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 Alison Peck
Alison Peck earned a BFA with honors from the University of Southern California’s John Wells Division of Writing for Screen and Television. UglyDolls is Peck’s first produced feature film. It is inspired by the unique and beloved global plush toy phenomenon launched in 2001 and stars an amazing group of voice talent including Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Janelle Monáe, Blake Shelton, Wanda Sykes, Gabriel Iglesias, Wang Leehom, Emma Roberts and Pitbull. STXfilms released UglyDolls on May 3, 2019. Additional development credits for Peck include the upcoming teen dance movie Work It for Alloy Entertainment to be produced by Alicia Keys, which is currently casting, and her R-rated female comedy film You Can’t Keep a Good Girl Down. Born in New York and raised in Houston, TX, Peck lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.
I loved UglyDolls. I went to see it with my mom and daughter and it pleased all three generations. Can you tell us about the process of writing the script? How did you land the job? What was the development process like? How long did it take between getting the job and seeing the film in theaters? Did you make any personal discoveries as you wrote?
Thank you! Writing UGLYDOLLS was an intense but creatively rewarding experience. I had another project with STX so they asked me to help out on the script a little over a year before the movie was released. The process was very collaborative. Even though we were on a very tight schedule (I think barely any of us slept that year!), the studio and director Kelly Asbury gave me a lot of space to try different things within the story. I wrote several drafts of the script, and once we went into production, I was writing sequences and delivering as I completed them. Personally, while writing this I realized that the message the film tells—that our flaws make us special, that we should accept each other for who we are, that we should love ourselves—is a message that people of all ages really need to hear, especially now.
Did you always want to be a writer? How did you get into the business?
I always wanted to be a writer! I studied screenwriting at USC, and while I was in school I landed some internships off the UTA Joblist. Then those led to permanent jobs after graduation, so I did the assistant thing at production companies until I was able to make the leap into full-time writing.
You have other projects in development that are live action. Can you talk about the differences between writing animation and live action? Are there more similarities than differences? Do you prefer one or the other?
I come from a live-action background, so this was definitely an adjustment for me. But I found that I truly love both mediums. For animation, I felt it was a bit more collaborative than live action, because with animation, you have the ability to work with story artists, see what they come up with, and incorporate it into the script. It was a lot of back and forth, a lot of adjustments based on feedback. The turnaround times are faster because you’re delivering sequences so they can be boarded as you write the rest (at least during production). With live-action, it’s more of a solitary experience during the writing process and then you turn in the draft for notes… though sometimes that’s easier because you can write in order at your own pace. So, there are pluses and minuses to both mediums, and a lot of it depends on where you are in the production process, too.
What was your journey like from aspiring writer to having a produced theatrical credit? I know it’s usually a long road with many false starts and detours. What was it like for you?
It was definitely a long road! After I graduated film school, I was working as an assistant at production companies and writing scripts at night. I did that for about five years and decided I had to try writing full-time, so I quit my day job, thinking it would be hard but that I’d sell something in the next couple years. Oh, the optimism of youth! What followed was years and years of about a billion false starts—I can’t tell you how many times I got so close to selling something or getting hired to write something, and then it would just completely fall apart at the last minute or they’d pick someone else. It’s the nature of the beast though, especially writing features. But I kept at it, and eventually I was prepared enough and in the right place at the right time to get my first paid gig writing a feature that ultimately didn’t get made. But it led directly to so much of the work I’m doing now, so I would say to anyone trying to break in to just keep at it, keep writing, keep meeting people, and never give up.
I love asking writers about failure and rejection since we have to deal with so much of that in our business. How do you deal with rejection? Do you have any good stories about overcoming failure? Maybe a challenge or failure inspired you to write something new or to take a risk you didn’t think you ever would?
I’m still learning how to deal with rejection, because I put so much of myself into my writing that when I get negative feedback, it’s easy to take it as a personal offense. But you have to remember that it’s not personal, and maybe a “no” has nothing to do with your writing ability at all. The best advice I received is that after you’ve wallowed over a failure or rejection, you need to sit back down and write. It’s kind of like getting back on the horse, but more importantly, it’s easier to move on from a setback and avoid catastrophizing your career when you have something else you’re excited about and working on.
Also, something I’ve learned is that just because you’ve sold something or got something made or signed with an agent, it doesn’t mean that suddenly everything’s super easy and you can just sit back and relax. At every level of success, I always catch myself thinking, “Okay, you’ve made it! Now comes the easy part!” and then I realize, there probably is no easy part to this business (sorry if that’s a downer!). I will say though, the way things feel “easier” is that people trust you more, you get more exciting material sent to you, you meet new people… but you still have to work. You have to keep pushing, you have to keep writing.
Do you have a passion project that has yet to be produced? Can you tell us about that?
I have an R-rated female comedy about sisters called YOU CAN’T KEEP A GOOD GIRL DOWN, and I’d love to find a great director and cast to take this one to the finish line.
What advice would you give your young self about writing if you could go back in time?
Be very specific and intentional in your writing. Push yourself. I spent a lot of years writing “safe” projects—projects that were just pleasant and funny and fine. But once I started really pushing myself to tap into my own unique voice, to be more outrageous, to be more specific and clear in what I was trying to say and why I was telling this story, things started happening for me career-wise.
Is there a lesson about writing or the film industry you feel that you’ve learned the hard way? Anything you’d do differently if you could?
I try not to do a lot of “what ifs” because I generally believe I wouldn’t be in the place I’m in had I not experienced what I experienced. But sometimes I wonder if I should have worked at an agency early in my career. What happens at an agency was always a mystery to me, and I think I would have initially been less intimidated and more secure if I knew how that business worked.
What are you working on now?
My live-action teen dance comedy WORK IT is currently in production, and I’m super excited! I’m also taking out some feature and TV pitches I’m really stoked about.
Where can we support you? See your films, buy your stuff?
Own UGLYDOLLS on digital 7/16 and on Blu-Ray and DVD 7/30!
What are your social media handles, website etc.