Ann Kimbrough knows the secrets to become a successful screenwriter. If you listen to her, she’ll gladly reveal them to you. That’s how amazing she is. See, Ann has worked harder than anyone to get where she is now. What makes her so unique? She never gave up. She continued to push on. No matter what. All while keeping the thirst for knowledge alive and not letting herself become jaded. That’s no small feat. Which is why I consider Ann, one of the elites. She’s made it to a point in her career that others can only dream about. Does she let it get to her head or rest on her laurels? No. Instead, Ann reaches out. She extends her hand to help other writers. She offers the wisdom that can only be learned from experience and does it with an open heart and class. This is why Ann has my utmost respect. It is my honor to introduce you to her. This is Ann Kimbrough…
There’s only one thing you need to know about me: I have a messy office. It’s probably a reflection of my mind which is constantly coming up with more things to write. Eventually, I’ll clean it up, but when I do… it just gets messy again. What can I say? I like paper. I like to write on paper. And I save most of it. That’s just gonna get messy. It’s not me. It’s the paper. So, don’t judge me by my messy office. It’s a sign that I’m always writing.
Writing was my secret weapon in school. I just never knew what to do with it outside of passing tests. It took me a while to figure out which type of writing was the right kind for me. I made a drastic decision to move to LA, which pushed my writing toward screenplays. Thanks to one of my ad agency friends, I got a Production Assistant job on a Quaker Oats commercial in LA—and that launched my freelance TV commercial production career. I learned a lot about producing, but I was no closer to writing however, I did earn a Screen Actors Guild card on a Chrysler commercial.
But writing! After some time and adventures, I decided to finally go for it directly. I began calling myself a screenwriter and focused on learning my craft. Fast-forward a few years, I finally found a champion in a producer, worked with him for several years, until I became his Development Executive and in-house screenwriter. Which means, I evaluate everything that’s sent to the company and develop projects to pitch to our producing partners or directly to networks. And while that’s been a cool recent development—-being in development—I’m still a screenwriter.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I think screenwriting stumbled upon me. LOL. I took an NYU continuing ed course for screenwriting and the teacher read my scene out loud to the class. I was hooked. He probably shared several students’ scenes, but I only remember him reading mine. Memories are like that.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Everyone close to me has been an inspiration to keep writing, as have been talented screenwriters and gurus that have come in and out of my life at the right time. The biggest supporters have been producers that have given me a chance. Any time I strayed and tried another form of writing—because I’ve pretty much tried them all—I’ve come back to screenwriting. It’s where I’ve built my skill set and feel the most comfortable “in my writing skin.”
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
Lynn Roer, who was a TV commercial producer (one of six producers) in the production department of Jordan, McGrath, Taylor, and Chase ad agency. (BTW, they were constantly dropping and adding partners. I have no idea what they are called today.) I always looked up to her. She was kickass, gorgeous and smart! I had no idea why she took any notice of me since I was the complete opposite. However, when I wrote my first screenplay—which was a cut together mess of typed paragraphs, pasted in the right order and then photocopied—she was blown away. She was my first champion. I can honestly say that earning her praise for that first script—which was complete crap, I figured out later—is the thing that still fuels my desire to write. We sat on the floor of my NYC studio apartment and read the script out loud together, and it was the coolest thing ever! Looking back, I believe she was amazed that I’d even taken the time and completed a script, more than the quality of the writing. Her positive reaction meant so much to me that it’s still the reaction I want from anyone that reads my writing.
Q: What was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
When I saw The Sting. I had to be around 10 years old. (I probably was too young to see it, but that never stopped my parents. I saw a lot of movies I shouldn’t have, which sparked and fed my love of film.) At the time, I didn’t say ‘I want to be a screenwriter.’ I didn’t know what that was, but I knew I wanted in on creating a film like the one I’d seen.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
When I began, I knew I couldn’t judge my success by earnings or options. I was a newbie. Setting overnight success goals would have been a crippling handicap. I decided to judge it by ‘forward movement.’ Can I see forward movement from month to month, year to year? At first, that forward movement was just learning my craft, then it was completing projects and then getting out, pitching my scripts and getting options. No matter how big or small, I looked for some forward movement.
I’m still looking for progress, but success is more about how many times and ways I can “enter the game.” I need to create as much as I can, until one or more of those creations is a financial success. Eventually, I’d like to judge my success on the number of people who love my writing. That would be the ultimate.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
I like to say that I’m not a morning person or a night owl. I’m good at noon. Actually, I’m whatever I need to be. I can write anytime, anywhere. I like mornings when I can make coffee, sit in a leather chair with my laptop, enjoy the morning light and write. I also like evenings, when I should go to bed, but feel like I haven’t done enough writing during the day. I’ll sit down somewhere with my laptop and write—usually with only one eye open because…I’m tired. But I get so much done that way. I also have a habit of going to bed and getting up several times to write notes, bits of dialogue or what I should work on first in the morning. I also write throughout the day, but there are lots of interruptions. They act like barriers that keep me from something I love. It creates a kind of longing to rush back and write.
My typical day is never typical. I have several people that rely on me throughout the week, some for work and some personal. But I always have enough time to write—and review scripts and talent, since now that’s part of my job. It’s about balance, though.
But the kind of day that I like is when I can write for four hours in the morning, have lunch out with a friend, come back and do some reading, then write for a few hours before heading out to an Aquabike class (it’s like a spin class in a pool), and then come home for a late dinner with family, before watching an hour of TV, getting in a little more writing and then getting to bed before midnight. I have a screenwriting friend that I check-in with to go to bed on time. (Which is 10:30pm.) We IM. I like to think she needs the help more than I do since she fights insomnia, but it helps me, too. I don’t have insomnia, I have the writing bug.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
I had to think about that one a bit. Is it something to do with my craft or how I’ll put myself out there and talk to anyone? All very important, but the most important skill is never giving up. Being a screenwriter ends when I say it ends. Any path has its ups and downs, and if you can stay on that path in spite of them… well, that’s a useful skill. And I do call it a skill because you have to work at it. Too many people will tell you to give up, there’s got to be a better way to make money. (Haven’t you heard that one?) The “easy” way to make money isn’t easy if it’s not your calling! It wouldn’t be me if I didn’t write.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
My greatest challenge is not unique. It’s a challenge throughout the industry, and not just for screenwriters. Getting paid is a daunting challenge because everyone wants everyone to work for free. And we do, to be a partner in the process, get experience, build a resume or help a friend. I often wonder how many IMDb credits for screenwriters actually involve a paycheck. I’ve had a full career without getting paid. I hope the paid part of my career is as long and prosperous, as the unpaid part.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
The greatest reward is always the people you meet along the way. Good times or bad, I’ve collected amazing friends and found my tribe. I like that word—tribe. It definitely fits for screenwriters.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
I want to continue to learn what I’ve always considered ‘my job’ — being the best screenwriter/collaborator/champion. In the beginning, it was about learning the craft. Then it was about learning the tricks of the trade. Now, it’s more about being a part of helping others learn, as I try not to develop bad habits.
Now, you might ask, what bad habits can a screenwriter develop? I know the big one I’ve seen others develop. As screenwriters advance, they tend to start wearing others hats. They become producers and directors. It helps advance a career. Trouble is… it makes them lazy writers, meaning they start letting others do the writing.
Screenwriting takes time, and once you get into another part of the industry, you need that time. When you give it up, you can lose your writing edge. (And here I’ve gone and added a development title to my screenwriting job.) I don’t want to lose my edge when it comes to writing, so I stay tight with my screenwriting peers. Their struggles and successes inspire and motivate me. Plus, I just like to be around people who know what parenthetical means.