Melissa has already left her mark as a screenwriter but even she knows there is still more to come on her own personal writer’s journey. Melissa has an understanding of how the film industry works which can only come from the experience of a professional. Ever grounded, she hasn’t let her success change who she is at her core. Melissa remains as humble, clever, and funny as ever and she still has the desire and passion to see where this life long path takes her. These are just a few reasons why she is so successful and it is my pleasure to introduce you to her.
This is Melissa Rundle...
I’m a Canadian American screenwriter some would say “of mixed heritage” but I much prefer the term “ethnic mess.” To keep it short, my mum hails from Calcutta and my Dad from Kobe but I’m everything from Armenian to Japanese.
I recently sold my one hour TV pilot “Molly” to Viacom (before that I had sold it to A&E - where it almost got made) and a feature I produced on, “Swimming for Gold” is opening in theaters across Australia in September. I’ve written five romantic comedies on Hulu, Netflix, and UpTV. I was staffed on the family drama “Date My Dad” where I wrote 3 episodes and I’ve written two-holiday specials for Cartoon Network.
I graduated with a BA in Women’s Studies and a BFA in Film Production from the University of British Columbia and armed with a goal to create strong female characters, I enrolled in USC’s School of Cinematic Arts for an MFA in Screenwriting.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
I hate to give the tired response of like, “Even before I was toilet trained, I knew I was a writer” but I watched a lot of great R rated films from a G rated age. I spent the school year with my mum in the city attending a private school and the summers with my Dad in a one-stoplight country town with orchards and fields - but to an asthmatic, severely allergic, little nerd girl it was a beautiful prison.
I was an only child (at the time) and there was f**k all to do. I rented every video at the local video store. I saw the Godfather when I was nine. I watched it on repeat for the whole summer. When I got back to the city the first thing I did was ask my school to order a copy of the screenplay. They were amused at the request. But they did it. That was it for me - I knew I wanted to be a screenwriter.
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Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
The coldest winter on record in Montreal. Sure, I had always loved storytelling - but under my parents' well-intentioned advice, I found myself going for the law program at McGill. It was also minus 30 degrees Celsius. I finally understood why Tibetan Buddhists include the image of a frozen hell to their spiritual oeuvre in addition to the classical one of flames. California and palm trees were looking pretty good. I swore from then on I would only wear long underwear by choice. Then I applied to USC.
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
My grandmother Iona who I named my daughter after. My best friend and wifey Alena - who willingly acted in all my videos at film school - and mind you, this is when I had just discovered Women’s Studies. She threw tampons at the camera and pretended to be domestically abused like a good sport. She’s also printed up every single one of my scripts. Think about that - who besides yourself and maybe your reps actually prints out all the scripts you write?
Next on the list is Director Mark Rosman. For my thesis script, I wrote a comedy feature called Plan B where three teen girls have 72 hours to get the morning after pill (based on a true story - sorry mom!). I interned for him and gave him the script. As soon as he read it he attached himself to direct it. He went through it with me page by page and we punched up jokes and worked on structure and arcs and all that good stuff. It was the best one on one learning experience.
Finally, there’s my writing partner/soul mate Eric. There’re so few people in the world whose creative input I trust implicitly and he’s the one! He just “gets” my voice and what I’m trying to do with a story and he’ll always take my script to that next level. Also - he’s really good at carrying things.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
I don’t want to sound redundant with the Godfather story again so how about this: I don’t think there was ‘one moment’, and if there was, I don’t remember it :) I do know that I can’t do anything else. Sure, I wouldn’t be as happy or fulfilled in another area, but I literally have no other marketable skills. I can think, type and breathe - that’s about it.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
Success to me is enjoying the journey and process. I try not to get caught up in the end goal - selling a pilot, getting whoever attached; or bracing myself for the wave of rejection, lateral move notes and creative urination I know is coming. (Creative urination - when everyone needs to leave their mark on your script to feel like they’ve contributed.) Also - and maybe this is my gallows humor, but success is also failing spectacularly. Check it out: If the opportunities that are falling through for you are glitzier and grander than the opportunities that were falling through for you a year or two ago - hey kid, you’re on your way.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
I’ve lived two lives in one. For these I’ll answer in “BC” - Before Child and “AD” - After Daughter. BC I was a night owl - I’d vibe out and write until 4 in the morning, get up at noon, listen to some reggae, go to the beach and then write and do it all over again. AD is another world. AD I get up at 5 am and race to my beautiful cranky daughter. My new routine is catering to the whim of this very tiny dictator. Honestly, I’ve never been more productive. The second she goes down for a nap - I’m writing. How I define a successful day though, has been constant through both eras. If I wrote and enjoyed what I wrote and the creative process - I had a good day.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Learning to trust my intuition. I’ve put off writing concepts because I listened to people saying that it wasn’t what ‘the market’ wanted (whoever ‘the market’ is) and I’ve always regretted it. Also - learning to take and implement notes. I do believe there’s a skill in homing in on what an exec is trying to tell you, even if they’re not articulating it in the best way, and making it work for the story you’ve created. I’m never married to anyone part of what I write - and who knows if the note makes the script better - great!
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
The gulfs of time in between great ideas. Sometimes after I’ve finished the last rewrite of the last script, I have a sinking feeling - Uh oh, what’s next? Where’s my next idea coming from? What if I never have a good idea again?! Hello, anxiety my old friend… But live and let go and the idea will eventually come.
Q: What’s been the greatest reward in the choices you've made?
I feel like choosing the writer’s path has been the greatest reward. I know I’ll never retire because there’s always going to be stories, I want to tell.
Q: What do you want to learn from a community of your peers?
The story of them! Their backstory, their origins, no two people are alike, and everyone has a great story within them.