Spring Showcase Writer #7: Ari Berkowitz

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Berkowitz Headshot

Ariana (Ari) Berkowitz sent us a short script called “Potty Mouth” that was so strange and smart that we had to take it. We tried to describe it to friends—no, there’s this hot girl like in teen sex comedies, but she’s actually a toilet—and found ourselves devolving into diatribes about the movies Mannequin and Splash. But seriously: why are dudes always falling for inanimate objects and fish? Are there literally NO HUMAN WOMEN they’d find attractive? Anyway, we had to find the right director for her piece, which was going to be difficult, as she needed to intimately understand the push and pull of a very physical screwball comedy. But it turned out that Kat Vondy was the special match—they even worked at the same place and had never met! We’re so excited to unveil this piece from Ari, who told us she most recently wrote an episode of television where a girl fell out of a chair for the USA show Benched.

1. What are the top 3 movies/plays/shows that have inspired you?

Die Hard 

Die Hard with a Vengeance

While You were Sleeping 

2. Did you go to film/theater school? What led you to being a writer or director?

I didn’t go to film school, but I did play a round of MASH that told me I’d be a TV writer. I’m real into fulfilling destinies.

3. Why do you personally want to collaborate with other women through One Axe?

Women’s voices are so underrepresented in our cultural creations and I’m so excited to be part of a group where women are helping women to be heard. The more we represent our own experiences — the more honest and supportive our culture will be.

4. “Where are you going, where have you been?”

The Bar.

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Spring Showcase Writer #6: Melanie Kirschbaum

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When we first heard from Melanie Kirschbaum, we immediately thought, “Goonies never say die.” We have no idea why, but we did. Maybe it’s because Melanie seems like a make-it-work kind of woman. Either way, she presented to us a short called “Smart,” co-written with Alexandra Decas. It was our favorite kind of genre, a timeless pairing of two seemingly opposite women who somehow puzzle-piece into one another and drive each other insane. Kirschbaum works in TV, got her start with Jeff and Jackie Filgo, and now works for Vali Chandrasekaran, for which we are thankful, because we can easily see how her style has developed from some of our favorite comedies. Here are some words of wisdom and some appropriately awesome background infos from Melanie herself.

1. What are 3 top movies/plays/shows that have inspired you?

My top three shows are Will & Grace, Golden Girls, and Broad City. I fall asleep to Golden Girls every night; Blanche Devereaux haunts my dreams. I love comedies with heart that showcase the bonds of friendship, because there’s nothing better (or funnier) than watching characters who love each other give each other shit and have adventures. Speaking of friendship, I can’t even think of broaching the topic of inspiration without mentioning my favorite movie of all time, Beaches. It’s about two best gal pals (one is Bette Midler, a national treasure) and it is beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that I like to infuse a little Beaches into everything I do. Spoiler alert: no one in SMART succumbs to a heart condition.

2. Did you go to film/theater school? What led to you being a writer or director?

I did not go to film/theater school. Where I did go was the University of Pittsburgh, the result of the most serendipitous rejection of my life thus far (there have been many). The University of Maryland said no, Pitt said yes, and off I went to Western PA. I was an English major because I liked to write short stories, though I had no idea how that would translate to adult life. Then one day during my junior year, an LA based manager/producer visited Pitt to give a talk about the industry, he was from Pittsburgh, and little idiot Melanie sitting in the audience raised her hand and asked, “What’s an internship?” It was not a proud moment. But it did lead to him saying, “Come work for me for the summer and find out,” and so I did. One year later, my mom and I embarked on a road tip to deposit me in LA (at one point during our journey I caught her speaking into the lens cap of the video camera thinking it was a microphone), and then several years after that, I got a job working for 2 TV writers, which put me on my way.

All that being said, what ultimately made me a writer is my family. They are hilarious, supportive, and I’m so, so lucky to be in the presence of such strength, wit, and comedic material. Especially my mother, who has the best sense of humor out of everyone.

3. Why do you personally want to collaborate with other women through One Axe?

Since meeting Alexandra Decas and seeing what we’ve created just the two of us, the thought of collaborating with a whole gang of ladies is just so exciting. The relationships women have with one another are just so much better, so much richer and more powerful than the ones men have. Which is a real shame for them, but whatever, they have enough.

4. “Where are you going, where have you been?”

I have been on the bottom. I’d like to be on the top. At the very least on television.

Spring Showcase Writer #5: Alexandra Decas

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Alexandra Decas

Alexandra, along with her writing partner Melanie Kirschbaum, had submitted “Smart” to us with the best log line: “Triggered by a conversation about our national treasure, Elizabeth Smart, two best friends nitpick each other’s life decisions, but ultimately realize that neither has it quite together.” It’s a testament to an expert summation of a script, because we already liked it before we read it.

Alex is a graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, so she started out working for KNBC’s leading investigative journalist, a production company, a cable network, and, of course, celebrity couple. She then moved over to Eagleheart on Adult Swim and finally to black-ish on ABC.  Originally, “Smart” was a web series she and her partner starred in, but now we get to have it .  She currently works as a writers’ assistant on ABC’s comedy Black-ish. “Smart” was originally a web series she and Melanie starred in together, but we’re very excited to preview the brand-new live production, directed by the expert Tamar Halpern.

1. What are the top 3 movies/plays/shows that have inspired you?

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t until I saw an episode of the show Six Feet Under in high school that I had any idea how amazing television could be, and I knew right then that THAT was what I wanted to do.  I literally caught the episode about two weeks before I had to choose my colleges to apply to, and I told my parents the next day “Don’t worry guys.  I have it all figured out.  I’m going to be a TV major.”  In case you were wondering, it was Season 3 Episode 6 (“Making Love Work”), and to this day it’s the Cold Open death that haunts me the most.

In the last five years, the show Happy Endings inspired me in that I want to write for a show like that — it’s a smart, single camera, hilarious show.

And in my personal life, I’ve mostly been inspired my My Best Friend’s Wedding.  It’s a friendly reminder to go for what you want early in life, because your bad behavior will not be rewarded favorably later.

2. Did you go to film/theater school? What led you to being a writer or director?

I may have answered some of this question earlier, but I did follow through with my insane proclamation to my parents.  I went to Boston University and majored in film and television.  I took as many television screenwriting classes as possible and upon graduation moved to Los Angeles to do a Post Grad “Writer In Hollywood” program that BU offered.

3. Why do you personally want to collaborate with other women through One Axe?

I love female driven projects.  I’ve never had more fun since I partnered up with Melanie Kirschbaum.  I’ve had nothing but good experiences since I’ve started working in this industry, but there is no denying the feeling that men run this town and sexism exists.  I like the idea of networking with and meeting as many talented and successful women as possible.  Besides, men are garbage! (Kidding…)

4. “Where are you going, where have you been?”

I’ve been working towards where I’m going, and this is a stop along the way!  Makes sense, right?

Spring Showcase Writer #4: Wendy C. Ortiz

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Photo © Meiko Takechi Arquillos

Photo © Meiko Takechi Arquillos

We know that many women—daunted by the Hollywood system and the technicalities of having to learn Final Draft or filmmaking tools—have felt their stories more welcomed in the publishing and journalism worlds than in the scriptwriting worlds. For this reason, we are reaching out to at least one accomplished prose writer for every showcase, to mentor them through the process of scriptwriting, so we can flood the Hollywood market with women’s stories. Our first writer is Wendy C. Ortiz, one of Los Angeles’ brightest literary stars. Author of Excavation: A Memoir (Future Tense Books, 2014) and Hollywood Notebook (Writ Large Press, 2015), Wendy’s also written a year-long monthly column about marijuana in Southern California for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Her work is everywhere, and she’s justly getting praised, so we asked her to adapt a short essay, “Spell,” for our Spring Showcase, and it is already phenomenal. Directed by Nora Ephron Prize winner Meera Menon, “Spell” tells the story of a girl’s love affair with words and the teacher who taught them.

1. What are the top 3 movies/plays that have inspired you?

I don’t tend to keep static lists of influences. I think my influences shift and change regularly, sometimes depending on my own projects, or concepts I’m trying to sort out in my life or my work. Lately I’ve been SUPER inspired by television. As for film, influences I can name today (inspiring due to the way the stories treat characters, how beauty can be coaxed from pain and tragedy, how epic these films feel in my current consciousness): Shame by Steve McQueen; The Shining by Stanley Kubrick; Apocalypse Now by Francis Ford Coppola.

2. Did you go to film school? What led you to being a writer or director?

I did not go to film school. The most I’ve done in this field is a 16mm filmmaking workshop many years ago in Olympia, Washington. I’ve been a writer since I was a child, first writing ghost stories and poems then later zines and books. It’s taken over my life and guided many decisions I’ve made ever since.

3. Why do you personally want to collaborate with other women through One Axe?

 

Being introduced to One Axe is like walking through a door into a world I’ve wanted to imagine existed, and at some points of my life, tried to create something similar into existence. I’m stunned by the generosity, encouragement and warm spirit of collaboration modeled by One Axe so far. There is no reason why I wouldn’t want to collaborate!

4. “Where are you going, where have you been?”

I’ve been around the block and to many a rodeo and I’m always game for what’s right around the corner.