This week we would like you to meet Screenwriter Angela VanZandt.
1. What was the inspiration behind becoming a screenwriter? What do you enjoy most about the creative process?
I became interested in screenwriting when I was selling movies for a distributor. Writing seemed to be my destiny. My agents in LA were very encouraging and producers seemed to love my work. In the early years, the studios were very open to considering my work since I was helping them sell their movies. One of my feature projects was funded, but the funding was lost due to 911. After losing the funding, I was given immense encouragement from everyone involved in my pursuit to become a screenwriter. One of my agents, who is a notable figure, told me she had never seen anyone get as close to succeeding and promised I would eventually make it. Well-known producers mentored me, and the Film Commissioner of Arkansas promoted me. I eventually became a producer of short films and wrote many educational books.
I believe that the creative process begins at birth. Life experiences are the fabric of any story, but sewing the story together is my favorite part of the process. I love to give life to the stories in my mind and memory. I am a Southern writer and strive to capture the spirit of the American South. Those precious days when I actually capture the story on paper are the most enjoyable.
2. Can you take us through your process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
I am an extremely quick and prolific writer. I have written 12 scripts. Each takes from four to seven days to write in their entirety, with simple rewrites included. I hyper-focus and get into a “zone, ” and sometimes write for 15 hours straight and forget to eat meals. I like to write in a quiet, clean place and I need to be unencumbered with few distractions. I have never had writer’s block and have never run out of ideas or storylines. For these reasons, an executive producer has said that I should be a TV writer.
Currently, half of my scripts are in development with producers all over the world, and I truly believe they will make money if they are funded and if they are not stolen. I need to be involved in each project to make certain that the integrity of the story remains intact.
In addition to my scripts, I’ve made short films and written books for the State of Arkansas and they were successful. They are educational in nature. My films can be viewed on You Tube and my books are available via iBooks.
3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
There are many misconceptions about screenwriting, but the biggest is that most think a copyright registered with the U.S. Copyright Office guarantees that your work is protected. It does not. What helps guarantee that a work is protected is having sufficient funds to take action in Federal court against criminals who try to steal it.
4. What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?
When infringement of my work occurred, I spent a great deal of time to find an attorney, investing months calling virtually every Intellectual Property lawyer in the country, only to learn that most do not take contingency cases. I ultimately found a great attorney in Hollywood I paid in advance to handle certain aspects of the case. When I couldn’t afford him any longer, I became my own lawyer. I acted pro se on my case in Federal court and held my own during the case. I was a tiger. The only reason I did not continue was I was afraid I would have to pay legal fees if I lost my case. The Federal judge put a seal on my case even though the summonses were not sent. Due to the seal, I cannot discuss the details of my case.
What I can say is that, in my case, the studio was unaware that a producer had stolen my work. At that point in time there was nothing to do but move forward and hope for redemption, which I have already seen. However, I should also note that this sort of crime can cause serious health issues for the victim, and I am just now recovering.
On a positive note, good things are happening to me. Six of my twelve scripts are in development somewhere in the world now. I am also novelizing my scripts to help claim ownership. I got back on my horse and wrote three more scripts since the theft of my work occurred.
5. What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?
The cost of Federal court is a big challenge. I do have tons of evidence regarding my infringement and feel I would win if there were an affordable arena for such cases.
In fact, I believe that cases such as mine should be tried in small claims court, just as they are in the UK. The best writers are not necessarily wealthy, and can’t afford Federal court. I think our culture is suffering as a result.
Also, trusting those in the industry is hard. Never think that because a person is rich or famous that they are moral. I’s always awkward to ask upper level industry insiders to sign non-disclosure agreements because many of them are offended by this type of request. I have learned to trust my gut instincts concerning character and only do business with producers I feel are persons of integrity. I screen them as much as they screen me. As in any relationship, trust is everything.
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