In the Spotlight: Jodi Ippolito
Socrates: “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.”
Screenwriters are the observers and commentators of humanity. But in order to understand humankind, we first must know ourselves. We then take that understanding which allows us to pierce the veil into others and finally translate that into our work. As a Doctor of Psychology and University Professor, this is what Jodi finds himself doing with his screenwriting and is why I am excited to introduce you to him.
This is Jodi Ippolito...
I'm a 51-year-old, Jewish, man of transgender experience. I transitioned my gender 20 years ago during a time when doing so was not so commonplace. My experience of living my first 30 years of life as a woman and the last 21 years as a man offers a unique outlook on life.
I was born and raised in Miami, Fl, surrounded by music and politics. My father was a professional Jazz musician and my mother a staunch feminist. Suffice it to say, childhood was far from conventional for me. Exposure to people from various backgrounds played a key role in many of the life-related choices I made growing up.
My foray into the film industry started in 2010 when I founded Gender Reel, one of the countries only grassroots transgender film festivals. At the time, trans representation at more mainstream film festivals did not exist and I wanted to change that. Over the course of 10 amazing years, Gender Reel showcased 300+ films created by and about trans and gender diverse people, held dozens of Q&As with trans filmmakers, and won grants. During this time, I also wrote, directed, and produced the documentary, Growing Old Gracefully: The Transgender Experience. GOG explores the issue of aging in the trans community. This film was funded by grants from the Leeway Foundation, an organization that supports women and trans artists.
I began screenwriting two years ago. Sometimes, I wonder if I missed my calling, but quickly remind myself the 25-year-old me didn’t have the life experience and confidence needed to do then what I am doing now. Getting where I am today has been a layered experience, with many intentional turns and other not-so-obvious twists. But here I am... a screenwriter in the making.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
Tripped over is probably a better way to describe it. I’ve always loved to write, but my minimalist way with words made novel writing difficult. I wrote academically for years, but never quite satisfied my “creative” side. One day, I happened upon a copy of a pilot for one of my favorite television shows. After reading it, I was intrigued and curious and decided to try screenwriting. Fang has since placed well in four screenwriting contests and is on the Red List.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
My desire to find a creative outlet inspired me to follow this path. After reading dozens of scripts, watching scriptwriting seminars on YouTube, and writing my first pilot, I knew screenwriting was pointing me in the right direction.
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Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
My father was the first person who believed in my writing ability. As a kid, I would write science fiction stories and he would edit them. He always pushed me to try new things. My dad died 15 years ago, but his love and encouragement still push me to try new things like screenwriting.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
I decided to become a screenwriter during the summer of 2019, after writing, Fang. The process felt natural and innate, and I just knew screenwriting was something I wanted to do.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Unlike younger writers, I’m entering the screenwriting process as a second career. As such, success is relative for me. Don’t get me wrong, optioning a spec script someday would be wonderful, but I’m not dependent on that to make “me.” I’ve already achieved success as a Doctor of Psychology and University Professor. In fact, I plan to retire from the Psychology field in 10 years, at which point, I hope to be a screenwriter full-time. Experts say it takes ten years to master something, which will make me 61. Perhaps, then, if not before, I will see one of my ideas come to fruition on the big or small screen.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Feed the cats, sweep the floor and
Do you have a morning routine or ritual? As I get older, my routine seems to get longer.
Gone are the days of jumping out of bed, taking a quick shower and running out of the house. Today, I have animals to feed, vitamins to take, and news to watch. I need, at least,
two hours in the morning to myself if I expect to start my day off right.
What do you do at night? Read scripts and watch great television series or independent films.
How do you define a successful day? Completing all the life-related tasks listed above and
Working on my screenwriting no less than two hours a day.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
If I had to pinpoint one primary skill developed on my path to screenwriting it would be
developing a character’s backstory. Without a solid backstory, it’s hard to create a character
the audience relates to or cares about. Having a great concept and/or solid storyline means
nothing if your characters are underdeveloped or cliché.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
My greatest challenge has been learning to structure a script. While good scriptwriting software helps, I had to figure structure out on my own since I have no formal screenwriting education. Obviously, I’ve read books on the subject and analyzed dozens of scripts, but it’s still a work in progress.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
I’ve reeked many rewards in my life based on the choices I have made. When it comes to screenwriting, it comes down to discovering a visual style of writing that allows me to challenge myself creatively.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
There are many things I’d like to learn from a community of scriptwriting peers. However, feedback on ways to make dialogue better would be helpful.