J.J. Hillard was the winner of the Diverse Voices Short Category with his script MY STARDUST, which captured the hearts and imaginations of all our judges. The story is about an astronaut’s elderly widow, who while watching TV news of an unmanned test flight to Mars discovers evidence that she may be more than just a viewer of the mission. Here's J.J. on his writing process, his story, and different perspectives in writing.
What's the most important or unique part of your writing process?
Each of us has a singular, personal collection of real life experiences, and our reactions to those, that can enrich and inform many aspects of our fictional stories. For example, I regret none of the embarrassing or even humiliating incidents in my past. Those have been great material for comedy.
How do you pick the stories that you ultimately write?
In some cases I challenge myself to figure out how an unlikely character, in an unusual or dangerous situation, would find a solution to their personal dilemma. Or, I aim to write a micro-budget script with all the action taking place in one room. At other times I write a story in a genre I enjoy with a premise I've never seen before.
Why did you choose to enter Diverse Voices? Where were you when you found out that you had won?
I choose Diverse Voices because of its criteria: "How does your voice, experience, characters, or story represents a new and diverse perspective for Hollywood?" In my case, my protagonist and I are over forty. So we both qualify! When I found out I'd won, I was sitting at my desk (really!), which isn't a very dramatic setting. I think I jumped up and did a little happy dance, so at least there was some spontaneous action in that real life scene.
Why do you feel that diversity in entertainment is important?
Critically and commercially successful films, especially indies, sometimes aim for a targeted and/or underrepresented demographic, but can enjoy breakout appeal to wider audiences, especially if their themes are universal and relatable. I think those are worthy objectives to keep in mind when screenwriting.
Who inspires your writing? Who inspires you?
My writing is inspired when I read scripts crafted by: Allen, Almodóvar, Bolt, Brackett, Cameron, Cody, the Coens, Darabont, Ephron, the Epsteins, Kasdan, Kaufman, Khouri, Mamet, O'Bannon, Payne, Sorkin, Sturges, Towne, Trumbo, Wilder and Zaillian, among others. I am inspired personally by authors who are creative in more than one format (e.g., screenplays, teleplays, short stories, novels, song lyrics and/or stage plays). I'm also encouraged by those who enjoy success later in life, such as David Seidler (born in 1937) who wrote The King's Speech (2010), which won him both a BAFTA and an Oscar for "Best Original Screenplay."
What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?
"Winning is only the beginning." In other words, it's all about the REWRITING, based on coverage and notes from an experienced, professional reader, to ensure a screenplay is in its best possible shape before it's in circulation.
What's your favorite movie or TV show? What about the writing of that show makes it stand out? What can writers learn from it?
Alien (1979, O'Bannon, Shusett) is probably one of my all-time favorite films, one that I can rewatch as instructive. Each character's personality and temperament dictate what they say or do. As in most classic screenplays, the film's plot and actions flow from those aspects of each individual, including the xenomorph. Also, because I have a degree in the life sciences, I enjoy the otherworldy biology of the alien.
What other successes have you had as a writer – big or small?
A short I entered into a Creative Screenwriting Magazine contest won at a past Screenwriting Expo and I was awarded, and completed, a 2-year Writers Boot Camp fellowship. Another short of mine won a WILDsound monthly contest and the table read by actors was videotaped. Another of my shorts, a sci-fi comedy, was once optioned.
What did your writing look like 5 years ago and what will your writing look like 5 years from now?
Five years ago I was just beginning to understand screenplay structure as I was rewriting a feature and polishing shorts and submitting them to competitions. Five years from now I hope to benefit regularly from script coverage and be working on a feature assignment or two, while rewriting specs in my spare time.