Earlier tonight, I had the good fortune to meet two screenwriters I absolutely adore: Diablo Cody, Academy Award-winning screenwriter of Juno, Jennifer’s Body, Ricki and the Flash and the recently released Tully, and Aline Brosh McKenna, writer of The Devil Wears Prada and 27 Dresses and co-creator of the hit CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
It was at a Writers on Writing event sponsored by and held at the Writers Guild of America West. Diablo was there to talk about her approach to writing and creative projects, and Aline acted as moderator (and did a damn fine job, too!).
Diablo talked about a number of things, including how she juggles her career with motherhood, why she prefers television to the film industry, and what her weakness is as a writer.
“Male characters,” she said, admitting that she finds it challenging to write roles for men. She then jokingly “pitched” a show featuring male protagonists: “Bros! Coming soon to Starz.”
But the focus of the night certainly wasn’t on men. When Aline asked Diablo where she gets her ideas, the latter answered, “I look for the story that has not been told. I look for the voice that hasn’t been heard.”
One of those stories was the inspiration for Tully. “I hadn’t seen a mainstream film about postpartum depression,” mother-of-three Diablo said.
Another fascinating thing about Diablo is that, unlike most Hollywood screenwriters, all of her screenplays are written on spec, and she doesn’t take writing assignments. No superhero adaptations for her.
“If I wrote Wonder Woman 2,” she said to laughs from the crowd, “it’d be so bad.”
She recognizes that this sort of autonomy for a writer is extraordinary, and champions her collaborators for protecting her work, namely directors Jason Reitman, Karyn Kusama, and Jonathan Demme.
One project she did take a call for, however, was the theatrical production of Alanis Morissette‘s Jagged Little Pill. Diablo wrote the book for the musical, which is an original story based on the songs on Morissette’s seminal 1995 album.
And when asked what a typical writing day is like for her, Diablo said, “I’m most productive when I’m the least healthy … Jaws would drop if people knew what I ate.”
She confessed to making trips to the gas station for donuts “wrapped in plasticine” (although she likely meant cellophane) and bags of Cheetos.
“Not the snack-size bags,” Diablo said. “The big bags.”
During the Q&A period, I asked Diablo if, after winning the Oscar for Juno, folks were apprehensive about her follow-up, Jennifer’s Body. After all, as a horror flick, it’s sort of the outlier in her filmography.
She acknowledged that, yes, genre-wise, Jennifer’s Body is the outlier, but it still fit in her oeuvre because of its feminist themes. “The marketing department didn’t know what to do with it,” Diablo said. “All they cared about was, ‘Megan Fox is hot, we gotta get teenage boys in the theater.'”
Afterward, I spoke with Aline and she gave me some advice on my screenwriting journey. When I told her that I’ve got three specs in different genres, she told me to stick with one.
“You don’t want to confuse people,” Aline told me. “Once you break in, then you can [hop around and] write what you like.”
As for Diablo, when I introduced myself one-on-one and told her my name, she said that she liked it.
“I’m a fan of pseudonyms,” she said, following up with words of encouragement to keep me focused on my creative endeavors. And then, of course, we had to take a selfie, which you can see at the top of the page.
All in all, it was a great time. When people ask me why I left New York to move to Los Angeles, I can cite this as yet another reason. I’m in the thick of things, meeting the folks I need to meet in order to keep the dream alive and make things happen. And something will happen, y’all. I can feel it.