. Now if I could somehow find a way to make sitting on a couch for long periods of time dramatically compelling.

Misha: haha. Well, having a good imagination helps in that case.

me: What's your favorite script you've read lately (or from the site)?

Misha: I liked Prisoners

me: What about your favorite movie this summer?

Misha: Star Trek. Did that come out this summer?

me: Hey! Me too.

Misha: haha, the sad truth is, once you start working in the industry, you rarely have time to go to a movie. Which is really unfortunate for me: It's like a rare treat. But you do get sent screeners of them which is nice.

me: you're so spoiled

Misha: I really am. There are a lot of perks. My DVD collection has doubled since I sold Sunflower. haha

me: What do like to do when you're not writing? In those slivers of time you have to yourself? Besides our late night IM sessions of course.

Misha: I live for these late night sessions.

me: lol

Misha: My slivers of time are getting very tiny these days. I'm working on a lot of pitches with producers, and the show, and producing a short I wrote. So when I'm not working, I'm pretty much sleeping, or partying when I can.

me: Ah yes. Do you Heroes writers know how to get down?

Misha: I don't know about the rest of them, but I do. haha.

It was at that point that Misha said something about too much time away from Buffy so our session had to end. It's not easy losing out to Sarah Michelle Gellar, let me tell you. And I hope Misha doesn't read my review of Joss Whedon's "Cabin In The Woods." Yikes, talk about wanting back slivers of time.