Interview with writer Deborah Williams

  • What is the first story you ever wrote?

Writing for films is something I started later in life though the interest in films has always been with me from an early age.  My first story was written for an amateur theatrical fund-raising group but never produced as a musical performance. The play had the title of ‘Star Trekkin – The Musical’ and was a spoof on all things Sci-Fi. I have since rewritten that general idea of a story into a feature-length animation script, sans the musical selections.

  • Growing up, what movies or stories inspired your creative passion?

Not that I realised it at the time, the films that made an impact and I remember vividly ended up being the ‘classic films’.  Films by Hitchcock, Ford, Lean followed by Spielberg, Scott, Altman and Polanski. Some of my favourite Australian films include Picnic at Hanging Rock (dir. Peter Weir), My Brilliant Career (dir. Gillian Armstrong) and the quirky Malcom (dir. Nadia Tass), Cosi (dir. Mark Joffe) and Death in Brunswick (dir. John Ruane). I believe the inspiration for my stories and characters evolved from funny, irreverent and dark tales of human behavior.

  • For an unknown writer, what is the best way to get their screenplay seen?

As an unknown writer trying to be noticed and then not being noticed and consequently losing confidence I would recommend scriptwriting competitions or festivals as a beginning point. If anything these types of competitions give deadlines to work towards. And, cover every genre with many providing valuable feedback. Others, if one is lucky enough will include the script in their festival. I have attended or been invited to attend several scriptwriting-to-production type workshops over the years and though the information gained was valuable my story ideas or scripts went no further. I began to lack confidence in my writing ability. However, my need to write did not fade away. And, on returning to Australia (in 2020 due to the pandemic) and with time on my hands I started working on scripts, again. I needed feedback and an indication of how my writing was progressing which led me to enter several short scripts into festivals and writing competitions. The feedback and acknowledgment has been positive and given me renewed interest in continuing with my writing. Though, I have had scripts produced I am still waiting for that ‘big break’ and will continue to take steps toward achieving that ambition.

  • What experiences from your life influence your characters?

Just about everything from childhood memories, to family stories real and exaggerated. Even some ancestors have influenced my characters. I was privileged to live and work overseas recently, in countries where English is not a second or even third language.

  • Can you explain your character development process?

For the short scripts where I use minimal dialogue I concentrate on writing visually to tell the story. This forces me to really flesh out and understand the characters to convey who they are and what they desire by visual cues only. This was a decision I made when writing the short scripts as a process that will eventually assist when further developing characters in the long form stories.

  • Do you write bios before you start writing?

For the short script characters I tend not to write character bios beforehand and develop them as I do rewrites. Usually these characters have ‘lived and developed’ in my head and I just need to begin writing them. Longer scripts are different and I do write a bio and backstory for the main characters and brief outlines for minor characters.

  • How emotionally involved are you with the characters you create?

I can get quite emotionally involved with my characters whether they are the main protagonist or bit players. Some more than others of course. I have to remind myself to be careful doing this as it can undermine the character. Meaning I don’t give them their full range of emotions, actions and reactions with the fear that I may make them unlikeable. Or, too shallow and weak and very much ‘two dimensional’.  

  • What are your thoughts on structure?

Structure is important and I do adhere to the principle – mostly – when creating my scripts long and short. I suppose that is due to the training undertaken and to the many films I have watched. However, what I enjoy about writing short scripts is the opportunity to experiment and push the boundaries of story structure.

  • Do you outline before you start writing?

I outline for longer scripts as it helps to keep on track with the characters and their journey arcs. For shorter scripts I may make some notes and a ‘rough outline’ for the story.  I also create thumbnail storyboards of the short script stories when they are intended for animations.

  • What is the most important aspect of building a great character?

Making them believable and relatable to a viewer. Their humanity and resilience to whatever gets thrown at them. And, to continue editing and refining the character as the screenplay progresses.