There are writers and then there are screenwriters. We are a bit of a different breed. We are the modern purveyors of the human condition. We weave our stories into a medium meant to be experienced on a visceral level. This takes a unique person to master. Someone who can experience life truly through its highs, lows, and everything in between. This requires a level of dedication, love for the craft, and mindfulness of one's self to create a script worthy of being "on the big screen." Kathryn Orwig has those very attributes and I am excited to introduce you to her.
This is Kathryn Orwig...
Some things I write are about Marble Rollers, Dream Chasers, Cursed Pirates, and Queens who were never born to wear a crown. I graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in Creative Writing and minors in Russian and Russian Studies. I won a Summer Hopwood Award Nonfiction in 2017 and had short stories and poems published in the anthology Confined Connections by Z Publishing House. This past year, I spearheaded an anthology titled Bring Your Words, with nine other authors to be published by Fifth Avenue Press this July.
I enjoy spending hours searching for long-dead ancestors and imagining their lives. I also love hiking, kayaking, and the outdoors unless there is sky fire reigning. I don't do sky fire. (AKA Lightning! Fire...from the sky...that doesn't get put out by water! There’s something inherently evil in that to me...)
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I was a novelist first, and in my senior year of college I had a friend from LA who read one of my manuscripts and told me how visually descriptive it was and how he thought I’d be great at screenwriting. 11 days later, I had written my first screenplay based off of that story. I found I loved writing in the style of scripts with the fragmented sentences, fast, short dialogue, and ability to show multiple points of view while retaining elements of mystery of the story that I just couldn’t capture the same way with novels.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
The Screenwriting Professors at the University of Michigan (Jim Burnstein, Dan Shere, and Oliver Thornton) are amazing and inspired me to keep writing from their spot-on and encouraging feedback. Winning my first Screenplay competition after one feature script class, with my first short film script, which I outlined, wrote, and re-wrote in two weeks, also gave me a great drive and feeling of “I can do this!”
Attending the National Film Festival for Talented Youth in 2018 opened this whole new world to me of 14 to 24-year-old filmmakers who were screening their work around the country and world, making their own films, winning awards, and telling their stories. Coming from a small town, I had not known something as exciting as actually creating films was possible as a career, and I wanted to do it too. I had always loved creating stories, and now there was a career path that was accessible where those stories jumped to the screen and could be seen by many. I was enthralled.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
My parents were always supportive of my endeavors, even though they weren’t writers themselves. My sixth-grade teacher, Patty Anton, was an amazing woman that believed in me, and it was in her class I first wrote that I wanted to be a journalist, a writer. But my creative writing teacher at the University of Michigan, Susan Rosegrant, was the first person I felt believed in my writing outside of my family. I was in her short story class where we were supposed to come in with a new 4-page piece each week. Well, one week I came in with 40 pages of a story, and said, “you don’t have to read it all, but I had to write it all.” She read those pages, put them down on her desk, and said, “My God, you really can write.” That was my moment of someone truly believing in me and my writing.
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Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
I took a couple of classes for scriptwriting, and in my very first one, I realized I was different, as many in the class struggled with getting a few pages in. For me, I wrote 55 pages in two days and was excited to finish my responsibilities for the day so I could go back to the script and write more. I knew I wanted to write in this style, with fragment sentences and quick dialogue, because I always wrote dialogue first in my novels and filled out the descriptions second. When writing, it’s as if the world is there but I’m in the world of the story, seeing and hearing what’s going on there as if I was a part of the movie. Screenwriting comes naturally to me.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
I feel successful when I am accomplishing tasks on my “I want to” list that usually heralds both things I actually want to do, like write, and things I have to do, like dishes. But as long as I am writing, able to create and explore the world around me with those I love, that’s a successful achievement to me. I started working at 11 years old and 9 months after completing a babysitting course through Red Cross and by the next weekend, I was out watching other people’s children. Striving to be a perfect daughter, student, worker, I only had time to write in very brief moments so I learned to write fast (I write 110 pages in 4 days usually). But every day that I am working towards my goals and able to write, able to not worry about money, and love being alive, that is a success to me.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
Are you an Early Bird or a Night Owl?
I am that peppy morning person heading out the door for a morning hike or speeding through pages before lunchtime with a break for a wild blueberry, strawberry smoothie or yoga tossed in as I’m a big believer in breaking things up whenever it feels sluggish.
When do you get up?
Usually between 6-7 am, earlier if the little ball of fluff puppy wants to get going. He’s 100 percent my alarm clock.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?
I have a big old tree out my window and it’s the first thing I see every morning and I smile because I love that color of green against the morning blue sky of a day full of promise. And then promptly coffee or tea so I can actively write as fast as I can with an awake mind.
Do you have a morning routine or ritual?
Haha! I try to. It is get up, play with the puppy, have breakfast, and then write to my heart’s content. I’ll think 45 minutes have gone by and realize it’s been hours because I was so lost in the story. But typically days on repeat have never been my passion, I like new and exciting things, experiences, and meeting people new and old (I’m an extrovert!). The one constant is writing, but even then I never put a word count goal or a page limit to the day. I will write down the scene I see in my head as I see it, break and go do something with my hands so my head has freedom to roam, and when the next scene comes I go and write that down until the scenes stop coming and I have my story. Then revising comes after all the initial tension and pace of the story has been set. I always find the core message of the story, or the bones, remain no matter how many revisions it goes through. I believe that the tension of a script is found in the initial passion of writing those words down as fast as possible.
What do you do during the day?
Sometimes I research my ancestors for interest or for a story, sometimes I write letters on my old 1920’s typewriter, but mostly I write scripts, novels, poems or short stories, read, take care of said puppy (really he is wonderful, just a little handful at 16 weeks!) and take many breaks for food, walks, friends and family. I try to check something off of my to do list so I’m always trying something I haven’t before and wanted to: like traveling to a new place or making a new dish, trying out boxing, or paint pouring.
What do you do at night?
The night is reserved for the watching of movies/TV, reading, and tea-drinking or star-gazing. I come from Northern Michigan and the outdoors, campfires, lake life all are important aspects to me. I try to do some small-town things while living in the city, especially when I feel the bustle of keeping oneself ever “productive.” I slow down and remember that it’s more than satisfactory to stop, sit, and watch the sky change colors for an evening with those you call family.
Do you have a pre-bed ritual?
I like to charge my laptop the night before so I can get going in the morning first thing. Otherwise, I love to read before bed for an hour or so (if I get sucked in and forget the time that turns into a much later bedtime than anticipated!) I always keep a pen and paper beside my bed as well, because when that initial idea for a screenplay is brewing, lines will jump out at me from half-dreams and I race to find that blasted pen (I swear I just had it here!) in the dark to capture them.
How do you define a successful day?
Have I laughed today? Not a small one but a big old belly one that made my face hurt? Have I written something I wanted to? Have I connected with family or friends? Have I enjoyed my meals? Have I helped out someone today? Living life in the way that makes me most happy, is all I ever need to do to keep moving forward with my goals and dreams and take delight that I have had this day.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
When someone is giving you feedback, it’s important to hear the note behind the note. And with that comes trusting they’ve picked up on something you also know is not quite right or it’s not coming off as you intended it to. Being able to hear that something is not working means you have something to fix, and you can’t have anything to fix if it’s not on the page. So get your idea on the page, and then fix it.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Coming from novel writing with 400 pages of time and room for characters to grow and me to spend with those characters, to 60 page TV scripts and 110 movie scripts has been the biggest challenge. Because I don’t yet feel as if I know all my characters well within this “short” of page count. And so, I do not mind the rewriting process at all because that is where I get the space and time to really hone in on them and what they would think of this moment, or that one.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
Screenwriting in particular has given me experiences with film festivals and filmmaker friends from all over the world that I could never have dreamed of when I first started with a pen and loose-leaf papers bound together before I could afford to buy a laptop. I have gone further than I knew possible, and hope to go further yet. So the greatest rewards have been the people and experiences I’ve had on this journey so far and the dream of what is to come.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
How do they craft their stories? What do they always keep in the back of their heads when writing? How do they take an idea and choose from all the possibilities for that scene? I’m interested in so many aspects of people in general and always want to know more about them, their dreams, their beliefs, why they do what they do, and do they love it? There is so much to learn by listening and speaking with each other, reading and seeing their works, never-ending possibilities.
The Successful Screenwriter Podcast - (Episodes)
We Fix Your Script - (Free Consultation)
InkTip - (List your script)
International Screenwriting Association - (ISA Connect)
WriterDuet - (Screenwriting Software)
Bulletproof Screenwriting - (Script Coverage)
Indie Film Hustle Academy - (Screenwriting Courses)
Krista Keller Talent - (Management)
The Robb Company - (Management)