Writer’s Corner is a place to get to know outstanding writers, talk about the craft of writing, career advice, share horror stories and find out more about compelling films, television shows, plays, etc. There’s so much great content out there being made by female creators, we should all be keeping an eye on these women.
Today we are featuring Susie Singer Carter
Susie, you directed two short documentaries “Women Who Wrote the Way” and “Breaking Good” about women writers. The two films were part of the WGAw’s celebration of Women’s History Month and screened before “9 to 5” and “Something’s Gotta Give.” I’d like to have you answer some of the questions you asked our fellow writers.
From “Women Who Wrote the Way:” How did you land your first professional job as a writer?
I love telling this story! It really highlights the idea that the most important thing a writer can do for his or her career is write. I was hired to associate produce and consult on a feature film, I had worked on two children’s series for the producer/director, and because of that and the fact that I had two young daughters, he thought I would be a great asset to the film.
During the casting callbacks for our four leads, our executive producer was becoming increasingly “agitated” with the level of talent he was seeing. He literally threatened to fire the casting director (who he LOVED and still does) and start over. During a session, I told the director I thought the girls were all great. I thought the material wasn’t giving them the opportunity to showcase their skills. I offered to write a dramatic and a comedic scene for them to use in their next callbacks. They accepted my offer. At the next session, the producer was thrilled with the talent AND the material. He asked where the scenes came from and it was pointed out that they came from me. Unbeknownst to me, the producer had been considering firing the current writer. Hearing my scenes helped him to make the decision. He turned to me and said, “Susie! These are fantastic! You’re hired!”
Another question from “Women Who Wrote the Way:” What has been your biggest professional obstacle and how did you overcome it?
I have to say that my biggest professional set back/obstacle was, ironically, what followed one of my proudest moments – which was being hired to write that feature film from the story above – entering into an arbitration that threatened my credit and ultimately losing both my writing and my associate producer credits. Not to mention, the sequel I had been hired for and had already started writing.
The producers were apparently confident enough in my contributions to the script that they had the studio print the one-sheet posters for the film with my name in first position followed by ultimately the credited screenwriter. In fact, the posters were already out in theaters.
The writer in second position triggered an arbitration, claiming the script was hers. She was the fourth writer who openly articulated how much she hated the project and was slowly sending her pages from her vacation home on an island. Not only were the producers unhappy her pages, they were frustrated with her lack of commitment and the speed in which the pages came in.
I honestly thought there was no possibility of me losing my credit. I went to the guild and consulted with head of the arbitration on how to proceed. She suggested I consider forfeiting my Associate Producer credit to improve my chances of keeping my credit. I declined the offer. I was 100% certain I could satisfy the required percentage. I asked if I needed a lawyer which was in some of the information I had read. She said it wasn’t necessary. She said my scripts, my outlines, and an extremely detailed statement should suffice. I was on it.
I turned in countless outlines and drafts – including the final shooting draft – along with a forensic statement that even identified the few lines we kept from the fourth writer’s pages. I was completely transparent. Despite everything, I lost the arbitration and was awarded zero writing credit. So, I appealed. At the appeal, the director came with me to speak on my behalf. He stated that not only was he a member of the DGA and SAG, he also belonged to the WGA. He said that although he respected the union’s process, he adamantly indicated that I was “the heart and soul and the voice” of his film. He went on to say, “If Susie doesn’t receive at least shared credit, it will be a dark day in Hollywood.” The panel replied that there was nothing they could do.
To add insult to injury, after losing the initial arbitration, I thought it was probably best to waive my Associate Producer credit. So, yep! Now I had lost both credits. I bring this up because I think that automatic arbitration and the idea of forfeiting other credits as a way of holding onto one’s writing credit needs serious rethinking. There was a time when their rule made sense. But in the current climate of our industry, it is an antiquated construct. With so many platforms available, there has been a huge shift in the industry whereby a large percentage of writers are classified as multi-hyphenate filmmakers. It’s more the norm than not. Therefore, a proposed writing credit for someone who is also a producer and/or director should not automatically trigger an arbitration nor play into the metrics used to determine one’s writing credit.
When the executive producer heard I had lost my credit, he was admittedly outraged. He called the credits department and told them they were a “kangaroo court”. As a final consolation, the executive producer wrote a short encomium thanking me for my “indispensable contribution” that ran at the start of the film’s end-credits crawl. But the guild forced its removal from all prints, reasoning that it “diminished” writer’s credit. It mentioned nothing about writing.
I bring this all up, not to complain. What was – was. But as the Guild has just sent out some proposed changes to our credit system, I think my story is timely and helps to highlight all that is wrong with the current system. The film continues to play to new young audiences and another writer is collecting my residuals. A year of my career life was erased as if it never happened. I also lost the sequel because the credited writer’s contract gave her first right of refusal for the sequel if she received sole credit. I would like to prevent this from ever happening again – to me or any of my colleagues.
As I am sure you can imagine, nothing can prepare you for the disappointment and scars that await (far too many screenwriters) who enter a Writers Guild credit arbitration hearing and are ultimately denied their credit due. Put bluntly, it’s sucks. Emotionally and financially. I had two choices: Give this set-back the power to ruin my career while I wallow in self-pity and live a life of blame for the rest of my days… or continue to write, get proactively involved in the guild and continue to build the career I have dreamed of. I chose the latter. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, smarter and a much better person.
And the final question “Women Who Wrote the Way:” What is the professional achievement you’re most proud of?
At the moment, I would have to say writing, directing and producing my short film, My Mom and The Girl… for SO many reasons. My passion for the story, which is based on my mother, pushed me in ways I could not have imagined. Many “firsts” were achieved! My directorial debut, my ability to raise money (something I have avoided like the plague), hiring an icon like Valerie Harper based solely on her reading my script, and, finally, experiencing the festival circuit. Doing the circuit was so rewarding! Besides the awards, it allowed me to visit places I’d never been to, introduced me to amazing pf filmmakers from all around the world and provided an opportunity to meet the audiences who time and time again were touched by this love letter we produced. I had the extreme honor of hugging and crying with countless strangers who would tell me I told their story. Who said, “Thank you”. It’s been an unexpected gift that I will always treasure.
I saw that you were interviewed in “Breaking Good.” How was the process of being in front of the camera sharing your experiences?
I have had to direct myself twice now! The first was in My Mom and The Girl and the second was in Breaking Good. Both times were extremely difficult! It is really challenging to be objective, especially with the subject matter being so personal in both projects. Thankfully, I had my producing partner, Don Priess, to be my ears and eyes. Not only is Don a wonderful director, we have worked together for so long that he knew exactly what I was looking for in both circumstances.
What are you working on next?
I am currently adapting the book Plain Jane (written by Barrie Levitt Knee) for the screen. It’s a great story that explores a modern moral dilemma that presents itself after the lead character undergoes IVF (in vitro fertilization). This is my first adaptation and I am enjoying the new challenges required for turning a book into a script. You need to strategically choose what content and which characters needed to make a compelling film, which means killing loads of babies. And you have to do it and maintain the integrity of the book and the author’s voice. I just turned in the first draft which I am really excited about!
Where can we see your films?
Bratz and Soul Surfer are available on pretty much every platform.
My Mom and The Girl is available on:
Women Who Wrote the Way: https://vimeo.com/208613890
Breaking Good: https://vimeo.com/266981218
What are your social media handles and website?
TWITTER – https://twitter.com/GoGrlMediaSusie
INSTAGRAM – https://www.instagram.com/susiesingercarter/
WEBSITE – http://gogirlmedia.com
REEL – https://vimeo.com/247432404