In the Spotlight: Jenna St. John
Producer, screenwriter, ballerina are just a few of the talents Jenna has in her wheel house. Jenna has blazed her own path and wouldn’t settle on leading a conventional life like most of us would. No, she chose to follow her inner passions which led her to a life that is well lived. She is proof that all you need to do is follow your passion and success will come. This is why I am excited to introduce you to this amazing screenwriter.
This is Jenna St. John...
I was born and raised in Seoul, South Korea and attended an International American School until I moved to the US when I was 16. From there, I went to Colorado State University on a full scholarship for Computer Science and quickly realized my excellent high school Computer Science teacher fooled me into thinking I was good at it. Barely keeping my head above water, my advisor asked me what I was interested in, which were all things you did for “fun” such as write stories, dance, and theatre. She gave me the wise advice of changing my major to the class that came easiest for me so I would have the energy to continue exploring all my other interests. So I changed my major to English with a Creative Writing concentration and lost my STEM Scholarship.
I went to grad school in the Washington D.C. Area for Fiction Writing and then danced ballet at a small company, still writing, acting, until a hip injury pushed me into the freelance world full time in 2012. I moved to LA because I felt like I needed to live in the place I wanted to work in and began producing to pay the bills.
I wrote and produced my first feature film in 2014, Dinner with the Alchemist, that's now available on streaming platforms; wrote and produced an independent episodic half hour comedy called Sexpectations, currently in post production.
I currently live in Los Angeles with my husband (Kevin), cat (Kingsely), and toddler son.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I wrote short stories and performed as long as I can remember. My closest friends came from ballet classes and school theatre productions. So when it was my turn to host a middle school sleepover, I wrote a horror movie to film in order to give us an activity to do. So with my dad's camcorder, fake blood and no curfew, I made my first movie from my first script. I had convinced my friends to bring their little sisters to play the younger versions of us in the horror movie, so with my cast and crew ages six to eleven, a bucket of blood and wandering the hillside of Seoul until the sun came up, I had my introduction to filmmaking.
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Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
So many movies: I watch everything Aranofsky makes because his obsessive characters fascinate me, I watch The Muppets Christmas Carol every Christmas because it puts me in the Christmas spirit, I watched Ever After nearly everyday of my freshman year of college because I loved falling in love with that sexy French prince everyday, and I watch nearly everything defined as comedy because I love laughing. I love feeling moved by fantastic performances from brilliant writing.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
My father always believed in me and was the one who introduced me to storytelling. He was an excellent writer and told my sister and I stories before bedtime every night from before memory. While most parents of artistically minded children were warning them to “not put all their eggs in one basket,” my parents were the opposite. It turns out, societal pressure to pursue something “stable” was enough to make me feel like I needed have a “real major” in college to land a “real job.”
My father cautioned my choice of going to college on my STEM scholarship. “Don't give up the writing,” my father said. I probably rolled my eyes and said something to the effect of, “Oh Daddy.” When I changed my major and lost my scholarship, there was this breath of relief, like I was going down this dangerous path of unhappy 9-5 and I had finally found my way.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
When I knew I wanted to become a screenwriter for a living was shortly after grad school, just having been cast as a day player prostitute in a TV show... again. I was tired of seeing the same white-washed nearly all male cast and decided to write the movies I wanted to see. I knew it was going to be a long journey to write something good, but I wanted to do it. And then do it again.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Tina Fey is my career idol. I want to write movies that entertain and move audiences. Hopefully as I get better, my scripts will find a larger and larger audience. I'm characteristically unsatisfied with the present (yes, I know, I need to take more yoga) and will probably always have my eyes set on the next milestone after reaching one. So, I guess if I had Tina Fey's career, future me would probably want future Tina's career.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life:
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl? Night owl naturally, but I get up at 7am every morning to get the toddler out the door for daycare.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Drink coffee. I trudge out of bed and plant on the dining room table until my morning latte is delivered to me by my husband. The first two cups of coffee are vital to my day.
What do you do during the day? I work - typically producing. My husband and I run a small production studio where we make TV commercials. Those pay the bills. I produce the shoots, he directs, shoots, and edits the ads (with a small team) and I ship them off to stations. I write and spend time on one of our passion projects everyday.
What do you do at night?
Feed the baby dinner and put him down for the night, then I'll head off to an evening ballet class a few nights a week, and I will most definitely have more work to do. If I'm lucky, I'll catch a movie on Netflix.
How do you define a successful day?
A productive day! Because I work from home typically, I have a clock-in, clock-out app on my phone called ClockPunch. It keeps me diligent and accountable.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
I love rewriting. I rely heavily on receiving notes and I attempt to apply them all. Even the ones I disagree with, I'll at least give it a go and often times surprised by the result. Rewriting is most fun part of the process for me: seeing the script start to take shape into something better and better with a few experiments in the midst. I use contests as a litmus test: when a script starts placing regularly, I know it's getting closer.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Getting notes! My husband is my constant reader and reads so many versions of everything I write. Coverage can get pricey and I have very talented screenwriter friends that I'm lucky will give me their eyes and thoughts, but I seem to always want more and more eyes.
On a structural standpoint, second acts are tough, more specially the first half of the second act. Typically I have to keep returning to square one a few times since going back to basics always seems to reveal the problem. Comedy is tough because it's easy to lose perspective- things just seem less funny the longer I sit with them.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
The life I'm leading! I have a “day job” in film/TV that pays the bills that I enjoy- and I'm writing.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
So much! Everything! I don't know what I don't know - and I want to know that thing! The best part of screenwriting is that the power is entirely i