In the Spotlight: Heidi Stangeland
Heidi Stangeland is a rare individual. She is both driven and humble. These are two qualities you almost never see in a person. But, in Heidi, they make up her core. For me, it’s inspiring to see a writer find success and not lose who they are. So many of us get just a taste of triumph and our ego gets the best of us. Not her, whether it’s the fact that she stays so grounded and close to the earth or had such a unique upbringing which makes her this way, I can’t say. What I can say is that I am so glad we have someone like Heidi around. Someone to remind us that success doesn’t have to change who you are. It is my greatest pleasure to introduce you to her. This is Heidi Stangeland...
As a kid, growing up in Southern Norway we would always travel. I spent a lot of time at my grandparent's farm in Western Norway, spending summers in our boat sailing the coast.
With the ancient (Norse) stories - myths and folktales all around me, I grew up respecting not only nature but also how stories are passed on. At a young age, I found it very interesting how the similar stories are from other countries - and I realized that some stories travel borders in the ancient times and take on new forms in different cultures.
Being from Norway I like to infuse subtle bits and pieces of my culture into my writing. I believe it helps the reader be able to dive deep into the worlds I create for them.
I specialize in writing Thrillers, preferably with either a SciFi or a Supernatural undertone to it. I like to explore the unseen, play with the mind. It was a natural choice for me as I would read Stephen King, Dean R. Koontz and Scandinavian authors like Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø, and Arnaldur Indri∂ason.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
A friend of mine was taking the UCLA Screenwriting class and needed feedback on her script. I was writing a children’s book at the time, so we swapped for feedback.
That children’s book… I am now adapting into a tv-pilot, targeted for teenagers. Some changes, but I am excited about what I have learned as a screenwriter and storytelling that I know can adapt to this, and strengthen the concept.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
Storytelling has always been important to me. Listening to stories from my grandparents - especially my grandfather from his childhood and his role in the Norwegian resistance during WW2. So I have explored different kinds of storytelling, photography being one major outlet. I have always been writing, but I’ve written short stories mostly.
When I then received a screenplay from my friend, I fell in LOVE with this particular type of storytelling. Literally, my body had a physical reaction (goosebumps) and I just knew this is what I was supposed to do. So I started pursuing classes and enrolled first in some minor classes via ScreenwritingU. An online school - which was important as I am living in the US SouthWest and with small kids, I needed something I could study on my own time. After taking the ProSeries class that is a year, and a few minor classes (Horror, Mini Movie Method, Maximum Entertainment and I was also part of the development team for the Thriller class) I then enrolled in the Master-program. It took almost 2 years to complete, but it was worth every late night, sweat and tears.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
My friends: Lillian, Caroline and Grethe have always been my champions. When I then told my sister and parents, I was worried they would not approve - but it meant so much when my father told me that he was happy that I found something I love, that encouragement and support are so valuable. And they like getting updates on my projects and productions I’ve been involved in. And of course, my kids…. They think it is cool to tell their friends that “mommy is a writer and writes movies”.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Success for me is being able to do what I love and have that be my main source of income. To keep getting writing assignments, creating my own stories - and that others love what I create. I try to set small goals each day, and success is when I’ve been able to complete them all.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Early Bird or a Night Owl?
I’m up late and up early. At night after kids are in bed, is when I get my own time and I find time to keep writing. But I also wake up early, and I love those moments of silence before everyone wakes up and chaos happens 😊
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
I’m starting a few new rituals now, to keep up with the “me-time” and taking better care of myself. I am not a coffee drinker, so I boil some water with ginger slices in it - and I drink that. I have an app for this Norwegian Radio station, so I listen to this in the morning. What do you do midday?
It’s different. I write whenever I can find the I have time. I also hike a lot. My past and my current day jobs would take me into the wilderness frequently, but I will also go hiking with my friends in my off time. I love this escape, as it allows me to renew my energy - and I get new ideas for my writing.
What do you do in the afternoon?
Try to get some relaxation time in. Quality time with the kids before their bedtime, maybe watch a show on tv. But it is also after here that I find the best time to write. Usually, I’ll set myself a little “goal” in the morning - today I will work on X, and then throughout the day as I am doing work or with my kids, I always have this in the back of my mind. Which is why I always carry a notebook with me - because when I get the idea or a breakthrough. I’ll write it - and then I get to work on it later at night. It can be something as simple as a character description I want to improve, or some dialogue I want to be changed.
How do you define a successful day?
Every day is a success in its own way. Ending the day on a happy note, thinking about progress - knowing I am one step closer to my dream.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Marketing and networking. Just as writing, this is just as important! How else will producers read your script if you don’t market it?! My confidence in that area has grown a lot by taking the classes I have. Along with learning and fine-tuning my writing skills and recognizing high concepts.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Dialogue and Character descriptions are areas I always feel I need to improve, so I am aware of these areas and learn and write every day to improve these skills.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Connections I’ve made. This being friends from my classes that I’ve connected with and we talk almost every day. Producers’ I’ve connected with. The screenplay that I worked on during my Master's program that was optioned, and working as an Office Production Assistant on the Utah Crew for Westworld Season 2.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
Everything! There is so much we can all teach and learn from each other. I love to learn something new every day. I never stop learning - and there is always things and areas to improve on. With my writing and with marketing/networking. It’s all connected. And I love it when I am asked for advice or for help, I love to share my knowledge.
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