Australian screenwriter Andrew Emmerson is at the beginning of his career, which starts and ends with writing like crazy. Growing up in the bush he moved to Sydney for school, and after graduating from university with an Arts degree in Media he threw himself into work, interning for Nickelodeon and The Media Tribe in Australia, before he was accepted to AFTRS (Australian Film Television Radio School) where he received an Advanced Diploma in Screenwriting for Series Television. In his words “It lit a fire under me.”Since then, he has spent all his free time writing, creating original scripts for series and film, as well as writing spec scripts for his favourite series.
Exclusive Interview with Andrew Emmerson – Screenwriter
NY Glam: What projects are you currently working on?
I wrote a short play in 2016 called “The Red Planet” – it was a comedy about a group of astronauts traveling to Mars to colonise it, only to discover it is already inhabited by Martians that have somehow evaded detection all this time.
What I’m currently working on is a very rough adaptation of that play. A team of astronauts are going to explore a distant planet when they slip through an anomaly in space. Crash-landing on an alien planet, their pilot missing, they are viewed as refugees and criminals. They are imprisoned, only to discover they are no longer in the same part of space or time and humans are all but extinct. What follows is a journey to survive and understand new planets and people and evade the sinister forces that don’t want humans to ever return.
I spent my Christmas break plotting the first season, and I’ll be scripting it shortly.
NY Glam: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
I think it comes down to two things – story and character. Whilst they’re equally important, if your characters aren’t interesting, your story won’t shine. You can have the most impressive story in the world but if your audience doesn’t connect with the characters, most people will ultimately switch off.
It’s easier the other way around – characters that are fun to watch will surpass story issues, but you can’t just have a strong character with witty one-liners and ignore the fact that you’ve got a terrible story. You need that balance of a great story that uses your characters as much as is needed for that story, which in turn allows the characters to grow. The relationship between good story and character should be symbiotic – if you’ve got one without the other, you’ve got a big problem.
Personally, I love dialogue. Sharp, clever dialogue is my favourite thing to watch – but difficult to do well without making a scene just talking heads or filled with exposition.
NY Glam: As a screenwriter, what is the most important aspect of building a character?
Figuring out the voice of a character is probably the most important part of building a character – but that’s surface level. To find the voice, you need to know who they are at their core, what their drive is, who they are. There’s no instruction manual to this, but the thing is more doesn’t hurt!
You can spend a long time figuring out a fatal flaw, giving them a starting point so they have room to grow (essential), family, friends, a tragic backstory – the more you know about your character, the easier it will be to get into their head and start writing for them. I usually try things out in my head to see if they make sense. If it works, great! If not, I try again. I’ve gotten out of a number of jams by twisting character aspects until something clicks. “Would that character work better as a woman?” “Where have they been for the past 5 years?” “How’d they get that hook for a hand and how would that make them act differently?” – everything is important and the more you know, the better your writing will be.
It’s hard to tell when you’re ready to start writing a character. I try to write a scene in their voice and if I like that scene, I’ll continue. If not, I’ll try the scene again or another scene until I’ve cracked it and go from there. Finding the right voice for a character is difficult, but essential.
NY Glam: Top 3 favorite projects that you have been involved in?
1 – The Red Planet – this was the first time I saw something I wrote be performed. I was lucky enough to write and direct my own play, and whilst it was a short, silly production, it has absolutely been one of the highlights of my career.
2 – In 2017 I was cast in a production of Journey’s End by RC Sherriff, where I played Second Lieutenant Hibbert, a scared soldier that is faking an injury in the hope of being sent home from the war. It was an amazing production, and gave me the opportunity to occupy the mind of someone terrified beyond belief in extraordinary circumstances. It was a great joy to be a part of, and was an experience that was invaluable for my creative process.
3 – Now You See Me – in university we were tasked with making a short film in a week. My role was as the cinematographer, but with such a condensed production period everyone was involved with figuring out the story, and in particular crafting an intriguing ending before and DURING filming – difficult, but a lot of fun.
NY Glam: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?
Absolutely! I’m a theatre kid and I love acting. Last year I was in a Sherlock Holmes short play as a villain called Nathaniel Longstreet, and in March this year I’ll be in an amateur production of “The Puffs” (a parody of a certain young boy wizard)! Rehearsals are well underway and have been a lot of fun. It’s looking to be an amazing show.
I also play D & D (Dungeons and Dragons) to satisfy that medieval fighter inside – cos part of me just wants to be a dull half-orc with a donkey called Bubbles.
NY Glam: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking?
Whatever discipline you’re interested in – find a way to do it. You will learn more from doing than from hoping and dreaming. It took me until 2017 to realise that if I wanted to be a screenwriter, I should be writing. Since then I’ve pushed myself and over the past two years I’ve written more than I could’ve ever dreamed of. I’ve written five pilots, a film and two full tv series and I’m not slowing down. I’ve learned so much, even if I’m still waiting for my big break.
The more you do, the more you’ll make mistakes, the more you’ll overcome those mistakes, the more you’ll learn. You can’t fix something if you don’t have anything to fix.
The only way you can improve is to do.
NY Glam: What can we expect from you in 2020?
Right now I’ve been working on scene breakdowns for the first 8-episode season of a high-concept sci-fi series I’ve been working on called Newheart. The scene breakdowns are almost finished and I’m so excited to jump in and start scripting.
I’m also hoping to find the time to keep writing a family drama series called The Ups and Downs that is loosely based on my family – I wrote the pilot script late last year and I’m interested in seeing where that goes.
And I’m always reworking, editing and doing rewrites of my previous work. In particular, my film script Everyday Superhero (a comedy about a psychology student that convinces a vigilante superhero that she’s a reporter so she can use him as the subject for her thesis) has been sent to a couple of competitions (cross my fingers) and I aim to send to a few more.
I also have a pilot script, The Big Top (a comedy-drama series about a ram-shackle circus filled with quirky characters on the edge of failure that has to be brought back to popularity) which is close to being ready for circulation.
It’s going to be a big year, I’m excited for where it takes me.
NY Glam: Where can everyone keep up with you to learn more? …social media…website