Natasha Hall wrote the Diverse Voices TV Category winning script, PHOENIX. This is a thrilling yet emotional, elevated yet severely personal pilot that won every judge over the whole way through the competition. PHOENIX follows an out-of-commission forensic psychiatrist and a connection-phobic novice who must work together to determine their clients' true intentions while battling their own demons. Take a look at what Natasha has to say about writing and taking a walk in someone else's shoes.
Why did you write your winning script? What inspired the concept?
I’ve always been fascinated with how mental illness is treated in the United States, especially through the criminal justice system. Additionally, there has always been unwillingness, especially within the Black and Caribbean community, to talk about and address psychological problems. The idea of having to “man up” or “woman up” stops many from coming forward, and I wanted to open up a discourse about this. Both my main characters are going through their own battles, and though they are professionals in forensic psychiatry, there’s still this unwillingness to divulge what they’re going through to friends and family. PHOENIX aims to explore these characters, their choices over time, and the effects of those choices, while also presenting cases that delve into the many shades of gray that determine someone’s mental state.
Who was the first person you told when you found out you won Diverse Voices?
First things first, it was so surreal. I actually had to forward the email to my husband just to make sure I had read it correctly. Once he confirmed, we both sort of screamed over the telephone. It only seems fitting, as he’s the one that encourages me throughout the process and stops me from going mad when I think an idea isn’t working.
What types of stories do you like to read or watch? What type of stories do you like to write?
I love stories that use universal themes to evoke a question and/or to connect us to a new perspective that we’ve never experienced… basically, I like taking a walk in someone else’s shoes. Additionally, I’ve always been a genre girl, which is why I add surrealism or a supernatural bend to all my scripts.
If you had one piece of advice to give other writers, what would it be?
Do the internal work. It’s the only way to know what you NEED to say to the world. Then… master that message. That is what will set you apart, guide and open your creativity, and simplify your focus.
How do you feel about the current state of diversity in entertainment? Do you feel like Hollywood is making improvements or only digging its heals into the way of the past?
Just from looking at the Golden Globe and Oscar nominations this year, it’s clear Hollywood is embracing more varied voices. However, we’re only just scratching the surface. This is a good start, but we must continue to push in order to make this change a fixture. There’s also gender to consider. There were 10 Best Screenplay Oscar nominees this year, and out of the ten, only one of the writers is a woman and that script was co-written. So, like I said, more work has to be done. But I do believe we’ll get there with perseverance.
What are the big and little successes you've had with writing?
I’ve been very fortunate, though sometimes it’s hard to see the whole forest when you’re in the weeds. Winning Diverse Voices is certainly a big success. Another was in 2015 for Final Draft’s Big Break, where I placed Top 5 with this script, as well as in the Top 10 with a HANNIBAL spec. Overall, I’m blessed to see people responding to my work and that’s been very humbling. As for the little successes, simply getting up and writing/rewriting through the doubts and fears is an every day success. Every day that I do, I know I have achieved a small step that will add up over time.
Have you ever thought about giving writing up? Why didn't you?
So, so, so many times. Writing is deceptively hard, and can be thankless. It makes you question all that you are and it takes a thick skin to keep going. But… I can’t seem to stop. There is a message in me that I need to share, and nothing gives me more joy than seeing that message touch someone. I simply couldn’t imagine not writing because when a script is working, it’s the best feeling.
What's the most important part of your writing process?
Structure and research, even if it’s very basic at first. Once I have the structure of a story down, I can relax into my characters, explore the themes visually, and create. Basically, I need some semblance of a sandbox before I can play freely. As for research, it’s key because it’s the foundation that can inform all aspects of the story.
Where will you be as a writer a decade from today?
Most importantly, I will see growth… I don’t think we can ever stop growing our skillset. I see myself as an EP on a TV drama series and eventually running my own show.