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Screenwriting is a Long Game: Tips from Screenwriter Camille Tucker

By January 14, 2021No Comments

Camille Tucker is an accomplished screenwriter and filmmaker with over 20 years’ experience in the industry. She has optioned six screenplays and two TV pilots to major studios, such as Sony, Disney, Universal, Fox TV, and New Line Cinema.

Camille has developed film projects with A-listers such as Robert DeNiro, John Singleton, Marc Platt, Stacey Snider, Todd Garner, Kevin Misher and Debra Chase. Her short films have screened at the Sundance, Heartland, Pan African, and San Luis Obispo film festivals. She has also been a semi-finalist in the Nicholl Screenwriting Competition and a two-time Sundance Writer’s Lab semi-finalist.

Camille is the proud co-writer of Lifetime’s hit biopic, THE CLARK SISTERS: FIRST LADIES OF GOSPEL, the number one TV Movie of 2020 with over thirteen million viewers to date!

She spoke with WeScreenplay’s Sarah Eagen for our ongoing Cocktails & Conversations virtual events. The conversation was rich with gem after gem of wisdom from a veteran screenwriter and screenwriting professor – from tips on writing a biopic, to what it’s like having success early in your career, screenplay structure, and starting your career later in life. You can watch the entire chat below or read on for the key takeaways from our conversation with Camille.

You don’t have to start out as a screenwriter, and you don’t need a screenwriting degree. Read scripts to educate yourself.

Camille didn’t start her writing career as a screenwriter. In fact, she studied poetry first, proving that creative writing spans all types of mediums.

“I went to UCLA. I was studying poetry and I was an English Lit Major. I wasn’t even a screenwriting major. So for those of you who didn’t study it in undergrad, don’t feel bad. I wasn’t either. … I really think creative writing translates across all mediums. And if you love writing, you should be able to, and maybe sometimes it’s helpful to write in different mediums.”

Camille worked as an assistant for two years in creative development at Disney. She credits reading scripts with providing her the invaluable training and education that helped her learn the craft of screenwriting before she sold her first script.

“We study screenwriting, but reading amazing scripts, and scripts for films and TV shows that you like, is a big part of your training as well. And that was my training.”

Success early in your career is not what you may think. Give your career time to develop. 

Camille had success early on, selling several feature scripts after working as an assistant for only two years. While most writers dream of success like that, the experience of selling screenplays that didn’t end up getting made wasn’t easy.

“I learned trial by fire after selling those scripts how brutal the development process can be. … I actually had a career crisis in my twenties selling these scripts and being totally frustrated about them not getting made and thinking that I wasn’t supposed to be a writer and having to go through this whole journey of coming back to, yes, I am supposed to be a writer.” 

She offers this advice for aspiring screenwriters: “I always tell my students, plan ten years. Think of it as ten years, because although for me it was two years of being an assistant, that doesn’t happen for everyone. You have to think of it as an investment.” 

Screenwriting is a long game. Keep writing and don’t take anything personally. 

While THE CLARK SISTERS: FIRST LADIES OF GOSPEL had huge success in being the most watched television movie of 2020, the process to get there took well over a decade.

 Camille, co-writer of the feature screenplay, wrote and pitched the treatment in 2005 with writer Sara Finney-Johnson. It didn’t sell. It took fifteen years for the television movie to finally be made. 

“All of that time, I had to stay busy. I write other projects. I keep a number of projects going at one time.

One thing I’d like to pass on is, when I was younger, I used to get very personal about everything. Like if you don’t like my project, I’m like, ‘That hurts my feelings! You don’t like me and I’m not good enough!’ And I’ve kind of learned a resilience of, I know what I’m doing. I’m not going anywhere. I’m here to stay. I’m going to always be writing, and I deserve a place here.

I don’t really get emotional. Some things happen. Some things don’t. Some things cycle back around. So I think it’s important, again, that we think of this as a long game rather than a short game.” 

On Writing a Biopic: Create a timeline of events, choose a slice of life to focus on, and stay true to the era.

To write THE CLARK SISTERS: FIRST LADIES OF GOSPEL biopic, Camille researched by speaking with The Clark Sisters. She also created a timeline.

“I had to create a timeline, and I just did a spreadsheet of all the events of their life or lives and also all of the sociopolitical cultural events that were kind of going around at the time. Because in my mind, I had to bring it, how that was going to factor into the script. So I did that, and that really, really helped me.”

Camille sees her job as the screenwriter of a biopic is to determine which slice of life is going to be told rather than trying to tell the entirety of someone’s life. She also recommends staying true to the time period in which real-life events transpire.

“You do need to stay true to the spirit of what happened. The spirit, the essence, the nature of the person or the event. I think that when you go beyond that, especially if they’re living, it’s just, for me, it’s not honoring to the people that you’re doing the biopic about.”

However, she offers that creative license can be taken with how events happen or who was present during certain events. 

The structure of a screenplay is like the foundation of a house. 

Camille shared a helpful analogy that a mentor offered her when it comes to screenplay structure.

“Sometimes we can think of screenwriting as a house. So the foundation is the structure. The floor, the walls, the roof, the outward structure of a house. That’s like your structure. The interior decorating is what you do within. We can paint a room red. We can paint it yellow. We might paint it red today, and then a year later we decide we want that same room to be brown.

There are so many ways you can decorate and re-decorate once you get into the house, and that’s actually, those are the actual scenes. Those are the choices the characters make that then actors are making when they interpret your work.”

On Ageism: Use your life experience to tap into the stories you need to tell. 

Camille offered advice for writers that may have taken a break from pursuing screenwriting and want to come back to it and for those starting their career later in life.

“Don’t think down on yourself. Don’t give yourself a conversation about ageism.

The first thing would be, get your mind straight. Know that you’re worthy. You’re valuable. Know that you have something to say and something to offer.

The second thing I would say is, with that in mind, tap into your stories. Tap into your life and your life experience. When you are starting later, maybe you’ve been married. Maybe you’ve been divorced. Maybe you’ve had kids. Maybe you haven’t had kids. Maybe you suffered a miscarriage. Maybe you’ve suffered discrimination at work. Maybe you’ve had bad experiences as a PTA parent.

All of these are fodder for stories. Actually, you’ll find that often there’s going to be an audience that will relate to those experiences.”

She also urges writers to take advantage of programs, like WeScreenplay’s Diverse Voices, that strive for inclusivity and specifically seek diverse screenwriters.

Writing contests are one of the best ways for new writers to get noticed and receive valuable feedback. 

For aspiring screenwriters, Camille suggests using screenwriting contests to help build your resume and create credibility, which could help you get noticed by an agent or manager.

“I do think writing contests are one of the best ways for new writers to get noticed, no matter what age.

You’re throwing the gauntlet down there, and you’re going to see what you’re made of. If you can do the type of contests where you also get coverage, that’s really helpful because you’re going to get feedback.

Even if you aren’t doing a contest where you get coverage, I would suggest you get coverage from places like Coverfly or WeScreenplay.”’ 

Every time you receive feedback and rewrite, you’re learning and getting better as a writer.

On Rewriting: Be willing to go back and break the foundation. 

 Camille emphasized that real writing is rewriting: “Be willing to go back and break the foundation. Sometimes you have to break the foundation. Sometimes it’s not just, ‘Oh, change a line of dialogue here and change’ – no!

I have written thirty drafts of a script before I have shown them to someone that I was trying to sell the script to. And it’s not always like that, but it could be. … That’s the level of commitment you have to have.”

If you want to get your script in front of veteran screenwriters like Camille Tucker, submit your screenplay to the WeScreenplay Feature Competition

For more screenwriting tips and upcoming events, be sure to follow WeScreenplay on Twitter and Instagram.

screenwriter Joanna KeJoanna Ke is an award-winning, half Taiwanese actor, writer, producer, and trained sword fighter. Her foundation as a creative producer and screenwriter is built on nearly a decade of experience as a professional script reader in development and acquisitions. She studied screenwriting with the late, great Syd Field, and as an actor, has had the honor of working with director Cameron Crowe. Her films have won BEST ACTION and BEST FANTASY awards, and her acting has won BEST PERFORMANCE and BEST VILLAIN accolades.

Wielding her broadsword is a favorite, both on and off camera.

Connect with Joanna on her websiteTwitter, and Instagram.