In the Spotlight: Samantha Brennan
Time, Talent, & Tenacity is what it takes to find success as a screenwriter. Samantha Brennan has all three in spades. She has made sacrifices to put in the time, she is fervently dedicated to improving her craft, and there is absolutely no quit in this woman. I am excited to see what comes next out of Samantha and I am delighted to introduce you to her.
This is Samantha Brennan...
Growing up, my family moved around a lot. I was born in Santa Barbara, California with bleach-blonde hair. My father was the executive chef at the Four Seasons Hotel, so we went wherever his job sent him. We moved to Toronto, Canada not too soon after I was born. We stayed there for a couple of years before we moved to Boston where we finally settled for good. Both of my parents are chefs so growing up I had a wide variety of meal options. Unfortunately for them, I was a picky eater, and not only did I refuse to eat a wide assortment of foods, but I also needed my food kept in separate bowls. I’m better now, I promise.
I have one sister who, without exaggerating, is the exact opposite of me. She preferred to go out while I preferred to stay in. She ran for miles while I ran short sprints. She was sociable around others while I was miserable. She experimented with new foods while I stuck to my one bowl of broccoli. An empty house for her meant a party, an empty house for me meant never leaving the couch. However, despite all that, we got along pretty well, all things considered.
Q: How did you stumble upon screenwriting?
From an early age, I always experimented with different forms of writing. I tried poetry, short stories, journalism, YA books, and even novels. However, my biggest problem was that I wanted to write A LOT in a short amount of time. This left me with a ton of unfinished work. I would be in the middle of writing a story and then pursue a different idea that I thought was bigger and better. This was an endless cycle.
When I studied at the University of Tampa, I majored in writing and minored in film. As a part of my film minor, I took an intro to screenwriting class. I immediately fell in love with screenwriting and felt as though I finally found where I belonged. Instead of one scene taking up an entire chapter of a book, I could write it in only a few pages. I was able to write faster in a shorter amount of time, the exact opportunity I was looking for my whole life.
Q: Who/what inspired you into taking this path?
It’s not uncommon for people to admit that they feel “different from others”, but there’s no other way to describe my experience growing up. As a child, I struggled with several severe health issues. I remember being hooked up to a nebulizer while playing on my Gameboy. I remember having to stay inside for recess because my body would suffer an allergic reaction to any sudden temperature difference. I remember having to clasp my hands on my ears while watching the fireworks on New Year’s Eve because I had too many ear operations. To this day, I still suffer from medical issues, but they are easier to manage as an adult.
Writing became my creative outlet, a way to express myself properly because I never really knew how to explain the amount of pain I was in. My characters developed a “monster” within, an inescapable experience that plagued them each day. Through my characters, I was able to in some way show what I myself was struggling with.
Submit to the Script Summit
Screenwriting Contest & join our Facebook Writers Group
Q: Who was the first person who believed in you?
When I was little, I used to make these picture books made of paper with my aunt. I would create the illustrations and she would help me write the story as I didn’t know how to write my letters correctly yet. My aunt would always help me bring my ideas to life. My parents have been extremely supportive as well. They always helped me pursue whatever dream I had. My mom would always correct me and say “When” not “If”. “When you are a famous writer...” “When I see your movie on the big screen…” That mindset affected my self-confidence greatly.
As far as teachers go, I had my fair share of negative feedback. In high school, a teacher once told me that my poetry “doesn’t make sense” and that my short stories “have no clear point of view”. In college, I wrote for my college newspaper, and my professor once told me that when I transition from journalism to creative writing that I “take off my good writer’s cap.” It’s funny that as I answer this question the negative criticism is the first thing that comes to mind rather than the positive. In any case, I wrote a thesis paper about how the movie I, Robot is actually a sci-fi retelling of Pinocchio. As I waited on one of the cushioned chairs in the university lobby to have a meeting to discuss my thesis draft, my professor handed me my paper, took one look at me and said “Call me when you’re famous” and left. That was the best thing that had ever happened to me in college.
Q: When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a screenwriter?
In my introduction to screenwriting class, we had several prompts that were given to us over the course of the semester. One of the prompts was to write a short film script. I brainstormed an idea about three orphans who escaped their orphanage in pursuit of finding their birth parents. I dove into the story head-first and became engrossed within its pages. My characters were deeply developed, my scenes were heavy with descriptions, and my story had a clear arc. My finished product exceeded the page limit, and on the day my script was supposed to be read to the class, my professor took one look at the page count and immediately decided that my script needed to be “saved for last.” As other students struggled with writing the bare minimum, I couldn’t wait to write more. I think in that moment I knew that I wanted to become a screenwriter.
Q: How do you define success for yourself?
When someone is reading my script and becomes attached to a particular character or moment, that defines success for me. I want my scripts to be able to in some way connect to the reader, regardless of their demographic. I want the person who is watching my movie to see a character on screen and feel like someone has finally created a character they can relate to. Recently, I have been trying to cover more societal issues in my script to make them even more impactful. My scripts have more layers to them now and can reach a wider audience. If my Grandma can read my dark, twisted werewolf vigilante script and fall in love with the main character, then that is true success in my eyes.
Q: Give us a typical day in your life.
Teaching elementary and middle school classes in South Korea gives me a well-needed late start to my day. I typically work 12:00pm-8:00pm or 1:00pm to 9:00pm. When I wake up, the first thing I do is stretch out my arms and shout “NO!” into the air. As you can tell, I thoroughly enjoy my sleep. Then, I usually make a cup of coffee and have that along with a sweet pastry of some kind, such as a muffin. When my breakfast is ready, I sit cross-legged on my bed and watch Netflix up until the point where I have to get dressed and ready for work. I usually watch light and comical shows in the morning and save the night for the spooky series.
At work, I make lesson plans and prepare for the day. I teach four or five classes a day with a one hour lunch in between. My lunch usually consists of last night’s leftovers or something I picked up along the way to work from a convenience store. These days due to the coronavirus pandemic we have been holding online classes, but when we have offline classes, I usually get a few students a day who visit me in my office to casually chat. Sometimes I have my students pick a riddle for another class, so some students try to sneak into the office to see the answer before class starts. I love these chats I have with students because they are willingly visiting a teacher during their break time, something I probably never would have done growing up.
When I come home, I immediately start my assigned workout for that night. I have a personal trainer who I communicate with online. She sets a schedule for me and I check in with her each week. I usually blast my music and watch a TV show on mute with subtitles as I exercise, a pattern I inherited from my dad. Exercise and writing are the two things that probably keep me from going insane. After I exercise, I’ll either cook or order in (mostly order in) and watch an episode or two of a Netflix series. I normally watch anything with vigilantes or monsters.
On weekends, that is when I write. I usually pick one day to write, between 8:30pm and 11:00pm. I have to start writing between 8:30pm or 9:00pm. I’m not exactly sure why, it’s just my routine. Every time I write, I leave a note at the bottom about the scenes I want to write next, so I first get started on those. When I write a scene, I play a song on repeat that I think would go well with that scene. I don’t tell myself that there is a certain amount of pages that I have to write. Some days I’ll write five pages, some days I’ll write fifteen. It all depends on how I feel. I never force myself to write, that just makes bad writing and scenes I will inevitably erase. When I finish, I leave a note to my future self about the scenes I want to write next time.
Q: What’s been the most important skill you've developed on your path to screenwriting?
Adjusting my screenplay and deciding what I am adamant about retaining has been the most important skill I’ve developed on my path to screenwriting. With feedback that I am given, I have to choose between what I should change about my screenplay and what I think needs to stay the same. There’s a gut feeling I have when I feel like I have gone too far with rewrites and that my screenplay is not as impactful as it once was. I once had to turn down an opportunity for my screenplay to potentially get produced because a change in the ending would have completely flipped the story and the sequel would never come to be with that significant change. The sequel was one of my greatest achievements and I had to turn down the offer in order to keep the sequel intact. Knowing where to draw the line is extremely important as a screenwriter.
Q: What’s been the greatest challenge in your writing so far?
Inspiration is not difficult for me to find. When I begin a script, I already know the entire story structure as well as pivotal scenes/moments. My main obstacle is the page limit. All I want to do is to write more. Condensing my scripts into 120 pages or less makes me feel like I am stifling my creative freedom. I have to sacrifice so many scenes just to keep my page count in line with the industry standard. If I kept writing without any limitations, my scripts would easily exceed 160 pages.